OVERCOMING MY MYOPIA

I can almost hear the guttural crackle of passion in Jesus’s voice as he says, “Open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you!” His eyes are aflame with a joyous secret that we had not realized before. “These fields are ripe! It’s harvest time!”

A thin layer of sunlight sits atop the crisp tips of cumulous clouds above the Galilean. Beads of perspiration gather on his forehead, as the canvas of the sky bursts and shifts in slow motion. There is a high contrast, heavy color saturation, and Instagram-esque focal blur on everything but the face of the Savior, pushing the scenery into the distance, pulling his expression closer toward the viewer.

Suddenly, I respond with the disciples. My earth-drawn brow lifts, and I raise my gaze to the level of the horizon opposite Jesus.

“Oh my God! How could I have overlooked this once again?”

———

I have an astigmatism in my left eye, and the onset of Keratoconus. The farther the object, the greater the likeliness of double vision.

I am nearsighted. I have myopia.

But the physical condition of myopia is not my only problem. Sometimes I get lost in the canvas.

I cannot see the beauty of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I become enamored in the swirly globs of oil paint. I cannot see the overall details of shadows and motion in Rembrandt’s colossal The Night Watch. I am fixated on lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch’s beige hat. I struggle to comprehend God’s rendition of the universe and all it’s nuances. I squint to see beyond the Milky Way, the earth, my own geometric coordinates.

I ludicrously become the focal point of the universe and all its macro realities.

———

I live in Asia, and am daily in contact with the juxtapositions of wealth and poverty, the sharp contrasts of hope and desperation.

I have shared meals of grub worms and rice wine in the huts of the poorest of the poor tribal people groups on the borders of China and Myanmar. I have smiled at the sad faces of child beggars outside my taxi in Manila. I have kissed wide-eyed Liberian orphans in the outskirts of Monrovia.

These experiences should have brought me to a place beyond myself—a new global coordinate of empathy and compassion. And they have, to a degree. But when I return to the comfort of my 450 square foot apartment of Cubao, I am again riveted on my own concerns, both great and infinitesimal.

“Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. ‘What a huge harvest!’ he said to his disciples. ‘How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!'”

C.S. Lewis realized that a little bit of myopia occurs in all of us. “There exists in every church something that sooner or later works against the very purpose for which it came into existence. So we must strive very hard, by the grace of God, to keep the church focused on the mission that Christ originally gave it.”

I reach for my glasses. I have been trying to read these situations with strained eyes, and should have been viewing life through the lenses Dr. Bundy prescribed for me. I see much clearer through the convex intended for my eyes.

Alan Hirsch reminds me that “what [is] lacking is an overarching perspective that takes into account a more global and regional view of strategic issues relating to mission.”

Finally, I am able to say something like, “I am amazed at how all the infinitesimal aspects of life come together to make such an incredible symphony. Mind you, I am not always this introspective and cognitive. The present details of my life have just brought this epiphany.”

And I recall Brennan Manning’s contemplation: “[Christ] ends our indecision and liberates us from the oppression of false deadlines and myopic vision.”

Jesus is still gazing at the fields behind me. I turn to take in the landscape. The harvest is indeed ripe with white tips of wind-blown wheat. I pause for a moment, hear the Savior’s steady breathing behind me, reach for my plough, and take another step toward the field.

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FRAGILE

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Chapter 4, Fragile, excerpt from The Memories I Made Up by David Joannes

All too often we forget the stark fragility of life.

* * *

Traffic is stopped up on Xuefu Road. An angry man is sticking his head out of his vehicle, shaking his fist, shouting for the people outside to move. But the crowd in front of his vehicle is only growing larger and sweatier. Three college boys in slacks and pullover sweaters. Two nervous middle aged women. An old lady holding a small child by the hand, the child who is, of course, terrified. The little boy is gazing at the pool of blood on the pavement.

No one offers any help. That is not the rule. Everyone knows that as soon as you get involved in the tragedy of another man in China, you could end up the culprit in the story. And so the crowd of people in front of the angry man’s car keeps shuffling their feet as he yells. They murmur in a semi-circle, wide eyed and useless as the pool of blood seeps into the tiny cracks in the road.

The police have not yet arrived, but when they do they will first fill out their paperwork, snap a few pictures, yell at the crowd to back up, and determine whose fault the accident was. All the while the deplorable whimpering sound of the old man crying will beg to be recognized as someone of worth in a communist system that has stolen the respect from men.

I catch a glimpse of the old man cringing in pain through the gaps in between their legs. I see the same thing as the crowd, but somehow it does not convey the same meaning to them as it does to me. I hear the old man crying in agony, his right hand cradling his bloody head, as does the awkward crowd around him. But the sounds do not seem to invoke in them the same sensations as they do in my heart.

The redness oozes between his fingers. His gray hair is soaked, his legs still tangled in his mangled black bicycle. He looks about fifty-five years old. The back tire of his bicycle is popped, the rim crushed. The car behind him has a long black scrape along the front left wheel well, and the man who owns the vehicle is irate about the scratch.

I scrunch my eyebrows as I take it all in. I am sad and angry and I feel helpless in China today. “Can I really make a difference in this nation, God?” I ask under my breath. In my heart I know He has called me here. I know that He who called me is faithful, and He will complete the things that He has begun. But right now I wonder where is God in the midst of communist China.

The fifty-five year old man is still crying in pain. No one has stooped down to help him yet. His gray hair is stained crimson red. The irate man is still shaking his fist and yelling at the crowd. And there are sirens in the distance.

I shake my head, and begin walking down Xuefu Road, wondering what Jesus would have done had He been in China today. I wondered why I wasn’t the Jesus that the old man needed today.

“Can I really make a difference in this nation, God?”

“Of course you can. But not by keeping your distance from the pain you see all around you.”

* * *

The next day I pick up a copy of the Yunnan Daily. There is a photograph of a fifty-five year old man who was hit by a car on Xuefu Road. His legs are tangled up in his black bicycle. A crowd of people are gathered around his body. His skull is cracked from the impact of his fall. By the time the police arrive, he has already passed away.

The image is silent.

I squint at the black and white photograph and see myself on the far right hand corner, stepping out of the frame. Too often I walk on the far end of the Samaritan man’s road.