Vision is the capacity to see wholeness, a fullness that is now and not yet. This is my latest letter to the good people of University Baptist Church of Austin, Texas.
The story starts here: Patch Adams checks himself into a mental institution because he sees no point to his life. There he encounters Arthur Mendelson, who holds up four fingers to everyone he passes and asks, “How many fingers do you see?” No one provides a satisfactory response, and Arthur moves on in disgust, frustrated by the idiots he must suffer.
One day Patch, played by Robin Williams in the film, enters Arthur's room and asks what the answer is. Arthur puts the question to him. “How many do you see?” And Patch replies, “There are four fingers, Arthur.” “No, no, no,” says Arthur, continuing to hold up his fingers. “Look at me.” He tells Patch not to focus on the problem. “If you focus on the problem, you can't see the solution.” He tells Patch to look beyond the fingers. As Patch loosens his focus, which creates more depth and more possibility, Arthur asks again, “How many do you see?” Patch replies, “Eight.”
“Yes! Yes!” exclaims Arthur. Finally someone gets it! “Eight's a good answer,” he says. “Yes. See what no one else sees. See what everyone else chooses not to see out of fear and conformity and laziness. See the whole world anew each day.”
Arthur reminds me of the prophet Isaiah, who hears God say, “I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isa. 43:19) It's not a trick question. It's an invitation to see more, to see a greater reality that is already present and on the way. The invitation is ours this Christmas season. Our theme is “Anticipating Vision: An Advent for Discernment.”
Like Patch, we will learn of vision, which is the capacity to see wholeness. That vision is of connection, well-being and hope. Rather than isolate vision as the rare gift of a few or project it way into the future, far removed from our lived experience, we will encounter vision in this place and discover that it is present for all of us.
Vision is now and not yet; it is here and coming — just as the Advent story makes clear. In this season of discernment we are asking what's clear about our life together. So far our clarity is about the love in this congregation, the mutual concern, the depth of relationships. Moreover, we are clear about our desire to share this love with our university neighborhood through our property, programs and partnerships. The vision that is emerging is evoking gifts, energy and ideas. We are beginning to see possibility, the new thing that springs forth.
Patch's vision gives him a sense of purpose. He commits himself to go to medical school, then to open a special hospital where love and laughter are integral to healing. Similarly, the vision will awaken in us a sense of purpose, a confidence about a shared calling that is integral to who we have been and will be as the church at the corner of 22nd and Guadalupe. The story starts here. Do you perceive it?
I look forward to anticipating vision with you this Advent. May the promise of seeing more stir us to hope yet again.