As I showed the kids during children’s message, here is a
book called “Duck! Rabbit!” The cover shows an illustration
that could be described as either – though, I’m sure many of
you will vehemently argue for one animal or the other. It
depends on what your perspective is – maybe you like ducks
better, so that’s what you see. Maybe you believe ducks must
have yellow bills, so you see a rabbit. Maybe you’re able to
see the duck and the rabbit (in which case you are a 9 on the
If you see a duck and you wanted to convince a rabbit-seer
that it is a duck, how would you go about doing that? Would
you do it as the book starts off? Would you simply be
persistent – invoking 1 st -grade style arguing?
“It’s a duck.”
“It’s a rabbit.”
“No, it’s a duck.”
“No, it’s a rabbit.”
Would you try convincing the other person by sheer force of
“It is a duck and you WILL see it as a duck, or ELSE!”
I don’t think that’s the best way to go about it.
Would you try explaining why you see it as a duck – pointing
out how the bill could be coming out from the side and where
the eyes would be and so forth?
Your perception is how you see something in the world –
whether it be a global issue, like the fair trade market, or a
smaller topic, like the cover to a children’s book. We have
perceptions about people (family members, people in the
grocery story, the Pope). We have perceptions about
organizations (other churches, schools, non-profits,
restaurants). We have perceptions about situations (marriage,
vacations, grief). Our perceptions are shaped by our history,
by what we can see/hear/experience in the present, and very
often by what others say.
Struggles can come in when we feel our perception is being
challenged or we feel the need to strange another person’s
perception, particularly when it is harmful to others.
I’m sure each of us has experienced a time when another
person has tried to force our perception to change. It
normally doesn’t go very well. Even when we say our
perception has shifted simply to appease the enforcer of the
change, in reality it hasn’t. A true shift has to come from
In preparing for our upcoming Just Faith series, I was
intrigued and encouraged by their suggestions for dialogue
among the group - that the point is not to convince someone
to join “our side,” but instead to understand the different
We often approach debates on perception of any situation
with an intent to change the other person’s mind. After all,
we know best, right? ;)
What could happen in society if we shifted to listening to the
other person’s perspective more? Not that we have to change
our thinking, but just that we simply understand where they’re
An amazing documentary you may have seen is “Accidental
Courtesy.” It is about Daryl Davis, a Jazz musician who is
black and who befriends members of the KKK. These are
sincere friendships. He believes, as our words for reflection
state, that ignorance breeds fear. Our perceptions of people
get stuck in fear when we are ignorant of people’s stories.
I respect his efforts because he is hoping to truly build
understanding between people who are very different. And
he’s doing it in a way that is showing respect in the most
difficult of situations.
Paul’s letter to Philemon also is an example of trying to build
understanding between different perspectives.
The cast of characters are as follows: Paul, who is in jail
while writing this letter. (Actually, almost half of Paul’s
letters included in the New Testament were written while he
was incarcerated.) While there, he encounters Onesimus, a
slave. He was from a nomadic tribe, perceived to be
barbarians, who were often enslaved. Onesimus was a slave
We aren’t told exactly why Onesimus is separated from
Philemon – perhaps Onesimus was sent to serve Paul in
prison. Perhaps Onesimus escaped from Philemon.
Whatever the reason, Paul writes this letter asking that he
return to Philemon. And so our cast is Paul, Onesimus, and
Paul appeals to Philemon “through the basis of love” that he
welcome Onesimus as he would welcome Paul. He is asking
that Philemon shift from seeing Onesimus as a slave to seeing
him as a “dear brother.” He is asking that Philemon change
his perception of Onesimus. He is asking that Philemon’s
perception of Onesimus change from “less than” to “equal,”
from “unworthy” to “worthy,” from “useless” to “useful.”
The name Onesimus actually means “useful.” Biblical
literature often does this – using a play on words and their
meaning. So, literally, Paul is re-introducing this man to
Philemon as beloved, worthy, and useful.
Paul’s tactic is to appeal out of love; though, he admits he
could “be bold and order you to do what you ought to do.”
Instead, he recognizes that any true, sincere change needs to
What I love about Paul’s appeal here is that it is an appeal to
humanity. The book of Philemon is a letter from one human
being to another on behalf of another human being. Person to
person. These are God’s people standing up for one another
in love. This is profound for us to hear because this is what
faith applied looks like!
Paul is calling his readers (including us) to see every human
being through the lens of the gospel message of freedom and
dignity, to shine the light of the gospel on every situation and
then to listen for how God is still speaking.
At Lynnhaven Church, we state that everybody, every person,
is beloved – no matter gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual
orientation, or political background.
It is sometimes easier to cast a blanket of worthiness and
understanding over large groups of people, but we should also
do it for individuals.
We need to ask ourselves who are the people, the individuals
in our lives, we have perceived to be useless that God is
calling us to recognize as useful? Who are the people in your
circle - of friends, at work, in your family, at church - of
whom you need to change your perception? That person you
just thought of and said “there’s no way,” think about that
person again…and ask yourself if the Divine Being of this
world would agree with your perception of them.
Changing our perception doesn’t mean we agree with their
actions. It means we see them as humans, just as we are.
In yoga practices, at the end of a session, participants often
end with “Namaste.” It translates literally as “I bow to you”
and holds the meaning “the spirit in me honors the spirit in
you.” So much of our holding a loving, Christ-like perception
of the people around us is to honor the spirit within them – for
us to not only see them as whatever label they fit under, but
for us to see them for the spirit they have within.
Certainly, that spirit is formed by the things they have
experienced in life - yet, their worth goes beyond whatever
category they fit into or whatever label is given them. In
some cases, we are even called to help shift that label –
perhaps from slave to brother, from homeless to housed, from
refugee to neighbor.
As Christ-followers, we are called to do the work of
advocating for others, much like how Paul wrote a letter to
Philemon, or having those tough conversations with loved
ones. We have the responsibility to call one another to
faithfulness, to be true to who we are as followers of Jesus. In
a sense, that's what Paul is saying to Philemon: to remember
who he is as a follower of Jesus.
There’s a discomfort that arises with this...shining the light of
the gospel on our culture, on our lives, and then especially on
others...shining light on a different perspective. I don’t know
about you, but I don’t want to tell other people how they need
to live their lives, especially with a heaping layer of God-guilt
on top! Where is the line between coming off as self-
righteous and invoking change?
We have Paul’s example of appealing on the basis of
Christian love in this letter, even though we actually don’t
know the outcome of the letter, whether Philemon did change
his perception of Onesimus...and we have the example of
Jesus. (always, right?)
Jesus changed perceptions of people through his actions. He
talked to the woman at the well – a woman, a Samaritan, and
perceived to be “loose” because she was married more than
once. By talking to her, he showed she was beloved. Also,
Christ said that the children should be welcomed into his
presence – otherwise, children were not viewed as worthy.
Jesus was constantly changing perceptions through his
As we advocate in this world to be more accepting and more
loving, let us be the example for that. From one human being