A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, November 2020

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” 

– Atticus Finch
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 

Atticus Finch: One of my all-time favorite fictional characters, as well as one of the most touching compliments people continue to pay my late father. 

“Oh, how I loved your father,” someone thoughtfully stopped to share with me just the other day. “He truly was an Atticus Finch.” I have heard this sentiment for years, even when my father was still alive, even before I read (let alone taught) the novel, and well before I was able to catch the profound weight of the reference. Words that come to mind when I consider both men? Fair. Humble. Wise. Noble. Good. Both lawyers, both doting fathers, both avid supporters of the underdog, and both masters at seeing the good in everyone, even when “the good” was difficult to spot.

It is an inspiring phenomenon, isn’t it, how the people who see the best in others also seem to bring out the best in others?

When Atticus tells his daughter Scout that the “simple trick” to getting along with “all kinds of folks” is to “consider things from his point of view…[to] climb inside his skin and walk around in it,” he is teaching her that skill of seeing people. It is the quintessential lesson in empathy. And in classic Atticus fashion, he lays out a prescribed order of operations that is both kind and logical for us to follow:

First, we must realize that we do not understand others. The implied warning here is that prematurely assuming that we do know everything about a person is a dangerous and entirely unhelpful misstep. Oh, how enticing that misstep can be, though…

Secondly, we must acknowledge each other as human, as a fully-fledged individual with a beating heart, a wounded soul, and a whole host of past experiences that we cannot see but that intricately influence every aspect of that person’s every day. We must concede that God created each unique person with unfathomable layers of complexity.

And thirdly, we must ignite our imaginations. In order to adopt an empathic attitude toward our fellow human, we must imagine what life might be like from that human’s perspective. What might it feel like to wake up as that person each morning? To exist in that specific set of living conditions? To experience how others react and interact (or do not interact at all) with that individual? What are the emotions that might wordlessly tug at that person’s heart? What hopes, fears, or fixations might continually churn over in that person’s brain? We must rely on divinely-inspired imaginative thought. Only then can we begin appreciating the enormity of each individual’s inner-workings; only then can we scratch the surface of accepting the utterly mysterious and kaleidoscopically varied nature of humankind.

Effectually, Atticus’ sage advice cracks open an entry-way into the empathic space of seeing each other, which then gives way to the lighted path toward loving each other.

There is inherent loss in admitting that we may never truly know another person, however. I am reminded of the sorrow Ralph Waldo Emerson shared in his final collection, Society and Solitude (1870), when he lamented that even “the dearest friends are separated by impassable gulfs.” Because humans are unique, he mused, they are infinitely unknowable and innately separated from one another. Moreover, because humans are divided by “impassable gulfs,” it should come as no wonder that human interaction can be so mercurial, so complex, so fraught with discord. A simple look can be misinterpreted, a lack of reply can feel like an assault, and a word can so easily be taken the wrong way, especially in our current age when words are often jotted down over texts or carelessly posted with no vocal intonation attached. Connection and understanding are what we desire, yet the opportunities for disconnection and disagreement loom like dangerously waiting minefields.

Thus, what a sweet, saving gift of reconciliation we have in Jesus Christ. The peaceful unity we hungrily crave is made possible through His love. As the apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians, 

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
(Galatians 3:26-28)

Thanks be to God! 

For in a season when so many well-meaning people simply cannot agree, I am more grateful than ever for the path to reconciliation and understanding that God offers His children. During these times of unrest, I find myself repeating the following words of assurance aloud to myself in my car, in my kitchen, in front of my computer: “God is God over all. And all will be well.” These are some of the wise words that my father, my own personal Atticus Finch, so often spoke over me: “God is God over all, little Jess. And all will be well.” Mercifully, this assurance always helps me land near the same revelation that Scout reaches through her own father’s patient help. It is a revelation that may sound reductive but that ironically allows for the foundational unity that exists underneath our human diversity. In her climactic moment of realization, Scout shares,I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks…” before adding that even unexpected characters are surprisingly, “real nice.” 

Atticus knowingly replies,Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”

We may never agree with each other, and perhaps our job is not to agree. Perhaps our job is simply to see each other. Afterall, seeing each other nudges us one step closer to loving each other, if not in feeling, then in action, in service, in listening, in learning, and in growing. 

God is God over all, He is a patient and doting parent to all, and all will be well indeed.

 

Dear Lord,  

We are so grateful that You are our steadfast Father, watching over us and loving us even as we stumble and bicker and misbehave. Draw each and every one of your children near in your loving embrace so that we may feel your strength and peace. Please unveil our eyes so that we may see each other the way You do, acknowledging and celebrating each person as a unique and worthy member of one beloved family. And please ignite our wild imaginations to propel us toward an all-encompassing, reckless love for each other, so that we may delight in generously showering grace and empathy over each other as our own brothers and sisters in Christ.

Amen.

 

Leave a Comment

*

© 2022 First Presbyterian Church | 4815 Franklin Pike, Nashville, TN 37220 | (615) 383-1815
Website By Worship Times