Christian Perspectives


Christian Perspectives By Wayne A. Danielson

Christian Perspectives

Methodist Women


Sept. 14, 1993

By Wayne Danielson

Not long ago -- in Florida it was, I think -- a young man came to trial for killing a policeman.  And his defense, as I understand it, is that rock music made him do it.

I thought it was a silly defense, and I guess the jury agreed with me, because it sent him to the penitentiary for a long, long time.

But since then I've been wondering -- could his defense, however ill considered -- could it have been real?

Is there anyone who truly relies on rock music for advice about life?  In particular, for advise about whether killing policemen is wrong?

It sounds impossible, doesn't it.  But I wonder.

It could be true.

Not long ago I was on an elevator in one of the state office buildings down town, and all the talk was about someone on one of the soaps who was getting married that day.

"Do you think Kevin will actually go through with it?" -- one girl wanted to know.

Her companion replied,  "I think he'll do it.  But what about Brooke, has she got nerve enough to marry someone like Kevin -- with his past -- just to get her hands on his millions?"

They talked about this soap stars as if they were real people -- people who's lives gave them some kind of guidance, some kind of perspective about how to lead their own lives.

I'm pretty sure that one girl would go for a guy with millions just like Brooke -- if she could only find one.  And that could lead to lots of trouble.

And what about men -- they're just as bad.

The guys at the gym "understand" why Burt Reynolds might be inclined to go astray if Lonnie is aloof from time to time.  It's what a real man would do, isn't it?

And Sly Stallone -- he does tend to solve most of his problems with his fists or with an Ousi machine pistol.  And he's an all right guy, isn't he?

Could it be -- could it really be -- that people are getting their perspective -- their outlook on life -- from Hollywood and tv stars?

Is this where people turn for advice in an increasingly secular society?

What is this thing called perspective, and what has it got to do with religion?

Perspective means point of view.  It means how we look at things.  It means where we stand when we consider problems that are facing us.

We all have problems.  It seems to me that I spend most of my time surrounded by problems.  I go to work and I have problems with students and with fellow faculty members and administrators.  I have problems getting the materials I need to teach my students.  I have problems finding the books I need at the library.

I come home and find more problems.  As a newly married man, I have to relearn a lot of my bad habits.  Like not closing cupboard drawers.  Or getting fingerprints on the glass door.  Or forgetting to walk the dog.  I have lots of problems.

Every way I look I'm surrounded by problems.  There's no escape.  No way out.

And then, if I'm lucky, my perspective changes.  My problems rearrange themselves.  Patterns change.  Solutions manifest themselves.  I see answers.  I see ways to change things.

How does this happen?

Perhaps for some people it's a matter of intuition.  For others it's probably intelligence.  For me, the solutions  -- if they come at all -- seem to be merely good fortune.  Blind chance.  Unless -- and this is the point -- unless I am able somehow to connect my problems to religion, unless I am able to make a connection not with the soap operas, but with the scriptures.

I was at a party for graduate students.  The young couples had brought their children, who soon got bored with the grownup conversations and started to attack one another physically and generally tear up the place.  These kids came from all over the world -- China, Iraq, Korea, France, Germany.  What could be done to remedy this problem, which was going from bad to worse.

Suddenly, I remembered the words of Jesus:

"Let the little children come unto me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs."

"I'll bet they all go to nursery school, " I thought, and I sat down at the organ and began to play, "The Eensie Weensie Spider."

Before you knew it, I had half a dozen kids around me -- white, brown, yellow, black -- all singing away and having a great time.

A change of perspective helped.

Somehow I had to welcome the children instead of trying to put them down, make them be quiet, make them behave.


It was two days before Christmas.

I had been in the University Coop shopping for some gifts for my teaching assistants.  I decided on Texas calendars and scooped up six boxes off the shelf and paid for them.

When I got back to my office, I found that two of the boxes were empty.

Apparently, someone had stolen the calendars, leaving the empty boxes on the shelves.

This was a real problem.  It was two days before Christmas.  I couldn't go back and ask for two more calendars, could I?  The clerks in the store would laugh at my ridiculous story.  The boxes were empty indeed!  They would be sure that I had been the thief.  I had been really stupid not to check the boxes at the store.

Then some words came into my mind.

"Ask, and it will be given unto you;  seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.  For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened."

Would it really hurt to try?  Was it possible that someone would believe me?  Was the Christmas spirit still alive -- even at the University Coop two days before Christmas?

I went.  I asked.  I received.  "Go ahead and get two others," the clerk said with a smile.   What had changed?  Nothing really.  Just my perspective.


At a dean's council meeting at UT, the deanly persons present were debating what to do about a new program in the University.   It was doing poorly.  No one seemed to care about it or be interested in it.  Serious questions had been raised about whether the new program should be continued.

"It has to make its own way," someone said.  "It just hasn't don that so far.  We ought to dump it."

But others objected, saying the program had some merit.  The group was stuck on the problem, arguing back and forth and getting nowhere.  I couldn't seem to help.  But suddenly, a thought came into my mind.

"There was once a man who had a fig tree growing in his vineyard.  He went looking for figs on it but found none.  So he said to his gardener, 'Look, for three years I have been coming here looking for figs on this fig tree, and I haven't found any.  Cut it down!  Why should it go on using up the soil?'  But the gardener answered, 'Leave it alone, sir, just one more year; I will dig around it and put in some fertilizer.  Then if the tree bears figs next year, so much the better; if not, then you can have it cut down."

I suggested that we give the program one more year with adequate funding.  Everyone agreed.  And the necessary support eventually appeared.  A change of perspective helped.


A new minister came to this church years ago.  He had some problems getting used to Tarrytown.  It's congregation was -- just different -- from others he had served.  For one thing, he found it difficult to serve a church made up of so many leaders and so few followers.  For another, I think he found it different to be in a church in which membership was not a problem.  I remember one early meeting with the Council on Ministries.  "My number one priority for this church is growth," he said enthusiastically, and he looked around the group for support.  A long embarrassing silence grew.  It was obvious that the new minister and the group were pretty far apart in their thinking.  A real problem was at hand.  But what could be done?

Some words came into my mind -- "... where two or three of you are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

"Pastor," I said, "My feeling is that the number one goal of this church should be to achieve the highest quality of religious experience that we can.  If we can do that, we won't need to worry about making growth a priority.  We will grow."

Nothing had changed really.  Just a new perspective.  One on which we all agreed.  And it provided a basis for going ahead.



How many of the gospel stories deal with changes in perspective that Jesus wrought among those he had to deal with.

People came to him all mired down in problems.  All confused.  All perplexed.  All irritated.

And typically, he ignored the problem as presented to him -- but he solved it by putting it in a new light, a new perspective.