This past Wednesday morning was a little somber. As glorious as it was to see a new President and Vice-President sworn into office, it was a somber day. The harsh reality of an empty mall filled rather with waving flags instead of Americans cheering on a new president remind me of Jesus’s response to the Pharisees who asked that he rebuke his disciples because of their praise of him. Jesus responded in Luke 19:40 “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones will cry out.” The flags represented, for me, the voice of every American who can see himself or herself as being a part of the big picture.
It was disheartening to see former President Trump skip the inauguration of his successor and leave town isolated, diminished, and less triumphant. Save for Jimmy Carter, all living presidents made it to this inauguration, so how come he could not join his predecessors in a show of goodwill to his successor? He did a lot of good as President but in spite of all the good he has done, in twenty, thirty, forty years’ time, not many people will remember efforts such as his tax cuts or even his attempt at reforming the criminal justice system. People will, instead, remember his character and how he treated his successor. And as I shared last week, I am less interested in his politics, or any other person’s politics. I am more interested in his character, and in yours.
Having character does not mean being perfect. It simply means that you can draw on a set of core values in your approach to life. Those core values - your substance, if you will - which, in part, is shaped by your faith, always draw you towards uprightness, honesty, integrity, compassion, and love. That is why the gospels invite us ever more deeply into the orbit of gracefulness and purity of heart: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Jesus said.
There is a story of a professor who, upon entering a classroom one morning, asked his students to prepare for a surprise test. They waited anxiously at their desks for the test to begin. The professor handed out the test paper with the text facing down, as usual. Once he handed them all out, he asked his students to turn the page and begin. To everyone’s surprise, there were no questions… only a black dot in the center of the page. The professor, seeing the expression on everyone’s face, told them the following:
“I want you to write what you see there.”
The students, confused, got started on the challenging task of explaining what they saw.
At the end of the test, the professor took all the completed test papers and started reading each one of them aloud in front of all the students. All of them, with no exceptions, described the black dot, trying to explain its position in the middle of the sheet, its shape, color, and so on. With all of them having been read and the bewildered classroom silent, the professor began to explain:
"I am not going to grade on you this, I just wanted to give you something to think about. No one wrote about the white part of the paper. Everyone focused instead on the Black Spot – and the same happens in our lives. We have a white paper to observe and enjoy, but we always focus on the Black Spots."
Our life is a gift that is given to us by God with love and care, and we always have reasons - more than enough reasons - to celebrate that life: nature renewing itself every day, our friends around us, the job that provides our livelihood, the miracles we see every day, and life, itself.
However, we insist on focusing only on the Black Spots – political differences, racial differences, religious differences, sexual differences, and many others that set us apart, one from another. The reality is that those Black Spots are exceedingly small compared to everything we have in our lives, but they are the ones that pollute our minds, create within us a reason for enmity or hatred for another person and build in us walls that are so high that no one can scale over them.
For a moment, take your eyes away from the Black Spot in your life. Take your eyes away from the Black Spot that holds you in bondage. Take your eyes away from even the Black Spot in our country. Look beyond that Black Spot, and see the big picture. If we ever felt limited, it was because we failed to be defined by the common objects of our love. If we ever felt limited, it was because we couldn’t embrace the invitation to look beyond the horizon - to seize the opportunities that lie beyond our wildest dreams, to actually understand that God is exiled in each of us - you and me.
For that reason, within each of us is that divine mandate to seek union with one another. Hear Jesus’ priestly prayer, “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” To seek this unity isn’t about uniformity, nor is it about collapsing all we know and care about ourselves into a sea of water leaving no trace. Rather, it is about the big picture. Do I see the big picture, and can I fit into that big picture?
I never thought that Washington, D.C., the capital of a free people, could be sealed off to her citizens because of a potential threat to the safety of her citizens. The insurrection on January 6th changed everything for so many of us. In spite of that, democracy won yesterday. We witnessed a peaceful transfer of power and a call to unity. To me, it is a call that invites us to focus not only on our disappointments or elations about the elections but to also look at the big picture, to focus not only on the Black Spot but everything around it - including the dot itself.
After all was said and done, I thought yesterday was a good day. I saw the Black Spot but I saw more than only that Black Spot.
I saw myself in the big picture, and I hope you can also see yourself in your big picture.