Seeing

I suffer from a medical condition known as amblyopia. It first developed and was treated when I was a child, but began to reemerge in my mid-20’s, and has become significantly worse in the past couple of years. It sounds pretty dire until you hear the condition referred to by its more popular name, Lazy Eye.

When I went in a few years ago to get my eyes checked and heard the optometrist describe my condition by saying what it does, instead of using terminology I’m familiar with, I responded with, “Oh, you mean I have a lazy eye?” He very professionally replied, “Well, we don’t like to use that terminology.” I asked him if that was because they were afraid of offending lazy people. He didn’t get the joke, and said no, it’s because the affected eye isn’t actually lazy. Instead, he said it is usually the result of a condition known as Strabismus. This is the fancy term for being “cross-eyed.” Because its execution would have been more complicated than my Lazy Eye joke, I refrained from suggesting that they didn’t call it being “Cross Eyed” because they were anti-Christian, and instead just listened to his explanation.  

In an ideal situation, as eyesight begins to develop in infants, both eyes intuitively sync up with each other in sending messages to the brain about what they are both seeing. Like two pedals of a bicycle connected to one chain, they move vision along together. But in someone affected by Strabismus, the eyes don’t work together. In extremely rare conditions, the result is double vision. One eye sends one image to the brain, another eye sends another image, both at the same time. Most brains, though, protect against double vision by slowly disregarding the image from one eye in favor of the image from the other eye. The eye whose image is disregarded eventually just decides not to work as hard. Because, what’s the point? It begins to atrophy, thus, “Lazy Eye.”

My amblyopia is relatively mild. When I tell people I have a lazy eye, most people say they don’t even notice it. Distance makes it more prevalent, though. If you are standing next to someone across a large room from me, I may be looking at you, but you will think I’m looking at the other person. Aside from that, the only way you may be able to tell I have it is if you look at my glasses. My right eye, the strong one, has a very weak prescription, while the left “lazy” eye has a very strong one. This gives my left eye the extra boost it needs to work alongside my right eye, as much as it is able.

In children, doctors will do same thing with prescription eyeglasses, but more for the purpose of realignment. Rather than prescribing a mild prescription for the “strong” eye, they will actually cloud its vision. The purpose of this is to force the “weak” eye to work harder, hoping that it will eventually connect up with the “strong” eye. In some cases, children will actually wear a patch on the “strong” eye, shutting out its vision altogether while forcing the “weak” eye to do all the work.

My only noticeable signs of impairment are that my left eye is super sensitive to light, causing me to squint outside and underneath stage lights, I can’t enjoy 3D movies, and reading for long periods of time can be tiring.

I was reflecting on my amblyopia last week when I heard a couple of good sermons on 1 Corinthians 12. (It was one of the lectionary passages, and in Waco, TX it is very easy to hear multiple sermons in one week on the lectionary passage.)  The text is Paul using the metaphor of the body to describe to the Corinthian church how they are one in Christ. If you’ve been in church more than eight times, you’ve likely heard it. A few highlights…

Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?… But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

When I was in seminary we spent some time in class talking about Liberation Theology.  At the risk of oversimplifying such an important movement in Christian thought, Liberation Theology says (among many other things) that in order to fully understand the depth and breadth of the good news of Jesus Christ, we must listen to and seek to understand how people from different groups (cultures, races, genders, identities, etc.) receive and tell the story of the gospel. In the midst of the conversation, I said something along the lines of, “That’s good and all, but shouldn’t we place a limit on it? I mean, we can’t spend time listening to all the other voices other than our own.”

In a lifetime of saying very white things, it was one of the whitest things I’ve ever said.

Thankfully, there was a strong, smart black voice in the room that responded with a firm, “Why not?”

I squirmed. “Why not what?”

He asked why we don’t have time to try to listen to all the other voices. And not just listen to them, but also give them a place of preference and consequence. The predominately white, predominately male, predominately straight voice has been given center stage since, well, forever. Isn’t it time for that voice to step backstage?

My White Male Supremacy was exposed.

My defensiveness wouldn’t have allowed me to see it as such then, but time and distance has given me language for what it was. White Supremacy isn’t just people hiding behind hoods and burning crosses. It is also for privileged white people who are ok spending a month, or a season, or even a LOT of months or seasons giving voice to marginalized people. But not too many months or seasons. Not enough to give those voices a place of preference. When they start to become too loud, or too consequential, or too central, we begin to elbow our voices back to center-stage. I mean, white lives matter too, right?

You’re probably smart enough to see the connection with my amblyopia. The only hope for a cure to our racism and sexism and supremacy is for us to magnify the voices that have been minimized and minimize the voices that have, for centuries, been holding the microphone and controlling the sound board. If necessary, we need to put a patch on the “strong” eye, and allow the “weak” eye to do all the seeing.

This is hard work. Exercise type work. It feels so unnatural, because we don’t do it. I entered this year with a commitment to not read a single book written by a white, male author until I had read at least two books by a black author. The result, so far, is that I have completed a grand total of zero books. I started with James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. After trying to muscle through the first few pages of both, I retreated back to the comfort of my phone and Twitter feed. And as a result, I’m not seeing things as clearly and fully as I can be.

The Supremacy is strong in me, because it’s the only eye I’ve ever seen with. I’m praying for the grace and courage to put a patch over it. And I’m asking my black, brown, female, gay, trans, disabled friends to give me more full and complete ways to see.

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