Seeing My Way Out of Illegitimacy

The disciples were indignant when they saw this. “What a waste!” they said.  --Jesus's followers reacting to a prodigal daughter returning a gift to Jesus. | Matthew 26:8

I wonder if she heard what they said.   I wonder if it colored her self-view and if she questioned whether or not her expression was appropriate.   I wonder if for a split second she felt shameful, wasteful, a foolish steward of a costly gift.   If this unnamed woman had seen herself through Simon-the-Pharisee's furrowed brow she never would have acted so lavishly and extravagantly.  She never would have pressed her way into Simon's Almshouse for the poor and sick, for even here she was an outcast, at least in their eyes.  This prodigal daughter would still be standing out on a dark street corner looking for unconditional love in some cheap wine, a dirty hotel room, and on the conditions of turning a one-hour trick.  If her vision to break the box, spill the perfume and waste $65,000.00 (2015 San Francisco currency) depended on disciple approval this story would be untold because it never would have happened.   If, as some scholarship concludes, Simon the Pharisee-Leper House was an Almshouse for the poor and sick, the disciples were being politically correct and strategically winsome in their critique and the woman and Jesus were politically incorrect and at risk of jeopardizing a much needed ally.

Whenever I talk with people I tend to see myself through their eyes.  Or through what I perceive to be their eyes.   I often find that I am responding and interacting with others based on how I perceive them to perceive me to be.  For example, given the negative stereotypes that pastors have in a post-Christian world and given the broad brush strokes that televangelists and reality TV preachers have graffitied on the clergy I will take on the world's view of me when with the world.   I feel illegitimate.   In those moments when I feel I am not looked at legitimately I behave differently.   I act and speak from a slouched posture of illegitimacy.  

Here is a conversation that happened over five years ago that illustrates this.

  • "Jeff, thank you so much for praying blessing for this cafe.   Look at how prosperous we have been.  Anytime you come I want to give you, your coffee for free."--Owner of a reputable San Franciscan cafe.  
  • "S., No thank you.  I can buy my own." (Me attempting to legitimize myself).
    "I want to bless you, let me pay or I will feel awkward coming in here." (Me attempting to be humble and a servant.)

Whenever I am with someone who I think perceives my occupation as an illegitimate career choice I may emphasize a 60 hour workweek, my doctorate from Gordon-Conwell (Boston) and if feelings of illegitimacy still pervade I may be tempted to mention that between my Masters and Doctorate I received a 4.0 (summa cum laude).   If none of that works I may slouch into awkward self-deprecation.   I have a friend, who is a surgeon and I mentioned this to him and he acknowledged he does the same thing.  We both confessed that there is this constant quest to legitimize ourselves.   I surmise that this is not isolated to the two of us, but that this is a human thing.   Young mothers feel as though they are not legitimate moms.    Teachers feel the need to legitimize themselves through perfected lesson outlines and producing high achieving students.   Even lawyers, who of all people, you would think, would have a sense of legitimacy, having graduated with their J.D. and passed a bar exam, question their legitimacy from time to time.   

 I think this stems from the need to have Eternal (external) affirmation.  That is, it's not enough to affirm ourselves but we need someone external to us to look us in the eye and say, "You are legit."

Wednesday Kimo and Leon called me out on this tendency in me to act and speak in undeserving and illegitimate ways.  They asked me where that came from.  And I mentioned the media, the City, and the fact that 'the world' doesn't include clergy in an 'honest days work', and therefore I find deriving an income from this as illegitimate and undeserving of "an honest day's wage."   Then Kimo asked why I shared the same values on this that the world shared.      

I remembered sitting with a billionaire a few weeks ago and the whole time we had breakfast together I saw myself through his eyes, or through how I perceived that he was seeing me.   As I looked at myself through his eyes I saw a beggarly pastor of a small congregation, not deserving of C-Suite time.  To be sure, I do not see myself as some spiritual hack, I have a healthy view of myself through God's eyes.  Its just that there are times when that vision gets preempted and I begin to behave and speak through the eyes of someone else.   

For several weeks now I have been praying for a new vision.  But the answer that came was not one that I expected.  I expected God to show me something, like a goal or an idea, to mobilize and organize his church toward.   God misunderstood what I was asking for and sent me something else.  I almost missed it.   God wanted to give me a new vision of how he sees me.   I can say in the humble confidence of my heart that I have a healthy vision of God, not full-orbed, but healthy.  But I do not, at all times, see myself through his eyes.   I am too undisciplined and lack intentionality in this.    I wonder if the prerequisite to seeing what God has in store for us is coming first to see how he sees us.  What if our predominant self-view is defined by whoever is sitting across the table from us, could that false-self, faulty-vision sabotage divine blessing?   I think God is showing me that it can, and often does.  

When I look at Kimo I see a strong mighty Samoan, he should have been cast in 300.  When I talk with Kimo I see myself as his pastor and his family's pastor, but I tend to define that in more of a  supporting role in his life.  The great work that he directs through the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice is exhilarating and redemptive.  I see myself cheering him on.  But that all changed on Wednesday.  Kimo's eyes got all watery and he shared how he sees me through God's eyes.  It came out so powerful, so real, "God has put you in my life to lead me.  I don't see you merely supporting me, but leading me.  Lead us.  Lead us.  Lead us.  I see you this way because God sees you this way."

Those words were freeing, convicting, and empowering.   

With some people God sees me following, learning, submitting, and I need to see myself that way.  With others God sees me leading, guiding, caring and serving, and I need to see myself that way.  

I began role playing through different scenarios in my Thursday prayer time, closing my eyes and looking at the face of God.  In one scene I was preaching on a Sunday, in another scene I was at a cafe meeting with a land developer, in another scene I was collaborating with other pastors and leaders , and in yet another I was sitting at a table with CPMC CAG group.   In each case, I role played those scenes out envisioning how I see myself through the eyes of those present.  Then I re-envisioned those scenarios seeing myself as God sees me.   I imagined my conversations and how different they would be, my demeanor, my attitude and my decisions.   

As I write these words I think about us as a church.  I see us wasting the fragrance of our lives over Jesus's feet.  An illegitimate way of stewarding our lives by the world's standards... now I see Jesus looking at what Simon saw as a prostitute but Jesus sees a prophetess, she is prophesying about Jesus's mission.   And she does that because she is not distracted with what she perceives other people's perception of her to be.   Jesus sees her and calls her a prophetess, she is anointing his body for burial... 3 days before it happens!