Changing Out Our Western Lenses

Randy WoodleyFrom the introduction of Randy Woodley’s May 2019 Sojourners Magazine piece “The Fullness Thereof.”

CHANGE YOUR LENSES, please. Okay, maybe you can’t simply change lenses right now, but would you at least notice the lenses you are currently wearing? If you are like, say, 99.9 percent of us in the U.S., you have been influenced by a very particular set of perspectives that interpret life from an Enlightenment-bound Western worldview.

All of our lenses have various perspectival tints, but Western worldviews seem to have several in common, including the foundational influence of Platonic dualism, inherited from the Greeks. This particular influence absolutizes the realm of the abstract (spirit, soul, mind) and reduces the importance of the concrete realm (earth, body, material), disengaging them from one another. In dualistic thinking, we are no longer an existing whole.

Western worldviews tend to have other related assumptions—such as hierarchy, extrinsic categorization, individualism, patriarchy, utopianism, racism, triumphalism, religious intolerance, greed, and anthropocentrism. But the influence of dualism empowers these other concerns.

What difference would it make if life were viewed instead as a fundamental whole, if the earth itself were seen as spiritual? And how would such a worldview square with Jesus’ approach to such matters?

A few encouraging facts as we approach these questions:

  • Most of the rest of the world does not understand life through a Western worldview. We in the West are the anomaly.
  • Jesus was not an Enlightenment-bound Western thinker. He thought more like today’s premodern Indigenous people.
  • Not one writer of the scriptures saw life through a Western lens.
  • Indigenous Peoples of the world have an advantage over Western thinkers in that there is still enough premodern worldview intact among North American and other Indigenous people to relate to the premodern Jesus and the premodern scriptures. They can bring new kinds of hope to today’s earth climate crisis, if we allow it.

Jesus understood humanity’s relationship with the earth differently than we do. He spoke to the wind, to the water, and to trees; closely observed the habits of birds, flowers, and animals; and called his disciples to model their lives after what they saw in nature. In Matthew 5, during his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool” (34b-35a).

Jesus was making a point about making vows, but one of the many byproducts we see from this short exchange (and from his whole life) is Jesus’ view of the whole world, including earth and heaven, as sacred. Jesus understood the balance between the earthly and the heavenly realms, and he certainly understood the relatedness of both (“on earth as it is in heaven”). Jesus was firmly planted in the construct that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.”

Click HERE to read the rest of the article.

Dr. Randy Woodley is author of Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision (Eerdmans); his podcast, Peacing It All Together, can be found at Dr. Woodley and his wife, Edith, operate Eloheh Indigenous Way/Eagle’s Wings Ministry near Portland, Ore., where he is distinguished professor of faith and culture at Portland Seminary.


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