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Seeing Beyond Tunnel Vision

Seeing Beyond Tunnel Vision

2 Corinthians 9:8-11

Epworth United Methodist Church

October 16, 2016

Linda Loessberg-Zahl

What is the longest tunnel you have ever travelled through? Can you guess the length of the longest tunnel in the world? Thirty-five and one-half miles long. That’s the length of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which runs under the Swiss Alps. It was completed in June and will open for service in December. The only landscape riders will be able to see for thirty-five miles is the train rail immediately in front of them. When I was growing up we used to hold our breath when we drove through tunnels. Did anyone else do that? Why did we do that? To make a wish? To wish for something? Can you imagine holding your breath for 35 miles?

We can have tunnel vision without travelling through a mountain. It can come when we go through a mountain of stress in our lives. In those times our vision often is constricted and all we see is whatever is coming at us on the track right in front of us. There are many triggers of tunnel vision. It could be a time when we face a range of responsibilities, a dark channel of transition, a cavern of loss or fear.

Tunnels are costly. The Channel Tunnel that links the UK and France went way over cost estimates: 80 percent over for construction costs and 140 percent over for financing costs.[i]

Tunnel vision can also be unexpectedly costly. We often hold our breath through times of tunnel vision. It’s hard to breathe deeply in times of anxiety.

During stressful times in my life, even if I try to take a break, my subconscious mental and emotional focus stays fixed on whatever is making me uneasy. In that stress tunnel I can miss what is going on around me and forget the good things that have come before. When has that happened to you?

When we can’t see the landscape around us we can lose track of where we are and even who we are. The biggest loss with tunnel vision is the loss of perspective. We miss the big picture. We fail to see new paths and creative options. We lose sight of the gifts in our lives.

Ellen Bergh and those who traveled with her on a train through Oregon learned about the startling impact of limited vision. She says their journey began pleasantly:

“[The] train was filled with excited passengers, craning their necks to enjoy the…scenery… A shining lake gleamed through the trees, and cheerful conversation filled the air. Suddenly, [when the train entered a tunnel] the light, airy feeling was gone. [In the dark] the happy sounds were a thing of the past… The longer they traveled in the tunnel, the harder it was to remain calm without any visual cues to reassure them. Even the movement of the train seemed to fall away into pitch darkness. When they came out of the tunnel, laughter and relief filled the compartment.”[ii]

How do we find our way out of the dark tunnels on this life journey? What can broaden our tunnel vision and increase our laughter and joy? Instead of focusing on what seems to be immediately ahead try looking back at the beautiful scenes of your life. Instead of making a wish for something you don’t have, look at the gifts you have already been given. It will broaden your perspective and reduce your tunnel vision.

Here’s how it works for me. I hope you will allow me to tell you more of my story today. When times are tough too often I focus on the difficulty in my life. When times are good sometimes I take what I have for granted, thinking I made it here mostly on my own. Both views skew reality. I have received so many gifts in my life. I was born into blessing. This is in addition to being born into privilege as a white American living far above the poverty levels in this world. I had enough to eat and a warm place to sleep. My parents and others cared for me as I grew. When I was a newborn my grandmother held me in her arms all night because I was a premature baby and sometimes stopped breathing. Who held you? Who reminded you to breathe? I remember my fifth grade teacher and seventh grade teacher encouraging me. Who encouraged you? During college a campus minister allowed me to ask important questions and listened to my young adult self – for hours. Who listened to you?

What gifts have you been given in the peaks and valleys of your life? Think of at least three. The scripture from the second letter to the Corinthians says that God pours blessings upon us. Paul says God throws caution to the wind and gives us gifts in abundance. What gifts have you been generously given? Who has made a way for you?

When we find ourselves in a tunnel of stress, how can we be more joyful instead of fretful? By being thankful. David Steindl-Rast said, “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” What are you grateful for in your life?

I have so much for which to be grateful. My family, my children, my friends, for the people I don’t even know who made a way for me. And then, there is this church. You probably heard how I was raised Catholic yet was drawn to pastoral ministry. Against the advice of many I went to seminary. To the horror of most of my family members I decided to look beyond the Catholic Church. I came to Epworth in 1982 and became a United Methodist here. I was a pastoral intern and later a staff member. My first Sunday as an intern I remember standing here feeling both ecstatic and terrified.

This church changed my life. That may sound like an exaggeration. It’s not. After net being welcome as a pastoral leader in the Catholic Church I was encouraged, taught and affirmed by members of Epworth, some of whom are still here today. That gracious welcome was hard for me to get my mind around at first. I was welcomed by Epworth’s hospitality and glad to be challenged by Epworth’s commitment to social justice. I first learned about institutional racism and reconciling ministries here. What gifts have you received from this church? How has Epworth made a difference in your life?

Bob and I made our first financial pledge to any church, here. Paul says, God gives us gifts so we can be generous and pass on the joy, the gratitude. It was a joy for us to support Epworth out of gratitude for all we had been given. Several years ago when I was serving another church, Bob and I decided to tithe, giving a tenth of our income to the church. After we made the decision we thought it would be difficult. It wasn’t. It felt good to have our finances in line with our values. We have continued that commitment through the years. Bob and I are excited about the opportunity we have to give beyond our tithe to the budget and pass on the joy and gifts we have received through our capital campaign, A Community Building – New Spaces for New Graces. We started thinking and praying about it weeks ago. We came up with what we thought was a good amount to pledge over the next three years, something we could afford. Then we reflected, prayed, talked and thought, maybe we could increase it some. We had an idea. Why don’t we double it? That felt good. Several days later after more reflection, prayer and rumination we thought we could increase it a bit more. Then we had a surprising thought. Instead of doubling it, why don’t we triple it? We looked at each other and wondered how we could afford to do that. We decided we would cut back on our travel and use some of our savings.

It was a little scary but very exciting. Why? Because we believe in what the Spirit of God is doing through this community. We are grateful that the precious children and impressive youth on that video and in this church have a safe place to be loved deeply and encouraged to ask important questions, a place where they can learn how to welcome all people. We are grateful that in a polarized country and a world full of mistrust and hate speech the children here will see us strive for a different vision. We are grateful that this church reminds us of what we have been given, and what is truly important. We are grateful that this church broadens our tunnel vision and reminds us that there is still a reason to be joyful even and especially in the midst of stress and pain.

Paul says that living with gratitude and generosity creates joy and thanksgiving in others. We are all invited to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit within us, to pray and reflect in whatever way is appropriate for each of us. In this campaign we may not be able to give equal gifts but we can be equal in commitment, equal in our willingness to stretch or sacrifice, or as I put it, equal in our level of investment. Let me be clear. While this campaign will make our building more accessible, safe and durable for the years ahead, this is not about the money. This is an investment in the vitality and bounty we have been given and continue to experience in this community. Bob and I could invest our time and our money lots of places. We know it will get a valuable return here.

Our shared investment in this church will create gifts and make a difference immediately for people who walk through the doors. Those gifts will continue to multiply through the years. Think of the people who came before us and invested for us far before any of us were here. The children, youth and adults who come in the years ahead may not know our names. But they will find a space to help them break out of their tunnel vision and breathe, a space to recognize the gifts they have been given, a space to see the possibilities for grace in the landscape of their lives. And they too will likely be grateful. That’s a powerful return on our investment. Amen.

[i] p. 158 Cost Management: Measuring, Monitoring & Motivating Performance, By K. P. Gupta

[ii] Ellen Bergh, "What Lies Ahead?" Upper Room, September/October 1993, 65.

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