I came across this fascinating video yesterday. It was created last year by Hillary Diane A. Andales, a teenager living in the Philippines, to provide an easily understandable explanation of the theory of relativity. Her video was the winning entry in the “Breakthrough Junior Challenge” of 2017.
What I find most fascinating about this video is its relevance to many of the battles we see being played out in the media and other forums within this country, and around the world, every day. The focus of these battles always seems to center on the question of “Who is right?” Ultimately, they are battles over the question of who’s reality is THE Reality. But, Ms. Andales’ video forces us to ask ourselves whether such battles are worth fighting at all.
We see examples of such conflict everywhere within the current Trumpian Dystopia here in the U.S.; and in battles over abortion, gun rights, jobs, the economy, Supreme Court nominees, and Climate Change (among many others). In other lands we see similar battles over who is “right” in places like Israel and the West Bank; Tibet; Syria; the controversy over Brexit in England and Europe; and so on. In fact, it is hard to imagine a dispute where the determination of who is “right” is anywhere but at the heart of the matter.
But, at the end of her video, Ms. Andales says “The really mindblowing idea here is that observers in difference frames [of reference] will perceive different versions of the same reality. And, every observer’s frame is equally valid.“ In other words, how we perceive reality depends not just on what reality is, but also on where we stand in relation to it. How we perceive “reality” is completely dependent upon where we stand in relationship to that truth. There is [usually] an absolute reality, but our perception of that reality is unique to us, and does not necessarily apply to anyone else’s perception of it.
This same concept applies equally well in all of the questions and controversies around us – in the news, on Facebook, in Washington DC or on Wall Street, and among our neighbors and friends (and relatives). Yes, there may be an absolute truth, but can we claim ownership of how that absolute truth is to be perceived by all? Ms. Andales’ work provides a clear and unequivocal answer: “No.”
Our truth is our truth, but is not our neighbor’s truth. Their truth is grounded in where they stand. We cannot rightly judge that truth unless we stand exactly where they stand – with all of the life experience, knowledge, and circumstances that are part of where they stand. No wonder Jesus warns us “Judge not lest ye be judged” [Matthew 7:1], and no wonder the Book of Job (particularly chapters 38 & 42) in the Hebrew Scriptures is so careful to make this same point.
And yet, sadly, there are many folks – no matter where they stand on the political and faith spectrums – who do not understand this, or refuse to believe it.
But, here I am – you say – judging these other folks’ positions, denying them the right to believe in their own truth!
To that I’ll respond – “No: Ms. Andales said: ‘every observer’s frame is equally valid’ not that their observations are all equally valid.” We have ways of accurately judging the validity of an observation, but have no right to judge the observer themselves. A person is not “invalid” because they are Gay, or Black, or Female, or Palestinian, or Jewish, or Liberal, or White, or Male, or Conservative. As much as I despise and am angered by most of what he says and does, I do not judge our President as invalid. But, I do judge his view of the world to be [largely] invalid; and therefore his leadership to be fatally flawed, because he is unable to understand this truth: that the reality of others is just as valid as his own reality. In other words, to put it more succinctly, “it isn’t all about him.”
And so, what if we were to approach all controversies as a learning experience? They should not be a fight to exterminate what we perceive as opposition to the truth we know, but rather a discussion that brings us to a point where we come to appreciate and understand each other’s realities. Once there, we can then craft a conclusion that respects The Other’s reality as well as our own.
Such an approach requires us to accept that our perception of reality is not an absolute, but dependent upon where we stand; and that if we’re willing to shift our position, we’ll see that where our neighbor stands is just as valid, and important, as our own. In other words, God does not call us to stand in one place, defending our own perception of absolute truth at all costs, but rather calls us to to engage in a continuous process of moving to new places, so that we are constantly exploring and gaining new perspectives on the wondrous variety and beauty of God’s Creation; and the beauty and wonder that our Creator has placed within each and every one of us.
I’ll close with this thought: Science is great. Science is fun. Science is useful. And, Science is not in conflict with Faith. In fact, it can be a powerful tool, as we see here, to better understand the nature of our faith and the nature our relationships with the Divine and with each other. Those who deny the value of Science are doing themselves (and us) a disservice: warping and stunting their ability (and perhaps ours) to perceive reality, and truth; and are doing so in a futile quest to declare their own perception of truth as the only one that matters.
We are all valid. We are all wonderful. We are all unique. God made it so.
– Pastor Allen
Copyright (c) 2018, Allen Vander Meulen III.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.