What We See When We Look

“You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present age?” – Luke 12:56

There is an annual lighting of the Catskill Mountain Fire Towers, usually early in the fall. People bring picnics and watch the lights go on in the towers. The towers and picnics persist—and there are rival ways to follow the fires.

Unusual weather events are communicated more virtually these days. We hear the scripture differently when our information comes by magnetic waves instead of from a look around. The scripture challenges our epistemology, a fancy way of saying how we know things. It sets scientific seeing next to interpretive seeing.

I wish I had a better epistemology for today. I certainly get a lot of warnings thrown at me. And I wonder why I don’t really have a good theory for the present age.

Are things getting better? Are things getting worse? Which things are doing what? Is there a fire in the distance? Do I need to climb higher in my (ivory) tower? Is there another hurricane building, heading straight for us?

My favorite interpretation is a double. I am a lucky (white, educated, employed, healthy) person and I know, simultaneously, that others are not so fortunate. 

Someone said their church was going to celebrate its 300th anniversary with a service of repentance as well as a service of gladness. Why? They intended to look at how dependent their good fortune was on their ancestors’ taking of the land from the natives and on their white privilege.

I don’t see these things so well from my ivory tower.  But I do see them.


Allow us to hear your complaint about our epistemology, O God, and show us more of what we need to know. Amen.

ddauthordonnaschaper.jpgAbout the Author
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Her most recent book is I Heart Frances: Letters to the Pope from an Unlikely Admirer.