How to Be Brilliantly Mistaken

Staff_McDermott, TomThere is an old teaching from somewhere that goes:

There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading in the same direction. So it doesn’t matter which path you take. Some may be more challenging than others. But they all go to the top. The only one wasting time is the one who runs around and around the mountain telling everyone that his or her path is wrong.

This idea hit home (and hit hard) many years back when Linda and I were driving out of town with our 4-year-old son, Tim, in his car seat in the back. It doesn’t take long to get a wide view of life once you get out of the congested, closed-in view of being surrounded by concrete and glass and thousands of people. In a place like Texas, from any city’s point of view, I think, the world opens up when you leave the city. Which is why it’s so surprising how myopic things can get when you’re “in the wide open spaces.”

We weren’t 30 miles into the “country” when Tim yelled from the back, “Look, a barn!” He’d pointed to an old run-down wooden barn out in the field.

“That’s right, Honey,” Linda chimed in. “That’s just like the one I used to visit every summer on my grandparents’ farm in Indiana.”

“It was all beat up like that?” he asked incredulously.

“Well, no, Son,” I started to add, “That was back when your mom was . . .”

“Look! Another barn!” Tim interrupted as we passed by a smaller, but just as run-down, faded red shed.

Linda suggested, “Well, Tim. That’s not a barn. That’s a shed . . . for tools and stuff.”

“No,” Tim insisted, “it’s a barn!”

Being the opportunistic parent that I was, always ready to use every moment as a teaching moment, I insisted, “Tim, the larger building is a barn — used for larger farm equipment and storing food and feeding the animals. The smaller building is called a shed and is used for . . .”

“It’s a LITTLE BARN!” Tim shouted.

This went back and forth for what seemed like half the trip! After long moments of what we’d hoped would be a change of conversation and distracted conversations, Tim would remind us down the road, “It’s a barn.”

If I’d had a Dictionary at the time, or an Encyclopedia of Farm Architecture, I’m sure it would have been to no avail. All notions of nuance and perspective aside, and the very brilliance of our child at stake, if wiser heads had prevailed I might have practiced Rumi’s notion of finding that place “out beyond ideas of wrong and right, there’s a field where we can meet.” And I could have asked, “Well, Tim, what do you like about barns?” Or, “Tim, what kind of animals might go in a barn?” Or even, “Hey, Tim, is that a cow?”

Instead, I just pushed back more authoritatively, “No, Tim, it was a shed!”

It didn’t help that we passed by several “Little Barns” along the trip that day. I suspect Linda was wishing there’d been a wall nearby upon which to bang her head. She’d probably contemplated the odds of surviving a jump from a speeding car. She finally said to me, in no uncertain terms and under her breath so as not to be heard by the small, indefatigable, lawyer in the back seat, “It’s. A. Barn. OK? It’s. A. B.A.R.N.”

The reality of the situation, the teaching moment, was lost on me as a parent trying to help my child see life the way life REALLY is. And years later I am reminded of how all moments can become mutually inclusive, rather than exclusive, teaching moments — when we parents are receptive enough to see.

All the paths up a mountain aside, being fully alive in the world and fully invested in this reality we understand as God’s being and presence and gift, is more a matter of compassionate perspective than definitive answers of right and wrong. The joy of connection, discovery, finding our place in life’s unfolding drama — life seems better suited to gratitude and open-ended perspective than to fear and seeing things just one way, the right way.

Picasso was once approached by a stranger who challenged him, saying, “You don’t paint things realistically, as they are!” The stranger produced a photo of his wife from his wallet, “Like this!” And Picasso reportedly replied, “She seems rather small and flat, doesn’t she?”

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, and we’ll have some fun as we explore mountaintop experiences, perspective, and being brilliant!

I hope you can join us.


P.S. It’s also Cowtown Marathon Sunday. So here’s the best way to get to church and avoid the runners:

  1. Take I-30 to Forest Park Blvd.
  2. Head north on Forest Park Blvd.
  3. Take a right on 5th St.
  4. Head east to arrive at FUMCFW.

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