Question Your Lens

Advertisements for Google Pixel 2 state, “Question your lens.” Their three current commercials are a combination of fun, heartwarming, and thought-provoking. In one, a group of African Americans from a lower income neighborhood turn out to be caretakers of horses that bring the whole neighborhood together. In another, a seemingly traditional 86 year old Japanese woman turns out to be a DJ on the weekends. In the third, multiple happy people all struggle with depression and call a suicide hotline. At the end of one of the commercials, Google says, “Not every picture tells the whole story. Question your lens.”

The gospel is so precious that we cross cultural barriers, economic barriers, and social barriers to deliver a message of infinite worth. But if we aren’t careful, we can develop stereotypes and prejudices that hinder our ability to communicate this gospel. We need to heed Google’s advice. We, too, must learn to question our lenses.

The gospel is so precious that we cross cultural, economic, and social barriers to deliver a message of infinite worth. But if we aren’t careful, we can develop stereotypes and prejudices that hinder our ability to communicate this gospel. Click To Tweet

1. Learn to see others as God sees them.

To truly question our lenses, we start by asking God to help us see people as he does. No matter what their ethnicity, socio-economic status, season of life, or language, we share more in common than first meets the eye. God created all people in his image. God loves all and desires all to come to a knowledge of Him. All people are fallen and sinful, but can have a right relationship with God through faith in his Son. All people are looking for meaning and purpose in their lives. We are called to love God and love people. When we see people and automatically make assumptions that devalue, dismiss, or stereotype them, we respond by questioning our lenses. Are our assumptions coming from God’s view of people or our own?

2. Be aware that culture and experience shape how you see the world.

No matter how much we try, we cannot escape our culture and our experiences. Both influence everything we do, including how we see others. Most of the time, we don’t even recognize the culture we assume. Many missiologists describe culture as a fish’s water. A fish doesn’t notice the water until it is no longer in the water. If a cultural bias exists against a specific type of people (whether ethnic, economic, generational, etc), we may share in that bias without even realizing we do. If we have been hurt by a person in a specific group, that hurt can play into every interaction we have with another person from that group. When we jump to conclusions, we intentionally question our lenses. Are our assumptions coming from a cultural or experiential bias?

3. Don’t jump to conclusions when you don’t understand.

We often respond to people by jumping to negative conclusions. When I lived overseas, I really struggled with times when I didn’t understand the situation. Someone was always late to an appointment, which meant they didn’t really care about me. I wasn’t invited to an event, which meant I wasn’t important. In reality, there were cultural factors at play. Being late didn’t mean anything bad. I wasn’t invited to an event because my friend viewed me as family and assumed I would be there. The same thing happens in our non-cross cultural interactions. A friend doesn’t pay attention to me. She could be rude or she could be thinking about her mom who was just diagnosed with cancer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify the situation. As Google says, “Not every picture tells the whole story.” When we are tempted to jump to conclusions, we respond by questioning our lenses. Do we really understand everything that is happening in this situation?

Extend the hand of friendship to someone in a different socio-economic level. Hear their stories. Become their friends...as you do, your lens will change. You will see people, created by God & so loved by him that he would die for them. Click To Tweet

4. Question your lens by meeting people.

Finally, we question our lenses by intentionally getting to know people who are different than us. This is quite possibly the scariest part of the journey, but also the most rewarding. Missiologist Paul Hiebert points to our human tendency to group people as other than ourselves. He states, “Social categories are built by establishing oppositions – by showing the differences between us and others . . . Over time, people come to see these categories as innately real because they shape and explain their collective experiences.”[1] When we meet people who are different, we tend to unconsciously view them as part of the “other” category instead of individuals. We break down these stereotypes by getting to know people within the group. When you see someone different than you, walk up and say hello. Invite someone from another generation to come over for dinner. Join a study group with people from a different faith or ethnicity. Extend the hand of friendship to someone in a different socio-economic level. Hear their stories. Become their friends. Love them for who they are. And as you do, your lens will change. You will see people, created by God and so loved by him that he would die for them. And that lens will move you to love them as your Father does.

[1] Paul G. Hiebert, The Gospel in Human Contexts: Anthropological Explorations for Contemporary Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 62.

Anna D. Contributor
SEBTS PhD student
Anna is a PhD student at Southeastern Seminary in Applied Theology. She is interested in cross cultural studies and the arts as well as creative methods for theological education. She currently works for SEBTS’ Global Theological Initiatives Department. When not studying, she loves being outside or in a coffee shop with a friend.
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