the virtue of gazing into the middle distance

And here you were thinking it was a vice!

By Henningklevjer (from Wikimedia Commons)

Apparently, far from being vicious the ‘middle distance perspective’ is used in the New Testament to render both the life of Jesus (in the Gospels) and that of ordinary Christians (in letters like Ephesians). At least, that’s what David F Ford reckons.

Check out what he says in his essay, ‘System, Story, Performance: A Proposal about the Role of Narrative in Christian Systematic Theology’ (from Why Narrative? Readings in Narrative Theology, p 195):

The middle distance is that focus which best does justice to the ordinary social world of people in interaction. It portrays them acting, talking, suffering, thinking, and involved in institutions, societies, and networks of relationships over time; in general this perspective renders … “the detail of how things are”. The perspective and the content go together. If one moves too close and allows the dominant perspective to become, for example, one person’s inner world or stream of consciousness, then the middle distance has been supplanted. Likewise, if one takes too broad an overview and subsumes the particular people, words, and actions into a generalization, a trend, or a theory, the middle distance loses its own integrity and becomes, at best, evidence or a supportive illustration.

I guess this is something like the tension many people experience in preaching — or otherwise trying to present the good news of Jesus. It’s easy to fall into the trap of either over-familiar, confessional, ‘look at me’-ism or of trotting out pithy-sounding but bland platitudes and hastily formulated generalisations about ‘society’ or ‘the world’.

Perhaps it’s time to rehabilitate the virtue of gazing into the middle distance…

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