Overcoming Attentional Blindness

bible christianity preaching

This weekend I had the chance to preach in a series called "What's On Your Mind?" I shared a story that explores a profound cultural shift through the eyes of early followers of Jesus. Our story is set in the book of Acts, chapter ten, and revolves around the pivotal transformation experienced by Peter and a Gentile named Cornelius.

Consider our everyday lives and the various unspoken rules we navigate. For instance, how well do you need to know someone before telling them they've got food stuck in their teeth? Or, is it customary to tip before you've even sat down? How quickly should you respond to a text message? These norms shape our interactions, often without us realizing it.

This brings us to our main story. In Acts 10:28, Peter challenges a long-standing Jewish rule against entering a Gentile's home or associating with non-Jews. This moment marks a significant shift, as Peter learns that he should no longer consider anyone impure or unclean. It's a bold declaration of inclusion and a transformative step in embracing outsiders into the faith. Jesus' message of universal acceptance begins to crystallize.

Cornelius, a centurion, shares his experience of being instructed by an angel to send for Peter. This meeting between Peter and Cornelius underscores a divine message: Jesus is available to everyone, regardless of cultural boundaries. It also challenges our tendencies to create barriers and outsiders.

In reflecting on this narrative, I explore two thought-provoking books: "An Immense World" by Ed Yong and "Hunting Magic Eels" by Richard Beck. These books provide fascinating insights that tie back to our story in Acts. Ed Yong discusses the concept of "umwelt," which refers to an organism's unique sensory experience of the world. As animals perceive their environments differently from humans, we would do well to be open to experiences beyond our current understanding.

One fascinating point from "An Immense World" is that what we often consider paranormal might be attributed to our limited sensory awareness. This brings us to Peter's struggle with God's command to eat forbidden foods. His devout beliefs and moral rationale made it difficult to accept such a command. However, Peter begins to reconsider his stance. His vision from God and the supernatural events leading to his meeting with Cornelius highlight that these stories are about more than just dietary laws—they carry a deeper significance.

Faith, in many ways, is about perception and overcoming attentional blindness. There's an ongoing debate about whether God still operates in these mystic ways today. Yet it's crucial to remind ourselves that mystical experiences aren't manufactured; they are often received in their own time, just as Moses perceived the burning bush in Exodus 3 when he turned aside to pay attention.

This calls us to notice what Jesus is doing in our lives without trying to force it. It's about being open to the invitations God extends to us, which we might overlook in our busy lives. Let's challenge ourselves to expand our awareness and embrace those moments when we perceive something beyond the ordinary. Just as Cornelius and Peter experienced their "expanded umwelt" moments, we should remain open to experiencing what God invites us to perceive. It's about curiosity, embracing discomfort, and exploring the edges of our perception.

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