Binoculars

August 29, 2011 | 9 comments
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You’re given a pair of binoculars.The instument has heft, the parts are machined with precision, the black pebbled casing holds a grip, and the lenses shine.

You notice that the people who gave you the binoculars have their own. You hear people talking about the dazzling sights the binoculars bring into view.

You try out the instrument, anxious to see for yourself. Like most people around you, you pan up at the sky and . . . everything’s blurry. You can’t see a thing.

You’re asked what you see. Embarrassed, you make vague, general statements about how amazing the binoculars are. What a gift! You are, after all, impressed with the workmanship.

Oh, your interlocutor responds, obviously unconvinced by your him-hawing. Sometimes, they explain, it’s hard to see stuff at first. The trick is that you not only have to look through the binoculars but, at the same time, you have to really super believe that you’re seeing dazzling sights out the other end. Then the binoculars will work.

You’re game. You fit the binoculars to your face and try substituting a strongly-willed belief in the stuff you don’t see for the stuff you don’t see. You’re not screwing around: you really try and you do it for a long time. You’re not ashamed to publicly admit your belief in these dazzling sights. You even put some effort into getting other people to believe.

But the sun is hot, the days are long, and you still don’t see any of those dazzling sights.

Your will flags. Other people start to get suspicious of you. You start to get suspicious of you. The whole thing is about believing – really, truly, fervently believing – and you, my friend, don’t appear to believe. Otherwise you’d see stuff, right? Or, at least, find enough comfort in the strength of your belief in those dazzling sights that you won’t mind not seeing them?

You have to be honest. It hasn’t worked. You’re ready to give up. You sit down on a rock, the binoculars dangling from your knees, your knees hugged to your chest.

You turn the instrument over and over, admiring its heft, its precision machined parts, its black pebbled casing, its shining lenses.

And then – whammo! – lightning strikes.

You turn the binoculars around and look through them “backwards.” And you cry. The world at your feet comes into focus and it is filled with dazzling sights.

You believe now even less than you did a moment ago.

The binoculars didn’t need you to believe in them. They needed you to look through the right end.

9 Responses to Binoculars

  1. James Olsen on August 29, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Beautifully written.

    Not meaning to try and inappropriately stretch the metaphor, though, I want to ask: is the transition always sudden? Simple? Something that I do?

  2. Rameumptom on August 29, 2011 at 11:05 am

    And sometimes it isn’t about turning them around, but finding the focus knob and turning it a little. Suddenly, everything that was blurry comes into clear focus.

    I guess this can apply to gaining a testimony, as well as learning new things in life. We not only have to believe and try, but we have to follow the correct instructions in how to do things, and operate it properly.

  3. Openminded on August 29, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    This really applies to how I lost my faith, too. I was seeing things as a hardcore Evvie until I realized the truth.

    It’s weird how things were just as “dazzling” as they always have been. Much much different, but still, just wonderful

  4. Chino Blanco on August 29, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    The first thing I’d do is climb down off that rock and go find the people who gave me the binoculars and ask them why they didn’t bother to, you know, mention that minor detail about looking through the big end?

  5. Stephen M (Ethesis) on August 30, 2011 at 6:28 am

    Good point Chino ;)

  6. Adam Miller on August 30, 2011 at 8:21 am

    James: Good question. As far as I can tell, experiences vary, both in terms of time and in terms of effort. And some experiences, perhaps for many people, may not be like this at all.

    In general, though, the point of this particular little parable is that the binoculars ARE beautiful and DO, in fact, work. Maybe just not the way we thought they did.

    (And concomitantly, while some of people are actually using them to see stuff, many of us may just be “believing” that we do. But that’s not because the binoculars don’t work.)

  7. Swarovski on August 30, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Chino – well the instructions have been there all along, it just takes a bit of agency to make it work so we can discover how to use them to begin with. Granted in a church where so many answers are given, we forget that the answers don’t become our “own” until we “discover” them for ourselves.

  8. Chino Blanco on August 30, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Swarovski — This bit of writing still works better as exit allegory than faith-promoting parable. Read it again. “Inside” = frustration, “outside” = illumination. Turning it around and looking at it from the other side, everything suddenly makes sense? C’mon, intentionally or not, the author sounds like the Guaman Poma of Mormonism.

  9. mike on August 31, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Since our Bishopric is always trying to get people to sit near the front of the chapel, I would like to get him a pair of binoculars strong enough that they would bring people right up on his lap.

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