“The rear-view mirror is smaller than the windshield for a reason: what is behind us so much less important than what is in front of us.”
That was a quote from a cop-show that I watch. I also found out today in a google search that Joel Osteen has said it and there are countless memes. Despite the sources, I find it genius!
We humans get caught up, hung up, and wrapped up in what is behind us. How something didn’t work out. How we aren’t where we were. Pushing the metaphor a bit, if you keep focusing on the rear-view mirror, there is going to be trouble!
I think that congregations do this all the time. And, maybe more so in recent years. We look back a lot: to what we had or how many people we had or the programs we had. We keep looking in that tiny little mirror (which never gives us the full picture, does it?) expecting to change our present by looking back there.
Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.— Proverbs 23:18
As I think about the stories of God’s people that are collected in scripture, God’s people have been doing this forever:
When God freed the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, they found themselves in the desert. And they looked in the rear-view mirror and said, “Let’s go back to Egypt — there were leeks and garlic there.” When God’s people found themselves in exile, they kept looking backward. When the early church was just starting out, they kept looking back to their Jewish roots.
Now, of course I know that if you aren’t aware of your past you are bound to repeat it. The past helps us to learn and grow. But there is a difference between awareness of and focus on.
So, while God’s people spent their time focused backwards, God didn’t and still doesn’t. God has always been about pointing towards a land of milk and honey, a future with hope, a vision of basileia (that’s Greek for “Kingdom”). God gives us the gift of baptism that points us forward toward life with God and each other. God gives us the gift of bread and wine that point us forward toward a life of abundant mercy and grace. God gives us the gift of Spirit who moves us step by step into the future that God has in mind for us.
Listen: that rear-view mirror is enticing, beguiling even. But that windshield? That’s where it’s happening.