DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Recognizing Our Lens

Written by: on October 28, 2019

Each of us views the world in a unique way.  There are no two people who view every single aspect of life in the exact same way (unless of course, they’ve been brainwashed or programmed by some other form of intelligent life or magic, thus stripping them of their individuality).  Unfortunately, oftentimes we don’t recognize the lens we see the world and the drawbacks such a view may have.  We may be so active in our pursuit of a narrative that we become blind to the experiences of other people around us.

One of the biggest conflicts we come into is when someone says or does something that upsets or unbalances the narrative we ascribe to ourselves.  I think that part of the reason for this is that we give these narratives a prime location in our identities.  When something attacks what we see as our identity, we raise the alarm in defense and prepare ourselves for war.  But do we actually know why we believe in these narratives and identities?

These narratives ultimately affect the way we approach the way we assign value or the way in which we find value.  How do wearrive at our conclusions?  Sims writes, “How we arrive at value judgments, and, indeed, whether we can arrive at value judgments, are now at least as important considerations as what the actual value judgments themselves are.”[1]  What drives us to these different levels of theory?

One of the fantasy series that I’ve been reading is called The Legend of Drizzt by R.A. Salvatore (put on your nerd/geek glasses and bear with me for a moment).  The basic story is that Drizzt Do’Urden is a Drow (a dark elf) from the underground city of Menzoberranzan, the major city of Drow Elves.  In the world of Faerûn, the Drow are among the most feared races due to their history of violence and torture in the service of their goddess Lolth, the Spider Queen.  However, Drizzt is different in that he sees the tenets of Lolth for what they are and his own moral compass refuses to allow him to follow her decrees.  After exiling himself to the surface world, he finds that his own morals align most closely to the goddess Mielikki, the goddess of the forest and of rangers.

The epic narrative of Drizzt (which currently spans around thirty-four books) sees Drizzt trying to reconcile his identity as a Drow on the surface – where people’s natural reaction is to be afraid of him because of his heritage – with what he knows to be true in his heart.  In the latest trilogy I’ve been reading, however, his morals and allegiance to Mielikki are called into question as he finds that the values of this goddess do not align perfectly withwhat’s in his heart.

This reaches its climax in the book Maestro where Drizzt must face the Demogorgon after the barrier between the Prime Material Plane and the Abyssal Plane.  To keep a long story short, Drizzt’s question of reality and morality come to a head during this time as he formally acknowledges that he does not believe in the tenets of Mielikki or any god, but rather the tenets of himself.  He sums this up in a journal entry at the beginning of the next book in the series, Hero: “The only truth is that there is no truth…no reality, just perception.  Because if perception is reality, then what matters?  If this is all a dream, then this is all simply me.”[2]  (You may put on your scholarly glasses again).

I bring up this passage because it calls into question the way in which we think about the world.  How do we come to our conclusions for what narrative we choose to align ourselves with?  Is it through reason?  Is it through our emotions?  Is it through experience?  Is it something else?  A combination of all the above?

Since moving to Hong Kong, I’ve noticed a trend in the people I knew in high school.  Coming from a small town in Kentucky, you could say that my old friends and I came from fairly conservative backgrounds.  I was chatting with one of my old friends recently and was asking him how our old group is doing (it’s been almost seven years since I’ve spoken to any of them; the most I’ve seen has been the occasion meme on Facebook).  As he unfolded their various stories, the common link that I saw was that where at one point they had been some of the most conservative people I knew, they now leaned toward the far left.  I asked what had changed and my friend told me it boiled down to the various experiences they’ve had.  For better or worse, their values had shifted because life happened.  Now they call for the end of capitalism and for social reform (which I find fascinating in my current context).

While experience can be a valuable tool in discerning values, we must temper it with reason without losing our emotional nature as a by product.  If we make a value claim, we have to know why we have chosen that value.  I find Sim’s discussion of the Synthetic or “Magpie Approach” to be interesting.  We live in a a world with so many narratives and theories floating around that it’s inevitable that they would eventually cross pollinate in some capacity.  It even begs the question of whether there is a pure form of thought in that regard or if it’s all mixed in in some way.

We already live in a time where the act of critical thinking is foreign to some as we mindlessly gorge ourselves on information and theories.  My prayer is that we would wake up from our stupor and actively engage in our values.



[1] Stuart Sim and Borin Van Loon, Introducing Critical Theory: A Graphic Guide (London: Icon Books Ltd, 2012), loc. 103.

[2] R.A. Salvatore, Hero, (Washington: Wizards of the Coast, 2016), loc. 444.

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About the Author


Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

14 responses to “Recognizing Our Lens”

  1. mm Joe Castillo says:

    How can we change our narrative about narrative?

    “The culture of the progressive sector as with all sectors is rooted in stories. They are stories that convey values, mental models, assumptions and identities, all of which ultimately guide our behaviors. Unsurprisingly, the most powerful stories that define the culture of our sector are not the stories about the issues we work on, but rather the stories we tell ourselves about who we are (and aren’t) and how we should act in the world to make a change (and shouldn’t)”. By Rashad Robinson

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      Identity is definitely an important factor. I’ve been reflecting on that with some friends of mine since returning from London. How we view ourselves ultimately feeds into how we view the world.

      I remember reading a book called The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken. The book chronicles the author’s deep dive into the world of persecution around the world and the interviews he conducted with people in nations that were hostile to Christianity. One of the things that stuck out was how these nations tried to control the identity of people. Christian identity was seen as competition, and as such, needed to be locked away. But when all other identities are ultimately marred by sin, they give us a false view of who we are. That’s one of the most powerful parts of Christianity: That it gives us a redeemed identity and redeems the other identities we attribute to ourselves.

  2. mm Greg Reich says:

    “Unfortunately, oftentimes we don’t recognize the lens we see the world and the drawbacks such a view may have.” The blessing is we have a choice of lenses. I have often been asked if Christians are brainwashed. The question isn’t whether we are being brainwashed, it is who are we allowing to wash our brain.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      Definitely. It’s almost overwhelming how many different lenses we have to look through, almost like we a different lens for every situation. The question we need to ask ourselves is what our primary lens is, as that lens ultimately influences our others as well.

  3. mm John McLarty says:

    John Lennon once famously said, “I don’t believe in Beatles. I believe in me.” If Drizzt’s ultimate conclusion is to believe in just the truth of himself, where does that take us? Institutions are imperfect, leaders are imperfect, and there will always likely be aspects of community life that we find disagreeable, but without the basic structure, are we all just on a quest for our own individual truths? And if that’s the case, what’s grounds us? What connects us? (I’m only asking because I think my livelihood as a local church pastor may depend on it!)

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      John, I agree wholeheartedly with that. Ultimately, I don’t agree with where Drizzt’s mind went, that it boils down to HIS narrative and HIS ideas versus that of the community. Throughout the book series, this is interesting because Drizzt goes from this narrative of community to that of the individual. Individual convictions are good, but how do those convictions speak into the world around us? What are they grounded in?

      In Bonhoeffer’s Santorum Communio, one of the key arguments is that the Self is found in community. Without community, we do not come to a full understanding of ourself. Our individual narratives need to be joined with the narrative of others; what good does it do to end up with individual truths that don’t matter to anyone else? It may help you sleep at night, but is it actual truth?

  4. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Narratives are often hard to self-critique, but they are often subconscious or precognitive. They transcend reason. That primacy of place makes it difficult to make explicit for the vast majority of people who don’t pause to think reflectively. Leveraging the metaphor of “stupor” was an apt move.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      I think there may be an aspect to where we can’t self-critique our narrative until something calls that narrative into question (again, because it’s often subconscious). I know we’ve talked about how I didn’t realize my own narrative of how I viewed myself and church until I had that moment of crisis in my faith when it felt like the church turned its back on me. I don’t know if we even realize a lot of times that we HAVE a narrative because we haven’t paused to reflect on it.

  5. mm Steve Wingate says:

    Thank you for the engaging statement, “My prayer is that we would wake up from our stupor and actively engage in our values.”

    It seems to take quite a while until someone will allow another to speak into their values asking them to see these from a different perspective.

  6. Nancy Blackman says:

    “While experience can be a valuable tool in discerning values, we must temper it with reason without losing our emotional nature as a by product. If we make a value claim, we have to know why we have chosen that value.”

    You mentioned your high school friends and how they had shifted in their thoughts. Where do you fit into this and how does that statement of tempering with reason fit into this narrative? Obviously, your world view and narrative has changed because of a choice to move to Hong Kong. How has that changed you? I noticed that you mentioned that the shift in your friends was fascinating in your current context.

    Do you resonate with Drizzt?

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      There’s definitely a big part of my own life where I’ve run with experience as a primary means of deciding my values. When I returned after my first summer of volunteering in Hong Kong, I let the experience and emotions of it dictate my life for almost the entire year after my return. I always say that I returned from that summer with a fire ignited in my heart and a need for people to experience what I had experienced. For me, as someone who normally values reason, my logic was warped by emotions. If anything, I actually became quite angry when people didn’t agree with me or weren’t willing to make the “sacrifice” to go to Hong Kong. That time period ended up being one of the darkest times in my life. It was much later when I was able to reasonably assess my summer experience away from the high and emotions of that summer. Away from the emotions, I realized that the fire I had burning in my burned people instead of providing light and warmth. I had a lot of apologizing to do after I snapped out of it. Again, experience and emotions aren’t bad and are good (I feel I need to assert that); reason just can’t be left out if one is to be holistic.

      In terms of Hong Kong and my current context, what I see coming from my old high school friends is a push toward communism and their support of it. Here in Hong Kong, I see the opposite effect where people are vehemently fighting against that ideal because of fear and experiences they’ve had of and in mainland China. There was a Babylon Bee article that satirized this ( Just interesting to observe those contrasts.

      As for Drizzt, there’s a lot that I resonate with. Granted, I’m not a master swordsman with agility and skills to match, so the martial stuff I can’t connect with (even if in my mind I think I can 😉 ). But the basic story of being the outcast, finding a community that loves him, ultimately losing that community and losing sight of the values I held for a time, and then having a revised view of those values upon reestablishing myself in community resonates deeply with me.

  7. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Thanks Dylan! Yes, values 🙂 we are so diverse in the way we see and live. How do we make good choices? And, then better choices. Life and experience is different for each one of us. The impact changes us.

    Listening closely. Man, for the poor decisions that I have made at times, all I can do is appreciate where others are at along their own proverbial way. The proverbs can help too! So, this ongoing adjustment of values to live by (what is true for us) that life can shake us into and the Spirit of God can help us into.

    Grace for each one of us because as you’re alluding to it, who knows? All we can do is live the values that we currently ascribe to, to our best…that, when growth and adjustment are needed, the encouragement won’t be too intense.

    And, what are our values with regards to acceptance of those whose values differ from our own? Can those of differing values live in harmony? Is there true harmony in the willingness between two individuals who do not share common values, who ‘agree to disagree’ on things? Could this be thought of as a nice kind of ‘non-violent resistance’?

    Thanks Dylan. Open hands and open heart here (leaning on the One who’s standing guard in care for our souls). Funny-interesting place this world has become. Thankful for my perception on things to be challenged in these exercises! Glad to be in community with this.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      Finding that harmony in different values is something that I’m looking into for my research. I always find Roger Olson’s phrase, “Unity in the essentials and liberty in the nonessentials” to be a guiding principal of how I interact with people. As values are an integral part of our identity, I ask myself, how do these values affect the identity that is being presented? I think one of the most dangerous states we can be in is when we become close-minded to other people’s values – when we refuse to empathize with their position.

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