It is hard for me to see my own blindness…

I have very little experience with blind folks. I don’t have any blind friends. Certainly not by design, I just don’t have any. Physically, non-sighted folks, I have no blind friends. But I have blind people stories.

I have driven for Uber for almost five years I have picked up a dozen or more blind passengers. So my relationships are short and close ended, but they are “informative.” The Uber experience and my blind passenger stories have given me insight into what I do and don’t see in my own life.

Jet was her “Uber customer name.” I think she was my first sight impaired customer. She is the first I remember. I knew she was blind, as I picked her up, as she had the “white cane.” I welcomed her, confirmed her destination and began the trip. No different than any other rider I had ever had. At some point as we were chatting I used the words “sight impaired.” And I was jumped, “I am blind!” was her exclamation. “Why can’t you just say blind?” I apologized, I had no idea, until that moment that I had apparently uses the Black equivalent of the “N-word” I was flummoxed and I apologized. I truly had no idea that I had said something offensive. Jet was a “blind-shamer.” She could have just said that she preferred the word “blind.” I don’t know why it was easier for her to jump on me. In my attempt to make conversation I had apparently showed my lack of awareness. I assured Jet I was indeed unaware, that I had heard the “term” before, and had NO idea it would be unacceptable to use it. I was “blind” to my “blindness” regarding the “blind.” I have never seen Jet since that day.

Charles is an accidental regular. Uber does not provide the tools for a customer to request a driver, But I have had Charles and his white cane, in my vehicle at least 5 times over the years. Charles is truly a character, and a delight to have transported many times. He has some great stories. First time I picked up Charles, at his home in West Tulsa, white cane in hand. It was a Saturday morning and the destination was the Sheridan Lanes. As we traveled down Charles Page Blvd., he was aware when we passed the building that at one time housed his engine repair and machine shop. I transported him to the bowling alley, to compete in his weekly bowling league at Sheridan Lanes. Yes, I was curious, but did not inquire “How?” My favorite story from Charles was when he was when he shared about the Uber trip on which he was picked up by a deaf Uber driver. I hope I share the story well, because Charles would tell you and you would probably laugh out loud. He and I laughed, you could tell he loved the story. Let me lay one piece of ground work. Blind Uber riders must always confirm verbally the details of their trip prior to entering and sitting in the car. Getting in the wrong car could be disastrous. Sighted folks often just jump in because they recognize the picture of the car or the driver that appears on the App. Blind riders can’t see the car color, check the driver against the published photograph, or confirm the car license. This works great with me. But I am not deaf. If I were a deaf driver and did not notice the white cane, a comedy of driver/rider communication might precede the ride. Such was the case with Charles. The deaf driver did not see the cane, and the deaf driver would not answer Charles’ questions prior to entrance. Both became frustrated with the other’s obvious rudeness. The blind rider did not respond to the driver’s signals to get into the car. After a short “dance”, it took a third party to interpret the “hip-hop” moves, and Charles and the Uber driver were on their way. Secure in the roles of driver/rider. I found the story hysterical. I could see this happening, I could see the transaction and miscommunication unfold.

And in 2016, I picked up Patricia Walsh, to take her and her traveling companion Jessica Jones Meyers to the airport. I usually only know the Uber pickup First name. As you will see-both figuratively and literally-I asked her for her last name, so I could “Google” her. At the point of pick-up, I just knew that this was an airport fare, with two suitcases and a really big fiberglass protective shipping case. I picked them up from a house in Tulsa, and I loaded what I would come to find out was a tandem competition bicycle in the traveling case in the back of my minivan. My destination, as I said was the airport. As a chatty Uber driver, and “fairly astute,” I know that when my customers head to Tulsa International Airport, they are actually going somewhere else. It did not take me long as an Uber driver to learn this obvious airport fact. So my questions upon loading customers and luggage are always in a couplet. “Which airline, and where are you headed?” The response was “American Airlines and ultimately Rio.” Well I had just enjoyed the 2016 Summer Olympics that had recently ended in Rio Di Janeiro, so I went for a clever response, something like “going down to check out the aftermath?” I assumed two attractive women were headed for some world class beach time. “No, going down to compete in the Paralympic games.” I was shocked, “What? (My inner thoughts. No one looks handicapped to me.) I thought maybe they we judges or coaches of some sort. Their reply shocked me. “We are Triathletes.” “Are you both competing? Sorry, I don’t know how to ask, but I thought the competitors were handicapped?” I learned that I was transporting Amy Dixon, a blind triathlete, and her sighted tethered partner Jessica Jones, “like the super-hero” she replied.

During the ride, I had no idea that the woman in my passenger seat was blind, I told her so, and she said “Perfect!” I asked, “How in the world do you compete as a blind athlete? Swimming, Biking, Road race? Huh? ” Well the bike is a tandem, and I am loosely tethered to Jessica for directional guidance during the run and the swim. It was an “eye-opening” ride.

My blind passengers had almost nothing in common. Except they were all blind. And they all knew they were blind. They lived there lives realizing their blindness and from what I could tell, they chose not to accept the limitations I would have assumed they had. I was in many ways blind to their limitations, but I saw their commitment to excellence in how they lived their lives. They knew they were blind, but they also understood their adaptations.

If I were blind, it would be very important to KNOW what I did not see. To KNOW that I was blind would not limit me, but I would have to adapt. If I were not aware of my blindness I might walk into walls, or off of porches, or tumble down stairwells. If I were not aware of my blindness I could easily walk into oncoming traffic, fall into a swimming pool, or spend my day bumping into other people. If I were blind, it would be critical for me to know I was blind, and what steps I would need to take to navigate my blind day. I could not just be placed at the start of a triathlon course, and hear the command to “Go!” and compete without an assist.

And the reason I recount the stories of my blind Uber passengers is because I have been challenged recently to confront my own blindness. I started this blog by pointing out that I have no “blind friends.” I do have many friends and acquaintances that are Spiritually blind however. Mine is not the story of me losing physical sight. It is my journey into knowing what God has challenged me to see. There is a spiritual blindness spoken of frequently in the Bible. But occasionally I clearly see what God is asking me to see. I believe in spiritual darkness and blindness, and spiritual light and sight.

I need to share some words from my favorite “new” preacher/teacher. Since the Pandemic I have spent time joining several church services online. And recently I returned to the Church of my youth. My home church from ages 10-22. At age 68 I returned “home.” This return is the “best” part of my Covid shut down. I am grateful for my online attendance. My “pandemic preacher,” shared online last week from The Gospel of John. Pastor Jim West, from Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City shared the Story of Jesus healing a blind man., recounted in the Bible passage in John 9. It was not a new story to my ears, I have read, preached and taught from this passage during my ministry days. But as I have shared in this blog before, “the Word of God is living and active,” and even familiar stories become fresh and provide new insight and vision. This is a story of a man born blind. A story of miracles, of the power of Jesus, of faith, of believers, of doubters, of a man without sight from birth, and the same man who receives sight.

Pastor Jim helped to open my Spiritual eyes. There are actually different experiences of blindness. It is a reality that I have never considered. And the difference can be striking. There are those that were born with sight and through disease or accident, these folks have lost their sight. Such were my Uber customers Charles and Patricia, folks who can share stories when they were not blind and contrast them to things they now experience once they lost sight are are now blind. If I say to them the stop light is red, they see in their mind’s eye the “same” color I see in my eyes. They “know” what I see, and can “see” also when I say “dark clouds are forming, it looks like a storm is brewing.” Or if I were to say, the cloud formation is amazing, it looks like an elephant, their minds eye is similar to my sighted eye. For the most part my words have the same meaning for them as they have for me.

But what does a person blind from birth envision. To say the sky is blue conjures a completely different picture. What is blue? What does a yellow sun look like if it has never been seen? What does a blind person feel or see when “something is like something else.” That cloud looks like an elephant. It is a “different” blindness, is it not?

I have never lost my sight, I have however experienced “blindness.” Or what I thought blindness might “feel” like. I use to travel frequently for business. Waking up in a new hotel room was occasionally a temporary blind experience. Have you ever awakened in an unfamiliar location in what I would call pitch black? Such might be the experience of the first night in a darkened hotel room. Rolling over in my sleep to awaken to the “where am I” sensation. It has approached frightening. I am so disoriented. I struggle to recall why I am here. The bed is strange, the room is a different kind of quiet, I am lost. “I am BLIND!” My eyes are open, I can see nothing. I literally put my hand in front of my face—-Nothing. Then from across the room I see it. A small horizontal line of light across the floor. And I suddenly remember. It is the light from the hotel hallway that has made its way under the door and to my eye, and suddenly I am aware of everything. As my eyes now adjust to this sliver of light, I see that I am not it pitch black at all. I am not lost in an unfamiliar location. I can traverse the room to the bathroom without a collision. I see the light. And my mind is at peace.

And so it is with life itself. Most of us have sung about our blindness. Most do it without realization of what they sing or say. Almost everyone has sung along with the song “Amazing Grace.” Perhaps a song as familiar to the ear as “Happy Birthday.” We confess our blindness with more regularity than we are ever aware of. Like most of my friends my age, I first sang about my “blindness” with Judy Collins in the 1960s. You probably sang about your blindness at the recent memorial service for Civil Rights leader and Congressman John Lewis. You will sing about your blindness at a 9/11 day of remembrance. You will affirm your blindness as you remember George Floyd or at the funeral of your Uncle Floyd. It is the most popular song of confession I have ever sung or heard sung. It matters not who you are, or what you think you believe. Everyone has sung these lyrics.

“I once was lost, but now I am found, was blind, but now I see.” ~John Newton

You have sung the song. You likely do not know the John Newton story. You may not actually know what grace is. You just sing the song. But the songwriter, John Newton, was the story of a horrible man, a Slave trader, and an experience of salvation at sea and at the foot of the cross. Amazing Grace is about Jesus. It is about salvation. You have sung about salvation. Yes you have. I will let you read the biography if you want. I would encourage it. But if you read the biography, you will not sing this song the same way at the next memorial event you attend. You may choose not to sing it. It will be a new choice you get to make.

Of course there is one line printed above that I need to expand upon. “was blind, but now I see.” In this world, and more specifically the Kingdom of God on earth world, Everyone is born blind. Everyone is without vision. Most do not realize they are without vision. After all, most can ambulate, moving without trouble from destination to destination. People rely on sight. It is like saying “I believe in science.” For some, Science coexists with Faith and belief. For some science excludes faith from their journey. And like my blind triathlete friend, some navigate tethered to another who is with sight. Some move around with a white cane. These blind folks that I have met move with amazing grace. Spiritual blindness is not as easy to recognize at physical blindness.

There are so many verses in the Bible about blindness or having limited sight. If you are interested you can easily find them. But I return to the story in John of Jesus healing the man blind from birth. After the healing, those who knew this nameless man asked him what happened, they even wondered if he had “faked” his blindness for so many years. How did Jesus heal him. And this was the healed man’s response. John 9:25 He answered, “…I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” This is a wonderful story of healing. It is not a story of medical science. And I believe that this happened. I believe that there are miracles of healing. Both as an act of science and as an act of faith. Because of my relationship with God, I get to believe both can be and are true.

There are however those who choose to think that the healing story is a Fairy Tale. And my response is, “of course you do. It is NOT possible for you to understand this simple story.” There is a simple explanation for your doubt. You have been blind from birth. You don’t know you are blind, but you are. I believe it, God says it.

John Newton was NOT physically blind. He was a sailor and a slave trader. He lived by sight. But he wrote the same phrase. As the Bible speaks of physical healing, Newton speaks of spiritual healing….”blind but now I see.”

Surprising, or perhaps it is no surprise at all, just prior to the blind man being healed in John 9, Jesus addresses the root of spiritual blindness. What a remarkable coincidence. It is like He saw your doubt prior to you having doubt. I can share anything I believe is God’s work in my life, I do NOT expect you to understand it. For you it is just a Fairy Tale… words I frequently hear about what I believe. Frankly, it is not possible for you to see what I see if you do not believe in a Risen Savior. But my family inside the Kingdom of God knows that this is the Truth. Jesus speaks to Spiritual blindness. John 8:47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” And those that know, know that access to God is acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Savior. That seeing comes by hearing and believing the Word of God. But just like the blind man… words like redemption and salvation are hard to understand if you are spiritually blind.

So what are the words that have a different meaning for those that are spiritually blind that for the spiritually sighted. Here is a list which is not complete and in no particular order. Faith, hope, love, redemption, salvation, resurrection, truth, light, God, Spirit, Jesus, heaven, hell, eternity, kingdom, praise, worship, rejoice, trust, blessings and curse, good and evil. This is a list of words I have used to discuss what I believe with those who do not believe. And I have spoken to many who do not believe. Unlike a dictionary definition, all of these words live in my life beyond the definition provided in Webster’s unabridged. All of these words require a relationship with Jesus, and salvation experience, to mean the same thing to you as they mean to me. And even after I start the relationship, I still “see in a mirror dimly.” I understand that there is meant to be mystery. Science cannot help me know what I KNOW to be true. And unless you receive spiritual sight from Jesus, and start a relationship, you will NOT know what I know and what I don’t know. Because Jesus said you cannot know the Words of Truth unless you know God.

THERE IS NO REASON TO ARGUE ABOUT THIS. If you do not believe…. You CANNOT UNDERSTAND. And I am not the one to argue with. God will listen to your cries however. He is ready to give you sight.

Maybe this is all a hoax. This spiritual stuff. So here is my challenge. Pay attention the next time the bagpipes play Amazing Grace. You should focus on those around you the next time you sing “Amazing Grace” at your next funeral. Maybe the power of this song has deceived millions and millions of people for centuries. If there is a spiritual conspiracy, a Biblical hoax at work perhaps we should rewrite history. Like the removal of all things dealing with things that are slavery related, maybe it is time to rework the song. Maybe it would be a better song if the rewritten words were instead, “I once was lost and still am lost, was blind, and cannot see.” Maybe the slave trader was just pretending to be a good guy before he died. Or maybe he actually received sight. May you find your spiritual awakening before they sing the song at your funeral. I once was lost but know am found, was blind but now I see.

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