On Sunday I preached on the Sermon on the Mount at the church and shared the story of the campanile. This was a story told by Forrest Baird at the conclusion on a class on CS Lewis that remains one of the most influential classes of my life. Dr. Baird told this story about the campanile of Whitworth as his final lecture.
The Campanile of Whitworth University sits in the middle of what is called “the loop”, the oval shaped grassy acreage that the college and the dormitories sit around. It is a tall brick pillar that at one time was a belltower but I believe the bells don’t ring anymore. On top of the Campanile is a large metal cross, which literally sits in the middle of the campus. It is a symbol, both literally and figuratively, that at the center of this campus is Jesus Christ.
During the winter months, Dr. Baird would walk across campus through the snow. He noticed one day that although he thought he was walking in a straight line, when he reached his final destination and looked back across The Loop at his path taken, it was in fact quite wavy and curvy and not straight at all. Being a philosopher and one prone to deeper thinking, he questioned how he could arrive at the straightest path to his destination. The next few days he would walk across the snow and pay close attention to each footstep. Day after day he noticed that the more he tried to keep on a straight line, the more “off course” he got. This bothered him so much that on one morning he took his time and didn’t look up from his feet during his entire journey across campus. Step by step, he took precise and careful measure to take an exactly straight line. The result? Perhaps his worse performance yet in his quest to walk the straight line.
The next morning, Dr. Baird took a different approach. Instead of obsessing over his particular steps and looking down at his own feet, he would instead stare off at the Campanile at the center of the campus. He was determined for the experiment to not take a single glance at his feet or his individual steps. Instead, he focused on the cross on top of the Campanile and walked towards the cross. When he arrived at the campanile and turned around, he discovered something miraculous: a perfectly straight line. The straightest line occurred when he took the focus off himself and instead focused on the cross.
This is a fact of human vision, the further off we set our sights on the horizon the more perspective we are able to have as to where we are at. In fact when I am out guiding guests who are fishing on the saltwater, if they start to feel queezy I tell them, “Look up! Look at the furthest point you can find and stare at it and you will feel better.”
Friends, this is the same in life. When we obsess on ourselves and stop seeing out and looking for God, our paths get off-course. When we affix our eyes on Jesus and try and walk towards Him in our small everyday decisions, the true course emerges. Joy, hope, peace, endurance. These are the fruits of the Spirit Paul talks about here, which flow from the abundance life of Jesus Christ. The life of a Christian isn’t easier than others, but when those following Jesus affix their eyes to Jesus, a deeper hope draws them through the steps of their life to give hope. The course gets straighter the more we follow Jesus.
At the conclusion of Dr. Baird’s lecture, once he had the class of 60 students in the palm of his hand he packed up his bag and left the room. He let the weight of his words sink in around the stunned class. My life for the last 14 years has been a journey of trying to remember these words and take my eyes off myself where they so often rest, and instead look towards the furthest and truest thing on the horizon: Jesus Christ.