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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Shadow Play”

While meant to be a drama, this episode ended up serving well as one of the “friendship lesson” episodes–illustrating the dangers of perceiving the world the way we are instead of how it really is. The epic battle that lasted over a thousand years between Starswirl the Bearded and Stygian, the Pony of Shadows, all boiled down to neither individual seeing the truth. Starswirl interpreted Stygian’s attempt to copy the powers of the Old Pillars of Equestria in order to earn appreciation as an attempt to steal their powers for himself, making him a villain in his eyes. Stygian, on the other hand, interpreted being cast out as an act of ingratitude and hate, making the Old Pillars, and his old friends, his enemies in his own eyes. In the end, their banishment and their fight was the result of misunderstanding reality rather than truth, but that didn’t mean both of them didn’t defend such misunderstandings vigorously. Starswirl saw Stygian as a monster to be banished, and Stygian wanted to destroy all of Equestria if it meant getting his revenge on him.

When thinking about this episode for this devotional this past week, a thought occurred to me that tied in with it. Many of you are probably aware of the abuses of social media. How they seem to be used as an excuse to vilify, insult, shame, and breed every kind of discord and intolerance imaginable to get everyone at each other’s throats, whether consciously or subconsciously. Enough to where a backlash has begun where people are beginning to swear it off. However, I myself don’t have much of a problem with it and I use Facebook regularly. How, you ask? I discovered a couple years ago a wonderful option to block posts from certain groups. Before then, anyone and everyone I friended would repost things that were political, aggressive, argumentative, and occasionally obscene. I used to always find the urge to respond to them, often resulting in arguments breaking out and the desire to feel justified overriding the desire to be Christian, but I eventually decided to go with the “if you can’t say anything nice…” maxim and simply blocked sites that had nothing but political and inflaming rhetoric. Since then, Facebook has become far more manageable for me (especially in election season…). Now that I filter out the stuff that ticks me off and leave only the stuff I’m interested in, things are much better.

How does this tie in to today’s episode? As I’m emphasized in other posts, we never see the world the way it is but the way we are. Everything from our view of international affairs to our outlook on our job to our attitude toward strangers to how we wake up in the morning and look around our rooms…whether it’s good or bad, hopeful or depressing, an opportunity or a lost cause: it all comes down to our outlook. And what many of us don’t realize consciously is just how many “filters” we put on everything subconsciously.

Such was definitely the case in this episode. Both characters had put up their own “filters” so that they could see nothing in each other except what they had already decided on seeing. In particular with Starswirl. To him, Stygian was nothing but evil to be stopped. He wouldn’t bother listening to anything Starlight tried to say about it, dismissing even considering an alternate viewpoint as irrelevant, and adamantly refusing to see anything but his version of history. In other words, anything that challenged his mental schema was blocked out entirely. Only things that confirmed it were let in.

Getting back to the topic of politics. I try to stay out of them, but my family listens to them and I get feeds from news sources both liberal and conservative. I’m amazed at how it seems as if they’re reporting on two different realities most days. Essentially, each source casts everything one way or the other. If it’s something that the party they’re in favor of did, no more how horrible, disgusting, illicit, or harmful, it’s always cast to make it look like it was either not a big deal or even a virtue. By comparison, if it’s something that the party they’re against did, no matter how good, noble, wholesome, helpful, or even innocuous, it’s always cast to make it look as if it’s the worst thing ever conceived by mankind. Or oftentimes they simply ignore whatever news story makes the other side look good as if it never even happened. Again, it’s all a “filter”.

Politics is an easy target, but it extends to everything. How you view this race or that gender. How you think of this religious group or that country. Even how you view the homeless and the needy, or what personal choices you make for recreation or fun. People don’t realize how often they have made a subconscious yet firm decision to love something or hate something. When that happens, they put on “filters”. And as a result, they often won’t give anything a chance or think up reasons to not do something or try something. Sometimes it’s used as an excuse for hate or intolerance. And sometimes it becomes just plain crazy. (I myself know one person who refused for ages to try a restaurant named “Cheddar’s”. Why? Because he hated cheese…in spite of the fact the restaurant doesn’t specialize in cheese and that’s just the name.)

Whether you pick the Old Testament or the New Testament, the Bible warns against the sin of showing partiality and seeing the world according to human eyes rather than God’s eyes. “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'” (1 Samuel 16:7). “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:2-4). “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). In short, we are to strive to see things the way God sees them rather than according to our own internal “filters” and all of their associated biases and prejudgments.

However, to me, the good news is that the right kind of “filtering” can also work to our advantage.

Just as internal filters can keep us biased toward seeing the world in a negative light, it can help us see the world in a positive one. We can train ourselves to stop looking for reasons to hate or dislike things but instead to look for the living spirit of God in everything. When looking at a group or individual we dislike, we can choose to see how they are a precious child of God and loved by him as much as we are. When disaster strikes, we can choose to see in what ways we are still blessed and what opportunity we might now have. When feeling attacked unjustly or persecuted, we can choose to look for how God is guiding us and how he wishes for us to grow in that situation. It’s possible, even in the worst of circumstances, to still see the presence of God, his spirit, and goodness and love in everything, while at the same time filtering out anything negative, externally terrible, hostile, or that in any other way tries to get us to react with a hostile, angry, or hard-hearted attitude. But even if you’re not in the worst of circumstances, you can do the same in everyday occurrences, no matter how mundane or simple.

And over time, we can train ourselves to see the world that way by default, and to keep growing to see the world the way God sees it. And when that happens, like it did on my Facebook page, the world becomes a much more pleasant, hopeful, lovely, and opportunity-filled place.

My suggestion for this devotional is to focus a bit more on trying to identify filters that we have set up that are keeping our world view rather grim and pessimistic, and instead to focus on seeing things more the way our Lord wants us to. It might make all the difference in the world.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that the world is filled with your Spirit and blessings, and that they are all around us no matter the situation if we will look for them. If there is something in my life that is keeping me from seeing the world the way you want me to see it, or is warping my view toward others and keeping me hard-hearted, please help me to identify it, and I now renounce it and repent of it. Instead, please give me eyes to see the world the way you see it, so that I can better grow to love this world you have made and especially the people you have created to fill it. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”