Back in 2009, “The Blind Side” film made wheelbarrows of money and garnered Sandra Bullock an Oscar.
The film’s title refers to a football team’s need to protect a quarterback’s blind side. Nasty things happen when a quarterback focuses on a receiver while an unseen opponent approaches to thwart the play.
But it’s more than a football phrase.
Years ago – yes, I recall the exact date – a United Methodist district superintendent called to say I’d be moving to a different church. Nothing like answering the phone near bedtime to learn your whole world has been upended. He and I never got along. But he possessed the bureaucratic power to rearrange my future. Call me blindsided.
Have you been blindsided? Hasn’t everyone experienced a “bad” thing that unexpectedly caused havoc?
And yet blindsides can be good. My wife and I just celebrated anniversary 32! The first time I spotted my future bride was in the early 1980s. She sat on the left side of the chapel’s last row when I stood to preach at the early service. Who is she? Whoa! (If asked a few days before that sight for soaring eyes, I figured to never recover from my first marriage and lousy divorce.)
The Bible’s Saul of Tarsus was blindsided. On his sojourn to Damascus, Saul (not yet Paul) had an agenda ... the Acts of the Apostles gleefully proclaimed he was “spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” Saul seemed a butt-kicking, Jesus-hating dude. Then, God blindsided him. Conversion!
Literally, according to scripture, Paul lost his sight somewhere between blazing light, a heavenly voice and smacking the ground. Or maybe he didn’t. Even a casual reader of the Bible will notice there’s a difference between Acts’ version of Paul’s conversion and places (like the opening of Galatians) where Paul personally transcribed his transformation.
Nonetheless, bad Saul became good Paul! As a kid in Sunday school, I was inspired by the comic-book-like renderings on Paul’s conversion. He was usually sprawled on the ground while his horse – the steed he’d been astride seconds before – appeared spooked. Nowadays I read Acts as a thoughtful adult and think ... Geez, what horse?
I decided to search for one of those old-time illustrations and Googled “Paul,” “conversion” and “Damascus.” And what did I find? Not some saccharine Sunday school drawing, but the “Conversion on the Way to Damascus” from the brilliant Michelangelo Caravaggio (1571-1610).
Caravaggio’s brushstrokes were bold, his colors vivid. And there’s a horse!
Acts never mentioned a horse. (The people with Paul “led him by the hand” after he was struck blind). But adding a horse added drama. Whether cute sketches in a Sunday school handout or a Renaissance masterpiece, we exaggerate.
Every conversion is different. Some are quiet; some spectacular like a rearing horse. The closest I’ve come to a conversion experience was my call to the ministry. It included a solitary walk and a view of the Sierra Nevada.
Unbidden words of encouragement flooded my mind, having little to do with my thoughts and more with God’s nudging and nurturing. Since that “call,” I’ve looked back and imagined the walk as longer or the mountains more foreboding. All in all, though, being honest with memories, my call, my conversion, was mostly low-key.
Except that it transformed my life.
With Paul, he couldn’t see a thing. With me, I suddenly saw. Both ways work. How was your conversion? Dramatic? Not? Haven’t had one yet? Maybe tomorrow. Maybe you never will.
Was my long-ago conversion as important as my next conversation? Will I choose to be honest ... or not? Vulnerable ... or not? Forgiving ... or not?
The blind side of me knows I make important plans but frequently plop on my derrière. The blind side of me knows that some – including me – embellish events in the retelling. We paint a horse into the scene or foothills take on Everest-like proportions.
But I believe all of us are straight-armed by the unexpected and get bucked off the horse named I’m In Control.
We land on holy ground named My Conversion and have a new or renewed chance to see and hear as never before.
Larry Patten is a United Methodist pastor and writer. He maintains www.larrypatten.com and www.hospice-matters.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.