Thursday, July 24, 2014

Making Judgments

 Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual edification. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. - Romans 14:13-23

Isn't it amazing how misdemeanors, felonies and trials of famous people (or even sometimes one-step-removed-from-total-anonymity people) attract and hold our attention?  I bet most people over the age of 20 or so would remember following the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995. Martha Stewart's stock trading misdoings were big news in 2004 while just about every day there's a story somewhere about someone, well-known or not, who has done something we would consider dastardly and we wait like Mme. Defarge at the foot of the guillotine for them to lose their heads, or, at least, their freedom/money/fame. When it fizzles we are disappointed and when our personal judgment is upheld by a court or jury, we feel vindicated ourselves. If there's anything we like better than judging other people, it's judging famous other people.

We make judgments all the time. This peanut butter is better than that one. This pseudo-Tudor house is more ritzy than that small-frontage ranch. This denomination or political party is superior to all others which are misguided/mistaken/bigoted or just plain so wrong as to be laughable. The same act can be applauded or castigated, depending on which side a person happens to be and how strongly they believe in the efficacy or the heinousness of the act.

Take the recent influx of children from Central America. Some people want the little criminals sent back to wherever they came from as fast as they can stick them on a plane or a bus or a train. Others see them as refugees from poverty, crime, and a dozen other things no child should ever see or hear of much less experience. "Take care of our own here first before we start letting those kids in here." How funny that kind of statement is, in a very tragic sort of way. Yes, we have too many homeless, poverty-stricken, sick, desperate, needy people in this country already, but we aren't taking care of them very well, are we?  No, we're busy telling women what they can and can't do with their bodies, urging GLBTS to just forget about equal rights and the ability to get married to the person they love, brushing off kids who come to school hungry and often go home the same way, and insisting veterans who volunteered to help protect our safety at risk of their own lives and sanity to just get on with life as usual. We've judged the world and it's become an "I've got mine, too bad about you, just work harder" kind of judgment that we give out.

When Paul wrote to the Romans about making judgments, he used the image of food to get his point across. If eating that pork barbecue sandwich is going to make someone else feel sick or even dirty for having been in the immediate area, then they shouldn't eat pork barbecue sandwiches, at least, not in the presence of those for whom it would create a problem. That's a bit simplistic, but it gets the point across, I think. In short, don't do something that will make someone else's life more difficult. If a friend is an alcoholic, we wouldn't offer him or her a beer as soon as they step across our threshold, would we? We wouldn't, if we're (a) a good friend and/or (b) have any idea that the person has a problem saying "No" to alcohol.

Paul asks them to make judgments but make them based on what is good for the other, not necessarily just for themselves. Whatever is done should be done in love, and there's where the problem begins for us. To love someone a person has to be able to get close enough to them to see them as real people and, even if we can't walk a mile in their shoes, we can, at least, follow close enough behind that we can see where the footsteps those shoes made are leading. To love means to see the humanity in another person, not just the parts we think need to be changed. To love means to want the best for them, whether it is what we think is best or not. To love means to see a need in a fellow human being and do what we can to fill that need. We shouldn't make them stumble because we insist that ours is the high road they should take, we go back to get them and take part of their burden to make their walking easier even if it takes us out of our own way to wherever we were going.

We make judgments every day, many times a day. What we need to consider is whether we're making right judgments or wrong ones. Are we making them based on legality or on love? Are we seeking the best for ALL people, not just the ones like us, or are we judging some as unworthy of our time and attention? 

Today I have to look to see where I am judging unfairly and where maybe my judgments are causing someone else to fail in some way. I think a few prayers for the gift of mercy, compassion and ability to love even those folks I really don't like very much are in order because I know I'd like the same kind of treatment from a lot of folks who don't like me all that well either. If I hear of someone making some error in judgment, their own judgment, whether they're famous or the most invisible and unknown person in the history of the world, may I commend them to God with a prayer or them and for any whom they have harmed in any way.

That's a full day's work just in itself but one I think is very necessary. Then to go to work on those judgments I've been making...
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Wednesday, July 23, 2014.

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