Monday, February 7, 2011

Thought for the Week: Judging Others

Please excuse this ridiculous depiction
of Abba Moses.
A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, 'Come, everyone is waiting for you!' So he got up and went, taking with him a leaky basket filled with sand which he carried on his back. The others came out to meet him, and seeing the sand pouring from the basket, asked, 'What's this, Father?' The abba replied to them, 'My own sins run out behind me and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.' When they heard that, they said no more to the brother, but forgave him.
I wish I had a snappy or witty way of communicating how this story relates to my life right now.

The truth is, this story relates to my life all the time. There is another saying of the desert fathers that essentially goes like this: an Abba sees a brother committing a fault, and does nothing. Another brother witnesses the Abba's lack of judgment, and asks, "Father, aren't you going to say something?" to which the Abba replies, "Him today, me tomorrow."

It's human nature for one to strive to be better than another. There are times that I feel like people deserve my judgment--I'd love to put Glenn Beck and James Dobson away. But God has also placed within us the strange and powerful ability for empathy and compassion.

I've been studying about the Quakers a lot lately, and have since discovered that--in all practicality--I have been a practicing Quaker for years without knowing it. One of their many disciplines is called the Testimony of Equality, in which Friends acknowledge that all people--the good, the bad, and the ugly--are all on the same level. Or on the same plain, if you want to use an image from the gospel of Luke. What right do we have to place judgment on the faults of another? It reminds me of a Sufjan Stevens song called "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." In the haunting tune, Stevens compares himself to the famous serial killer: "In my best behavior, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid."

Not long ago, we were discussing the death penalty in my Religion and Violence class I'm taking at the university. I caught the very end of one student's argument. "...Don't get me wrong, I think that the death penalty should be used sparingly, only on those for whom there is no hope."

I was flabbergasted. Who are we to say that a person has no hope? Another Quaker belief: All people have the inner light, the inner Christ, the light of God in them. It's like John Wesley said on his death bed, "The best part is...God is with us."

God is with us.

It may sound idealistic. And that's the idea. I see judgment in my friends, my family, my teachers. And especially in myself. Everyone. The point of Christian discipline is not to be a perfect person, but to strive toward an ideal we may never reach. I see folks who go to church every Sunday, and are still too blind to see Jesus when he stares them in the face, looking for a meal or a place to stay. I am one of those blind people.

But if God is with us, there is always hope. Black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight, illegal, legal, patriot, terrorist, liberal, conservative. None of us is better than the other. None of us deserves judgment, pain, or death more than the other. We are all equal. There is hope. And God is with us. Who are we to say otherwise?

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