Forgive, Judge, and See - Stepping Away From the Fires of Hell

Picking up from the previous post "COMMENT, COMPLAIN, CRITIQUE, CONTEMPT - THE SUBTLE STEPS TO THE FIRES OF HELL," I offer up a way to think about moving away from contempt. 

recent email newsletter from Fr. Richard Rohr said Pope John XXIII had a motto which was translated as, “See everything; overlook a great deal; correct a little.” Rohr refined this motto to read: "See everything; judge little; forgive much." It is this three fold pattern that might give us the tools to step away from contempt. First the visual then a bit of explination:

Contempt is among the most difficult things to step away from. Moving away from contempt requires dramatic action. We may not desire dramatic moving away when we are close to contempt toward another. Specifically, we are to forgive much. Forgive wholesale and trust that you will have time to sort out the specifics later. Like running from a fire, the first thing to do is get to safe ground before you assess what needs to be done next. Contempt is a fire that can consume all things and so running from it by way of forgiving wholesale is the first step. Assessments can be made on the way forward. 

If you find that you are close to criticism toward another, then it is important to judge less. Remember we all see only through a mirror dimly and what we see in another person is only a small slice of the whole pie. There are situations going on in their lives that you are unaware of that are contributing to actions you don't understand. Notice that it is not "do not judge" but rather "judge little." While the ideal may be to not judge at all, humans are not able to do this. It is more realistic that we aim to judge little.

Finally, if you find that you are close to complaining, then open your eyes and see more. Not only are we not seeing the other clearly, but we also tend to see ourselves in pure and sinless light. We are the "gold standard" by which we think all things should be judged. We often overlook our own failings/shortcomings. See everything means examine your own motives and actions. 

The goal is to bring us back to comments. Comments are without judgement and are seeking clarification. Despite the "comment" section of most online platforms are full of critique and contempt, comments are the clay that we can use to shape healthy relationships.

Comment, Complain, Critique, Contempt - The Subtle Steps to the Fires of Hell

You may have heard the following scripture from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew:

‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
— Matthew 5:21-24

You may have noticed there are four movements that Jesus highlights. I translated these four postures into the following four movements:

  1. Comment
  2. Complain
  3. Critique
  4. Contempt

Notice that anger/comment are nether good nor bad. We place values on the emotion anger, but really anger (like all emotions) is amoral, it is what you do with that anger that qualifies the anger. Comments are just that - amoral comments. Comments are observations and helpful for build relationships. For instance, "the meeting lasted 90 minutes." is a comment. 

Issues arise when we do not address comments and allow them to build up. At that point, we're stepping toward Complaining. Complaining is a subtle shift from Commenting. Complaints are Comments with qualifiers. Sticking with the example above: "The meeting lasted 90 minutes but should have been done in half as much time," is a complaint. 

The look of contempt?

The look of contempt?

As complaints are left unchecked, they too can bundle up into critiques. Critiques are qualified comments with an evaluation. So you can see how "The meeting lasted 90 minutes but I could have run that meeting more efficiently so it would have only taken half the time." is a critique. It is nefarious to bundle complaints because they become the fuel for scathing critiques. 

Finally, critiques that are not addressed in healthy ways can build into Contempt. Contempt is that feeling that the other is worthless. The contemptuous might say, "that meeting was a waste of time and we should not have to ever attend another meeting and if I were in charge I would do it better." 

Once we arrive at contempt toward someone or something we have a very hard time coming back from it. The next post will give a suggestion on how we might move away from contempt. 

The above is an abridged version of a sermon delivered on 2/12/17 (listen here).

A Difference in a Sermon and a Speech

It is important that preachers pay attention to their context. For instance, if your ministry is in a college town and the parishioners are college-educated people who place a premium on learning, then you know that you are going to have to have a teaching element in the sermon or no one will listen to you. If you are in a context where people value being a church of "Go" then by goodness, you need to be sure to have a call to action in the sermon. 

Context matters, but it is not king. Christ is King. In this sense that means the contextual must be in service of the transcendent. A sermon that is trapped and cannot transcend the context is not a sermon in my book. 

Sermons are those declarations of Good News that speak to the context but then transcend it. So if your community values learning, then the sermon must not be only about teaching. It must include a teaching element and then transcend it so that there is a call to service. The church of "Go" needs to hear the sermon that calls to action but transcends that call to include a call to worship and be still. 

Sermons that are trapped in their context are just that - trapped. There may be a good word shared, but it is not Good News. It may make the community feel good, but if the proclamation does not include and transcend the context then it is a public speech, not a sermon.*


*This post is specifically directed to all the preachers named Jason Valendy.

Racism - "My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them..."

Princeton professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr. gave an interview to Krys Boyd of KERA Think on February 6, 2017 that was worth listening to for a number of reasons. Within in the interview was a metaphor offered up by Dr. Glaude that struck a chord with me about racism. 

Dr. Glaude stated that he was not a climate change denier and he believes that the climate is warming and that we are in a climate crisis. However, he notes, that if you look at the actions of his life, you might think otherwise. He lives his life as though he believes the world's climate is just fine although he intellectually believes otherwise. 

I do not think that I am a racist. I firmly believe in equality and I abhor acts of hate and injustice between people. However, if you look at the actions of my life you could string together a case that I don't care that much about injustice. For instance, I purchase things that I know are built by people living in inhumane conditions.

I do not believe that I am a racist, however (as this little video highlights) not being racist is different from being anti-racist.

I am beginning to come to terms that just because I do not believe that I am a racist or do things that are traditionally thought of as racists actions, I unknowingly do things that cause harm. I am reminded of the great story of Abba Moses that goes like this:

One of the brothers committed a sin. Moses was invited to attend a council about this, but he refused to go. Then a priest sent someone to say to him, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.” So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, “What is this, Father?” The old man said to them, “My 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 live unaware of the sin that runs out behind me. I am unaware of the messes that I make. This does not mean I am an evil person only that I am human and ought to strike a more humble posture in my life.