The big news story this week is Simone Biles, the twenty-four-year-old gymnast who bowed out of Olympic competition because she needed to take care of her own mental health. Because of her tremendous achievements in the sport, she is seen as the “greatest gymnast of all time.” That’s quite a yoke to place on the neck of a young woman.
Jeff Bezos had a dream that became a reality this week when the Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket was launched. He was joined on this journey by a small cohort of others. This brave group began an adventure they never experienced before. I wonder what it was like. There is a part of me that would relish the experience, but then another part that says, “If you can’t ride on a roller coaster, you might not be a prime candidate for a rocket ship!” But I do marvel at seeing firsthand the vast space of the heavens.
I have a couple of shoe boxes on the top shelf of my closet that contain notes – love notes. They are from my wife and span the thirty plus years we’ve been together. We met in a distant past where people still wrote letters to each other. Those love notes, in letter and card, tell our love story. Once, in a moment of insanity, I took them down to throw them away figuring that I knew well enough the sentiments the boxes contained. This interrupted our marital bliss for a moment, until I came to my senses and placed them securely back on the shelf. My wife knows more about devotion than I do.
The advice Jesus gives on being a Beloved Community is pretty straight forward. For instance: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37) Don’t judge, don’t condemn, forgive. Got it. Or do I?
This is, in my estimation, essential to being a community grounded in love, and incredibly difficult to practice. Judging others, evaluating people, categorizing everyone I meet is kind of part of the human operating system, isn’t it? We meet someone new, and we automatically think, “Seems like a nice guy,” or “Seems a little pushy to me.” Human interaction is a constant stream of evaluation and judgment.
When our congregation was working through the inclusion of LBTQ+ persons in the life and ministry of the congregation, a variety of people told me they could not accept such people. Then they asked, “How can you as a Christian accept them?” When I responded that judging others was above my pay grade, they were quick to claim, “I’m not judgmental!” To condemn, evaluate, or condemn someone is to judge them. And, news flash, we are all judgmental – acting like gods as we process everyone and everything through our own internal measure of what is right, wrong, good, bad in the world.
Our current culture helps us with the process of evaluation and condemnation by creating neat little categories filled with unspoken assumptions and stereotypes that are usually untrue. You are conservative or liberal, white or black, male or female, successful or lazy. On top of that, most of us assume that we are the norm for all human behavior and if you don’t agree with or act like me you are wrong. So, as you can see, living like Jesus commands is a tough task. It is, however, essential if we are to be the Beloved Community. It is even more essential if we are to be light in this dark, judgmental world.
Can we practice suspending judgement and evaluating others; can we stop measuring everyone by our own set of standards that we can’t meet ourselves? Can we, instead, just listen to and accept others as they are and learn from them through what they offer? In a community rooted in forgiveness, it is possible. Only when we can try and be forgiven for failure; only when we can mess up and find that we have not been judged, is there a hope of being the Beloved Community.
The truth is that all any of us brings to a relationship with another human being that matters is that we are a beloved child of God. The other person brings exactly, and only, the exact same thing. So, what’s to judge? You and me – we are the same in the eyes of God. In the Beloved Community we are no better or worse than anyone. Don’t judge, don’t condemn, forgive. Got it.
Pax Christi – Tim Olson, Lead Pastor
Image by John Hain from Pixabay
It is hard for congregations to become a manifestation of Christ’s Beloved Community. There are many reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason in our age is consumerism. Our culture, driven by economic values and personal satisfaction, turns everything into a commodity. We “shop” for churches. In the same way we decide not to go to a restaurant that gave us a bad burger, we decide to find another church because of a slight from another member, a sermon with which we disagree, or a song that we disliked.