Stop Judging: A Lenten Fast

Following my last post on “complaining,” I’d like to offer another suggestion for our Lenten fast: Stop judging people. Now, before I go any deeper, I am not talking about suspending critical thinking or wise discernment. I’m not talking about the kind of judgment we must undertake as we make important decisions. I’m talking about the obsessive habit we all have of rendering judgment on others and on ourselves every minute of every day; judgment that leads to no good.

We are trained by culture, advertisers, even social media to make judgments about everything. Every Facebook post calls for a “like.” Every game has a winner and a loser, which is then transferred to the playground and the board room where everybody is neatly divided into camps of winners and losers. Every thought and idea is “good” or “bad.” Life is polarized between black and white, red and blue, in and out, rich and poor.

Judging other people by their thoughts, color, beliefs, gender, or favorite sports team is an extension of binary, dualistic thinking that seeks to neatly order a very disorderly world into unsustainable, oversimplified categories. When I judge someone else and declare them “wrong,” I do so so that I am “right.” When I look longingly at someone else and judge that they are beautiful or handsome, it probably leads to telling myself that I am not. I can look at the people who live next door and judge that they have more than I do and that means something about me. So, I either consider them greedy and feel better, or I consider them blessed and I must be messing up.

Jesus tells a parable about two men who go to the Temple to pray. The first is a religious leader, a man judged by the culture (and himself) as upright. The second man is a tax collector who is not deemed so righteous. The religious official says to God, “I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” The tax collector pays no mind to the religious official and says his prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  Jesus says the tax collector is justified before the Lord. Turns out the religious official only justified himself to himself. (Luke 18:11-13) That is what judging others or ourselves does to us. Notice the tax collector directs his attention to “the log in his own eye” (Luke 6:41) while the religious official denies his sin and judges the speck in another.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and noted spiritual guide says, “The lowest level of consciousness is entirely dualistic (win/lose)—me versus the world and basic survival. Many, I am afraid, never move beyond this.”  When we stop trying to categorize everyone and everything (including ourselves) we begin to be able to embrace the wonderful diversity and wonder of the world. The ability to accept and deal with mystery and paradox; complexity and multiple meanings is a sign of spiritual maturity. It does not come naturally. It takes discipline and patience to leave behind instinctive patterns of thought that want to boil the world down to the lowest common denominator.

So, next time you find your mind categorizing the behavior of someone else, look for the log in your own eye and turn your attention to Jesus. Turns out confessing our own sins, not judging others, and paying more attention to Jesus are wonderful ways to observe Lent.

© 2017 Timothy V. Olson. All rights reserved.