It turns out, like so many of the things that Jesus said, that these words are difficult to live by.
Maybe never more so than right now.
A few weeks ago, Diane and I were in Montana, visiting my parents – it was the first time in two years that I had been able to get away to see them. (Hey! No judging! I can explain!)
I won’t say exactly where we were, but it is a small town in Montana, a state that enthusiastically voted for Donald Trump in 2016. (Curious, I looked up how just how enthusiastically this town supported Trump; suffice it to say that Trump carried the area by an 80-20 percent margin.)
On the night when we arrived for a week-long stay, I was too weary to cook, so we decided to grab takeout chicken. There was one establishment in town, a bar and grill, making chicken. We ordered takeout and waited inside – until we noticed that nobody was wearing masks. There was not a mask to be seen on a patron or a bartender or a waitress.
Except for the masks that Diane and I were wearing.
A little unsettled, we headed out into an open-air patio to wait for our chicken. Perhaps needless to say, no one out there was wearing a mask either. This in a state where coronavirus cases were surging at the time (just like they have been in Oregon).
I am a little ashamed to confess that, at some point, I succumbed to peer pressure, pulled my mask down and watched as increasingly intoxicated patrons pulled blocks out of a gigantic Jenga game, each block of wood bearing a written command for the player to follow. I am not lying when I say one of the blocks said “Drink, bitch.”
I must have thought something like this: “Well, what would you expect from a bunch of Trump supporters?”
I also must have thought something like this: “Why is it taking so long for our chicken?”
Then, I thought this: These people (“these people!”) also were friends and neighbors of my parents. As my parents had aged in their home, these people have watched over them – and had shown, again and again, that they would do anything to help them. They are truly good neighbors.
Our chicken came. We brought it back to my parents’ house and ate. It was pretty good.
The next day, we logged in to watch the church service, and something Walter said (this might have been in the breakout group) resonated with what I had been thinking since the night before. I can’t remember what specifically he said, but the end result for me was a vow to be less judgmental – to try to respond to people with more empathy and compassion. Walter would like that. So would Jesus, I figured.
Well, after a couple of weeks, here’s all I can say about this vow: It’s hard. So hard.
A couple of days after we returned to Corvallis, I was regaling my therapist with this story. To my alarm, he suddenly reached out for his pad and started to explain that when we make judgments, they reflect on our own selves – our own beliefs, our own fears.
These were not words I particularly wanted to hear. Now I needed to look at myself as well? How much more difficult did this need to be?
As it turns out, Mitchell’s translation of Matthew goes on: “Why do you see the splinter that is in your brother’s eye, but don’t notice the log that is in your own eye? First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.”
So I’m still trying. For example, when I read a news story these days about a particularly inane development (they’re not hard to find), I try to catch myself before the instant rush to judgment. Take a breath. More empathy. Less judgment. Sometimes it works. Most times, not so much. But I’m working to improve the average.
One last note: In the 2016 election, my mom, a lifelong Democrat, voted for Hillary Clinton. My dad, who tends to vote Republican, voted for Jill Stein. You never can tell.