August 3, 2013 in City

Paul Graves: Strive to be discerning

Paul Graves
 
About this column

Three times a month, community columnists weigh in on matters of faith and values. The column appears Saturdays and features artist Donald Clegg, of Spokane; retired Methodist minister Paul Graves, of Sandpoint; and Steve Massey, a pastor from Hayden.

Recently, my mind and spirit keep seeing “specks” and “logs” in the behaviors all around me. I hasten to add: within me, too!

Specks and logs? Those are sadly comical images Jesus uses to describe how easily we negatively judge other people without a little self-honesty.

I’m particularly drawn to Jesus talking about “if you judge others, they will judge you” in Luke 6:37-42. Just before that section, Luke placed Jesus’ startling teaching that God wants us to “love our enemies.”

Oh, we can’t do that! So judging them instead is all right?

We easily say “the ultimate judgment is God’s business.” That is true. Then we spend so much time and energy with snide little condemnations of a person or a group whose lifestyle we disapprove of.

Why do we engage in sniper-like actions to put another person down?

Do we really think God wants us to judge others – and ourselves – in ways God either isn’t ready to make yet, or maybe will never make? Perhaps we are as discerning as Jonah was of God’s mercy and compassion. But we just can’t take the chance God is really that way!

When we are part of a faith community, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard than we usually settle for. Yes, I know that sounds judgmental. And to some degree, it is. My heart tells me it is. But I also hope it leans more toward discernment.

Jesus did not say, “Do not discern.” So he saw a qualitative difference between reactive judgments and discernment.

He knew that to discern means to distinguish between what we think we know and what might be the fuller truth if we bothered to check our perceptions out more fully.

At best, “truth pieces” are all we have to go by. So when we think a partial truth about a certain person or a certain situation is the “whole truth,” we are engaging in judgment based on limited information. Discernment takes so much more into account, including God.

Jesus subversively said to take the log out of our own eyes before taking a speck out of the eye of another person. He referred not only to our own impaired heart vision, but also our blindness to our own impaired heart vision.

Could it be the deeper issue is our undeclared sense of moral superiority? But moral superiority is a sham, a real self-lie. Could it be that if we keep checking on other persons’ social or religious “correctness,” we won’t have the time to check on our own?

The good news of Jesus has nothing to do judging/condemning others. It has everything to do with discerning where the goodness resides in another person. It is in that goodness that Jesus saw God alive and well, regardless of how others condemned them.

So maybe the decision we face every day is not just to stop criticizing, to stop condemning other persons. Maybe the more important decision that we too rarely get around to making is this: How do we find ways to discover within ourselves, deep within ourselves, the compassion of God we can draw on to share with and serve others?

One of the guiding principles for Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation is something I like very much: “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”

Everyone has only a speck in this view – even us.

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is the founder of Elder Advocates. He can be contacted at welhouse@nctv.com.

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