Being an “on call” Nana gives me lots of experience in having to be both a responsible teacher of safety and morals and at the same time to be someone who is learning to suspend judgment. I know that I am not alone in this place. Parenting and grand parenting lends itself to such stretching and blending of disparate roles. Last week my 3 year old granddaughter and I were swimming at our local pond and we met up with a youngish mother and daughter. Here we were, lifeguarding adults, watching out for the safety of the children while also reveling in their utter joy at playing freely in the water. Sadly for us and for the kids, our grown up judgmental voices trumped our happy and proud voices. Can you hear us? “Don’t go out any farther!” “Don’t throw stones!” “Get out of the water, your lips are blue!” The young mother turned to me and said “I find myself saying No all the time. I can’t stand it anymore.” Clearly she was looking for some advice from Nana, the way that I so often looked for advice from my mother. I said that one of the most helpful things that my mother taught me was to ask myself “What is important here?”
Safety is totally important. Teaching children to not hurt other people by accidentally or on purpose throwing rocks at them is important. I guess that learning to come out of the water when you are covered in goose bumps and your teeth are chattering is important too, but maybe not as important as having fun on a summer day in the pond with a new friend, both of you just learning to swim. What is important here and when should we be sitting in the judgment seat?
Lately I have been asking myself another question “Am I right and should my judgment prevail?” This is a question that I ask not only when I am with the children but throughout the week. I have been reading a delightful book called 12 Miracles of Spiritual Growth: A Path of Healing from the Gospels. In this book E. Kent Rogers looks closely at 12 stories of healing in the Gospels and finds within them lessons for our own spiritual growth and healing. In one of the stories (healing the man who was blind from birth) Rogers talks about this being a story about healing from the human sin of blaming. On meeting the blind man the disciples asked Jesus who sinned, this man or his parents, since he was born blind? Jesus responded that no one was to blame. “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed to him.” Now days we do not usually blame people for their infirmities, but we do blame people for what we think that they should be or should have done or not done. We think that we are wiser or more ethical that the folks around us. And what happens then is that we distance ourselves from “the other” and such distancing is the foundation of sin. Rogers says “Every time we look at another human being with even a shred of disdain or contempt we have passed a false judgment….We cannot afford even the slightest judgmental attitude if we want to be right with God, or if we want to see life as it truly is.”
Of course that is all easier said than done, which means that if we get on this path we are going to be working hard and opening ourselves to blessings that we cannot yet imagine. To not automatically assume that we are right, and to refrain from being the judge, opens us to new insights; about ourselves, other people, and God. Yes, for sure there is much that we should be raising our voice against; violence, prejudice, and outright hatred for starters. But even when we do stand up against such violations we should first check the log in our own eye, or as The Message translates this Jesus saying “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own.”
Here is a poem I read this week that speaks to the same issue. It is called The Place Where We Are Right. The poet is the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. Imagine Amichai reading this poem in the middle of the relentless blaming and violence of the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
Doubts and love dig up the world, like a mole, a plow. And when our world is thoroughly dug up we have the chance for planting and harvesting a new crop. May I unite my doubts about my judgments with the love of my teacher Jesus, into every situation. Maybe it will turn out that in fact I am right but maybe not. Standing in that open place I am more likely to hear a whisper from the One who sits, not in the judgment seat, but in the mercy seat. I am sure that I will still be shouting to the grand children if they are running into a dangerous situation, but I hope that more often than not, I will stand by them, and everyone else, with more love and less shouting, more trust, and less need to blame or control. Really, what is important here?