Today I am reading James 2. There’s so much speaking to me in this chapter that I can barely process it in one day. I am beginning to wonder if I need to split up things and focus on part of the chapter at a time or if I need to continue chunking in this way…..or maybe I need to go back and rethink my whole approach. I feel like I’m in way over my head. This does not bode well for my year to already be overwhelmed and questioning my ability to tackle this challenge on day 2.
But…..I will keep going for now. My focus for today is James 2:4, “Have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts.” and I’m going to combine that with James 2:9, “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” I think these two verses….at least the way I’m interpreting them…..are similar.
There have been so many times in my life where I have thrown around the verse, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” (Matthew 7:1) just to get people off my back. I’ve wanted to go my own way, do my own thing and didn’t like when I was held accountable by others. I also don’t like confrontation, if I’m going to be honest. Therefore, I would use this verse to bypass my responsibilities as a friend, mentor, teacher to hold others accountable. But perhaps I’ve looked at judging in an altogether incorrect way…..or maybe there’s more than one way to interpret the idea of judging.
My previous way of interpreting and understand judging is based on actions. At one time I would have defined judging as deciding who was right or wrong based on their actions. But how could that be an altogether bad thing? That’s what I’m called to do as a teacher and a parent.
Perhaps the real problem is making judgments based on identity. We make judgments and assumptions on others’ worth based on their identity…..and many times these identity values are based on appearances……what we wear, how “male” or “female” we act/look, tattoos, piercings, long hair, short hair, clean, or dirty. Obviously, we identify ourselves based on these appearances, but our identity or the way others identify us goes beyond that. Christian, Wicca, Atheist, Catholic, Protestant, Agnostic, Muslim, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, American, Scottish, Shiite, French, Canadian, Soldier, Teacher, Doctor, Janitor, Preacher, Stay-at-home Parent, Liberal, Conservative, Alcoholic, Addict, Sinner, Saint, Man, Woman, Rich, Poor, Educated, Uneducated, Divorced, Married, Jock, Nerd, Homosexual, Heterosexual, …… they are all labels. And as we read or hear each of these labels, we get a mental picture of what these “look” like or what they “act” like. They are judgments. And within these pictures, we began to go beyond classifying or categorizing. We begin prioritizing. We begin to value some above others.
Perhaps the thinking is subconscious or perhaps we outright recognize it, but it goes something like this…….Christians are good. They are kind, compassionate, and try to be like Jesus. I’m a Christian. Yay, me! But an Atheist is someone who must have no moral compass since he/she doesn’t believe in God. He/she doesn’t try to be like Jesus….therefore they are bad. Boo, Atheists. Agnostics are just confused. Poor, poor Agnostics. They don’t know what to believe so their moral compass just spins. They have no clear direction. I feel bad for the Agnostics. And this mindset isn’t reserved just for Christians. It can be duplicated in the minds of the Agnostics or the Atheists…..and so on and so on.
My example is hyperbolic, but the underlying judgments are still there. It boils down to this: I am good. You are bad. I pity you. And in most cases, we don’t even realize this is our thinking. So I think James is telling us we need to look at people without labels.
Hold up…..I don’t mean the Utopian, Kumbaya, we’re all colorblind kind of thinking. There is a time for identity. Identity isn’t bad…until we use it to prioritize and fail to see the uniqueness behind the person…..until we put more value on that identity than we do on the person.
Christ is in all of us. I truly believe that. It’s totally okay if you don’t believe in Christ. I still believe Christ is in you. And that’s why I think you are awesome and wonderful. And here’s the thing……I think Christ is in me. (the saint part) But I also think I am unkind, irreverent, arrogant, boastful. (the sinner part). I am both those terrible and wonderful things. And so are you. It’s not as if the balance of saint to sinner varies based on whether your are homosexual or heterosexual, Pagan or Christian, millionaire or homeless, alcoholic or one who doesn’t drink. My only responsibility is to look at you — and especially treat you — with the same amount of respect and dignity that I treat myself or others like me. It’s easy to treat those who look and act like me with respect and dignity, but how easy is it to treat someone totally different from me that way?