I’d just missed the bus, watching it go by as I walked briskly toward the stop. So, I had a few minutes to wait. I’ve taken a more leisurely view of my surroundings, riding public transportation here—whether the bus, the ferry, or even a water taxi. You see the city (and the people in it) differently when you take transportation that slows down your time and attention.
A couple of days ago I came across these words from Henri Nouwen’s book, The Way of the Heart, and since then, the ideas have turned up in other forms all around me.
In my morning Lectio Divina, I contemplated the story from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. Jesus asks a tax collector, Levi, to be his follower. Jesus goes to Levi’s house for dinner that evening where there are other tax collector kinds of people in attendance. And the neighbor’s say Jesus shouldn’t do that.
I suppose you might conclude that the neighbors are just considering the facts—that tax collectors are not nice people (in the time that Jesus lived) and Jesus is supposed to be, so he shouldn’t be having a casual dinner with them. The neighbors are coming to a logical conclusion, forming an opinion, and that is what the dictionary says it means to make a judgment.
Henri Nouwen seems to also see how this might be how our “modern” minds think differently than the earliest Christian monastics, our Desert Fathers. (My emphasis added.)
If you would ask the Desert Fathers why solitude gives birth to compassion, they would say, “Because it makes us die to our neighbor.” At first, this answer seems quite disturbing to a modern mind. But when we give it a closer look we can see that in order to be of service to others we have to die to them; that is, we have to give up measuring our meaning and value with the yardstick of others. To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction that prevents us from really being with the other.
The Way of the Heart
And then, words about judging others came up as I waited for the bus.
You see I’d been impacted by Nouwen’s insight as I struggle with my own continual “evaluation” of others, especially those closest to me, my family. Taking time to wait and watch, as I did, letting Nouwen’s troubling words sink in over a few days and just standing open to the moment at that bus stop yielded new insights.
Several people walked by me and one lady’s t-shirt startled me.
Judge me by my size. Do you?
For days, I’d been trying out how to write about my own melee, not only of judging others, I’ve been working really hard on being aware of that, but of evaluating others. And here was this lady’s t-shirt shouting at me.
She was maybe five feet tall, probably just past middle age, and weighed slightly more than her ideal body weight. Where I live, people of all ages walk and bike often. It is a bit unusual to see someone markedly overweight and this lady wasn’t exactly what her t-shirt hinted at either.
Not until I got home did I find out that the quote, Judge me by my size. Do you, is one of the 10 most popular quotes of Yoda from Star Wars. When I noticed the lady plodding past me, head down and determined, I thought she was making a statement—and on my ride home I considered the breadth and longevity of judging and the pervasive culture of evaluating…everything.
I covertly judge family members, when they don’t do things the way I might do them. I disguise the “judging” as helping, you know, I am older, have more experience, and see that their choices might not work out. And I similarly judge my enemies. I didn’t really think I had any real enemies, however, I am painfully aware of how much I am at odds with some public figures that I actually do not even know personally, yet this distance creates a safer and less informed judgment that seems harmless, right?
This is what this pretense sounds like. Is it true? Is it clear? Is it possible? Is it the best course? And then, Nouwen says STOP—give up measuring meaning and value of others with the yardstick that I’ve created to make sense of my own fears.
I’m almost finished reading Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir. On page 313 are these words.
As a kid, you learn to measure long before you understand the size or value of anything. Eventually, you learn that you’ve been measuring all wrong.
And sometimes, it takes lots of practice to learn.