Or is there?
Ever since I did my 4th and 5th Step with my sponsor, I have been aware of my judgement; my tendency to judge people, places, things and situations as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, for or against me. Judgement feels good doesn’t it? Judgment allows me to separate myself from the bullshit ( perceived bullshit?) and to sit comfortably on my throne staring down with profound disapproval of you…or them…or it. Meditation has allowed me to see the not only is this one of my deepest character defects but it may well be my number one.
It is 9:30 am and I have already judged probably 10 people. Two on the highway and the other 8 just in my head pondering life and it’s inhabitants. One of the people I judged looked to be a soccer mom in a mini-van, driving down I-40 at about 80 miles an hour in the rain with 2 kids in the backseat frantically glancing up and down at her cell phone. Without skipping a beat my inner voice immediately said, “ IDIOT”. Upon further reflection not only was I judging her apparent lack of common sense and parenting skills, but ALL soccer moms and ALL mini-vans. ( Really, ya’ll MINI-VANS?! Surely, we can do better…). I assessed the situation and boom…YOU have been JUDGED.
With greater awareness of my propensity to be judgmental (after all, it was one of the first things I inwardly experienced as I began my forward march towards relapse) I don’t take it lightly. It needs to be considered and continually challenged so as not to stay stuck in old patterns and old beliefs. The first step towards making any significant changes has to be the awareness of that thing we hope to change. Without becoming mindful, we are doomed to repeat.
So the question is, when and where is judgement necessary and is it ever actually helpful?
I suppose it is helpful if you see a bear coming at you in the woods and your judgement says holy fuck there’s a bear coming at me and I better do something like climb a tree or play dead, or run, or burst into show tune (don’t come to me for bear advise, ya’ll, clearly I’m not your guy) and in that case judgement is very helpful. If you misjudge that situation you’re an idiot. ( See what I did there?). But in everyday, ordinary life when is it actually helpful? When does it actually create change for the better? Does it ever?
Many of my common judgements are built upon my actual experience in life. I grew up going to church with my folks. My both my parents were pretty devout Christians ( the good kind) and had strong faith. I never much cared for church but went because, well, it was mandatory. There was an associate pastor at my church who I really liked and looking back I realize he was actually the object of my little boy crush. He was cute, a young, and cool, and he treated all the kids really well. On Sunday mornings during the regular service, I would be ushered to the front of the church where he would give a short children’s service about animals, or brotherly love, or the kindness of Jesus. Sweet little sermons after which I would return to my pew with the rents and dig through my mom’s purse for a stick of Teaberry gum.
One day we went to church and my handsome associate pastor was no longer there. Someone I didn’t know led the Children’s service. After the service I was aware of groups of fellow Christian’s huddled together chatting in whispers; they seemed worried, or upset not the usual laughter and chatter about lunch plans and gatherings that I was used to. Later at home I asked my mom what had happened. She sat me down and it was one of those moments where I could tell she was deciding whether to tell me the whole truth or not. I don’t remember exactly what she told me but basically the pastor had been having an affair with a church staff member and it had exploded in their faces and both had been fired. I sat for a minute, before asking…” So why we’re they fired?” Mom said, “well…because they are both married to other people and they were cheating on their marriages with each other.” I thought for a moment and said, “what about forgiveness?” “What do you mean?”, mom asked. “Well’, I said, Jesus forgave everyone and God forgives everyone, so why can’t we just forgive them?” Mom sat for a minute and said “Well, honey, we DO forgive them”. Another minute and I asked “ So why can’t they have their jobs back?” I could tell my question made my mom think. She looked sad, shook her head, held be close and said…”I really don’t know.” Yeah…my mom is the best.
For the next several weeks it was a huge church scandal. I overheard adults and even some of the other kids talking about it and how awful it was and how THEY were, and how everyone could not BELIEVE such a thing could happen, and they talked and they talked and they talked. And I became confused. First of all I was confused because although I understood that having the affair was wrong or at the very least socially unacceptable, the bigger concern for me was how these people who preached love, tolerance and forgiveness could so quickly turn on one of their own. What I overheard during those next few weeks, was NOT forgiveness, but mean-spirited, self-righteous, gossip. And then it dawned on me: what if they all know I had a CRUSH on the sexy, playboy pastor. What would they do to me?? Would I be “fired”? Would I be FIRED from life??
Thus was born my core belief that people who claim to be Christians may in fact not be actually following Christian principles. They may be hypocrites. They may recite the bible verse by verse but when the chips are down they are not going to be very helpful. And if fact, they may be downright mean. My mother never weighed in on whether or not she thought the pastor should have been fired but she only spoke of him with compassion and forgiveness and regret that he had to leave. My mother is one of the “good” Christians.
Not my mother
So core beliefs: Picture a large box with a round hole in it. The square box contains your core belief, in this case “ all christians are hypocrites” ( except mom). Imagine that all of your life experiences that validate that belief are round and fit perfectly through the hole and into your “core-belief” box adding weight and substance to your belief and all experiences that do NOT validate that belief are rectangle or triangle and will NOT fit into your core-belief box. You with me? Round beliefs support, other shapes cannot get in. That is how core-beliefs work. Growing up gay in the South, most of my personal experiences with people who claimed to be Christian have been round and confirmed my core-belief. An extreme example would be Westboro Baptist Church. That particular example is pretty easy to dismiss because, well, those people are nuts. My efforts to keep an open mind and not lump all Christians in together has been (and continues to be) thwarted by personal experience and challenged by much more subtle examples. I have to make a sincere and concerted effort to hold in my heart the few folks I know personally, who identify as a Christian and live their lives in what appears to be accordance with the teachings of Christ. And here is how I know. They are happy, they smile a lot, they are kind, they are compassionate. Their ideas are liberal and allow others to be themselves and make their own life decisions without judgement. Their spiritual principles bring them peace as evidenced in how they live there lives. Their lives are improving and moving forward. They don’t feel the need to remind me about God or Jesus in every other sentence. They don’t say things like “ I’ll pray for you”, “forgive the sinner, hate the sin” or “have a blessed day”. They are people from whom light radiates and their joy for living is apparent. They are people who spend most of their time helping others. They are attractive in a way that encourages you to be around them. And most importantly, they make you feel good about yourself. If you wanna pray for me, by all means do, I can use all the prayers I can get, but telling me that you are going to make a special effort to contact my creator on my behalf kinda makes you sound pious and judgmental. At the very least ask me first. Don’t assume. After all how would you like it if I whipped out my cauldron, some sage and a chicken bone and began invoking the Guardians of the Four Corners on you without your permission? I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t. Except for some of you and that’s why we’re friends. So the message here is let’s all ask each other permission before we go unleashing our voodoo wizardry upon one another. I’m a firm believer in prayer and I pray often. I just don’t like when it’s pushed on me.
Yes, I’m still judgmental. And I am working on it. My awareness of it is ONLY a first step and any enlightenment in this area is more than likely a lifelong process.
I suppose a benefit of this mindset has been that it forced me to look beyond conventional religious institutions in order to find peace and make sense of living in this world. I have always believed in God, the presence of a divine order to things and I have always felt a connection to a greater source of power than myself. I tried to be an atheist one time and it just didn’t take. It seemed too boring, too dry, it did not mesh with my soul and it didn’t last long. I have self- studied, a variety of religious texts; both Eastern and Western, mysticism, energy healing, crystals, Wicca, Buddhist philosophy, Taoism, and endless books on Paganism and Quantum Physics. Interestingly, to me, they all have much in common. I have never had trouble blending Spirituality and Science for they seem to absolutely support one another. Creationism on the other seems childish and literal interpretation of the Bible seems dangerous to me. But WTF do I know?
There’s a lot going on here and I like it.
I was reading a story online recently by an author whose name escapes me at the moment. I can’t recall the story word for word but it goes something like this:
Guy dies and goes to heaven. God is at the gate. When the man looks around he notices there is no one else there so he asked God, “Where is everybody”? to which God replies, “What do you mean”. The man says “ where are all the other people? The people who have gone to heaven before me? Surely, am not the only one.” God replies: “there are no others, only you.” Confused the man says” but what about all those other people down on earth?” “ All you”, replies God. “ All those other people were you, different versions, difference incarnations of you. When you were helpful to others you were helping yourself, and when you were harmful to others and judging others you were harming yourself”. “ What now?” The man asked? God: “You go back, with this knowledge and try to do better.”
Wouldn’t that be something? If we could keep in mind that we are all in fact just one person, we are all part of the same energy, the same God, the same One? I have long ago dropped any labels to what I might call my spiritual practice. Labels do little more than separate us. Labels can be peeled away to reveal an empty vessel. Labels stick to the bottom of your shoe and annoy you. I believe that religious labels especially keep us boxed in; trapped by a particular belief that limits us to opening out hearts and minds to the greater picture. The Oneness of ourselves and our universe.
That day in our kitchen talking to my mom about the pastor I had asked her a question to which she replied “ I don’t know”. I will always love her for giving me that answer. She didn’t know, and she didn’t claim to know. She didn’t quote scripture or talk about sin or hell or punishment. She simply said “ I don’t know. The longer I live on this earth I find that “ I don’t know” is , quite often, the correct answer and the more I can remember “I don’t know” the more I can continue to stay open to answers and to the voice of God.