I have encountered several situations recently where compassion would have been the charitable response. Judgement so easily comes first. I would love to say these were all judgements other people made. But even ministers are capable of tripping over judgements.
I got a voicemail from someone looking for a minister to marry her and her fiancé. Were they a local couple? No, they were “travelling around and ended up in Montana.” Some other plan had relied on a relative to arrange for the wedding but that had fallen through. My first reaction was more of curiosity. What was the story here? But I also thought, Really? As a pastor, I take the authority to perform marriage ceremonies seriously. This struck me as something of a lark. I felt a little offended: Don’t ask me to bless something that is less than full commitment.
Then I thought back to my own first marriage, how it was all about “being married,” not about being committed. Who am I to judge? Even if that were not the case that when I took those vows, I was less fully invested in what marriage would involve, it was still not my place to judge. Judgement reinforces our sense of superiority; puts distance between us and those folks with whom we don’t want to be identified.
Certainly, in today’s milieu we are in need of some means to build bridges. Although I don’t have any foolproof remedies for this, I am intrigued with folks like Daryl Davis, 63 year old black man who has successfully engaged Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis. As reported by Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times in June:
“Davis began to work on answers after he graduated from Howard University and joined a band that sometimes played in a Maryland bar that attracted white racists. Davis struck up a friendship with a K.K.K. member, each fascinated by the other, and the man eventually left the K.K.K., Davis said.
One of Davis’s methods — and there’s research from social psychology to confirm the effectiveness of this approach — is not to confront antagonists and denounce their bigotry but rather to start in listening mode. Once people feel they are being listened to, he says, it is easier to plant a seed of doubt.”
So perhaps we can at least pause when our first impulse is to judge and seek to at least consider an alternative response.
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate