Second in series: Live yourself into new ways of thinking
I was reading a few articles this last week following the current presidential primary elections. And, I just couldn’t get through any of them. It didn’t matter from which political perspective the writer was coming from, but it all just seemed so judgmental. There was such a condescending tone about the other side to everything written. The republican candidates are bigots, or the democratic candidates had no backbone. It just felt so toxic. It has me thinking, this kind of judgmentalism seems to be so pervasive in our culture. Whether it’s our political scene, or maybe the social media commentary on Beyonce and Jay Z’s relationship, or even in sports this last week how Jake Arrieta, one of the Cubs players, has been so good that people have begun asking if he is on steroids. Not because there is any evidence, just because he is so good right now that there must something going on. And this doesn’t even touch on the judgmentalism we experience in our day to day life, the judgmentalism of coworkers, friends or family. Or strangers at a restaurant like the Portlandia clip we just watched
I think if I wanted to I could identify some observed incident of judgy-ness dozens of times a day.
But, here is the thing. It’s not like that judgmentalism is just “out there.”
I have plenty of it in me. This used be an even bigger part of my story when I was younger. I was super judgmental, Like I had gift for it, it was like some kind of super power I had or something.
I just had little to no grace for other people.
The ways this judgmentalism would would come out would shift and change based on where I was in life, but it was always there.
Sometimes I would be super judgy of people’s “Common Sense”
I would often say things like “I hate stupid people, and it feels like the world is full of ‘em.”
I would shake my head all the time, muttering phrases like, “how did they not know that” or “why would anybody do that”
Like I had it all figure out
Or sometimes, I would be super judgy about people’s behavior. I would look down on people, and shake my head at people who did things that I considered just wrong.
I recently talked to an old friend of mine from this time and he told me that he eventually stopped telling me things about his life because he was afraid that I would shame him about it.
Yeah, some pretty crappy stuff.
I mean I just judged people for just about anything. Whether they were “real” or “fake”sports fans. Whether they agreed with me politically, how they dressed, how they spent their time.
I know, it seems like a miracle that I had any friends at all.
However, what I began to realize was that my judgy-ness kinda sucked, not just for those around me, but also it didn’t exactly make me feel super great myself.
And I began realize that there was a genesis, a source to my judgmentalism, a reason I had little to no grace for others.
And it was because I had little to no grace for myself
a counselor once said something to me that really stuck.
That our judgements really say more about us than those we judge.
That if we find ourselves judging other people’s image, how they look, it is probably more about how much our own sense of security is tied to image, or if we find ourselves judging how smart or athletic or well read or a million things we could judge. It really has more to do with our sense of insecurity or the role that thing has in our own sense of ok-ness.
And this was certainly true for me.
Growing up being very involved in church as the son and grandson of pastors there was something that learned from a very early age...
That I got the most positive attention, the most affection communicated, the greatest sense of acceptance when I behaved correctly, that no one had to worry about me, because I... was good
My parents would never had wanted to communicate this to me, they never would have wanted me believe this, but it was the message I received from the world around me.
And so I began to believe and live out of a place that thought that I was more valuable when I was good, that I had to get it perfect, never mess up, on terms of my upbringing, that I would never sin.
And even worse, If I did mess up, which of course I did
not only had I failed, but I had failed those I love: my family, Friends… God
You see, I had this toxic image of life that if I tried hard enough, had enough discipline that I could get it right, not mess up, not need grace.
And this harsh, graceless view of myself, was then imposed on those around me.
If I can’t mess up, neither can you, if I can get it right, so should you.
You see, my judgmentalism was born out of my own insecurity.
From the outside I may have been a harsh judgmental friend, but on the inside I was just trying to hold the world to the impossible standards I was holding myself to.
And the result was cynicism, because everyone including myself, would eventually let me down.
I wonder if you resonate with this at all.
Do you have any experiences in your past that have instilled like this beliefs in you?
Maybe it’s the belief that
I have to provide for myself because no one else will
I have to make myself beautiful to be accepted
Life doesn’t work for me like it does for other people.
I am loved when I succeed, I am only as valuable as my achievements
Sometimes these are hard to identify
Because this isn’t a matter of what we CLAIM to believe
I would never have claimed at the time that I believed people should be able to exist without grace.
But this isn’t what we profess to be true
This is more complex and much deeper than
I’m talking about
The unexamined beliefs that determine the most unthinking, routine choices we make
Or the most foundational beliefs in us that determine what we do when we’re pressed and have to in a moment make a gut-instinct choice
This is what we REALLY believe…
Formed by our culture, our religious exposure, traumas in our life, victories in our life, our parents, how we felt about our parents, interaction with peers, etc., etc.
But even if we can’t fully identify them, we can usually see the fruit of these beliefs in our lives (or bad fruit of them, as the case may be)
Because these beliefs that result from our past experience do a lot to determine our current experience
And even more than that, those of us here that are looking to faith to offer us some help, support, guidance in life. These toxic beliefs have a painful way of finding their way into how we see God.
For me, it was not just that the people around prefer me when I am good, when I don’t require grace from them,
But, that informed my image of God.
That God prefers me when I am good, when I act correctly, and don’t need his grace.
Oh, I am sure God has grace. I just think it would be better, I am sure he would like it better if I could be perfect enough to not need it.
The reality is that we’re all a mix of healthy and toxic (good and bad) images of God.
No one has all good, no one has all bad.
This is why it is such a great gift that the Gospels of Jesus and the first writings about Jesus have endured for 2000 years
For Jesus told people that his life, death and resurrection offered us an image of who God really is.
So in this series we’re taking time to consider the question.
How do we change our minds when we have toxic beliefs deeply entrenched in our thinking?
Vince brought us last week to that consistent refrain of Jesus’ message: “repent"
This is a word that calls us to a change of mind, a change of direction.
To turn away from that which doesn’t serve me, and towards that which leads to life.
However, I think the call to repent, unfortunately, has developed a bit of a shaming vibe to it.
Probably much to do with the Judgmentalism that has found its way into much of American Christianity.
But, I have come to understand that God’s invitation to repent is
Not shaming shaming at all, it is deeply compassionate and relational.
That he knows us, and he know the toxic understandings we have, and toxic behaviors we get stuck in. And he is inviting us, with his help, to change our minds, change our way, to lead us towards something much better.
To repent, I think this is such a big deal in Jesus’ message because it is necessary to find the kind of deep, full life all people seem to want.
If we believe or act in ways that are not serving us.
And God desires a life for us that is so much richer than that
The only way we get there is by turning away, changing our mind, and going in a new direction that is so much better.
And this great news because God understands much better than we ever will the things that matter most to my experience of life
And he’s right with us on changing those toxic beliefs stealing life from us
And God invited me into an experience of repentance. That I needed to change my toxic belief that I had to or even could exist without the need for grace.
He invited me into an experience of life that had more freedom, acceptance, sense of value than I could ever achieve on my own.
And there is something that Jesus said as recorded in one of his 4 biographies, that I have come to find really helpful in my pursuit of a more forgiving experience of life.
If you want to read along, from the Gospel of Mark chapter 11 starting at verse 25.
25 Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.
I used to find this passage pretty challenging.
Seems like kind of a threat
Like any forgiveness we are offered is very conditional, transactional
I think perhaps part of the reason I read this as a threat is because I grew up as a part of a western culture,
one that is very transactional in nature. If you do this, then you get that. And you can’t get this without doing that.
Capitalism is by its very nature transactional.
So being American I will naturally read transactions and capitalism into Jesus’ words
Actually though, Jesus was coming from a much more relational culture, not transactional.
For Jesus’ original audience, there was no “if you do this, then you get that”... everything wasn’t so separated into input vs output, work vs compensation for that work
When Jesus brings up our forgiveness of others and our own sense of forgiven at the same time, it’s meant to be understood that they are in intrinsic and inseparable relationship with each other.
Perhaps a better way for us to understand what he was meaning and what I think would be much closer to how his original audience understood this relationship... is the idea of cycles
The idea of a virtuous cycle vs a vicious cycle
That we can’t fully experience grace for others when we can’t experience grace for ourselves, think about my story. My judgments of others really said more about me.
But, also we can’t fully experience grace for ourselves, I mean really truly appreciate it, live out it, accept the freedom it is offering, when we don’t extend grace to others.
This is human behavior, psychology in action. It creates a level of cognitive dissonance when we try to hold other people to a higher standard than ourselves, our brains just can’t do it for long.
If we don’t have grace for others, if we think they should live up to some higher standard, we will inevitably and eventually begin holding ourselves to that standard, we will eventually not have grace for ourselves.
Consciously or unconsciously if we think people can and should live with little or no grace, we will begin to believe that we need to as well.
This is the vicious cycle. A cycle that feed off itself in destructive ways.
As I have less grace for myself I will have less grace for others, and as I have less grace for others I will have less grace for myself. It just keeps spinning and spiraling downward.
You see the two are in intrinsic relationship with each other. It’s not the transaction Jesus is pointing towards, you pay with forgiveness of others and you get forgiveness yourself in return. No, they are in relationship with each other There’s no use in trying to separate them into input and output. It’s just that without one, you can never fully experience the other.
But, on the flip side, there is the virtuous cycle.
That as we begin to forgive others, we start to believe and experience the grace there is for us. And as we begin to experience grace for ourselves, we find we are able to extend grace to others. It’s a cycle that keeps spiralling upwards.
On these terms, maybe Jesus isn’t theologizing about “the human state of forgiveness”, maybe he is just being really practical… Like he’s saying:
If you want to be free from judgy toxic beliefs in you, it is easiest for you to begin with the act of forgiving others, than it is to try to think yourself into accepting grace yourself.
That as we try our best to live with grace for others, that we find ourselves with a new way of thinking that can accept that we ourselves deserve grace. That we are loved, valuable, and accepted aside from our ability to get it all right.
This has been My experience and its echoed the wisdom of the Franciscan Scholar, Richard Rohr. That we don’t think our way into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking
What it takes to truly change our minds… to repent...
Is logging experiences of something different, better than what is currently in our memory…
And letting that growing log of experiences re-shape the data in our brain, so to speak
So what actually happened for me was that I began to try and forgive those around me, I began to extend them grace.
I found that starting with the act of extending grace to others, I was able more easily jump into the virtuous cycle of grace
And slowly I began to believe that I could be offered the same grace
Once you are in the cycle, the relationship of grace just feeds off each other.
as I was able to give others the benefit of the doubt
able to forgive those who I had felt had wronged me
I began believing more and more that that kind of grace could be offered to me
And as I would feel grace for myself, I was able to more freely offer it to others.
See just a cycle that spirals upward
So, how do we do this, how do we begin living a life of Grace, with the hope that our thinking will follow?
Well I can tell you what I tried.
There were two things.
First, for the the little bits of daily judgy-ness I experience. This not so much for the actually offenses I experience, but rather the times I have no grace for other people.
Like when I hear someone presenting a political ideology that I don’t agree with
Or when I see someone acting in a way that I don’t agree with, or strikes me as weird
You know that day to day judgmentalism
For this, I began doing everything I could to extend people the benefit of the doubt
I would try to just assume that there was more going on than I immediately saw or understood
That if there was a frustrating behavior it was probably just a coping mechanism that they were using to deal with something really challenging in their life.
Or if they had a different perspective than me, or acted differently than I would, I would assume that they probably came from a different culture or background than me, that has lead them to different conclusions than I have
Essentially I would assume that I don’t have the full picture, and there is probably a very reasonable explanation
They know better than me, I don’t know their life like they do.
So if you resonate with this, can I suggest that this week, you pay attention to your own judgments, and make a conscious effort to extend the benefit of doubt
The key here is pay attention. This week notice when you’re judging and make the choice to offer the benefit of the doubt.
Even say in your head, I am judging that person, I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt.
I have found it helpful, maybe you will too
The other thing that I did was for the situations that I actually felt wronged, felt offended.
Maybe something as small as getting cut off in traffic
Or maybe something like a co worker throwing you under the bus
Or a friend saying something really hurtful to you
In these cases I would try extending forgiveness to those that I felt wronged by.
The way I do it is by actually speaking aloud or under my breath forgiveness for that person taking the actual act to say “I forgive you”
I find something meaningful in saying those words, kinda like my heart follows after the action. Even if I wasn’t feeling very Forgive-y, That saying the words can somehow help me access some grace that wasn’t previously there.
The result of these two things, forgiving the offenses I experienced and attempting to give people the benefit of the doubt, the very real result in my life has been that I have become less judgmental.
I believe this to be true, and I am sure that anyone that knew me a decade ago would confirm. They may have long list of other complaints about me, but I don’t think judgmentalism is on that list anymore.
And, this has helped me start to believe that I deserve grace too. That I am loved even when I get things wrong, behave poorly.
It has opened up the door for me have some very powerful experiences where I feel truly loved, truly accepted for who I am.
Simply because God loves me, and in these moments I feel like I can breath. Like the weight has been taken off. It doesn’t all come down me, it doesn’t all fall apart when I mess up, when I fail.
If you want to know why I am a pastor, why I do this at all, it’s because that level of love and acceptance literally changed, changes, is changing my life.
It is the thing, more than anything, that has allowed me to experience any level of deeper and fuller life.
And do this job because I want as many people as possible to experience what I have.
However, I am not fixed, I have not arrived. I may be less judgmental, but I very much still struggle with having grace for myself.
I have to keep actively pursuing that virtuous cycle, because in a quiet moment if I am being really honest, I still struggle with the belief that everyone, that God loves me more when I am good.
And so, for me this cycle of grace is really high stakes.
Because, my own sense of freedom, acceptance is depending on it.
I have to keep making these choices to extend grace to others, because, at least for me, it’s been the only thing on a consistent basis that challenges my default toxic belief
So, maybe you connect with what I said today, you too struggle with judgmentalism, maybe you struggle to have grace, maybe you struggle to have grace for yourself.
Or, maybe it’s something different. Maybe there is some other toxic belief you hold that is stealing from your life, keeping you from experiencing the joy, hope, healing, and acceptance you desire.
Well, I believe Jesus wants heal those beliefs, bring about repentance in us, a change to something better. Because, he too is sick and tired of what they steal from you. He too is angry, he too is sad, he too is done with you living under the weight of these toxic beliefs.