Monday, October 23, 2006

Have you sized me up?

In his book, RUTHLESS TRUST, Brennan Manning quotes Philip Roth from his book, AMERICAN PASTORAL (1998). Here's the Roth quote:

"You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be . . . . You come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals . . . . and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you're anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you're with them; and then you go home and tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception . . . . so ill-equipped are we all to envision another's interior workings and invisible aims."

That is from Manning's chapter 5, the fantastic, "Artists, Mystics, and Clowns," in which the author goes on to write, "Wrong thinking about God and people often begins with a debased image of ourselves" (italics mine). And, did you read the quote from Roth again? You never fail to get them wrong.

We cannot know the heart of another. That is God's job. Yet, how often have I judged people or held past encounters against them? Not only have I done it, but others have done it to me. I've felt it; some have even confessed to me that they did it. Some have judged my motives and hammered me before they even asked if their assessment of my motives were correct. I've done the same. It hurts both ways.

Although not mentioned in Manning's chapter, today this reading brings to my mind these verses:

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
--Jesus (Matthew 7:1-2)

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."--Jesus (Luke 6:41-42)

Perhaps the worst occurance of this type of "plank-eye" behavior is when a Christian is "offended" by somebody's behavior, a behavior which they clearly seem to think they have a full handle on (i.e. judged another's heart). The reaction is so quick, "Oh, my can you believe so-and-so did something so brash, so un-Christlike?" Then, instead of confronting their "friend" about it, they choose to go and tell another Christian rather than talking to the offender. There is, of course, a word for this: gossip. Since gossip is a sin, and, in this scenario, the Christian is gossiping about the first person's perceived sin, this is a clear example of plank-eye. It is a clear example of sizing-up somebody.

I love what else Brennan Manning writes about how we judge others. Also, from chapter 5, he writes:

"In like fashion, our take on others becomes a simple act of reductionsim. Bill Gates is a computer geek, Boy George a flamboyant gay, Rupert Murdoch a power-mad billionaire, Mother Teresa a saint, Bill Clinton a sinner, my boss a dork, my pastor a dweeb, the street person a bum, the waitress a function, Tiger Woods a phenomenon, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart a brainy zany, Tony Campolo a radical preacher. Our perceptions are woe-fully inadequate."

Man, I love that, woe-fully inadequate! It's safe to talk about the celebrities as in the paragraph above, but how often have we done it to those we claim to know? We could all admit to being able to fill in similiar blanks as these: Shenandoah is a _________; Chrisy is a _________; the Lynds are _________; my first wife was a _________, but my second wife is a _________; the pastor of my old church was a _________, but the pastor of my new church is a _________.

Although not from the same section of the book, Manning addresses related subject matter in chapter 7, "Trusting Jesus." Actually, this is a direct quote from his book ABBA'S CHILD. Surely, if we were to size-up Brennan Manning we would say, "Brennan Manning is a holy man" or perhaps, "Brennan Manning is a modern-day prophet," but even that lavish praise would be reductionism! Notice how he is not too affraid of your perceptions to write the following in the first-person:

"Is there anyone I can level with? Anyone I dare tell that I am benevolent and malevolent, chaste and randy, compassionate and vindictive, selfless and selfish, that beneath my brave words lives a frightended child, that I dabble in religion and pornography, that I have blackened a friend's character, betrayed a trust, violated a confidence, that I am tolerant and thoughtful, a bigot and a blowhard, that I hate hard rock?"

I adore this ability of Manning's to show that we are all enigmas.

Before I depress you or lest you think I am on a soapbox, I want you to know that the message of Manning's profound book (notice by this writing that I am going though chapters a day, a rare occurance for me) is that we all hope and yearn to meet somebody to truly understand and accept us and that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of that dream! As I type this I have never believed this more.

Manning states that Paul Tillich's definition of trust remains the most meaningful to him. Since this is stated in a book titled RUTHLESS TRUST, this is an important endorsement from the author. Here is Tillich's definition:

Trust is the courage to accept acceptance

Today I am truly having the courage to accept acceptance from my Abba, the same Abba of Jesus. And, here is how this all ties together. I believe that when we are truly feeling accepted by the only one who matters, Christ, we are now free to accept others, to withhold our ill-conceived perceptions of others, and to stop sizing them up. That is my conviction today: I want no part in judgement, I want no part in plank-eye. This is my prayer: "Father, I so want to dish-out the acceptance I have scooped-up through the person that is your son Christ Jesus. Help me to accept that way."

Funny thing is, I should have learned this decades ago, back in the 80s before I was even a Christian. Do you remember the film THE BREAKFAST CLUB? At the end of the film the voiceover reads a letter that the students had written as follows:

Dear Mr. Vernon,

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us. In the simplest terms, the most convenient definitions. What we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basketcase, a princess, and a criminal.

Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours,

The Breafast Club

The italics are mine because I think the lesson of this movie is so valuable: Acceptance! I hadn't even thought about why I loved this movie so much until I started reading RUTHLESS TRUST. The fact is, when we begin to ruthlessly trust Christ, we can begin to accept others. That's what THE BREAKFAST CLUB is about. And, that's what the message of Jesus of Nazareth is about. And, that's what RUTHLESS RUST is about too. Indeed, I suspect Manning himself might have ended the Breakfast Club's letter this way:

What we found out is that each one of us is a ragamuffin.
Likewise, I suspect Jesus himself would have ended the letter this way:
What we found out is that each one of us is my Abba's child.
But, maybe I'm just rambling again. Maybe all you are thinking at this point is: "Yea, right, biblical lessons from a secular film! That Doah, he's so unspiritual, that Doah, he's so worldly."
If you are, it's okay because my Abba is very please with me!

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