I love people watching.
I mean I really love it.
Wait…that sounds a bit creepy. I don’t people watch in a skeevy, “To Catch a Predator” kind of way. I love getting a glimpse of everyone’s story.
Everyone has a story of their life that is a mixed-bag of joy and pain and ambitions and fears that is so complex, so beautiful that the only word I can think that can describe it is “art”. And if you look closely, you can see it in the way people walk, in their facial expressions, and in pretty much everything they do. In a society that overvalues status and image, we spend a lot of time writing the story we think everyone else will want to read. But if you look closely at someone, they often tell a completely different story – especially when they don’t know someone is watching.
Maybe I am a creeper.
But I believe that even the most mundane people; the most irritating or evil have this inner layer of beauty and good that is constantly warring their inner evil, pain and self-misconceptions. The person in your life that has the greatest absence of personality and depth, I would argue, has an inner story that’s worthy of a novel.
But hey, I’m a hopeless optimist, or at least so I thought.
I was at a restaurant the other day on my lunch break. I couldn’t help but to eavesdrop on the conversation two guys were having by the table next to me. They were talking about seminary, their church and their aspirations in the ministry. My ears perked up. They were about my age, and fit the young hip pastor stereotype: slightly trendy, slightly nerdy, and slightly overweight- most likely due to the over-consumption of Starbucks Caramel Macchiatos.
Psudeo-hip guy #1, we’ll call him Steve, talked about how he could see himself teaching a few classes at a seminary within the next few years. He talked about how he could see himself writing a book after that. He talked a lot about networking and programs and using resources like Facebook and Twitter.
Psuedo-hip guy #2, we’ll call him Bob (why is it always Steve and Bob?) couldn’t get a word in edge-wise until the topic of their church’s new tentative logo came to topic. Bob perked up and proudly grabbed his sleek and shiny Macbook from his man purse. Now it was Bob’s turn to ramble on about image and aspirations.
Several questions popped into my head while I was eavesdropping. Who were these clowns? Why did they care so much about their status and achievements in ministry and so little about sharing the gospel? Why did they talk so much about networking and cool church logos and so little about feeding the hungry?
And then the next question was one I asked myself, “Why am I being such an ass right now?”
It was in this moment that I had what I like to call a “whip the dog session” with God. Who on Earth was I to judge these guys? They talked about their dreams in the ministry, so what? Don’t I have personal goals and dreams in the ministry? Who was I to assume they don’t care much about sharing the gospel and feeding the hungry? And what’s so dang wrong with working on a logo?
I left the restaurant feeling like a complete fool. Why was I so quick to harshly judge two guys I didn’t even know? Was I jealous they were out of seminary and I’m still plunking away in undergrad? Was I envious of their Macbook? (It was pretty sexy). Was I taking the very few instances where I felt that hipster Christianity (whatever that means) didn’t work and applying it to everyone who seemed to fit that category in some small way?
I guess the point of all this is to confront my own hypocrisy. I get judged and pre-judged all the time by fellow Christians. I don’t like it. I’d like nothing more than for different denominations and methods in the faith to respectfully get along with each other. But we live in a culture where it’s so easy to assume and criticize. It’s so easy to fall into the same trap you hate so very much.
This goes beyond the two guys at the restaurant. How many times have I seen someone in public, and instead of trying to get a glimpse of their beautiful inner story, I say things in my head like, “I bet she’s a tramp. I bet that guy has committed a crime or two. That guy doesn’t need another cheeseburger. Nice parenting skills, lady.”
The sad truth of it is, my judgments might be correct. Maybe the girl wearing nothing better than lingerie in public is a little easy. Maybe the 400 pound guy really doesn’t need to supersize his meal. Our minds are logical in the sense that they automatically give us the most-likely scenario. I see a scantly-clad woman standing on a city corner, my mind says ”hooker”. I pick up a ringing phone and hear, “Good afternoon, Mr. Burkett!” my mind says, “salesman”. These types of judgments are just the way we’re wired.
But where I get it wrong is when I take these judgments and put them into to simple categories of good and evil. If I see a mother excessively screaming at her kids in public, my mind will always tell me that she probably has some parenting issues. But it is my choice as to how I should interpret this data. I could say, “Wow, she has issues. Her kids are going to grow up all screwed up. Someone should humiliate her in public to let her know what it feels like”. But when I do this, all I’m really saying is,
“I’m better than her”.
Instead, I should take this data and say, “Maybe this is a mother at the end of her rope. Maybe she’s dealing with other things she can’t handle on her own. Maybe she was treated like this when she was a child and she doesn’t know any other way. Maybe she’s never had many people love her. Maybe she just needs a friend.”
“Maybe there’s something I can do about it”.
Can we really make that accurate of judgments about good and evil? Isn’t that reserved for an infinite God with infinite wisdom? Remember that whole Adam and Eve thing where they ate from a tree called the “knowledge of good and evil?” We got the knowledge, but we’re incapable of doing it accurately. It would be like me reading a pre-medical text-book and then thinking I was a neurosurgeon. Should not our response always be love? How radical would it be if we could always be in a completely subversive, counter-cultural mindset of this type of love?
It would be Jesus radical.
But I suspect this will always be an inner struggle: to hate being judged and find myself judging; to hate being assumed and written off and find myself sizing people up in an instant. But the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, and this is one I’m defintaely wanting to change.