Missing the log in our own eye
American modernist composer Charles Ives was not appreciated in his time. Childhood musical influences included the Danbury, Conn., parades where he was fascinated by the sound of one marching band fading into the distance as another approached and overlapped, to be overtaken in turn by the next band coming down the road.
Something similar happens when pushing a stroller through Prospect Park in Brooklyn, when I am overtaken by one pair of joggers and then another, leaving me to overhear mere snippets of conversation in passing. These conversations, were I to classify them, seem mostly about work and personal relationships and are mostly in the nature of complaints and accusations, with the fellow jogger a captive and agreeable audience.
Been there done that.
Just imagine the aggregate of words of this kind in a single day’s traverse of the 585-acre rectangular urban preserve stretching from Prospect Heights to Flatbush. Then zoom out to the five New York boroughs, then to the whole 50 states and then the world. Imagine the cosmic crescendo of cacophonous corrosive calumny unleashed into the ether—the ether that we are told is the devil’s domain (Ephesians 2:2).
“All through the day / I, me, mine, I, me, mine, I, me, mine. / All through the night / I, me, mine, I, me, mine, I, me, mine. / Now they’re frightened of leaving it / Everyone’s weaving it / Coming on strong all the time. / All through the day / I, me, mine.”
We don’t think it hurts anything, really; it’s just talk. But if we saw as God sees, those clucking tongues are releasing with each cluck droplets of destructive poison “all through the day, all through the night.” Poison will have its effect. Mary Ann Cotton (1832-1873) murdered her stepson and three of her four husbands with traces of arsenic in their suppers: It took time but a little here and there will do the job.
“All through the day / I, me, mine, I, me, mine, I, me, mine. / All through the night / I, me, mine, I, me, mine, I, me, mine. / No one’s frightened of playing it / Everyone’s saying it / Flowing more freely than wine. / All through the day / I, me, mine.”
“Judge not, that you be not judged,” says the Lord (Matthew 7:1).
What is a judge? “A public official vested with the authority to hear, determine, and preside over legal matters brought in court” (Merriam-Webster). Think of it: Do any of us mortals have sufficient information about any other mortal to pronounce a final sentence? To put him in a box and shut the lid and say, “Case closed!”?
Backbiting is judging.
In great annoyance with certain of my father’s habits, I was telling myself that I know him better than any living person knows him and certainly more than the ignorant rabble who have a different opinion of him. Then the verse came to mind, “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2).
Don’t you love it when the Spirit suddenly illumines a portion of Scripture that hitherto meant nothing to you? I was convicted of my error. I realized all the things that I don’t know about my father: anything at all before 1951; anything at all about his formative relationships with father, mother, and four siblings; any of his disappointments and traumas, the ways his young heart responded to what was inflicted on it. Come to think of it, do I even know my father at all?
Christians are to live a different way, not as judge and jury of our neighbors, but as believing all things and hoping all things (1 Corinthians 13:7) regarding their potential to change and grow. For the Lord is not finished with my neighbor, or father, any more than He is with me.
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11:23), says the Lord, the only qualified Judge. Good thing to keep in mind when jogging with a friend in Prospect Park.
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