I have a hard time saying that without quotations. While I run off and on, participate in 4-5 races each year, and always have a pair of running shoes ready, sometimes it’s hard to identify as a real runner. I’m not fast. My legs are not all muscle. I might skip going for a run if I don’t feel like it. Mostly I enjoy running and the reflective time with God it gives me, but sometimes I don’t like it and just want it to be over.
Some people would say to me, “Oh, you are definitely a runner! If you have run more than a mile more than once, you are a runner in my book!” And others would think in their minds, “Well, maybe you’re a casual runner, but if you’re not running at least 5 times a week and always under 10-minute miles, then you’re definitely not a real runner.” Judgments.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: how much we judge each other. As Christians, we even like to throw around what we’ve understood in scripture, “It’s not up to us to judge; that’s God’s job alone.” But we judge people all the time: some of it with purpose and some of it out of habit. I know this is not a new phenomenon among humans. All throughout the Bible, judgment shows up in different forms and nuances. And while we clearly aren’t supposed to judge others without judging ourselves (Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Matthew 7:3, NRSV), there is a clear call in the Bible to judge as God does: with justice, love, and mercy.
For me, “judgment” is a vast word, meaning that there are many definitions, nuances, and understandings tied into one word. Yes, God is our Judge. Yes, we have to be careful about judging others. Yes, we need to look inward before we look outward. But I want to think more about the everyday judgments we make: the conclusions we make about people after brief encounters. Judgment has a clear place in our society; I just wish it didn’t have such a stronghold in the church.
When I go out for a run, I usually see a lot of other runners. I recognize that I don’t know their stories. When I pass by someone, I don’t know if this person is on the first mile or the tenth mile. I don’t know if a woman is having the best run of her life, having just lost 30 pounds, or if she is on a run after a terrible car accident and struggling to recover. I don’t know if a man is new to running and about to accomplish a goal he has set for himself, or if he is on a particularly difficult run, trying to get back in shape after gaining 30 pounds. I don’t have a clue. And I certainly know nothing about their lives: homes, families, jobs, dreams, passions, failures, religion, etc.
What I do know is that each of these people is out for a run. At least for today, they have decided to make this happen. And each of these people is a beloved child of God (whether they know it or not).
Often, the same is true for us in the church. We pass by each other and we greet one another, but do we really know each other’s stories? When we talk to people after worship, do we mean it when we ask “How are you?” Are we willing to ask deeper questions? Are we open to being vulnerable and sharing parts of our lives and our faith stories with others? And then—when we do share our stories: the good, the bad, and the ugly, are we received with love and mercy? Or is our faith at risk of being judged not good enough?
We judge people in the church when we consider their gifts for ministry, and we make judgments every time we ask people to join a committee or serve as a church officer. It is important for all of us to know our gifts and use them in meaningful ways. But do we value each and every person for who they are: a beloved child of God? Do we believe that every person has something valuable and worthy to contribute? Are we willing to do the work to find out what their gifts are?
One of my teenage Facebook friends recently posted, “You know my name. Not my story.” Wow. How many of us have resonated with this statement? In the church, are we willing to know more than someone’s name? Are we willing to listen to people’s stories?