In Romans 14:13, Paul says “So stop passing judgment on one another. Rather, we must resolve not to be stumbling blocks or obstructions to each other.”
Now, Paul was speaking to a specific situation in Rome. Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians were in conflict over whether one could eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols and which special festival days to honor. My guess is that they were getting so caught up in the “I’m right, you’re wrong” argument that they’d lost sight of the most important thing. Their relationship with the Divine. They had become stumbling blocks in each others spiritual journeys.
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In my opinion, it isn’t much of a stretch to expand Paul’s point to speaking about judging in general and the ways we may become stumbling blocks for others. Statistics tell us that in the first 7 seconds of meeting someone we have already made 11 judgments about that person. Can you imagine what we can do in a full minute? We are all guilty of judging the proverbial book by its cover. And we know we’ve judged wrongly, and been judged wrongly.
The problem is that we seem to be hardwired to do this. We consciously and unconsciously hold others to our sets of values, expectations and standards. And in the model of Egypt (constricted consciousness) to the Promised Land (expanded consciousness) this behavior puts us squarely in the limited, narrow-minded land of Egypt (see my blog for September 3 for the introduction to this metaphor). In order to think and live and love the way Jesus did, we need to remind ourselves that this thinking holds us captive and that the real freedom lies in opening our minds and hearts to remember our oneness with all people and all creation.
To stop judging we need to first be aware that we are judging. From there we need to step back and look at that person through the eyes of compassion, to see the Christ, or the God-spark, deep within them, to remember that we haven’t walked a mile in their shoes. This may not excuse their actions at times, but it may help us not to write them off as a worthless human being.
Awareness of our own tendencies and judgments can also lead us to answer the question, how am I, or have I been a stumbling block to someone else? This is a big question. Have my judgments held someone back from being the best person they can be, from becoming who God made them to be, from living with confidence and love?
Once upon a time a disciple asked a monk, “What do you do in the monastery?” And the old monastic said “Oh, we fall and we get up and we fall and we get up… and we fall. And we get up again.”
That is the essence of the spiritual journey. You see, I know the things we’ve talked about for the last month – compassion instead of competition, forgiveness instead of anger, resentment and grudges, abundance instead of scarcity and selfishness, and finally not judging other – are not easy things to accomplish. We’re not going to be perfect. We’re not going to be Jesus.
If spiritual enlightenment and living in a place of expanded consciousness were easy then more people would be there. But even if you’ve only spent a few minutes in that place of freedom, abundance, open-mindedness and peace, you know that it is worth striving for. We can’t beat ourselves up if we don’t accomplish these things, or slip up and have a bad day. We simply need to begin again and keep trying. My fervent hope is simply that we will all be more aware of our own thoughts and actions and be able to identify when we’re getting stuck in Egypt, so that hopefully we can begin to move – one grudging step at a time – to the Promised Land.