As I sat down to write this week I had many false starts and failed attempts as I began to tear into the keys of my laptop fed up with infuriating examples I’ve observed of assumptions and presumptions of folks so assured and self confident of being correct in whatever cause, debate, or argument in which they are currently embroiled. From social issues such as the latest decision by the United Methodist Church to everyday issues in the workplace, there is nothing more off-putting than encountering the smug attitude of another who is more concerned of being right than treating others right. For several days I have pondered and meditated how best to combat the self-centered “looking out for number one” mentality which seems to fuel those who not only insist their way of thinking is the right and only way of thinking but also subscribe to the delusion it is their responsibility to insist everyone not following their line of thought is in error and must be corrected. I realized simply writing a few paragraphs lashing out and spouting how wrong they are and how right I am would do nothing other than add just another pointing finger of judgment and would be furthering the problem at hand.
If you follow my writings at all, it will come as no surprise my favorite author is Brennan Manning. For the last five years I have annually worked my way through Reflections for Ragamuffins, a collection of his writings formatted as daily devotionals. It is not unusual for the same writing to speak to me every year as I read it and I normally discover this as I have often caught myself off guard when I go to share a quote, excerpt, or screenshot via social media only to find I had previously shared the identical idea in years past. This past Wednesday was one of those encounters only this time there was a slight exception. Being aware of what I was intending to write about this week one of Brennan’s statements leaped off the page at me as never before like a mirror held to my face:
“My struggle to cope with certain people has a simple explanation: they represent to me precisely those elements that I have refused to acknowledge and accept in myself.”
Ouch!! Did that hurt you as much as it did me? I recoiled from the statement and sought to find a layer of untruth in it. Is Brennan saying my annoyance at assumptions others make in reality an annoyance at the assumptions I’ve made? Does he really mean when I get angry if someone is throwing their weight around and trying to control a situation I’m actually angry because I’m seeking control myself? When I seek to exclude those who are exclusive, unloving, and unwelcoming, am I really just as exclusive, unloving, and unwelcoming to them as they are to others? What a harsh realization to make! Surely Brennan is mistaken on this one.
Unfortunately, it would seem Brennan has an ally in this line of thinking in the Apostle Paul. In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul shares these words:
You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. – Romans 2:1 NLT
We judge others based only on our own understanding and assign our own self-designed motives to words and actions without pausing to consider the motivation or contributing factors to their behavior whether known or unknown. An assumption is simply something accepted as true without any proof. To assume we understand what another is thinking and why they act a certain way is to place ourselves in a position of knowing them often better than we know ourselves. Such assumptions turn into presumptions when taken for granted as truth and judgments are made. Too often we place our self in a position of judge, jury, and executioner of another and determine who they were is who they are and it is who they will always be. In the words of Jesus, we are more concerned about the splinter in someone else’s eye rather than the log sticking out of our own.
Christ taught us the most important thing after loving God is to love our neighbor as our self. None of us are pleased when judged and placed in a box and it certainly does not feeling very loving. If it is so upsetting and unloving to us when dealt with based on assumptions and judgments, why are we so quick to treat others in such a manner? In order to understand, we must learn to listen. We must remember we are all human and truly none of us are better than the other. Whether online or face to face, we must learn to allow others the freedom to be who they are and express themselves with only one caveat . . . that freedom ends at the point it is harmful to others. Recently I came across a Facebook post addressing this very idea by author Steve Austin addressing why certain comments or responses were being deleted from articles he shared on social media. Steve’s explanation was beautiful:
For the first 30 years of my life, I was steeped in toxic, exclusionary theology that was more focused on the rules and red tape of religion than the unconditional love of God.
When I woke up after a serious suicide attempt, and God whispered to my soul, “I’m not finished with you yet,” everything changed. I had researched and done everything in my power to try and end my life because I hated myself, but Love would not let me go.
Love is stubborn.
I had spent all my life in church pews and behind pulpits, striving to be “good enough” for God to tolerate me.
That’s right – “tolerate.”
I believed God loved me, but didn’t like me very much. And it’s because of the kinds of churches I was raised in and employed by.
These days, I’m investing all my energy in love-based theology that makes room for everyone. I have no more time for fear, shame, or guilt. And I won’t tolerate it on my page.
So if you bring your toxic, fear-based, shame-rooted, guilt-steeped theology onto my page and try and throw the Bible at me or anyone else in an effort to prove your point or push people out of the circle, your comment will be deleted without warning. Full stop.
I believe we are all loved and approved by a God who is WILD about us. I firmly believe that NOTHING can separate us – none of us – not me or you or the neighbor down the street (or across the globe) from the LOVE of God.
Steve goes on to say if he removes a particular comments, it’s not because he is angry. He is simply ensuring no one feels unwelcome or threatened by another’s extremely limited view of love. Steve’s post can be seen in it’s entirety here, but in closing I’ve chosen a few more of his words below:
Love makes room.
Love draws the circle bigger.
Love casts a wider net.
Love includes the outcast.
Love includes the rebel.
Love includes the minority.
Love includes those you don’t understand.
Love even includes your enemies.
And God is love.
Assumptions limit love, but love avoids assumptions.