Judging character is a very complicated matter and when things are complicated we like to simplify them. How therefore do we simplify judging character?
Some like to paraphrase Jesus saying that, “We shouldn’t judge people.” While there may be truth in the fact that we should not finalise judgment on people as really only God can do that effectively, we are responsible for areas of our lives that require us to have discernment about our relationships, employees, colleagues, business partners, our children’s friends, etc. Until we live in a world where evil does not exist, we are required to judge character. We actually sub-consciously automatically do it.
Others like to simplify the issue by saying, “It’s not about what you say, it’s about what you do!” There is also truth in the idea that deeds speak louder than words. But we live in a world where “good deeds” have become ploys for religious proselytization, political propaganda, as well outward shows of good will which are often used as smokescreen to hide the real person behind it all. Religious and political leaders often fool their target audiences with such stratagems.
My wife and I are teachers. We also lead a religious congregation. This requires us to often do character judging. My wife and I were talking about it one time. We were watching the news, hearing about all these good religious and political people who on the outside do the right thing as well as pronounce the right statements, but whose general attitude and persona reveal a totally different individual from the one presented by the deeds and words. My wife then uttered her sporadic occasional great wisdom and said, “It’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are!”
That was brilliant!
While in Colorado springs I visited with my friend Mike. Mike took me to visit places he thought would interest me. We went to see the Glen Eyrie castle, then a vegetable market. We also did some shopping at Walmart where, to my surprise, we saw a man selling a horse on the parking lot. It is Colorado, after all.
On our way back, a storm hit and it started hailing. Mike was very concerned for his car as it isn’t uncommon to get hail damage in this area. I was a little ambivalent about it because whereas many people pray against this hail that destroys their vehicles, I have several friends who work in the hail damage repair and who pray for hail. For my part, I try to stay out of the line of fire and let God decide. After all, doesn't He know best?
The hail that started as dimes soon became nickels, then quarters, then the size of ping pong balls. Mike was growing more concerned. We tried to take refuge at a nearby gas station but it was already full. We finally took refuge under a row of trees. It was not perfect but at least the trees would slow the fall of the hail. During the whole time Mike was on Facebook live blogging. When it slowed down, Mike asked me, “That was crazy! Weren't you scared?” To which I answered haltingly “It was a little.. uncomfortable!” He laughed as he said, “Uncomfortable? Wow, what faith!”
It's not that I always have such great faith. I have simply seen much in my life which provides me with a certain perspective in the face of possible disaster. It could be compared to a rookie firefighter fretting at a fire situation that a veteran could take more calmly. It is indeed experience that lets us know the “sky” is not “falling” when we see ping pong size hail.
In the recent months two of my children moved away from Portland with their wives. Christina and I took time during our travels to visit them in their new locations. This gave us time to reconnect, share news, and reminisce about the past.
One of our sons shared with us concerning what he saw as an injustice when he was in school. One of the more rowdy kids spat spit-wads on the ceiling of the bathroom. Each day one of the teachers would have to clean it up. When we faced the classroom of about 15 children within the age range of 8 till 10 about the issue, no-one would say a thing. Yet it was evident that someone from that group left spit-wads on the ceiling of the bathroom. I must mention here that we are not talking about public, but a homeschool co-op. School was held in a house. I must also snicker here at the benignity of this crime when compared with what public school go through today. Faced with this situation the teacher in charge decided that all the kids in this class should be punished.
Our son hadn’t kept strong bitterness about it but he still felt it was wrong. He then proceeded to tell us that there was a “don’t tattle-tell” culture in the class. This culture was very strong and the pupils were actually afraid to tell on their wayward classmates. My son felt felt that the guilty got away with it and the others were punished while no lesson was learned.
I thought about this a bit later. It made me think about the gang mentality we see in the heart of some of our American inner cities, especially these days in Chicago. People complain about crime but they give in to fear and do not report. As such, like an abused woman often does, they protect the guilty and crime continues. But the law actually says that he who is witness to a crime but doesn’t report it becomes an accomplice to that crime, therefore the teacher in my previous story was right to punish all those kids who knew the guilty party but did not report.
This culture does not only exist in school or with inner-city gangs. I have witnessed organisations, groups, companies, societies, associations, churches who also have a culture of division between the managerial branch and the rest of the associates; a culture of presenting a good front to the “boss,” but where the mice play as soon as the cat is away. Either side could be to blame for that, but it is certainly unhealthy and goes against growth, maturation, and efficiency.
Our lives are made up of tests about truth, honesty, and integrity. The quicker we learn to not respond to the fear imposed by bullies, face the wrong and stand for the right no matter what the cost, the better off we’ll be. The first test about these things could be about spit-wads on a bathroom ceiling.
As we travel my wife and enjoy looking around the scenery God has so generously endowed upon America. As the miles turn on our speedometer and as we change times zones, we travel from from urban zone to urban zone as well as from rural, to rural, and to more rural. The urbans zones seem to change from wood based building and houses to cinder block or red bricks. We notice that much has to do with the environment, whether we are in a tornado zone or not.
The rural zones also change as well cross America. We went from timber in the Northwest, to canola fields, then soy fields, to corn fields, to more soy, and more corn,... and more corn … and then some more corn.
We also discover different plant life everywhere we go. From tall firs or the smaller live oak trees to cacti and prairie grasses. Mid texas does not have much flora but we have observed a strange desert plant: the Petroleum Plant.
There is much talk, good and bad about this plant. Maybe it’s because it grows where ranchers used to raise their cattle. But really, it has been such a great financial asset to this area. It seems that everyone here has a hand in its care. People travel from around the country if not the world to oversee the production of its black sap that they use to make all kinds if things. I don’t know too much about the politics of the area so I leave it to them to work out. Anyways, that’s all about the plants you find in the Texas desert.
Recently we've had the privilege to talk with two very interesting men. They are both from very different backgrounds but their stories resonate the same. Both of their lives led them to addiction; both ended up in jail; and both were helped by the love of a good caring woman. Other traits these men share are gentleness, meekness, gratefulness, kindness, and generosity.
Is there a lesson in this? Could it be that the turning and twisting of someone's life serves to create in them these elegant virtues?
My wife and I published a song recently called, The Ancient Olive Tree. We make mention in this song about the twisting and turning knots of an old olive tree. It almost hurts to look at it but this tree brings the fruit whose crushing produces some of the healthiest oil one can use. In ancient times olive oil not just used for cooking or salads, it was also used for ointments, cleaning, and medicine. Olive oil was also used for the sacred rituals of anointing Kings, prophets, and priests.
Thus, from the twisting, turning, and knotting of the olive tree we can learn that the troubles that seem to plague our lives are to help us develop virtue and character. It seems that the two men I was talking about benefited from their crushing experiences.
It is by crushing flowers that we obtain perfume and by squeezing honey combs that we produce honey. May the crushing and squeezing of our lives also produce sweet perfume for others to be built by.
If you appreciate these articles, support their upcoming publication in a book called, "REFLECTIONS OF A FIRE CHAPLAIN"