Matthew 7:1-5 (But Now I See, part 3)
This morning we are wrapping up our three week series on faith and bias, called “But Now I See.” The first week we talked a little about what bias is and how it functions in our brains. Biases are reactions we have that are unexamined and uncharitable. Bias is responsible for a lot of the problems that we see in our world right now. And if we want to be part of the solution we first have to admit that we are part of the problem. Last week we talked about how we are part of the problem because our highly efficient brains are wired for simplicity and safety, but living expansively is complex and not a little dangerous. And so we often wind up making choices that aren’t in line with God’s Kingdom. We have to recognize that so that we can change it. The whole point of realizing and acknowledging that we are part of the problem is so we can move to being part of the solution. Which is what we are going to talk about today. What are some actual steps we can take to move toward being part of the solution? As always, Jesus leads the way. Let’s look together one more time at our guiding verses for this series.
By the way, I have no problem reading the same verses to you three weeks in a row. It takes a while for things to sink in for us and hopefully as we hear these verses over and over, they will sink deeper and deeper into our minds so that they are ready to be called forth by God’s Spirit in the moment we most need to remember them. Let’s experience again together this morning the words of Jesus near the end of his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 7, verses 1 through 5.
Jesus said, “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye.”
This is the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
Jesus is such a good teacher. That image is brilliant, isn’t it? So obvious and so ridiculous. Here we have a person who wants to be part of the solution. I want to help other people get the splinters out of their own eyes. But how? Here are some steps.
First, pause and notice. The first step in being part of the solution is simply being aware of ourselves, recognizing when our biases are being activated. And because biases are activated so quickly, here are a few specific situations you can keep in mind. One is how quickly do you dismiss ideas you disagree with? Do you automatically think, “That’s a stupid idea”? Or do you take a moment to consider what truth might be in it? Often there’s at least a little truth in everything. How quickly do you dismiss an idea? Another way to recognize if bias is being activated is to notice how quickly you dismiss the person who holds that idea? If you disagree with someone, do you give them the benefit of the doubt? Are you curious about what experiences they’ve had that might lead them to have this idea that is contradictory to yours? How rude are you about them? How snarky are you about them? What kind of memes do you post about them? What kind of names do you call them? Maybe it’s a stupid idea and the people who believe it are stupid too?
Jesus has something to say about that as well. He says that labeling people is the first step to murder, that as soon as we slap a negative label on someone, we are diminishing their humanity. What we have to remember is that if we put toxicity into our social system, it will be there later for us to deal with. As we can well see, hatred and what my southern grandma used to call “bein’ ugly” doesn’t just go away. It builds up. And if we contribute to it, we will face the repercussions of it later on. So as you are trying to notice your own biases, pay attention to how quickly you dismiss ideas and people if you don’t agree with them. First we must be aware.
Second we must embrace guilt and grace. Now you may be surprised to hear me say embrace guilt. Here’s what I mean. I’m not talking about embracing shame. I’m not talking about accepting the idea that you are bad or worthless. I’m talking about embracing your God-given warning system when you’ve done something that violates your values. That’s what guilt is. It is a healthy internal response that we have when we’ve done something we actually don’t want to do.
Let me give you an analogy. Remember before we all had cell phones and we had alarm clocks? Maybe some of you still do. And they would buzz or beep when they went off? That’s an alarm, letting you know you’ve been asleep and now it’s time to get up — and if you don’t get up, bad things will happen, right? Nothing wrong with the alarm. It’s a good thing. You need it. Now, what if you didn’t turn the alarm off? What if you laid in bed while it blared at you, moaning, “Oh no, I can’t believe I was asleep! Why was I sleeping?! I shouldn’t be sleeping; I should be awake!” And what if you got out of bed but left the alarm on? Eventually you wouldn’t be able to function because everything would be about that dang blaring alarm. That would be a ridiculous thing to do.
Friends, it is ridiculous to wallow in guilt. We need to embrace it and accept it for the alarm that it is. We need to be grateful that we have an alarm to let us know that we’ve violated our own values. But if we keep feeling guilty, it will actually stop us from fixing the thing that caused the guilt in the first place. Do you follow me? Embrace the guilt. Then shut the alarm off and move on to embrace grace.
Going back to the analogy: of course you were asleep. Humans sleep. Maybe you were sleeping when you should have been awake, but thank goodness you had an alarm set and now you’re up. So move forward. Nobody is perfect and everyone can grow. Down in Columbus, Church for All People says, “God loves us exactly the way we are and God’s not finished with any of us yet.” YES. Embrace the guilt that you experience when you realize you’ve been operating in a bias, acting in a way that is unexamined and uncharitable, and then embrace God’s grace and move forward.
I’m speaking from personal experience. I think this is a pretty common occurrence for white people when they realize they have a racial bias. I was at a weeklong training where we were split into working groups for the week, maybe 20 people or so. In my group, I was one of only four white people. Friends, I had never before been in a space where I was the minority. It was illuminating. Everyone should have that experience. Everyone should spend time in a space that is the opposite of the privilege we usually hold. While I was there, I realized a lot of biases and after a few days my guilt alarm was blaring and I wasn’t smart enough to shut it off. So we were working with a partner on a project and I was paired up with this wonderfully wise and gentle black woman who was old enough to be my grandmother. We were supposed to be working on a project and instead I’m sitting there pouring out all my guilt on her, apologizing for all the things white people have ever done and acknowledging the ways I benefit from it. Friends, a tip: don’t do this. It is not the responsibility of people of color to receive the confessions and give absolution to white people. If you need to process, take it to a trusted white friend. I meant this woman barely knew me! But, she was so gracious. She heard me out, she let me blare all that guilt alarm at her, and then she said, “Honey, I accept your apology. Now get over it and get to work.” Embrace the guilt and embrace the grace. Acknowledge it and move on.
Finally, after we have noticed how our biases are being activated, and embraced guilt and grace, the final step is to make some new friends. Get some perspective that will challenge the biases you know you currently have. And if you don’t know how to make new friends, read new books, listen to new podcasts, or watch new TV. If you don’t know anyone who lives with addiction, watch some good movies. Or go to an open AA meeting and just listen. I’m not saying use people, right, don’t make new friends so they can explain everything to you. Do your own work. But open your world. If you only listen to MSNBC, turn on Fox News, or some other conservative source. You don’t have to agree with it, but if you never even hear it, how can you understand where people are coming from? How can you have any compassion? How can you help anyone else change?
Because here’s the kicker: another bias we all have is that we are biased toward people who are kind to us. If we are uncharitable, the people whom we want to help change aren’t going to listen to us. If we want to be part of the solution, we have to be kind, especially to people we disagree with. We not only have to be kind to them, we have to be kind about them, behind their backs, on social media. That’s what it means to be loving. Not “love your enemies” theoretically, but act in a way that your enemies recognize as being loving. One of my favorite Christian authors Brian McLaren says we have to demonstrate a greater desire to be loving than to be right. If we want to be part of the solution, we have to want to be loving more than we want to be right.
Let me close with this. Overcoming our biases is part of spiritual growth, part of how we become more like Jesus. Father Richard Rohr talks about three levels of meaning that we operate in. The smallest one is my story. In this dome I am preoccupied with myself, my feelings, my perspectives, my experiences, figuring out me, satisfying me, finding meaning for me. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but there’s more to life than my story.
The next level is our story, which includes my story. In this level I am preoccupied with “us,” whoever that is. I am focused on our values, our solutions. I am focused on us winning. This is where most people live, identifying themselves as part of a group and thinking and doing what the group does. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s still more to life than our story.
The final level is the story, the story of all of us, the story of humanity and for us as Christians, the story of God’s interaction with humanity. Beyond what I want, beyond just having my people come out on top, there’s something greater happening here. There are truths that include and transcend my experience and our experience. We can’t get to this level with understanding my story, what’s happened to me, and our story, how I fit into a larger group, so those other levels are essential. But the story is where we find real enlightenment. The story is where I think we find Jesus.
Jesus challenges our biases. Jesus makes us think again, not by pointing out factual errors, but by telling a story, by using a creative analogy like splinters and logs in your eye. If we want to move beyond my story and our story into the story we have to notice our biases, embrace grace and guilt, and make new friends. Our brains are wired for simplicity and safety and so our natural reactions are part of the problem. But with God’s help we can be part of the solution. We can move forward into the complex and dangerous Kingdom of God. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can be expansive people in an expansive church. Amen.