curiosity is the serum for judgmentalism
Thursday June 16th 2005, 11:03 am
Filed under: faith, thinking...

a week or two ago i wrote about the hipness of judgmentalism. and, as seems to be shaping up as the norm for me, what i post about rattles around in my brain and heart and soul for another day or two or week or two.

and i’ve been connecting some dots.

here’s the first dot:
i’m not sure i agree with andrew that the mud-slinging is over. i hope he’s prophetic and correct.

judgmentalism and questioning (or assuming) motives and distancing seem — to me — to be a finely honed skill of the 21st century church. but i agree with the spirit of what andrew’s suggesting: if we continue on this path, it will destroy us. maybe it already has. just yesterday, i was speaking with a ministry leader from another org about a 3rd organization that is consistantly arrogant (the organization, not necessarily it’s people). and i said something like: i’m all for them being passionate about, and proud of, their distinctives. i just wish they didn’t have to constantly communicate how their distinctives are better than everyone else’s. we — MOST OF US IN THE CHURCH — spend so much of our time and energy drawing lines in the sand, defining the boxes we’re in and you’re not, telling others where they’re going astray (all in the spirit of truth, of course!). and, even as you’re reading this (and i’m writing this), our first inclination is to think about those people (whoever they are in your universe-of-the-moment) who fit this.

here’s the second dot:
my wife shared a fantastic quote with me the other day, in response to my post about my own judgmentalism. it’s a quote about gandhi (not by gandhi), from the book “the root of this longing: reconciling a spiritual hunger with a feminist thirst”…

gandhi always brings you back to yourself–the beam in your own eye, the discrepancy b/w your own actions and the ideals you profess. he insists that you look beyond the headlines for the root causes of each new horror, and always the trail leads back to forces in consciousness, like envy and fear and the lust for power, and always you have to recognize those same forces in yourself.

here’s the third dot:
[a true story]
one year ago, the exec team of ys was sitting in the living room of a beach house in leucadia, california, on retreat. and we were gettin’ worked. our consultant, mark dowds, was in the process of inverting all the dimensions of reality as we knew it. at one point, during discussion, i noticed tic long getting defensive. he’s pretty transparent when this happens, so it’s not that i was being perceptive: his body tenses up and he fidgets like crazy, and his voice raises a half-octave, and his answers become a series of “uh-huh’s”.

in the spirit of the truthfulness we were trying to foster, i decided it should be called out — “for the good of the team.” i did, at least attempt to speak with gentleness, even though i was calling tic out. i said, “tic, can i interrupt? you’ve suddenly gotten really defensive.” and here’s where i really blew it: in the insecurity of that moment (thinking i was doing a good thing), i turned to the rest of the room to back me up, “am i alone in this? do the rest of you see this?”

before tic could respond, mark turned to me, and with uncharacteristic directness and push-back, completely unveiled what i had just done: that i had attempted to gang up on tic; that i had tried to manipulate everyone in the room to my opinion in order to corner tic. just as the tingly nature of be publicly exposed and realizing he was right started to set in, mark re-directed again. he said something like: i’m calling this out for a very specific reason. if you five are going to be effective, you have the learn the skill of being curious.

he used the situation that had just been unveiled as a case-study: if i notice that tic seems to be getting defensive, and if i really want the best for him as a human being, as an image-of-god brother of mine, than i should be more interested in what tic’s “positive intent” is (what’s driving the defensiveness, in this case), than in embarassing him or making myself look like the hero of group dynamics and herald of truth. in doing so, i needed to interupt, yes, but calmy ask tic, in love: hey, what are you feeling right now? what are you thinking? if it’s clear (at the moment, and from historical experience) that the space is safe, tic will likely realize his own defensiveness, name it, and provide us ALL an opportunity to look at real issues that drove the reaction, rather than just the emotionality.

this concept of “being curious” has profoundly shaped our exec team in the past year. we exercise it all the time with each other, and it — more than anything else, i think — has changed the tone of our meetings. and i’m finding the concept spilling over into other areas of my life.

connecting the dots, maybe?
so. if judgmentalism is the venom currently coursing it’s way through the veins of the church, i’m thinking the anti-venum, the serum, isn’t what we’ve thought it to be. it’s not more truth or more clearly defining what we mean or retreating, or, even, a rodney-king-like “can’t we all just get along?”

Curiosity. loving, “i want the best for you” curiosity. i think that’s the serum.

to the person who flames my friend tony jones for his appointment to director/coordinator of emergent, i ask, gently: tell us your concerns. and, how have you been burned by institutionalism that would bring that strong a reaction? what can you teach us?

to the person who consistantly questions the motives of ys, saying we’re only about making money and manipulating people with language about how we actually care about youth workers, i ask, gently: how can i serve you? what’s behind your questions and statements? can you help me see where you think we’re off track?

to my dear friends in the story on my original post about judgmentalism, i ask, gently: what are your fears? what are you feeling, and what’s driving those feelings?

to other youth ministry orgs and leaders i have previously written off as clueless or wrong-headed, i ask (at least to myself, if not to them): what has shaped his life that is bringing about that perspective?

and — is this possible? — to me, when i catch myself in the midst of judgmentalism, i ask, gently: wait, marko, what’s going on here? what’s driving this judgment or attitude? what’s the positive intent behind this — how are you hoping to benefit from this? what’s another way to think about this?

5 Comments so far
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Nice post. I posted recently on legalism (about seven of them) and sense we are on the same page on this stuff.

Comment by Scot McKnight 06.16.05 @ 6:40 pm

i love this.. wait, what do i love about it? this resonates with me as i have been feeling more and more judgmental, which isn’t entirely me, only partly me. maybe a curiosity can help.. maybe? shalom, gav

Comment by gavin 06.16.05 @ 7:30 pm

thanks, scot — i’d skimmed your posts as they went up, but just went back and read them all. really good stuff. you’re right that we’re on the same page. now, about that 76 you shot on your first time out this year…

Comment by marko 06.16.05 @ 7:35 pm

great blog brother. appreciate the insight.


Comment by Daniel Greeson 06.17.05 @ 10:36 am

Those are helpful words. I need to keep thinking about this. What I keep noticing is how judgmental I am feeling about all those judgmental people out there who don’t agree with me.

Comment by glen 06.27.05 @ 6:13 pm

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