Thursday, May 30, 2013

Judging . . . and Changing

A recent CBS News poll revealed 80 percent of Americans are unhappy with the Federal government, with 50 percent of respondents classified as “dissatisfied,” and another 30 percent termed “angry.” A Gallup Poll had similar results, reporting nearly 70 percent of people surveyed stated they are either “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied.”

If we’re among those sharing similar discontent with the United States’ direction and how it’s being run, what can we do about it? We can complain to our friends. After all, most people like preaching to the choir. We can grumble on Facebook, Twitter or email, including sharing articles and posts that affirm our opinions. We can write letters to the editor. We can anticipate the next election with every intention of “voting the rascals out.”

How can we, as individuals, bring about
meaningful, lasting change in our world?
There’s nothing wrong with any of those, but at best our individual impact in those ways is very limited. We can feel fairly helpless to bring about change. There’s another way, however.

An oft-quoted verse from the Bible – by both believers and nonbelievers – is Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” He made this declaration during His "Sermon on the Mount."

A common interpretation of this passage is we have no right to judge anyone else – values, behavior, or lifestyle. But if you read the rest of what Jesus said, that’s not what He meant.

Jesus proceeded to state, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?... You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:2-5).

Talk about not mincing words! As I understand it, Jesus was chastising His listeners for being quick to find fault with others while ignoring their own failings – sometimes similar to shortcomings they saw in other people. When we point to someone else, three fingers point back at us.

So what does this have to do with changing society? A lot.

Recently I read a brief commentary, "I Wanted To Change The World," written by an unknown monk around 1100 A.D. His sentiments seem timeless, worthy our consideration:

“When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.
I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.
When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.
Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.

Change, recalling Jesus’ earlier statement, must start with ourselves. As much as we wish we could, we can’t change people – even loved ones. As for bringing about change in our communities, our country, the world? We can do our part, of course. But the only definitive, enduring change we each have direct control over is oneself.

So while we're wringing our hands over the state of the world, nation, community, and people around us, we can begin making real change – in ourselves. No telling how far those changes can reach. 

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