Every parent has their own discipline strategies. When I was growing up, my father’s approach was to quote scripture. Let me assure you, when you hear “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God has given you,” coming out of the mouth of your own Dad, it sounds more like a threat than a promise!
Dad had a scripture for almost every occasion (that I could not hate my brother or sister and love God was particularly unnerving), though he was not above using Dr. Seuss when an appropriate Biblical text could not be found. His real go-to passage was the Sermon on the Mount. I remember many times being told that I wasn’t adding an inch to my height by worrying, or (when I was gloating over my good behavior) that I shouldn’t let my right hand know what the left was doing. The one that really stuck with me, though, and became foundational for my spiritual growth, was the ready proof text against tattling – the admonition to first take the beam out of my own eye before taking the mote out of my sister or brother’s eye. (“What’s a mote, Dad?” “Don’t talk back! Honor your father…” Yikes!)
While I have not been using scripture in this way with my own daughter, there is something to be said for growing up hearing these verses every day:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matt. 7:1-5, RSV)
The result for myself – and I think for my sister and brother as well, has been to live lives of introspection – so that, when we find ourselves judging another, we are conditioned to stop and instead take stock of ourselves. No matter how long we have walked with God, Teresa of Avila asserted, we can always find fresh insights in the first room of the Interior Castle – the room of self-examination.
So, after years of doing my inadequate best to live by the rule of Matthew 7:1-5, it has been a great surprise to discover a way to read the passage anew. For this I have to thank Dr. J. Kameron Carter of Duke Divinity School, who recently blogged about Haiti and the theodicy question. I encourage you to read it yourselves! As I read it, and considered his suggestion that we often frame the question of “Why does God let suffering occur?,” as a way of avoiding our own culpability, it occurred to me that Carter was providing us with a reread of Matthew. In these instances, when we judge God, we are plucking a supposed speck out of God’s eye, blinded by the log that is in our own. Which takes the defense of God from an abstract “who can see well enough to judge God?,” instead concretizing the question to one of self-examination – “Have I lived in such a way to enable my faith community to embody Christ in the world well? How have we failed to embody Christ for others?” It is not piety to turn our eyes to God in order to take the attention off our own destructive behavior. In fact, it is downright unscriptural.
This idea of Dr. Carter’s and my reflection upon it has inspired me to take a totally different direction with Sunday school this Lent than I had intended. Lent is traditionally a time for confession – that is, for self-examination – in the Church year. We will be focusing on how we as Church embody Christ, and how we fail to embody Christ – how do we cause, prevent, alleviate, or exacerbate the suffering in the world? I hope that, if you find yourself in Durham, you will be able to join us one Sunday morning at 10am in the parlor of Trinity UMC, as we reframe the “problem of suffering” question in light of our identities as members of the Body of Christ.