Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Person Inside: Part 2- A Book and It’s Cover

This isn't exactly a sequel, but more thoughts perhaps from a different angle. Let me know what you think.
Recently, a good friend asked me to help identify a judgmental attitude.  It was something Philip and I enjoyed talking through and challenging each other about.  We discussed the ways we had been raised and the mindsets we grew up with, and how the innocent intentions of others shaped our prejudices and stereotypes.  Allow me to share some personal struggles and examples.
A child sees a girl walking along the sidewalk with tattoos.  A parent might comment "that poor girl, what was she thinking when she did that to herself?" giving the attitude of "that's horrible and wrong and ugly" not "hmm, I wonder what she would like people to know about her based on the art on her body?"  or "I wonder what that means to her and what she feels so strongly about?"  
Maybe a family is driving to church and passes a bar.  A parent comments, “Those heathens, drinking at the bar when they should be in church!” giving the impression that bars are bad, only for drinking, and only heathen, unsaved, ungodly people go there, rather than “I wonder if they serve good breakfast?” Indeed, because of this mindset, it was not until a few years ago that Philip or I even set foot in a bar (they served amazing pizza, by the way.  And we drank water.)
It is so easy to classify people based on preconceived notions without knowing the facts behind the matter, and to communicate this classification to the impressionable people around us.
Having grown up the way Philip and I did, it’s second nature to see someone with random piercings, bold makeup, blue hair, outlandish dress, or whatever combination, and conclude that those styles are “worldly” and those people are “worldly” and therefore incapable of being godly.  Growing up, we unconsciously redefined “worldly” to mean any style that we had previously seen in the world.  We’re given the idea that because someone dresses nicely, they obviously are trying to draw attention to themselves rather than God, they are trying to attract the opposite sex, and therefore are not good Christians. There are no two ways about it, it’s just the way it is.  
From experience, we have come to believe a person’s outward trappings have very little to do with the inner human.  (Their speech and how they invest their time, yes.  Appearance, no.)  Indeed, without actually knowing the person inside, it is impossible to know why they look the way they do.  There can be a huge variety of reasons behind a person’s appearance.
I think maybe part of the root of the issue stems from a child’s perspective of a parent’s comment.  Philip and I discussed this a long time ago when my sister-in-law lived with us for a short time-- how it’s easy to say “I don’t like that shirt, it doesn’t look nice” and the child hears “that shirt is bad, wrong, and sinful.  I will never wear a shirt that even resembles that.”  Or, “we just don’t dance” and the child hears “anyone who does dance is sinning.”  Or, “she moves her hips in church, that’s sensual.” and the child hears “interacting with music is sexual, make sure you never do it.”  Or, “I don’t like the screaming noise electric guitars make” and the child hears “electric guitars can’t be used to worship God.”  The list can go on and on and on with any number of topics.
Yes, things become potentially misunderstood.  But the result is children being raised to see others based surface attributes rather than seeing the person inside and what motivates that person.  Children become hesitant to tell their parents about their activities because they will be classified as someone they are not.  
As children, we were raised to look, dress, talk, and act a certain way because it was what good Christians did.  We did not associate with people outside that bubble.  If we did, it was with the view that they are not like us and we don’t want to become like them.  
Please hear me: God does give commands about sin and holiness.  There are clear commandments that, as Christians, we must follow.  These are not what I’m referring to.  That being said, some principles are, very honestly, individual and cultural, even here in the States.
In some conservative circles, it is easy (and virtually unavoidable) to put ourselves on a pedestal as a better Christian that someone else.  Because someone does not smoke, drink, dress trendy, wear makeup, listen to popular music, have tattoos, cut their hair short or use birth control (to list random examples), they must be more holy, more respectful of the temple of God, a better witness, more devoted to what God says, more trusting of Him, less inclined to draw attention to ourselves, and therefore a better Christian that someone who does any of the above mentioned activities.  These are assumptions based on, well, preconceived nothings. The heart issue and the actual facts don’t come into play.  Granted, this is not a conscious thing, and no one in that position would admit their mindset.  However....  I was there.  I felt that way in the fullest extent.  Philip was there and felt that way as well.
Again, none of these issues are “sin” issues: as in, “Thou shalt not worship any other god besides Me (YHWH)” .  Again, I’m not talking about those issues.  
Even if someone has never said or consciously thought “Anna has a tattoo.  She must be rebellious”, the mindset may still be there. I think the gist of what I’m trying to communicate through this post as well as the last one is to intentionally avoid the fallacy that people are only as they appear on the outside.  Also, even if you have a correct perspective, some of the comments you make to impressionable people around you can communicate things you never intended.