Judging at Arm’s Length


“There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because He first loved us.”  1 John 4: 18-19

This verse has been crossing my mind a lot these last couple of days. My family and I have been on vacation this week.  We spent the weekend taking in some sites in New York, we traveled by train to Boston yesterday, and we will be wrapping up our trip visiting Portland, Maine tomorrow.  

We have been logging time in some of the most diverse regions in the country.  

On Sunday morning, we were eating breakfast at a street cafe in the East Village neighborhood of New York when I kept seeing posts on my phone of friends praying for Orlando.  It was then I first read about the horrific events at a nightclub earlier that morning. First we saw 20 fatalities and a few hours later the death toll had climbed to 50. 

This afternoon, an old high school classmate posted, on Facebook, a heart wrenching post about the grief and anger he feels over the events in Orlando. Jeff shared how he had been ridiculed and bullied all his life for being gay. In high school, he did his best to hide and deny being gay because the town in which we lived in was a very conservative military town and the kids in this town were quick to label and ridicule him all through his middle school and high school years.

As I read these words from Jeff, my heart wept.

“I didn’t know what gay was or what fag meant. I just knew it was “bad and gross.” Imagine growing up with that opinion of yourself?!? But, it didn’t matter. The kids in town stuck me with that label. It was a daily triad of kids yelling “faggot,” getting spit in the face, tripped, shoved, made fun of, all for being gay.”

His comment made me think back on how I treated Jeff during our school years. How did I contribute to this labeling?  We were in the marching band together. We both played clarinet. Jeff was sweet and friendly and had a wonderful sense of humor. I knew Jeff was gay long before he ever openly acknowledged it.  And, because of this, I was friendly with Jeff but not too friendly.  I never ever dreamed of calling Jeff names or being mean to him. But, on occasion, I was stand offish and guarded.  I didn’t understand and I judged him…not with my words…but in my heart.  How do I know this?  Because I always kept the relationship an arm’s length away. I never fully accepted or embraced Jeff. It certainly wasn’t blatant or in your face rejection…but it was rejection. I was scared.  I was scared because I didn’t understand.

Another reason I restrained my friendliness was that I was shy, introverted, had a mom who was battling breast cancer and I was simply trying to make it through school with the least bit of drama. An arm’s length friendship with someone who I didn’t quite understand was the “safe route” 

I came from a very conservative family upbringing. I was raised in a home by a dad who was quick to judge and quick to label both homosexuals and also those who were not white.  I remember how, in high school, I feared bringing home a black friend for the first time.  What would my dad do?  Would he insult my friend? Would he embarrass me? Thankfully (and somewhat surprisingly) my dad was on his best behavior and I truly believe he genuinely liked and was very respectful of my classmate anytime she was around.  I learned that my dad was often “selectively” racist. My grandmother was always quick to defend my dad too. I would often hear her say of her son: “He grew up in downtown Detroit. He was the only white kid in his class. He had some bad experiences with black kids growing up.”  Even though I have never agreed with my dad’s racist attitudes, I do have an idea as to where his prejudices and labeling may have originated. This by no means excuses or condones them. 

So often our knee jerk reaction is to turn toward judgement if we don’t understand something. A lack of understanding will often produce a level of fear. And that fear prompts us to either lash out or withdraw.

Yet, here’s the thing I’m learning in this life:  Fear, produced by a lack of understanding, is a choice. A lack of understanding could produce love instead.  Because, guess what?  That’s a choice too. “We love because He first loved us”

So that’s my desire. To choose love more and more and more.  It’s not always the “safest route” but it is always the right route. 

Dear Lord, if I err, I want to err on the side of love, radical acceptance, and awkward hugs.

A friendship kept at arm’s length is no friendship at all.

Saw this video a few days ago and decided to include it in this post. I love how just a few minutes of getting to know someone can change everything…

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