We were asked an interesting question in one of my Seminary classes this week: “What biases or presuppositions do you bring into any encounter with others? How can we learn from others without interjecting our own interpretations into the process?”
I readily admitted to being a language snob. I am an English major, and particular grammatical errors ring loudly in my ears. It is difficult not to prejudge someone on the basis of what emanates from their mouth. To which one of my clever classmates replied: “Beth, you are to funny. I will try not too make no grammar errors with you. Thier is spell check for a reason. They was a lot of good points you made. Ain’t it something.” Hey, we’re studying theology–it’s important to lighten it up occasionally!
But the original question was thought provoking, and worth considering in an honest, personal way. My classmates and I are studying Missional Formation, with the intention of potentially bringing the Gospel to peoples who are dramatically different from those we are surrounded by on a daily basis. In such a situation, it would be easy, almost expected, to focus on the blatant differences, and make a judgement based upon those differences. We are learning how our seemingly insignificant judgements poison relationships with those we seek to evangelize, stopping the process cold, before it ever gets off the ground.
But you and I do this every day, in our everyday spaces, with every individual we are exposed to–perhaps they’re wearing an outfit that causes us to make an immediate assumption. Maybe they have an accent that leads us to come to a particular conclusion about them. It’s silly, really, and I love when I am smacked back to humility through surprise. Maybe the guy in the flannel with a backwoods accent turns out to be a surgeon. A gritty New Yorker turns out to be the kindest person you meet all week. People are so interesting, aren’t they? Perhaps we should just try to be open to everyone by quieting the little voice of judgement in our heads, and see how our encounters with others change.