Sending a message

earSome days I get mad at things and I just can’t place why. It helps me to go back and examine the situation more closely, to see if it’s a problem with myself or a problem with others. I worry about it because, as a Christian, I hate feeling judgmental, especially if it’s hypocritical.Hypocrisy seems to be one thing Christianity is not lacking in, but this one evening just kept making me wonder what kind of message these folks were sending.
As the group left, driving away in their Caddy and Lexus and Mercedes, I felt really disgusted. After everything else, knowing they were wealthy seemed to drive the point home in my head. Trust me, it would have been enough that they farted their way across the parking lot. Not some kind of subtle passing of gas, but honest-to-biscuits lifting up one leg to make room for the bellow to follow sort of obnoxiousness.

Their disregard for whoever else might be around – perhaps their flat-out not caring – made me shake my head. And I got the impression it wasn’t like a pull-my-finger joke, but how they lived from day-to-day. Perhaps they farted so much around the house that they went public and decided it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Maybe in the convertible Lexus they didn’t have to be worried about being trapped with the smell.
But my issues with them began even before that. It was all the post dinner smoking, drinking and loud swearing not just in the presence of all the other patio diners, but also in front of the children at the table. Clearly, it wasn’t just me who took notice. A woman sitting nearby widened her eyes and rolled them to her husband as if to say “Really? Did they really just say that?”

A young man from another table apparently forgot his lighter and asked them for a light for his cigarette. Much to my surprise, nobody had a light even though four of them were smoking. Instead one offered their cigarette to light his from, making a drug joke about not paying attention to the seeds popping. This, again, in front of children not yet in their double digits. Though the comment drew chuckles from the table, the guy lighting his smoke simply said “thanks” and walked back to his table without smiling.

I recognize that a lot of judging seems to flow from people naturally. Much of it is self-righteous. It’s that inner voice telling us we’re so much better than so-and-so when we compare their lives with ours. And as I sat under the patio umbrella, finishing up my meal, I did feel like there were so many things I do better than the messages these people were broadcasting to everyone within earshot.

Still, even before that, their conversation was obnoxious. They openly discussed movies, practically shouting the ending without regard for who nearby may or may not have seen the films. And these were movies still in theaters, not something that had been out on DVD for a while. When it wasn’t spoiling the movies, it was criticizing the actors. “Oh, so-and-so looks really ugly now. I can’t watch their movies without thinking about what a hag they’ve become.” Usually drawing several bobbing heads from the others in their pack.

Being judgmental bugs me because I feel trapped by it. I really work at avoiding the attitude, but at times like these it’s very difficult for me, especially when confronted with such an array of offensive behavior. I didn’t need to feel good about my own life, by comparing it with theirs, but I did feel like there should be some kind of punishment delivered to these people — when perhaps I should have been tempering that feeling with the love we’re supposed to have for our fellow humans.

Going back even further, the group talked about how this company or that company simply was wrong, or stupid, or whatever. Then it was the city government, then it was the media and it was as though they needed to not only call out anyone they didn’t wholeheartedly endorse, but also needed everyone at the table to agree with them. It wasn’t a discussion group, it was some kind of mutual opinion endorsement gang.

Matthew rang in my ears as I was listening to this part. “For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” I mean, wasn’t I essentially doing the very same thing to this group of people that they were doing to others?

But here’s the kicker. They began their meal with a big production of holding hands and delivering aloud a prayer. In hindsight, this is the part that I look at and it makes me the most angry. Instead of a prayer, they might as well have said “Thanks for the Lexus, my status symbol, for I would no sooner part with my money to help the poor than I would not breathe smoke directly into my child’s face. Maybe, I’d consider helping some of my neighbors if they weren’t all such disappointments to me. Really, even the people who I hold in the highest regard – actors – no longer are quite as amazing as I think I am. Amen.”

I often worry about pretending to follow Christ instead of actually doing what he commanded. It’s easy to go through the actions so frequently that they stop having meaning. There before me were people who appeared to have pretended so long that even a group prayer had become too rote to have any meaning.

And I have no doubt that’s why it bothered me so much: I worry about not doing enough. Like most Christians I know, I strive to be compassionate, caring, kind, loving and reach out to others who are hurting, hungry or in need. But it’s almost paradoxical. There always seems to be opportunities to do more, but at some point we find the limit of what we’re willing to do.

So, as I drove off in my car with the fender hanging akimbo, looking through the dirty windshield, I found myself wondering  how hypocritical the other restaurant patrons might have thought the opening prayer was for that collection of folks.

Perhaps some felt like it was the type of Christian arrogance they’d come to expect. Perhaps some were sorry there was such a disconnect between the words of their prayer and how they appeared to live their lives. Perhaps some just thought they’d had one too many drinks.

But as I watched the tables surrounding this group, it was clear they were sending some kind of message. I just pray that a small part of what we can do for our neighbors delivers a good message, even when we’re least aware that we’re sending a message at all.

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