“And why dost thou look at the bit of straw in thy brother’s eye but considerest not the beam in thine own eye?” Matthew 7:3 (Kempton Translation)
Things are not always as they seem. The Writings talk about not spiritually judging people — not assuming they are going to heaven or hell based on what we think we see in them. We certainly have to be able to make distinctions and judgments about what is right and wrong, otherwise everything would fall apart, but we can’t know someone’s internal state. We should be working on cleaning up our own lives first anyway, and when we are doing that, the Lord can help us see much more clearly.
I’ve been lucky to live my whole life in New Church communities surrounded by friends, family and teachers who have supported me in examining the Doctrines of the New Church.
Three years ago I graduated from Bryn Athyn College of the New Church and then immediately moved to Virginia to start working at Colonial Williamsburg — apparently the largest living history museum in the world (yes, it is a very fun magical job). This was my first time living far from a New Church community and the first time for me to really have to apply all the things I’ve been learning my whole life. There have been so many new things for me to learn, lots of them fun and satisfying — and several of them not quite so fun. One of these challenges was something I was even expecting but still didn’t enjoy it at all — a moral culture shock. Settling into life here outside of work I found that my moral standards seemed way higher than most people, which made it hard at first to see the good in my neighbor, and which also blinded me to some glaring problems in myself.
The most immediately apparent and upsetting culture shock was the state of marriage in the world.
We certainly have a treasure trove of truths about marriage in the Church. I’ve grown up thinking and talking about it a LOT. I love thinking about how Conjugial Love is a holy love because it is from the Lord alone, and how marriage and religion go hand in hand. I love all the teachings about the unique and complementary natures of men and women. I love the quote about how the states of this love are innocence, peace, tranquility, inmost friendship, full confidence and a mutual desire of mind and heart to do the other every good and that all joys are gathered into it.
It was quite a shock to get thrown into contact with my generation outside the church where no one seems to understand marriage at all and where it is frequently mocked. The vast majority of people seemed to see no difference at all between living with someone before and after marriage, and no problem with living with many different people before marriage. Instead of an appreciation for the differences between men and women I found a lot of antagonism towards the idea of there being differences at all. Most frustrating to me was all the disgusting jokes I encountered, all the foul language and the extremely frequent talk about people’s bodies in a objectifying manner. What made me really surprised and grossed out was that often the women seemed to encourage this sort of talk about themselves! They were joking along with the guys or introducing the objectifying conversations. Married people were saying the same things.
At first I wasn’t sure what to do with this situation. I tried to find things I did agree on with people and connected with them only in those areas. I did find a few people I could truly be friends with on a lot of levels, but they were relatively few. In my mind I began putting people into two categories: my side and the other side. I started feeling pretty discouraged about morality and the hope for real marriage in the world. I even started assuming that people didn’t have morals even before I got to know them.
Initially what I thought I was supposed to be learning from the experience was that the New Church has beautiful truths and the world is pretty messed up without them. While this may be the case there is something much bigger I needed to learn for myself.
It is easy to identify with truth as if it is my truth simply because I believe it intellectually, but this is a form of spiritual theft. It is stealing from the Lord because I am taking credit for the ideas and not acknowledge that it is the Lord who is the source of all good and truth. He gives us these truths so generously and we should never take credit for them. Another way this attitude steals from the Lord is when I only use the truth intellectually, using it to look at how badly everyone is doing, rather than using the Lord’s truth to change my life.
Here I was staring at the speck in my brother’s eye and completely ignoring the fact that I had a very large beam in my own. I should have been looking at ways in which I might not have been supporting marriage in my life. Every time I let myself feel hopeless about it and especially when I assume the worst of people then I am not believing that the Lord can help any of us out of our evils and on to higher states. The Lord promises that Conjugial Love will be restored as it was in earlier ages. Who am I to be hopeless about it?
My critical attitude toward other people made me blind to the good things the Lord was doing around me the whole time. I have found that there are a lot of people I initially dismissed based on the horrible things they said about marriage, but more recently I’ve noticed ways in which they care about strengthening the friendship in their marriage, or ways in which single people still hope for a lovely marriage like their grandparents had. I wasn’t really seeing and appreciating the fact that there have been many new weddings down here over the last few years — the Lord is leading people toward that goal even if they don’t know every single truth about marriage (well guess what, neither do I!). Probably the most humbling thing I noticed recently though is the type of person who is doing far better than I am at following what they think is right no matter how little they know. In the middle of this modern culture that says there is absolutely no difference between marriage and living together beforehand, three different couples I know chose to not live together before their weddings. How rare is that!
I am so grateful for this change in perspective. I am no better than anyone else, in fact in one sense I am far worse because I can see the evil in my life in a way that I can’t see it in other people. We are all human beings who are inclined to evils of every kind. It is our responsibility to work on the evils in our individual lives and by doing that, the Lord can help us find ways to support and be supported by each other. I feel more grateful than ever to know about the doctrines of the New Church. I also know better than ever to watch out for not hoarding these truths and taking credit for them. The quality and quantity of what we know makes absolutely no difference so long as we neglect to use it in the right way. The people I know outside the Church have a lot of valuable things to teach me about actually applying what I say I believe.