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A Long Pilgrimage

I find myself thinking that criticism, when it is justified at all, still arises from impatience. Or mabye it is better to say that a critical spirit, justified or not, arises from impatience.

We are critical when we assume the position of the judge.

Now, I don’t play the modern game of abdication, pretending that we should never judge, even when it is our duty to do so. This approach, it seems to me, springs, not from duty, love, or even affection, but from not knowing another and not caring what happens to them. Or at least it springs from moral sloth. There are times when it is our duty to judge.

However, it remains true that it is not often that we occupy that position. Nor do those few occasions justify us in the frequency with which we judge apart from that position.

Everybody judges, right or wrong, and everybody criticizes (I am using the word in its non-technical, common meaning). I’d like to think that I’ve become something of a master, after all these years of engaging in criticism. In fact, what I’ve actually achieved offers significantly less satisfaction.

I’ve proven that when I “practice” something over and over without discipline and humility, the net effect is not mastery but sloppiness and difficult-to-conquer bad habits.

The Just critic (judge) is the only one who can provide just criticism. That justice arises, it seems to me, from wisdom. It requires intimate knowledge of the nature and purpose of the person, act/event, and/or artifact being criticised. It also demands attention to the circumstances.

Most of all, perhaps, it demands self-control. The just critic does not criticize to express himself or to relieve anxiety or pressure from his own mind. He is strategic. He notes the criticism that will be helpful in the circumstances and he offers it modestly and practically. He does not universalize, like a migraine headeache. He speaks to specifics, and he usually offers specific actions or steps to take either immediately or the next time the circumstance arises. If his counsel is rejected, he doesn’t take it personally. He has time.

But for me, criticism usually springs carelessly from my lips because I love myself so much that I can’t handle the pressure of an unexpressed thought and I don’t care who will suffer and how much when I indulge myself.

The trouble is, that paragraph illustrated negatively the point of the previous one. I was not specific. I did not offer a means of growth. I universalized. I was harsh to myself, even while Christ Himself is not.

Let me try again.

I often criticize people impatiently. I do it because I’ll see something that, in my opinion, is not as it should be: somebody’s behavior, something somebody made, something said. Honestly, this often creates tension in me. I want to live in a perfect world, I guess. I also want to help other people make the world perfect (ie the way I want it; I am the law). I can’t access all the reasons I so frequently criticize, so I won’t try. But the next time I see somebody do something that bothers me, I should first step down off the bema seat. I will pray: “Lord have mercy on me the sinner.”

For now, that’s all I can handle. Perhaps that will help.

If I have come up short, please let me know specifically and patiently. I have a long pilgrimage ahead of me, and I can only take one step at a time.

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