Often, we are less tolerant than we claim. At least that is my confession.
Intolerance is not necessarily a bad thing. Our tolerance levels seem to change with age and experience.
Mine lean now toward less noise and fewer people at a time. Deeper conversations are more welcomed while someone’s intense lecturing is less tolerated.
Intolerance becomes troublesome, however, when its focus is on treating other people disrespectfully and discriminatorily.
Particularly concerning is how those who profess faith in Jesus are often the least tolerant of people who look, think, believe and live differently. Which is completely in contrast to how Jesus lived.
He was always crossing literal and figurative lines that had divided people based on ethnicity, belief, behavior and reputation.
Which has raised a question that continues to rattle around in my mind and heart: Would I be tolerant of me?
Framing the question as whether I’d be tolerant of “myself” might seem better. But I’m not speaking of myself at the moment — but rather of the various iterations of “me” over my three-score-plus life.
Many people hold basically the same religious beliefs, social perspectives and values throughout their lives. My journey, however, has included reaffirmation of some earlier understandings along with a heavy reformulation of others.
Not everyone travels the same path. At least, they don’t do so at the same time.
Therefore, there is a need for tolerance at a minimum and loving acceptance at the ideal. Neither of those mean we condone offensive and destructive attitudes.
Rather, we note the blind spots of our own past — and acknowledge the likelihood of present ones in our lives.
It is easy to become frustrated by those who don’t seem to see what we consider to be obvious truth — even that which is well documented and clearly presented. Yet, we all are stumbling along the path of life in some ways.
So, I keep asking myself: Would I accept me?
More specifically: How would the current me act toward previous versions of me? And the other way around.
Would I scoff at and dismiss my earlier self for the narrow understandings of God, the Bible and the smaller world that shaped my earlier sense of the divine?
Back then, would I have disregarded my current self as wholly, if not hopelessly, lost for not embracing what was drilled in me as truth for all times?
Would I find something I once held as truth to be so off track, even offensive, that I would discount this earlier version of myself?
When we narrow down the circle of those we respect, listen to and treat graciously, perhaps it’s helpful to imagine ourselves showing up at different stages in our lives.
What about all those versions of me in between?
If I didn’t know that person — at whatever stage of life — to be myself, would I reject them for believing and being so different?
Perhaps that is at the root of Jesus’ directive: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2, NIV).
It is not the stripping away of our discernment faculties. In fact, Jesus asks us to soundly test what we see and hear.
Rather, perhaps Jesus is asking us to apply the same criteria — and equal measure of grace — to others as we wish for ourselves.
A good way to do that, it seems, is to ask how my current self would relate to that someone (me) at other stages of my life. Tolerance and grace are inseparable.
So, would I accept me?
It’s a strange question to ask. But perhaps if we find a bit more acceptance for who we’ve been at various stages of life — with all our imperfections and misguided notions — we might find ourselves more willing not only to tolerate but also to embrace those who are different from us now.
You know, the way Jesus did it.
Recently, my colleague Bruce Gourley and I spent much of a day with historian Richard Pickering who has long studied the Pilgrims and their early colony in Massachusetts.
He told how some guests — including many teachers who attend seminars — will visit the living museum and quickly start judging the Pilgrims for everything they did that seems inappropriate in their modern eyes. From social structures to religious beliefs to practical matters.
Pickering is not defensive, noting the blind spots of these early settlers. But he frames his response in this way: “Hold these people as gently as you want to be judged 400 years from now.”
It’s a fine line — between not tolerating abuse and injustice while not treating those unlike us as possessing less of the image of God in which we all are created.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.