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  • Writer's pictureJeff Conway

Judgement Day - Hasta La Vista, Baby

“How can you stand that person?” This is a question I have been asked numerous times throughout all the years of my life. From the teenage years through adulthood, I would be challenged on another person’s worthiness. It could drive some people crazy that “crazy” behavior didn’t send me over the edge. (And let me tell you, after thirty-five years in professional ministry, I’ve run into my fair share of crazy behavior—from church members to those in the community.) It’s just not in my nature. I can honestly say that I’ve never disliked anyone. I’ve never felt, “I hate that person.” I didn’t realize it in my early years, but as people presented more challenging behavior my attitude was, “everyone has a story.” I didn’t need to know their story to understand that “stuff” comes out, sometimes in very messy and hurtful ways, but that has never led me to “hate” someone. I don’t even like typing the word “hate.”

Do I judge people? Of course, I judge people. And I’ve learned to trust my “blink,” as Malcolm Gladwell writes about in his book by the same name. Trust your gut. Trust those first thirty seconds. Is this a person with good intentions? Is this person capable or called to do the job? Is this person so lost in their story that they are not to be trusted? Is this person seeking? Is this person confronting? Is this person genuinely offering help or genuinely needing help? Yes, I judge people, but not with a gavel, with wisdom and with mercy. Do I get it correct? If I pay attention to that “blink” and don’t let my desire to think the best of everyone get in the way. We all make judgements, we make them in our relationships, parenting, and careers. Not only is it necessary, it is important.

In one of my churches we hired a person for a program position. A search committee was put together. Skills and desires were expressed and many resumes were sent in. I looked at one that had the person serving in fifteen positions in the same time that I had served in four. I put it in the “no” pile in my recommendations to the committee. “Blink.” But someone connected to the church told the committee what a great person they were. And in short, the person was hired. On their first day I scheduled a get-to-know-you-better meeting. One of the first things the person said to me was, “I’m not really a program person.” Gut drop. The person was gone in under two years. Two years that were spent displaying that they were not a program person.

At another church, two people, addicted to drugs, by their own admission, came into my office needing financial assistance. “Blink.” I helped them. Other staff members felt like I was being played. That request turned into a three year journey, with a little financial assistance, but mainly it turned into a redeeming relationship which included a new baby, helping to move a number of times, visits to prison, listening and encouraging, relapses, direction to addiction help, and a relationship where they learned to trust me, trust the church, and trust God. I still pray for them, not knowing where they are.

We have an election coming up (this post was originally written before the Nov. 2, 2021 General Elections). I receive a ballot to mail in because of my disability. Most of the votes were for judges. That was always a tough one for me. I used to vote by my party, but things changed when I met my son, Barrett’s future (now present) in-laws. They are both judges in Houston. I learned much from them about their election process. I take it more seriously now. I googled each Judge’s website that was on the ballot, read them, and made my choices. Those were judgements. Surprisingly, there were a few County positions that no-one was running for, including Constable. I put my name in as a “write-in” candidate. I’ll keep you apprised.

One Sunday afternoon, when the boys were young, Patti and I took them to a park in our town where a number of homeless people spent the day. It was after church, and we had made about thirty bag lunches to hand out. One man in a long leather trench coat came walking straight towards me. He said, “You are a pastor.” I immediately felt a darkness, an evil presence. I spoke to him for about one minute as I was praying within my soul, for him and the protection of my family. Like a Daddy swan, I spread my wings wide, protecting Patti and the boys from the man, and got us all out of the park. That was a deep spiritual judgement. We went to a different park to hand out the rest of the lunches.

But, the real, heavy thought I am pondering here is one that concerns the reality of Heaven and Hell. I have served with people who are good, kind, and thoughtful: full of grace. And, I have looked evil in the eye, most distinctly spiritually. Scripture makes it clear from the beginning to the end that there are those who desire to honor and walk with God and there are those who reject God’s presence, grace, and reality. So, how do we know who fits within each of those groups? How do we judge who fits within each group? The answer is simple: we don’t.

It is not our responsibility to be The Judge. When we look and the character of God, our God who is just and merciful, I can tell you there are theology classes all over the world that struggle through the specifics of the arguments and theological avenues. The great news is that we have never been called to be The Judge. As people of Christian faith, we are called to be God’s pulpit to the world concerning Jesus’ love and mercy and desire to be in relationship with all humanity. If you are reading or hearing this from a worldview that is not Christian, that last statement may surprise you. Surveys of those without a Christian worldview pull a common thread throughout their answers: Christians are judgmental. Ugh. Let me tell you. That reality grieves my soul to the core. And it should deeply disturb each Christ-follower. Welcoming; gracious; loving; inspiring; encouraging; justice seekers; caregivers to humanity—these are just a few of the expressions that I would hope would come of survey answers. So, let's get to work and make change. Let’s make some good noise and good trouble for God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As for me and the question of Heaven and Hell? God has given me good peace, calm, and confidence that the relationship I have been called into with God is an eternal one. Not only is this type of relationship described in the Christian Scriptures, the Bible, it also comes from my holy encounters with the presence of God: both the small little moments, and most especially the dynamic, life-changing, and inspiring moments. How is it that I can “stand” any person? Because there is no way that I can think that I am better or more worthy than any person throughout the world. Everybody has a story. Let’s listen.

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About Jeff


I've always been a fish out of water (and I love fish). From being an artist in a sports family, to a Christian who leans into the mystery of God while still trained in a Word-centered mainline tradition, and now a person in a wheelchair amongst able-bodied hikers, my life has perpetually been outside the box (or bowl). 

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