Greetings, boys and girls. Once upon a time, back in the dark ages B.C. (before computers), THIS is what a Report Card looked like. It was (*gasp*) HANDWRITTEN, had columns for each marking period, passing grades were written in Black Ink, and failing grades were written in Red Ink.
(Now for those of you from the Computer Age, Grade Reports come out in machine generated characters, nearly exclusively in Black.)
Later in life, we associate this color coding with bookkeeping and accountancy. To be “in the black” is to have a positive balance in assets or credit, and to be in debit is noted in red.
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Now, I didn’t expect to be writing this post this evening, but it is one of those “I-have-had-enough-of-this” moments, so I thought I’d share. You are welcome to agree or disagree, but this is my passionate feeling here.
Paulfg reblogged a post by The Culture Monk called Too many people are confused about atheism… REALLY??? with some very good thoughts and excellent discussion in the comment section. I recommend it to you as a good and thought-provoking read. I’ll not try to summarize it here. Nonetheless, the point that has moved me is all the rhetoric surrounding the label “Christian”.
There are people who label themselves, with great pride, as being “Christians”, because they attend church, dress up, tithe, carry heavy showy Bibles, grew up in a home where Daddy-was-a-Deacon and Mama-played-the-organ, and they occupy the community/social position of “Christian of the neighborhood block watch and thought police”. These folks are like “legacy Christians” if churches worked like fraternities and sororities. They hold exalted and esteemed positions, are legends in their own mind, and enjoy the privilege of judging and condemning all those they deem as believing or behaving differently than they do. They hold a definitive relationship with the definitive law and list of righteous behaviors, and you can think their way… or else.
Their spiritual ancestors of Biblical times, Pharisees, had very mixed relations with Jesus. Some believed in Jesus, let Him utterly rock their worlds, and entered friendship with Him. Others did not, and Jesus said “Woe” to them, for missing the point.
I just have this massive problem with “political labeling of ideology” and the word “Christian”. If, by Christian, we mean “a disciple of Jesus Christ”, then Jesus gave us a perfectly clear “litmus test” of that when He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) I don’t know a better descriptor than that.
I am drawn to the key words there, “By this all men will know”. THAT is really key to what Christ said, isn’t it? Shouldn’t “Christian” be a label applied to us BY OTHERS? Shouldn’t the very power and unexpectedness of our love be our hallmark as a Christian? How do we ever have the audacity and hubris to apply such a label to ourselves, as though it is some sort of endorsement, award, trophy or honor?
Our identity as a Christian should be a conclusion reached by someone else as they observe our attitudes, fruit, and demeanor. It shouldn’t be some accomplishment or honor we claim by virtue of our righteous deeds or organizational association. Such is my view…
Anyway, back to Black and Red Ink.
There is tremendous power to pulling out the Red Ink bottle. Once upon a time, a child’s whole world could revolve around whether their Report Card was covered with Black or Red Ink. I don’t know that families take such things so seriously nowadays, but there is, or at least was, a significant exercise of power to pulling out the straight pen and bottle of Red Ink. (For some reason, grades had to be marked on these little fold-up yellow manila cards, in bottled ink with an actual straight pen. Ball point would NOT do, fountain nib only, please.)
Is it that residual “fear of red ink assigned to us by others… by superior authority”, that childish dread of Report Card Day… that makes the sheer power trip of “grading everyone else on their deportment and morality” so appealing?
I mean, isn’t that what Pharisees and self-righteous goats DO? Sit with their little clipboards and stopwatches, their lists of rules, regulations and requirements, and “keep score” on all the players surrounding them? Maybe blowing a whistle or calling a time out now and again to harangue someone or other, but basically just scorekeeping and chronicling for the great Books of Deeds to be opened at the end of time?
Oh, yes… I almost forgot. Pulling out their great bottles of Red Ink and grading our performance every quarter or so.
Isn’t that the task of the righteous? Isn’t that the point of ministers and Sunday School teachers and Deacons? Isn’t that the very raison d’etre of the local church itself? To point all around, inside and out, feel good about how righteous WE are and score performance of others on the “Holy Report Card Exam”?
Sad to say… it is precisely that for many. Every day, every week, throughout time, clear back to Jesus’ day… dedicated Church attenders and Temple aficionados love to stand on the street corners, dressed and speaking as an admirable and righteous icon of the holy. Only to find that they are whitewashed tombs, destined to be cast far from a Lord they never knew, as they reveled in their condemnation of suffering broken people… rather than serving them with compassion and love.
Ah, but the siren call of Red Ink is so appealing. So much self-gratification. Such power. Such fulfillment and ego satisfaction…
Must I cast it away? Must I stop scoring and judging? Must I give up my power to grade behavior and progress?
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Um, no. Not necessarily. We ARE scripturally encouraged to do some “scoring”, some “marking”, some “judging” and distinguishing… but never of other people. And certainly NOT for the purpose of sorting out the superior from the inferior, or putting down some to make others feel good or big. Not even school scores are intended for that (though all too often that is how they are applied). School scores are actually intended as what they’ve come to be called in more modern times… “Progress Reports”. Grades, properly applied, can give us an indication of where we are making good progress, and where we may want to spend more time, attention and care.
One day, a year or so ago… God decided that I should do a “Self-Evaluation Progress Report”. I should sit down and “score” my own progress and performance on what He considered the only “Performance Evaluation Criteria” worth worrying about. I cringed at the thought… all those rules I care so little about… all those pharisees I regularly frustrate or enrage… all those opportunities for grace and good that I don’t even SEE, let alone engage in time.
But no… none of that was what He was interested in. Rather, He had me sit down and write in a column down the left hand side of a page, the following:
Love is patient,
love is kind
is not jealous
love does not brag
is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
it does not seek its own,
is not provoked,
does not take into account a wrong suffered
does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but
rejoices with the truth;
bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
(1 Cor 13:4-7)
I got out highlighters of 5 different colors, and marked through each line from Dark Green (This is REALLY True for me), the light green (Pretty True), blue (True much of the time), orange or pink (true once in a while, not usually), clear to Red (I really struggle with this).
THIS, it seemed, was the only Report Card this Little Monk needs to be concerned with. And once the task was finished, it was actually encouraging to realize that some elements that have been serious struggle in the past, were no longer so. Further, the areas where I still DO struggle seriously, were no big surprise, and Jesus embraces me WITH those flaws. The point was not to put me down or make me feel bad, but to help me focus here and seek opportunities to improve or be aware, that I let grace flow the more freely.
So, Gentle Reader… there ya go! Want to pull out that Red Ink Bottle? Want to experience the awesome rush of “passing judgment” and “evaluating performance”? Fine. Print out this list, grab yer highlighters or a little box of crayons or colored pencils, and see how you score on your own “Love Quotient”.
Here’s the cool part…
Once you DO this exercise, NOW look around at other people and see if the experience changes. It’s amazing how a few minutes in lovely light, makes others glow so readily.
Grace to thee! — The Little Monk