Monday, July 19, 2010

Fighting contempt with honor

Romans 14:1-4 says this, "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand." NAS

For me, this passage is about diversity and contempt. I am curious about the wording of the first verse. Now accept the one who is weak... but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. Can you accept someone for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions? That's frightening to me mostly because I have felt the hot sting of contempt. What exactly is contempt? The word carries with it not only blatant disrespect and scorn but also a more subtle flavor of that prideful looking down on the “lesser” human being. I hate contempt. It tears deeply into me when I am the victim of it but I still can’t seem to catch myself in the act often enough. Contempt is so very easy. I am well trained in it. But honor is hard, especially in response to contempt.

I wonder if power-and-control and contempt are related. If you look at contempt as “dishonoring another”, then I would say they are. I have learned the hard way that you can’t fight control with control. It becomes a power play that sinks into ugly in no time. In the same way fighting off contempt with contempt is brutal and unproductive to say the least! I have been leveled by the contempt of others. It smothers me with a deep message of unwelcome. If we all need to “belong” then contempt is a death blow.

Looking back at Romans 14, I am learning much more how we, that is how I, deflect real, vulnerable, relational encounters by passing judgment. Frankly, I am overwhelmed as I look at how I personally have used contempt to keep people from getting too close. Why? What am I afraid of? Well, contempt of course. Hmmm, fighting contempt with contempt can be so subtle!

I think contempt is at the core of labels. We label people all the time, “your mean,” “your lazy,” “your never on time”. Labels are hurtful and last much longer than the moment they are spoken or inferred. “Positive labels like, “your pretty,” “your smart,” “your fun” are just as destructive. These sound like kind affirmations but they still come from a place of contempt. When I speak this way, I am elevating myself and dishonoring another. All these thoughts are new to me. I am trying to learn to say things that keep us both on the level, “When you say that, it hurts me.” “When you are late, I feel unimportant” or “I so enjoy your playfulness! The thing is, fighting contempt with honor is risky. You have to reveal your heart in the process and the vulnerability is frightening! I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Ruth Ann Lea

(For more thoughts on this subject check this out: