Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Sizing People Up


We all do it every day.  Take one look at a person and think we’ve figured them out.   Listen to them for five minutes and presume to know makes them tick.  As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  First impressions are important. You can never get it back.

I don’t know him, but he does look interesting.

The trouble is how we size people up. I’ve been quite surprised at times when I’ve looked at someone with tattoos from head to toe or multiple piercings, decided they were weird, and then found out they are some of the most delightful and interesting people I know.  It’s hard not to do that, though.  It could easily be said that someone who has tattooed themselves to look like a human leopard is trying to attract a certain amount of attention and surely expects a certain reaction.  Or maybe they’re trying to prove a gigantic point.  People are more than the sum of their outward appearance, begging someone to get to know them for what they are inside of that seemingly odd wrapping.

Christians size each other up.  They decide that other people who call themselves Christian can’t possibly be because their doctrine is different.  “Oh, they think it’s okay to just sprinkle.  That’s not real baptism, they’re not real Christians.”  “That group believes there’s no hell.  They’re not Christian.”  “My goodness, did you see so-and-so drinking a beer with his peanuts at the steakhouse?  I fear he’s not a Christian.”  “And his wife, why, she was wearing pants!”  All the while they’re assuring themselves that their doctrine is the “right” one.

There are somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 different Christian denominations.  Some will say that most of these share core beliefs that make them all Christian.  However at the root of it all there was some scriptural issue, some interpretation that caused a divide.  And they all size each other up as to whether the others believe, “according to the scripture”, their way. If not, there’s a pretty good chance that other denomination isn’t really Christian.  Scary, eh?  Especially if you truly believe all of eternity is on the line.

Even more disturbing is how Christians size up those who they believe to be non-Christians.  Christians are to be in the world but not of the world.  Anyone who is a friend of the world is an enemy of God. (James 4:4).  That’s a sad place to be in – one I was in for many years.  Deciding who I could be really good friends with and who I could associate with based on whether or not they were in the club.  Finding out that a person wasn’t a Christian made them a project.  Must.get.them.to.accept.my.Jesus.  Is that any way to treat a person?  As less-than because they don’t believe the same things as me?  Obviously they haven’t had me tell them about the good news. Because if I tell them just the right way surely they’ll see the light.  Surely they’ll see the error of their ways.

No. No. No.  This isn’t the way to treat another human being.  Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all stopped trying to force everyone else into our mold?  Wouldn’t it be a better place if we saw each other as real people, with real thoughts, and real feelings all of their very own?  Why is it so terrible to think that another person might have an individual thought?  A free thought.  One not exactly like yours.

13 thoughts on “Sizing People Up

  1. This sounds nice. What I wish would happen, this is what I strive to do.


  2. Because misery loves company, I suppose. Great post!


  3. Wonderfully written post with lots of truth! I wish more Christian could see these things that are so obvious to the rest of us!


  4. Amen! (a pun?). Truly. Spot on. This world would be a better place with less ethnocentrism.


  5. D'Ma:Growing up in a neighborhood that was approximately half Jewish and half Christian (mostly Catholic), no Saturday (our Sabbath) went by without at least a couple of earnest young men (never women in those days) dressed in black suits coming to our house to "bring us the good news", usually at meal times. If you didn't either choose to not open the door or to brusquely say "we're not interested", they would gladly spend hours pointing out how you were going to Hell because you (as a Jew) had denied Christ and ( at least according to some of them) were a "Christ Killer". Besides the obvious annoyance I might have felt, it always seemed strange to me that they actually thought that these tactics might somehow cause me "to see the light" and want to become a Christian. It never occurred to them that their behavior was at once obnoxious and decidedly off-putting, especially if they wanted me to listen to what they were trying to say. Eventually, I have come to see that none of this was actually about me or my co-religionists. Rather, it was part of their ego trips to show that 1) they "had it right" in their particular flavor of Christianity as opposed to some alternative version.2) They were somehow improving their chances to be saved by so doing. And…3) Getting enough of us non-believers to listen to them and perhaps agree was the only way they could get affirmation for their hoped for heavenly reward, at least in this life.I continue to be astounded at the "unChristian" (at least as I understand it) behavior to which these "believers" stoop to convince themselves that they are among the elect.Harvey


  6. I think your post is pretty much spot on in many respects, D'Ma.It does seem to me that if Jesus was about anything He was about inclusion, and breaking down social barriers between folks. As a Christian, I think my spiritual unity with people is in the gospel, not based in whether they like beer or in how they dress, or a zillion other issues.And, who likes to be treated like a project? Right on there. I do think an honest friendship has to be based in a mutual sharing, and respect. I do think it's good, and okay for Christian people to share their convictions with friends, and to let people know about God's good gifts in their lives. But, then we need also to be open to what insights, and wisdom non-Christian friends have to share with us as well. And, Christians need to sensitive to where their friends are at. You know, do they actually have an openness, and interest to discuss spiritual things? Conversation should never be forced. It's a two way street, IMO.In all fairness, I think we all fall short of the mark in accepting, and being non-judgemental toward others. There are secular people who can be quite rejecting and condescending toward people of faith. They can be narrow, and judgemental in other areas as well. It so much depends on the person, D'Ma.Also, just want to add as an afterthought, do you think the term "world," might be used in differing ways in the Scripture? I'm seeing a difference between the physical world, people in the world, (For God so loved the world..) and the world system opposed to the things of God, the lust of the eyes..etc.Leaving for a much need vacation, heading to the mountains..:)Becky.


  7. I'm not a psychologist, but I play one on the internet… :-)This is something all of us struggle with by our nature. We all want to feel like we belong, but there is a trade off in that desire, because by definition there will be some people who do not belong. After all, what's the fun in being in a group to which everybody belongs? ;-)Our brains have a habit of seeking out and focusing on differences, which probably served our ancient ancestors well, but makes it difficult for us to see those differences without erecting artificial protective barriers.I've had the same experiences you've described with pierced and tattooed people. Standing back from afar, I've viewed them as freaks, and wondered what kind of person would do that to themselves, but when I got to know some of them they were quite often more loving and generous than their straight-laced counterparts.Christianity simply amplifies that inherent nature, thanks to some inflammatory language (fighting the hidden forces of evil) and the eternal consequences (which you so-aptly point out). It relentlessly feeds on the need to belong, and subsequent identification of who does not belong. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ @HarveyI can't speak for all of the evangelists who (so rudely) came knocking on your door, but it may be the case that not all of them were just feeding their egos. If they were true believers, they were under an obligation from a command from Jesus to spread the Gospel. Furthermore, there is the Christian doctrine that Salvation comes by faith, and faith comes by hearing. So they would have thought that by hearing the Gospel, you could be saved.I guess my point is that some of them could have been annoying you from a truly altruistic perspective. Not that knowing that really makes it any less annoying… ๐Ÿ˜‰


  8. Exrelayman said…"Must.get.them.to.accept.my.Jesus. Is that any way to treat a person? As less-than because they don't believe the same things as me? Obviously they haven't had me tell them about the good news."Yes D'Ma, that is how to treat a person. Witnessing is required. There is such a thing as the great commission. Failure to witness means souls will burn in Hell forever. It isn't an ego trip. Witnessing is something you do, uncomfortable in the fact that you know they don't want to hear it.Thus Christianity gives rise to situations in which both the witnessee and the witnesser are uncomfortable. Ain't religion grand?


  9. "35,000 and 40,000 different Christian denominations"Wow, hard to believe. But I look up sources, and:Found this source:http://christianity.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ&zTi=1&sdn=christianity&cdn=religion&tm=27&f=10&tt=11&bt=0&bts=0&zu=http%3A//www.adherents.com/misc/WCE.htmlSeem doubtful. But they claim that they count each sect different if in a different country for cultural reasons. PLUS, I suspect overcounting in several ways.Of course you could say that each person is really their own sect too. Fun post


  10. @theagnosticswife:Would be lovely, eh? If only we could look past the religious beliefs to the real person underneath.=================================================@DougB:You aren't kiddin'! Misery rolls out the red carpet for company.=================================================@Michelle:A lot of Christians fall under the fundamentalist and/or evangelical category which really mandates them to see people as projects. As Exrelayman so aptly pointed out, they take very seriously the Great Commission.=================================================@Cognitive Dissenter:Until I found myself on the outside looking in I never realized how divisive religion, in particular Christianity, is. It can be downright hurtful, not only to unbelievers, to fellow believers with differing doctrines. :(=================================================@Harvey:Unfortunately I can say that I've been a part of those knocking on doors trying to get the Harveys of the world to "see the light". I can also say that it was never an ego trip, nor was it to reap some type of eternal reward, neither did I believe it would help me to be saved. I really believed I had the "good news" and that anyone who didn't believe was headed straight for hell. In my own odd way I wanted to tell the world so they could be saved, too. I didn't want anyone to go to hell. The thought of that frightened me. I was so immersed in my particular denomination's teachings that I had no idea anybody believed much of anything different in regards to salvation. ================================================@Becky,I appreciate your comment, but when we have to do mental gymnastics with the words to make them take on a different meaning than the commonly understood meaning in the context, I have to question the conclusions drawn.================================================@The Wise Fool:hehe…did you also stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night?We do all struggle with this. We're definitely all looking for a place we belong. It's when we condemn someone because we don't find things in common that is a problem. Just because we don't belong in a particular group doesn't make that group bad or wrong. I'm guilty as charged!================================================@Exrelayman:Exactly! The Great Commission opens the gateway to people being treated as projects. The Christian doesn't see the person as their neighbor anymore. Either they accept the gospel or they're unworthy of the fellowship of believing people – even if they were once great friends. Kinda sad. :(================================================@Sabio:Thanks for the link. Here's another one to go with it:http://www.religioustolerance.org/christ7.htm


  11. It is very hard to stop sizing people up, labeling them and then putting them in the proper box. When I was a Christian I did it all the time. Of course I was taught and taught others that outward appearance matters (a sign of the condition of our heart)so it became second nature to size people up.I try very hard not to do it but I still fail. Just today we were in the store……..a woman in a long jean skirt, with long hair, plodding along with five kids, all five and under. I "knew" what she was and probably knew here theology. ๐Ÿ™‚ We can spot home schoolers from 2 miles away and Independent Baptists?, never miss. ๐Ÿ™‚ Truth is, it can be a game and kinda fun BUT I know I should treat everyone with respect, especially those who look just like I once did.


  12. Hi D'Ma,Great Post. It made me think about Mother Theresa. First, she did all she did because of a vow to do whatever Jesus wanted her to. Secondly, when she would care for people; she and her sisters focused on being Jesus for people. Thirdly, when she would care for people, she would encourage them to live their faith more, no matter what it was. If you are Hindu, be a better Hindu. If you are Muslim, be a better Muslim. She would pray together with people of different faiths and say "together we will create something beautiful for God."What else is there to say?


  13. @Bruce:You know, I think it's difficult not to look at people and put them in some sort of category. And generally speaking I don't think that's bad in and of itself. It is then how we treat those people, and whether or not we're open to having our preconceptions challenged, that I think might be the key. We have eyes. We notice differences and commonalities. And when you see a homeschooling moms and Independent Baptists, you aren't wrong in coming to the conclusions you do. The fact that you treat them with respect and dignity is the real measure. You haven't necessarily sized them up and written them off. You've simply used deductive reasoning.================================================@IsToo,Now if all religious people everywhere could just be like Mother Theresa, eh? Love never fails. Anything less than love is a debacle every time.


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