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Faith & Values: Let he who is without sin …

When I was getting started in the publications world and having a spell-checker on your computer was still kind of a novel thing, I managed to misspell the word “gauge” in a headline.

Not long after, I got a handwritten letter, in perfect cursive penmanship, from a woman who registered her disapproval of this error and went on to question my proofreading skills, my ability to use a dictionary and, basically, my qualifications for being on the planet. To this day, I get nervous when I use that “g word.”

A few years after that, another reader made a copy of a page I’d written and sent it to me, accompanied by a note alerting me to “some weak sentence constructions,” all of which were helpfully underlined, with comments penciled in. There were eight examples, according to her, in only five paragraphs of copy. Clearly, I was in the wrong field.

I still have those letters. I’m impressed by the effort both folks went to in those pre-email days. I’m also sure they had my best interests in mind, but I was left, as they say in Social Media World, #smh (shaking my head).

“Nowadays, people are born to find fault,” said Austrian writer Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach. “When they look at Achilles, they see only his heel.”

Interestingly, von Ebner-Eschenbach’s “nowadays” were almost all spent in the 1800s. A couple hundred years later, we don’t seem to be making enormous strides in the fault-finding department.

Speaking of which, what a weird last name Marie had, don’t you think? (Oops. Sorry.)

Back to Achilles. In Greek mythology, he was a mighty warrior, a hero of the Trojan War, and the main character of the literary classic “The Iliad,” by Homer. He was widely admired for his strength, courage and loyalty. So what’s the first thing I’ve always thought of when I’ve heard his name?

The whole heel thing. Why do I do that? Why do we? Is it really just easier to find the negative than to find the good in people and situations?

Perhaps our impulse to find fault in others is, in part, the need most of us have to compete and control, to feel like we have an advantage over people. It’s a basic human need to feel noticed, appreciated, even special, but must we denigrate others in order to feel comfortable with ourselves?

When I find myself doing that, I need a reminder that we all stand on equal footing before our Maker and that I, unless I missed the email, have not been given the power to decide who the good guys and the bad guys are.

Underneath all the exteriors we put up for the viewing pleasure of those around us, we’re all just strugglers on the same path back to the God who made us.

Jesus was offered plenty of opportunities to find fault while he was here, and no one has ever been in a better position to do so. Instead, he forgave, healed and encouraged.

There’s a famous example of how Jesus saw people who society had decided were brimming with faults. One day, some religious leaders trying to trap him dragged a woman “caught in the act of adultery” to him and demanded to know whether he supported stoning her, as called for in the law.

Before the confrontation was over, he had said words that have rung down through the ages: “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.”

His fault-finding advice for us is very much the same, in an example he once used that must have been almost comical coming from a carpenter. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” he asked the crowds one day. “First take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

So these days I’m trying to be more concerned with the lumber blocking my own vision than with what’s clouding the eyes of others. It ain’t easy.

If you see any glaring errors in what I’ve written here, however, feel free to write. It will be great practice.


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