Monday, July 21, 2008

Sharpened Judgment

History of Mystery
The pencil sharpeners at my elementary school became a mystery to me. As if the pencil convention wasn't mysterious enough (Who would choose to use a No. 2 pencil if a No. 1 were actually available?).

Each time I approached the sharpener I wanted to change the size selector. There was a spinning disk with multiple sized apertures; I think all pencil sharpeners had the same setup. I imagined the thrill of finding a pencil that was either quite skinny or rather rotund. Then I could finally change the size selector!

It turns out that I did find a non-standard pencil. Imagine my happiness at having a large pencil. Not only did it make my then small hands look even smaller, but I could adjust the sharpener! I could hardly wait to go to school.

With confidence I stepped up to the sharpener that I had such a remarkable history with. No longer would I be limited to the No. 2 ways. It felt like I had the number one pencil (like the ring of power from Lord of the Rings). My heartbeat was palpable, and my left hand's senses seemed heightened as I guided the special pencil toward the adjusted sharpener. Through the guide it slid as if realizing its destiny.

But wait. What's wrong? Obstruction? Not during this moment!

Apparently the design included multiple sizes on the guide, yet the actual behind-the-scenes opening of the sharpener—that led to the grinding action—was the exact size for that old No. 2. Thwarted by oversight.

This experience has come to mind in two settings recently: judging others, and feeling like I don't belong.

When confronted with different cultures, practices, or beliefs, do I have the front of acceptance (multiple sized holes) yet only allow certain "pencils" in? Perhaps the more meaningful question is: Is this wrong?

Judging has many negative connotations, yet we are supposed to judge in some cases, and not to judge in others. "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matt. 7:1) seems to conflict with "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24). This reminds me of an excellent talk by Elder Oaks, "Judge Not and Judging," where this apparent contradiction is discussed in great detail. As a summary, he said:
I am convinced that these seemingly contradictory directions are consistent when we view them with the perspective of eternity. The key is to understand that there are two kinds of judging: final judgments, which we are forbidden to make; and intermediate judgments, which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles.

So, then, to answer my own question of whether it is wrong to be like the pencil sharpener, I say yes and no. It is not wrong to judge righteously, but it is probably wrong to have the appearance of accepting all kinds of options (read: sins). Instead, I want to accept all people with genuine love, but to leave my sins and theirs at the door.

I Don't Belong
There are times when shyness or embarrassment lead me to feel like I don't belong in places where I should belong. There are other times when I feel like I don't belong in places where I really don't belong, where I shouldn't be at all.

I can work on shyness and avoid doing embarrassing things, but the phrase "stand in holy places" comes to mind as I consider where I should (and shouldn't) be. I love the question and answer from Psalms:
[Q:] Who shall ascent into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
[A:] He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart (24:3-4).

The distinction between, and results of being in the right place or the wrong place is illustrated beautifully in the Doctrine and Covenants:
My disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die (45:32).

Clearly where we stand influences where we will end up.

In my quest to stand in holy places and love genuinely, I hope to use sharpened judgment not only between good and bad, but between the many good and noble choices that are available. I want to be an instrument in the hands of God (see Alma 29:9), much like a well sharpened No. 2 pencil.

After all, it's fine to be a number two because God is number one.

1 thought:

Maryann said...

"You have such a clear way of expressing yourself". ;-) I love how I could picture a little boy so excited to finally sharpen a bigger pencil. As I remember, I think I did the same thing. What a disappointment when you realize it still doesn't fit in.