A couple weeks back you may have also cringed when you heard, on national news, that a New Hampshire state senator suggested we ship the mentally ill to Siberia to die. I cannot remember if the story stated his party affiliation, but even if it didn't I would have assumed he was Republican and figured that the politician was an embarrassing fringe element (every cause has at least one).
You can imagine what happened after the activist he was speaking with hung up and shared the inflammatory information with others…boom! If you search Google for the Senator's name and "Siberia" (with the his name in quotes) you'll likely get more than the 33,300 results that I just did. Add to that the fact that many sites (including news ones) allow open comments, and the result is scores of reactions that I could never share in a church bulletin (not that they ever should be printed anywhere). On the surface it seems to serve him right—he said something extremely insensitive (downright stupid) and he deserved a good metaphoric slapping.
Then I met Marty.
Yesterday, I was visiting a good friend of mine at his shop (Paul Dugre of Dugres Auto Repair—I highly recommend them). Standing in his office I noticed a minivan drive up—one that was old enough that you would say, "It has seen better years." Paul immediately recognized it, and then told me how great of a guy the driver was. Here is a man in his 90's who continues to practice the lost art of "peddling." (He has outfitted his van as a mini-store, with goods of special appeal to mechanics.) Additionally, last year he was inducted into the New England Racer's Hall of Fame ("If one character best symbolizes race car construction in New England in the fifties and sixties, he may well be Marty Harty").1
Marty climbed out of the vehicle, made his way slowly to the office, and sat down on the well-worn minivan bench that had been converted to a waiting-room couch. Paul asked him how he was doing and…not remembering his exact words…the elderly figure said that he had shot off his mouth and now people all over the country hated him. Naturally both Paul and I wondered what he said, and Marty explained how he got a call, purposely kidded the caller, and…
Well, you already know the rest of the story…other than the fact that he also resigned from the state Senate.
When you first heard of the New Hampshire senator who suggested the mentally ill be sent to Siberia to die, what did you think? Were you aghast, judging him harshly, and also believing he deserved whatever he got?
I did. Then I met Marty.
Now, even as a joke, there is no question that his comments were (at best) ill-advised and (more likely) down-right dumb and inconsiderate. However, how many of us have gotten caught up in a conversation, thinking we were being cute, and said something we later (or immediately) regretted? It can be especially fun to razz someone who is (perhaps) overcommitted to a given cause—I know I've had some fun at the expense of feminists. 🙂
Now throw into the mix the fact that for the majority of Marty's life there weren't myriad people acting as the politically-correct police, watching for even minor infractions, and quickly handing down harsh sentences for those who clearly crossed the line. Again, it doesn't excuse Marty's words…they rightly should be rejected…but there is a big difference between judging a man's words and judging the man.
Personally, I think one of the greatest measures of an individual's character is how much grace he or she shows their "opponents"—how much they assume the best of even their enemies. When someone you know is a jerk is quoted as saying something "bad," do you assume that the quote is accurate and means, in context, what you've just been told?
I do. Then I met Marty.
Jesus realized our weakness to quickly denounce, and gave some oft-quoted (and oft-abused) advice:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:1-2).2
I say "oft-abused" because many Christians (and non-Christians) use those verses (especially the first one) to say we should never judge. Beyond the fact it would be impossible for a society (or church) to function if we took that approach, it doesn't make a whole bunch of sense given that Paul emphatically states:
Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! (1 Corinthians 6:3)
No, instead Jesus was counseling us to follow the rule almost every American child has been taught: "Do not judge a book by its cover." Well, Jesus actually says it even better:
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. (John 7:24)
Based on a news story (based on appearances), I considered Marty a Neanderthal. Based on spending ample time speaking with him (and seeing how he handled his trade with Paul), I can confirm that "he is extraordinarily intelligent, active, and well-informed"3 and that he is an all-around great guy who is completely devoted to his wife of many decades. I also know that he has taken the time to speak to every person who has called him because of his foolish words and responded to every letter of condemnation he has received (if they provided a return address). He has shown abundant grace to those who have shown him none.
I have judged books by their covers. I have judged people by short soundbites (and based on the embellishments of their enemies). I have judged by appearances.
Then I met Marty.
1 Marty Harty. (n.d.). New England Antique Racers – New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame. Retrieved March 24, 2011, from http://www.near1.com/HALL-OF-FAME/2010/Harty-Marty.htm
2 All Bible quotes are from the English Standard Version.
3 Marty Harty. (n.d.). New England Antique Racers – New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame. Retrieved March 24, 2011, from http://www.near1.com/HALL-OF-FAME/2010/Harty-Marty.htm/Harty-Marty.htm