I was walking around downtown Indianapolis on the Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend a few years ago. A Saturday night stroll through a downtown might not mean much in a lot of cities and towns because in most places around the country Memorial Day weekend is synonymous with camping, cookouts, or a couple of days out on the lake-tents, grills, and boats would seem a little odd next to streetlights, store windows, and coffee shops. But in Indianapolis, Memorial Day weekend is all about one thing, the Indianapolis 500.
Most people in Indianapolis simply call the Indianapolis 500 “the race” because you don’t have to ask which one because there is only one race that shuts down the whole city. 300,000 people show up for this race that has become so much more than just a race. The parade on Saturday morning begins a day that ends with black tie events well into the night. Fans stand outside hotels waiting to get a glimpse of celebrities as they move from their sold out hotel to whatever party is next on the list.
On the night of my walk through the city, people were everywhere seemingly going nowhere but just enjoying the atmosphere as they avoided the cars cruising down the streets and the circle at the center of the city. The four-mile square of downtown is a madhouse. And, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I will be very clear, I love every single minute of it.
It’s my yearly tradition to attend “the race,” and I’m not alone. Thousands of us show up every year, year after year. We wait in traffic for hours and tailgate for a few more before the start of the race. We gladly lather up with sunscreen in anticipation that any rain clouds will divert themselves away from the track. We sit in grandstands and on grassy hills trying to get the best view of the cars that come by every 40 seconds, and we argue over who has the best seats and the best view as the cars circle the track for 200 laps.
I have a friend who doesn’t like racing. She doesn’t think they are athletes because they just drive around in circles. She just doesn’t get the appeal. She’s a runner. She runs marathons and trains every day. I don’t run unless someone is chasing me. Racing might not be your thing, but I won’t judge your sunburn you got while on the boat if you don’t judge mine, I got from sitting in the stands.
So, speaking of judgment, as I walked through downtown Indy that night before the race-taking in the buzz of energy that shows up that weekend-I walked across a crosswalk and on the opposite corner of the street I saw a guy with a bullhorn and a big sign. I couldn’t hear anything he said as he yelled into his bullhorn, but his sign was easy to read: I was going to hell because I chose racing over going to church.
Baking on a metal bleacher in the 90 degree sun while you try to stay centered on top of a painted on number that was apparently designed only to hold one butt cheek while you do your best not to feel too intimate with the strange man sitting next to you may very well be the best description of hell imaginable. If his goal was sarcasm, he didn’t miss. Side note, these are also the reasons I upgraded my tickets a couple of years ago. Shade, adequate butt room, and a new set of strangers are incredibly underrated.
The thing is I don’t think Bullhorn Big Sign Guy, as I will now call him, was all that worried about the comfortability of my butt, the potential for heat stroke caused by hot sun, or that guy who sat next to me. Sarcasm wasn’t Bullhorn Big Sign Guy’s goal that night. He had a different focus. His focus was my eternal fate, an eternal fate he was convinced was secured when I chose a bleacher over a pew on one single Sunday.
True worry about me he would have resulted in this guy handing me some sunscreen, a bottle of water, and towel to sit on. Maybe he could have bought the seat next to me and left it empty. An “excuse me” for standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Anything would have been better than yelling at me, and a thousand other people, on a Saturday night in the middle of a busy downtown the night before the race.
Why are guys like this so much more worried about where they think you go after you die than what you experience today and why are they always yelling? When did this become the public face of Christianity? Shouldn’t the public face of Christianity be nuns serving the sick, a Jesus-following CEO serving soup in the homeless shelter, or a youth group painting a community center on a Saturday morning? How did we get from Jesus hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors to guys like Bull Horn Big Sign Guy pronouncing judgment from a street corner while his friends hand out tracts?
What I know for sure is that I wasn’t thinking about God’s judgment when I read Bullhorn Big Sign Guy’s sign because my focus was on his unwelcome judgment. What right does Bullhorn Big Sign Guy have to judge my life? He doesn’t even know me. I mean, come on, who is this guy to judge me.
We’re all human, and we’ve all felt judged. Sometimes that judgment is harmless. We’ve all had a fail that we hoped nobody saw. We’ve tripped over sidewalks, spilled coffee on our shirts as we walk into a full day at work, or called someone the wrong name even though we’ve met them for the tenth time. Most of these things don’t feel like a big deal. We don’t care what people think of the old sweats we promised we would throw away. And if your neighbor doesn’t like your Christmas lights that have been up for seven months, he can get on his ladder take them down. Sally, or is it Sarah, will eventually get over your short-term memory loss, the stain on your shirt, and the apparent limp as you walked by her desk. Brian, or is it Bob, is walking into work behind you with the same scars from his morning commute.
But judgment isn’t that funny when it involves your actual life story. It isn’t that funny when judgment begins to collide with things like faith and family or when someone who doesn’t know you makes a call on the reality of your soul and looks at you from a judges seat that you never permitted them to occupy. When people who don’t know anything about our lives begin to throw around words like hell and sinner it pisses us off.
That’s how I felt with Bullhorn Big Sign Guy. Who is he to judge me? You’ve probably thought the very same thing at some point about someone else. You might have said it under your breath as they walked away.
We grew up with our parents who told us sticks and stones might break our bones but words will never hurt us. Who came up with that? They must have lived alone. Words do hurt, and their effects felt long after bones heal. A judgment call on your life leaves scars still there.
We’ve also all heard someone say, “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Now, that’s excellent advice because whether they are chucks, high heels, or combat boots, they all have their own story to tell.
This book is a book about shoes and stories. It’s about what happens as we wear those shoes, and walk into each other lives as my story and your story collide.
I think Bullhorn Big Sign Guy is doing it wrong. Let’s all promise not to be that guy. Let’s start by putting our bullhorns and signs down as we purposely walk with others in their story. You never know where that walk might lead, but it will be worth every step.
This blog post is an excerpt from You Can’t Judge Me, an upcoming ebook from Ryan Scott Carrell releasing soon.