At a conference a few weeks back, a friend of mine had generously made some excellent brownies for the staff team. What I should have said was, “thank you Lewis, for generously making these excellent brownies for the staff team.” What I actually said was, “good crumb structure. Crisp on the outside, soft in the middle. That is a good bake.”
Why? At the time I was more than a little bit hooked on The Great British Bake Off, a TV show where 10 amateur bakers compete to be crowned ‘Great British Baker.’ Week by week the hopeful bakers have their efforts dissected and critiqued by Queen of Baking Mary Berry, and fabulously-named baker Paul Hollywood.
Now my devotion has switched from TGBBO to the X-factor and Young Apprentice, while I also keep an eye on Strictly Come Dancing. Every year we have a nearly-continuous cycle of competition shows like these, with an annual autumn glut as predictable as the falling leaves and shortening days.
When these shows first appeared on our screens, the assumption was that we liked them because they offered all of us a chance, however slim, to be famous. Week by week we watch a group of people flaunting their worst character traits for a brief stint in the public eye. But is that really all that’s going on?
Maybe that was true, but I think the real appeal of these shows is not that I get to imagine myself as a contestant, but that I get to be the judge. I don’t imagine myself trembling infront of the panel; I sit between Gary and Kelly every week, deciding who should stay and who should go. I can sit in judgment, safe in the knowledge either that I could do better, or that I’d never be stupid enough to have a go. And that soon spills out into the rest of my life. If I’m in the wrong mood I’ll judge your singing, your dancing, your outfit, your cooking, your skating, your baking, your haircut… pretty much anything. I’ll make myself the arbiter of good taste or skill, and rate you accordingly.
I’m sure it’s not just me. When we think like that, we’re essentially using other people to make ourselves feel good and secure, aren’t we? We look down on those we see as inferior because it reinforces our superiority. As I point out someone’s flaws, they make me feel good. Relationships become all about me and what I can get out of them.
As a Christian, I know I live my life before the Judge, the only one who really matters. So is life just like the X-factor? Is the quality of my performance being rated? Do I need to make sure impress else face eviction?
The brilliant answer is no, I don’t. If I trust Jesus, then I’m loved and accepted by God completely based on what Jesus has done. If I trust Jesus, then I’m completely forgiven for the way I’ve rejected God, and I’m welcomed into His family with open arms. It’s not based on anything I’ve done, but wholly on what He’s done.
And that should change everything for the way I relate to people. I’m already accepted by God – that’s where my identity and security should come from. And that frees me up to love other people. Relationships don’t have to be about me – I have everything I need already. Being completely loved and accepted frees me to love and accept others. So I need to work out what this looks like. How can I love the X factor contestants, even though I’ll probably never meet them? Can I talk about them in a way that shows this, even though they’ll never hear me? And how will this flow out into the way I judge (or, hopefully, stop judging) the people I do know?