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Thirty-two years ago, I graduated from Elizabethtown Area High School which, as you might correctly assume, is in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. Times were so different then: The economy was in shambles; the threat of war was everywhere; high school boys had one thing on their minds; kids felt pressured to become part of a clique…wait a minute, I guess they weren’t that different after all!

Anyway, our arch-rival back then was Donegal High School, which was the adjacent school district. There was no love lost between the schools and when the Bears and Indians got together--well, there was plenty of animosity to go around. My sport was soccer and I remember a game in which I saw our all-star sweeper get angry for the first time since first grade. After being repeatedly fouled by a zealous and less-skilled Indian forward, I heard him growl, “You best stay out of my way!”

we beat them twice my senior year - smiley face

Up until very recently, if I noticed a high school sports score involving Donegal, I will admit to taking some pleasure in seeing that they lost. Silly, isn’t it? But I never really knew anyone from Donegal, so I lacked the impetus or maturity to re-evaluate my stance.

All that changed when I became a pastor and a young lady named Sarah was a member of our youth group. She is an amazing person and she played several sports for Donegal. One day I drove my daughters to her track meet and when she saw us, she came running up in uniform, right in front of the stands and hugged them. She even did an elaborate “buddy handshake” that she and my daughter had worked out at our last retreat.

If Donegal wins these days, it’s fine with me. Sure, I’ll still root for my alma mater against them, but now that I know someone who has competed for them, it’s different. There’s a relationship there, you see.

We can apply this lesson to all walks of life. I have known Muslims over the years and you know what? None of them tried to kill me, not even once. I have been friends with homosexual men who never once made an advance on me. I am a staunch pacifist but am proud to call friend some who are currently in the military or are veterans.

It’s easy to wield the gavel of judgment against a group or an ideology when we have no relationship or history with them. But Jesus Christ calls us to be in relationships, doesn’t he? He stayed and ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners of all sorts. If Jesus was looking for a lunch buddy today, maybe he would pick me because I’m a sinner, too.

I’m not saying it doesn’t matter what people do or think or that everything’s ok. But I have tried on the judge’s robe and it makes me hot, uncomfortable and itchy. When I was a youth care worker,  I used to feel badly for juvenile court  judges who had to make life-altering decisions for fifteen dependent/delinquent children in a day—how could they possibly be expected to understand the life of the kid whose file they were handed five minutes ago?

I want to know God. And my Bible says in 1 John 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Those are my marching orders, plain and simple. I’ll leave the judging to the only one who is qualified, the only one whose personal experience is sufficient: the Lord Jesus Christ. If I’m judging someone, I’m not really loving them.

I can do this. Hey, if I can love a Donegal kid, then that’s proof that I can love anyone!








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