Judge Softly is a poem written by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895 that addresses our capacity to jump to conclusions about others. The repeated theme is articulated in this stanza:
Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins
and remember the lessons of humanity taught to you by your elders.
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave
in other people's lives, our kindnesses and generosity.
Jesus models this ‘judge softly’ approach. He walked in our shoes. He needed water in the middle of the day. The writer to the Hebrews summed it up: “We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all – all but the sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 MSG)
When we hear about the vulnerability of communities in Australia and internationally to disaster, dispossession of land rights or entrenched poverty, let’s stay strong in compassion and empathy, and resist the journey to judgement.
A pathway of compassion includes being generous, and a deep appreciation of the many opportunities we have. It is not often that we are invited to “walk in the shoes of another.”
Were we to step in the shoes of a rural woman in Zimbabwe, we would be spending three or four hours a day collecting water (which may not be safe). It may be a five or six kilometre walk each way. The return journey includes carrying a 20-litre bucket of water on our head! Each day there are two or three trips for water. A family of four or five rely on 40 to 60 litres of water a day for their drinking, cooking and washing needs, as well as caring for their garden and animals! When a new bore is installed and 200 families have access to water within a few hundred metres of their homes there is much rejoicing. One elderly woman said, “I am so happy – I will wash myself three times today!”
How we take what we have for granted! We have taps where we want them and an average Melbourne family uses 620 litres (31 trips carrying a 20-litre bucket) a day!
In September, let’s all drink water for a month. Please join me! There will be no tea, coffee, soft drink, juice or other drinks – just water! What will happen? We will forsake our various drinks and discover water. Water will move from the background to the foreground in our daily routines. A daily decision will be to say, “No coffee, thanks – just water.” For one month we will support people for whom safe water is a gift, not something taken for granted. For one month we will help provide people with access to safe water – ‘judging softly’ in action!