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  • Zachary Helton

"Nonviolence and Nonjudgment," by Zachary Helton

Matthew 7:1-5

A reading from the seventh chapter of Matthew:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? Do not be a hypocrite. First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

This is one of our sacred teachings, Thanks be to God.



For the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about nonviolence – where violence comes from, why we feel the need to dominate, and what more effective approaches might look like. Using Jesus as our guide, we’ve talked about the need to understand others before we attack them, to be creative in our responses to violence in ways that don’t perpetuate it… but today we’re going to talk about one of the roots of violence, where it all comes from. Today we’re going to talk about judgment. There’s this myth we all grow up with. It goes something like this: If I don’t like something, I judge it as bad or wrong. If I judge it as bad or wrong, then I react negatively to it. I get angry about it and get in a fight. I get passive aggressive to try to “fix” the situation or the person. I employ shame or guilt or I scream or hit or I cry and play the victim or we sanction or go to war or any number of things to try to manipulate the other into our image of how we think they should behave… all based on our judgment. When we do that, when we live by this story, one of two things will happen: First, the situation will change, but often not in a healthy way, not in a way that will last very long or is good for everyone. Someone is going to be left to deal with a new helping of shame or resentment, which robs us of life. Or, second, the situation won’t change, but we do get to cross our arms and feel self-righteous, because, by God, our judgments were right! I have lived by this story, unchecked, for most of my life, even though it never truly served me. But then, a few years ago, I was meeting with a spiritual director and complaining about how angry I was at everyone around me for not being anti-racist enough. They do this, I complained, they don’t do that, they don’t consider x, y, or z… And then, when she let me tucker myself out, my spiritual director asked me the question that only a spiritual director or a very good friend would ask. “Zachary,” she said, “could you tell me about what you are doing to embody anti-racism?” And of course, as she knew I would, I froze up. I thought of a few, self-justifying words, but the truth was clear, we could both see it. After a moment of awkward silence, she said something that I’ll never forget. She said, “Zachary, if you haven’t accepted something in yourself, you’ll project it onto others with all sorts of negative emotion. Accept what arises in you, even the worst parts. Understand them. Love them. Watch them transform, and watch everyone else transform.” Don’t judge them. Accept them. This was my first introduction to the practice at the heart of nonviolence: Nonjudgment. Our scripture text this morning comes from the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, a collection of Jesus’ most sacred, and often most misunderstood teachings. They’re the keys that make everything else in his story make sense. Standing before the crowds, he preaches: Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the sawdust out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? Do not be a hypocrite. First take the log out of your own eye, and then [should you ever manage to get done with that] you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. The greatest wisdom teachers talk a lot about eyes. Eyes are the lamps of the body. The world is nothing but the object of your own perception. This is because they know that what matters most is not what’s going on out there, but what is going on in here, and all we have to do to ignore the plank in our own eye is to judge the speck in everyone else’s. The judgment in which you hold the world is nothing but the judgment to which you hold yourself. To the one who secretly feels unclean, the world is unclean. To the one afraid they do not know enough, the world is ignorant. To the one who does not trust themselves, the world is a dangerous place and everyone is out to get you. The work of acting nonviolently in the world starts with acting nonviolently in your own head, and the judgments you make. Whether towards yourself or others, your judgments, empty though they are, are your greatest teachers. The first sorts of judgments we make are explicitly towards ourselves. A few months ago, I was cutting the grass and listening to podcaster and author Mike McHargue (or “Science Mike”) do an interview, and during that interview he said something so familiar, I had to stop what I was doing and give it my full attention. “Genuine love and acceptance of anyone out there,” he responded to a question, “absolutely has to begin with the self. Our normal patterns of relating to ourselves are often incredibly violent, and when we are at war with ourselves, then we are so distracted that we’re unable to offer real compassion and love to anyone. Case and point,” he said, “I deal with stress by eating, and so I’ve always struggled with my weight. The other day, I was walking past a package of cookies in my kitchen, and I stopped and got three cookies out of the package. Three. And immediately, before eating them, I heard that voice in my head. Why are you eating all these cookies? What the hell is wrong with you? Normally, this would just set off a shame spiral that would wind up affecting everyone around me, but in that moment, I had enough mindfulness and enough love for myself, that I was able to smile to that judgment. I said, What’s wrong with me? That’s a good question, thank you. I’m surviving a global pandemic. I’m afraid. I need comfort, and that’s okay. And in swapping out judgment for understanding, I was able to say, Now, will these three cookies really meet my need for comfort? I don’t think so. And then I went and hugged my wife instead. And then later,” he finished, “I ate two cookies.”[1] I had an immediate emotional reaction to this story, because I know this voice. I know the self, the inner-critic so quick to say things like “Oh you idiot,” or “What’s wrong with you?” and I was so moved by this way of responding to it. Learning to be non-judgmental towards others, I recognized, has to start with learning to be non-judgmental towards ourselves. There’s a plank in my eye. It’s okay. Let’s figure out why it’s there and what we can do about it. The second sorts of judgments are those we make of others, the specks of sawdust we hone in on that make us feel so righteous in our judgments. Teacher and author Byron Katie loves these judgments, because, she says, they are our greatest teachers – our invitations, if we want them, to see the truth. She has a process of working through judgments, and it typically starts with her asking her students to complete a process she’s titled Judge Your Neighbor.[2]“Seriously go for it,” she’ll instruct. “This is the moment your ego has always waited for, be as petty as you can.” Then, once you’ve gotten it all out, she’ll start her process, which she calls “The Work.” “My mother is selfish and manipulating!” I once heard a woman say to Byron Katie during a session. “My mother should accept me and my beliefs.” Byron Katie listened until the woman was finished, and then asked her first question. “Is that true?” she asked. “Your mother is selfish and manipulating, can you absolutely know for certain that that is true?” “Yes…” the woman would say. “Really?” Katie would ask. “How do you know what’s going on in there? How do you know she’s not really just afraid? How do you know she doesn’t just have needs and fears that she has no idea how to express? Your mother is selfish and manipulating, and that is bad. She shouldn’t be. That’s your judgment. Are you sure it’s true?” The woman thinks. “I suppose not,” she says. “And your mother should accept you and your beliefs, is this true?” The woman hesitates. “Should she?” Katie asks. “Where do you think she would’ve learned to do that? Was her own mother a model of acceptance and understanding?” “Well… no.” The woman says. “I guess she’s being exactly who she ‘should’ be, acting the only way she knows how.” And suddenly, at this point in the Work, the judgments we made stop making quite as much sense. She gives us a peek beyond the veil, into a world of non-judgment and non-violence, asking, “Who would you be without that judgment – my mother is manipulating and should accept me? How would you feel towards her?” The woman imagines the understanding, the patience, the peace, the boundaries, and possibly even the healing that could happen with that sort of understanding. And then, there’s the magic. Katie employs something she calls “the turnarounds.” “Turn those sawdust judgments around,” she invites, “and see if they might show you something more true. If they might show you the plank in your own eye.” “…I am selfish and manipulating?” the woman says, hesitantly. “Oh yes,” Katie responds, “especially towards your mother – she can’t even have her own thoughts!” The woman laughs, and tries the next one. “I should accept me and my own beliefs.” “Of course,” Katie says. “If your values are so great, you live them! You don’t need her validation. Accept and understand yourself, and then you can stop asking everyone else to do it for you.”[3] And on it goes, judgment by judgment. Notice the sawdust you judge in your neighbors eye, and it’ll show you the plank in your own. “The best criticism of the bad,” Fr. Richard Rohr teaches, “is the practice of the better.” Children of God, when we learn to greet the judgements that arise, towards ourselves and others, and accept them with understanding… then we have discovered the key to nonviolence. Do not judge, our savior teaches, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. When we can learn to relate better to the plank in our own eye, we learn to relate better to the sawdust in everyone else’s. When we make peace with ourselves, we see a world of peace around us. Our nonjudgment towards ourselves becomes our nonjudgment towards everyone else. It is, as the old koan reads, “To the one wearing leather shoes, the entire earth is covered in leather.” Nonviolence out there starts with nonviolence in here. May this be our practice. Amen.


Invitation to Respond

Spend the next few moments reflecting on these questions:

  • What are the “flecks of sawdust” you most often see in the eyes of your neighbors? What might they reveal to you about the “plank” in your own?

  • Can you imagine a world in which you judged nothing, but sought to understand and worked with whatever arose? How does that make you feel? What kind of energy would you have?

  • Take a moment and rest in this: God does not judge you, nor does God judge anyone. God understands you and accepts you just as you are. Only through love does anyone grow and bear the fruits of the Spirit.

[1] This is not an exact transcript. Much of is it paraphrased and extrapolated upon for better communication in this context. It is from Pete Holmes’ podcast You Made it Weird, starting about an hour and a half in. April 8, 2020. [2] [3] For a video of this session, you can go to

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