Monday, July 21, 2008

Judge a Book By Its Cover

Sure...go ahead...judge a book by it's cover! Just make sure you read the book to confirm or dispute your original assumptions. And then once you have decided if your original impressions were wrong or right, learn from your mistakes or give yourself a pat on the back for being so intuitive. But realize you may often be more wrong than right in your premature assessments. And then ask yourself, "Is this pondering productive or even prudent - or merely prejudicial?

This phrase according to Wikipedia means, "The very common English idiom "don't judge a book by its cover" is a metaphorical phrase which means "don't determine the worth of something based on its appearance".[1] It is probably the most common expression used in English to convey this idea..[2]

Wikipedia also gives the origin of this idiom "The phrase first appeared in 1929 in the American journal American Speech as "you can't judge a book by its binding."[3] In 1946 the phrase appeared in the murder mystery novel Murder in the Glass Room (by Edwin Rolfe and Lester Fuller) as "you can never tell a book by its cover."[4]

While the phrase itself may be born of the 20th century, the idea has existed much longer. In the introduction to François Rabelais's La vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel (written in the 16th century), he writes: You, my good disciples—and other fools with too much time on their hands—reading the cheerful titles of some of my books, like Gargantua, Pantagruel, Guzzlepot, The High Importance of Codpieces, Peas in Lard (With Commentary), etc., can more easily perceive that they're not just about mocking and scoffing, full of silliness and pleasant lies—having seen, without having to look any harder, that their outer image (that is, their titles) is usually received with mocking laughter and jokes. But it's wrong to be so superficial when you're weighing men's work in the balance. Wouldn't you yourself say that the monk's robes hardly determine who the monk is? Or that there are some wearing monks' robes who, on the inside, couldn't be less monkish? Or that there are people wearing Spanish capes who, when it comes to courage, couldn't have less of the fearless Spanish in them? And that's why you have to actually open a book and carefully weigh what's written there.[5]

In the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the Roman author Juvenal wrote in Satires, "Fronti nulla fides," which translates as, "Never have faith in the front."[6]

And so, why would I encourage someone to go against this English proverb? I do so for one reason. We live in a society which makes determinations about a person often within the first five seconds of face time. Or within a second after hearing a particular voice. An email or other vehicle of communication most likely will take a bit longer for the casual observer to make a determination. It is much easier in certain ways to take a deceptive tack and hide behind a facade(i.e email, facebook intros, dating forums, resumes). But judgments are made nonetheless - often prematurely and many times prejudicially and very incorrectly.

Don't misunderstand - just because the societal norm dictates this to be true does not make judging a book by its cover right. In fact "judging a book by its cover" is very wrong. And so, the first step in any journey to betterment is admitting we have a problem. "Houston, I have a problem!" Yes, Yes and yes I have already faced the fact that I have been guilty of "judging the proverbial book by reading solely its cover." Whew!

Let me share. I was convicted of my unconscious decistion to avoid those women not "like me."

My home Church is Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale . This is a mega church with over 20K attending Sunday services every weekend. The first women's Bible study I attended was overwhelming. Humbling, too. Overwhelming in that I entered the conference room not expecting 50 circle tables with ten chairs at every table. Mostly every chair was taken though I arrived on time. Add to that I did not know a single soul. I felt very alone. It was the first time I ever felt alone though surrounded by many. Add to that, all the women seemed to know one another (and probably did :) and I felt like I was in first grade again. And no one picked me for dodgeball. I felt like a Loser! I stood just in front of the entrance for a minute as I toyed with the idea of leaving. After all, there were no vacant chairs. No one would miss me after all. Truly. Or so I thought.

But no, God humbled me in my pity party moment. I was not in first grade and this was not a dodgeball game! The still, small voice which often calms my soul spoke to me and me alone amidst the chattering women, "Find a group of women not like you. A table where you will learn to love those very much unlike you. They will love you unconditionally no matter your skin color, your age or your background. Then, and only then, will you learn to love as I love you." Deep sigh. Wiped away a tear. Walked into the sea of women and found my group. No, it was not like the parting of the Red Sea. Not by any means. I had to go grab a chair in the hallway and the table of 10 soon became twelve as we all scooched in.

Just before the study began, I glanced to the table next to mine and smiled at the 30-somethings in their blue jeans and layered ts. They contentedly chatted away, deep in 30- something style. Conversation I knew well. I moved my chair closer to my table as I realized deep down inside I was where I was supposed to be. It was worth it, though as I later learned. For, I had found the table where I would soon bond with women with which I would glean much wisdom. I realized I was unlike the women at my table in every way and it was wonderful.

This fact was confirmed as the weeks unfolded. Women came and went, each leaving an indelible impression on my heart. I thrived and grew in God's Word. I was so blessed by those women's stories and their pure love for God. I still keep in touch with Beverley, the leader of that group who has since moved back to her native South Africa.

As a result of this experience, I have learned to look at the heart first. I now shed my tendency for superficiality first. I am so blessed. I am glad I listened to that still small voice of God in that room full of women that day. Because of it, I found a table of women that taught me how to read the book before judging it by its cover.

Yes, we all fall short of what we know to be right. But we can learn how not to "judge a book by its cover" if we are open to change. I now endeavor to read the entire book first. Then report my findings. And even then, I may be wrong. After all, it is right to admit when we are wrong. And sometimes, reading the book is prudent and anything but prejudicial. It is a good starting point - to get to know someone. To hear their heart, to spend time with them and be open to change.

I can tell you from my own experience, that there is nothing as wonderful as hearing someone's heart. And as a result, realizing they are not just a book at all - but a novella with many exciting adventures to be jointly shared. Their "book" may contain tales of the past, present and future. And we learn that never ever would the cover have been sufficient enough to read - for everything in between their cover is wonderfully and perfectly what we needed to hear. The cover was merely the facade that contained the rest. We miss the entire story when we merely read the cover. So read the book and save the judgments for later!

Thanks for listening.
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