Faith Matters

Rev Andrew Watson: Avoid the reflex to say 'yuck'

It can sometimes be hard to hide our disgust and avoid saying 'yuck' - but we should, especially when it comes to human relationships
Andrew Watson

I learned a new phrase from a student friend this week.

They described how often people or groups react to certain other people and groups with a 'yuck response' - a response that expresses disapproval, even disgust, at what those people are doing that often comes across as rejection of the people themselves.

Even if technically 'correct', this sort of expression of disapproval can be a serious problem.

It doesn't usually change those people. It's more likely to make them more entrenched in their way of thinking and doing things.

And it doesn't just hurt feelings. It can breed resentment, lead to opposing factions and feed into violence and war.

How interesting that one of my recent readings from Mark 2 features some people - the Pharisees - who had a strong 'yuck response' to certain other people - tax collectors and 'sinners' - and criticised someone else - Jesus - for being willing to befriend them.

With his typical masterful combination of wry wit and spiritual insight Jesus commented: "It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners."

If we imagine we are 100 per cent righteous we are kidding ourselves.

Just read Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Truth? - we all need to humble ourselves to change, repent and seek forgiveness for hundreds, maybe thousands, of messy things we would rather forget.

But maybe it is easier to deflect attention away from our own faults and point the pharisaical finger of condemnation at someone else: 'Look at those people - yuck.'

They may espouse different views from us politically. They may be local or from another nation or place, proudly gay or racist, confidently religious or atheist, on benefits or billionaires, long hair/bright coloured hair/no hair, with or without tattoos and body piercings.

There may be all kinds of things we find objectionable in what they say and do but they are first and foremost human beings with sacred value and therefore worthy of respect.

Perhaps if we're willing to risk friendship like Jesus did, we could talk helpfully with each other about some of these things.

Admittedly this is sometimes difficult. It's much easier to go no further than that first reaction. This is where I am blown away yet again by my Master.

I am so grateful he didn't look at me and just go 'yuck'. He could have, there was plenty of reason.

Instead Jesus looked at me, as he does at all people, with compassion; as wilfully lost but precious enough to seek and find; as fatally sick with self-obsession but worth rescuing and healing, even should it take a lifetime - even should it cost him his life. As guilty, but desperately in need of forgiveness and love.

So I will continue to trust and follow him, even if I'm clumsy in practice or lack courage.

It is a challenge but I'm still learning and he is patient. I will follow him - not because I think I'm brilliantly 'righteous', but because I'm grateful.

Rev Andrew Watson is minister of the Presbyterian congregations in Dunfanaghy and Carrigart in Co Donegal and a chaplain to Letterkenny Institute of Technology. He blogs at

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Faith Matters