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OPINION | PAUL PRATHER: 'Be curious, not judgmental' a line to live by

by Paul Prather | November 27, 2021 at 3:22 a.m.


At Bethesda Church, where I'm the pastor, we have a rotation of lay speakers from within the congregation. They preach on the last Sunday of each month.

I love those Sundays, because they give me an opportunity to sit back and listen and learn something. The folks who preach bring their own passions, life experiences and insights to the pulpit.

October's speaker was Joey, a firefighter and paramedic who has worked extensively with our congregation's youth.

The theme of his message stuck with me: "Be curious, not judgmental," he told us.

I'd never heard that saying before.

"I'm stealing it," I told somebody after the service.

In his sermon, Joey said he'd picked up the line from the Apple TV show "Ted Lasso." Later, I found a video clip of the scene where the title character (played by Jason Sudeikis) makes his "be curious" speech. [LINK: youtube.com/watch?v=5x0PzUoJS-U]

Lasso is engaged in a high stakes darts game with a smug bully.

"You know, Rupert, guys have underestimated me my entire life," Lasso says. "And for years I never understood why. It used to really bother me. But then one day I was driving my little boy to school and I saw this quote by Walt Whitman, it was painted on the wall there and it said, 'Be curious, not judgmental.' I like that.

"So I get back in my car and I'm driving to work and all of a sudden it hits me. All of them fellas that used to belittle me, not a single one of them were curious. You know, they thought they had everything all figured out. So they judged everything. And they judged everyone. And I realized that their underestimating me, who I was had nothing to do with it. Because if they were curious, they would've asked questions. You know, questions like, 'Have you played a lot of darts, Ted?' Which I would have answered, 'Yes sir. Every Sunday afternoon at a sports bar with my father from age 10 'til I was 16, when he passed away.'"

He righteously smokes his opponent in the darts contest, to cheers all around.

(For the record: Snopes.com, the fact-checking site, says 19th-century poet Walt Whitman never wrote, "Be curious, not judgmental." It's unclear where the saying originated.) [LINK: tinyurl.com/jyhrv6dc]

I haven't seen a full episode of "Ted Lasso," don't subscribe to Apple TV and can't play darts, but I've absolutely lived the "be curious, not judgmental" experience -- from both sides. I've been the perpetrator and the object of incurious judgments.

When I was a new pastor in my mid-20s, there was a shy teenager in my congregation who sat with his parents and never spoke a word.

Energetic, ambitious and astoundingly full of myself, I basically wrote this kid off. Not maliciously. I meant him no ill. I just assumed he didn't have anything to offer. (I cringe as I write these words.)

Entering the local library one day, I met him coming out -- with an enormous stack of books under his arm.

Taken aback, I said something like, "Uh, are you planning to read all those books?"

He said, "Yeah. I come here every week. I love books."

To my knowledge, it was the first time he'd ever spoken to me.

Not long after that, he stopped me in the dining room at church. "I've been thinking about your last sermon," he said without preamble, then proceeded to engage me in a theological discussion that at points went way over my head.

There was somebody living in his skin I hadn't even imagined existed.

In the ensuing years, I watched him put his own life on hold to take care of his sick, aged parents. A decent and selfless man, he has long since become a hero to me.

I almost missed every bit of it, because I wasn't curious enough to venture beyond my reflexive judgments, didn't make the effort to learn who he really was.

When you think you know everything, as I did, when you assign people labels and dismiss them, you're actually demonstrating yourself to be a fool. A lazy fool at that.

I've also been on the other side of such judgments.

I recall the sting of showing up at the University of Kentucky as an undergraduate in the 1970s. I learned fast not to ask questions in class, because every time I opened my mouth the room would erupt in laughter at my thick country accent. Clearly, my professors and classmates assumed I was dumb as a rock. (No comments here, please.)

I've been instantly shunted aside by people when they hear I'm a Pentecostal minister, as if I couldn't be anything other than a semi-literate, science-denying boor.

But real people don't fit into such prepackaged categories. Nobody is just one thing: a Pentecostal, an atheist, a liberal, a right-winger. Everybody's full of surprises. Everybody has something to teach us, if we're curious enough to learn.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling, Ky. You can email him at

pratpd@yahoo.com.


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