Do you know anyone like this?
I do. I know lots of people like this. But it wasn’t until a conversation I had with my brother that I really began thinking about these people.
I remember it was 10 years ago, around this time. Ashley and I were talking on the phone (which is odd to think about since we only text these days) about the College Football BCS Championship and whether Florida deserved to play against Ohio St. more than Michigan or Southern Cal. And after talking about this for a while Ashley says out of nowhere: “Do you know what someone should preach a sermon on? Dealing with the Ramons in your life.”
I knew exactly what he was referring to since we both speak Seinlanguage. He was referring to the Seinfeld episode, “The Pool Guy,” from the clip above. If you cannot gather it from this 30-second scene, Ramon was extremely annoying and had very low social intelligence. In a prior scene he bumps into Jerry and Kramer at the movies and awkwardly takes the seat between them even although they very obviously did not want him to do so. In a later scene he follows Jerry around all afternoon before Jerry finally tells him they can’t be friends. Ashley was telling me in a way I could understand the clearest that he struggled with annoying people in his daily life.
That conversation really got me thinking. I thought about the Ramons I had in high school. I thought about the ones I had in college. I thought about the ones I’ve had in Chicago. It seems no matter where I’ve been there have always been people that have irritated me greatly. Rick Warren in his book The Purpose Driven Life calls these ‘EGR’ people: “Extra Grace Required”1.
My personal Ramons have all been the same story. I always think I’m cooler than Ramon. I think I am smarter. I think I am better at life. And that is basically why I treat Ramon the way that I do, which is the exact opposite of how the Bible says to treat him.
I listened to Ashley’s idea and about nine months later I preached a sermon about it, when I finally found passages that I felt convinced fit the topic, Romans 15:1-7 and Ephesians 4:1-6. I’ve preached it at my church another time since then and at several youth camps and retreats. Here is what I learned by studying these two chapters from Paul:
I need to spend time around Ramon
Here’s some honesty: my greatest temptation with the Ramons in my life is not to insult them or gossip about them or mistreat them. It’s to ignore them completely. To act like they are not there. To avoid their gaze at church, walk on the other side of the room to avoid their path or turn the other way in public.
But Paul writes in both of these passages that we are to bear with others in love, to build them up, and not just please ourselves. You cannot bear with someone if you avoid them. You cannot build them up from a distance. I am also convinced Paul had at least a Ramon type idea in mind as he wrote some of these verses because of the verbs he used. You don’t “bear with” people you get along with, at least not generally. You do not need to be told to be humble and gentle unless you are tempted not to be. Ramon is the greatest application of these verses to my life. Because my attitude toward Ramon, better than just about anything else, shows how prideful I truly am and badly I can treat others.
I remember a time in my past when a guy who desperately needed the interaction of a male mentor asked me to go fishing with him. The morning we were supposed to go, I overslept because I didn’t care enough to set my alarm. I remember another time being on a bus for a middle school field trip that I was helping chaperone as a volunteer. The only seat left on the bus when I got on was next to the loudest, most obnoxious kid in the class. It was no coincidence that he was alone. I sat next to him. He tried to make conversation but I was curt with him. Finally, I turned my back on him to talk to the cooler kids in other seats.
The amount of times I’ve ignored the Ramons in my life is astronomical. This is quite often a sin of disobedience.
How I treat Ramon is an issue of Christian Unity
This has overlap with the previous point. In Ephesians 4 Paul uses the word “one” over and over to describe Christian unity: one Father and Lord, one faith, one baptism. In Romans 15 he says we glorify God with “one heart and voice.”
Yet we find every possible way we can to divide the church in the U.S. We divide by race and ethnicity. We divide by music preference. We divide based on things–and people–we find annoying.
Even within the church we divide ourselves from the Ramons. I recall several years ago taking 13 people from our church on a mission trip to Mexico. Before our trip, we drove up to Wisconsin to have a team-building retreat. During one exercise I had them randomly line up on a three-inch wooden beam. Then, I told them to rearrange themselves in order of their birthdays without leaving the beam or touching the ground in any way. After many hours, they did it. We then met and discussed what we had learned. One person said the exercise forced her to talk to people in the group she never talks to. That hit me like a hammer. Here we were a group from a church of 75-100 people, only 13 of which were going on this trip…and yet some people never had never talked to each other.
Jesus prayed against Christian division in John 17. He died to unite the church according to Ephesians 2:11-22. He died so that Ramon’s would never be ostracized. Yet, they often are.
What if to Jesus, I am Ramon?
After clamoring for us to love those in the church who are weaker than we are and making pleas for us to be completely unified in mind and voice, Paul in Romans 15 nails the point as hard as he can with these words: “Accept each other, then, just the way Christ has accepted you.”
Christ accepted me when I was a failure of a student and person my sophomore year at USC, taking sleeping pills every night because my life was so messed up. Christ accepted me even though I was hooked on pornography. He accepted me even though I was lazy and selfish. He accepted me even though I lived as though God didn’t matter at all. I’m sure at least in some manner of speaking, to God, I was Ramon.
So why don’t I accept Ramon with that kind of grace? Why do I judge him so much? Why do I treat him as though he were invisible and meaningless instead of a wonderful being created in the image of God?
I think the key resides in how much I forget how much Jesus loves me.
Leading up to the command that we need to “bear with one another in love” in Ephesians 4, in the first chapter of Ephesians Paul says that “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” Then in chapter 2, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in your sins…For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” And in Chapter 3: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”
THAT is the context leading us to Paul writing in chapter 4, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” If there is a reason I do not love Ramon, it is because I have completely taken for granted the way God loves me. These two things are absolutely connected.
Sometimes I think about the people I love in my life. Do I love my wife? Absolutely. Do I love people of other races? I think I do. Do I love people with different political and worldviews than me? I certainly try.
Do I love Ramon?
I have never been able to answer this question the way I know God wants me to. And no matter how often I preach it, it never gets easier.
It will not get easier until I completely grasp Romans 15:7. Everything about being humble and bearing with each other and being of one mind and voice hinges on knowing how much I am loved and accepted. It truly is the source of everything I do. The New Testament says to forgive others because Christ forgave you. It says to lay down your life for others because Christ laid down his life for you. It says to accept the Ramons because Jesus accepted you, at your most annoying, your most sinful.
So I ask my REO readers today to think about the Ramons in your life. Do you love them? Or, like me, do you often avoid them? I encourage all of us today to let the truth of Romans 15 and Ephesians 4 help us answer that question.
Because, unlike on Seinfeld, it is not funny at all to treat Ramon the way Jerry did.
- Please know that I have little doubt that I am and have been a Ramon to other people. I know some people do not like the way I laugh. Some do not like the way I preach. Back in Bible college my youth ministry professor, James Evans, told us that there would be those people that would be hard to deal with in our future ministries. But he added that to someone else, we might be that person. That is important to remember for me. ↩