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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Week of May 20, 2018

Busy weeks are a pain, especially when trying to write these weekly things. The longer I wait, the more pressing it is to grab something worth typing. The more pressing it is, the less discerning seems the choice.

Case in point: woke this morning to two stories on the news.
The NFL has decided to penalize teams if players decide not to stand for the national anthem during pregame rituals. That's one. The other was, of course, Sterling Brown's parking violation and the escalation of that encounter to his eventually getting tasered. None of us are naive enough to believe these stories just happened to break at the same time. Like FDR said when talking about occurrences in politically-charged arenas, "If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way."

When do we break? That's probably the real question. Maybe society and politics have a way of bending us till we do. By break, though, I don't mean the psycho-recklessness of yet another school shooter or murder-suicide scenario or moronic tweet by politicians or famous folk that rip and tear for our attention. This best break, I still believe, is when we finally decide to sit across the table with one another and sensibly talk things out. It's called dialogue.

Here's a biblical example of one's refusal to dialogue:

Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.’ He said to them, ‘Go away for three days, then come again to me.’ So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, ‘How do you advise me to answer this people?’ They answered him, ‘If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants for ever.’ But he disregarded the advice that the older men gave him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and now attended him. He said to them, ‘What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, “Lighten the yoke that your father put on us”?’ The young men who had grown up with him said to him, ‘Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, “Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us”; thus you should say to them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” ’

So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had said, ‘Come to me again on the third day.’ The king answered the people harshly. He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, ‘My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’ So the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfil his word, which the Lord had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat.

When all Israel saw that the king would not listen to them, the people answered the king,
‘What share do we have in David?
We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.
To your tents, O Israel!
Look now to your own house, O David.’
So Israel went away to their tents. But Rehoboam reigned over the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah. When King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labour, all Israel stoned him to death. King Rehoboam then hurriedly mounted his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.
1 Kings 12.1-19

Rehoboam solidified the kingdom's split...because God wanted it? That's not what I read here. Sounds to me like the dude was being a prick, acting unwise and moronic. And it was costly. There was no interest in dialogue.

Jesus showed us a different way, though:

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’— although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he,the one who is speaking to you.’

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word.They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’
John 4.1-42

Isn't it funny? What astonished the disciples was the fact that he was taking the time to relate with someone with whom they never would've dreamed of speaking. Because of it, the very opposite of Rehoboam's story happened here: "...for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world." 

If the corporate heads of the NFL were to dialogue with those who exercise their First Amendment right to express their own personal frustration with the government of this nation, a third way amid this "never the twain" political culture would have a fighting chance. Were that to happen something of greatness could emerge, and we could celebrate the victory of both a powerful sports entertainment force in America and of the very power of that most fundamental thread of free speech granted us all here in this country, which binds this republic to its philosophical truth. Were the Milwaukee Police Department to dialogue with Sterling Brown, maybe something of understanding could emerge between a person who feels a situation unjustly escalated and a police officer who feels there was absolutely no other way than to respond as he or she did.

Until we stop assuming we know the intentions and motives of them, those, they, you, and y'all, we'll never grow in peace and understanding as an I, me, my, or we. Rehoboam had an insightful pause and conferred with those who had been there and done that, as well as with newbies like himself. He chose not to heed the wisdom of the past but to trail blaze at the expense of a whole people. His nation paid dearly. Jesus, on the other hand, heeded to a deeper wisdom and confronted the conventions of his past that had caused the suffering of so many. A whole new people found a fuller life.

Here at least, dialogue is the only way. Any other way will only destroy.

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