Trembling to One Another (Day 13 of A Simple Lent)
People are funny. Sometimes “funny ha-ha”. Usually just “funny strange”. Either way, I laugh.
There’s something telling in the Joseph story for today – about these brothers who go down to Egypt to get food to bring home to their father (Jacob) and they encounter this Egyptian official who they don’t know is their brother Joseph whom they sold into slavery and he makes a deal with them. It is a remarkable story that has this one truly human element to it: they assume the worst.
When they pack up to head back to get their brother Benjamin and hit the road, one of them discovers the money they gave the Egyptian (really Joseph) is in his bag. Joseph isn’t charging them. But it says they “turned trembling to one another” because they feared that GOD is in the midst of punishing them.
Of course GOD is not punishing them. But they don’t know that. And yet how many of us know that? That GOD doesn’t punish like that. And that we aren’t to punish each other like that.
Judging the insiders
The question of punishment and of judgment comes up in the Paul reading as well. It isn’t one of my favorite passages, to be honest. And it has been used to justify strange behaviors.
Paul is dealing with disagreements and says that they should
- Break community with the sexually immoral,
- Not use the public court system – keep it internal, and
- Not sue each other internally, either.
He argues that judging is for the insiders, which just sounds like a prescription for abuse. But then he says lawsuits between us mean we’ve already lost.
This brings to mind the Episcopal Church’s ongoing lawsuits with some of its dioceses over property. In one sense, they break Paul’s admonition not to try it in open court because these are church matters. In another, they break Paul’s admonition to deal with the matter internally because both claimed the rights to the name and identity of the church–they couldn’t settle it internally.
But they proved Paul’s point, because when the parts of the church sued each other, we all lost.
Working to Lose/Lose
Paul may have just been writing to us. Little has changed in 2000 years. We are still as funny as ever. Still as weird. And still as self-destructive as ever.
One of the dangerous aspects of disputes is that we often think of them as winning and losing. And many fear compromise. And we all fear the assumptions we make about other people’s motives.
But the most dangerous mindset is when we see the world as only about winners and losers. That winning is dependent on the other side losing. I’m beginning to think that we are not so much more polarized in our culture as we are intolerant of other groups “winning”. For many, compromise is a four-letter word. And success is defined by opponents losing.
I think this thinking is the most dangerous in our midst. It is simple and insidious. But it is everywhere. And it means that when I don’t get my way (and I don’t like to lose), I make sure you don’t win.
We turn trembling to one another and fear that our very lives are over. So we bag the system, maybe? Make it so nobody is happy?
Where in your life are you working to lose/lose rather than to win/win? When is your focus not on love, but on revenge? And how do we settle conflict internally without creating such a lose/lose system?
I think it starts at the table. It starts in respect. And it starts with the idea that we are willing to fight, not for victory, but fight for a world in which nobody loses. Make losing a non-option: not just for yourself, but for “the other”.
Not so simple. More simple is listening to the pain in the first place before it becomes a conflict. More simple is not making assumptions about motives and enter into agreements thankfully. Rather than solve all of the world’s problems right now this morning, maybe we just start there.
Respect. Listen. And don’t assume you know what the other is thinking. That I can do. You?
Daily Office Readings
Or visit the alternative Daily Office I often use.
This week’s homework is to silence the distractions.
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