In the Valley, a Sermon on Psalm 23

IMG_1305The dress I am wearing is the traditional Easter dress from the Amhara region of Ethiopia. Some of you know that my family traveled to Ethiopia over Easter break. All the Christian women will be in their white dresses at Easter time and on special occasions. I thought it would be appropriate to wear it today – especially in honour of the Ethiopian Christians brutally murdered by ISIS recently.

(I am going to refer to ‘God’ in this sermon as ‘he’ because it is just easier for me. Sadly there is no good pronoun for God – who is so much more than our limiting gender definitions. I thought of calling God ‘hesheplus’, but that would be just confusing and hard to say. So I ask you to please bear with me on this one.)

What is the valley of the shadow of death? Have you wondered about that? When we were in Jerusalem, we were taken to a deep gorge just outside the city. At the bottom of it is a valley, which used to be a path for travellers. The gorge is so deep and so narrow that even on a bright sunny day (as most days in Israel are), the valley is very dark – almost like night. It was easy for muggers and thieves to hide among the rocks and surprise travelers.

Could that be the valley of the shadow of death for the Psalmist? Perhaps. I can think of many other kinds of valley of the shadow of death though. The most obvious, naturally, is a poor medical prognosis. Finding out you that have a short time to live – for whatever reason – seems like it would be a very dark valley indeed. But there are others… being persecuted for a situation that is beyond your control, for instance. The death of expectations or dreams or a child. How about the death of a marriage or a job? Even retirement sets off a grief all its own. In fact the list I started writing out was so long, it occurred to me that if you are ALIVE you are actually walking through the valley of the shadow of death. For your next moment is not certain. The passengers on the German Wings Flight could not have known it would be their last day alive. The migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean did not know it would be their last day. The poor people of Nepal right now as a result of continuing earthquakes do not know from one minute to the next who will be alive. If you are alive, you walk in the shadow of death. BUT I will fear no evil says the Psalmist. I will not fear. I will not worry. I will not succumb to my anxieties.

Why?
Have you ever followed someone you barely knew down a long path in an unknown place, trusting that that person was actually leading you where you wanted to go? During our trip to Ethiopia, I did just that. There were times when I felt a bit nervous as I couldn’t actually see a beaten path ahead of us. My female traveling companion, Rekik and I followed a young man through ploughed fields, swamps, herds of cattle and jungle – but there was no visible path! Was our guide leading us astray? Could we trust him? I had momentary doubts that I swept aside because we really had no option but to trust him. At one point, we entered through a gate-like structure and our guide turned to me and said, ‘Lots of wild animals live here -hyenas, leopards, lions.’ I replied, ‘As long as they don’t consider me lunch, I am fine with that.’ But I wasn’t terribly consoled by this information. The guide, however, assured us there would be a rock-hewn church at the end of our walk. All I could do was trust him, and keep walking. And indeed, there was a church worth seeing after our long journey.

The psalmist says: “The Lord is my shepherd”, my guide, my caretaker. I never need to wonder if where he is leading me is a good place. It will always be a place of refreshment – where water, food and rest are to be found. He restores my soul. In the midst of fear and danger, the Lord leads your soul to peaceful places of restoration. However, he can’t lead if you are not following! Jesus says in John, my sheep hear my voice. Are you one of his sheep? Will you let yourself be led?

“Your rod and your staff – they comfort me.” A shepherd’s rod is used to prod or gently nudge the sheep in the direction they are to walk. The staff is for them to see from afar where the shepherd is located. Sometimes, he is behind prodding them along. Sometimes he is in front leading them. And, of course, he is always protecting them.

During our travels, we arrived at a lodge in the Tigray region. Across from our rooms was a small mount with a large rock on one end. Do you remember the movie, The Lion King? There is a rock the King climbs to look out over his kingdom. Do you remember it? Well that is what this rock was like – except for one small detail – you didn’t walk straight up the middle to the end of the rock. No, this rock, you had to climb by walking along the edge in a circle to the top. When all five of us in our group scrambled up the mount to take in the view, we saw the path and the steep drop down one side and suddenly got cold feet. I mean it was a loooong way down. It was then that I noticed the presence of an older gentleman. He was wearing a shawl – a bit like a mexican poncho, and a white baseball cap. He had a staff in one hand. For awhile he leaned on the staff and just watched us. When he noticed that we were hesitating, he gently walked ahead and said, “Here, put your foot here.” And he tapped a place on the rock. At first, I shook my head no. He said, “Here, it is safe. You can do it. I’ll show you.” He stepped ahead of me and turned around. So I took a step. He smiled, tapped again, and said, “And here.” In this way, he gently led me up. It was very windy. I was scared. But I followed. The rest of our group came too. Some of us gained more confidence than others, but we all followed. I later learned that the older gentleman worked for the lodge. It was his duty to ensure that the guests got the most out of their stay. And a huge part of that enjoyment was regaining our lost confidence in climbing up rocks and hills. I say ‘lost’ because I remember having this confidence as a child. I had forgotten that I had that skill already mastered.

“The Lord leads me in the right path for his name’s sake” – not because he works for someone else, not to save my name or my family’s reputation or even my soul – but to honour His name! The Lord, our God, is one god. His name is pure and not to be blemished. He is a God with integrity. He will lead rightly because that is who He is. He IS righteousness. He can do no other.

And then what does He who is righteousness do for the psalmist? – “The Lord sets a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” He will preserve your dignity! Have you ever been under attack – verbal or otherwise – and had someone step forward to support you? This is what the Lord does. He steps forward and claims you as an honoured guest, anointing your head with oil and making your cup overflow. There will be more than enough; more than you need. And that leads me to the last verse: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever. “ I used to think this meant that only good things will happen to me, but now I wonder. Now I think that perhaps I will leave a trail of goodness and mercy from the overflow of the cup when I follow the shepherd. One summer day while walking in Durham, England, it started to rain unexpectedly.  I was wearing a purple cotton dress and found to my horror that there was a trail of purple-coloured water flowing behind me as I walked. That is what I imagine when I read that goodness and mercy will follow me. It will not only happen to me, but will overflow onto my path for those coming behind me.  Is this what the psalmist meant?  I doubt it, but it is a picture I quite like because goodness and mercy isn’t just about what happens to me, but also about how I treat others.

This psalm isn’t promising us that we will never experience death, but perhaps that death is not to be feared – just as life is not to be feared. Bad things will happen, but He does not abandon you. Remember who your shepherd is. The Lord is your shepherd. Are you looking for His staff? Are you listening for His voice? He will guide you gently step by step through the darkness and lead you to a peaceful place of restoration.  May He restore your soul today, this week and forever. Amen.

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The Language Handicap

Growing up in a golfing family, I often heard the phrase, ‘He has a handicap of 6 (or 18 or 22, etc.). I never really knew what that meant. One time I asked Dad to explain it to me. All he said was, “Well it is a number based on various factors, which allows golfers of different abilities to play against each other.” That was about as clear as mud.

But I got to thinking about it recently in relation to my ability to communicate in German. So I looked up in Wikipedia ‘Golfer’s Handicap’ to try and understand the calculation. The definition goes as follows:

A handicap is a numerical measure of an amateur golfer’s ability to play golf over the course of 18 holes. A player’s handicap generally represents the number of strokes above par that the player will make over the course of an above-average round of golf. The lower the handicap, the better the player. Someone with a handicap of 0 or less is often called a scratch golfer, and would typically score or beat the course par on a round of play (depending on course difficulty).

Well, that’s not so hard to understand, but it continued:

Calculating a handicap is often complicated, the general reason being that golf courses are not uniformly challenging from course to course or between skill levels.

And I will spare you the mathematical calculations involving slope and PGA difficulty ratings. How does this relate to language you ask? Well, language acquisition isn’t straightforward. Some languages are harder than others, just like golf courses. If there was a ranking system upon which we could say, ‘Okay, German is perhaps ranked 13 of the 20 most difficult languages for a foreigner to master.’ That would be one number of the calculation. Then the number of words mastered (vocabulary) combined with the number of sentences one usually gets grammatically correct (grammar) could be other numbers in the calculation. Of course, spoken calculations, or handicaps, would be different from written, so I could have a handicap of 8 for speaking, but 23 for writing (nearly accurate actually). Par would be grammatically correct spoken or written German, with below par being a ‘scratch’ player – using the actual phrasing of native speakers or ‘fluency’.

Not only would this be a useful tool on a personal level, but also on a social level where employment is involved. Does the person speak German? Understand German? Write German? Ahhhh… they are nearly always different levels. And of course, it would be useful to see if the person is improving over time. So this year I might speak with a handicap of 8, but next year that could drop to 5 or less.

While using the ‘handicap’ system of ranking progress made could be a really useful tool, it also could help the native speakers understand that ‘handicap’ does not mean ‘stupid’. Too often a person’s ability to communicate using language is used as an intelligence barometer. ‘When I was a child, I spoke like a child.’ However, when I was learning German, I spoke like a child also even though I already had completed a college degree (with excellent grades even). I was often treated as if I thought like a child, which means my language handicap was relatively high.

In my current workplace I have noticed that those who see my mistakes in written German think I am not very intelligent. When, however, they discover that German isn’t my first language, suddenly it’s all praise at how good my German is! Neither of those reactions are especially helpful. I wish I could put on my reports or emails “Language Handicap (written) is 15” with the reaction that those reading it would understand they are 1) to acknowledge that my intelligence is not equal to my ability to communicate; and 2) that they are to help improve my handicap by correcting the language, while respectfully answering the content. Is that not how we teach our children to talk?

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Where the Heart Is

Where do you feel at home? I mean the place you really want to be? I’m not talking about a city or country. Perhaps I should call it your ‘happy place’. For some people, it is the football stadium with other fans of their home team. They will spend half their income – or more – just following their favourite team from game to game. The football stadium is where they are happy, where they feel at home.

And I don’t know how many performing artists I have heard in an interview say, ‘The moment I cannot step onto the stage, I will cease to exist.’ – or something close to those words. The stage is where they are happy, where they feel at home.

My grandfather loved golf. He played 18 holes of golf almost every day of his life for most of the last 40 years of his life. He even wanted his ashes spread around the 18th hole of his local course. It didn’t happen, of course. The Pro in charge of the course would have nothing of it. But that is where my grandfather’s heart was. The golf course is where he was happy, where he felt at home.

In our scripture reading today, we meet the precocious pre-teen Jesus doing what most teens do, causing their parents a great deal of anxiety. It used to incense me that it took a whole day for Mary and Joseph to notice that Jesus was not with them. Now I take comfort in the fact that even the mother of God’s only son had trouble keeping track of him! But Mary had many children. We often forget that. Jesus was not an only child. He had lots of younger siblings. Going up to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival was a huge community event. The Holy Family would not have been traveling as a threesome. They would have been in a great big extended family and friends caravan. It was probably not unusual for Jesus to knick off and hang out with his cousin, John. So it would have taken awhile for the parents to realise that Jesus wasn’t there. But I can’t imagine the horror they felt. They had been traveling a whole day, so it took probably another day to get back to Jerusalem. Then they searched for 3 days in Jerusalem. Jesus was missing for 5 days!

Have you ever lost a child in a crowd? We lost one for a couple of hours on a crowded beach. It was terrifying. I couldn’t stop moving until that child was found. I can’t imagine not knowing for any longer than that. So I totally get Mary’s chiding Jesus for not telling them that he was staying behind. His response reminds me of something our son said once.

When our older son was 4, he left a LEGO toy under his dad’s pillow. The next morning when he came bounding into our room, his dad pulled out the toy and said, ‘Hey look what I found!’ Our son stood there with his hand on his hip and his brows furrowed. He declared, ‘Daddy, don’t find what isn’t lost!’ Jesus wasn’t lost, but more than that. Mary and Joseph KNEW who he was, and where his heart was. Jesus sort of gives Mary a virtual Gibbs -style head slap, ‘Think Woman!’ You KNOW who I am!’

If my grandfather in his old-age senility had wandered out the door, I would have instinctively known to check the path between his home and the golf course because that is where he would be headed. Mary and Joseph knew better than anyone who Jesus’s father was – they had angel visitations, dreams, wise men from the East… Why didn’t they look in the Temple first?

And really, who wouldn’t want to be in the Temple? By all accounts, it was beautiful. When I read Psalm 84, I am reminded of Durham Cathedral. Every time I visit I marvel at its beauty; I feel the presence of God there; the presence of daily worship. When I see the ushers – volunteers all – I am envious of them! And I hear in my head,

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.

It is peaceful in the Cathedral. It evokes awe and wonder. In the presence of God, you can be yourself. There is no deceiving Him.

I am going to re-read this morning’s scripture. Don’t try to follow in your program, it will confuse you. Just lay the program aside and listen. Let the words wash over you. The Holy Spirit will choose which of these will sink into your soul:

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.

When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for her herself, where she may lay her young at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.

When his parents saw him they were astonished, and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’

Happy are those whose strength is in you; in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

Jesus said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.

and Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.
In 2015, where will your heart be? Will your heart long for the courts of the Lord? Why would you not? Why would you not want to stand in the pure Love of the Lord and let His Glory burn away your fears and anxieties? Why would you not want to feel the comfort of His Love? There are many blessings in the Courts of the Lord. May you have a blessed 2015. AMEN

 

Scripture verses taken from the New Revised Standard Version:  Luke 2:41-52 ; Psalm 84

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The Story of Mankind

IMG_2081

Is this not the story of all mankind –

That cultural icons are born in stables
That a child’s birth is attended by angels
That every Mother treasures those special moments
That every human is betrayed
That all will suffer and all will die?

 

Where is God? Where indeed.

He is deep within the story –
in the stable
in the glory
in the precious
in the pain
in the joy
in the grief.

Be still. Stop talking. Be quiet.

Know Him.

He is and She is, and they both remain
I AM.

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That’s Not Fair!

Matthew 20:1-16 Jonah 3:10 – 4:11

“That’s not fair!” You have said it too in your lifetime. Am I right? At some point. As a child maybe – especially if you have siblings. They are notorious for demanding fair treatment from their parents. Or did you say it last week? Can you feel the anger of the workers who slaved in 40 degree celsius heat with the hot sun bearing down on them for hours? How can they be paid the same as the labourers who only harvested for an hour? This parable has several layers of meaning.

For the author of Matthew, who was writing to a mixed, but mostly Jewish congregation, it was a message of acceptance. Yes, the gentiles were coming later into the Kingdom of Heaven, but they were still full members with equal rights. He was encouraging them to not treat the newcomers into the congregation as second-class citizens somehow less worthy of having a say – or a seat – as it were at the table. Even newcomers are full members in the Kingdom.

But there is another layer of meaning to this parable, which I find far more helpful to understanding God’s presence in our life, and it is supported by the story of Jonah. I love the story of Jonah. Man, he did not want to be a prophet! Sadly, his days spent in the ‘belly of a whale’ get too much of the attention when we tell the story. The meat of the story comes after Jonah emerges and actually goes to Nineveh.

Nineveh was the Capital city of Ancient Assyria. The remains of the city were found just opposite present day Mosul. It was very large – one estimate puts it as 60 miles long, very wealthy, and very corrupt. Jonah was called to tell Nineveh to repent and turn from its wicked ways. And it does! Earlier in chapter 3 the scripture reads, “Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” Well why wouldn’t they? What would you do if a man showed up at your city gates bleached white from the juices of a whale’s belly and stinking to high heaven? That probably scared the daylights out of the Ninevites. However, it is Jonah’s reaction to their repentance that is telling. Instead of rejoicing that the city repented, what does he do? He sulks!

He goes outside the city and complains to God! He wants to commit suicide! Jonah is thinking only of himself. He feels that God betrayed him by not fulfilling the prophecy of a destroyed Nineveh. And that is a very human reaction – what about me? Jonah sits outside the gate in the heat waiting to die. So God – in His mercy – causes a bush to grow up beside Jonah to shelter him from the heat. When the bush dies, Jonah is angry. Then God really rebukes him. “You have more pity for this bush for which you have had no responsibility then for all the people of Nineveh!!” Remember this is a god who “does not delight in the death of the wicked.” Jonah even spills out that he is angry because “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” Can you imagine saying those words in anger at God?!

Was it fair of God to forgive the people of Nineveh? What is fairness anyway? Isn’t it about getting what you deserve? Did Nineveh deserve God’s forgiveness? Did the labourers who had worked only a few hours deserve the same pay as those who ‘bore the heat of the day’? So here is a key to the Kingdom of Heaven that many of us do not want to admit. ‘Fair’ is not a measuring stick in the Kingdom of Heaven! ‘Fair’ is not a measuring stick in the Kingdom of Heaven! God isn’t about ‘fairplay’. ‘Fair’ is helpful to humanity. It generally keeps us from killing each other, although even agreeing what is ‘fair’ has led to more than a few scuffles. If ‘fair’ had power in God’s realm, that (pointing to the cross) would not have happened! If God gave us only what we deserve, would you be here in this place today? I wouldn’t be. God isn’t about giving people what they deserve. Isn’t it funny that we only scream, ‘It’s not fair!’ when we feel we have been cheated? Why don’t we cry that when we got more than we deserved? Getting more isn’t fair either. But that is what God has for us – so much more than we deserve!! God isn’t about fair, but mercy – more mercy than we deserve, more grace, more love. God is generous.

Another aspect to the parable of the labourers in the fields that was raised by Donald Hagner in his commentary on Matthew – is that the last labourers hired were last because of some flaw: “The teaching of the parable focuses on the grace shown to those enlisted in the eleventh hour, those regarded by others as not worth hiring. Only in the realm of grace is the equal treatment of all the workers possible.” Remember in sports in school when the teacher would divide us up into teams, assign a captain for each and then tell the captain to choose his or her team? The same kids were always the last to be picked – usually because it was known that they were clumsy or slow. The labourers chosen last were like the kids chosen last for the teams. Something was ‘wrong’ with them – either they spoke a foreign language or were physically handicapped or known to be lazy. Those workers’ never stood a chance of earning a full day’s wage! Think about it.

Not all of us have the same opportunities in life. A friend of mine in her own sermon told the story of losing her first child. The baby had not even survived its first day of life. In her pain and grief, the mother cried to her husband, ‘Why us?’ His answer was awfully wise, he said, ‘Why not us?’ It is the human condition. Some don’t breath their first real breath while others live to great old ages. Some of us experience good health and others suffer all kinds of maladies. Some of us are born with all our limbs, and some of us aren’t. Some of us thrive mentally, while others have a knack for creating hell for themselves no matter what people do to help them. Tragedy and hardship strikes every family eventually, but here in this verse in Matthew lies our hope: In the Kingdom of Heaven, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. God’s measuring stick is not the same as man’s! All will be bathed in the generous and healing love of God when they come into the Kingdom. We are not to be like Jonah and sulk because God is generous, but rather rejoice and participate in that generosity! We serve “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” God isn’t fair! Hallelujah.

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A Gentle Answer

“If you really want to understand the Bible, ignore the chapter numbers and verse numbers. They are artificial, a late addition to the text, and often interrupt thoughts, stories and even sentences.” These words from one of my Bible professors have greatly impacted my approach to scripture. Now whenever I see a verse quoted somewhere or standing alone, I always read what comes before and after in the text to see if there is a wider context into which it is speaking.

There is no more obvious lifting out of context than what appears on church signs in the USA. Those signs are often a source of amusement (and embarrassment). Originally, they existed to give information about worship dates and times, but have increasingly been used to promote “Christian” belief or lifestyle. I have “Christian” in quotes because often the advice given is worded awkwardly; at times, they completely miss the mark or could easily fit into another religious lifestyle. Sometimes, though, they have just a verse of scripture. One I saw recently said, ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath.’ I had forgotten this proverb. Hearing it again rippled through my soul like a glide across harp strings and then it landed like a waterfall on dry land. How often have I seen that happen!

My father-in-law was a master of the gentle word. His friends and colleagues have told us stories of how he with a few soft-spoken words kept volcanos from erupting both at church and at work. His gentleness was in stark contrast to a couple that we experienced just after driving past that sign. We were on the way to a lake to swim. While there a car pulled up. Long before we heard the engine, we could hear the couple inside yelling profanities at each other. Their heated (and loud) argument lasted the entire time they were there walking, swimming, sunbathing. The anger was at such an awful pitch that when one of them approached my husband, he actually felt threatened, and then quite relieved that all they wanted to know was the time! I wondered how long and how heated that argument would have been if just one of them had answered gently.

When we got home, I looked up the proverb and read the verses surrounding it. That’s when I saw something interesting. ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath’ probably belongs to the verse before it! Read all of this together: “A servant who deals wisely has the king’s favour, but his wrath falls on one who acts shamefully. A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Have you ever thought that perhaps the ‘soft answer’ is to be given to wrath that is deserved? Like many other proverbs that describe wise versus foolish behaviour, this one is saying ‘look you have been a fool once and received wrath, for pete’s sake, be humble when you answer the king’! In other words, don’t be a fool twice over. A gentle answer in this situation will save your life. A gentle answer in many areas of modern life may not be needed to save your life, but it can save your marriage, your friendships, your congregation. It is a habit well worth nourishing.

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The Fighting Trap

Yesterday I witnessed a confrontation that baffled me and all those who saw it. The woman who checked out in front of me at a local pet store seemed rather friendly. She was wearing a lovely floral dress and was very pleasant while purchasing food and chews for her dog. She paid and left. The clerk started to put my items through the scanner when the previous customer came hurrying back in and declaring (in a rather accusatory tone) that the clerk had charged her for 5 cans when she only purchased 4! The young clerk looked a bit shocked and apologised. The customer demanded it be put right immediately. The clerk kindly asked that she be allowed to finish my purchase, and told the woman to bring back a can so she can unscan it. The customer actually looked disappointed and continued to argue! The clerk again asked her to bring back one of the cans, while looking at me apologetically.

After putting my purchases in the boot of our car, I was returning my trolley to its hold and noticed this customer and her husband. She was putting her purchases in the car, but still carrying on about the ‘injustice’ that had just occurred. Her husband had a pained look on his face. I felt for him. There is no way to answer a person is who on an unreasonable warpath – verbal or otherwise.

I was thinking to myself, how small must her world be to react like that? (Of course, there is the possibility that she is mentally unstable – and her husband’s facial expression appeared to confirm that might be the case.) Still, to overreact because someone charged you an extra 2 Euros for a can of dog food you didn’t buy when families in Gaza (or Syria or Ukraine or…) can’t sleep for fear of the bombs, noise, grief and the lack of basic necessities? Then it occurred to me, that maybe, like them, she feels trapped. Maybe her world IS too small. Whether by her own behaviour or other’s or societal expectations, maybe her world has shrunk so much that any small grievance becomes a major occurrence.

What happens when animals are cornered? They fight. They keep fighting until they are released. That customer may be fighting an entrapment that is invisible to the rest of us. She may not even see it herself, but there are other real wars being caused by the same feeling. Palestine is cornered. They know it. Israel probably feels trapped. They may or may not know it, but they do. The Russians in the Ukraine feel trapped. They know it. Trapped people fight. So the question I have is: How do we relieve these peoples of their entrapment fears? Perhaps the whole negotiations element needs to focus on the psychological ramifications of entrapment. People – whether individually or collectively – need to feel like they are moving forward. They need to see the removal of barriers, visible and invisible. This can’t, of course, be done in big chunks because those who are trapped and fighting are still in ‘fighting mode’. No, it needs to be done in small steps. Little by little, the walls need to be removed as respect is rebuilt.

The unreasonable customer would probably need some help seeing where her walls are in order to remove them. The countries warring – especially Israel and Palestine – need to be shown the way out. A small door needs opening very slowly, bit by bit. May the negotiators be blessed with a vision towards that kind of movement and a sense of timing.

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