Saturday, August 27, 2016

Where Will We Be Seated?

I’m going to a wedding reception tonight. (Yes, I am going to the wedding as well, so don’t start on me about that.) I don’t know what you think about when you are invited to a wedding reception, but I am wondering where we will be seated.  The pattern most wedding reception planners follow is that numbers are assigned to tables and then the guests are assigned to a table number. And then the fun really begins, when you find out who shares your table number.

I still hold out some hope for Table 1, but since I only know the bride through my wife, and since I don’t know the groom at all, I am guessing my hope is misplaced.  I won’t get served first. Maybe we’ll be near the front, right in the line of sight with the wedding party, and then everyone will know I am there. People will think that I am someone important, being seated so near the front.  I can hope. But, being realistic, I guess the most I can really hope for is that I don’t get served last.  I suppose I could try to move up a few tables, going around telling people that I have to get home early, asking them to trade places with me.  Maybe I could buy my way to the front. 

In reality, of course, I don’t want to sit in the front. And I certainly don’t want to be seated right next to the dance floor. The expectations are simply too high that I am going to do the Chicken Dance. I can never get it right, and I look like someone having uncontrolled muscle spasms, so better that I have that table in the far corner.

I don’t know where I am sitting tonight, and that really doesn’t matter. What I do know is that I will be seated at a table with the woman I love and with good friends.  I know this because my wife and her friend told me we would be seated together.  I don’t know how women know things like this in advance, but I am glad they shared the secret of the seating chart with me.  You see, it’s not so much a question of where you are seated at the banquet that matters, it’s a question of who you are seated with.  That’s why the seating chart planners spend so much time on it.  They want everyone to have a good time around the tables, whatever the number.

That’s what it is like in the Kingdom of Jesus.  Don’t fight to get the best seat. Take joy in that you are invited, friends. Know that Jesus has been planning the Banquet seating for a long time, and the people you will be dining with at the Table will be the perfect tablemates.  People you love. People with whom you can share a memory, a laugh, a hug.  People you want to be with for an eternity.  I am not going to miss that party.  You’ll be there, right?  Jesus is saving a seat for us.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

It's Never Just a Handshake

When human beings touch a message is sent.  When human beings refuse an offer to touch an even stronger message is sent.

The Olympics value sportsmanship and one of the ways that this value is displayed is in the handshake (or hug) following a competition.  It can be understandably difficult to touch the person who has just defeated you on an international stage, who has perhaps denied you a lifetime goal.  Yet, we take for granted that following sporting events, especially at the Olympics level, competition ends with a handshake.

So it was newsworthy when Israeli heavyweight judoka Or Sasson extended his hand to Islam El Shehaby, his Egyptian opponent, whom he had just defeated in a first-round match. Mr. El Shehaby backed away from the offered hand of the victor, refusing to shake his hand.  The disharmony between the Egyptians and the Jews is of course the plot line of one of the most famous stories in the Bible, the Exodus.  Over the centuries, it seems, things haven’t really improved. While the governments of the two nations engage in diplomatic relations, there is still great tension among the people, mostly due to their differing religious beliefs. Mr. El Shehaby is, according to one news source, an “ultraconservative Salafi Muslim”. He explained his actions by stating that a handshake is not required in judo rules and that shaking hands is for friends, of which Mr. Sasson is not one.  Mr. El Shehaby was reprimanded for his actions, and, depending on who you believe, he may have been sent home early.

Now, we might say, “Well, it’s just a handshake. What’s the big deal?”  But, on the Olympic stage, it’s never “just a handshake.”  The whole point of the Olympics is to seek to find ways for nations as war, through their athletes, to exist in peace in the arena.

That’s the way we should look at handshakes in real life too. Is there someone who, given the opportunity, you would not want to shake his or her hand?  If so, why? What is the message that this form of human touch sends that makes you recoil from it?  You know how it is after two people are fighting, how those in charge will say, “now shake hands and move on.”  Those handshakes are never sincere, but they are a first step in overcoming whatever divides them.  It’s the effort at human touch that begins healing. It’s never just a handshake.

I think it was right to discipline Mr. El Shehaby.  No religion should espouse the practice of refusing to touch those with whom we disagree. Make a list of the people you don’t want to shake hands with and then commit to doing so the next time you see them. So far as it depends on you, make peace.  Someone said, “Love your enemies”, right?