The Ten What?

Some of us are spending time with the Ten Commandments.

No, I haven’t joined one of those groups that insist that the contents of Moses’ tablets (or at least their version of them) be posted on the courthouse or statehouse wall. Instead, we are just digging into each one to learn more from each other about what they mean for us today.

Each week, some folks at our church gather for Living Wednesdays, a time of short worship and then a discussion of a film or other topic. We started a few weeks ago focusing our worship on the commandments, one by one.

The first thing we discussed is the fact that Jewish scholars claim they are more like statements than laws.They are not intended to be rules for which violations earn punishment so much as they are intended to let people know how God wants to be in relationship with people–sort of like the ground rules couples make to insure they make it through tough times. This puts a different cast on how they are used.

So many of the people who want to tack them up in public places seem to want them there as a way to force people to behave a certain way. Or to draw a line between them and other folks (“We follow the Ten Commandments and they are heathens because they don’t”). Or at least to claim that these “rules” are the basis of our civil society (which is not true, despite their desire that it be so).

We just finished #3, the short version being, “You shall not take God’s name in vain.”

For about 15-20 minutes we shared perspectives. It was instructive. We all admitted that in our youth we were taught this meant not to use curses that involved God.

But now we understand that taking God’s name in vain has many meanings. One person said she thinks that people who use God to oppress other people is a way of taking God’s name in vain. Another person wondered if the American habit that claims that God blesses America, and by implication does not bless other nations, is taking God’s name in vain. Who are we to presume that we are God’s favorites–when we so fervently believe others are not?

This is related to our assumption as individuals that what we like, what we think is important, what we value, is what God likes and values. We then got into a bit of joking about what it would feel like to others if we transferred this to another person. One person joked that instead of using the term “OMG” (O My God) we used “OMK” (O My Kim or Kevin), or “OMR” (O My Robin or Rose). How would that feel? Maybe, someone said, this is just about treating God with honor and respect.

We also looked at Psalm 127 (and listened to Ian White sing the first part of the Psalm–click on the link to listen to this lively rendition), which begins, “Unless God builds the house, the builders labor in vain. If God doesn’t guard the city, the sentries watch in vain.” This connected us with the idea that to undertake our lives without God, while claiming we are people of God, is to take God’s name in vain. We can’t do life without God. To pretend we can is to deny and to denigrate God’s name.

All of this was very rich, and opens many more possibilities. We talked only for a short time, but so much wisdom was shared. God clearly was in the room, and animating the hearts and minds of those who were present.

Moses came down off the mountain, and started something so much bigger than he could ever imagine; it still reverberates today. That is the God-sized blessing in these Ten Statements.

Not that we bow down to them, but that we stay in relationship–a living relationship–with them and with the God who shares them.


Sometimes People “Enjoy” the Misery

I have friends, very dear to me, who continually fuss at each other. In fact, they do more than fuss; they are extraordinarily sensitive to every irritation they experience from each other, and sometimes they even seem to look for ways to add to the irritation.

It makes me want to avoid them altogether, and certainly to hide when we all are together.

I know what it can be like . . . . . this business of letting someone get under your skin. I have wasted my life at times, thinking how much I am being injured by someone else, and how good I could be, what marvelous things I could do, if it were not for others.

Over the years, I have come to understand that it is only when I realize that someone else can hurt me only if I let them–and I choose to stop being, or playing, the victim–that I can rise above the fog of focusing only on my grievances. And I say this even when the grievance is not petty. Sometimes people really do hurtful things. Still, if all I do is nurse the hurt, the hurt is all I get.

Gunilla Norris says, “I’m always wanting my own weather.” What she means is that we can refuse to see situations for what they really are and instead spend time complaining about how they could be so much better. Capable people, strong people, can actually discern the good qualities in each other, and stop taking offense at every wrong, real or imagined. They also can stop complaining about things they cannot change–namely other people.

But only if they want to do that. Sometimes people actually get something out of misery.

I pray it isn’t so with my friends. They mean so much to me. But I cannot force them to change. None of us can force another person to change. I just pray they will want to find a better way. They surely deserve it.