Good morning from the Desert!! The morning is a little steamy today. Only the occasional breeze stirs up the air. The sky is actually quite bright, even though it is early in the morning; the moon is a haloed full disc in the western sky. To the east there is the barest hint of color of the coming dawn. As I ventured out, my brow almost immediately started to moisten. Soon my shirt followed suit. Now I am in need of some hydration. Water is the only thing that helps when you are really thirsty. Sipping the iced water and strolling toward the tree down the block to cool down, I was thinking how nice winter will be here in Al Ain. Life is in many ways backwards from my life in Michigan. In Michigan, I would often look forward to summer and found winter too long. Here, people anxiously await the arrival of fall and winter. If I wanted Michigan cool water, I turned the cold tap; currently here we must turn on the hot water tap or run to the refrigerator for a glass. I guess life in the desert is like that.
Last week I talked about communication and the trials we often face in sharing our thoughts and desires. The other facet of difficulty in communication that is meaningful is the bias we carry as we meet others. We all seem to try to look for differences in others rather than similarities. Why? I think we may feel insecure in ourselves, so we look for a way to make ourselves better than others in our own eyes.
Divisions are created by color of skin, tribe, country of origin, language, work, title, car you drive, school you attend or attended, and on and on. We all face these bias situations. Some are not dangerous and more a bother. When I was a young guy, I flunked penmanship; not a surprise to many, I suppose, but I do not like to flunk anything! So why penmanship? I had learned to write from a well-trained teacher in the Chicago area. I write with my left hand, my paper turned the other way from my classmates and my letters angled differently. We moved, and my new teacher told me my letters angled wrong, so I flunked. Oops. Well, like many lefties, I curved my hand around and made the letters angle the “correct” way. My arm hung suspended as I sat in a writing desk for right handed people. I increased my F all the way to a C! Penmanship has really been a Mead family joke for years. You see we all did well in school, except penmanship. I traded ‘correct’ angled letters for smudged papers from my leading hand.
Being left-handed is not a dangerous bias; many have overcome it and succeeded. I received a refrigerator magnet announcing the truth (I think so at least). “All the world is born right handed; only the best overcome it!” Left handed, too tall, too short, speaks with an accent, too thin, too fat, works with his hands, is a politician, not good at sports, has blond hair, is bald—we look for differences.
But there are many dangerous bias situations in the world. WW2 saw Hitler declaring a whole race not fit to live and creating a whole network to torture, experiment upon, and kill millions. Rwanda had a sad history of genocide killing many of a different tribe. Stalin eliminated millions. Tribal warfare still exists in many parts of Africa. Albinos are hunted and killed in Tanzania. People in the US have had racial issues for nearly their entire history. And the list goes on and on.
In the book of Acts you can learn a lesson about this problem. There was this influential, good man of power named Cornelius. He was a Roman soldier in charge of a company or so of men. He was a man seeking God. Christianity was just starting out and limited to people of Jewish descent, who carried along a lot of baggage about rules of the Law. Jews were not to interact with Gentiles, or non-Jews. You were not to go into their homes. The Gentile foods were often declared ‘unclean.’ But God so loved the world He gave His son Jesus to the world, not just the Jews who believed.
Cornelius was seeking God and had a vision calling him to send for Peter and listen to what Peter had to share. Cornelius must have wondered about all of this vision experience, but complied. He sent three men off to find this Peter guy. You wonder if Cornelius would have sent them so quickly if he knew Peter was a Jewish fisherman before becoming a disciple .
Now it was midday on the day the men were to arrive where Peter was staying. Peter was seeking some peace and quiet on the roof and praying. He, too, had had a vision. A large sheet filled with different animals came down, and Peter heard a voice tell him to kill and eat. Now, these animals would be considered unclean by the Law and should never be eaten by a Jew. Peter said, “No!” This vision repeated itself three times. Each time Peter declined. Each time the voice told Peter that whatever God created was not unclean. Wow!
I can see Peter wandering the rooftop wondering what all that was about. What does this unclean stuff have to do with me and life? Am I to start eating snakes?
The three men arrived. By the Law they should not really be welcomed in. Again the voice spoke and told Peter not to hesitate but go; the men were sent.
Peter then heard the men’s story and welcomed them into the house for the night. The neighbors must have talked!
Peter gathered up a group of Christian disciples and left with the men. They arrived at Cornelius’ home and entered. Traditions are falling right and left. Inside was a large group of people Cornelius had gathered. Both men shared their stories of the visions. The stage was set.
Peter told the good news of the gospel. Jesus came from heaven and lived among the people, teaching, loving, and performing miracles. Jesus suffered in the world and was killed. Jesus died for us all, not just a select few. Jesus then rose from the dead, defeating death once and for all. The Spirit of God came upon the Gentile group, as it had the Jewish followers. Peter and his friends accepted the truth; we are in a new ball game. All people are welcome, not just a select few.
We should read these words daily until they sink deeply into our minds, our heart, and our lives. All peoples are special. Like the Dr. Seuss book about Sneetches, it does not matter whether we have stars on our bellies or not. It does not matter if we are tall or short, thin or fat, pink or blue, right handed or left – we are all loved by God and should be treated as such. We all can, if we choose, travel through life in His grip.