Monday, July 27, 2020

Wrestling with Reality

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Lectionary Reading: Genesis 32:22-31 (NRSV)

I've always liked the story about Jacob wrestling with God.  It has an earthiness to it with two men trying to dominate one another physically.  It also has a fantastical feel to it - as if it is almost dreamlike.  It can be allegorical in that we all wrestle with difficulties in the dead of night.

How many times have you ever had trouble sleeping because you were struggling with something?

It is interesting that Jacob asks for the wrestler's name but doesn't get it.  There was the notion from antiquity that said that if you knew the true name of a supernatural being, you would have power over that being.  We see that God doesn't comply with this request but God does bless Jacob.

There is also the strongly held belief that mortals are extinguished when they experience the fullness of God - see the face of God.  Bowing in prayer today still comes out of the idea of respect and deference to the divine - something greater than ourselves of which we should be somewhat wary.

Jacob is pleasantly surprised that he has not only survived the encounter, but he actually received God's blessing.  However, it should be noted that the encounter wasn't totally without cost as he walks away from it limping.

This reminds us that growth and maturity often come at a price.  To think that we can get through life unscathed may be somewhat naive.  

What does our wrestling look like today?  It may be that we are wrestling with all of reality as we seek to adjust to a present that is so different from what we knew just six months ago.  We wrestle with one another as we make these adjustments.  Sometimes we walk away with respect for one another but I think that a lot of the time the wrestling just leads to greater division between us.

A new poll taken by the Cato Institute shows that greater number of Americans are reticent to share their political opinions today than even three years ago.  This occurs across the political spectrum with only the extremely liberal as non-anxious about their expression.  This shows that our society as a whole may be growing more polarized and divided as tolerance for political variance wanes.

While on vacation last week, I listened to a podcast on reality.  It spoke about how people see things differently and their ideas shape their responses and actions.  They focused on a town in Minnesota where some people began feeding black bears.  These animal enthusiasts believed that when we lead with respect and carefulness, the black bears will peacefully coexist with us.  Some of the other residents believed that if the handouts were to dry up, the tenuous peace might end in humans being attacked.  Both groups became pretty adamant about their beliefs.  How do these differing groups shape the town response to wildlife control in their immediate urban setting?  Someone isn't going to be happy.

It made me wonder if we have become more entrenched in our views than we were before.  Today, we can set up an echo chamber through selected news media whether by cable television or internet.  We only hear the viewpoints with which we agree.  We only hear the other side cast in a negative light.  We don't stop and ask the question, "Why does my friend believe so differently?"  In other words, what do they get out of it?

Sometimes the reasons are supplied by the outlets.  

I don't think liberals hate America or freedom.

I don't think conservatives are malicious racists who want to keep others unlike them from succeeding.

But if we listen to voices that declare this, we do have difficulty then respecting the differing beliefs.  

You may want to stay in your 
weight class when wrestling.
If we believe the worst about others, it is easier to shut them out of our lives.  When this happens, we strengthen the echo chamber in which we live.  We can then visit with one another but very little wrestling will occur.  If it does, it is mostly harmless and we don't get much out of it.

But if we can wrestle with those who are different with a sense of respect for them, we might find that we are blessed by the encounter.  Yes, you might go off limping but the wider worldview is likely worth it.

I'll continue to wrestle with this text and these ideas in our worship on Sunday.  I'll try not to strike you in the hip.

In Christ,


Photo by Robert Bejil via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

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