Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Uncommon Conversation

I remember not too long ago listening with interest to a radio program about -- of all things -- plane crashes.  What fascinated me most about the program was that the studies were dealing with crashes caused (at least in part) by pilot error, and how communication patterns between the pilot and copilot might have contributed to the crash.  Sometimes, the pilot found, the copilot found it difficult to speak directly to the pilot when he found a problem or an error that he had to speak up about.  He either didn't speak about it at all, or spoke in an oblique, roundabout way, trying not to offend the pilot.   Even in a situation of an emergency, sometimes it seemed like it was impossible for the subordinate to speak up.

That was fascinating to me. 

It sometimes seems impossible for the subordinate to speak up. 

I thought of this when I read the story of Naaman from 2 Kings again.  Naaman is a great general but he has a problem -- he has leprosy.  Though he is not an Israelite, the prophet Elisha is called to come to him, so that he can be healed.  The problem is, Naaman is not wild about Elisha's directions:  go wash in the river Jordan.  "Aren't there many fine (actually, better) rivers in my own country?  Get real!" 

We often focus on Naaman, the general who finally sucked it up and went and washed in the river Jordan.  It didn't make sense, but he did it, and he was healed.  But lately, when I've read this story, I've noticed someone else:  Naaman's servants.

Do you know what they did?

They spoke up.

Sometimes it seems impossible for a subordinate to speak up.

You have to wonder about a servant who dares to talk back to his Master.  "Come on, what's the problem?  This isn't so hard.  You just don't want to do it!  What's your problem with the river Jordan, anyway?"  You might even call it an "uncommon conversation", when a servant talks back to his master.

But this was a serious matter, a matter of life and death.  Naaman had leprosy. 

You have to wonder about a servant who dares to talk back to his Master.

Maybe they knew it was a matter of life and death, and that somehow, Naaman's fate and their own was linked.  You have to wonder.  Because, sometimes it seems impossible for a subordinate to speak up.  It's an "uncommon conversation."   Maybe they think, "What do I know?  The experts have it all figured out."  or maybe they think, "No one will listen to me anyway."  Or maybe they think, "It won't make any difference anyway.  People go wash in the river Jordan all the time, and no one is ever healed.  It's just a dirty little river."

In our faith community, we're having some uncommon conversations this fall.  They are conversations about the future of our state and the future of our communities, and even (dare I say) the future of our faith community.  And they are also conversations about race, and about the racial disparities in our state, and I think that they are a matter of life and death.  Our futures are linked, and our hopes are linked.

But we need to speak up, to believe that we can make a difference.  We need to speak up, and we also need to listen:  and to go down to the river Jordan, where God can heal us, where God will give us courage, where God is waiting, waiting for us, to raise us from the dead.

5 comments:

Elaine Dent said...

Wow. Thank you.

Mompriest said...

That perspective, the servants, the underlings, speaking up...offers a lot to ponder. Personally I've found it to be a dangerous place, to speak up....

Unlikely said...

Mompriest,
You are right, it's dangerous for a person in a dependent relationship to challenge the powerful and the structure that they depend on from dayd to day.

That's why the courage of the young woman who spoke ups is all that more commendable for speaking the truth to power.

thanks
John

Rev SS said...

Dangerous indeed. Consolation = as Eugene Peterson's version of Matthew 5:12 "My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble."

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Well, that's my son. He speaks up. He needs to learn some, perhaps, more respectful ways of doing so, but he speaks up when he sees things that are wrong. He spoke up to the main manager at his Target store where he was an underling manager. He spoke up because his own employees felt that the main manager was degrading them with her style. So a few weeks later, he lost his job.