READ EXODUS 17:1-7
Quarrelling. Grumbling. Testing. Threatening. Crying. This is a story packed with angst. Often when I’m reading the Bible, I have to read a passage two or three times to get a sense of what is going on. Emotions, intonations, facial expressions, and actions are all lost on me until I set my imagination to work. I try to place myself in the story. What if I were a former slave who left everything I knew for the promise of a better life? What if my trusted guide and liberator took me deep into the desert with no water? What would I say? Well, I have to admit I would probably not act so saintly. I’d probably have some fighting words. I would say something like, “Hey Moses – great idea bringing us out here. I feel a whole lot better off dying of thirst with you than living as a slave with food and drink in civilized Egypt.” Passive aggressive eye-rolling and imitations of an over-confident Moses with his goofy staff would abound.
But as we got thirstier and the reality of water scarcity became clearer, I would probably be more direct, like the people who said “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” (Exodus 17:3). Moses said people were ready to throw stones at him. Fear can bring out the ugliest in us. Too often fighting words can escalate. Eye-rolling can turn into a punch in the face. A sarcastic remark can turn into a gun confrontation. A lot can be learned from God’s advice to Moses: go out in front of the people and gather a community to problem-solve with you. Moses didn’t get defensive. He didn’t refute the fighting words. He didn’t arm himself with rocks to fight back in case of an altercation. Instead, he gathered a group to deal with the source of the problem: fear of water deprivation.
God of lovingkindness, when I feel angry help me refrain from lashing out at others. Help me to take time to examine why I feel the way I do. Help me to become more of a problemsolver than a critic. God of wisdom, when criticism, sarcasm, and fighting words come my way, help me to avoid being defensive. Help me look beyond the ugly words to identify the anxieties that lie beneath them. Gather us in to build positive communities of proactive people who can resolve conflicts. Give us constructive words, and not fighting words. Amen.
FOR REFLECTION AND ACTION
Do you have a tendency to get sarcastic when things are going poorly? When do sarcastic words and actions stop being funny and start being hurtful? How do you draw the line? Can you think of a time you were in a conflict that escalated to the point of violent words or actions? Why did it escalate? If you could go back, how would you have dealt with it?
By Shantha Ready Alonso
Shantha Ready Alonso serves as Eco-justice Advocacy and Outreach Specialist for the National Council of Churches, USA. She also serves as Vice Chair of the World Student Christian Federation, where she convenes the Global Advocacy and Solidarity Committee.