Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Stumbling Blocks

We have the English word "scandal". We imagine some outrageous behavior that has been disclosed, usually involving some egregious sexual escapade or blatant and willful transgression of ethics. That's where the word has ended up in modern usage. It's not where it began. Its Greek origin is the noun skandalon. The literal translation is "stumbling block".

Imagine someone in a third world country whose job it is to carry huge sacks of grain, bales of cotton or baskets of rocks on their backs. That's how it's done some places. When we lived in Turkey in the early 1970's, Jean and I saw them. These human trucks carried towers of fabric bolts or finished garments to and from the textile mills and garment factories surrounded by steep hills and very narrow streets of old Instanbul that no small pickup or three-wheeled moped truck could begin to navigate. These men were permanently stooped over from having done this backbreaking work all their lives. They literally wore wedge-shaped saddles or platforms on their backs so that, bent over at a 45-60 degree angle, they would have a level surface on which to balance their loads and climb the ancient cobbled streets for a pittance of pay. Low carbon fottprint. Huge human labor footprint.

We saw a milder variation of it once at our third floor apartment in the town of Yalova. I bought a used Westinghouse refrigerator (yeah, they once made appliances here in the U.S.) from a GI down the street who was either getting a better one or going back to the U.S. Some local young men with a horsedrawn wagon hauled it the couple of blocks from the other apartment to ours. I thought the three would carry it up the flights of stairs. No. One man stooped over while the other two hoisted the fridge onto his back. They just guided the corners of it around the turns and landings while the human forklift carried it up to floor 3.

You get the picture. Now add a mischievous 10-year-old boy to the picture who sneaks up and puts a brick in front of one of the feet of the human truck causing him to stumble. Crash! Injury. Pain. Stumbling block...

Sometimes our words are. Back on May 31 I used the picture of my Red Cross donor sticker as a tribute to the blood shed by veterans and my gift of a blood donation on May 23 as a cause for celebrating knowing Jean for 39 years. I thought it was cool. Not to everyone.

When I used the picture of the Red Cross sticker on my May 31 worship folder at Operation Nightwatch, a woman I had never seen there before thought it was outrageous. Her faith background is as a Jehovah's Witness, and her understanding of Scripture is that the mixing of blood is expressly prohibited. The seven gallons of my life that I have donated to help people through major surgeries and tragic accidents--some of them perhaps preemie infants (my blood is a 1% category acceptable for preemies because I am CMV negative)--was to her not a gift of life but a scandalous sin against God.

To her, Scripture is, it seems to me, nothing more than a law code of rules that permanently divide people into doers of good and doers of evil. I have known and heard and lived a grace-based relationship with God. I once knew something as rigid as what she knows--and it nearly killed me. She knows a Bible, apparently, that has no room for grace because it's all based on what we do or don't.

Was Christ a prophet? Only a prophet? Did Christ bring anything new to the table, anything at all new to our relationship with God? Are the words through which we understand God a life-giving transfusion or a stumbling block? If only the latter, I think it's scandalous.


Pastor Roger

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