No Man’s Land

AS CHILDREN WE were gravely scared of the hallway closet. It wasn’t the darkness or unknown that was so frightening though, it was the monster in the far corner. Otherwise it was a perfectly normal room – old coats on the overhead bar, a vacuum, electric blanket, Christmas paper against one wall – and that breathless monster behind the card table. Our parents found it when they were in college, and we discovered it when we were in elementary school.

“What’s that!?” we asked during spring cleaning one year.

“Ohh, that’s a Ouija Board,” mom chimed, nonchalant simple as that. It’s just a board game version of a fortune teller if you’re not familiar.

“Cool, let’s play!” we’d pester but never did. Our understanding mutated some after hearing friends seethe about it at school: ooh that’s bad, it’s a witch-board, my grandma says it’s a portal to hell!

GOOD GOLLY, why the heck do we have it then!? “Mama, Mama!!” She’s the sweetest thing. Her Pops was a Baptist minister in rural Texas, so we couldn’t fathom why that kind of anathema was allowed in our house!? “We gotta get rid of it!” And yet it lurked. Compounding turmoil, my sister and I had to walk past that intimidating door to get to our bedrooms each night when the 10-o’clock news reeled on. “Oh no, here we go again!” Locking arms we’d run, and I even started carrying my cap gun, drawn and ready like cool hand Luke. It was a hefty revolving, toy pistol,

  • it looks so authentic, that makes it more lethal right
  • plus it’s 12-shot, that’s gotta be special
  • but there’s this little red plastic cap on the barrel
  • oh well, red for red, gotta fight the devil with fire

I was really proud of my safeguarding solution, and my groucho walk too, especially when I had to skitter up close to tighten that catawampus sliding door, “I don’t want that boogie board peeking at us through the craic even!”

Time scrolled by, and our neighbor reached the end of Middle School a few years ahead of us. She was strong-willed, beautiful, and fearless, encouraging us to finally drag that old game out of the closet one summer. It actually felt good to confront our taboo fears that way, even if we clung to small talk,

                How many states have I been to?
                What’s his favorite color?
                Where will I go to college?
                Who will she marry?

Checked. And. Done. Bingo! Summer drew close, and those nagging thoughts returned, “… we’d still be better off getting rid of that dang-blasted thing.” So I figured it out! “Adrian likes this thing SO much, I’ll just give it to her family – it’s the perfect win-win solution!” Waves of elementary-school brilliance piled on, “I’ll even gift it anonymously since they’ll probably decline out of politeness.”

so I stuffed it in a brown grocery bag
leaned it against the green screen door on their front porch
rang the doorbell
and scampered off through the hedges – quick!

Phew. Fixed that. Thank goodness! But half an hour later, “Holy Bombshells! I’ve never been reprimanded by adults quite like that before! What the heck’s going on!?”

                Don’t you realize … !!!
                You could’ve given us a heart attack!!!
                You can’t just … !!!         
                Don’t you ever … !!!
                :::  over and over  :::

And my inner Captain Obvious finally spoke up, “Oh, answering the door to a paranormal portal to hell must not be the same as winning a cakewalk!”

The Ouija’s inventor claims the name is a long-forgotten Egyptian word – meaning luck – that he learned in a dream. Who are we to judge his subconscious, but others say Kennard combined oui + ja, both meaning ‘yes’ from French and German respectively. If you’ve ever played the game, you know it oft yields a lot more answers than YES, even when we know better. That might be the Ouija’s true haunt actually, not the board itself but what WE bring to the table. When I think of it that way, my meek little mom rises even mightier in her child’s eye, acknowledging our grimmer potential undaunted; or sometimes the alternative narrative prevails, “You mean that thing actually scared you guys? I forgot we even had it.” I’m not sure we still have that goofy old game either, thank goodness, but I am grateful for a few lessons it coaxed. Starting with,

Give away what you want in return

I was a real life terrorist that day and fully deserved that scolding, which almost sounds like karma. That’s how we view the Golden Rule in the quick glance too, which actually stops at kindness. It doesn’t say,

  • give them what you want in return, or
  • tell them what you want to hear and eventually they’ll say it back to you, or
  • be hospitable and eventually your hospitality will return to you

It might never happen that way. The Golden Rule actually says,

  • do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Regardless the payback, “keep sewing deep compassion.” People are surprised and pleased to discover that more than twelve faith traditions and secular philosophies share the Golden Rule in some form internationally: Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Native Spirituality, Taoism, and others. Sometimes it’s called the Ethic of Reciprocity. In the Bible, Matthew records Jesus teaching the Golden Rule in Chapter 7, and paired with John across the years, he adds a significant posthumous modification. It almost fills in like one of those, “You’ve heard it this way … and now I’m going to tell you this other way …” situations. His version is so different in fact, John documents his version as an entirely new commandment,

You must love one another
even as I, Jesus, have loved you         

(John 13.34)

Not for what you get in return, and even at the risk of losing the life you imagined. That extra bit makes a world of difference. Did you see the video of the young peace activist on Thursday night during the riots in Charlotte? That’s exactly what he did. Wearing a black t-shirt that said, FREE HUGS, he mediated the front line where police faced-off against protesters. “I flew out here because I was in LA during the Rodney King riots in 1992, and I don’t want to see that happen here!” Instead of entrenching himself on either side of the conflict, he was balance-walking a towline between fear and anger as peacemaker. His bravery was incredible. Imagine the crossfire. We may never know the full impact of his selfless offering: saving a half-dozen black and blue lives or more, less looting, hate dissolving, minds shifting, and they all live to reflect again. No mincing words, he took a stand against inner chaos, and the video shows positive ripples working outward from him through the crowds like leaven. You want to know how to follow God’s will? Do that.

The gap you need to stand in this week may look a lot less daunting than Ken’s, but even the smallest action is equally important. That’s the way we catch a glimpse of – and participate in – the ongoing work that spans the gap to God through life in Christ.

“and they were comforted” – Luke 16:25

Title: This Land is Your Land
Artist: My Morning Jacket, Ludlow + BMI (2014)

“I am guided by a force much greater than luck” – Lucas 

* xbt not affiliated w/ North Face®

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