In the Book of Leviticus in the Bible, we are given the ingredients necessary to compose the incense to be used in the Jewish Temple (Ex 30: 34-36). The fragrance of this incense is meant to represent the prayers of the people; a sweet smelling fragrance in God's nostrils. Oddly enough, each of the elements used to compose this incense emanates a sweet fragrance, except one: the galbanum. Though by itself it gives a very foul odor, galbanum was needed to give the others spices exactly the right fragrance.
We are social creatures. We live in social structures such as families, companies, associations, clubs, churches, teams, etc. Each of these social groups is composed of different people, some whose character we feel emanates the sweet smelling fragrance of kindness and virtue, while we may deplore that others’ demeanor is rather, well, ‘stinky’. Of course, who’s who depends. While most of us may consider ourselves part of the sweet smelling group, as human beings we are not usually sensitive to our own stench. It is the stench of others that bothers us.
Just as the galbanum is necessary to give the other spices exactly the right fragrance, a family, a company, an association, a club, a church, or even a team doesn’t feel complete and fully effective without the ‘stinky’ one. Oooh, but how that ‘stinky one’ bothers us! The ‘stinky-one’ irritates us so much by what we define as his uncouth, unseasoned, and even sometimes immature ways. He seems to always be in our way to throw a monkey-wrench in what we think would otherwise be the well-oiled machine of our group. But is it really so?
On the other hand, could the ‘group really do without him? As a teacher and youth-group facilitator, I’ve always had at least one ‘stinky-one’ to deal with if not more. Soon I realised that, as irritated as I was, it was like the little grain of sand that found its way in the proverbial oyster. Like a pebble in a shoe, that grain of sand irritates the oyster so much that it secretes around its bothersome host a soft coating that protects it. After a long time of ‘irritation’, that coated grain of sand becomes the precious pearl women love to adorn themselves with. After I matured as a leader of men, I discovered that just like the galbanum was necessary to give the other spices exactly the right fragrance, the ‘stinky-one’ is often the one that brings out the best in me as well as in the group.
So don’t knock them. After all, we might be the ‘stinky-one’!
Two weeks ago I met with the pastor of a Church. As most Bible scholars do when they meet, we talked about a Bible passage and its different shades of interpretations. He gave me the mainstream Christian viewpoint but because this referred to the story concerning Abraham offering his son Isaac on the altar, I thought it appropriate to propose some interpretative elements from Judaism. After I finished my proposition, my interlocutor, a very kind, otherwise gentle, educated Quaker gentleman exclaimed, “But, that is Jewish…!” As if to say, ‘Why do we even bring that up; how is it even helpful to the conversation?’ I thank God that I do not have enough hair on my head to stand up in alarm so I could swallow hard and hide my reaction as really, I was aghast. We continued talking.
As I left that day, I pondered this further. That man would never consider himself guilty of prejudice but there, without giving it proper study and consideration, he made a judgment on the validity (or invalidity) of a scholarly proposition just by looking at its religious appurtenance. I am a history teacher and as I said, I was aghast because I thought that these attitudes had been left behind with the Middle-Ages, and had also matured away from the early days of American History.
I am not offended by it. It just took me by surprise. It also made me think further. How much do we superfluously judge people? Most of us I hope are mature enough to stay away from the obvious prejudices (positive or negative) that have to do with skin color or ethnicity, but how do we fare with people from what the majority calls ‘fringe religious groups’, with opposite political parties, or mere different social classes be they rich or poor? As we serve them, as we accomplish our civil and civic duties with them, do we look at them all with the same eyes? Contemporary events seem to make these issues return to the fore of our attention. As I shared recently at the 9/11 ceremony at the station, because of my slight middle-eastern look, I felt scrutinizing glances my way as I walked in the streets of Portland on the evening of 9/11. It is a natural reaction of people.
I believe in God. I believe in the God of the Bible. I believe in this God who has a tendency to call some people ‘righteous’ and others ‘wicked’, which does seems somewhat prejudicial, but here how I understand it. Whereas He does claim some to be ‘righteous’ and others to be ‘wicked’, he is no respecter of persons. Each of us, whether we are ‘righteous’ or ‘wicked’, has to avail himself of what I would coin as a ‘ticket’ in order to be granted His presence. And this ‘ticket’ is of the same value in respect to the person, regardless of our social, political, religious, or economic group. That is how I believe the Great Judge of the universe sees each and everyone of us, without prejudice, and that is why it has been said that He, “... makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. “ (Mat 5:45)
“A man left home, jogged a little bit and turned left, jogged some more and turned left, continues jogging back towards home where two masked men were waiting for him. Who were the masked men?”
“Dunno… maybe robbers?”
“I’ll try again. A man left home, jogged a little bit and turned left, jogged some more and turned left, continues jogging back towards home where two masked men were waiting for him. Who were the masked men?”
“What do I know, maybe it was Halloween…?”
“Here it is again and I’ll give you some help this time. A man left home, jogged a little bit and turned left, jogged some more and turned left, continues jogging back towards home where two masked men were waiting for him. Who were the masked men? This time think ‘baseball!”
“Aaah, the batter and the umpire!”
How many times do we misunderstand each other just because of differences in perspective? Here is another one that was told me by a marriage counsellor.
Robert and Julia had not been married a year and things were already bleak. They could not start even a simple conversation without it turning sour. They went to see and counsellor who after five minutes told them, “Ah, I understand your problem; you just do not speak the same language!”
“What?!” Said Robert, “We are from the same town, even went to high-school together and even our parents are best friends who have lived in that same town all their lives!”
“Yes!”, said the counsellor, but if Julia comes to you one evening wearing a new beautiful dress , if you like it what will you say?” “I will say it is a nice dress you bought!” “What does ‘nice’ mean to you, Robert?”
“Nice means ‘perfect, gorgeous, beautiful’…!”
“No!” said Julia, “Nice means ‘ok, not bad,, mediocre’…!”
“Now you see…”, said the counsellor, “you do not speak the same language!”
I heard it said one time that the most important journey a man can travel is that of learning to see things from the other person’s point of view!
I was pensively driving in town this week, moseying towards the Library in order to return a video I had borrowed.three weeks before. I arrived at the corner of Broadway and Sixth with my left turn signal on, and after checking to the left and seeing no car, I started the turn completely forgetting that I actually had a stop sign. It was not a policeman who noticed, but a gentleman wearing a camo baseball cap coming full speed in a big noisy dirty truck from my right. He was also intent on turning left, but my coming forward unexpectedly sort of ‘cramped’ his smooth left turn.
This gentleman certainly did not forget his manners. As he turned left, he made sure to address himself to me but sadly, due to the distance between our two vehicles which also both had closed windows, I could not hear what he had to say. Having raised a deaf son, I am a little familiar with lip-reading, and I could see the lips of that gentleman forming a distinct ‘F’, followed by something that looked like ‘O’, or maybe even a ‘U’. The breakdown in communication was certainly entirely my fault according to the gentleman in question as he was sure to articulate, and even used strong facial expressions to make sure I properly understood his communication to me. I am sure that if he could, he would have kindly further helped me understand by using even a simple rudimentary form of sign language, but his hands were safely on the steering wheel. Though I did not hear the words, I could certainly sense that he was somewhat bothered, angry, and even slightly upset.
Well, I learned a good lesson that day. I sure need to pay more attention to my driving in town; I certainly would not want to cause people anger, which has a reputation of having negative effects on the heart. On the other, hand, maybe I eased this man and helped him to somewhat vent some of his day’s frustration on a total stranger, so he didn’t have to do it on his family that evening. In whatever way, after having exercised his right to free speech, I hope he feels all the better for it.
MY FAMILY: From Left to right: Joseph Lumbroso and his better half: Jill; Thomas holding Lucy Lumbroso and near Melissa Lumbroso with Anton Lumbroso; Samuel Lumbroso and his wife Baily; Caroline who just married Pavel Lumbroso; Christina and Patrick Lum
I often find myself speaking with parents who are distraught about their teens or adult children. Recently I met a mother who was distressed about her adult son. As a God-believing person, she did her best to teach her child according to the precepts of the Bible. As he grew up, the child who had been a difficult one to raise, became very cynical and rebellious against everything he had learned from his parents, including and mostly God. “Don’t you know that it is stupid to believe in God?” He told her. And also, “I will never let you see my kids!”
“How funny!”, I thought. This child who blames his parents for having taught him according to their own set of values, values against which he now rebels, turns around and tells his mom that he will teach his own child according to his own set of values, against which his child will most likely also rebel.
Some time before I was faced with another parent who had a daughter who felt she was very modern. She had also rejected the religion that her parents had taught her in favor of a very humanist culture. This young woman prided herself in having nothing to do with religion which she considered useless. Until she got married and had her own child. Then relatives on both sides of the family pushed their own religious agenda for the child. The poor mother didn’t want to displease anyone, including her child. She felt that whatever decision she made, including that of excluding religion from his life, that one day that child will rise and blame his problems on her decision. To such a person I say, ‘Welcome to parenthood! You can only make the best decisions you know how to make at the time; hope for the best, and brace for the worst!”
Come to think of it, parenthood or life itself doesn’t come with a manual. We are basically meant to fend for our own and make the best decisions we know how according to the set of parameters that we have been given at the time. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we fail. And sometimes what looks like failure may actually be a win, and vice-versa. That’s why, as a child or as a parent, as an employee or as a leader, as a soldier or as a general, we must be very careful and slow as to how we judge other people’s decisions. In all things really, it is time that differentiates right from wrong, good from bad, victory from failure. And why is it so? Because as the young man and the young woman I mentioned about at the beginning of this article will surely find out, through the passing of time, life’s unforgiving lashes have a way of helping us grow and mature to where we can see things from a more even perspective, and realise that we are all in the same boat doing the best we can.
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