The "Oh, Yeah" ... of Confrontation

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached August 22, 2010 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings:
Psalm 80: "our enemies laugh among themselves."
Luke 13:10-17: "the Lord answered him and said, 'You hypocrites!'"
  Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

Ask a songwriter where they get their material from, and most often they'll tell you inspiration comes from real life. That was the case with tonight's first song. Pete Townshend, guitarist for the famed rock band The Who, awoke from a drunken night of partying to find himself slumped in a doorway in the London district of Soho. He had been awakened by a policeman who recognized him. The cop told him, "You can go sleep at home tonight, if you can get up and walk away."

The line became part of The Who's most popular song in the United States: "Who Are You?" It was the title track of an album by the same name and it peaked at #14 on the U.S. charts back in 1978. Let's try it.

Who are you? Who, who, who, who? (4x)
I woke up in a Soho doorway,
A policeman knew my name
He said "You can go sleep at home tonight,
If you can get up and walk away"
I staggered back to the underground,
And the breeze blew back my hair
I remember throwin' punches around,
And preachin' from my chair

Chorus: Well, who are you?
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you?
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
'Cause I really wanna know
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

Last week I had an "Oh, Yeah?" moment while reading my email. I received an email addressed to my editor account at Whosoever - the magazine I run for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians - that began like this: "Without even reading it, it sounds like bending the words of the Bible to fit your agenda."

I stopped reading, and hit reply. I wrote: "Since you didn't even bother to read mine, I didn't read yours either." I hit send.

A day later, there was a reply, that I can't read to you verbatim, because we're in church. Suffice to say that he referred to me as a body part, generally located in our Southern rear region. I'll paraphrase his response:

"[Jerks] like you begets [jerks] like you/chicken livered queer lovers...READ THAT!!!!"

I did read that, and responded thusly: "If someone came up to you that you didn't know from Adam's house cat and began calling you names and telling you what a sorry person you are, what would you call them? I didn't approach a total stranger with words of hatred and condemnation - you did. Just so we're clear on who the [jerk] is here."

So, perhaps it isn't a sterling example of how two people who claim to follow Christ should deal with one another - but it is a great example of how the "Oh, Yeah" ... of Confrontation sneaks up on us while we're just minding our own business. Suddenly, you're thrust in a defensive position by a complete stranger who is pointing deadly verbal weapons at you - meant to sting, hurt, or even kill your spirit.

Our first reaction in those situations is: "Oh, Yeah? Who are you? You talkin' to me? Who do you think you are, telling me I'm wrong? Telling me that you know more than me? What makes you better than me?"

We can feel that defensiveness just crawl right up our backs and take over our whole body. We're ready to fight. We dig in our heels and there's no looking back. We've put up our dukes and somebody is going down.

I took the tube back out of town,
Back to the Rollin' Pin
I felt a little like a dying clown,
With a streak of Rin Tin Tin
I stretched back and I hiccupped,
And looked back on my busy day
Eleven hours in the Tin Pan,
God, there's got to be another way

chorus: Well, who are you?
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you?
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
'Cause I really wanna know
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

Our ancient Hebrew ancestors know a lot about the "Oh, Yeah" ... of Confrontation. This is a people who, for their entire existence, have had to fight for the survival of their community. Over their history they've constantly been taken into captivity - first in Egypt, then in Babylon, then by the Romans. They were constantly in "Oh, Yeah?" mode, confronting the powers around them that sought to destroy them.

They relied on Yahweh to protect them, but they often had to contend with God when she seemed indifferent to their constant persecution.

"O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves."

These hardened desert dwellers were not shy about uttering the "Oh, Yeah" ... of Confrontation, even to their God. Their enemies were laughing at them, and not only did they say, "Oh, Yeah?" to their enemies, but also to God for allowing this situation in the first place.

This was a common practice for the Hebrews - to contend with God, to say "Oh, Yeah?" when it seemed that God had abandoned them to the whims of their enemies. Some of us are afraid to challenge God, thinking that we have no right to argue with, or confront, or say "who are you?" to the Creator of all that we can see and cannot see. What right do we puny humans have to argue with God?

But, if you read through these ancient scriptures, you'll see that God always honors those who dare to argue. Those who have the guts to say, "Oh, Yeah?" to the Holy are always rewarded for their faithful confrontation. Even though we may, as the Who sings, "spill out like a sewer hole," we still receive God's kiss. God is faithful and always makes her face to shine upon those say, "Oh, Yeah?"

Breathe deeply.

I know there's a place you walked,
Where love falls from the trees
My heart is like a broken cup,
I only feel right on my knees
I spit out like a sewer hole,
Yet still receive your kiss
How can I measure up to anyone now,
After such a love as this?

chorus: Well, who are you?
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you?
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
'Cause I really wanna know
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

In 1967, David Crosby was kicked out of the band The Byrds. He hooked up with Stephen Stills, whose band Buffalo Springfield had broken up. A year later, Graham Nash quit the Hollies to join the duo after they sang together at a party at Cass Elliot's house and discovered they sounded great together. The band, Crosby, Stills, and Nash went on to produce a lot of top 40 hits including Teach Your Children, Southern Cross, and others. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Today's song is not one of their hits. It comes from their 1990 album Live it Up. It's called "Got to Keep Open."

[Verse] Well it's high time you realize,
that I must live my life as it surrounds me
I can give you all the room you need
to be yourself as I am in the same key,
We can live our lives together,
yes, and still remain ourselves if we believe,
And I believe, oh, oh darlin'.

[Chorus] Got to keep an open heart,
got to keep an open mind.
Got to keep workin' hard
or you get left behind
Got to keep lovin',
got to keep givin'.
Got to let nothin' get in the way of livin'.
Gotta keep open.

Now, if you, like many people just love to argue here are some tips on how to turn a simple disagreement into the "Oh, Yeah" ... of Confrontation:

1. Be sure to develop and maintain a healthy fear of conflict, letting your own feelings build up so you are in an explosive frame of mind.

2. Assume you know all the facts and you are totally right. The use of a clinching Bible verse is helpful. Speak prophetically for truth and justice; do most of the talking.

3. Latch tenaciously onto whatever evidence you can find that shows the other person is merely jealous of you.

4. If the discussion should, alas, become serious, view the issue as a win/lose struggle. Avoid possible solutions and go for total victory and unconditional surrender.

5. Finally, pass the buck! If you are about to get cornered into a solution, indicate you are without power to settle; you need your partner, spouse, bank, whatever.

Follow these easy steps, little buckaroo, and I guarantee you'll find yourself saying "Oh, Yeah?" often and loudly. The leader of the synagogue in today's Jesus story must have studied this list closely because he is the master of the "Oh, Yeah" ... of Confrontation. He got upset when Jesus came into the temple and, on the Sabbath Day - a day of rest when no work is supposed to be done - dared to heal a sick woman.

The scriptures tell us he was "indignant." You can just hear him as Jesus invites the woman forward for healing, uttering an "Oh, Yeah?" of Confrontation. He said, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day." Jesus didn't have to heal the woman on the Sabbath, he had six other perfectly good days when he could lawfully heal the woman.

In reality, this synagogue leader was absolutely in the right. He had every reason to question Jesus' actions. It was against Jewish law to heal on the Sabbath. What Jesus was doing would evoke an "Oh, Yeah" ... of Confrontation from just about any observant Jew. What he did provoked a gasp among the faithful. For many congregations it would be like allow gay and lesbian people to be ordained, or even be fully accepted members. How dare he violate such an engrained tenet of the law right there in the middle of church. Who did this guy think he was?

But, Jesus had his own moment of, "Oh, Yeah?"

"You hypocrites!" he told them. "Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? An ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?"

The crowd was ashamed when they heard Jesus' words, because everyone there had done a little work on the Sabbath at some time - even to give their ox or donkey a drink. They knew he was right - they had violated their own laws, and dared to become indignant when others did it.

But, don't we all do that? Don't we all confront others for things we do ourselves? Don't we all utter the "Oh, yeah" ... of Confrontation to others in the hope that no one notices that we, too, are often the hypocrites Jesus talks about?

This is the double-edged sword of the "Oh, Yeah" ... of Confrontation. If we're so ready to challenge others, we have to be prepared when they challenge us right back, and point out our own shortcomings.

I encountered it in my own email exchange last week. I let that guy get my dander up, and by responding to his "Oh, Yeah?" with my own "Oh, Yeah?" we both became hypocrites - two people professing to follow Christ calling each other everything but children of God. What a shame.

Breathe deeply.

[Verse] I've given you my heart again,
My soul I gave you, everything I have
Yes, and just as there's a special part of you
that's yours alone to keep, I'm glad
There is so much we can do together,
everything you need if we believe
And I believe, oh, oh darlin'.

[Chorus] Got to keep an open heart,
got to keep an open mind.
Got to keep workin' hard
or you get left behind
Got to keep lovin',
got to keep givin'.
Got to let nothin' get in the way of livin'.
Gotta keep open.

[Bridge] I was looking for love,
I was losing my mind.
I was searching for someone to care.
I was fighting my feelings to turn and to run,
when I looked in your heart,
And I saw there was somebody there.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that being cynical, or uttering the "Oh, Yeah" of Confrontation is never a good thing. As Jesus so expertly shows us, a well-timed "Oh, Yeah" ... of Confrontation can put our opponents to shame and help them see the error of their ways.

The key, though, to wise use of the "Oh, Yeah" ... of Confrontation, is our ability to be open - to keep an open heart, and an open mind. We must keep loving, and giving, and let nothing get in the way of living if we are to use the "Oh, Yeah" ... of Confrontation to transform not only our opponents, but ourselves as well.

Think about it - when someone challenges us, we get defensive. Of course we want to defend ourselves, and we often lash back in the same spirit as we were lashed out at. That, however, gets us nowhere - like my pointless, and fruitless email exchange - it just ends in name calling and hurt feelings - broken relationships, and a missed chance at really connecting with another person.

Jesus brings good news, however. Even though we may be long afflicted by our own deep cynicism and defensiveness, we can be healed. Like the illness of the woman in the temple, our cynicism and disbelief cripples us, and cuts us off from those who would be our brothers and sister. We must be willing to be vulnerable, to open our hearts and minds and ears to others.

But, so often we are like the temple priest holding others in their own bondage of cynicism, by reacting to them with even more cynicism, or words of attack or harm. Like that temple leader with our unwise "Oh, Yeah" ... of Confrontation we hold others in that bondage. By our words and actions, we tell them that you can be healed any day but today.

Jesus says healing from our disbelief, from our need to say the "Oh, yeah" of Confrontation to harm others, is available anytime, even now, on the Sabbath. To get that healing though, we have to be bold, like that woman at the temple. To get that healing, we have to be vulnerable, like that woman in the temple.

Imagine her fear in that moment. Here is a man offering her the healing she had sought for 18 long years, but the crowd around her told her she couldn't have it right now. She had to wait. Just one more day and she could have it, but not right now. In that moment, she made the choice - to be bold, and to be vulnerable. She boldly ignores those around her who say she can't have what the Holy is offering right now, because it's just not the time for her to have it.

Oh, how we've heard that story. You can get married, society tells gays and lesbians, just not today. Wait awhile, let us get used to the idea, then you can have it. We'll feed the hungry when we get more resources tomorrow, but we can do it today. Wait awhile until we have more, then we'll share. We'll stop the wars when those people stop fighting us and do it our way, but we cannot begin our reconciliation today. Wait awhile until they show some sign of making the first move toward peace, then we'll talk.

But, this woman could wait no longer. She knew that Jesus held the key to her healing and nothing would stand in her way to get it - not even Jewish law and those who sought to keep her in bondage to it.

Her healing required her to be vulnerable though - to be open to Jesus' healing touch.

I invite you tonight, Jubilants, to be bold and vulnerable in this world. Boldly utter that "Oh, Yeah" ... of Confrontation when you see injustice and evil in the world. Challenge the powers that keep the poor and marginalized in their suffering. Challenge the powers that continue to destroy the beautiful creation that the Holy has given us as a gift. Do not be afraid to face the jeering crowd with boldness.

But, be vulnerable, too. Be open to those who challenge you, because they may teach you a valuable lesson. Their words of confrontation may lead to reconciliation and healing. Keep an open mind, and an open heart - and once your are healed of your own sickness of violent cynicism, then we can become instruments of healing for others.

Keep on loving, Jubilants. Keep on giving. Let nothing get in the way of living, not the jeering crowds or your own fear of being healed. Don't wait one more second. Even today, on this Sabbath, you can be healed - and become a healer of this world.

Breathe deeply.

[Verse] So I'm sitting on the river in your city
and I'm writing out these words
And I hope that you will listen to this song
`cos it is mine and now it's yours
I'm the master of my fate
and the captain of my soul and I believe
yes, I believe, oh, oh darlin'.

[Chorus] Got to keep an open heart,
got to keep an open mind.
Got to keep workin' hard
or you get left behind
Got to keep lovin',
got to keep givin'.
Got to let nothin' get in the way of livin'.
Gotta keep open.

Oh, Yeah!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

Copyright by the author All Rights Reserved

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Endorsed by such religious leaders as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bishop John Shelby Spong and named one of the Best Spiritual Books of 2008, Whosoever founder Candace Chellew-Hodge's first book Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians is making an impact in the lives of LGBT Christians.

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