1 Kings 2: A Call to Bridge Building (For Some)

When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son.

“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’ (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Let’s stick with Kings this week, and talk about the divide I’ve seen between people calling for reaching out to Trump supporters and people declaring they are done, and not to expect anything but a cold shoulder. At the risk of sounding completely noncommittal, I think both are completely valid decisions, and I will discuss why, after we review what, exactly, is in today’s chapter.

A three-fold example of justice

I was ruminating upon this thought divide while sitting with 1 Kings. As I mentioned last week, Kings is basically one long story of regime change, and can offer us much wisdom when it comes to our own election-years. The chapter we discuss today involves the passing of the crown from David to Solomon. In particular, David gives his final orders to his son Solomon, and the rest of the chapter follows Solomon doling out the judgment for which David called.

It’s an elegant chapter, in its three-fold example of justice. Solomon has to show discretion in deciding how to deal with three problematic individuals. First, Solomon’s conniving older brother, Adonijah, tries to undermine Solomon by requesting one of David’s last consorts, which, according to my NIV study notes, was a blatant power grab. Allowing Adonijah to go unpunished could lead to insurrection, and a firm and swift judgement was needed.

Second comes Joab. He was a thorn in David’s side for much of his reign: a rogue military man who was always for David, but acted out of turn and against David’s wishes on multiple occasions. Joab enjoyed David’s (begrudging) protection, but Solomon had no further reason to continue that protection, and thus removed a potentially problematic officer from his regime. Disposing of Joab reduced the threat of military shenanigans, further securing Solomon’s throne, while also showing a long memory and attention to detail: This is a king who is sharp, he will not let anything – small or large, old or new – escape his notice.

Finally, Solomon shows restraint with Shimei. Shimei basically picked the wrong side in the fight between Absalom and David, and then repented of his acts. David did not punish him at the time of his crime, but clearly had it on his conscious for some time. “You are a man of wisdom,” David says to Solomon in v. 9, “You wil know what to do with him.” Solomon tries mercy, first, basically putting Shimei on a travel restriction, allowing him to remain in Jerusalem – and Jerusalem only. But Shimei ends up leaving Jerusalem to collect runaway slaves, thus violating his agreement with Solomon, and opening the door for a legal execution.

As a small but important foible to all these disposals, Abiathar, a supporter of Adonijah, is simply banished in deference to his previous good service in carrying the ark. Allowing Abiathar to go into banishment showed restraint and kindness while still being firm.

To build a bridge…

Now, killing people is the opposite of bridge building, so let me share with you why it reminded me of contemporary times: Solomon showed discretion and subtlety in handling each of these delicate situations in a tenuous time of regime change, using the right tools and the right people for each job. It’s something our leaders could learn from, but also something we can learn from, as well. Like Solomon, we need to clearly define our own boundaries, fully understand our own strengths, and look outwards beyond ourselves to see what is for the good of our larger communities in how we act.

Or not to build a bridge…

For many, that action may be no action at all, when it comes to conciliatory gestures. If you are confused or frustrated by the anger still coming from some liberal camps, consider this: Trump’s hateful rhetoric in and of itself is enough to be exhausting. But beyond that, he has actively infringed upon the rights of many. There are still kids in cages at the border, as well as a humanitarian crisis in Syria the US has all but washed its hands of. Trump has actively rolled back LGBTQ anti-discrimination policies in HUD, the Department of Education, and elsewhere, directly impacting thousands of individuals’ ability to access healthcare, housing, and education. Finally, he has seriously jeopardized the health and safety of the entire country through his downplaying of the pandemic. Don’t believe me? Ask literally the whole world. The USA’s skyrocketing infection rate is why you and every other traveling American are currently blocked from entering so many countries.

So no, a vote for Trump is not simply a difference in opinion vis-à-vis tax income vs. investment tax rates or how much of a role the federal government should take in supplying rural broadband connections. A vote for Trump, no matter how it was “meant,” is a de facto vote for real and active discrimination against marginalized people of the country and, quite frankly, the entire world. Dismantling the damage done by the dominant policies and attitudes of the past four years is going to take a lot more than a single election of a single Democratic president, so some people are going to keep fighting, hard. And some people are exhausted thinking about that uphill battle. Everyone is different, and this is just a brief overview of a very complicated issue…but I hope that it at least gives readers a frame of conference that may have otherwise been lacking.

Don’t start building bridges if…

Are you exhausted? Let’s pause right here and do a quick self-evaluation. Because if you are exhausted, pushing yourself is going to do more harm than good. Here’s some warning signs that you may need to put yourself on pause:

  • Outsized reactions: Are you crying more? Are you startling easier? Getting angry quicker? All of these are signs of emotional burnout, compassion fatigue, and stress; and are flashing red lights that you need to get some rest.
  • Trouble focusing or remaining objective: If you feel like you’re walking around in a fog, forgetting things, having trouble problem solving or getting emotional over little problems, you may be suffering from fatigue – emotional or physical.
  • Physical symptoms: Stress and exhaustion cause physical symptoms, too. These can include headaches, back pain, nausea and other gut issues, nervous tics or restless arms/legs (both can be caused by an overproduction of adrenaline), and hair loss, to name a few.
  • The big red flags: Depression, emotional numbness, loss of purpose, suicidal thoughts. If you’re experiencing any of these you definitely need to seek help.

It’s normal for everyone to experience any of these symptoms from time to time, but if you were nodding along to multiple symptoms on this list, I’m going to tell you to stop reading right here and go take a bubble bath with your choice of chamomile tea or red wine. Come on back when you feel a little better. Seriously, go.

But back to building those bridges…

So, if you’re not off taking that bubble bath and still interested in building bridges, congratulations, you’ve already taken the first step in exercising your discretion a là King Solomon. Actually, everyone discussed here so far has shown that discretion: those who have already stepped back from conciliatory discussions, those who are newly recognizing their exhaustion and taking care of themselves, and those recognizing they still have the energy to act as God’s good agents. Now, where do we go from here?

  • Pick your battles. Just because you’re committed to repairing the broken trust of this country doesn’t mean you need to take on everything and everybody. You still have the right to walk away from an argument that is getting out of control at any time.
  • Pick a focus. What makes you passionate? There’s no right answer, and you don’t have to feel guilty about picking one thing over the other. All causes, from Black Lives Matter to disability access to immigration reform, need champions.
  • Play to your strengths. I highly recommend taking a skills assessment. There’s plenty online, the one I found particularly helpful, as it was faith based, was the Spiritual Gifts Assessment from the United Methodist Church. I scored highest in Interpretation, and it’s one reason why I write this blog. I’m good at explaining things, and the more I explain how God’s unconditional love is evident throughout the entire the Bible, the more I hope that unconditional love will spread in the world. Other people are good at organizing, others at protesting. Even less “godly” skillsets like lobbying or litigation are just as important in achieving a just and good world. I’ll also mention there’s lots of ways to get involved without actually speaking, let alone arguing, because direct confrontation is definitely not for everybody.

It can be easy to forget this in a time of quarantine and pandemic, but I want to leave you with this thought: We are not alone. We do not have to solve all the world’s problems by ourselves. Look at all the teamwork and delegation that happens in this single chapter about one of the world’s greatest kings: David passed his crown (and attending business) to Solomon. Solomon listened to his mother’s council and requests (though I will admit, in this case, she was being manipulated and Solomon saw through it. But she does council him wisely in other chapters). Solomon leaned heavily on Benaiah in executing justice. He appointed Zadok the priesthood vacated by Abiathar. In short, creating the world we want to see is a team effort, and one that will have constantly changing roles. Perhaps now is your time to rest, perhaps now is your time to step up to the plate. It is going to take the wisdom of Solomon to find our way forward, but we have each other to lean upon, and God to guide us forward. With those odds, how could we not, in the long run, make things better?

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