In different parts of Africa, you will find a Palaver tree. It’s usually large with spreading branches to shelter and shade those who gather below it, making it a tree central to village life. A Palaver tree can be a fig tree, an acacia tree, or— famously—the massive baobab tree. (The baobab is often referred to as the tree of life because it supports myriad life forms in many ways.)
At the Palaver tree, people gather for remembrance and celebration in drum, dance, song, and history; for teaching and envisioning; and to request advice and help. It is also where people gather to negotiate, discuss, and resolve their differences. The welcome of the space is such that anyone may speak and all are viewed equally. In a dispute, the words of a chief and those of a low-ranking citizen are regarded equally: No one is weaker or stronger than his or her opponent. There is no guarantee that a winner will be declared because what happens beneath the reaching arms of the Palaver tree is beyond and outside of the interests of the disagreeing individuals. Those who gather to listen, discuss, and resolve conflict know that the priority is the continued communal life of a people united and at peace.
The reparative truth and reconciliation talks in South Africa, Rwanda, Canada, and other places have risen from this and similar models.
Paul advises us to live our convictions to the honor of God and reminds us that we live and die not to ourselves but to something much bigger. Paul’s reminders empower us to welcome others without judgment. Perhaps the invitation is to gather beneath the outstretched sheltering arms of God with time enough to welcome one another and our own selves without condemnation. Perhaps we will be repaired, and perhaps we will repair.
Tree of life God, may we gather in your Spirit to dance peace, healing, and unity. Amen.
Again this week, Exodus tells a story about Moses that is retold in the psalm. The angel of the Lord protects the Israelites and allows them to cross the sea on dry ground, but their enemies are swept away. The psalmist recalls this glorious event. The forces of nature tremble and bow before the presence of God, and the people are delivered. Paul recognizes that there are matters of personal preference or conscience that are not hard and fast rules. Some will feel freedom in areas that others do not, and we are not to judge each other for these differences. Jesus tells a parable in Matthew that highlights the danger of hypocrisy. We who have been forgiven so generously by God have no right to judge others for minor offenses.
Read Exodus 14:19-31. When has the path of faith seemed risky? How have you trusted God and others’ wisdom along the way?
Read Psalm 114. How do you listen and act to repair the story of God’s love for the whole world?
Read Romans 14:1-12. When have you recognized something as more important than your being right? How has that recognition shaped your faith?
Read Matthew 18:21-35. How do you recognize your own wounds—or those you have inflicted on others—in this parable? How might this parable help you to repair these wounds or the relationships attached to the wounds?
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