How Do You Say “Peter You Need to Cut Your Toenails” In Hungarian?…

 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ephesians 4 (NIV)

Communication…

Well, I’ve been at this a little while now and have read a great deal about the plight of others who are going through the same thing as I am. I truly find the sheer number of stories that are out there to be both sickening and comforting at the same time. Some couples get through it and some don’t. I have noticed two trends among the ones who do. First , in the ones that do, both partners are willing and committed to do the work of healing. The second is the ability to learn to communicate with one and other. I want to write about both of these things, but separately. Today I want to talk about communication.

Hey! That Clock’s Not Right…

I believe I’ve mentioned previously that I was always liked school and that this took me places. One of those places was Hungary. I was accepted into a Medical School in a small city in the South of Hungary called Szeged. I lived there for about two and a half years. Now don’t be terribly impressed by that. That acceptance was secured by an American company that guaranteed your acceptance at a foreign medical school, provided you had completed the necessary prerequisite coursework. It wasn’t competitive in the least.

It was that company that arranged for us to fly over there, helped us find apartments, provided us a translator to assist us in the process of getting our visas and medical examinations and registered for school. They flew us over there about two weeks before classes would begin and they had become so efficient at this process that it only took about two days for most of us to find apartments and take care of the necessary paperwork in order to begin school.

It was the late 90’s and Hungry at that time was this little burgeoning democracy. The Berlin wall had come down only less than a decade before and Hungary was just beginning to feel its way around as a Democratic state and capitalistic economy. I’ve heard an expression that goes something like “the only thing worse than communism is what comes after communism and before democracy” – this is the period in which I lived there.

The economy was struggling to grow. They were only now learning what a grocery store was as prior to this they would get their groceries like we would go to the pharmacist – they would give the employees a list of what they needed and the employees would go get the items and bring it to the counter. Even now that you would actually go get your own groceries, it made store owners so nervous that they would be stolen from that there were armed guards at the store with machine guns. Shortly before we came they had opened a McDonalds in the center of town. I was told some time later that the wage for working an entire shift at McDonalds was not sufficient to buy a Big Mac, fries and a Coke from McDonald’s. You could get a steak dinner and a bottle of wine and the nicest restaurant in town and it would cost you the equivalent of like six bucks. The country was so poor that you almost just didn’t need money to live there. Everyone should have one chance in their lifetimes to live like that. Our student loans permitted us to live like kings while we were there.

In any event, that was the economic backdrop against which the story which I’m about to tell takes place – we were big shots. We could go out every night, eat, drink, go to the opera etc. Despite who we were and from wherever we had come from, there we were the beautiful people. We had over a week and a half to kill before classes began and a half a liter (about a pint) of Dreher (national beer) would run you about a quarter (50 forints, although now I believe the use the euro). If you’ve been reading along here, you’ll probably be able to guess how I spent my week and a half.

I had secured a Hungarian-English dictionary before I left home and being the highly dedicated consummate prepared individual that I am, had learned exactly two words; “igen” meaning yes and “nem” meaning no. The night on which this all happened was relatively soon after we all had arrived. As a matter of fact it was so soon after we had arrived, that I had not yet figured out how to change the time on my watch from East Cost time to Hungarian time and was becoming increasingly annoyed at having to endure the anguish of needing to perform the addition of 8 in order to determine what time it was. It was about 7:00pm + 8 = 3:00am, and my new friends and I were walking through the center of town after the bar had closed and had come to our school. The school included all of the buildings on one city block, the center of which was vacant – the “ter” they would call it, but we would probably say “quad”, except for a beautiful old Catholic Cathedral.

It was beautiful, statues and art. There is a bone there which belonged to St. Peter, I think encased in glass. The building itself was a work of art, with it’s two identically imposing brick clock towers (one pictured right) soaring seemingly hundreds of feet in the air. From any direction the towers were the most prominent feature of the little city’s skyline. Next to the cathedral was a large stone courtyard and on the other side of that courtyard there remained metal bleachers which had been set up so that the courtyard could be used for outdoor theater that previous summer.

It was on those bleachers that I found myself sitting with my new friends – a Canadian guy and Norwegian girl.  There was scaffolding along one side of the towers as they must have been using the remainder of the warm weather that autumn to clean it after the years summer outdoor cultural schedule had concluded.  Through the scaffolding I could see the face of one of those enormous clocks telling all of Szeged that I should have been in bed.  I glanced at my watch and was reminded that I had not yet figured out how to change the time to local time and looked back at the tower, then at my watch, then at the tower.  I can climb some stuff now (I reckon that I can brag about that, because I’m not good at much else)!  I’ve just always been very good at climbing things and this particular skill of mine is clearly not limited to any particular continent as the next thing I knew, having apparently forgotten at the bar all the good sense that my Mother had insisted on me packing, was making very short order of scaling up the scaffolding in order to do the city of Szeged the very great favor of righting the me sized hands of the clock on their beloved Cathedral tower to East Cost time.

The view was amazing and I sat for a while on top of one of those triangular rooftops which you may be able to see in the picture above each of the clocks.  I looked out over my new home and let the wind at my elevated altitude remind me that winter would soon be here as my new friends were in all likelihood at the beginning stages of  questioning their own judgment in befriending me.  I stood up and stretched out my hands.  Reaching for the sky, I felt my own solitude, my own humanity.  I tried to reach for the sky as far as I could, before I realized that it was only my own balance which prevented me from plummeting down into the courtyard and being presented rather abruptly, and gruesomely, before my friends.

My friends pleaded with me to come down, but I wanted to remain just a little while longer – “Nem!” I called down to them and began tossing coins from my pocket down onto the courtyard.  When they finally did persuaded me to descend, I realized that the scaffolding supports must have been covered with some sort of grease,  well somewhat less grease than before I had ascended, because now a large portion of it was on my pants, shirt, hands and face.

Great story huh?  It’s not over.  The reason I’m actually subjecting y’all to all of this is what happens next.  With feet back firmly on the ground I began walking back across the courtyard toward my friends when I noticed the doors of an old junky Trabant open that had been parked on the street.  If y’all don’t know about this marvel of engineering known as Trabant it was a communist remnant, formerly produced in East Germany.  A car having a two stroke engine (you’re weed whacker has a two stroke engine) that ran on leaded (remember leaded or unleaded) gasoline which was still being used in Hungary back then.  It was the type of car that only a few years before you could trade for a pair of Levis.  You could sell one and likely get yourself a nice breakfast with the proceeds.  Simply put it was not a vehicle of any status.

The two men who had exited the trabant were now approaching me.  In my mind they had a somewhat disheveled appearance and I assumed they were gypsies.  Gypsies throughout most of Europe do not enjoy the romantic, violin playing, nomadic reputation that they do in the United States.  In Europe they are thought of roughly the same as the homeless are in the United States.  I had been warned to avoid them as they were often desperate impoverished people who were likely to view me as an easy target.  I’m assuming the conversation went something like this, but I never understood a word they said.

“Jó estét kívánok. Mi vagyunk a rendőrség.”, one said.

“They must be asking me for money” I thought.  “Nem” I said somewhat sternly.

Again they spoke “Mi vagyunk a rendőrség. Mit csinálsz ott fent?”

“Nem!” I said with more emphasis.

“voltál ivást?”  the other said.

“Nem! Nem! NEM!!!” I said, with increasing anger. “Nem! Nem”

“oh hey they have badges” I remember thinking to myself “they must have found or stole those”

I continued “Nem!  Nem! Neeemmmm!!!” by now I was yelling.

Gypsies don’t have badges.  They don’t want badges.  They don’t need badges so they don’t steal badges.  If they find badges, unless they think they can be sold, they are likely to leave them right where they found them. Hungarian policemen have badges.  The rest of that night and most of the next morning was spent thumbing through my pocket dictionary in order to figure out if Hungary had the death penalty as these men hurled threats at me that I could never hope (nor wish to) understand.  Finally the translator arrived and I was told that all they needed was to make copies of my visa and passport and that I would be held accountable for any damage which I had done to the Cathedral during my escapades.  Still, to this day, somewhere in a Hungarian police file cabinet, sits my mug shot tucked safely away in a folder which is likely labeled “the Ugly American”.

Bad things happen when people can’t communicate with each other and marriage is no different.  In many ways the way in which my wife and I communicate is very much like me and those policemen trying to communicate that night.  We recognize anger, frustration, but cannot understand what the other is trying to tell us.  Being unable to do so, we make assumptions about the other’s motive.  We attribute malice or ill will where none is really do and we make asses of ourselves.  There’s been many a night where I have gone to bed wondering, figuratively speaking, if I was to be given the death penalty.

That night, what I was trying to communicate is “I’m not going to let you take advantage of me”.  What the policemen were trying to communicate was “hey, you need to respect our authority here.  You screwed up.  Now stop acting like a jack-ass and take responsibility for what you did!”  Both reasonable positions, but when pitted against one and other and in such a way where the other’s needs were hidden, we became a threat to one and other.  Now it ended up alright I guess, once the translator arrived.  The only permanent consequence of the event is my Polaroid photograph sitting in a file cabinet somewhere, but what could have happened?  I can envision that ending far worse.

My wife and I alternate these rolls: “you’re not going to take advantage of me” and “I need you to respect me”.  Back and forth we change them; sometimes I play the first roll and she plays the other, sometimes she plays the first and I the other, sometimes we’re both playing both rolls simultaneously; “if you respect me you’ll assure me that you’re not still cheating” vs. “if you respect me you’ll stop asking me to prove it”.  Those are powerful motivators; to be respected and to not be taken advantage of, and I’m not sure that any one of us can, or should, be asked to give them up.  I shouldn’t have to let her continue to take advantage of me in order to save my marriage.  Likewise she shouldn’t have to endure accusation after accusation simply to prove that she no longer is.  To do so would be allowing me to take advantage of her, based not on who she is, but who she was -her past mistakes.  In addition we both are entitled to each other’s respect; the respect to not be ignored and the respect of not being constantly reminded of our past transgressions.  But what happens when these things get all pitted against one and other and we can’t understand for what the other is asking?  Bad things happen when we can’t communicate.

Ok Jesus, a snare like this… I know you must have told us something about.  Where is it?  Give it up!  When I look up “communication” in my bible, I find all kinds of nifty stuff:

But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned

~Matthew 12:37

A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction

~Proverbs 16:23

The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse

~Proverbs 10:29

• gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger ~Proverbs 15:1

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing

~Proverbs 12.

A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction 

~Proverbs 16:23

The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse 

~Proverbs 10:29

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger 

~Proverbs 15:1

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing 

~Proverbs 12:18

and many many more!  All good stuff.  All applicable to communication, but none of them are really getting it for me.  Yeah, I get it – I gotta be nice!  Right?  I’ve tried that and it doesn’t seem to, on its own, do the trick.  I still am not communicating effectively with my wife.  While, yes, I know that controlling my sharp tongue is something that I need to work on, and probably always will, there has to be something else about how to communicate.  Something that gets at both respect and the fear of being taken advantage of.  Something that I’m not seeing.

How do we communicate respect to one and other?  I live in the South, when my wife or a teacher or any adult asks my boys a question they are expected to reply “Yes Ma’am” or “No Ma’am”.  The words are intended to convey respect for your elders.  But, if you live in the South, you also know that these words convey a hollow sentiment.  While they do literally convey respect – hey it’s better than straight out saying “bite me!”, that respect represents the absolute minimum amount respect that is imposed on us by convention.  The words can also be said simply dripping with disdain.  Go into any Piggly-Wiggly in the state of South Carolina and try to order green beans without bacon (although I don’t know why anyone would) in them – you’ll get a “Yes Ma’am” or a “Yes Sir” that makes you feel anything but respected!  The words themselves become a way of conveying sarcasm not respect.  A comment about how ridiculous your request of them is, how ridiculous it is that they are required to show you respect.  It’s about the tone, the facial expression, the body language, the speed with which they respond and the subsequent tone and facial expression and body language and speed with which they provide you with what you are asking.  In short, what they are communicating has almost nothing to do with what they’re saying.  It’s almost entirely about what they’re doing.  Communicating respect has far more to do with what we do than what we say.

Check this out:

Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet

 1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

   Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

~John 13:1-15(NIV)

Did you read it?  I know it’s long and you’ve probably seen it before, but it’s what I’m going to be talking about for the rest of this chapter.  Don’t skip the Bible verses y’all – it’s what this is all about!  Go back and read it now!

I mean it!  Go back and read it!  God knows if you did or didn’t.  Don’t just skip through here looking for the juicy bits.  God might have something to say to you in between.  I trust you, even though you tried to fool me twice now,  I trust that you’re going to go back and read it for real this time.  I’m very fragile with the trust thing, please don’t take advantage.

OK, I had never really thought of this passage as speaking to how we should communicate with one and other, but there is a ton of stuff going on here that has to do with communications.  So much in fact that I’m not really sure how to approach it now.  How about the beginning:

 1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 

3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 

The most striking thing about this verse to me is the words “Jesus knew”.  He knew.  He knew he was about to die.  He knew Judas was about to betray him.  He knew Peter would deny him.  He knew these guys were full of horse shit, but still he loved them.  Jesus knew that, from their perspective anyway, he was about to be taken advantage of.  Sold out for 30 pieces of silver, denied by his greatest disciple.  That even now, as these men professed their devout love for him to his face, they soon would be embarrassed of their association with him, abandon him to die on the cross and deny even knowing him.

I know something about that.  I’ve felt that stink of knowing the truth in my heart when the person I’m talking to is telling me something else.  I remember my wife professing her love for me and our family, defending it, even becoming angry when it was questioned at home, and the go to town and belittle me in front of her coworkers, people with whom we go to church and others in our community.  Convincing them how horrible I was, denying her love for me, absolving herself of the responsibility of treating me with respect.  There are rumors which remain to this day about me being a drunk, an abusive husband, and abusive father, that I am gay and never was able to satisfy my wife in that way, that I was a religious tyrant who used scripture to belittle and control my family, that I would use our family’s financial resources only for myself and not permit her or the boys even the simplest of niceties.  The things she must have said to this man as they lied next to each other, horrible things, things designed to justify her being with him to him, to herself, things that I know she will never even confess to me; they haunt me, and will likely continue to haunt me for the rest of my life.  She’ll never know how much her honesty about them would mean to me and has firmly convinced herself that what I don’t know will never hurt me, but still, from time to time, one reveals itself and the process of recovery for me begins again from square one.

How easy would it have been for Jesus to call these jack-wagons on their horse shit?  How tempting would it have been to be like; “Peter, look at you all, I love you and won’t let you wash my feet, because I’m so devoted to you.  You’re not even gonna what to admit that you have ever known me here soon” and “look at Judas over there sweating like a hooker in church!  Yeah, Mr. Money Bags, I can see what’s really in your heart!”  Jesus doesn’t do that stuff.  Despite” knowing” that what is being said to him, what is being shown to him was a lie, he chooses to remain centered on his intended message, the message of love.  He does not permit himself this distraction, does not cater to what must have been a pretty tempting urge to just say “whatever, if you guys are gonna insist on being full of it, then what’s even the point”  He remains true to that which he has already decided to communicate.  “I’m fixin to tell you that I love you and y’all being a bunch of lying jack-asses is not gonna stop me from doin so!”

 1 I said, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth while in the presence of the wicked.”

~Psalms 39:1(NIV)

How?  How does he do that?  How does he resist that temptation, resist taking that tiny little step that takes us from communicating about what we are intending, to communicating our displeasure about how it is being received, that its effect is not immediate?  How does what I’m trying to communicate to my wife go so quickly from “because I love you, it hurts me when you…” to “what the heck, if you were really sorry and really wanted for me to feel respected, you’d understand… You must still be the way you used to be!!!”?  It’s such a tiny little step and so hard to resist to go from what we wanted to say to something completely different.

Verse 3 tells us how.  “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” .  Now y’all pray that he never puts “all” things in my power, but God has put some things under my power.  I have the power to choose to love God or not.  I have the power to choose what I want to have for lunch and I have the power to choose the words that I let come out of my mouth when I’m speaking to my wife.  The key thing to remember as I’m working towards all those proverb recommendations I have listed above is in the second part of the third verse; “he knew . . .  that he had come from God and was returning to God”.  Can you see how that makes it seem like it really doesn’t matter if the person to whom you’re speaking is full of nonsense or not?  How petty it makes it seem that I be so concerned about the other person’s immediate reaction to what I am saying?  There is always another set of ears in the room and they hear everything.  Another set of eyes that see everything.  When we’re communication with others, were not just communicating with them, were communication with God.  When I speak to my wife, I am also speaking to God.  God’s not trying to pull one over on me.  He’s not lying to me.  He’s not telling me something that isn’t true.  It sounds harsh, but it really doesn’t matter if my wife is telling me the truth about what is going on with her.  It really doesn’t matter if it’s still going on – if she’s still just lying to my face and the only thing that’s changed is that she’s getting better at it.  It’s not my instruction to know if she is telling the truth or not, it’s my instruction to forgive her and to love her and to communicate these things to her.  That’s it and that’s all! As much as I want her to be telling the truth, as much as I want things to be different now, as much as I want to truly love me and express that to me, these things are of this world and ultimately mean very little.  I’ve come from the father and will return to the father – that is from where my true comfort should come, not whether or not my wife is rolling her eyes at me.  That sounds like I’m betraying my love for her, but it’s really not, because love that is unwilling to show trust is not really love at all.

What’s next:

4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

One thing that I’d like to point out here (but it was also mentioned in verse two) is that this all was taking place at supper time.  Twice now John mentions that this was going on during their meal.  What’s up?  There’s just not stuff in the bible that doesn’t need to be there so why, two times now, have we been told that it was supper time.  Oh No! It’s more of that psycho-socio-babble about families eating together instead of eating in front of the TV, isn’t it.  Yup!  But maybe there is something to it.  I think there is probably a reason that we are continuously being told that that meal time is an effective time for communication.  First we’re all together and want to be there.  It’s supper time, we’re hungry, it doesn’t take much convincing in my house to get everyone to the table.  Second, we’re meeting one of our basic needs, we’re eating, we’re not going to have to worry again until morning where to get us some more food.  That’s at least one stressor that we can let go of for a little while.  Third we generally with people that we know love us.  We’re not worried about making impressions or if our zipper’s open or what he will think or she will think if we take another chicken wing.  We feel accepted.  These are pretty key states of mind to communicate and to be communicated to.  I guess Jesus knew that.

Now I’m not saying that my wife and I should be hashing out the details of her affair at the supper table.  Clearly that’s not appropriate, but we are seemingly being told here about something about choosing the where and when for communication.  I can’t tell you how many times I insist on staying up late at night forcing my wife, who only wants to sleep, to talk about something.  How many times I’ve hammered at her as she’s still wiping the sleep from her eyes and only trying to focus on pouring her morning coffee.  How many times we’ve engaged in a deliberately vague argument because we were doing so in front of the boys, or company, or in public, or by text message or when one or both of us was at work?  These really aren’t the time or place to have effective communication.  I’ll be the first to admit that its my way to rush into the “this needs to be dealt with now” mentality, instead of just sitting back on something, thinking about it, understanding what it really means or where its coming from, before opening my mouth.  My wife’s the exact opposite, if God would strike her mute today, she’d probably consider it a blessing.

Here there obviously needs to be a compromise.  We need to work together to find times that we can communicate effectively without impeding on our other responsibilities.  It needs to be a priority, but not such a priority that it supersedes all other priorities.  It needs to be frequent enough to be effective, but not so frequent that it takes over our lives and it has to be done in a setting where we’re both comfortable and willing to communicate.

Then Jesus gets him a bowl with some water and sets off to wash everybody’s feet.  As you can imagine, this was not considered to be a very dignified task.  Still we see Jesus symbolically removing his outer garments  (fancy clothes) put on a towel (work clothes), divesting himself of his true greatness and entitlement to the respect and honor due a king, assuming the task expected of the least valued person in the room, and willingly, wantingly beginning to engage in preforming this lowly task.  A task that was usually reserved for slaves, servants or hosts who truly wanted to display respect to their guests.  There’s nothing symbolic here, they actually washed there feet, stinky foot grime and toe jam – Peter was a fisherman, can you imagine what that guys tootsies looked like!

Still here we find our king, our beloved savior, down on his knees doing so for those who called him “Lord”.  Now I wouldn’t even know where to begin to describe the amount of information which is being communicated here.  Volumes have been written about it.  We sometimes do it at churches.  The Brother’s at Kyros do it before entering into the prisons in order to bring the word of God to those confined there.  In terms of symbolic gestures I’m not sure you could offer someone more respect.  Does it mean that I should keep a washbasin and a towel next to my wife’s chair in the living room? No, I mean sometimes that might be nice, or a foot rub, or something along those lines, but what I think, I’m actually being told here is that when I want to communicate something to my wife, I have to be willing to divest myself from the things I think that I deserve.  My role as the head of our household, my role as her husband, my role as the father, my role as a spouse who has been cheated on…  these robes, this “outer clothing” that I wear, does not entitle me to behave as though I have more value that my wife.  That I deserve better treatment than she does.  How can I ever expect her to behave as a person worthy of respect if I myself am unwilling to respect her?

You’ll notice that all this which I have described to this point, everything which Jesus has already communicated; it all happens before Jesus even opens his mouth.  Action truly does speak louder than words!

Now Peter:

 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

   Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

You know for being Jesus’ right hand guy, Peter really is quite dull!  Still Peter was the rock and rocks are quite dull.  What it the world is Peter doing here?  Sure I get the “no, you’re Jesus, you’re too good to wash my feet” thing, but then the “ok, well then can you catch my hands and head as well?” thing?  Uhm, Peter!  What are you doing?  That’s Jesus you’re talking to, why not just ask him to trim your nose hair and wax your back while you’re at it?  How about a nice cucumber facial and back massage? Common Peter!  Stop being so wishy-washy and get your game on!

What I’m told is that this all is symbolic of the sort of zealot, over enthusiastic Christian who engages in “Christian” activity not as a form of genuine worship, but rather to serve themselves.   If you go to church, you probably know exactly who I’m talking about.  The guy that has to be on every committee, have his hand on every account, his nose in every conversation, who thinks his theology is beyond reproach, uncorrectable, even the preacher would do well to yield to his viewpoints.  Or the woman, who sits in the front row every Sunday, sings the loudest, asks the preacher to repeat himself to make it obvious she’s taking notes, goes to bible study to show how much she knows rather than to try to learn, thinks that everyone sees her as sinless and therefore should all want to be exactly like her. Yeah, those are the ones.  First to correct, last to accept correction.  Who do these people go to church to serve?

I think that that’s what Jesus is talking about when he says “hey if you’ve had a bath, you just gotta wash your feet”.  Jews would often take baths before going to the place where they would have supper, but on their way there their feet would again get dirty.  They would have to wash them off again before going in to eat.  What Jesus is saying, in my understanding, is “hey, even after you come to me your still gonna be a sinner.  You’re still gonna get a little mud on your boots.  You don’t have to be born again and again and again and again, when you screw up, just stomp the mud off your boots and get on with being a Christian.  Stop being so overly dramatic!  It’s not impressing anyone!  Somebody here, I’m not saying any names Judas, needs to go and get him a bath!”.  – I’m thinking about doing my own bible translation.

OK, what does all this say to me about communicating with my wife?  Here’s what.  There are times when we are trying to communicate to one and other, that we do not receive the reaction that we expect.  I can say something to her; “I wish you would…” and her reaction may be over the top and over the top in one of two ways really, she can head what I am saying and overcompensate for it; “I wish you would show me more affection” and then the woman won’t get off my lap, or she can resent what I am saying and take it the cut off your nose to spite your face route; one time I fussed at her to stop whispering to one of our boys because I thought they were becoming a distraction and she didn’t say a word in church for months after that.

The point is that I can’t script her responses to what I am saying in my mind, then get pissed when she doesn’t know her lines in the script.  There were times, back when she was in the hospital, when I would literally rehearse out loud conversations that I expected to have with her.  Pausing between each point in order to hear in my mind her expected and then responding again out loud to the imaginary her.  If someone had ever seen me sitting alone in my living room doing that, we both would have been in the nut house, but I did.  What I’m saying is that although we should be prepared to communicate, know what it is that we value and are trying to express, we cannot try to communicate thinking that we already know what the other person is thinking.  We don’t get to be angry because their reaction does not match or expectations?  We’ll get a chance to talk again, just shut up and listen!  You see how Jesus did that?

 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

   Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

 10 Jesus answered, . . .

Jesus waits, nice and patient for Peter to say what he’s gonna say.  Then replies, not in anger or frustration, but to address Peter’s misunderstanding. Jesus doesn’t store up his anger that Peter is contradicting him, but rather knows to address it in a Godly way:

 “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down on your wrath”

~ Ephesians 4:26(NIV)

He engages Peter gently.  Involves him in the process of communication without accusing him or putting him on the defensive.

Then again, he does not overreact to Peter’s second over corrective error, but gently corrects him again.  Back and Forth.  Your turn, my turn.  I respect you, you respect me.  You didn’t understand me that way, let me try to explain it this way.  Our therapist has an exercise where whenever my wife and I had a serious conversation we were supposed to use a salt shaker to pass back and forth.  When she had the salt shaker, it was her turn to talk and my turn to listen. When I had the salt shaker in was my turn to talk and her turn to listen.  Before we spoke we were to reiterate in our own words what the other had just said.  Often times, the salt shaker would just sit on the table between us, as we both sat silently, reminding us to pick it up if we needed to.

And finally Jesus lets them know what he is doing:

 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Jesus became first what he wanted his disciples to be.  He himself provided the example for them to model their own behavior after.  He didn’t just shoot out an email or text message; “Hey, I want y’all to start washing each other’s feet” or “hey, I want y’all to start respecting folks regardless of their position in life”, he showed them.  He taught them to respect each other, by respecting them first.  He taught them to value each other by valuing them first.  He didn’t just insist on it, because he was God and it’s his way or the highway, he actually did it first.

Not only did he do it, but he did it in a way that communicated what he wanted by building them up.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

~Ephesians 4:29(NIV)

“Hey, did Jesus really just wash my feet? That’s something now!”  He taught them in a way that let them know that they had value, that he respected them and that built their dignity.  To often we see someone’s dignity as the greatest obstacle to getting our point across.  We think we must break them down in order to build them back up as we would like them to be.  We mistake dignity for pride and convince ourselves that it is for their own good, but were really serving ourselves.  Inappropriately displaying our own anger and managing our own fears by exerting our control.  How can I expect my wife to show me the respect that I so desperately crave, if I cannot respect her first?  How can I ask her to stop being the monster that I’m constantly reminding her that she is?  How can I expect her to move on, grow, improve and become a better person if I am constantly reminding her of who she used to be.  Can I really expect her to freely choose to express her love and respect for me and her regret for what she’s done by insisting on it in the format that I want?  There’s no choice there.  Forcing her to respect me, to show her love for me, to express remorse, is like putting a gun to someone’s head and forcing them to say they love you.  The words will almost assuredly come, but can they really ever mean anything?

At its core communication is about recognizing each other’s vulnerability.  And not exploiting  that vulnerability to simply get our way, but building each other up so that the marriage is not vulnerable.  Her vulnerabilities become my vulnerabilities, mine become hers.  The are ours now.  Together.  One person trying to become better, trying to serve God better.  Two hearts in one body reaching for the sky.

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