“Can’t we all just get along?” is a quote attributed to Rodney King. It was part of the aftermath of his encounter with the police after a high-speed car chase on March 3, 1991. Although those weren’t his exact words, but instead an expression that was whittled down from a longer statement he made, the sentiment has spawned widespread use of the phrase. Its simplicity is as compelling as the resolution to the problem is elusive. It would be hard to find people who would disagree that finding some way for all of us to ensure positive relationships with one another would be a good idea. God certainly thinks so.
To describe our Creator as basically relational would be an understatement of proportions that cannot be surpassed. The entire world, and the universe that it inhabits is a gigantic collection of interactive, interdependent systems and sub-systems designed to work in harmony with each other. So are we as individuals, and so is every potential arrangement of associations between us and others. That creates a problem because in spite of Rodney King’s suggestive question, we don’t always get along very well. While sometimes our differences can be appealing, they carry with them the potential to be more than a little irritating. Perhaps you’ve noticed that. I’d like to suggest an analogy—a kind of modern day parable, if you will, that has something to say about the situation.
When my uncle was teaching me to work on internal combustion engines, I was fascinated by the array of different parts that were encased in that large hunk of iron and steel. In order for the engine to accomplish its purpose, i.e. to produce real and usable power, its design necessitated the inclusion of a lot of different parts, and many of those parts had to be able to move. They were shaped differently, made of different kinds of materials, and they moved in different ways, some side to side, some up and down, and some in a circular motion—lots of differences. If those moving pieces could have been allowed to do their thing without coming into direct contact with any of the other pieces, it would have simplified everything, and they would have lasted forever. The problem is that the engine couldn’t possibly have worked that way.
Unfortunately, in order for it to produce any useable power, that divergent bunch of parts had to work in very close contact with other parts. Pistons had to move up and down in contact with cylinder walls. Crankshafts had to move round and round in direct contact with piston rods. Valves had to be physically pushed up and down by a cam shaft, and so on, and so on. The parts tended not to like that arrangement. All that close contact produced friction, which produced heat, which produced wear, which could eventually lock up every system, stop all productive movement, and shut the whole thing down.
To counteract that potentially debilitating reaction and redeem the would-be power plant from certain destruction, my uncle introduced me to an almost miraculous little substance—‘oil’. Oil was the indispensable element upon which the successful activity of every piece ultimately depended. Almost paradoxically, the oil made no direct contribution to the engine’s potential power, but without it, none of that power could have been harnessed and realized. Oil feels slick, but what it really does is keep those parts that don’t play so well together from touching each other when they’re in close proximity like that. The oil provides a thin little cushion between the moving parts. Each piece touched the oil, and the oil touched each moving part, but the moving pieces only touched the oil, not each other. The oil absorbs the impact of each moving part and keeps it from harming the part against which it has to move. To the degree that the oil is allowed to do its job, there is smooth cooperation and incredible power. Everything depends upon the quality and purity of the oil, and the time and place of its application.
Now, if you haven’t already done so, let’s exchange the word ‘parts’ in our thinking for ‘people, because that’s what we’re really talking about here. People are ‘different’. Have you noticed that? They have different gifts, talents, inclinations, preferences, backgrounds, ambitions, abilities, and interests. People move, as it were, in different directions.
All that movement is generally problem free unless it happens to take place in close proximity to someone else who happens to move in a different direction, or who refuses to move at all. The greater the number and diversity of the parts in the mechanism, the more likely friction can and will occur, and the greater the need for the application of an effective lubricant.
There simply is nothing on earth that can match the potential power latent in the Church of Jesus Christ. It was designed with the capability to liberate the oppressed, heal the broken, release the captive, feed the hungry, lift up the downtrodden, and bring internal and external peace and prosperity. If I might say it this way, it is God’s engine—the power plant of heaven designed to do the heavy lifting against the evil that threatens us on every side. The problem is that it’s got so many moving ‘parts’. Just like in my car’s motor, if the parts didn’t have to work in such close proximity, there would be no problems, but nothing would work, either. The very thing that makes it powerful is the thing that can lock it up and make it dead and worthless.
To counteract all those ‘parts’ rubbing one another in ways that irritate and impede their function, God introduced the oil of loving forbearance and forgiveness.
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” Col. 3:12-14.
And in this situation as well, everything depends on the quality and purity of the ‘oil’ and the time and place of its application.
© 2014 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
To follow this blog for more ‘Right Side Up Thinking ~ In an Upside Down World’, sign up just below the ‘Search box’ in the upper right sidebar for regular email notifications of new posts.