Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (1 Samuel 17:31-54) transports me to a schoolyard-like battlefield where a big braggart of a bully, Daddy G, taunts a pint-sized pipsqueak, Little D. The pip is packing nothing but a pitiful pea-shooter, while Daddy G is armed to the hilt. Little D is a trash-talker, though, and while he is able to return taunt for taunt, the bystanders have little doubt about who will eat who for dinner. Daddy G is laughing so hard he doesn’t even get his semi-automatic sword raised before Little D stuns the crowd, pulling out the shepherd’s sling and landing a smooth stone right into the bighead’s exposed forehead. A surreal silence comes over the scene, as the giant weaves backward and forward, a puzzled look frozen in his eyes. The giant shakes the ground for the last time when his mammoth body comes crashing down.
The baby-faced boy wonder did some amazing things in his life before facing Goliath; he had grabbed both a lion and a bear by the fur and killed them in heroic acts of Sheep Rescue 911. So he had reason to be confident that Goliath would come to the same end as those threatening killers. Every boy dreams of a chance to show such bravery and face down a ferocious man or beast. The story is clear, though, that it was not David’s size or strength or even his bravery that enabled him to beat the odds against such over-matched foes. David knew that the Lord was behind the lion and bear episodes, and he was confident that the Lord would deliver the giant into his hands. He even refused the arms and armor that the king gave him; these only weighed him down. While he had every right, he didn’t need to bear the arms the military experts suggested. He had the Lord on his side.
It strikes me as curious how such an archetypal story that is woven into the fabric of our culture has been so misappropriated. How could we read and believe stories like this, and then come to the conclusion that in order to defeat the giants of this world, we have to become bigger than them and develop weapons more powerful than theirs? In order to beat the bullies, we have to become bigger bullies, the logic of our culture goes. Goliath kicks sand in the face of 97 pound weaklings, and the answer is building a bigger and stronger bully who can lay out on the beach without fear. Bodybuilding applies to the body politic as well; the best way to face the giants is to become the world’s greatest superpower, right? Bigger bombs and mightier missiles ensure our security. Who can argue with the logic? Maybe it’s time we go back and learn the lessons of this familiar Bible story, a story that does argue with the world’s logic. What would it look like if we approached the bullies of the world with the strength of faith, with the Lord on our side, rather than arming ourselves to fight fire with fire? Christianity could learn a lot by looking at the anti-bullying curriculum being introduced in schools around the country, with great results. Check out Stop Bullying Now for an example, or Peter Yarrow’s (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) Operation Respect program. Teachers who are utilizing programs like these are helping kids learn how to deal with bullying in a way that doesn’t ask the victims to get stronger and meaner to prevent their further humiliation. These programs are designed to transform the bullies, and they are working. It sounds a lot like Jesus’ approach to me. While we’re giving it a try, I’ll leave you with the words of another skinny David – Bully for you, chilly for me, gotta get a rain check on pain (bonus points for naming the song and the artist).
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Division.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.