Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage (Genesis 26) transports me to the drought-stricken flatland farm of Jason Ganther, down from the Sierra Nevada mountains where the half million acres of the Cartwright’s Ponderosa Ranch spread. One of my favorite episodes, “The Gift of Water,” centered around Hoss (my favorite character), who stopped in at the Ganther farm to water his horse after two days of dry riding, and wound up helping them dig a well. The plot thickened as Hoss got tangled up with the Ganthers in one of the contentious water feuds that plagued the prairie west in the mid to late 19th century. Unlike most of those feuds, this one ended without violence when patriarch Ben stepped in as peacemaker and thwarted efforts at an all-out range war.
Considering how much childhood time I spent watching shows like this on tv, you could safely say that the tube was quite formative, and looking back at shows like Bonanza and High Chaparral and Big Valley, it’s little wonder that I formed fairly progressive social justice values. These and other classic 60s shows balked at abuses of power and championed the causes of the underdog. And so I learned about water wars and ways to prevent violence from watching Hoss help those Ganthers dig their well and seeing Ben subvert the plans of his vigilante neighbors. It’s a shame that I didn’t learn these lessons from my other formative childhood experience – Sunday School. I remember lots of lessons on stories like Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, Joseph’s Coat, Jonah and the Whale, David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, but as far as I can remember, Isaac and Abimelek and the peaceful resolution to the water wars narrated in today’s passage didn’t even receive an honorable mention. But when I read through Genesis 26 today, it screams out for a flannel board presentation, or a full-costume drama, or even a “Down By the Creekbank” Dottie Rambo type musical. You’ve got all the ingredients – a new family coming into the town of Gerar, bullies intimidating them, and the patriarch modeling the kind of resilience and patient endurance that eventually leads to a miraculous peace between the enemies, and a new well gushing up fresh water at the end. This exceptional story should be front and center in the children’s illustrated book of Bedtime Bible Stories.
I hope and pray that this water war story with a peaceful ending will have a formative role for the children of modern day Gerar where it originated, in the region of the highly conflicted Gaza Strip. Stories that portray the possibility of peaceful resolution are essential, if families in that part of the world are to have any hope for a future free of terror and violence. And before we fall prey to cynicism, throwing up our hands and saying that there has always been violent conflict there, we need to read and re-read this story to remind ourselves that it ain’t necessarily so. Another reason this peacemaking story has contemporary relevance is the cause of the conflict – water. When most people think of conflicts in the middle east, the analysis usually focuses on religious differences, or land disputes, or oil. But the reality is that one of the deepest conflicts, and one likely to worsen over time, involves the scarcity of water resources. Water rights is the hidden agenda that more often than not has stalled peace talks and created obstacles to any lasting settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians. A rapidly increasing population that has already stressed the water supply to the limit does not bode well for the prospects of peace. The flannel boards already have the cut-outs of David cutting off Goliath’s head; it’s not difficult to find ready-made images to reinforce violent solutions for feuding neighbors. But it’s high time we cut out some new figures, Isaac and Abimelek, and teach our children well.
As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.