Promise-making as Soulcraft

This week’s Scripture reference: Matthew 5: 33-37  “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

The truly human soulcraft that I have called ‘making promises’ includes a whole range of processes; deliberation, mediation, the social contract. Everything that goes into the creative process of our interactions. When you think about it, making decisions that affect others, appealing to a common good and the communication effort toward that end consists of an exotic, complex arrangement.  And the perversion of that process is equally fascinating.

An example or two.  When I was in college several of us got interested in backgammon.  We carried boards with us all the time.  At the drop of a hat we would bring out the board and have a game.  We’d do tournaments on Friday nights. We were obsessed.  We had been taught the game by an old Armenian man who was second generation in the Central Valley. He had been taught the game by his immigrant father, who insisted that a TRUE gamer not only played the game but also excelled at cheating at the game.  It was a virtue to cheat at backgammon but only if you successfully got away with it.  We tried to cheat each other but we didn’t do it very well. It just wasn’t ingrained as part of the reason we played the game.

My son, Erik, while in Thailand, went to see the great temple in Bangkok.  On his way in, a policeman and a tour guide were talking at the gate.  The conversation ended when Erik walked up.  The tour guide told Erik that the temple was closed for prayers and that he could take Erik to another temple for a visit until the prayer time was over.  Erik agreed as the policeman walked away.  Two hours later, Erik realized he had been duped as the tour guide had shuttled him through several shops miles away from his original destination.

Let’s face it, in order to see personal promise-making or political truthfulness as a virtue, we’ve got to see a higher order at play.  And what we put at the top of that order makes alot of difference on how we live it out. If we feel that the common good is the order of the day, maybe we can all agree that Bernie Madoff was a despicable character but if we see that our God given freedoms include the creation process that goes into making and keeping promises then we have a new sense of integrity.  A higher calling.

These are the issue I’ll explore through these verses and I hope you give some thought to what it means and, please, weigh in if you have a thought or two.

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