by Rev. Joan Kessler
Exodus 1:8 – 2:10
I have a confession to make… I sometime start sentences with the word And. If you don’t read my written reflections following the service, you most likely don’t even notice… but you will if you read my typed script. I feel a pang of guilt every time I start a sentience with And. I have flashbacks to my elementary school days where during Language Arts class we were taught a proper and grammatically correct sentence could not start with And. Maybe you remember that instruction as well. I do it all the time. I love starting a sentence with And because it connects the ideas in my previous sentence to what I am about to say.
And is becoming a popular word, but maybe not for the reasons you are thinking. It does, as function as a conjunction to connect phrases and ideas. But it also speaks to a societal phenomenon and it is becoming a way of reframing how we relate to one another and solve differences. The corporate world has been the first to embrace And-thinking and it is now showing up as a cultural and societal game-changer. We are all familiar with the paradox that surrounds us… the glass is either half-empty or half-full… it’s either/or decision-making. I’ll give you an example. Say you went to your manager or supervisor and made a request to work from home two days per week. The manager responds with, “I understand your desire to do that, but I’ll need to ensure coverage in the office.” The use of But implies an immediate denial of the request. If the manager were to respond with, “I understand your desire to do that, AND I need to ensure coverage,” an invitation to solve the problem together is created. The shift in of one word acknowledges each person’s interests as legitimate and recognizes that there are issues to be resolved. And creates a positive environment for dialogue and moves away from paradoxical paradigms.
Either/or thinking comes from a competitive mindset, which analyses each option in isolation from the other. One wins the other looses, one is right, therefore, the other is wrong. We can’t discount this way of thinking because over the course of a day and a lifetime, many good decisions are made weighing out the benefits and risks. Where problems are more complex, however, this way of thinking polarises attitudes, stalls thinking and isolates parties who hold different views. And thinking, in contrast, comes from a mindset that is collaborative, that acknowledges the validity of other perspectives and synthesises individual views into a collective view. It leads to solutions that last.
I remember being 22 years old, sitting in my apartment in Regina one night. I was working a service job that I more than hated… I had just completed my BA that summer and was thinking about the next things in my life. I found a position posting with a public library in Weyburn, SK and it was my dream job at the time. But I came to a 22 year old’s decision that night that if I didn’t get the library job I was going to apply to nursing school. Well, you can likely guess how this little vignette ends… I got the library position, moved to Weyburn and my future adult life unfolded as it was meant to… it included many moves along the way and my vocation as a minister. Now, at midlife, I often find myself looking back on that either/or decision and realize how I am living life more into the AND. Now I’m in a completely different stage of my living… I find myself striving to live with courage and with the AND opportunties. Part of that is about being present and content with the choices I make. As a friend pointed out recently in describing her own actions and life choices, she is living into the AND… where whatever happens to be on either side of it holds equal value.
Today we hear the beginning of the Exodus story with the birth of Moses. An Egyptian ruler and a tyrant, wishing to solidify his political power-base, identifies a group of people, the Israelites, as his enemy and threat. The Israelites came to Egypt during a time of famine and starvation because of the leadership of Joseph who the story tells us was blessed by God. But now a new leader of Egypt has arrived who does not know Joseph and the history of the Israelite people. He is fearful of this group and unveils a genocide that calls for all Hebrew baby boys to be killed upon their births. But it is the courageous actions of two midwives, two woman whom the Bible knows their names: Shiprah and Puah. These two women we are told feared God and did not follow the Pharaoh’s decree and they let the boys live. And here enters Moses into our story. He his hidden by his mother, placed in a basket in the bullrsuhes and found by Pharaoh’s daughter. He is born into a system that sees his people oppressed and enslaved and he will grow to be a leader and a liberator.
These two women, Shiprah and Puah, are brave and courageous. They could have lived into the fear of the Pharaoh’s decree, the either/or thinking. They could have just said, well we have to follow Pharaoh’s decree, we are just women on the margins and we can’t stand up to such brutality. But because of their presence of faith, they chose not to participate in the genocide and put their own lives at risk because of their subversive actions. In our reading from Exodus, we hear the women feared God and did not follow Pharaoh’s instructions… and this is our And moment for today. The women in this story all play a role in furthering the history of the Israelites. Sisters protect a newborn son; midwives choose the sacredness of all human life without discrimination; an Egyptian princess raises a Hebrew baby boy, an adversary of her powerful father. The women did not succumb to self-minimizing thinking. They saw the And opportunities… they had courage, wit, and tenacity to outsmart the Egyptian king… to choose life over death… liberation over oppression.
And is an odd theme for a Sunday message. But I encourage us this morning to think about our thinking and the things we tell ourselves, the things we tell others, those we are in relationship… how we weigh the possible against the impossible. May our faith align with our actions and our actions align with our faith.
Amen AND Amen.