The Agora
Bible Editorials

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Don't kill the messenger!

Once upon a time there was a young man who lived in the land of Centralia, but in his travels he had met various folks in the remote little land of Unamendia, and some others in an even more remote land, Cogaphia. To his initial surprise, he had discovered among these "others" some kindred spirits, folks who shared his most heartfelt beliefs and worldview -- individuals to whom he felt at least as close as his fellow Centralians. True, some of the citizens of these other lands were not the sort who inspired such warm, fuzzy feelings... in fact, on more than one occasion, he was approached personally by other denizens of Unamendia and Cogaphia with rather blunt and rude questions: "Why are you, a Centralian, visiting here in our land?" "What mischief do you have in mind?" "You must be a Centralian spy; are you going to carry back bad reports?" Sometimes, he was strongly encouraged to leave the foreign lands, go back to his "own kind", and never return. But he kept returning, because there were some folks there who genuinely seemed to enjoy his company, and with whom he had some heartwarming conversations and interactions.

Sometimes, when he did go back to his own land, he was questioned by his countrymen: "What do you see in those Unamendians anyway? Some of them are pretty strange characters." "How can you have anything to do with those Cogaphians? Don't you know that some of them are highly undesirable?"

There were times when our young man thought, "Maybe I should just move to Unamendia... or even to Cogaphia." But then he would think, "You know, some of the Unamendians want no part of me... and some really are a little strange... that might not be pleasant"... and "Some of those Cogaphians turn and walk away when I get near... how would it be to live there fulltime?" Meanwhile, he also recognized that, for all the questions and hard looks he received when he returned home, he did have a lot of friends in Centralia, and it would be a shame to leave them behind for good.

So for years he tried to live in two (actually, three) different worlds... never quite at ease in any one of them, but never wanting to turn his back forever on the others. But his life was a real prescription for schizophrenia: when he was home in Centralia, he was afraid to talk about his friends in Unamendia and Cogaphia. And when he was in these other lands, he would try discreetly to encourage his friends either to emigrate to Centralia, or to petition Centralia to annex their lands to its country... this was usually met with politeness, but never acted upon: "Why should we go to Centralia, and live there? If they wanted to know us, they'd come here to visit us -- like you do!"

Sometimes his foreign friends would even visit Centralia -- a land of greater prosperity and more opportunities than their own -- but he could never prevail upon them to stay for very long. "We don't feel quite at home on your side of the border," they would tell him. "Now if you would just open all the borders, and do away with all the immigration laws and tariffs and rulers... then everybody could come and go as they pleased." But the young man knew such a change in the government would never occur; Centralia just didn't work that way!

One day the man (by now not so young) looked long and hard at himself, at his children, and at his close friends in Centralia... and he realized... that while trying to be "all things to all people", he wasn't really a Centralian any more -- he was a man without a country! "Dad," his eldest son asked him, "are we Centralian or Unamendian or Cogaphian? I can't remember!" And now he knew that he must do something... to reclaim his birthright. He had to be a true Centralian, and consider his fellow-countrymen first, and be a part of the community where he lived. And so he was.

But what about his old friends on the other sides of the border? He would send messages to them: "I still love you, but I can't sneak back and forth across the borders to see you, and I can't aid you in sneaking in and out of my country... But if you will come to Centralia, then I can assure you that you and your families will be welcome here; my fellow-countrymen will be happy to have you, but you must swear allegiance to your new land."

Some of his old friends were angry with him, "No, thank you," they said. "We'll just stay where we are... and we'll wait until Centralia drops all its border restrictions... meanwhile we'll just keep slipping back and forth, when no one is watching, and encouraging others to do the same."

But the man knew that Centralia would never change its laws and open all the borders -- because there were some people in Unamendia and Cogaphia to whom Centralia would never allow open access into their land. So he told his friends, "If you think like the Centralians, and you want to be one of them, you will need to openly ask for citizenship, and be prepared to abide by their laws. There is no other way to receive all the benefits of Centralian citizenship. Nothing else will ever work; I've seen this from both sides; I've been there, and I've tried... and I know. It will be very difficult, and in the end unsatisfying, trying to live in different countries at the same time."

Now some of his old friends were very angry with him. "You have abandoned us," they cried. "You don't love us any more, because you won't come to visit us now."

"But I can't continue to visit like before," he told them. "Now I must act like a Centralian. But you can move to Centralia any time you wish."

"Never!" they cried. "We were born Unamendians and we will die the same!" Likewise said some of the Cogaphians.

But others said, "You know, our Centralian friend has a point. He still loves us, and he wants only what's best for us. Hey, maybe we should look at this emigration business again!"

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