No, no one said it to me. I more or less said it to myself. On more than one occasion it has crossed my mind. Like most old sayings of by-gone eras, it is one that has little meaning because most people don’t talk to other people from on their horse. Unfortunately, the proverbial horse is still carrying around a lot of people. If only it were as easy as just shooting it.
Let me give you an example from a recent conversation with a friend. The subject of hunting came up. My friend began by pointing out that they loved animals. I responded that I did too. They then said they loved to talk with animals. My response was the same, "so do I." Now let me say, I was blessed to have a friend who took no time at all in realizing what was happening. We both have a profound appreciation and respect for wildlife, God’s creation and the lessons we can learn. Instead of staying on our horses, we practiced another old adage, “Don’t judge until you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes" (which makes me wonder if the UMC's partnership with the Virgin Healtmiles Program doesn't have a motive beyond being just physically healthy)."
You may still not appreciate the significance of that story if you miss my own history. I didn’t grow up hunting but stumbled into it. I came to it from a desire to connect to my grandfather, whose shotgun I inherited. I started hunting out of a friendship with a guy who mentored me an introduced me to a simpler approach to living. I came to it as a member of the Sierra Club as well.
To be at a place where you or I are not threatened by our differing views but can stand eye to eye, is not the common place to be. When Richard Rohr speaks of the two halves of life, or Robert Kegan describes the journey from the stage of the institutional self to the interindividual, or when Janet Hagberg writes of moving from the external to the internal stages, we’re talking about a shift in our self – our soul. When a person makes such a change, they are transformed.
Take a look at how Jesus talked with the woman at the well (John 4). This Samaritan woman expects to be thought of as second class. She almost expects to be berated by this Jewish Rabbi. Yet, it is evident that Jesus is interested in something more than refreshment – Jesus in interested in her as a person. Jesus is interested in the relationship. Not surprisingly, the woman begins to open her life and her thoughts about God to this stranger.
We have a bad habit of making assumptions.
We assume things about other people. We assume they are like us. We assume that they are on the same journey we are on. We assume that our life experiences match. We assume that our brilliant wit and wisdom will persuade. We assume our listening will prove our love. We assume our giving of food and drink will earn us a place at their table.
But we stay on our horse and continue to wear our shoes, never actually coming down, never really entering the relationship, never doing what God did in Jesus. We celebrate the incarnation and yet neglect to see that the incarnation is intended to be an ongoing miracle. Jesus is still being revealed in this world through you and me.
Can you listen with the sole intent to know the heart of another person? Will you listen with the intent of hearing the Spirit of God in and around another human being? Winning an argument is not an enlightened way to live, it is practiced futility. You can gain the whole world on the strength of a reasoned point of view and defense of an idea. Jesus says you can still lose your soul (Mark 8:34-38).
The desert father, Isidore of Pelusia said, “The heights of humility are great and so are the depths of boasting; I advise you to attend to the first and not to fall into the second.” The desert fathers and mothers discovered what you and I so quickly neglect, we don’t attend to anything anymore because we are so distracted even when we show up! The truth is, my humility and my boasting are always present with me. We totally miss the irony of “the heights of humility.”
It is precisely for this reason, the poles of humility and boasting, that I must attend to the condition of my soul and my view of the world. The first half of life has much to do with boasting but this is not the life of the saints. It is most certainly not the path of the Christ.
The path of Jesus often leads to the stable where we keep our high horse. So if you get there and you can’t shoot the horse, at least let it run free. If not, then please get off of it when you are with others and walk a mile in their shoes.