"When they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the tribune came, arrested him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; he inquired who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and he could not learn the facts because of the uproar." - Acts 21:27-40
We once held a community meeting at our church to address an issue that had made our neighbors angry with us. The lay leaders had a carefully planned introductory presentation, but they never got to give it. Because when we went around the room for introductions, many attendees seized that time to tell us everything we had done wrong in the community. The introductions turned into speechifying, and as the angry neighbors listened to each other, they got angrier with the church.
Soon there were people shouting about things that had happened long ago and had nothing to do with the matter at hand. It was one of the worst meetings I have ever been a part of and there was nothing I could do about it. Sometimes, bringing a group of furious people together is not the answer.
When the tribune arrested Paul, the city had turned into an angry mob. So the tribune put Paul in chains and asked the crowd who Paul was. They all shouted out different accusations. There was no consistent story. "He could not learn the facts because of the uproar."
There’s a lesson here for us. As much as we church folk love bringing people together for meetings, there are times when it just doesn’t work. You can’t always get good information, or a wise outcome, from a group. Sometimes you just have to get out of there.
Loving God, sometimes we gather together for thanksgiving and love. Other times we get together to accuse and to hurt each other. Let your Holy Spirit guide me in either setting, so that I know when to stay and when to go. Let me be grateful for the gatherings that are loving and warm, and protect me from those that are neither. Amen.
Lillian Daniel, author of When "Spiritual But Not Religious" is Not Enough, has a chapter in the new anthology, What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-one Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most. Follow her on twitter @lillianfdaniel.