Monday, January 17, 2011

Eating in the East and Sleeping in the West

A collection of meditations, written by a priest from Pusan, that first appeared in the Peace Weekly  has now been reprinted in a book, On the Road to Emmaus.  One of the meditations has to do with "straddling the fence" and not being authentic.

"Eating in the house of the East and sleeping in the house of the  West" is a well-known Chinese expression which in a dictionary would be defined as a vagabond. The origin of the expression, taken from one of the Chinese Classics, is quite different.

A young girl of marriageable  age received on the same day a proposal from a man living in a house in the East, and a proposal from a man in the West. The problem was that the man in the East was from a very wealthy family but was extremely ugly; the man in the West came from a very poor family but was the handsomest man in the county. The parents did not  know what to do and wanted the daughter to make the decision.

If she chose the man from the East, she was to uncover her left shoulder, and if she chose the man from the West, her right shoulder. She  also was in a quandary for some time, but finally decided to uncover both shoulders. She said she would eat with the man in the East and go to sleep with the man in the West. This is the origin of this famous expression.

Today this kind of thinking is called straddling the fence or being an opportunist. The author believes many Christians do the same thing. They go to Church on Sundays but the  rest of the week live without thought of who they are. They serve both God and the world. With the head and the ear, they believe one thing but with their actions something else.

In life, there are many times when we are tempted to straddle the fence. This is not the attitude of a follower of Jesus. In the Gospel of John 3:15, we hear:  "I know you are neither hot nor cold. How I wish you were one of the other--hot or cold!" One would think that being neutral would be a wiser way of acting, but taking a position, and being transparent and authentic with others, requires honesty. It is easier to talk with one who hates what you love but is honest, than to talk with one who is indifferent.  It is said the opposite of love is indifference, and that the distance from indifference to concern is often greater than the distance from hate to love. Straddling the fence may at times be unavoidable. Most of the time it is avoidable and  to "uncover both shoulders,"should not be the response.

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