“There’s Room for Everyone on the Island”
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to vote someone out of your community?
Once long ago there was a city where that happened every year. About four centuries before Christ, the citizens of Athens, Greece had an open-air assembly meeting where they could vote on matters of interest to the city. Every year at that assembly citizens voted on whether to have an OSTRACISM.
If the majority said yes, everyone present took an OSTRACON (a broken piece of pottery, which was the ancient world equivalent of a scrap of paper) and wrote down the name of the person that they thought the city could most do without.
The name written on the potsherds was declared to be OSTRACIZED. It was a bit like being voted off the island in the reality show “Survivor”-except in this case it really was reality. The winner (that is, loser) was banished from Athens for a period of four years when he could again return to his property.
Historian Thomas Cahill writes, “In this way people who were nuisances were eliminated.” If at first this shocks you, consider for a moment what benefits it provided.
OSTRACISM as a civic practice is long gone. But the function of ostracism and dysfunction is alive and well.
Human beings seem to have a never-ending struggle with who’s in and who’s out. Through a variety of tactics-shunning, refusing to make eye contact, and withholding love and attention, we ostracize people whom we deem outsiders.
No vote is actually taken. But our behavior betrays our true feelings.
OSTRACISM was part of the Athenian vision for a healthy community but our vision as Christians for healthy relationships is fundamentally different.
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:16: “Live in harmony with one another. Don’t be proud, but willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” Then he adds in verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
In other words, don’t be a passive observer of ostracism right in front of you. Be proactive. With your words and your behavior let others back in.
It’s time to acknowledge that by God’s grace, there’s room for everyone on the island.
Ron Naylor, Chaplain