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Rules Are Rules … Until They’re Not

In a previous life, two brave souls taught us how to play Bridge. The experience suggested a paraphrase of Jesus’ teaching: “Greater love has no one than this, than to teach one’s neighbor to play Bridge” (John 15.13 records the original).

Bridge bears an uncanny resemblance to life. It requires skills and knowledge—just like life; it requires cooperation and communication—just like life; it sets up friendly or not-so-friendly competition—just like life; it demands goals and strategy—just like life; also, a lucky break never hurts—yes, just like life.

My favorite similarity, though, is all the exceptions to the rules. No sooner is one of the thousand rules committed to memory than the next hand provides an example of one of the ten thousand exceptions! Again, just like life.

Think of the many rules—the basic principles or building blocks—that structure our lives and set the pattern by which we build and sustain our relationships. Early on we learned that “all men are created equal” … except that they are not. Somewhere, we were taught not to kill … except that we do, if not directly ourselves then by licensing others to do so in our name. “Love your neighbor” stands out and sometimes we do and often we don’t. A standard, “don’t drink and drive,” has many levels of violation, some acceptable (blood alcohol content), some not (DUI), some ending in tragedy.

I don’t argue for a rigid moralism or an unbending code of conduct. Life is complicated and some rules do require flexibility in their application but we must be careful here lest we end up with a my-rules-for-me and your-rules-for-you relativism that allows just about anything. (Lest we forget, the Southern church cited the “rules” to justify slavery.)

Two thoughts to give us pause. First, as many of us as claim to live by them, so do many still treat the Ten Commandments as the Ten Suggestions. (After all, the real world demands a more practical and doable approach to such things.) Maybe less flexibility and more rigidity would be a helpful corrective these days? Just saying.

Second, the bedrock rule of the road that guides all situations remains the words of Jesus, to love God with all we are as persons and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The commandment (not a “suggestion”) actually involves four categories of relationships, with God, self, neighbor, and creation. That we may not and will not live lovingly in all our relationships does not let us off the hook so to aspire, and while its application may vary as we go on our way, the rule itself abides. No exceptions.