Saturday, October 11, 2008

Following the rules

I love the Spanish card game Truco. I learned it from my wife's Argentine family--it's a popular game there. Without going into too much detail, Truco is a combination of poker and spades, probably my two favorite card games previous to learning it. It involves the strategy of catching tricks (trucos) PLUS the skill of bluffing to win tricks. And cheating is built into the rules, because there is a standard set of signs you can flash your partner to let him know what cards you have. I guess it's not really cheating because if your opponents see your sign-flash, they know what you have too. It's a great game.

I may have written before about my wife's uncle David. Their family background is Jewish--they emigrated to Argentina from Turkey in the early 20th century--and David is the epitome of Tevye from "Fiddler on the Roof." He is the best Truco player in the family (at least in his own mind). But the first time we played together he said a phrase that has stuck with me for almost 20 years now. Since I was just learning, I slid the pad and paper for scorekeeping toward him. He took it, but declared, "You need to know my philosophy: if you can't win when you're keeping score, you don't deserve to play."

I kept score.

I've now used that phrase hundreds of times since then, mostly on the golf course when someone asks if I'm writing the scores on the card. And it came to mind again this morning as I read Proverbs 11.1:

"A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight."

Two things come to mind here. First, God does not like those who cheat. How often do we bend the rules of whatever we're doing in our own favor? We think of ourselves as deserving of the best, so we take advantage of whatever situation to make it come out for our benefit. And honestly, we don't often see this as cheating, but just as "ambition" or "the way the cookie crumbles." I'm reminded of an old Chuck Swindoll story where he and his son were rafting in Colorado, and as the head guide was explaining all that would happen, Chuck was eyeing what looked to be the best raft and saltiest guide, and starting maneuvering he and his son that direction. Was he cheating? Of course he was, just in a socially acceptable way. All the others, who were following the rules by listening to instruction, were being cheated out of what might have been their raft and guide. Big deal? Probably not.

The one place I hate cheaters is on the highway. On my commute home there is one place that during rush hour traffic the lane for exiting the highway backs up probably a 1/2 mile. I dutifully wait it out in that lane for 10 or 15 minutes, because I think it's clear that is the right thing to do. [I know it's like the only rules I tend to follow. I'm full of hypocricy.] It ticks me off to no end those people who think they are better and smarter than the rest of us who pass us all in the left lane then force their way into the right lane closer to the exit, making those of us who are following the rules wait an extra 15 seconds. That's not the way it should work; those who follow the rules should be rewarded, not those who break the rules.

And I think this proverb says that eventually those who cheat will be seen and caught by God.

But here's the second thought I had from this wise saying. Who is it that gets cheated the most in areas of "false balance"? It's the poor and marginalized. It's those who have no voice of their own, no place to get justice. It is those who cannot speak up against unjust scales and rules and economic systems.

Last night we watched "Speed Racer" with the kids. It was a fun movie, and in the end the marginalized guys won. The business guy who had the clout to make the rules always work in his favor went to jail. It was a picture of a world that I think God delights in, where the kid slays the giant, where the slaves win over the powerful government, where the baby born in a barn is the greatest king of all time. God is the champion of those who have no champions, and any system--political, economic, organizational or otherwise--that cheats those who have no voice is an abomination to him.

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