Cans of Worms

Our community shelves are buckling beneath the weight of storage. So many cans of worms. The supply appears far greater than the demand. Every home has them as well. Every church, every business, many relationships. That’s a lot of worms, and cans, and storage.

The phrase, opening a can of worms apparently originated around the early 1950’s. Here’s one definition: If you say that someone is opening a can of worms, you are warning them that they are planning to do or talk about something which is much more complicated, unpleasant, or difficult than they realize and which might be better left alone.

We have become so anxious and fearful that we’ve made a silent pact to let sleeping dogs lie, not stir the pot, never rock the boat, and definitely keep hands off the cans. Test the theory and look at the labels. We all know what they are. Religion, race, family secrets, gender issues, inequality, abuse, mental health, corruption, sex trafficking, addiction, Trump, Israel, Palestine, Black Lives Matter, Indigenous People Rights, Revisionist history, compensation for past injustice, death penalty, abortion, and no doubt many more.

How come so much of life and living is off-limits? We don’t seem to learn that left locked in cans those worms grow into snakes, they bust out and wriggle everywhere causing even more trouble. We could attempt an exercise of writing down as many hot topics (cans of worms) as we can think of. Then review the list and see which one’s cause your heart to beat faster and anxiety to rise. Why is that? There’s no condemnation or judgement regarding the answer. But it would identify our sensitivities as a first step to finding out why I respond as I do. What am I protecting? What am I avoiding? What am I afraid of? Or put another way, which buttons pressed evoke a response where I try to keep a lid on, like a can?

The problem with cans of worms is that they thrive in dark cool storage areas where they’re left alone. They feed off mind games, presumption, assumption, negativity, second-guessing, and the fear of the unknown. This tendency of us humans to can, pack and store stuff we’re uncomfortable with stretches way back. Inventing a phrase about worms wasn’t the beginning, merely a novel description of what has always been.

Eight hundred years before Jesus walked the earth God spoke about communication through the Prophet Isaiah. “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord. It’s an invitation to his children, Israel. As a stand alone phrase it sounds harmless enough. But consider the phrases encapsulating that invitation and it’s riddled with offensive worms. Maybe God’s not into canning after all.

Come now, and let us reason together, though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.”

God begins the conversation clarifying a blunt reality. “We both know you have issues. You have done things, thought things, and behaved in ways that are wrong in my eyes. But I’m not condemning you or casting you out.”

We jump up and splutter, “But God….”

He puts his hand up.

“Let me finish. By the time we’ve had our dialogue you will be clean, free, and without shame, or even the need to hide, deny, justify, or protest. We’re going to talk, and listen, question, seek to understand, own our stuff, confess and forgive, and all will be well.”

To make matters worse. or to shine a light upon behavior , the phrases before the invitation to dialogue are these: Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Actions are under the microscope, not merely words!

That invitation to dialogue wrapped in expectations regarding self- awareness, attitudes, and regard for the weak and oppressed would break open the sturdiest of cans; worms everywhere.

Upon reading these words it appears that God invites us to begin any dialogue with another from a position of humility, aware of our imperfections and failings; assuming that finding solutions will involve us owning our part in the problem. It’s never one-sided – ever.

Let’s take the can of worms in the last blogs regarding Israel and Palestine. Emotions and passions run white hot on both sides as we witness the terrible events underway. The anger and vitriol never ending.

“Israel, you press your knee on my neck and I can’t breath, just like George Floyd. How can you expect us to never rebel and protest if you refuse to give us room to live or to grow?”

“Palestine, you constantly declare that we have no right to even exist and that you will not stop until we have been chased from our land. We vowed after the holocaust never to allow that to happen.”

The two positions are impossible to reconcile unless there is a change of heart on both sides. When cans of worms stock the shelves the most radical expressions on any matter will invariably come to power and fill the void where truth is suppressed.

As I pray for peace in the Middle East I pray for a change of heart where more moderate voices can come together to find a better way forward. There are significant hurts and injustices on both sides. As we know only too well on a personal level, it is better to live with the promises of the future than to be stuck in the hurts of the past. That doesn’t negate the past, nor exonerate the guilty. Everything that matters to any participant is a vital part of the dialogue. But the ultimate vision and motive is toward a better future, together.

We know we have grown in freedom and maturity when hot buttons grow cold and no amount of pressing makes a difference.

And after the invitation to dialogue and the opportunity for healing is given God gives a warning to his beloved children.

“If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land, but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

I don’t believe the Lord was threatening but reluctantly stating an inevitable and obvious truth. The alternative to dialogue that is deep, respectful, and meaningful is death and destruction. The principle is true in personal relationships and up through the layers to the international world.

Furthermore, if we eavesdrop on Jesus relationships with his disciples he broached topics many would prefer canned. “What are you talking about? Who do people/you say that I am? Are you also going to leave me?….”

Lots of work to do. Spring clean some cans. “Who let the worms out!? Better to say “Can do,” then, “Can it.”

John Cox

Christian Author and Counsellor

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