Meditations by John Dean

Monday, November 7, 2011

Party Line

(Nehemiah 2:20 Message Bible) I shot back, "The God-of-Heaven will make sure we succeed. We're his servants and we're going to work, rebuilding. You can keep your nose out of it. You get no say in this, Jerusalem is none of your business.

I am not sure why folks find prying into other folks affairs so interesting, but they do.

Perhaps the main purpose could be like those in our text who were trying to find reasons to scoff and threaten. Nehemiah was bold and spoke candidly to those who were sticking their noses into his telling them to keep their noses out of his business.

In the late 1940s the telephone became very popular and convenient for those who lived in rural areas or on farms. At that time there were many small independent telephone companies who were owned by individuals. These small companies began running phone lines into the farming areas in order to meet the needs of the farmers, while building their customer base.

We were privileged to have enough folks living on our dirt road to warrant the telephone company’s investment in a phone line for our community. Our excitement grew to an all-time high just thinking about being able to actually talk to our neighbors without having to leave the house. Wow! What will they think of next?

Our community was on a party-line, which meant that everyone knew when the other person got a phone call. When the phone rang everyone on the party-line heard it at the same time. The thing that distinguished whose call it was depended on the length of the rings.

All of our phones were big wooden wall mounted phones with a handle on the right side for turning. If someone wanted to call our number they would have to turn the handle two shorts turns and one long turn. Instead of knowing each other’s phone number as we do today, we knew how many long and short rings for each of our neighbor’s phones.

The party line seemed to be the soap opera of the late 1940s and early 1950s. When someone got a call, every busybody on the party line would pick up the phone to listen. As a matter of fact, after a while we learned how to identify the nosey intruder by the sound of their receiver when they picked up the phone.

The family that I was living with at the time was always getting business calls. The man of the house was commonly known by everyone as Uncle Leon. When Uncle Leon got a business call it wasn’t long before I could hear him shout, “Get off the line Gladys.”

Gladys had to be the most resilient person that I know, because she continued trying to find ways to listen in on the party line without being caught. Gladys was never successful with Uncle Leon, but she was with me. I loved to let her listen in on my conversations just to give her something to do. That may have been a little mischievous on my part, but after all, I was only a teenager who happened to love little old women and was always willing to give them all the grace and space they needed.

Perhaps the real question we have to answer is this. Was there a difference in what the men were trying to do to Nehemiah and what Gladys was doing on the party line? If it was the same, then should the judgment be the same? If it was not the same then what was the difference? Should there be a different penalty for the men because of their attitude toward the things of God, or should Gladys receive the same penalty for just being a little old woman who was nosey?
Is it right for one to put their nose in another person’s business? No, it is not right under any circumstance, but should motive be a consideration in the penalty? You decide.

Help us to know how to judge between good and evil and particularly those who we are to give mercy to. We want to learn how to respond to these types of situations in the right way. We understand that there are those who intend to do us harm by sticking their nose into our business whereas others do not intend to do us harm. Help us to know the difference and respond accordingly.

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