Soon after Saddam Hussein’s troops invaded neighboring Kuwait, President H.W. Bush declared that he was “drawing a line in the sand” and gave Iraq until January 15, 1991 to withdraw. As we all know, the “line in the sand” was crossed which led to the launching of Operation Desert Storm on January 16, 1991.
I’ve been thinking lately about the phrase, “drawing a line in the sand,” and wondering where it originated. William Safire in his book, In Love with Norma Loquendi, suggests that the phrase may have come from the siege of the Alamo in 1836 when William Barret Travis drew a line in the sand. He asked those willing to stay and defend the fort to step across.
Another possible origin dates to the time of the Roman Empire. A Macedonian King decided to invade Egypt, a Roman protectorate. The King’s army was met at the border by a Roman Senator named Popillius Laenas who drew a circle around the king and demanded that the king agree to withdraw his army before stepping out of the circle. The King was apparently impressed by the senator’s nerve and withdrew.
So many people are drawing lines in the sand nowadays. There are lines of defiance being drawn by politicians, pastors, churches, religious groups, and countries. Israel has drawn a line in the sand with the Palestinians and the Palestinians have done likewise. Some within our denomination have drawn a line in the sand concerning homosexuality and have suggested that it is time for the two camps to go their separate ways (Schism). There seems to be less of a middle way anymore, no conversation or negotiation. It’s my way or the highway. Maybe I’m naïve or just don’t understand the issues well enough, but it seems to me that if we are going to survive together on this planet, then we better figure out some way to step across our lines and engage in healthy conversation. I’m just saying…
I can only think of the story from the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John where the religious scholars and Pharisees bring a woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus. The law (a line drawn in the sand) demanded that the woman be stoned. The scripture tells us that Jesus bent down and wrote in the dirt. What did he write? Some suggest that Jesus looked at the woman’s accusers one by one and wrote down their sin or violation of the law. Whatever Jesus did, he managed to erase their accusatory and hateful lines. Maybe we need to ask Jesus to help us erase the lines we have drawn so we might have healthy conversation with our brothers and sister, friends and neighbors? Think about it.