Gotta Know When to Hold ‘em

Gotta Know When to Hold ‘em:  A Reflection “The Card Players”

painted by Paul Cezanne’s

by Adam R. Nettesheim

“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk way, know when to run!” – “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers

The Card Players (circa 1894/95) Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) oil on canvas, 18.7 x 22.4″, Musee d’ Orsey, Image Source

Plainly said, I see in this painting two gentlemen sitting down for a game of cards.  To my eyes they look pretty focused on the game.  Or maybe they just don’t have much to say to one another?  Then my eyes catch their clothing. One looks a little more well off than the other.  He’s got a tall hat, a pipe, and his posture is straight, whereas the gentlemen in the mustard colored coat is hunched, elbows on the table, and a hat that looks a bit crumpled.  There is a bottle of wine on the table but it remains corked, and there are no glasses out.

There are a few details about this painting that seem, at first glance, little unfriendly… or at least they seem unfriendly. The painting then draws be towards thinking about these ideas…

Common Misconceptions

  1. When we think that the only valuable space to inhabit with someone is by engaging in conversation.  
  2. When we think that the only way we can make friends is by what we have in common with each other.
  3. But then we keep friends by what we keep to ourselves.
  4. When we feel awkward when we have nothing to say to another person, so we look for an excuse to leave.

Though there is a feeling I get from these two men that seems a little ‘cold’, what does feel warm to me about this painting are the colors.  Even though these two men seem to have very little in common, they are together at a table with a tablecloth, and both are bathed in a warm light.


  • The Bible says “Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am with them.”  (see Matthew 18:20)
  • I’ve just listened to a book that spoke about the “consuming fire of God’s loving presence”. How the fire of God’s love consumes and heals all that has been twisted and corrupted.  (The God-Shaped Brain: How Changing Your View of God Transforms Your Life by Timothy R. Jennings)
  • I also remember Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Revelation” where something similar is demonstrated. (I need to go back and find that story  to read it again) 
  • I remember that we are called to take communion when we gather – not at home where it would be so much easier to concentrate. I remember that “two are better than one”. I remember that love covers a multitude of sins.
  • And I remember that in the beginning God said “It is not good for man to be alone.” (see Genesis 2:18)

Looking deeply into this moment in time causes me to feel the shortages in our society and in my life…

Like being on a mini time travel break, I can return to my life seeing more clearly how we tend to base much of our communities on “us” and “them” kinds of thinking. Because social media makes it all too easy to connect to people across the country who are “like” you, and to avoid those who are next door who are “not like” you, we expertly form communities of agreement and create echo chambers that embolden our beliefs or preferences and diminish the credibility and, sadly, sometimes the humanity of those who disagree.  

Certainly, there is a need to be encouraged. And sometimes encouragement comes best from a community that has gathered for a common purpose. But when that is our only source of “WITH”, then we must examine whether or not we are doing it as it was intended.  And so we do well to check our behavior by the one called Emmanuel, “God with us”.

Jesus came down and was very much with us, but in another sense was very much not of us.  He was fully man, as I understand it, but also fully God. He suffered and felt all of the pains and joys we humans face, but He had the power of the Almighty and the knowledge of the cosmos that waits just behind the veil that we cannot see.  You are not further apart from those you struggle to engage with than Jesus is with all of humanity. And yet He chose to bridge that gap.

What did Jesus do with those who were not as “pure” as He?  (What human could possibly be?) Did He avoid them? Leave them entirely? No. He lived with them. He ate with them. Walked with them. Talked with them. Perhaps He even sat down at a table with them and played a game of cards. The people that the Son of God may have seemed the farthest from (prostitutes, tax collectors, demon possessed…) those were the ones that were most glad for His holy company.  Those seeking a purity and perfection from anyone they were around (religious leaders) thought that even the Messiah was too ‘unclean’ for them.

How this painting inspires and challenges us:

Our challenge this week, and for the rest of our lives, is to go and find someone to be WITH.  Even if the only ‘common ground’ you can occupy is a table with a deck of cards. Show up in person, shuffle, and deal.  You don’t have to agree on everything or anything for there to be good things done. Holy work can be done without words.  Breathe the same air. Feel the wood of the same table. Your physiology will benefit from their proximity, and theirs will benefit from yours.  And above all, know that the same God that made and loves you, made and loves them too.

I believe, it is time we learned how to ‘hold’ onto each other rather than ‘fold’ at the slightest hint of incongruity.  There are certainly times to speak out in love and to advocate for others and for the good of society. There’s also a time to sit down, shut up and just play cards.

Deal me in! 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV)

Two are better than one,

   because they have a good return for their labor:

If either of them falls down,

   one can help the other up.

But pity anyone who falls

   and has no one to help them up.

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

   But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered,

   two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Matthew 18:20 (NIV)

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Genesis 2:18a (NIV)

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

“If I had to avoid conversation with everyone I disagreed with, well, then I could never again talk to myself!”


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ida says:

    TY for such a thoughtful approach to being “with” people.


  2. Excellent art and so much good came out of it for you to expound upon…I say, worthy of a re-blog…Bravo!


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