12 May, 2009

Drive Friendly

I have a theory. Mind you, it's not a well-considered theory based on observation, reflection and logic. So, maybe not a theory so much as a suddenly espoused idea. Or perhaps a bit of mental flatulence.

The way a person drives tells you a lot about the state of their soul. More precisely: the more graciously a person drives, the holier they probably are. And, I think the inverse is also formationally true. To grow in grace and holiness, one should practice driving with grace and holiness: driving as spiritual discipline. It may not be as time-tested as the lectio divina, but methinks it's more likely to be practiced on a a large scale if I can just get the word out. (1)

I grew up in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas - a vehicular Mecca. Traffic was a part of my life from childhood, even though I didn't drive - traffic reports on the news, adults' complaints about it, my Dad's hour of daily commute time. Years later, coming back to Dallas for seminary, I lived downtown (Deep Ellum, specifically, 'cause I'm hip like that) and commuted to the suburbs for my 10 hour-per-week church job. Driving was a significant part of my life. Not as much as the freaky folks who commute 2 hours or more (each way!) in places like New York. But I did drive a lot.

And I sometimes drove angry. Cutting people off, racing ahead when lanes merged, not letting folks in and basically being kind of a jerk. Like most everyone else on Central Expressway. (2)

Then, one day in the midst of mid-afternoon traffic on a hot summer day, as frustration, anger and the radiator were all about to boil over, I had a crystalline moment of insight. "It doesn't have to be like this," says Inner Clay to Outer Clay. "You don't need to be stressed whilst driving. You can relax and maybe even make other people's commutes somewhat more peaceful. How would Jesus drive?"

[Honestly, I didn't mean to think that last part ("HWJD?"), but growing up in Texas, where there are more Baptists than people (3), phrases like that often pop into your head unbidden. It's a geo-spiritual hazard of living in the Bible Belt.]

I don't know what it feels like to achieve Enlightenment, but this was probably as close as my Methodist self was gonna get. It was all so very clear.

In a place of near-constant congestion (traffic, not nasal) and semi-perpetual road rage, I decided then and there to drive counter-culturally. To be nice to folks, go out of my way to let them in. To not worry about traffic delays or the jerk in the 1985 Chevy pickup who cut me off. I would extend the peace of Christ to my vehicularly-bound brothers and sisters. I would be a one man round of automotive Kumbayah as a motored beatifically on the highways and byways of the Metroplex.

Sometimes it worked. Sometimes not. But when it worked, I truly felt better physically and spiritually. And I like to think that at least one of the people I let in front of me had a better day thanks to the grace I offered them.

Fast forward a few years. Now I'm living in La Grande. In the first few days of living here, I was walking to work, approached a crosswalk and waited for the only car on the road (in either direction) to pass. He didn't. He stopped, leaving a 20 foot safety buffer between his front bumper and the crosswalk. Just me and him and an empty street. A quiet moment passed. I could hear a squirrel chattering in the trees above. What was this guy doing?

I looked at him, confounded. He smiled pleasantly and waved my across. I crossed. Honestly, I was a little afraid of some kind of human-scale-Frogger trick until I was safely on the other side.

In the next few days, I had similar experiences. Drivers stopped for pedestrians. Gladly. People let others turn in front of them,and otherwise drove graciously. This felt like a sort of spiritual homecoming. A Land of Nice Drivers. People who seriously considered HWJD? And they said Oregon was an irreligious land. Pshaw!

All of this is on my mind because today I was driving in the Safeway parking lot and stoppped to let someone back out of a parking spot. I wasn't waiting on the spot, just trying to be a Nice Driver, practicing my spiritually superior driving.

The lady pulled out of the spot and headed on her way.

And did not wave a "thank you."

I said horrible things about her and her whole family. I said them quietly so God wouldn't hear, but I said them.

Didn't she appreciate my gracious gesture? Didn't she know how much the world has benefitted from my one man Drive Nice Campaign? How could she be so rude, so clueless? In that moment, I wished I believed in karma, so that I could know that she have some fender bender in a later life to counter her selfishness in this one.

Dammit, lady, I'm trying to start a movement here and you're not getting on board! A simple hand wave goes a long way in making the world a better place! Some people are so irretrievably stupid and self-centered that they're going to ruin things for everyone.

I just want to be acknowledged for my graciousness!


And therein lies ye olde rub.

I'd come back to being an angry driver. Only now I was a self-righteous, piteously self-important angry driver. At least before I was merely an angry driver without any spiritual pretense.

Why do I always do this? Start with something good - maybe even godly - and squish it around until it becomes something else entirely? Religious practices become legalities. Holy humility morphs into spiritual pride.

So, I'm back to square one. Starting tomorrow, I'm going to try and drive like Jesus would. Not for any reward or recognition, but because it's the right thing to do. It's a kinder, gentler Clay on the road from here on out.

Unless I see you texting while driving. Then I'm gonna PIT you.

much peace, much love, etc.

(1) And, what with nearly a dozen readers of the old blog here, word will surely be out soon.
(2) Central Expressway is neither "central" nor very "express." Discuss among yourselves.
(3) I went to a seminar featuring Lovett Weems and he used this phrase often. Not only is it funny, but apparently, due to the peculiarities of record keeping amongst our Baptist brethren and sistren, is factually true in some places.

01 May, 2009

Sweet Weepin' Jesus

Christians are more likely than non-Christians to think that torture is "often" or "sometimes" justified. (Link goes to the story...) (1)

We screw up a lot of stuff in Jesus' Church. But this one really would seem like a no-brainer to me.

We really want to say to the world that Jesus is concerned about what our children watch on TV, whether teenagers take a sex-ed class, whether we say cusswords when we stub our toe, but when it comes to torture, he says, "Look, it's not really that bad. I should know...."? Reeeallllyyyy? (2)

Words aren't enough. But I wonder what the sound of Jesus slapping his own forehead in dismay is like.

much peace, much love, etc.

PS - I would like to say that those are really fancy cuffs Our Lord and Savior is sporting on his robe. It doesn't come across in translation, but the Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of John make it clear that El Jefe Del Universo is sartorially in the know.

(1) A new friend recently referred to CNN as "Constantly Negative News." I didn't believe it in the moment, but this might be enough to convince me.

(2) I hear this in a very sarcastic/whiny voice. You could also opt for the "Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura" voice. Either is acceptable.