Both hands back on the wheel
You’ve probably had the experience of driving on a long trip, making good time on the interstate, when suddenly you see ahead that things are slowing to a crawl. It doesn’t make sense – it’s not rush hour, and you’re nowhere near a busy city. An hour later, after you’ve covered less ground in your car than you could have on foot, you discover the problem. There’s been a wreck, and everyone needed to slow down, not for safety’s sake, but just to get a good, long, gawkish look.
That is what the run-up to the presidential election has felt like to me at times. Day after day, a new wreck seems to appear in the news – mocking one-liners, WikiLeaks, demeaning behavior, arrogant dismissals, fear mongering, angry allegations, and brawling, combustible crowds. And with each new wreck, it seems we’ve all had to slow down to take a good, long look.
Sometimes we’ve taken to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to express our outrage. That has usually meant that others start to pile on, the counterpunches have escalated, and the differing explanations about who caused the mess have pitted family members, friends, and communities against each other. That’s when our disagreements about who was to blame for the wreck on the side of the road have threatened to cause another.
But when you’re driving on the interstate, you really only have one responsibility: to drive safely and courteously yourself. Gawking at an accident, laying on the horn when you’re angry, cutting off an aggressive driver, or tailgating a slowpoke, none of these things help us to fulfill our responsibility. In fact, all they do is contribute to the likelihood of another ugly wreck.
And as the presidential election draws near, many of us have been asking, regardless of this election’s outcome, “How are we going to travel down this road together after November 8?”
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul seems to be encouraging us simply to keep our eyes on the road:
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
At the church, we are hard at work, planning for Thanksgiving Day, Advent, and Christmas. In other words, we are pondering the possibility of gratitude in adversity, what it means to wait hopefully, and how we can become what we adore. It all has me thanking God again for the opportunity to turn our attention again to those things that matter most, those things that inspire and ennoble us, and those things that are worth pondering deeply in our hearts, the way Mary pondered the miraculous birth of her child.
When by God’s grace I am able to do these things, when I can keep my attention where it belongs, something shifts in me – I remember that not only are rude drivers and roadside wrecks the exception and not the rule, I also remember that there are always good people who carefully pull over to see how they can be of help when something has gone wrong. I remember that I can be one of those people.
And most of all, when I consider the kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness that I see in people all around me every day, I can’t help but be filled with gratitude at what an extraordinary gift it is simply to be able to make this journey at all. November 8 is just around the corner, and we are also approaching Thanksgiving Day and the holy seasons of Advent and Christmas, which perhaps are calling us back to something beautiful, enduring, and life-giving. Maybe when we all look back on this election season, we will see it as a cautionary tale about allowing aberrations to capture our gawkish attention and to draw us away from that which can always be our focus—the pervasive goodness around us all the time; our calling to serve, not to be served; and our role to be “kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving.” I’m putting both hands back on the wheel.