I am as guilty of this as anyone, but I suspect that I am hardly alone in letting the opinions and/or actions of others upset me more than they should. Since I believe, and have stated so on many occasions, that I believe the Bible contains all the truth we need to know, especially in the Gospels—I stand in the spotlight of those who have accepted that we will be judged by Christ and Christ alone for our thoughts, actions, and for the things we should have done but didn’t do. You will never convince me with arguments and philosophy that other humans are really the ones whose judgement counts. History, life, literature, and art are rife with examples of those who have scorned the reactions of their peers and have stood head and shoulders above all others in their reflection of Christ and His commandments to us. The problem for me, and for many others I’ll warrant, is that Christ isn’t here in person to tell me I’m okay. Christ’s judgement will come when my life is complete and not before. Society’s and my peer’s judgements are right now, at hand, and hard to ignore. Yes, Christ told us we would be persecuted, and I think we almost all feel we can stand up to overt persecution. It’s that arched eyebrow, that lifted lip, that flared nostril, that we find so horribly acute and painful. What do you do when you cannot sit with the cool people and are ignored by the popular? What if someone in authority (no matter how flawed and mistaken) makes you feel humiliated and ashamed? Let me give you an example that actually happened to me. The insults and opinions and unspoken comments of people that I didn’t even know shouldn’t have made me feel like I had taken a sucker-punch to the gut, but they did.
Part One: I had bought a car from a dear friend who had always allowed me to pay for repairs whenever I could. Sadly, he had MS and passed away, and his car dealership changed hands and most of his employees also left. I took my car into the new dealership to get about $400 worth of repairs, knowing I could only pay half at the time and would have to pay the rest in a month or so. Before, when my friend ran the dealership, this would never have been a problem. When I tried to pay half of the bill, the new guys started yelling at me. They called me names like “deadbeat” and “loser” and worse, and told me I was nothing special and had to pay the whole bill or leave the car where it sat until I could. Their yelling attracted the attention of everyone, customers and staff who formed an audience for my humiliation and disgrace. I hung my head and began to walk away wondering how I was going to get home. Before I got out the door, the service manager sheepishly told me to take the car, and try to get as much of the remaining money as I could by the end of the week. I was hurt, angry, and feeling very abused by people who shouldn’t have had the power to make me feel that way. I lived about fifty miles away by interstate and left during rush hour to drive home. My car had a clergy sticker on the back, and I was wearing a clerical collar and had a cross hanging around my neck but that all seemed unimportant compared to how I felt. There’s no way to really explain how a guy could feel so badly abused—a guy like me with multiple graduate degrees, the love of more than one congregation, the love of my family, the love of former students, and the satisfaction of tireless work for others I had been doing for years. None of the good things that had been said about me meant anything at the moment, just the cruel, hurtful things some men who really meant nothing to me or the community in which I lived had said.
Part Two: On my way home, I was angry, hurt, and took it out on every other driver in my way. It was rush hour and there were many. I was approaching speeds of ninety to a hundred miles an hour, weaving in and out of traffic on that interstate, thinking truly bad thoughts about those who had hurt me, honking and waving my fist at all who were innocent but in my way. Suddenly, my rear-view mirror was filled with flashing red and blue lights. I pulled over immediately and waited for the disaster I knew was coming, knowing I had just made matters even worse. The Arkansas State Trooper walked up to my window and asked me to step out of my car. This had never happened to me before, not in Los Angeles, not in Boston, and I was shocked and scared. I got out and stood by my car as hundreds of the cars I had passed, now passed me—and they just kept coming. Many were gloating, I am sure. I kept waiting for the Trooper to arrest me or write me a ticket, but he just stood there, mute. After about five minutes that seemed like a hundred years, he finally spoke. He said, “Padre, what kind of sermon do you think you’re preaching right now to all those who are driving by?” Then, without writing me a ticket or arresting me, he just turned and silently got back into his car and drove away. I looked up at the sky and said, “Thanks.” I got back in my car and drove slightly below the speed limit all the way home and for the rest of my life. Sometimes, God speaks through burning bushes and sometimes through the quiet wisdom of an Arkansas State Trooper.