By Bill Mefford
I am not very smart when it comes to the church calendar. The most difficult class I took while I was in seminary was one that focused on understanding and putting together worship liturgies. I had a very gracious professor though and he took pity on me and didn’t flunk me, though I am sure I deserved it. It just has never come very natural for me. I usually get Lent and Advent mixed up and I can honestly say that I am not entirely sure for the purpose of either, but that is probably another post for another time.
So, besides making a couple of jokes about the beginning of Lent each year I can’t remember the last time I actually did the Lent thing of giving something up. Not trying to be snarky, but I am not sure what giving up sweets has to do with believing in Jesus, but hey, I am the guy who almost failed a class on liturgy so what do I know?
This year, however, I decided to take this Lent thing seriously. You see, I am an aggressive driver. I don’t run people off the road, but I do constantly look for angles to pass people. I speed fairly regularly, I run yellow lights, and I get incredibly impatient behind slow people (yep, I tailgate far too often). I am jerk behind the wheel, but I live near DC so I fit in. DC has some of the worst drivers in the world. I have seen some of the most aggressive driving I have ever seen in my life and I see it on a daily basis in my commute to and from work each day.
Thus, I became inured to my own poor driving because I could always point to others around me who drive so much more aggressively than me. Isn’t this how we always rationalize our sin or poor choices? The one thing that kept coming back to me though - haunting me, really - is remembering something a professor named Bob Lyons said in his Poor in Scripture class in seminary that has shaped me so much in my life. We were talking about pacifism and he was saying that claiming to be pacifist is easy and requires no sacrifice. Then he said, “I don’t believe you can be a pacifist unless you drive like a pacifist.”
People in the class laughed, but I knew exactly what he meant and it pierced me. I knew that my proclamations calling for an end to war and human rights atrocities and continued oppression were pretty empty if my life, and my driving, did not reflect an end to violence and hostility. My insides need to match my outsides and my rhetoric needs to match my practices. And though I have long knew that I needed to drive more peacefully and respectfully, I have put it off for years - literally decades.
So, we are into Lent for almost a week, though I started this a few days before Lent started (and yes, that was because I forgot when Lent started - I am telling you, I suck at church calendar stuff). I can honestly say that my driving has not only changed in these few days; it has been life-changing in many ways. I am not complaining while I drive or yelling (or honking) at slow drivers. I am not cutting people off or trying to look four or five cars ahead to see a break in traffic that I can maneuver through traffic. I get into the car and I center myself and I literally live in the joy of the journey. This is COMPLETELY different for me!
I am no longer spending my whole time in the car trying to beat everyone to my destination, I am more in the present. I fully recognize the change that has come over me when I get behind the wheel and so, as I sit patiently in traffic or as I drive safely behind a driver who is going at or below the speed limit, my thoughts drift into other areas of my life. How can I live more peacefully in those areas as well; how can I love more fully allowing what I believe in my mind to be lived out in my actions?
Just as violence begets more violence, peace builds upon peace.
I am sure I am still a cantankerous ass in far too many other areas of my life. But driving like a pacifist has been nothing short of life-changing this past week or so. At the very least, maybe there is one less jerk on the road for now.