Personal learning @ intersections
Complexity and velocity make the intersections of life and ministry seem so impersonal. They amplify what Harvey Cox predicted would be the marks of The Secular City, his 1965 look into the future, mobility and anonymity. Worldviews and politics and economics and religion are a blur in these fast lanes. So also are the occupants, the individuals who pilot and maneuver these projectiles through the twists and turns of life. They aren't drones you know, though there are prototypes in the in the secret enclaves of the automobile dreamers. For the moment, however, every vehicle is a manned craft. Someone makes the mechanism move and is steering it. You know, real live people.
There's the human element. They're not just demographics, digits in a column, prospects, voters, mannequins occupying space, names on a list. These are people looking for answers in a world they could have hardly imagined. Gifted and talented, unique in ways that only a majestic Creator could have engineered, they are mortal, fallible, homo sapiens trying to comprehend the mysteries of a fallen world. They are mobile and mostly anonymous, these travelers. They're going to something or from something. They have likes and dislikes, pros and cons, biases, prejudices, preferences, bank accounts, credit cards, and warts on their noses. In the mass are people trying to figure it out, whatever it may be.
This was an immediate learning for me the day we discovered that our son, Brian, had been murdered @ 51 America Street, in the east side of Charleston. It was on July 18, 2011, four years ago tomorrow. I was at church when the call came and my colleagues Ron Hickson and Nick Morgan drove me down to The Citadel to relate this news to Harriet, assistant to the Campus Chaplain. It was a very intense couple of hours. We are forever thankful for the care that Ron and Nick gave us, the comfort of Harriet's good friend Lynn Clark, and Campus Catholic Chaplain Dennis Willey (Citadel, '85) and Episcopal Chaplain Greg Smith, who held us and prayed for us.
When we drove back to North Charleston the traffic was heavy, the pace was slowed, and people were their usual July selves. We were grief stricken parents trying to comprehend the most tragic things we could have ever imagined. But, out there in the daily madness we were just another car in the traffic. I remember thinking, maybe even screaming it out, "Hey, folks. We're hurting. Give us some space". It didn't back things down a bit. On and on it went, four and five lanes of vehicles headed somewhere. When someone gave me the one-finger wave I knew it was aimed more at my car than at me. It was another day of heavy traffic in clogged intersections, and the impersonal treatment of machines grinding the intersections that lead home.
Yes, I know, the intersections are merely a metaphor of our times, even a vivid one. The pace of life is faster than I ever dreamed, the issues more complicated and layered than even my prophetic seminary professors imagined, But, the lesson I learned the day of Brian's death is the central truth of this entire learning segment: people matter. Often, that single truth is obscured by all the movement. And, there's more. As I analyze the church and our responses to this crazy world, I tend to forget that we are those same fallible mortals that are navigating all those vehicles. Please forgive that oversight.
It is a reminder that God, in his infinite, majestic wisdom--omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent---has chosen people like us to bring his redemptive promise to the human passengers of his world. And, the message he entrusted is geared to people. Of course the gospel can change families and nations, alter governments, influence ruling documents, and guide judicial decisions. The message we are to share can forge new paths, educational systems, voters rights, racial tensions, and gender identity. National traffic patterns can be adjusted and institutions re-organized to reflect strong spiritual foundations. But, that gospel is intended for people. We don't announce it to buildings, or roadways or cars. Spiritual awakening begins with that one single guy behind the wheel. That day driving home God showed me that the glorious redemptive truth that changes nations begins in the hearts of people like us, trying to get there in the traffic.
That's an important disclaimer, the truth that God changes people before he changes families and institutions and governing bodies. With that said, however, it is time for God's people to get right in the middle of these complicated times with the answer. The agenda, then. when the traffic is hot and heavy and the intersections fast and furious, is to give the answer. And, no matter who diagnoses the ills of our world, we know the answer is Jesus.
Scripture is so precious to us. Every verse is my favorite depending on the day. They all point us to the one who is the only answer for our troubled world or any troubled world, for that matter. We must not misinterpret the means by which we are to announce him to the world of complicated and fast intersections. We're to be truthful and bold, unafraid of a world on the make. Ours is Good News to be announced loudly and clearly, with grace, to the people in those hurling vehicles.
"...but just as we have been approved By God to be entrusted with the gospel, we
we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts."
1 Thessalonians 2:4
Speaking truth in love is the deal. not to the cars, or to the intersections, but to the engineers who design them and the ones trying to get someone via them. The message is to the ones in the traffic. And, the traffic must not define what is spoken.
One day Harriet and I were grappling for answers. We still are. We were in the traffic and no one really noticed. What he taught us that day, and many times since, is that we must not speak the truth to the intersections, but to the people trying to navigate them.
Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard
Romans 15:20, ESV (also Isaiah 52:15)