There may be a lonelier road than that stretch of Interstate 29 between St. Benedict, North Dakota and Watertown, South Dakota, but if there is, I’ve never driven it. I was thinking about this as I drove home from a meeting in western Minnesota last weekend. As mile after interminable mile of the table-top flat and razor-straight highway clicked off the odometer (Do digital odometers still “click”, I wonder?), I had more opportunity than usual to observe the few other drivers with whom I shared the road. What I saw scared me to death!
I was especially frightened by the behavior of two teenagers whom I encountered about fifty miles apart. Each of them was driving down the interstate at over 80 miles per hour and each of them was busily sending text messages on their cell phones. This is risky behavior at any time, but at those speeds on that highway, it struck me as simply insane.
It has been more years than I care to admit since I was a teenager, but I still remember that risk assessment and the ordering of priorities are not things at which teenagers excel. Even for teenagers, however, this was just nuts. What could possibly have been so important to say that it couldn’t have waited until the next rest area, the next fuel stop?
If only such behavior were solely a mark of youth, a character flaw that disappeared along with squeaky voices and hairless chins. How much warmer and more welcoming, how much more friendly would our churches be if this were the case? It almost breaks my heart to admit it, but many of us seem no more able to control our behavior as adults than we could as teenagers. How else can one explain the way we act, the things we do and say to each other, the decisions we make when we come together and interact as supposed buy generic celebrex online families of faith?
Everywhere I go congregations raise a common complaint: “Why don’t people want to come join us?” I’ll be the first to admit this is a complicated question. There are no simple answers. One thing, however, is pretty clear. If you want to know why people aren’t forming a line at the front door to the church that runs out to the parking lot just take a look at what goes on inside. Angry outbursts, power games, stubbornness, the inability or unwillingness to embrace anyone’s viewpoint but our own—can this possibly be what it means to be Christian? What about trust? What about a sense of shared purpose? What about the idea that what’s better for all of us trumps what’s better for me?
As he does with many of the issues of our common life, Paul provides some pretty good advice about how we should live together:
9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:9-17).
Think about that the next time you feel the urge to tell your fellow congregants what fools they are.
Tony Stoik, Associate Conference Minister of Eastern Iowa