Cruise Control Christianity

The image of the Good Samaritan is still resonating with me even a week later. As I’ve reflected on it further, it occurred to me that so many of my favorite scripture passages revolve around a journey. The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, The Conversion of Paul, The Road To Emmaus, even the greatest journey of all, The Passion, all occur on the road to somewhere or even to nowhere for those that never reach their intended destination. As always with scripture, I am led to more questions than answers.

Why the road? What is it that is so important about being on the road that the theme is repeated over and over and over? All these characters are traveling to somewhere or from somewhere and I have to ask, what put them on the road in the first place? All this traveling makes sense to the nomadic populations of ancient times but what does it mean to me in the here and now?

That last question really made me think about how I travel the roads in my life. And I don’t mean the figurative two roads of Robert Frost diverging in the yellow wood. I mean the very literal highways and byways that I travel every day to work, to the boys’ school, to church, to the food store and all the mundane little errands that I run on a regular basis. I get in my car, usually alone, and go on my way. Most of the time, I drive with the music on a bit too loud and aside from not colliding with other drivers or pedestrians, I am quite blissfully oblivious to the fellow travelers around me.

In my younger years, I grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Ridgewood, being all of 15 minutes outside of New York City, has very convenient public transportation. My mother didn’t drive when we lived there and really didn’t need to drive. In addition to all those Jersey buses, I have ridden trains and subways in Boston, New York, and Washington. On all of those, even as one who does not commute daily, I was aware of the commuter’s credo: “I will stay in my own little space and you will stay in your own little space and we’ll get along fine.”

How different and alien it is to me to read about the travelers in ancient times. They meet people on the road. They interact with others on the road. The traveler meets a kind stranger. The son meets his father again. The disciples on the way to Emmaus meet the risen Christ. Paul meets God Himself. Jesus meets His mother, has to accept help from Simon, and welcomes the tenderness of Veronica. All that interacting involved real people sharing their stories, sharing meals, getting their hands dirty, messy, and sometimes bloody to help another traveler.

My car is my own private microcosm. This is my bubble of false reality and I like it that way. I can roll up the windows and crank the tunes and blow through the real world at 70 MPH without dealing with any of it. But is that what it means to be on the journey of discipleship?

In my spiritual life I can put myself on cruise control and set the destination on the GPS for Heaven. I can put in my time in all the nice things at church, attending the functions and Masses, interacting with nice like-minded people at a polite commuter-like level. I don’t get too into their space and they don’t get too into mine and we all get along nicely. I have God just outside the windshield, just the way I like Him, where He can’t mess with me too much.

But if I were to look in the rearview mirror I might be shocked to see the Devil himself riding in the backseat of my car. The Devil is just enjoying the ride, telling me “It’s ok. You’re a nice person. You don’t need to get too involved. You have your own life to worry about.”

There is no cruise control route to God. Nice doesn’t count. The priest and the Levite who walked by the traveler were most likely nice men. The road to Calvary was lined with nice people.

I know in my soul that I am called to be a disciple of Christ. I will never be perfect personified, but that’s not what I’m called to be. I’m called to be a broken human being. I’m called not to make the mistakes, but to accept that I will make them in the first place. I’m called to acknowledge them and to learn from them. I’m called to share my experiences with my fellow travelers. Often times that means getting my hands dirty, exposing my own open wounds to others, and stepping out of my little bubble of nice safe solitude to try to offer assistance to my fellow travelers.

I am called to park the car and walk the walk of my Lord. Thankfully, He knows I won’t always choose to do that. It seems like every time I decide to hit the cruise control and coast for a while I either hit a pothole or have a blowout. Then I’m reminded how much I need the sometimes messy interactions of my fellow companions on this journey of life and discipleship.

And as for Devil, he can hitchhike his way straight back to Hell.


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