Bearing Witness

Sometimes I feel like I live on the road. I commute, I travel to people’s homes to do chaplaincy. My car is my office. I live in southern California–traffic is horrible! While I have thought of getting a catchy licence plate or clergy bumper sticker I have hesitated to do so. Why? Because I drive 500-700 miles a week on southern California freeways…and people do stupid things on the road… and I, well, I like to use my horn! I try to be polite on the road. I know that the time I arrive is not as important as how safely I arrive. I do drive through some beautiful areas and I try to enjoy the scenery. That being said I have seen road rage, perhaps I have even felt rage on the roads at times. I do not like driving as much as I do. Yet this is a necessary part of the work that God seems to want me to do right now–and that’s a whole ‘nother blog!

What annoys me most are those big traffic slow downs. You know the type. Traffic just slows down and seems to come to a halt; and then you realize that all this is due to some looky-loos staring at an accident on the side of the road rather than driving like they should. These slow downs annoy me because they seem completely unnecessary and all they do is slow me down when I already have too little time for the important stuff.

Recently I found myself stuck in one of these slow downs as I drove home from work. It was the dark side of dusk and I saw in the distance the red and blue flashing lights of a police personnel on the side the road with more than one car, a sure tip off that it was an accident and not a traffic stop. Come on people, you can do nothing about it. Keep moving. Mind your own business. I want to get home already. I thought as I approached the scene. And then as I passed the scene, I looked over and saw the people on the side of the road with the bumpers torn off their cars and a new wave of compassion came over me. And I realized, what if the other drivers slowing me down are not just annoying looky-loos looking to peer onto another person’s misery, or looking for a bloody scene? What if they are bearing witness to the trauma and pain of the people on the side of the road who had had an accident?

Now that’s a thought. As I reflected on this idea of looky-loos bearing witness to the troubles of others even as they are keeping me away from home longer on an already too long day it became apparent to me that there is some theology going on here, some moral and ethical working of the post-modern age taking place right before my eyes. Its true there was. Even in this age (are we still in the post-modern age or is it post-post-modern? well what ever age it is), even in this age when we are so seemingly glued to our individual experiences and mediating relationships through cell phones, text messages, smart phones, and ipods, it seems that we still respond to the misfortunes of others. And, that is hopeful. For here it was before my eyes, four our five lanes of bumper to bumper traffic slowing down as if in acknowledgement of the pain being experienced, in that moment, by the stranger they were in the process if passing by. And is not the call to bear witness to our fellow human begins not central to core of our biblical teachings? I mean bearing witness is the first step in “doing unto others”, to helping those with need, being the good Samaritan, to being our bothers’ and sisters’ keeper. Wow, I thought. That, thought. That’s something. Maybe, just maybe there is still hope that we have not, even in this technological and individualistic age, driven to far off track.

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