I chuckle every time I hear this story. It seems a poor fellow’s vehicle had conked out on the side of the road. After waving about like a madman for more than an hour, he finally convinced a speeding motorist to stop and help. “If you could just push my car at a speed of 40 miles per hour,” the stranded motorist said to his newly arrived partner, “I’m convinced it will start, and I will be on my way.”
Sliding back behind the wheel of his car, the driver was relieved. The ordeal of being stuck in the middle of nowhere was finally over. He would be rolling again in a matter of seconds, all his worries behind him. Sadly, that exactly where his worries were: Right behind him.
As he waited for that gentle nudge on the rear bumper that would move him down the road, it never came. Looking around he discovered that his Good Samaritan had disappeared. What a cruel joke! Where could he have gone?
It was then that he saw his rescuer in the rearview mirror. He was a quarter of a mile away and bearing down on the broken down car at 40 miles per hour – just as he had been instructed. But the driver had not communicated as clearly as he had intended.
We Christians tend to bumble our communication a little more than most. In these harrowing days when fewer and fewer people seem to stop and listen to what we have to say, we sometimes think the answer is to scream a little louder. Picket signs. Demonstrations. Boycotts. Petitions. Displays of righteous indignation accompanied by red faces and bulging carotids. The result is indeed clearer communication. It’s clear that we are mad as hell about something.
Without a doubt most Christians want to see serious change in the world. I do too. I would love to see less violence, greater compassion, a moratorium on our limitless consumerism, and fewer public displays of vulgarity, just to name a few. But the solution is not to meet what we regard as societal inadequacies with the equal inadequacies of being judgmental, taking revenge, waging cultural warfare, and condemning every person who doesn’t agree with us.
If, in our passion to communicate something we feel very strongly about, said communication becomes hateful, as Christians we have betrayed our message. The path of Christ is to love those whom we consider our opponents. The way of Jesus is to engage and pray for our enemies, not to kill them. And don’t be fooled; our words can be as murderous (or more so) than flying bullets and hand grenades.
Mahatma Gandhi was a man that the world – including the Christian universe of which I am a part – could learn a great deal from. He revolutionized India with his leadership of the Indian Independence Movement, and he perfected the philosophy of non-violent resistance. He met the injustice and oppression of his day with peace, integrity, and resolve.
Gandhi famously said, “We must become the change we wish to see in the world.” That is, if I want a less violent society, I must become less violent. If I want to experience more compassion, I must become compassionate. If I want less consumerism, I should pull my own leg out of the commercialistic trap. If I want to protect my children from overt sensuality, then I should teach them respect for others, the value of a person and the human body, and I should probably turn the TV off earlier in the evening.
So, if you are one who loves a good boycott, why not take a different tactic: A little grace, a truce, a lowering of the weapons might be a necessary change of pace. And if you have been on the receiving end of a few displays of virtuous disapproval, cut some slack for your accusers as well. We’re all just trying to get the car rolling again, but without clear communication, it is nothing but a wreck waiting to happen.