Spoiler alert: A co-worker of mine tried to kill me the other day.
Ok, perhaps not LITERALLY, but kinda. It felt like it anyway.
Like so many, I have a morning commute . Many of you know all too well that 7:45 am, mass hysteria of the semi-caffeinated hordes. Luckily my drive only takes me a few miles, and very rarely gets out of hand. For my friends who don’t live in, or haven’t visited Boise, we have the typical traffic problems of a smaller city: we’ve lacked foresight in planning, and traffic is outpacing our improvements. Boise, the neighboring towns and surrounding suburban growth, is planted in a beautiful mountain valley. It just so happens that a majority of that growth has happened at one end of the valley (west), while a large number of the jobs, and many of the largest employers, are at the other end of the valley (east).
So, you can imagine there is a very one-sided flow to the morning and evening commute — and if you’re one of the lucky few who goes in the opposite direction, you’re pretty much winning at life.
I am one of the masses that schleps every weekday morning from East to West, with another hundred thousand schmucks just like me. Our one and only freeway has a nifty offshoot that splits off toward downtown and eventually terminates into the surface street grid. We call this handy-dandy transportation artery the “Connector” because there isn’t any other direct city-center access from our freeway. So we gotta “Connect” you, or you may just miss it. Yeah, that’s right: Boise is pithy. We’re the “new Portland” or “new Seattle” or whatever.
Since downtown is home to many big employers of the area, the morning commuter scene on the connector brings to mind images of Ben-Hur-esque chariot racing – but with slightly less bloodshed. Merge merge merge. Ride or die. We ain’t got time for your texting.
Shortly after joining the commuting pack, I began to notice some very clear traffic patterns that I could use to my advantage. The position of connector places this inrush of traffic roughly at one ‘corner’ of the downtown grid. Once you get off the connector, the crowds start peeling off in a series of left turns like they’re recalling field choreography routines from high school marching band. I even have to make a left turn eventually, but I’m one of the few people who can get really far down the road before falling into formation. That must make me part of the tuba section.
It wasn’t too long before I realized that all the traffic going downtown would stack up on the leftmost lane while we were still technically on the freeway. But, since I get to travel with forward-focus for several blocks, I can bypass a lot of traffic by simply staying as far to the right as possible. There’s a sweet spot right before the end of the Connector – just after the last freeway exit— that will suddenly open in the rightmost lane, and I travel down it like the bearer of some secret, sacred commuter wisdom. As the masses disperse further and further into the grid with their left turns, I then start merging back one lane at a time, until I too am poised to make my left turn. It’s been a really slick trick for getting to work.
The other day it was definitely neck and neck in each lane, with everybody jockeying for what they perceived to be the best positions. I wasn’t feeling the pressure as much (I happen to have a little flexibility with what time I need to be at the office—though I really like to get there early enough to get one of the ‘good’ parking spots). Traffic was crazy, but by the Grace of the Lord, the crazy wasn’t getting on me. It was nearly time for me to start my merge-right-to-turn-left routine, when I happened to become aware of the little blue hatchback that had been aggressively tailgating me—he’d been there a while, but I hadn’t really noticed until then.
Honestly, in my fallen humanity, there are plenty of mornings where this would have really bugged me. But truly, this morning it didn’t. Mr. Blue Hatchback must have been in a desperate hurry. Just about the time I would’ve normally started making my way over, he decided to change lanes in the hope of whipping around traffic. Somewhere in the back of my brain I was relieved that he was not right behind me anymore but again, really didn’t care. I just wanted to work my right-lane-surfing mojo, and I started looking for my opportunity to move over. Now at this point, Mr. Blue Hatchback is roughly in my blind spot, so I signal and start to pull forward a bit so that I may also change lanes. Nothing doing: he was in a hurry and closed the gap. No worries; I backed off and got behind him, immediately looking for the next opportunity to complete my transition, one more lane over to the far right.
Perception is a funny thing. Mr. Blue Hatchback must have thought I was mad about his tailgating, because the moment I got behind him he braked. Hard. He was at war with me, entirely in his own mind. And apparently now it was On. There was no way I wanted to merge right, right? It had to be road rage, right? I mean honestly, EVERYONE is turning left up ahead, so WHY would I want to merge right unless I was trying to invite him to the Thunderdome?
Thankfully, the opening I was looking for in the right-most lane appeared and I was able to get over quickly. But not before the sight of his employee parking sticker was burned into my mind. Yes, Mr. Blue Hatchback and I work for the same employer: a local hospital.
Frankly, I don’t think this is the ideal way to drum up new business.
It takes a funny creature to misread indifference so massively as to confuse it with aggression, but we humans really are unique pieces of work. Do you ever wonder at how much we do that ourselves? I wonder how often you and I are in a situations where the Enemy keeps prodding and poking us so much that we are ready to take any sideways glance—or any lane change–as overtures of hostility. Sly whispers that people around us are encroaching our territory, taking what ought to be ours; that we must defend ourselves, defend our rights, protect ourselves, to assert ourselves or we will surely be harmed. Whispered lies that we must dominate others or we ourselves will be dominated.
How often we have found ourselves locked in battle with people who aren’t at war with us?
I have to tell you, I think that it is becoming more and more common because we are more and more insulated in tiny kingdoms that we build for ourselves. We have our cars and cell phones and technologies that disconnect us from our immediate surroundings while linking us with the distant or virtual. We are packed into ever-condensing civic spaces like sardines, and yet become islands unto ourselves. We build empires and kingdoms and palaces in our own little 4 x 4 square foot areas. We swallow the lie that we have the divine right to administer retribution to anyone we please. In our little kingdoms we get to declare “I am, and there is no one besides me”, so it is fine to treat the people we encounter with explicit, hateful, self-worshiping hostility.
God help us. Sincerely, I mean it.
Sometimes being a follower of Christ feels like being that person in morning traffic merging right in a left-turning world (political associations to these terms not intended). We might be flowing in the same general direction, but when our moves go against the grain just enough, some immediate bystanders will feel compelled to rage about it. And, however satisfying #sorrynotsorry may feel in the moment, it doesn’t help anything. The gospel of Jesus Christ is in direct contrast to the self-worship of our culture. The tricky irony is that the deeper we press into God, the more we become aligned with His shalom (alignment with Him), the more unaligned we become with our surroundings. I say ironic because the true Peace of God moves us away from that peaceful-easy-feeling of going with the flow of our culture. The cross-bearing reality of our calling as Christ-followers directly puts us against the grain, all but begging for the slings and arrows to be pointed at us, while at the same time asking us to live humbly and sacrificially.
Have you ever experienced anything like this?