I recently got a new car, with lots of features to master. I keep trying to turn the car off by pressing the fan for the defroster, a button strikingly close to the ignition.
Shortly after acquisition, I was driving home at night, turning left into our neighborhood across two lanes of busy traffic. The maneuver required moving to a center lane designated for turns, waiting for a break in oncoming cars. I sat there for a while. A car very much like mine pulled into the center lane from the opposite side of the road, facing me from only a few yards away, also wanting to cross oncoming traffic. Get this. The guy had his blinding brights on, shining directly in my face.
Alone in the car, I allowed a tepid version of road rage to surface. The word “idiot” may have been heard. Maybe an expletive or two. (There are no tapes.) With bright light shining in my face, it was hard for me to assess oncoming traffic. What a jerk.
Then I looked at the relatively complicated dashboard on my new car. I realized that I had had my brights on all along. I switched them off. He switched off his. I was guilty of the thing that made me so mad in the other guy. Go figure. Blinded with my own indignation, I failed to notice my part in it.
Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind when he said that with the judgment you judge, you shall be judged.
A week ago I led a men’s retreat, at the request of a fine group of Episcopalians who wished to explore ways to faithfully navigate the turbulent times in which we live, how to be in community with people with whom we disagree. I accepted the invitation with hesitation, because I haven’t figured it out for myself. But I thought it would be good for me to give it thought.
As I thought and prayed about how to guide the group, I realized I had to look inward. I had to contend with my own road rage. (Mr. Trump is not the only one who yells at the TV.) I had to face my judgmental tendencies. I was led to the promises in the baptismal covenant, which describe what it means to be a Christian, not what it means to become one, but what it means to be one.
The first promise asks if we will continue in the teaching and fellowship and prayers of the church. In a nutshell, it’s asking if we will start by doing our own spiritual work in community.
The second promise asks if we’ll persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we sin, repent. I am up for the resisting part. The challenge comes with the word whenever. Not if ever. Whenever. Again, we’ve got work to do. Before I prescribe everyone else’s course correction, I should consider my own.
The third promise asks us to proclaim good news, in what we say and do. It doesn’t say convince or compel or coerce. It says proclaim. Trust the results to God.
Honestly, I find the fourth promise annoying. It says we seek and serve Christ in all persons. Christ is there, even if well disguised. I could wish that promise wasn’t included. I savor a long list of exceptions. But the message is clear: Christ is somewhere in all persons. (Can the Prayer Book really mean that?)
The fifth promise calls us to strive for justice and peace, demanding active advocacy in a world where the neediest are being thrown under the bus in oh so many ways. That is balanced by another irritating call: to respect the dignity of every human being, even the driver with brights on, even the family member or congregant or co-worker or politician who in our humble opinion needs to see the light, and may in fact be a jerk.
Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of reason for indignation these days, plenty to resist. But to break the cycle, maybe we need to recognize our own part, figure out ways we fail to work for justice and peace, ways we fail to seek Christ in others, ways we fail to respect each other, ways we allow a judgmental attitude be our default.
In other words, maybe we each have to check our own spiritual dashboard.
The Five Promises in the Baptismal Covenant: A spiritual dashboard?
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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