Your Commute as a Spiritual Discipline

My morning commute reminds me that I am not the Christian I should be.  I drive 9 miles to my job—2 miles of neighborhood, 3 miles of suburban commerce, and 4 miles of houses close enough to Atlanta that we can’t afford them.  The trip takes about 25 minutes, which is considered next door in Atlanta.  (I tried the interstate once.  After an hour I vowed not to make that mistake again.)

I pass train tracks, two tiny cemeteries, and what may be the last full service gas station in America.  Sometimes I drive through McDonald’s.  I have decided that the breakfast burrito is, sadly, the best I can do.  I tried to get them to start offering iced decaf coffee by ordering it five days in a row, but they grew irritated.

I go by four churches.  They have helpful information on their marquees—“Join us for worship at 11 on Sunday”—but I keep hoping for “Choose the Bread of Life or you are toast.”

I have made this trip more than a thousand times.  If I leave home at 7:00, I am in danger of stopping at every other house behind a school bus.  If I leave at 7:15, I may get stuck in front of Tucker High School where the students move slowly across the street.  When I use Waze to avoid traffic, I drive by retirees walking their dogs.  I try to look like I’m not cutting through their neighborhood to take two minutes off my commute.

When two lanes merge into one, I strain to think good things about the drivers who cut to the front of the line.  Perhaps they are all rushing to the hospital to deliver babies.  I find it easier to exercise patience since my horn stopped working two years ago.

Sometimes I listen to sports talk on 680 The Fan:

“Which happens first—the Falcons win the Super Bowl, the Braves win the World Series, or Tyler Perry wins an Academy Award?”

“Could the Oscar be for costume design?”

“Would you rather your child lose a toe or become an Alabama fan?”

“Which toe?”

I have not found the radio station that plays the music I love.  The only singer I recognize on most stations is Adele.  The country stations do not work because I don’t go to honky tonks nearly as often as you might think.  There is no all Bruce Springsteen all the time station.

I drive a 1998 Ford Escort that was totaled a year ago when a driver on a cell phone ran into me.  The CD player hasn’t worked in five years.  Van Morrison’s Greatest Hits is stuck in there.  Early each May I get the air conditioner fixed.  I have cold air until the middle of August.

When I am feeling smart I turn to the news on NPR.  I try to remain interested when they discuss the major exports of Tunisia, but I don’t know where Tunisia is.

The last few years I have been listening to podcasts.  10% Happier is about meditation—which is a challenge when driving in Atlanta.  NPR Politics has been depressing since they started running for president again.  On Being, an amazing discussion of faith, is the podcast most easily quoted in sermons.  I usually love Radiolab, but a recent episode on South Korean pop stars suggests I may not be their target audience.  I listen to Garrison Keillor’s news from Lake Wobegon “where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average.”

When I call Carol on my way home, she knows I am killing time and says sweet things like “I’ll be glad to talk when you get home.”  When I call my parents they “don’t want to talk too long because it’s long distance.”

Lately I have been driving in silence.  I notice more when when the car is quiet.  I wave at the walker who goes backward up the hill near our house.  I don’t know the names of the trees, but I look for bright green, dark red, and white flowers.

Sometimes I pray.  On the way to work I pray that I will remember that God will be with me through the day.  I can’t close my eyes, so I pray for the students crossing against the light.  I notice the other drivers—signs that God is as present on Georgia State Highway 29 as at the seminary to which I’m driving.  On the way home I apologize for the ways I have forgotten that God was with me.

We are more ourselves when driving alone than at almost any other time.  Would we want to be friends with the person we are when drive?  Are we following Christ when we are heading to work?

What we do in the car may not sound like a test of faith, but it is an opportunity for faith.  For a long time I didn’t expect much from myself on my commute, but I am learning.

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Isn’t it a shame that Jesus never went on a marriage retreat?

Welcome to our Christian Marriage Enrichment Retreat! Good luck to all you happy couples! Calling it a “retreat” makes it sound like we are losing the war, but this weekend will be an attack on all the ways you are not who you ought to be as a couple!

We will be sharing Christ’s love, but only with our spouses, ha! Here at the Christian Marriage Retreat Center there are no televisions and no alcohol, so you get to spend two days with nothing but your beloved and your iPhone.

We will listen, listen, listen—except for the leaders who will talk, talk, talk. We will explore your spiritual, physical, and emotional relationship in ways that will feel invasive at first, but by the end of the weekend will be merely unwarranted.

A huge thank you to Chelsea who made the name tags with the adorable glittery wedding rings, which you are required to wear. If you are the special couple whose name tag has roses on the back, you get to be the first to tell us about the funny way you met. If you met at a bar or on match.com, we encourage you to make up a story about meeting at church.

If your story is boring, you may feel better after we spend the first session talking about couples in the Bible. Boaz buys some land and gets his wife as part of the deal. God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute. King Solomon thought quantity was the way to go. One of the laws in Leviticus is that if your brother dies and you are a male then you have to marry his widow. Some of you are imagining that, and the hair is standing up on the back of your neck. This weekend we will assume that Priscilla and Aquilla met in a singles Sunday school class so we have one story to work with.

Jesus never went on a marriage retreat, because he was perfect so he couldn’t get married. During our second session, we will look at what Jesus says about families. This will not take long.

Jesus says: “Whoever doesn’t hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

That’s not a good verse to cross-stitch.

Jesus says, “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be members of one’s own household.”

We wish Jesus would say one sentence about marriage that you could post on Facebook for Valentine’s Day, but the Gospel writers must not have been paying enough attention.

You may enjoy the third session more when we will sit in hula hoops looking into each other’s eyes for an uncomfortable length of time. We will share intimate details and our deepest feelings. Everyone gets to write a love letter. You can mention sex during our discussions, but this is a Christian retreat so we will giggle when you do.

During session four, we will tell you about the marriage-enriching things you are failing to do. We will be asking hard questions: Why is the garage his? Why doesn’t he ever answer the phone? Why does he expect credit for every little thing he does around the house? Why is the bedroom hers? Why is she on her phone so much? Why doesn’t she give him more credit for helping around the house?

On Saturday morning, we will go hiking—the kind of activity that we can easily pretend to enjoy. We will be walking up a little hill, but we will keep calling it hiking up the mountain. Those who don’t want to hike will play Married Pictionary, Married Catchphrase, and The Newlywed Game, which are offered as incentives to hike up the mountain.

Saturday night is romantic movie night. The pastor asked us not to watch Trainwreck, though she admits she hasn’t seen it. The other choices are Sleepless in Seattle (the couple only has to get along for the last two minutes of the movie), Groundhog Day (it takes the guy a thousand tries to get it right), or Silver Linings Playbook (is it just me, or is he a little old for her?).

By the end of the weekend, you will either wonder how your parents stayed together without this retreat, or know this weekend could have fixed your broken childhood.

We would like blueprints for the perfect marriage, but God gives us the wisdom to understand that there are no perfect couples. What God gives is the grace to be kind long after the wedding bells have stopped ringing, the grace to be as polite to one another as we are to our friends, and the grace to keep our promises, even when it is hard.

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