by Pastor Art
MY DAY IN COURT LAST MONDAY
You may have read it on my Facebook page already, but I had an experience this week that was a sad reminder that the idea of hope for ALL people – equal access to the promise of a better future – remains, at best, an aspiration and not a reality – even here in Marin.
To make a longer story shorter, while in traffic court on Monday (where I lost, by the way) I observed three men who were ticketed for the same offense (using their cell phones while operating their vehicles) present their cases before the judge. The first man was Asian and it was pretty obvious he was struggling with English. He presented his argument and was told that he had broken the law and had to pay his fine.
Next a Latino gentleman was called up. He argued that he was simply pushing the “speaker button” in order to use the phone legally.
“Was the phone in your hand?” asked the judge.
“Yes, it was … but just so I could push the button and …”
“Were you operating your vehicle when it was in your hand?” the judge interrupted.
“Yes, your honor. But as I was trying to explain, I …”
“Then you’re guilty,” announced the judge. “The law doesn’t care what you are doing with your phone, only that it not be in your hand while you’re doing it … so long as your operating your vehicle. This isn’t rocket science. It’s very simple and clear. If you’re driving while using your phone in any way that isn’t ‘hands-free’, you’ve broken the law. Guilty. Now please step to the table and pay your fine.”
So far, so good, right? Not really. The third man to be called forward had also been ticketed by the same officer. And like those who had gone before him, he took advantage of his opportunity to testify on his own behalf. “I was driving when my cell phone rang. I grabbed my phone off the mount to take the call, but I was only holding it so I could unplug it, your honor.”
So, he admitted that it was in his hand, being “operated” in some fashion, while he was driving. “Sorry, your honor. I live in another state half of the time and am back and forth a lot. I get confused since the laws are different in different states.”
I was ready to hear the speech from the judge for a third time … you know … about how this isn’t rocket science … you can’t be operating your phone while driving unless it’s hands-free and mounted to the dash, etc. But instead I witnessed an example of some people having more “hope” than others.
“Well, I guess we can give you the benefit of the doubt.” Said the judge. Your ticket will be dismissed and your fine will be returned to you.
Same violation, same police officer, same ticket, same judge, same courtroom, same county. But there was one glaring difference: the first two men were minorities; the third one was white. I can’t say that the judge was racist. That would be presumptuous and, perhaps, both inaccurate and unfair. I CAN say, though, that it seemed (only SEEMED) as though there was more hope for a dismissal that day if you were Anglo than there was if you weren’t.
REVISIT SUNDAY’S TEXT
Consider the primary text from last Sunday’s message, Luke 2:10-12:
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for ALL the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’”
Great Joy for all the people. Salvation, and with it HOPE through Jesus. But I must admit that I’m sometimes more like my perception of the judge I observed on Monday than I am like the idea God intended when he sent those angels to deliver his message to and through those shepherds.
I believe the message of “good news for ALL” but sometimes live the message of “good news for SOME.” In other words, I’m prone to view the world through lenses that cause me to believe that there is hope for many (usually the people who are most like me) but little or no hope for others. And I’m not just talking about traffic violations here. More honestly and painfully put, I’m prejudice, dismissive, and just plain arrogant. Unless I’m taking careful steps to take my thoughts captive, I can easily place higher value on people with whom I’m most likely to feel comfortable than I do on those around whom I feel uneasy. And even when I AM being careful, my propensity is to move the decimal point when assessing human worth, thinking more about how a person dresses or smells than i do about the fact that each one is created in the image of God and, therefore, was the focus of Christ’s advent.
- Are there segments of “all the people” that you would find easier to leave out of the party than you would others? If so, who are they … and why?
- Do you feel free to identify a prejudice or even a hatred for a type or group of people? It may be something you’ve never thought of or wish wasn’t true about you, but can/could you name it?
- AND REMEMBER: You probably don’t know a single person who doesn’t contend with this issue at some level. In fact, it’s part of the human condition to fear what we don’t understand, and avoid what we fear. That goes for experiences, circumstances, AND PEOPLE.
“Lord Jesus, even though I’m still growing toward all this means, I do really believe that you brought your good news of joy and hope to EVERY human, regardless of my ability to identify with or feel at ease around them. This Advent and Christmas season, would you give me the gift of an increased discomfort with being uncomfortable with people just because they’re different or believe differently than me? Please plant deep within me the conviction that the gift you bring in Jesus is for everyone – that there is no human being I’ll ever encounter that is ‘beyond hope’. And, having done that, would you go so far as to deposit alongside that conviction a new and empowered ability to hope with and for them?