Stranger in Boston

entering-boston

The station wagon with the third seat facing the rear pulled into Boston. My two younger brothers and I rode that seat from California to Massachusetts, watching where we’d been, rather than where we were going.

3,177 miles backwards. For a while I was dizzy, car sick, nauseous, but after a while I got used to it.

third-seatThe ’59 Dodge was a big car. It seemed like Mom and Dad, and whoever else was sitting up front with them, were in a different county. The actual dimensions of this monstrous car? Just over eighteen feet long, six-and-a-half feet wide, weighing about 4,200 pounds. The advertised top speed was 120 MPH, but I never saw my parents drive faster than 115. Mom liked to drive fast. I remember my turn to sit up front and help her “stay awake” one night driving through the Arizona desert while Dad got some sleep. It was scary.

We got about nine miles per gallon if one or two people were in the car. Seven or eight miles a gallon when all ten of us went somewhere together, like we did on this cross-country trip. Nobody had seat belts back then.

As we pulled up to a traffic light in this strange city far from home, suddenly, my dad was yelling and talking excitedly. Someone outside was shouting and talking just as fast. From way back in the third row, I tried to see what was going on. Were my dad and the stranger mad at each other? Why were they yelling? I looked out the side window of our car and saw that the driver of the car next to us had dark skin and black curly hair. Why was he yelling at my dad? And why was my dad yelling back at him?

At first, it seemed they were angry with each other. But no, they weren’t upset. Rather they were excited and happy. They were yelling for joy. But why?

As I kept on looking at the man in the car next to us, I glanced down to see the license plate on his car. We had played the license plate game all across the country: keep track of all the license plates, and see who gets the most states. There were a lot of variations to that game; you’ve probably played something similar.

Riding backwards made it easier if the cars catching up to us had front license plates, because looking backwards I could see them before my brothers and sisters in the middle seat could see them. But if we were passing the other cars, then they got to see the license plates first. The way my parents drove, nobody ever passed us, so I never won the game.

traffic-lights-686041_1920At the red light in Boston, the license plate on the car next to us looked familiar. Was it? Yes! It was orange and black, a California license plate! We hadn’t seen one of those since we left home. Was that why Dad and the other guy were hollering? Yep, sure was.

There we were, our first day in Boston. We didn’t know a single soul in the city, or in the entire state of Massachusetts. But that first traffic light we stopped at in Boston placed us right next to another human being from California. It was his first day in Boston too.

My first memory of encountering an African-American, and the thing that stuck in my mind more than anything else was the connection that he and my dad made with each other. It wasn’t age; my dad was forty-two and the other guy seemed to be younger. It wasn’t family circumstance; my dad had a wife and eight kids in the car, while the other guy was single. It wasn’t that they had similar careers; my dad was in the Navy, and the other guy worked in a factory. And it wasn’t that they looked alike; my dad was a balding white guy, and the other guy was black with a full afro.

No, the connection they made with each other was simply that they had something in common. They were both from California, and that was enough. They were both more than 3,000 miles from home, and friendless – until that moment. They found someone from home.

I often think about that experience. Why is it that people who are different despise each other? Why do people of different skin color or different nationality or different language or different gender or different religion or different political party or different socioeconomic standing hate each other? Why can’t we do what my dad and the stranger did in Boston that day in 1962?

I was seven years old when we drove into Boston. Over the past fifty-plus years, I’ve tried to focus on what I have in common with other people, instead of our differences: marriage, kids, jobs, sports, music, food, weather, fears, dreams, movies, faith, or our human-ness. There’s so much we share, it’s a shame people choose to fight over their differences.

Something powerful and amazing happens when we connect over something we have in common.

ut-friends

Light of the World

issac-newtonWhen the queen of England knighted Sir Isaac Newton, it was the first time a scientist was honored this way. He was a brilliant scholar with a wide range of interests: from mathematics to natural philosophy, from the laws of motion to the laws of gravity, from the study of optics to the study of theology.

His first series of lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, was on optics. Other scientists had begun the scientific revolution, and the study of light was a central theme. Newton made significant contributions to the scientific understanding of white light and color. He even built the first reflecting telescope.

Light is a fascinating topic, and because of its significance, Jesus used it as a metaphor for himself when he made the statement in John 8:12, “I AM the light of the world.”  There are at least five reasons why light is important, and these factors provide insight as to what the Lord was saying.

First, light is essential for vision. Have you ever noticed as the sun goes down late in the day, shadows grow darker, and it’s more difficult to see? If the moon and the stars aren’t in the night sky, by the time it’s pitch black you see nothing.

Silhouette 3Light is also essential for color. As the light dims, colors fade. For this reason, light is a necessary ingredient for beauty in the world.

Third, the earth’s food chain depends on light. Photosynthesis is the process whereby plants use the energy of light to produce food. In other words, without light, there is no life.

It’s also worth noting that for a lot of people, light is a key element of happiness. Many studies have shown higher levels of depression where there is less natural light. This seems to be true for some who work indoors, as well as for those who live in areas where there are seasonally shorter days.

One more observation is that light can drive away fear. When our son was five years old, we’d put him to bed at night, singing a song and praying with him before turning out the light. In a few minutes, we’d hear him yelling, “There’s a wolf!”

“No, son. There’s not a wolf.”

“Yes, there is. Would you leave the light on?”

When the light was on, he could see, so he wasn’t afraid. But in the dark, his imagination slipped into high gear, and he was afraid.

The impact when Jesus comes into a person’s life is similar to light in the natural world. He opens our eyes, giving us vision. He adds color and beauty to our lives. He brings life and happiness, and drives away fear. Our Creator already knew what Sir Isaac Newton and other scientists took years to figure out, because he created light.

In Matthew 5:14, he who is the Light of the World turns to his disciples and in a stunning plot twist tells them, and us, “You are the light of the world.” We are called to be Christ to our world. The effect of our interacting with people and the planet should add vision, beauty, life, and happiness. And, wherever there’s a Christian presence, there should be less fear.

In the same way God sent his son into the world not to condemn, but to save, he sends us into the world with the same mission. When we represent the Lord the way he hopes we will, that’s when the church is at its best, becomes most productive, remains relevant, and changes the world.

Atlantic Sunrise

Broken & Hurting

loneliness-1879453_1920Many people experience the worst life has to offer. Sometimes, the pain is the result of illness or accident, but at times it is intentionally inflicted by other people.

Debbie grew up in a Christian home, and shortly after high school, met Kyle, a young man who attended the same church. After dating for a year, Kyle asked her to marry him, and she said “yes,” expecting to live happily ever after.

A few months after the wedding, however, Debbie was still on cloud nine when something went terribly wrong. When she got home from work one day, she found out he’d been drinking, and in a rage, he hit her. Horrified, she called their pastor, who provided counseling for several weeks. Things seemed to be getting better, until one night Kyle put a loaded gun to her head. In a panic, Debbie managed to escape. Even though her grandmother lived several miles away, Debbie somehow found the strength to run all the way. She survived, but something inside had broken, making it hard to trust anyone. She left Kyle and abandoned her faith in Christ.

Every one of us is broken in some way. We might look fine on the outside, but inside we’re hurting. If we’re to find healing or any positive result from the pain, it might be helpful to take a look at Job, James, and Jesus to see how we can respond in painful circumstances.

Even though he did everything right, Job suffered terrible business losses, extreme physical pain, and undeserved accusations from his friends. His wife also lost everything, and chose to let go of hope and faith, suggesting that he do the same. Instead, Job turned to the Lord, and began to understand more fully his own weakness and need for God. These are important lessons that sometimes have to be learned the hard way. We have a tendency to be self-sufficient, unaware of our desperate need for God. In his darkest moments, Job chose to turn toward the Lord, and so can we.

The second possibility for meaning in our pain is character growth. James 1:2-4 tells us to remain joyful when we endure tests and trials, because they will help us mature. It is true that pain can break us, but it also has a way of strengthening us and deepening us. The difference is how we respond to the crisis and to the work of the Holy Spirit.

A third potential benefit of tribulation is that it can help us develop compassion for others. When Jesus looked at the crowds, he saw their need and was moved to compassion. He cared about people and saw their hurts. He felt their need, and acted. He fed them, healed them, taught them, loved them. The Apostle Paul picks up this theme in 2 Corinthians 1:4 when he says the Lord comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others.

Some people respond to pain by becoming hardened, bitter, or angry. Others are jealous of those who seem to have everything going right. If we want to grow in Christ and enjoy life to its fullest, however, we can’t afford to let either of those happen. Instead, we can turn to the Lord, mature as human beings, and develop a sense of compassion for others.

Silver

There’s a song in the musical version of Les Misérables that a Christian pastor sings to a hungry, homeless criminal, “Come in, sir, for you are weary, and the night is cold out there. There’s a bed to rest til morning, rest from pain and rest from wrong.”

That’s what the Lord is saying to us in Matthew 11:28. “Come to me, you who are tired, carrying a heavy load, and I will give you rest.” Rest from pain, and rest from wrong.