So I’m standing in line with Judy at the salad buffet, tray in hand, ready for lunch. Ahead of us is another couple perusing the cabbage. They look to be 40ish, attractive and well-groomed. Suddenly, the woman takes out her cell phone and appears to read a text message. We stand waiting. She puts down her plate and begins to type on her phone. We stand waiting. The line beyond her proceeds toward the cashier. She types… We stand waiting. I’m irritated, planning ways to get to the chopped greens that she has blocked. She types… We stand waiting. Her husband glances nervously back at us, then at her. She is oblivious. I want to say something, to move up and demand access to the carrots. She types… We stand waiting. I think, “I’ll clear my throat, or sigh real loud to express my pique.” By the grace of God, her husband finally reaches in front of her to push her tray forward and begin filling his own plate. She slowly, deliberately closes her phone, puts it in her purse and resumes the leisurely construction of her lunch. I am relieved.
As much as I would love to rail against abusive cell phone behavior, that was really not my takeaway from this encounter. I came away filled with gratitude that the Holy Spirit in me constrained me. My self-centered anger was immediately countered by the sense of God’s disapproval. I did not offend anyone or allow it to ruin my lunch. Though the thought of verbal, and even physical, assault passed through my mind, I never acted on it. I knew that this would be wrong. Thank you, Jesus. Here is my question: In a world where Christ is marginalized and belief in God is disparaged, how many of the folks around us do not have that sense of inner restraint? I think of a news story about teenage girls beating a rival in the school restroom. A kid who has been taunted and teased takes a gun to school and uses it. Someone in traffic is armed and unrestrained. Somewhere in the Middle East a young man walks into a café and blows himself up. In Phoenix a father kills his daughter for having an American beau. The only difference between me and them is that little voice of restraint, the constraining of love, which stops me from following my vilest and most violent impulses. Life is full of inconveniences and injustices which seem to deserve or even demand some sort of vengeance or aggression. A society without Christ is eventually a society without restraint. It is inevitable.
Scripture Reading: Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive His new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NLT
Somebody Said: Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When I lament the demise of our culture, it occurs to me that the problem is not simply a list of behaviors, or a general coarsening of via the media. It is more than that. I listen to the pundits, even the so-called conservatives, debating whether we have a political problem, an economic problem, or a moral problem. What we have is a spiritual problem and the larger culture doesn’t want to address it. the truth is that without Christ, any culture is in decline, sliding back toward the law of the jungle. It is not so much that we have lost our way, but that we have decided to ignore The Way.