Spiritual Adventures in the Workplace

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The Commute

You decide to take your Christian discipleship seriously, starting today. Today you will be a Christian in everything you do and say. Today you will stop talking about it and do it.

Then you get behind the wheel of your car, and the deal’s off.

Bob's personal journey of spiritual growth gets bogged down behind some idiot going half the speed limit.

Bob’s personal journey of spiritual growth gets bogged down behind some idiot going half the speed limit.

For many of us, there’s nothing quite as frustrating as the daily commute. Driving itself isn’t so bad; it’s the other people. If it weren’t for the others on the road, it wouldn’t be so maddening. It’s the fact that there are so many others getting in the way, and that some of them are so inconsiderate. That’s the problem.

Have you ever stopped to consider how long this problem has been going on? If you will read some of the diaries of American settlers who traveled westward, you’ll find the same frustration expressed, only they were stuck in a rut (literally) and couldn’t go around the slow guy in the front. They just had to trudge along. Did they complain about it? Absolutely.

Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner give another interesting example in their novel, The Gilded Age. They talk about one steamboat trying to go around another one on the Mississippi River in the late 1800s. The slow one in the front tries to speed up to keep the one in the back from passing, and the passengers on both boats are screaming and cheering. Then the boiler blows up on one of them. Did that really happen? Mark Twain should know.

We could go back and back. (Reread the Oedipus story in ancient Greek mythology. Why did Oedipus kill the father he never knew? It sounds to me like an early example of road rage.)

My point is that this problem has been going on for as long as people have been traveling and getting in each other’s way. Who knows? Maybe someday…

Air Traffic Control

But here’s what I try to think about. We’re all part of a massive story: the unfolding story of the human race living out its life upon this earth. Naturally, each one of us has someplace to go, and we get impatient when others detain us. But all of us together are going someplace, too, and a traffic jam can be a visual representation of that fact, if we are willing to think of it that way. During the morning commute, for example, we’re all trying to get to jobs that must be done, for all of our sakes—jobs that our society needs to have done in order to function. In that sense, I need all the others on the road to get where they’re going, just as much as I need to get where I’m going. I know it’s hard to remember that, especially when some of them act like jerks; but it’s true. We’re all in this together. I need those people to get where they’re going, and even if they don’t know it, they need me to get where I’m going, too. Whenever possible, we should make room for each other and help one another. If we can only bear in mind our mutual dependence on one another, it might make the drive a little easier.

But there’s also a metaphor playing itself out on these roads, and I find that useful to think about, too. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass includes a poem entitled, “Song of the Open Road.” I’ve posted some short reflections on that piece in my audio blog, Mythic Adventures, but “The Profound Lesson of Reception” is especially relevant. Roads can be a metaphor for The Road of Life, and as Whitman points out, both roads and The Road of Life receive everybody. So does God. So when I pray, I’m praying to a God who accepts everyone else around me, both on this particular road and on The Road of Life—even that jerk who just cut me off.

That’s something to think about, the next time our pulse starts to race while we’re driving down the road.

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