Thinking Out Loud

August 5, 2017

A Memorial Cortege

I had already planned to take a different route on Friday. Normally, I take the freeway and drive two exits to work, but I had to pick up three boxes from someone’s house, so pulling out of the driveway, I headed in a different direction.

Several minutes in, I realized these side streets were quite busy and it was easy to deduce that the highway was closed. The backup intensified so I turned on the radio.

There had been a fatal accident twelve hours prior involving a transport truck and two cars. Two people died.

For me, from that point on, with the traffic so tied up, it was like we were all part of a funeral procession, cars slowly moving past given points in honor of the deceased. It was sobering and cast a shadow over the entire workday…

…When you live near a busy motorway, there are always markers. This is where the person laid a sheet over a body at the on-ramp, this is where the teenager chose to take his life, this is where I saw the car spin out of control and roll over just before leaving for holidays.

It’s a sad but ever-present reality. On some days the highway is simply quiet. Sometimes for 15 seconds; other times for 3-4 minutes at a time. On those days you wonder what is going on. You worry…

…On your best days, a car or van is a death-trap. The drivers of the big rigs are usually the most responsible people on the freeway, but when things go wrong, they can go terribly wrong. Some question the theology of praying for “traveling mercies” but asking God for protection is probably as much a reminder to us of our vulnerability as it is a request to him.  We do our best, we drive responsibly and trust him to prompt other drivers to do the same.

July 3, 2017

Car Accidents Happen Fast

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:33 am

I had this picture in my files and figured it served us better than a scene from a horrific traffic accident or the type of highway rollover I witnessed.

On Friday evening I was driving home on the freeway when the car ahead of me wandered off the road and then totally lost control on some soft gravel. It took out one of the supports for a large highway sign and then flipped over sideways landing upside-down.

I pulled over and pulled out my phone to call 9-1-1. Although I was relatively calm, I couldn’t really see what I was doing. The sun was shining in my car obscuring the screen and I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses. I think it took me nearly two minutes to fish out my glasses and get my password entered properly, and find the keypad to dial a number not in my contact list. (Isn’t there an emergency shortcut for 9-1-1 on these things?)

Meanwhile other people had stopped and were running into the ditch to check on the condition of the driver. I considered the possibility he had been killed instantly — he survived — and felt I was of greater use providing information to the police dispatcher.

It turned out there were three people in the car, the driver was pulled out and then walked away from the car but the two others were badly winded. I assume the ambulance paramedics would have them checked out for internal bleeding or other such injuries.

It was like a scene from a movie. 24 hours later, I am surprised that I remained so calm, apart from the minutes of fumbling with my phone. Here are a few reflections.

The thing I did right: I followed this guy for a few miles at a bit of a distance because his right turn signal was on continuously. I’ve always figured that this is a sign that a driver is not entirely focused. For that insight, I am thankful to God.

The thing I did wrong: I should have pulled off more onto the shoulder of the road. I was very careful getting in and out of my car, but if you look at police vehicles in those situations, they pull well over.

What the driver did wrong: The guy tried to jerk his car back onto the road too suddenly. Once he hit the soft gravel he should have braked — I never did see brake lights — and then followed the shoulder until he could get back on the road safely. This was the Friday of a long weekend here, so I don’t know if drugs or alcohol were a factor. Or a cell phone.

What the driver did right: I’m going to assume he had to have been wearing a seat-belt to not have not been thrown from the car.

What I learned: These things can happen in a second. Or less. The cliché is true: Driving is a full time job. A driver needs to stay focused. If one is tired, it’s time for a rest stop. 

Again, Thank you, Lord for your protection.


February 10, 2017

Automobile Anarchy

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:47 am

car-odometer-100000My drive home from work exactly a week ago contained two surprises.

First, there was the red light at the freeway exit ramp I take each day. I get into the left lane and wait for the light to turn green. Traffic in the right lane is required to stop for the light; there is no green arrow or provision to turn right without stopping.

But they did. One. Two. Three. All minivans for some reason. No regard for the red light. Not even a hint of a stop.

Then, not two minutes later, I was on the single lane road that leads to my home and noticed a guy weaving two cars behind. Sure enough, he pulled onto the inside — a combination paved pedestrian walk and bike lane — and passed the vehicle directly behind me on the right side.  At that I decided to get out of the way of the guy and pulled over to let him pass, which he did, swinging way out into the other lane to do so.

At the top of the hill a police car was in radar mode, but the guy wasn’t actually speeding so he sailed through. And the police had missed the drama of his approach because of a hill.

In both cases, there is a Friday factor; alcohol could have been involved.

What do I say to this?

  • There is a complete disregard for the rules
  • There is a great deal of impatience
  • There is a sense of “me first” with many drivers

However, if I start regarding every approaching vehicle as being operated by a potential menace the paranoia and over-cautiousness will start to affect my own driving style and could result in a worse situation.

Driving is based on trust. Trust of the other guy on the road.

It’s an act of faith if ever there was one.

October 11, 2011

Why Breaking the Speed Limit is a Sin

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:11 am

About a year ago I heard an excellent sermon from Toronto pastor Charles Price about God’s sense of morality.  He noted that:

  • not everything that is illegal would be considered sinful
  • not everything that is sinful is necessarily illegal

After spending several hours on the highway today (that’s freeway for you Americans, dual carriageway for you Brits) it occurred to me that, in general, driving is getting worse.   Or maybe even worser, which isn’t a word, but ought to be.

Tonight we watch a driver enter an on-ramp and simply “floor it” until he reached the maximum speed in seconds, and then he kept at that speed until the merge lane was just about ended, and then simply pushed his way into the next lane of traffic.  I think he was working on the logic of the Rutherford Experiment, and was assuming there was more space between the cars — with Rutherford it was electrons and atoms or some other such thing — than there was the cars themselves.  It worked for him… this time.

But his driving attitude was so very selfish that whether or not what he did was legal — and an observant policeman would probably still call it “aggressive” — it was sinful.  His action itself didn’t constitute sin — God’s law is relatively silent on  internal combustion engine-powered vehicles — but his “me first” attitude, which we saw played out numerous times today, meant that while something may not be sinful at first look, and may not even be illegal, the underlying spirit is as sinful as anything else you might mention.

I’m not a five point Calvinist — or even close — but if you want to look at the “depravity of man,” just look at how people drive their cars.

February 5, 2010

The Camp Monk Meal: Variant

At a couple of the Christian summer camps I’ve worked at we often did a variant on the classic monk meal.   In the original version, you’re trying to replicate a monastery where the monks have taken a vow of silence.   At about day four of a residential camp experience, there isn’t a single counselor who isn’t glad to see the monk meal on the schedule.

The variant doesn’t require silence.   You simply aren’t allowed to ask for anything.  You can’t say, “Pass the ketchup;” or anything like that, though with some camps’ food, the ketchup is exactly what you’d be asking for.

Instead, you’re supposed to see that someone across the table has a need.

Most people today are too selfish to be considerate.   It’s not taught.   In fact, I’d argue it’s at the heart of our spiritual condition; many of the verses containing the word “sin” continue to work if you substitute “selfishness.”

Today we were at a grocery store checkout where the groceries are scanned and then placed in one of two conveyor belts for customers to pack their own bags.   They alternate between the two, except that the guy ahead of us didn’t care to operate from the end of the belt, and was blocking everyone’s only means of exit.   With my wife staying at the cash register to pay, I wanted to start packing, but I couldn’t get by him.

The order just kept filling up the other belt, and still he didn’t move.  The cashier saw the problem and did nothing.    Normally I would say something, but I wanted to see exactly how inconsiderate this guy was.

When the cashier started scanning the groceries for the people after us, there was nowhere to put them.   She switched back to the belt that was, by now, clearing a little, but even as those groceries started appearing on his belt, he still didn’t move.   He didn’t care.    Didn’t give a

Later on, as we drove away, we found ourselves in traffic where two lanes merge into one.    Despite being ahead of another car, I realized that there was absolutely no way he was going let me in first.    He simply roared his engine and squeezed in ahead of us almost causing me to hit the curb.  It’s a me-first proposition when you’re driving; you almost have to adopt the mentality if you want to survive.

Somebody needs to find ways to adapt the monk meal to other areas of life.   Maybe people will get it.   Maybe they won’t.

Now if I could just get somebody to realize I’d like some more juice.

November 22, 2008

When Innocent People are Charged With Crimes

Filed under: ethics — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:38 pm

Although I try to keep this blog faith-focused, every once in awhile, I get passionate about an issue which is more civic in nature.  This is dangerous in itself, because scriptures tell us that soldiers (i.e. in God’s army) do not entangle themselves in civilian affairs.  I heard one pastor, Bruxy Cavey, suggest to his congregation that a Christian person really has no business running for President of the United States.   He said if could ask George Bush one question it would be, “What exactly are you doing there?”   Nonetheless, I needed to unburden myself of this one.

speed-trap1In the province where I live they passed a law a couple of years ago that states that if you are driving along on a divided highway or freeway (for you U.K. readers, that’s a dual carriageway, I think) and there are emergency vehicles pulled over on the side you are driving on, and there is nothing impeding you from making a lane change, you must change lanes and drive in the lane away from where the emergency vehicles are located.   Presumably this includes police, fire, ambulance and tow trucks with emergency lights flashing.

Trouble is, most drivers don’t know this law was passed.   You don’t get a letter in the mail when they pass laws here; it’s assumed that you get the newspaper delivered daily, or that you listen to the news on the radio daily, and that you don’t go on holidays or get sick so that you might miss any of these pronouncements.  While this law exists in many U.S. states, we’ve seen signs posted there to indicate this.  I have never seen signs with respect to this law in our province, and I do a lot of driving.

While the law is intended to protect emergency workers from undue risk, it is also gigantic cash cow.  I don’t buy the “it’s about safety, not revenue” argument.    People are being pulled over and fined $500 CDN and given three demerit points in situations that were set up purely as entrapment situations.    Consider this story told to me this week.   This driver:

  • was driving the speed limit to begin with
  • slowed down further as he passed the tow truck at the side
  • discovered as he approached that a police car was nested in front of the tow truck, generally invisible to the naked eye, not to mention the added factor that he…
  • was driving directly into the evening sun, making the police vehicle’s flashing lights invisible right up to the moment he was parallel to both vehicles
  • had the policeman suddenly step into his lane to wave him over, even though the policeman later said the ‘safety trap’ was to ensure that he ‘could get home safely each night to his wife and family;’ which means he’s missing the point that stepping into moving traffic isn’t the best way to ensure this
  • there was no emergency taking place; no vehicle or driver was receiving aid; presumably none had previously; was the tow-truck driver being paid?
  • the police officer was completely unapologetic; one of the reasons why I believe that it’s extremely difficult for a Christian to be a policeman; not to mention on the basis of the same scripture verse mentioned here at the outset; the job is simply riddled with inherent predilections to corruption or at least a blurring of the lines between honest law enforcement and entrapment, and this story to me best exemplifies a disregard for ethics.

The bearer of the story decided to fight the charges in court.   He hired one of those “ticket fighters” who sometimes advertise here in North America.  (Not sure if you have these in the U.K., NZ or Aus.)   He charged $300.   The fine was reduced to about $250; the demerit points thankfully were removed.   Because the court case was held in the jurisdiction where the driver was charged, he had to take a day off work and drive about three hours to that area, and then home again.  He figured it was about a $1,000 day; for breaking a law he didn’t know exist.

BTW, the reason we got into this conversation in the first place is because he was telling me about a notification that I am supposed to post in my store for my employees, which, if I fail to post it, can result in a fine of $300 if anyone drops by for inspection to see if the note is up.  I would estimate the vast majority of employers in my town do not know about this law; are unaware of the fine; and even if they are, not all employees would know where the notice is posted.    Furthermore, the notice is never sent to employers as a separate mailing.

This kind of story just makes me angry.

“But;” you say, “we’re not to entangle ourselves in civilian affairs, right?”  Yes, that’s what the Bible verse says.  But we’re also, according to the book of Micah, expected to “do justice;” not to mention “love mercy.”  Grace and mercy and complete unknowns in stories like this.   As Philip Yancey says so well, we Christians operate by the law of grace, while the larger society operates by the law of un-grace.   And justice is simply not being served by this kind of entrapment.

I believe, for that reason, that this kind of story makes God angry, too.

Yesterday, we were on the freeway for about six hours.   I drove almost the entire distance in the passing lane.   That way I didn’t have to think about it if there was an emergency on the right side, which is usually the preferred side for rendering assistance.

Of course, driving extended distances in the passing lane is probably also punishable by fine.   But I’ll bet it’s less than $500.

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