I’m wrestling with a question this week: is my car a Christian?
As far as I know, Disney hasn’t made a movie titled, “All Cars Go to Heaven,” But what I’m wondering is: could other drivers guess my faith and values by the way I drive my car? Are kindness, compassion and love communicated to other drivers in their encounters with me on the road? Or do these things get tossed on the passenger seat with my coat and bag?
Flashback to leaving work last Wednesday evening
I was a few minutes behind and eager to get home. I jumped in my car, tossed my coat and bag aside and fired up the little four-cylinder engine. The traffic was terrible, worse than the usual evening rush hour. I tried a few different routes. I know using side streets doesn’t really save any time, but at least I felt like I was moving – until I wasn’t.
My patience was wearing thin when we all had to pull over for a firetruck which promptly stopped in the middle of the intersection two blocks ahead. My car is not particularly fast, but it’s small and nimble. I put those traits to use, making a sharp turn across traffic and down another residential street – bypassing the blocked intersection. Traffic was congested, and drivers were confused, and when an indecisive driver failed to act quickly enough according to my assessment of the situation, I jumped my turn and cut them off.
Rejoining my route and glancing back at the firetruck still blocking the intersection behind me, I realised I never once gave thought to the people in the accident or their wellbeing. Neither did I consider the risk my driving was posing to other drivers. I wish I could say that awareness was enough to remedy my driving that day, but I continued to push the speed limit, change lanes, and pass people the rest of the way home.
It was this particularly bad – though unfortunately not unique – example of my driving that raised the question about whether my presence on the road communicated my values. I think we can all agree the answer is an overwhelming no. So why is that? I’m relatively consistent in most areas of my life, but why is it so easy to set my values aside in a car? I have a suspicion (or perhaps hope) that I’m not the only one who experiences this.
The temptation of anonymity
I think there’s something about the relative anonymity of being in a car. People usually only see the vehicle, not the driver, and my car is kinda generic. There are also so many other cars that even if I’m seen, it’s rare I’m recognised. The anonymity theory seems to show up elsewhere too. Many people say and do things online, behind an anonymous avatar, that they wouldn’t do in face-to-face conversations. Or consider the good old phone prank. It was built on anonymity, and since the advent of caller ID and the removal of pay phones, it’s an activity that has mostly vanished. It doesn’t work without being anonymous.
There’s a sometimes-unhealthy freedom that comes with believing we can’t be seen. There are things that we’ll allow to leak or crawl out of us when we think they can’t be connected to us. But we know our faith doesn’t work that way. Reading Psalm 139 is enough to tell us there is nowhere we can go that God is not already there. We are always seen, we’re never alone, never truly anonymous. And although those words sound a little big brother-ish, I think they’re valuable.
The idea that God is with me is an encouraging thought, but it’s also a sobering one. It steals away the anonymity of driving a car or posting online. It reminds me that every extension of me, reflects me, whether it can be traced back to me or not.
Is my car a Christian? Of course not, it’s just a car. But how I operate the vehicle says something about my faith. Today it points to weakness, a tendency to let values slip when I think I’m protected. But tomorrow, I hope it speaks of kindness, compassion and love.
What about you? Do you see your driving as an extension of you and your values? Do you like what it says about you?
Include your answers in the comments below, or if you’re not comfortable sharing your driving habits, let me know what tactics you use to stay calm in terrible traffic.