February 8, 2007
Slippin and Slidin
(Note to reader: to liven up your reading of this entry, try clenching your teeth and furrowing your brow.)
This week I received a citation for a traffic violation. The suspect (me) allegedly failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. The scene of the crime was two blocks from my desk; the time was 7:45 a.m. Good . . . morning . . .
So I endured the humiliation of the drawn-out ticket-writing process, as countless cars passed me and, I might add, failed to come to a complete stop at the stop sign immediately in front of my car. I think they were just rubbing it in. Then I hurried, as fast as I could go without allegedly violating yet another traffic law, to the parking lot of my office building, where I accidentally banged my head on the roof of my car and then very nearly locked my keys in said car with the engine still running. Then I went inside the office with seconds to spare for a morning prayer meeting. Good . . . morning . . .
It was an odd juxtaposition, moving so quickly from hurling epithets at the universe for the rotten luck I'd experienced on my way into work, to begrudgingly thanking God for the gift of a good job and nice people to work with. Perhaps I hadn't had enough coffee, but I was not in the ideal frame of mind for praying.
I was reminded of a psalm of Asaph:
Surely God is good . . .
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Psalm 73:1-3)
Now, I tend to read this psalm and think, Ah yes, I mustn't envy the arrogant; I mustn't covet the prosperity born of wickedness. It's a quick way of reminding me not to get so mired down in envy and bitterness.
But when I invoke this passage and cast myself as the pure in heart, I'm effectively casting anyone around me as "arrogant" or "wicked." That could be a relatively harmless exercise, I suppose: all those people rolling through the stop sign in front of me couldn't read my thoughts, so far as I could tell; and I'll likely never see them again, since I will never drive by that intersection again. But then there are the folks I work with, who I know to be far from arrogant or wicked (most days, anyway), but whom I look at with different eyes on a day such as this.
Not to mention the fact that casting myself as "pure in heart" is a somewhat arrogant thing to do. I mean, let's be honest: I have a pretty enviable life. I have a house and a car and a job where I get paid to read. I have a nice family life and a nice church community and a safe neighborhood to live in. I have broad political freedoms and, relative to the majority of the planet, a ridiculously extravagant life. Given the right circumstances, any number of people could steal a passing glance at me--particularly when I'm being exceptionally twerpy--and find themselves losing their foothold.
The fact is, I wasn't envious so much as I was bitter. So perhaps in the future, when I find myself slipping, I should skip about twenty verses and direct my mind to a later verse in the same psalm:
When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand. (Psalm 73:21-23)
That's probably about as much as I could call to mind on a particularly irritable day, but who knows? Maybe it will be enough.