Monday morning, not so comfortable in the middle seat at the very back of a #3 bus on my way to work in South Austin, iPod in my ears listening to a Pray-As-You-Go podcast, one of my favorite daily prayer practices.
I wasn’t really quite awake when I got on, so I just kind of sat there, staring ahead, bouncing along, partly seeing, partly listening. But then the podcast scripture reading began, this day from the New Testament letter of James.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action. (James 1.22-25 from The Message)
As those words registered I slowly began to see, waking up to the divinity of just what is this present moment. The whole human race riding on the bus with me: the stooped elderly housemaid on her way to work… the banker heading downtown in a lovely new suit… maybe 20 college students off to U.T. and A.C.C…. an exhausted and not quite sober man slumped against a window… the elderly gentleman who gave up his seat for an expectant mother standing in the aisle. Also on that jam-packed morning bus were the two men, one my age, one in his 20’s, both sitting on their respective inside seats, defying anyone to try and take the seat next to them by the window. Far up front I could hear the garbled ranting of a woman loudly cursing someone on a cell phone. We were all there, the human family in all our goodness and all our suffering, self-inflicted, other-inflicted, hearts longing “stop requested.”
That scripture really pulled my chain. I’ve heard the Biblical words about loving your neighbor all my life. I bet most everyone on that bus had heard it, too. And yet, how often does it go right out the other ear? I think I’m a Christian. I want to love my neighbor. But two minutes later I’ve forgotten who I am. O, to catch the revealed counsel of God. O, to find delight and affirmation in acting on those three weighty words—love your neighbor.
I like to say, because I think it’s true, faith is verb. Love your neighbor sometimes must mean more than thinking kind thoughts about them. I also know loving my neighbor is hard, especially when the bus is crowded and hot and some of my fellow passengers haven’t bathed in awhile, when the seat is hard and the trip is long, when that annoying man would rather someone stand lurching and clinging for balance than share his bench, and especially, dear God, when people are shouting into a cell phone cursing someone for being inconsiderate and un-loving.
We’re all on the same big bus and loving each other is hard, don’t you think? All I know to do is look in the mirror and pray to God, a God who loves me just as I am, who knows it’s hard, who knows I fall short, but still wants me to grow in grace and love toward everybody on the bus. How about you? What helps you to love?
A fellow passenger and friend on bus #3,
david gilliam, pastor, faith united methodist church, austin
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