I recently spent a weekend in San Francisco. I was asked to come speak for a couple of days to a group of lay leaders about the Bible. I like going to different cities, seeing new places–or at least different places–a chance to get out of my south eastern Pennsylvania rut.
I took a taxi. Driving though the city to my hotel, I was struck, as I often am at such moments, by the fact that there are many people in the world, if this one city is an indication–people I will never meet, whom I will never know. The world is a big place, with many people in it, most all of whom will be wholly anonymous to everyone else. Forgive the Captain Obvious insight, but I think about these sorts of things a lot.
Then I think about the long history of humanity, reaching back many tens of thousands of years. People with unique stories, who have thought and believed so differently from each other, and continue to do so. And I wonder if God even exists, or, if he does, what possible connection he could have to all of this–and why I bother going to San Francisco to talk about God.
The taxi took me through some down and out sections of San Francisco. We drove past some bars with people staggering around at noon on a Thursday–which I am guessing is no different for them than 11 am on a Wednesday or 3 pm on a Sunday.
These people needed a bath, a haircut, and some clean clothes. They needed to put shoelaces in their sneakers and stop stumbling around the street.
They were gross. They needed to stop being like that, they need to stop making me uncomfortable.
The thought passed through my mind, in a mere instance, a mili-second of self-talk. “I’m glad I’m not like them. I’m glad I am important enough to ride in taxis and get invited to churches to speak. I’m glad I have a PhD, that I write books, and am not living in a gutter like these people. Lord, thank you that I am not like them.”
For a moment I felt superior to these smelly, gross, people: I am better. I am more important. I have more value.
These are moments that remind me how much I suck at life, or to put it more gently, how very few feet I have crawled along the journey and how much longer I have to go.
These are the moments that remind me that if I am taking this following Jesus business seriously, the “better than” thought needs to be infinitely far from me. Any thought to superiority over others, any thought that human worth is tiered and I am toward the top, well, that is just plain wrong and it needs to stop.
I don’t need to go any further than my mind to see what people are capable of doing to each other if they harbor their thoughts long enough. And so I’m not really sure what business I have jetting out to San Francisco to talk about God when it takes such little provocation to look down on other people.
And yet, that very realization, in some odd and convoluted way, is a window onto God’s existence, though I am not quite sure how. Maybe it will come to me.