July 25, 2014

Thoughts on Hitchhiking

hitchhikeWe rented a cottage this week, and for the first time in quite a while were able to get our whole family together for a holiday. We have no Wifi and as a result monitoring of comments will be spotty, so play nice! We have been staying at Sauble Beach, a beautiful sandy beach, seven miles long, on the Canadian side of Lake Huron. My son Josh was only able to join us for three days, and so I offered to take the five hour return trip to drive him back to the town where he was working. The plan was that I would arrive back at the cottage at about midnight. Traffic was very light, and I was making good time. It was just after 11:00 p.m., and in the middle of nowhere, when my headlights illuminated a couple at the side of the road, their arms out stretched, and thumbs out. I had to make a split decision, and I decided to stop.

It might help to know a bit of back ground that went into my decision.

I can remember the first time I hitchhiked. I was fourteen years old and living in Africa. My parents had sent me away to camp for a week in the neighboring country. Now, who knows what goes on in teenage brains, but for some inexplicable reason a few of us decided to use our free time to swim the half mile across the lake. Once across, and having garnered wisdom from actually swimming half a mile, none of us wanted to swim back. The problem was that it was seven mile back to the camp, and so we decided to hitchhike. We walked and put out our thumbs, walked some more and put out our thumbs some more. It was almost two hours after we started, before a vehicle pulled over to give us a lift.

“You do know it is is illegal to hitchhike here, don’t you?”

We didn’t. But that did explain the long wait to get a ride.

When I was fifteen, our family moved back to Canada. At High School I became involved in a lot of clubs, and would often miss the last school bus home. We lived outside of the city, about three miles from the school, and so, on a very frequent basis I would stick out my thumb and catch a ride home. Often it would be neighbor, driving home from work, but just as often it would be a stranger who would give me a lift. It was the late seventies, and it was still quite common to see hitchhikers on a regular basis.

A couple of years later and I was off to University. It was a four hour trip from my home to the university I attended. Bus fair was expensive, and we didn’t have a lot of money. Plus, if going by car took four hours, the bus took over five, and I found I could hitchhike the distance in about six hours. My dad would drop me at the south end of the city, and usually within fifteen minutes I would have my first ride. I don’t think my parents worried to much about me, I had trained in the Armed Forces Reserves, and they thought I could take care of myself.

My parents moved half way through university and my six hour hike became a nine hour adventure. I didn’t do the trip as often, as the train became a viable, albeit costly, alternative.

I did however have hitchhiking down to a science. I dressed in a suit and a tie, and carried a sign with my destination in large letters. I knew which highway on ramps worked and which didn’t. I learned from experience that if you got stuck on the highway half way through Toronto that your best bet was to find public transit to the other end of town. I also learned that once darkness hit, you could forget it. No one would pick you up.

Most of my experiences were good. Some were a little comical. A little old lady once stopped and rolled down her window. “You aren’t going to beat me up are you?” she asked. “No, Ma’am”, I replied. “Okay, you can get it then.”

I did have three bad experiences. One pervert, one drunk, and one person who kept driving past my stop. In all three cases I asked them in no uncertain terms to stop the car and let me out, and in all three cases they did.

A brother of a family friend was not so lucky. Twelve year old Robbie Brown was walking home from the beach as he had a newspaper route to deliver. It is believed someone offered him a ride. He was never seen again. You can read about his story at couragetocope.org.

Now that I have a vehicle, I feel quite compassionate towards hitchhikers, and tend to pick up most hitchhikers. Most have no other transportation options. If they did, they wouldn’t be sticking out there thumbs. I don’t think I have ever felt unsafe when picking up a hitchhiker, though I am sure that there are stories out there. Probably my strangest experience was being propositioned by a pair of drag queens!

So, getting back to my story of the couple at the side of the road. I honked to let them know I was stopping, and then pulled off to the side of the road. They couple introduced themselves as Craig and Cindy. They had been hitchhiking for seven hours and had only made it about fifteen miles. They had another thirty miles to go. Craig was going to help his brother-in-law fix his car, and then together they were going to go on to visit his mother in another town. Where they were headed was only ten minutes out of my way, so I was happy to drop them at their destination.

People, including my wife, look askance at me when I say I pick up hitchhikers. To them it is like a game of Russian Roulette. You never know who you might pick up. I would agree, but to the hitchhiker it is a game of Russian Roulette as well, and by picking them up I am ensuring that at least one ride is safe.

I think however, that a lot of my motivation comes from the story of the Good Samaritan. In the story, the Good Samaritan is taking a real risk in stopping to help. It is known that there are bandits in the area. But stop he does. Like the Good Samaritan, I will also sometimes give money to help the hitchhiker along their way. Loving your neighbor means going beyond what is easy, or comfortable, or even safe. For me, among other things, it means picking up hitchhikers. What does it mean for you?

Fr. Ernesto: Biting My Lip Hard


Biting My Lip Hard
by Father Ernesto Obregon

The cartoon above makes me bite my lip real hard. The cartoonist caught just what some people think about the trend in some churches to turn the worship service into a coffee shop atmosphere with some talking. While the term “seeker sensitive” is not as much of a buzz-word as it used to be, the concept is still around.

But, there is a root that goes all the way back to the Jesus People of the 1970’s. The Jesus People were the parallel cultural reaction to the “hippies.” In both cases, there was a legitimate and merited rejection of the cookie cutter mentality of the 1950’s. They were not the only groups that pointed out the nominalism and cookie cutter attitude of the 1950’s. For instance, in 1956 the book “Peyton Place,” a book which tore into small town hypocrisy in the North, was released. In 1968, the country song “Harper Valley PTA” was released, pointing out hypocrisy in the South. George Orwell’s book 1984 points to a post-nuclear world in which the prevalent security and Cold War culture of the 1950’s is severely criticized.

Both the hippies and the Jesus People challenged the prevalent culture by dressing in ways that challenged the culture and behaving in ways that shocked prevalent culture. In the case of the hippies, events such as those chronicled in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, was one example. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were chronicled as they made their way around the country in their brightly painted bus, using LSD and generally shocking people. The Beatles write the song “Magical Mystery Tour” about that type of trip:

Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up (And that’s an invitation), roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up (To make a reservation), roll up for the mystery tour
The magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away
Waiting to take you away.

The Jesus People were something different, however. I am fully convinced that this was a true movement of the Holy Spirit. To this day, I still believe that God could not get into the churches of that time. After all, as chronicled by Martin Luther King in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, many of the churches either openly supported both the segregation and miscegenation laws, or were cowed into total silence. Their stand was so antithetical to Christianity that God decided to raise praised to himself from even among the stones. Many youth with a “stone” heart, many a youth who was rejecting the culture and acting out by taking drugs and joining other religions, had their heart touched by the Holy Spirit and a revival broke out.

As with many a move of the Holy Spirit, people with free will took that move one way or the other. To the good, many churches were renewed, many people were touched for God, many people became life-long Christians. Twenty years after the beginning of the Jesus People movement, a group of those people entered the Antiochian Archdiocese, changing the face of Orthodoxy in America. That very move of the Holy Spirit in the 1960’s has today resulted in an openness to converts that was simply not present in American Orthodoxy of the early 1960’s.

On the other hand, it is also true that some have slowly taken the Jesus People movement in a different direction. For them, the message of what they experienced was misheard. Over the decades since then, the message that they took from it is that the Church must be a counter-cultural entity, meaning that it must always be doing things that are on the “cutting-edge” of culture. Any “rules” about what should happen in a worship service were slowly relaxed, and then dismissed. Nowadays, one can indeed find churches like those mocked in the comic above, where one comes in with their coffee, sits on a couch, has a sermon/discussion, etc. When multiple tattoos were still cutting-edge, many in these churches jumped into tattoos, piercings, etc. [Note: my purpose is not to criticize tattoos and piercings.] What I am trying to point out is that Christian slowly became defined as one who is always adopting the latest cutting-edge cultural trend and bringing it into the Church.

I look back with both nostalgia and horror. I was part of the events back then. I have a deep nostalgia for singers such as Keith Green, who truly called us to live out what it means to follow Jesus. I have a deep nostalgia for a faith tinged with wonder and discovery, and strong church growth. At the same time, I look back with horror over some of the other events from back then and how they led us into some of the craziness we see today in the cutting-edge congregations. And, yet, I would welcome another move of the Holy Spirit, a move so strong that Orthodoxy is again touched with the wonder that Metropolitan Philip of blessed memory expressed when he welcomed home the Evangelicals who flocked in back in the late 1980’s and continuing on for many years after that.

• • •

Thanks to Fr. Ernesto for permission to re-post this piece. I resonate with much that he says.

He blogs regularly at OrthoCuban.

iMonk Classic: Letters to a Friend (parts 2-3)


Note from CM: Letters to a Friend was a series of posts Michael Spencer wrote in July 2007, responding to some comments from a Christian friend regarding theology, divisions and debates. Today we look at parts two and three of this series.

• • •

Friend says, “I reject the claims of various (evangelical) Christian groups to be infallible, right about everything and all other Christians except themselves wrong. This makes the entire business of theological debate meaningless and ridiculous to me. God is obviously above theology, and we have no idea what God thinks about who’s right in these theological debates. Perhaps God sees issues like the Lord’s Supper in a completely different way than any church teaches. When unbelievers, like my atheist friends, hear of these doctrinal debates, it discredits all of Christianity.”


Dear Friend,

One word that stood out to me in your talk was the word “infallible.” I found myself in considerable disagreement with what it appears you meant when you assigned this word to persons like myself and others who promote theology. Perhaps you can clarify and we will be in more agreement.

I understand the term “infallible” to mean “unable to be wrong.” If something or someone is infallible, it is not possible for error to originate with them.

A person may claim to be right, but the claim of infallibility is something quite separate. I’m not surprised when anyone claims they are right. Your own words indicate you believe, on the basis of logic, that you are right. But you would not make a claim to infallibility.

Infallibility is considerably different from saying that someone believes they are right and not wrong. I believe I am right in saying I am 50 years old, but I do not claim to be infallible. I could be wrong. Error in knowing my age could originate with me. Many circumstances could cause me to be in error, but I am reasonably sure of this fact and would defend that conclusion.

The word “infallible” commonly occurs in two contexts among Christians. First, the Roman Catholic church claims that when the pope is functioning as the head of the church in an official teaching capacity, he is infallible. This produces a chain of tradition from the church that is infallible tradition.

This is a real advantage to the RCC. They use it, for example, to say only an infallible church could canonize scripture. I would disagree strongly, but the advantage of that approach is obvious. The problems are also obvious.

This is not saying the pope or the church cannot be wrong or do anything wrong. Some Catholic teachings, and many claims and practices, are not promoted infallibly. “Infallibility” is applied to very specific situations.

For example, in Galatians, Peter is confronted by Paul for his hypocrisy. This does not bother Roman Catholics in regard to Peter’s infallibility as the first pope, because all popes are sinners and make mistakes. Only in an official teaching capacity can he claim to be infallible. Bad people can be infallible popes in the RCC.

This does mean that the Roman Catholic church makes a kind of claim to infallibility that is different from the way other churches use the term. Since I disagree with it, I will gladly point out that when the RCC argues its case for doctrine, it does claim infallibility on a human level.

The second common use of “infallible” is among most Protestant evangelicals, who apply it to the Bible and the Bible only. They believe the Bible is inspired, infallible, authoritative and inerrant. (Not all evangelicals use all of these words or use them all in the same way, but that is another discussion.)

This means that no pastor, no church leader, no teacher and no denomination are infallible. The Bible only is infallible. The infallible Bible produces authoritative tradition through the infallible Holy Spirit and very fallible people.

Does that mean that, if the Bible is used to make a case, then infallibility is transfered to what is said or believed? The answer is “no.” While we believe the Bible is infallible, my version of what the Bible teaches about baptism is not infallible in the same way. My version of this doctrine may be in error, may be revised and may be improved. While I am reasonably certain I understand the Bible on this topic and I would have no problem saying I am convinced my view is right, I would never claim anything like infallibility.

I’m sure that the energy of many Christian debates seems to indicate that someone believes they cannot be wrong. I certainly know Christians who believe they, their pastor, their doctrine and their “team” are infallible, but if pressed they would admit that the only thing that actually can have the characteristic of infallibility is the Bible.

You were particularly bothered that I said I was certain enough of some doctrines that I would rather die than renounce them. This isn’t a claim to infallibility. It is a claim that I am convinced, as much as I can judge the subject, that I am correct. Being convinced doesn’t mean I am closed to the possibility of correction or change.

For example, I would die for certain aspects of my country, but I do not claim that America or myself are beyond error or absolutely right in an “infallible” sense. In a fallible, comparative sense, that response of loyalty is the right one.

I ask my children to obey me, but I would not claim infallibility in any aspect of parenting. Infallibility isn’t necessary to believe something is right enough to take a strong, sacrificial stand.

I have to disagree with you that contentious Christians are claiming infallibility. They may lack the humility and graciousness that should accompany any discussion. They may defend their position in a way that says they believe they cannot be wrong or less than perfectly right. They may demonstrate extreme stubbornness. But unless they are departing from their own Protestantism, all they can do is claim to be presenting the infallible claims of scripture fallibly.

Your answer to what you perceive as the dilemma of everyone claiming to be infallibility is to say that “God is beyond theology.” I’ll comment on that very postmodern assertion in another post.

So let me summarize where we are so far: I am not convinced that the kind of division or claims of infallibility you are reacting against actually exist. You may be “standing” in a place where these divisions seem to fill your screen, so to speak. I would suggest you take a more measured and less emotional look at the issue of Christian unity and doctrinal division. While there is much to lament, there is also much to celebrate, particularly among Christians who work, witness and minister together.



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