04
Dec
15

Grace on the highways

hitchhikingToday’s post begins with this huge and prominent disclaimer: DON’T DO THIS! Like, EVER! OK?

So… back in the early 70s (when it still wasn’t terribly safe) I did a fair amount of hitchhiking. I happened to be one of the unfortunate college students who did not have a car of my own and yet I still needed to get around from place to place. So I regularly just stuck out my thumb by the side of the road and implored passing motorists to stop and give me a ride.

One spring break in fact, my girlfriend and I hitchhiked all the way from Tacoma, Washington to Columbus, Ohio and back. Her expensive 35mm camera was stolen by one of the guys who gave us a lift, but outside of that it was a fun and uneventful trip.

Now if you have ever hitchhiked, you know that there are often very loooooong, lonely stretches of time spent standing in the same place, either holding up a sign (on the cross-country trip our sign just said, “PLEASE?”), or facing the oncoming traffic with your arm raised and thumb out.

Hours go by with car after car after truck after minivan whizzing by with no sign at all of slowing down or even recognizing you are there. You try to guess which car might be THE ONE, but time after time they drive right by and disappoint you.

But then… amazingly… magically… somebody stops! And even though it was more than 40 years ago, I can still remember that it was a wonderfully exciting feeling to think about riding inside a car for a while. You would be making good progress on your journey and be protected from the elements to boot!

Yes… hitchhiking is a strange subject to talk about in an E-note – especially right here at the beginning of the Advent season. But the topic pops into my mind as I think about some of the recent public conversations about refugees and the question of whether or not to show them hospitality.

See… when you are out there on the side of the highway, there is a very strong a sense of being utterly and totally dependent on the voluntary benevolence of another person… some random, complete stranger. I always “hitched” with the awareness that there was ZERO obligation that compelled anyone to stop and give me a lift. I was clear that they would not lose any social standing nor would their reputation suffer if they chose not to. In reality, it represented a risk on their part (and to some degree on my part, too) for them to stop and offer me a ride.

Rides were always a little bit like grace in that sense – they were completely unmerited favor.

The truth is – whether the subject is picking up hitchhikers (which, I will stress again, no one should ever do today!), or welcoming in refugees – there is and will always be risks attached to inviting someone new and alien into our lives. Things might not work out. It might cost us something… more than we bargained for.

But the question I would have us ask ourselves is whether it more or less consistent with our call as followers of Christ to welcome strangers or to ignore them?

Actually, come to think of it, right here at the beginning of the Advent season might be a perfect time for us to reflect on what it means to be hospitable to strangers who appear at our door seeking shelter. AMEN.


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