The Bus Driver

Today I arrived at the bus station just as a 95 bus pulled up.  I could already see that it was quite full and that three other 95 buses were coming.  As is my practice in these situations, I pulled back to catch one of the emptier buses.  But today, as the full bus was getting fuller, three 95 buses, all considerably emptier, rushed by instead of stopping behind the full bus.  Sensing that I would be left without a bus I quickly jumped on the full bus at the last moment, muttering under my breath about the stupidity of how one of the other buses could and should have stopped.  Didn’t they know I wanted a seat?  I was annoyed because I now had to stand and couldn’t read my book that I had stashed in my backpack.

After another stop, the bus got even fuller.  That’s when the bus driver began to speak.  “Ladies and gentlemen you can see we have a full bus.  I am unable to see to the back of the bus, so if you’re having difficulty getting to a door at your stop just yell at me…I’m used to it, I’ve been married for 38 years…six months and 2 days, but who’s counting.”  As I looked around the bus I could see many mouths curl upwards.  The driver continued. “If you’re going to yell at me, please use my first name, it’s Carl.  I’ll only get annoyed with you if you call me Carol because that’s a girl’s name and I will take that personally.”  At this point as I looked around the bus, the grin on people’s faces was firmly ensconced in either an appreciative manner or in a “this is corny but I can’t help but smile,” kind of way.

Carl continued in this manner throughout the half hour bus ride.  At various points if people looked like they were getting pushy, Carl would make a comment about how eager everyone was to get to work today, what with everyone clambering for the doors.  He told them not to worry, he understood what it meant to have a job that you love and he would be sure to get everyone to their destination safe and on time.  As new people got on the bus, he left his microphone on and greeted them, often explaining the perils of a packed bus but assuring them that we were all in this together.

As I listened to Carl, I realized how my annoyance had dissipated the moment he had begun his light hearted banter.  Stop after stop, not only was I appreciative of Carl’s attitude and humour, but I was genuinely thankful that I was on this bus.  In a hyper-Calvinistic way I might say that I was thankful to God for putting me on the jam packed bus because if I had caught one of the other emptier 95’s, I might never have had the Carl experience.  When we arrived at the University of Ottawa, I took the time to go to the front of the bus (a lot emptier now as most people get off near the downtown executive core) and thank Carl.  He smiled and said, “You fine sir have a wonderful day.”

As I now sit at my desk at work, I recognize how these small ordained moments of the day can change a person, a day, and the collective ethos of a community of people.  I don’t know if Carl is a Christian, but the spirit of God was certainly at work in him and through him.  What I experienced was gracious generosity or what we might otherwise call, the heart of God.   I thank God for the Carl’s of the world and yes Carl, I will have a wonderful day.

Revolting Beauty

There is a phrase Jesus was fond of saying that I have always found somewhat confusing.  What makes the phrase so confusing to me is that it is so obvious a statement that no one would ever disagree with it.  It is as obvious as saying, ‘water is wet.’    The famous phrase I am referring to is the prophetically clairvoyant claim “Whoever has ears, let them hear” which Jesus was known to utter, particularly after telling a parable.  Why would Jesus waste his breath saying something so obvious?  Surely everyone knows how exceedingly difficult it is to hear without ears!

But, then again, it also seems at times to be exceedingly difficult to hear WITH ears.  Sometimes it seems that people hear what they expect to hear or want to hear rather than what was actually said. I remember a conversation between an engaged couple I was meeting with where she said, “I would really like it if you would plan out our dates a little bit more.  That would make me feel like you think about me and care about what I like to do.”  And her fiancee responded, “So you are saying you want to go on more dates because you are bored when we stay home and rent a movie.”  The young man heard something totally different than what his fiancee had just finished saying not seconds before!  Unfortunately this happens in preaching too.  (Well, it happens to my sermons.  I’m sure it never happens to the other authors of this blog!)  After a sermon someone will approach me and say, “Pastor thank you for the sermon.  I needed to hear how I should tithe faithfully.”  I stammer out an appropriate reply while thinking, “Huh? The sermon was about sabbath keeping!”

Is it possible that Jesus’ statement towards the obvious nature of hearing is in fact a not so obvious expose’ on human nature?

Perhaps if we consider another sense, that of sight, Jesus’ strangely obvious statement will be made clear.

Last spring I took a group of North Americans to the Dominican Republic on a “Vision Trip.”  As we drove through country side all we saw everywhere was abject poverty.  Little children playing with garbage as toys.  Young men with no hope for work loitering in the shade.  Pregnant teens picking rocks out of piles of rice – dinner.  Heaps of garbage on the street corners.  Litter fluttering everywhere in the Caribbean breeze.  This is all that we saw.  But then we passed a sight that we remember clearly.  A little old, bent Dominican woman standing in front of her hut of sticks and mud.  She was sweeping.  Sweeping the dirt and rocks in front of her home.  The group was shocked that someone would bother cleaning such a dirty and poor atmosphere.  I mean, sweeping rocks?! What is the point?

We North Americans saw an old lady pointlessly sweeping rocks.  But that little old lady didn’t see rocks and dirt, she saw her doorstep.  She saw a landscaped yard worthwhile keeping clean of leaves, litter and pebbles.  I’m sure in her eyes, surrounded by the affliction of poverty, her doorstep was a beautiful thing.

by Jim LePage

Christian graphic designer, Jim LePage, has entitled this print on the left “Revolting Beauty.”  The hideous cross is the source what is good, right and beautiful.  The Apostle Paul said that the cross is a stumbling block, utter foolishness to those who cannot believe, or see beauty in something so hideous.

Perhaps this is what Jesus means when he says, “Let those who have ears hear.”  Or, “Let those who have eyes see.”  There is more to the story than what meets the eye or tickles the ear.  There is a truth that lies deeper than what the senses can perceive.  Or as CS Lewis put it in his Chronicles of Narnia, “There is a deeper and older magic at work.” This world filled with agony is also a world filled with God.  God is not only found in the big, the great and the wonderful.  Sometimes He is most apparent in the cracks and seams of life, in the last place we would ever dream the King of Creation would dwell.  Can we see it? Do we have the ears to hear it?

Is it possible that the cross is more than two pieces of wood on a hill upon which Christ died, but is in fact also a hideous symbol of the very world itself?  That this world is revolting thing made beautiful by the Son of God who flung himself upon it?  Is our picture of God big enough that we can find him even in the poverty of Calcutta or the massacres of Syria or the cancer of grandma?  Because, he is there.  Let those who have ears hear.