April 2006


A popular chain drug store sits at a busy intersection in Starkville. At peak traffic times, like when school gets out, it’s impossible to turn left (southbound) out of its parking lot.

Nevertheless, an elderly woman was attempting just that as I and the three or four other people in front of me watched helplessly, unable to continue our travel. She wasn’t simply sitting in the lot waiting for a gap in the steady line of cars and school buses. Instead, she had pulled out into the northbound lane, blocking it completely, intent on bulldozing her way in front of a bus.

Before you say I’m being hard on the old, let me assure you that in my experience selfishness and stupidity may be found in any generation of drivers. A student, eager to get wherever it was he had to go after consuming a platter of chicken fingers, pulled out of the restaurant lot, crossing the westbound lane of a major local highway. He sat in the eastbound left-turn lane, waiting to merge into traffic. Problem was he was blocking all the people who actually wanted to use the lane to turn left. He was oblivious to the blaring horns, shouts, and obscene gestures, some from fellow students.

My favorite pet peeve around here, though, is drivers who think they’re doing a good deed by letting someone out of a parking lot to turn left across traffic onto a busy thoroughfare. They do this, and the left-turn driver accepts, despite the fact that visibility is extremely and dangerously limited. I often say it: a wreck waiting to happen. I never let anybody out who’s turning left. I would feel responsible in some way for the accident.

Over and over I see drivers paying attention not to the road but to the conversation they’re having on their cell phones or to inserting a CD in the dash. Or they cut the corner as they turn left, and thus almost scrape the front quarter-panel of my SUV. Or they insist on going well under the speed limit, even when there is no reason to, like heavy rain or a bicycler up ahead.

Stevie Ray Vaughn once asked in a song “whatever happened to the Golden Rule?” Every time I get out on the street or highway these days I ask that question. What would happen if drivers followed the famous dictum of Jesus “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? Would we be driving around with cell phones stitched to our ears? Or ignoring speed limits, either by driving too fast or too slowly? And, even though it seems as if we would be following the Rule by letting drivers turn left in front of us into oncoming traffic, I think not. Part of our duty to others, according to my tradition, is to help protect their lives. As one of our statements of faith put it, we are to follow the sixth commandment (“You shall not murder”) by preventing injury to our neighbor as much as we can (The Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 107).

Many years ago, a pastor in my church in Georgia preached a sermon on the Golden Rule, relating it in part to what we do as drivers. He must have made an impression on me.

© 2006 by Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

I always get especially depressed each year around Easter. Sometimes I think it’s just because I’m wired differently than other people. I mean, most folks feel good with Spring in the air. So what’s up with my sadness and sorrow?

But then I start to think about what Easter means. Not bunnies and eggs or even blooms and bright sunshine. Not showing off new clothes in a big crowd of folks putting in their once-a-year appearance at worship. Easter—the Sunday and the 50-day season on the Christian calendar—is about God’s victory over death in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s about his cosmic putdown of the powers-that-be who thought they could thwart God’s dream for humankind and all creation by killing the Holy Child of God on a cross, rolling a stone across the entrance of his tomb, and posting a guard. Easter, that is, the resurrection of Jesus, is about the triumph of life-giving over death-dealing.

I believe with all my heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and that my Savior and Lord is in fact alive and exalted, as the faithful have confessed through the centuries. My problem and my depression come precisely and ironically because I believe. God’s power is real; the resurrection story is true. So where is the evidence of such power and such life-giving in the world today? I look around and death seems to have more hold on us than ever before. War without end. Hatred of people because of what they look like or whom they choose as a life partner. Greed and corruption at the highest levels of corporations and government. In my own tradition, we are—get this—fighting each other over the report of a task force that was supposed to recommend how we could find unity!

All I want (!) is for God to give some evidence these days that his life-affirming, life-giving power is at work in a big, systemic way. Neighbor helping neighbor, little acts of kindness, a smile and a hug are not changing the world. Evil is too strong, too big, too entrenched. It’ll take something cosmic, something God-sized to bring it down.

Meanwhile, I guess I’ll just try to find signs of life in the church and the culture. I suspect it’s more likely that God will whisper than shout.

© 2006 by Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

A little over a week ago, I was part of a great mission project called a “Potato Drop.” Farmers in Vardaman, MS, famous for its sweet potatoes, had donated the portion of the crop from their fields that was not suitable for stores. An 18-wheeler dumped the spuds in a shopping center parking lot, and volunteers bagged the potatoes. Area hunger agencies then came to pick them up or else we delivered and/or unloaded them when the order was especially large.

The event was arranged by the Society of St. Andrew (www.endhunger.org) and coordinated with other campus ministries at Mississippi State by the Wesley Foundation (Hugh Griffith, campus minister). Students, faculty, staff, and townspeople associated with the Wesley Foundation, Catholic Student Association, Canterbury Episcopal Fellowship, Generation 6:20, Chi Alpha, and my own Presbyterian (USA) Collegiate Connection helped each other fill bags, toted them to an ever-increasing number of piles, unloaded trucks and cars, and got to know each other by working together.

I came away from that day with a great feeling of having helped just a little bit to end hunger. I also was floored by the mountain of potatoes available from just one small town in Mississippi. They didn’t look very good, but they were still edible, and unless the Society of St. Andrew had arranged with generous farmers for gleaning them from the fields, they would have gone to waste. According to the Society, 96 billion pounds of food are thrown away every year in this country; just while I was writing this, in about 15 minutes, over 1 million pounds were wasted.

But what I want especially to share here is how these kinds of projects can bring people together, whatever their beliefs and practices in their religious communities. In fact, you don’t have to have any faith at all to be part of such a mission. All you need to believe is that people are still hungry in a land of abundance and that you can do something about it in a few hours on a Saturday morning.

Millard Fuller once famously said about theology and building houses that when you’re on a roof, it matters not at all what denomination you are; it only matters if you can hit a nail on the head. I would say the same about this hunger project. It only matters that you can pick up a potato and put it in a bag. Whatever your faith, you can work with others to feed those who are victims of our country’s skewed values and shameful practices of waste. You can get to know those who differ from you in their beliefs, and find that you share a great deal in common. And you can be reminded, as I was, that the common human need for sustenance puts us all on the same level.

I felt like I was doing something. You can, too. Find out about the Society of St. Andrew or similar gleaning organizations in your community. End hunger. End waste. Get to know your neighbors.

© 2006 by Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.