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Benefits of Lawlessness

October 10, 2011

The clip above is one of  Olivia and me getting out of a traffic jam in Bujumbura, Burundi.  Driving in California and driving in Afirca made me think: What if we had no traffic laws?  What do you think would happen?  3 billion car pile ups?  Fuel tankers running off of overpasses and exploding?

These days I find myself getting more and more agitated on the roads.  I think Charleston drivers are the worst drivers in the world, and Californians are a close second.  At least in California they don’t stop for no reason.  The freeways are absolutely insane.  Texas was nice in that people pass on the left and then pull over into the right lane whether anyone is in the road or not.  They knew their role and they played it well.  It was efficient.

In California, no one knows the traffic laws.  People change lanes in intersections.  Coast around corners on red lights.  They pass on the right.  They drive fast in the slow lane and slow in the fast lane.  For legalists, like myself, this gets really irritating.  I quickly become livid with other drivers because they break all the laws that keep life orderly and predictable.  Then I feel entitled to because everyone else is.  I just want them to get out of my way and not do anything illegal so I know what to expect.  Sometimes I question whether drivers out here are ignorant of the laws or if they just don’t care.

One of my favorite parts of Africa are the roads.  They’re absolutely insane.  Other than the side of the road you drive on, I’m not sure there are really any laws to driving out there.  We definitely saw a bunch of crashes, and avoided our fair share of them too, but the spirit of driving on the roads out there was different as well.  Ironically, they don’t drive much worse than Californians.  As one friend put it, they generally drive the same way you would walk through a crowded shopping mall.  You just make your way around the obstacles.

What I noticed, though I did have fits of road rage while driving in Africa, is that I was much less stressed irritated with the other drivers despite the pandemonium.  Most of the time I found myself getting upset with African drivers because I expected them to follow an American traffic law.  The other times I found myself getting upset with them is when they would do something rude, like cutting ahead of me in traffic.

In the US we have tons of laws and lots of road rage.  I’m sure the statistics bump up higher in SoCal.  In Africa, sure you have some nasty accidents, but the spirit of the road is different.  People do crazy things on the road out there, but people don’t really get mad at each other unless they’ve done something mean or noticeably foolish.  I think the law of the road becomes love.

If there aren’t laws to break, you can’t really get mad at people for breaking them.  Westerners get mad at African motorists because they do what we consider “stupid” things on the road.  We have laws to prevent these “stupid’ things from happening, but because they’re ignorant to them, they don’t really get upset with each other for those reasons.

What’s my point?  I’m not saying I want to abolish traffic laws.

I think our approach to life can be kind of like driving on neat manicured roads with laws.  We like things to be orderly, predictable, and fair, we really love the concept of fairness in the west… it’s why we naturally form lines anywhere we go (I got here first, I get to go first… in other places, whoever pushes the hardest gets to go first).  With those laws come the expectation that things work a certain way.  I expect you to abide by the laws or I have the right to be upset with you.  In fact, you should be punished and I’m upset the cops weren’t around to pull you over.  It’s called legalism.  Most instances of road rage, at least for myself, are just legalism.  I try to follow the laws, so when you don’t follow the laws I feel like you should be punished.  If you’re not punished, then I have the right to be angry with you.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.

The law of love is different.  It’s messier.  It involves dealing with real people in real ways.  Crashes happen.  What gets us bent out of shape is no longer the breaching of rules, but being treated in an unloving fashion.  When we don’t hold people to a standard we can love them.  Why?  Because we’re not judging their performance anymore.  I don’t have anything to hold against them anymore.  All my ammunition is gone.  I’m no longer angry because they changed lanes without signaling.  I’m angry because they almost killed me.  It brings our issues out of a superficial place of behavioral expectations, and into a place of raw actions and how they affect those around us.

How do we get out of this messy expectation to follow law business?  I would suggest that we can’t release other people or ourselves from expectations until we’ve been released ourselves.  When we choose to follow Jesus and join with him, we are released from the law.  We get to drive on a road without laws.  How well we “drive,” or live our lives, is determined by how well we love the other “drivers,” not by how well we keep the rules.  We can let them cut ahead of us if it’s loving to them.  We can follow a slow driver without getting impatient.  As God changes our hearts, and frees us from the power of the law, we begin to heal.  We begin to walk out our freedom from the law by extending that same grace to others as well.  We stop keeping records of everyone’s driving and focus on our own.

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