On our way back from Traverse City on Saturday afternoon, a police officer along the side of the two-lane road we were driving turned around and tailed us for eight miles. The police were out in full force over the Memorial Day weekend, Gary watched his speed, and I had déjà vu.
“When you accept a driver’s license from the State of Michigan, you are receiving permission from the State to drive. That’s right…permission. You are not being given a gift. You do not possess the right to drive. You are being extended a privilege – and that privilege is extended only for as long as you prove yourself to be a safe and responsible driver. You must become familiar with the rules of the road and abide by them.”
“Okay,” I thought. “Rub it in!” I had just begun reading 210 pages of the Basic Driver Improvement Course of the State of Michigan in preparation for a fifty question “Final Exam.” Determined not to be cynical, I decided to make this a fun time. It was early July of 2015.
“Ma’am, did you realize that you did not come to a complete stop at the stop sign a block back?” The police officer seemed almost apologetic. “There is construction in the area, and neighbors are complaining that cars are racing down the street.”
“I wasn’t racing, was I?”
“No, ma’am, not at all, but you didn’t come to a complete stop at the sign. Almost, but not quite.”
“Could I at least ask a favor? Could my fine go toward fixing the potholes?”
Sigh. Less than two years after driving into a speed trap in the town where I live, I did it again. In both instances, every day for a week after I was stopped, I saw the same police officer pull over motorists for the same infraction. I only had one ticket in the previous forty years of driving.
Just the day before I didn’t quite stop, I was on the interstate and cars were driving so fast I prayed for God to protect us all. Why are police officers not ticketing motorists for driving 90 to 100 miles an hour or weaving in and out of four lane highways but catch us for a second or two of extra motion at a stop sign?
I paid the fine and got over it … until I received a letter in the mail, informing me that my stop sign violation would be reported to my insurance company unless I took a six hour in-person driving course or completed an online class. I had two months to complete the course, which I decided to do so that my insurance rate wouldn’t increase.
After procrastinating, and with just two weeks left, I realized I had to get started. I registered for the online course, paid my $49 and checked out the FAQ’s.
Question: “Is your Basic Driver Improvement Course difficult to complete?”
Answer: “We promise you’ll love the ease and simplicity of our Basic Driver Improvement Course. Our easy-to-read Internet course is entertaining, informative, and loaded with colorful graphics, videos, and cartoons. And we fill the course with hilarious traffic jokes to make the experience more enjoyable. We want you to laugh while you learn!”
I gave myself a pep talk. “You will benefit from this course, Laurie. And you will have fun doing it because driving is a privilege.” There were ten sections to the course, so I began to read. An hour later, I finished section one and completed the quiz. Only nine more chapters to go. Amazed at what I was learning over the course of five days, I squeezed in my reading late into the night and early in the morning. Naturally, I couldn’t help but make connections between driving and the Christian life.
- “Driving is a community endeavor. We’re all on the road together.”
- The church is the body of Christ where each one is valuable and necessary to the whole.
- “If you are in an accident, you are required to stop and help.”
- The church isn’t the church if we don’t care for and nurture the spiritual, emotional, relational and physical health of others inside and outside the church.
- “Give your full attention to driving. Four factors that can interfere with your concentration and ‘cloud the lens’ of your attention are stress, fatigue, emotional distress, and distractions (i.e. cell phones). A fifth factor, alcohol and other drugs, presents another hazard to driving.”
- Don’t be an “almost Christian,” according to John Wesley. Be an “altogether Christian.” Give your whole self to Christ and God’s work in the world.
- “In the driving environment, road rage is the ultimate ‘anti-courtesy.’ Road rage is ‘violent behavior exhibited by drivers in traffic, often as a manifestation of stress.’
- Just like on the road, people occasionally lose it at church as well. While church should be a safe place for everyone to express themselves, it’s no excuse for flying off the handle at Joe because the sound system failed or Mabel because she overcooked the pies or Sally because she inadvertently left someone off the list of volunteers at the soup kitchen.
- “Practice basic driving etiquette.” Use your turn signal; turn on your lights; don’t tailgate; wear your seat belt; make sure your car is in good working order; keep your eyes on the road; don’t litter; and slow down in construction zones
- Greet people warmly when they sit in “your” pew; turn off your phone; don’t make paper airplanes out of the bulletins; feel free to nap if you need the rest; don’t talk to your friend during the sermon; and introduce yourself to guests.
- Alcohol-related collisions accounted for 10,228 fatalities nationwide in 2010, or about one casualty every fifty-one minutes.
- Rejoice that United Methodist churches don’t serve alcohol.
- Be a patient driver: always arrive safe.
This is where things got a bit dicey. I was losing my patience. After ten hours I had read 210 pages of facts about who yields to whom on a hill, how to back up; how to drive in snow and ice, animals on the highway, and braking, passing, railroad crossings and cyclists on the road. I completed ten practice tests and was ready for it to be done.
I arose early one morning to take the final exam. I needed to get 80% of the fifty questions right. If I failed, I could retake the test as many times as I needed to. This was an “open computer” test where I could search for the answers.
I went through the ten question security log-in one last time (the last of 36 times) and began the test at 6:30 a.m. with 210 pages in front of me. By 8:45 a.m. I only had two more questions to answer but had to reply to an email first. Alas, as soon as I opened my email, my computer froze, and I lost the test.
I rebooted my computer and logged in once more, expecting that I could recreate all the answers in a short amount of time. I clicked the button that says, “Take the test,” only to discover an entirely new test. NOOOOOOOOO!
I went out for a run to clear my mind. An hour later, I logged in one more time, found yet another new test, completed it and passed. What did I learn?
- Despite my tickets, I am deeply grateful for the courage, compassion and skill of our police officers, who protect and keep us safe.
- It would have been so much easier to take the six-hour class in person.
- Life isn’t fair.
- Penance works.
- If I ever have to take the test again, I will not be a perfectionist. 80% is enough.
- Driving is a privilege, not a right, and stop means stop.
I pray for the day when every person in our world will live in a country where practicing their own religion is a privilege, a right and a gift. And I pray that when it comes to criticizing, judging and mistreating others, we will remember that Jesus was always clear when stop means stop. But, rejoice! God never issues tickets, just grace. How is grace at work in you?