Archived Sections, Commentary

Stay in the car

Bob Hulteen

I had planned to write this editorial about Lutheran approaches to prayer and spirituality, thanks to a book I have been reading, The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals, by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. And I will write that editorial soon, but not this month.
Then came the news of the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, which was shocking but not surprising. I do not know the intricacies of Florida law, nor the instructions the jurors received. I can’t imagine the task before those jurors, and I want to assume they carried out their duties as they are proscribed by those laws.
And I truly want to believe that the American system of justice is fair. But sometimes it simply feels like I am believing despite the evidence – and not in the way suggested in Hebrews 11.
I quickly penned an editorial, expressing my visceral outrage that a young man’s life was ended, yet somehow he became the person on trial. I was furious that this case became a proxy for other political fights. I was mystified that some good Lutheran folk seem more committed to “stand your ground” than “here I stand.”

A traveler (who may or may not have looked suspicious) was on a road.

As with all highly public trials like this one, the facts are many, they are complex, and we never hear them in isolation from so much history and past experience. I don’t pretend to know all the facts in this case. But one thing I do know for sure: George Zimmerman should never have gotten out of his car.

A stranger alongside the road

Remembering that the assigned Gospel reading for Sunday, July 14, was the parable of the Good Samaritan, I wondered how all my pastor friends would preach this story in light of the Zimmerman verdict. And as I watched Facebook and Twitter light up, I didn’t envy my friends this task.
Clearly many of them, regardless of how they personally felt about the verdict, were wrestling with what they would say on Sunday morning. Because, maybe the circumstances of the Gospel and Trayvon Martin’s story were a little too similar for comfort.
You know the story: A traveler (who may or may not have looked suspicious) was on a road. He came upon robbers, who stole from him, attacked him, and left him broken along the side of the road. And then came the steady stream of people who, by any civilized code of conduct, should have come to his aid, to have intervened and shared their resources with him to get him back on his feet. But they didn’t.
And then came someone, an outcast from whom little was expected, who stepped up to the plate to help. Had he walked by, no one would have been surprised. And yet, from this unexpected corner came great and honorable things. It’s both a powerful and inspiring story.
But I hardly recognized this biblical story by reading the posts of some self-described Christians on Facebook. On one thread participants proclaimed that if the Samaritan had been packing heat, we wouldn’t even need this parable.
Huh? How do followers of the Prince of Peace become heralds of violence?

A simpler solution

Monday morning, I left work about 5:15 a.m. to take our daughter to her morning shift at Brueggers Bagels. After I dropped her off, a young woman running wildly up and down the street approached my car, asking for help. Her car was parked in a no-parking area and was about to be towed. Her license was suspended, and she wondered if I could come move her car to a legal space, where she would wait until her mom could pick her up.

“You might be a Good Samaritan but you are obstructing a police officer.”

Although I needed to get back to my newspaper deadline, I felt like this was a Samaritan moment. I drove over to her car, only to find a police officer and a tow truck driver already loading the car.
The young woman became hysterical, begging them to allow me to move her car. After a moment of hesitation, and with the hope of being helpful, I got out of the car. I asked for the officer’s attention (probably not helpful, as he was dealing with early rush-hour traffic, a frantic woman, and an impatient truck driver). The officer told me to return to the car — three times — as I tried to suggest an alternative.
Suddenly with handcuffs on, seated in the back seat of a police cruiser, I heard the officer say, “You might be a Good Samaritan but you are obstructing a police officer.”
Eventually, cooler heads — both his and mine — prevailed. We discussed what my intentions were, as well as the pressures he was under, including the unknowns of my participation in this event. He let me go, and said he wouldn’t show up for court so the charges would be dismissed.
Sometimes it is just best not to get out of the car. And other times it is immoral to have done so.

In his memory

I want to thank the many Metro Lutheran readers who have offered condolences both to Jean Johansson, whose mother recently died, and to me for the loss of my father. During this time of transition, I became even more aware of the remarkable community that has developed around this publication.
In my father’s memory, I offer readers a poem he wrote for family friends Reuben and Wanda Rydeen in 1997 on the occasion of the centennial celebration of their family’s ownership of their farm in Leon Township, Clearwater County, just a few miles down the road from my own family’s farm.
John Hulteen
Two horses pull hard at their collars
As the plow strikes the virgin soil.
A furrow has now been created
From the strength of the homesteader’s toil.
The scene that we view was long ago,
A hundred years they say.
But the song of the rugged homesteader
Is still alive today.
Those time worn hands of the homesteader
No longer hold the plow.
The mighty roar of the tractors
Create the furrows now.
But time has not changed the purpose
For those who grasp the land.
It’s still the love of the furrow
And the dirt on the tiller’s hand.
Yes, it’s still the love of the furrow
That runs from beginning to end.
It’s still the home for loved ones
And the voice of a neighboring friend.
The land has always been there,
And perhaps it will ever be so.
Yet it’s the hand that touches the seedling,
That gives wheat its golden glow.
It’s not just the dirt in the furrow.
It’s not just the call of the sod.
It’s the soul of the ones who till it.
It’s the touch of the hand of God.
So on to the next One Hundred,
New faces will then see the land.
But the furrows will run straight as always
On the strength of the homesteader’s hand.

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