For the last two nights I've been driving to the University of Alabama in Florence to speak to a group of students at the BCM there (Baptist Campus Ministry). Last night I left my house at 6:30 bound for bama, plenty of time to make the hour and a half drive to campus before the festivities were to kick off at 9.
But after a few minutes on the highway I found myself sitting still, having guzzled the largest Dr.Pepper a Shell station would sell me and with a sudden urge to expel a good bit of it from my system. (ie. I needed to go potty). I sat there in traffic purgatory for an hour and called the BCM in Florence to let them know I was running a "little behind" and might be cutting it close if I hit any more snags.
Just outside of Florence, much time later, I stopped for gas and that much needed restroom break at a QuickStop. I tossed my mound of keys into the floor board as I simultaneously slammed the car door. As the keys hit the floor the alarm attached to them was somehow triggered and the car beeped locked just as the door clicked shut.
The woman at the counter was less than helpful, speaking in a Southern drawl with cemented in place eyebrows and motionless facial muscles, "You can't dial 411 here. Costs us money."
I needed the number of my insurance company, but my insurance card was...locked in the car, so I called the first locksmith listed in the yellow pages and then waited while Mrs. Personality and I made small talk about the safety of service station wieners, how often they're replaced and whether or not greenish brown is the color they arrive as or a hue they mysteriously become during two weeks of turning over a low flame.
It's 9:20. The hero of the evening appeared in a primer gray Astro van with slim jim in hand. I gave him thirty five bucks and he unlocked my car. I gave him five extra and he did it without laughing at me once. A bargain.
I sped away from the Quick Stop and fumbled and felt around the floor board for my cell phone and the scrap of paper I'd written the BCM's phone number on. BBy the time I found them both I was in Florence, just minutes from the University campus, with someone from the BCM on the line. "You're fine on time," they reassured me, though I knew my being thirty minutes late at this point had to have caused someone a little stress. "I'll be there in ten minutes," I promised and took the phone from my ear, my eyes off the road and tried to find the disconnect button in the dark.
When my eyes came back to the street I, speeding at this point, saw the red tail lights of a much slower car that had apparently pulled in front of me in the instant I'd stopped paying attention. Too late to break, I steered to the left, passing the plodding station wagon and driving for only a second in the turn lane before veering back into my lane.
Blue lights flashed in the rear view mirror instantly. My stomach rolled over. I pulled to the curb and a robust officer moseyed up to my window. "Is there a good reason why you passed those cars back there in the turn lane?"
Why do police officers do this? Is it sarcasm? Is it an interrogation technique designed to trap us into some sort of lie or grand admission of greater guilt like, "Yes, I dropped my joint when I was reloading my AK47 and when I reached for it I asked my underaged girlfriend to take the wheel for a second but she was too busy counting the money we just stole from that liquor store over there to hear me I guess. So I kinda lost control for a second, officer. I'm not a good multi-tasker I guess."
"No sir," I answered politely, hoping my manners would win the day. "I'm very late for a meeting at the University up the road here. I got stuck in some traffic and then I locked my keys in my car when I stopped for gas and-"
"So because YOU were late," he lectured, "YOU almost killed someone...So YOU could be on time?"
"Well, I was on my cell phone and - I'm getting a ticket aren't I?"
And then we round and round about whether the car was really mine because it was recently given to me by a family member and hasn't been registered in my name yet and it has Texas tags but I have a Tennessee driver's license that looks nothing like me and I have no title or...you get the picture. I'm just certain there's a rubber glove, a cavity search and a cellmate named Tito in my near future at this point. That's when the second police car showed up, about the time I was explaining whey I'm in Florence in the first place.
"I'm speaking to a group of students at the University."
"Um...I, Uhh...I'm a preacher I guess." I reached for my bible as evidence, as if only preachers have bibles, although they may the only once with them so handily located in their car.
"KEEP YOU HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM! KEEP YOU HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM, SIR!!!"
"I was just getting my bible. Sorry. I don't get arrested very often. I'm not sure what all the rules are." No laughter from the cop with his hand on his hip.
"You're a preacher?"
"And you're late so you're passing in the turn lane, speeding, in a car that has no registration and a Tennessee license that doesn't have your right address on it and no title and Texas tags on your vehicle."
"Yes, sir. That about sums it up."
"Uh huh...Reckless driving. Here's your ticket. Sign here. This is not an admission of guilt. See you in court."
I drove on to the University and preached to a good sized crowd of students about building the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. I taught that God's kingdom is in the heart and coming through us to the rest of the world. It's our task as Christians then to obey the authorities and rules of our nation while living out our citizenship and loyalty to the Kingdom of Heaven and the King of Kings in such a way that earthly authorities have less and less to do. We're to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth by accepting responsibility for the needs and needy around us and doing our best to bring assistance to them - replace government policies, programs and power with the mercy and love and wealth of the people of God. It's a revolution we've been saved for. "Be the Church, free the oppressed, heal the sick, feed the hungry, do God's will on earth as it is done in Heaven and all our governments will have left to do in time is write traffic tickets to preachers endangering the lives of others."
It was good night after all. Thanks to Brian Miller and everyone else at the BCM for your patience, Oreos, Cheese Puffs and great conversation. Now if you could just get me out of this ticket.