Under The Collar Experiment

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Kindness of Strangers

Teenagers can be a tough crowd.  I love the challenge of working with this age.  They bore easily, so you need to be engaging.  They are curious, but you have to make information relevant to their lives. Their hypersensitivity to hypocrisy holds up a mirror that everyone should look in from time to time.

I was asked to be a speaker at a diversity camp for Oklahoma high schoolers called Camp Anytown. They requested an hour long introduction to my free faith.   What is it? What do we believe? Who are our heroes and heroines? What are our core values?  

I accepted. On my way to the camp, I exit the highway to Vian, Oklahoma, where all the street names are rural route numbers and landmarks unfamiliar to the unfamiliar eye blend into the landscape.  After 30 minutes of driving in what felt like a circle—seeing the exact same sign three times, and with no help from the GPS, I finally swallowed my pride and flagged down the next automobile coming toward me.

It was a pick-up truck.  A young man in his 20s pulled over. As I asked him where the church camp was, I was keenly aware of my gender, my collar, and my red convertible (with the new REVSOUL license plate).  He pointed up the road I had just circled around on. He could see my frustration.  “Why don’t you just follow me there?” he says.  “I can take you.” So, I follow him down the winding roads, past the numerous churches, and into the woods. 

I thought that I was just 4-5 miles away from my destination. After 15 minutes of following this kind stranger deeper into wooded Eastern Oklahoma, I caught myself wondering if this was safe.  Somewhere in my DNA a Grimm fairytale is echoing.  Could he be leading me somewhere else?  Am I being foolish?  I snapped myself out of this by remembering that I had flagged him down.  I was the stranger.  

As we passed another fairly hidden Camp sign, proving he was taking me in the right direction, I scolded my mistrust.  After 20 minutes, I wondered if I would I have done this for someone else?  I marveled at his pace of life— that he had enough room in his day to lead a stranger this far out of his way.   As he drove me into the Camp grounds, I pulled up next to him.  We had traveled 30 minutes and 20 miles.   I rolled down my window and said, “You are my hero.  I had no idea it was this far. Bless you.”  He grinned and called me ma’am and said something I don’t remember. 

I wondered if this event was made possible by my clerical collar.  I don’t think so.
I think it was made possible by the kindness of rural Oklahoma. It is an example of the values lived out in this state—values I was immersed in as a child:
Be kind to everyone, even the stranger.
Take care of one another.
Go beyond the call of duty.

In my presentation I spoke of living out the values we profess.  As Unitarian Jane Addams so eloquently put it, "Action...is the sole medium of expression for ethics."

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