Driving home last week, I was pulling into the left-turn lane. It was late in the evening, and cold. Up ahead at the red light was a car with its hazard lights on. Stalled. In the lights of the intersection, I could see the driver standing outside on the median. I pulled out of the turn lane to go around him.
The light turned green. As I passed the stalled vehicle, I glanced at the driver. He was on his cell phone. I kept driving.
Not until I’d completed my turn did the Good Samaritan come to mind. That was my favorite story when I was a child. My mother read it to me from a maroon, Bible-sized story book with a Warner Sallman painting of Jesus on the cover. Something in that story connected with a piece of my young self. Something about the beaten man heaved onto the donkey’s back. Something about the inconvenience of caring. Some piece that I’ve managed more judiciously since I’ve gotten older.
It was too late to turn around though. He had a cell phone. He was calling someone. What help could I provide? A lift somewhere? But he couldn’t abandon his car in the intersection. Besides it was dark. My face would be hard to see clearly. A stranger approaching in the dark is worth a little fear. Who’s to say it isn’t a set up? No need to cause undue stress.
In The Blind Side, there’s a scene when Leigh Anne Touhy is riding home with her family in their SUV. It’s pouring rain. It’s a winter night, cold enough in Tennessee. At an intersection, they see a tall, young black man traipsing along the shoulder, dressed in shorts and a short-sleeved polo. He has no umbrella or raincoat. He’s soaked and shivering. Touhy’s husband pulls out of the intersection and turns for home, heading in the opposite direction. The young man continues down the shoulder.
Leigh Anne hesitates for a moment, reflects, then just before shaking it from her thoughts, she says to her husband, “Turn around.” Her husband doesn’t question her. He makes the U-turn.
There are numerous differences between my story and the one in The Blind Side. For her, he was a black high school kid; for me, he was older, and white. The weather was different: For my part it wasn’t raining, just cold. In The Blind Side, the young man had no car and no cell phone, no resources to speak of. Like I said, the driver, he had both of these. But of all the differences in the two stories, I think the most significant difference was the cell phone. The young man I saw had means. But for his part, the black young man, Michael, had none.
But this doesn’t justify my decision to keep driving.
The cell phone, like other technologies, has extended our reach. But here’s the thing about these extensions: To the degree that they extend our reach, they also separate us from those we touch.
My car and my cell phone are two extensions that regularly make it possible for me to connect with my family. They live in another state. By car, I can reach them in about 4 hours. My phone: a few moments. And while it’s great that the car and the cell phone keep me connected, they’ve also made this distance acceptable, even expected. I don’t see my family more than once every two months usually. I’ve grown accustomed to this independence. But in truth, it’s not the quality of relationship I would have if I lived close by without those technologies.
So while technologies extend our reach, they also separate us from others by the same distance. That means that when I call a friend who lives in the next suburb, they’re no closer than my family four hours away. This perception of distance is flattened, equalized, obliterated.
In the story of the Good Samaritan, two religious leaders cross over to the other side. They distance themselves from the dying man. They created physical distance. But not the Good Samaritan: He came by and chose not to cross over. He inserted himself directly into the situation.
For us today, our technology puts us across the road to start with. We just don’t recognize this separation because we’re accustomed to this distance. We have to cross a wider road to reach the beaten man: our technology. It was more difficult for the Good Samaritan to ignore the plight of the dying man because he had to choose to create distance. For us, ignoring it is much easier because we start from a distance. We must work much harder, to be intentional about closing this distance. Our technologies insulate us. The same is true with being a good neighbor. Our houses are so well insulated that we never see our neighbors.
Of course, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan when someone asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Technology has made the whole world our neighbor: the orphans of Haiti and also the guy stalled at the intersection. But the distance is nearly the same. In order to be like the Good Samaritan—and like Christ—we must work much harder than previous generations to close the distance.
In The Blind Side, Leigh Anne’s family took him home, gave him a bed, and then she freaked out. They were taking a risk. Her whole family was. We always risk when we choose compassion. The Good Samaritan risked much too. (Who’s to say it wasn’t a set up?) But Michael becomes a part of Leigh Anne’s family, legally. Then, he ends up going to college, and now the NFL. His life changed to a degree beyond measure. The grace that invaded his life transformed it so completely as to be almost unrecognizable. And not just his, but hers and her family’s as well.
Driving home from the movie, I replayed in my mind that scene on the road in the rain. I thought about how many times, I’ve kept driving. How many times I’ve shaken the thought out of my head and never said, “Turn around.” I can’t even count. They all blur together. How many opportunities have I had? How many times have I failed to repent?
We must see what our technologies are doing to us, how they are distancing us from being formed into Christ’s likeness. Unless we begin to look at their impact, we will remain far away. We will wonder why we are no more like Christ than we were a year ago. Until we recognize the things that are holding us back, we cannot begin to use them to our benefit, to God’s glory, and to others’ benefit as well.