Watchword for the Week of May 18, 2014
Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
The last time I took a road trip to an unfamiliar place, I typed the address into my smartphone and let it design a route. It looked okay to me, but just to be sure, I checked my destination’s website for directional advice. It did not match the plan my phone had laid out, so I pulled up www.mapquest.com on my laptop and printed out the turn-by-turn instructions so that I could make comparisons. I have a GPS in my vehicle and could have programmed it, but I don’t really like having a disembodied voice snidely announcing it is “recalculating” my driving decisions as though it were oh-so-superior, so I didn’t plug it in. But I did grab a couple of paper maps and toss them on the passenger seat, just for good measure. After cross-referencing all of the information and still feeling like I needed to flip a coin at every choice, I found myself longing for one definitive answer. I wanted a TripTik.
The TripTik was the gold standard for travel planning when I was a kid. Pioneered and perfected by the American Automobile Association, the AAA TripTik provided customized road trip itineraries long before ordinary people had access to the Information Super Highway. With just a week or so of notice, AAA could plot out a personalized, dependable path which would then be assembled into a tailor-made, vertically-oriented, spiral-bound notebook. Each page represented a leg of the journey—an isolated stripe of highway, about a hundred miles in length, detailed with exits and rest stops, and yet streamlined, the course unmistakable. It made navigating a breeze, and for the bored children in the back seat, it provided an anticipatory thrill whenever the car came to the appointed mile marker and it was time to turn to a fresh page. In my family, the TripTik was decisive. There was nothing to do but follow where it led. Simple!
Don’t get me wrong. I like having choices. I like knowing that for any challenge, there are countless combinations of solutions limited only by lack of imagination. But sometimes it gets to be too much, this overwhelming access to infinite possibilities. Especially in the critical moment (“Must I cross three lanes of speeding traffic to make that exit coming up in a quarter mile, or is it okay to stay on this road awhile longer?”), it’s a relief to have an unambiguous answer.
Jesus gives an unambiguous answer about which route is guaranteed to bring a spiritual traveler into unending relationship with God. He says that HE is the route. HE is the road. HE is the TripTik. Whatever tracks Jesus lays down, whoever follows in them is bound to end up where Jesus is—inhabiting downtown accommodations in the place where God is.
But is the unambiguous answer also an exclusive answer? Some say that in order to arrive at the hoped-for eternal destination, it is necessary to invoke Jesus’ name as though it were the exclusive currency taken at the toll gate. But here’s something I’ve noticed: If I want to arrive in Chicago, I don’t just speak the name “Chicago” and, poof, find myself teleported to the western shore of Lake Michigan. I still must traverse the network of highways. And while it may be important for me to know which direction to head, the road itself doesn’t particularly care if I call it I-90, I-94 or the Dan Ryan Expressway. The fact that I’m following the road and trusting where it leads is what matters.
To trust and follow Jesus is to tailgate him, to keep just inches off his bumper. His way is the way of selfless love and deep compassion. To go there is to leave behind whatever appears in the rear view mirror and move forward, ever closer to the spot that’s circled on the TripTik—ever closer to that place in the heart where God resides.