Friday, September 30, 2005

GAMBLING WITH LIFE

LOTTERY IN LINE. Whenever I go into a convenient store, I usually wait in line at the counter while some soul selects and buys lottery tickets. And I usually resent having to wait to purchase what I consider necessary--fuel or food--while the person ahead of me wastes money on something unnecessary--and something I consider a cause for personal spiritual and social malignancy. With $10, I purchase fuel that will propel me throughout the community for nearly a week; with his Andrew Hamilton, the person ahead of me walks away--99% of the time--with nothing. The normalization and amoralization of gambling in American life is, to me, a trajectory heading toward some tragic outcomes.

TWO WAYS TO STOP JUDGMENTALISM. But pity or disgust are not the only two emotions I have felt while waiting in line for someone to buy lottery tickets. Sometimes, when I see someone engaging in some obvious misdeed or foolishness and feel righteous indignation welling up within me, I use my imagination to try to put myself in their shoes. Even if I end up baffled by bad behavior, it's a good exersice; at the least it moves my focus away from my momentary judgmentalism on a neighbor. Or, I try to ask myself, "am I, too, gambling with life? If so, how?"

LIFE IN THE FAST LANE. On Wednesday I got a ticket on Interstate 70 for "unsafe lane movement." Trying to get around slow traffic in the two left lanes, I crossed to the far right lane, passed the traffic, and then cut back over into the far left lane in order to make the north-bound I-65/I-70 split in the downtown spaghetti bowl. The state trooper who pulled me over was not happy with me. However, he informed me that he was not ticketing me for driving over 70 miles per hour in a 50 mph zone and that the citation did not mention the fact that I did not use my turn signals. The ironic part of this story: I was, in fact, traveling from a 6:15 am men's prayer breakfast to a 7:30 am roundtable Bible study when I was stopped for "unsafe lane movement."

WHERE'S THE FINGER POINTING? One person buys lottery tickets, scratches them off, and throws money away; I engaged in risky behavior at 70 mph on one of the busiest and most dangerous stretches of highway in the city. Both gambling. Is it merely enough to say "choose your poison?" Hardly. But whenever I find myself pointing the finger elsewhere, it usually points right back at me. And even when it doesn't point my way directly, if I think about it fully, I can readily find evidence of my behavior, needs, or choices contributing indirectly and complicitly with another's misdeeds born of desperation or despair. And that is reason enough for confession and repentance.

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