Sunday, August 19, 2007

Judgment Day

I had just finished putting away the big mower when I heard the abominable sound -- ATV's heading down the creek. As I rushed to the hillside and looked down, I witnessed them blowing by all my "Posted! No Trespassing" signs. Angry, not an emotion I'm proud to admit, I shook with rage as I scooted and slipped down the hill, over the steep bank, and into the creek, alternately waving my arms to get their attention and reaching behind me to make sure I didn't somersault into the creek and drown. To no avail -- well, except for the somersaulting part. I tramped up the creek, following their tracks across the sand bars and rock piles exposed by the unrainy summer. They had neatly skirted each sign. I was as steamy as the Indiana weather. I tracked them for a while, but an old, tired Quaker trudging through sand and stream in cowboy boots was no match for this unholy trinity of four-wheelers. I gave up and turned back.

Climbing the bank through the weeds, headed for the cleared trail, I heard them returning. I ran back to the tracks. The first guy blew right by me. I spread my legs, waved my hands, and the second guy stopped. "Is there a problem?" he asked. "Yes," I said. "You're on private land." "Didn't know that he mumbled." I pointed to the sign -- "Guess I didn't see it," sheepish. The third rider pulled up. "What's the problem?" I repeated, heatedly, the problem -- and pointed out the signs up and down the creek. "Calm down, man," he said. "You're way too excited." That didn't calm me down. I went on about the ten signs that were posted and that I wasn't buying that they didn't see them, since their tracks swerved around the signs. Then he started shouting that there was no need for me to talking to them like they were a bunch of "little kids" -- with a few interesting adjectives inserted. He began using one of those adjectives, as the conversation continued, as both a noun and a verb -- and he and his friend roared off, running over my foot, and throwing gravel.

It was not one of my finest moments. I knew it even as I stood there fuming. It's not that I didn't feel like yelling -- I did. And, even though I was within my property rights -- and trying to protect the creek bed and all the critters that live along and within it -- I sure didn't handle things right. I remembered the early Friends declaration to the king of England that:

"Our principle is, and our practices have always been, to seek peace and ensue it; to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God; seeking the good and welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of all."

Well, I wasn't in the least "doing that which tends to the peace of all." And my own words -- though they did lack that word which above all words can be used in a variety of ways -- condemned me. Yes, I did talk to them like children -- the third guy was right. The scolding voice, whilst it did lead them to vacate the premises, condemned me for my trespasses much more than it did them for their trespass.

After standing and staring down the creek for awhile, I made my way up to the woods and toward the house. Nancy came running down the trail, alarm on her face. "I heard ATV's -- and shouting. I was scared." Still shaking, with embarrassment instead of rage, I told her what happened. She said I was being too hard on myself. They were wrong. I was within my rights -- and protecting the deer, bald eagles, snakes (ick!), et al who had no voice. Perhaps. Perhaps not. All I could think was, here I am a Quaker who professes peace and what kind of witness for Jesus did I make to these guys? Again, I thought about the early Quakers' words:

"O, Friends! offend not the Lord and his little ones, neither afflict his people; but consider and be moderate. Do not run on hastily, but consider mercy, justice, and judgment; that is the way for you to prosper, and obtain favor of the Lord."

Would that I had remembered them sooner, walked the creek in silence, and approached the three with the concern for the earth and her inhabitants that I held as the reason for my rage. May God -- and the riders -- forgive.
-- Brent


QuakerDave said...

Would that I had remembered them sooner, walked the creek in silence, and approached the three with the concern for the earth and her inhabitants that I held as the reason for my rage.

Right. That's what you will do NEXT time. It's about the journey to that place, a journey during which we will all stumble at times.

I'm 49 years old, and a convinced Friend for only the last four years. I teach middle school kids. My daily practice is making me a better teacher, especially in terms of classroom discipline. I even had a kid ask me last year, "Mr. A., we're all so crazy. How do you stay so CALM?"

But sometimes, I don't. And then I'm hard on myself.

By the way, a friend of mine and I used your Holy Silence as the basis for a two-session Adult First Day School book discussion group this past spring, and it was a wonderful experience. We hope to use Mind the Light this coming spring for a similar class. Thanks for what you do.

Brent Bill said...

Thanks for writing! Though I wish there wouldn't be a NEXT time for the ATVers and me, I know there will. So today I ordered some "Wildlife Conservation Area" signs hoping that a silent hospitable approach might work. We'll see.

Thanks, too, for letting me know about your using Holy Silence. It's always good to hear that folks have found the book helpful -- or at least good for discussion!
-- Brent