We were out of gas. It was all my fault. And it was also all Brenda’s fault. Two vehicles. Both out of gas. In our defense, we had tried to get gas, but Ms. Lee had been out of gas yesterday; and was out of gas today; and would probably be out of gas tomorrow. I thought back to my days pastoring the Oriole Charge in the marshes of the Chesapeake. Because it took a good 20-30 minutes in a direction I rarely went in order to drive to a gas station, I would have to carefully plan my week to avoid running out of gas too far from a refill station. Often, my bicycle was sufficient transportation for the needs of the moment in those days. I even did visitations by bicycle, dodging behind bushes to pull a skirt on over my bike shorts before approaching the door. One elderly couple finally told me, laughing, that the two of them totally knew what I was up to in my quick change act in the bushes. But with no bike here on Eleuthera, I have the option of my feet or a car; and while the 2 mile width of the island is definitely walkable, the 100 mile length is a bit more intimidating.
Thankfully for Brenda and I, Pauline informed us she would driving by the house soon on her way to a funeral in James Cistern, and was willing to give me a ride. All along the way from Rainbow to Camp Symonette, we picked up people who would be attending the funeral. First her sister Maxine. Then Kourtney and her grandmother. When Kourtney got in the car, I reached my hand back to say “hi” and, leaning forward, the four year old grabbed on and did not let go for the rest of the ride. Finally Kourtney dropped my hand as Pauline dropped me by the gates of camp; I trotted off to find a gas can, while the rest of them continued on to their funeral.
It was my first experience of hitch-hiking, but it is what many residents of Eleuthera do every day. Only here, it is not really hitch hiking… not in the way you are thinking at least. With one strip of pure black asphalt running the length of the island, free of lines or curbs or traffic lights, everyone is a neighbor of sorts. You are either picking up a friend, a family member, a friend of a family member or a family member of a friend. Picking up a hitch-hiker is more than normal here, it is expected. Because, really, there are enough cars on Eleuthera, why does everyone need one when we can share?
Accustomed to driving in the New York City area, where your car is your armor, I find driving on Eleuthera to be quite a different experience. Not because there are no lines on the road; or because we drive on the left side of the road; or because the cars are a hodge-podge of American make (steering wheel on the left) and British make (steering wheel on the right). Rather, there is something that is different on a visceral level about driving here. Rather than being armored barriers separating you from the world, cars here are permeable means of transportation. Having your windows up so that you cannot hear the sounds of life going on around you is more of a necessity in the case of rain than a preference. You don’t need traffic lights to tell you when it is important to stop, because your signal to slow is seeing your friends walking by the side of the road as you chat out your window.
One result of driving is that you get to greet more people than you would if you stayed at home. Because here in the Bahamas, you greet everyone – with a wave, or a hand slightly raised off the steering wheel, or with a friendly double tap on your car horn. Which brings me to the reason that manufacturers install car horns; which is, quite obviously, so that you can say hello to the people that you love. And if it ever does have a warning note in its tone, the horn is clearly saying, “We’re going to talk about that driving move when I see you later tonight at church, young man.” How far away New York City feels when I get a friendly double tap as a Hyundai passes me on my right.
Here on Eleuthera, there are enough cars, and enough gas (a good five days out of seven), and enough kindness, and enough love. And don’t get me wrong, there are enough problems and enough burdens as well, but we carry them together – which means we have enough strength. It may be easier to see it here on this strip of land, but there really is enough everywhere. There is enough on Eleuthera and there is enough in New York City. It is just that sometimes the bigger your world gets, the more densely populated, the more difficult it is to remember that there is enough. We forget how to share. We forget that we were given what we need, and then given more than enough on top of that, because the “more than enough” is something that we were supposed to have the joy of delivering to someone else. All the people, and the noise, and the cars that feel like an armor – it all confuses us. We look at the package labeled “More than enough, c/o You” and we forget what we were supposed to do with it and who we were supposed to deliver it to; and so not wanting to get the message wrong and deliver God’s package to the wrong recipient, we just keep it for ourselves.
But there is enough. There really is. While I was waiting for Pauline to give me a ride, two things happened that illustrated this for me.
First, Sarah stopped by to borrow a suit for her husband. They were going to a wedding and he had nothing to wear. But really, why did he need a suit? There were enough suits on the island, not everyone needed one of their own when we could share.
Second, I was reading a book by Samuel Wells – the Dean of Duke Chapel while I was in Durham, and somewhat of a hermeneutical idol, who has now journeyed back across the pond. He writes in God’s Companions about abundance and scarcity and the ethics of God – and the reality that God really does give us not just enough but more than enough.
I felt the nudge from God, “think about it.” What do you really need? Over the past year I had seen my life and belongings narrowed; first I had gone from a house, to a car and a storage unit; then six months later back to an apartment; then two months later, back to a car and a friend’s basement. Then as I moved forward on my journey, I found myself contemplating what I really needed that I could fit in my car; and then in my suitcase; and finally in a little drawstring bag I wore everywhere on my back. When I arrived several days ago in Rainbow Bay, to spend Thanksgiving week at Brenda’s house, she had asked, confused at my empty hands, whether I had brought everything I needed. “I have my toothbrush,” I answered. That was what it had finally boiled down to, what did I really need? My toothbrush.
Now I felt challenged by God to consider, if that is really all I need – what about all the rest? And I felt embarrassed by the riches of the car back home that my friend Nadiera was keeping company for me while I was gone. By the quarter of Mary’s basement that was filled with my furniture and pots & pans. By the bicycle that hung from my sister Susannah’s basement ceiling, awaiting my return. Certainly, I had let go of a lot of things when I moved, as I always do. [Sidenote: here’s a tip – help me move and you may end up with a pantry full of food, a classical guitar, a sewing machine, a gas grill, etc. But, for the record, the University of Delaware students always get first dibs, for goodness gracious, they’ve done this three times this year. Saints.]
Time will tell, but I don’t really think the message that God was trying to get across to me was to dump all those things. I will continue the process, however, of praying about what I really do need, and thinking about how much I want to be burdened with possessions on this journey. For my bicycle’s sake, it would be glad to know that every circuit rider needs their trusty steed.
God has made me fully aware of three things. One, how little I need. Two, how much God has given me. Three, how truly unaware I am of my blessings.
That will certainly change my heart.
And I will have to find the balance. It will not be easy. I have two important factors to balance that, if I am not careful, can becoming competing rather than cooperating factors. On the one hand, I cannot slip into believing that my “more than enough” belongs to me; on the other hand, I must avoid the temptation of allowing that conviction to make me vulnerable to being taken advantage of in regards to my compensation due to my age, gender, or marital status.
We each have a balance we need to find. I think John Wesley had some wisdom to offer when he followed up, “Make all you can. Save all you can” with “Give all you can.” Unfortunately for those in the world who await their package from God labeled, “More than enough, c/o Hannah Bonner” – God often leaves it up to us to decide how much fits into each of those “…all you can” categories.
So to help us out, Jesus put it a lot more simply for us in Luke 3:11 – if you have two coats, one of them belongs to the person who has no coat. It is simple math really. 2-1=0+1 God does not make things complicated, we do.