“Failure to Surrender”

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I was stopped by the police on the way to church one Easter Sunday!

“Doing a hundred-and-six,” said the officer, “in an eighty.” That’s kilometres. Officer Gallagher picked it up on his reverse radar.

“But where was the sign?,” I asked, instinctively. I’m from Zambia, where the signs are largely invisible.

This officer ignored such a stupid question.  So here I am, sitting by a side of the road.  Visiting the in-laws, we are, out by Lake Bonavista. And this is a highway.  I mean, it looks like it is built for at least a hundred k’s-per-hour. And this is Easter Sunday morning!

But this officer is all business. Not like those friendly, cajoling police along the Lusaka highway, always ready to consider a lesser offence, or even forgive. Especially in exchange for the morning newspaper. And especially when one is on ones’ way to “the house of God.”  I’m thinking all police should be like Zambia’s.

Things were moving slowly.  Fifteen minutes, twenty-five…. I got out and started back to the cruiser, thinking I might move things along a bit. But two steps back, and the officer slammed the cruiser into reverse, sending gravel flying in my direction. I took that as a message to get back in the Buick.

“Never do that!” he said, when he finally came to talk to us, hand next to his gun. “Keeping you in the car is our protection. You come back at me like that, how do I know you’re not carrying a gun under that jacket of yours?”

Ruth laughs. But this officer is dead serious. “It’s not funny,” he says. How little we know of how the constabulary lives!

No, I do not have my licence. It’s sitting in the drawer back at the in-laws. Yes I can sign my name to confirm ownership. Yes, I do live at that address. Gallagher is back to the cruiser.

It is now forty-five minutes.  Sitting by the side of the road, Sunday morning coming down. It took me back to another incident, back in the sixties in Montreal, pulled over with a street-smart friend by the police. Ralph jumped out of the car when we were pulled over and demanded action.

“Are you going to give me a ticket?”

“Yes indeed.”

“Well then give me the ticket and let me go. I’m in a hurry.” So rude, back then. I can’t imagine our Constable Gallagher putting up with that today.

No, on this bright Easter Sunday it was politeness that won the day.  He finally came back with something like a proposal.  “If I charge you with speeding, it’s going to be $240 and three points,” the officer said. “But you don’t need those demerit points. Instead, I am charging you with ‘Failure to Surrender your Drivers’ License.’ That’s $110 and no demerits. And I’m warning you to watch your speed.”  It was the Zambian approach! “Failure to surrender.” The lesser offence. You apologize. You ask for “consideration.” You are on your way.  These Canadian police are not all bad after all.

Thus we were finally off to church, to enjoy a very uptempo and stimulating time. We were most inspired by the choir with the lively songs of resurrection! And the illustrated sermon was engaging… just nice to be with God’s people on Resurrection Sunday!

But I was still thinking about “failure to surrender.”  I asked myself, on the way back to the Buick: “Do I not emerge from church much the same as I entered?” Isn’t it all about “failure to surrender?” Maybe this is what church is all about. Maybe we should be “ticketed” for anything less! Surrender… surrender. Let the powerful Word do its work as a double-edged sword, piercing deeply into the regions of our emotions and the will. “Take my will and make it thine….” Let the worship and music break us and melt us and wash over us like waves of the Indian Ocean.

Driving back the Bonavista road, past the scene of my crime, I am singing softly: “Holy Spirit, I surrender to you.” That is the thing.  If I have opportunity to surrender in the house of God, preferably for five or ten minutes of prayer in the Spirit — as long as I have surrendered, I know that all is well. If the preaching breaks down my internal rock a bit and makes me malleable again, so much the better. I know it has all been worthwhile.

I just need to regularly raise white flags. To loosen my grip on “my way.” To sing those prayerful songs of surrender.

For me, church is surrender time.

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