On the Corner

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by Robert Docter – 

Down at my park for an early morning run. Late dawn illuminated an azure sky. The air was crisp with the promise of increasing heat, and I was in my zone. A reverie. Almost an altered state of consciousness. Expec-tations of pleasure filled my thoughts. I was ready, relaxed and runnin’.

Suddenly, my muse was mussed. Loud sounds from the bleachers of a ball diamond down below shook me free from my altered state. It wasn’t a ball game–not that early. I saw this gang of young adults–18 to 25 or so. They were all huddled together around someone–must have been over 30 of them, acting very unusual.

I felt a little anxious. I had read about a disgusting erosion of morality recently in New York’s Central Park. Marauding gangs of young men roved through the park like a pack of animals, attacking women, molesting, tearing their clothes from them and pillaging everything in their way. They seemed to believe they were free of moral restrictions because the threat of punishment was absent. Much of the action had been videotaped and several arrests have followed.

I looked at my watch once more ­ still very early. Somehow, I couldn’t put the Central Park behavior into my park just after dawn. I suspected booze, drugs and some kind of contagious evil had fueled the mob in New York with roots deep into the human condition to which none of us are immune. I couldn’t imagine the group I observed being that high that early that fast.

As it turned out, I was wrong.

They were high, all right. High on God. High on the joy he brings. High on his Word. Just before seven o’clock I heard them singing gospel choruses, clapping their hands and enjoying each other. I wondered about the sleeping neighbors just a hundred yards away and whether or not they would complain about the noise.

By this time, my run had taken me some distance, but the music still filtered through the morning air. Nice accompaniment for my labored breathing. A few minutes later, my loop took me back toward them, now quiet. I noticed they had broken up into pairs and were scattered throughout the entire park. I couldn’t get close enough actually to hear what was happening, but they had what looked like Bibles and a few of them had their heads bowed together.

I decided not to call the cops.

What a difference between two groups in a park. Moral awareness seemed to be the separating factor. One group’s moral compass seemed to point to some significant principles of respect for the rights of others as well as respect for one’s own dignity as a human being. The interaction between the members of this group and others seemed to be caring and concern for the other. This was not a leaderless mob rampaging everything in their way. There was order here.

Conversely, the mob had only disorder. Its members were caught up in an immediate culture of destruction. They ran wild ­ without values related to human decency, guided only by strong feeling, without a moral compass, having no direction, running here and there, ruining this and that, driven by an insatiable lust for excitement and evil. The members had trapped themselves into a competition to reveal “who can be the worst.”

People who make moral choices on whether or not potential punishment is present have diminished themselves to the absolute lowest level of moral maturity.

Sometimes, people who are usually able to separate right from wrong fall into a pattern of mob behavior. They often live by a strict set of rules they have memorized but not internalized. The rules are only designed to keep them safe. They feel that safety in the mob. They usually have failed to develop any sense of personal autonomy. They have only a very meager sense of their own identity. They define themselves through the mob.

None of us are immune to evil. Fortunately, we can be immunized through the sacrificial love of Christ. This process provides us with a moral compass, but does not guarantee right action. You see, we still have the choice whether or not to read the compass.

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