WHEN BREAKING THE LAW WITHOUT GETTING CAUGHT MAY OR MAY NOT BE A GOOD DEED
I am a Jesus follower and a pastor of an informal house church. I believe in objective, universal, definable and absolute truth along with it´s corresponding behavior. Laws are important to me. Laws, whether sensed universally in the heart, or created formally by the system, form the backbone of society. Laws are what protect us physically from each other. Laws are what keep us both as individuals and as a society from hurling ourselves headfirst into the guaranteed circling the drain death spiral of chaos, ungovernability, and the always deadly curse of everyone doing what is right in his or her eyes. Then along comes best-selling author Kim Harrison who writes, “Breaking rules isn’t bad when what you’re doing is more important than the rule itself.” Morally defensible or not, I bought into Harrison´s philosophy as my own this morning. What I did was risky and the fine for my misbehavior would have been hefty. As a minister of the gospel, I am many things, but being wealthy is not one of them. I can afford neither the fine nor the bribe. Fortunately for me I did not get caught by the cops and no one was hurt in any way. If truth be told, my scofflaw attitude this morning might possibly even be accredited to me as a good deed, although the jury is still out.
Sunday night my friend’s car broke down in front of our house. The front yard patio of our house is where our church, aptly named The Patio, gathers on Sundays. My friend, whose car broke down is active in the church with us.
My wife and I live on the extreme north end of our city of La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico, literally at the edge of town. A tow truck to take my friend’s car to the exact opposite extreme of our city of 350,000, to his mechanic would have been prohibitively expensive and time consuming. My friend asked if I could use my big Ford 250, 4-wheel drive pickup to tow him to the mechanic on the other side of town.
What to do? Deny my friend’s plea for help or knowingly break a dozen traffic laws by towing his car with nothing but a tow strap? Friendship won. Let the adventure begin.
The sun was not yet up when we linked his car to my truck. We then planned our route in such a way that we avoided major streets and all donut shops.* Away we went, I in my truck and my friend steering his silent, powerless car 12 feet behind me.
We drove slowly, trying to keep the tow strap taught between cars in order to avoid jerks and sudden, harder-than-desired pulls. Never, in the thirty years I have lived in La Paz, have I seen so many stop signs. There must be a million of them and they seemed to be sprouting up everywhere like overnight crabgrass. I judged the approaching traffic at every single stop sign, timing my arrival so that I could make my crossing without stopping. I drove like a ballet dancer dances, never coming to a complete stop, one fluid movement gracefully melding into the next. I did what we call in La Paz the “La Paz potential pause” in which traffic flows more like synchronized swimming than in stop sign manufactured wind sprints. I´m sure that to anyone with a bird’s eye view, our progress across town looked like a well-choreographed marching band.
While I managed to gracefully dance through stop sign after stop sign, neither my friend or I had considered speed bumps. In some form of spontaneous generation, speed bumps appeared like forehead pimples, boldly showing up the morning of the senior prom. After slowing my approach to one of the speed bumps, I accelerated gently to pull my friend’s car over the bump. I heard a banging, crashing, scraping sound, looked into my review mirror and saw that, much to my surprise, my friend’s car was receding into the distance.
The good news is that the tow strap did not break. The bad news was that all I was now towing was a bumper, a brake line leaking fluid all over the street and a few other bits and ´pieces, which up until seconds ago, had been parts of my friends’ car. I stopped and walked back to the car – it was a mess. The grill had pulled out, the radiator had been torn loose and there were other thing-a-ma-jigs poking out of the front end of the car like erupting nose hairs in a 70 year old man.
Being that both my friend and I are doing our best to be as much like Jesus as we can be, no harsh words were spoken, at least not audibly. My friend called his mechanic to let him know what was happening. We then drove to the mechanic´s shop to pick him up and take him back to the broken down car so that he could help us develop plan B now that plan A was as trashed as the car I had been towing.
We reattached the tow strap to a more hardened part of car and resumed towing, all the while continuing to violate virtually every traffic law written except for those related to excess speed. Eventually we got to the shop which consisted of a desert field with some scattered shade offering mesquite trees. The mechanic’s tools were kept inside an abandoned camper. Junked cars, like apples rotting under a tree in the fall, lay scattered about the property. Since this was an auto shop and not a junkyard, I had to assume that all the junked cars constituted the parts department.
We got out of our vehicles. A pack of dogs, reminding me of the blood thirsty packs of hyenas in the Serengeti, ran towards us. Being just past the edge of town and being surrounded by dogs, I kept hearing Jim Croce as he sang Bad Bad Leroy Brown:
“And he’s bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damn town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog.”
The junkyard dogs were upon us. It turns out that the pack of dogs was attention starved and friendly, a bit too friendly, as they jumped on us competing for attention. Unfortunately, two male dogs got in a major fight trying to determine just who the top dog really was. The whole pack erupted into a chaotic yelping, barking, growling howling, symphony of doggie noises and doggie curses. Standing smack dab in the middle of the doggie war I had no idea what to do. I feared that in the panic and chaos that I would become an unintended victim of the tumult. Fortunately for me, the frenzy, like a tornado passing through Oklahoma, moved off towards a junked car and I was no longer threatened by the unruly doggie mob.
We disengaged the car from my truck and I drove back home on the other extreme end of the city.
So, the question is, did I do the right thing by helping my friend or was I simply a risk-taking scofflaw? Yes, I had taken some extra cash in case I was invited to contribute substantially to the officer’s end-of-the-year party. Was my willful and intentional breaking of the law justifiable because I was helping a friend in need? Life is seldom, perhaps never the black and white, yes or no world we often pretend it is. Life is messy, controversial and often confusing. I was brought up to be scornful of situational ethics. Now I lean more towards decision making based on moral principles rather than blind obedience to a prescribed set of rules. I can now accept that there may not be a perfect answer for every situation. It would be fun to debate this story through the lens of “What Would Jesus Do?” Was I right or was I wrong? Was my service to my friend more important than the laws of the land? I’ll ask Jesus if I did the right thing when I see him but unless I hear otherwise, I suspect I will give priority to friendship unless sin, evil and guaranteed danger are evident.
*To those readers who are not familiar with American culture, donut shops in the United States are the forward command posts of the police.