Beyond people watching
One of my fondest childhood memories with my Nana is going to Hardee’s for apple cinnamon raisin biscuits every Wednesday morning. After we finished our breakfast, seated at the high top table by the window, we would drive across the parking lot to the Lebanon Valley Mall and have a seat by the indoor fountain.
We would sit there, for what felt like forever, before we got up and walked around. When I asked what we were doing she would say, “just watching the people.” I credit my Nana with making me a people watcher. One sees all sorts of things: the frantic flyer trying to make sure she gets on the next flight, the child melting down after losing the battle with his ice cream cone at the baseball game, or the embrace of family and friends as they spot one another across the common area of St. Paul.
One of my favorite places this year to people watch is my office. It sounds kind of odd, but my office looks out over Vander Veer Park. With the runners, dog walkers, families with kids, school field trips, there is much to see from my window.
What I have learned from watching people over the years is the reality of human nature. Humanity is both great, and less-than great. I saw humanity at its best when park goers rallied around the woman who fell and waited with her for help to arrive. I witnessed the less-great side like the person who left his dog excrement in the middle of the sidewalk (even though there are bags right there).
People watching is the easy thing to do. It requires very little effort. But as Christians living in the world – whose primary focus other than loving God, is loving our neighbor – we should not just sit in our observation towers. Our role is to go beyond people watching. My Nana taught me the first part, to see and notice people. The second step is to do engage with the people we see.
After God called Jonah, he was more than content to sit under a plant and let the people destroy themselves. But God made it clear that Jonah was to go and help the people of Nineveh. Or, think about Zacchaeus up in the tree. He would have been satisfied to stay in that tree to see Jesus among the crowed. Instead, Jesus calls him down, and helps him understand how to act in the community – advocating for those he previously ignored.
It takes more effort to go beyond the watch tower role. It takes energy to put ourselves out there and make ourselves vulnerable for the sake of the other – to not only call out poor behavior, but to try and change it. So this day and every day we pray for the courage to speak the truth in love, and to do something beyond just people watching.