Honking without Anger

By Frank Decker

Over the years it has amazed me how, in some countries, the honking of horns can be a source of constant background noise. In many of these countries, it seems as though a tap of the horn simply means “I’m here,” a passive announcement of one’s presence to avoid a collision. In fact, a common slogan on the back of large trucks in India is “Sound horn and proceed,” an audible version of the bumper sticker seen on the back of many trucks in the United States, “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.”

While living in West Africa, I was curious about the incessant honking, and I actually went on long walks during which I counted the amount of time between beeps. The longest period of silence I ever observed between honks in our city was 45 seconds.

Honking is a cultural phenomenon, and it makes sense that it is different here in the United States than in places that I would describe as, say, more laid back. Although honking seems less frequent here, I think it largely originates from a different stimulus. Apart from the occasional
“Hey, the light is green” toot one may hear after failing to accelerate immediately after the traffic signal changes, I think that, in general, a high percentage of honking here is rooted in anger, whether it’s the “You have violated my safety zone” honk to someone who moved into the space you were leaving between you and the car in front of you, or the “You idiot, you almost hit me” blast. Honking of this nature can be seen as territorial, because we are letting others know that they have intruded into an area that we had considered ours. (Of course, there are times when, for safety’s sake, we really do need to honk to let people know they are about to hit us.)

Lately I’ve noticed an increase in another sort of “honking” as well—not literally, but nonetheless a sounding of an alarm that our space is being invaded. As more and more people immigrate to our country, I am seeing a number of Christians respond in unfortunate ways to persons from other religious traditions. Rather than seeing the increasing diversity in our culture as an increase in opportunities to share the message and love of Jesus, there seems to be the sounding of a fearful alarm that we will lose our American way of life. A few examples will suffice.

Recently CNN aired a show entitled “Unwelcome: Muslims next door.” It illustrated the extreme anger and misunderstandings surrounding the plans to build a new mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. A number of those interviewed seemed to assume that a Muslim presence indicated the certainty of terrorist activity (when, in fact, the only actual terrorism that had occurred up to that point was the setting on fire of construction equipment on the site).

In a large church near my home in Georgia, a conference was recently held touting to provide training for engagement in the “worldview war,” and in fact dubbed itself as a biblical worldview conference. Some of the topics addressed were: “Why it is impossible for Christians and Muslims to find common ground” and “The danger and rise of ecumenicalism.” This conference fomented fear and distrust rather than love and respect.

In response to the conference in Georgia, a friend who directs a multi-national Christian mission organization said that if he had been able to attend, he would have stood up and said, “Can you suggest ways this rally might help me love God with all my heart, and love my neighbors as myself…including even my enemies?” That simple question seems to be lost among the clamor of the current culture wars. It seems to me that in some people’s minds the Prince of Peace is a little more than the guardian of our American way of life.

We do have a choice, however. We can honk and say “Hey, stay out of my space.” Or, we can see our changing circumstances as opportunities to know and understand others and introduce them to Jesus. But it is difficult to do the latter if our primary agenda is the preservation of our lifestyle above all else. The two notions are ultimately incompatible (a theme that has been notably expressed in David Platt’s recent book, Radical.)

There are resources for church leaders who wish to learn and lead others into a responsible, biblical, and peace-loving response to our changing cultural landscape. Abrahamic Alliance International (www.abrahamicalliance.org) is a faith-based ministry uniting Jews, Christians, and Muslims for active peacebuilding and relief of extreme poverty. They are available to conduct church seminars on loving Muslim neighbors, then unite graduates with local Muslims in a collaborative service to the poor, suffering, and marginalized. Another resourcing organization is Trac5, which seeks to raise awareness and give people “a place to breathe and to respect each other.” They also provide leadership training for young leaders, and you can find out more at www.Trac5.org.

I believe that the nature of our honking should be; “I’m here, you’re there, let’s try to understand each other.” Or, at least, “Let’s not run into each other.” But when our honking is loaded with anger, it benefits nobody.