Growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, I felt watched over. All our hymns and lessons taught us that our Heavenly Father was watching -- partially to protect us, but also to catch us if we were up to no good. It wasn't just our deeds that were being scrutinized; bad words and even bad thoughts could be overheard by the Big Ear in the sky.
Just like Santa Claus -- He could see you sleeping, awake, bad or good. And He was keeping score.
I never much liked that notion. It caused me to spend a lot of time asking for forgiveness.
But as an adult in an often cold and thoughtless world, I like sometimes to think that the old man or old woman upstairs is keeping score, watching and tallying as we stumble along, trying to do our best or not.
Like when I see some idiot in an automobile tearing down a residential neighborhood street at 50 miles per hour, doomed to stop and wait at the intersection at the end of the block no matter how fast he gets there. At times like these, I wish for the hand of God to come swooping down and chop off the guy's back bumper, give him an instantaneous flat tire, or stall him out with no explanation.
For all I know, that guy is racing to church, or home to say his prayers, to ask God to forgive him for all his bad driving that day and any other thoughtless deeds he might have piled up. It's not until he runs a little kid over that he really has to face any consequences in the here and now.
More and more I've come to believe in the power of collective goodness to fix the world. Rather than tally up pluses and minuses for the end of time, why not resolve to fix a few minor problems during our time here on Earth?
But where to begin. This Christmas, I'm not wishing for anything as lofty as world peace, though I wish for that constantly. I'm wishing and hoping and asking Santa for more civility in the streets of my hometown, Colorado Springs.
If these relatively minor daily habits could be altered, the quality of life in our city would improve exponentially:
I want people to stop thoughtlessly tossing their McDonald's or Burger King or Wendy's bags into the street when they're done stuffing their faces. Every morning, driving the short distance from my house to my kids' schools to my place of work, I see at least one or two exploded fast food bags trashing the curb. What, these people don't have garbage cans? My mother called it manners. I'm sure theirs did too. Oh, and this applies to the slobs downtown who toss their used coffee cups onto the sidewalk when there's a garbage bag less than ten feet away. Toss it, buddy, in the can. You'll be making the town a better place.
I want impatient drivers to stop inching forward, across the pedestrian crosswalk, out into oncoming traffic, straining against the red light, waiting for it to turn green. Not only is it obnoxious, it's just plain stupid. You can't go until the light is green. Your car, edging forward and creating danger for everyone else in the intersection, will not make it change. Stop at the red light. Turn on the radio. Turn and say hello to the person in the car next to you. Breathe deeply. But stop crowding the intersection.
And those of you who zoom through red lights at rush hour, you're not doing anyone a favor -- not yourself, not your boss, not the check-out girl at Starbuck's. Your arriving 45 seconds early isn't going to make one ounce of difference to anyone. You are, however, placing in jeopardy all the teenagers who are just learning to drive, all the parents driving their kids to school, yourself and anyone who happens to be riding in your car. Get over yourself.
I want people driving in cars downtown to look around and see the pedestrians. See the pedestrian walking down the sidewalk. See the pedestrian standing at the intersection, waiting for the light to change. See the pedestrian step away from the curb when the Walk light comes on. Yield to the pedestrian. Let her walk safely by. Wave and smile at her, then make or complete your left turn. Do not surge ahead of her, making your left turn in front of her, cutting her off in the middle of the street, saving yourself 30 whole seconds. You can wait. She cannot. She has the right of way. You do not. She is a human. So, presumably, are you.
It's not too much to wish for. But just in case you need a little guilt trip, remember: He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness' sake.