|The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Tvrđa, Osijek, Croatia|
What do you do when your car isn't where you parked it an hour ago?
That was the question running through my head when I walked out of a traditional Croatian restaurant in the old part of Osijek after a great conversation with good friends. Would this be the first thing I've had stolen in Croatia?
I soon found out it had been towed by a truck called "the spider". I had made the mistake of parking in a clearly designated walking zone. If it hadn't been for the 10 other vehicles parked there when I first arrived I probably would have thought twice about parking there. After explaining the situation to the waiter, he called me a taxi to get to where my car was impounded.
By the time I got there, I was prepared to accept the penalty. Even though it was an honest mistake, there was no denying the fact that I was in the wrong. When the policeman told me how much I owed, I asked if it might be possible to get a written warning. This was, in fact, my first offense since moving to Croatia. Plus, the taxi driver told me they have a policy of giving a warning if the offender is polite. As soon as I asked about this possibility, the police officer acknowledged that they normally give a written warning, and he would be happy to in this case - except for the fact that I'm not a Croat. "Foreigners don't have the right to a warning."
"Oprostite?!" "I don't have the right to a warning!?" I stuttered in Croatian. My willingness to pay for my offense was now off the table. I wanted to know why I didn't have the same rights as others.
I've been here for six years. We've gone through the visa paperwork process over and over and over again. I've taken the language and culture tests. In fact, just that day I had received a notice in the mail that my permanent residence was finally ready. I will be getting a Croatian ID card in a week that probably would have get me out of this mess. I had paid my dues. I deserved a warning like any normal citizen of this country. I have rights!!!
But I lacked the words, the patience or the tact to make a convincing argument. I told them I would wait to pay. I told them I wanted to verify the fact that foreigners don't have the right to a warning. And in all honesty I didn't have the cash on me. Yet the fact was, I was pouting like my three year old.
It was somewhere in the midst of my sputtering words and ugly thoughts the word 'humility' came to mind.
It was a word that had come up a few times already that day. Maybe that's why it hit me. Or maybe it was just the fact that I was humiliating myself in the worst possible way.
Humility. The kind that presented itself to mankind in the form of a controversial prophet. We are told he was a foreigner with no place to lay his head. It is said of him that he knew no sin. The Bible claims that he humbled himself onto death.
And if we believe what the gospel writers tell us then we know the trial scene was one far less just than we can possibly stomach. It's not that his guilt was accidental. His guilt was non-existent. If we believe the account, Jesus died so we wouldn't have to.
I do believe. So when I think about the cross I am led to awe. Jesus humbled himself because of the numerous times I - and others like me - don't. Christ accepted the consequences of my wrong-doing. The servant suffered for my pride. And we are all offered salvation through the cross he endured.
As a result, I am told to emulate that humility - even (especially) when I'm in front of a triumphant law enforcement official. Theoretical humility isn't humility at all. Humility doesn't become the real thing until the rubber hits the road. Or, in my case, gets towed off the road.
I paid the fine. I finally calmed down. But it took a few hours. In that time I relized that humility doesn't come when we're comfortable at home. It only gets its chance to shine in those dark and difficult moments. I missed my chance that night. And I'll probably miss it again.
As I reflect on the incident, I am reminded of Christ, and my desire to be like him. I realize being a disciple isn't about asserting my rights as a citizen. True humility is about living as a foreigner. Sure, we have victory through Christ's death and resurrection. But his words and his example show us that our triumph is demonstrated to this world through humility. We're told that his strength is made perfect through weakness.
Maybe followers of Christ are never supposed to get over culture shock.