Thursday, August 18, 2011

The intersection of belief and behaviour - Jamie Arpin-Ricci

Jamie is a Canadian (which is why behaviour is spelled that way), a pastor, a ywamer,  a writer but most importantly a husband and a new father (woo hoo!).  He regularly writes at where you can find out how to pre-order his soon to be released book The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom (IVPress, Nov. 2011).

Few things in life are more memorable than the rite of passage that is being allowed to drive a car. I remember the years leading up to it being filled with anticipation. And then, my 16th birthday rolled around and went to take the drivers exam. After making only one mistake on the written, I was given my learner permit. One evening shortly there after, as the family was getting ready to return home after an evening in town with friends, I asked if I could put my new government approved driving skills to the test. My parents exchanged a nervous glance, but decided to allow me the privilege. So we loaded up and headed home.

Now, I should note that growing up in a forested rural area, learning to drive required special knowledge that is not "normal" to the typical urban driver. After all, it is not all that common for city drivers to swerve around an unexpected bull moose who views your oncoming car as little more than a minor annoyance. This was an expected lesson for me, as I had grown up as a passenger in the car when one or the other of my parents made such necessary evasions. So as I drove the 10 country road miles towards home, I knew well enough to be watchful for wildlife, ready to avoid them.

We were just over a mile from our destination when it happened. The animal ran out in front of the vehicle. With instincts sharp, I made a maneuver that I believed demonstrated the control of a NASCAR veteran, swerving to the left, narrowly missing the gravel shoulders that led into the 8 foot-deep irrigation ditches. Righting the car, I was about to turn with a triumphant smile to my father in the seat next to me. Before I could, however, he roared:

"What the heck do you think you are doing?!?"

I looked at him incredulously, "Why do you think? Did you want me to hit the animal?"

"Jamie," he said through gritted teeth, "It was a chipmunk!"

With a force of will, my father calmly explained that we try to avoid moose or deer because they will seriously damage the car and possibly injure the passengers. It was not, he emphasized slowly, about protecting the innocent animal (to which my older brother in the back seat added, "Yeah, you moron").

"Next time, you run over the damn chipmunk!" I stared at him in horror. All this time, I had sat in the back seat of the car under the illusion that my parents avoided the animals to protect their precious and beautiful lives. For years I had interpreted their behaviour through the lens of my own assumptions and values, only to learn that they were very different indeed. It was a long time before I forgave them of their heartlessness (and even longer before my dad let me drive again).

The intersection of belief and behaviour is a unique dynamic. Often times, we can find ourselves behaving in ways that are the norm for our context. We assume a unity of belief, when in fact, our choices are often informed by very different, even contrary motivations. The reverse is true as well: many people who we see as behaving in ways that are contrary to what we belief is right are actually making such choices out of the same beliefs that inspire our very different behaviours. I am not suggesting that there are no absolutes. Rather, we must learn that things are not always as they seem. This knowledge should give us pause before we affirm or reject people without going just a little deeper.

This knowledge might also be a lesson for parents of soon-to-be-driving teens, but that is another story altogether.


  1. Nice Jamie. Cool story and cool lesson. I'll be keeping that in mind.

  2. It was a chipmunk. I'm with you in the heartbreak of motive-discovery. Many times.
    Happy read your thoughts. Can't wait to get your book.

  3. To ride a tangent, I recently had a conversation with a group of friends about something similar. We discovered that for each of us it seems our parents look at particular aspects of our lives with confusion (or even frustration) but do not seem to understand that we came to these certain decisions because of the very values they instilled in us. My parents taught me to be critical; in doing so I came to embrace a different expression of the sorted Christian tradition than the one they chose, much to their confusion (granted, they have, over time, sought to understand the particulars of my tradition's theology).