I don’t like rules. Rules of punctuation. Robert’s Rules of Order. Rules about not wearing white after Labor Day.
Once, as a reporter, I was covering what basically turned out to be a photo op with George Bush, the elder, when he was Vice President. Reporters were held back behind ropes 30 feet away, allegedly to make sure we didn’t get in the pictures of Bush with local dignitaries. The real reason was Bush didn’t want to take reporters’ questions about some hot issue making headlines. Stay behind the ropes. That was the rule.
Holding a journalist back from a newsmaker is usually followed by Reporter Behaving Badly. As soon as the photo session ended, I slipped under the rope and dashed for the Vice President, microphone poised for a sound bite.
The first thing I noticed when I got close to him was his remarkable blue eyes. Who knew? That lasted about 3 seconds, just before two Secret Service men slipped up on either side of me like stealth robots, each grabbing an elbow. Ever so efficiently, they lifted me a couple inches off the floor and wordlessly spirited me out of the room. It was almost polite. As they walked (and I glided), one of them announced into his wristwatch that “Trailblazer” (Bush’s code name) had left the room. I felt cheated that they had no clever name for me.
Now hear me out. I obey traffic laws. I pay taxes. I understand that rules are necessary to keep the world humming and to prevent anarchy. However, in this situation I was a professional journalist who had been properly credentialed for the Vice President’s visit. I was wearing my photo ID dog tags. The local handlers who staged the event knew me. No matter. The rule was to stay behind the rope, take my place outside the established perimeter. I did not belong in the center of the action.
Have you ever noticed how a lot of rules in life are not about public safety or keeping order? They’re really about keeping you behind a rope where you belong. Maybe your politics don’t fit in or your kid isn’t athletically good enough to be on the varsity squad or your boss doesn’t think you’re a team player. Whatever the reason, you’re not just outside, on the perimeter. You’re on the wrong side.
Those of us who self-identify as Christians are over-achievers in the rules business. I know people who feel it’s their spiritual gift to put certain people “behind the ropes.” Offenders are politely guided (or glided) outside the center of the action because their music or clothes or views about faith are, shall we say, a little messy? Or worse, they don’t know how, during a sermon, to flip to the book of Habakkuk in ten seconds flat or to understand Christian code words like “fellowship” or “quiet time.” (I was once asked if Christians had a secret handshake and, if so, where was it described in the Bible?) Quick, put them behind the ropes!
I’ve been on both sides of the ropes, actually, depending on the circumstance or the issue. Frankly, I kind of like being outside the perimeter. The view is better and the company’s more interesting. Besides, it was Jesus’ favorite place to hang out.