Life on the Rails


I’m not usually one for making wide and flagrant use of scripture.  If I were really pressed, I could maybe recite three verses to you by heart. However, there is one that has made a significant difference in my life. I’d like to share it with you in the hopes that perhaps it will touch your heart and affect you as it has me:

“When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.” Deuteronomy 2:28

Yeah, didn’t see that coming did you? I straight up went OLD TESTAMENT. And none of that Psalms stuff neither.

But seriously, as it turns out, that verse has managed to lodge itself somewhere deep inside of me. The Old Testament gets a bad rap for being overly dry and legalistic, which it can be, if it’s not handled properly. The verse above comes from the book of Deuteronomy, which is the last book of the Bible thought to be written by Moses. His life was beginning to wind down. The words he was writing to his fellow countrymen would be his legacy after he died. He wanted to make sure that the Israelites cared for each other after he was gone, so there are large swaths of Deuteronomy that contain nothing but laws like the verse above.  I’ll be the first to admit– it’s not a page-turner. But if you look at it a little deeper, there’s something important hidden behind those dusty words.

When the verse  was written, and still today, many of the homes in the Middle East had flat roofs. These roofs were commonly used as gathering places for meals, bathing, and fellowship. The climate was hot and arid. In order to escape the pulverizing heat, people would climb to the roof of their homes to enjoy the wind. Thus, the hottest parts of the day were often spent on the roof and under the shade of a tarp. During the hottest seasons, it was not uncommon for people to sleep on the roof. As such, this decree of Moses made perfect sense to the people. Creating a parapet, or railing, around the roof would make it much harder to accidentally slip and fall to the street below.

How is that relevant to us here in America, with our vast array of climate controlled boxes? Look just a little deeper. What was Moses actually saying? He was saying that life matters. It was by no means easy to come up with the extra lumber or time to continue working on a house after it was built. By placing a rail around the edge of the roof, you were going the extra mile to see that no one had any unfortunate accidents while they were enjoying your hospitality. This verse is about caring for people even when it requires a little more effort on your part.

I work in a factory that is set beside a dense patch of woods. As such, it seems we’re always being invaded by some form of strange insect. The other day I was running my press when a flitting movement caught my eye. I turned toward it, and thought I was looking at a butterfly that had somehow managed to find its way in. It wasn’t flying very well, like when a fly has been trapped inside too long and is about to die. As I got closer to it, I realized that it was actually a gigantic moth. The place I work has a lot of rough and tumble dudes and I knew it was only a matter of time before someone decided the best thing to do was put it out of its misery. I found myself compelled to ensure that the moth made it outside again.

Later, when I examined my motives, I realized it was because I felt it had earned it. It had grown so large, must have been so old, that I felt it had earned the dignity of dying in its home.

Later still, when I was examining the examination of my motives, I realized I’ve changed. Not that long ago, I wouldn’t have given that moth a second thought. Hell, I would have just as likely been one of the guys to swat it. But seven years ago, I read the verse above which planted a seed inside my heart. It began to bloom into the realization that God felt that life was worth protecting simply by virtue of being life. And now, years later, it has bore fruit in the form of rescuing moths and anger at injustice and all these little thoughts and compulsions that I never could have predicted I would care about. What about you? Do you feel yourself changing from the “you” you used to know and into something else?


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