The intersection occasionally lends itself to theological reflection.
A few weeks ago, in synagogue services, someone presented a reflection on "Obligation and Autonomy." The thought was that human beings may operate out of a sense of "obligation" - a sense of accountability and responsibility to and for others and for the well being of the collective or they may operate out of a sense of "autonomy" (perhaps informed by individualism), that prioritizes the well being and satisfaction of the individual. This is an oversimplification of a very nuanced and layered discussion, but the very basic sense of it has stayed with me and I watched it play out this morning as I waited in traffic at aformentioned notorious intersection.
It is probably a given that there will not ever be a traffic light at the intersection - - at least not in my lifetime. This leaves us with the reality that we have to learn how to best navigate the intersection safely and gracefully. Obligation and Autonomy meet there.
The synagogue speaker reminded us that Judaism ( and I would add Christianity, Islam and Zen Buddhism) offers a theology of "Obligation." Throughout the sacred texts the notion of welcoming the stranger, attending to the needs of the most vulnerable, seeking justice for those on the margins cultivates a sense of obligation. Human beings are accountable before God to and for one another. When this "theology" is internalized, it fosters compassion, lovingkindness, generosity, justice seeking, and a certain willingness to set one's own needs aside in the service of another.
The internalized "Theology of Autonomy" on the other hand puts the needs and desires of the individual in the center. I'm thinking this arises out of the sacred texts of Nationalism and Individualism. What is good for me and mine is the determinant.
On a larger scale these last couple of weeks we have witnessed the dynamics between "Obligation" and "Autonomy" as we have anxiously waited for Congress to act to keep the country functioning financially. Thousands of people have wondered "will I receive my Social Security benefits?" Vulnerable families wonder how they will feed their families if SNAP benefits are reduced or eliminated.
Without a traffic light, perhaps the best we can hope for is the tenuous drama of a ballet.