The Triumph Journey
Does God speak through ordinary life events? Certainly he does. We know this don’t we? God spoke To Balaam through a donkey. God spoke to Israel through a broken pot (Jeremiah). God spoke to Gideon through a sheepskin full of dew. So, can God speak through a motorcycle?
Last February I was in Iowa visiting Ben and my good friend Dave. One morning Dave and I were at a men’s breakfast where I met his friend Larry, who shares Dave’s passion for motorcycles. Larry was talking about selling his 1998 Triumph Trophy 900 and getting a new bike. Just for fun I asked him how much he wanted for it. He told me and Dave said, “Wow! That’s a really good price for that bike, and I know that Larry really takes care of his stuff.”
Here’s the deal, I was not even thinking about getting a motorcycle. Having a motorcycle is not something I really ever considered. I have thought at times about getting a sail boat, a kayak, a fly rod, but not a bike. But…I was strangely warmed by the idea. Now, here Barb needs to take partial credit (blame). A few years ago on one of our last camping trips as a foursome, Barb, Sam, Ben and I were sitting around the fire in a good subdued camping mood when, out of the blue, Barb said, “I think we should get a motorcycle.” Sam and Ben looked at me and I could read in their faces what they were thinking, “Who is this woman and what have you done with our mother?” True, it’s not like she continued to bring this up but she did introduce the idea into my thinking. In camping mode she was thinking of a couple we had met who were towing a motorcycle behind their little RV. They would stop in picturesque places then tour the winding roads on their bike. It was one of those delightful whims like the time we talked about buying a sailboat in Vancouver, BC, or buying a cabin in Montana. But…this time the idea gained a bit of traction in my mind.
So, last February, Dave, Ben and I went to Larry’s house to look at the Triumph. From there and over the next few months it became a topic of conversation when I was back in Portland with Barb. The talk typically went something like this, Me: (researching the Triumph online) “Did you know that this Triumph model is rated as one of the best touring bikes?” Barb: “You’re not seriously thinking of buying a motorcycle are you?” Somehow we got to the point where I was shopping for helmets and riding gear, checking into insurance, and signing up for a motorcycle skills class in Portland.
Ok, Back to God speaking. I don’t want this to sound like I am justifying buying a motorcycle by bringing God into the picture. I really believe that God is intimately involved in every detail of life, even more minutely than we know. So yes I am open to what Jesus might show me through a Triumph 900. Here’s what I am learning, experiencing.
Classroom versus the Road
In May I took the 8 hour motorcycle course required in Oregon to qualify for a motorcycle endorsement on your license. The morning was spent in the classroom. Then, after lunch we went to a large open parking lot for our skills practice and testing. The facilitators did an excellent job in teaching, guiding and encouraging. I had signed up for the intermediate course which is for those who have ridden before. I figured, I had ridden a motorcycle a few times in college, so I should qualify, right? Did you catch that, in college? The course provided motorcycles. I had a 250 Yamaha. I learned a lot, gained an appropriate level of fear and respect, and somehow passed the course.
At the end of the course our two facilitators divided the group and met with each participant to share their thoughts and tell us our results. The message I received was this, “Jay, I’m passing you, but I am concerned about your plans to ride across country. You need to practice a lot before you do that.” Yikes. That would be fine if I had a bike here in Portland to do so or knew someone who had a bike that I could borrow. But, the plan was to fly to Des Moines in June for some denominational meetings then ride the Triumph back. Fortunately I did have a week and a half in Iowa before I needed to start back. I was going to have to get my experience then. It would be fine I assured Barb, not entirely believing it myself.
I am thinking about the difference between the class and the road. Much of what happens in church is closer to the class than the road. The class is necessary and good. We need information. We need to get the concepts of the faith. But I think of the strategy that Jesus uses in Luke 9 and 10. He sends his apprentices on the road two by two to build relationships, share the kingdom message and bring healing. The class (the Bible study, the Sunday School curriculum, the sermon series, etc.) is not the setting for following Jesus, but is meant to help us succeed on the open road. It is tempting to think I am following Jesus because I have read the appropriate books or am familiar with theological terms or even because I regularly read and discuss bible passages with like-minded friends. The motorcycle skills class was enjoyable. We were a unified bunch. We liked to talk about our bikes and about great places to ride. As in Christian circles there was some good natured debate between denominations (the virtues of Harley versus Yamaha versus Triumph). It was a retreat, a conference, a bible class for bikes. But it was only preparation for the road. It was not the road.
Jesus called his disciples to come and follow him (get on the road) and he would see to it that they earn their apprenticeship endorsement.
Fear and Shame
I don’t like these lessons. In June I was up at 4:30 am to catch my flight from Portland to Des Moines. By the time I landed in the afternoon I was tired. Since my son Ben and my buddy Dave were still at work, Larry, the Triumph seller, offered to pick me up at the airport. We dropped off my luggage at Dave’s place and went to Larry’s to get the bike. Larry walked me through a basic orientation to the 1998 Triumph Trophy 900, and then watched as I attempted to ride it away. Now, I had ridden the 250 Yamaha a few weeks prior in the class, but the Triumph 900 is a big, 500 pound touring bike. I had not ridden a heavy bike before. As I coasted down Larry’s drive I felt real fear. Could I even get this thing back the 2 miles to Dave’s place without falling over? It wasn’t tooling down the road that scared me. It was the transitions, turns, parking lots, drive ways, any maneuver that called for low speed handling. These were the times that the bike could begin to tip and once it did there would be no way to stop it. Somehow I managed to get the Triumph to Dave’s house and put it in his garage where I left it, untouched for the next two days. I found reasons to not ride, too windy, looks like rain, too hot. I was afraid and I felt ashamed of my fear. I was wondering what I had done? Why did I buy this bike? But I didn’t see a way out of owning this machine and riding it back to Oregon.
Three days later my buddy Dave said, let’s go for a ride. Dave led the way on his Harley and I followed the best I could. Now the good thing about this is that all I had to do was follow Dave. At this stage in my riding experience thinking about where to go was just as daunting as actually making the turns. The turns were the hardest. I had to slow down, then accelerate through the turn without swinging too wide (into oncoming traffic) which sounds simple, but for a riding newbie is not. But Dave allowed me to concentrate on turns and shifting and braking without having to think about where to go. He led me on side streets, onto the interstate, across the reservoir bridge, through Polk City and back again, a nice hour long ride. I told him after the ride, “Dave, you don’t know how much that helped me.” We talked about corners and what I had learned in class about leaning into and accelerating into turns. Dave said, “You need to trust your wheels.” I was learning to trust that there was more traction in an accelerating tire than in a coasting tire. I was learning that I could trust the motorcycle to perform according to its design and to lean with the bike as I turned.
Trust is built on the road not in the class room. Trust only grows when fear is faced and following commences. We are learning concepts in our Journey3 experience. We are learning that Jesus sends us out Believing that he is Lord and that his Spirit is always with us, Building relationships with those he puts into our lives, and Blessing them through the sharing of the kingdom message and through healing activities. But if we merely learn the concepts of this calling and don’t go and try them out, we will not see our faith grow. We need to trust our tires and accelerate into our Journey3 activities of Believing, Building and Blessing as we follow Jesus.
Wind and Rain
So I was in Iowa partly to go to the Reformed Church in America’s General Synod meetings, which meant I needed to get to Pella from Des Moines, about 50 miles. I took the back roads through the farm land and along the scenic road Red Rock reservoir road. On the way I hit some hefty cross winds that began to push me off line. I did what seemed like the thing to do, I gripped the handles more tightly and tried to muscle the bike back in line. Not a good idea. The harder I tried the more stiff and sail-like I became to the point that I actually was blown into the oncoming lane at one point. Thankfully there were no other vehicles around, but I came away from this thinking, this can’t be right! I consulted the guide book (I googled riding a motorcycle in the wind) and found some very helpful information. I learned that getting stiff in the wind and fighting against it was the worst thing I could do, Dave called it white-knuckling. Instead the idea is to stay loose and let the wind tilt you while you stay on line.
The next time I rode the open road the cross wind was back and I had an opportunity to test the idea. It was disconcerting at first to let the bike lean into the wind but I told my brain that I would lean this far on turns so it must be ok. Soon it felt natural (even fun!) to let the wind do its thing while I chose the line for the bike. Caution was needed and readiness as I approached changes in wind areas such as farm buildings and small hills for then the wind would suddenly drop off or pick up again. But even this became more of an adventure than a threat.
Rain wasn’t an issue until my trek home. On the last morning I woke in Spokane to thunderstorms. This was to be my shortest leg of the long trip home so I felt comfortable waiting to see if the skies would clear. I had been heading out (kick stands up we bikers call it) around 5:30 each morning and riding to 3 or so in the afternoon. But this morning I waited to see what the weather would do. At 7 the rain let up a bit so I put on my neon yellow visibility rain suit and set off. Once more I had to learn to trust the bike, trust the tires and trust that the other bikers that I saw riding in the rain must know that it’s safe to do this without sliding out of control. As I rode through the rain, dry in my rain suit, watching the drops sheet smoothly across my full visor I again experienced what seemed at first to be a threat to be an adventure.
CS Lewis writes in his spiritual biography, Surprised by Joy, that he learned from his beloved tutor, the proper way to deal with foul weather. “I fancy it was on a run with him in the sleet that I first discovered how bad weather is to be treated – as a rough joke, a romp.” You see most of the problems we face are not enemies or demons but simply the changing weather of life. Learning to ride in all sorts of weather can be turned from annoyance to adventure with a simple change in attitude that comes from time on the road. “I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
Blessings and Joy
So, Father, why the motorcycle? What are you wanting to teach me? Yes I am learning life lessons as I ride, but now as I have been riding for many days and have covered many miles I think I am learning the most important lesson. I am just now getting comfortable enough with riding that I can really enjoy the Triumph. And in the enjoyment I wonder, why the motorcycle? As I mentioned earlier I wasn’t thinking of or longing for a motorcycle and when it came I even regretted for a time that I had it. But now it is simply fun! Could it be that the Father loves us and wants to bring us joy? Could it be that he knows better than we do what would bring us joy? Jesus pointed out that even we earthly fathers don’t give our children a stone when they really want bread. We want to see our children experience joy. But even we, though fickle and short-sighted, know that true joy comes for our children through adversity, challenge and (here is the real test) the facing of their fears. And that is the Triumph principle. Trusting God through fear and adversity leads to the joy that God intends for us.
On the first morning in Iowa after buying the Triumph, when I was feeling most anxious (afraid) of this powerful machine (and when it was securely locked in the garage) I read the next psalm in my regular daily psalm reading which was Psalm 41. In particular I noted verse 11,“By this I know that you are pleased with me; because my enemy has not triumphed over me.” I laughed out loud when I read it. God was assuring me, in his humorous way, that he would not let my enemy (my fear) triumph over me. He sent me a Triumph to show me how to triumph over my fear.
What fears do you face? How is the Father asking you to trust him? How is he showing you that he loves you? Are you willing to believe that, if you trust and obey Jesus, the Father will lead you to the joy that only comes through living the life that he leads us to live? It is tempting to leave your bike in the garage and say, “I’m a biker, after all, I own a Triumph don’t I?” Don’t do it. Get out and ride.
Remember you are the light of the world!