JoJo and the Faith Bubble

this is a reprint of an article that was published in my column “Wendy’s Baileywick” in the May/June 2010 issue of Connections, a publication of the Presbytery of New Covenant,

As many of you know, I took up a new hobby in June 2009. Last year at the clergy retreat, I learned a lot about motorcycling from one of our new pastors, Jonathan Murray; this year I’m riding my own Yamaha V-Star 950 to ChoYeh. JoJo (I know it’s silly to name your bike, but JoJo DeMoto even has her own facebook page!) and I have traveled over 6,500 miles together now … and I’ve learned a few things about myself, about God, about life.

I’ve learned that rain is wet and can hurt when it’s pelting against you, even at a moderate speed. It’s the little things, the everyday things, that become real when traveling without doors and roof. I notice more. Bugs die with every trip I take, and they have very colorful insides. The wildflowers not only look awesome riding along highway 105, you can smell them when you’re coming up to a field. And the nature of the pavement beneath my feet is in conversation with me as I ride – gravel, potholes, bumps, heat, slickness, puddles, railroad tracks, hills, curves – all of this is so much more a part of life on a motorcycle.

I’ve learned that there really is more joy and purpose in the journey than there is in the destination. On the bike, it’s not unusual for me to ride more than a hundred miles and go nowhere … just a loop … for no purpose other than the joy of feeling the wind and enjoying the scenery. Dwayne and I will ride from Baytown to Kountz for lunch at a hole-in-the-wall that offers homecookin’ and welcomes bikers from all over East Texas. Oh, and biker establishments know something about hospitality, not only by providing convenient motorcycle parking, but in welcoming everybody, no matter how you’re dressed, what kind of bike you ride, or how bad your helmet hair.

I’ve learned that life is dangerous. It’s not just rain that hurts traveling at 65 mph; pebbles, cigarette butts, and dragonflies can all leave a bruise. On the bike, though, we have to live in expectation of the unexpected … the shredded tire on the highway sliding into my lane, the driver texting on her iphone and drifting unaware, the piece of lumber falling out of the truck ahead of you, the car too much in a hurry to stop and look both ways at the stop sign. In motorcycle safety class we learn to continually anticipate what could happen, and to plan an escape … a swerve to the left, the shoulder on the right, cover your brake, don’t forget to think of the accelerator as an option.

In the end, though, accidents happen. In the biker world we don’t talk about “if;” we talk about “when.” Every motorcyclist will lay down his or her bike at some time or another … it’s inevitable. And even the best helmet and leathers can’t guarantee your safety. Ultimately, my life is in God’s hands. I am keenly aware of that every time I push the ignition. Some think riding a bike is too risky … it is. But all of life is risky.

We don’t feel the rain, or the cigarette butt, or the rock hit our cars, but, undoubtedly, every car faces those same obstacles. The roof, windshield, and doors keep us better protected; the AC and heated leather seats keep us more comfortable; and the radio, CD player and cell phone, keep our minds occupied with other things … but the risk that someone will swerve into our lane is just as real, and the pavement beneath our tires is just as hot.

Riding my V-Star has made me aware how much we live in a bubble that keeps us from fully experiencing life as God has gifted us … the bubble of protection, of comfort, of sameness. Our cars are bubbles; for some of us our neighborhoods are bubbles. And, let’s be frank, many of us look for the church to be our bubble. We look for a low-risk, and comfortable faith … we protect ourselves with “Sunday Best” dress and conversation, we comfort ourselves with familiar liturgy and faces.

My hope is that as I take to the road on my V-Star this spring and summer, that we can all challenge ourselves to get out of our congregational bubbles and make our faith as real as the wind in our face or the rain on our chest. My hope is that we learn something new, be hospitable to everyone, take a risk, and enjoy the ride God has in store for us.