It’s a cool September morning in Wisconsin. I’m writing this article in my head as I motor up a hill. Sunlight percolates through pines and poplars. Grunting, almost asthmatically, I make the crest of the hill as sweat slips out from under my bike helmet. I thank God for the steep decline that opens up before me. The blessing for my work. The fruit of my toil.
I launch my mountain bike down the 55-degree-angled slope that’s wet from rains the day before and muse: "This is the intro for my article! Right here, baby!" Wind buzzes across my helmet straps. My legs and arms stiffen as I rumble down the gully-ripped, rock-studded trail—rocks, in fact, the size of grapefruits and cantaloupe. "Baby heads," in mountain bike lingo.
I squeeze the brakes to avoid a rut. The front tire grabs while the rear end slides on the moist dirt, then vaults. I am airborne, wondering where this fits into my essay. And, in Super Slo-Mo®, I arc through the ether. Now descending, my helmet crunches on one of the cantaloupe rocks. Second point of contact: right shoulder with rocks and gravel. Third: right forearm between my body and trail. Did I hear something pop? Fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth: various limbs, parts and digits co-mingle with assorted rocks, sand and bike parts, including, but not limited to, an unnatural coupling of a brake handle with my inner thigh. I’m spread like chain grease on the rocks.
A pregnant pause.
The dust settles, and I check for missing parts. A hole in my shirt. Some blood, some abrasions, some imbedded gravel and some tender spots that will give birth to bruises tomorrow. But, nothing broken or disconnected.
My buddy, Paul, who is ahead of me—who is almost always ahead of me on the trail—makes his way back up the hill in response to my yelp. He’s a good friend and doesn’t laugh until he sees I’m okay. (And, he even waits two whole days to send an email announcing my spill to others in our small group Bible study. Several guys in our group bike together, but Paul prides himself in being "scarless," as he puts it. Sudden-onset amnesia has purged his memory of the time he ran into a tree last summer. But, I, along with another "mountain bike-scarred" friend, Doug, point out later that "scarless" equals "riskless." Doug suggests that perhaps Paul’s bike is not made by Gary Fisher™ but Mary Fisher. Just part of the “trash talk” that’s central to our small group mission statement.)
I gather myself to walk my bike down the rest of the hill, gun shy (rock shy? blood shy?). At the top of the hill it was about mountain biking as a metaphor for the Christian life. You know, the victorious lone believer happily motoring through life. Like the one depicted on the covers of books on "Christian living," or on inspirational posters, where runners, decked out in running gear, circle a track. The life promised in many "gospel" booklets. In other words, the gospel of the neat and tidy. That was the top of the hill.
But here, halfway down the hill—give or take a few yards of sand and rock—that thought had been dislodged from my head. Yeah, mountain biking is a metaphor for the Christian life, but neither of them are a calculated, plotted-out, no-hands coast down a hill. I’m not talking about some loosey-goosey theology or an undisciplined faith. But I am talking about the mysterious adventure of it all. The Holy Spirit “wild ride” of not quite being in control. Something that’s been lost on us modernist evangelicals with whom it can sometimes seem that God and the Christian life have been examined, dissected and suspended in formaldehyde.
Halfway down the hill, among the rocks, there is no easy route. No three steps to smooth sailing. You just push through to the end with your compadres, by God, trusting there is an end, a mile or ten miles down the trail. Is it joyless? Hardly. Hardly. Hardly. It has to do with perseverance, faith, community and the sovereignty of God, rather than ease, comfort, lone "personal savior-ism" and personal agenda. It has more to do with the reality of the Gospel in “two-thirds world” countries, probably, than in our culture that has hybridized prosperity and faith, has not experienced persecution, and, as a result, has reveled in comfort.
I’m a product of this culture. With a faith born in ease, I’m much more likely to ask, "Why me, Lord?" than "What’s next, Lord?" Thus, my spiritual condition overlaps my biking. Honestly, if my buddies weren’t biking through the woods with me, I don’t think I’d be here. I’ve tried it. It’s hard work, and the motivation doesn’t come easy on my own. Without these companions, I’d be making circles on level blacktop at the neighborhood elementary school. I need a community of people to share the adventure, the stories and the encouragement.
Mountain biking is a metaphor for my faith journey. Community—my small group buddies—are grace to me. They are a chain link for me to respond to the Spirit, to keep going and to persevere even when I have no idea what God is doing. They are the friends who lower this paralytic through the roof into the presence of Jesus. And, Scripture says, "When He saw their faith," the paralytic was forgiven and healed. Their faith. Community is grace. Mountain biking is grace, too, thank God. And, here, at the bottom of the hill, as we get back on our bikes to crunch down the rest of the trail, I pray the story of the paralytic remains only a spiritual application for me today. Mountain biking is grace.
[Kyle White lives with his wife and two kids in Sycamore, Ill., and probably doesn’t deserve a mountain bike. He is a veteran youth worker and an illustrator: KyleLWhite.com.]
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