So, I sold my baby. My non-sentient one, a 1977 J.C. Penney Pinto moped which I repaired myself, and tricked out with a custom seat, grips and sidewalls. I loved that bike. But I had some car repairs to make, and so Red Pinto was sacrificed to fix Rocket, my family’s Toyota Sienna.
I’m sorry, Red Pinto.
Driving a moped is a very interesting experience. Most of the time, I ride with a full motorcycle helmet, not because I ride so fast, but because the cars around me go so fast. And I need to protect my face, because that’s how I make my money. But on really hot days, or days where I know there won’t be a lot of traffic, I like to ride in my little half helmet, which does nothing more than make sure that, should I crash, my brain does not pass through the top of my skull, but through my smashed cheekbones instead.
When you ride with a half helmet, and no gogggles/glasses, driving becomes a totally different experience. The first thing you notice is how dirty the streets are. Every passing car or gust of wind fills your nostrils or mouth with sand and grit, and you realize how street cleaners are completely useless contraptions. The second thing you notice is the smell, how the streets reek of gasoline. You don’t really perceive it when you are in your car because it’s so sealed from the outside environment. The only time car drivers smell gas is when they get a spot of it on their hands while filling up the tank. But the truth is that the roads are redolent with gasoline fumes. The same thing goes with sounds. Large trucks are very loud. And ambulances, WOW! But there’s a reason that firetrucks and ambulances are that loud – it’s because our cars are specifically designed to mute sounds from the outside, and create massive amounts of sounds from the inside instead.
Lastly, you quickly realize that every person is driving way too fast. Again, that is not that big of a deal when you are locked in a steel cage that will puff up with balloons should you crash. But when you are riding an overgrown lawn mower down the street with a piece of plastic covering your skull, you realize how fast and heavy and dangerous cars truly are, and how strange it is that we should feel so invulnerable in something that is the leading cause of death for people ages 5-34. We hurtle down roads made of hardened asphalt, traveling at speeds that only a few organisms in the world are physically capable of coming close to. And we do so while listening to the radio, peering at our GPS or phones, maybe even daring to answer a few texts. We just never realize how dangerous that really is, not from the inside.
Now this might not seem like such a big deal, until you realize that perhaps the reason that we care so little about street, noise, and air pollution is that we have no reason to. After all, the inside of our car is (relatively) clean, quiet, and nice-smelling. So who the heck cares what it’s actually like out there on the road! But if the inside of our cars resembled the gritty loudness of the street, you can bet your butt people would demand action.
And again, maybe the reason we drive so fast is because we personally have never been clipped by the rear view mirror of 2000 lb car going 50 mph down a 3o mph street. And so we have no idea how close that we came to casually ending that poor rider’s life, or at the very least, giving him a really, really bad day. Perhaps if we were more personally aware of how dangerous driving a car can be, we would all be a little more willing to drive at a reasonable speed.
And you see the problem of an overly comfortable, hermetically sealed car, and life: it blissfully divorces us from reality. It prevents us from truly understanding the plight of others. It fosters ignorance. And cars are not the only contexts that facilitate such a mentality. Our meat is slaughtered in closely guarded abattoirs, our only interaction with it as a red blob wrapped in styrofoam and cellophane. Our elderly pass away in antiseptic nursing homes, separated from the eyes of people who would prefer not to be forced to face such a grim reality. Both are too icky for common consumption.
And no offense, but many of our churches function in the same exact manner: as more of a museum than a hospital, a time when perfect people come together in perfect places to live perfect lives. We don’t use words like “mental illness” or “drug addiction” or “abortion” because they make us shift uncomfortably in our theater style seat, and settle instead for broad but ill-defined terms like “fallenness”, which I am not sure is technically even a word. The poor, the ill, and the unclean stand out like sore thumbs on Sunday morning.
Walking the gritty road is obviously gritty, but so important. Seeing the poor in your neighborhood or in your church is undoubtedly uncomfortable, helps you remember that the poor really exist outside of magazine articles and the like. They are not imaginary constructs or statistics, but people living down the street with names and children. As a result, we are all the more committed to fighting poverty. Christians need to summon up the courage to call things by their proper names, and no longer rely on spiritual euphemisms alone to describe the hardest elements of our life. We need to say the words, “abortion”, and “mental illness”, and “drug addiction”, not for the shock value that those words hold, but so that we can look our issues straight in the face and deal with them directly and more effectively, and without shame. If we do not and content ourselves only with talking euphemistically, we leave people dreadfully unprepared for the reality of what life is like, even a life with Christ.
We should also remember that walking the gritty road is exactly what Jesus did for us. He separated Himself from the perfection of heaven in order to be born in the squalor of a barn, and die in shame on the cross, so that His ministry to us might be perfected, and He might become our perfect High Priest and Intercessor. Christ walked the gritty road.
And so should we. No, it’s not easy, and may shock, scare, and scandalize you. But perhaps a bit of shock and scandal is exactly what our faith needs.