Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Harley Davidson Way of Life

I think I’m like a Harley Davidson. Every time I hear one go past (I don’t have to actually see it to know it’s near) I wonder how it makes any progress sounding the way it does. And sometimes I wonder the same thing about me.

When I was a boy of about thirteen, I was happily riding in our family car piloted by my mother when I heard an awfully loud sputtering and popping come alongside—it was awful. I slowly glanced in the direction of the cacophony and saw what I assumed was a man atop the strangest looking motorcycle I had ever seen. Although he was right next to our car (I could barely make out his eyes and nose peering out from a sea of hair), the front tire on his bike was, I promise, forty-three feet away. It might have been less, but thinking back, it might have been more…I don’t know.

Anyway, it seemed he was having trouble keeping the engine going because he kept revving it up, only to have it almost die. Roooooooom, rooooooom—sputter, cough, gag—rooooooom, rooooooom—sputter, cough, gag. And I thought, “He’s going to go somewhere on that awful thing? No way.”

Then the signal light turned green.

After a final sputter, cough and gag, that slovenly beast propelled the leather clad fur ball like a missile down the road and out of sight. Stunned, I asked my mother, “What was that?” “I don’t know,” she replied, “but I sure don’t like it.”

I had been introduced to Harley Davidson, and to this day I don’t know how those things get anywhere. I have always believed that a smoothly running engine is the one you want—you can rely on it to get you where you want to go. If the engine is sputtering, there is something wrong and it’s time to worry. Who doesn’t know that? You had better get it to the mechanic or call that friend who likes poking around in engines because until you get it working smoothly, you’re in trouble. Isn’t life like that, too?

Not really.

From that first encounter with a Harley to the one I heard rumbling and stumbling past yesterday, Harley Davidson has taught me a lot about living. In between the zooms there’s a whole lot of sputtering—and that’s normal.

There is so much in the New Testament about growing up in what Jesus has made of us—sons of God, foreigners in this world, ambassadors of Christ—that growing pains must be a part. Who actually believes immediately after receiving Christ that we have become as foreign to this world as Jesus? That the change made to us through faith has made us genuine new creations? That we cannot ever again live the way we once did, but can and must now live by the Spirit? The challenge isn’t first to live and behave better, the challenge is to believe better. It’s normal that we sputter and cough to believe such incredible facts!

We all see and experience so much that tells us we’re not what God says we are. We fail to pray (cough), we fail to tell someone the gospel (gag), a hoped-for job advancement fails to come about (sputter), and we feel like we’re about to stall. While that kind of stuff might change our minds about ourselves, it doesn’t influence God, who knows what He has made of us and carries on accordingly. When I get stuck thinking I’m just a no good sputterer, the Holy Spirit works to rev me up because there’s some place to go. Miraculously, I’m going to get there. As a friend recently said, living is “steady growth by jerks.”

Until that day when we fully believe what God believes about us and about the way forward, it’s the Harley way for us—sputter, cough and gag—rooooom, rooooom. And that’s okay.

Sometimes we get to zoom.


  1. Anonymous5:19 PM

    Another great blog, Ralph! I certainly can relate. Makes me think of when I first read Screwtape Letters. I was so frustrated with my lack of spiritual consistency. Then, I saw what Lewis had to say about the Law of Undulation. He saw that we are amphibians - part flesh and part spirit. And, therefore, our spiritual lives are a series of peaks and troughs. And, the amazing thing is that God is often doing more in our lives in the troughs. It still is frustrating at times but at least I understand what is going on. Good word!

  2. Anonymous5:21 PM

    Loved it!

    But didn't you write this to convince your wife that you need a Harley? Didn't you?