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Faith and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

When I was in high school, I was required to read a book entitled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I'll admit...I didn't like the book at the time I had to read it. Nevertheless, the title was quite intriguing, especially for someone like me who was an avid ATV rider. And, in the intervening years, I've come to appreciate the book's message much more, especially in light of my recent motorcycle purchase.

In the book, the author, Robert Pirsig, compares two types of motorcycle riders. The first is the rider who knows very little about motorcycle maintenance, doesn't like to get his hands dirty, and has his bike serviced by professional mechanics. This rider loves the romance of motorcycle riding but not the grit behind it.

The other type of rider does his own maintenance and enjoys the "science" of motorcycle ownership. He is less concerned about the romance of riding and more in tune with its technical aspects. In today's parlance, we might call this type of rider a "gear head."

As Pirsig fleshes out these two rider types, he eventually arrives at the conclusion that a good rider--a holistic rider--is one who finds balance between the two extremes. That is to say, Pirsig's ideal rider is both in tune with the romance of riding and the technical aspects of the same. Of course, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is not really a book about motorcycle maintenance at all. It is an extended metaphor about life--a philosophical musing about what it takes to be successful and prosperous. Extremes are rarely the answer to fulfillment; rather, balance is almost always the key.

Such is the case in our lives of faith. In far too many churches around America, you find one of two extremes: congregations and pastors who are dishing out healthy doses of emotive worship based almost entirely on feelings of divine goodwill and caricatures of what God's love means OR churches where the pursuit of good scholarship, proper biblical exegesis, and theological precision are idolized. In the former, worshippers do not suffer the academician, and in the latter, the academician is practically deified. In the former, sermons are often devoid of strong theological or biblical foundation, and in the latter, there is little in the way of life application or emotional-spiritual stirring.

The irony is that neither style is effective as a paradigm of living faith. In the one, there is a romanticism about "motorcycle maintenance," but little technical skill. In the other, there is a great deal of technical expertise, but the heart is missing. However, when I read Scripture, I see a Christ who knew the Law of God--who knew what "right" faith looked like--but he also had a heart of compassion, joy, love, and, yes, romantic ideologies about what his disciples could do and the impacts they could make if they simply gave their lives to him. In other words, Jesus was the balanced motorcycle rider who called on his fellow riders to strive for the same balance in their lives.

What kind of faith rider are you? Have you achieved your zen (i.e., balance)? Naturally, we are all geared to prefer either the romantic or the technical side of faith. But the good rider works toward the middle...toward the ideal of holding a wrench in one hand and an olive branch in the other.

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