Last week J and I were involved in a tragic car accident in the mountains of New Mexico. One of the bikers who hit us was killed. It is a horrible experience. I don’t blame either our driver or the cyclists because it was one of those accidents that just happen. I had planned this post to be called “S**t Happens!” But with the death of one of the 6 of us who are inextricably linked for the rest of our lives, I don’t care to be glib or humorous about such tragedy. I mourn for the young man and his family and friends even though I never knew him. I ache with the woman who was also badly injured. Such incidents scar one’s life forever whether the scars are visible or not.
On the way home from NM, we blew a tire only about an hour from home. While waiting for roadside assistance, a car stopped and man in biker attire got out and changed our tire. He wore the typical biker’s leathers, multiple tattoos, jack boots, do-rag and a vest with a prominent cross on the back. He was a member of the Christian Biker’s Alliance, he said. We chatted as he did his ministry to us talking about biking and faith. His was a bold faith that said he didn’t believe in helmets since he knew he would live forever in Christ. He said that he drove too fast for a helmet to do any good anyhow. In a matter of about 15 minutes he had changed our tire and had deeply affected my understanding of trust in God.
I am always moved by the faith of others. God touches us in such different ways. The biker’s theology is quite different from mine. For me life is precious and a gift from God to be protected and cherished. For this man, his life is not something to be preserved but lived to the hilt with little regard for the dire consequences of living on the edge. It was a sobering intrusion into my neatly constructed faith circumscribed with prayer books and liturgy. I have no doubt that his theology worked for him and for his family (his very un-biker wife waited in the car during his ministrations). But I couldn’t help but think that this was a kind of faith that I could not subscribe to but could not deny that it was rooted in that awe and experience of a Holy One that was as powerful as mine.
Since that incident I have been trying to look at my own faith and the faith of those throughout the centuries that have been unshaken in the face of death. I think of those who go into combat in the name of Christ—from the time of Constantine, through the knights of the Crusades or perhaps the One Hundred Year’s War over religion that changed the face of Europe and brought cleavage due to one’s faith rather than territorial boundaries. I am deeply aware of the irony of ‘soldier’s theologies’ that has ‘marching off to war’ as a primary sign of fidelity to Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Why is it that faith in God often demands our death in order to experience life to the fullest? Certainly Christianity has been taught that way at certain moments of church history. But need it be that way? Does faith in God demand extremism in order to trust God’s salvific promise? Does faith demand crucifixion in order to image the love of God? Or in another way of asking it: Is the Christian faith inherently violent?
The God that I experience in both prayer and worship invites me to rest, to pause in the midst of life and know the irenic when all around me is whirlwind. It is not polemic where God is. It is the still quiet voice where the Divine touches rather than in the wind in the hair or the exhilaration of a battle fought and won. And it is the place where God is that demands of me the kind of examined life that returns me to peace and the absence of argument. I cannot be what God calls me to be if I cannot allow myself to know the kind of peace that God is.
As I delve into the ways we have talked about faith for centuries, the more I recognize the language of feudal fealty in worship. We have ‘bounden duties’ and we talk about the interplay of good and evil as knightly jousts. We even express Christ’s renewal of Creation as salvific rather than a return to the peace that humanity often destroys.
Perhaps a new language of relationship and peace needs to be developed rather than with such medieval words. We need not “fight the good fight with all of our might” but learn how to describe the wondrous harmony of love. We need a new vocabulary to describe that place where God abides in us and the goodwill that we have forgotten in name of action and ‘doing Christianity.’ We need to find a way to describe the tranquility that God engenders in us for the sake of the future of humanity.
May the souls of the departed rest in peace. Amen