White Knuckles or Loose Grip?

Bicycling Magazine can be a place of spiritual revelation. Really. Take the latest issue (July 2007): in an article called "The Weekly Worlds", describing the best 25 group rides in the country, there's a sidebar article on signs of novice riders in the pack. The first tell-tale sign has to do with white knuckles: "The faster the pace, the whiter your knuckles become. Death-gripping the handlebar is a sure sign of anxiety...If you worry about crashing or getting dropped, you're going to ride that way." The solution? According to the writer, good form follows function. Anxious riders need to consciously relax their hands, shoulders, and jaw. This prompts the mind-body connection to de-stress and leads to a more, fluid, supple, responsive ride. The writer even recommends periodically drumming your fingers against the handlebar.

It's a metaphor for the disciple, seeking to follow Jesus: in life's uncertainties, with the threat of illness, tragedy, unemployment, random violence, and the like, it's easy for us to get white knuckles, to grip the handlebar of life too tightly, go rigid, and make things much worse. The loose grip of trust--in which we remember that though we're not in ultimate control, Jesus is--is the way to ride through life. Spiritual disciplines, such as regular prayer, Bible reading, worship, and Christian community, are ways to loosen our tight grip, to drum our fingers against the handlebars, relax, and remind ourselves that life is like an epic ride and that Jesus rides before us, even if the fog and twilight obscure him from view. Clenched up? Take a deep breath, smile, loosen your grip--and know that Jesus will never let you go.

Tourists...or Pilgrims?

At a church staff meeting recently, someone remarked that it can often feel like we do church as tourists on a whirlwind itinerary, almost like seeing Europe in ten days. She nailed what many of us have been feeling lately: that the pace of our lives in the larger, multiple staff, program church can sometimes feel like rushing through exotic scenery at breakneck speed, barely pausing to drink in the wonders of God intersecting people's lives. It reminds me of how I once toured the National Art Gallery in London: I proudly boasted to my friends that I did the whole building in under an hour, a sort of aerobic feat of young American cultural ignorance!

My point is that in the large church setting, we can be so focussed on getting jobs done, programs planned, services conducted, meetings met, sermons written, etc, etc, etc, that we get into such a rushed mode that we can almost literally trample over the mysteries of God, inadvertently missing or mishandling them. And that's a shame. Instead of living counter-culturally, instead of slowing down to ponder and savor the rhythms of God's grace (and offer them to others), instead of pausing to be thankful or compassionate, we rush from one thing to the next, checking things off the list. "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt", if you know what I mean.

It seems to me that instead of being tourists, we people of faith are called to be pilgrims--and the pace of a pilgrim is much slower and more deliberate. In ancient times (and even in parts of the world today) pilgrims walk to their destinations. They sleep under the open sky. Pilgrims sing and laugh and chat as they journey together. Pilgrims pause before the wonders; they take stock and reflect; they contemplate and pray. The journey is just as important as the final destination. And on the journey, God is present, shaping a people for his purposes. It reminds me of a pastor friend who once walked the length of Israel--how much more transformational than the breakneck speed of our tourist buses!

The challenge is to (at least occasionally) keep a pilgrim's pace in a tourist's world, to slow down, to question almighty efficiency, to once in a while abandon our to-do lists, DayTimers, and Palm Pilots and...pause. Sit. Breathe. Reflect.

What would happen if you and I did more of this?