After literally years of drooling over photos and videos of awesome custom motorcycles on the internet, I’ve finally gone and done it. A grungy, stripped-back, brat-style 1979 Suzuki GS850G is mine (well, the bank’s actually, but it’s parked in my carport, not theirs). The purchase was prompted by the happy necessity for extra transport options—we’ve moved further out of town and my teenage boys are increasingly wanting to use the car.
But this momentous transition in my life has triggered some unexpected spiritual musings. Let me explain.
I suddenly realised I had become one of the things I despise most in others: materialistic.
Rev it up
Turning a dream into reality is a rush. In the days before my drive to Byron Bay to pick up the bike I had this delicious tiny lurch of anticipation in my stomach, which continued on the way home every time I peeked in the rearview mirror and made eye contact with the unblinking twin headlights of the bike (my bike!) riding in the trailer. I was possibly the happiest motorcycle owner since Moses came forth from Egypt in his Triumph.
“Don’t say anything to anyone about it,” said my wife, worrying that I’d look stupid. “You can’t even ride the bike—you don’t have your L-plates yet and even when you do, the bike’s too big for a learner.” I nodded my head in agreement. She made perfect sense.
So an hour or so later I was posting pics of the bike on a Facebook forum and asking advice from other riders. Over the next few days I just couldn’t help telling a few key people about it—I could barely stop myself from telling just about everyone I met! Yes, I had purchased a bike I couldn’t really ride (yet!) but that didn’t stop my excitement—it is just the most stylish, awesome-looking bike . . . ever! Logically I knew there were flaws—the frame’s paint job is deplorable and the handlebars are way too wide, just for starters—but I didn’t care. I was infatuated.
Then the thought came: Is this the kind of excitement new believers in Jesus experience? That self-forgetting bubbling over that just can’t be contained? Growing up an Adventist, I never experienced an overwhelming moment of transformation, but there have been times when I’ve been moved to wonder or elation by the thrill of discovery as I’ve explored the Bible or meditated on spiritual things. But it has been a while since I’ve devoted my time and attention to doing so and, as a result, my enthusiasm has waned. “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love,” says Jesus to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:4 (NKJV). This passage of Scripture is a call to repentance—not to rebellious worldlings but to the flagging people of God . . . people like me.
Then came the worry. This bike, as it is obviously the best-looking on the planet, is going to be a thief magnet. A couple of guys could so easily just roll it into an anonymous black van and drive away. It’s a custom job—irreplaceable. So how do I keep it safe? I don’t have a garage—how do I keep it out of the weather? Will the battery go flat because I’m not using it regularly? Will the seals and hoses perish? It needs some repairs and upgrades here and there—what if I do it myself and mess things up? Make it worse? Of if I take it to a mechanic will they take the necessary care and appreciate the glorious vision that this bike encapsulates?
I was like a parent with a new baby; paralysed with fear, afraid I would inadvertently do permanent damage. I was like those ridiculous people who get new carpet in their home and frantically order everyone’s shoes off while they stalk through the house hunting for offending specks of dirt. I was like the farmer who had a good harvest and asked himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops . . . This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.” “You fool!” God said, “This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:16-20, NIVUK).
I suddenly realised I had become one of the things I despise the most in others: materialistic. Jesus’ words rang in my mind: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Rust! Thieves! Suddenly it hit home in a way it never had before. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, NKJV). Was I really going to let an (admittedly beautiful) assemblage of pipes, pistons and rubber get between me and eternity?
There are times when Jesus asks us to cut off a perfectly good hand, gouge out a perfectly good eye or let a perfectly good motorbike go in order to safeguard us from sin (Matthew 5:28-29). I’ve got some thinking and praying to do about the possibility of a material thing becoming an object of worship—an idol. I don’t think He meant for anyone to take the hand/eye examples literally but if the prospect of losing a treasured possession makes me wonder if I wouldn’t prefer to sacrifice a body part instead, then I’ve got problems.
So I’m learning. Learning the careful choreography of throttle and clutch, foot brake and hand brake. Learning to look where I want to go, not at what I want to avoid. Learning the strange paradox of counter-steering—aiming the front wheel the right way instead of the way that seems natural. And if you’re wondering how all this is possible with a bike that’s too powerful for a learner, the problem is fortuitously resolved by the purchase of a second bike, in my case an ’88 Honda Spada 250—no fancy fairing, clip-on bars, a lot of zoom for its size.
I’m on L-plates again, and that’s humbling. I’m on the same level now as my teenage sons who are learning to drive a car. Everyone on the road can see I’m still trying to figure out the basics. Hopefully they’ll be forgiving if I make mistakes. Sturdy trees and power poles, however, are generally less forgiving, so if I’m smart I’ll avoid overconfidence, stay super-aware and put into practice the safety precautions recommended by my instructor.
Can I take the same attitude into life generally? It’s easy to just go through the motions and forget that every day—every moment—is a learning opportunity. I’ll need humility to accept things that at first seem counterintuitive. I’ll need balance to avoid the extremes of self-indulgence and self-flagellation—and the wisdom to recognise that, in the end, it’s not about self at all. I’ll need to remember that earthly security is an illusion—possessions, identity, relationships, life itself, can be snatched away in a moment.
I’m on the ride of my life. The Author and Finisher of our faith beckons at the end of the straight and narrow way. I want to hear and echo Paul’s words: that “my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).
Kent Kingston is assistant editor of Adventist Record.