Yesterday I rode the bike for the first time in over two weeks. It felt great. Here in Georgia, it has been unseasonably warm as it has been in so many places. I ride my Harley all year ‘round, so if the weather is half decent, I’m out on Big Red. I rode a lot in December, back and forth from college, took roads I hadn’t been on in a while and visited that free meal program where I volunteer. These last two weeks I had been in LA (no, not Lower Alabama!) visiting my daughter, son in law and son for Christmas. My other son was stuck in poor old London. Cheap LA flights on no thrill airlines where the seats won’t even go back was too hard for me to resist. A five hour flight, but you know, if I’d had the time, I would have preferred the five day motorcycle ride.
I had a great time in LA. Watching the new Star Wars movie in IMAX 3-D at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, having a drink at Timmy Nolan’s pub, watching football with my kids at the Starlite Cantina, visiting a pirate themed bar, playing cards, a day trip out with my daughter to Venice beach, walking all over the place, and just being with family were some of my favorite things.
Still, I was missing Big Red. I even Googled how much it would cost to rent one of those new Indian motorcycles while I was there. It seemed too wasteful to me so I passed on it, but of course the ad now follows me everywhere I go on the internet. I drank a lot of coffee, did a lot of writing on my new novel and walked every chance I could.
It was a challenge for me walking the streets, because the only people who would make eye contact with me were homeless people. To native Georgians, a man is considered rude if he won’t smile and make eye contact with you. My daughter told me that so many people in LA, not just the homeless, want something from the people they meet, that folks are suspicious of random contacts. My daughter and I talked about how this was like the line in White Christmas where Bing Crosby says that everyone has a little larceny in their heart, that everyone has an angle they’re playing, a what’s in it mentality. This seemed to be true as I overheard a number of conversations (a writer’s obligation) at coffee shops where people were selling something, sometimes selling themselves (for a job), and negotiating deals. It took me bumping into someone in a grocery store or picking up something someone had dropped to start a real conversation. But then the ice was broken and folks were nice.
What’s in it for me? Is that the motive behind a lot of our actions? I had been thinking about this a lot when I was working at the free meal program a few weeks ago. So what was I getting out of it? Then I accidentally (yeah, more like karma) stumbled upon a passage in a book that I was reading that sent the message right to my heart. From Nadia Bolz-Weber’s “Accidental Saints”.
While we as people of God are certainly called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, that whole, “we’re blessed to be a blessing thing” can still be kind of dangerous. It can be dangerous when we self-importantly place ourselves above the world, waiting to descend on those below so we can be the “blessing” they’ve been waiting for, like it or not. Plus, seeing myself as the blessing can pretty easily obscure the way in which I am actually part of the problem and can hide the ways in which I, too, am poor and needing care. Seeing myself or my church or my denomination as “the blessing” –like so many mission trips to help “those less fortunate than ourselves” can easily descend into a blend of benevolence and paternalism. We can start seeing the “poor” as supporting characters in a big story about how noble, selfless, and helpful we are.
Wow. Don’t get me wrong, acts of kindness when and wherever they happen are great things. We’ve all got to keep them up! But I’ve got some thinking and reflecting to do. Which is okay because the spiritual journey lasts a lifetime (hey, if you’re into reincarnation you might even get a few lives out of it!).
As with motorcycle journeys, spiritual discoveries and journeys are always waiting for us. We just have to open our eyes, trust and keep riding.
Have a happy, compassionate and safe new year.