I have a dream. No, a fantasy. Not just everyone will understand how an inanimate object can stir such feelings of passion within me - only one who knows something of the strange love affair that can exist between man and machine. Since the days when fuzzy hairs started appearing on my upper lip I have had an involuntary attraction to automobiles. I awaited each fall with Christmas-like anticipation for the new models to be unveiled. I devoured Car and Driver magazines, memorizing horsepower and performance ratings on each new muscle car that Detroit produced. But the car of all cars, the one that made my heart pound wildly at every sighting, was the Chevy Corvette. A fiberglass wonder so light and powerful and marvelously sculptured, the Corvette touched something so deep in my male viscera as to elude description and defy explanation. I want one! Today. A brand new one. A high-performance, red convertible with a six-speed manual transmission. There. I said it! I have harbored this secret passion within me all these years, hiding it from family and friends - even from my wife - fearful of the sneers I might receive for such an outlandish and impractical desire. As a young man I could never afford one. As a middle-aged man it seemed grossly incongruous with my urban ministry image. As a graying man it seems quite immature. But the desire has not diminished with age. I even took a tour through the Corvette plant in Bowling Green recently and watched the amazing assembly process from beginning to end. It only served to enflame my passion!
I have finally risked telling Peggy about my fantasy. She says I cannot have one. I painted her a romantic picture of the two of us touring the mountains, plains and seashores of our beautiful land, sun in our faces, hair blowing in the wind. I captured her imagination for a moment or two but her practicality soon put an end to that. The investment angle - minimal depreciation and eventual appreciation if I keep it long enough - didn't fly with her either. I think the real reason she opposes it is what people will say.
It would be different if I were in another profession. Several years back I refused to keep a luxury automobile that was given to us because it might appear to others that we were living too high, especially serving among the poor. In my early days of ministry, I felt it was important to "dress down" to identify more authentically with the less-fortunate we lived among. That didn't last very long. Our neighbors knew right away that we were rich (at least by their standards) and let us know that it was not really "authentic" for us to pretend to be something we were not. In retrospect, it was the judgment of supporters, not neighbors, that concerned me most. Still does.
If I am going to be brutally honest about this, I have to confess that portraying an image of a sacrificial, simple-lifestyle urban ministry leader has become a thing of pride for me. Allowing - sometimes subtly encouraging - people to form noble, unselfish impressions of me enhances the credibility of my ministry and becomes the stuff of folklore. Come to think of it, it was not very subtle when I wrote in one of my Urban Perspectives about giving up the luxury car. Getting a new Corvette could raise questions about my integrity. It could severely damage my reputation. What troubles me more, I grimace to admit, is the ego loss in slipping off a pedestal of my own creation.
Which raises an interesting point. Going public with my materialistic secret might be a humbling thing - deal a needed blow to my self-righteous pride. Buying a Corvette might just be a spiritual act! Then I couldn't fake the self-sacrificing act any longer. Peggy doesn't buy this argument either - thinks it's pretty convoluted. She seems to be content with keeping our consumerism somewhat reined in and investing toward our retirement. I could make the case that it is not of faith to trust in a retirement nest-egg - that it is merely "laying up treasures on earth" - but I don't think it would be wise for me to go there.
Peggy raised the meddlesome question of what would Jesus do. Frankly, it's hard for me to picture Jesus in any kind of contemporary Western setting. I can't get Him out of the sandals and robe walking the dusty roads of ancient Palestine. Certainly I work at applying His teachings to my life but I just can't pull up a picture of Jesus driving a Corvette. On the other hand, I can't envision Him poring over His monthly 401K statements either. I can't decide if His priority would be toward an austere theology of enough; or toward riding loose in the saddle of wealth, taking care not to become too attached to the things of this world; or toward sharing our possessions with others, especially those in need. If I could get a divine go-ahead to order my Corvette, I would be more than happy to give neighborhood kids rides in it.
I suppose it's silly - absurd, really - to spend good emotional energy on something so trivial. What does a Corvette have to do with the great mission of advancing God's Kingdom on earth, anyway? There's where my true passion lies. There is a cause worth living - even dying - for. I have known great fulfillment and deep satisfaction in living out my calling (Peggy has sometimes called it my life's obsession!) to spread Good News in the inner-city. I hasten to admit, however (before Peggy does it for me) that I have a tendency toward imbalance. I can become a bit over-focused. Some time ago Peggy expressed concern that I was narrowing into a one-track mind, too myopic for my own good. She said I needed a hobby. I agreed. I now have one.
Sitting in my garage, concealed by a cloth dust cover, is an old car that I have been getting to know quite intimately. If you come by on a Saturday afternoon you may find me under its hood installing a generator or replacing corroded wiring. From radiator to rear springs I have disassembled, cleaned, reconditioned and reinstalled most of the moving parts. Her rebuilt engine (last winter's project) roars to life at the touch of the ignition switch. No maestro ever heard sweeter music from his orchestra than I hear in that deep, throaty, powerful sound. And no wonder. That is the same sound that rumbled from the car of my dreams when I was a senior in high school. A 1961 Corvette!