19 February 2015
by Dr Mark Keown
Last year I wrote a blog about cycling and cruciformity and how cyclists In a team sacrifice themselves for the lead rider so that the lead cyclist can maximise his or her performance. This is achieved by their spending themselves for the other. This reminds us of Christ.
The other day I was out riding and had another connected thought. I came around a corner at Dairy Flat heading to Waitoki and beyond. As I did, another cyclist with tri bars (they stick out the front) jumped out of a shop in front of me and took off. I saw the opportunity of a lift, and so sped up to catch him, and then sat in behind drafting him. I didn’t bother taking the lead as one would usually because triathletes are not allowed to draft others and as he was out training he didn’t want me in front of him. That was fine, because he was fast! So I went along for the ride some 15km across the Dairy Flat. It was fantastic fun, blasting along, about 30cm behind him, averaging around 35-40km/hour. What a buzz.
The key in such situations is not to fall too far behind, or you will struggle to catch up. If it is a group, you likely won’t, or you will blitz yourself trying, as the group will barrel along way quicker than you can. As you sit close to the wheel in front, you are protected from the headwind and you are sucked along in the wind of the leader.
As I was flying along enjoying the ride, I thought how much being a Christian is like this. Following this speedster is like following Christ. Christ is at the head of the Peloton and we are heeding his call to follow. The closer we get to him the better (the metaphor breaks down if you get too close, you crash and likely the person in front of you does to). His wind (the Spirit, well kind of?), draws us along.
It is even better if it is a big group. Jesus at the front, and his people all together, closely united. I am slowly learning the art of riding in a big group in races like the K2, Taupo, or the Round the Mountain race. If you can get in with a big group, you get sucked along at speeds well above your own solo capacity. Hence, you get a good time, and with perseverance, win the prize of completion (a la Phil 3:12-14).
If you fall behind however, you become isolated. You become subject to the wind, which buffets you, and slows you down further (cf. Eph 4:14). You end up riding on in your own strength, without the power of Christ and “the group” (the church) drawing you along with their wind. You get exhausted (burn out) and you may limp home, but you will be much slower than you wanted to be. If it gets really bad, as it was on the Whangapoua Hill in the Coromandel in last years K2, there are cramped and exhausted riders all over the sides of the road, burnt out. They weren’t able to stay close to Jesus and the Peleton, a number did not finish the race.
There is a missional dynamic too. If you are part of a group and go past others who have fallen off an earlier group, you often hear people call out, “jump on” or something similar. Relieved dropped riders, if they have the energy, join up, and before long you have another group. These exhausted riders find new leases of life, and are sucked along to the finish.
It is also good to take turns in the lead to allow each to have a bit of a rest. The load is shared, and so it should be in the people of God. There is nothing more annoying in a group when someone is just along for the ride and don’t take their turn in the rotation.
However, there is room for the one who is hanging on by a thread. If someone says as much, cyclists don’t judge if someone can’t take their turn at the front. No one minds someone hanging off the back for the ride (although it can be annoying when they jump at the end, and race over the line having hitched a ride, as happened recently in one race I was in). That said, there is room for the care of the marginalised, the wounded, the burnt out, in the peleton, behind the leader. Cyclists care for their own. Indeed, one of the mottos of my group is “no one left behind.”
So my encouragement to you this year is to get close to the leader of the Peleton, Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. Stay close, within a wheel. Sometimes it hurts to stay there, but the pay off is great. Allow his wind (the Spirit) to draw you along. Stay in the bunch behind him, don’t drop off, and support the other riders (the church). As you and the group ride past others, invite them to join the peleton so that they can find that relief, gain speed, and reach the prize. Take your turn leading, giving others a break. Don’t just sit at the back and use others. And make sure no one is left behind.