Sometimes as a bit of a break I have to read a biography. I am privileged to be able to spend much of my time researching theology but every now and again I need to drop the intense stuff and read a tale of the sort of courage and against-all-odds endeavour that inspires me. I love a story of outrageous commitment. Of climbing to the top no matter what.
A friend recently noticed that on my study shelf I had the following books next to each other: ‘The Crucified God’, ‘The Life of Senna’, ‘Villeneuve’, ‘Christ Crucified’ and ‘The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross’. Now there’s some pretty hardcore stuff in there but within the eclectic mix of motor sport and theology there’s a bizarre parallel my friend pointed out. This is the parallel between Christ, the eternal Son of God, dying on the cross and the premature deaths of the racing legends Ayrton Senna and Gilles Villeneuve.
In one sense there is the plain challenge for us concerning how big God is in our lives compared to our sports, passions and work. Is He number one, or do our dreams form idols? My bookshelf could be read a number of ways. But there is also a further way of seeing this challenge that has come home to roost for me over the winter as I have mixed up motor sport and theology – an emulsion of the biography and The Book. This challenge is about our level of commitment to the task of keeping Christ centre stage and of the Good News remaining as our main story.
As I have read again the lives of Senna and Villeneuve I have seen the utter determination and drive needed to make it to the top. I have seen in their stories a willpower that is so strong that it often flirts with destruction. Senna’s total commitment, for example, kissed goodbye to his marriage when he returned to race in England in 1982, a marriage of only one year. He was also so uncompromising in wheel to wheel combat that he would choose to crash rather than play the championship long-game of accepting second place. In Villeneuve’s case determination meant living in a motor home for a number of years with his wife and two children, often with its frozen pipes bursting in the harsh Canadian winters. It also meant huge financial debt hanging over his family.
This kind of uncompromising desire and commitment of course eventually led to great victories on the track – Senna’s three world championships and his mastery of Monaco, Villeneuve’ ability to drag a car home in first place when it had no right to finish, let alone take the laurels. It is this kind of burning commitment that can re-challenge us. Not to be unbalance and destroy others around us through single mindedness but to tackle head-on our task in hand.
We all have the task of loving our neighbours as ourselves by sharing Jesus with others. This is one of those things that I don’t find as an option in the Bible for the kosher Christian life. We all have unique skills to do this. It’s not just about trying to be the next Billy Graham, the great commission of Matthew’s Gospel (28:16-20) is for all of us, with our unique talents of engagement as the medium. Of course the commission was first given to the eleven apostles, but it’s written down in Matthew for the Church – for us. The question coming to me from the petrol driven preachers of Senna and Villeneuve is this:
“Am I as committed to my task as they were to their tasks…”
…because these guys were committed to their task beyond belief (catch the irony in my drift?) The question is, “am I willing to literally go to the ends of the earth, the ends of myself, the ends of my money, and the ends of my health to tell the world a far greater story than these guys ever had?” They were committed for themselves. How much more should we be committed to and for Christ our saviour, who both made us and died for us?
It seems that often we aren’t willing to take up our cross to the end of our comfort zone let alone the awkward zone, or the down-right painful place. But the Christian life and message is totally, utterly and undeniably cross shaped. Yes, it really can be uncomfortable and rugged, but it is stunningly wild, it is life giving, it is death defying and it is deeply rewarding both in this life and the next.
The ‘biography challenge’ is always a good one for us guys on the Christian road. Next time you pick up a biography dare yourself to ask “Am I as committed to my task as this guy is to his, or do I need to get with the program once again and wake up and smell the coffee?” The great thing is that when we carry our cross, not only do we have the task in hand we also hold the way back to the program. The way back into our own true story. And that story?… well… it’s ‘only’ part of the best biography ever!
Back to the books, I guess… “That will be a double black espresso Sir Barista. Thank you.”
Alvin Davies – Chaplain/Team Manager of Jesus Saves Racing