September 3, 2012
“Don’t look where you don’t want to go.” My friends Libby and Bruce are teaching me how to ride a mountain bike. After many years of road biking, I gave in to their encouragement to give it a try. There are many differences between road biking and mountain biking. There are only certain places where skinny, little road bike tires will go, but mountain bikes can plow through sand, gravel, mud, underbrush, and over rocks. The primary danger in road biking is CARS and DOGS, while mountain bikers are constantly vigilant about steep hills, sharp curves, tree roots, boulders, and unexpected obstacles.
Road bikes can travel a lot faster, but you have to stay on paved roads. Mountain bikes are slower, but they can take you to places you’ll never see on a road bike. But here’s the primary difference between a road bike and a mountain bike according to Libby. “When riding a mountain bike, don’t look where you don’t want to go.” In other words, in whatever direction you allow yourself to look, your subconscious will likely steer you.
Road biking is predictable, but you can’t daydream on a mountain bike. You never know what you will encounter next, so you have to keep your eyes focused on where you want to go. If you fixate on the huge tree in front of you rather than the narrow path, you may very well crash into the tree. And if you are spooked by the sand dune ahead, you won’t have the reflexes to get into the proper gear to glide effortlessly through the sand, and you’ll probably tip over.
After failing to navigate an overgrown 2 track last week and falling into a bed of poison ivy, I said to Libby, “It’s a great mantra, ‘Don’t look where you don’t want to go.’ But it’s not as easy as one might think. In fact, it’s a great metaphor for life.”
Anyone who has struggled with addictions, compulsions, or obsessions understands the analogy perfectly. If you need to lose weight, don’t keep ice cream or potato chips in the house because you won’t be able to resist “just one bite.” If you are trying to kick the Coke habit, don’t put Coke in your grocery cart. If you can’t stop at one beer, don’t go to the bar with your friends. Either go somewhere else or find new friends. If you are attracted to pornography, block the sites on your computer, and don’t look where your heart tells you not to go.
Case in point. A few weeks ago Prince Harry found himself in a bit of hot water with the Queen and his father. Pictures were released of 27 year old naked Harry carrying on with one or more naked women during a strip billiards game in a Las Vegas hotel on August 21. Harry has always been the most fun-loving and mischievous of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s two sons. He’d gotten into trouble more than once growing up, but it seemed in the last few years that Harry was maturing into his role as third in line for the British throne. Just recently Prince Harry represented the Queen at the closing ceremonies of the Olympics and comported himself well.
Prince Harry has no doubt been told numerous times, “Don’t look where you don’t want to go. Remember who you are. You are a prince at all times, not just when you want to be. Even though Las Vegas prides itself on its slogan, ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,’ it doesn’t apply to royals. Therefore, you must be on guard at all times because there are certain things that princes just don’t do. ”
Royal aides requested that Britain’s newspaper watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission, urge British newspapers not to publish the photos. Of course, millions of people could already see the pictures online, to the great embarrassment of the royal family. Most Brits seem amused by Harry’s antics, which have endeared him to the world over the years. At the same time Harry’s family has undoubtedly instilled in him the fact that there is no such this as a public and a private royal life, especially in the 21st century. “Harry, everything that you do is subject to scrutiny, so even if your desires tempt you to get sidetracked, don’t look where you really don’t want to go.”
Prince Harry had a talking to by his father and grandma and is now safely back in the British Army where he is a captain and pilot of an Apache attack helicopter. Meanwhile, many in Las Vegas are capitalizing on this incident of indecent exposure by attempting to increase their own exposure.
Lest you think that Prince Harry’s royal woes don’t apply to you, 1 Peter chapter 2 gives us some sobering advice, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people in order that you proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The Haller edition of my Bible also adds these words, “Don’t look where you don’t want to go. Think before you act in a way that would disappoint God. Don’t for a minute assume that others are not looking to you as an example and model of a Christ-like life.”
All clergy know that they are role models, set apart for the professional ministry. We receive formal training on boundary setting, sexual ethics, pornography, and responsible use of technology. Less clear are guidelines governing smoking, swearing, spending habits, alcohol consumption, and misuse of prescription drugs.
We constantly struggle with what it means to be human and clergy at the same time, to be holy when we know that we can never be perfect, to have both a private and a public life, and to be an example at the same time as we don’t always get it right. Perhaps the best advice for clergy is, “Don’t look where you don’t want to go. Make sure to hold yourself accountable to a spiritual director, covenant group, or other support group. Stay calm, repent, and ask for forgiveness, and carry on as changed people.”
The apostle Peter’s words were not simply meant for clergy, however. They are addressed to all who attempt to live as faithful disciples and represent Christ. One of the primary reasons that young people today are turned off by the church is their perception of Christians as poor examples: aka hypocrites.
- We say one thing and do another
- We proclaim grace but withhold that very grace from those who do not think like us
- We advocate for peace and justice at the same time as we fail to demonstrate inclusivity in our churches around gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, sexual orientation, religion, and handicapping conditions
- We have big ideas about transforming the world but resist transformation in our local churches and denomination as well as in our own spiritual lives
- We tout the fruits of the spirit but when push comes to shove in our local churches, we turn our eyes away from Jesus and resort to power plays, name-calling, criticism, pressuring, clutching, and quenching the Spirit
The solution? It’s quite simple. Get naked, but not exactly like Prince Harry got naked. Allow God to penetrate your hard exterior and expose yourself for who you are, with all your flaws, fears, and phobias. Admit both your vulnerability in wanting to look where you don’t want to go and your inability to resist temptation on your own.
Recognize where God is not leading you, and don’t focus on what will lead you astray. Then discern where God is calling you to go, and get on your mountain bike and move. Leave your road bike behind because the kingdom road is not smooth. The way of the cross is full of hazards, bumps and bruises, low hanging trees, and huge roots, but there is no other path I’d rather take.
Don’t look where you don’t want to go, keep calm, and carry on. That means you, too, Harry!