The top picture shows the starting handle on a 1913 Jowett car. Some 95 years on its equivalent on my 2008 Mini is shown below. This is about as different as different gets. One method of starting the engine requires brute force and physically cranking it into life, the other relies on electronics and a highly complex engine management computer and the merest push on a button to get ignition. One is all about comfort, convenience and effortless reliability, the other is hands-on, hands-dirty and take nothing for granted. And it is the question of which one better represents my approach to faith which troubles me.
When I learned to drive cars could still be serviced at home if you had the tools and the practical ability to do it. There were routine jobs such as spark plugs to clean and gap, points to set, the carburettor to clean and the ignition timing to check and retard or advance as needs be, if running was rough. The battery needed topping up with distilled water. Nowadays the key fob on the Mini downloads to the technicians computer at the garage a whole host of data about the vehicle and a dashboard display tells me when the car will need to be serviced. Everything is computerised. The trial and error days of ear and eye seem to be long gone.
I am detached and deskilled in a way that was simply not true thirty years ago. The hands-on element to so much in life has diminished to the degree that we just don’t expect to get our hands dirty any more. We don’t even need to know how things work. ‘No user serviceable parts’ is a familiar warning on many bits of household electrical and electronic kit. And if that is the way that faith-expectation is going I think we are in trouble. The gospel is hands-on, making an effort, uncomfortable and demanding of us. ‘Sitting comfortably and pressing a button’ as an approach to faith is spiritual anathema as far as my reading of the Bible is concerned. In this respect the 1913 Jowett is far closer to the reality of how faith is to be lived and experienced. Nothing except the unconditional love of God is to be taken for granted. Everything else requires constant attention and fettling and a real hands-on approach. Soul work is dirty work. Transforming an unjust world requires real effort and commitment. It just isn’t going to happen at the push of a button. It takes blood, sweat and tears.
Jesus was hands-on. Why should it be any different for us?