Jesus and the Art of Automobile Maintenance
His unreliable Ford helped Gordon MacDonald understand brokenness.

Leadership's editor-at-large, Gordon MacDonald, is back with further reflections on life and faith. This time he addresses the nature of spiritual brokenness - a truth incarnated by his temperamental 1950 Ford. (Sorry, I have a weakness for bad puns.)

My first car was an 8-year old 1950 Ford (stick shift on the steering column) purchased for $200. Its mileage was north of 100,000. To call it a lemon is not an exaggeration. The starting motor was a fifty-percenter, meaning frequent pushes. The radiator leaked like a sieve. The fuel gauge was accurate to the nearest 25 gallons. The engine drank a quart of oil every 200 miles. The tires were bald, and the muffler was absent without leave.

On cold winter nights, I had to park the Ford at the crest of a hill near my college apartment and drain the water from radiator to prevent a freeze-up. In the morning I would refill the radiator, nudge the car downhill, release the clutch and hope that the engine would leap into life. No amount of prayer seemed to directly affect the success of this process.

I used to imagine that the Ford talked to itself when it saw me coming. "Looks like he's in a hurry today. I'll slow ?em down." Or, "he looks like he's dressed for a date. Probably wants to impress a pretty girl. He's toast." I tell you, it was not hard to believe that the Ford despised me.

The Ford was, in a word, broken, and I had to accept its mechanical eccentricities as a normal part of my life. I couldn't fix it because I wasn't a mechanic, and I couldn't afford someone who was. Add to that my suspicion that the Ford didn't want to be fixed because its brokenness gave it a strange kind of "control" over me.

Today, decades later, I drive a relatively new vehicle (a Suburu Outback). Every time I turn the ignition key and the Outback starts, I am freshly surprised because I still (to this day!) instinctively anticipate the "click" of a balky starting motor. I believe that, unlike the Ford, the Outback likes me and thinks nice things when it sees me coming. It appears committed to my happiness.

Nevertheless, if I had to liken myself to a car, I'd have to identify with the broken Ford and less the friendly Suburu (this side of Heaven anyway). I know I'm supposed to say that I'm a sinner (because I am), but it's more helpful to me to regard myself as broken - a person far, far less functional than God designed me to be and in possession of the same rebellious spirit I once imagined to be in the Ford.

Perhaps we are all like broken Fords who sometimes start and sometimes don't, who may make it to an intended destination but, then again, maybe not. We'd like to appear as if we just came from the showroom. But the truth is that most of the time, we deserve to be towed to the junk yard.

April 03, 2007