Summary: Men have sadly learned to use machines as status symbols and instruments of power, but that only leads to destruction. Learn from Him whose ride was a lowly beast and whose symbol is a cross.
I had been away from home for about three months, working in Akron, Ohio, as an engineering student. The three months were over, and it was time to go back home. I went back the way college students traveled in 1957 … not in a plane, not in a car of my own, not with my father coming to transport my stereo, my computer, and my skis along with my books and my clothes. None of that for me in 1957. I took the bus. Greyhound and I from Akron, up to Cleveland, down to Columbus, changed busses in Cincinnati, and half an eternity later, deposited in downtown Louisville.
I guess it is because the bus trip was so ghastly and so tiresome that I remember so vividly what happened next. My mother and father were waiting for me, and after we had exchanged greetings and found my luggage, they escorted me to the parking lot, where they surprised me with a brand new car with that new-car smell still in it.
No, it wasn’t for me. It was for the family. We are talking about the postman’s son in the 50’s. It was the new family car, resplendent with chrome, approximately the size of a battleship, and wearing two fins like a pair of sharks running down Broadway. Were my folks proud! And I was ecstatic, too!
I was ecstatic not only because I could ride in something more comfortable than the stale cigarette smoke of the Greyhound; ecstatic not only because I had visions of getting my hands on the wheel in a day or two; but also ecstatic because it meant that we Smiths had a new car instead of that eight-year old puddle jumper. We were keeping up with and maybe even a step ahead of the neighbors. A 57 Plymouth with fins on the fender meant status! Not a lot, maybe, as compared with the Cadillacs and Chryslers they drove in other neighborhoods, but in our neighborhood a 57 Plymouth was pretty good going.
Bigger was better, or so we thought. And it was your car that told the world who you were. Your car was your status.
Now the 50’s, bless ’em, are gone, and so, to a degree, is the bigger is better idea. In the 60’s and 70’s we even learned to say that less is more. But the association of your car with your status with stayed around. The way you travel, especially if you are the male of the species, still seems to carry a whole lot of weight. Even today men celebrate their macho machines.
Take carjacking, for example. You know what carjacking is? Someone runs up to you in the grocery store parking lot or while you are at the traffic light and forces you out of your car so that he can take off in it. It is almost always a flashy car, a muscle car, of some kind. If you drive a ten-year-old Ford Escort, you likely won’t be carjacked. In fact you could leave it at the corner of 13th and Pennsyvania Avenue with the motor running and the doors open, and they still wouldn’t steal it! If it isn’t a macho machine, they don’t want it. But watch out for men and their macho machines.
We have carjacking. And we have muscle cars. We have cars on the road whose speedometers indicate the possibility of speeds up to 150 miles an hour. That’s just criminally more than anybody needs on our highways. That’s just unnecessary muscle, designed only to let drivers show off for each other. That’s for men to show off their macho machines.
By the way, I have found out where those muscle cars are driven up to about 150. I am very sure that it is on Colesville Road every morning when I am on my way over here to the church !
Now none of this is new. None of this is peculiar to us or to our time. I am going to take you back to the year 842 BC, more than 28 centuries ago. And there, in ancient Israel, we are going to meet a man with his macho machine.
But first a word or two of caution. On this Father’s Day, this message is about men and for men; but I would suggest that women can transfer the lessons to themselves as well. There are truths here that apply to both genders. But since it is Fathers’ Day, I will be focusing pointedly on what it means to be a man, both a man and a Christian man.
And the second word of caution is that despite the word picture I am using, despite the stuff about cars ... don’t be distracted. The message isn’t about cars. The message is about how we use things ... all kinds of things .. as props. The message is about how we mask our spiritual insecurity by using things. The message is about the false strength we try to display.