Last Saturday/Sunday night, my cousin who was visiting from San Fransisco and some ministry friends of mine got together to participate in the L.A.T.E ride for Friends of the Parks. Basically, it’s a 25-mile midnight bike ride in downtown Chicago through neighborhoods like Greektown, Wicker Park, Humboldt Park and the Lake Shore area. 10,000 bikers came out at 11pm, and the ride started around midnight to 1 am. When all was said and done, I got home at 5 am, just as the sun was about to peek over the horizon!
The event stands out to me for several reasons. First, not only was it the latest I had been up for a while, but it was definitely the latest that I had been out in the city ever. I was reminded of what a different world the city was as we were driving in around 11:30 pm and I saw tons of people walking around looking for the next place to go.
Second, it was a spontaneous activity with two good friends. It was refreshing to be able to just hang with some ministry colleagues who are friends, not just associates. This kind of memory-making is so rare, and I was grateful to my wife to have permission to share this with my beloved cousin as well as two friends.
On another note, as we were biking through the city, I was reminded of the kind of values and culture that drives night life in the city. There were so many people bar crawling and looking for the next good time. On several occasions, we biked passed people who were clearly wasted, and I’ll never forget the countenance of one of the girls. Her face was blank and her eyes were zoned out. She obviously had too much to drink and was not in control of her own faculties. What hit me the hardest was how inhuman she seemed to be. I have no idea who she is or what she does, but I know that she must have creative potential, social capital, and dignity as an image-bearer. However, she exhibited none of that in her drunken stupor. She was like an animal unable to even communicate with her fellow humans (who happened to be on bikes).
I was deeply affected by this because of some of the reading that I have been doing as of late. I’ve been working through N.T. Wright’s book, “After You Believe,” (review forthcoming), and one of the things he says is that the formation of character and the instilling of virtue into the human soul is actually part and parcel of the process of becoming human. That is, it forms the process of becoming the kind of image-bearing, royal priests that we were created to be. When we are mastered by anything else, we become dehumanized, and this woman in her drunkenness showed me a picture of that. Who knows how she got where she was or even why? With all the compassion in my heart, I saw an image bearer who, I’m sure even to herself, would be ashamed and embarassed about the hours she spent in the twilight of Sunday morning as less-than-human.
I guess sin does that. Sin masters us by taking our cravings and making them have the final say. Sin robs us of our dignity and does so in the most undignifying way – by causing our own self-destruction. To paraphrase the Puritan pastor John Owen, sin always wants to take us to the furthest extreme.
At the end of the ride, I sat on the sidewalk and just looked at my friends. Our relationships operate on a different scale than the bar-hoppers we rode past. Our idea of pleasure and enjoyment have different measures than the drunkards pleading to try and get in the next club. I was reminded of what I am called to as a minister of the Gospel. My commission is not to just warn people to avoid that lifestyle. It’s to rescue people from that kind of meaningless, fruitless search – to show that there is a way to be fully human that isn’t fearful, dangerous, and can actually be accomplished!
Now that’s good news.