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Dust to Glory

My father is a race car driver.  He loves cars, and especially loves racing them.  He has raced bikes, go-carts, R/C cars, quarter-scale, late models, stocks, modifieds, sprints, migets and soap box.  If it has wheels and can be run, he will race it.  Growing up he invited me into this world.  I grew up at the track.  Every Friday and Saturday night we found ourselves at the local dirt track.  I can still smell the popcorn, the mud, the smoldering oil and burnt rubber.  I can see the racing the oval rubbing my dust filled eyes.  I hear the roar of the multitude of engines, and I still taste the dust.  My dad involved me in all of it, and he had high hopes for me.  I tried to ride and drive, but I was too scared, too timid for the speed and the edge required of a driver.  I just didn’t love it like dad did and does.  But if there was a love or at least a  romantic impulse, a muffled desire or muted longing it was for this mystical race called Baja.  My dad would speak of it, often but I never saw it, because it wasn’t on TV.  I remember cheering for Rick Mears at Indy, but Ivan Stewart and the Baja, no visual moving pictures to inspire.  I mean I saw snap shots in the racing magazines dad subscribed too, but that was it – only still pics.  This left room for my imagination and my dreams.  And I had the words of my dad.  He would talk about this 1000 mile race that went all day and through the night.

It happened in Mexico – Baja, California.  The men who drove in it had a dedication and drive that made the nascar and indy car drives quake in their comfortable seats.  Sure those guys went faster, but it is kinda like the glory of the dragster verses nascar.  Dragsters go fast, but only go for a few seconds, whereas the Indy car and the Nascar drivers go 500 miles.  Well, at Baja they go fast, and they go long – 1000 miles – 15 to 20 plus hours.  It is off-road, not pristine tracks with angled turns, rather it is a race with twists and turns, ups and downs, pits of dust and mud, cacti and 1000’s of loyal fans who line the dust-filled roads just a few feet off the course taking their lives in their own hands as they watch.  It is staged over the course of a full day, and there is driving at night.  There are no street lights and no pit roads with comfy RV’s.   Only a few lights on a cab or helmet to guide.  There are motorcycles, ATV’s, dune buggies, trucks, and VW bugs.  The motorcycles are the fastest and the unmodified bugs are the slowest, but the event is marked not just by speed but also by those who finish.  In fact there isn’t  even huge prize money, no million dollar purses, and there isn’t any big-time trophies.  What is there is glory.  The glory that comes with enduring till the end in a grueling and challenging race that risks life and limb of both contestant and spectator.  One racer called the race spiritual, mystical.  Another says in one day you experience everything, great and terrible and it is how you deal with them at the end of the night – it’s like life.

I spent part of my night last night watching a documentary called, “Dust to Glory,” which documented this great race that is a microcosim of this thing called life.  One such story is that of a driver named Mouse McCoy.  McCoy is an accomplished motorcycle driver.  He has driven motocross since a boy and has both left the thing he loved, abandoning it in burn-out only to return once again to the well, seeking joy and sustenance from it one more time.  He and his team decided they would attempt to become the first motorcycle driver to ride the whole 1000 miles alone.  You see Baja is a team race.  It takes a dedicated team of mechanics, sponsors and spotters to get the drivers to cross that finish line, but it also takes multiple drivers.  I mean seriously, I am exhausted after a 10 hour day of driving the comfy asphalt of the interstate in my smooth riding, air-conditioned, cruise-controled mini-van.  Imagine a 1000 mile 15 plus hour day of physical beating, stress of racing, burden of taking your life in your hands so to speak at every turn and the pressure of the expectations of a team of friends, workers and sponsors who have put their livelihood into your effort.  That makes for a pretty exhausting day.  Well, Mouse starts early and halfway through is in like 10th place.  He is mostly delirious, seriously he sounds half drunk through most of the commentary, but this is the stress and burden of the ride.  He manages to make up 7 or so spots in the next 400 plus miles.  He passes the 3rd place cycle and is only 60 miles from the finish line.  His wrists are numb, his mind is loopy, his bike is battered and his team is amazed, but 60 miles out he wrecks.  This is Baja.  It can jump up and bite you at any moment and leave you shipwrecked on the side of road, beaten and bloody.  Mouse has broken ribs, a separated shoulder, a broken bike (no lights- and it is the middle of the night), and is still as mentally exhausted as ever.   Will he finish?  Or will he be disqualified, out of the running?  Well, another rider, comes by and discovers Mouse, while his team is frantically scouring the back roads of Mexico outside Ensenada hoping to find him alive and well.  This rider stops helps Mouse back onto his bike and together with this rider’s lone light they ride to the finish.  But they don’t just ride.  They don’t coast it in.  They could, right?  I mean Mouse is broken.  He deserves to take it easy.  He will still be the first to finish the ride all by his lonesome.  Nope these two ride driving over 100 mph, and race to the finish.  One driver sacrificing for another to get him to the finish line, racing the both of them together all the way in.  I mean you can’t write better poetry.  And you can’t have a better parable of the Christian life, so to speak.

We are in a race like the Baja 1000.  The race is like life, and it is full of treachery, danger, adventure and intrigue.  It is painful and frustrating.  It is full of good and bad, beauty and ugliness, ecstasy and pain.  We too ride alone but as a team.  We need this team, depend on this team and in reality we race together.  We too falter, fail, fumble and fall.  We also race for glory.  Now, we can take this parable to one extreme and make it rich with rugged American individualism.  Right, every many must race alone and finish alone.  It is all on you.  We can even make it spiritual.  Only your decision for Christ will last.  Sound familiar.  We only finish when we chose this day who we will serve.   We can take it to another extreme of that of extreme dedication, hard work and determination.  Right, we fight the elements of life and we work hard, do our best and we finish that race.  It sounds Christian.  We even add “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” meaning I can do it if I work hard, pray hard and just believe that I can do it.  Christ name is attached, but Jesus is largely absents.  We do this so well.  We mix our metaphors and confuse our stories.  We think that if we work hard enough or long enough or if we just keep getting up when knocked down then we will finish this race of life and God will look down and say, Well done faithful servant, and based on our meritorious, boy scoutish way, we will earn the Lord’s good favor by finishing strong, racing till the end, helping a brother out.  To be certain there are glimmers of truth in these views, but the real parable is that of us staggering our way down the dusty road of life, trying and failing, fluttering and falting, dizzily wallowing about on the road.  We are discombobulated like Mouse.  We are broken down like Mouse.  We are lost like Mouse, but then comes a lone rider who amazingly can finish the race alone, one who can make it all the way, and in reality He isn’t alone at all, in fact He is following every action of His Father and is being upheld by the Spirit.  He is racing as a team, and amazingly He invites us in and by His finishing the race, by His record and by His sacrifice kinda like the rider who helped Mouse, in Him we are saved.  In union with Him, we finish, because He finished.  When He screamed those words on the cross, and when God vindicated Him by resurrecting Him from the grave, the race was won.  We still race, all do, but in Him and only in Him do we finish.  Not by attaching Him to our small stories, but by being united with Him and in Him to His work, do we finish.  And through this union then, we are able to get up and finish, because He finished, not just as our example, but also as our actual advocate and finisher.  And it is in union with Him that we race for the only glory that will last, glory not to us and our efforts, but glory to the only one who finishes, the only one who carries us, the one who lasts, the only one who is really worthy, Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.

“Dust to Glory” concludes with the following quote, “1000 miles in 32 hours can be a lifetime in a blink, do they find glory?  I couldn’t say, because the race never ends.  But if they do it is in the dust and it won’t wash away.”  The Scripture often speaks of us as dust, indicating how common we are, how dependent, and in truth our racing and striving do end, and as for glory, it can be had but only by being united to Christ, racing with HIm, through Him, by Him, in Him…for from Him, through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever.  Amen”  You see He gets the glory, because He is worthy to receive it, and in union with Him we too share in this glory, this glory that we desperately seek is received only when it is given away to the only one who actually earned it.

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Here is the recount of the martyrdom of the church father Polycarp as told in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs:

Hearing his captors had arrived one evening, Polycarp left his bed to welcome them, ordered a meal prepared for them, and then asked for an hour alone to pray. The soldiers were so impressed by Polycarp’s advanced age and composure that they began to wonder why they had been sent to take him, but as soon as he had finished his prayers, they put him on a donkey and brought him to the city. Brought before the tribunal and the crowd, Polycarp refused to deny Christ, although the proconsul begged him to ‘consider yourself and have pity on your great age. Reproach Christ and I will release you.’

Polycarp replied, ‘Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He has never once wronged me. How can I blaspheme my King, who saved me?’ Threatened with wild beasts and fire, Polycarp stood his ground. ‘What are you waiting for? Do whatever you please.’ The crowd demanded Polycarp’s death, gathering wood for the fire and preparing to tie him to the stake. ‘Leave me,’ he said. ‘He who will give me strength to sustain the fire will help me not to flinch from the pile.’ So they bound him but didn’t nail him to the stake.

As soon as Polycarp finished his prayer, the fire was lit, but it leaped up around him, leaving him unburned, until the people convinced a soldier to plunge a sword into him. When he did, so much blood gushed out that the fire was extinguished. The soldiers then placed his body into a fire and burned it to ashes, which some Christians later gathered up and buried properly.

(Tullian)

What an incredible account.  I am reminded that the call of the Christian and the path to true spirituality is a path of death.  Death to self, death to stuff, death to wants, death to reputation, death to rights.  Francis Schaeffer calls this a hard wall, that we must bump into on journey with Jesus.  This is a great picture of the faithfulness of an old saint who practiced dying to his self daily, and thus when the time came to give up his life, it was the final expression of the regular practice of a Christian disciple.