Talking about bicyles

“It is the work of true education. . . to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thought.”

– Education, Chapter 1, page 17

These are the opening lines of the revealing article “It’s complicated” written by Luke Whiting in Spectrum magazine 3 weeks ago. Luke traces his life as an Adventist from a student in a small independent Adventist school, to a leader in GYC, to a pastoral position in the Michigan conference and finally to San Francisco working for a tech startup.

As I read Luke’s article it occurred to me that his story in many aspects was the story of many Adventist children. I also realised that his story could fit well within a framework that charts human interaction with ideals, animate and inanimate.

The framework is found in C. S. Lewis’s essay “Talking about Bicycles,” which was first published in Resistance in October, 1946, and later collected in Present Concerns.

Lewis begins the essay with an apparently mundane conversation:

“Talking about bicycles,” said my friend, “I have been through the

1) four ages. I can remember a time in early childhood when a bicycle meant nothing to me: it was just part of the huge meaningless background of grown-up gadgets against which life went on.

2) Then came a time when to have a bicycle, and to have learned to ride it, and to be at last spinning along on one’s own, early in the morning, under trees, in and out of the shadows, was like entering Paradise. That apparently effortless and frictionless gliding—more like swimming than any other motion, but really most like the discovery of a fifth element—that seemed to have solved the secret of life. Now one would begin to be happy.

3) But, of course, I soon reached the third period. Pedalling to and fro from school (it was one of those journeys that feel up-hill both ways) in all weathers, soon revealed the prose of cycling. The bicycle, itself, became to me what his oar is to a galley-slave.”

“But what was the fourth age?” I asked.

4) “I am in it now, or rather I am frequently in it. I have had to go back to cycling lately now that there’s no car. And the jobs I use it for are often dull enough. But again and again the mere fact of riding brings back a delicious whiff of memory. I recover the feelings of the second age. What’s more, I see how true they were—how philosophical, even. For it really is a remarkably pleasant motion. To be sure, it is not a recipe for happiness as I then thought. In that sense the second age was a mirage. But a mirage of something.”

“How do you mean?” said I.

“I mean this. Whether there is, or whether there is not, in this world or in any other, the kind of happiness which one’s first experiences of cycling seemed to promise, still, on any view, it is something to have had the idea of it. The value of the thing promised remains even if that particular promise was false—even if all possible promises of it are false.”

hillclimber-bikeLewis continues in his essay by labelling these experiences the “four ages.” He makes a compelling argument that they represent a more universal human experience. The four ages titled: Unenchantment, Enchantment, Disenchantment, and Re-enchantment

I applied this to Luke’s story, distilling what I thought was the essence of each stage and filling in obvious holes.

Unenchantment: As a child he was unenchanted, oblivious to the worldview that his parents espoused, he went to church but was not yet capable of making independent spiritual decisions.

Enhancement: As he grew up he was sent to a 40 student self-supporting institutions that did their best to follow the “blue print” – the master plan of education supposedly left to us by Ellen White. He would spend his time in bible memorisation and hymn singing, and he would preach evangelistic campaigns, knowing the 2300 day prophecy by heart. He went to southern as a nursing major and because of his work for GYC he was hired by the Michigan conference to pastor. He was living the dream.

Disenchantment: It was then that everything begun to unravel. All his ideas, his bible studies, his pad answers that had worked so well in casual meetings, began to face challenges as they came face to face with complex and broken people. He had a friend who turned his life around on a mountain and became a buddhist. He met loving people who worshiped on sunday, hard-bitten atheist who gave sacrificial to orphans and volunteered their time, a was spiritually fed by a tattooed female pastor. He soon started to wonder if he was the one confused and not them? He studied mountains of theology, but the questions kept ringing. Soon he felt that he could not in good conscience continue drawing a pay cheque from the his conference and he wrote his letter of resignation and was left paid ministry.

Re-enchantment: Luke concludes his article with this paragraph “It’s been a few years since that turbulent year in Michigan, and I’m still navigating the implications. My Facebook relationship status with the church would read “It’s complicated.” I’m learning to embrace the tension and am realising that the questions are often more important than the answers. Life is nothing if not a mystery and adventure.” – I don’t consider this re-enchantment but he is coming out of the valley of disenchantment, and charting an upward course.

Those who responded to the article in Spectrum I would classify  for the most part as being “disenchanted.” They gave Luke virtual fists bumps, and hailed him as being enlightened because the scales had dropped from eyes. They all but coronated Luke’s disenchantment, but few held out any hope of the possibility of re-enchantment with the church and the message that Luke once was enchanted with. For them enchantment was naive and immature. There were others who fought back, and labeled Luke a defector of our faith. They stood upon the hill-top of enchantment and cast stones at Luke for his weak faith and fragility in ministry.

I have friends who have experienced cycles in their spiritual life akin to Luke, I have trodden a path with similar vistas and because of that I believe that Lewis’s fourth age is a reality. Re-enchantment can happen for Adventist like Luke. We can choose to accept that we are part of an imperfect church filled with imperfect people who serve a perfect God with a glorious message. For sure, there are those who have been maimed by church politics, dragged over the coals for divergent (but non-essential) theological views. Yet, there are many noble people, and life changing organisations that exist, and in the fourth age we accept the reality that thorns are part of roses. In my fourth age renewal, I came to a deep conviction that the fulcrum of Adventist theology, namely, “God is Love” is true. If it is true then all bets are off. If I can trust the heart of God, then I can wrestle boldly with Him when I don’t understand his actions, or am wounded by his people.

Do you think that these four ages can be applied to other areas of life? Can we simultaneously experience different stages of these ages in areas of our life? Would love to hear your thoughts.