Cruisin’ for Jesus — Sort Of

There must be some form of Christianity with its own special saints: St. Harley of Davidson, Yamaha the Blessed, the Holy Honda.

In this version of the Word, Jesus and the Apostles criss-cross the Holy Land on heavyweight cruiser bikes with a Star of David on their saddlebags, They commune with the almighty through the freedom of the open road, the wind in their beards, and the rumble of their tires on those fine Roman highways.

You don’t think so? Then where do t-shirts like this come from?

Religion is cultural; sure, technically Christianity is stand-alone, but every culture adapts the standard model into a peripheral of its own spiritual mainframe.

They make a Christianity that tolerates their culture’s own foibles and vices. And a Christianity that assures them that God is On Their Side. Not on the side of those filthy Canadians, for instance. Or the vegans.

And when you mix religion and culture, everything gets confused. How does an expensive motorcycle relate to Jesus Christ? What can you do for Christ on an expensive bike that you can’t do swabbing floors in a soup kitchen?

Or is it that if you ride an expensive bike in Jesus’ name, somehow, you don’t have to swab floors in a soup kitchen.

Because Jesus wants you to ride that $20,000 Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero much more than he’d rather you bought a cheaper bike and gave the rest to the poor. Right? Even though that’s not exactly what the New Testament says.

It’s confused. And when the confusion involves an American masculine freedom totem like a motorcycle, the religion can get weird. Really weird.

Even with something as innocent as the Blessing of the Bikes. This is a non-denominational ceremony that started in New York City about 20 years ago — with bicycles. Riding a bicycle in NYC can be pretty hazardous, so a Catholic church began offering bike blessings in a once-a-year service for those brave souls who pedaled the merciless streets.

And this ceremony spread, and grew to encompass motorcycles pretty quickly. The Blessing of the Bikes happens in spring, as motorcyclists ready themselves for the long road trips of summer. What’s better than a blessing for your motorcycle, and for your personal safety?

You just show up, Believer or not — but there’s usually a lesson, maybe a short sermon, and some solemn words and gestures bestowed on each biker and their bike.

It’s a fine idea. Some churches do the blessings because their members ride, or because there’s a motorcycling community in town that they want to reach out to. Or because Pastor Chuck loves his restored 1958 Harley Panhead almost as much as Jesus. Almost.

Here’s one for a bike blessing event not organized by a church (or not only by the church), but by a motorcycle club with a couple of chapters in Central California. \Obviously a church didn’t make this t-shirt.

And then you flip the t-shirt over, and you run into this, nestled in the sponsor notices:

The star-spangled cross. Because if the motorcycle is a symbol of masculine freedom, and if masculinity equals patriotism, and if “God is on. our side….” then the Cross belongs to America. And those who believe in the Cross and believe in American supremacy are favored highest in the eyes of God.

Not everybody at that bike blessing believed that, maybe. But some did. You can see how things get tricky. And how a religious teacher becomes just another “good luck” charm.

Because the Romans thought the same — the first Christian civilization — and the Byzantines, and the Spanish, and the Germans, and the French and the British. And where are their empires now? Power wants to assert that God gave it the right to power.

It’s not holy writ; just a culture’s bias toward itself. And in America, there’s nothing more cultural than a motorcycle. On a t-shirt.