Check Under the Hood

“To tell the men from the boys, check the price of their toys!” 

I motored into the shiny, new Quik Trip the other day with ulterior motives.

Disguising my true intentions with a generous offering to the pump gods, I looked both ways to make sure the coast was clear and hustled inside to fill up my tummy tank with junk food. A small voice inside persuaded me I needed chocolate.

Quik Trip is nobody’s fool. They just pretend to be a gas station. They disguise their true intentions by baiting vulnerable consumers with petroleum a cent cheaper than the Exxon-Mobil-Chevron-Phillip’s 66-House of Facade merger across the street. They make their money on candy, beer, and imitation burritos. Their goal is to get you and your wallet inside.

I love to shop for staples at Quik Trip. They sell more candy than my childhood “Five and Dime.” And it’s all so neat and clean and enticing. I don’t mind paying seventy-nine cents for a nickel candy bar if the presentation is pleasant. I feel the extra cost is justified by the privilege of looking.

Nobody should window-shop for free. We need to pay as we go. Eye candy comes with a price.

Growing up poor in the country, I used to cherish the day Montgomery Ward mailed their Christmas catalogue. My sister and I used to flip pages by the hour circling stuff we wanted. Even though we knew there was no money to buy anything, it was fun to lust over the stuff. We used to shop for free.

Discipline lessons learned as a child allow me to spend a few rainy Saturday afternoons a year at the Love Field Antique Mall window-shopping back in the warehouse where the vintage cars are displayed. I don’t go there to buy, but to look and lust. Sometimes I need a sugar fix; sometimes I need a chrome fix. Sometimes I need real chocolate; sometimes I need nothing more than eye candy.

If the merchants knew my true intentions, they would charge admission. Since they don’t, I buy a cheap trinket on the way out. It salves my conscience and rings their till.

I love to look at old cars. I love their lines. I love their knobs. I love their curves. I love their humps and bumps.

And I love their stories.

I stop and read every description and every history. I love good restoration stories, even though they are all nearly identical: “Rebuilt over twenty arduous years; seventy-nine thousand dollars invested; sell today for $9,500.”

Hey, nobody rebuilds an old car because it’s easy or fiscally responsible. A restorer’s true intentions are to create something so fine that other male baby boomers will lust over it.

I know. I’ve done it. Years ago I traded a forklift for a 1954 Ford Victoria “Skyliner” with great possibilities (or so I told my wife).

The first ten thousand dollars just kind of disappeared. The second installment paid for a mechanic’s lake house. The body and paint man still owns the title to my first-born son.

I ran out of money before I got to the engine. It needed lots of work. Sandra persuaded me that shoes for the boys and bread on the table amounted to a better investment. I might have dissented against the majority opinion had the suitcases not relocated next to the door. One of us had to go.

I traded my half-baked Ford to a covetous peer with a sheltered wife. I’m hoping that someday she will speak to me again. I meant no harm.

Restoration remains a fine and noble effort; it’s just not very useful if you run out of money or energy before you rebuild the engine.

I’m encouraged about the fine restoration work currently underway in many of America’s “first-ring” suburbs. Weathered storefronts are getting face lifts  School bond packages are passing. Streets are being widened and even an occasional bicycle lane gets a share of the new asphalt. Developers and City Planners are preaching and practicing sustainability. The cities’ lines and curves are being hand polished with love.

Things look better on the surface, but I’m a little nervous that the new paint job is a cheap cover for a multitude of sins lurking beneath the thin veneer. Are we spending too much time on cosmetic issues and ignoring the most pressing need – a rebuilt engine?

What’s going on under the hood?

I’m convinced a communities’ most important asset is its spiritual health. Spiritual energy drives suburban renewal. God alone gives new life. He sponsors revival.

Sometimes we are duped into thinking that putty and paint finish a project. Wrong. Looking good is only part of the equation. Being good, doing good, trusting good, and following the only One Who is good remain the best route to restoration. Just as a vintage auto is only as good as its engine, so a community is only as good as its power source.

I’m pleading for community renewal that prioritizes genuine spiritual revival. We need to rebuild our inner selves before investing in paint and putty. It’s what’s under the hood that matters!

Not long ago – about the time b.c. yielded to a.d. – the Great Restorer walked the tired streets of Jerusalem preaching the kingdom of God was at hand and admonishing folks to rebuild their hearts. God came from heaven to earth to launch a new life in His Spirit. He discounted the cosmetic quackery of the Pharisees and demanded authentic repentance and renewal. He invited the weary and worn-out to join Him. He promised new life.

The Great Restorer still invites and still promises – and still delivers! He is still the author of genuine renewal.

What makes Jesus’ plan for the suburbs superior is His insistence that we put first things first and start under the hood. In a world that honors cosmetics over substance, Jesus calls us to a greater depth of character and faith and to a power greater than ourselves.

My fellow Suburbanites, don’t settle for a cheap imitation of true renewal. Rebuild from the inside out.