Book Review: “Miracle Motors—A Pert Near True Story"

Some people go to the woods or the mountains to encounter the Divine. They seek the quiet to listen for the “still, small voice.” Peggy Senger Morrison, though, has some of her best conversations with God while driving a Kawasaki motorcycle named Rosie. She writes about them and other adventures in her new book, Miracle Motors - A Pert Near True Story.

This is a story of an unmediated relationship with God, writes Peggy, a Quaker preacher, teacher, and trauma healer. She’s also a storyteller who took some cues from a Cowboy Poet who spoke in Quaker meeting from time to time.

When he spoke, he stuck to the point and spoke what God put on his heart, and then sat down. He did tell stories—good ones. One time, after meeting, I asked him if the rather fantastical story he had told was true. His answer was, “Pert near.” I laughed and asked him to explain pert near true.

“Pert near true is a story that has so much truth to it, that it doesn’t really matter whether it happened or not.”

The Cowboy Poet’s philosophy helped Peggy see the “Quaker thing about truthfulness” in a new way, and, she writes, it …solved so many problems for her as a storyteller.

Miracle Motors started as a motorcycle travelogue nearly fifteen years ago; now it’s a collection of stories loaded with truth.  Peggy writes: It may be disguised as a memoir, but it is really a post-modern narrative theology. It is everything that I know by direct experience with God.  It has more in common with the journals of the first Quakers and the confessions of old Catholics than it does with the systematic theologies of modern scholars. It also has more motorcycles.

You feel like you’re winding along highways and back roads in Oregon and California with Peggy (and Rosie) as she unfolds story after story of her childhood in Chicago, earning a degree in counseling with a minor in pastoral ministry, her trip to a Holiness Women’s Clergy convention in Texas, and her early years as a Quaker minister. Peggy also writes plenty about Quakerism, the Bible, Jesus, and how all of these inform her actions.

But while Peggy is a preacher, I never felt “preached at.” Rather, her stories—like this one about her conversation with a truck-driver— made me think, and smile.

“So, watcha do when you aren’t ridin?”

“I’m a Quaker preacher.” This always stops them for a moment…

“So, what are y’all about?”

“Oh, you know, the standard Jesus stuff—being good to folks even when they aren’t good to you, taking care of the poor, keeping it simple, telling it like it is, not letting anything get between you and God.”

“Hunh.”

That has to be one of the most succinct descriptions of the Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, and equality.

Peggy’s adventures on the open road are rich in metaphors for life’s unexpected turns. One of those for her came with her first meeting of an African Quaker named David Niyonzima, a trauma healer in the Central African nation of Burundi.

While we were talking, I had a bit of a God moment, a clear but quiet voice ringing up from down inside me someplace… Quakers call this voice The Present Christ. It’s okay with me if you think we are delusional.  So the Voice said, “Do whatever this man asks of you.”

What David asked of Peggy was to teach him about trauma healing… and ultimately to travel to Burundi to help with his work there to train others in this approach. In 2003, Peggy left for the first of three trips to Central Africa, and the second half of the book includes stories of her experiences there.  More than a few involve motorcycles.

It will be no surprise to readers that Peggy returned from Africa, with, as she says, fresh eyes.

I came back with a passion for healing and for finding ways of escape through the barriers, obstacle courses, and mine fields that we use to keep people apart.

Those fresh eyes looked deeply at the schisms within Quakerism and the vision she and her partner, Alivia, shared for this faith:  something truly Quaker, and truly inclusive, and deeply Christ-centered. An oasis community where people could rest and recharge for whatever good work they did the rest of the time. Maybe even a church, not one that existed for its own sake, but one whose only purpose was to make some room for Mercy and Goodness.”

The closing chapters of Peggy’s memoir wind back and forth between another trip to Africa in 2010 and bike rides in the Western U.S., including a few stories about Freedom Friends Church that she and Alivia started in Salem, OR. Peggy finds parallels between group motorcycle rides and pastoral leadership.

Quaker pastors tend to ride sweep. The group itself sets the pace, the pastor watches and listens, to lend aid to anyone who falls or breaks down. A pastor should carry a tool kit.

Whether you’re a Quaker in the unprogrammed or the pastoral tradition, or someone seeking in other ways, Peggy’s “pert near true” stories will take you along on her spiritual journey. They’re also good ones to keep in your spiritual tool kit.

 

Miracle Motors is available through independent booksellers or online at unction.org.

 

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