Friday, January 21, 2022

Bike Commuting Reports: How Did They Come About

While reading Katherine Kayhoe's book Saving Us: A Climate Scientist's Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World I took my time with chapter seven, The Guilt Complex.  When I'm in a conversation about walking, bicycling, or taking public transit I often sense guilt arising in my conversation partner.  And I quickly try assuage their guilt with, "I have a van, my wife and I drive it all the time."  In all honesty, the last thing I want to do as a religious leader is make people feel guilty (I had enough of that in my early religious experiences).  

Then I read chapter seven!

In chapter seven I read this sentence, "Peer pressure is effective when there is a viable alternative."  Rather than try to take on the guilt someone else experiences because of my transit choices, provide them instead with viable transit alternatives. This seems so simple, but it was a practice I had never considered.  

In the Twin Cities walking, bicycling and taking public transit are viable alternatives.  For every situation and destination?  Nope.  But for a lot of situations and destinations: Yes.  And yet I never invite others to explore these viable alternatives, unless they specifically ask me about them.  

The morning after finishing Hayhoe's book I sat at the table, drinking coffee and listening to Cathy Wurzer give the traffic report on MPR, "there's a car fire on 35E; a semi has jackknifed; it's slow going for everyone."  Then a fully caffeinatedđź’ˇ emerged: what if MPR provided bike, walking, transit stop conditions too?  So I tweeted Cathy Wurzer:
I was blown away by both her generosity and the response on twitter.  For the record:  my normal nerdy preacher/biking tweets get one or two likes.  

The goal was two-fold: One, 'normalize' walking, bicycling, and taking public transit as transportation.  I know from my traversing all over the Twin Cities that many people walk, bike, and take public transit for work, for school, for leisure, to shop.  People get around more than just by automobile:  walkers, bicyclists and public transiters are traffic too.  The report it normalizes these forms of transit too.  Two, it shows that there are viable alternatives to the automobile in the Twin Cities, even when it is -10°.  And a little lagniappe: people enjoy them!

Kudos to Cathy Wurzer and MPR News for be open and willing to reading the bike lane reports.  

Postscript:  Since the reports started airing my twitter followers has increased exponentially, so I thought I ought to share a little about myself in the form of two pictures.  

In my mind this is how I picture myself as the pedaling pastor (that's Canon Rev. Sidney Chambers, priest/detective on the PBS show Grantchester).

and here is what it is really like to be the pedaling pastor as I park my bike outside of Judson Church:

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Some Thoughts on WV and Sen. Manchin

This article first appeared in the Star Tribune, Jan. 1, 2022 as a Commentary

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., has officially stated his opposition to President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan. His opposition opened the floodgate for the usual vitriolic stereotypes against Appalachians, best expressed by Bette Midler when she tweeted: "He [Sen. Manchin] wants us all to be just like his state, West Virginia. Poor, illiterate and strung out."

I haven't lived in my home state of West Virginia since 2002. But every time someone asks me where I'm from (apparently, I still have an accent) and I tell them, I can see the same reaction expressed by Midler.

Nevertheless, I am proud of my West Virginia heritage, my love of Tudor's Biscuit World restaurants. I cheer for any sports team or athlete or cultural figure from West Virginia (from Kathy Mattea to Bill Withers, from Katherine Johnson Day to John Nash, from Randy Moss to Renee Montgomery).

America has a long history of extracting resources from Appalachia, not only coal, gas and wood, but men for wars. America loves to take from West Virginia and Appalachia but rarely gives back in the form of investment, love or respect.

True, West Virginia receives more from the federal government than it pays in taxes, but it's nowhere near enough to reverse the decades of neglect and underinvestment. And yet, West Virginia may provide the way to Build Back Better for living in a climate-changed world — with or without the support of Manchin.

Several years ago Bill McKibben spoke at the University of Minnesota as part of his "Do the Math" environmental justice tour. Near the beginning he said, "We don't need any more institutions too big to fail, we need communities so small they'll succeed."

Everywhere along my path of life — from Richmond, Va., to Rochester, N.Y., to Lincoln, R.I., to New Orleans, Los Angeles and Minneapolis, I have met West Virginian expats like me. And when I ask them what they miss most they all say, "the people."

We don't miss the xenophobia and homophobia, the abuse and addiction, the racism and misogyny that forced many of us to flee. But we miss the people, the hospitality, the smallness, the known-ness.

In every place I've lived outside of West Virginia, it is the rare opportunity when someone has invited me to their homes for dinner, onto their front porch for conversation or into their garage for a beer. It wasn't like that in West Virginia, and still isn't when we travel back. Growing up in my hometown of St. Albans I knew my neighbors and they knew me. I was often in the homes of my football coach, my Sunday school teacher, the ancient chair of the deacon board, and all of my friends and all of my neighbors.

I've lived for nine years in Minneapolis and I still do not even know most of the people on my block.

How can we ever move forward as a nation in a climate-changed world if we don't even know our neighbors? How can we be there for one another during climate, social and cultural catastrophes that are sure to come if we don't even know who to care for?

We had a glimpse of a different possibility during the first phase of closings and lockdowns during the pandemic. Overnight Americans stopped flying, worked from home and started cooking. It seemed everyone was making a sourdough starter or growing vegetables. Neighbors began talking to neighbors because they couldn't talk to anyone else.

I experienced this even more acutely outside of the building where the funeral for George Floyd took place. In the midst of public lamentation a Somali family passed out sambusas, white students from North Dakota drove a truck full of bottled water to give away, and a family from Venezuela handed out Popsicles from their cooler. As people sobbed, hugs were exchanged; as people screamed with righteous indignation, ears were listening.

It was the closest I had felt to West Virginia hospitality in years, but then it quickly faded.

Here we are at this moment acting as if the balance and future of the world depends on Sen. Manchin's vote of approval. We've ceded too much power to one man. We've turned him into an institution too big to fail.

What we need are communities so small we'll succeed. We can Build Back Better, West Virginia-style this holiday season, by investing our time and our attention in getting to know our neighbors, building social trust.

The naysayers will complain, "We haven't got time for that kind of slow work." But what good is a perfect plan if promoted by ignorant fools?

The slow work of community is the kind of work West Virginia has been giving witness to since June 20, 1863, when it became a separate state, rejecting slavery and secession during the Civil War.

Maybe now America will hold hands with West Virginia and Appalachia, not simply extract wealth from it and make fun of it.

All to say, we can build back better without Sen. Manchin's vote.


Monday, December 20, 2021

Christmas Tales 2021: Rupert the Gnome Searches for a Home (for this poem Gnome and home rhyme)

I did not do a Sermon-in-Verse last year and even though no one asked me to do it this year, I did it anyway!

Prolegomena:  The poem this year is my homage to the late Eric Carle and his book Hermit Crab Finds a Home.  I loved (still love) reading Eric Carle books to the kids.  I loved the Eric Carle museum and the documentary on him and the joy he helped/helps/will help others discover. 

Rupert the Gnome Searches for a Home

Rupert the gnome lived a fruitful life
safe, underground and without strife.
Till the day Jolene the condo wom-an
came and changed his game pl-an
Move earth, dig down deep, deep, deep,
condos, condos, cheap, cheap, cheap

Rupert sang
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I'm begging you please dont take my home (not every line rhymes)

Rupert knew he must evacuate
a new home he must contemplate

Away in a manger
no place for a bed
the little gnome Rupert
lay down his sweet head.

But where to move that was safe and sound
someplace quiet and underground.

My new home will be a church
empty, mostly, I'll do my search.

The first church he explored was a Method-ist (1)
but gnomes like beer, they were not teetotal-ist 

Second church was a UCC
neat and orderly but not very funn-y

Off he went to an Episco-pal
but the incense left his sinuses a scan-dal

For sure the Quakers, they have big hearts
but their silence meant he could not be carefree with his farts

Then off to the beautiful Catholic
nice place, but the preacher was no Fosdick (2)

Surely, surely the Lutherans would be right
but their plates of lutefisk left made his belly uptight

All he could do was sing a Buck Owens refrain
They're gonna put me in the movies
They're gonna make a big star out of me
They'll make a film about a gnome that sad and lonely
and all I gotta do is act naturally.

Then he found the Judson congregation
maybe they would improve his situation
There were misgivings with his hunch
Baptist were mean and weird was his hunch
He sang the line from Elvis Costello a little louder
There are some things you can't cover up with lipstick and powder (3)

But the sign said something that made him feel whole
Bring Your Hopes, Bring Your Doubts, Feed Your Soul 

So he entered with much trepidation
but they welcomed Rupert without complication
We've been waiting for a gnome like yous
someone to help with these yahoos
What your name lad?
Let's get you a name tag.
More important Rupert we much inc-ur
John wants to know if you're a ten-or?
What's you skills?
Can you help us pay the bills?

But a kid stood up and shouted loud
love this gnome for who is, or he'll run to St. Cloud
Its Christmastime dont you know
with baby Jesus and God says hello
Love Rupert not for what he can do for this group
Love him to form an open loop
where his love and our love meet
where we make music with a beautiful beat

Rupert coughed and shuffled his feet
He said I got a word to entreat
There was a song I used to sing
it's by the Beatles, it has a nice ring
I and it when I drank lots of mead
you know it as Love Is All You Need
I know it's not a Christmas Carol
but we can sing it without much apparel

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need


(1) Methodist were for a long time teetotalers, not anymore but for the purpose of this rhyme I needed them to still be so.
(2) Harry Emerson Fosdick was the first pastor at Riverside Church in New York City
(3) Girls Talk

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Anne Rice & Bible Study & My Walter Brueggemann prank/joke

This morning I learned of the death of author Anne Rice.  After Bob Smietana's posted his wonderful 2006 interview with her, I read it and was reminded of how gracious Anne Rice was (and how foolish I was/am)

You see, I was pastor of a church in the uptown neighborhood of New Orleans, and although Anne Rice lived primarily in San Francisco she also had a home in the Garden District.  I did not know what she looked like, but apparently she and I coffee-ed at the same cafe from time to time.  One day out of the blue she called the church I served and left me a voice mail asking if she could lead a bible study with me at the church.  But I never called her back?

Did I dislike Anne Rice?  Nope.  Did I think her scholarship would lead the flock astray? Nope.  Was my schedule full?  Nope.  Was my ego so large that I couldn't handle having a famous person lead bible study?  Nope.  What then?

You see reader for years I played the Walter Brueggemann prank/joke on my pastor friends.  

The Walter Brueggemann prank/joke?  Yes.  Knowing that most churches in the early 2000s did not have called ids on their office phones...  I would call churches, the office staff person would answer, and I would ask to speak with the pastor.  The person would always ask, "Who is this?"  And I would say, "Walter Brueggemann."  (For those who do not know who WB is: he is an Old Testament professor and prolific author.  I would wager 98% of mainline Protestant pastors have his books on their shelves).  Then one or two responses would take place.  One, the office person would tell the pastor Walter Brueggemann was on the phone for them.  Then the pastor would answer all excited and say, "Yes Dr. Brueggemann?"  Or the person answering the phone would say, "Oh Dr. Brueggemann, we love your work.  I know Pastor X will love to speak with you."  Then repeat the first response one.  

So when I received a voice mail message from someone saying they were Anne Rice I thought for sure this was one of my friends trying to get me back for the time I did my Walter Brueggemann joke/prank on them.  Plus, why would Anne Rice want to do a bible study with me and my church; we barely had a 100 in worship on a good Sunday.  I said, "Not gonna fall for it."  

A couple weeks later a letter arrived in my mailbox, from Anne Rice.  It was a letter explaining that she had called me earlier and left a message about her desire to lead a bible study at the church I served.  The letter also contained a promo of her Christ the Lord series.  

She explained how she had done all of this research on Jesus and the Gospels and early Christianity and wanted to have a discussion with a small church about it.  

Needless to say, I contacted her immediately, but by then the window of opportunity had closed (I wasn't the only pastor she had contacted).  

All to say if Walter Brueggemann calls you...chances are it's just me, but there is a chance it really is Walter Brueggemann!



I really think #bikeshadows ought to be a thing, don't you?

Monday, December 6, 2021

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Giving Tuesday (on Wednesday) and Bicycling

Yesterday, Tuesday Nov. 30th, was #GivingTuesday.  I participated in a panel discussion for my alma mater, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (i.e. The Mothership).  You can watch it here,  

What does this have to do with biking and pastoring?  Well, it's quite easy.  You see, because we only have one car, we do not have the extra expenses of $9,282.35 if you own a new car or $3,483 if you have your car paid off. (I have an entire chapter on this in my book).  Therefore, even though we have two kids in college and modest salaries, we do have some capacity to give to organizations we care deeply about. 

I would like to be able to give more, but that is not possible at the moment.  If not for a plea by Rev. Clay Smith at the Hinton Center a number of years ago I might have not started giving at the level I do.  Clay  urged us to give to the Hinton Center and if we were short on cash then give just $1.  He said a $1 pledge is a big gift because when non-profits apply for grants or loans or participate in projects the more "pledge/giving units" they have, the better their chances.  So I started giving $1 to many organizations.  

What surprised me the most, however, was how many organizations never followed up with my gift.  Not only did they never acknowledge my gift, they never thanked me, and never asked me to give more.  


So I, largely, stopped giving beyond the church and the mothership.  Then I had coffee with J. Ron Byler (former Executive Director of the Mennonite Central Committee), he told me about an experiment he conducted one November, to withdraw $50 bills on Nov. 1 and give them away to everyone who asked until Nov. 30.  I thought it was an amazing experiment.  I tried it too, only not with $50.  

Three years ago I said I would give $20 to any organization that sent me a request for funding.  To my surprise I did not receive that many requests.  But I thought for sure the second year I would be inundated with requests.  I thought for sure I would be put on some "this sucker will give you money list."  Nope.  The second year only three organizations asked for repeat giving.  Third year, only two organization asked for a repeat gift.  

This baffles my mind, but I should've seen it coming.  I have served on the boards of several non-profits.  And fund raising/development is always a part of my work as a board member.  And I have sat in meetings where development officers say, "Only follow up with those who give $100 or above.  If you spend time and resources on those who give less than $100, you are wasting your time and resources." 

The one organization who goes against this line of thinking: Habitat for Humanity.  I receive a mailing every other month from them: some ask for money, others tell the story of how my gift is transforming lives.  It's quite a remarkable scheme.  Each year I have increased my gift to them.    

If you are able, ride a bike, save your money, pay off your debt, then start investing in your community.