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. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Pay Your Kids Not to Drive: National Walk/Bike to School Day

In 1988 License to Drive appeared on the big screens; I was 14 at the time, I thought, like most teenagers, the greatest way toward freedom was a drivers license.

Just like Corey Feldman I ditched my bike (a sunset orange 78lbs Schwinn Continental with front headlight, white plastic bike pump, under the seat basket, and clown honking horn) and started driving my father's truck (a 1983 Chevy Silverado) as soon as I could, with delight.

Foolishly, I thought I could go anywhere anytime I wanted: Myrtle Beach for the weekend (in WV this was where you vacationed), up to Williams River to trout fish, to the movies, to hang out with friends, & etc... But there were lots of holes in my theory, primarily scarcity.

In my family we only had two working vehicles, the two my parents used for work.  I could only use one of the vehicles, at most, when my parents were not working during the evenings and on the weekends.  Then there was that other aspect of scarcity: money.  Driving cost money: insurance, gas, maintenance, wear and tear; and money I did not have. Then there was that other aspect of scarcity: interpersonal - I really wasn't all that popular, I did not date in high school, I was a burgeoning introvert.

I soon discovered that driving, rather than providing me a rush of freedom, provided me with the disappointing experience of being trapped.  In just a few weeks I went from a teenager who rode his bike all over town to a licensed driver who wouldn't even think of biking, walking, or taking the bus to his destination when he did not have access to an automobile.

If I had only stayed with the bike, walked around town, and learned the bus system...

It took me twenty years to get back on a bike, but not the Continental (years ago I heard it was being used as an anchor for an ocean worthy vessel in Lake Erie).  

When my oldest progeny approached 16, I had to find a way to make bicycling, walking, and taking public transit more attractive than driving.  For the record my oldest loves to bike, walk and take public transit.  But I knew this love would not be enough to counter the onslaught of societal pressure to get a drivers license and start driving.

Pause for a moment and think how difficult this is in our culture:
-Main form of identification: drivers license.
-Class offered at school: drivers education.
-ratio of parking spots at schools for car vs bikes
-sports programs that do not have busing
-pop culture images of driving (when was the last time you saw a bike commercial on television? a teenager in a movie forgoing a car and biking instead? a song on the radio about biking or walking or taking the bus?)

I thought and thought about this, even prayed about it.  Then the idea occurred to me: why don't my lovely bride and I just pay our progeny not to drive?

But how much?

I called up my insurance agent, did some internet explorations, computed some numbers, talked it over with my lovely bride and came up with a number: $50 a month.  It was going to cost us around $50/month to add our oldest to our auto insurance (that's with multiple line, good grades, and drivers ed deductions)

Here is how it works. We pay our oldest child $50 a month not to drive a car.  We also put $20 a month on a bus card and purchased a new bike for this young adult.  It's a small investment to hold off the automobile/drivers license temptation during this time of peer pressure, cultural pressure, and out of control capitalist pressure.  Will it last forever?  Probably not, I see this young adult sometime getting a drivers license. But if we can help this person see that car ownership is not necessary for life in a city (and in college) then I think we can help this person imagine an alternative life that is healthier, cheaper, and environmentally friendlier than a car-centered one.

Did your parents ever pay you not to drive?  Did you ever ask your parents to pay you rather than put your on their auto insurance?  How do you keep the love of biking, walking and public transiting more than the desire for a license?

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The Pedaling Preacher too

Just so you know, I am taking a digital preaching class (which is fantastic). 

The instructor asked if I could whittle my sermon down to 2 minutes.  At first it sounded too difficult, but it was actually easier than I thought and kind of fun. 

But I thought of doing something a little different: preaching my two minute sermon while riding my bike.  

I recorded the mini sermon while pedaling my way to Sunday worship.  The interesting part was how much clearer my longer sermon (eight minutes) was because I had preached my shorter sermon first.  

To be honest this first version is 3:19 because I share a little bit of a conversation I had with my wife about this idea.  

Friday, August 27, 2021

Is Bicycling Slower or Faster than Driving?

The one response I hear the most from other pastors (and church-goers) when I talk about my experience as the pedaling pastor is, "That may work for you, but I don't have the time to pedal, or walk, or take the bus..."  

Which brings me to the topic of today's post: Is Bicycling Slower or Faster than Driving a Car?

Test case: Hospital Visit.

This week I pedaled to the hospital to visit a parishioner.  The distance from my house to the hospital is 5 miles, it took me approximately 30 minutes to pedal it.  I then pedaled another 5 miles to church, which took an additional 30 minutes.  To drive, it would have taken me 20 minutes, plus parking, plus visiting the parking office to get my parking validated (perk of being a clergy person), and let us not forget my CO2 contribution ($3.29 to offset it).  

From a purely time equivalent vantage point: driving was "quicker," 20 minutes of driving compared to one hour of bicycling.  But what happened during my one hour of bicycling?  

One, I burned 600 calories.  
Two, on the way to the hospital I listened to a beautiful sermon: Ezekiel's Tree by the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III  on the  Day 1 podcast (which also allows me to hear the host of Day 1, fellow WVian Rev. Peter Wallace); on the way to church, I listened to Sermon Brainwave's podcast on the lectionary texts for Sunday.  Many will say, I could have listened to those podcasts while driving.  True.  But you wouldn't have listened fully or as safely while pedaling (or walking or taking public transit).  Driving demands your full attention.  One split second when you fiddle with your phone could be a life or death decision.  On a bike path, or non/slow-trafficked road, it's not all the time life or death.  
Three, I was aware of my surroundings.  I got a feel for the new bike/ped path that crosses highway 62 and the new bike/ped path along 66th St. (see pictures below).  Because of the placement of bike parking at the hospital (only one bike rack I could find, which was 309 steps from the front door) I saw those who took the bus to the hospital and those who were struggling to get into the Emergency Room (if I had driven, I would have, literally, been above all of these interactions).
Four, I was out in the fresh air for one hour.  I heard birds, saw clouds, smelled garlic roasting and people smoking pot, felt sunshine.  

Sometimes slower is faster!

Trust in the Slow Work of God

Above all, trust in the slow work of God
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability-
and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you.
your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. (1881-1955)

when visiting the hospital, I advise you to wear a clerical collar (even if it is not your tradition).  they really grease your way around a hospital. 
here is the new approach to the bridge over highway 62.  before this was just a dirt path.

as you can see, they added an additional 18 inches of concrete on the right of the sidewalk.  This provides an amazing improvement of shared safe (and separated) pedaling/walking space.

different riding surfaces along 66th st.

bike parking 309 steps from ER entrance

(no one in the parking office, no problem for me)

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

In Praise of Dave Walker

If you don't know the name Dave Walker by now, you need to.  

Dave is a committed cyclists, a cartooned, and an active Methodist!  

I was introduced to Dave via Carlton Reid when I asked him if he knew of any clergy who were committed cyclists.  He said, "I don't think Dave is a member of the clergy.  But he is a cyclist and draws great church + cycling cartoons for the Church Times."  I immediately found Dave on Twitter, the Church Times' web page and then began a basking in his wonderfulness.

Dave, more than anyone I know, has been able to communicate the beauty, functionality, and justice of cycling and church going more than anyone I know.  Go here for a wonderful Church Times podcast (warning, the audio is a low, you'll need to turn it up), go here for a wonderful article he wrote, Off to Church on Two Wheels, for the Church Times, and go here to pre-order his book, available in the US September 7, 2021.

Also, Dave, while chatting on the podcast, gave me a great idea e-bikes for clergy.  But get this big brain idea, we call them Clerg-E-Bikes!  

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Walking, Bicycling, Public Transit and Faith Communities News Roundup: August 7, 2021.

-The Christian Century published a wonderful article by Elaine Blanchard on Revolutions Bike Co-Op.  What you may not know is that Revolutions Bike Co-Op is located in First Congregational church in Memphis, TN.  I spoke with the pastor a few years ago and talked about their creative building use and bicycling ministry.  I love this church and I love this model!  

Speaking of bikes, Minneapolis Community and Technical College is now offering a Bicycle Assembly and Repair Technician!  This coupled with the Minnesota State College Southeast Technical and Community College's in Red Wing campus Bicycle Design and Fabrication program I think I am now sending my CV to offer my commencement address services, pro bono.

-Author Angie Schmitt, author of Right of Way, was on WBUR's On Point program talking about pedestrian issues, road safety and general amazingness.  

-Metro Transit (the Twin Cities' public transit organization) is offering $1 fares for September and October as a way to entice riders back.  

I love this idea, I hope they keep it at $1 going forward.  Make transit cheaper than gas - that's the only way public transit can win!

-And I'd love it if you invested a little under an hour of your time listening to Dr. Laura Hartman, the world's authority on church parking lots & professor at Roanoke College, on the Logos(ish) podcast.  Dr. Hartman not only talks about parking lots, but beautifully explains the wonderful role of congregations to inspire and encourage community transformation.  

-Finally, do you have an old cotton mask that you are going to throw away?  DON'T.  If you can still use it, use it.  But if it has a hole in it, don't throw it away.  Instead, send it to Rev. Laura Everett, Ex. Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, she is mending them!  You may know Rev. Everett as the author of Holy Spokes.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Clergy Bike 6.0: Papa Francesco

About the same time President Biden gifted PM Johnson with the "Boris Bike" I found an old Miyata City Runner on Craigslist for $75.  I picked the bike up and rode it for two weeks without making any changes.  After two weeks I took the Boris Bike as my inspiration and turned it into Clergy Bike: Papa Francesco.

Over the years I have tried to make all my bikes into Clergy Bikes, but either they have had structural issues making them unsafe to ride or they were not the right fit. 

History (skip ahead if you desire). Version 1.0 was an old Miyata with a bent frame, I bent it back but it was never "right."  Version 2.0, my Breezer Citizen with an internal 3speed hub I bought in New Orleans - outfitted with winter tires (the winter riding was hard on this bike - tore it up, but I kept it anyway).  Version 3.0 was an old Univega Alpina but the front fork was ovalized, it lasted a season.  Version 4.0 was a Fuji touring bike, which I dearly loved, but it was a size too small.  Version 5.0 (or 2.5?) was the Breezer Citizen with a 7speed internal hub, but the bottom bracket was cracked.  As you can read, not the best of luck with these bikes.  Luckily, they were either free, really cheap and scrapped for parts, or as in the case of the Fuji I gave it to one of my kids.  When I found a Miyata City Runner on craigslist for $75 I jumped at it.  

Here is the Boris Bike:

Here is Clergy Bike 6.0: Papa Francesco:

My picture was taken in the alley and not the railroad tracks.  Why?  Have you ever ridden a bike on rail road tracks?  I have; it's extremely uncomfortable AND the railroad police will come after you - they caught me one time. 

I took the Boris Bike and tried to make it more utilitarian (front basket, fenders, bike lock, dutch style handlebars, front wheel stabilizer, and the widest seat I could find).  I love the wide range of gears (Microsoft Acolyte), the upright riding style, and the feel of the bike overall.  I'm not riding to win races, I'm riding in a Dutch-style manner "fast-walking."  

I have yet to find a picture of Pope Francis riding a bike, but I imagine this is the kind of bike he would ride around Rome (if given the chance) to the local chocolate shop...

Friday, July 30, 2021

Book Update

One step closer to publication: finalized book cover. 

Publication date: March 2022, Judson Press. 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Amtrak Joe and Bicycle Joe?

Last week US President Joe Biden met with the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.  As part of the meeting there was the exchange of symbolic diplomatic gifts.  Johnson gave Biden a high resolution photo of a mural of Frederick Douglas in Edinburgh, Scotland (which will hang in the Oval Office in the near future); Biden gave Johnson a bicycle.  

The bike has been called the #BorisBike.  It was made by the Philadelphia bicycle maker Bilkeny Cycle Works.  

I would have loved for the bike to have fenders, a chain guard, a rear rack and a front rack designed to hold either a pizza or an overpriced 4-pack of artisan beer.  Nevertheless I love this bike.  I would ride it in a heartbeat, in fact I am using this bike as the prototype for the rebuild of my commuter bike.  

Much has been made about President Biden's love of trains, thus the moniker "Amtrak Joe."  And if his administration is able to move forward on Amtrak investments and improvements then our goal of becoming less car and plane dependent will take giant leaps forward.  

But the gift of a bicycle to Johnson has me thinking, maybe he could also be called Bicycle Joe!  Biden could've easily given Johnson one of those monster electric F150s.  He could have channeled Oprah and jubilantly screamed to the British diplomats: You get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car.  
But he didn't, he gave Johnson a practical and lovely commuter bike!

This for me, is a big deal.  It shifts the culture around bicycling from recreational riding to transit/fun-centered riding.  Think of the difference between Biden's form of cycling and former Secretary of State John Kerry's form of cycling. Kerry is a real spinner, he's a lycra-dude (for the record, so am I on long rides).  Kerry's love of cycling is different than Joe's love of cycling.  

Contrast that with Biden's love of cycling.  To celebrate First Lady Jill Biden's 70th birthday (which was also World Bicycling Day), Joe and Jill went for a bike ride along a Delaware beach.  A fun bike ride, which looks like at #partypace (thanks Russ for that term).  
(photo credit: AP Photo Susan Walsh)

 And just look at those wonderful smiles on their faces!  

I am hoping we see more pictures like the one above this summer.  I can't wait to see pictures of Bicycle Nomad's Juneteenth rides in Delaware from this weekend.  I can't wait to see pictures of the All Black Juneteenth ride here in the Twin Cities.  I can't wait to see picture of kids biking around the city.  I can't wait to see more and more people biking to the store, the post office, worship, and work with those Bicycle Joe and Jill smiles on their faces.  

Friday, June 4, 2021

Walking, Biking, Public Transit and Faith Communities Weekly Roundup

I want to start off with these two beautiful finds included in the new Eugene Peterson biography, A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson, Translator of the Message.  

One, The Pedaling Pastor:

Two, Parking Requirements in the Trash:

Do you listen to program Sunday from the BBC 4?  If not, you should.  Sure it's a little Anglican heavy, but there are fantastic world "religious" stories that you do not get from anywhere else.  Last Sunday, Sunday, interviewed people who were riding the Cathedral pilgrimage route on their bikes.  

This meme has made the rounds several times on "transit-twitter", but I bet many of you in church circles have not seen this.  

I think we are treating electric vehicles as the golden calf: they ask nothing of us, no change, no sacrifice, business as usual.  I love EVs, but I think they should be talked about in a shared fashion.  Why do we all have to have one?  Why can't we share one among families/neighbors, when needed?  Why are they not marketed as helpmates of walking, biking, and public transit?  

Finally, June 3rd was World Bike Day, thanks to the United Nations.  Let us pause for a moment and reflect on the humble, perfect, non-polluting human powered machine:  

Friday, May 28, 2021

Walking, Biking, Public Transit and Faith Communities News Roundup - Memorial Day edition

 1. Last week the New York Times ran this story on Transit Chaplains.  I had no idea that Transit Chaplains were a thing.  Makes sense to me because every time a bus driver finds out I'm a clergy person (clerical collars usually give it away) they tell me all kinds of stuff.  Some of it is personal and heartbreaking, some of it is amazing and beautiful.  

2.  Minneapolis Eliminates Parking Requirements.  "The ordinance also includes an increase in bicycle parking requirements and will add new travel demand management (TDM) strategy requirements to more buildings, including every residential building with 50 or more units.

TDM options serve as incentives for developers who can offer residents free or discounted transit passes, improvements to pedestrian activity or shared vehicles for tenants. Electric vehicle chargers will be required."

Does this apply to churches/faith communities?  I hope so, more information forthcoming.   My hope is that there will be no more of these signs in front of churches! 

3.  Glad to see Mayflower UCC using their parking lot for more than just car parking.  On Saturday they opened up their parking lot as a pickup location for free compost!  On Sunday they used their parking lot for outdoor, socially distance worship.  

While I'm on the subject of Mayflower UCC, the following day a neighborhood turkey was spied perusing the parking lot.  Now I love the people, work, and mission of Mayflower UCC but I was a turkey looking for a place for my soul to call home I would look for a different church than one named Mayflower.  

4.  Finally, Tuesday marked the one year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd.  I try to go to George Floyd Square at least once a week.  The square is still closed as an automobile thruway, but it is flourishing as a shrine/pilgrimage site for racial justice and racial healing.  

5.  Update from Dr. Kyle Roberts, Dean of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities - there is indoor bike parking at the new campus

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Seminary Paradox: All (or most) are near public transit, but cars still dominate clergy/congregational life

A couple weeks ago I got on my bike and pedaled over to St. Paul to visit with Rev. Dr. Molly T. Marshall, the Interim President of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.  I wanted to welcome her to the Twin Cities and to catch up.  It was a delightful visit, and if you've ever been her presence then you know I learned many things, was gifted by her wisdom, and smiled a lot.  

This was my first visit to UTS since it moved from New Brighton to St. Paul.  The campus is located at an old Case Tractor Factory, it is a lovely new building and facility.  

I taught one class at UTS when it was located in New Brighton, the first half of the bike commute was nice, the last half - not so much.  I smiled when the former president pulled into his parking spot in a Mercedes SUV while I locked my bike up one morning (symbols matter).  The bike commute to the new St. Paul campus from south Minneapolis is a lovely ride all the way.  

Part of the reason for the move from New Brighton to St. Paul was accessibility and proximity to the urban core and public transit.  In this picture you can see that the new seminary is located 11 minutes from a light rail station, serviced by the #67 bus line, and is on a road with a bike lane (however, according to my eyes, I could not locate any bike parking on the new campus).  

Every seminary that I have attended (BTSR, no longer open, and CRCDS) took a class at (Wake Forest Divinity School, ANTS, Episcopal Divinity School, Yale Divinity School, McAfee School of Theology, or even visited (Palmer Seminary, Harvard Divinity School) sans Bethel Seminary is accessible by public transit.  But if you were like me then you attended seminary with a car and never even thought about taking public transit or riding a bike for transit.  

I do recall Jon Singletary while at BTSR one time taking out a Richmond bus schedule to figure out his travel for the day.  And during my senior year at CRCDS I did try to ride my bike to my field education site and to class.  Interestingly, there was no bike parking at the church I worked at or the divinity School.  

The given assumption or working hypothesis was/is: a car is essential for theological study and pastoral work.  

I realize seminaries are in difficult times and circumstances.  And I know they are only reflecting the dominance of car-culture that is represented in local congregational life.  And I know most seminaries do not function with a residential model (students living in the community or on campus).  And I know most students at seminaries are older, working other jobs...  And on and on.  But I still wonder about symbols: could seminary faculty and staff be encouraged to walk, bike, or take public transit?  Could seminaries have transit kiosks located on campus with maps and schedules?  Could bike share stations be on campus?  Could seminaries have Earth Day(Earth Month) celebrations where the community is encouraged to walk, bike, or take public transit for classes or to their home churches?  

Something to break the cycle and imagine anew church life that is not car-centric.  Because if something doesn't change at the seminary or denominational or local church level this (picture below) will continue to be the result: No parking in the bike lane, unless it's on a Sunday morning while people are worshipping (for the record this church does have handicap parking, off street parking, and plenty of available on street parking).  

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Incense of Movement

What does movement smell like?  You might say it smells like a combination of sweat, body odor, pot, and whatever someone just ate before they sit next to you.  Yeah, that smells about right for certain transit trips on the bus, especially if you ride a bus around 3pm and you're scrunched together with high schoolers.  

But when I think about the smell of movement, I think of it more in the area of incense.  I don't know what your experience of incenses are, I love the idea of incenses but I can't handle them.  As soon as the priest starts whirling the thurible around my sinuses erupt in protest.  

I love the idea of incense because they alert the body that worship is taking place.  Incense also alert that soul of the possibility of change: God changed God's mind because of worship via incense, Genesis 8:21, The smell of the burning offering pleased God, and he said:
Never again will I punish the earth for the sinful things its people do. All of them have evil thoughts from the time they are young, but I will never destroy everything that breathes, as I did this time).

(The Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah 64. Burnt offering. Genesis 8 v 20, 22.)

Incense also remind us of the importance of the sense of smell and the spiritual life.  I think our sense of smell is one of the most underrated of the pastoral senses.  Walk into a room that smells like urine (human or pet) and you know the person is having a difficult time.  Enter a room with fresh coffee and you know they were expecting you.  You can smell fear, you can smell joy, you can smell anxiety, you can smell sadness. 

When I move about the Twin Cities on two feet, on two wheels, or on the bus (hopefully soon again) I notice the incenses all around me.  Right now it is absolutely wonderful to take in the incense of blooming flora.  But while moving about you also pick up on the other incenses your neighbors share with you: there is one house I pass that is frequently roasting garlic, another house is always baking bread, and another house always smells like pot.  Over time, more than street signs or familiar sights it is the incense of these houses that tell me where I am in the cities.  

Over the past 11months+ I have been pedaling my bike and walking to protests and vigils and gatherings for social justice in the Twin Cities.  I think most of these occasions have been some of the most spiritual moments of my life.  I would even go so far to say I have found the events at 38th and Chicago, after the murder of George Floyd, to be the most real "church" experiences of my life.  At 38th and Chicago there has been true lamentation, real calls for justice, undoubtable expressions of solidarity, dancing, music, art and of course the aromas/the incense of food.  

At almost every event the Twin Cities Relief has been present grilling food for protestors and social justice advocates.  At almost every event Appetite for Change has been present handing out to go boxes of food for protesters and social justice advocates.  Their offering is just like Noah's offering - pleasing and soul changing. 

I wonder what church/spiritual community life would be like if faith communities and pastoral/religious leaders led with their noses?  Incenses, believe it or not, can change our ministries.  After all the savory sweet aroma changed God's mind!  

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Church Parking Lots and Protests

On Saturday (April 27th) my wife and I participated in a free boxes of food distribution in Brooklyn Center.  We were responding to the call from Twin Cities labor groups to help pass out food at Brooklyn Center High School (I wish clergy could join labor groups as allies for affiliation, kind of like Third Order Franciscans).  Since the killing of Daunte Wright many of the local food shelves and nonprofit organizations have been closed due to the nightly protests (the protests have dwindled for the moment).  

This was my first visit to Brooklyn Center since the killing.  I had watched the protests online (Unicorn Riot and Andrew Mercado provide live coverage on YouTube and Facebook).  I could not believe the amount of tear gas and pepper spray law enforcement unleashed on the protesters.  You could tell that the protests were near apartment complexes, but when I was there in person I was shocked how close they are.  I couldn't believe the massive amount of force that was trampling through a residential neighborhood.  

Late one night, around midnight I could tell the protesters were all retreating to one locale, the parking lot of Lutheran Church of the Master (Missouri Synod, if you are curious).  For the first few nights law enforcement met the protesters on the street, in front of the police station, and "moved" them away from the station.  The protesters were forced into the apartment parking lots, strip mall parking lots and into the parking lot of Lutheran Church of the Master .  

Law enforcement sought to arrest everyone who was out past curfew, but there was one location they could not pursue the protesters: the parking lot of Lutheran Church of the Master . The parking lot was, literally, "sanctuary."  A judge would not issue a warrant to arrest the protesters as long as they were on church property!  It was like a scene from the European Middle Ages: refugees fleeing from the law, entering a cathedral and declaring "SANCTUARY!"  

If you know me, you know that I am not a fan of church parking lots; especially when they are used solely as the temporary storage of cars.  But I am a fan of church parking lots that are multi-use centers. But I never thought I would witness church parking lots as sanctuary zones.   

Near 38th and Chicago, George Floyd Square, there are two churches: Worldwide Outreach for Christ (kitty-corner from the site of George Floyd's murder) and Calvary Lutheran Church (one block south of George Floyd Square). 

Over the past 300+ days both congregations have used their parking lots in ways other than the temporary storage of vehicles.  Worldwide Outreach for Christ has used their parking lot for worship services, location for public addresses or news conferences, cookouts, medical services, & etc.  Calvary Lutheran Church used their parking lot for food, clothing, and voter registration drives, gathering spot for protesters and respite.  

These parking lots will continue to be locales of importance as the three other police officers involved in the murder of George Floyd goes to trial and as the officer involved in the killing of Daunte Wright goes to trial.  It is my hope that these churches and faith communities will join the protesters in chanting, 

Whose Streets?  Our Streets!  

That streets (and parking lots) are avenues of life, not death.  

Friday, April 9, 2021

Minnesota Cathedral Bike Route

A few years ago as I prepared the pilgrimage route in Scotland and England my family would walk I kept thinking how come there are no pilgrimage routes in the United States?  

I have been working on an urban pilgrimage route from Cathedral of St. Paul (in St. Paul) to the Basilica of St Mary in Minneapolis.  I will release this route for feedback and suggestions later this summer (once herd immunity is reached - need bathroom stops, water fill ups, lunch and beer, prayer stations/guide, & etc).  

I'd also love for there to be a walking/pilgrimage trail from Minneapolis to Collegeville, MN (to St. John's Monastery).  I've mapped out a biking route for this, but you can't replace the rhythm of walking.  But the Brits have a great idea: a Cathedral Bike Route.  All 42 of England's cathedrals in a 2,000 mile loop, but they have broken down into easy loops too.

This made me think, what about a Minnesota cathedral loop?  Minnesota has plenty of cathedrals that are close to the Twin Cities (and others that are not).  Here is my idea for a 2-3 day bike packing pilgrimage route.  

Two Episcopal Cathedrals, Three Catholic Cathedrals.  This does not need to be limited to Christian cathedrals, it's just a starting point.  But I think cathedrals might be a good first step toward establishing more of a bike packing culture that is not centered on gravel biking.  

Friday, April 2, 2021

Walking, Bicycling, Public Transit & Faith Communities News Roundup

The greatest contribution this week was an article in America magazine by John W. Miller, "Meet your bicycle: the transportation incarnation of Catholic Social Teaching." It's a great article.  I read it and thought for a moment, "Did this person get a copy of my manuscript somehow? Were we separated at birth? Can we hang out?"  Pope Francis, Elly Blue, Carlton Reid + faith organizations using bikes as a means for social justice.  Read this article!  

April 1st was also the start or #30daysofbiking.  Grab your bike, pledge, ride for thirty days and share your stories via social media.  Use the above hashtag and join in on the fun.  Maybe you can be like Brett Feldman who took the challenge five years ago and never stopped...

I usually try to write a blessing for this event.  This year, I let it slip.  So here is an unofficial one for al the 30 days of biking pedalers.

May you spin, not grind
May you smile, not scowl
May your brakes grab and wheels turn true
May you be seen and may you see
May squirrels, chipmunks, crows, snakes, and dogs give way
and may you transform the world and yourself
as you emit not carbon, but love.

Yesterday, US Department of Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, caused quite a stir when he rode part way to the cabinet meeting.  

Did he ride the whole way?  No.  Does it matter?  No.  Because there have been plenty of times I have ridden partway.  The important symbol and act was that the Transportation Secretary rode a bike to the full cabinet meeting!  

That's wrap for news this week.  If you have other links and stories please send them to me.  And now for your listening pleasure, Les Bicyclettes de Belsize by Engelbert Humperdinck:

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

And on the Third Day He Rode Again...

I think the Jesus on a bicycle t-shirts with the quote "And on the third day he rode again" on them are pretty clever.  

 I need to get one for Easter 2022.  

In seminary I remember Jon Singletary one day after lunch figuring out his afternoon commute with a bus schedule.  I thought that was really cool and wanted to emulate him, but I was clueless where to start.  I could have asked Jon.  After transferring to CRCDS I lived just a few blocks from school so I walked almost everyday, then in my senior year started riding my bike, a used Motobecane road bike I bought at a yard sale for $100, to class and around the city .  However, there were no bike racks at the school, so I locked it to a tree.  I never saw another person ride a bike to divinity school.  

In fact, I never saw anyone bike to church or take the bus to church until I moved to Minneapolis.  I suppose a few people did take the streetcar in New Orleans, but not many.  But that didn't mean there were not influencers in the theological world.

One time Dr. Harvey Cox, of Harvard Divinity School, was the featured speaker at the Rhode Island Council of Churches luncheon.  For some reason I was sitting at his table, probably because I was the youngest clergy person by 30 years in the room (and the Executive Minister was a friend).  Anyway, there was a great hubbub over his arrival, he was late.  The reason?  He took the train from Cambridge to Providence.  

Theologians take public transit?   

At the table Cox explained he was late because the train was few minutes late.  Then he uttered those magic words, "I don't own a car."  And just yesterday while listening to a recording of The 1984 Lyman Beecher lectures by the late Krister Stendahl I heard him utter this request, "If anyone is going to Cambridge tomorrow, can I ride with you.  If not, I'll take the train."  New Testament scholar, Dean of the Harvard Divinity School, Bishop of Stockholm didn't drive himself from Cambridge, MA to New Haven, CT!  But this really should come as no surprise, even folks who work on cars in Cambridge, MA don't like cars. 

Which brings me to this wonderful paragraph found in the equally wonderful biography of Howard Thurman, Against the Hounds of Hell: A Life of Howard Thurman by Peter Eisenstadt, (I'll post a full review in the coming days.  This is a book I have to read slow, so I can digest it fully). 

And then there is the beautiful essay, "Taking the Train: A Theological Journey through Contemporary Los Angeles County" by Shelia Briggs in Spirit in the Cities: Searching for Soul in the Urban Landscape, edited by Kathryn Tanner (I love that you can purchase this book at Target!).  

All to say, I think these theologians are telling us something!  You can be a fecund pastor-theologian and not own a car, or drive one all the time!  It seems Jesus did pretty good without one. 😉

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Jesus Is on the Mainline/theBee(B)line/the DLine/the Blueline

I first heard the term "Mainline Protestantism" in seminary, some people now call it Oldline Protestantism.  At the time, I was just relieved my denomination, American Baptist Churches, USA, was part of the club.  I still love my denomination, but it is a pointless point whether or not we are part of the mainline club.  The origin of the term though is fascinating.  

Supposedly, Mainline Protestantism derives its name from the suburban churches along the Philadelphia Main Line, rail road line, that ran from the city center of Philadelphia to Pittsburgh via Harrisburg.  In the wealthy Philly suburbs along the Mainline were representatives of the "Seven Sisters of American Protestantism": Episcopalian, United Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, American Baptist, UCC, Disciples of Christ.  The line is now owned and operated by both SEPTA Regional Rail and Amtrak, "Keystone East." 

At one time American Christians identified themselves not by roads, but by a passenger train route.  Looking now at the "Mainline route" we see the folly of Mainline churches (wealthy communities disconnected from the urban core).  Is it any wonder all of the Seven Sisters are dropping in numbers?  {Ahem, the American Baptist Churches, USA are barely growing thanks to our thriving immigrant/refugee populations.}  

Now, there is a chance to reverse that trend: as America transitions from an auto-centric to people-centric culture I am curious if there is room for a new designation of American faith communities.  Can we once again be known for our proximity to bike lanes, walking routes (urban pilgrimage routes), and public transit? (fun fact, the Department of Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, is an Episcopalian).  

Last week while noodling around for a Dave Walker (clergy especially, if you don't know Dave's work get to know it!) cartoon I stumbled up a November 22, 2018 article written by Carlton Reid for Forbes, "Church Leaders Become Evangelists for Cycling".  I have no idea how I missed this article, it is amazing!  Warning shameless book plug approaching: How I could've used this article for my book (forthcoming in 2022)!  

The article focuses on the Diocese of Manchester's (in the U.K.) to become more environmentally conscious/active by highlighting churches along Beelines (bike lanes through the city).  
I've never broken the 10th commandment so much in my life after watching this video.  

The video made me think about churches/communities of faith along Minneapolis/St. Paul bike paths, the Greenway, the BRT (bus rapid transit) routes (A, B, C, D-Lines) and the light rail (current routes) and the expansion routes: Southwest Light Rail and especially the Bottineau (because there are several possibilities of the new route).  This video also made me wish I had taken more geography and cartography classes in college.  

The Twin Cities metro area is roughly ten times the geographical size of the Manchester diocese, but equal in population - density matters!  On the one hand, what they (Diocese of Manchester) created is out of scale for the Twin Cities.  On the other hand, with the rising popularity of e-bikes I believe their scheme is possible for this area (or your area!).  I feel like an integrated and interactive map of public transit, bike lanes, and walking routes with pins for churches would be a worthwhile project.  I wonder if I can talk a college student into making this their senior project?  

How close is your church to a bike lane?

How close if your faith community to public transit?

How close if your house of worship to a popular walking route?