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?  

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A Service of Lament

Normally on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Judson Church offers a series of ritual stations throughout the congregation: a candle lighting station, a water station (bowl of water with a towel), a labyrinth station, a meditation station, or you can remain in your pew for a read a Lenten reflection.  It's a neat service.  But this year we couldn't offer that.  So we developed a worship service of lament.  We asked all those who listen to become a psalmist.  

I interviewed a colleague, Rev. Dr. Kent Berghuis, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dayton, OH to talk about a psalm he wrote after a life situation.  He shared this idea with a group he and I are a part of a few years ago.  Since then I have suggested to people when they come to me for spiritual direction or pastoral counseling that they too write their own psalm (psalm of lament, psalm of praise, psalm of boredom, you name it...).  

Also, Carolyn Kolovitz, Judson's Children and Youth Coordinator, leads us in a guided meditation of writing a psalm of lament.  Carolyn is also a spiritual director!  

Enjoy (well, lament is not actually something you enjoy - but it can guide you onto the path of joy)

Friday, March 19, 2021

Friday News Roundup for Walking, Biking, Public Transit and Faith Communities

This week most of the news was big picture kind of stuff.  Pete Buttigieg and Janette Sadik-Kahn talking about cities and transportation justice (below), start at the 1:45 mark.

Farhad Mango writing in the New York Times about both the importance of buses and flying less.  

But my favorite news item this week was the announcement of a Trail Chaplain for the Appalachian Trail.  

For the song of the week: Thank God and Greyhound by Roy Clark: 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Saint Maybe: The Novel for a People-Centric Church

In the beginning pages of his autobiography, Pastor, Eugene Peterson uses the title from Anne Tyler's book Saint Maybe as a bridge for his vocation: Pastor Maybe. I read Pastor too quick the first time to pay much attention to the novel, but during my second reading I took notice.  

I finished the novel and I implore you to read it.  There are many fabulous reasons why I loved this novel: the title, the Church of the Second Chance, the role of hymns and prayers, a serious attempt to make amends (not just repentance and reconciliation but repair!), and the hard work of community.  But this novel may be the novel for a church that relies more on walking, bicycling, and taking public transit.  Yes, some of the characters have cars, but not all of them.  In fact, the main family shares one car.  Yes, some have driver's licenses, but not all of them.  

Anne Tyler uses the time the characters walk to church or bicycle in the neighborhood or take the bus across town as key elements to move the plot and develop characters.  Yes, there are scenes important scenes in cars, but not many; the novel is not auto-centric.  

For me this novel reveals what a people-centric church looks like, rather than a car-centric.  Cars are still needed and relevant, but they are not primary.  The primary means of transit are walking, bicycling, and public transit.  Also, this novel reveals the tough work of forgiveness; transforming from car-centric to people-centric is not going to be easy!  

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

One Year: Going Toward the Pain

On March 14, 2021 Judson Memorial Baptist Church marked one year since we suspended in-person worship services.  It was a helluva year.  For my sermon I told the story of the transformation that took place this past year.  

Friday, March 12, 2021

Walking, Biking, Public Transit and Faith Communities News Roundup for the Week

As an introvert I spend an unnecessary large portion of time in my head.  I read articles and think everyone else read them too.  It's kind of like for years I would never repeat a story or reference in my sermons, I thought for sure someone would call me out for it.  Then it occurred to me that I was operating under the supposition that everyone was actually paying full attention to every word I said (little splash of ego goes a long way).  Therefore, in an effort to share some of the things I discover through the week: a weekly roundup of news of walking, biking, and public transit and churches.

A. I've been captivated by the Karl Vaters article, "Will the Congregation Come Back?"  He says to focus on that question is the wrong one, instead we need to ask these six questions: 
1.  Have we represented Jesus well during the lockdown?
2.  Are we representing Jesus well coming out of the lockdown?
3.  What have we learned and what are we still learning?
4.  How can we better serve people at home?
5.  How well are we serving our online members and visitors?
6.  How are people hurting, and what can we do to help them?

You're wondering what this has to do with walking, biking, and public transit?  Just stay with me for a few moments...  Even though vaccines are now becoming more readily available, last night President Biden said BBQs on 4th of July, the return to full in-person worship is still an early fall reality.  So why aren't churches thinking of ways to connect and fellowship other than worship in parking lots?  

I propose this as the summer of local pilgrimages, dedicated spiritual walks.  A way for the in-person and online communities to meet one another (I have found most of our online community lives within the Twin Cities metro area, most but not all).  What better way for people to get to know one another than on a walk with a clear start and finish.  When you arrive say a prayer, have lunch, sing a song, then say goodbye till the next one.  I'm thinking of a walking tour of the neighborhood, stopping by each of the churches in our neighborhood.  Offering prayers for each congregation and their ministries.  

B.  You can register, until March 24th, for the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.  Good that Union Seminary in NYC is promoting this cohort.  And do you know about CRCDS' new graduate certificate in Earth, Justice and Spirituality?  Thanks to Andrea Learned I was reminded of the important work of Green Faith and religious leaders who ride bikes.  

C.  The biography of Eugene Peterson will debut on March 23rd.  Now for the record I have no idea about his walking, biking, or taking public transit habits.  But from reading his autobiography I learned when he did his seminary field placement at Madison Avenue Baptist Church, the senior pastor then, Rev. George Buttrick, did not drive a car and only used the public transit system or walked for his pastoring life.  

D.  A little song about the joy of riding a bike, "Wander" by Early Eyes for your listening pleasure:


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

I Wonder What the Church Scene Is Like in Heidelberg?

Two years ago my family and I for a month walked, biked, and took public transit around Scotland and northern England.  We visited nearly every holy site, chapel, cathedral, church or religious place of significance along the route.  As exhilarating as it was for us to have this experience, it was also very depressing.  

I described all the churches as 3D churches: Dark, Dank, & Dead.  

The churches we visited revealed to me the way forward for churches like Judson Memorial Baptist Church - either get your act together and turn the operation around or let things run their course, shrivel, and die.  And yet they were filled with such promise.  Nearly every church was a hospitality center providing a public restroom, a place to get tea or hot chocolate and a scone, a bookstore, places to pray and meditate, public noontime organ concerts, and contained the most localized "liturgy" I had ever witnessed.  They were eco-friendly, socially conscious, and super friendly (even too friendly).  But I could not see a link between what they did on the inside of the church and what they did outside of the church.  

The one thing that disappointed me was the reluctance of churches to embrace bicycling.  We saw plenty of people out bicycling, but not one bike parking facility at a church.  I'm sure they exist, but we didn't see any.  

Which makes me wonder what the future of the church is for locales that are seeking to be car-free or carbon neutral?  

Last week the city of Heidelberg Germany was featured in the New York Times with the headline, "The City Where Cars Are Not Welcome." I read the story with great anticipation, but I was not surprised to find that churches were not mentioned in the article.  I searched the web for churches in the downtown core and discerned no conversation or mentioning of the car-free movement (I did find one church with a bicycling club, but it was a weekend bike packing club).  Which is a shame because for 1,900 years churches existed just fine, even thrived, without cars at all.  But cars and their usage have become so interlocked with church life that it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a future without them.  In a similar manner, several years ago I contacted Pieter van Wingerden the librarian at International Baptist Theological Study Centre in Amsterdam. I contacted him to inquire about bicycling and church life.  He did not understand my question, because for him there was no way to separate bicycling from Dutch culture, rather one was a church goer or not.  

During the pandemic the biking became more popular than ever.  Bike shops were even busy in Minnesota in January!  People started walking more and more.  The value of public transit and public transit workers as essential and frontline workers was revealed more than ever.  As vaccines become more readily available you can feel the power of the economy growing every day.  You can almost feel the shift from gas-powered to electric-powered cars as the panacea for economic growth and environmental progress.  But electric cars, as great as they are (and my next car purchase will be an electric car) are still cars.  

I don't think electric cars are going to save local churches.  I think local transparent worshipping communities will save the local church.  Places that are the same on the inside as they are on the outside.  Places that promote eco justice and promote walking, biking, taking public transit and carpooling in both church life and public life.  

As downtown areas seek to become car-free, I think one of the great car-free institutions, the Church, should be one of their biggest supporters.  

Friday, March 5, 2021

A Sabbath's Day Journey

In the book of Acts there is a mention of "a sabbath's day journey" roughly translated this is about 3/4 of a mile.  The biblical authors took it for granted that most of the readers would know that most travel was done by foot.  In fact, Acts 1:12 is the only time this phrase is mentioned in the New Testament.  

Maybe you are like me and have walked more during the past year than you have in the past ten?  I used to run, but I don't like running.  I still love riding my bike, but I find I enjoy walking more than riding my bike.  I've been walking to work, walking to the grocery store, to the bank, to the post office, around the lake and around town.  Sometimes I listen to podcasts, sometimes I listen to the birds.  If you need inspiration to put one foot in front of the other, read In Praise of Paths by Torbjørn Ekelund.

Which brings me to the topic of the day: walking to church.  Growing up it never occurred to me to walk to church. But the distance between my house in St. Albans, WV and First Baptist Church is almost the exact distance between my house here in Minneapolis and Judson Memorial Baptist Church: 2.8 miles.  

In his wonderful book, Henry Works D.B. Johnson tells the story of Henry David Thoreau (imagined as a bear) walking around the town of Concord, MA and to his cabin in Walden Woods.  

While walking Henry catches all of the stories and inspirations he needs for his work.  I find that my sermons "come to me" better when I am walking. 

I know many people have been walking more and more during the pandemic, but will they walk to church when we return to in-person worship?  Doing so would allow worshippers to arrive fresh and more attentive (I bet they would arrive more tender and compassionate, I find after a walk whatever was bugging me has usually melted away).  Walking to church would definitely reduce the carbon footprint of the gathered community.  Walking to church would also free up parking spaces for those with physical limitations or for visitors.  

We think that most of our congregants don't live within a sabbath's day journey of the church.  But after digging into most church directories at least a 1/3 of all members live within a mile (a sabbath's day journey), at least half live within 2-5 miles (a sabbath's day bike ride) or 75% live within 5-10 miles (a sabbath's day ebike journey).  

Were still a few months away from returning to in-person worship, so why not start exploring walking routes, bike routes, exploring ebike purchasing arrangements?