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!