Bicycling as a way of life: a social manual

May 30, 2011

During my forty years of aggressive cycling, I have come across nearly every kind of bicyclist that can be found two-wheeling across the U. S. of A. All of them, no matter how they ride or how much they know, will be confirmed, challenged, entertained, and peeved by this book. Here are some reasons:

Bike Snob is a real book, although with a blog-inspired writing style and a graphics layout that will entice even people who resist print-on-paper modes of communication. By real book, I mean that it is full of clear, informative, accurate declarative prose. It conveys a comprehensive body of information about the history, politics, engineering, aesthetics, and sociology of bicycling. Bike Snob is as good a guide to serous cycling for adults as any book I know.

This book has attitude, point of view, conviction, and passion—all of it written in a vivid, sometimes outrageous style that makes BikeSnobNYC’s opinions clear enough that readers can agree and disagree (both of which I do!).

The layout and graphics help make the book. Subtitles, sidebars, and drawings break up the solid print that characterizes most books. The longest block of solid book-style layout that I noticed is only three pages long. The eyes are pulled forward and the mind follows along from one page to another to another. Before you know it, you are actually reading the book.

I like Bike SnobNYC’s definition of cyclist. It decribes me and at the same time is comprehensive enough to include a whole lot of people who venture out on two wheels even though their mode of cycling is quite different from mine. Who is a cyclist?

1.     A person who rides a bicycle even when he or she doesn’t have to.

2.     A person who values the act of riding a bicycle over the tools one needs in order to do it.

3.     A person who has incorporated bicycles and cycling into his or her everyday life.

I also like the way that this book punctures pretensions and prejudices about cycling. The result is that the practicality of a two-wheeled way of life is enhanced. At the same time, the sometimes weird, sometimes sophisticated aesthetics of cycling can be appreciated.

I read a borrowed copy of Bike Snob in one sitting (flying from Orlando to Portland). It’s such a good book that I’m going to return it to my cycling son and buy my own for reference, enjoyment, and example of how to write my own book (working title: Cycling Past Seventy: Body Dissolving, Spirit Strong as Always).

By the way, BikeSnobNYC appears to have a conventional name: Eben Weiss. The artist is Christopher Koelle and the designer and contributing artist is Gregory Ryan Klein. These three and their publisher have done the worlds of cycling and book publishing a great and wonderful service.

My strong advice: bicycle over to your nearest bookstore and buy your very own copy. And then find a comfortable place with a good supply of coffee (or whatever) and read away the afternoon. For a little while, anyway, reading about cycling is nearly as much fun as riding on an open road with the breeze at your back. And while you’re at it, check out the publisher’s link:

When it comes to Christian unity, some theologians say no

May 16, 2011

When Protestant leaders were developing plans for a new form of the church for twentieth-century America, some of the most supportive participants were theologians in the several churches. Other members of the academic community, however, opposed the venture. Some of these negative responses were prompted by the publication in 1967 of Principles of Church Union, a slender volume outlining the new church as it might be.

Almost immediately Episcopal theologian John Macquarrie invited a group of professors to provide their assessment of COCU’s Principles. He published their ideas in a 64-page booklet with the title Realistic Reflections on Church Union.

The 64-page, small-format volume contains brief papers by seven scholars. Three were on the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in New York (Macquarrie, Reginald H. Fuller, and Paul L. Lehman). Four were Episcopalians (Macquarrie, Fuller, Walter C. Klien, and John Knox), and another was a member of the Church of England (Eric L. Mascall). One was Roman Catholic (John A. Hardon) and another was Presbyterian (Lehman).

Macquarrie notes that all of the participating scholars agreed on two points: that the COCU process should be slowed down and that it was inappropriate at that time to move forward toward “organic union.” He identified three reasons for slowing the process: 1) Despite certain positive characteristics of the recently published Principles of Church Union, the document did not provide an adequate foundation for building a church that would be truly catholic and reformed. 2) Even if the principles could be improved, the union of these ten churches would be a setback to genuine Christian unity. 3) The very idea of “organic union” was old-fashioned.

Reginald H. Fuller noted that Episcopalians held two principles as they worked for unity. First, they always looked three ways: toward Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Second, they used the four points of the Lambeth Quadrilateral as criteria. He believed that the Quadrilateral’s points were treated positively, although inadequately, in the Principles, but that the three-fold interest in unity possibilities would be significantly compromised by COCU.

One objection was that the Principles fell short with respect to matters that were important to catholic Christians (among them the sacerdotal character of the ministry, especially of bishops, and the sacramental nature of baptism and eucharist).

Macquarrie’s band were unwilling to accept the COCU proposal for solving some long-time disagreements, which was that the united churches would accept certain structures and systems as necessary for the life of the united church (the office of bishop, for example) but would not insist on any one theological explanation for that structure or system. Two writers mentioned that if Lutherans had also been participants in the process, doctrine would not so easily have been underplayed. Because of their confessional character, Lutherans would have insisted that the Principles deal more fully with ecclesiological issues.

Some of the contributors expressed their disagreement with the intention that the new church be evangelical. One writer saw this emphasis as a veiled way to insisting that the Word would be dominant in the new church. Another feared that the evangelical emphasis provided a way to preserve the two major “aberrations” in Protestant theology: liberalism and pietism.

The harshest rejection was offered by Paul L. Lehmann, a Presbyterian professor of systematic theology at Union Seminary. Historically, the experience of the church had been that the emphasis upon structural union leads to the church’s disobedience. Procedurally, this proposal was a top down approach to unity and failed to involve the grass roots members of the church. Ethically, the proposed union failed because it focused attention upon the church’s own life when it ought to be focusing their attention upon the world that was “riven by war and injustice and driven by powers” that were threatening humankind. “What would it profit, if through COCU, the Church gained her life and lost her soul?”

These scholars represented a three-fold point of view concerning unity movements that has been held by many people then and now: 1) Christian unity is to be highly valued, but it can only be affirmed when it leaves the ideas and practices of one’s own tradition exactly as they currently exist. 2) Even when viewed in the most charitable way possible, efforts like COCU are trying to create a new church that is built on unacceptable principles that would contribute little of value to the church’s own life or to the life of the world. 3) The leaders of COCU and similar ventures probably mean well, but they are wrong and if they have their way the possibilities for more genuine unity would be obstructed.

When leading scholars of the church hold this view, how would it be possible for church executives to work effectively for Christian unity? Other scholars, however, responded to COCU’s Principles more favorably. More about them next time.

Improving the streets for cycling

May 14, 2011

New developments in bicycle-friendly Portland, Oregon, can be useful to serious cyclists in cities everywhere as they try to improve their streets for bicycle travel. The great, good news is that the new Vancouver Avenue bridge is open. Cyclists again have full access to the Vancouver Avenue-Williams Avenue corridor for their commutes through northeast Portland. It’s a trip I ordinarily make once or twice a week, all year around.

For most of the distance, Vancouver is one-way south and Williams one-way north. Each street provides a wide bike lane, a limited number of intersections with traffic signals, and, for the most part, automobiles traveling at moderate speeds. Bicycle facilities like these suit me exactly right.

The bridge was closed to autos and trucks because of serious damage to its understructure. In early May 2010, it was also closed to bikes and pedestrians. All of this time, everyone has had to find new routes for their journeys over the Columbia Slough. Thanks to PDOT and taxpayers, a fine new bridge is now in place with wide traffic lanes for motorists and 12-foot wide bike-pedestrian lanes on both sides. The new railing is a highly decorative addition to North Portland’s public art.

Balancing my delight because of the new bridge is my anxiety over plans now being projected for redeveloping much of N Williams Avenue. A serious proposal would create a dedicated bike lane—a “cycle track”—between the existing sidewalk and the line of parked cars on the east side of the street. It would closely resemble a short stretch of SW Broadway as it passes through Portland State University.

As a frequent cyclist on this downtown experiment for increasing bike safety, I am unfavorably impressed. Intersections are the place where things don’t work. Longtime bike engineering guru John Forester has made this point repeatedly in his writings.

In a normal layout, cyclists have a clear view of the upcoming intersection, especially on the traffic side. They can easily see what’s coming and take appropriate action. They also can pay attention to parked cars, unexpectedly opening car doors, and pedestrians stepping down into the street. These “hazards” all come from the same direction and, again, precautions can be taken.

On the Broadway cycle track, I now find pedestrians appearing suddenly from two directions instead of one. I have to cycle more slowly, which works against the hope that cycling will become a means of serious transportation when I want to go someplace in a time-efficient way. And, of course, I also have to be looking up at this very same time, instead of at the street, crosswalks, and sidewalks, in order to watch the traffic signals high over head.

A study of recent Portland experiments, including the SW Broadway cycle track, was published January 14, 2011. The following paragraph from the executive summary describes problems that I encounter. (My consistent practice, by the way, is to adhere to regular traffic controls when cycling with as much fidelity as when I drive my car.)

Cyclist and pedestrian conflicts are high. Although nearly 90% of pedestrians surveyed indicated they understood where they should wait for a “Walk” sign to cross SW Broadway (on the curb), a plurality (42%) expressed concern about the impact of the cycle track on crossing Broadway. Nearly a third of cyclists surveyed stated that they encounter pedestrians jaywalking across the cycle track 25% or more of the time. Combined with cyclists’ low compliance in stopping at a red signal, there are many opportunities for collisions between cyclists and pedestrians. Over 40% of cyclists stated they had been involved in a near-collision with a pedestrian, while 12% of pedestrians stated they had been involved in a near-collision with a cyclist. One cyclist and two pedestrians surveyed stated that they have been involved in bicycle-pedestrian collisions on the cycle track. Video observation data confirms the risk – in situations where pedestrians were present while cyclists rode past on the cycle track, nearly one in 10 resulted in potentially unsafe interactions. These include instances of a cyclist or pedestrian having to stop or change direction as a precaution (3.5%) or an emergency (1%), or instances in which a cyclist rode within two to three feet of a pedestrian walking or standing on the street (4.5%).

It may well be that N Williams Avenue needs improvements in order to increase its safety and practical value for motorists, pedestrians, merchants, and cyclists. As a frequent cyclist, who tries to drive his bike as though it were a car, I hope the redesign is modest, cautious, and easily, inexpensively improved on the basis of experience. (Note: As this early morning photo shows, a few details are still being completed for the bridge. When all is done, and in full daylight, it will look much better.)

“A socially conscious, activist denomination”

May 10, 2011

In his history of Portland State University, Gordon B. Dodds refers to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as a “socially conscious, activist denomination.” He makes this comment because Stephen E. Epler, founder of the university, was an active member of this church and through him, Dodds writes, the spirit of this church influenced the early development of what is now the largest university in Oregon.

While Dodds’ description of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an accurate portrayal of one of its important characteristics, it provides no information about how this church came to be, how it fits in the spectrum of churches today, what it believes, how it worships, and how it is positioning itself for continuing presence in the increasingly complex religious scene of our time.

As part of the educational program of First Christian Church in Portland (Epler’s congregation for many years and immediately adjacent to the university he founded), I conducted a four-session course of study on this topic. Although these matters have been in my mind for a long time, this was my first attempt to write them down in a succinct and reasonably coherent form. The result is a sixteen-page folder—preliminary and provisional, in need of fact checking and verification, and (because of its brevity) cryptic.

Session One provides an overview that describes the emergence of the major segments of the church—Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant—and locates the Christians-Disciples movement in this pattern.

Session Two outlines phases in the historical development of this American religious movement.

Session Three describes major characteristics of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the early years of the twenty-first century.

Session Four proposes some of the implications for congregations of this “socially conscious, activist denomination” in the years ahead. I suggest these goals:

  • Be a church in the most basic and comprehensive manner that is possible.
  • Represent the enduring patterns and practices of the Disciples tradition adapted to contemporary circumstances.
  • Move to the forefront in working on the issues of our time (both the enduring and the new)
  • Embrace the new ecumenism.

Despite the provisional character of this outline, I have decided to make it available to people who might be interested in the subject. Your comments, corrections, questions, and suggestions will be welcomed. Click here…Understanding Disciples.

(Note: The booklet is laid out on half sheets so that they can be printed as a sixteen-page folder with 5.5 x 8.5 dimensions.)

The Mighty TOSRV–Tour of the Scioto River Valley

May 6, 2011

I’m registered for the Vancouver Bicycle Club’s annual Ride Around Clark County, but the ride I really want to do will take place in Ohio this same weekend: TOSRV, the Tour of the Scioto River Valley. I did my first TOSRV in 1972 when this granddaddy of the great cycling tours was already a decade old. This year marks its fiftieth running. In its honor, I have gathered three reminiscences of my trips in those early years. The first few paragraphs are below, and there’s a link that will connect you with the full story.

In July 1962, Charles Siple, a World War II veteran living in Columbus, Ohio, watched his teen-aged son Greg become increasingly active as a bicyclist. Remembering his own youthful years in Pittsburgh and his intense interest in bicycling as demanding sport and mode of travel, he decided that it was time for the two of them to take a proper bicycle ride together. On July 7 and 8 of that year, they rode downstate from their home in Columbus to the small city of Portsmouth and back, a round trip of 200 miles.

The next year, Dad stayed home, but Greg and three bike shop buddies repeated the ride. Each year, the number of participants grew larger. In 1967, the number of cyclists increased to 200. Young Charlie Pace directed tour, setting up a strong support system for participants. Charlie is turning 80 and during the tour’s fiftieth running—May 7-8, 2011—he is retiring from the position he has held for forty years.

Early in its history, this annual tour during Mother’s Day weekend was given a name: The Tour of the Scioto River Valley—TOSRV, pronounced “toss-ruff”—because it followed the Scioto River from downtown Columbus to its confluence with the Ohio River, at Portsmouth. More important, it was rapidly becoming a legend.

TOSRV came into being at the same time that large numbers of American adults were buying ten-speed bikes and developing skills as sport cyclists. TOSRV was exactly what they needed to inspire and challenge them to develop this new sport. As soon as the annual event in Ohio stabilized, its popularity spread rapidly. Other invitational tours developed around the country, but TOSRV was the first and prototypical event of its kind.

By 1986, the illustrated history of the ride reports, cyclists “had ridden 50,000 TOSRV’s for a grand total of 10,000,000 miles, a distance roughly equivalent to twenty-one round trips to the moon.” In later years, the numbers continued to increase, which means that the totals have more than doubled for this most venerable of America’s cycling extravaganzas.

Although I will not be part of the fiftieth-anniversary festivities, my heart will be with the cyclists. I first did TOSRV in its eleventh year and except for two or three years when I was on study leave continued as a faithful participant through 1994, stopping then only because I was retiring and moving from Indianapolis to Arizona (and later to the Pacific Northwest). Over the years, I’ve ridden other notable tours–RAGBRAI, the Hilly Hundred, Cycle Oregon, STP, El Tour de Tucson—but nothing can take the place of The Mighty TOSRV.

Read more:  The Mighty TOSRV

How to talk like Christians (and why we should)

May 3, 2011

“Can we be Christian without using the language of Christianity?” This question provides the focus of Marcus Borg’s new book Speaking Christian, with its explanatory subtitle “Why Christian words have lost their meaning and power—and how they can be restored.” His answer: “If this book’s premise that religions are like languages is correct, the answer is no. Being Christian includes ‘speaking Christian.’”

The problem for some people in churches today is that many of the words and phrases central to the Christian story pose serious theological and ethical challenges. Among them: sin and salvation, God as Father, the death of Jesus, the cross and its place in the Christian way of life, born again, heaven and hell, the creeds and the Trinity.

One way to resolve the problem is to stop using the words that bother people. The result is that the heart of Christianity collapses and worship becomes increasingly bland.

Borg believes that religious language, including the most challenging elements, can be reclaimed. Furthermore, he is convinced that the vitality of Christian faith and life depends upon this reclamation. The purpose of this book is to do some of this reconstruction.

First, Borg contrasts two visions of Christianity. Heaven and hell Christianity emphasizes “the next world and what we must do to get there.” The other vision emphasizes “God’s passion for the transformation of this world.” Both visions use “the same language and share the same sacred scripture, the same Bible.” These two ways of understanding and expounding Christianity develop theological story lines that contrast sharply. Each perspective claims to be the right way to understand the Christian faith.

Second, Borg shows that much of the discontent with the traditional language of Christianity is caused by the way that it is used in the heaven and hell scenario. Conversely, he shows that when Christians think and speak from the transformational perspective, these same terms recover meanings that are faithful to their original intentions and at the same time can be constructive factors in contemporary faith and practice.

Third, he calls attention of the limitations of “literalism,” especially as this mindset operates within heaven and hell Christianity. He acknowledges that Christians in transformational Christianity, often trapped by their own tendencies toward literalism of religious language, fail to understand how central metaphorical uses are to all of the language of faith, including the basic story of God’s revelatory and redeeming work in Jesus.

Fourth, Borg discusses a long list of these words and phrases, showing how they have been distorted by heaven and hell Christianity and literalism, and then offering what in his mind is the more biblical and authentic way of understanding them. In many cases, his discussion of salvation being a good example, he shows that when we understand the word correctly we can use it freely with a clean conscience and mind. Here, the practical challenge for the church is to teach the better meaning of these terms. And then to use them.

Fifth, Borg offers a brief discussion for some of the terms, offering a meager basis for reclaiming the language, and then leaves the reader dangling, with little help in developing a constructive course of action. His chapter on the Lord’s Supper is an example. Clearly, Borg is content to participate in worship in the Episcopal Church where his Christian life is centered. Many Christians whom I know to have serious problems with classical eucharistic language, however, will need more help in dealing with liturgical language than Borg offers in this book.

Sixth, there are a few places where Borg offers a more detailed proposal for guiding churches leaders. His discussion of the classical creeds includes the explanation of what the language intends to say and how it continues to function as poetic metaphor rather than as hard statements of literal fact. He shows how these metaphorical statements can be used today. He also proposes (contrary to what his Episcopal Prayer Book tradition would allow) that the classical creeds be used less frequently and that other statements of faith also be used in the regular worship of churches.

I like this book despite a considerable degree of disappointment. It is serving me well as devotional reading day by day. I will be recommending it for use in classes for teens and adults. It can be handed to people interested in learning more about the Christian faith.

I earnestly desire that pastors and worship committees will read this book before they take a machete to the language of worship, especially the language around the Lord’s Table.