40 years with bike nashbar

April 29, 2013


40 years ago, I was in the early stages of becoming a strong adult cyclist. My son Mike and I had entry-level ten-speed Raleighs and were reading about bikes, doing vigorous training rides, and beginning to think about tours like Ohio’s Tour of the Scioto River Valley.

We had already subscribed to Gene Portuesi’s mail order catalog, Cyclo-Pedia which had started publication in 1937, and were learning about exotic components that were no where to be seen in bike shops in Indianapolis where we lived. Portuesi’s catalog included strong advice about touring and many aspects of serious club cycling.

At this point, Arni Nashbar in Youngstown, Ohio, started his own mail order business by publishing a catalog entitled bike warehouse. Early in its run, we put our names on the mailing list, and it’s been coming to my mailbox ever since. About ten years later, the name changed to bike nashbar, the mailing address has changed to Crab Orchard, West Virginia.

Another young entrepreneur, Chuck Sink of Marion, Indiana, started another mail order business from his home north of Indianapolis. We received his catalog during the short period of time that Chuck stayed in the business.

Mike and I visited the small show room in his home, and that’s where I first saw a Mercian frameset, a bright red work of art. A year or two later, I bought a blue Mercian with beautiful lugwork at Action Sports, a bike shop in Beaverton, an upscale suburb of Portland, my home town.

Catalogs in the early days differed greatly from the garish, glossy publications that come through the mail now. As the 40th anniversary issue of bike nashbar explains, “the original issues had pages full of line-drawings, product listings, and the occasional photograph of models in shorty-shorts and jersey graphics best lost in time.”

My list has three items that depict the changes in catalog design and character.

  • In contrast to the full color productions now published, the early catalogs were printed in black and white on off-white paper. Illustrations were largely line drawings or sketches.
  • The early catalogs tried to tell readers all that they would need to know about the items described. Since the internet was not yet a part of ordinary life, additional information could be obtained only through long-distance phone calls.
  • Most of the catalog was devoted to accessories and equipment, with only a few pages describing the short list of jerseys and chamois-lined wool shorts.

I don’t know why bike nashbar still comes to my house since I rarely buy anything from the catalog. Bike shops abound in Portland, and I can usually find exactly what I want, with the benefit of advice from knowledgeable personnel. Buying from bike shops costs more most of the time, but I get personal treatment, some of it gratis because I’m a regular. Bike shops have sales, too, so careful shopping keeps costs reasonable.

I’m glad to get bike nashbar every now and then. It gives me a sense of what’s happening in the bike market. Even though much has changed in these 40 years, the anniversary issue of the catalog says, “Arni’s desire to provide value cycling goods never wavered.”

My congratulations to a long-lived publication in the American bike world. As long as bike nashbar keep coming, I’ll keeping reading it. And maybe even buy something now and then.

“Symbolic healing” on a Sunday when we really need it

April 22, 2013

When a member of my church began the morning prayer on the Sunday following a terrible week, I knew I had come to the right place.

“This has been a horrific week,” he began, “with bombings at the Boston Marathon where three were killed and 170 were injured, a police officer later assassinated, a bombing suspect killed, and then the chemical explosion in the community of West, Texas, where fourteen were killed including firefighters and rescue workers, and 200 injured. Then an earthquake took the lives of more than 150 people and injured 5,550 others in China.”

He invited us to join together in a time of silence and remembrance for the victims and families, after which he offered a long prayer, with words carefully crafted. A few minutes later, our pastor (who last week told us that being nice is not good enough) preached a gentle, emotionally charged sermon about God the Good Shepherd.

So what’s the point of all these prayers and sermons in church when the world is torn apart by horrendous pain and suffering? At home after church, while pondering this question, I came across an answer in I. M. Luhrman’s op-ed column “The Benefits of Church,” which she posted April 20 in the New York Times. Luhrman is a professor of anthropology at Stanford and the author of When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God.

 “We have increasingly better evidence,” she writes, “that what anthropologists would call ‘symbolic healing’ has real physical effects on the body. At the heart of some of these mysterious effects may be the capacity to trust that what can only be imagined may be real, and be good.”

While Luhrman refers to her research in evangelical churches, symbolic healing also takes places in liberal churches like the one where I worship. Here is the prayer that is helping me trust that a peaceful world, something I can only imagine, may be real and at sometime in a future we can only imagine come to pass.

“Creator God and Life-giving Spirit: We gather on this Lord’s Day with Easter only days behind us. While Easter was a time of new awakenings, this past week has been an occasion of both death and new life. Our eyes and minds have been bombarded with images of violence, destruction, injury, and death. We have been filled with both hurt and happiness.

“It is difficult to imagine the historic city of Boston being shut down, the people terrorized and living in fear. It is just as difficult to imagine an entire town on the plains of Texas being blown away by a chemical explosion.

“We come today remembering and praying for our sisters and brother. Our hearts go out to those who lost loved ones and whose lives will be forever changed. With your tender mercies bring healing and wholeness to their brokenness.

“O God, our great Shepherd, healer and helper, we also remember today those who are ill, hospitalized, convalescent, or homebound. We remember those who grieve—the loss of companions and loved ones, the loss of strength and youthfulness, the loss of quality of life.

“We remember the lonely who need friendship, those whose hearts and lives are broken , those who live with their addictions, those needing food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. With your tender mercies bring healing and wholeness to their lives.

“O God of hope and encouragement, enable us to see the world not only as it is but as it can be. Give us a vision of families living together in a global community where there is peace with justice for all, sufficient food and water, housing, education, and healthcare. Teach us the joy of giving and the dignity of caring.

“Use our humble gifts to build a better humanity. Let us never lose sign of the purposes you have for our lives, and grant us the strength to obey your voice. In the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth, our elder brother and friend, we pray. Amen.”

Following public disasters like the Boston Bombings, public officials encourage us to continue our normal patterns of life, vigilant but unafraid. And we want to live that way. What the public officials cannot easily do, however, is provide the symbol healing that gives the spirit of trust in the reality of the world that can only be imagined.

By themselves, prayers are not enough. What must follow is the constant, hard work of seeking justice, overcoming all that causes pain and suffering, teaching, and building. All of this we have to do. But in order to engage in these labors, we need to believe that what we do can make a difference. The disease we face is cynicism, the inaction  that comes from believing that nothing good can be done.

The healing symbols of hopeful expectation enable us to move past our illness into new life.

Amy Piatt’s not very nice sermon

April 16, 2013
First Christian Church, Portland, Oregon

First Christian Church, Portland, Oregon

Nice sermon, pastor.” That’s what folks sometimes say at the door as they leave church. It’s an easy thing to say, positive in tone, neutral with respect to what the preacher said. The only response it calls for is “Thank you. It’s nice to see you today.”

But what do you say at the door when this is what the preacher said during the sermon a few minutes earlier?

“Anybody can be nice. But there is a difference between being Nice and being a Christ follower.

“Nice” never stirs the waters. It never makes people uncomfortable. And it certainly never asks people to do anything that would compromise their security.

“Jesus was not a nice man. He was a good, compassionate and loving man.  And for that, his security was certainly compromised.

“We’re not here just to be liked – we’re here because we need to be LOVED and we need to love others…and that is risky business.

“But, God is in the business of taking risks.”

After church, comments went in different directions. “Sermons like that will make us a different kind of church,” one person told me.

“How would people who’ve never been in church before respond” someone else asked. “What they need is a sermon that invites them into the church because it is a community that accepts them as they are.”

“That’s one sermon we sure talked about after we got home,” was a comment later in the week by someone else who has been going to church for a long, long time.

And since Sunday morning I’ve been thinking about it more than I usually do. Here’s what I liked about the sermon.

  • It was a logical development of the gospel reading for the day which was the stiff and challenging way that Jesus dealt with Peter on the beach: “If you love me, feed my sheep.”
  • It was phrased in the indicative mood rather than the imperative. The preacher was making factual statements about one aspect of the church that has marked its life from the beginning. She was not telling us how it ought to be and how we as church members ought to be doing things.
  • We were not being scolded. Instead, the preacher was calling attention to one aspect of life in the church that has always been there but is often not mentioned in conversations about what it means to be part of the life of a Christian community.

The preacher had this to say about Jesus:

“Jesus isn’t nice, and he couldn’t care less about his public image. Here, in the Gospel of John, Jesus has finished his life on earth…at least as the man who walked around teaching and healing and loving everybody – remember?

“That’s what got him killed.  He stirred things up and raised a few too many questions. The people in power couldn’t have him running around questioning their authority. That would be chaos. Where’s the order?  Where’s the line? We can’t have this! We’ve got to keep things under control here. And so, they crucified him.”

Then came the question: “Who are we without Jesus?”

And then the answer:

“We are a bunch of nice, orderly, folks.…And a people without hope. What is required of us? What’s our job? Why do we keep showing up here – week after week, year after year? For a common life of fellowship, prayers, meals, service and study. To put love into action.

“This is nourishment for the soul. And food for the body of Christ. That’s what the church is. Jesus has not left us.  His spirit is still with us. In order to keep Christ alive we are called to BE Christ to the world. Entering into the body of Christ is a process of discovering a new humanity. Ours is a story of a God who throughout history has brought change and upheaval to our neatly structured lives.

The sermon ends with an appeal. “Let’s be faithful enough to give all that we have so that the world may receive all that God has to give. No more mister nice guy, no more Miss Manners.

“Hear Christ’s call Brothers and Sisters:  He says it to us as he says it to Peter on the Beach: ‘Follow me.’ We don’t get to play Church, we’re going to be church.
We are going to embrace the spirit of Christ. By getting past the facades and pleasantries and by tending and feeding others in a way that makes love real.

“Nice just won’t get it done, but we by the grace of God WILL live into a new life – a resurrection life, A future of hope.”

To hear the sermon, preceded by the scripture reading and a musical interlude, click this link: A Nice Church.


Cycling, science diplomacy, and the fresh water crisis

April 12, 2013

Shared Borders Shared Waters: Israeli-Palestinian and Colorado River Basin Water Challenges by Sharon B. Megdal, Robert G. Varady, and Susanna Eden (CRC Press, 2013)

Shared BordersOf course, I gave my permission when Susanna Eden, PhD, asked if she could use my photo of the San Pedro River as cover art on a new book entitled Shared Borders Shared Waters. I had taken the picture from the bridge on Arizona Highway 82 near Tombstone, while bicycling through the region on PAC Tour’s desert camp. Later, I had used it on blogs about roads and rivers in Southern Arizona.

Eden and two colleagues at the University of Arizona were editing a forthcoming book on Israeli-Palestinian and Colorado River Basin Water Challenges. My photo would be paired with one of the Jordan River. My photo, by the way, is the one on the lower right corner of the book.

Since I have always thought of myself as a writer rather than a photographer, I was surprised by the request and therefore all the readier to give my consent.

Furthermore, the topic of their book interests me greatly. While living in Arizona for several post-retirement years, and as I continue cycling there during the winters, I have become increasingly aware of the history of crises because of water in the arid Southwest. My one tour of Israel and Palestine (West Bank and Gaza) alerted me to the impending ecological, political, and human crisis that is forming in that region because of the limited supply of fresh water.

Eden and her colleagues show the similarity of the Arizona-Mexico and Israel-Palestine ecosystems and the resultant issues over fresh water. Cycling through places like Arizona and West Texas, where the pressures are mounting quickly gives me a heightened awareness of the challenges facing human society everywhere. In a land with little precipitation, limited aquifers, and rapidly growing population, something has to give.

The book is based on the Arizona, Israeli, and Palestinian Water Management and Policy Workshop that too place at the University of Arizona in Tucson in 2009. Sponsors included UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme and three centers at the University: the Water Resources Research Center, the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Financial support came from several sources.

Since my copy of Shared Borders Shared Waters has just arrived, I have had time to read only a few pages. Clearly, it is a substantial book, with chapters by thirty contributors from around the world. At some point in the future, I will write more about the ideas, issues, and conclusions in the book.

It is a substantial volume, replete with charts, graphs, and photos, many in color. The “normal price” is $99.95, but if you order it before May 15, 2013, you can buy it for $79.00, with free shipping. Ordering information appears on the advertising card below.

One aspect of the book, which the editors call “science diplomacy,” is especially interesting to me. Here’ how they describe it:

“Across the world, the history of contentious water issues confirms that the resolution of such issues can engender collaboration rather than divisiveness. Experience has shown that researchers who are sensitive to sociopolitical conditions often can help avoid or resolve conflict by serving as neutral experts, offering assistance through reasoned, independent analysis” (p. xii).

This kind of science we need. And more diplomacy like this, too!

Shared Borders

A new American church for a world groaning in travail

April 8, 2013

The era in which the Consultation on Church Union began its work to remake the church and the nation

The decade of the 1950s was a moment in America when two cultural forces were coming together like tectonic plates. By the end of the decade, major systems in American life were experiencing tremors that presaged a more dramatic revolution than most people—especially those in leadership positions—could have imagined.

When the tremors came, a natural response was to hold things together until the shaking ceased and then to shore up the systems where vulnerabilities had been revealed. A more imaginative response by a few church leaders was to acknowledge that something much more substantial needed to be done. New systems able to withstand the shaking America’s institutions would have to be devised.

One of these efforts was the movement to unite nine ecumenical protestant churches at the center of American life and culture. Although the intended merger of existing denominations did not take place, the unity movement impacted American churches and culture.

As part of my research on the history of this movement—the Consultation on Church Union—I have written a description of that period when the United States was undergoing radical change. To read the essay, click New Church – World Groaning

Still looking for the right tires

April 5, 2013
Measuring Speed

Jan Heine Measuring Speed

My first serious adult bike (an entry level Raleigh, circa 1971) had 27 in wheels with gum wall tires that carried 75 psi pressure. I was happy with this “high performance” arrangement until I visited Bud’s Bike Shop while teaching in a summer session in Claremont, California. There I saw (and bought) skin wall tires that became my standard from that time forward.

I soon upgraded my bike and started using 700 cc wheels with presta valves. For many years 23 mm tires, with folding bead, pumped to 120 psi were my normal equipment. This arrangement, I believed, was a nice compromise between high performance and high dependability. Except for the steady rise in price, I was content.

Then I started reading Bicycle Quarterly, edited and published by Jan Heine in Seattle. With an earlier career in racing and continuing active involvement in top-level randonneuring, Jan knew bicycle technology and performance very well, both in the United States and in Europe. He and his cycling friends in Seattle were especially interested in the design and performance of classic European road bikes.

I was surprised by the conclusions they were drawing concerning the effect of tire width and pressure upon performance and comfort. Contrary to conventional wisdom, skinny tires (20 and 23 mm), pumped to pressures well above 120 psi did not contribute to fast times except in highly specialized conditions.

On the open roads where most of us ride, even when racing, wider and softer tires are actually faster. They support their conclusions with carefully documented procedures for timing the performance of tires of various sizes and types by well-known manufacturers.

As a result of their studies, I changed how I equip my bikes. On my classic Mercian, which I unwisely modified fifteen years ago, the largest I can carry are 25 mm. On my Waterford winter bike, I use 32 mm tires, and on my Davidson I am currently riding 28 mm but have been thinking of changing to 30 or 32.

The new issue of Bicycle Quarterly (Spring 2013) updates the studies that the Seattle group has been doing. It contains ten articles on the general topic of tire performance. Some of them revise and republish earlier reports. The writers compare clinchers and tubulars, the effect of tread on speed, the comparative performance of specific tires on smooth vs. rough roads, and the effect of “drop” on performance.

Although I do not fully understand the technical material that is included in some of the entries, I come away with four conclusions.

Tire TablesFirst, there are measurable differences in performance of tires related to materials out of which they are made, their design, their weight, and the pressure they carry. The combination of these factors interacts with road surfaces so that some tires are measurably faster under some circumstances than under others.

Second, for most cyclists the variations are hard to discern under normal cycling conditions. Several of the essays in this issue carry statements similar to this paragraph from “Choosing the Correct Tire Pressure.”

“Fortunately, tire pressure makes only a small difference in tire performance. It is far more important to choose your tires well. Once you have mounted supple high-performance tires on your bike, then you don’t need to worry much about pressure” (p. 44).

Third, several factors affect how fast cyclists can ride and how long they can stay in the saddle. At this stage in my cycling career, the benefits of wider and softer tires, light weight and supple in design, are increasingly persuasive.

Fourth, tires with these characteristics are also reliable on the road. Of course, flats are always possible given the character of streets and highways, but tires that combine comfort and performance are probably more resistant to punctures than the skinny, high-pressure tires I used to ride.

I want to bicycle in carefree fashion, which means, in part, that I don’t want to worry about my tires. Even checking pressure is a bother. That’s why I like the way Jan concludes one of his essays. There are no “hard and fast rules,” he writes.

“On my own bike, the tire pressure changes over time, because I only inflate my tires when the pressure obviously has become too low. As it turns out, that seems to put me right into the sweet spot of tire pressure” (p. 44).

And that’s the very spot in which I want to ride! 

The Disappearance of Church Religion

April 2, 2013

Thomas Luckmann, The Invisible Religion: The Problem of Religion in Modern Society (New York: Macmillan, 1967).

LuckmannEven on Easter Sunday people don’t go to church the way they used to. Some give as their reason that they aren’t religious. Others that they are spiritual but with a spirituality that does not need institutional expression. Others may be willing to engage in religious practices and patterns of devotion but believe that churches no longer provide an effective form of public ceremony.

Whatever the reason, it is accurate to declare that church religion is disappearing. The challenge for all of us, whether or not we participate in church religion, is to understand the phenomenon we experience around us.

For me, the place to begin is a book that was published nearly half a century ago by Thomas Luckmann, professor of sociology at the University of Frankfurt and for a time a faculty member of the New School for Social Research.

He entitled his book The Invisible Religion:The Problem of Religion in Modern Society. Luckmann wrote that the focus of studies in his discipline tended to be “church religion,” the forms of religious observance that take place within the framework of specialized religious institutions. Because church religion was declining in Europe and the United States, many of his colleagues were concluding that religion itself was disappearing.

Not so, Luckmann asserted. Instead, people were expressing their religion—which he defined as “the transcendence of biological nature by the human organism”—in a new, non-institutional way.

As I understand this idea, it is that a human being is more than an ongoing complex of biological and psychological experiences. Each person interacts with others and in the process becomes aware of oneself and of everything else. One’s past, present, and future are integrated into “a socially defined, morally relevant biography.” Each of us embarks with others to construct an “’objective’ and moral universe of meaning. Therefore the organism transcends its biological nature” (49).

One of the most important aspects of this religious process is taking into oneself a world view, which Luckmann defined as “an encompassing system of meaning in which socially relevant categories of time, space, causality and purpose are superordinated to more specific schemes in which reality is segmented and the segments are related to one another” (53).  Although world views could be developed individually, this rarely happens because the “universe-constructing activities of successive generations. . .is immeasurably greater than  that of individual streams of consciousness” (52).

Central to Luckmann’s thesis is the fact that in the modern world all institutions become sharply specialized, each dealing with its specific area of responsibility. No institution, including the religious, can unite all of the other perspectives and connect them authoritatively to the sacred cosmos. Because life experiences change more rapidly than institutions, however, churches and other religious institutions lose their potency. Their message is experienced as rhetoric rather than as essential and authoritative explanations of the objective world.

Furthermore, this rhetoric is understood as important only in private matters and has no bearing upon the values and norms of the other domains of life such as economics and politics. In their religious development, individuals act as consumers, accepting only those elements they find meaningful.

Although a once dominant religious worldview can lose its dominance, its central themes and values linger in the society and are incorporated into the religious identities that people develop for themselves. Even in a society where two thirds of the people are non-observant in religious institutions, the themes from those institutions continue to be part of the commonly affirmed religious values and life practices.

Luckmann offered four questions for students of religion to consider: 1) What norms do determine the priorities of people? 2) What systems provide the “overarching, sense-integrating function in contemporary life?” 3) How clearly are they linked to individual systems of ultimate significance and to social roles and positions? 4) To what extent is official religion being internalized and what is its relevance to systems of ultimate significance in contemporary life? (91).

While the church religion that once was central to European and American life is disappearing, and the religious function is more personalized than once was the case, it is unlikely that human societies can exist as fully individualized conglomerations of people who do not share norms and patterns of life.

Institutions will continue to emerge and participate in shaping human values, patterns, and practices. If the Christian faith continues to lead people to “life abundant,” it will be because revised forms of church religion will emerge.

What will they be? And how can those who lead churches now participate in shaping these new forms? These are the questions for leaders of churches during these post-Easter days.