A bike for Chief Seattle

September 30, 2013

 NW Fusion Bicycle

NW Fusion Bicycle

A rain-soaked Saturday in Seattle seemed like a good time to visit the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center that “proudly stands near the mouth of the Duwamish River, across the street from an ancestral village.” In 1855, Chief Si’at for whom the city is named signed the Treaty of Point Elliott thereby ceding 54,000 acres of Duwamish land to the federal government.

As with so many treaties, the United States promised compensation, reserved land, and the right to fish and hunt. And as has happened so many times, the treaty was violated and the promises were not kept. Currently, despite decades of work by the Duwamish tribe, under the leadership of chairwoman Cecile Hansen, their tribe is not recognized by the federal government. Duwamish people can’t even fish in the river that bears their tribe’s name.

The Duwamish Longhouse “is a traditional cedar post and beam structure designed in the Puget Salish Longhouse style.” In addition to tribal offices and a traditional longhouse (with a beautiful inlaid wood floor), the building has a native art gallery, Duwamish history museum, and gift shop.

As I wandered through the exhibits, I was drawn to a distinctive design by local artist Gerrad Stockdale: the bicycle that heads this column. Although there were other interesting prints, including a distinctive toothbrush, the bicycle is the item that kept my attention strongly focused.

In his artist’s statement, Stockdale tells of staring at a large NW form line mural at a Tacoma YMCA when he was six years old. “I didn’t know what it was, but I loved it because it gave me a sense of calm.” When he was thirteen years of age, living in Puyallup, his family’s refrigerator/freezer and stacked washer/dryer reminded him of totem poles.

For five years he worked with his uncle and cousins at the Puyallup Fair. His cousins were animators for Walt Disney and had given up “hand animations in favor of computer generated graphics.” Gerrad did the same and after college “worked on graphic novels and comic books.” He began to explore NW form lines and “people began asking for more.”

“My vision is to remind people of the Puget Sound’s uniqueness—the abundance of life that allowed its first people to create a rich & distinctive culture and style of art. Through NW form lines, we connect to & remember a more pristine Puget Sound—even if we don’t fully understand it. We have lost so much both culturally and environmentally. The spirits still live here. Sometimes, they have just taken other forms.”

I left the Cedar Longhouse convinced that if Chief Seattle could return to modern Seattle, one of the new things he would gladly adopt would be traveling by bicycle and that Gerrad Stockdale’s splendid creation is one that he would be pleased to ride.

One of the delights during our visit was the opportunity to meet Chairwoman Cecile Hansen. Her strong, vibrant presence was almost enough to drive away the rain.


Chairwoman Cecile Hansen with Keith and Billie Watkins
Chairwoman Cecile Hansen with Keith and Billie Watkins


Open road cycling for people past seventy

September 22, 2013
Mule Pass on the Way to Bisbee

Mule Pass on the Way to Bisbee

In late summer, I presented a program at the bimonthly meeting of the Vancouver Bicycle Club. The title for my talk was “Open Road Cycling for People Past Seventy.” My intention was to encourage club members, especially those in their fifties and older, by insisting that most of them could continue aggressive cycling well into their later decades.

I based my presentation upon my own open road bike trips during the dozen years since I crossed over the biblical boundary line of “three score years and ten.” Two aspects of the evening stood out.

On to the Grand Canyon

On to the Grand Canyon

First, their willingness to listen was directly related to the fact that I was already past seventy and thus was offering experience-based testimony and counsel. Second, they were encouraged by the prospect that while they would gradually diminish in their performance capabilities they could anticipate many more good cycling years.

In preparing for the evening, I jotted down a lot more ideas than could be discussed in half an hour or forty five minutes. I gave club members copies of the full list but talked about only three or four of them.

When I finish my current book—which is in the field of religious history—I would like to do a bicycling book, and these notes might be the launching pad for that project. The first step is to project these notes into the cloud for whatever good they might do. The next step would be to develop a précis for each chapter in order to organize my thoughts and serve as the starting point for the fuller treatment that the book would require.

In the process two things could happen: The bike book project might take on real life and pull me forward to do the manuscript in the next year or so. Or, the project might turn out to be like a bike tire with a slow leak that soon leaves me at the side of the road with no way to finish the book.

For now, however, the nearly finished book—An American Church That Might Have Been—is taking all of my time and energy. You are welcome to the notes about the bike book in the back of my mind. I’d love to hear from you. Tell me about your experiences and the counsel you would offer to old timers who still want to ride hard all day long. Read more . . . Open Road Cycling

A Post-Protestant Church for the Nation

September 18, 2013

In 1953, the year I began my seminary studies, Charles Clayton Morrison published a provocative book on Christian unity that envisions a post-Protestant church for the United States. Morrison’s thesis, which explains the title of his book, The Unfinished Reformation, is that the original reformers in Germany, Switzerland, France, and England did not intend to divide the one Church of Christ. Their goal was to overcome its wrongful developments and reform the church so that it would be what Christ intended it to be.

Because of the political and social struggles of their time, however, the reformers were isolated from one another and a divided church was the result. Describing the growing interest in the ecumenical movement of his time, Morrison asserted that the Protestant churches were expressing their Reformation character as they sought to reestablish the unity of the Church of Christ on earth.

In another book, published twenty years earlier, Morrison had discussed other ideas that dealt directly with the divided state of the churches of his time and place. Throughout the 1933 book, Morrison urged the churches to reclaim their gospel heritage, recover their autonomy from the social order, and move together to recover their unity. While developing a history of the Consultation on Church Union, a forty-year effort to recover the unity about which Morrison had written, I reviewed the ideas that he had presented in these two books.

To my surprise, I discovered that he had anticipated some of the principles that emerged during the period after 1960. I also realize that he had anticipated some of the problems that would later cause the Consultation to fall short of its goal, which had been to develop a post-denominational church to serve the people of the United States. Read more … CCM Completing What the Reformers . . .

Bicycling on country roads to go some place

September 12, 2013
Peoria Road and the Willamette River

Peoria Road and the Willamette River

My reason for bicycling on country roads is much the same as for cycling on city arterials—to go some place by routes that are direct, paved, free from complicated traffic, easy to follow, and pleasing to the senses.

Recreational cyclists, however, are likely to avoid country arterials, instead choosing to ride on trails and byways—meandering on these roads when it doesn’t really matter where they go.

The contrast is illustrated by two ways of cycling in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a productive agricultural basin that lies athwart the Willamette River, from Eugene to Portland. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is developing a series of scenic bike trails through this part of the state in order to encourage cyclists of varying abilities and interests to find satisfying routes.

As a recreational cyclist, I do an occasional century ride sponsored by bike clubs and other organizations in Valley communities—Salem, Albany, Corvallis, Newburg, Hillsboro. There’s beautiful scenery, enough climbing to make things interesting, and coffee shops and tasting rooms spaced out at just the right intervals.

At least once a year, however, I travel through the Valley because of research interests in Eugene. On some trips, I’m able to bicycle both directions, but on other occasions, as this year, I take Amtrak one direction and bicycle the other. In either case, I follow a route that stitches together a series of old country arterials.

From the university district in Eugene, my customary route takes Hilyard Street to the bike trail along the Willamette River, crosses the Ferry Street bridge, and continues northward on the Coburg Road bike trail, which soon becomes a bike lane through the historic community of Coburg. The road follows a slightly meandering route to another old town, Harrisburg, twenty-two miles from the campus.

Half a mile on U.S. 99E takes me to the second country arterial, the Peoria Road that follows the northerly course of the Willamette River, with quiet farming country on both sides of the road. A little past half way, the road slips through the diminished village of Peoria, where I attended a one-room school during my fourth grade.

At the twenty-one mile mark (forty-three miles from Eugene), the Peoria Road crosses the Willamette, which puts me in downtown Corvallis, with all of the hospitality opportunities, including bike shops, that any traveler would need.

The next few miles are along OR 20, a heavily traveled route from Corvallis to Albany. The well-paved shoulder, however, provides a bike lane nearly as wide as the regular vehicular lane, and this part of the ride passes quickly.

Farming on the Corvallis Road

Farming on the Corvallis Road

There are two more country arterials on the Eugene to Portland itinerary: the Corvallis Road, through Independence, and the Wallace Road from West Salem to Dayton, each of them a little more than twenty miles in length. To get from the end of one to the beginning of the other requires another short jog on a heavily traveled state highway, OR 22.

The names of some of these roads suggest why they work so well. They started out as farm roads that took people to town where they could ship their produce, purchase supplies, and socialize with neighbors and friends. Because they have always connected people and places, with farmland in between, they still work as efficient arterials for people traveling at moderate rates as cyclists do.

The Corvallis Road takes people through Independence, a pleasant old town on the west bank of the Willamette River. It also travels through some of the finest countryside in the Willamette Valley. At Dayton, however, the pleasurable parts of my customary route have disappeared. Cyclists have little choice but to travel on the beat up shoulder of U.S. 99W, which has become one of the most crowded and unpleasant stretches of highway in this part of Oregon.

In fact, this part of the route has become so difficult that I’ll probably make a change next time. A few miles north of West Salem, I’ll leave Wallace Road, cross the Willamette on the Wheatland Ferry, and then take a reasonably quiet route through St. Paul and back across the river in Newburg.

At that point, the country arterials run out, and cyclists have to find their own way through the Portland metropolitan region. I have worked out a pattern on moderately traveled city arterials that works fairly well for me. Every time that I ride the country arterials, however, I give thanks for these fine old roads. While they last, they are some of the cyclists’ best friends.

End of Summer Farm Scene

End of Summer Farm Scene


Reading the New Testament in the order the books were written

September 6, 2013
New Testament Books in Historical Context

New Testament Books in Historical Context

Most people who are familiar with the New Testament know that this part of the Bible is a collection of short writings composed by several authors. Also known is that they were written over an extended period of time and therefore represent an evolution in the early Christian understanding of Jesus.

What is less well known is the logic that was used long ago for organizing this collection of twenty-seven New Testament documents. They were arranged into groups by the type of material they contain rather than by the order in which they were written.

Earlier this year, I decided to reread this section of the Bible, starting with the earliest to be written and continuing according to the time sequence. My guide in this project is Marcus J. Borg’s book, Evolution of the Word, in which this New Testament scholar proposes a rationale for reading these documents chronologically by date of composition. Borg’s book also prints the entire New Testament arranged by the time sequence that many scholars accept as probably correct. Several months into the project, I’ve read a third of the New Testament. Already, the project is opening up several lines of thought.

(1) The first New Testament books were seven epistles written by Paul, the church’s first missionary-theologian. They were composed during a short period of time beginning about 50 CE, approximately twenty years after the crucifixion and resurrection. Most references to Jesus in these books are to “the Lord Jesus” or “Christ Jesus” or some other title rather than by the name Jesus.

(2)  The next New Testament book to be written was the gospel of Mark, which was composed about ten years after Paul’s books, near the year 70. Ten years later the book of James went on line. A few years later, came another cluster of New Testament books, including the gospels of Matthew and John.

(3) It’s interesting that the first New Testament books to be written give little attention to the details of Jesus’ life. Instead, they focus on the meaning of his life and ministry. Even the gospels—Mark, Matthew, John, and Luke (to list them in their composition order)—present theological portraits rather than biographical sketches.

(4) Paul’s epistles provide a theological interpretation of Christ Jesus, and Mark fills in biographical details that give readers a fuller understanding of the man Jesus who stands in the shadows of this theological presentation. James seems to focus attention on still another aspect of the early Christian community: the way that members of the community were to live. James gives little attention to theological issues that are the primary focus of Paul’s writings. Although James echoes more of Jesus’ teachings than any other book in the New Testament other than the gospels (so says Borg in his introduction), “its fiery passion reflects the passion of Jesus himself” (p. 196).

As part of the project, I’m making notes as I read. So far, I’ve jotted down fifty pages of comments and reflections. Note taking is stretching out the time it takes to read through the New Testament, but I’m learning more by doing it this way.

Borg’s rearranged New Testament gives the books in this order: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, 2 Corinthians, Romans, Mark, James, Colossians, Matthew, Hebrews, John, Ephesians, Revelation, Jude, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Luke, Acts, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Peter, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Peter.

These books can be read in this order using one’s favorite Bible and with the help of study guides and commentaries of the reader’s choice. There are, however, two advantages in using Borg’s book with its rearrangement of the books. It’s easier to keep the sequence straight when the books are arranged in the order readers want to follow. Furthermore, readers have the benefit of Borg’s brief introductions to the books, which include explanations for decisions about dates of composition.

Happy reading.

Evolution of the Word, by Marcus J. Borg (New York: HarperOne, 2012).