Bicycle Talk on Lake Washington Boulevard

July 22, 2017

“When did you buy that bike? Back in the eighties?”

“Earlier than that,” I responded. “Probably in 1973.”

I had seen the questioner when he and his six-year-old daughter were buying their drinks and snacks at the Starbucks where I was resting before assaulting the ridge up to my daughter’s house on Beacon Hill. They were sitting at an outside table eight or ten feet from my reconditioned, classic Mercian bicycle. While Anna was reading her book, her father, Jeff, had been looking closely at my bike.

I joined them at the table and we spent the next few minutes in bicycle talk. In response to his questions, I gave him a brief history of my life with the Mercian. He volunteered suggestions on how I could polish the Campy Record components so that they would glisten even more brightly. He filled in a few of the details of his racing in earlier years, primarily on criterium races. “I was always too stocky for road racing,” he explained.

“The bike that was on the other side of the rack,” he told me, “was a Pinarello Dogma carbon fiber bike.”

“Several years ago I saw one priced at $14,500, but I think they are more reasonably priced now,” I responded. “The man who’s riding it told me that he had to get back on the road so that he could make another circuit of Lake Washington. He’d already been around one time, which his wrist-mounted device registered at 48.9 miles.”

“I have to hurry,” he explained, “because I have to run this afternoon after finishing my trips around the lake.”

During these conversations, at least a dozen other cyclists, all dressed in serious Lycra cycling gear, stopped at the Starbucks. Several of them, I presumed, were also stopping at The Polka Dot Jersey, a bike shop one or two store fronts up the street. The sidewalk in front of the shop was a jumble of bikes, riders, and mechanics. Inside, the shop looked smaller than the Starbucks, and there was hardly room for even one more person to push through the open door to ask a question or make a purchase.

“One of our mechanics, who’s not here today, is an expert on classic bikes with old components,” a mechanic on the sidewalk told me. Chances are I’ll bike over to the Polka Dot Jersey in a few days to talk with the Campy expert.

These conversations took place in the Leschi neighborhood, on Lakeshore Boulevard, about three and a half miles from my daughter’s house on Beacon Hill, a former streetcar suburb south of downtown Seattle. Her house was built in 1908 and has been her home since 1981. During my visits these many years, I have explored bike routes over and around Beacon Hill and adjoining ridges.

For me and many others, Lake Washington Boulevard is a happy place to be. While some people frolic in the lakeshore parks, others are walking or running on the walkways near the street. And cyclists? This road, with its peaceful ambiance is a destination point. In a city with hard climbs, steep down hills, and constant traffic, we can enjoy few miles of hard, fast cycling and, friendly  bicycle talk over Starbucks coffee.

Peter Berger and the Possibilities of Faith

July 18, 2017

On June 27, 2017, Peter Berger died. In its obituary, the New York Times described him as “an influential, and contrarian, Protestant theologian and sociologist who…argued that faith can indeed flourish in modern society if people learn to recognize the transcendent and supernatural in ordinary experiences” (published June 30, 2017).

Two of Berger’s books have influenced my theological reflections significantly: The Heretical Imperative, Contemporary possibilities of Religious Affirmation (1979, 1980) and Questions of Faith, A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity (2004). These two monographs are discussed in an unpublished paper I wrote in 2008, entitled “Fluid Retraditioning.” The first paragraphs and a link to the paper appear below.


Classically Christian and at the Same Time Liberal

As I grow older, the biblical character with whom I most closely identify is the man in the ninth chapter of Mark who blurted out to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” This conflicted declaration of faith came forth when the man’s adolescent son, who suffered from a seizure syndrome, was brought to Jesus to be healed. When Jesus stated that healing depended upon faith and prayer, the father confessed his own divided heart: faith was intermingled with unfaith. His ardent hope that miracle-worker Jesus could heal his son was compromised by years of disappointment as he had watched the child’s malady grow ever more troublesome.

My conflicts concerning faith are sometimes caused by immediate experiences, but more often by a broader conflict in the mind, by the tension between classic Christian beliefs concerning God, who made the world and called all things good, and the “terror of history,” to use Mircea Eliade’s telling phrase, which is the context in which all people dwell. A second reason for my cognitive dissonance is that the classic language of faith, as used in the church’s liturgical practice, the Bible, and theological tradition, is couched in the “picture language” of heaven and earth, principalities and powers, angels and demons, mighty works and wonders. Yet the world in which my head and body live is determined by the double axis of history and science. How can I, an intelligent man of our time, affirm a vision of life that is expressed in language that is so contrary to what I know to be true?

Peter Berger, who is a credentialed sociologist and active lay theologian, expresses the challenge succinctly: it is “to have faith in the redemption of which the Bible is the principal witness, without necessarily accepting the cognitive structure within which this witness is communicated” (Questions, 113). Read more Fluid Retraditioning