A cyclist’s sore legs saga

June 4, 2015
When your legs hurt, it's a long way to the top

When your legs hurt, it’s a long way to the top

This story began about five years ago when I was in my late 70s and a veteran of more than 40 years of aggressive cycling. When walking around, I sometimes felt pain in the muscles of my left thigh.

Because it didn’t register while I was on the bike, I resisted the possibility that cycling was the cause. After all, I kept telling myself, cycling is supposed to be easy on the knees, which is why many older cyclists take up this sport after running, tennis, and racket ball have ruined their knees.

The first time I asked my doctor about the pain, he flopped down on the floor to demonstrate an exercise that would ease the problem. He also recommended using a foam roller to do a self-massage on my living room floor. A year later, he gave me a name—IT band syndrome. By this time, I finally had admitted that it was brought on by cycling.

The next step was to schedule a professional fitting at a bike shop. The fitter videotaped me as I rode on my bike positioned on a trainer. She confirmed saddle height and reach to the bars. The only adjustments she made were to tilt the hoods up about three eights of an inch and move my cleats back about the same distance.

During a winter visit with my cycling son in Florida, there was no cycling but much more walking than I usually do, a sauntering visit to a civil war fort, and fifteen minutes of easy lobbing at their ping pong table. The result was pain in my right knee so intense that it was difficult to do the stairs up to my bedroom.

Internet searches provided a general explanation for the pain in both legs: insufficient muscle strength in my upper body was causing leg muscles to work in ways they are not designed to work, and therefore the pain.

My doctor suggested that he could prescribe steroid shots and a friend proposed acupuncture. I resisted both therapies because I wanted to overcome the cause of the pain rather than treat the symptoms.

A 24-hour fitness center across the street from my home seemed like the solution. My health insurance program provided free access to the center and use of its equipment. I signed up with a personal trainer to learn how to use the machinery in order to reestablish the muscular balance my body lacked. He also showed me some new stretching exercises and techniques for using a roller. With his advice I bought a real foam roller and an exercise stretch band to improve my activities at home and eased up on cycling, but the pain didn’t go away. Instead, it seemed to be getting worse.

Even so, I signed up for my annual week with PAC Tour in Arizona during the last week of February. I cycled five of the six days of the week, with lots of climbing, for distances ranging from 50 to 70 miles per day. Although I felt pain, especially in my right hamstrings and knee, I was stronger and the pain was easier at the end of the week than when I began.

At home again, I walked a block up the street to a studio offering “muscular therapy.” The therapist with whom I talked indicated that she specialized in the syndromes that I was describing. In my first session, she found hot spots all over both legs and into my hips, some of them I had not even been aware of until her hands led to spasms of sensitivity and pain.

During four hour-long sessions, we talked extensively about how the muscular systems are inter-connected. Although she didn’t offer suggestions for cycling, she confirmed the value of foam rolling and self massage when I was sitting or lying down, either in bed or on the floor.

On the first Saturday of May I rode 60 miles on the annual Ride Around Clark County event sponsored by the Vancouver Bicycle Club. Although plenty sore for a couple of days, I was encouraged by the fact that some of the pain was similar to the day-after distress I have always felt after long, hard rides.

The resolution to my distress, however, began with a book that I came across a couple of days prior to my Arizona trip: Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage: Core Strength for Cycling’s Winning Edge, by Tom Danielson and Allison Westfahl.

More about what I learned and what’s happening to my legs next time.

Why the focus on eucharistic worship?

June 2, 2015

Communion Table at First Christian Church, Portland

In a recent blog I described plans to update my understanding of eucharistic renewal in ecumenical Protestant churches. A friend responded with the suggestion that I broaden the search to include community churches that have developed as an alternative pattern in American religious life.

While these churches deserve careful study, there are several reasons for staying with the plan as announced, which is to focus on eucharistic worship in the denominations that have often been referred to as mainline, classic, or historic Protestant churches.

They are firmly rooted in the Reformation of the sixteenth century—the reforms initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, John Knox, and others. These churches represent parallel and sometimes competing variations of theological reform, cultural transformation, and humanistic learning that were flowering during that period. Thus many of the presuppositions, characteristics, and practices of these churches are very much alike.

My interest in the eucharist as practiced in these churches is prompted, in part, by the fact that this aspect of worship represents the most important unfinished business of the tradition spawned by the sixteenth century Reformation. Despite the intention of the founders that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper continue at the center of their church life, competing principles, especially the focus upon the Word as dominant metaphor, have kept these churches from completing the liturgical aspects that were part of their intention.

The resolution of these issues was central to the liturgical movement in the latter decades of the twentieth century. It was also one of the primary intentions of the Consultation on Church Union, which was the most important church union movement in the United States during the entire twentieth century. Regrettably, neither of these movements achieved its intention to restore eucharistic worship to its rightful place at the center of church life.

Although completing the eucharistic reform of their churches was one of the avowed goals of ecclesial activity, my impression is that only one of these Protestant churches in the United States—the Episcopal Church—has actually achieved the goal of making the eucharist the staple of weekly worship in its congregations. I want to confirm my understanding of what currently is happening in this regard and explore reasons why the reforms have once again fallen short.

The reasons stated above focus upon the past as it shapes present practice. Other reasons for this study focus upon the impact of the future as a modifying and impelling force. During the past two decades my own church-going activities have been in congregations that can be described by various adjectives, including liberal and progressive. These churches affirm intellectual and cultural values of mainstream society, resist traditional theological formulations, value stability in public worship, and affirm the importance of active involvement in the struggles for justice in the world.

These churches are unsure about celebrating the eucharist, even when the texts have been revised.  Many people find them to be theologically offensive and the ceremonies outmoded. One response is to downplay the importance of this central sacrament. Another is to make significant changes in both the texts and ceremonies of worship at the communion table. Still another is to hold doggedly to the official reforms that were published during the 1980s and 90s even though they have not taken hold in many congregations across the country. I want to explore this aspect of the continuing evolution of the ecumenical Protestant churches.

A prominent point of view these days is that major transformations of the church take place about every 500 years. This position holds that the Reformation of the sixteenth century was one of these periodic transformations, and that now we are in another such period. According to this pattern of analysis, much that has been fixed in church life is set aside during these 500-year reforms and new theologies and ecclesial forms emerge.

Thus the question that I am exploring: is classic eucharistic worship one of the features now being dismissed from effective church life? Or is this central meal ceremony being remade into a different mode of gathering a community that is in some way shaped by the movement that emanates from Jesus of Nazareth?

Table-centered worship: a personal update

May 20, 2015

Last Supper-Folk Sculpture
Twenty years ago in March I retired after teaching Christian worship for thirty-three years, with special interest in the church’s central sacrament, the gathering around the Lord’s Table. There Christians meet to remember Jesus as he asked us to do, experience his living presence in “the breaking of the bread,” and become again what we already are—the body of Christ given for the life of the world.

Soon after retiring I published a book—The Great Thanksgiving: The Eucharistic Norm of Christian Worship. To my regret, it didn’t sell very well and has been out of print for many years. During these retirement years, I have continued full participation in church life, including regular attendance at the Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and frequently have presided as pastor or served as a presiding elder according to the practices of my own church.

What I have not done is stay in touch with the ongoing work of “liturgiologists,” the people who work seriously at the history, theology, ritual forms, and cultural factors related to worship. My continuing life as a church-goer, participation in on-going clergy groups, and modest monitoring of the blog-a-sphere keep alive my interest in the field of study to which I have devoted so many years.

During the next two years, I hope to wake up from this twenty-year sleep and familiarize myself with the main currents of what has transpired since my retirement. The process will likely include several simultaneous activities:

  • Attending Sunday worship in a reliable cross section of churches, primarily Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), others that participated in the Consultation on Church Union, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church;
  • Talking with pastors, musicians, and lay members about their experiences and ideas concerning worship;
  • Examining books of worship, draft liturgies, trial liturgies, and manuals of instruction that have been published during the past two decades;
  • Surveying books and periodical literature about worship, especially the eucharist, that have been published since I retired.

A good aspect of being retired is that I can work on this project in my own way and stay with it as long as my personal interest and intellectual drive keep me at it. I’ll not be working for anyone other than myself. This work is energized by the clear sense that this up dating is consistent with who I have always understood myself to be.

Certain factors will shape the way this period of work will develop. One of the most important is the cognitive dissonance I experience as a person committed to the broad consensus of faith and practice that transcends denominational particularity and at the same time is nurtured in an idiosyncratic small American denomination.

Closely related is the tension between my commitment to classic Christianity, especially as it has been transmitted by the ecumenical Protestant churches, and urgent pressures to establish new theological, ceremonial, and cultural patterns for Christian assembly.

Another way to define my purpose is to say that the time has come work toward accomplishing two personal goals: (1) make sense of my experiences in recent years, especially those in the congregation where I have worshiped for a dozen years, with its strong focus on mission in the community and general alignment with theological ideas of progressive Protestantism; and (2) resolve the cognitive dissonance and religious tension that I have felt in these recent years.

Note: The picture at the top is a piece of folk sculpture I bought many years ago, although with no recollection of the occasion and place where I saw it. It measures 5.5 by 8 inches. Used copies of my book The Great Thanksgiving are available through Amazon at prices ranging from $0.01 to $5.07. The book is worth every penny!




Shaping the last chapters of life

March 31, 2015

A review of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

GawandeNear the end of this 260-page book, the author states a fact of life that most people already know. When we face the endings of life, “no one ever really has control. Physics and biology and accident ultimately have their way in our lives. But the point is that we are not helpless either.” The guiding principle is that within these limits we “have room to act to shape our stories, though as time goes on it is within narrower and narrower confines” (243). At this point, author Atul Gawande summarizes the themes he has presented throughout this persuasive and interesting book.

First, our “most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer. This misunderstanding is widely distributed through American society and is sharply focused in the medicalization and institutionalization of elder care. Throughout the book Gawande illustrates this theme with stories of people whose last chapters were made increasingly difficult because of treatments that well meaning people, including family, friends, and medical providers, had thought to be right.

Second, the “chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life.” Here, too, Gawande supports his thesis with life stories—of people he has met in his medical practice and members of his family, both in India and the United States. In the epilogue he expresses appreciation to more than 200 people who had shared their stories with him. These life accounts demonstrate that people cope with their mortality best when they a determining voice in decisions about the care they are to receive.

Gawande’s third theme is that we now “have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s life.” He writes in an encouraging vein because many people already are at work in this reformation of the ways that our society relates to people who are living their last chapters. In part, Gawande’s purpose is to explain and affirm changes already taking place. Another purpose is to encourage people who are now in their last chapters of life to avail themselves of these increasingly available opportunities. Furthermore, he intends to instruct people like himself—professional care givers and immediate family members and friends—about their supporting roles in helping people they know age and move toward death in the best ways possible.

Being Mortal has a strong autobiographical cast. Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a professor at Harvard Medical School. His late father also was a surgeon and his mother is a physician. In the earlier portions of the book, he tells about his own efforts to understand people as they faced their mortality and the new modes of supporting them that are developing across the nation. He describes the presuppositions he brought into his medical practice, especially the assumption that his primary responsibilities as a surgeon were to prolong life and keep people safe. With similar candor he describes how difficult it has been for him to develop a new set of priorities and better ways of communicating with patients, their families, and medical practitioners like himself who were schooled in the prevailing medical model. Continue reading Shaping the Last Chapter

Wonderful old bikes at the world’s smallest bikeshop: my annual report

March 16, 2015

Dale at Work

Every year I stop by Claremont, California, to spend a few days in research at theological libraries, visit old friends at Pilgrim Place, and check in with Dale Mattson and his son Sam at Claremont Velo, the world’s smallest bikeshop. Wednesday through Saturday of most weeks, Dale opens the windowed nook where he keeps things and moves a work stand and half a dozen bikes out onto the sidewalk and he’s ready to go.

His shop is across Yale Street and east on Foothill Boulevard about 50 yards from the library where I do most of my research. I walk past his place every time I go to Wolfe’s Market to pick up a little food for lunch.

I was especially glad for Dale’s presence this year because I was having trouble removing pedals from the bike that I was packing to take home after riding it in Arizona and up Mt. Baldy. In addition to the allan key that is needed, Dale had a hollowed out seat post that he used as an extender in order to make the pedals come loose.

The bike on the stand was a beautiful black and red Motobecane from a long time ago. One of my daughters bought a bike just like it around 1971 or 72. Although she bought a new bike 30 years later, the old Motobecane is still in her possession. It is good to see such fine old classics.

When Dale bought the bike for a tiny sum, it had been in someone’s shed and had been used as nighttime roost by chickens and birds. With a couple of hours of detailing, however, it has shined up nicely. With new cables and rubber, along with general overhaul, it will be a wonderful mount for someone, and, I presume, at a far more reasonable price that such a nice bike might command in other venues.

The bike that tempted me was hanging in the shed—a 1980s Bertoni. It had scarcely been ridden at all in the quarter of a century since its owner bought it. Dale has done basic conditioning and would sell it with a list of things still to be done—like new cables and rubber—or add an appropriate amount and do that work himself.

Bertoni Headtube

Bertoni Headtube

The bike was made by the Alan company that sold many bikes under its own name and other labels. I own an Alan frameset, given me by a friend, and have thought that I might set it up to be rideable again. Dale suggested that it would be easier, and probably no more expensive, to buy his Bertoni that’s ready to ride, and with all original equipment.

Over the weekend, my wiser self took over. I don’t have adequate space for the three bicycles I intend to keep in the years ahead. What would I do with still another? So that absolutely gorgeous Bertoni will become the joyful mount for someone else who values fine, old bicycles.

By the way, I think the Bertoni has a 56 cm seat tube. Maybe it’s just the bike for you.

A baked land of chaotic hills and valleys

March 10, 2015
A Dry Wash near the San Pedro River

A Dry Wash near the San Pedro River

The annual Desert Training Camp for 2015, conducted by Pacific Atlantic Cycle Tours (PAC Tour), began with the Historic Hotels Tour during the last week of February. This year marked the twentieth season that PAC Tour has conducted a winter training program in the Southern Arizona desert.

In addition to Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangela, owners of PAC Tour and record setting ultra marathon cyclists in their earlier years, two participants in the 2015 Historic Hotels tour participated in that first Desert Training Camp twenty years ago. A member of this year’s crew had been Lon’s training partner even before the PAC Tour company was organized to train long distance cyclists and has ridden or been crew on 40,000 PAC Tour miles. One of the cyclists registered as a rider for the inaugural week in 1996 and he has participated in Desert Training Camp for seventeen of its twenty years.

The first season was only one week long, and its emphasis was upon the middle word in its title: Desert Training Camp. It was pitched toward young cyclists still in active training for competitive events, especially long distance rides. Well-known coaches and trainers were part of the attraction, and daily rides included practicing techniques such as riding in pace lines. Since Lon and Susan were still in their thirties, their own exploits on bicycles were clearly part of the draw.

When I first read about these weeks in the Arizona desert, the descriptions emphasized the training opportunities, which was one of the reasons why this program attracted my attention. By that time, the winter program had been extended to more weeks and the clientele had begun to change: fewer young racers and an increasing number of middle aged touring cyclists who could ride 100 miles a day, although in a recreational rather than competitive mode. The continuing emphasis upon fast, long distance touring was the primary reason I chose PAC Tour when I decided to try riding with a touring company rather than exclusively as a solo cyclist.

The Historic Hotels Tour for 2015 shows the full transformation from hard racing to recreational touring. Daily mileage for the week ranged from 47 to 67. Twenty-seven cyclists were registered: six in their 30s and 40s, six in their 50s, eleven in their 60s, and four in their 70s and 80s. Twelve were women. Nearly half of the riders had done previous trips with PAC Tour, while others were riding with Lon and Susan for the first time.

Half or more of the group were confident that they could handle the distances, while others were apprehensive, two or three because they had done very little cycling like this and several others because they were overcoming injury or were uneasy about their current level of physical readiness for rides this length. Susan, and the other members of the support staff reassured riders that they would do all that they could to help us enjoy the week cycling through this high, dry plateau in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert,” a “land of little rain,” to use Mary Austin’s descriptive phrase. Read more….Baked Land of Chaotic Hills and Valleys


Fairbank, Arizona

Fairbank, Arizona

Vigil Mass at Mission San Xavier del Bac

March 2, 2015
White Dove of the Desert

White Dove of the Desert

Nine miles south of downtown Tucson, the Mission Church of San Xavier del Bac is a monument to the history of Christian ministry with the Tohono O’odham people who long before Spanish occupation had established a flourishing society is this land of little rain. The mission was established by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692.

He laid the foundations for a church building that was never erected. Construction of the church that now is resplendent in the Arizona sun began in 1783 and was completed in 1797. According to the historical account posted at the church’s website, this church is “the oldest intact European structure in Arizona” and its interior “is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th century space.”

The website gives more detail about the art and architecture of this historic building. In times past, the church has suffered damage from an earthquake and a lightning strike. Funding for a major restoration is currently underway.

Unlike many ancient ecclesiastical structures, San Xavier del Bac continues to be an active church, with a special mission to serve the Tohono O’odham people on whose land it stands. Although I have previously visited it as a tourist, I stayed in Tucson an extra day following my bicycle tour of historic hotels of southern Arizona in order to attend Mass (the Saturday Vigil) at this glorious house of worship.

When I drove to the church, the western sky was dominated by flat clouds with brilliant colors of orange and burgundy caused by the setting sun. An open plaza is maintained in from of the church, with unpaved parking facilities on either side. The walk from one’s car becomes part of the experience because worshipers are brought around to a place where they face the front façade directly and see both the beauty of the gleaming white structure and the warmth of the brown, modestly sized front entrance.

I followed two small sets of worshipers, a duo of white women in their early 70s and a young family with dark skin tones whose two pre-school children were among the small number of children present for Mass. Just inside the open doors parish bulletins were held down by rocks about six inches long to keep them from blowing away in the sharp evening breeze. After picking up a bulletin, many of the worshipers reached over the narrow table for a large print missal and hymnbook. There were no greeters, and people went immediately to find seats.

Prayers at San Xavier del Bac

The nave is long and narrow, with about 20 rows of benches with low backs. Close to the wall on each side there is a bench that seats two people; then a narrow aisle; and down the middle a bench that seats 4 to 6 adults. At 5:20 when I entered the church, the first 9 rows were already filled, and during the next 10 minutes the additional rows and transept seating were also occupied. My estimate is that approximately 165 worshipers were present—mostly in their 60s and beyond, mostly with light skin tones, mostly dressed in ordinary weekend attire.

At 5:25 the slight murmur of conversation went silent. The woman who served as cantor took her place at the edge of the space where a simple altar-table was set with the vessels that would be used during the Mass. With clear voice and articulate instructions she announced the entrance hymn. Congregants stood for the singing and the presiding priest with two teenaged boys processed up the aisle on the left.

In contrast with the cantor, the priest and others who had speaking parts in the liturgy (a religious woman, a lay man, and a lay woman) spoke in muffled tones so that it was hard to understand what they were saying. The five-minute homily drew upon the Genesis account of the sacrifice of Isaac and the epistle text from Romans 8, giving a conventional interpretation.

The Mass was straight out of the book and could have been celebrated in any ordinary Catholic Church anywhere in the country. Everything was done “decently and in order,” to use Paul’s phrase from 1 Corinthians.

During the closing hymn, congregants began their exit so that by its close only a third of us remained in place. From beginning to end, the liturgy took 50 minutes.

The insufficiencies of some of the leaders of the service, however, were marginalized by three other factors. First, the piety of worshipers and their ability to enter into the language and action of the liturgy; second, the theological coherence of the Mass and its prescribed rituals; and third, the aesthetic spirituality of the worship room itself. I left the Mass with a strong sense of the beauty of holiness.

Devotions at San Xavier del Bac


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