Old man’s bicycle mount

October 20, 2017

The Old Man’s Bicycle Mount

 “I’m having trouble getting on my bike,” I told Bill Davidson when he was delivering the custom bike he had just crafted for me. “I can’t swing my leg over the saddle as easily as I’ve been doing all these years.”

“Do it this way,” Bill responded. “Lay the bike on its side and step over the top tube, placing your foot on the ground in the middle of the frame’s triangle. Bring the bike half way up and step on over the crank to the ground on the other side. Pull the bike upright, engage the pedal with your foot, and you’re ready to go.”

I’ve tried the old man’s mount from time to time and find it clumsy and slow. It embarrasses me to do it when someone’s watching.

Even so, the time has come when I have to swallow my pride. For four three or four years, I’ve been troubled with a sore left leg that seems to be a persistent case of IT band syndrome. My doctor, a cyclist himself (and twenty-five years my junior) gave me the diagnosis and recommended an exercise regime. I used my Silver Sneakers program to join a fitness center and paid a physical trainer to help me. Although the pain pattern changed, the discomfort continued.

Therapeutic massage eased the pain. I signed up for yoga in a studio a neighbor recommended, but the teacher spent more time describing her personal relaxation experiences than in teaching a novice like me how to learn the positions. After a few weeks, I dropped out. I continued stretching the way I had learned to do it during cross country training when I was in high school and added moves that are described as IT band-specific.

The problem has continued. While I’m on the bike, I feel fine, but the next day the pain hits and continues into the night. Although my flank hurts a little, the more serious pain clusters around my knee and where my leg joins the torso. Massaging on a foam roller helps, but the pain doesn’t go away.

There seems to be no choice but to use the old man’s bicycle mount. After three days, I was feeling better—enough to take a forty-four-mile ride, my longest in several weeks. It was a humid, unseasonably hot day. On the bike there were a few twitches of the syndrome. After the ride, a shower and a nap, both legs, my lower back, and shoulders were stiff and sore. I spent a few minutes rolling around, took a pain pill, and dozed again.

Within a couple of hours, the pain was nearly gone and by evening I was moving in an almost normal way. The next morning I was fine, except for a little residual fatigue. Does this mean that the old man’s bicycle mount is the solution to my problem? It’s too early to tell, but I intend to stay with it long enough to improve my technique and give it a chance to work.

At the McDonald’s where I stopped half way through the long ride, I talked with a man about twenty years younger than I. Because of chronic vertigo, he’s given up riding a standard road bike and now rides a performance-oriented three-wheeler. We agreed on one point. Moving into our later decades, whether our sixties as in his case, or the eighties as in mine, the advancing years bring challenges.

Fortunately, cycling is an adaptable sport. Some people start cycling when they have to give up running or tennis. Even cycling, however, makes demands upon our bodies and we have to adapt or quit. For me, learning the Old Man’s Bicycle Mount appears to be the way to go.

Six weeks after making the change, I’m doing better, and it may be that I’m on my way to recovery. It’s probably time to try yoga again, but this time in a studio that has a program for old guys like me. No meditative chants. Hands on coaching for beginners. Emphasis on flexibility and strengthening core muscular strength.

In their book Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100, Roy M. Wallack and Bill Katovsky affirm that old guys like me can keep on riding. If the old man’s bike mount will help me reach that goal, I’m going to keep doing it!

The Fermented Man: Learning to Eat Simple Foods

September 28, 2017

Reviewing The Fermented Man: A Year on the Front Lines of a Food Revolution, by Derek Dellinger (New York: The Overlook Press, 2016)

Derek Dellinger is a homebrewer whose interest in fermented food and drink expanded until he decided to do an experiment, eating and drinking only fermented food and beverage for an entire year. In this book he opens the mysteries of fermenting, delving into the ways that microbes work and why those in properly fermented food and drink are good for us. Dellinger explains the industrialized food industry in the United States, indicating how often it diminishes the quality and variety of the foods that are available to consumers.

The book recounts the author’s experiments in fermenting, some disappointing, others successful, and provides instructions and eleven recipes. Although the book’s subtitle refers to “the front lines of a food revolution,” the author clearly states that he is not urging readers to adopt the fermented way of life he followed for the year.

At the end of his twelve months he went back to a pattern of nutrition that included many of the unfermented foods he had set aside for twelve months. A few moments after midnight of the year his experiment ended he “plowed through a bowl of guacamole perhaps a bit too fast.” When he couldn’t finish the entire bowl he realized that he really wasn’t all that hungry and that his stomach had shrunk during the year. He decided to take it easy to let his stomach get used to the changes. “Some part of me now wanted my caloric intake in small and steady, efficient doses.”

Dellinger quickly realized that some popular and easily obtained foods, in addition to sauerkraut, are fermented, including bread, cheese, yogurt, and salami. Beer, cider, kombucha, and wine can be found most places. To live for a year on this short list of food and drink, however, would be incredibly boring and would be lacking in a full range of nutrition. Dellinger learned to find sources of already prepared fermented food and  prepared many for himself.

For some foods, especially vegetables, fermentation is straight forward: cut up the raw food, pack it tightly in glass jars, cover it with water, and add a little salt to the mix. Screw the lids down, but leave them just loose enough that carbon dioxide released by the microbial process can burp its way out.

Switching to his 100% microbial diet had an immediate and strong effect upon Dellinger’s body. It was relatively easy to maintain a nutritional balance, but getting enough protein took special effort. His health was good, but he was tired more than he liked. He stayed thin, even though he ate a lot of cheese. Especially interesting is the way that this special diet seemed to distance him from the typical American desire for abundance, variety, and satiation.

Dellinger points out that fermentation and fire (however the heat is applied) are two basic processes by which raw foods are transformed in texture, flavor, and nutritional properties. Fermentation and fire destroy harmful microbes and preserve foods.

Several chapters focus upon specific food groups and describe Dellinger’s efforts to learn how they are fermented and how it affects them. Dairy products, especially cheese and cultured butter, receive full attention. Natural processes of microbial transformation and the artificial processes of pasteurization are contrasted.

A chapter entitled “Differences Between White Bread and Cotton Candy” explains why the kind of bread that is widely used in the United States has been so altered in ingredients and manufacturing that its nutritional value is little different from that of cotton candy. Much to be preferred, he writes is bread made with a short list of ingredients—whole grain flour, yeast or sour dough starter, water, and maybe salt. It is mixed, kneaded, allowed to rise, given time to rest, and baked.

It’s the kind of bread my mother baked in a wood fired kitchen stove. I’ve thought about learning how to bake it myself, but for the time being will be content with sour dough multigrain bread made from scratch with basic ingredients that I can buy in a shop a few blocks from where I live.

At book’s end, Dellinger writes that he continues to eat simply and that “the pattern of simple eating may actually be the greatest shift in my long-term diet. . .The less complicated the food, the harder it is to overeat, and to overeat of things you maybe shouldn’t be eating much of at all.”



Wondering Around God

September 21, 2017

Two questions arise for most self-reflecting people. How did I come to be the person I now am? Have I become my real self yet? Elva Anson’s memoir, Wondering Around God (Fair Oaks, California: Emidra Publishing, 2017), is a thoughtful and candid exploration of her eighty-five years of life in which she seeks to answer these questions.

She describes her childhood and coming of age in small communities in the South San Joaquin Valley near Fresno, California. Because her father was pastor of Assembly of God churches, much of the detail in her life was shaped by religious ideas and practices—intense religious experience and the sense of the immediacy of God and Jesus; conservative, Bible-based doctrinal system; and strict rules about behavior, including a social pattern in which the father is head of the household and very much in control.

Despite a deep love for her family, Anson struggled with this system. She was fully engaged in church and public school activities, often in leadership positions, and sometimes experiencing conflict between competing systems. When she was invited to play cymbals in the school marching band, her father would not consent because his understanding of the Bible would not allow her to wear pants.

This challenge was resolved at one level when the band director decided that all the girls would wear white skirts while marching. At another level, however, the conflict remained. When she was visiting her grandpa’s farm, she was permitted to wear overalls when cleaning out the fox pens, and in the Bible men wore robes that looked like women’s clothing. How did these facts mesh with the rules her father laid down?

Anson’s struggles became more intense during her late teens as she focused attention on who she wanted to be. She knew that she did not want to be a missionary nor did she want to be a minister’s wife. “All of my wondering made thinking of the future confusing and difficult. “What I knew I didn’t want to be made me reluctant to try to find out what God wanted me to be” (p. 75).  Read more Wondering Around God

Liturgies in a Time When Cities Burn

September 6, 2017

Fifty years ago, in August 1967, my family and I moved temporarily to Seattle. Although the political temperature was heating up all around the country, we could not have imagined the terror that would descend upon the nation during the next few months,  a period that was climaxed by the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, riots and burnings in more than a hundred American cities, and the anti-Vietnam War rage in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention.

By design, I spent part of my time that year working as a member of the staff of University Christian Church, presiding at worship, teaching classes, and serving as consultant to church committees. I talked with people and listened to their conversations, trying to sense the mood of congregants in one large metropolitan congregation.

Most of my time, however, was devoted to research and writing. My intention was to read in the fields of anthropology and sociology in order to broaden my understanding of the cultural function of worship and other modes of public ritual. Quickly my attention came into focus on a short list of philosophical writings.

I wanted to understand Ernst Cassirer’s writings on the philosophy of knowledge and Susanne K. Langer’s exposition of the relation of cultural forms to human feeling. These two philosophers drew upon a wide range of scientific data in order to develop their overlapping philosophies of feeling and form. Although neither of them affirmed the Christian gospel, they helped me understand religious faith and liturgical action in ways that have sustained me ever since.

I also took advantage of the year to read more broadly in a wide range of theological and cultural studies, guided in part by articles in Saturday Review which I read faithfully. I jotted down notes and reflections and incorporated some of these ideas into longer essays or presentations that I made in my work at the church and in travels around the country during the year.

During the final weeks of my research leave, I gathered these occasional writings together and edited them into a book that was published in 1969. Its title, Liturgies in a Time When Cities Burn, identifies its central idea. The final paragraph gives a succinct summary of what the book contains.

In this time of violent passage various forms of the racial myth, with their intimations of the miraculous and the mysterious, have arisen to give us hope. The results—injustice, inhumanity, genocide, assassination—reveal the inadequacy of this way out of our deep anxiety.

Impotent, too, is the traditional wisdom enshrined in the liturgies of the church, for Christian worship has been demonized, transmuted from a witness against us to a means of our self-justification.

In order to lead us in creating a new society, in some time yet to come, the Christian liturgy of Word and Sacrament must be revivified, purged of its demonic traits, filled again with the qualities which it is supposed to have.

The table of contents indicates the scope of this relatively short book: Violent Passage; Ritual Becoming High Art; Feeling and Form; Liturgical Style; Guidelines for the Free Tradition; Weekend and Holy Day; How Do We Get There from Here? An Interesting Thought, but Can It Cool the Summer? The book concludes with an appendix of prayers for worship, bibliographic notes, and index.

Despite the fact that this book is grounded in events and research that took place half a century ago, it still seems relevant to church people today. It would be difficult to rewrite the book because it is so intertwined with what I was reading and experiencing in the 1960s. There are places, however, where relatively simple editing could be done that would increase its usefulness for today, and that I may decide to work at this kind of uipdating.

The book is available in a few libraries here and there. Used copies are listed by some book sellers. Let me know what you think about it.

As frontispiece, I used a statement from Philosophical Sketches by Susanne K. Langer. We are living, she wrote in 1964, in a new Middle Ages, “a time of transition from one social order to another. . .We feel ourselves swept along in a violent passage, from a world we cannot salvage to one we cannot see; and most people are afraid.” Half a century later, we seem to be living in that same world.

Wind Farms, Corn Fields, and Churches in Town and Country

August 28, 2017

In late August sixty-four years ago (1953), I made my first trip to the village of Somerset in Wabash County, Indiana. My wife and I were meeting the people with whom we would live for the next three years while I attended seminary in Indianapolis, seventy-five miles to the south.

It has been more than thirty years since I have driven through this broad swath of land in the corn, hogs, and soy beans strong hold of the Hoosier state. There was much to see when my daughter Carolyn and I revisited this community on a recent summer day.

Wind farms: Halfway into our drive, we came upon the first surprise, slowly moving, three-bladed windmills towering over the corn fields. Wind farms belong in western states, I thought, where landscapes are open, often desolate, with nothing to impede the constancy of wind. Now turbines have settled into the rural landscape of the Middle West. Already, I have found out that there is much to learn about the politics, economics, and environmental aspects of this development.

Corn, soybeans, and beautiful buildings: On this trip we drove over about a hundred miles of rural Indiana, much of the distance on state highways, especially IN 13. Although there has been little rain for the past thirty days, everything was green. Corn has reached its full height of twelve feet or more, and lush, green soybeans filled many fields. Houses and farm buildings seemed to be in good repair and many were surrounded by significant spreads of well-tended lawns. Even the berms appeared to be regularly mowed by property owners. I am confident that farming as I experienced it in the 1950s has changed dramatically, and here, too, there is much that I want to learn.

Somerset Church with New Entry

Country churches: The Somerset in which we lived was on low land close to the Mississinewa River, about five miles from the city of Peru. It was the largest settlement in Waltz Township and the township school, with forty-seven students in grades nine through twelve, was across the street from the parsonage. In addition to the Christian Church and Methodist Church in Somerset, five other churches were out in the township.

In the 1960s, a flood control dam was built down river near Peru and a wide strip of land across the center of the township is now part of the reservoir. Somerset was relocated on higher ground near IN 13, and the Christian Church building, which we had erected in 1954 following a fire that had destroyed the old building, was moved to a new site.

In later years, the church dropped its affiliation with the Disciples of Christ and changed its name to Somerset Church of Christ. It looks despondent, and a nearby resident told us that she sees only five or six cars parked nearby on Sunday mornings.

In sharp contrast is the College Corner Brethren Church. Despite its location in open country, far from populated places or state roads, it has flourished through the years. It has preserved the frame building in use when I lived in the township but has added on and in 2002 constructed a large worship space, fellowship hall, and staff offices. Here, too, there is much I want to learn.

County seat religion: Our travels took us through three county seat towns: Noblesville, Tipton, and Wabash. In each community, two sets of public buildings anchor the downtown areas: the county court house (and other governmental facilities), and churches, especially, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Christian.

There was a time when these churches were also the bulwarks of denominational strength: large memberships, generous financial support of denominational life and ministry, and the ability to encourage smaller congregations in outlying communities. As we drove by, the buildings looked as substantial as ever, but on a sunny Friday afternoon in late summer, it was hard to see that anything was happening.

Two decades ago, when I retired and moved away from Indiana, I thought that I understood church life in this part of the world. My recent drive in the country, however, makes it clear that much has changed since I went away and there is much for me to learn.

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