Did you celebrate Christmas in a way that even Jesus would love?

"A Christmas even Jesus would love" has been our theme at Horizons in December, and I would like to hear from you about how this idea may have affected the way you approached the season.

Think about the following ten questions. If you can answer yes to even one of them, you've taken a step toward a Christmas Jesus would love.

1. Did you make a difference to at least one person in need?
2. Did you practice financial integrity in your business and your buying?
3. Did you choose to be gracious rather than grouchy with those who waited on you?
4. Did you invest in a ministry that shows hospitality to strangers?
5. Did you show hospitality to a stranger when the opportunity arose?
6. Did you show hospitality to those already around you?
7. Did you welcome a child in your extended family or neighborhood on Jesus' behalf?
8. Did you invest yourself in the lives of children in your church?
9. Did you open your heart to kids in need?
10. Did you open yourself to the gift of God's gracious friendship?

Please reply and let us know if there was any way that you honored or experienced Jesus this season. I'd love to hear from you. (And let me know you're out there reading! Thanks.)


What did you think of "Nativity" movie?

If you read my previous posting, you got a few of my reflections on the movie. But for those of you who've seen it (about 200 from Horizons saw it last night), give us your reaction. I read an article in Christianity Today from the screenplay writer and how he wanted to show the human experience these people went through.

My favorite Christian movie critic, Jeffrey Overstreet, calls the movie uninspiring and disappointing. Here's his review. (My link button isn't working again, so you'll have to cut and paste this into your browser.)



Reviewing "The Nativity Story"

Last night Tricia and I went to see "The Nativity Story." Two hundred people from Horizons are signed up to see it November 20th, and I don't want to spoil the movie for you, so if you want to read this review after you've seen it for yourself, I understand. (Beware, this is my longest posting ever.)

I applaud writer Mike Rich (Radio; The Rookie; Finding Forrester) and director Catherine Hardwicke (Lords of Dogtown; Thirteen) for doing their homework on the culture of first-century Galilee and Judea: the grain harvest, olive pressing, the design of the homes and villages, the temple in Jerusalem, the religious traditions. These are the things I liked best about the movie.

Anytime you translate a written text into audio and video, certain assumptions must be made. For example, a conversation between Herod and his son Herod Antipas is plausible based on what we know about Herod the Great. The alignment of planets as the star the magi saw is one of several explanations that have been offered. It's not necessarily what happened, but it's plausible. The fear that Mary might be stoned for being pregnant out of wedlock is not mentioned in scripture. But such punishment was allowable under Jewish law, if not usually carried out. Again, it's added into the story, but it's not implausible.

The writer has woven together Matthew's and Luke's stories into a seamless whole that works well. For example, Luke records that the newly pregnant Mary leaves Nazareth to visit her cousin Elizabeth in Judea. When Mary returns months later, she is visibly showing. This is where the film inserts the episode from Matthew's gospel of Joseph's initial rejection of Mary. I'd never thought about harmonizing those two events, but it flowed nicely in the film.

Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac both do an admirable job of not over playing their roles as Mary and Joseph. No academy award nominations here, but I liked them and found them believable. I especially appreciated that the relationship between Joseph and Mary was not overly romanticized. Herod was believeably sinister. The magi provided a touch of comic relief.

The PG rating is certainly deserving; if it had been one degree more graphic in a couple of violent scenes (like the opening scene), it easily could have earned a PG-13 rating, so parents beware. It's not a movie that little kids are going to like anyway. For adults, it's a little slow, but if you're patient, you'll enjoy it.

Now, to my complaints about the film--and they are not many.

First, there are some chronology issues. While much of the film works hard to be faithful to scripture (for example, Mary says to the angel, "May it be to me as you have said," directly quoting Luke 1:38), the film places Herod's order to kill all the infants and toddlers in Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born, causing the holy family to flee immediately to Egypt.

That does not fit with Luke's chronology. Luke says that on the eighth day Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to be circumcised. This event is swept away in the "Nativity.”

It doesn't fit Matthew's chronology either, because Matthew implies that the magi arrived later, maybe even up to a couple years after Jesus was born. But in order to create the Christmas card scene, "Nativity" has the magi show up right on cue immediately after the shepherds on the night of Jesus' birth. That Christmas card effect is enhanced by showing the light from the "star" piercing through a hole in the clouds down upon the holy family.

I appreciated the pre-introduction of a shepherd to Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. We then later see an angel appear to this same shepherd telling him about the birth of the Messiah. I was surprised that he was alone when the angel spoke to him. Usually I think of a band of shepherds being addressed. But then as you see him heading toward Bethlehem, you also see other shepherds proceeding from their own hillsides on their way to Bethlehem.

This would actually fit the biblical text; the angel didn't have to appear to them in a group. It makes more sense that they were scattered about. The one thing I did miss, though, was the great company of the heavenly host suddenly appearing and saying stuff like "Glory to God in the highest." That scene must've been left on the cutting room floor.

One nice touch was hearing the voice-over of Mary in the final scene quoting from her "Magnificat," which chronologically actually happened when she first arrived to see Elizabeth. But it's as if Mary is remembering it, and it's a beautiful way to summarize the events we've just witnessed.

"He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers" (Luke 1:51-55).


TeamMates on steroids

Here's a quick post to let you know that I spent a couple hours a week ago Tuesday tagging along with Mike Heili, one of the chaplains for the men's shelter for the People's City Mission. It was my "First Serve" that we've been talking about at Horizons lately.

One man after another came to his office. One came in to visit. After that, Mike did an intake--telling someone coming into the mission the terms for staying there.

After that, guys one after another stood inside the door to Mike's office to talk awhile. Mike has a way of cutting through their barriers and getting them to face the heart of the matter. It doesn't work to be subtle with them. He has to be loving and confrontive at the same time. And he does a great job of letting them know he still likes them, and that he is (we all are) a real mess, too, but thank God for not giving up on us.

After my two hours there, I stood with Mike outside the front door of the mission and prayed for him. It nearly made me weep to know what he faces each and every day at work and how much God needs him there. But it will take more than human strength. It makes me want to pray for Mike and all the others who work on the front lines at the mission day after day. It makes me want to pray for them a lot.

I could see somebody reading this blog deciding to look into volunteering at the mission. Maybe being assigned somebody at the shelter to just visit with for an hour once a week. Maybe you'd get a new person every few weeks, but you'd visit with them once a week as long as they're there. You wouldn't try to fix all their problems, but you'd support them in working with God to find answers to what they face.

This would be like TeamMates on steroids.


Tag along with Mike

Just to catch you up, I've decided what my "First Serve" will be.

(Based on a program Horizons is using from Willow Creek Community Church, "First Serve" is when each of us tries something out one time to see if it's a ministry God might be leading us to commit to on a regular basis. A "First Serve" means we shadow someone and primarily observe that initial time.)

For a couple hours on November 14, I'm going to tag along with Mike Heili, chaplain at the People's City Mission's men's shelter. I've decided to cancel staff meeting that morning to carve out time for it. I know that I can't add something unless first I subtract something else. Don't know if this will be regular thing or how I'd find time to make it regular; taking this just one step at a time for now.

But it'll be good for me to serve outside of Horizons, to do something that's truly volunteer and not part of my role as pastor.

I'll let you know how it goes. Peace.


Rearranging the furniture

One of the things I don't like to hear from my wife Tricia is that she'd like to rearrange the furniture. I'm always fine with it the way it is. She's much more feng shui about that kind of stuff.

But if I have to help move the furniture, I only want to do it once. Figure out where you want it, and then we'll move it there and leave it.

Of course, that's never how it goes. We have to move it, and then she'll look at it and see how it feels. And then we'll move it again. And again. I think she should be able to visualize how it's going to feel before we move it, but that's where I'm wrong again.

When we moved into this house ten years ago, we had to get rid of some stuff, because we used to live in an older, bigger house. For example, we brought with us an antique pump organ that actually played, but there was just no room for it in this house, so we sold it.

Even now, we don't have room to add furniture. If we get something new, something else has to go.

A lot of us who have devoted ourselves to following Jesus are trying to add him into our already crowded lives, resulting in compounded frustration.

If I'm going to truly follow Jesus and "live beyond myself," then that will mean letting go of some things, even good things, that consume my time and attention.

For example, I see myself doing something on a weekly basis to assist the poor or the incacerated (Matthew 25:35-36). But it's not going to happen until I figure out what I can let go of.

Maybe I can start out by letting go of something just one hour a month, so I can visit the county jail or volunteer at the People's City Mission or something like that.

Rearranging the furniture won't be enough. I'll have to let go of something. But I'm ready to give it a shot. I'll let you know how it goes.


Angry over what?

This afternoon I've been sifting through Matthew's gospel for anything that relates to the subject of anger, since that will be the subject of Sunday's message.

Jesus gives a huge warning about anger and name-calling. He also commands his followers to not hate or seek revenge, but to love and bless those who treat us as enemies.

So, does that mean there's no room for getting P.O.ed? Is it always a sin to get steamed?

Look again. Jesus gets angry. He gets frustrated. He gets indignant. He pronounces judgment. He scolds.

Matthew's gospel also shows a lot of other people getting mad, too: the Pharisees, the chief priests, the disciples. But they're not getting mad about the right things.

After one particularly tense verbal exchange between Jesus and Simon Peter, Jesus put it this way, "You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16:23).

Maybe we need to learn what's worth getting mad over.

But this is way more of a preview of the sermon than I usually give, so I'll shut up for now.


NT in two sentences

Okay, I haven't posted for ten days. You're tempted to give up on me. I'm trying to do a better job managing my life and giving myself a daily dose of downtime. That means that some things are left undone--such as postings on the blog. (Is that a great excuse, or what?)

As most of you know, the blog began as a way to record and share my reflections about trying to be car-free in July. I still bike some, but blogging about it seems to have run its course. So I'm trying to get a sense for what this blog should be about, and I'm still feeling my way through it.

But today I want to share with you something I read this week from Richard Hays's book, "The Moral Vision of the New Testament". Yes, it is a thick theological textbook, but it's got a lot of good stuff. Anyway, on page 193 he summarizes the entire story of the New Testament in two sentences. Here it is.

"The God of Israel, the creator of the world, has acted (astoundingly) to rescue a lost and broken world through the death and resurrection of Jesus; the full scope of that rescue is not yet apparent, but God has created a community of witnesses to this good news, the church. While awaiting the grand conclusion of the story, the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is called to reenact the loving obedience of Jesus Christ and thus to serve as a sign of God's redemptive purposes for the world."

I've read it many times in the last few days, and I love the way Hays holds it all together. What do you think? Do you have questions about it?


Five years ago and today

Five years ago today, as I was leaving my car to walk into the church’s rented office, a business owner from another suite told me of a disaster in New York City. I called Trish, and she turned on the TV and told me what she was seeing. I went home and watched it with her. We hoped it was some kind of accident, but when the second plane hit, we knew it was intentional.

Remembering 9-11 feels different this year, because a couple months ago my son and I visited NYC. Walking amid the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan, I could imagine that day: hearing a low-flying jet but not knowing what it meant; watching with a sense of foreboding as smoke billowed out of the World Trade Center towers; fleeing with thousands of panicked others as suffocating dust rolled through the concrete canyons. Today, as I watch video footage of five years ago, it’s all the more vivid, because now I’ve been there.

As we walked the final block to Ground Zero, I felt heaviness in my chest, identifying with the sadness and chaos of that day. The visitor center is sandwiched between the vast pits that we were once the twin towers. Peering through chain link we saw the ground still littered with the final remnants of destruction. We stood before the artwork of hundreds of children in the visitor center, each grieving painting created to honor a parent, friend or relative who died in the attack.

September 11th. Four planes hijacked. Three buildings attacked. Nearly 3000 people lost. Our world forever changed. We are in a war that seemingly has no end.

I cannot interpret the events of that fateful day. I do not know if they are a message from God. But I believe that peacemakers are still blessed, as Jesus said. I believe the U.S., because of its wealth, strength and values, has the opportunity and a responsibility to be a servant-leader and help work for a better world.

Should the U.S. be in Iraq? Is staying there crucial in the fight against terror? Good, intelligent people disagree. But I do believe that the ultimate outcome in Iraq does not depend on the U.S. but on the people of Iraq. Only they can reclaim their nation and establish peace among the factions.

And so I pray that God, who raises up nations and brings them down, will give the people of Iraq the opportunity for peace.


Rethinking downtown cycling safety

Saturday's paper reported an accident downtown that killed motorcyclist, Fred McEntarffer. I'm acquainted with the driver of the car, Judge Warren Urbom.

Both families must be suffering terribly right now. Apparently Warren turned left from a non-turning lane of a one way street and turned into the motorcyle in the left lane.

It makes me rethink safety on my bike downtown. As much as I ride defensively, assuming that I'm invisible to motorists, I cannot predict when someone turning or changing lanes will fail to check over their shoulder for their blindspot. And with all the drivers straddling the new bike lanes, it seems like there's little room for cyclists in Lincoln's downtown multi-lane one-way streets.

Say a prayer for the McEntarffer and Urbom families.


Saving the world, right here in Lincoln, Nebraska

Gas prices are falling, but it's really not necessary to thank me. However, every time you've filled up at the pump lately and paid less, no doubt you've been thinking of Pastor Steve and his bicycle and how much gasoline I had personally saved the nation, causing a mini-glut and plummeting prices. It's all about supply and demand, don't you know.

I can understand your overflowing appreciation, but I can't take all the credit. Nearly ten people have started biking once in a while just because they heard about my car-free July! Think of the six people who rode their bike every Sunday to church in August (well, three Sundays; it was raining one time). By following my example, they're the ones making the real impact.

So it's no wonder crude prices worldwide are falling and gasoline inventories are up. Some so-called experts point to things like slowing world economies, the absence of damaging hurricanes, and a perceived relaxation of tensions between the West and Iran. But they always overlook what's right in front of them: the reduction of consumption right here in Lincoln, Nebraska.

But that's okay, we're humble. We don't want the limelight. One day history will show where it all began. Until then, we'll continue to quietly save the world from an economic meltdown. By the way, I need to fill up; where's the cheapest gas in town?

P.S., I promise to say something spiritual in this blog again soon.


bound to happen

I should've known this day would come. It was bound to. But let me back up.

Sunday morning I pedaled to the church property for our final August 8 a.m. outdoor service. After the third service that morning, we planned to meet extended fam for Sunday dinner, and since they'd already been waiting a good while on us, I decided to leave my bike in the office and ride with my wife in her car to the restaurant. Then of course it rained the rest of the day, plus we had stuff going on, so we never went back to get my bike.

All week my bike sat upside down in my office, waiting. Finally tonight it worked out for Tricia to drop me off so I could bring it home.

And it was a beautiful evening for a ride. There were a lot of people out on the bike trail, walking with a friend or a dog. I ran into (literally) a few bug swarms along the way. Couldn't see them, but I felt the tiny pelts against my face and was thankful to be wearing glasses.

Past the halfway point home, I encountered another swarm of bugs--not sure what kind they were, maybe gnats; they might've been mosquitoes, but they felt a little too hard for the frail frame of a skeeter.

Guess I wasn't paying attenion as well as I should have. I hadn't realized my mouth was open until I felt a tiny sting at the farthest back part of my throat. It was too far in to spit it out or cough up and before I knew it, it was gone. I had swallowed a bug.

And the funny thing is, I'm more eager to tell the story than I am bothered that I ate it.

Oh, well, everybody probably eats a few bugs in their lifetime without knowing it. But this time I knew it.

Many people have died from being bitten by a bug. To my knowledge no one has died from eating one. Guess it's all a matter of who bites first.

If you're waiting for a spiritual moral to this story, I haven't figured one out yet. Maybe you can come up with something.


Sharing the lane

Saturday I biked five-and-a-half miles downtown to a morning-afternoon conference at St. Paul United Methodist. Rode in on 14th Street and met up with the bike lane heading north, then turned left at N Street. If traffic had been heavy that morning I might've gotten off my bike and walked it down to 11th Street, but there wasn't much traffic, so I pedaled on one of the regular lanes on N Street.

A driver in front of me started to turn left on 12th Street and then realized he was going the wrong way on a one-way street. He swerved back and then turned left at 11th. I suspect he was from out of town, trying to get to the same meeting I was going to.

Then when he turned left onto 11th Street, he stayed to the left, not realizing he was straddling a bike lane.

After the meeting was over, I saw two vehicles pull out of St. Paul's small parking garage onto 11th Street, both of them straddling the bike lane, oblivious.

I don't fault them. They just weren't aware. Maybe they're so used to driving in that left lane, they didn't realize it has shifted because of the addition of the bike lane. Or maybe they are so unfamiliar with the downtown area, they're just trying to keep track of the one-way streets and don't have any attention left for these strange narrowly spaced white stripes.

So, all bike-lane-straddling motorists, I do not judge you. Be aware that an officer may not be so merciful, especially if that officer is riding a police-issue bicycle. No, I do not judge you. And I hope that you will be patient with me, if someday I'm a little slow on my bike and you can't easily get around me.

And next time I ride on a downtown bike lane, I'll be watching out for straddlers.


The "B" word

I meant to get a post up before today, but it just didn't happen. And it's because of the "b" word, a word I try to eliminate from my vocabulary. But I have to face the fact that this week, somewhat more than most, I've been too busy.

Normally, I never allow myself to say I've been busy, opting for a euphemism such as "life's been full lately." Somehow to talk about how busy one has been is a disguised way of promoting one's self-importance, like perennially showing up late to appointments. "Oh, I'm so busy" translates into "Oh, I'm so important."

But to say that this week I've been "too busy" is more like an admission of guilt. My 23-year-old son commented to me this week, "To work as hard as you do, I'd have to feel very passionate about my work." Sometimes the challenge is to keep up the passion.

The reason for the increased intensity this week is because the day I usually have to finish up my work (today) has been taken over by a day-long conference I have to go to and an evening company picnic from where my wife works. That meant I had to get everything done ahead of schedule this week.

Consequently I haven't biked since my day off on Monday, and I've only gotten one blog posting in since then. Too busy to bike or blog; that's too busy.

But fortunately I wasn't too busy for some other things.

I wasn't too busy to let my brother take me out for lunch this week (had a birthday).
I wasn't too busy to go out for barbecue with my wife and son (also on my birthday).
I wasn't too busy to call my brother and sister-in-law who are moving to Lincoln this weekened.
I wasn't too busy to go on my sacred Friday-night date with my wife.
I wasn't too busy to take time each day to pray.
I wasn't too busy to read several chapters from the Bible (into the prophet Jeremiah right now).
I wasn't too busy to at least scan the newspaper each day.
I wasn't too busy to talk on the phone with my daughter in California.
I wasn't too busy to have a conversation with my son about music theory and chord progressions.

I guess all of these things are more important than biking and blogging this week. Maybe I'll get a little biking in today. We'll see.



Sunday morning when I left for the services I didn't realize the problem. All the way there it seemed like my legs just didn't have the same zip I was used to. Oh, well, because of the trip to LA, I hadn't ridden in more than a week, so maybe that was it.

On the way back home it still felt like more work that it should. Then it hit me. My tires. I checked, and they were getting squishy. Not so bad that I couldn't ride on them, but severely under-inflated. No, I hadn't checked themm in a while.

Monday morning before I rode downtown, it was time to get my tubes fully pumped. Yeah, this is better. I feel the bumps a little more, but at least I'm not squishy.

Made me think of being infilled with the presence of the Holy Spirit. It's easy to not pay attention and go around under-inflated.


A lane of our own

I biked on one of the new downtown bike lanes for the first time today; they've been up for what, nearly a month? I'd previously told myself I wasn't interested in pedaling downtown until they put in some east-west lanes to go along with the two north-south ones.

Late this morning I biked to the Haymarket (Monday's my day off) using the residential streets along the way. Nice ride. But before heading home I ended up needing to make a stop near 11th and O. There it was on 11th Street, bold, bright, and beckoning.

The traffic wasn't heavy, so I decided to give the bike lane a shot. Turned out to be a nicer experience than expected.

Maybe this was a small way of letting motorists know that cyclists do want to share the road with them, and hopefully they'll get used to watching for us downtown in the bike lanes.

Another advantage in cycling downtown is that you don't have to pay for parking!

However, I was disappointed to see a StarTran bus clearly run a red light on 11th Street.


In the fog

I biked to church about 7:15 this morning in the fog. By the time I got there, my arm hairs were full of dew drops. The air was cool and nice, and I didn't mind at all. The fog seemed to hush the world around me.

A family biked to the 8 a.m. service today: mom, dad and five-year-old son. It was beautiful to see them arrive together. A dad and high school daughter biked there as well; I had never met them before. Biking or walking with a friend or a family member has an unexpected bonding effect, even when not much is said along the way.

I've found that spending those fifteen minutes biking on Sunday mornings helps clear my mind and makes mre more ready to meet the God I've come to worship. We all live in a fog. That's why it takes faith to find our way.


Kids Sale

Thanks for being patient with me since my last entry. My plan is to resume with several posts a week.

The reason for the five-day haitus is that Saturday and Sunday we drove 1500 miles pulling an eight-foot trailer, taking our daughter Carrie to LA for an internship. Not a trip I'm eager to repeat in the near future. Tricia and I flew back last night and arrived home about 12:30 a.m. We started missing her before we left the airport in LA.

Last week I noticed two yard signs posted at 80th and Old Cheney Road. On one was written, "Kids Sale." The other beside it read, "For Sale by Owner" with a phone number. It made me laugh, wondering if the two signs were put up by desperate parents who'd finally had enough.

I remember moments like that. But the hugging and crying that happened as we said good-bye yesterday makes all of desperate moments seem like ancient history. I'm still missing her today.

Maybe God misses us sometimes.


If aliens are watching

Today I haven't biked, but I did walk a mile to Tierra Park and caught StarTran's 27th Street Shuttle bus. The goal was to get downtown to pick up my daughter's repaired car. The route was a straight shot, and the bus dropped me off two blocks from my destination. Loved it--my second excursion on StarTran and very efficient.

I see a lot of people walking, but it's starting to seem funny to me how we walk to get exercise (which is good) but we walk without a destination. We drive everywhere and walk nowhere. If aliens are watching us (wouldn't angels qualify as aliens?), then I imagine that they are chuckling at we suburbanites who drive to the gym so we can ride a stationary bike or run on a treadmill. (And with all the miles I've put on a treadmill at the gym, I'm not pointing fingers at anyone but myself.)

Maybe this is a metaphor for our lives. We go through life without purpose while rushing from place to place. The discovery of purpose is a great reason to pursue God--who is already pursuing us.


What you can expect

For those who are interested in Horizons' outdoor 8 a.m. Sunday service, I want to fill you in on what'll be happening this Sunday, August 13. Besides a little praise-ful singing, there'll be a few people sharing.

First, Chris Lawson will share about his personal faith journey to and with Christ. Chris happens to be a recreational cyclist. When he and Bec got married a little over a year ago, one of the things they did with the wedding gift money was buy a pair of mountain bikes.

Then, we'll hear from Tom and Rogene Siletto who took up road biking in their 60s. They're part of the leadership for NUMB (Nebraska United Methodist Bikeride for hunger), coordinating all the hunger projects supported by the ride. They'll be sharing about how they've experienced God from the seat of a Trek. Rogene has also done the BRAN five times and Tom has done it four. They're both in their 70s, which is inspiring in itself. Rogene told me she expects to be biking at least until she's 85.

Last Sunday we had about half a dozen pedal in; I think three walked, one ran, and four or five others drove. So whatever mode you use is fine. Sweat is encouraged but not required.

Horizons is at 3200 Grainger Parkway. You'll see the chairs set up to the east of the building. If the weather's bad we'll meet in the first classroom on the left as you enter the east side door. Don't forget the coffee, donuts and bagels inside after the service.

I know this post has sounded like a commercial, and I apologize, but I figured some of you really wanted to know.


Buckling up and bicycling

As today is the 9th of August, it's time to reflect again on what it's like now that I'm not under a no-car pledge. I'm driving some and biking some, but I'm torn between them. I prefer biking, but lately I feel a need to economize my time by driving more than expected.

Weren't there just as many demands on my time in July as there are now? Was it easier to say no to going some places when I was committed to not driving? Was I better about consolidating trips last month than I am now?

As my schedule looks today, I'll be making at least four in-town trips, which I wouldn't normally have scheduled in July. I did the first one on my bike already. The second one will have to be by car. Not sure about the last two.

Lately a few people have told me they're thinking about, even shopping for, a bicycle either for exercise or transportation. Don't know if my influence has had anything to do with it. Maybe $3 gas has done it, with the prospect of $4+ gas since things have been shut down in Alaska.

When I was a kid (back in the day), wearing seat belts in the car wasn't common. They had become standard equipment on cars, but it was just something that got lost in the crease between the seat and the back rest. But somehow in the last 40 years, the vast majority of us have adopted the behavior of buckling up. How did that change happen? It's quite a phenomenon when you think about it.

What if a similar shift could happen so that we as a society gradually became less dependent on our cars and gasoline? Even just a little. What if biking, walking and bussing became part of the lifestyle for many of us, along with the automobile? What if the design and infrastructure of our city made alternate modes of transportation a viable option for more people?

What if the appetite for oil didn't control the world so much?

Anyway, over the next week I'm not sure how many posts I'll be able to put up, but I should be back to a more regular schedule by the 17th.


30 Days

Last week my friend (whom I haven't seen for a long time) Cliff Carlson called and even though he rarely watches television, his brother Darren told him about this show on the Fx channel called "30 Days." I guess the second season opened recently. Have you seen it? Cliff said it reminded him of my month-long lifestyle shift to going without a car in town last month.

I haven't, but here's a description I found online.

"On this show people are asked to participate in a lifestyle that's totally different from his or her own upbringing, beliefs, religion or profession. Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame will follow their progress as they learn what it's like to be in their new setting or situation. "

Spurlock is the guy who ate nothing but McDonald's for 30 days and made a film about it. I guess it's shown in schools now. Saw it in the video store the other day.

The TV show is about living in someone else's shoes. Someone who opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants living with such a family for 30 days. A Christian living with a Muslim family for 30 days. A straight Army reservist living with a gay roommate for 30 days.

We don't get any channel higher than 23, so can somebody tape it for me?



Well, my previous post has been on top for 64 hours, and no one has commented with a time when they've been inspired by someone else living out a chosen challenge. Maybe we're all in need of more real-life inspiring examples. I'll have to think about that.

If you're from Lincoln, you might've seen the guest column in yesterday's paper by Mark Weddleton, "We need an auto alternative." He says, "The problem is it's just not possible for most of us to reduce that reliance [on automobiles] without a move away from the overwhelming car-focused nature of government priorities. We need policies that make the alternatives viable." And he goes on to share about the Multi-Modal Transportation Study. Good stuff. And it's not unrealistically trying to get rid of all those evil cars.

For me the bigger question is could I be more multi-modal than I am; that's a big part of what last month's experiment was about.

Here's an update on my personal multi-modality as far as transportation goes.

Last week my wife Tricia and I walked to the drug store. We've never done that before. It's less than a mile each way. We wanted to go for a walk anyway, but this time we had a destination, and it saved us a trip in the car. The week before we walked with our neighbors about a mile each way to get some ice cream. We've never done that with neighbors before.

Lately Tricia and I have been riding together a few places. Friday night we took the Rock Island trail north and then a few blocks west to Piezano's for supper--just under seven miles round trip, nice and slow, a beautiful evening.

Our house is less than three blocks from the bus stop. StarTran isn't efficient for every trip, but that doesn't mean it can't occasionally be an option when it does work out. And you can read or work while you're on the bus, something you can't do while driving. I've only done it once, but I want to make it one of my transportation options.

It was cool that this morning at our first of four outdoor services at Horizons, we had people bike there, walk there, run there and drive there. I guess that makes it a multi-modal event.


Daily challenges

This week at our church’s Vacation Bible School, the kids all had the opportunity to choose a daily challenge that they would try to fulfill before VBS the following night. Some kids chose to do their sibling’s chores, make and send a card to a neighbor, pray for their VBS crew leader, or bring a friend the following night; stuff like that.

I like the idea of a daily challenge, not the kind that gets thrust upon us—which is challenging enough—but the kind we deliberately choose. We choose it and do it, because of who we are, and yet in the process of doing it, it changes who we are in a positive way.

I saw a lot people fulfill some daily challenges this week. They inspired me. Names withheld, if you were inspired this week because you saw someone choosing to fulfill their “daily challenge” (even if they didn't know that's what they were doing), please hit the comment link and post it. I’d like to hear about them.


Which way the wind blows

After two days of driving and leaving the bike sit in the garage, I couldn't stand it any longer. This morning I rode my bike to the church campus and then later to a coffee shop to meet a couple college students.

If you're biking south today, the air will feel calm, and your ride will be peaceful. And for some reason you'll feel a little stronger, a little faster today. And you'll experience the gentle sensation of how good you feel and how beautiful the world is.

What you may not realize is that you've been riding with the wind at your back, giving you that extra little push.

Funny thing about the wind, you don't really notice it until you're riding against it. Runners experience the same thing. Only when you turn around and run into it do you realize there's been a breeze at all.

Maybe that's what racism and other -isms are like. Persons born with built-in advantages rarely perceive them; they don't feel the wind behind them. Everything seems perfectly normal and peaceful.

But persons born without those advantages feel the wind against them. They continually struggle against it, while the rest deny the wind blows at all.

Jesus stood up against those who claimed their advantage via spiritual elitism and looked down on everyone else. He stood with those against whom the wind blew. I want to stand with Jesus.



The kids in my car last night were worried that we might run out of gas before we got to the mission, since I had less than 1/4 of a tank. I tried to reassure them, but they kept bringing it up.

So today I pulled up to the pump. I could only bear to put in $20 worth, which bought less than seven gallons. What a reason to bike.

I felt a little embarrassed to be seen at a gas station fueling my car, as if someone would recognize me and say, "Hey, I know you! Aren't you that bike-riding pastor whose picture and article were in the paper a while back? Why are you driving and buying gas?" And I'd have to explain that it was only for July. But still I'd feel like a hypocrite.

Did you see the article today "Our car love affair is beginning to skid" on p. 4A of the Journal Star? Couldn't find the LJS version on line, so here's a link to the AP story from another paper. While seven in ten enjoy getting behind the wheel, 15 years ago eight in ten enjoyed it. And the top reasons that people see driving as a chore is traffic and the behavior of other drivers.

One surprise from my July car-free experiment, now now that I've gotten behind the wheel again a little bit, is that I find driving less enjoyable.

Sounds like a segue to a spiritual lesson. But I'll let you make the connection.

Behind the wheel

I drove yesterday--something I hadn't done since our planned trip to Fremont on July 13. It felt a little weird, but it came back to me. Like riding a bicycle.

My legs needed a break.

Last night because I had my car, after Vacation Bible School was over I was recruited to drive five of the children back to the People's City Mission. All of the ones in my car are refugees from Sudan. Good use for a car.

Besides that I made a couple round trips to the church campus, but so far, I can't bring myself to turn on the radio. There's something about the silence of the bike ride that I'm not ready to give up even behind the wheel.

One thing that occurred to me on my way to work yesterday was this. Every bike ride is an experience. It might be beautiful and refreshing. It might be challenging and tiring. But it's always an experience. Driving in the car is just getting there.

Not sure what form this blog will take now that July is over, but it seems to have gotten in my blood. If you have any suggestions, please comment.

I learned yesterday that the article about my no-car month in the Journal Star has reappeared in abbreviated form in at least three other papers: Omaha, Hastings and Beatrice. I'm surprised it's considered that newsworthy.


Something new today

Haven't been on the bike yet today, and truthfully, I'm not looking forward to it. According to weather.com the temp is 104 F, and the south wind is blowing at 27 mph with gusts up to 36 mph. I have to leave for Vacation Bible School at the church campus in a few minutes, uphill and against the wind . However, it's July 31, the final day of my experiment, and I must persevere.

But today I did something new.

I rode on Lincoln's StarTran bus system for the first time in my life (which, by the way, still fits into my car-free pledge). It's something I'd thought about doing this month, but it just hadn't happened yet. Since the last day of July happened to fall on a Monday, my day off, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. The bus stops just three blocks from our house; took it downtown and got on another bus to meet my wife Tricia in Havelock for lunch, close to where she works.

It may sound a little silly, but I've been a little intimidated by the bus system. If you've never been initiated into the world of public transportation, it's such a mystery. You don't know the rules. You don't know the little things that no one ever bothers to publish. But my son and I conquered the NYC subway system in June, so I figured I should be able to handle this.

I downloaded a couple of schedules and maps off the StarTran web site, along with some instructions. Even then I had a couple of questions, so I called 476-1234, and a nice person answered my questions and didn't make me feel stupid for asking them.

First question: If my bus is scheduled to arrive at 11th and 'O' at the same time the bus I'm supposed to transfer on to is scheduled to leave, will I be able make the transfer? Answer: Yes, but you may need to tell the driver, so they can call in and hold the next bus for you until you arrive.

Second question: Will the bus really stop for me at any intersection along its route? Answer: Yes, except on the downtown loop (14th to Q to 11th to J to 14th). Another exception had something to do with turns on four-lane traffic in which case I may need to be a half a block down after the bus makes its turn (I never exactly understood that one).

I had a visit with one man waiting for connecting buses; we'd been on the same bus previously. He even offered me a smoke, which I took to be a very high form of generosity, even though I passed. He was somewhat younger than I, African-American, lanky but strong. He said he'd been doing work for a local landscaping company, and that they liked his work and wanted him to keep working for them.

I also talked with a bus driver for a stretch when I was the only passenger. She said that she's glad she gets different routes every day, because then there's more variety. She also especially likes driving the HandiBus, because then you're doing door-to-door service. At one point she stopped the bus for a few minutes; we were ahead of schedule and that can mean missing riders when who are planning to be picked up on schedule at stops along the route.

I wrote in an earlier blog about seeing another part of Lincoln by bicycle. You can see another side of our community on the bus. Somehow, I think Jesus would ride the bus, at least once in a while.



Yesterday, as I biked to the church campus in the evening, a flock of birds flew up in front of me. I was close to them and nearly kept up with them for a bit; it seemed that I was almost flying with them. Later that evening on the bike trail with my lights on in the dark, mostly coasting my way home, I had the sensation again that I wasn't biking but flying.

And then with just a little imagination, it wasn't hard to enhance that feeling. Silently gliding through the air, I forgot about the bicycle below me. I experienced the joy of slicing through the moonlit night, skimming just above the earth.

This afternoon, however, I faced the strongest headwind of the entire month--and it was mostly uphill--hard to get the sensation of flight.

Today I passed the 300-mile mark for the month on the bicycle. Tomorrow's the last day of the experiment.



Every cyclist works with or against two forms of energy: gravity and wind. As one cycling blogger commented (I think it was beerorkid), the wind is often friend and foe. How true! When you run, you notice the difference between uphill and downhill and between headwind and tailwind, but on a bicycle, those differences are greatly magnified.

I look forward to the day in my lifetime when among all the world's problems, the high cost of clean energy will not be one of them, and I think it's possible, because energy is all around us, waiting to be harnessed.

I would love to have a windmill or solar panels at my house to generate electricity. Unfortunately, the investment takes too many years to recover the cost to make it practical. But I expect that technology will make them more affordable, and if they could pay for themselves in five years, we'd see a lot of people doing it.

Gravity has always been a great source of energy. Mills were often built beside a stream so the flowing water could generate the energy to turn the millstone.

If clean energy were abundant and affordable, how much better would life be for everyone?

However, the world's biggest problems are not technological but are moral and spiritual. Science will never solve them.


Do I feel different?

Counting today, there are four days left in my month-long endeavor to live pretty much car-free. I've only been in a car four times so far this month, two planned out-of-town trips, one pastoral emergency, and one brain-lapse for a pizza lunch (the promise of pizza causes me to mentally shut down; kind of like Homer Simpson with a donut). The last drive was the trip to Fremont on Thursday, the 13, so I'm now past the two-week mark of continuous carlessness.

Do I feel any different? Yeah, some. I feel a little freer, more in tune with the outdoors. More focused on what I should be about.

I'm enjoying the few minutes alone as I commute from place to place, but with only averaging about ten miles a day, it's not a lot of time.

It seems my desire to know and seek God is somewhat stronger, along with some increased personal discipline to do those things that open myself to God.


August 8 a.m. worship geared for cyclists

My July commitment is nearly complete, but I don't want to let go of what I've gained.

One way I'm choosing to prolong the experience is by holding an early Sunday morning outdoor worship, especially geared for cyclists. And we're going to do this only during the four Sundays of August from 8 to 8:30 a.m.

I don't mean to offend and make this sound like a commercial for going to church, so please don't take it that way. I just thought that maybe Lincoln's avid cyclists, commuters like myself, recreational bikers and other outdoor lovers might get into something like this.

Even though arriving by bike is encouraged, walkers, runners and drivers are also welcome. However, I like the idea of pedaling right up to the lawn east of the church's building and worshiping between the green grass and the blue dome. We'll have chairs and blankets set out, but drivers are encouraged to bring extra from home.

Horizons' worship leader, Jamie Brown, will bring his guitar, and we'll have about 10 minutes of inspired song under the open sky. Then I'll give a shortened version of the message I'll be giving at the 9:30 and 11 a.m. services indoors.

At 8:30, if anyone wants to go inside for coffee, bagels and doughnuts, the coffee should be done by then. If the weather's bad, we'll gather in the first classroom just inside the east door.

So, if you're thinking about giving it a try and need directions for bike or car, here goes.

Horizons Community Church is half a mile from the southern end of the Tierra-Williamsburg bike trail, which comes out half a block east of Cavette School. Go south from the school and then west on O'Hanlon. The campus is just west of 33rd Street at 3200 Grainger Parkway. (Maybe in the future we'll find a way to do something like this in a park along a well-used bike path.)

Take 27th Street south of Pine Lake Road, turn left (east) on Grainger. The church is on the corner of Grainger and Brummond. You'll see it.


Letting go of excuses

Committing myself to live without a car for a month has meant letting go of excuses. "I can't bike today, because it's too hot, too wet, too windy, or too dark." So far, instead of letting those factors stop me, I've planned around them. I wonder how often we are prevented from following through in a lot of areas of our lives, because we let little things get in our way.

Of course, I have my limits. Last Wednesday when it was 108 F, if the trip I needed to make had been twenty miles instead of two, I would have chosen to drive instead of bike. If there's lightning I definitely won't be out walking or biking; I'll either drive or stay home. If there's an absolute downpour, biking wouldn't be safe, so I won't be doing that either. Once in a while it can get so windy in Nebraska that biking would be out of the question. I'm not planning to follow this no-car pledge to the point of stupidity (though some may think I make round trips there on a regular basis).

But so far, I haven't hit any of those limits, so I keep up my car-free commuting commitment. My point is that a lot of the time our excuses keep us from moving forward and doing what we can.

One guy told me he has a 65 rule, which means he'll commute on his bike to work on mornings when the temperature is 65 or under, so he won't overly sweat and smell at work. Just because it's too hot some days doesn't mean that he's giving up on it everyday. That makes a lot of sense.

Okay, so what other excuses do we make?

Let's say you want to start reading the Bible (it's a fascinating book, even if you're not sure what you believe about it), but you're getting lost in the legal codes of Leviticus. Does that mean you should quit, or try reading Luke's gospel instead?

Maybe you've been trying to read the Bible every day, but you hardly ever get to it on weekends and only get in two or three days during the week. Does that mean it's time to give up? I say, don't let excuses keep you from moving forward. Start where you are and build on that. Maybe you could take a Bible class and learn with other honest, seeking people more of what it means and what it's about.

BTW- If you didn't see the article in the Journal Star today, read about Lincoln's biketrails. Or if you go to www.journalstar.com today, it's the top article on the page. Don't forget to read the comments.


Breaking in the Burley

As I mentioned yesterday, my legs were needing a little time to rest and repair, so I only made two short trips today. This morning I pedaled down to 48th and Hwy 2 to pick up a couple dozen ears of sweet corn. That required hooking up the borrowed Burley (kid trailer), which so far I had yet to do. Embarrassed to say, it took me nearly half an hour to figure out how to attach the thing to my bike--a sure sign of my lack of mechanical aptitude. But I persevered.

While in the area, I stopped at The Grain Bin for a giant cinnamon roll (I know I shouldn't have, but they are whole wheat; that has to count for something). The nice lady who helped me asked if I was the one in Saturday's newspaper. This will be, I'm sure, the only time from that article when a stranger recognizes me. But I made it too easy for her, because I walked in still wearing my helmet and gloves.

She said she had saved the article and was thinking about checking out the church where I'm pastor. That's cool.

Tonight, I hooked up the Burley again for a grocery run, just a few items. Russ's on 33rd and Hwy 2 has a bike rack, which is impressive. There weren't any other bikes parked there when I arrived, but when I left, three others were tied up like horses in front of a saloon. One even had a Burley. Wonder if they were using it to haul kids or groceries.

In all, the two trips totaled a modest 4.5 miles; wonder if that would qualify as a Sabbath Day's bike ride.



Thanks to lincolnbiking.blogspot.com for adding a link to my blog (I'm on a different computer right now, and for some reason I can't create a link for it). I'm flattered with the moniker "Lincoln's Cycling Evangelist," but really I'm just a new convert. However, I tend to be evangelistic about things I believe in--as you might guess.

Last night I awoke at 2 a.m. and my pajama shorts and sheets were wet, which is something I hadn't felt since I was probably four. Fortunately, the problem was that our soft-side waterbed had sprung a leak, and the previous glue drop remedy hadn't held. I wasn't sure how I was going to fix it, and then the idea came to me to try one of the glueless patches for repairing bike tubes. So far it looks like it's holding.

My legs are feeling a little weary today. Rest is a gift from God. We all need time to repair.


Cyclist before?

Responding to beerorkid's comment on the July 21 posting, I had an old mountain bike I'd picked up used at a garage sale about eight years ago, and probably hadn't ridden it in five. It would've cost me about $80 to fix it up and then I would've had a bike worth about, say, $80.

A friend offered to sell me his three-year-old Diamondback comfort bike for $100 which he hadn't ridden much. Ever since then, he keeps wishing he had a bike to ride. I was definitely not a cyclist before this. However, I was running about three days a week, which I've kinda let slip this month.

But I love not having to stop at the gas pumps every other week.

One of today's commenters also has a blog on his bicycle commuting adventures; worth checking out.

Others committed to car-free commuting

I have to admit I was a little anxious about being featured in today's paper, knowing that I would be put into public view but left to the mercy of a writer and editor. But Joel Gehringer, you have my respect for your desire to clearly represent my motives in this experiment. If anything, it might have sounded a little too heroic, but I appreciate the affirmation.

Gehringer and photographer Teresa Prince are both UNL students from Omaha on staff at the Journal Star.

Here's a link to the article, though it might be slightly condensed from the one in the paper; I'm not sure. I noticed that the first line in the article in the newspaper was missing from the online version.

I feel a little strange getting this press, knowing that others have been doing this for years. Maybe the story is in exploring the spiritual benefits and discussing them in the blog.

Anyway, I hope the coverage encourages others to consider alternate means of transportation. It occurred to me this morning: there are no emissions standards needed for a bicycle.

If you're already committed to car-free commuting (even just some of the time), please post a comment and let us know what you do.


Simple but not simplified

Yesterday I passed the 200-mile mark on my bicycle for the month.

Has living without a car (with rare exceptions) for the last three weeks helped simplify my life? In some ways, the answer is clearly no. As I said yesterday, sometimes it's been a huge hassle, requiring extra clothes to change into and cleaning up on hot or rainy days. I have to take more showers. It takes more planning when a bicycle is your primary transportation technology.

So it hasn't simplified my life, but it has made it more simple--mostly because I'm choosing to not go as many places and not as often. I'm consolidating trips. I'm not multi-tasking in the car (only once have I talked on my cell phone while biking). I'm enjoying the ride, and I'm more aware of people, birds, bunnies, and scenery along the way.

I'm also more in tune with the weather, especially how windy it is and from which direction. My three-mile ride this morning in the rain was awesome, once you get past our cultural aversion to getting rained on. Blue batman was on patrol again with his poncho flapping in the breeze. I only wish I had wipers for my glasses.

Today I want to leave you with a few ideas on letting your life become a little simpler, recognizing that the goal is not efficiency. None of them require a bicycle.

Once in a while, instead of turning on the TV, go out for a walk with a family member or friend.

Once in a while, instead of going out, plan an easy potluck picnic in the backyard with neighbors and play outdoor games.

Once in a while, instead of listening to tunes, unplug the earphones and listen to the locusts buzzing in the trees. Watch the lightning bugs come out at dusk. Be still and know that God is there (Psalm 46:10).

Once in a while, instead of snarfing food in transition, eat around a real table with family where the conversation takes longer than the meal--and if you don't have family close, find some friends who can be surrogate family for you.

Please feel free to hit the comment button with your "Once in a while, instead of ..." ideas. I'd love to hear from you.


Blasted by equatorial air

Yesterday I left the house on my bike a little after 5 p.m., heading to a restaurant at SouthPointe Mall for a dinner meeting, aware that the temp was over 100 F. A couple blocks from our house the street slopes downhill, which boosted my speed to 22.5 mph. At the same time the street curves, heading south. That's when I got blasted by hot air rushing from the equator.

It felt like riding into a giant hair dryer, and I, one little shriveling hair, trembled before its power. The blazing wind was such an assault on my body and face, I wondered if I was really stupid for doing this. Even though I was coasting downhill, I knew I needed to slow down.

This was time for a reality check. Should I continue? Can I continue? I knew I was well hydrated and had a full water bottle with me. The trip to the restaurant was only two miles, nearly all of it on the bike trail and away from traffic. I would take it slow and monitor closely how I felt, because I'm not invincible, and this heat could do more to me than I expect. I had my cell phone with me in case I would need to stop.

It's probably a good thing I didn't know until this morning that the high in Lincoln yesterday was 108 F, the hottest in eleven years. (For those of you in Canada and other places, that's a whopping 42 degrees Celsius.)

Another factor about commuting by bicycle in this heat is that it requires a change of clothes virtually every time, even after a short ride. So after arriving early at the restaurant and giving myself a few minutes to cool down, I went to the restroom, gave myself a quick washcloth bath and changed into the clothes I'd brought in my backpack. What a hassle!

If you had to work out in the heat yesterday, you have my respect. I hope you were able to take it a little easier, found some shade occasionally, and drank quarts and quarts of fluids. If you're a boss for people who work outside, I hope show some care and compassion when the heat is so dangerous.

Don't feel sorry for me, riding a bike on a hot day. I got to sleep all night an air-conditioned house. Many didn't.


Dependence: healthy or unhealthy?

It occurred to me this morning that it might be easy to misinterpret something I said in yesterday's posting, that I'm trying to increase my dependence on God by decreasing my dependence on driving. Let me clarify.

First, I wouldn't blame you for wondering how the two are even remotely connected. It's not uncommon for people to say that they experience some of their best communing with God while driving. I've experienced it myself.

Compare it to eating. Before I eat my meal, I try to remember to pause and thank God for this and other blessings. But there are also other times when my desire and ability to commune with God can be enhanced through fasting from food. Giving up driving in town is like putting away something I like and appreciate in order to heighten my awareness and passion for knowing God.

Second, for some the idea of dependence refers to an unhealthy relationship. Is dependence on God an unhealthy thing that makes me weak--or worse, does it make me more blind to my own wants that I then project on to God?

To depend on God is part of what the life of faith is all about. Maybe another word would be rely. By relying less on a car, I'm trying to learn to rely more on God. But the flip side of it is that God chooses to (doesn't need to but chooses to) rely on me. God relies on me and you to carry out the divine plan, all the while we are relying on God.

That to me, sounds like a healthy interdependence. Isn't that what relationships are supposed to be?


Giving up more than driving

It's becoming clear that I'm giving up more than driving. I may be giving up some of my friends for a month, because even though they live in Lincoln, I may not always be able to devote the time and energy to bike or walk to their house if it's several miles away. Maybe there can be other ways I can get together them if they're already in my end of town. The last thing I want to do is ask them to drive more because I'm not driving at all.

Yesterday and today have been my biggest biking days so far this month, over 20 miles each day. Today, besides going to the church to the office I had a few appointments downtown, which is eight miles away. I don't normally go that far, but because I had several reasons, it made the trek worth it. When you're car-free, consolidating trips is key.

Somebody asked me recently if I'm okay with the extra time it takes to bike rather than drive. The trip downtown from the church campus this morning took 35 minutes. If I had driven, I would have planned on 25, including hunting for a parking place and walking from there to my destination. So, it's not that much extra time.

And if you include all the trips that I decide not to make because I'm not driving, I probably don't spend any more time biking around than I did driving around.

When I got back to my office, fortunately I had a washcloth and some citrus-scent wipes for cleaning up, and I had clothes to change into. But all that took a little extra time.

I want to end today's posting by reaffirming the core reason for this experiment from a personal point of view. By becoming less dependent on something (in this case driving), I hope to increase my dependence on God.

Here on the 18th day of July, I can say that, yeah, I think it's happening. At least a little.


Love your neighbors

One impact of my no-car-in-town experiment is that my radius of activity has shrunk. Tricia and I now look for things to do that are closer to home: places to shop and eat and have fun. It might limit our choices somewhat, but it seems like we still have plenty options.

I anticipated that by not driving around town in July we would get together with our neighbors more often. So far that hasn't happened. Hopefully that will start to change as the month rolls on. Being friends with my neighbors is something that it seems Jesus would like. After all, he did say that loving your neighbor should be a high priority (right up there next to loving God!).

I have a personal list of signs to help me gauge when the pace of my life is getting out of hand. One is "How long has it been since I've spent some time visiting with my neighbors?"

I don't mean for this blog to be all about bicycling, but in case you didn't see the article on the front page of today's Lincoln Journal Star, you can check out "Downtown bike lanes could arrive in August." Carl Yendra who was hit by a car had some sobering words for bikers amid traffic, "They're going to hit you anyway." Bike-riding police officer (and high school friend of mine) Charlie Marti, who was once almost hit by a motorist crossing lanes to find a parking spot, was more optimistic. "I think we can all get along."

Personally, I don't see myself getting on these new bike lanes until they have more of them and you can really get around downtown. I did bike to and in the Haymarket this morning; that felt pretty safe.


Biking pastors in Africa

It's almost 5 p.m. as I start today's post from my office after teaching membership class all afternoon. The weather link on my computer says that it's 102 F. So I'll be changing into shorts and a T-shirt before biking home; fortunately it's mostly downhill and with the wind on the way home.

People are saying it's too hot to bike, and they're right, but my rides are pretty short; it'll take me less than 15 minutes to get home. And I'll take it easy.

For me, using my bicycle for transportation is a month-long challenge. For many pastors in Africa--where it's much hotter--a bicycle would be a blessing. Here's a recent United Methodist news release.

"When we see a bicycle, we think about pleasure riding or intense racing. In the Republic of Congo, a bicycle is more than a ride around the block or to see friends. Bicycles carry persons to hospitals, enable evangelists to travel among villages and provide transportation to obtain food and goods for families and communities. Pastors in the Congo receive only about $1 per month for their salaries, so the cost of a bicycle would be equivalent to 10 years’ salary. Several years ago, congregations from three conferences provided more than 500 pastors with new bicycles to use in their local ministries. They were helped because these congregations gave their money through the Advance for Christ and His Church."

Apparently we United Methodists can supply a bike for a pastor in Congo for $120. If you'd like to learn more or give any amount toward a bike for a pastor in the Republic of Congo, check out this page from the General Board of Global Ministries. If you give it through Horizons Church, we'll make sure it gets there.

It's 5:30. Time to change my clothes and head home. Until tomorrow . . .
you are God's blessed blesser.



Why did I give up automobiles in town this month? Do I have a deep need to go to the extreme? Why can't I just be normal and ride a bicycle when I want to rather than forcing myself to Herculean efforts? Must I always make work out of what is supposed to be fun?

Assuming it was God calling me to take up this challenge, is it possible that I took it to an extreme God did not intend?

But on the other hand . . .

Would I have made significant lifestyle changes without doing something a little revolutionary? Would anybody read the blogged reflections of a guy who's just trying to ride his bike a little more lately? Would my month-long endeavor be akin spiritual fast if I didn't commit to it at least this much?

These are the questions of a second-guesser.



Rode the bike 13.5 miles today--on a hot day.

To the church: 3 mi.
To Culver's for a meeting: 3.5 mi.
Back home: 1.75 mi.
To the bank, SouthPointe mall, and back home 6.25 mi.

Time and temp said it was 95 F when I left for the bank at 5:30 p.m. But I took it easy, and it wasn't too bad.

Signing off. -st


Riding with African women

Yesterday I crossed the 100-mile mark for the month, hitting 106 by the end of the day. Traveled to the bank, to Union College library and to the church campus.

Stopped by the drug store this morning to pick up some adult-version wet wipes, for sultry days like today. Changed shirts and freshened myself up when I arrived at the office. Co-workers and those coming in to see me will appreciate it, I'm sure.

Some have asked me if July was the best choice for this car-free-in-Lincoln endeavor. I usually say it's better than January. Mostly I chose it because I didn't have as many places to go out of town this month.

As I said in an earlier post, there are many people for whom a bicycle would be a big step up in transportation. The problem of poverty in Africa is systemic and much more complicated than providing money and food will solve. Over the years, donations from around the world have kept millions alive, but the overall situation does not improve. Governments that genuinely serve the people are indispensible for long-term progress.

However, a bicycle would be more in line with giving someone a fishing pole and not just a fish. Here's a link to a fascinating news article from Africa about how women in the Bugesera district of Rwanda have changed the social taboo of riding bicycles and how much a part of the culture bicycles are becoming. You can also read a report on "Bike Transport in Africa" from the International Bike Fund.

One reason I ride is to identify with those in this world for whom having access to a bicycle may be the best personal transportation they will ever know.


Ruthlessly eliminate hurry

The last thing I want to do is get everybody on a bicycling kick, as if this is the new great thing that you have to do to be really happy and whole. But I do believe that our go-go lives contribute to a kind of spiritual exhaustion that affects us even when our relationship with God is more-or-less sound.

As some of us heard at a conference one time, and some of you have heard me quote it, you must "ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life." Hurry is partly lifestyle and partly state of mind. That's one reason why I never say that I'm busy. Sometimes my life is full, but it can be full of good things. But saying "I'm so busy" only feeds the frantic feeling.

Cause and effect are hard to trace definitively in our lives, but I'm starting to experience greater focus in my praying lately--can stay with it longer. God and I have more things to talk about. I'm experiencing an increased desire and discipline to pray for others.

Back to bicycling: Last night I was at a church meeting and didn't leave the building until about 10 p.m. Fortunately my bike has a headlamp and a flashing tail light. While most of the three miles home is on bike trail, the trail is dark because of long stretches without street lamps (trail lamps?). My LED headlamp isn't as bright as I'd like, so I take it slow and safe. And once I get back on the street for the final half mile home, I have to watch out for potholes in the asphalt. But it was a beautiful evening to ride.

Anyway, happy trails to you . . . until tomorrow.

By the way, boucing off ~L~'s comment yesterday, if you've been reading my blog lately, do you find yourself noticing more often the number of bicyclists out and about?


Who is that caped rider?

I missed getting a post in yesterday, so I fill you in a couple day's worth.

Sunday morning on my way to church, there was less than an inch of water in the cement trough that follows part of the Williamsburg Trail, and I saw a brown duck wading through the water with half a dozen ducklings happily following her. It made me smile.

Farther on I noticed how calm it was, and a couple of the little neighborhood lakes that the trail runs past had become shimmering reflecting pools, where you could see houses and trees and sky in them.

Biking my way home from church, I saw a man I'd guess to be in his late 50s, sitting in a lawn chair along the trail next to a sign that read "Great Plains Trails Network." An ice chest sat next to his chair, and when I stopped, he offered me a bottled water and a trail map.

We visited a while, and I found out that he was doing this as a volunteer. And then I was surprised to learn that he tries to do most, if not all, his in-town transportation by bicycle. This wasn't just a one-month experiment; for him it's a way of life. And he didn't look all biker dudish, either. No multi-colored, high-tech clingy fabric shorts and shirt; just a normal guy in jeans and a western shirt.

I always knew that sometime this month I'd hit some rain, which I did on Monday. I needed to run an errand a couple miles and back, and the sky was sending down some moisture somewhere between a heavy sprinkle and a light rain (would that be a sprain or a rainkle?). It was a beautiful rain to ride in--no lighting--and of course, badly needed.

Even at this rate, there was a possibility that by the time I got back I'd be soaked. So I put on a poncho and headed out. I'm sure I looked funny riding on the bike trail that follows Old Cheney Road. With my poncho blowing in the breeze, I probably looked like a blue batman flying down the street.

Later that day I needed a jalapeƱo for some spicy cornbread muffins I was making, so I biked a mile and back to the grocery store for a twelve-cent pepper. Oh, well, the muffins were good.

About 6 p.m. when it was raining harder, I was very thankful for the rain and thankful that I wasn't riding in it. But if I had been, it wouldn't have been the end of the world.

Giving up a car in town has made me think twice about what I really need and when I really need it. "The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need" (Psalm 23:1, New Living Translation). It's an easy thing to say; much harder to live.

Today will be my sixth in a row without being in a car, and I can't say that I miss it yet. Tomorrow (correction: Thursday) Tricia and I will be driving to Fremont and back in the evening--one of my scheduled out-of-town trips.


Healing my soul

In a way, I consider this no-driving-in-town-for-a-month-except-for-emergencies experiment a kind of spiritual fast. When we fast from food, we may do so for a number of reasons, one of which is to heighten our hunger for God by sublimating our physical appetites. It's putting life-as-normal on hold for a while in order to seek a higher experience.

Except for my memory lapse on July 5th which lasted less than a mile, I haven't been in a car since we came home from Boeck's party in Exeter on July 3. Already, it seems that I'm a little less rushed inside; my soul is a little less chaotic and fractured. If I hadn't been on this no-driving kick, I certainly would have driven a few places yesterday. Instead, I stayed home the entire day! When does that ever happen? Maybe there was something healing about it. And if the thought of staying home for an entire day feels uncomfortable, maybe that's a sure sign that we need it.

(BTW--my knee's feeling much better after a day off, too. Thank you.)

I want to close today's post with an excerpt from Dallas Willard's new book, The Great Omission.

"Many well-meaning people, to give an example, cannot succeed in being kind because they are too rushed to get things done. Haste has worry, fear, and anger as close associates; it is a deadly enemy of kindness, and hence of love. If this is our problem, we may be greatly helped by a day's retreat into solitude and silence, where we will discover that the world survives even though we are inactive. There we might prayerfully meditate to see clearly the damage done by our unkindness, and honestly compare it to what, if anything, is really gained by our hurry. We will come to understand that for the most part our hurry is really based upon pride, self-importance, fear, and lack of faith, and rarely upon the production of anything of true value for anyone.

"Perhaps we will end up making plans to pray daily for the people with whom we deal regularly. Or we may resolve to ask associates for forgiveness for past injuries. Whatever comes of such prayerful reflection, we may be absolutely sure that our lives will never be the same, and that we will enjoy a far greater richness of God's reality in our lives" (2006: Harper SanFrancisco, p. 29-30).


The Grinch who stole my gas

If you didn't read the two comments to yesterday's blog, it's well worth it.

Do you remember the scene from The Grinch (any version) where from the top of Mount Crumpit, the Grinch listens for the sounds of boo-hooing after they learn that their Christmas has been stolen? Instead he hears them singing. Their joy did not consist of the trees, the presents or the roast beast. They sang anyway.

If our gasoline supply were threatened, and we all had to drive a lot less than we do, and if services and supplies were not readily available as we're used to, what would happen? I want to envision that we would discover a less chaotic life, not trying to cram everything in, without taking our kids to every kind of activity imaginable five nights a week. I envision that we'd get together with our neighbors a little more, that we'd spend a little more time with our families, that we'd eat at home a little more often.

If the Grinch stole our gasoline, or at least some of it, I'd want to be part of the group that sang anyway.

P.S., my knee was a little sore last night after cominig home from the mall where Tricia and I listened to the band Tunafish Jones. Feeling mostly better this morning, but I may walk rather than ride my bike today--or if I do ride, take it a little easier.


Addicted to gasoline

Since I only received one response to my questions a couple days ago (thank you, Cathy), I'll share some of my own musings.

A person with an addiction will act insanely if their supply is threatened, doing things they normally would consider unthinkable. The addiction takes over, and they will lie, steal, deny responsibilities, lash out in anger, manipulate, and destroy their own lives and the lives of others just to insure that access to the addictive experience is not disrupted.

We in America are addicted to our gasoline, or really to the transportation it makes possible. If a few key refineries were destroyed by terrorists, how would that upset the delicate balance of supply and demand in our nation? What if gasoline had to be rationed, as it was during World War II?

I sense that America is so dependent on gasoline that such a disruption would get ugly. I can envision arguments at the gas pumps between customers. Irregular delivery of goods to retailers would send us into shock, because we're so used to having everything ready to pick up when we want it.

If you think America could never fall into chaos, remember New Orleans last year. Remember the looting. Remember the Superdome. That was a different situation, to be sure, but it exposed the underside of our culture.

It is my sense that America is not morally or spiritually prepared if a gasoline shortage should ever occur. I'm not predicting that it will; it might or it might not. But I worry that if it does happen, our addiction could bring out the worst in us.

One reason I'm trying to do all my in-town transportation without a car this month is to show that maybe there are other options. Maybe I don't have to be as addicted as I have been. (If you're reading this and you know something about economics, please comment and share with us what you believe would happen to gas prices if Americans started driving ten percent less today.)

And I want to call us all to practice patience and generosity, putting others ahead of ourselves. Our character is built in times of stability and exposed in times of stress.

St. Paul said, "In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others" (Philippians 2:3-4, TNIV). And then he went on to recommend the way of Jesus.


Price at the pumps not bothering me

Well, no one responded to my questions in yesterday's blog, but we preachers know how to go on whether anyone's listening or not.

It won't be a surprise to those of you who know me that one of the reasons this month-long, mostly car-free experiment appealed to me is because I tend to be a little on the cheap side. I read in the paper this morning that gas is expected to hit over $3 this weekend, and, I don't mean to gloat, but it doesn't bother me one bit.

Not filling up at the pump means I get to use some of the money with which God has blessed me for other things--for my family, for those in need, and for God's work.

Actually, it'll take a while to make back the money I spent getting ready for this month. Including the used bike and accessories like backpack, lights and speedometer, it has probably cost somewhere in the range of $250--which isn't bad, really.

Not only will I be saving on gas, I won't be spending as much on oil changes and car repairs either this month. And if gasoline, at an average price of $2.80 per gallon, is only half of my operating cost (not counting insurance, license, tax), and given that my car probably gets 18 miles per gallon in town, I figure I could drive 800 miles on the $250.

I'm estimating that I'll be riding my bike an average of ten miles a day, but if I were driving, I'd probably be driving 15 miles a day in town (translated: I'm choosing not to go some places I would normally be going to if I were driving). So, let's see, 800 miles divided by the 15 miles saved per day equals 53 days before I come out ahead--which means I'll have to do a lot more biking after July is over before I break even.

And who knows? Maybe I will.


I'd love to hear from you

Well, I didn't get a blog posted yesterday on July 4, so I'll have to catch you up. Yesterday, Tricia and I biked a few places during the day, including a movie at South Pointe. In the evening I took the bike trail to the Lincoln High parking lot (she drove and met me), and we watched the city fireworks from there. After returning home, I received a call at 11 p.m. and needed to run an emergency pastoral errand, so I had to drive a few miles that evening. I always said that if there was a family or church emergency, I would drive.

This morning I rode my bike to the office, but I also had my first real slip up today. Tricia called and asked if she could pick me up for a pizza run at the food court for lunch, to which I gladly accepted. Not until we got there did I realize that I had violated the terms of my mostly car-free covenant. So I walked back, which turned about to be a delightful serendipity. It was beautiful and took only about 20 minutes. It became a prayer path.

I love praying while walking. And it works best for me if I'm not afraid to whisper the words outloud.

Today's blog will end with some questions just to see if you're really out there or whether I'm dangling in cyberworld by myself. And if you have some questions for me, please ask.

Even though we're glad to have our cars, what might we have lost along the way by being so dependent on them? Would we know our neighbors better if we couldn't or didn't drive so much?

What do you imagine would happen if gasoline came to be in short supply? Would it get ugly if our gas supply were threatened or rationed?


I'm depending on you

Today, July 3, was one of two days this month where I'd planned a trip out of town, which means I drove a car. We went to a church-wide party hosted by Jerry and Teresa Boeck of rural Exeter, about a 55-mile trip each way. But I continued to do all my in-town transportation on my bike: to the eye doctor's office, to the bank, stopped by to pick something up at the office.

Today's Journal Star had two articles that related to biking. One was about an effort by the local Christian organization City Impact to provide bicycles for kids whose families can't afford them.

The other was about a woman riding her bike to work (in the night, I think) and was hit by a car. It showed picture of her in a wheelchair, but she remained positive. You can read Lana Young's Long Short Story and see her picture. It's a reminder of how important safety is when you're biking on streets. But it's also a story of her new life in recovery from addiction.

Many people are warning me to be careful this month, which I take as a sign of their love. I remind myself that as a cyclist when I'm sharing the street with a car, I'm a mosquito. I assume that I'm not noticed. For example, I hold up my hand and make sure to get eye contact with a driver before making a turn.

And as I ride I sometimes just focus on how beautiful it is. And sometimes I talk to God and say, "I'm depending on you."


How long has it been?

Being a novice bicycle commuter, I'm nervous about driving on streets where the speed limit is more than 25 mph. But so far by following the bike trails I haven't had to. The only bike riding I did today was to church and back, and because it was warm and humid, I packed my "church clothes" and changed when I arrived.

This is only my second car-free day, so it's not a big deal, but how long has it been since I haven't been in a car for two days in a row? Well, I guess it was only a month ago when my son and I were in New York City for four days. There it was all subway and walking. But besides that, I can't remember when I haven't driven a car for two straight days. Not even when I broke my leg six years ago. Maybe when I came down with influenza about eight years ago. Maybe.

It's hard to think of anything that has more thoroughly transformed our culture than the automobile. Our communities are built around them. Our lives are built around them, and they are here to stay. And I'm fine with that. They enable us to commute greater distances to work, to worship, to shop, and to attend class. Our autos gives us the courage to live further away from family and friends, because we know we can drive to be with them.

But am I overly dependent on my car? That's one of the questions behind this month-long experiment.


Day One

Today isn't much to write about as far as transportation goes, though I did ride my bike a mile each way to Sonic and then tonight the church campus is three miles from home. I'll be riding back as soon as I finish this blog--with my lights on--mostly bike path. About eight miles for the day.

I want to make it clear that being car-free in town doesn't mean that I think everybody should be doing this, or that I'm better than anybody else because I'm trying it for July. Our kids are in their early 20s and don't need to be carted around places--and neither of them are living at home right now anyway. My commute to work is short, as I said, three miles. So there wasn't a reason this experiment wouldn't work out.

I found a web site called Bicycling Life that has some practical stuff for beginners who want to bicycle for recreation and commuting.

For a lot of people of the world, a bicycle would be a huge step up in transportation. In the spring Memorial United Methodist Church in White Plains, NY collected old bicycles that probably one day would be headed to the landfills, and they were shipped by a New Jersey charity called Pedals for Progress that sends them to Central America and Africa. I found the article Old Bikes Sought online, if you want to check it out.

Right now my daughter Carrie is studying Spanish in Costa Rica for the next five weeks, and her host family provided a bicycle for her to ride around town. Gracias.


My decision to go car-free (mostly) for a month

In May an idea came to me to give up driving and riding in a car for a month. My first reaction was "That's a stupid idea." But it was an idea that wouldn't go away, so I began to wonder if God was behind it.

For some of you, the only thing weirder than not riding or driving in a car for a month is thinking that God told you to do it. I can understand your skepticism, but I'm learning to trust that God is behind these ideas once in a while. The hard part is not being able to tell with absolute certainty if they're from God or not. But faith involves stepping out sometimes.

Then I wondered if going car-less was even possible, so I checked my calendar and discovered that I didn't have any out-of-town trips scheduled for July. However, now I do have a couple of out-of-town events I will choose to drive to in July, so I've narrowed my month-long experiment to in-town transportation without the benefit of an automobile.

So I bought a used bike from a friend, and I'm ready to go. Sometimes I may choose to walk instead of ride my bike.

Why am I doing this? The short answer is that I hope to slow down my life a bit and grow to be more dependent on God by being less dependent on the convenience of zipping around in my car whenever I want to.

I plan to post an entry everyday starting July 1 about my experiences and reflections in case anyone is interested. If not, this blog will be a journal of my experiment. But if you do read, please feel free to comment. I'd love to hear from you. -Steve