Thursday, March 1, 2018

February 2018 Books

The kiddos told me I was obsessed with Mister Rogers, I told them I was not.  My book list for February 2018 tells me otherwise. 

1.  Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers by Michael Long.  
On the one hand this book revealed a side of Fred Rogers that disappointed me.   Mister Rogers did not advance racial reconciliation on his show as much as I wished (but he did advance this topic), he did not advance LGBTQ rights as much as I wished (but he was a member of a More Light, pro-LGBTQ PCUSA congregation in Pittsburgh).  On the other hand I learned to appreciate his implicit and subtle work for racial reconciliation, economic justice, peace and non-violence, and gender equity.  

2.  The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery  
One of Mister Rogers' favorite, and now one of mine too.  "What is invisible to the eyes is essential"

3.  Many Ways to Say I Love You: Wisdom for Parents and Children from Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers
A collection of sayings, stories, aphorisms from Mister Rogers' show, speeches and writings.  Great stuff.  Made me want to start a Continuing Education class for the parents at the preschool.  How do you raise children with the principles of nonviolence?  This idea is not taught at the hospital after the birth of a child or offered at community centers.  

4.  Wise Trees by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel
Fantastic pictures and stories behind "wise trees"  I had never thought about the permanence of trees and their allure.  This book inspired me to make sure we visit the Fortingall Yew in Scotland, perhaps the oldest living thing in Europe, maybe 5,000 years old.  Also, the stories of the survivor trees were amazing (Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Oklahoma City, New York).

5.  Mr. Rogers: Young Friend and Neighbor by George Edward Stanley.  
This is a children's biography book.  It was great.  I loved it, great insight into Fred's childhood and how those moments shaped his life.  

6.  Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrated by Laura Freeman.
"Picture book" but amazing still.  I am still shocked by the impact of the HBCU West Virginia State College in Institute, WV (across the river from my hometown of St. Albans, WV)  I was ignorant of its story, its impact and its legacy.  But i'm trying to make up for that now.  Katherine Johnson was a graduate.  

7. Life Journeys According to Mister Rogers: Things to Remember Along the Way by Fred Rogers
Another book of quotes, another great resource.  

8. The Giving Box: Create a Tradition of Giving with Your Children by Fred Rogers
This is a beautiful stewardship program!

9.  The Gospel of Mark
Gee Whiz this book is violent.  

10.  Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin
Another Edinburgh murder mystery.  Maybe we should just skip our days in Edinburgh and go straight to St. Andrews...

11.  Fred Rogers Writes and Sings About Many Ways to Say I Love You for People Who Care About Children by Fred Rogers.  Published by Judson Press, so maybe Fred Rogers is an honorary American Baptist :)  Although small this is a gem.  1.  It is the most Christian of his books that I have read thus far.  2.  It tells the stories behind his songs and presents them first as poems.  3.  Musical scores for six songs.  4.  A very thin 331/3 EP is included!!!

12.  Creative Ministry by Henri Nouwen
You he and Fred were good friends, of course they were.  I like Nouwen because he confronts me with his faults which are mine too.  "The most intimate is also the most general"  The last chapter about the balance between action and contemplation I found especially helpful. 

in march, more Fred Rogers, preparatory books for the pilgrimage and bike books.  Yes, I am working a chapter in the bikeable parish book about Fred Rogers.  

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Little Help from My Friends

One of the principles of the bikeable parish is to rely on existing networks and institutions to partner with rather than repeat or overlap.  Example: we, Judson Church, partners with Bethlehem Lutheran for a program called Starfish Ministries to help those with immediate need.  Bethlehem has a social worker on staff, the institutional heft Judson lacks, but a cooperative spirit. Even though the equation is tipped in the favor of Bethlehem, together we can do more than we could separate or alone.  Thank you friend, thank you neighbor.

So here comes the thought for the week.  After Ash Wednesday I saw several posts on twitter and then in the New York Times about the Anglican Church's call for a Plastic Free Lent.  I thought this was a great idea, wish I had thought of it.  But I didn't, and that's okay.  I consider myself a fairly conscientious person who tries to reduce his use of plastics, but the Anglican call has made me realize how pervasive plastic is in my life.  And how deliberate and intentional one has to be to try and rid oneself of plastic.

Example: yesterday I went to the local bread shop to purchase some potato rolls.  I did not think to bring my own bag, so without thinking I went to grab a plastic bag for the rolls.  But then I heard the voice of Justin Welby say, "oh no you don't".  I scanned the display and discovered a paper bag for a loaf of French bread, which I used to place seven potato rolls (five for dinner and two for egg sandwiches the next morning).  When I took the bag of rolls to the counter I announced that I had a bouquet of potato rolls, the clerk was not amused.

I am thankful the Anglicans brought this to my attention.  I am thankful and trustful of friends to help me along.  I think churches and houses of worship should try and trust more of their local congregations for activities like this.  We don't have to do it all ourselves, its ridiculous to even try.

The Archbishop of Canterbury may not hold any sway on the state of my soul in eternity, but he is providing a good example for life here and now.  Thank you friend, thank you neighbor.

Friday, February 16, 2018

To Will One Thing: a Lenten Experiment

I have actually read Kierkegaard's Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing, but I cant remember a damn thing about it other than the great title. 


When I was ordained in 2002 (I was licensed back in 1997, for those who want to update my stats on my preacher cards) I had a retired pastor deliver my charge to ministry.  For those who have never been to an ordination service in the free church tradition the charge to ministry is kind of like an imperative from another pastor not to screw up the beauty past generations of pastors gave their heart and soul to create.  

His charge was simple but beautiful: There are many worthy and noble causes that will demand your attention and time, but you cannot save the entire world.  Find the one or two issues that speak to your heart and give them everything you have to bring change and salvation and redemption in that particular area.  Over the years I have tried this approach, but there is always another worthy cause beckoning my energy and attention, or colleagues win me over with their devotion and energy to a certain cause.  I try to stay focused, but there's always something else...

Then one day I was at an event, just to listen, with a group of 20 year old activists.  They had the greatest gift idea: trust.  In their words, "Trust that we will do our thing and we trust you will do yours!  We're never going to get anywhere near where we need to be if we do not trust each other." 

But it is hard to trust and to stay focused during the Trump era.  Right now I wake up every morning and try to stay away from hearing or reading the news until after my prayers, after I read the bible, after a cup of coffee, and say good morning and i love you to my lovely bride and wonderful children.  Because if I read the news or hear it on NPR then my day is done.  I have nothing but scat in my heart, mind, and soul.  And my mind is broken, my concentrated will on one thing is fragmented and I feel the pull of a thousand different issues beckoning me to come toward them.  

But if I am going to have anything to contribute to this world I have to stay focused and centered.  I cant keep feeling like a pinball at the mercy of a pinball wizard going hither and yon.  I have come to realize my one issue is bicycling.  It seems small and meaninglessness but I have seen a transformation in my life, my family's life and the life of my community because of my commitment to bicycling.  All the issues that matter to me: environmentalism, racial reconciliation, economic equality, joy, beauty, nature, justice, health are all available through my concentration on bicycling.  

Trust that I am doing my work, I trust that you are doing yours.  Together we can help bring a spirit of human flourishing.  

Sunday, February 4, 2018

January 2018 Books Read

Every year I say I am going to read at least 60 books, sometimes I get close, sometimes I do not.  This year with a summer sabbatical, a book project and a mind that will not cease seeking answers to interesting questions...I think I'm gonna make it to 60, maybe even blow past it.  But this is what happens: I read a backpack full every winter month then as soon as the weather warms up I stop reading.

But this year...

1.  The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to Be Complicated by Helaine Olena and Harold Pollack.  (This book makes an appearance in chapter 2 of the bikeable parish).

2.  Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin.  Reading Scottish detective novels in preparation for our time in Scotland, but it also makes me think we'll have to step over piles of bodies in Edinburgh.

3.  The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from teh World's Most Beloved Neighbor by Amy Hollingsworth.  This book initiated my Mr. Rogers journey.  Also where I learned Mr. Rogers and Henri Nouwen were friends, of course they were.

4.  March: Volume Three by John Lewis.  Amazing.

5.  Book of Acts by Theophilus. Yes, I count books of the Bible.  Acts also makes an appearance in chapter 2.  I forgot how much I love this book.

6.  Why the Dutch Are Different: a journey into the hidden heart of the Netherlands by Ben Coates.  Good book, interesting but I dont think I would have read it unless dude from Modacity (twitter city planning + biking dude) had recommended it.

7.  I'm Proud of You: My Friendship with Mr. Rogers by Tim Madigan.  Great book, I cried often while reading it.  Mr. Rogers was an amazing dude.

8.  Be My Neighbor with Words of Wisdom from Fred Rogers by Maya Ajmera and John D. Ivanhoe Mr. Rogers + public transit + bicycles and neighboring, what's not to love? And yes, I count kids books too!

9.  A Month in the Country by Joseph Lloyd Barr.  CBC Radio had a story about a playwright who reads this book every January.  Although one can read this book in one setting it took me a few days. Why?  Lots of English phrases and words that were new to me.  A WWI veteran goes to an English village to uncover a painting in an Anglican Church.  The longer he stays in the village the more he heals.  I'll reread it again in January 2019.

10.  The World According to Mr. Rogers: Important Things to Remember by Fred Rogers.  Quotes, amazing and beautiful quotes.  I read the book too quick.  I need to savor the quotes.

11.  Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace, and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice.  This was the selection for a book study for a pastors group.  This book was worth it for me because it focused on the small and slow work of reconciliation and its relation to the larger work of reconciliation.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Mr. Rogers: Pastor Emeritus of the Bikeable Parish

A few months ago Bill Lindeke and I sat down for a beer and a chat about bicycling and churches.  During the conversation Bill noted the importance of Mr. Rogers, maybe even calling him the first urbanist.  I had never thought of Mr. Rogers as an urbanist but as soon as Bill said it sparks started flying all over in my mind.  (And if you haven't read Bill's prayer for Streets and Sidewalks that he shared at the Christmas Eve service, you must, you must.)

But I never followed up on the Mr. Rogers sparks, perhaps because Bill filled me with even more great ideas.  Then a couple of weeks ago when I was could not picture the path and contents of the fifth and final chapter of a book I am working on Mr. Rogers popped into my mind and then that familiar song started playing in my mind, "It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood.."

and then the chapter started coming together.  Since then I have been reading all I can about Mr. Rogers.  On the one hand his material provides a great resource for the fifth chapter, on the other hand I am finding my pastoral practice being changed by his life and habits and values.

For the record, you know that Mr. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister.  Ordained not to pastor a church or preach from a pulpit but to produce children's television.  And did you know he and Henri Nouwen were great friends!  Can you imagine the conversations between those two, oh I bet they were beautiful conversations.

I started thinking, "I bet Mr. Rogers had something to say about bikes."  Sure enough there are more pictures on the internet of Mr. Rogers riding a bicycle than there are of Mr. Trump riding one (couldn't resist).
And in Mr. Rogers books you will find plenty of references to bicycling and walking and public transit.  This paragraph below is a sermon just waiting to be preached:

Here is another benefit of my Mr. Rogers research.  There is no better way to refresh your brain and soul than to turn off the news and replace them with Mr. Rogers stories.  

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2018 Transit Stories, number one

A few weeks ago someone made mention online that there had only been anti-biking commentaries in the commentary section of the Star Tribune.  I've often thought more bicyclists, walkers and users of public transit need to share more stories about their experiences.  One, to counter the often anti voices.  & two, to reach people of a more visceral or emotional level about walking, biking and public transiting.  I think people are moved more by stories then they are by arguments.  So tell stories and hope that they find a way into public discourse.

I was wanted to write such a story but I didn't have anything.  Then the other day when it was pretty cold (that is saying something for Minneapolis).  I chose to ride the bus rather than pedal my bike south to see a family to discuss a memorial service.  On this trip I caught a story.  I shared the story with my family, then I shared it with the congregation, then I sat down and typed it out and shared it with the readers of the Star Tribune; it appeared last Thursday.

here it is.

I actually like to read the comments, I find them interesting.  This article brought a sad response.  One person commented, "many of us do not want to feel connected to strangers".  I feel that is part of our problem today as a culture.  We do not want to feel connected to strangers.  If you are a Christian or a person of faith or person of conscience not wanting to feel connected to strangers is not an option.  There will be no social progress if we constantly remain unconnected to strangers.  The Christian story is at the least the transformation of strangers to friends (not conversion to belief, but openness of heart).  What if walking, bicycling, and taking public transit were viewed as faith practices, as  ways to engage and meet people and help the grand work of transforming strangers into friends?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Book Review: Street Smart

As my time at divinity school came to a close, almost 18 years ago, my church history professor made me promise him that I wouldn't stop reading.  I wondered why he made such a bizarre request, but I gladly promised.  After a few years of pastoring I realized why he made me make that promise.  I discovered a bundle (I believe that is the proper nomenclature of more than two clergy) of clergy colleagues who stopped active/critical reading after they graduated.

I've been, I believe, a "stable"reader during my pastoral tenure.

I try to read 50 books a year.  The titles of which are predictable: Biblical commentaries, church life, church problems, church solutions, books on prayer, books on self care.  Nevertheless, I am surprised how the demands of the job, personal interests, and vocational aspirations shape and direct my reading.  For example, I realize the importance of reading more fiction than non-fiction (fiction feeds my imagination more).  But I never foresaw the day where I would voluntarily read a book on streets,  this is what riding my bike has done to me.

Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars by Samuel I. Schwartz

from the prologue, "Street Smart tells the story of a transformation in the common travel decisions made daily and weekly in the industrialized world generally, the United States specifically.  Its focus is a modest 9.72 miles - the distance of the average automobile trip, including to work, to shopping, to social encounters, to entertainment - how we've done so historically and how were going to be doing it in the future."  That may not sound like the kind of book the average pastor would read, but it should be.  Because the churches we serve are on streets and people get there, largely, via cars.  But what if the formula changes?  What if people start walking, biking, taking public transit to church more?

Rather than offer a regular book review I will of a book review for pastors (why should a pastor read this book).

How is church life shaped and altered by street design and street policy?  Although this book never addresses this question, if a pastor kept this question in her mind as she read this book she would develop a more intentional approach to church life on the street level.

Church life was been dramatically shaped by two national policies: Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (which provided the funding for the interstate highway system) and the G.I. Bill (which only provided guaranteed loans for new homes).  Take these two policies and you have an incentive and subsidizing for folk to move out of urban centers to the suburbs.  These policies shaped church life and growth (and decline) since the 1950s.  But we are now seeing a generation, almost singlehandedly, reversing these polices!

Despite cheap gas, despite low car loans, despite the Chevy "denim" and "techno pink" car colors Millennials are driving less, biking more, and moving back into urban centers (as are other age groups).  Cities are slowly being transformed back to their pre-car pasts with an emphasis on dense urban centers, public transit and walkability.

This book will give a pastor some reasons for hope and some reasons why they should be involved in the shape and direction of streets and urban policy.  This involves showing up at zoning meetings, participating in Open Streets, and encouraging church members to take public transit, walk, and bike to worship and church life.

I don't foresee a revival of numbers and church plants in urban centers. But I can see urban/neighborhood churches experiencing new life, still as small communities, and possibly flourishing in light of Americans' desire to live in urban areas.