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.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017: A Year in Numbers

Last night the missus and I got down the wall calendar and did our year in review after dinner with the kiddos.  At first it seemed like an okay year, but the more we flipped through the pages the more we realized it was a full and fun year.  Then this morning when I got into the office and switched over  my work calendar I looked back on 2017 and thought, what a year.

So here we go a year in numbers, mostly...

26 number of books read (low year for me but the reason why will become clear soon enough).
Best biography: Raoul Wallenberg: The Heroic Life and Mysterious Disappearance of the Man Who Saved Thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust by Ingrid Carlberg (after reading this book I'm trying to get my city council member to changed the name of Columbus Ave to Wallenberg Ave.)
Best Fiction book: The Beautiful Possible by Amy Gottlieb
Best Non-Fiction book: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate - Discoveries From a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben
Best Graphic Novel: March by John Lewis
Best Kids Book: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi
And best Musical Find: Koln Concert by Keith Jarret (centered my Easter sermon around it)

52 number of sermons + lectures + memorial services + presentations
6  number of times published (Star Tribune,  MinnPost, The Christian Citizen)

5 number of those articles that featured bicycling
1,500 approximate number of miles ridden on my bike 
5 number of people in my family 
5 number of people in my family who now ride regularly
3 number of people in my family who are or who are considering winter biking
2 number of bike rides organized (Portland and Atlanta)
100 approximate number of people who participated in the record breaking Baptist bike ride in Portland, OR
30 seconds the amount of time it took me to get comfortable being typecasted as the person who always talks about bikes at church/clergy/theological gatherings

6 number of times I mowed my yard this year
28 number of times my neighbor mowed his yard

611 number of twitter followers
97 number of real people who followed me on twitter for three or less days then unfollowed me
492 number of people i blocked on twitter
2 number of people i follow on twitter that i met face-to-face 
702 number of friends on facebook
15 number of people i regularly interact with on facebook
X number of people i am still friends with on facebook but have unfollowed them
456 number of people, ballpark estimate, of people who I'm still friends with on facebook but have unfollowed me, because they know im not nearly as clever as i think i am.  

62 number of round trip miles the boys and I pedaled for our bike camping trip.

13.August.2017. the day I found out I was awarded a Clergy Renewal Grant from the Lilly Foundation!!!  Thus why my reading numbers were down.   

5 number of years a gas station donut has occupied in my office desk drawer and not changed, at all.

0 number of Tudor's Biscuit consumed, damn.  
2 number of donuts consumed while visiting with Michael Tisserand
2 number of times the school principal called to inform us about a kid's behavior
1 number of times the school was calling about the other Norvell family's kid and not ours.

there you go folks.  great year, but more than anything looking forward to 2018!