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Archive for July, 2011

Day 21   Saturday, July 30   Livingston to Gardiner, MT   57 miles

 

East River Road

Taking East River road to the entrance of Yellowstone Park

I said yesterday that I felt some shift as if I was now entering the second stage of this.  I certainly have not hit a wall, but I can feel myself trying to work through the right rhythm to be able to sustain this through the next seven weeks.  I wrote two days ago about the little fork in the road–do I push to maintain a schedule or do I allow the rhythm of the days to be dictated by the freshness of my legs and the vitality of my spirit.  My legs are tired, but they are still turning.

osprey

An adult and two baby osprey

 The psychic fatigue is what is wearing on me now.  Today should not have been too difficult, yet when I arrived in the town of Gardiner I was beat.  I was riding up the Yellowstone River (on the road, of course) and although it was not steep the whole ride was a gradual ascent.  Then the last twenty or so miles a nasty headwind made it feel as if I was climbing a long tough hill.  That was not terribly disconcerting excpet for the fact that I was trying to save my legs for some punishing climbs in Yellowstone.  Today was “supposed” to be a mild day of recovery.

I am finding that I have to keep a good balance between planning and trust.  Tomorrow is a good example.  Campsites are a prime commodity in Yellowstone and they are on a first come, first serve basis.  There are 85 miles between the north end of the park to the east end where I will head across the Wyoming high desert.  I can plan to leave as early as possible, eat well and hydrate often.  But, I will not be making it through the park in one day.  The rest is a matter of trust that somehow it will work out.  This is part of the psychic fatigue I am experiencing.  After riding hard there is planning for the next day, recovering, finding places to eat and shop and the anxiety of entering areas without an airtight plan in areas where there is some risk involved.  I do definitely feel like I am in the wilderness now.  This is new psychological territory and I find myself having to dig deep to trust and move forward.

Julie and Jody

Summer workers Julie and Jody who fed me with burritos and good conversation

In the midst of this I had dinner at a small Mexican Restaurant and I met Julie and Jody.  Julie is the daughter of a Methodist minister in Virginia, which makes her a PK (preacher’s kid).  PK’s tend to either rebel against the values of their preaching parent or to follow them.  In Julie’s case she is about to enter her senior year at the College of William and Mary with a major in world religions.  At the same time that she appears to be following in her father’s footsteps, she also does not attend church.  I wouldn’t exactly call it rebellion.  How many 20 year olds do you know who go to church?

Julie is one of the clearest examples of a pattern I have discovered on the trip.  Although it is not true in every case, I have met many people who are reading religious works and exploring their spiritual lives, but who would not think of joining a church.  One of the discoveries is that these people I have met don’t tend to have a well-formed identity (such as Buddhist, Christian, etc.), but seem very content with the process of exploration.

Julie has been enjoying the different classes in religion that she has been taking and as she dives into each one she gets excited about what she is discovering beyond the Christianity she grew up with.  Her preacher father apparently teased her saying, “Julie, you change your religious orientation every semester!”

Gardiner

The town of Gardiner at sundown

Based on what I have been discovering I am not so sure that Julie has changed anything.  If claiming and stating a particular religious identity is sort of like deciding which car you are going to buy, then yes, she is hopping from one religious car lot to another.  But, what I am discovering is that the process of exploration and the journey of discovery seems to be the point these days.  The people I am meeting are not apologizing for their exploration saying, “Soon I’ll settle on one religion and make my decision.  Sorry it’s taken me so long.”  The people I am meeting explore, contemplate, reflect and apply whatever feels authentic to them.  Stating a religious preference does not seem to be important to them.

I think about Julie and the many people I have met and I think about the Church.  I think about Julie’s passion for studying world religions, but choosing to leave her pew open for someone else.  I think about what God or the Spirit might be doing in our time and I wonder if we need to be listening to Julie just as much as we listen to her preacher father.

Pray

Traveling through the town of Pray!

Yellowstone tomorrow.  Pray for strength, safety, wisdom, and a campsite, please!

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Stage Two?

Day 20   Friday, July 29   Bozeman to Livingston, MT   32 miles

I don’t know if this pilgrimage can be broken down into distinct stages, but I felt today that I was entering the second stage of what may be a four or five stage journey.  We’ll see how it unfolds.  What I do know is that I have the same type of anxiety, deep sighs, and nervousness that I had the day before I embarked on this pilgrimage on July 10.  As I posted yesterday, I just didn’t feel like I should be leaving until I had everything in order.

Thanks Elizabeth

Thanks Elizabeth for hosting me. Warmshowers is great!

I spent the day this way.  Early on I went for a nice breakfast in downtown Bozeman.  I always love to eat at places where there is a wait for a table on a weekday.  That’s always a good sign and the food was as good as the wait was long.  Then I marched my bike a few blocks away to see if I could get a front rack and two more panniers.  I had a number of issues I was trying to solve with the front panniers.  I had so much weight on my back tire that I was wearing through the tread at a very rapid rate.  I still think I’ll need to replace it by the time I enter Ft. Collins, Colorado.  Secondly, I had a few nervous moments when I was hitting speeds of 40 mph plus with a crosswind grabbing at the bulk in the back and pushing me around.  Splitting the weight between front and back will stabilize me considerably.  Lastly, I believe I am about to hit some stretches where there just won’t be water for many, many miles.  Hydration has already been an issue for me and I want to make sure that I have a way to carry an extra four liters of water through the Wyoming high desert.

Mason at the bike shop

Mason at Cycle and XC Skis who set me up well this next stage of the journey

The bike shop found a way to fit me in for which I was very appreciative.  Bike shops sometimes have 1-2 week waiting lists to work on bikes in the summer.  While they worked on the bike, I finished up my wash, bought postcards, and went through my gear to see what I could dispose of.  It wasn’t much, but it will help.  I sent back home exactly one-tenth of an ounce less than a pound (the post office told me this!) of receipts, a broken pair of glasses, a digital recorder, and two manuals I brought for my camera and the recorder.  Every ounce counts when you are climbing for 20 miles!

Susanne and Ralph

Fellow cyclists and all around good people, Susanne and Ralph

I had decided that I would not leave until I had these issues addressed.  Finally at 3:20 p.m. I was ready to go and off I went in 93 degree heat!  It was a toss of the coin whether I should just stay another night in Bozeman or get as far as Livingston, about 30 or so miles away.  With the heat and my dehydration issues it wasn’t the best time to set off, but I just was too itchy to get back on the bike and keep moving.My host’s next door neighbors, Susanne and Ralph, are experienced cyclists and they sent me over an alternative route that added some significant climbing and also some breathtaking scenery.  They told me there was a steep section, but short.  They were right about the first part.  My legs were questioning the second part!  Ralph also described perfectly the last 15 or so miles into Livingston.  He said it will have that same feeling you get when you are landing a plane.  A long, consistent, and delightful descent into town.

Livingston

The mountains from downtown Livingston

I am staying at the historic downtown Murray Hotel next to where the train depot is on the recommendation of Ralph and Susanne.  Something about being on my bike brings out the best in people. The clerk knocked an extra $10 off my room rate knowing it was a bit out of my range and now I am sitting in his private office writing this as the wireless in my room is not cooperating with my computer.

Tomorrow I will set off and if all goes well I should be camping or staying someplace nice close to the entrance of Yellowstone.  I am not sure what I am in for.  I suddenly feel like I have returned to the same sense of excitement, anxiety and sobered feeling I had just before I embarked three weeks ago.  It could be the change of physical terrain.  It could be that  I am about to encounter another landscape of my soul.  I expect to come face to face with something unnamed–my deepest self, fears, yearnings, demons, God–I am not sure.  But, I can feel it out there waiting for me.

I will breathe and trust.

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Day 19   Thursday, July 28   Bozeman   0 miles

Rest Day.  This is the second day in the pilgrimage that I have taken one complete day to do everything, but sit in the saddle.  Early on I was able to schedule a full 90-minute massage to begin working out some of the kinks in my legs and my left shoulder that stiffened up for a couple of days.  I have done a lot of cycling over the years, but this day-in-day-out push through the mountains has had the effect of making my legs feel like recently tightened piano strings.  I feel strong like a coiled spring.

The massage was essential today sort of like a car that needs an oil change at so many miles.  I woke up feeling dehydrated and the massage therapist made the point too by the way I was responding to some of her work.  Staying hydrated with the number of miles I am putting in, the altitude, and the heat has been a constant battle.  I really should have spent the day just concentrating on my fluid intake and keeping a disciplined schedule of eating.  But, I had internet issuess to solve, a couple of bills to take care of, post cards to buy for family and friends, and  exploring adding more panniers to my bike for water containers.  In addition, I have a great uncle and aunt who live here who I had never met and was hoping to see them.

Uncle Max and Aunt Shirley

Great Uncle Max and Aunt Shirley

I completed the massage, saw my Uncle Max and Aunt Shirley, unsuccessfully attacked my internet issues,visited some memories from my past, and went out for a nice dinner with my host tonight.  The truth is I am not prepared to hit the road for this next leg until I feel more prepared.  There are logistical issues and I am psychically tired.  Bozeman is the last city of any size until I get to Northern Colorado over a week from now.  I will be touring through Yellowstone and then cross a great stretch of Wyoming that will be as challenging as the mountains for the vast emptiness that will engulf me for days.

Emerson School

Emerson Elementary where I went to kindergarten before moving to Colorado

I wrote about 3 weeks before I left that it would be important for me to let my soul determine the pacing of this pilgrimage rather than a predetermined schedule (see Soul Pacing).  I find myself having to face my own guidance and advice.  I had planned that I would ride six days and rest one.  In order to stay on schedule that is what I will need to do.  Yet, today I can sense that such rigidness may get me into trouble.  I have bike issues as well as internet issues that need to be solved before I go sleeping in Yellowstone and entering the Wyoming high desert.  Even as I write now, I know what I need to do.  The schedule has to be secondary to my safety and my good judgment.

This is my little fork in the road.  I have been a person who, to a fault, will keep his commitments.  I said it would take ten weeks.  Ten weeks it what it will take would be my attitude.  I don’t want to get behind schedule and discover that I will either need more time off, have to cut the pilgrimage short, or have to make up time somewhere down the road.  As I discussed this with my host, Elizabeth, tonight she quickly dismissed my exaggerated conscientiousness and said, “What, you can’t email the church and say you need more time?”  Her point was well-taken.  I assume the world is not flexible before I even give them a chance.

The fact of the matter is I am pretty much on schedule (as if that matters that much).  If I take another half day or full day tomorrow to make sure that all my gear is ready for another major stretch, that really is the prudent thing, the safest thing, and the best thing to do to honor this pilgrimage.  And, at this point, one day is just one day.  It doesn’t necessarily meant that if I take one day it will just be easier next time to take an extra day.

I can let my predetermined schedule dictate my pacing, but I will then come home without being any different than I have been.  I will once again show my ability and willingness to push myself to and beyond my limits to accomplish something.  I already have a lifetime of proof for that lesson.  I don’t think that is what this pilgrimage is about.  I think I am being stretched in new ways and it has more to do with honoring my limits rather than proving that I can reach beyond them.

And what if I do take an extra day?  Will Yellowstone and the Wyoming high desert disappear because I am one day late?  I think not.  They will be ready for me whenever I get there.  You can count on that!

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Day 18   Wednesday, July 27    Three Forks to Bozeman, MT   47 miles

Three Forks

Where my sleuthing for grandpa's place started

I knew something wasn’t right when I rode into Three Forks.  I very clearly remembered that my great grandpa lived in Three Forks, but as I looked around the town it had clearly grown more than any town should be allowed to grow and it was now missing my grandpa’s house and the hill just behind his house.   Something wasn’t right, but I went ahead and posted my blog entry last night assuming I would get my bearings in the morning.

Willow Creek

Yep! Just how I remember it driving to grandpa's house

I asked a few of the local folks if they had heard of the Amberson name and if there was a hill somewhere in town.  Over and over again I heard, “Name doesn’t ring a bell and Three Forks is pretty flat all over.”  I decided to ride around the small town to see if I could discover where I had gone off base.  I hadn’t ridden a block when I saw a sign pointing to Willow Creek and the name finally clicked–that’s where we used to go see Grandpa!  I think my family always said that Grandpa was from Three Forks because it was the closest thing to a town that anyone might know.  Willow Creek was just 7 miles away and I enjoyed a nice leisurely ride out there before making the trek to my birthplace of Bozeman.

It is ironic, meant to be, or mysteriously puzzling how things work out sometimes.  I had just posted earlier that morning my blog about seeing a “break in the clouds” as I have wrestled with the subtle difference between being a “pastor of the faith” and a “chaplain of the spirit”.  As I finally discovered what I thought was my great  grandpa’s old house, I walked my bike over to the neighbor to see if I could get just enough information to confirm my hunch.  A few quick questions and I knew I was in the right space.

"John"

A chance encounter turned into a mutual blessing

And then something happened that I think was meant to happen.  As I shared the nature of my pilgrimage this neighbor also opened up.  He has been going through a particularly rough period after losing a child, contracting a neurological disease that is slowly disabling him, and divorcing.  There are hints of Job in his story.  He and I talked about heaven, about learning to accept life on life’s own terms, about his own struggle with whether there is a God-presence or not, and about death.  I found myself falling naturally into my chaplain role finding whatever words and meaning that would off him some strength, healing and acceptance in this time.  He told me that he didn’t believe in angels, but he was an angel of affirmation for me and I hope I was an angel of hope for him.  We parted and offered a blessing of peace to each other as we both continued our journeys.  “John”, if you read this know there are invisible hands carrying you through this time.

Grandpa's House

Great Grandpa Amberson's house. Great memories!

I went back to a place that had shaped my identity at an early age as I am working through my professional identity as a minister in this time of tremendous change and transformation in the world of religion and spirituality.  How ironic that as I went back to my roots I was greeted by another pilgrim who affirmed my identity as a safe container for the grief, loss and pain that life sometimes shovels out in disproportionate amounts.  I rode away saying to myself, “This is who I am.  This is what I do. This is where God wants me.”  I had no interest in having him adopt the faith of my tradition, but in affirming the places in his life where he might find hope and acceptance.

On the way to Bozeman

The ride to Bozeman

The ride into Bozeman was a mixed bag today.  The miles themselves were not difficult and once again the mountains, the rivers and the prairies are so soulfully stunning.  I unfortunately had few options for roads and only some local cyclists told me there might have been a better route if only I had lived here and known about them.  I used the frontage road that followed the freeway to travel from Manhattan to Bozeman.  It was busier than I could have guessed.  This is the road that leads to the Bozeman airport and is the conduit for moving the product from the gravel pits.  Not a pretty picture!  Let’s just say that it was the first time I was a little unnerved by the traffic and lack of shoulder.  I just reminded myself to ride a straight line.  The good news:  I am writing about the experience rather than someone writing about me!

Tonight I am tenting on the lawn of another Warmshowers host, Elizabeth.  We had a chance to compare pilgrimage stories.  In 2007 she completed the 1500 kilometer Santiago de Campostela in Spain on her bike.  I have a member at Eastminster who both rides bikes and started that pilgrimage.  He’ll be interested to hear about this.

Elizabeth’s next door neighbors came rolling in on their bikes, saw my touring load, and quickly drew up a conversation.  They have already offered to help me plan my route both to and through Yellowstone for both the safest and the most scenic routes.  I will be glad for some local guidance after growing more white hair today on the way in.

Tomorrow I will get to know Bozeman, the city of my birth.  I left at such an early age that I have very few memories of what it once looked like.  Everyone tells me that the town has skyrocketed in growth in the last 10 years.  It reminds me some of Boulder, CO close to where I grew up after moving from here.  I intend to schedule a luxurious massage, let the legs rest  and recover psychically.  In many ways the daily push and intensity is more taxing than the physical challenges.  Today I will use my yoga practice and remember to breathe, relax and receive the good energy around me in the people, the air, and this youthful university town.  I also have a great uncle and aunt in the area and may be able to connect with them.

Rest day…aaah

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I am labeling this blog “Part 1” as I think this is the first of many.  In my “Meet Brian” page I end this way,

This 10-week pilgrimage is my most ambitious cycling adventure yet and is intended to bring my two worlds together and end this spiritual schizophrenia once and for all!

I say it almost teasingly, but there is a very serious undertone of truth to it that fueled the imperative to embark on this pilgrimage.  The truth is I often feel like I am straddling two worlds and not even yoga can provide enough flexibility to maintain this theological split.

A break in the clouds

Lots of clouds, but just enough sun to see our way through

Yesterday, before I even embarked on the bike an image and a phrase emerged for me and I experienced it immediately like the  first break in the clouds.  Even with this pilgrimage, I suddenly felt a shift from having to push and break through some psychological barrier to a feeling of being able to relax into the journey.  I admit I still have 3000 miles to go and many weeks and we’ll see how long this lasts.  There may be more barriers still awaiting me.

Here is what came to me.  I don’t see myself so much as a “pastor of the faith” than I do a “chaplain of the spirit”.  This is a very important distinction for me.  I am ordained (certified) to serve in the role as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  For me, however, this is secondary.  This is just one expression of how I can serve people and the community as we work toward reconciliation, justice, healing, grace, and peaceful contentment.

What I am beginning to realize is that it’s not me who is spiritually schizophrenic while the world is whole and integrated.  It’s that as a pastor to a very diverse community, I am holding and mirroring the schizophrenia our churches and communities already express.  Isn’t it ironic that  the Presbyterian Church is showing signs of splitting at the seams, and as I hold the church in my heart, I am feeling a split taking place as well.

What is especially revealing to me is this.  I didn’t feel this when I worked outside the Church in chaplaincy type roles.  I worked with families on hospice care for a time and served as a chaplain to an assisted living center.  What I discovered is that as a chaplain I was able to honor the religious/spiritual/philosophical values of each person with whom I met.  As a chaplain one is trained not to impose one’s own religious worldview on the client, but to listen for the clues and the language of the client in order to aid in their healing, their growth, and their presented issues.  Their story takes precedence over my story. Their faith is more important than my faith.

Twin Bridges

Twin Bridges, Montana--A town with a chaplain's heart!

As a chaplain I learned to speak the language of each client.  I learned to listen for the images, the stories, the beliefs, and the values of each person.  In order to facilitate healing, if I needed to bring in the “saving blood of Jesus” I did it.  In another rooom the lessons of nature with their seasons of dying and regeneration became more appropriate.  I could talk New Age spiritualism, Martin Buber’s “I and Thou”, Buddhist acceptance, and Christian theology and not feel that I was speaking out of both sides of my mouth.

Some might call this waffling.  Listening for the clues, the language, and the stories of each person and then adopting those in order to facilitate healing and growth, love and acceptance.  In the context of chaplaincy this was not only important, but vital to the role and the process.

So what is this spiritual schizophrenia about?  I only feel it when I am back in the Church serving in the role of minister.  Even though I have not changed I feel this not-so-subtle shift from being a “chaplain of the spirit” to a “pastor of the faith”.  I just don’t buy into it, but I see how difficult it is for people to understand how I can speak “Godtalk” on Sundays and then meet with our Movies and Meaning group and rarely let the name of God slip from my lips.  Maybe it looks like I don’t really know what I stand for.  It sounds very similar to the politician who says whatever he or she needs to say in order to get elected.

This is the point.  I WILL say whatever I need to say…not to get elected or to be liked but to aid in one’s growth, one’s healing, and one’s sense of connection and communion with the world.  That is what a good chaplain does.  I do know what I stand for.  I stand for honoring YOUR story, YOUR life, YOUR faith, and YOUR values.  Does this make me wishy-washy?  I don’t think so.

I think I am on to something.  This spiritual schizophrenia is deeply rooted in my ordination vows to be a “pastor of the faith”.  The truth is, however, I consider my own personal faith and the faith of the PCUSA as just two tools in a large tool box intended to bring justice, peace, healing, and reconciliation to people and to the community.  Chaplains come with a tool box of many faiths, philosophies and spiritualities to serve and heal.  Traditionally, pastors  have been trained to use the one set of tools from their own faith tradition.  The world is too diverse and too rich for me to have just one set of tools.  I may be a pastor, but I can’t help but to listen to the world and serve the world more as a chaplain.

Happy Trails

A Western Blessing from Twin Bridges

I can see Part 2 emerging.  Chaplains have the luxury of only working with one client at time meaning we can dance between different faiths and beliefs client to client.  What does it mean to preach to a communityof  the faithful when one has a chaplain’s heart?

 

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Day 17   Tuesday, July 26   Dillon to Three Forks, MT   96 miles

Montana Land

This is the land where I breathed my first breaths

I am now entering personal sacred territory.  I am in the town of Three Forks, Montana where some of my fondest memories still have a home.  It was here where my dad, my sister and I would visit great grandpa Amberson.  It is strange, but I have very few memories of him, yet he holds a revered place in my heart.  I can remember one fishing trip (there were more, but only one I can conjure up).  I remember the “pills” he would dole out to my sister and me before bed (now I know they are called chocolate chips!).  And I can remember the Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes that he would cook us in the morning.

Between Dillon and Whitehall

Scenery just out of Dillon

I am now just 33 miles from Bozeman, the place of my birth.  I have very few memories of Bozeman as well.  If I have the story right we moved before my second birthday, returning a couple years later so my dad could finish his engineering degree at MSU, and then permanently relocated to Colorado after his graduation.  I was six years old then.

I am going to leisurely get into the morning tomorrow.  Bozeman is just a two hour or so bike ride away and my legs are really starting to cry out for some rest.  There is a museum here in town and my grandpa was known for his beautiful carving of canes, knots and wooden belts.  You’d have to see them to appreciate the craftsmanship.  I know grandpa has some of his work in a museum in another town and I am hoping they saved some here in Three Forks as well.

Closer to Three Forks

The scenery as I near Three Forks and the home of my late great grandpa Amberson

Then off to Bozeman where I’ll stay at the home of another Warmshowers host.  Thursday I’ll rest, take care of some errands and mostly reacquaint myself with this town that shaped me in the early years.  I am becoming keenly aware of how much the mountains call to me and I do wonder how much of that was shaped simply by my early exposure to them here in Montana.

It was a day where I felt like the gods were playing with me.  My goal was to get to Three Forks, but I entertained the possibility of riding on into Bozeman if my legs had any oomph left at Three Forks.  I knew it wasn’t realistic, but the thought of getting into Bozeman and taking a much needed day of rest left me open to the possibility.  As I started out from Dillon almost immediately I was pushed along by a consistent tailwind.  The longer that went on the more I thought, “I might just be able to ride this wave all the way into Bozeman.”

Bozeman was about 120 miles out, but at mile 51 (Whitehall) I was still being pushed by this tailwind that lifted my average speed by about 3 mph.  I was thinking seriously of making the push into Bozeman.  There was one section getting from Whitehall to Three Forks that wasn’t clear on my map.  I got some help from the local cashier in Whitehall who told me how to avoid the freeway and the major climb by taking a frontage road through a canyon.  I appreciated the help.

Nearing Three Forks

Even off course the scenery is beautiful

Unfortunately, something got missed in the translation and I missed a rather important turn.  According to my map I was supposed to make a big sweeping semicircle from Whitehall to Three Forks and because I was going in that general direction I continued riding for over 20 miles.  But, something didn’t feel right.  In the first place I never encountered the canyon she had mentioned.  In the second place she had said that this was good route for avoiding a major climb and I just kept climbing and climbing and climbing.

Finally, I reached a T in the road, where I knew that left would take me in the general direction I wanted; right would take into Yellowstone.  I asked for some help.  The man confirmed that I was now going in the right direction, but that I was 20 miles off course.  I decided not to ride into Bozeman.  “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away!”  Actually, I can give the gods credit for the tailwind.  But, I need to take some responsibility for going off course.  I hate to admit it, but I had an inkling something wasn’t right early on and I had two opportunities to ask for directions and didn’t.  Men!

I want to close this tonight saying that I had the beginnings of a breakthrough on the “spiritual schizophrenia” I am trying to work through(see “Meet Brian” page).  I intend to put some more thought into that and post a separate blog about that.  I don’t know if I turned a corner on this, but something happened today that took my soul from a sort of restless wrestling over this issue to a feeling of clarity and strength. There is a lot to flesh out, but I think I had a revelation today.

Could it be that the yearning to return to my birthplace was more than mere curiosity and about some new life emerging from me?

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Day  16   Monday, July 25   Wisdom to Dillon, MT   61 miles

Wisdom sunset

Last night's sunset in Wisdom from the park where I camped

Montana is called Big Sky Country for a reason.  I have been riding through miles and miles of beautiful green prairie land encircled by snow-capped mountains on all four sides.  I finally near one of the mountain ranges, grind my way over the top, and am greeted by another expansive prairie land in the midst of a circle of mountains.  I have lived in places where there are no mountains and it would make sense that one could see more sky where cornfields unfold endlessly across a state.  Yet, the presence of these mountains seem to accentuate both the expansiveness of the prairies and the reaches of the Big Sky above.

The vast prairie

Miles of prairie lead to good reflection time

Somehow between the terrian and the time on the bike it has led me to deeper reflection about why I am doing this. I can’t say that I have reached a point where I have suddenly questioned myself, saying, “What the hell was I thinking?”  In those brief moments when I wonder why I am out here it only takes a moment to realize that I need this and the Church needs this.

Matt packing up

Fellow cyclist, Matt, is packing up again after being on the road for two months.

The hardest part of the day for me is the pulling all the pieces together to get ready to embark on another leg of the journey.  Some of the preparation has become routine.  I know now how to pack my bike so that it is balanced and secure.  The right pannier gets my living clothes and supplies.  The left pannier holds my cycling clothing and camping stove.  The handlebar bag is for quick access.  But, every morning I also need to find a place to eat, map out exactly where there is likely to be water, food, and potential sleeping sites down the road.  The lack of consistent routinet is tiring.

At home (wow…I just used that word!) I have a predictable routine of coffee, newspaper, shower, and breakfast.  I know exactly where to get my groceries, I know exactly where I keep my coffee, my grinder and my cereal.  I even get to use the same bathroom every day.  These things don’t change day to day.

The lack of routine is tiring.  Last night I thought I had planned well as I noticed a little Mercantile grocery store in the town of Wisdom.  I had a late lunch, went and set up my tent in the American Legion’s Memorial Park and went back to the Mercantile to get my supplies.  They were closed!  Of course, it is Sunday!  They close at 4 p.m. on Sundays.  I should have known, right!  Except for the fact that every town has had different hours and I can’t assume anything in a new town.

On the way to Dillon

The mountains simply soothe my soul

One of the things I am trying to do on this pilgrimage is to mirror the journey that the larger Church is also on.  I recognized that this morning as I experienced my usual dragging my feet with having to once again move to unfamiliar territory.  I realized, of course, that no one is making me pull up my tent stakes and move on.  I realized that I could choose to say, “I’m staying put.  I am not going to pedal another mile.”  But, the moment I think that, I realize I can’t stay here.  This is not home.  This is a beautiful stop on a long, wonderful pilgrimage.  But, it is not home.  I have to keep moving.

I think about Eastminster and the larger Church and our 40 year slide in memberships and relevance in the community.  For a long time it seemed that our mainline congregations were able to stay put in one spot.  They fit the terrain of the community and the community and the church fed off of each other.  It was a comfortable co-existence.  Then something happened.  The terrain around the Church changed.  Our culture changed.  We are asking new questions elicited by our participation in a global, multicultural and pluralistic world.  Churches are feeling that “home” moved on them.

This morning as I trudged my way through tearing down my tent(again), packing up (again), and finding a place for breakfast I realized that my journey is very much like the Church’s journey.  I loved being in Wisdom.  What a cute town and great people.  But, I don’t belong there.  It is not home to me.  I have to keep moving to find my own “Promised Land.”

The Church is in a similar situation except that instead of being the tourist visiting an unfamiliar town, the Church is beginning to feel more and more like the tourist in their own hometown–a town looking more and more unfamiliar to them.  In attempts to restore life to what it once was I can’t tell you how many times I have heard church members say, “I don’t understand what has happened to our community.”

Big Hole Pass

No hill is too high for us!

On those days when I get up and I wonder why I am doing this, I quickly remind myself that the days of homesteading a church are virtually over.  The Church is currently in exile in Her own country.  This is a time of journey and pilgrimage.   It is a time of exploring where home is once again.  We in the West know all about this.  We are made of pioneering stock where we must get up every day, pull up the tent stakes, and move forward until we once again discover that place we can call home.

The freed Hebrew slaves did it.  Our pioneering ancestors did it.  We can do it too.

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