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