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Invisible Hands…

I have been home for two days now and am slowly working my way back into life in Portland again.  I can see that I am doing all that needs to be done–going through mail, getting a calendar set up, meeting with people, calling the plumber, the paper, and the billing agency.  At the same time I don’t feel completely here.  I am somewhere in a foggy haze between the pilgrimage and my Portland life.  My body and mind feel a great relief finally having permission not to have to put the miles in to keep moving forward and not to have to set down shallow roots in dozen of places acrosss the West.  Yet, my mind isn’t ready to just pick up the same pacing in a new environment.  I do think that is one of the gifts of this time.  I experienced the richness of extended periods of reflection and contemplation.  I know that I cannot sustain that same level of deep introversion now that I am back.  I am also aware that I am not willing to completely give it up.  I cannot return home as if nothing happened;  I will need to find a way to honor and create the contemplative sacred space in my life without having to escape for weeks on end.

Invisible hands

The gift I had sent home to remind me of the "invisible hands" that carried me through

I knew at some point I was going to want to have some physical reminder of this pilgrimage and the spiritual work that I was engaged in during this time.  It was in Bandon, Oregon on the coast where I came across a piece of pottery by a local artist that spoke to me immediately.  It is a large red clay-colored urn with a number of hands fired onto the sides holding the urn as if to communicate, “You are safe and held in our hands.”

I chose this because the image and feeling of “invisible hands” carried me for much of the trip.  In the early weeks when I fell into a deep solitude I had the feeling of being held by hands that emerged out of the leaves, trees, lakes, and mountains.  If I had allowed myself to be held my Mother Church up to that point, in these early weeks I felt embraced more by Mother Earth and maybe even Mother God.  That feeling only became deeper as I traveled through Bozeman, Montana , where I was born and then into Loveland, Colorado where I needed to reconcile my awkward history with mothers themselves.  As I felt the absence of mother figures in my life, I gained a greater reliance in trusting life itself for my basic needs.

First day in desert

In Utah before officially entering the Nevada desert and a reliance on something deeper than myself.

There was a point in western Colorado and into Utah where I had accomplished much of what I set out to do.  My legs and my will drove me there with purpose.  Even though I also needed to take some time in Lake County, California where I was deeply shaped by friends and an emerging church, the ominous presence of the desert between me and them made my knees go weak.  I could feel that I would not be able to traverse that wilderness through sheer grit and determination.  At one level I felt defeated.  At another level that is where I allowed my friends, family and new blogging acquaintances to have a stake in this as well.  I had days when I felt like I was doing this for others and I allowed the invisible hands of my community to hold me, support me, and push me along a day at a time.  I felt those hands and more than any other time on the pilgrimage it was during the pre-Nevada desert days and during it that I went to the blog comments to look for some good words to remind me of why I was doing this.  I felt in many of the comments of the invisible hands to whom I feel linked and connected.

I believe in these invisible hands of love.  I could not see them, but I did feel their presence.  Even the young woman who totaled her car in front of me in the desert believed that invisible hands had kept her safe and that it was meant to be that I would be on that stretch of the road just as she lost control of her car.  Whether all of this is true or not I do not know.  But, I do know what I felt.  I do know that when I had no more grit in my belly something and somebody else stepped in.  God?  Spirit?  Invisible Hands?  I don’t know.  I do know that when the reservoir ran dry in me a deeper source filled me back up.  And now I have a physical reminder of what was invisible but very real before.  I am grateful for both.

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Day 74   Wednesday, September 21   Salem to Portland, OR   71 miles

 

Julie

My daughter Julie talking with Pastor Erik and Clerk of Session, Florence

The best part of the day was when my lovely, 22 year-old spirited daughter came into the reception at Eastminster after not seeing me for over 2 months and declared, “Oh my god, dad, you are ripped!”  This had nothing to do with alcohol.  I, of course, have not recognized the subtle changes in my body as they occurred slowly day by day.  But I have changed.  I lost over 10 pounds, became quite a bit leaner, and my face now has sharper contours that weren’t there when I left.  Indeed, I have changed.  My body is different.  My view of the world has shifted.  I feel more grace and more determination all at the same time.  I am psychologically stronger.  And I feel more whole, less fragmented and scattered.

Mt. Hood

A sign of home--Mt. Hood in the distance!

I mostly want to say thank you, thank you, thank you to all the people who have supported me, prayed for me, encouraged me, and reflected back just the right question at the right time when I needed a nudge to go deeper, ride lighter, or shift my focus.  It would have been a very different pilgrimage if I had not remained connected to all the good people in my life–my children, Phil and Julie, the whole Eastminster clan, the growing community associated with Eastminster’s various ministries, my extended family, and some of the best friends a sometimes quirky and stubborn man could ever hope for.  I will apologize now to anyone who might have been offended by my complete solitude in the first weeks.  I had to let go of everything in order to re-discover what was truly important.  Thank you for your patience and understanding.  I am h0me and the good news is, now I know it.

Phil and Tedra

My son, Phil, posing with his fiance, Tedra at the reception

I anticipated a pretty emotional ride in to Portland today.  I awoke this morning with more energy than I have felt for many weeks as I knew this was the last leg, the very last leg of the journey.  Yet, by the time I had breakfast and had packed, my stomach began to tell me that I was feeling anxious about this re-entry.  I compared it to making an airplane landing at the end of wonderful flight.  You are really ready to get home, but there is still that anxious few moments just before touchdown where you pray, “Please God, just one more time, make this miracle happen!”  Then throughout the ride I noticed the same pattern.  At times my legs were driving me forward trying to get home as fast as possible.  Minutes later I could feel them let up as I began to feel some nerves about making this transition from the pilgrimage world back into my Portland life.  I didn’t really feel like I was home until I walked into my apartment.  It was just as I left it (thanks Maggie and Ken!) and I felt the first signs of relief.  There is much more of that to come as the whole experience has a surreal feeling to it.  I broke down at dinner as a wave of relief suddenly hit me.  My wise son said, “I was wondering when that was going to happen.”

Eastminster sign

A very nice "Welcome Home!"

I made my way to Eastminster where they had a planned a very warm “Welcome Home” for me.  It really did feel like I had come home.  We at Eastminster are in a very interesting position.  On an organizational life cycle chart our scores show that we are both in the “old age/dying” stage of life and the “birth/infancy” stage.  It is a time of rich opportunity even as it is also very fragile.  For the church and for me as a pastor it leaves us in an almost constant state of uncertainty and insecurity.  Yet, I arrived back and knew this is where I belonged.  Whatever is happening there, whatever is unfolding, whatever emerges out of the pilgrimage this is where God has called me to be.  I arrived in the parking lot and all I could say was, “I’m home, I’m home, I am really home.”

Capitol Building

The Oregon State Capitol Building in Salem

And then mixed in with all that are these nudgings that I felt as I rode by the Capitol Building in Salem.  I began college actually as a political science major before shifting over to religion.  I was active in Ronald Reagan’s campaign for president when I was 19 years old (be careful about drawing any judgments about things we did 30 years ago!).  In addition to the ministry I have worked also in county services and with state agencies.  Eastminster is partnering with the county on providing homelessness services.  And, in recent years, I have found myself thrust into positions of leadership on citizen boards in the city.

I am arriving home with these two very strong messages.  One, that whatever we have going on at Eastminster, this is where I belong as it continues to unfold.  Two, that I have increasingly found my ministry to be shaped by the dialogue and the partnerships that we have nurtured along in the broader community.  I have said in previous blogs that I have felt and experienced the lines between the sacred and the secular to be dissolving.  I am interested in helping shape how the whole community–government, churches, non-profits and businesses can all work together for  the common good.  It is religion in public life that especially draws me in.

This pilgrimage really has been about working out my own call.  It is becoming much clearer. The good news is that I am already where I need to be as it unfolds.  I am already in a church where we are developing community partnerships and working through the issues that that presents.  And I already am active in city planning and community development.  I think I found myself here by accident and now I know this is where I need to be.  My future will unfold from right where I am currently standing and I may only need to be more intentional about fostering the relationship between our churches and the larger community.

T.S. Eliot’s quote was spot on the whole time:

We shall not cease from our exploration.  And at the end of all our exploring.  Will be to arrive where we started.  And recognize the place for the very first time.

I am home.  All is well.  And now I am truly ripped and ready for the next challenge!

Can’t wait now!

Day 73   Tuesday, September 20   Junction City to Salem, OR   66 miles

Willamette Valley

Leaving Junction City and riding into the Willamette Valley

 I cannot wait to get home now.  It’s more than just completing this long, wonderful and intense pilgrimage.  I can’t wait to see my two children and resume our shared meals and spontaneous Blazer nights with nachos and beer.  I have many good friends to catch up with and share stories and find out what events I missed in their lives and families.  I am excited about getting back to Eastminster and exploring and discerning what all this means for us.  I do know that we will not be able to resume where we left off as if I had just taken a short leave of absence.  I know that I have been changed and I can only guess that Eastminster finds herself in a new place.  The pilgrimage has stirred the pot and we will need to just take the time to see where our new priorities, yearnings, and future thoughts have settled.  It is a little scary and I am sure there is some anxiety, but I feel that this is a wonderfully rich time of opportunity and possibility.  I really cannot wait to get back and discover what new life is awaiting me in Portland and this work that we have begun.

Sharon

My colleague playfully poses for the camera as is her style

I did meet for an extended lunch with one of my colleagues who only recently discovered my blog.  After reading a couple of posts she felt she wanted to meet and talk more about her experiences in the ministry and her sense of call.  She is wrestling in the same way I have wrestled with what it means to be a minister in this time of religious uncertainty and shifting spiritual values.  We talked about many things, but one thing bears sharing.  She said something that I immediately connected with and have heard is a source of frustration among other ministers.  What she said is that she is tired of constantly trying to “convince the church” that God can be experienced in other spiritual forms.  She is currently being certified as a yoga instructor, already has a degree in music therapy, and is in a program to be certified as a spiritual director.

 

Willamette vineyard

I recognize being back in the rolling farmland of the Willamette Valley

Like me, much of her connection to God is in the form of an “embodied” spirituality.  It is experienced physically in movement and exercise, in music and dance.  It is experienced in hiking in the mountains, walking meditatively through a park, or cycling on long stretches of country road.  She is currently in a time of transition in her church where her future is now wide open.  She finds herself ready to just start working with the people who want yoga, music therapy, spiritual direction, etc. rather than spending her time trying to convince the church that it has a place there.  I do understand the church’s intention to sponsor activities that fit within the scope of being a church.  It’s a fair question to ask how yoga fits a church’s mission.  I just want to know how hard former generations had to work to get quilting circles, rummage sales, and Ice Cream Socials sponsored in the church.  If I remember the story right, Jesus was big on wine, but I don’t remember anything about big bowl of Rocky Road.

River discovery

One of the nice discoveries as I patched a few rural roads together

I made a slight detour in order to visit with my colleague which left me with a fun little adventure for the afternoon.  I had a delightful time of just pointing my bike north and making spontaneous decisions about whether I headed more toward the foothills, stayed close to the freeway, or crossed over onto the western side of the freeway toward McMinnville.  I first started heading toward Silverton, but one road starting turning south and before I knew it I was going back to where I started.  At that I decided it was best to stay closer to the freeway and patched a number of smaller rural roads together until I came into the south side of Salem.  What I discovered is how much delight I get out of exploring, making wrong turns, backtracking, and trying to figure out the grid.  It’s like riding through a wonderful maze.  I thought about how this mirrors our sense of spiritual adventure these days as well.

Willamette Vineyard

A Willamette Valley vineyard just south of Salem

Most of my days on the pilgrimage didn’t allow (or more accurately I didn’t allow!)for this type of adventurous exploration.  Today, because my mileage was lower, I was in the valley where I wouldn’t have difficult hills to climb, and I was finishing up this pilgrimage I allowed myself to play a little.  As much as I am looking forward to getting back to Portland I am also going to miss being on the bike every day.  I did get tired of having to pull up my stakes every day.  I got tired of all the planning and preparation on a daily basis.  But, I never did get tired of the riding.  Something about the road and the rhythm calls me.  It won’t be long before I start planning another ride (but maybe 74 miles, not 74 days!).  Anyone want to join me!

“Now what?”

Day 72   Monday, September 19   Florence to Junction City, OR   71 miles

Leaving Florence

Leaving Florence into some uncertain weather and beautiful landscape

I made the decision to start heading east back into the Willamette Valley a couple of days ago.  I have traveled along the coast all the way from Florence to Astoria in the years I have lived in Portland.  Once I reached Florence yesterday I was anxious to see some new Oregon country that I had not yet seen.  I chose a route to Junction City that added just a few miles, but got me off the beaten path and introduced me to some new roads.  Did I ever make the right decision!  I have a friend who cycles with me occasionally and I am looking forward to introducing her to this long, lonely, lovely stretch of serene road.

Hwy 36

Enjoying this lovely two lane road of Highway 36

I actually didn’t anticipate getting into such a wonderful cycling rhythm today.  My mind had turned to planning the best route just to get me home quickly and safely.  After riding the first 15 miles through somewhat foggy conditions and a few spotty showers, I made the turn at Mapleton to Highway  36 and set my mind to making good time over the next 55 miles to Junction City.  I wasn’t but a mile or two into this alternative route when I realized I had been given a gift.  It was a lovely two lane road with a creek running alongside it.  With only a few exceptions, the only vehicles I saw were a few service trucks supporting the occasional house along the stream.  I stopped and picked ripe blackberries along the way and took a few minutes down by the stream enjoying the rippling waves and the peaceful atmosphere.

Between Florence and JC

I felt like I had ridden right into a corner of paradise

What I realized as I fell unexpectedly into this wonderful side route was that there is a unique combination of factors that make a route perfect riding for me.  I do ride quite a bit in Portland, but I can say that most of the in-city riding is largely for the exercise itself.  When I get onto sacred stretches like this the riding moves into a moving meditation.  I had this many times on my trip—usually when I get onto the open road without distractions and when the difficulty of the riding isn’t so intense that all I can do is focus on the physicality of it.  It is hard for me to explain what I experience.  I enjoy other forms of meditation that are less physical and I find that I have to work hard to stay focused.  When I fall into a certain rhythm on the bike the meditation literally enters me without even inviting it in.  Too little exertion and my mind wanders.  Too much physical exertion and it’s all I can think about.  When the rhythm is just right I forget about my body, my mind quiets and I fall into a deep, empty, restful and healing place.

Memorial Church

Memorial Community Church on Triangle Lake

As I am nearing Portland and the end of this amazing personal pilgrimage my mind has turned to the question of “Now what?”  It is the same question that my friend, Dave, relayed to me after another cyclist had traveled by tandem to the tip of Chile over 6 months and found himself asking “Now what?”  I don’t feel completely at a loss.  I think the wisest thing is for me to return home and discover what Eastminster has also learned in this time (they invited in ten different speakers—some churched, some not—to share their spiritual journeys).  One of the things that has touched me tremendously is the number of people who have said that they have used this blog as part of their daily spiritual discipline.  I have really just tried to share what I have experienced every day and I am both surprised and humbled that others find words for contemplation here.  When I think about the question of “Now what” I do know one thing.  I can’t imagine suddenly halting my writing and reflection on this when I arrive in Portland on Wednesday.  It was never about the bike;  it was about my own personal wrestling, struggling and reflecting on my life, my call, and my place in the Church in this time of transformation and change.  The biking part will end, but the spiritual journey will continue.  So for now I plan to continue to write for as long as I still have something to say.  When the words run out, I’ll stop.

Share the Road

99.99% of the drivers heeded the sign quite well. Thank you!

The second thing that I reminded myself was that we at Eastminster have been following a little motto in recent years that is simply, “Follow the energy.”  It’s just another way of saying, “Listen to the Spirit.”  I do wonder what the next step will be, but I do trust that whatever energy, whatever interest, whatever conversation this pilgrimage has stirred up is the path that we need to follow.  At Eastminster we have faithfully followed this motto of “following the energy” and it has led us to wonderful new ministries.  We have partnered with the community to open a 60-bed homeless shelter, broken ground on a large community garden, and established an adult education program that has brought together both church people and spiritual explorers.  Will this lead to a thriving church community once again?  Maybe, but if it does it won’t be church as we have ever known it.  What I do know, however, is that as I return I feel secure that Eastminster and I are on the same page.  I don’t know where this will go, but I do know that we have a made a commitment to “follow the energy” and in that I expect that much of my answer to the “Now what” will emerge from that.

Laundry

Buddhism has a saying, "After ecstasy, the laundry." So true!

It seems somehow appropriate that I will be meeting with a new colleague tomorrow who had read my post yesterday on “Letting go, letting go, letting go” and recognized herself and the issues that she and her Church has wrestled with.  My sense is that many ministers are struggling with churches who are “holding on” but who really are ready to “let go” and think more about legacy than surviving.  If nothing else, I do hope this pilgrimage can serve to open up that conversation and allow us to be more honest with each other and our congregations.  On the other hand, maybe I am the only one, I am just making a grand fool of myself!  It wouldn’t be the first time.

Day 71   Sunday, September 18   Bandon to Florence, OR   77 miles

Leaving Bandon

One of the many sloughs on the southern Oregon coast

It’s almost hard to believe that I still have a few days left considering how much my mind is now in Portland.  I am beginning to think about having to sort through mail, pick up my cat and car, see my two kids, reconnect with friends, and, of course, make the transition back into my pastoral role at Eastminster and community committees I sit on.  With less than 200 miles to go I get moments when I think I could power through those miles non-stop in order to get home ASAP.  But, I also am pretty aware now of how many miles I can handle on a daily basis.  I know if I ride anything more than about 80 miles I risk too much fatigue the following day.  Better to stay patient!

As I near the end of this stage of the pilgrimage I am letting down and letting go.  I am not being as disciplined about my preparations, planning, eating and daily schedule as I was during most of the trip.  I stayed up fairly late last night and didn’t leave Bandon until almost noon.  Earlier it felt if I allowed myself to get lazy with my preparations that it would likely come back to haunt me later.  Now, staying up a little later or having one extra tube instead of two doesn’t seem to be too big of a deal.  If it made sense I would even send some of the extra tools and emergency supplies home.  I am no longer out in the wilderness and if something did go wrong there are people, towns and even home close by now.

North Bend Bridge

Crossing bridges became a common occurrence today

The terrain and weather today lent itself well to some soft, graceful time of reflection.  I had very few hills to climb.  I was either on a very quiet side road or on a wide shoulder on newly paved Hwy 101 where I didn’t have to worry about cars.  And the comfortable temperatures and lack of wind allowed me to go into my head as I didn’t feel like I was fighting the conditions.  I found that I began to think about the questions and themes that I began this pilgrimage with.  I am aware that people will begin to ask me what I learned, how I was changed, and was it what I expected.  I haven’t put a lot of mental energy into that yet as I can feel this deep letting down taking place.  I feel really tired—relaxed and tired.  It doesn’t feel like the mental exhaustion I have had in the past when I have pushed myself to0 hard.  As I am letting down it just feels like I could allow myself to take a nap at almost any time of the day.

I began the pilgrimage with three themes that I felt were important for me and the larger Church—letting go, bridging communities and mirroring the wilderness experience of the larger Church.  Of all of those it feels like this pilgrimage has been primarily about letting go.  There may have been some bridging between the the institutional church and emerging spirituality, but quite honestly what I mostly experienced in my conversations is that the glue has already hardened and people are pretty comfortable in their own place.  I didn’t see people yearning to come together.  I do feel that my personal pilgrimage mirrored a great deal of the wilderness experience of the church and I will be spending more time reflecting on that in coming weeks.

Inland lake

Although I followed the coast I was inland for much of the day where many lakes appeared

Letting go has emerged as the primary feeling and theme for me personally and also for what I want to share with the larger Church.  I have come away from this pilgrimage with the belief that our churches have been asking the wrong question.  One of the most common questions that is asked is, “How are we going to get young people in the church?”  I am convinced that this is the wrong question.  That question is based on trying to survive and sustaining a model that clearly has not been very successful in recent years.  I am convinced that the question our churches now need to be asking is, “How are we going to pass on our tradition to younger generations?”   The first question is about holding on to church as we know it.  The second question is about letting go and entrusting our children and grandchildren with the estate we call our Christian tradition.  I am convinced that most of our mainline congregations should really be in the life stage of estate planning—deciding who will take over our assets after we have passed on.

Pacific Sand Dunes

I followed a long stretch where sand dunes were the main recreational attraction

This is really the gift that the people of Eastminster have given to the broader Church.  In many ways we have been in a privileged position that has allowed us to hone in on the core issues of our denomination and churches.  We knew that the “handwriting was on the wall” about how long we could sustain the church ministry and my position as pastor.  With the potential end looming just a few years in the future the Session (Board of Directors) made what I consider a brave and wise step—they said out loud that whatever time they had remaining would be spent in leaving a legacy in the community rather than performing another series of life-saving measures.  They actually did what counselors encourage the elderly to do—plan how to pass on one’s estate.  It is the normal process of letting go that we expect as individuals. The same holds true for our organizations.

I started the pilgrimage with these three themes—letting go, bridging and mirroring.  I am emerging with a conviction that the primary spiritual work I must do and our congregations must do is to let go.  It’s time to turn the old family farm over to a new generation and trust that they will honor the essential values of the farm even as they remodel, adapt and transform it into a more modern form.

Florence

Arriving on the waterfront of Florence, OR

Tonight I had a wonderful dinner at the Bridgewater Oyster Bar and Grill in Old Town Florence.  It was one of the best meals I have had yet (or maybe I just took the time to really enjoy and savor it!).  I am heading east tomorrow and will soon be in the Willamette Valley.  I can hardly believe I am saying those words.  I have literally lived in another world for ten weeks and am just about to arrive “home and recognize it for the first time” (T.S. Eliot).  I am ready.

Day 70   Saturday, September 17    Bandon Rest Day   0 miles

Crab fishing

Crab fishing off the dock in Bandon

I wonder how recruits feel after enduring and surviving military boot camp.  I missed that whole experience being in a generation that came of age between wars.  But, if my image of boot camp is correct I do wonder if I have put myself through some form of a spiritual and psychological boot camp.  This experience has taken incredible discipline where I have had to dig deep day after day.  I know that I am not the same person who embarked on this pilgrimage ten weeks ago.  And now I also feel this strange combination of renewed energy and emotionally wrung out by the intensity of the experience.  I am tired and buzzing with new hope.

Dad and Arlene

My dad and his wife, Arlene, as I start reconnecting with my life again

Today has been a wonderful day of reconnecting, relaxing, and recovering.  Last night my dad and his wife drove over from Rogue River (about 3 hours away) and spent the night in the same motel as me.  We shared dinner last night, breakfast this morning, and many conversations in between.  My dad and I have not always seen eye to eye when it comes to religion and politics.  But, my dad and his wife have been reading my blog on a regular basis and he shared with me that he thought we were not all that far apart when it came to spiritual matters.  Despite our differing worldviews my dad resonates very much with some of what I have shared.  He said that even though he feels church is important, he personally said his most intimate encounters with God have come in the mountains where he grew up.  I’m just a chip off the old block it seems.  Like many people I talked with, my dad also said that he has no use for church doctrine or policies if they do not reflect the basic commandment to love each other.  I heard this repeatedly on the trip about the need to shed the doctrines of the church and focus on relationships.  This morning we got on to politics and we didn’t find as much common ground. But, we are talking and discussing importnat matters all in the spirit of a deeper acceptance and that is a beautiful thing that I will forever cherish.  It is a trait that I want to nourish in the church—differences in the context of a deep love and acceptance.

Dave

Sharing a birthday meal with my good friend, Dave

Tonight I shared a full evening celebrating the birthday of my friend, Dave, whom I have known since second grade.  It just so happened that he and his wife and two friends were going to be in Bandon while I was passing through.  Dave and I have known each other a long time and have shared our meandering journeys of life as we have aged.  Dave, like me, is a reflective person and we are never short of subjects to chew on, events to probe for deeper meanings, and mysteries to unravel.  Over a couple bottles of wine that were worth savoring, the five of us got into a great discussion about religion (and some golf too!).  Around the table we had five people from four different perspectives, including non-religious.  Toward the end of the conversation it appeared that each of us had the same experience, but in different traditions. That is, that the religion of our childhoods didn’t seem to “connect” with our lives today.  We probed that a little more and then there seemed to be common agreement that what happened was that in the 60’s the world changed, but mainline churches largely stayed the course.  Thus, this experience of “disconnect” between the church and the people of today.  This may be an oversimplification, but I do think there is something to it.

Bandon beach

A perfect day to wander lazily on the beach

I spent much of the rest of the day walking in and out of gift shops and art galleries.  I found the perfect gift for myself to symbolize and share the story of this trip and time of transformation in my life.  I am having it shipped home and will share more on that after the pilgrimage ends.  I walked along the beach and for the first time took off my shoes and felt the cool sand beneath my feet.  It was a near perfect day—sunny, very little wind, and warm at times—very unlike the typical Oregon coast day.  I sat for nearly two hours on the docks and just watched people, thought, and enjoyed simply breathing and feeling the cool breezes come off the ocean.

Bandon lighthouse

The lighthouse at the edge of the bay

I am close enough now that I can fairly confidently predict that I will be arriving back in Portland on Wednesday, September 21.  I am ready to return home. This process of breakthroughs and growth continues, but I also feel a need to ground my reflections in my relationships and larger community.  It is a strange experience to process this whole experience without the benefit of real conversations with those who know me.  I have been very careful not to get into too much two-way dialogue in my blog because I have wanted these posts to be as journal-like as possible.  Still, the comments that did come in and the ongoing support has been a good reality check.  There have been times when I have been so deeply in my head that I wasn’t sure if I could trust what I was feeling and thinking.

Sea lions

A seagull follows two sea lions who are working on a salmon carcass

Tomorrow I will head up toward Florence, OR also on the coast.  Depending on the weather I may start heading inland after that in order to ease the riding over the last couple of days.  I am coming out of this part of the experience and I am looking for a softer transition back into Portland.  I have climbed mountains and fought headwinds.  Now, I am ready to pedal easily through the farmland and the vineyards of the Willamette Valley.  Hey!  That’s what I said I needed all the way back in Utah and now it is about to become a reality.  Wow…I don’t think I even know what I have just done and what was done to me.  What is going to happen when I finally quit pedaling?  I am almost scared by the thought.

P.S.  I saw my first ever whale sightings today.  Wisps of water spouting from the ocean with just the faintest hint of a massive body surfacing.  Just thinking about the magnificence of this world we live in is worship enough.

I remember now…

Day 69   Friday, September 16   Gold Beach to Bandon, OR   55 miles

Gold Beach

Leaving Gold Beach this morning with the fog already half burned off

I fell asleep after dinner tonight and awoke in one of those “What time is it and where am I” types of hazes.  I knew as I was riding today that I was pushing my body to its capacity.  With home beginning to pull me forward with a little greater determination I hadn’t realized that I had ridden six days straight.  I felt like I just left Kelseyville a couple of days ago yet it was already the sixth day of riding since then.  Even last night I was toying with the idea of taking a rest day in Bandon before planning my final few days back into Portland.  It wasn’t long after my arrival that I knew I needed to wake up in the morning with the luxury of riding casually along the beach or choosing not to ride at all. With permission to slow it down seeping into my bones, I just laid down “for a moment” on the bed and that was that!

Shoreline

A wonderful stretch of shoreline to begin the day

With each stage of this pilgrimage unfolding I am amazed at how the picture of what this is about comes into focus one piece and one day at a time.  I definitely had my “Eureka moment” three days ago.  I felt it, but was a little nervous about giving it too much credibility until the feelings and the themes remained consistent for a few more days.  As I wrote previously, I am discovering this pilgrimage is really about helping me discern my call.  Today I spent much of my time reflecting on this breakthrough about feeling trapped and my realization that it need not be that way.  I was reminded of why I began to study religion passionately in the first place and what drew me to the place in the pulpit.

I was first moved in college by reading Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society followed by his two volume work on The Nature and Destiny of Man.  Neibuhr was a theologian who had a tremendous impact on the public policy of his time offering a theological critique and basis for addressing Nazism, communism, and the role of democracy in societies.  He challenged religious conservatives for their narrow view of the Bible and religious liberals for their naïve idealism about the world.  My reading of Neibuhr was then followed by a year’s worth of honor’s research on the Protestant response to the Holocaust and was moved by the faith of Deitrich Bonhoeffer who was jailed and hung for his failed assassination attempt on Hitler.  I read some of Gandhi’s work and his use of spiritual principles to bring independence to India from Britain.   In seminary I followed this with a study of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches and writings and his brilliant oratory that was compelled by his religious convictions in his calling on America fulfill her own proclaimed values for freedom and liberty.

Coastline

Striking coastlines that make the heart sing!

This is why I became a preacher and pastor.  I believe in the power of our theological convictions to change, transform and call our society to a higher standard, more compassionate politics, and a truer reflection of our deepest humanity.  I have never felt that honoring the separation of church and state means we must divorce our faith from our politics.  How could I ever separate my conviction that America should have universal health care from my religious belief that “I am my brother’s keeper” and that Jesus life was about healing the whole person—body, mind and soul?  I was both shaped and inspired by the passion, the intellect, and faith of these and many other figures in our history who had a powerful impact on society because of their religious faith.  Some say that religion has been the source of some of the world’s most destructive eras.  True.  Religion has also been the source of some of the most profound movements toward transformation, compassion, and freedom.

Greasy Spoon Cafe

Coffee and a slice of homemade coconut cream pie at the Greasy Spoon Cafe in mid-afternoon

I am feeling some relief and greater clarity as I am sorting out what happened at my “Eureka moment”.  I don’t completely understand how I let myself get there, but somehow over the years I began focusing more on the survival of our religious institutions and the barriers that have kept us from connecting with the culture around us.  I have tried to act as a bridge between our rich tradition and emerging spiritual forms and structures.  I have often felt caught in a “no man’s land” between the two never quite feeling like I fully belong to either community.  Without being aware of what I was doing, I think I have been trying to protect the one place where the great religious social reformers still had a voice—in the church and our worshiping communities.  In this new time, religious commentary is not only ignored in the public square but often considered inappropriate or offensive.

But, I believe that good theology has as much of a place, as much of a voice, and as much validity in the public square as good psychology, good sociology, and good political ideology.  Good theology sprouts good ethics and good ethics keeps science directed toward goals that enhance life rather destroy life.

As I am writing, the big issue I began with ten weeks ago was how to heal the spiritual schizophrenia I have felt for so many years.  This false dualism is beginning to shed its ugly skin.  The truth of the matter is there is a split in our communities between the religiously faithful and the “spiritual but not religious”. I have felt it for years and this pilgrimage and my conversations only confirmed how difficult it is for these two groups to talk and come to a common table.  But, my own split personality (I use that term loosely, not clinically!) is the result of trying to figure out just where my theologically-informed voice really fits.  Traditionally it has fit in the pulpit, but I am frustrated that the pulpit has become a place to talk specifically to the church while I feel called to speak to the larger society.  Yet, in our current climate to speak theologically in the public square is to invite charges of over-stepping our religious boundaries.  Do I limit myself to the confined world of the church or do I take the risk to share my religiously-informed voice in sometimes hostile public square?  This has been my unspoken, unarticulated and unknown subconscious dilemma.  I feel relief that I can see it openly now.

Bandon Waterfront

Just a taste of the Bandon waterfront that I'll enjoy tomorrow on my last rest day

Where does that leave me now?  Again, I don’t know that I will need to change my commitments or my life goals.  I already have the privilege of speaking in the pulpit on a regular basis.  And I am increasingly active in city and county politics and planning.  For now I think it just means that I no longer need to worry about where my voice fits.  I just need to use it wherever I am and let the rest unfold. I need to worry less about creating a community that reflects my voice and just use my voice and let the community form (or not form) around that.   I think that is called trust.  I am shaped by the great theological social reformers of our tradition and our community.  They are my heroes.  They are the saints who I have attempted with limited success to pattern my life after.  This is my call.  This is my voice.  All my theological heroes were not concerned about serving the religiously faithful.  They concentrated on using their theological ideas to serve humanity.  I am beginning to remember why I got into this business in the first place.  What a relief.