I don’t understand it and much of the time I don’t like it, but it’s true.
There are some hills that we cannot climb alone.
Although first glance may tell you otherwise, what follows is not really about cycling.
Near the end of my bike commute are two hills.
The first is on San Pascual, with a short but steep climb from the base of the Arroyo in Highland Park to the road that winds along into Pasadena. The second is another steep climb from the bottom of the Colorado Street Bridge to the top of Orange Grove.
Neither hill is that steep or that long, but near the end of a 14 mile commute, my legs feel like jelly and when I’m commuting solo I’ve never made it all the way up both hills in one day. I end up being that moron-on-the-side-of-the-road pushing his bike up a hill wishing I could tell all the cars passing by that I’ve been on my bike for over an hour, that I’ve only been riding this much for a few months, that I’m not a total lightweight.
It’s not that I don’t try. I start out determined to make it all the way up. This time will be different, I tell myself. I do that little winding-back-and-forth trick cyclists do. I stand up a bit to give myself a bit more leverage. I take advantage of any chance to get a little momentum. I even have some breath prayers I occasionally use to focus my energy and efforts.
But it’s not enough. There are some hills that we cannot climb alone.
The crazy thing is, though, some hills that we cannot climb alone we can climb together.
Most of the time I cyclo-commute with another guy, and when we ride together I always make it to the top of the hills. He’s confessed that he’s found the same rule to be true for him. When he rides alone, he’ll often end up hoofing it up to the top. When we ride together, we ride to the top.
It is a difficult, slow, and straining push to the top, but, together, we make it. Every time.
I don’t ride differently. I don’t breathe or pray differently. I don’t have less weight on my pack. I do everything exactly the same except…
…I have someone else climbing the hill with me. That’s it and that’s enough.
I don’t understand it and I don’t always like it, but there are some hills that must be climbed together.
Have Flappy Bird. Will Trade for Bitcoin. Meet at Dumb Starbucks. (and Other Musings on The Weird Things We Value)
It’s a strange world we live in.
Yesterday, I was walking to the library with my son to drop off a book we had borrowed (one of Mo Willems’ Pigeon books – the boy loves that pigeon). As we walked up Hillhurst, we came across a line of people.
Now, lines of people are not that unusual where I live in northeast Los Angeles.
People wait in line for movies at our single screen theater.
People wait in line for restaurant openings.
People wait in line for the morning express bus to Pasadena.
People wait in line to get into a trendy Hollywood club.
But these people were lined up in front of a pop-up storefront called Dumb Starbucks. This art installation/coffee shop started by no-one-knows-who had gone viral on the web and on the sidewalk so for two+ hours, people waited in line to get inside and get a free cup of bad coffee.
And, now, one day later, people are selling their Dumb Starbucks cups on eBay.
It’s a strange world we live in.
And it’s not just a Dumb Starbucks kind of world.
It’s the kind of world where Flappy Bird rakes in over $50,000 a day in ad revenue.
It’s the kind of world where people pay for condos and sports cars with Bitcoin.
In the world of Harry Potter, Dumbledore’s family tomb is inscribed with this quote:
Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.
Jesus said that, too, as he taught thousands who gathered on a hillside to hear him teach about a new way of living in the world as human beings.
On that mound of dirt in the middle eastern hillside, he invited the crowd gathered to consider what was truly valuable, what was worth sacrificing and laying down their life for.
I’m not sure, if we lived two thousand years ago, we’d even show up to hear that lunatic teach.
Our world – or at least my neighborhood (which includes me) – longs for and treasures Dumb Starbucks, Flappy Bird, and Bitcoin.
There, also, our bare hearts lie.
This is a repost from The Burner Blog. I wrote this a few weeks ago and am now sharing it here!
On my commute to work, I bike past three church buildings that no longer function as churches.
Each of these buildings was once home to a congregation – Pentecostal, Presbyterian, and Methodist – but each was unable to sustain their faithful presence through the rapid and extensive transitions taking place in their neighborhood. For years, these churches sat abandoned on desirable property in desirable neighborhoods that have no desire for a church.
Each of these properties has recently been purchased or leased by entrepreneurs. One has been converted into a beautiful single-family home, complete with the original steeple and bell. One is used as a gallery and performance space in the trendiest up-and-coming neighborhoods of Los Angeles. One is currently in the process of being transitioned into a boutique hotel and bar in one of LA’s hipster havens.
I love each of these ideas. The spaces, each with their preservationist conversions, are beautiful. Those taking the lead on the conversions have done their homework, creating business plans that take into account their neighborhood context and demographics.
I love each of these ideas but they make me sad.
• Why did the pastors, committees, or denominations representing these congregations hold so tightly to the single-use they had in mind for their space that they allowed these beautiful buildings to sit unused for years?
• Why did they allow their financial reserves to drain away as they maintained the status quo even as the pews grew increasingly empty?
• Why was it only an outside entrepreneur that saw through the years of neglect and abandonment to envision these buildings as beautiful spaces for the good of the neighborhood?
• Why do we still train pastors in the preservation of stagnant church buildings and congregational legacies while the needs of their community – needs which could be met, in part at least, through creative use of physical properties and structures – go unnoticed or ignored?
Even with the missional conversation trickling down into older, established congregations, too much of our “missional talk” gets stuck in sermons and service projects, never actually igniting an imagination for how the resources of our churches – property, buildings, finances, people – could be used to serve those who are not interested in walking into a church – but would be interested in an art gallery, performance space, warming center, speakeasy, community space, or tutoring center.
When will we recognize that the way of the cross might involve offering our property and buildings as multi-use community space that might happen to also host a worshipping congregation a few times a week?
When will we anoint, bless, and commission pastors to serve as landlords, community developers and entrepreneurs rather than pulpit-and-pew preservers?
When will we allow the expectations of the past to be buried in order to see a resurrection of imagination for our cities and neighborhoods?
Yesterday I stood with my son before this massive work of art – Band by the sculptor Richard Serra.
Band stands 13 feet tall and stretches 70 feet long and about 40 feet wide. Band weighs about 366,000 pounds.
The room containing Band is massive with no distractions – white walls and ceiling, focused lighting and a brushed concrete floor. And yet you do not notice the size of the room. The only thing you see is Band.
Serra comments on the enormous scale of his piece:
You might find yourself in a space where you think you have been before, but you realize it is different and you don’t know quite why. And then you find yourself in another space, and you think it’s the outside of the space you have just been in, but it’s not. Or you think it’s the inside of the space that you just left, but it’s not. If you continuously walk the piece, what you anticipate and what your memory allows you to foresee don’t always conclude to be what you suspect.
What is true for the experience of Band is true for my experience of the world.
Being tiny in the presence of an enormous world results in “what you anticipate and what your memory allows you to foresee” coming up short. We just cannot suspect and conclude and predict what will transpire or unfold around us.
That is the mystery of being human in the world we inhabit.
After a friend of mine had a strange dream in which I requested her help to make coffee using canned green beans and rice and another friend made me an excellent cup of coffee using his home-roasted beans, I decided to buy some green beans (coffee beans, though, not the Jolly Green Giant variety) and attempt to roast them.
After receiving many recommendations to roast outdoors because of the smell, being the contrarian that I am decided to roast inside using the oven roasting method outlined here - partially because I didn’t think it could smell that bad and also because I didn’t feel like getting out our backpacking stove (because, you know, that would be so much work).
While I’m not sure my coffee beans will be any good (they are a bit light and uneven because I tried roasting too many at once), the house didn’t end up smelling too bad. And I didn’t burn anything down.
Here’s the process in pictures:
A few years ago, one of our housemates placed a list of ten new year’s resolutions attributed to Thomas Merton** on our fridge. Amidst postcards, magnet poetry, and grease splatterings from the oven (the kind that won’t come off no matter how hard you scrub), the list of resolutions has remained as a thoughtful conversation starter and, for me, the list is helpful in considering how to live a more contemplative and engaged life.
Here are the ten resolutions:
(1) Pay attention to people :: Fewer things honor people as much, or make them peaceful more readily, or give them an experience of their worth as clearly as paying attention to them.
(2) Verbalize human experience and teach others to do this :: The more inarticulate we are, the more likely it is that we might seek violence as a way of expressing ourselves.
(3) Reject excessive activity, accomplishments or success :: There is something belligerent about frenetic action.
(4) Practice contemplation :: Contemplation is defined as life review, in silence, connecting our reflection with the ideals we have not achieved, making amends for things we regret, and thanking God for the good we were given, the losses we survived, the love we received beyond all measure.
(5) Embrace silence :: Silence is shattered not by speaking but by eagerness and anxiety to be heard by others. Silence invites others to speak. Genuine silence is creative and liberating.
(6) Resist consumerism :: A desperate need to possess is a form of violence.
(7) Lose, then let go :: We are acculturated to go from success to success. Losing gracefully, even in terms of the long run, is a remarkable virtue. Clutching at success, when letting go is necessary, destroys us.
(8) Read Scripture :: If you were to read Scripture reflectively for only five minutes a day, your life would be enriched. Scripture makes the norm, not whatever is presently fashionable, but what is truly enduring. It roots us and gives us peace amid the turbulence of passing crises we face.
(9) Maintain a sense of history :: We become frantic when we see life in the short run. In the longer view of human history or even our personal histories, patterns of meanings emerge. The good does prevail.
(10) Hold the conviction that people are basically good :: People must be reliable or else the Gospel would not have lasted; Christ would have been forgotten. Much of the violence done in the name of religion has been premised on the idea that people are evil.
What do you think?
Anything you would add or subtract from this list for those looking for a more contemplative rhythm in 2014?
** I’ve found the list attributed to Merton on a few other blogs, but can’t find a definitive source and have a hunch the attribution is questionable – so it’s possible the list originated somewhere other else. Let me know if you know something I don’t.