21 June

Weighty Matters

 Hello, my name is Rob, and I am an addict. Isn't that what they say at AA and those sorts of things? 

    The difference is, I'm addicted to food. Food for comfort. Food for rewards. Food as a motivation to do and a reward for having done exercise. But I'm getting way ahead of myself here. 

    I've never thought of myself as an obese person. I've also never really thought of myself as an athlete. Yet I raced BMX at 12, rode around practicing freestyle BMX tricks every night of my teenage life, rode to my job at a bike shop at 16, rode my first century (100 miles in a day) at 17, and have been racing mountain bikes for... well, a long time, anyway. As my daughter would say, "in the 1900s"!

    Maybe that's why I never saw myself as fat. But starting in college, I began gaining weight until about 2015. By then, I was around 250 and still racing. I believe in our hometown Weeping Willow race in 2014, I came in dead last. Not in my particular category at that time, but for the entire race. Every category. That includes kids under 13 and men and women over 70. It tells you a lot about my capacity for self-delusion that I could even talk myself into putting a number on that day. What did I think was going to happen? Or maybe somewhere deep inside, I knew what would happen—and needed it to.

    But inside, there were no such delusions of grandeur. And amazingly, I don't necessarily mean that in a health sort of way. More a mental health way. How was I still gaining weight? I rode almost every day! I'll get to that later. But for now, I want you to appreciate the hopelessness I was feeling. No matter what I did, what I thought to do, I seemed to keep gaining weight. Which led to trying to drown my sorrows in more food. Not a good solution.

    I had tried Weight Watchers around 2000, and saw results, but somehow never thought of going back (maybe because of the happy happy vibe I'll get to in a moment). But when I saw an old summer camp friend losing significant weight with the program, somewhere deep inside a little spark of hope said, "well . . . maybe". I'll always credit her with saving my life. Maybe actually, or maybe just any kind of life I want to be living, but that spark changed everything. And maybe that's why I'm writing this. It's not that calculated, I assure you, but perhaps someone who needs it will see this.


    I hated myself so much the first day I walked into Weight Watchers. It was January 4, and I knew I was one of those people who show up wanting to make "a new start" at the beginning of the new year. And I hated that. They've always strived to make these meetings positive and uplifting—which has only intensified since their WW rebranding and the Oprah commercials I'm sure you've seen—but I went there for public shaming. To have to weigh in in front of a crowd of people and know that when I gained weight the instructor would get that positive-but-disappointed look on her face (I've only ever met ONE male WW employee) as she said "another pound up. Keep trying!" I suppose that tells you more than I want to about the state of my mental health at that time, but it's the truth. Even 6 years later, I don't really go for the pep talk (though I've come to appreciate it more).

    But here's the thing. Here's the turnaround you've been hoping for if you read this far. It actually worked! I certainly don't intend this as a WW commercial, but I do have some pretty positive feelings for what they do there. As I calculated my daily "score" (it's too complicated to explain here, but know that each food has points and you're supposed to stay under a certain number each day) I began to see even the first week that it was obvious why I kept gaining weight. If these people were right, I was eating enough for about five people every day! How could it not pile up? It was simple math and logic. That first week, I think I lost 5 lbs. That was a new feeling, and I liked it.

    [Now, let me digress for just a moment. Like I said, it would make this blog post way too long and boring if I laid out all the real numbers and how they're calculated and blah blah blah. But let me give you just a hint, because the way we all think about food is so screwed up, it needs to be said. I have approximately 30 points in a day.  A banana milkshake at Sonic has fruit in it. We always hear about how healthy bananas are for you, right? So how bad could it be? 89 points. EIGHTY-NINE! And these "healthy" choices are everywhere. A wheat bagel and cream cheese is around 20 points. Get a flavored coffee and put some sugar in it and you've nearly used that 30 points and breakfast is barely finished! Digression over, but I think you can imagine how quickly it can all add up if I'm not mindful of what I'm eating.]

    Enough numbers, but suffice to say I managed to lose a large chunk of weight in a relatively short time. It was nothing short of a miracle. I don't know how else to say it. I could still vividly remember (still can, but this was that same year) how hopeless I'd been, and yet, the impossible was happening. I was seeing weights on that scale I was absolutely certain I'd never see again. I'm still not back to the weight I entered college at, but I'm close enough to imagine it's possible. Half a decade later, I still can't quite believe that. I had to write some sort of profile statement for WW the other day to describe my motto or something or other. And I think it's a pretty good place to end for now. I don't have it here in front of me, but what I wrote was something close to: "The less of me there is, the more I feel like myself."

    Oh, and that race where I finished dead last? They don't do it anymore, but they did have one last edition. And this stat I will look up. At the 2017 Weeping Willow, I was 16th out of 21 finishers in the 40-49 Novice Veteran II Men. 

That ain't fast- but it ain't last!


    

18 January

Calling London from the faraway towns



Also, I have antlers. NBD.

Barn in Concord. Love the nail rust.

Melville. Rivendell. Metal desk toys.

Pretty much my entire life in one image.

 So, I recently wrote a little blog post for Steve Makin and Paul Rance at Grass Up the Middle about taking a big stupid ride on my 50th birthday. I won't bother you here with my navel-gazing and existential angst, but they were kind enough to list this blog at the end of the post, so I thought I'd put up a bit of a landing strip here in case anybody clicks on that link. 


Without writing you a biography, I live in New England, USA. I read a lot of classic fiction—my latest being Melville's Typee—and write book, gift, toy, and game descriptions for a catalog at my real job. I like singlespeed mountain bikes and—though I sometimes question how much it applies to East Coast rocks and roots—am firmly entrenched in the Rivendell/Petersen school of thought.  Have certainly ridden road bikes in the past—think Team 7Eleven era. As to the singlespeed aspect? I blame my teenage BMX years, a love of minimalism, and a fascination with ultralight camping (not the practice of it, mind you—a fascination with it). Also—the fact that it seems derailleurs are never adjusted correctly.

04 October

"On Evangelism, Evangelicalism, Guilt, and Gospel"

 

“Do not judge, so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged... Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces...In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets." 

-Matthew 7:1(NASB)


"When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart."

- Matthew 13:19 (NIV)


"If Jesus Makes it into our daily behavior, observers will begin to think there might be something to this after all."

-Eugene Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, p. 307.


    It seems clear to me that God cares not just about what we do, but about the state of our heart as we do things. How we do them. For example, in Mt. 5:21, Jesus tells his followers that the person who is angry with their brother or sister is as guilty as a murderer. And that looking at a woman lustfully is already committing adultery—in your heart (5:27, 28). 

    But what happens when we flip that on its head, into the positive? As evangelicals we're told in sermons, Bible studies, and music to "spread the good news." Well, that's nice and vague. Sometimes we'll even get as specific as referencing the Great Commission. 'Make disciples of all nations.' Perhaps because of America's puritan founders, we quickly equate that with duty, guilt, the five spiritual laws, and tracts. We love to quote Mt. 10:32: "Whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my father in heaven." Yikes! Gives you the shivers, doesn't it? Let's get out there knocking on doors! Should we have a plan? Should we prepare? Nah, just get moving!

    It is a duty. That's inarguable. Jesus clearly does tell us to spread his message. But when he first sends his own disciples out to do this, he advises them to be "as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Mt. 10:16).  I think it's pretty safe to assume that being as 'shrewd as snakes' implies a bit of forethought.

    And if we refer to the passage I began with, he also tells his hearers to treat others the way they want to be treated. The "golden rule." We've all heard it literally thousands of times. If you want to be shown mercy, then show others mercy. If you want to be forgiven, you have to forgive. Get the log out of your own eye before you point out the splinter in your neighbor's eye. I would say it's not a stretch to say that if you want your own intelligence (i.e. the logic of the message you're sharing) to be respected, respect the intelligence of others. 

    So if we  combine these ideas a bit, we should be making disciples. We should use our brains. We should treat people the way we'd want to be treated. And the state of our hearts is more important than simply doing things in a perfunctory way in order to cross them off a list. 

    A perfect example of what I'm getting at popped up on a friend's Instagram the other day. She was at the grocery store. And right there among the baby wipes, somebody had left a tract—"How do I get to heaven?". I can only guess at the circumstances, but I think that you'll agree, this is haphazard checklist "evangelism" at its finest.   "Hey, I spread the seed, God! YOU lead the right person to it!" 

    But did we, really? The problem is, even if this was found by the perfect spiritual seeker (and I'm not even getting into the pandemic and how foolish it would be to pick up a random piece of paper and study it), the person who finds it doesn't have anybody to explain its message. Maybe it has a 1-800 number on the back, but what do you suppose the chances are of somebody actually calling that number, even if they are interested? You could just as easily say they could go to any church and ask questions. And while that's technically true, but do you understand what a high hurdle that is? Perhaps, if you were a total extrovert and absolutely loved talking to strangers, you MIGHT show up at a random church and ask somebody to explain the gospel. But how many people do you know who are that outgoing?

    The thing is, that's not making disciples. It's not using our brains. And it's certainly not treating others the way we'd want to be treated. In fact, if I didn't know otherwise, I'd suggest that these half-hearted efforts are actually intended to fail. It's fitting that this was left on a grocery store shelf, because it's the evangelism equivalent of that store's baked goods. Are their cupcakes edible? Sure. But are they the real thing? We all know they're not even close.

   The question I'm really getting at is, do we honestly care if Jesus' message is shared? Do we act as if we actually have good news to tell people? Or do we just want to get it over with? Back to the cupcakes, are we throwing a party at the office and want to put forth as little effort as possible, or do we actually love the person we're celebrating and want them to have the best? And how does that hold up under the tests we started off with? Does our heart really want to share the gospel? Or does our guilty conscience just want to get a required duty over with?

    Some might reply with the parable of the sower. Who are we to choose where seeds are sown? We just throw it out and some falls on rocky soil, some among weeds, etc. etc. And that's true. But I think we also have to be mindful of turning people against the gospel. It's fine if we scatter seeds helter-skelter onto rocks and into thorns, but what is less acceptable is to salt the ground so that nothing can grow there. To  offer an incomplete, inaccurate, "poorly made" taste of Christianity, so they'll be less likely to understand the true message when the time is right. Certainly, the Holy Spirit can and does cut through walls. But do you really want to be the one building them? 

    If I want to get somebody interested in mountain biking, I carefully think about where I want to take them. I want them to enjoy themselves. To experience a little bit of rocks and roots. But not so much that they don't want to try it again. Now, they've lived their own life and have their own reasons why they may or may not enjoy the sport. It's not really within my power to MAKE them become a mountain biker. But if I don't think ahead, it is certainly possible to take them on a ride that's frightening,  uncomfortable, or—if I was a total jerk—painful enough that they're quite a bit more unlikely to ever try it again. BUT WHY WOULD I DO THAT? 

    Others might say it is not our place to choose the time to share. That we're commanded to share always, and let God have what effects he will on a person's heart. I respect the divine sovereignty inherent in that view, but I would reply by asking why God gave us minds. That's certainly being as innocent as doves, but how is it being as shrewd as snakes? Which brings me back once again to the original question: do you actually want people to understand the good news? Or is this just some half-hearted promise you made to a friend that you don't really want to go through with? "Sure, okay, I'll take them on a ride—but I can't promise they'll enjoy it."


Because here's the thing: if that's the case, maybe it's better if you don't do it at all.

12 July

Team Slurpee

I'm a day late and a dollar short, as they say, but in what is possibly my best defense, I was in fact out on a ride for a good chunk of yesterday afternoon, and running around preparing for an hour before that. And afterwards, I was in no shape for writing! :)


Between my BMX trick (freestyle) childhood and teen years, and the mountain biker you know now, I was in fact a bike shop rat and a pretty fervent club road cyclist- or as close as we had to that in western PA at the time. It hardly compares to the rides and clubs we have here in MA, even when I first moved here in 1994, but it was a great way to learn. I did manage to do one century with my friends from the shop and some of the guys from our club. I was 17 at the time.


This was before the internet, remember, but thankfully, Floyd, the usually absent owner of the shop where I worked (think Fred from Yehuda Moon and you've pretty much got the picture), had collected years of Bicycle Guide, and I was welcome to take piles of these home after work and study them. That was my education in the culture of European road cycling culture, and as a young adult feeling trapped in a small one-stoplight town (and that was actually a blinking light), that completely foreign experience was JUST what my soul needed. If the California culture of BMX seemed slightly sunnier than where I lived, Europe seemed like a dispatch from another planet. Paris-Roubaix? Alpe D'Huez? They were like code words to a club I'd never even heard of. 


Perhaps because it felt just a little familiar, or maybe because I could picture it as a way for MYSELF to escape America (in a figurative, not literal, way), I gravitated to the 7Eleven Cycling Team. They were Americans, but thriving in the Tour de France and the other monuments. I particularly remember loving Davis Phinney and---most of all---Andy Hampsten. Because while I loved LeMond and his burgers-and-fries, screw-you-I'll-do-it-the-American-way style, I could picture myself in Hampsten. When you saw pictures of the team waiting for a bus, he'd be the one laying in the shade reading a book. Looking back, he seemed a little less "BRO!" and a little more refined.


And something about that jersey spoke to me. Looking at it now, I see the complimentary "Christmas" colors (though I remember them as being a little more orange and less red) and the signature "Descente" (the clothing company) shoulder stripes add a certain panache.



I remember the night before my century. We were sleeping on the floor of the gym at Findlay High School that night, and a local bike shop had set up a sort of pop-up store in a lobby. They had, among many other things, 7Eleven jerseys, and I wanted one SO badly. Part of me STILL does, to be honest.  (in my defense, I did have a La Vie Claire "jersey", but it was inexplicably made of t-shirt cotton, not actual jersey fabrics. And I think that came later.) In fact, I was so low on the pecking order at my shop, I didn't qualify for one of the shop JERSEYS, but only a t-shirt with the shop logo. So that's what I wore that day. I was a grom, no two ways about it. So there I lay, nervous about what was to come the next day, longing for a taste of Europe, and lusting after the cheerleaders back at Mohawk High School (I was laying in a gym, after all).


But back to that jersey, so that I can stop talking about myself and perhaps offer some genuine information, "Hoonved" is a dishwasher manufacturer from Italy. "Wolber" is a rim manufacturer that was eventually purchased by Mavic, the far more famous manufacturer of cycling wheels. The AA is, of course, American Airlines. And the symbol opposite is the one-time logo of Eddy Merckx cycles.


So, that's what I'm thinking of on July 11---or any time I pass one of those mini-marts.


PS: There's a two-part episode of the Marginal Gains Podcast with Andy Hampsten that's well worth listening to if you're nostalgic about this team.

07 July

Why, hello there!

 Just some quick updates here. 


The super Google robot notification system (or SuGooRoNoSys) 


that lets you know when posts are published is going away sometime in July (so, any day now, really). Goodbye, brave droid. You've served us well. 


What I'm trying to say is that it is very likely this is the last email notification you'll be getting from this blog. But rest assured, I'll still be here. Occasionally cranking out a blog post or two. 


This is a good time to remind you, though, if you'd like to keep up with me in a more day-to-day way, and read my writing in smaller bite-size chunks once or twice a day, follow me on Instagram: @bike.writing


Also, while we're chatting, please know that I'm aware that all of the links in the tabs on top of the page may not be active. I do try to check those out from time to time, but cannot guarantee that each link is live. I WILL track that all down at some point, but it's a bigger job than I often have time for. Thanks for understanding.

22 March

Housekeeping

 Do people even read blogs anymore? 


Regardless, some housekeeping to clarify here. 


If you were reading along with the Psalm 23 series, you may be wondering: "Hey, whatever happened to that Psalm 23 series of sermons?" And the answer is two things. One you know, one you don't. 


The first: Coronavirus. For at least 6 months, probably more---maybe still---we weren't able to go into the nursing home. I don't think I need to say any more about that.


The second is Zoom. Our church has decided to go in a different direction with our nursing home ministry, because we're already producing an online Zoom service each Sunday morning for our members who don't feel comfortable attending services in person. Which means I'm no longer preaching to Twin Oaks. And it will forever be an unfinished series. By all means, if you must know how Psalm 23 ends, let me know, and I'll hook you up with all the resources you need to read exactly the source material I was consulting to write the sermons in the first place. :)




22 July

Apocalypse Now #2. July 2020.

"..so this is not a sorry tune, but heaven help me."
-The Choir, "To Bid Farewell"

    In a way, 2020 is the ultimate test of your mental disposition. Is the glass half full or half empty? Or broken? Blame whoever you want, the events hitting us right now have been in the works for a long time. 
    Whether you're talking about the globalization that helped a virus that seemingly started in China make it to the US in a matter of weeks (I'm no scientist. As far as I know, it started in Wuhan, but I don't pretend I have any actual knowledge), or the ongoing ripples and remnants of slavery and Jim Crow laws, or a natural environment that we've abused until it "fights back" (that's like digging a cave and shooting at the roof with a fire hose, then feeling attacked when it collapses), none of the issues we're facing this year are ex nihilo ("out of nothing"). 

    But to return to hope, or the lack of it, what's dreaming, what's realistic, and what's just being pessimistic? Will this pandemic go away? You have to believe it will. Historically, all others have. Eventually, it could reach a point where anybody at all vulnerable will have fallen victim to it. Or a vaccine will be found. Perhaps a little of both. But do we really want to wait that long? Do we really want to let it get that far? But more to the point, do we have any choice? If the population is seen as 10 people, and 9 wear masks and stay home, but 1 refuses to, will the one infect all the others? I hope I'm being overly simplistic in my thinking, and it makes some difference that 90% are being safe. Because I don't think there's any way to get that 10% to change. Not any way that Americans will accept, anyway.


I'm off to find some plastic!

Will America ever stop being racist?
There is unquestionably a reckoning going on that's long overdue. I respect the risk a police officer takes when pulling over a stranger that could do literally anything when they walk up to the car. But I also wouldn't want to be a black person getting pulled over. I won't say "all" or "every," but there are clearly some rotten apples.
    But keep digging, and  you ask why is it that the police get involved in the first place? Sure, sometimes they directly pull people over, but you can also be a birdwatcher or a little girl selling water and, somehow, the police get involved.  The common denominator in  these cases is that white people are the ones calling the police on black people. 
    And that's if they're "lucky." Sometimes, white people just take the law into their own hands. Like the men who killed Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery (whose names don't deserve to be mentioned).

    I hope that what we're witnessing are the last desperate acts of the dying beast of racism in this country. But I'm far from sure that's the case. 
 
Can we stop global warming? Stop it? We still can't even agree that it's happening! Let alone that we're the reason. It seems as if some people believe that sea life is sneaking onto our city streets at night and eating our plastic on purpose (or possibly porpoise) to set humans up and make it look like we've polluted the oceans. 
    No, these two environmental crises aren't directly connected. But the link is the lack of care that lets them both happen. If we can't even stop polluting the side of every road and throwing plastic into the ocean (pick the most desolate and isolated road or beach, and give it a look for yourself), how can we discuss increased recycling and reuse? And yet, we're already seeing melting glaciers, increased coastal flooding, and "mysterious" weather events that are "unexplainable." What will be happening by the time we all see there's a problem? 
    But then, I never thought wind power or solar power would be at all accepted, and that does seem to be happening. Maybe I could be wrong?

    I don't have the answers to any of these questions. But I know that thinking about how our actions affect others would be an awfully good start.