Thursday, October 27, 2011

What I've Learned On A Bicycle

A few weeks ago I pulled a dusty old bicycle out of the storage shed, wiped it off, and pumped air into the tires. My initial idea was to simply ride around the yard with my six year old son who has just recently learned to ride his own bicycle. Riding the bike in the yard brought back memories of care-free days during my childhood when my brother and I would ride around the neighborhood dodging territorial dogs and finding new adventures.

One morning, not too long after pulling the bike out of storage, it caught my attention as I was preparing to leave for work. I thought to myself, "it sure would be fun to ride to work." And then I convinced myself, "why not?!" Several days now I have flown the bicycle down the steep hill separating my house from my office at the church and later ascended the hill with great effort on the return trips home. On other occasions I have rode a four-mile route around town for both pleasure and exercise. Riding on a bicycle has given me new ways of seeing my own community. A one mile trip that normally takes less than five minutes in the car takes fifteen minutes on the bike. Trees, dogs, houses, alleys, roads, and people I've never noticed while riding in the car have been discovered on the bike. One day's trip gave me the opportunity to run into a neighbor while on the morning ride to the office and to talk with an elderly church member on the ascent back home. I would have never talked to either of those people on that day (or any other day) if I hadn't come upon them slowly on the bicycle while they walked the dog or checked the mail.

I've never realized how fast-paced we are in our cars and how much we miss around us until I got on the bicycle. On one stretch of sidewalk around town, I've discovered that you take your life into your hands when riding the bicycle. Cars are going so fast and people are in such a hurry that you have to be careful to stay on the sidewalk so as not to be run over. As the cars whiz by me on the bicycle, I've realized how much we pass by without a second thought every day on the way to our next meeting, engagement, practice, or responsibility.

I've also discovered people who walk or ride their bicycles by necessity every day. People who cannot afford a car (or the insurance and gasoline that go with it) are walking and riding bicycles everywhere around town - carrying their groceries, their babies, their backpacks - just trying to get things done that others do effortlessly in their cars. While riding a bicycle is a novelty for me, it is a lifeline for them, and they cannot choose to just take the car when the weather is cold, windy, and wet. Riding the bicycle has helped me to see the way (at least from the angle of transportation) people in poverty make ends meet.

Maybe the overall lesson is that life is better when we slow down. We are all too busy and in too big of a hurry - so much so that we crowd out the opportunities that are all around us to feel the wind, talk to a neighbor, hear the birds sing, and interact with people whose cell phone number isn't pasted in our own. When we slow down, we remember that there is a wonderful creation all around us that God has given us to to enjoy. Psalm 19:1 says, "the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork." When we take the time to reconnect with God through God's creation, when we look up in the sky, take a walk along a wooded path, or ride a bicycle down the street - we remember that God is with us and that there is more to life than our multiple responsibilities. "Be still and know that I am God" - Psalm 46:10. Who would have thought that you could "be still" on a bicycle?

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Annual Church Hayride and Picnic

Last night I attended our church's annual hayride and picnic. Every Fall, our congregation gathers at a farm owned by two of our church members, David and Barbara Lance, to eat great food, ride on a hay covered trailer through the orchard and fields, roast s'mores around the campfire, toss footballs and frisbees with the kids, and share good conversation. David and Barbara always work hard to make sure everything is in order for a perfect evening. Last night was no exception. Joe Stewart also makes sure we are ready for a great hayride by providing the tractor, trailer, and hay. Along with their hard work and hospitality, God provided beautiful weather.

The annual hayride and picnic is one of my favorite events at Calhoun First UMC. Fall is my favorite season of the year, and there is nothing better than being in a beautiful setting where the leaves are changing and the air is crisp and clean. But what I enjoy most about this event is that it is one of the few events we have each year when the church truly feels like a family. People who don't necessarily know each other meet, talk, and share food (kind of like a large family reunion). Toddlers and babies who are usually in the nursery during worship are out running around the fields where everyone can play with them and share in the joy of their laughter and smiles. The staff members, myself included, who usually don't have much interaction with the teenagers are able to ride on the hayride with them, joke with them, and share in their lighthearted conversations. Connections are made with friends who haven't had a chance to talk in awhile.

At the end of last night's gathering, when the sun was beginning to set and the campfire was smoldering, I didn't want it to end. As I watched the children burn marshmallows over the fire, I whispered a word of thanksgiving to God and wished in my heart that time could somehow be extended for just a few moments more.

We often wonder what Heaven will be like. Maybe Heaven will mirror the warmth and excitement of the annual church hayride and picnic where everyone is free to run in God's Creation without care and everyone is family...where we feel completely at-home in a place that hasn't been our home and people we haven't considered as family members are our closest relatives. And best of all...the sun will not set on that gathering, newcomers will always be welcomed, and the joy and laughter of children will fill every heart. I look forward to that day, and I thank Jesus for the opportunity to be there.