I was raised as an Evangelical in a home on Chicago’s South Side. Our home church was Robert’s Temple Church of God In Christ. When I decided to attend college I went to the Wheaton College the alma mater of Billy Graham. My intended major was Chemistry and along the way I became rather interested in Philosophy. But in the end I got a bachelor degree in Chemistry and began teaching junior high school science.
In the decade following graduation from college I had a long inner conversation about Evangelical thought. That conversation has continued to this day. It seems that Evangelical thought is increasingly outside mainstream American thought especially on issues of homosexuality and abortion. These of course are hot button issues. But even Climate Change and Evolution are ideas which many Americans have come to grips with but that leave Evangelicals standing alone with little public support.
Amidst this rejection of Evangelical positions there has sprung up in the Evangelical Community a resurgence of the sense of isolation that was evident in my youth. Evangelicals back were proud of not being “worldly”. They knew that in matters of dress and behavior they were different and apart from the rest of the world. It was something they wore as a badge of honor.
But I wonder whether this sort of mistrust of the Twenty-First Century can long endure if Evangelical Though is to be considered relevant to life in a Brave New World? We have accepted very strange bedfellows along the way. Catholics and Mormons (once reviled as followers of apostate religions) have become our allies. We huddle together, our wagons circled, trying to fend off the onslaught of what we have determined is sinfulness in our society.
The Price of Hypocrisy
Had my mother lived she would probably have been disappointed that I never entered the Christian Ministry. Her dream was for me to return to the Pentecostal World as a pastor in the Church of God In Christ (C.O.G.I.C.) But that was not something I could have done in good conscience. I have always lived with one foot in the church and the other in a world in which scientific discovery is embraced. For those who mistrust science trying to hold such a dualistic world view is evidence that your commitment to Christ is at best tenuous if not entirely in jeopardy.
You can see this schism up close each election cycle as one Evangelical or Catholic candidate after another opens their mouths to express their views on everything from abortion to climate change and ends up sounding like a Neanderthal (all apologies to the Neanderthals). Why is there this ongoing “head in the sand” posture that persists despite all the evidence to the contrary? We Evangelicals have decided that legitimate rape does not produce pregnancies. And that if a rape does happen to produce a birth then we are bound to a full term birth posture on the grounds that “God must have intended for that life to come into existence”.
We seem to bounce all over the map when it comes to homosexuality. Despite the fact that Ted Haggard was the head of the National Association of Evangelicals and a very vocal opponent of the homosexual lifestyle when it was discovered that he was paying for sex with a male prostitute we were embarrassed but all the more insistent that the behavior is godless. When the pastor of the largest black church in Georgia is forced to pay “hush money” to at least four young men who accused him of homosexual behavior his church stands by his assertion that these young men were lying. The very behaviors that we despise in others we excuse in ourselves.
It certainly sends mixed messages to the outside world.
I see so very many of the same traits existing in yet another group to which I belong, the Cycling Movement. Groups like these all have a similar protocol for their membership. They all share a love of the “bogeyman approach” to keeping their membership in line. You tell the membership that automobiles are bad and motorists are out to get you and that if the attend church services (in this case Critical Mass Rides) on a regular basis all will be well.
And like Evangelicals before them there is always a corresponding feeling of superiority and apartness that one learns to wear on the sleeve. It becomes a Badge of Honor to ride all winter and to rail against oil consumption or evil motorists or the automobile itself (the Sign of the Beast). And very much like Evangelicals there are the squads of Fascists who roam the church aisles look for those who are “weak in the faith” to either rehabilitate them or if necessary to shun them for having turned to the Dark Side.
The Dark Side in the case of the Cycling Movement can take all sorts of forms. It could mean wearing Lycra™ and Spandex™ rather than stretchy blue jeans atop high top gym shoes and below black t-shirts and Bern helmets while shouldering a Chrome messenger bag. True Believers in the Church of Urban Cycling (a breakaway Reformation sect from the Apostate Church of Vehicular Cycling) are required to consider the Evangelical equivalent of Conservative Political thought which is to embrace all things Danish or Dutch where cycling is concerned. The Second Coming will be ushered in when all of the streets of the city have been purified through their having first been placed on a diet and secondly baptized by having them painted green as a sign of their re-dedicated to the God of Cycling.
And as with Evangelicals and Catholics, there is a willingness to deny Mainstream Thought. In the early 70s C. Everett Coop and Francis Schaeffer became Rock Stars in the Evangelical Firmament with release of the film Whatever Happened to the Human Race? I met Dr. Schaeffer on one of his many visits to my Alma Mater, Wheaton College. I was trying at that time to find at least one intellectual Christian who took Science seriously But there was as there is now a rather pervasive distrust of Science, especially Darwinian Thought. It never ceased to amaze me that Christians focused on that branch of science while never really addressing the issues of origins and cosmology being posed by men like Albert Einstein. But I guess that fighting a branch of science so heavily defended by mathematics has little upside. It is much easier to rail against the notion that mankind and great apes share a common ancestor and to hold fast to the notion that the Earth is a relatively young planet (perhaps 6,000 years or so in age).
(Note: It seems that Evangelical thinking is getting a re-examination from a rather interesting quarter, that of Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. It is long overdue but far too early to tell whether his take on the Young Earth notion will gain any traction.)
When the Church of Urban Cycling is away from its monthly worship service it sustains its faith via the work of the ChainLink Forum here in Chicago. Like Mormonism this church is likely to undergo some upheaval as it seeks to define itself. Prophets have arisen who are warning against such evils as the wearing of helmets, the apostasy of Vehicular Cycling and geared bikes. Far better is he who rides a fixed gear bicycle devoid of brakes and does so in a manner that eschews such worldly customs as obeying stop signs and red lights. The theological discussion of the current age of Urban Cycling surrounds the teachings of one, Randy Cohen.
In his work as the New York Times Ethicist we learn that in the Church of Urban Cycling you can break man’s laws while still honoring the God of Urban Cycling. And the True Believers of the ChainLink are frequently to be heard shouting an “Amen, Brother” as they march towards a life of greater fulfillment and oneness with their god.
But What About Cycling Glasses?
Cycling glasses are a metaphorical device I am using in attempting to describe the ways in which these two Religious Experiences (i.e. Evangelicalism and Urban Cycling) take place. So let us begin with the description of the glasses.
Cycling glasses have three main parts:
- The frame of the glasses. This is formed by the temples and their covers and a brow bar piece that holds an insert.
- The filter insert. This is the piece that is usually removable allowing you the choice of sunglass color.
- The corrective lens insert. A removable bridge supports true corrective lens. This bridge in turn snaps onto the filter insert.
What makes these cycling glasses so very important is that they allow a rider to essentially avoid dirt and debris that moves around the lens to be trapped behind them and thus enter the eye itself. The filter insert has a windswept look that functions to protect the eye.
By choosing your filter insert wisely you can ride in virtually any kind of situation. You can purchase filter inserts that protect against strong UV radiation in mountain stages of the Tour de France. But you can order an insert that provides moderate filtration for riding closer to sea level. And you can even purchase filters that are nearly clear for riding at night. The trick is to pick the filter insert that works best for the situation at hand.
So if you get your eyes checked and have a prescription ready your cycling eyeglasses can be built to allow you to see a fully corrected world whose light is filtered according to your needs. And that is a marvelous thing!
Reading The GPS Device
I own a handlebar mounted GPS device. I will call it Truth. I learned something interesting about this device a few years ago. In ordinary use I can wear just about any of the filter inserts I own when attempting to read the display on this device. It is largely because the display is black on white in normal mode.
What I mean by normal mode is that the device is functioning on essentially two levels:
- Electronic Cyclometer mode. In this mode the display shows how fast I am riding and for how long. On some models you can even read the ambient temperature. By means of buttons on the unit you can switch from this cyclometer display to one showing an active map of the area in which you are riding. The brochure says of this device: “The rugged Edge 605 automatically measures your speed, distance, time, calories burned and altitude.”
- Data Analysis Mode. My original purpose for this device was to track my route. When the unit is on it is capturing information about the actual route that you could use later to help analyze your performance for training purposes. I always upload my route to the Garmin Connect online database.
But when Connie and I are touring an area we sometimes have need of services. For instance if either of us were in need of medical attention or police assistance it would be nice to know how to navigate to the nearest hospital or police station.
But on a more mundane level we are usually in search of either a bicycle shop or more likely a place to grab a meal mid-ride. And once again we find this unit invaluable in helping us navigate to a local restaurant. But when the unit is in navigation mode it displays a screen with lots of color to help the viewer recognize parks, lakes, streams, streets and other points of interest.
Depending on the filter insert you are wearing on your cycling glasses you may not be able to easily read the colorful display. And at night when riding along you need little or no filtering that might prevent your seeing the display in near darkness.
Choosing Your Filter Insert For The Situation At Hand
Thanks for sticking around long enough for me to get to the point about Truth, Science and Religion. My choice of filter inserts is very important. For the purposes of this discussion I will assert that you only need two good filter inserts to carry you through life. The first of these is called Philosophy. The second of these filter inserts I will call Religion. And then there are the corrective lens which we shall name Science.
The important thing to note about cycling glasses is that the corrective lens require that a filter insert be in place in order to use them. In fact if you have less than perfect eyesight (and everyone does, some more so than others) you always need the corrective lens in order to see what light is coming through the filter inserts.
A wise bicyclist will always choose the filter inserts needed base not upon how cool they look or upon whether they are the ones favored by his buddies, but rather upon how easily he can view the display on his GPS unit, named Truth. After all when you are using the GPS for the purposes of navigation you are forced to deal with display colors. If you filter inserts are designed to eliminate the blue portions of the visible spectrum you will have a very difficult time seeing that color when it scrolls across your GPS display.
The problem of course is that every cyclist has pressures to choose a particular filter insert. If you are from the Church of Urban Cycling your friends may not even like the fact that you have on special cycling glasses. They instead prefer hipster glasses for their simplicity. You might feel pressured to adopt such glasses, but what do you do on your weekend forays into the Suburban Wilderness? You have been keeping these rides a secret because when you venture out beyond the city limits you are often wearing Spandex and Lycra outfits because the folks with who you are riding are dressed in like fashion.
And to make matters worse you have been driving an automobile that you purchased (but keep behind locked doors in your condominium garage away from the disapproving eyes of your fellow Church of Urban Cycling parishioners). Life has become a series of conflicts and choices that are simply driving you mad.
Because you are faced with undulating landscapes you have decided to actually purchase a bike with gears. You even had a triple crank and perish the thought actual brakes (front and rear). But what would truly be a point of controversy among the True Believers in the Church of Urban Cycling’s fixed gear ridership is the fact that these brakes are actually (cue the melodramatic organ music from silent film days) disk brakes!
Your buddies on these weekend rides prefer a very dark blue insert filter. It looks really cool against the blue of the team jerseys being worn by the group. Everybody wears this color and the girls in the group have been giving you the look that says they approve you your face behind those glasses. But the problem is that you really cannot read your GPS (in navigation mode) when you are wearing them. The other real problem seems to be that most of the others guys wear contact lens. So the corrective lens insert you have look dorky. That one really cute gal in the group with the really sexy calf tattoo has asked you more than once why you too don’t switch to contacts. Life is hard!
You decide to ditch the corrective lens insert and see if you can develop a good enough squint to make up for the fuzziness of your vision. But what you would really like to do is be left alone to use the inserts you require depending on the situation and not be forced to conform to the wishes of others. But like any person seeking to fit in you have to make choices that keep you in good standing with the group, right?
Impaired Vision Is Really Not An Option
Despite what the Elders in the Church of Urban Cycling tell you, “Cycling Is Dangerous“. Those pretty green lanes are no substitute for knowing strategies to cope with unpainted streets. Putting on Lycra™ or Spandex™ or blue jeans and a black t-shirt may be less important that choosing bright colors. And certainly the color of the filter insert should be made based upon your ability to clearly see The Truth.
On one Critical Mass Ride a fellow hipster made cryptic comments about having seen someone that looked an awful lot like you dressed in roadie cycling clothes on something other than a “fixie” last weekend, while visiting his parents. You avert your gaze hoping that he does not see the panic in your eyes. Does he know that you have been drinking white wine and strong cheeses too? Is he going to ask you whether you have given up on Pabst Blue Ribbon and taken to drinking Budweiser or perhaps Heineken? Your world is about to come unraveled.
Be of good cheer. Your personal safety in traffic is far more important than the kind of glasses people want you to wear. And the color of the insert has to be chosen with an eye towards clearly reading the display on your GPS named The Truth. Otherwise you cannot navigate from your current point to that place where you intend to grab a bite to eat. And since you would rather not use contact lens, you should feel comfortable wearing the corrective lens insert that you paid for. No one has the right to tell you how to dress or what colors your clothes should be.
The really interesting thing is that people who are wildly against having the government tell them what to do or think are more than happy to allow their peers that privilege. And whether it be the Evangelical Church or the Church of Urban Cycling you may need to stand up to the pressure to conform to their views and chart your own course using your personal GPS unit and the lens filter color of your own choosing.
At the end of the day getting to your campsite or finding that hospital or police station or restaurant is your responsibility. And nothing that anyone else can do should force you to flounder just to make them happy.
Providing Pushback To The Church Of Your Choice
Whether anyone admits it or not every religious institution, system of thought or science itself requires that there be outliers. These are the folks who always ask, Why? They are the folks who make the True Believers feel uncomfortable. They look at the preacher or politician who is telling them that the world is only 6,000 years old and ask why he says that when the best science says its millions of years old.
Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.
— Thomas Jefferson
We need people who question whether men and dinosaurs walked side-by-side. We need people who challenge the status quo and take us out of our comfort zones. We need pastors who give us a stark look at ourselves in clever ways that make us think:
But most of all we need doubters. Is it really true that pretty green lanes are all that is needed to make scofflaw cyclists behave themselves and bring sweetness and light to the driving habits of out-of-control motorists? Are automobiles really the Spawn of Satan? Are Blacks and Hispanics the ones who most often practice “Riding Against Traffic?” (i.e. salmon-ing) or does everyone do it? Can you really be ethical if you run stop signs and red lights but be unethical by riding against traffic? Is Randy Cohen full of horse manure?
How do we reconcile the God of the Old Testaments commands that the women who had given birth or were with child be slaughtered alongside the male population of the lands invaded by the Chosen People with the current notion that abortion is a sin? When did Americans decide that Slavery was somehow ungodly despite the fact that neither the Old or New Testaments have anything to say against it? Where in Scripture does it say that Capitalism is equivalent to being holy? Do we really believe that forgiving debts every seven years (as proscribed in the Old Testament) is consistent with our current financial practices, but Sharia law is not?
The answers to any of these questions is far more important than remaining a member in good standing in any church. Churches are always the product of human activity and as such are likely to be either corrupt of misguided as often as they are correct. Life like cycling has its dangers. It is well worth living but you must first accept the reality that it will not be easy. There are no “magic bullets“.
You cannot quote Scripture to ward off evil. You cannot perform Good Works to avoid the consequences of Bad Behavior. The prospect of ever finding a Prophet whose word can be trusted without question is unlikely.
Never do anything for a church that you would not want to acquiesce to for your government. The phrases “We are from the Government and are here to help you.” and “Drink this Kool-Aid, Brother” should make you equally uneasy. There is a reason wolves dress in sheeps clothing.
Selah. Thus endeth the lesson.