Faith, Hope, and Bikes: Turning Cyclist Attacks into Community Dance Parties

In light of the Passover and Easter holidays upon us, I’ve been pondering Judeo-Christianity a lot this week. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ words about peace and reconciliation, things he talked a whole lot about, while he was silent or had little to say on the heated issues that so often people associate with Church or religion. He said things like “Blessed are the peace makers” and raised the bar on love by saying, “What good is it if you love only those who love you? Instead, love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you.” He talked about creating Heaven on Earth, not just trudging through this life in order to reach some celestial afterlife. He believed we could experience some of that good stuff right here, right now.

And everywhere I’ve looked this week, I’ve encountered these sweet drops of Heaven that I think Jesus was trying to tell us was possible to experience on this side of the planet in our human bodies. On Sunday, I encountered it through Free Hugs at the Farmer’s Market. The next night, I experienced it when someone I never met before not only helped me find my friend’s dog that I lost (I know. Some friend, right?), but gave me a hug afterwards and offered to make me tea, willingly going out of his way at 11 PM on a weeknight for a dog-watcher he didn’t even know. But I think the example that speaks the most to me of all this love and peace and doing-good-in-the-face-of-bad stuff is what’s going on in the Baltimore bike community right now.

Last Saturday evening, a cyclist was attacked by a group of youth while riding home along Guilford Avenue. This cyclist bikes with a video camera attached to his helmet everytime he rides in light of a friend who was a victim of a hit and run. Since then, he bought a video camera and regularly records his commutes, unaware, I would imagine, of just how handy this would come this past Saturday when a group of young kids attacked him, punched him, and tried to steal his bike. He caught this 1:20 clip of the event before his camera shut off after the camera battery disconnected. It’s hard to watch, and even more personal knowing it occurred on an intersection used by so many bike commuters, my friends and I included. Attacks have occurred previously in this area, though at random.

The cycling community is one in which finding a friend, an ally, someone to connect with is never hard to find. In fact, most of the time when I bike throughout the city, I regularly make some form of human acknowledgement with other cyclists I see. A head nod, a wave, a hello, a “Hey, isn’t this a great day for a ride?” while we’re stuck at a red a light. Oh, and my favorite, the guy who gave me a peace sign as he rode by on a fixie.

So news travels fast in our little-but-ever-growing cycling community and it wasn’t long before we were dialoguing with each other in person and on social media about the event. I was amazed at the discourse because it seems as though all of the advocates get the fact that if kids just had more community inclusion and opportunities for recreation and play, they wouldn’t be out here committing crimes like this. Crime not being the problem, but the output of what happens when opportunity and meaningful activity cease to exist in an area. So instead of creating an us-vs them blaming mentality, activists decided to booth volunteers in the area in which the attacks occurred to “Bake some cookies and sell them! Make balloon animals for kids! Have a dance party! Whatever – the point is to be out on the street, watching for potential trouble, and nipping it in the bud before it happens!” (source: BikeMore google group). It’s ok to get angry about crime, in fact, humans harming other humans should arouse that emotion inside of us as a protective instinct to look out for one another. But what’s more beautiful to me- and to the other activists I know, is to turn something tragic into a reason to bring the whole city together to dance in neighborly love. That’s beauty. That’s Baltimore. That’s why I now almost come to expect activists to show up when injustice happens because everywhere I go around this city, I meet people whose hearts and voices refuse to be quelled in the midst of violence or oppression.

I think that’s what the Prophet Isaiah meant when he said, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, and they will study war no more” (Isaiah 2:4). Except instead of swords, we have present day street violence. And instead of plowshares, we have creativity. Creativity to create bake sales, balloon animals, dance parties, hula hoop contests, and community interaction in place of violence.

Earlier this evening, I stopped by one of these volunteer booths for a Cyclist and Pedestrian Appreciation event that members of  the Greenmount West community organized. Community members waved to cyclists and passer-bys and invited them over for snacks and conversation. Said one of the women I spoke with at the event, “We don’t like our community being known for violence. This is a chance to change that.”
This is what I love about the biking community.
This is what I love about Baltimore.
This is why I doubly love the Baltimore biking community.

Members of the Greemount West community with cyclists and advocates. Photo: MO 2014

Members of the Greemount West community with cyclists and advocates. Photo: MO 2014


While the media shouts of violence and drugs, we are out here, out here in these open spaces linking arms and bike locks singing of something else possible.

While the cynics are out there saying “the city would be great if it weren’t for these hoodlums” (unfortunately, those are actual words I read on Facebook about this particular incident), we are out there finding these kids so that we can introduce them to you by name and not by label. We will learn their stories and they will learn ours and together we’ll ride our bikes at Bike Party or maybe down the street to the nearest bike collective. Or maybe I’ll teach them how to change a flat and they can show me how to pop a wheelie. Because we can all learn from each other, no matter our age or background.

The Cyclist and Pedestrian Appreciation event today indeed reminded me that it was Good Friday, that violence, much like Jesus’ death, doesn’t have the last word, and that faith, hope, and love are not just quotidian metaphors, rather, they are tangible exchanges we can choose to give every moment, every day.IMG_0662

My heart is so full.
And my stomach is too, thanks to the snacks the Greenmount West community brought today.

But we’re not done.
Because like BikeMore said, we can run with this.

So next Sunday afternoon April 27th, I’ll be out there with hula hoops and water balloons. Another guy I met today offered to bring his guitar. And another said that while he couldn’t play music, he could bring a bunch of his friends.
So come join us Sunday evening April 27 on Guilford and Lanvale, say 4:30.
We’ll stack our bikes up next to each other’s and say hello. We’ll learn each other’s names, and faces, stories, and dreams. And then we’ll dance. Because we love this city, we love each other, and are willing to raise hell and create heaven by speaking up out of the silence and stepping into communion. Because that’s there the love is. That’s where the life is. And that’s how community will continue to build, one neighbor, one cyclist, one activist at a time.

Let’s dance.

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40 Days of Sustainability: An Environmental Justice Lenten Practice

Yesterday I wrote about my love for Lent, but not of murder on a cross. I believe these 40 days of spiritual reflection can greatly draw us closer to our Maker.

IMG_1458For the past three years, I’ve especially found meaning in this spiritual season by choosing to take IMG_1468up a practice. Last year, I found myself in tears and laughter commuting by bicycle, taking cold showers, and putting coins in the “Suck it up or Shut up” jar each time I caught myself complaining. I kept up with the cycling, take cooler (but not cold) showers, and occasionally throw some coins in the jar, hoping to build up my wellspring of “sucking it up.” The year before that, I got in the habit of taking Sabbath walks. And in 2011, I went vegetarian for forty days. While I didn’t sustain the practice that particular year, I began doing so in 2014, grateful for the connection I feel to the Earth and creatures living in it.

This year, I hope to experience this same kind of Heaven-on-Earth connection and invite you to join me or take up your own spiritual practice. I chose the theme of sustainable living because, as Jack Kerouac once said,

“The closer you get to real matter, rock, air, fire, and wood, boy, the more spiritual the world is.”

Copyright: MO 2013

Copyright: MO 2013
Boulder, CO

I’m breaking up the next 40 days into sets of ten. The first set are ten things to do just once over the next 40 days:

Do once:
1) Stop credit card offers by going to www.optoutprescreen.com
2) Buy a house plant. Indoor air is commonly 2-5 times more polluted than outside air. Plants help alleviate this by manufacturing fresh oxygen and removing carbon dioxide.*
3) Recycle old plastic cards that I no longer need (used gift cards, expired health insurance cards, etc.)
4) Call facilities when I see a leaky faucet at work. (Being that I work in an old building, it’s bound to happen at least once over the next 40 days).
5) Recycle my old pairs of eye glasses.
6) Compost components of feminine hygiene products when that “time of the month comes.” (Ok, TMI, I know, but it’s interesting to see how much waste can come from this bodily function). Don’t worry; it’s just going in my backyard.
7) Buy a reuseable mesh bag for produce, as to not need to use the produce plastic bags at the store.
8) Get off mailing and telemarketing lists by registering online at www.dmaconsumers.org/consumerassistance.html and www.donotcall.gov
9) Conduct a free step-by-step personalized Go Green plan.
10) Save foam I come across and take it to recycling at 2840 Sisson St.

The remainder are things to do once per day, three times through, for a total of 30 practices:

Do three times through:
1) Turn off modem at night. Only turn back on when I need it.
2). Go to the farmer’s market to get all my produce for the week instead of buying copious amounts of frozen fruits and veggies, which albeit last a while, causing me to take less trips to the grocery store, but are packaged in materials that will produce waste.
3) Pick up a piece of litter I encounter. BONUS for taking home any recyclable litter.
4) Call a company/non-profit that I don’t patronize and ask to be taken off their mailing list. ESPECIALLY GEICO! I will never fall for your snarky gecko, no matter how much mail you send!
5) Turn my office overhead light off on sunny afternoons. BONUS for going the whole day with natural light from my window.
6) Read a chapter of one of the many books I have on sustainable living, beginning with: The Zero Waste Lifestyle by Amy Korst and The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
7) Take a navy shower to use water for 2 minutes or less while bathing.
8) Unplug anything in my room outlets before leaving the house in the morning.
9) Make a list of every chemical I come across in my food as well as hygiene and cleaning products for that particular day. Use this to drive home a conviction to choose natural cleaning and hygiene products as well as eat whole, fresh foods.
10) When I drive, make sure to drive 55 MPH on the highway instead of 65 to improve gas mileage between 10-15% and don’t speed on residential roads.

Looking forward to sharing this Lenten season with you.

Portland, OR Copyright: MO 2013

Portland, OR
Copyright: MO 2013

COMMENT BELOW:
Do you choose to observe Lent? Why/why not?
How will you observe this Lenten season if you decide to do so?

*Renee Loux, Easy Green Living, pg. 71

Ashes of Hope: My Love of Lent but Not of Murder on a Cross (PLUS 40 Days of Sustainability coming soon)

Even the winter won’t last forever. We’ll see the morning, we’ll feel the sun.
We’ll wake up in April, ready and able, Sowing the seeds in the soil.
Even the darkness cannot disarm us. We’ll see the morning, we’ll feel the sun.
-Audrey Assad

Easter is what many would argue to be the quintessential turning point of the Christian faith. The crux. The climax of the story. The thing that you must be able to articulate into carefully formed sentences depicting your belief, as though words and theology solely define your spirituality and very existence. Perhaps from all of this lies the basis for the trite messages that I, along with so many others, have heard about the Christian faith. “Jesus died for your sins.” “Jesus paid the debt.” “Jesus stood in your place and died for you so that you might have life.”

And if those words bear truth and meaning to you, I have not come to take them away, nor discredit them.

It’s just not the Jesus I’ve come to know, face-to-face in my human spiritual struggle. 

The Jesus I’ve come to know didn’t die at the hands of a blood-thirsty, vampire-like God who needs to see someone murdered in order to forgive people. The Jesus I’ve come to know, and the God to whom he points, is a rebel. A revolutionary who challenged the privileged and elevated the marginalized. Who spoke out of turn, unafraid to make people think harder about themselves and the world around them. Who taught us to slow down long enough from our exhausted minds to “look at the birds and flowers,” and to be a visionary in whatever issue your culture is facing.
Direct from the mouth of this revolutionary contains the most gripping parts of the Eastertide story, in my experience. The pieces that I rarely heard pastors and Bible study leaders quote. The part where Jesus, our supposed role model, screams up at God, “My God, My God, Why have you screwed me like this?”  Because that’s life, that’s reality. That’s the affirmation I look for when I’m stuck in the mud and mire and all around me are hope-depleted apertures crying out for just a flick of mercy from a kind and loving God, begging for auspices that come from this Divine Light. And to hear Jesus utter these same words gives me confidence that I am in good company when I am in the thick of the squall and my once blithe heart feels incapable of coming back to me. When I’m a low that low, that’s when I know I’m only a few steps out from mercy. Because we, like Jesus, get to experience the surge of joy that is the resurrection, ashes of hope that sing of redemption.

I think these ashes of hope are what the soul longs for. Beyond a good love story, a good hope story. To know that all of our troubles will not be squandered, but used for fodder to keep these tales of beauty-from-pain alive. To give us the fortitude to know, anchored in our core, that it doesn’t matter what comes our way, for it won’t last forever. But the feelings of hope and the aftermath of beauty will hit us so viscerally that we tear up at the thought, “I didn’t know life could be this good.”

This is why I haven’t given up on Lent or Easter, despite some of my theological wrestlings and frustrations with the traditional teachings of this spiritual season. Lent draws out the heart’s ability to draw nigh to your Creator. A 40 day season containing strong, beautiful symbolism. Death from life. Life from death. The two are inseparable. Hope is reborn, recycled out of crushed pain and heartache. The timing of this season enhances the meaning all the more to me, as we begin Lent in the waning winter, in which it is still snowing as I write this. But we end Lent well into spring. During those 40 days, shoots on trees develop, buds blossom to form magnolia flowers- my absolute favorite tree on this planet that reminds me there is no cold that cannot be endured to eventually give way to life. The sun graces us for 2.5 minutes longer each day, until we’ve accumulated some 177.5 minutes of additional daylight come Easter evening, thanks, largely in part, to Daylight Savings Time. (Can you tell yet that spring is my favorite season and consumes many of my thoughts?)

IMG_1815

Copyright MO 2013

And so I don’t know where your heart is this season. Maybe it’s hiding in guilt and shame, underneath a veil of many coverings, because you feel it has gone so far awry from any sort of “straight and narrow.” Maybe your heart is parched, longing for a bit of this hope story. Or maybe your heart abounds in a joy so full, that it might cry droplets of gratitude onto baby seedlings that will soon lean their faces toward the sun for the first time. But one thing I do know, as we forge into spring, is that all around you, life begs your soul to awaken, and if it cannot awaken on its own, let its colours take you to places unknown until hope uncovers and your soul sees vibrant hues ablaze in beauty.

But there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over the hill and see what you find there
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.
-Mumford and Sons

    

Coming tomorrow: My 40 Day Sustainability Plan- Come observe Lent through environmental social justice