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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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?)

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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

For the Moments I Disappointment Myself (We Begin Again in Love)

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Copyright MO 2014

Recently, I’ve been catching myself reflecting on my actions, attitudes, and behavior with disappointment and disgust. I’m the one who, at 18 years old, vowed never to live my life out of step with my values, who vowed to always live with passion and bring life into the world. Because I knew what it was like to almost lose it after falling asleep at the wheel, totaling my car one July evening shortly after graduating high school. I glanced heavenward in prayer that dark night, my soul in chaotic communion with God, claiming with ardor that I would live it right. Not take a breath for granted. I took my heart by the hand in firm grip. “You’re going to be passionate. Keep your complaints to a minimum. And above all, you’re going to take this life, and love it, and love others,” I declared, releasing my flexed, pointed finger and gritted teeth. I then proceed to cry, turning my fuming fingers into open palms, and slowly rested my tear-drenched face into them, learning a lesson on self-compassion and how absolutely compulsory it is.

So when I have days like today, days where I’m so aware of my slights, my transgressions, missed opportunities for sincerely listening to and loving those around me… when I’m acutely attuned to the cloudy mind I’m allowing myself to get sucked into, instead of opening it to the beautiful mess and joy around me, I celebrate one of the greatest strengths that life has to offer: its elasticity. The supple forgiveness it offers to simply begin again. And again. And again and again until the time clock of our individual lifespan wears thin. That whole “it’s never too late to be the person you wish to become” thing. Yes. I celebrate that people forgive. And I also celebrate that in order to truly drink in the forgiveness of others, I must also forgive myself. I must learn— though it’s ok to forget and re-learn over and over again— to return the next day with eyes opened wide, glance looking forward or upward, not down in crestfallen shame. And sure as winter, I will repeat this cycle countless times, but the observing, learning, and practicing piece of forgiveness makes it possible to begin again.

It’s moments like these when I’m reminded of a closing prayer we once read when I visited a Unitarian Universalist Church:

For remaining silent when a single voice would have made a difference,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For each time that our fears have made us rigid and inaccessible,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For each time that we have struck out in anger without just cause,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For each time that our greed has blinded us to the needs of others,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For the selfishness which sets us apart and alone,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For falling short of the admonitions of the spirit,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For losing sight of our unity,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For those and for so many acts both evident and subtle which have fueled the illusion of separateness,
we forgive ourselves and each other;

we begin again in love.

-Robert Eller-Isaacs

I look out the window at the moon singing to the night sky and snowy hills and valleys below. Tomorrow, every color known to humankind will show up again, somewhere. People who cried yesterday will laugh today. A lonely wander will find solace in the smile of another stranger. And I, too, will rise anew to begin again in love.