I delivered this message at Summit on 16th United Methodist Church's 2017 Blessing of the Bicycles. It's a bit of a funny thing, because I'm not religious, and of course Yay Bikes! is secular. But I think there is great value in considering our mission from many perspectives, of which faith is one both worthy and under appreciated. (Yes, I know many of us do "bike church" on Sunday mornings, but beyond that...). Indeed, when we include “culture change” as part of our theory of change at Yay Bikes!, what we mean is that we “explore the intersections between bicycling and other areas of life—because we believe it necessary to expand the public’s notion of who is and can be a bicyclist.” People are inspired to ride for all sorts of reasons—health, the environment, fun, saving money, etc. Why not ride as an expression of our faith? So please enjoy this message as an invitation to honor God’s design by riding your bicycle! And have a blessed day.
Sooooo…here we are at a Blessing of the Bicycles. That’s weird, right? I mean, it’s like a “thing” now—they’ve been doing them all over the world since 1999—but what is it, some kinda gimmick? A trick? Awkward outreach to the heathen cycling community? But why? Like I said—weird!
Well, many of us here are cyclists, or maybe we don’t call ourselves that but we ride our bikes from time to time. We may be faithful people, or perhaps not. Regardless, I think most of us can buy into the idea of a Bike Blessing, even if only because “hey man, whatever it takes to stay safe out there”. God, pixie dust, genies in a bottle, whatever, I’ll take it, sure!
To tell the truth, apart from the safety aspect, bicycles and blessings is an odd pairing. What I love about it, though, is that it opens the door just a crack to an area of life that really warrants more attention from our faith communities—or any attention at all, frankly. And that is transportation. The everyday act of getting our bodies from one place to another.
Yeah, let’s take this a step back from bicycling today to consider transportation more broadly. Yay Bikes!, the nonprofit organization I founded nine years ago and still work for today, is focused exclusively on one type of bicycling, which is bicycling as a means of transportation. Of all the many types of riding a person can enjoy, this is mine, and transportation happens to be the frame I’ve used to explore and understand bicycling for more than a decade. Also, I should say that I grew up in the Christian tradition, as a preacher’s kid no less, so that experience is what I can speak to specifically. It is my hope that this message resonates with those of you from different backgrounds and traditions and styles of riding as well.
So, then. As I was reflecting for this message on what might be some intersections between the worlds of faith and transportation, I came up with a pretty short list.
Two things. First, spiritual journeys—all faith traditions use journeys as a metaphor for a person's relationship with God. Second, church vans. A way to get people to and from church when they're not able to themselves, and youth outings and the like. And I thought to myself, there has got to be more here…something more profound, more vital to those spiritual journeys we’re all traveling. And I believe there is.
What is God’s design for our bodies?
What is God’s design for our communities?
What is God’s design for our planet?
And how do our everyday transportation choices honor God’s designs…or not?
If God’s design for our bodies is movement, can we not honor that design by riding a bicycle? If God’s design for our communities is love and connection, can we not honor that design by riding the bus alongside our neighbors? If God’s design for our planet is abundance, can we not honor that design by treading lightly, on a walk, so as not to squander our bounty?
This is not, of course, to suggest that God particularly cares how we choose to get around, or that there is shame in choosing to drive a car. Let’s not follow that path, it’s not productive for us. Indeed, I believe a person can honor God's design while driving by choosing kindness with regard to more vulnerable road users. Regardless how we travel, there is opportunity in front of us each and every day, numerous times a day, to experience God’s majesty in the mundanity of travel.
Surely an almighty God could have created humans to teleport. I mean, surely that would have been a superior mechanism for getting us to and fro, amiright? Missed opportunity, there...
But maybe not. See maybe there is a reason we weren’t designed to teleport. Just maybe, the time and effort it takes us to get our bodies from one place to another is a gift from God that we just haven’t realized we would do well to honor.
What type of world is available when we do choose to honor our time in transit? A world in which we arrive to our destination feeling refreshed and joyful, perhaps? A world in which children can play outside and our elders can cross the street without fear of traffic? A world in which our planet and all its species thrive? We get to choose—each and every day, each and every time we need to go somewhere, what type of world we will create as we travel.
At Yay Bikes!, we believe that riding a bicycle is an important thing a person can do to feel profoundly connected to their best self, to their fellow (wo)man, to their place in the world, to their version of the Divine. We believe that riding a bicycle is a unique experience in that way, notably different from the experience we tend to have driving a car—isolated, rushed, body immobile, dirty. And because it offers such rare and profound connectedness to the best of who we are, we believe that the act of bicycling transforms lives. Especially so for those who choose to ride, but even among those who don't, whose lives are safer, healthier, more peaceful and more enjoyable when cyclists take to the streets.
A bike friendly world is a better world, for all of us!
It’s almost as if it's by design. ;)