Monday, January 9, 2017

Churches Separated by Age

I skipped church the other day, but this isn’t about that. Instead it is about age group separation. I read an article that suggested that maybe the reason young people leave the church is because they were never a part of the church in the first place. We start them out in the nursery because who wants to hear crying babies in a worship service. Then we move them into Children’s Church because they would just be bored in worship. Then they go into the Youth Group. So when they reach adulthood “church” is very different from what they are familiar with. I can buy into that as being a problem, but what do we do about it and what does that have to do with me skipping church?

On Wednesday night our church is broken into several different groups. I am one of the Awana leaders, but because of Christmas break, Awana and Fear One (youth) weren’t meeting. That left one available activity, the Wednesday evening prayer meeting. Because the young people meet in other groups the Wednesday night prayer meeting is primarily a meeting of the Senior Citizens. (Shh! Don’t tell anyone I said that.) It isn’t like we want to label it that because we want to tell people that we have a place for everyone, but it is what it is. They seem to enjoy it, but I struggle with it because after nine hours of sitting at a desk my sitting ability is shot. The very thought of sitting in a meeting listening to an hour long lecture is about like fingernails on a chalkboard. I literally dread the summer months when Awana doesn’t meet.

When we consider a solution to the problem of separating age groups our natural tendency is to think that we just need to bring the young people into the worship service. We have this idea that we have “church” and then we have these groups of young people that are meeting separately. But that’s not the case. Instead of church and two ministries what we actually have are three age separated ministries. Just because one of those ministries is meeting in the auditorium, singing songs and hearing a sermon doesn’t mean they are “church” and the other are not. It isn’t reasonable to expect that we can combine the children’s ministry and the youth ministry with the senior adult ministry and just keep doing what the senior adult ministry does each week.

Visually I saw a representation of the situation when our church did Lifeword Sunday. We met outside one Sunday evening and had a 5k walk/run. The young people were running and participating in various activities, but most of the senior citizens had arranged their chairs in rows like they were ready to have church. I didn’t spend much time over there. I’m sure they did a lot of talking and had a good time, but there was no mutual interaction. If there young people had been forced to sit in those chairs they would’ve been miserable. If the older people had been forced to participate in the activities they would’ve been miserable.

One of the things that happens when we separate by age group is that the younger groups tend to play games and the older groups tend to be spectators. There is something to be said for young people having time in which they sit and learn, but also something to be said for older people becoming more physically active. I could see both of these occurring if we could find ways to merge the age groups, even if occasionally.

What that might look like is this: For a game at a church picnic people are split into teams. Each team is made up of one child, one teenager, one senior citizen, and someone who is in between. The teams are given a challenge to complete that involves runners retrieving balls with Bible questions on them. These questions would be things that most children would not know the answer to and might require looking them up in the Bible to get the correct answer. The team that answers the most questions in the shortest amount of time would win. The key thing here is that each team member would have strengths that would benefit the team, but weaknesses that would require them to rely on team members in a different age group.

But it’s not just about playing games. Why can’t we do something similar with our worship services and ministries? Why don’t we give children and teen church members responsibilities that are suitable to their development level? I don’t mean having them shadow adults as they do ministry (though that’s not a bad thing). I mean give them real responsibility. Maybe put a child in charge of making sure that the offering plates are where they need to be every Sunday morning and evening. Maybe find one who shows up early and make them responsible for making sure the hymnals are straight and there are offering envelopes in every rack before the service. As for teenagers, a lot of the stuff adults do could be done by teenagers if we would just let them. There are other things that they can’t do yet, but we can teach them now so that they are ready to take on those tasks when they are old enough.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Real World Facebook

We laugh when people talk about treating people in the real world like we do on Facebook. One such post begins, “every day I walk down the street and tell passers-by what I have eaten, how I feel at the moment, what I have done the night before, what I will do later and with whom.” The post continues with other things and ends by saying, “I already have four people following: two police officers, a private investigator and a psychiatrist.” Yes, we laugh, but what if we really did apply the same principles that we use on Facebook to the world outside?
Suppose your car won’t start one morning and you decide to take the city bus to work. While you’re waiting at the bus stop you see a stranger approach the bus stop. You make eye contact and you say, “Good morning. How are you?”
The stranger replies, “I’m fine. How are you?”
“Good, but my car wouldn’t start this morning. Now I’m going to be late for work.”
“My wife went to see her mother, so I’ve been without a car all week.”
“Have you been cooking for yourself this week?”
“No, I’ve been eating out.”
“Nothing wrong with that.”
This conversation isn’t farfetched, but here are two strangers who have within moments of meeting each other talked about what they have eaten, how they feel, what they have done, and what they will do later. It ends with an affirmation (a like, if you will) for what one of the people has said.
It isn’t that doing the things we do on Facebook would be so strange if we did them in the real world but we’ve isolated ourselves so much in the real world that we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to do these things. I find it interesting that people talk about what they would do if they “walked down the street.” It isn’t that people don’t do the things they do on Facebook, but people don’t “walk down the street.” Instead, they get in their cars and drive from one parking space to another. They see many cars, but few people. There is no communication between cars. Once people reach their destination they might talk to other people, but mostly they assume that other people don’t want to communicate with them. Then they get in their cars and drive home where they lock themselves inside and contemplate how unrealistic Facebook is.
Imagine how different it would be if we would remove the shell. Imagine if we gave ourselves opportunities to talk to people, even if we just talked about eating at a favorite restaurant or at one that we hated. Imagine if we removed the glass bubble. Imagine knowing your neighbors by face if not by name. Imagine having a conversation with someone just because they happened to be standing or sitting near you. Imagine expecting this to happen every day. This is what we would really have if we applied the principles of Facebook to the real world.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Why I Ride to Church

I’ve been riding my bicycle to church. If you’re wondering why I would do that, so am I. The thing is, I can think of all kinds of reasons as to why other people should ride their bicycle to church. Probably the most important reason is that it creates opportunities for interaction between the church and the members of the community around it. When you’re in a car, people might see that you are headed to church but they will never speak to you and you will never speak to them. At no point will you ever say, “Come and go to church with me.” Of course there are other reasons like it being good for your health or it freeing up parking for guests or getting your brain in gear before you participate in corporate worship. But none of these reasons are the reason I’ve been riding my bicycle to church.

Those are great reasons and I tell myself that I should be more concerned about those things than what I am, but the real reason I’ve been riding my bicycle to church is because I can. What’s the use of being able to do something if you don’t do it? I have lots of people tell me that they aren’t able to ride a bicycle more than a short distance. I don’t know if they believe they can’t ride a bicycle, but they may be right. Years of sitting around too much and eating too much has resulted in people who can hardly move their own weight around. But there’s more to being able to ride to church than being able to balance on two wheels while pedaling.

The ability to ride a bicycle for transportation is as much about the knowledge of how to get from one place to another as it is about the physical ability. Riding a bicycle requires less effort than walking. If you can walk one mile, you can ride a bicycle four. But there’s a significant difference between riding a bicycle around the block and back to your house and riding to a destination. First, there may be things that you need to carry with you. Once you get to your location, you probably want to lock your bicycle, so a bike lock is required. For longer distances you might need to carry water.

Also, there is the question of what roads to ride. Many people assume that they will ride a bicycle along the same roads that they follow when in a car. Many of the roads that are ideal for cars are the least suitable for bicycles. Finding alternate routes may require some research. Sometimes an alternate route is just a street that runs parallel to a road, but often you will find that roads cut through areas where streets are not connected.

I suppose there’s something about being able to do something that many other people can’t. Of course it is easier to get into a motor vehicle to get to the destination, but where’s the fun in that?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Disconnected Roads

I love riding a bicycle, but I'm surrounded by roads that I'd rather not ride. To the West I have Crowley Road, which is a six lane road that is constantly flowing with traffic. The City of Fort Worth is planning to put an on-street bike path along it at some point, but they won't tell me when. An on-street bike path is a glorified sidewalk that is wide enough for bicycle traffic, but it still has to contend with driveways along the street.
To the North I have Sycamore School Road, which is another busy street that they aren't likely to do anything with anytime soon. To the East there is Hemphill Street. It's a little better than the others. The speed limit is only 40 mph, so only some of the traffic goes 50 or 60 mph and there is less traffic. I do ride this street when it isn't too busy. The plan is to remove two lanes on this street south of I20 and mark it for bicycle traffic. I like the idea, but I don't see it happening soon.
To the South there is Risinger Road. It might be okay except it is incomplete. There is a private road that connects it, but that does me no good. Going farther South there is Crowley Cleburne Road, which is narrow and I would have to ride some distance with the 60 to 70 mph traffic on Crowley Road before I reached it. It would be well out of my way if I wanted to go North.
In looking at the map I noticed that that are as couple of streets that would make a world of difference to my bike rides if they weren't dead end streets. One is Winn Drive in Edgecliff Village. If there were a bike trail connecting it to Camelot Road I could avoid Hemphill Street completely on my way to Westcreek Drive and the Trinity Trail.
But then I noticed another one. If Cunningham Street were connected to something on the other side of the train tracks most of my heavy traffic concerns would disappear. On the other side of the tracks, there are plenty of residential streets.
In time it will probably be different. Those empty spaces will be swallowed up with housing and there will be streets connecting everything. Right now that isn't the case. I just think it is interesting how much difference a few yards of concrete would make in terms of improving cycling in my neighborhood.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Lose Weight the Easy Way

Most people want to lose weight and get in shape. People may be content with their fitness level, but they would prefer to be in better shape. The problem isn’t a lack of desire. The problem isn’t that people don’t know what they need to do. Eat less. Exercise more. This isn’t rocket science. So, why don’t people do it?

I spent several years knowing what I needed to do but not doing it. Concerns about my health convinced me to rearrange some priorities. There are things I don’t do anymore because riding a bicycle is high on my priority list. But the reality is that we can’t always do that. Work, church, family, life. These things constantly pull us away from our fitness goals.

There is an article in Bicycling titled America’s Most Bike-Crazy Mayor and it highlights Betsy Price’s efforts here in Fort Worth to get people riding bicycles. They quote Betsy Price as saying, “I realized if I was going to maintain an active lifestyle as mayor, it would be vital to find ways to incorporate it into my city activities.” I love that quote because that is the thing that people either don’t get or they do it poorly. For Betsy Price, the concept translates into doing rolling and walking town hall meetings. She gives city residents the opportunity to communicate with her, which is a job requirement, but rather than this taking away from her ability to exercise, it enhances it.

We may find ourselves saying, “I don’t have time to exercise.” We may feel guilty about it, but the reality is that it is true. But what if we incorporate exercise into our high priority things? What does that look like?

Bicycle commuting is one of the first things that comes to mind. If I were to bicycle commute rather than drive and then ride afterward, I would get more exercise, but it would take me less time to do it. I don’t do that because my day would have to start even earlier and some of the streets I would have to travel make me a little nervous, especially in the dark. But if I lived within three miles of work, it would take me less time to ride my bicycle than to drive, and I would get exercise “for free.”

There must be other ways we can incorporate activity into the things we’re doing anyway. I’ve heard of people gaining weight because the office copy machine was moved closer to their desk. I’ve also heard of managers turning their staff meetings into walking meetings, in which they walked the halls instead of meeting in a conference room.

Church stuff bothers me. Have you ever noticed how much church stuff involves sitting or eating and sometimes sitting and eating? At our church, we have tons of pillows that people leave at church because people sit so much that they feel uncomfortable. Instead of sitting on those pillows, we would be better off if we would have a pillow fight once in a while.

With as many things as we have going on in our lives, there will always be things that take higher priority than exercise. And sometimes that may even be something like sitting around watching television or reading a book. There are times that we need the down time. These days, it is rare that it takes less time to exercise than what it does not to exercise, but if we find ways to combine that exercise with things we are already doing it will reduce the time required. And if we set things up so that doing the high priority things forces us to exercise, we won’t even consider the excuses we have for not exercising.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Why Don't You Ride a Bicycle

Why don’t you ride a bicycle? Because I ride a bicycle, I have many people telling me why they don’t. I kind of think that these people feel guilty about riding. While I would like to see more people riding bicycles, if you don’t ride a bicycle, that’s your loss. You don’t have to explain it to me. But here are a few reasons why people don’t ride bicycles.

My balance isn’t very good.

I suppose this is a ligament reason. I don’t give balance much thought. A bicycle that’s going above 4 mph or so will balance on its own. The faster you go the easier it is to balance. I realize some people have health problems that mess with their balance, but I wonder if the real problem is that people are just afraid to go fast enough to keep the bicycle upright. Besides which, research shows that riding a bicycle can help people develop balance skills.

I don’t know how.

While I’ve never had someone tell me this, CBS News reports that 8% of American adults never learned to ride a bicycle. That means that for every 100 people you know, about 8 of them never learned to ride a bicycle. You don’t hear much about these people because it is embarrassing. Who wants to tell their friends that they’ve never learned to ride a bike? Even kids reach an age where the embarrassment of admitting they don’t know how to ride may prevent them from learning. As an adult, you not only don’t know how to ride but you may not know who can help you learn.

I’m uncomfortable riding in city traffic.

For people who know how to ride and are physically able, this seems like it is the most common reason. It fascinates people when I tell them that I hop on my bicycle at home and ride across town to places like the Fort Worth Stockyards, which is 15 miles from my house by car. There are aspects of it that make me nervous as well, but after a few times of loading my bicycle in my truck to drive 10 miles to get to a trail I began to question whether I could get there without the extra time spend driving and loading. I turned to Google Maps for help. They have a feature that will help you select a bicycle route. Rather than choosing the shortest distance, it chooses streets with less traffic. It doesn’t always get it right, but I’ve used it to find routes with very little traffic. Were it not for being forced to ride on either Hemphill Street or Sycamore School Road, I could find a route to most places I want to go without encountering much traffic. But even that’s not bad, if I choose the right time to ride.

I don’t have a bicycle.

Obviously, if you don’t have a bicycle you can’t ride one, but this is like saying that you don’t eat cake because you don’t have cake. If you want cake, you can either make one or buy one. If you want to ride a bicycle, you can buy one or borrow one. With bike share programs becoming more popular, there are a lot of people riding bicycles who don’t own a bicycle.

I don’t have a place to ride.

This is related to the concern over riding in city traffic, but it’s more common among people in a rural area. Unlike in the city, in the country, you have just a few narrow roads that cut through the area. Traffic isn’t heavy, but the traffic that is there is moving very quickly. The drivers aren’t expecting to come over a hill or around a bend and see a bicycle. The only solution I know of is to ride with a group. Drivers will spot a group of cyclists more quickly and are more likely to be looking for bicycles if they’ve already seen one.

I don’t like getting sweaty.

There’s not much I can do about that. Get over it.

It hurts when I ride.

Serious cyclists tend to be masochists, but there’s no reason why pain must be associated with riding a bicycle. Some pain will make you stronger, but some pain is an indication of problems, so it depends on the nature of the pain to determine whether it is a good reason not to ride. If it comes from sore legs or a feeling of being saddle sore, the solution is to ride more and more often. For many years, I was riding only in warm weather. After weeks being off the bike, I found that it was difficult for me to ride fifteen miles. I would have to work up to more every year. Some pain is an indication that your bicycle doesn’t fit. A bicycle that is too small or too large can cause back pain. The wrong saddle can cause pain there. Lack of lubrication can cause pain. You may be pushing on the pedals very hard to overcome friction or a heavy bike.

I don’t want to.

When you get down to it, this is the real reason people don’t ride bicycles. I’ve been there. I remember driving home from work and looking for flags to tell me how windy it was. If the flags were standing straight out, I would decide that it was too windy to ride. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. There’s a point at which the more you ride the more you want to ride. I think it is at that point where you ride forty miles and you know you could ride a lot more. Or maybe it is when you climb a couple of steep hills that happen to be on the route you are taking rather than looking for a way around. When you want to ride, all the excuses go away.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Sheltered From Anger

The light was red as I rolled to the well-worn stop line on my two wheeled conveyance. It was the last major street I would have to cross before reaching home, the endpoint for a fifty mile ride. A small white car that had been sitting at the drive-thru window of a convenience store pulled across the street and came up behind me. It hadn’t been there for more than a couple of seconds when I heard a man’s voice, “Go!”

I looked up at the red light and then yelled over my shoulder, “It’s red.”

“Get out of the way! I’m going to bump your mother f_____g a__!”

“The light’s red,” I yelled again. I thought about what would happen if he carried out his threat. His front bumper would hit my rear wheel first. Aside from the damage it would do to my bicycle, it would knock me off my feet.

A few seconds passed. The light turned green and I crossed the road, hoping that he wouldn’t follow. He didn’t. He made his right turn and the situation was over.

Though situations like this one are rare, they do happen. I can only guess why this particular guy was impatient and why he wanted me to break the law so that he could make a right turn on red. It seems like some people get impatient around bicycles even when the bicycle isn’t really causing them an inconvenience. But another thought occurred to me.

If I had been driving my truck, he still would’ve been in just as much of a hurry. I would’ve still been blocking him from making a right turn on red. He might have even yelled at me. The difference is that I wouldn’t have heard him yelling. With layers of metal and glass between us and the air conditioner running, I would’ve be oblivious to anything he said and it is unlikely I would’ve seen him do anything.

When I tell people why I think they should ride a bicycle, one of the things I mention is that when you ride a bicycle you interact more with people in your community. The metal and glass shells on our cars insolate us from human interaction. But while on a bicycle, I’ve have spoken to neighbors I know only by sight. I’ve have strangers stop me to ask directions. I’ve had people stop to talk while I was locking up my bicycle at a restaurant. The angry guy in the white car is just another of my neighbors choosing to communicate with me.

We can chalk this situation up to an attitude of entitlement. The guy in the little white car felt that he was entitled to make a right turn on red, even though there was another vehicle in front of him. Perhaps he saw it as just a bicycle and since he was driving a car, he deserved to pull forward. In any case, he felt entitled and that is just another word for pride. Pride is sinful.

I don’t like getting into these situations, but when we remove the shell that prevents us from communicating with the world around us, not all communication will be the kind we like. We are going to encounter sinful people who become angry, call us names, and curse at us, even when we are doing nothing wrong. These are the people Jesus died for.

When you think about it, we ought to encounter people like this more frequently than we do. When you remove the mask of politeness that so many people put on, this is what the world is like. The question is, why don’t we see it? To that I say it is because we are a bunch of monks. We hide out in our homes until we choose to go somewhere, but the places we choose are those places where we expect to encounter people who will respect us. We go to church, where people are like minded. We go to stores and restaurants where people are paid to be nice to us. In between these places we ride around in privacy boxes, so that people who are just feet from us are prevented from communicating beyond a blow of the horn or a middle finger raised in anger. Whether it is out on the roadways or in other places, if we are so sheltered that we don’t encounter people who express anger toward us, we are too sheltered to have an impact on the world.