Sharing My Story

Another moment of grace was shared as Southport Christian gathered around the table once more last night.  Together we shared a wonderful meal, and both Jennifer and I shared about our respective sabbatical journeys.  Here is what I shared with the congregation.

 The original question the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Grant asked us to answer was:  “What makes your heart sing?”  That’s what they wanted us to do for our sabbatical…Do something with your time, and this grant money, that makes your heart sing.

 I’ve been a cyclist for more than 5 years now.  When I came upon this phrase in one of my readings and it really seemed to spell out what I was experiencing in my sabbatical time, so I reworded it just a bit in order to fit.

The goal of this period of grace– was to strive to push my body in a channeled effort, (through cycling) while seeking to stretch my spirit and my mind, reaching deep into the recesses of my soul, for new strength, courage, hope, joy and understanding.

Michael Novak, in his 1970’s classic, The Joy of Sports, he wrote:

Sports flow outward into action from a deep natural impulse that is radically religious: an impulse of freedom, respect for ritual, a zest for symbolic meaning.

Nothing connected my love of cycling to my work in ministry better than those two phrases.  My initial superficial goal was to ride a lot, and read some, hoping that I might come up with a couple of core focus areas that meant something to me, so I could report to you, so that we all felt better about this experience, and, honestly, so that you all felt like it was a good thing to do.  BUT- what I experienced, from my readings, from my prayer time, from my brief vacation time in the middle of this, and from my achievements while away from church ministry work…WERE FAR GREATER THAN I EVER COULD HAVE IMAGINED!

I had expected to hear the scriptures “still small voice.”  I had expected to wander in the wilderness.  I had expected to sit in silence.  But, I did not expect to witness where my deepest joy meets the world’s greatest needs.  I did not expect to discover and dwell at the “inner well” of my soul.  I did not expect to commune on a mountaintop with 3 transfigured men.  Sabbatical went beyond for me…beyond anything I had imagined.

I didn’t rack up huge, unbelievable mileage this summer.  I didn’t ride to California and back.  I was pleased over all though, because out of 12 weeks, I could probably rack up 4 to travel, and so in 8 weeks I rode just over 1200 miles. 

I was most proud of both my century goals, and my form.  I was hoping to complete 1 century (that’s 100 miles in a day’s ride) but I exceeded my expectations and did 3 centuries over the span of  about 3 ½ weeks.  I was thrilled!  I also felt like I was able to climb just about anything around, and was so proud to have done so, in South Carolina on Paris Mountain, and North Carolina on Mt Mitchell.  My legs are beyond where I dreamed they would be!

(Here we began showing slides and telling of the road map of the experience.  Feel free to click on my Flickr link and see most of the photos!)

My sabbatical began with a simple trip to Ohio, where I rode on the Little Miami Scenic Trail.  This trail stretches from Cincinnati up to Springfield and even Urbana Ohio with its connector trails.  There are probably more than a couple hundred miles of connector trails in that area.  The trail was wonderful and peaceful.  It traveled through the “Triangle of My Youth.”  From Cincinnati, to Bellefontaine, to Columbus Ohio, where I spent most of my years up to my mid 20s.  I stopped at famous Young’s Dairy along the way, having lunch with my dad at a place I had frequented on my way to and from Scout Camp in Yellow Springs.  I rode around Bellefontaine, OH as well, where I grew up and took a picture on the steps of my home church.

Then- we went to France.  This was a wonderful vacation portion of my sabbatical- because it was a great destination, and a lot to do!  We went, of course, to see the Tour de France.  That’s the 2141 mile bicycle race/parade that goes all around that country every July.  We saw an amazing site in the peleton rushing up the hill into Chaumont France.

What intrigued me the most was the technology and the hard work of the mechanics.  Amazing bikes, so expensive I’d be afraid to ride them!  If I had one of those machines, I’d probably keep it under lights, mounted on display.  And we got so close, and even touched some of the bikes as the mechanics were working so hard to keep everything in perfect condition.  It looked like they practically rode a brand new bike every day, because of the work those mechanics put into it!  Early morning, late at night- their jobs never ended!

We also ran into a lot of Americans.  When you are 4 days into faking your way through speaking French to folks, and you hear English in a crowd- it gets your attention!  We got acquainted with 3 men in Colmar who had ridden their bikes in from Germany just to see the Tour pass through.  We also met a very nice Belgian couple who invited us over anytime!  We’ll be taking them up on that since the Mercxk Bicycle Factory is just a few blocks from their home.

I was thrilled to do a long morning ride in the wine region around Beaune in the Burgundy area.  Riding up and down among the vineyards watching the farmers tending their crops diligently was among some of the most wonderful places I have ridden.  The designate bicycle path shared space with tractors and trucks as farmers made their way towards town around 9 a.m. for the opening of the cafes and bakeries.

Annecy was the site of the Individual Time Trial, where we took in the sights of a huge and colorful lake set between the tips of the mountains.  The deep blues of the waters contrasted wonderfully with the colors of the city parks that bordered it.  Flowers and trees lined the pathways that led us right to the courses edge where the professional riders flew by us in a blur of motion and noise.  It was as spectacular of an event as it was as a setting!  I couldn’t decide which to enjoy more- the place, or the excitement of the Tour.

Of course we concluded our trip, like the Tour, in Paris, seeing all the sites, riding our bikes along the crowded and cobbled streets.  I almost got killed riding the round-a-bout at the Arch de Triumph about 7 times; especially when that motorcycle decided to turn around and come right at me!

Following that spectacular close to the vacation experience of my sabbatical, in August, I met my brother-in-law Jonathon Steele in Greenville, SC for the Cycling National Championship races.  ON Sunday morning there, we rode the Road Course in a charity ride for the local cancer treatment center.  He is a novice, but he did really well for himself; riding up and over Paris Mountain not once, but twice!  Such a great event that morning was the prelude to an even more wonderful and up close road race in the afternoon!

Then I proceeded on my way to Asheville, NC, where I stayed at the Grove Park Inn, a historic and very elegant resort.  My plan was to climb Mt Mitchell; 6684 ft. elevation; the highest peak east of Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  It was a spectacular climb.  After reaching the top and taking a few pictures, I came down to the snack bar there and in rolled 3 men.  We sat and swapped stories and cycling talk for about 20 minutes or more.  We even shared communion together- they might not have known it, but the candy bars, power bars, and coke were like communion for me, as we shared a sacred moment after the longest climb of my life, so far!  It was a powerful reminder to me that both- we can do anything we set ourselves to do, and that God is palpably present in those holy spaces high up in the woods.

After coming down from that mountaintop experience, and swinging through home for one night, I headed off to St. Louis, MO for a finale hoorah, taking in the Tour of MO.  I had the perfect hotel!  It was magical, because all of the riders were staying there too!  It was just across the street from all the tour vehicles, mechanic trailers, etc. but it was also host to all the people I had followed all summer long.  It was great to watch them watch themselves on the big screen tv in the lobby and hear them cheer the sights of races and crashes past!

After that, I proceeded to head home, wondering what home and everyday would be like!  But, I realized that I had a grounding here that I hadn’t thought about before.  I had my ride group- the only fellowship of friends that I was every regularly with; the only group of people I was ever with the entire time I was away from the church.  They were my regularity.  Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings I would ride with them, and we would laugh and play and suffer together on some really great rides!  They reminded me why I liked home, and now that I am back at church, you have reminded me why I love having a church home.

I have grown in a variety of ways – in confidence, through prayer, through my own study and readings and through my trust in God.  You know so often ministry is about be busy designing opportunities and worships and other ways that you the congregation can experience the sacred, be challenged to consider your beliefs and open yourselves to the call of God.  It was really great for one summer, to be able to turn that whole responsibility around; so my sole focus was on creating ways for me to experience the sacred, to be challenged, and to open myself to God’s call and grace!

Thank you, for this wonderful moment of grace.

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