Thursday, June 5, 2014

Every time I feel the Spirit

My brother-in-law knows how to manipulate me to make a decision. My sister and I are agonizingly slow at making up our minds, he has cleverly learned to introduce ideas to us with plenty of lead time so that we not only come around, but do so with the conviction of having thought of it ourselves.

Thus it is the more significant that for the second time in nearly 10 years, I made a snap decision without my brother-in-law's help (with relatively little uncertainty, though much trepidation) to do something uncharacteristic – that is, drop everything and go overseas.

When I saw an appeal for participants to join MB Mission’s ACTION France team, something in me rose up and said, “let’s do it!”

Those foreign forays represent two of a small handful of instances when I felt an immediate and clear sense of the Spirit’s prompting. So I’m going to France. For 5 weeks (July 5–August 9). On a French-language summer discipleship program in conjunction with Alsatian Mennonite churches.

As I prepare to go, I am reminded of a conversation I had with one mission worker I was  interviewing. He said he values prayer so highly that he would tell his supporters he didn’t care much whether or not they gave him money; what he really desired was their prayers. His entire family of multigenerational mission workers wove their conviction of the comfort, encouragement and catalyst of prayer into their conversations with me.

Their example prompts me to consider that preparation – physical, emotional, and financial – must also be spiritual, and that I must not go alone.

The program is 100% in French, a language in which I am nowhere near 100% fluent. I’m in a different demographic than most of the other participants (who will more closely resemble the young student short-termer type), so I’ll be expected to take leadership and model maturity. (And they want me to drive a car!) Frankly, I’m not philosophically convinced of the value of everything we’re going to be asked to do. Finally, there’s community – that value I espouse so highly while living alone and directing my affairs with almost total autonomy – which will surround me with five weeks of blessings and trials. Yes, there will be challenges.

So I ask for your prayers that I may turn to the Source of grace and love to find the strength to scale obstacle after setback after discomfort after mistake – and that’s just orientation week!

I ask for your prayers that I might open my heart and mind enough to learn about God, people and myself as I’m plunged into a new context with new people and a new culture.

I ask for your prayers that I might also be a blessing to those I encounter, and a mirror to reflect the glory back to God.

It's going to be a summer of learning!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bicycle poetry

There was an irritating wobble in my pedal.
Then a wobble and a catch.
Then a wobble and a catch and a clunk from the crank arm hitting my kick stand.
Then the crank arm fell off with a clatter.

...good thing I was on a deserted street less than a block from home.


This little anecdote actually dates from early winter, before the snow fell, in the first days of riding my winter bike for the season -- I just didn't want to lose it in the backposts of my Facebook.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Singleness recut

Continuing to be the poster-child for singles in Mennonite churches, I was invited to share my testimony at a local congregation as the pastor preached through 1 Corinthians 7. Below is my script, mainly recut from earlier versions.

British author Rudyard Kipling tells a story about how several of the wild animals become tame. The dog and the horse are lured out of their wild-ness by promises of food and companionship but the cat stays aloof, declaring, “I am the cat that walks by herself and all places are alike to me.”

I’ve always identified with that cat. I’m independent – I can recaulk my bathtub by myself, navigate a strange city alone, and make my own schedule. I’m single – I’m don’t have a husband or boyfriend or children to come with me or ask me to go there. “I am the cat that walks by herself and all places are alike to me.”

As the demographic of single adults becomes an increasing part of Canadian population, I suspect there are many others who feel the same.

The line is ironic, however. First the dog, then the horse, then the cow approach the man and the woman, receiving acceptance and care, and finding a way to share their gifts for the benefit of the household. Despite the cat’s claims of independence, she keeps going back to where the others are. She doesn’t want to be left out, so she schemes to secure a place for herself by the fire. Whether she’s willing to admit it, she needs these friends.

As a single person, I need community.

I believe God had given each of us a purpose and place to accomplish it – and people to live it out with. Whether we are married or single, we need the church to model what holiness looks like, and to remind us of what our true calling and identity really is.

The commission Jesus gave to his followers before he left earth was not to settle into families in safe neighbourhoods, but to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). The apostle Paul tells his readers that we are co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:15), and co-workers for God (Ephesians 2:10). In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul’s commentary on marriage and singleness culminates with the instruction for each person to “lead the life the Lord has assigned” – regardless of marital status.

And so I read that the gospel has no special provisions for married people; we’re all grafted through salvation, adopted precious children of the Father, and we’re all called to participate in that family.

And that family of the church is called to be different. The stories we consume through television and movies are preoccupied with finding “the one” true love, and achieving personal happiness.

But holy living that follows Jesus looks different. Whether we’re married or single, followers of Christ make their lives about more than themselves. By teaching us to respect ourselves and others as beloved of God with a purpose to fulfill, the church can equip its people to withstand the temptations to take without giving, exert power instead of grace, and put our desires above God’s calling.

We conform to Jesus’ different pattern by shifting the focus off ourselves and what we want, and onto God and his purposes.

In Romans, right after Paul instructs his readers in holiness, he gives a picture of the church – the body of Christ. This picture is of an interdependent aggregation of parts. As members of one body, we have different gifts; married or single, none are complete on our own, yet it is the body, not a partner, that makes a whole.

As Paul points out, a single life may offer more opportunities to minister: my time isn’t constrained by a husband’s meetings nor a busy schedule of children’s extracurricular activities; I can pour myself into many activities, and make sudden decisions. But who will be my discerning community as I make those decisions? Who’s around to provide a listening ear at the end of the day? Who will remind me to consider needs beyond my own and be part of family lives – both modelling and learning about what it looks like to follow Jesus?

As a single adult, I need the church to be the covenant community promised in the MB Confession of Faith: “[members who] love, care, and pray for each other, share each others’ joys and burdens, admonish and correct each other.”

Will you remind the cats in your community that we don’t walk alone, and encourage us to come in by the fire, to help purr the baby to sleep, to catch the mice, to be part of the family – to follow Jesus together?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Many woes from one stem

Well, that was a day!

If it had been any other morning, an unexpected omission with my transportation wouldn't have been of much account, but this morning, I was supposed to be at a meeting in NK at 9 a.m. So I displeased (and flabbergasted) to discover my stem missing when I went to unlock my bike this morning.
It's a tad difficult to ride like this.

I rushed upstairs to my winter bike, hoping, after a conversation with a bike-riding (and bike-fixing) coworker, that a simple application of grease would partially address the problem that caused me to park the steed. After some lubrication, the chain was sagging like a plumber's pants and I realized the pushing and pulling in my drive chain was caused by the slack catching up with a start. In the drizzly back alley, I finally realized my rear derailleurs were at fault for shifting forward, got my fingers good and greasy fiddling with the chain, and, after a few false starts up and down the street second-guessing whether continuing or throwing in the towel was a better idea, I was on my way, albeit cautiously and slowly. I was spinning like crazy in a low gear but afraid to change anything for fear of causing chain sag again.

All things considered, it's not too bad that I arrived only 24 minutes late. If you walked into your garage and found a wheel missing from you car, would you still manage to get where you need to go within half an hour of the proper arrival time?

The bike shop was encouraging on the phone about the possibility of a same-day fix if I got it there by 6, but they made no promises, so I left quickly after the meeting wrapped. Sailing along Gateway, I dared to switch gears but a big bump on Watt set the chain off again. Repeatedly, nothing appeared wrong when I dismounted, but it still caught every time I tried to pedal, so I walked it over the Louise Bridge, muttering and grumbling. There was also some yelling and kicking before I realized playing with the gears might help. I finally got things working to a modicum of satisfaction as I bumped along the treacherous sidewalk on Higgins (still safer than the road, especially with the occasional unexpected jerk nearly throwing my feet from the pedals).

Did I mention it was raining all this time? And the zipper on my pod also chose that morning to break completely, so my purse was hanging open to the elements on my back.

My mood did not improve with the discovery that the removal of handlebars changes the stability of the front wheel and the absence of a stem means there's nothing to keep the fork in place. I dropped a bunch of bearings several times and abandoned one plastic shim in a puddle over the course of my 2 km walk to the bike shop, as I alternated between awkwardly steering one-handed by the frame, and hosting frame in one hand with front wheel in the other.

To top it off, it was snowing by the time I emerged from Natural with a new, differently configured stem. My slightly more upright posture wasn't the best match for the snowflakes pelting my face and eyes, and the dropping temperature chilled me under a sodden jacket and sopping filthy gloves.

The happy ending to this story is that the super (whom I dreaded calling to apprise of the theft, in case records are kept) happened to knock on my door about a water problem in the building (and was suitably shocked and dismayed at my loss) so I avoided a dreaded, awkward phone call.

Let's just hope my bike is still all there tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The switchover

That I was blogging through April last year is quite helpful to gauge expectations and precedent for bikeable weather this year. Thus, this seems a good place to note for future reference that I took out my 3-season bike on Thursday, April 17.

I'd dropped it off at Natural Cycle for a tune-up at the end of March, so it was ready Apr. 1 already, but, the roads still having some slippery spots and a whole lot of gravel, I decided to stay on the winter bike a while longer to spare my lovely from the worst wet and grit. Then it was hard to gauge when would be an appropriate time to make the switch.

In the end, my bike made the decision for me.

A month before, I'd had a bizarre incident with my drive train where my chain was tugging and pulling and catching and simply feeling wretched. With no measures to fix it, the problem disappeared.

A few days before the fateful Wednesday, I'd been feeling some wonkiness in the drive train but it felt like my right pedal -- which had me worried I'd face another incident of my crank arm (the other side this time) falling off mid-stroke. Instead, Wednesday, I was afflicted by that nasty pulling and catching sensation from my chain. It was irritating on the way to work, so I leaned down and knocked some chunks of the considerable gunk off the cogs in my derailleurs but it was even worse on the way home, to the point where it felt like the chain had actually slipped off the gears.

I promptly parked the bike when I got home, switched over my lock, and it was blue sky from then on.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Angles

Once again, some advocacy group has declared April "Bike Every Day" month, a group that obviously doesn't live in Manitoba where fair weather bike riders only begin to think of hauling the two-wheeled conveyance out of the shop part-way through the month.

So numbers for Bike Winnipeg's annual spring bike count were pretty low this sunny but brisk morning.

I learned something, though, and not about the demographics of Winnipeg's active transportation participants.

I found myself tensing up when an approaching person's appearance suggested a life on the street. Thoughts like, "I wonder what it's like to get mugged" reared their ugly head, and, selfishly, "how will I extricate myself from some awkward conversation with someone who may not be fully in possession of all mental faculties?"

On average, these persons of whom I tended to be apprehensive were the friendliest passersby of the morning.

Given my previous post on how I see my choice to cycle as a giving up of privilege, I was struck to my core when the talkative member of a large group of rougher looking pedestrians asked what I was doing. "Counting bicycles," I said. "I wish I had a bicycle -- then you could count me!" he said with a good-natured laugh.

Even in my chosen simplicity, I am drenched in privilege.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Suffering

Horse and buggy Mennonites don't love horses, says Mennonite historian Royden Loewen; it's suffering.

I suspect it's not that they don't like their horses, nor that they don't find some parts of the horse-dependent existence enjoyable, even preferable to mainstream society's ways, but it's not some horse crazy notion that leads them to that choice.

They're under no illusion that their simple life is necessarily easier. It would be more comfortable to have cars. It would be more comfortable to have electricity.

But at what cost? It's not financial cost at issue, but the cost to souls. It's hard to be mindful when life is easy. It's easy to become independent and preoccupied with leisure. It's hard to keep God in his place and us in ours.

Suffering -- no, not a mortal suffering, not the pain of broken relationships, nor a masochistic infliction, but a choice to do things the hard way for the greater good -- that's the saving grace of the horse. The extra effort reminds you of your physical fitness to exert it and the gratefulness that is due. The slower pace means you can take time to see and be in your environment. The vulnerability to the elements puts the universe and our ultimate reliance on the creator in perspective.

Is it pompous to say that through my biking I can relate with this perspective?