Paul Turner, author of “The Slice” column in the Spokesman-Review was one of the speakers at this year's “Bike to Work Week” kickoff breakfast. Barb Chamberlain, the organizer of the event, asked him to ride for a week last year and write about it in his column. It was a big gamble, Barb said in her introduction of Paul, because she knew if it was a good experience for him he would write glowing things about biking in Spokane. But if it wasn't...we'll, you've read “The Slice.”
Paul took Barb's challenge, figuring even if he hated biking to work, he'd at least have a good weeks worth of sarcastic comments for his column. But instead, Paul found he actually enjoyed biking to work—and kept it up even after Bike to Work Week was over. And so he was back this year, encouraging all of us at this breakfast event to be, in his words, “bike evangelists” and spread the news about commuting by bike in Spokane.
This call to be “bike evangelists” struck me as funny, because I was standing there wearing what I had been calling my “bike evangelist” outfit—which is really just my regular bike gear with a black clergy shirt and white tab collar. I felt amazingly out of place in that outfit standing in Riverfront Park at 8am—even more so than I had felt wearing that same outfit in the pulpit at Bethlehem the day before. In our culture you aren't supposed to mix things like religion with ordinary things like riding bikes, or commuting, or eating pancakes in Riverfront Park. Religion is meant to be private, practiced in sanctuaries filled with like-minded people, or in the privacy of your own home. These are two separate realms and you aren't supposed to mix them.
But its not so easy for me to separate these two, because riding my bike (to work or otherwise) is a deeply spiritual experience for me. First, it causes me to slow down. When I don't have my car, I can no longer pack in appointment after appointment across town, counting on zipping from place to place with only a few minutes to spare. I've got to plan, be deliberate, make use of the time and energy God has given me to do what is most needful. Secondly, time on a bike is time with God, experiencing the amazing beauty of God's creation—seeing, hearing, and smelling all those things we miss when we travel at 70 miles an hour. On a bike you feel part of it all—sun, wind, even rain—and it is so much easier for me to see God at work in the world. And third, I find time on the bike to be perfect for prayer. As I pedal down the road or trail my mind and body are occupied just enough that I can find that focused place where distractions are a little bit less, and where I can connect in prayer to God. Or I'll take the scriptures assigned for Sunday and roll them over again and again in my mind—and find a sermon beginning to take shape. There's just no way to separate bike riding and religion for me.
And so I find myself a “bike evangelist.” A pastor wearing a bike costume on Sunday and a bike rider wearing a pastor costume on Monday. And as such, I don't really fit into either world entirely. I want my church friends to know and experience the joy of riding a bike to work (and everywhere else) and I want my bike riding friends to know and experience the joy of a life lived in a community centered in Jesus Christ. And I must admit, it's easier to say to someone “come ride with me” than it is to say “come follow Jesus with me.”
As Christians we do live in two worlds; like dual citizens we live both in the “kingdom of God” and in the “kingdom of the world.” And we really don't fit entirely into either. As dwellers of God's kingdom we get caught up in the cares of the world and forget to trust in God alone. As dwellers of the kingdom of the world we never can quite believe that things are only as they seem for we trust in God's promises. And God calls and sends us as witnesses into the world, bearing Christ in word and deed to a world that longs to experience him. We are all meant to be evangelists, wearing our world costumes in church and our church costumes in the world—blurring the line between the so-called holy and ordinary places and reclaiming the entire world as loved by God. And we're meant to be so caught up in the joy of life in Jesus that we can't help but invite others to come along.
What excites you the way riding a bike excites me? What brings you so much joy that you can't help but want others to be a part of it too? My guess is, for most of us, following Jesus or participating in church doesn't make it high on that list. Why not? What keeps us from saying “I've experienced great joy as a follower of Jesus, come with me so that you can experience this too”? What do we need to change about our life together, or our worship, or our service to others that would get you excited enough, energized enough, caught up in the joy of God enough to say “I want everyone I know to experience this!”?
Bike to Work Week Spokane grew from an expected 200 participants last year to over 1500 this year—and pretty much all because of “bike evangelists,” people who love to ride their bikes to work getting out and spreading the word. And while I know the term “evangelist” brings up images of bullhorns and bullying—no one was forced, no one was tricked, no one was bullied by these “bike evangelists.” We simply shared our story and our love of biking and encouraged others to come along with us and experience it for themselves. Come and see, come follow me, you just might find joy here too. That's what evangelism—sharing the Good News—is all about.