Sunday, August 23, 2020

Recycling More Than Plastic

 One of the many definitions of recycle is, "to pass through a cycle again;repeat a process from the beginning." In my life, recycling has been evident whether it be beliefs, interests, lifestyle, or perspectives. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has brought back actively "minimizing" my life and footprint. I find it more than Marie Kondo's question, "Does it spark joy?" My ongoing efforts to minimize go beyond the material stuff into emotional, relational, and spiritual aspects of daily living.

Storage Units in Argusville ND
Storage Units in Argusville ND 

While some construction has slowed, I have noticed storage units being built in many locations. It appears to be a common denominator that we all have more stuff than can be stored in our homes. From personal experience, maintaining an accessible place out of the elements where things I rarely need can be securely kept is a costly proposition. So I ask myself, "Why do I need this stuff? Am I fearful that something I own is so precious that I cannot survive without it? If it is so important, why do I place it out of my reach?"

During the pandemic the new question I have learned to ask myself, "Is this necessary?" Is it necessary to go into that business or store for that item? Is it necessary to go into the convenience store when I can pay at the pump? Is it necessary to get new clothes when I rarely get into the public to work? Video conferences are not fashion statements (although the market place tells us how to decorate the walls behind us.) 

Another way I heard this question was, "Is it essential?" A great deal of energy has been expended defining what or who is an essential business or worker. I chuckled when someone (after weeks of being closed) stated that churches are essential businesses and clergy are essential workers. Is it necessary to meet in a building or be face-to-face in order for faith to be nurtured? I have come to realize that a lot of what I think about and react to is out of entrenched habits not necessity. When automatic attitudes and habits that have worked in the past are challenged, the response is often to say they are essential. 

2 sizes of winter sleds

Further pondering leads me to ask, "Am I fearful of change?" In preparing for long distance events it is said that we often "pack our fears." What happens if I run out of clean socks? What if it takes longer and I run out of food? Can I really go 3 days without brewed coffee? Then I also need enough stove fuel. What if a canister isn't full? Looking at the picture of winter sleds I can pack a lot of fears (and extra pounds) on the blue/red sled. AND that sled is made of heavier material! I speak from experience. I packed enough food for a multiple day bikepacking trip. As I was riding I ate some of the packed food. When I came into towns I bought hot foods I craved telling myself I would eat the packed food later. I carried way too much food. Most of the packed food was not necessary. I packed my fears before I honestly answered the "what if?" question.  I have never been malnourished. I have never been without clothing. I may smell, but I survived. 

What is essential? I believe the deeper question is, "Am I essential?" The world was spinning before I was born and it will keep spinning after I am dead. Those people with whom I am close, those people with whom I am in relationship will certainly survive without me. I currently have no debts nor regrets. So again I ask myself, "What fears am I packing?"

Minimizing, taking stock of what is necessary, and viewing most things in life as not essential, I believe are crucial to experiencing freedom. The "what ifs" have been foisted upon us by others for a variety of reasons most of which promote fear. The pandemic has allowed for a recycling, a time to explore and test, and for me a time to work at breaking free. My goal as I once again recycle is to gain greater freedom, tranquility, and serenity seeing each day as a gift.

You can view my YouTube channel at this link. I post new content every 2 weeks.

Friday, August 14, 2020

On-Demand Spiritual Access

For years we have been an "on-demand" culture. The concept of set days and hours for stores to be open was eclipsed by online shopping. In North Dakota physical retail could not open until noon. Legislators were afraid that no one would attend religious activities. While those beside you were singing hymns you could be placing your order online. At least you were in a church building, right? Streaming services are making "set-day set-time" network programming obsolete. I am old enough to remember my parents setting aside Saturday evening to watch Bonanza. When it moved to Sunday night so did the pattern of our family's life. They devices which make worldwide access to information and entertainment make live, in-person events less important.

A recent sample of church signboards indicate the lack of flexibility to the on-demand culture. Since COVID-19 caused in-person in-building gatherings to be suspended, a number of congregations began live streaming. Some were recorded and available online while others were set-time viewing only. Some church leaders believed that there was a set time for worship and inspiration. As more faith communities begin in-person worship the touting of "normalcy" places emphasis on live events at set days and times. Are the sanctuaries filled?  Are people cautious about gathering in groups in enclosed spaces? Are people getting what they need by viewing online? Does this "set-time set-place" continue the compartmentalizing of faith from daily activity? Do people only want or need spiritual access at certain times?
Carey Nieuwhof in an article entitled, "7 Disruptive Church Trends" lists as #7: On-Demand Access Will Eclipse Live Events. Over the years Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings were sacred days and times for Christian organizations. I grew up in, as well as worked for decades in that structure. When life (school activities, community organizations, sports, etc) began to encroach on Wednesday evenings a loud cry went up in the community. These days and times provided meaning, regularity, and mileposts for many people. However, did it serve the purpose of integrating faith and spirituality into the fabric of daily living?

As we continue to evaluate schedules, organizations, and in-person live events in light of caring for self and one another in the ongoing pandemic, I believe the on-demand integration of spirituality into daily existence will increase. This is the way it was originally intended, but perspectives change over time. The separate structures which neatly kept our lives in compartments (divided plates so the peas did not touch the gravy) are giving way to fusion (curried spaghetti and meatballs) while enhancing life and diversity. The recent coronavirus crisis did not cause this change only accelerated what was already occurring. I have been given the opportunity to sit with teenagers and adult family members in kitchen and places of work to discuss Sacred Stories intertwined with daily events. I have hiked trails and sat on camp chairs listening to and interacting with couples discussing life issues. These took place on their schedules with their particular needs and interests in mind. We could binge for a couple of days or a few weeks so that other commitments, vacations, and seasonal activities could occur without penalty for "non-attendance." This did not take away from faith integration. Instead it was a platform for blending life, spiritual enhancement, and faith.

Whether the signage catches up to the realities is not as important as being able to access the support and guidance for all of life's adventures. The training for life does not have a finish line!

I am posting video reflections on my YouTube channel every 2 weeks. These are accessible at any time. I encourage you to subscribe to those videos, as well. 


Saturday, August 8, 2020

Strength Through Brokenness


My "summer" tires were needing replacement as they had served their purpose over the past few years. A gravel riding friend (Ryan) had a set of slightly used 29"x 3" tires to sell. A great bargain was snatched. Not a week after the new rubber was mounted on the rims I developed a flat in the rear tire. My on road repair attempts proved futile. The 65 degree+ dew point and the massive swarms of bugs provided the added frustration to my attempts. I called Ryan to rescue me, but he failed to answer the phone or texts. I resorted to calling my wife. These situations only reinforce her view that I am crazy. I pushed a flat tired bike more than a mile (bugs kept pace with me) to the agreed upon pick up point. I was hot, tired, bug bitten, and broken in many ways!

Not only are bikes currently hard to find, but parts (including some tire sizes) are scarce. The replacement tire was ordered, but estimated arrival was late September. In order to keep riding I placed my 26"x 4,25" fat tires (winter use) on the bike. The second time riding these tires I was on the North Country Trail in the Sheyenne National Grasslands. I had volunteer work to perform. The bike gets that accomplished quicker. Another rear tire failure! Air pump first aid lasted about 500 metres. After three times of this, I decided to once again push my bike. No one to the rescue as my vehicle was less than 2 miles away. Within days, two rear tire failures! The bike had been a reliable and consistent part of life and activity...until now!

With the gracious help of Chris at Paramount Sports in Fargo ND, the Pugsley is back in riding form. Two new fat tires (they were in stock), new rear cassette, new chain and I am ready for riding. Back to a reliable, sturdy and invincible 2-wheeled machine. Oh, Chris also encouraged and taught me how to do more maintenance to prevent future failures. Purchasing some tools and equipment helps me realize the bike needs attention more often than I have previously provided. 

I have heard that only the proud and arrogant believe they are unbreakable. Yet the advances in technology and design seemingly make things last forever. With the LED bulbs in the lamps and fixtures I will never have to replace another bulb. Synthetic lubricants allow new vehicles to go almost 10,000 miles between oil changes. The vaccine for COVID-19 will make the pandemic cease. All of this indicates that unbreakable may be a reality.

All of this sounds accurate, but it is deceptive and ultimately not true. Nothing is unbreakable. Everything and everyone is flawed and finally breaks. Yet that is exactly where strength and resiliency begin. I cannot control tire wear, road debris, etc. I can control my reaction to the brokenness. Pushing the bike gave me plenty of time to assess my situation. It is in those times when insight is gained. The bugs were annoying and painful, but that is what bugs do. I focused on other things and kept moving. The tips and tools which Chris provided allow me to connect with and care for my bike in new ways. I will still experience brokenness on my bike no matter how much attention I give it. My response to those situations will not wield the same impact as previous ones. I will be stronger and more thoughtful in my reactions.

Nassim Taleb in his book Antifragile, says we become better because of what we go through. We become stronger in deeper ways then if we had resisted and never been broken. Those who cannot break, cannot learn.

"And we also have joy with our troubles because we know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character, and character produces hope. And this hope will never disappoint us." (Romans 5.3-5   International Children's Bible)

Strength comes through accepting and responding to our brokenness. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Taking Care of Business - My Business

A favorite location for many of my activities is the Sheyenne National Grasslands in the Leonard and McLeod, North Dakota area. Jorgens Hollow Campground makes a great place to park, organize, refuel, and relax while accessing the North Country Trail. Along with the pump for cold, fresh water, I make use of vault toilets within the primitive setting. 

As a person who often reads signs, this one made me chuckle and contemplate. I understand in a primitive "pack-it-in, pack-it-out"campground someone may want to easily and anonymously discard their garbage. Human nature is fickle in that we desire pristine beauty while believing someone else can pick up our garbage. 
What made for the contemplation is the thought of someone else removing garbage from the deep, blue pit of waste products. Why do people feel responsible to pick up the discarded garbage of others?

A fable written by the late Rabbi Edwin Friedman entitled, "The Bridge" speaks to the aforementioned reality. A person was being responsive to their new vision for life. While crossing a bridge on the way to pursue that opportunity, a passerby gave the person the end of a rope. The passerby jumped off the bridge being tied to the other end of the now taunt rope. The passerby, dangling from the rope said to the person on the bridge, "Remember, if you let go, I will be lost." Verbal exchanges continued between the two. "Why did you do this?" the person asked. The one dangling from the rope responded, "Just remember, my life is in your hands." The person on the bridge finally said, "I will not accept the position of choice for your life. You decide which way this ends." The other shrieked, "You cannot mean what you say. You would not be so selfish. I am your responsibility." You can find the conclusion to this fable by using the link above.

Questions of responsibility are cast about frequently today. The unpleasant situations of life are thrown into the hands of others. The question needs to be individually answered, "Do I want to remove someone's trash from the pit?" Do I want to create and foster dependency? Do I desire to promote that all people are able to respond to their circumstances?  What is the difference between assisting personal development and taking care of someone else's life and behaviors? Are the lives of other people in my hands?

My outlook has become focused on responding in conjunction with my core values. I am able to respond as an individual. I choose how to act. My action will not "change the world." I do not have that much power. I do believe that when individuals respond in agreement with their core values greater changes occur. The critical work for each person is the foundational work. It is discovering and living into a vision of self-empowerment which by its nature will impact our surroundings and society.

Please do not throw garbage into the blue liquid pit and expect someone else to remove it. Take care of your business!

If you want to view my video reflections, here is a link to my YouTube channel