A Challenging Day

May 15, 2014

Day 3 of my journey began in the rain. Actually it began with Eddie Schieffler’s coffee. It was critical for me to get hyped up on coffee in order to set out in the rain. It was a steady rain — meaning hard rain, and it stayed with me for the entire trip to Lula, MS. As I crossed that rather narrow bridge over the Mississippi River under those conditions I found myself wondering what Sharla was thinking when she agreed to marry me.

The rain diminished on the road to Sardis, but the northerly wind picked up and the hills appeared. It was during that ride that I found a new use for the coffee from the Lula Visitor Center that I had put in my insulated water bottle — I squirted it on my cold fingers.

I was feeling good when I stopped in Sardis. I felt like I had two thirds of the days miles behind me. It was a pleasure to meet my fellow traveller, Lars from the Netherlands, who had ridden a motorcycle from Nicaragua. It was nice to spend some time visiting. That’s also where I met Metcal who worked for his nephew cleaning the convenience store. Metcal announced that he wanted a T-bone steak and a good wife. He also asked me if I could help him pay a ticket he owed in California. I declined the offer. I felt like there was a large storehouse of needs behind that one. And as I continued my ride I found myself dwelling on the difference between troubles and challenges.

My day was filled with challenges and I don’t think I could have dealt with any additional ones. But I’ll take a day full of challenges anytime instead of a bundle of troubles. I had challenges — Metcal had troubles. I have the leisure to take a challenging trip, and I feel very fortunate in that regard. If I had troubles I would be at home trying to figure out how to pay the bills or fix whatever significant life problem was defining my reality.

I’m too tired to document the challenges I faced after Sardis, and I hate that my late arrival in Oxford created anxiety in the hearts of the people I love, but I feel pretty proud of having ridden 90 miles today in the rain and wind and over hill after hill. I also feel exhausted.

I hope you find yourself dealing with more challenges than troubles!


Another Great Day!

May 14, 2014

When I woke up to see pouring rain I wasn’t so sure what to expect, but it had stopped by 10am and that’s when I was ready to leave Clarendon. The riding conditions turned out to be ideal. The clouds weren’t thick, but they were dramatic. The wind was either calm or at my back. The shoulders of the road were wide and smooth. The drivers of the cars were accommodating. It was an ideal day to be traveling on a bicycle.

It was only a 45 mile ride to get to West Helena. It was great to get to spend time with friends I made while I was the pastor of the West Helena UMC. Times are hard in Phillips Co., but there are some people doing good work. I would elaborate, but I’m exhausted and I’ve got miles to ride tomorrow.

I continue to be grateful for this opportunity to see the beauty of life on earth from one of God’s great creations — the bicycle.


A Beautiful Day!

May 13, 2014

I’m feeling like a kid on a new playground! I was accompanied from our house to the peak of the Clinton Bridge by my son, Lucas, where we enjoyed an early morning view of our fine city. I was also greeted at the Clinton Library by my friend Lynn Hamilton who wished me well.

It wasn’t an easy day, but it was a great day. The wind was wide open from out of the south and I was heading either east or south. If the wind can be compared to the spirit of God I can testify that it’s not so good to run perpendicular to it — much less against it! I hope I don’t have to meditate on that tomorrow.

Though the wind was was a problem — I enjoyed being out in it. My bicycle held up well, I encountered lovely people, and I was greeted by a small group of deer pouncing across a field and in to the bayou as I approached the old White River Bridge at Clarendon.

I may not be able to move in the morning, but I’m feeling great right now. I only have to go 45 miles tomorrow to get to Helen/West Helena where I will get to stay with friends. I’m a grateful and fortunate man!

And one more thing — congratulations to all of the same-sex couples who were able to get married today! I understand we have several newly married couples in our church and and I’m so happy about that. I look forward to the day when I can be a part of those ceremonies!


Tonight is the eve of my bicycle trip to the Atlantic. I’m accustomed to posting the text of my sermon after each Sunday, and I don’t see any reason not to go ahead and do that again this week. I enjoyed working my upcoming trip in to my sermon, and whether it had any meaning for anyone else it spoke to me. I felt great support from the congregation in preparation for my trip. The blessing of my bike and and myself was a powerful experience for me. I’m packed up and ready to leave as soon as I can get myself out of bed in the morning. I’m carrying a heavy load, but there’s nothing I have that I want to leave behind. I’m not without some pain as I prepare to leave my normal and happy life, but I’m pretty excited to have an adventure before me and I am so grateful for everyone who has enabled this to happy. I’m a grateful man.

Here’s what I had to say in my sermon this morning:

Can I Herd You Now?
Psalm 23

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

I think it’s a nice convergence for the 23rd Psalm and Mother’s day to fall on the same day. We don’t immediately think of shepherds as being women, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to think of mothers as being shepherds. Of course if you are like me you don’t ever really think about shepherds until you read something from the Bible – which is full of this shepherding language. And I think most of us have a sense of what shepherding is all about. It’s about providing for the needs of creatures who need some guidance and protection.

I’m not a big fan of these special days. I think they are largely driven by commercial interests, and I imagine Mother’s Day probably generates as much pain and suffering as it does joy and happiness – maybe even more pain and suffering than it does joy. I think it often highlights the unmet expectations of many people. I don’t think the Cleavers were ever representative of standard homelife in the United States, but there has always been a good amount of deviation from that norm, and that’s not a bad thing. I think there are a lot of people who do the work of good mothers who have never had that official title.

I was amused to discover that the original advocate for our national day set aside to celebrate mothers actually became it’s most ardent foe. Theidea of Mother’s Day was promoted by a woman named Anna Jarvis who wanted to honor the type of work her own mother did to care for her and others in such a gracious way. Her mother had cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, and Ms. Jarvis wanted Mother’s Day to be a day that brought attention to the work mother’s did to take care of people – at home and in the world. She saw it as a day to honor the work of mothers to establish strong homes, public health, and world peace.

It was declared a national day by President Woodrow Wilson in 1910, but by 1920, Ms. Jarvis sought to have it rescinded because it had become so commercialized. She crashed a candymakers convention in 1923 and two years later she was arrested at a War Mothers Convention for disturbing the peace when she tried to disrupt the selling of carnations which had become the flower of choice for Mother’s Day. She was like Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers at the Temple.

I don’t know if Ms. Jarvis was a biological mother, but in my book she was a great and powerful mother. You might say she gave birth to a beautiful baby, she had great hopes for her child, and she fought to give it a good upbringing. I don’t want to carry the metaphor too far – it might indicate that she was an advocate of infanticide, but like a good mother, she was a person who lived to nurture the right thing and she didn’t back down in the face of overwhelming forces in order to protect her young.

I think there is a tremendous connection between a shepherd and a mother. If it wouldn’t turn in to a day where we all were to eat mutton, I’d be for eliminating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and having a single day that we would call Shepherd’s Day. Because good mother’s and good fathers both do the work of good shepherds. They provide for our needs. They care for us. They protect us. They fill us with wellbeing.
I don’t guess there’s any Psalm that is more revered than this Psalm that we’ve read this morning, and it deserves the reverence it receives. It’s a beautiful expression of trust in the one who truly cares and provides for all of us. Reading this Psalm is a calming experience. I love to think of Jesus reading this Psalm, and this is a prayer that Jesus would have read. It’s a prayer that helped shape who he was. You might say he was a person who perfectly allowed God to be his shepherd, and he became the perfect lamb of God.

Jesus allowed God to lead him to green pastures and to still waters. He walked on righteous paths and through dark valleys, but he knew he was never alone. He ate in the presence of his enemies, his head was anointed with oil, his cup overflowed with his own blood, but goodness and mercy followed him all the days of his life, and he not only came to dwell in the house of the lord forever – Jesus presides over it.
I think this Psalm is a beautiful portrayal of Jesus’ life, and it can be a powerful guide for our lives as well. It’s here to remind us of who our God is, and how God can guide us. I think this Psalm contains some deeply soothing information for our highly stressed lives.

I’m not a particularly calm person. Some people mistake my slow reflexes for calmness, but that’s not the case. I’m highly reactive to situations, but I process information pretty slowly, so by the time I figure out that I need to scream everyone has left the room. So I’ve often been labelled as being laid back, but the truth is that I’m a bundle of slow moving nerves. I need to hear and absorb what this Psalm says.
I need to be reminded that I don’t just abide in a world that’s ruled by business. I need to remember that I’m not just a citizen of a nation and a state. It’s good for me to hear that I’m not just accountable to a bishop. I’m hearing this Psalm say that I’m primarily a creature with a shepherd – and it’s a good shepherd.

I’m so happy to hear this. I need to hear this. I’m not going on this trip because I know this to be true. What I know to be true is how many things I fail to get finished most days. What I know is what’s broken and how incapable I am of fixing those seemingly essential matters. What I see are the demands of this world to keep up, pay up, perform, and measure. What I want is to trust that regardless of what happens we all abide in the hands of a loving God, who leads us to green pastures and still waters.

I don’t expect to see the heavens open and the smiling face of God wink at me as I pedal eastward. I expect to be wondering what I was thinking when I decided it was a good idea to embark on this journey, but the truth is that it’s already been a good experience for me. It’s really good for me to be reminded that my little corner of the world won’t collapse when I step out of it for a few days. You wouldn’t think this would be a new concept for me, but it’s easy for me to think that I am the only shepherd, and it’s up to me to find the green pastures and still waters – to provide the comfort and to set the table. After all, it is all about me isn’t it?

Or maybe you think it’s all about you.

Actually it is all about all of us. It’s about the herd. There’s a message here for those of us who speak of the Lord as our shepherd – which is not an exclusive herd. As we say in the welcoming statement of our church, there are no inherent barriers to anyone who wishes to be a part of this herd. None of us have any idea how truly extensive this herd really is, but I don’t believe that the shepherd of this flock has much trouble finding enough green pasture to keep the herd fed. There’s plenty of food for this flock because we don’t take full advantage of those places our shepherd seeks to take us.

I’m not so pretentious to say that I’m being guided by the Lord to embark on this journey. It may well be my own egotistical longing to stand out from the herd that has propelled this undertaking, but regardless of what generated this trip I believe it will be a nourishing experience for my soul. As I mentioned earlier, it’s already been a powerful experience. I have this tremendous sense of gratitude for the permission I’ve been given to pursue this odd calling. I already feel so nourished and nurtured. I’ve had a lot of responses and they’ve all been good. I’ve been questioned, encouraged, advised, tutored and prayed over. It’s already been great – and I’m so grateful!

This church is like a good mother. And a good shepherd. It’s also like a green pasture and good water. It’s a source of comfort and protection and food and restoration. I have nothing but appreciation for what goes on here. I know there is more we can do as a church, and I trust that we can be guided and fed.

There are so many good images in this Psalm. It’s a Psalm we often turn to at critical moments in our lives. When the man who took care of my grandparents died in a tragic manner there was a meal following the funeral at one of the night clubs that Jr. was known to frequent. It was during the day, so it was empty of everyone but his family and my family and the women who prepared the meal. My mother had been involved in putting it together, so before we ate my mother got our attention and instead of saying a blessing or asking someone to say a blessing she suggested that we recite Psalm 23 together.

It seemed like a good idea. And we started strong, but we didn’t get far in to it before we got lost. We would have these uncomfortable pauses and then someone would think of another line or repeat one that we had already said. Someone finally got us going on the last line, but it was memorably awkward and funny. It somehow seemed appropriate for the occasion.

So in memory of my mother and because it’s such a beautiful statement of faith I’m going to invite us to recite Psalm 23 together. I like the way it’s translated in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible and that’s how I’m going to recite it. I’m going to step away from the microphone because I might end up leading you astray, but I sense that there are enough former Sunday School students in the room to keep it going. Please join with me – as well as you can.
The Lord is my shepherd

Pondering The Journey

May 6, 2014


This is a picture of me contemplating the bicycle trip I’m planning to embark upon next Monday morning.