Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Jim Henderson and Matt Casper, a pentecostal minister and copy-writing atheist respectively, visit 12 churches in about 2 months to get an outsider's view of church events. Jim serves as Matt's guide through a broad yet unrepresentative collection of “evangelical1” churches. Matt's insights move from the petty to the incisive as a thoughtful atheist shares his piece. Jim endeavors to remain objective and is largely successful, however he does let his slip show in the selection of churches as well as his comments regarding certain theological issues, ministry practices, and in the case of the pentecostal churches they visit - everything, as he openly admits in a “warning: loss of objectivity” tag. The book lives up to its goal in that it provides a platform for an outside voice to give honest critique of church activities and a frank dialogue to be carried out on paper.
The main critique of the book is in the premise motivating the venture. This premise can be illustrated by the answer to the following question: For whom is the Sunday morning church service? There are at least two answers, perhaps more, but in the main one can answer: for Christians; otherwise one could answer: for everybody (and anybody) who would like to come. The authors/publishers are of the latter persuasion while this reviewer is of the former. While Henderson does begin to address this in his epilogue, by then 150+ pages have been written on the observations of the pair critiquing church services. Consider if one were to take an aspiring bow-hunter to an ice-cream making seminar. Obviously the two subjects do not necessarily overlap and should the bow-hunter object to the befouling of his scent with sugar and eggs and the like, we are not likely to change the recipe for ice cream because of his concerns – valid as they may be for bow hunting deer. The absurdity of this scenario is present for the 'church is for christians crowd' in this text.
If one were to admit that the primary purpose of a church service is not the assimilation of outsiders into the community, but for the building up, training, and encouraging of the members, than many of the critiques of the book ring hollow as they are out of context. The surprising thing about the dialogue is that as Casper finds so many elements foreign to himself, one is left wondering why he does not explicitly say - “Oh, yeah, that's because I don't belong here.” Perhaps this sounds unduly harsh but while he should not be discriminated against while entering these church meetings, he should feel the part of the alien as these churches are groups of people (supposedly) united by belief and experience of which he shares neither. There are a few moments in the book where this realization comes to the fore but mainly in a small “house church” (a gathering of 15 people in a house to “do church”) in San Diego. Ironically this is his home town and he is personal friends with many of the people in attendance. Quite the scene for dissociation.
Furthermore, if one were to admit that the church service is intended for Christians, not the general public, the sermon takes on a different role. Throughout the book, the reader is left wondering – What is the purpose of the sermon? With so much emphasis built into the order of worship (which was startlingly consistent between the spectrum of churches visited) with the sermon the supposed climax, to what end are those words spoken? Many of the comments in the text focused on the presentation, emotional manipulation, ethical dilemmas, and biblical references of these sermons. Little thought is given to the purpose of them until Henderson's epilogue. In one instance, at “The Bridge” in Portland, OR – the church mentioned that this reviewer is most eager to visit after reading the book, the “sermon” was given in such a way as to allow continued conversation and interaction in and with the congregation, such that 'dialogue' rather than 'monologue' would be the best description. The crux of the matter regarding sermons does come in Henderson's epilogue when he says:
“...my basic question for pastors and Christians of all kinds: Are we in the preaching business or the people-changing business?”
Sadly, Henderson does not realize the false dichotomy he presents, and although he has served in “ministry” for three decades, does not understand the fundamental means of ministry to God's people – the preaching of the Gospel. His statement above offers that preaching and “changing people” (presumably for the better) are two different things. Perhaps they overlap but not necessarily or directly. But one must ask: How shall I change people? If people need changing, which must be an assumption of Henderson, how can I or anyone else change them? Perhaps one could coerce them through fear, bribery, intimidation, etc? Obviously that would not produce the changes desired – to love God and neighbor, seeking first God's Kingdom. But this desired end requires a change of the heart, of the inner motivations of a person, and who can change the desires of a persons heart? Clearly applying some law or social code external to people will not change them. Neither will teaching, as educated sinners will emerge from ignorant sinners. Henderson believes that by serving people the experience of being loved will change them to follow Jesus. While this is half true it suffers as the sole means of ministry. While Jesus did serve those around him, he also preached2, which is something Henderson specifically misses3. Have they not read what Paul wrote in Romans 1:16-17?
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith.”
Surely both serving others and preaching this life changing Gospel is necessary in the ministry of the Church? Surely a maturation of perspective is allowed in 2000 years since Christ, whereby culturally specific forms may be employed – just as they were employed then? It is here, puzzling over the usefulness of the endeavor that Henderson and Casper leave this reviewer. Perhaps that was part of the point.
Riveting, necessary, and incisive are all words that could qualify Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, and yet fall short of this superb work.
Neil Postman's thesis is that the medium of communication enables and constrains the message it carries, so much so that one could say “the medium is the message.” Postman examines how information and meaning are conveyed, received, and understood via different forms of media and reviews a history of typographic, telegraphic, photographic, and videographic media. Within each medium he surveys the status of public discourse and describes its strengths and weaknesses, clearly favoring the “Age of Typography” and the necessary life of the mind with its rigorous rationality. The emphasis of the text is as the subtitle suggests on “public discourse in the age of show business,” where the groundwork of the epistemology of print in the early chapters exposes the banal amusements of television. Postman shows how the television is the ultimate expression of the tripartite sins of telegraphy - the irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence of information and their associated thoughts – and thus the natural end of the design of the medium is solely entertainment. The sinister turn is that the medium itself is inherently trivializing yet enticing – who would turn away endless or limitless pleasure? So much is this threat present that all forms of serious and important matter in society have been trivialized by television (Postman provides examples from politics, law, education, and religion to name a few,) as the whole of the culture is subsumed in the mire of thoughtless (dis-)engagement. It is from this precipice of unconscious cerebral death through entertainment that Postman hopes to retrieve us. Tragically, the only restoration apparent to him is through the system of education which is already embracing this cancer as of the 1980's, and in this reviewer's time has accepted it whole hog.
The power of Postman's work in “pulling back the curtain,” as it were, on our culture is almost too much to move beyond. For the reviewer's generation, the obvious analogue is found (shamefully) in the film: The Matrix. Wherein the main character is shown that his entire experience has been contrived and that reality, as it actually exists is something quite different from his current understanding of the world due to some technology (seemingly) beyond his control.
This example highlights how the book is valuable for the student of culture and the student of communicating cross-culturally. First, as an examination of American culture at different moments, under varying dominant media, one can see how cultures operate in the marketplace of ideas. The implications of different media are explored and the reader is opened to the possibility of such examinations being applicable to other aspects of culture. The second immediate value for students of culture was alluded to above, but explicitly is that: Americans are confronted with American culture. This occasion of a critical view of one's own culture provides one a necessary step towards understanding that everyone, everywhere, is enculturated. Everyone is both empowered and encumbered by their own individual and community experience thus affecting how they perceive truth: both in physical and spiritual reality. Here the body blow is felt that television shapes our understanding of the world, and once confronted with this reality, one can begin to think critically about what shapes reality in adjacent cultures.
A possible critique of Postman's work is that it prizes the relics of the modernist era neglecting future advancement of human thought and work. Postman's prize is rationality as expressed in the age of typography, whereas postmoderns find this intellectual utopia inadequate.
Friday, August 28, 2009
So, onward to Amusing Ourselves to Death. I am one of those crazy people who – gasp – doesn’t own a TV, so I am liable to get uppity and puff my chest out with some “yeah, uh-huh, see I told you so” shenanigans at the moment. However, I rent DVDs just like everyone else and while I’d like to ride my high horse, I am very much a child of my culture and time. I function in the age of diminished public discourse and thought that the rest of us operate in – sucked into the mind-numbing vortex of the soul killing ether that is Jerry Springer and @lancearmstrong, etc. Hey, what have they done with the King of Pop, anyway?
Here’s a quote from Postman to give you an idea of his first chapter and what intellectual terrain I’m treading:
“…the media of communication available to a culture are a dominant influence on the formation of the culture’s intellectual and social preoccupations.”
Communication, culture, worldview, and more...stay tuned. Oh wait, er, stay subscribed…?
Thursday, August 27, 2009
On the end of the cycling calendar is both happiness and disappointment. I won the last race I entered and held very good form, in fact I have been in the best shape of my life for cycling. However the disappointment comes in the fact that I will not be racing for a state championship in my catagory as soccer coaching responsibilities will keep me busy on race day. As a result I haven't been going on training rides or racing, but just commuting and playing soccer. Perhaps I'll get a few cross races in after soccer season?
New to the blog will be a series of articles for my UTS class this fall, ministry and evangelism in cultural context, or something like that. I'll be reviewing 4-5 books as well as posting some writing assignments from class (reaction pieces to articles, etc.) So the blog should ramp up with a new post every week or so. Currently I'm reading Jim and Casper Go to Church and should be done by the end of the day. Look for a review by the end of the weekend. If you are interested in this book, I purchased it for the class so I'd be happy to lend it to you starting next week...let me know!
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Cat 4 Crit (IL State Crit Championships), 45 min + 3. 4th/40?
This was a really tough race. The field and conditions colluded to ensure that whoever emerged state champ had earned it. I’ve always been contented with my results knowing that I left it all out there, or made mistakes that I would avoid next time – but yesterday hurt watching the podium. I clapped for the guy, he (and his team), had earned it. But I felt the want for that jersey.
What conditions made it so tough? The wind was the main factor, while the sun and heat were secondary. I don’t race well in the heat, I don’t know that my body responds so well to it (perhaps I need more race intensity training in it?) but during the race I used a water bottle to spray my chest and back to cool off. I think it mitigated the heat rather well. The wind, however, could not be obliged with an extra bidon. You know it’s a stiff wind when the little cycling cap brim is folded over after turning a corner! I don’t know that I’ve had that happen before, even in all my riding around Chamflat county. The downtown Peoria buildings created channels for the wind to whip through in a fierce way. The back stretch of the course was the worst as we had a stiff headwind in the main, yet gaps in the buildings introduced instantaneous side drafts. Hardmen would jump around the corner into the wind and the pack was usually strung out there; snaking about to avoid pavement cracks as we recoiled from the blows of the wind. This was a massive departure from last year in the 5’s where the field would be contented to settle down during this stretch. Not so in the 4’s. Full speed ahead!
My thanks go out to my teammates during this race, as they worked at the front for me in the closing laps. With 2 to go (usually the fastest part of the race), Luke went to the front with Tom on his wheel and drilled it for the entire lap to try and bring two xXx racers back (they stayed away to go 1-2!). His monster pull did string the field out and protected me in the top 10, but couldn’t bring back the escapees. After he and Tom pulled, nobody else came to the front to chase (on behalf of themselves or a teammate) during the final lap so we slowed and the “swarm” came. Losing several positions into the last pair of turns to the swarm was not my idea of a good sprint setup. Oh well. I know it’s coming and so I will be better prepared next time. At that point (last lap, 200 meters to go) it was time to go all in. I went and nabbed fourth. I would really like to see some pictures or video, but it would probably only feed my (already stuffed) ego.
Two quick things for my competitors (who probably won’t read this, but I should write it anyway). First, to the dude I (likely) spat on during the second half of the race, sorry man. I raised my hand to acknowledge my fault, but I never did get a look at you so I couldn’t help you towel off afterwards. Note to self: spit downwards if you have to, don’t spit “out!” Second, to the rider at the start with me, you may have thought my teammate’s pre-race breakaway scheming was in poor taste, but be a decent fellow and just say “you can’t plan it dude” or something. Nobody needs the cocky wayne’s world “sha-ah” eye roll. Really. In so doing you prove yourself as lame as the guy you look down on.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Evaluating tradeoffs are often difficult. Is this performance worth that cost? Is that weight suitable in this usage with this power? They can be fun studies, but sometimes you make the wrong decision. The Canari cycling tights are the wrong decision. There is no reason to buy these tights. You may only have $30 in the budget for some tights, but friend, spend $10 on embrocation, $20 on knee warmers, and save up until you have $60 or more, cuz the Canari’s aren’t going to cut it.
This morning’s commute required something more than shorts due to the light rain and temps in the mid 50’s. I elected the canari tights from the closet – big mistake. Here are some of the features that endear these babies to me:
· Ankle Elastic: they come with ankle elastic, and if you’ve got kankles, they’ll probably fit you. I have rather slender ankles (a girl in my club said my legs were “skinny” – not necessarily a complement to a cyclist…), and so they flap in the wind when they should be tight.
· Chamois Pad: they do come with a shammy. Unfortunately for me, I do not have a ghetto booty. Why would one need a ghetto booty? The chamois is positioned such that for the sit-bones to be supported by its cushion, it must be rotated from its normal resting position back (about an axis that runs through your pelvis horizontally). So I am hypothesizing that if my ass was 2 to 4 times its current (already generous) size, the chamois would potentially be stretched into place. I will say that it provides plenty of padding in the front of the crotch region but: A) I try not to sit on those parts – I suggest you avoid it too and B) I don’t do crotch-smashing-top-tube fixie skids in these tights…I save those for the women’s jeans. ;) So basically the chamois pad is completely worthless beyond making this grown man look like he’s wearing a diaper when I waddle by in my cycling shoes.
· Lycra/Spandex/Stretchy Material: they are constructed from this material. Like the other product I’m hoping to review soon (Nashbar Performance Bib Shorts), this material falls into that half-assed middle ground of low-grade cycling clothing: too tight to be socially acceptable and too loose to be comfortable for cycling. You know what I’m talking about, when shorts or tights fit tight, they are comfy to ride in and provide some compression for those massive leg muscles you enjoy flexing in the mirror. When the fabric is too loose it’ just… gross. To the outsider it may look the same but for the practitioner, it sucks.
So, like I said, save your money or better yet, inherit a small fortune so you can afford some Assos or Rapha tights. And when you try something like Canari’s on at the store with your underpants still on, pay closer attention to the chamois location! Sheesh Frenchy. Oh, and in case you were wondering, I have ridden them more than once (or thrice for that matter) so I don’t think I’m “taking it out” on my pants for an uncomfortable commute. And besides, the commute was rather nice this morning.
It's a rainy day today, but I wasn't as down about it as usual. Instead of rain keeping the girl and I indoors (read "no park, slides or swings"), it now gives the opportunity for her to wear her ladybug raingear. We went out to lunch on the local campus with her in this garb, and judging by the number of comments she received, I'm not the only one who thinks she is cute in it. Hope you enjoy, too. PS She serenaded me with her own version of "Rain rain go away" and it was all captured on video. Available for your viewing upon request. : )
Monday, June 1, 2009
The last time I watched the film was in the fall of 2000 (- it might have been spring 2001) as a freshman at Purdue. That feels like a lifetime ago – almost 9 years now – and I am certainly a different person sitting on the couch taking it in. Back then the “post-consumerism” appealed to me, as well as the uniting of diverse men for a common cause. Perhaps this is something built into all men, not a mob mentality (though it could quickly become that), but a desire to be part of something bigger, greater, and beyond ourselves.
Yesterday the film struck me by its honest critique of consumerism. The stinging lines (“white collar slaves”, “the things you own end up owning you”, “what kind of furniture defines me as a person?”, “I was almost complete (as a person by having a this wardrobe and those furnishings)”, “you die a little every minute” or something like that…) ring true in our culture, and as we all probably know - it is quite easy to get caught in a cycle of seeking fulfillment in stuff.
A fascinating thing about leaving consumerism is that it isn’t as simple as having some oddly clothed street fighter shout at you to “snap out of it.” In the film the clubbers participate in fights as a form of release from their monotonous soul suffocating jobs (whether waiting tables or in the other modern serfdom: the cubicle). The challenge, pleasure, and pain (in large doses) are all more real than their “real lives,” dominated by custom and societal expectations. The link between the consumerist, facile, and self-obsessed culture (“self improvement is masturbation”) and the 8-5 set is implicit in the film. The modern cycle of work-stress-buy to manage ourselves is not explicitly named but is conspicuous by its absence when the men depart from society and enter the monastic paper company/project mayhem. Thus the fight clubs provide the outlet the men need from the chains of everyday life. As Jack floats among terminal illness support groups for self-coddling early in the film, Fight Club takes over as the film progresses. There is a shared experience in the community that is more powerful and compelling than that of society which is the platform for their freedom.
The value of human life was affirmed in the film (no, really!). The repeated (seeming) carelessness of several characters (Marla’s walking indiscriminately through traffic, Tyler’s car crash, the “human sacrifices”, even Jack’s discharging a pistol in his mouth-!) all underscore the value of life by taking it seriously and living “the way I ought to” rather than “waiting” for tomorrow to start “really living”. The “Carpe Diem” ethos is based on the seriousness of death and the fundamental goodness of life. Ironically, in the film as in life, getting past the fears of failure, pain, the opinions of others, and death are all prerequisite to living fully and freely (as an adult). These elements reminded me of Jonathan Edwards’ famed resolutions (while redundant at times, worth the time).
The life of the mind is quite deceptive and the difference between perception and reality is brought to the fore by Jack’s schizophrenia. Shel’s reaction to it after the film was: “That makes me overwhelmingly sad for schizophrenics.” My response: “But they live such interesting lives.” Oh well.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Coworker: I’m interested in riding my bike more for fitness and fun, but my junky old huffy isn’t enough for me, what kind of bike would you recommend?
Me: Wow, that’s great! [I now bloviate for 10 minutes on the spectrum of options from MTB, through Hybrid and Cyclocross, to Road – taking care to enumerate the “catch-all” benefits of Cyclocross bikes and make effective use of the whiteboard.]
Coworker: I’m not interested in spending that much money.
Me: Then you’re going to be looking at something used or just MTBs and Hybrids. You should also add about $200 to your estimate for accessories, the bare minimum of which would include a frame pump, multi-tool, spare tube, tire levers, and a patch kit. You’d hate to get stranded without ‘em!
Coworker: I don’t think any of that stuff is necessary. I live out in the country and I won’t get any flats. In fact, growing up I can only remember getting 2 flats in like, 11 years. So I don’t need that stuff.
Me: [Hiding shock as just this spring I ran over some unseen metal shard on a country road 20 miles from nowhere that cut a 1 inch gash into my brand new “iron cloaked” super tires.] Well, I don’t ride without those items. Oh, and you’ll also need to get a helmet. Your brain is worth it.
Coworker: I don’t think I need a helmet. Like I said, I’ll be riding in the country out by my house. When I was a kid I only crashed once – the time I was drinking a coke with my left hand and steering my bike with my right hand ON THE LEFT GRIP and I got a little mixed up and [makes crash sound]. I don’t think I hit my head either! Now, maybe if I rode in town like you I’d get one.
Me: [Hiding shock at complete foolishness of this person, since country roads and speeds can be just as dangerous as city riding.] Well, my conscience is clear for warning you. Anyway, I would go by Shop A and check out the bikes they have in your price range. I utilize their services frequently and their prices are competitive. I would avoid Shop B since they price gouge and aren’t very helpful from my experience with them. Regardless of where you go, test ride all the bikes you’d even think of considering so you can feel the difference between bikes to inform your decision.
I’m learning when to tell people off. I mean, seriously, did I have a sign on my forehead that said: “I don’t know jack about bikes!”?
Monday, May 25, 2009
An interesting bond between the films (as amusing and wonderful though the cinematography may be) was Bill Murray. Murray plays a similar self-obsessed, take interest in a protoge, pining for a woman he doesn't have, character in both films. So, marvel of self analysis that I am: he plays a common man. Both characters have been on the good end of good luck in their respect environments (Zissou to marry into money, Blume to have a great business) and are something of a showman. Is this Murray, Anderson, or the common man? I'm not sure. Anderson takes advantage of Murray's “straight man” delivery and common (American) man gut to great comedic effect in both films.
The more curious link in plots was Jacques Yves Cousteau. Aquatic's satire was aimed squarely at Cousteau from le commencent a la fin, and I assume the episodic titles were in the style of Couseau's tv/movies – I can't say as I've never seen them(!). The European feel of the film from the italian opening and international crew of the Belefontaine to the poppy euro techno (which I'm tempted to grab on itunes) further emphasized Cousteau as the subject. While that is all obvious and good, the central role of Cousteau in Rushmore is fascinating. Miss Cross, teacher Max Fischer (Schwartzman) with whom he “falls in love ”, left a Cousteau quote in the margins of a Cousteau book which Fischer stumbles upon in the midst of a personal crisis. The text is "When one man, for whatever reason, has an opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself." That is, if you're awesome, you owe it to everyone else to share yourself. Anderson's m.o.?
Regardless, if you review films 5+ years after they come out, you feel like the first to see these things. :)
Thursday, May 21, 2009
The Where: Judea after coming down from Galilee (Mat. 19:1-2)
The Who: children; they are described as little, and some of them are infants (Luke 18:15). Obviously parents are involved. Jesus had been healing many people, so perhaps these are sick children or children with disabilities.
While at Eagle Lake Camp this verse came to mind and I've thought about it for some since. I started thinking about how it applied to camp, as a place where children "came to Jesus." The *command* "do not hinder them" struck me as there is much that can be done to hinder children from coming to Jesus. Whether this is explicit (like the disciples) or a little more implicit (neglecting duties as a counselor, stopping some kid from coming to camp, etc.) we're told not to do it. Furthermore Jesus says positively: "bring them here." This rather simple verse has some deeper life commitments in it, eh?
The piece that really should blow your mind is the statement "for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven." Whoa, wha? Sick babies possess the Kingdom? Now, I have the good fortune to be fairly able-bodied and 2k years later than the original dialogue recorded here, but I still feel like one of the disciples: perplexed, paradigm challenged, etc.
A little conviction came to mind today via this verse in light of a soccer game I watched this past weekend. There was a player (likely around 10-12 yrs old) who could barely run (he was able-bodied, just slow). The player frequently allowed the opposition to beat him and was not doing his part on defense. Rather than say something encouraging I remarked to my sister and wife: "perhaps he should take up sewing." Yeah, sick kids get the kingdom, asshole.
"Why do the sick kids get the Kingdom?" is the question that comes to my mind. I guess its pretty simple, they come to Jesus by faith, right? Jesus is out in the country on one of his healing miracle teaching tours (that sounds so Benny Hinn when I type it, but his gig was for real), so people brought the sick kids with the hope of restoration. Come to Jesus like that - in hope of healing, recognizing powerlessness. Ouch.
I think this view of the interaction with the kids, disciples, and parents is supported by the way Jesus treats the "Rich Young Ruler" or "rich young man" later in the chapter. The RYR comes to him asking what he must do, with the implication being that he's already done it. "Keep the law" Jesus says, "been there, done that" smacks the RYR. Jesus ups the ante ("sell everything and follow me") and the RYR folds - cue the "womp womp womp" sound. The difference is pretty apparent, no? RYR comes to be justified by works with the attitude that he is good enough. The sick kids are compelled by hope in the midst of their profound need. Quite the image of faith from a few paragraphs.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
One thing I thought I'd put up is the result of my killer biking weekend: a strained hamstring. You'd think I would learn by now. Last year I could hardly walk for 4 days after injuring my knee, I've been sidelined from soccer games multiple times with hamstring strains/pulls. Here I am after 11 hours of cycling with a fair bit of climbing with another hamstring/knee injury.
Currently I have a hard time going up stairs. That's only half true. I can get up stairs just fine with my left leg; my right, not so much.
So kids, don't try this at home (or in Germany) - don't go crazy with your rapidly aging bodies on a hill-climbing bonanza without stretching! Especially if you are A) blood relation to me and/or B) not involved in regular stretching and/or C) consciously focusing on "turning circles" instead of your usual mindless pack fodder pedal mashing technique.
Fortunately the interwebs did furnish this pearl for me:
Whew. That was close.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
So after my commute and workday I headed back home, kitted up and rode out. This is sort of a narrative of the ride.
I got back to my hotel and downed half a sandwich (yesterday's salami and gouda), called the girls, and hit the road. I had a carefully constructed route and a super map.
However, as I went out of town I climbed this big hill and when I got to the top, I had missed my turn. In the next town Hoholz, I must have spent 10 minutes scouring the map for where I was. I felt like and idiot. 20 minutes into the ride I was already lost - directions worthless. I just picked a direction and went with it. After a few turns and another 15 minutes I rode past the same intersection that I had camped at to study the map! [Inner monologue: You fool!] So I went back to where I thought I should have turned, but went on a "bike path" instead. Well, said path became a trail in short order and like the last video down there explains, the cross bike has a nose for troubled pavement.
As I came out of the woods a few kilometers later, my trail T'd with a busy street. To my surprise a dude in white and black goes streaking by on a Specialized Allez dressed in Gerolsteiner livery. Well, I jump on the pedals hoping for a replay of my last trip over here and my random encounter with a fellow cyclist...
I'm cruising on the cross rig on my way to Koblenz from Bonn on a sleepy Sunday, trying to leave the stress of the work trip out on the roads. An older guy on a Simplon (carbon fiber Austrian road bike) scoots by. I grab his wheel and follow him for a bit until I introduce myself - by almost running him over in a turn! Turns out his name is Guenther, and we become friends. As luck would have it, Guenther was feeling spritely and took me on a route through the hills north of the Rhein for 100km+. It was a good time.
END OF FLASHBACK!
So I'm on Gerolsteiner's wheel, rocking the Surly w/ downtube shifters. He's keeping a good pace but not killing it. A prudent man. I've caught my breath from the chase and we've started a long shallow climb. In between passing cars in my broken german, I ask if he minds if I tag along. "No problem."
So we introduce ourselves: Stefan, Mark. I have a new friend in Germany. :)
He's just out for an evening spin on a usual route. Boy is he fortunate. I didn't take many shots of the terrain (plenty of hills, great views - including the ruines of a monestary - gorgeous!) as we were, ya know, cycling at a pretty decent clip.
Turns out Stefan is a Civil Engineer in Frankfurt but bases himself out of Sankt Augustin. He was a very decent fellow putting up with my wheel sucking and waiting for me on decents.
Now, I know what you're thinking - "Waiting for you on decents? But aren't you gifted with great girth and doesn't gravity pull you down hills like, well, gravity?" Right you are friend, but you see in all my tomfoolery in the woods before meeting up with Steffen my rear brake cable housing popped out of the top tube boss, rendering my rear brake worthless. Now, would you bomb down a 10% grade into unknown traffic, farm animals, and slippery spring tarmac on just a front brake? I think not.
So we plugged along through hill and dale enjoying the break from last week's rains. It was gorgeous. Whenever Stefan looked over I was grinning - big time. It was fun. I think you can tell from the faces below:
A little later on Stefan offered me an option on our route: short and steep or longer and shallow. I chose short and steep - immediately we turned left and hit a wall. Likely 1.5 km long, with a top grade of 15% (according to Stefan - and I wouldn't doubt the civil engineer's terrain estimates, by the way!) it was good leg burning climbing glory. The one time I was ahead of Stefan on the road was when I burned a match to get to the top and grab this shot of him:
This climb was kind of nasty, since after the steep bit, you had a false flat to suck a little more life from you before the actual crest.
Well, after riding together for I think a solid 2 hours we parted ways back in Sankt Augustin. However, this was not before he showed me on the map a great way back to Hangelar (along the Seig river, then back along the Rhein), as well as where I should explore tomorrow: the Eiffel region!
Here's a video from the bike path along the Seig river:
Well, before I got back to the hotel I took some wrong turns, but it's ok, since I got the chance to explain this important piece of bikedom:
Here's some shots from the Nature Park paths along the Seig:
A suspension bridge across the Rhein:
Thanks again Stefan!
And to everyone else: wow, you have an incredible attention span!
Addendum: jetlag is killing me as I can't sleep - so I wanted to say, the saddle was comfy for 4.5 hours today. I didn't think about the saddle once, and usually I get uncomfortable after 1.5 hours! Is it me getting "broken in"? I don't think so. This is the first NEW saddle I've ever ridden (that's right, they've all been used...except for the Bianchi stock saddle) but it was actually "fitted" to my sit bone width by Axel at Champ Cycle. So, the moral of the story is: support your LBS and get a decent saddle. The Bontrager RL is nice (pour moi).
Anyway, I hope you can endure my blathering. It was fun to make the videos, even if low fidelity. I hope you feel like you are in Germany with me - I'd enjoy things more if you were!
P.S. I've got another post upcoming on a great post-work ride today. More video and photos to follow.
Friday, April 17, 2009
So once I realize he is talking to us, and is in no way indicating any need for help, I decide the best tactic is to ignore him. Maybe the gal next to me knows him or is responding, I don't really care, but I am looking at Z and Mom and focusing my attention there, thank you very much. So he proceeds to talk to -rather at us- because apparently all of us are making the same conclusions about the sketchiness of the situation and not responding to him as he continues the pleasantries. Well the pleasantries soon turn to an invitation...."Just wanted to let you ladies know that you are invited and welcome to attend....." guess how the sentence ends. To a house party? A singles bar? No. His CHURCH. After mentioning that he does not know whether or not we attend church,(yes thank you, you are a stranger), he proceeds to give us the address and name of his church, along with meeting times. There was no special event or anything, he just thought it would be of interest to us to know what church he attends and where they meet in case we happened to have been thinking about looking for a church home. This is all to no acknowledgment from any of us. With a sound of rejection in his voice, he backs away and gives a "Have a nice day, LADIES".
Now, I am all for inviting people to come worship the Lord or learn more about Him if they are interested. But I have never in all my "gospel bridge sharing" classes ever heard any tactic that involves a lone man approaching young women and their children at the park, leaning over the fence non-chalantly and inviting them to church. This man did not proceed to go on to the next group of people at the park and offer the same invitation, (which perhaps would have made me feel sorrow for not having assumed better motives on his part) but exits the park. Apparently we were the only persons he wanted to invite (there were some men on the same playground, I might add). So if this guy really sincerely just wants people to know about this place to worship, that's cool, but he certainly didn't present himself in a manner that made his target audience likely to listen to him. And that, I am sure, is a fundamental principle of "representing" for the Lord, if you will.
Part of why I reacted so immediately in ignoring this man today was because of the healthy way I am used to seeing my husband interact with women (whether friends or strangers). My husband has a rather admirable, and perhaps not overly common, gift for talking to women of all ages without making me, or them, I can pretty confidently assert, feel uncomfortable with the situation. Part of that is owing to the awesome women in his family, from whom he has learned much about the other gender. Part of that is owing to a sincere kindness in him, which takes his knowledge about us gals, at least in general terms, and applies it to his behavior to prevent situations in which he might be threatening or cause discomfort for our safety, etc. It has been a topic he and I have talked about recently, esp. in light of having Z as our own little lady who will one day be out in the world. It makes me very glad when I think that Z is growing up with this model of a real ladies' man.
Above you'll see a nutty, chocolate dipped pastry called a "corner." So exciting, these food names.
Below is my favorite drink over here: Granini Multifruchtsaft. It is just the right amount of sweetness and viscosity, the penultimate fruit drink. The ultimate is a mango smoothy made from proper mangos (the way Arabs and Caymanians serve it, among others I'm sure).
The corny I bought for obvious reasons. :)
Musli destroys US cereals for yummy goodness.
I also hope the recipe will help my cycling. No blood transfusions here, but I'll take an extra helping of Natural Body Power. The only power this cyclist needs, baby.
To cap it all off, I also picked up a 6-pack:
What isn't pictured was dinner: gyros and frites, as well as some weekend sustinance: bananas, bread, gouda, chocolate, and salami. That's BIO salami to you (i.e. organic auf Deutsch).
Thursday, April 16, 2009
-See anything missing in the image at right? No heater. That's right, no space heater, water, air, gas, nuclear fussion, nothin. Obscured from view is a minibar fridge which, according to thermodynamics, has to be heating more than it's cooling. So if it gets really chilly tonight I'll curl up next to the minibar to stay warm. No, not that kind of staying warm.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Found out yesterday some good friends are having their lives flipped by news of cancer. I’m a twenty-something, surely it’s too early for my friends to be battling cancer? Nope. Things look “ok” currently but removing tumors isn’t really a trivial affair. If you know who I’m talking about, please pray for them. If you don’t pray, donate to LAF or something. Some people seem to be kicked while they’re already down. May they be lifted up.
Wednesday night fights tonight. I will definitely be venting stress from this news and other emotional roller-coasters tonight. Not sure how much the body can do though, as I’m still sore from Monday’s indoor soccer romp. Turns out gunning it for an hour after a 2 month hiatus been protested by all those little stabilizer muscles in my legs/back/shoulders. At least I got a hat trick.
David is pissed he couldn’t stay with us longer. I suggested he take it out on the pedals.
I’m trying to assess the feasibility of attending the Eagle Lake Camp Cleanup Week. Who would turn down a week in the Rockies?
We’re still looking at apartments for 09-10 (10!?). The service course is becoming more of a burden on our living room, so a garage is an ever more important amenity. Enter: the duplex. When we move there will be grillage for anyone who wants to come.
I’m also trying to get the Surly back to functioning after its massive organ donation to David’s Motobecane. The only open item is the down-tube shifters. That’s right, we’re takin it old school for the cross-check. Not sure how well that’s going to perform during cross season (ha!) but for commuting and touring with the fam, it can’t be beat. I now have to find some that are relatively inexpensive (i.e. like under $90 for new Dura-Ace!).
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
David wrapped up his spring break trip to IL today. Poor kid - can't go anywhere nice, so he came to see us. We had a great time of inside jokes, bike building, and a cut-throat game of settlers where we boxed out mom in the last play. Boys rule!
Well, David and I took a 17.5 mile jaunt yesterday through hail, snow, and steady winds for his first ride on his cyclocross bike (fitted with road tires for the day). When we started I could barely get the kid to pedal as he was (understandably) skittish around the cars in town and the (relative) speeds of road tires/wheels. However, this hesitance was unacceptable as my body temperature (secured as it is by vast amounts of lipids,) was dropping. The answer: ride faster. By the end of the ride I would look over my shoulder and I would see him turning circles chasing me down or sprinting up rises. It was quite a transformation. My only regret is not getting out again with him before he heads back west.
As we were riding I realized that he was learning how to conduct himself on the road by following me. How do I treat stop signs, cars (parked? Moving?) stop lights, pedestrians, road hazards? How do I position myself in the lane? Those things are better “caught” than “taught.” I hope he had his mitt out each time I told him to make eye contact with motorists…
I plan to post a follow-up with pictures of the bike build. We didn't get any photos of our adventure yesterday, but we'll have the sting of the hail and the urgency of traffic to remember it.
Monday, April 6, 2009
[Caution: this pedal-stroke by pedal-stroke replay is way too long with respect to its actual importance for reality. If reading my bloviating will piss you off, but you want to know how it went, here you go: I raced in Hillsboro. It was hard. I finished safely, and in 38th place out of 100 cat. 4s. The girls said they had a good time but they lied. – please stop reading.]
Hillsboro-Roubaix was a great race this year as last. We (Wild Card Cycling) didn’t have the impressive success (1,2,6,7 in the 5’s) but we had a respectable showing (9,15,19,38 in the 4’s – I was the caboose.) Rob and Scott have given race reports, but here’s my perspective for what it’s worth.
It was sunny and the winds felt light. However, once we got up to speed the winds didn’t feel so light anymore. The field seemed very twitchy on the country roads and there were a LOT of tire rubbing sounds. Surprisingly I did not rub tires once! The twitchiness of the pack produced a constant surge-stop rhythm that sapped your strength. As the pack would slow, you touch your brakes to stay out of the guy’s cassette in front of you – but now they’re putting the gas on again so you have to accelerate. If you don’t speed up, you open up a gap and you get more wind in your face, etc. Rinse and repeat. Regardless, I felt good for the first lap and stayed with the leaders in the top half of the field.
The cobbled section that blew me up last year did a number on me this year and I drifted back through the pack through the finishing circuit. I definitely had to burn a match to stay with the group at this point and I was in the red after the 2 hills into town. I thought I climbed them well and maintained my position (not something I usually do on climbs) but it took its toll. At one point during the cobbles Tom gave me a little push (which was a BIG dose of encouragement) and said (something like) “Hang on Frenchy.” My body (especially my lower back) was telling me to quit, so that little bit of help went a long way. In bike racing as in life: encouragement is nice in good times but is really powerful during tough times!
Well, I held on to the group and stayed with the lead pack during the next climb after we left town. I was recovering a little, and even gave Tom a little return push in a crosswind section. However, with each little rise my back was getting tighter and more painful. I noticed my cadence was dropping and I was “mashing” the pedals more frequently, even standing at times. The hill around 5 miles into the lap popped me out of the group (a la West Lafayette RR last year). I thought I might be able to latch onto the back of the pack but the tailwind section was the cue for the horses to let loose. Not long after that turn the wheel truck came around and I knew we were done. I say we because there was a rider with me (Cervelo bike w/ HED or Mavic carbon wheels, black jersey?). I told him to “hop on” and tried to catch up to the wheel truck draft (which is illegal, mind you.) We rotated through once or twice but the next time I flicked my elbow for him to come around, he didn’t do so. I flicked again and slowed 1-2 mph. He didn’t come around. Being the hot-head that I am I attacked him(!) and tried to bridge to a dropped rider up the road (who had just been passed by the wheel truck). All I accomplished was blowing myself up again, so I stretched my back out and was rejoined by the Cervelo rider. I made a truce with him.
The rest of the race was a series of picking up dropped riders as we rode in a paceline. I noticed that the guys I was joining did not properly place themselves with respect to the wind for a paceline. They were still riding in “race mode” whereby you position yourself in such a way as to minimize the draft of the trailing riders. This is not “nice” and does not give the guys you are working with very much recovery after their turns on the front. I finally spoke up and instructed the group to “move left” or “move right” and some of the guys complied. We then had a decent echelon with which to draft; the group actually speeds up when you do this. The down side is that the group recovers better and you don’t burn people out as much, so they may be fresher at the finish and beat you. But that’s the risk you take.
The composition of the group varied over the rest of the lap as we picked guys up and dropped guys from the group. Cervelo was dropped on a climb, some cat 3’s and a cat 2(!) joined our group. Now, it is illegal to work with riders from other races during yours, however when you are 4 minutes in arrears of your race leaders – who cares? I suppose there are some rules (receiving assistance from a motor vehicle) which you just don’t break, but there are others (yellow-line, working with riders of other fields) that are dictated by the situation. Speaking of which, I was in the race with a former race director who clearly felt the same way as he moved up through the field in the left gutter! That’s right; it wasn’t just a possible center-line infraction, but a flagrant one. However, while I was heckling him (teasing really), I would have done the same thing. We could see that the road ahead was clear and the crosswind section had the pack all over the road. On the other hand there are obvious circumstances where this would be foolhardy and reckless – which is why there is this “iron rule” imposed on the racers.
One of the riders we picked up (and dropped) during this time was Brean. Brean is part of the uber-hip Chicago Cuttin Crew bike messenger team. I was surprised to find him towards the back end of things and asked him why he was off the back: “Stuck in the little ring” he said to me. “Stuck with a small motor” was my reply. Turned out his front derailleur had malfunctioned and he was stuck in his small chainring. Most of the race I was in my big chainring (hard to believe, I know), so this would be a significant disadvantage to him. It was good to have a “friend” in the group though as we’ve ridden together in races before. Well, his luck went from bad to worse as he got a flat a few miles further down the road and fell off the pace. He was wise enough to carry an emergency pump/sealant deal, but that was all he could do to limp into town. However, he is the type of bike racer we all should be: he was happy after the finish. Whining like a child about his bad luck? Nope, laughing at the adventure of this silly race. In bike racing as in life: don't take yourself too seriously.
Coming into the final set of hills I was trying to decide if I would “use myself up” on the course or “save some for the sprint.” Now, in cycling circles, unless you WIN the race or WIN a bunch sprint, sprinting at the line against the other stragglers is dangerous, foolish, and a lame move that only shows your self-worship. Really, does it matter if you finish 50th or 51st? No, it doesn’t. Neither does it matter if you finish 38th or 39th. However, you always want to practice winning out of a “breakaway” or “small group”, so in light of this I tried to keep a steady tempo up the hills and stay with my group. I succeeded and no cat 4 from our group beat me up the 2 hills. One guy I was with purposely stayed with me, but after the 2nd hill (we traded off going up the hill); I attacked him before the hard left into the downhill stretch. I dropped him and stayed on the wheel of a cat 3 rider up the road. In the final turn on the course I saw a cat 4 rider up ahead and accelerated to get on his wheel. Once there I stayed to his left since he was checking on his right. With 200 meters to go I accelerated and held a high pace to the line. Mission accomplished, I won my group (of 4’s), worked hard, and didn’t save a bunch of energy for a foolish “blaze of glory sprint” – I just finished hard.
I definitely learned a lot from this race; here ya go in bullet format:
· This is the second weekend in a row of hard riding that was limited by lower back muscular pain. Obviously I need to strengthen my lower back and abdomen. This is probably performance limiter number 1! (Yes I did sit-ups this morning between indoor soccer games.)
· Practice riding in the drops (subpoint from the above). I like to ride on the hoods, but that’s a higher drag position than the drops. Less drag = less wasted energy.
· My average heart rate was 166 for the 2 hrs of racing. I need more endurance rides. My next race is in June (wha?!) so I’m going to focus on base miles during my weeks for the next month to build up my aerobic engine. Let’s hope another transatlantic business trip doesn’t destroy my fitness.
· While I positioned myself well during the first lap, I need to move up further during a race like this as I was getting a lot of yo-yo and frequently had to brake. Braking is throwing away energy, and that’s not something I can afford!
· On one twisty decent I grabbed a handful of rear brake and almost lost my rear-end! Definitely brake lightly in turns at speed and don’t just grab one or the other – otherwise you’re asking for it!
· All things considered I felt I handled turns well and got some of my racing “nerve” back after my crash at Oak Brook last year. I definitely was not afraid of following wheels in the pack, and even bumped bars a few times without any panicking or adverse effects (from them or me). Just a little – hey there, how you doin?
· Wear sunscreen – I went from pasty white to “solo cup red” in 2 hrs!
· Don’t bring the girls to road races. They were burnt and tired and had to endure 4-5hrs in the car for 90 seconds of “didjaseeme?!” Bring the family to crits and cross races.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Also going on, this weekend is "The Hell of Downstate", Hillsboro-Roubaix. Am I excited/nervous/sleepless/hopeful/fearful? Yes. Ready? Probably not. This will be my first race as a cat 4, so we'll see. The training camp should have done me well. The girls and David will be there to witness. Pics to follow. Rubber side down.
David will have a cross bike built up by next week. Pics in due time.
Wednesday night is fight night: the "Wednesday Night Ride" a.k.a. "Wednesday World Championships", etc. I'm giddy for it all week. I have to take it easy tonight though and save the big matches for Saturday.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
As always, more dreaming. :)