Tonight I Accidentally “Stole” My Supper

Pretty much every Monday night Pam and I eat supper with my Mom. Tonight we decided to pick up Panda Express for the meal, so I went on their website to place our order. As I was finishing up the arborist, who we’ve hired to remove 6 very large white pines and 1 dead maple tree from our yard, rang the doorbell to let me know he was finished for the day. I went up and talked with him for a few minutes and then left to pick up our food from Panda Express.

When I got to Panda Express I didn’t see our meal on the takeout shelf and asked one of the workers when the order for Robert T would be finished. They told meit would be ready in just a few minutes and asked me to take a seat while they finished. A couple of minutes later, as promised, a worker walked over with my order and I hopped in our vehicle to pick up Pam and Noah and head to Mom’s.

It was at Mom’s place that I discovered that this was not my order. Instead, it was a similar but not quite the same order as mine. It was a slightly larger order than ours without as much variety. The name on the receipt said “Rob C”. Well that explains it. The worker heard my “Robert T” as “Rob C” and gave me “Rob C”‘s order. They sound close enough for that to happen. I called Panda Express to tell them that I had received the wrong order but that it was very similar. While they were looking into it we were disconnected. Pam, Noah, Mom, and I decided we were good with this food and went ahead and ate it. Like I said the order was very similar and we all got something we wanted.

After spending more time at Mom’s we packed up and headed home. I briefly went to check something on my computer and that is when I noticed that the “Check out” page for the Panda Express website was still up. It seems that when I went answer the doorbell and talk to our arborist I never actually clicked the “submit” button. So the order was never placed. This wouldn’t have been a problem and I would have discovered it when I got there and there was no order for me EXCEPT FOR THE FACT THAT THERE WAS A “ROB C” ORDER THERE READY TO BE PICKED UP.

Don’t worry I went back to Panda Express, explained the situation, and paid for our meal so as to not be living on the lamb. They all thought it was hilarious and even gave me a coupon. I’m gladly that it worked out this was because I don’t think Rob C would have liked my order as much. There would have been too much variety in it for what I believe are his tastes.

… Ask a Person’s Family

I once heard Tony Campolo say that if you really want to know if you are Christian, just ask your waitress. I really like his point, because the gospel should shape how we treat all those around us, and that begins with those closest to us. This is all the more true during the pandemic when so many people in the hospitality industry are seeing the worst side of people. This week I read a quote from D. L. Moody that I would place alongside Campolo’s statement. In fact, I suspect that Moddy influenced Campolo’s thoughts on the matter.

Moody wrote:

“If I wanted to find out whether a man was a Christian, I wouldn’t go to his minister. I would go and ask his wife. We need more Christian life at home. If a man doesn’t treat his wife right, I don’t want to hear him talk about Christianity.”

I like this quote because I believe that home and friendships are where so many of the simple aspects of faith are played out.

Too many people want to do “great things for God”, not realizing that 1) God doesn’t need us to accomplish anything for Him, and 2) being used by God to accomplish something big doesn’t indicate closeness with God or growth in the character of Jesus in our lives. After all, God used Nebuchadnezzar to accomplish His will while Nebuchadnezzar was the type of person to set up huge golden idols and punish God’s faithful people. So some live trying to do something grand for God and leave out the mundane parts of their lives from being transformed by the Holy Spirit. This is a shame because the mundane parts of our lives are the most important for actually developing the character of Christ in us.

Unfortunately, such a focus often leads to ministries and ministers who ignore, or worse , mistreat their family, friends, and employees while feeling justified because they are doing something big for God. It sounds like we may have another ministry serving as an example of this in Preemptive Love. While trying to “stop the spread of violence” it appears that their leadership may have been “bully(ing), gaslight(ing), and abuse(Ing) the peacemakers” on their own team. Jesus said that “the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart” (Matthew 15:18) and the people closest to us are therefore going to know our hearts better than others because they have the chance to experience what is in our hearts more often than others.

We have been called to be like Jesus, but so often we would rather just do something for Him because that takes less change of our selfish ways.

Klunking & The Gospel

As a result of getting into mountain biking more, I have begun to watch many MTB videos on Youtube, and today I ran across this gem.

It is from 1979 and it is about a Klunking race. Klunking was an early name for downhill mountain biking because those early bikes were just Schwinn newspaper boy bikes which the riders had modified with things like thicker tires and more gears. These klunkers were riding fast down terrains that those bikes were NEVER meant to go down and they had a blast. Around the middle of the video up pops a guy named Gary Fischer who eventually became one of the most influential bike designers in mountain biking. In fact, the bike I currently ride is a Gary Fischer designed bike. Yeah my 2013 Trek Mamba Gary Fischer Edition is a wonderful machine.

Those early bikes were dirt cheap and just put together from whatever parts the riders could find that would work on the difficult terrain. Mountain bikes today ARE NOT CHEAP. In fact, they are super expensive to the point that it is prohibitive to the point that it keeps some from getting into the sport.

Or at least it is prohibitive when people decide that you HAVE TO HAVE a bike with certain features. Don’t get me wrong many of these expensive features are really helpful and make mountain biking more fun and safer. I am a really big fan of suspension and cushy tires that absorb many of the bumps that are involved in mountain biking. But do you have to have suspension and cushy tires?

Nope!

How do I know this? Well I know it because I have seen people riding the same trails, that I was repeatedly told to not even consider trying without a strong mountain bike with lots of suspension, on bikes that were definitely designed for nothing more than a lazy Sunday afternoon ride. Some people even get pretty snobby about telling people that you can’t actually be a real mountain biker unless you have certain specific equipment. There can be a lot of snobbery in biking.

Yes, the more expensive mountain bikes make the trails significantly more manageable, but you can have just as much fun riding on bikes that are pretty similar to those old klunkers. The bike industry has realized this and over the past few years, they have begun selling gravel bikes which are basically nothing more than expensive versions of early mountain bikes with no too little suspension.

I love the new bikes but the video of the klunkers reminds me that all it really takes to mountain bike is a desire to ride two wheels down terrifying stretches of trail. Well, that desire and good health insurance.

I think we often do the same type of thing with the Gospel. We start out simple. We repent (admitting who we are and are state of neediness), which in a world obsessed with image is a revolutionary act because it demands that we actually admit who we are in all our messiness rather than present curated “authenticity” concerning ourselves. As we repent we ask Jesus to forgive us and give us His grace. That grace is the Gospel, the “good news”. That is what it is all about.

Other things can be helpful in living in the Gospel. Yet they are never the main thing. Living in the Gospel is what life is supposed to be all about.

Berm Peak Reviews

The purpose of this post is to list all the products reviewed by Seth on Berm Perk so that there is a searchable page of the items. When the name of the product isn’t self-explanatory I add a description. Here is a link to each video.

I have been a “Hey I Have an Entry Level Mountain Bike” biker for a few years, doing around 60ish miles each season. This year that changed dramatically. Not only have I been putting significantly more miles (450 thus far this season) on my constantly upgraded entry-level bike (new, non-entry level bike is on order but won’t be here till May of 2022 because of the bike shortage) I have also been consuming a good amount of MTB-related YouTube videos. My two favorite channels have been GBMN and Berm Peak. Both channels are excellent.

Anyhow I really like both channels’ product reviews and recently I wanted to go back to one specific video to consider a product that Seth had reviewed on Berm Creek. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the specific video from searches and ended up watching quite a few videos in order to find the product I was looking for. I am sure this is good for Seth, but it wasn’t for me.

Therefore I decided that I would create a blog post listing the products each video reviews (something Seth does in the video description but for some reason my searches weren’t finding the products listed in the description). I am updating this list as I watch videos to find the original product for which I searched.

Hopefully, this will be useful for others too. If you have come here looking for a specific product just search the page and hopefully it will be here.

November 20, 2020 – 10 Mountain Bike Products from $5 to $200

December 6, 2019 – 10 Strange & Unique Mountain Bike Products

September 27, 2019 – Reviewing a Strange Array of Bike and Outdoor Products

May 30, 2019 – 10 Unique Bike Products Reviewed Brutally

May 8, 2019 – 10 MTB Products I actually use

February 27, 2019 – 10 Bike Products Ranging from Terrible to Great

Mountain Biking This Summer – Upgrading 2013 Trek Mamba Gary Fisher Edition

If you searched for Trek Mamba upgrades and are just here for the upgrade list CLICK HERE to go to the list.

During the second Summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, I, and apparently everyone else in the free world, got into the sport of mountain biking. If you doubt that “everyone else” got into mountain biking go to your Local Bike Store (LBS) and try to buy a bike. You will most likely discover that they will gladly sell you a bike that will arrive around June – if you are lucky.

I have actually mountain biked for a few years but it was biking of the “hey I have an entry-level mountain bike and I should use it” variety. This meant around 60ish miles a season (late Spring through Fall). I would go out with a friend every now and then. This season has been significantly different. We aren’t through with the season yet and I am over 425 miles. I am going to my local trail (Standing Rocks Park) 4 to 5 times a week.

Of course, I am still on my entry-level mountain bike (a 2013 Trek Mamba Gary Fisher edition) because the bike I finally convinced myself to buy won’t be here till May 2022, at the earliest. Though I have made some pretty significant upgrades to the bike. Many people will say that you shouldn’t do significant upgrades to a bike like the Mamba because your money will be better spent on buying a new bike. They call it “polishing a turd”. This may be true when bikes are not in short supply (it is difficult to almost impossible to find a decent used bike now too), but it isn’t when you are:

  1. in the middle of a pandemic that is causing manufacturing and distribution problems
  2. Trying to determine how into MTB you are going to be
  3. Keeping your old bike as a backup/spare for guests

So I slowly upgraded the Mamba (or FRamba – Fred the Mamba) through the season. Here’s a list of what I have done to the FRamba. I had a heck of a time finding information concerning what upgrades would work well for my 9-year-old bike – mountain biking technology has changed a great deal in the past 5 years. Hopefully, this list will help someone else with their still very fun to ride older Mamba.

The Upgrade List

This “turd” will be thoroughly polished once the new air fork is placed on her in November. She has improved as a ride throughout the season – partially because my skill has improved and partially because she has been improved through the upgrades. The conversion to a 1x drivetrain and the dropper post probably made the greatest difference in her ride. I understand why so many MTB videos and articles sing the praises of 1x conversion and dropper post-installation. Both upgrades made substantial differences in how she rides. In addition, she is around 1,000 grams lighter than she was at the beginning of the season and is another 500 grams lighter from the fork replacement.

I have a new and improved Trek Roscoe 8 on order that hopefully will be here May 2022. Until then the FRamba is a great ride and she will continue to be a wonderful backup/spare bike for when guests are around.

BTW the folks at Point Area Bicycle Service have helped with many of these upgrades. They are wonderful and I would encourage you to go there for your bike services.

My First Coronavirus Vaccine Shot

If you are a part of Tapestry Church I would like to tell you that your pastor got his first coronavirus vaccine shot today. I highly encourage you to do the same thing when you get the chance. #GetTheShot

I don’t really understand why this is political for some people. It isn’t for me. I suspect that it has become political for some because for so many people in our culture your political ideology is basically your faith. It is what brings meaning and purpose to your life. In such cases, people who hold such views would rather their kids marry someone from a different religion than someone from a different political affiliation.

When such beliefs are held whose side you are on becomes the determining factor of whether you are a good person or a bad person. Then everything has to be understood through political ideology. The vehicle you drive, the restaurants you eat out, where you shop, where you get your coffee, and whether or not you get the coronavirus vaccine is viewed as a chance to tell others what side of the political spectrum you are on. It is all about whose team you are on.

For me the vaccine is a way of upping my odds of not needing to go to the hospital for COVID-19 complications and thereby helping my neighbor. This is why I encourage you to get the shot.

Pardons & Forgiveness

I started thinking about this post a while back on the last full day of Trump’s presidency. The last full day of a presidency is typically the day in which the more controversial presidential pardons are issued. The reason being that the outgoing president typically knows these pardons are going to have more political ramifications and they want to avoid as much of the backlash as possible. So they issue the pardons as they are going out the door. I, therefore, thought I would take this moment to talk about one of the aspects of pardons that I believe connects closely with forgiveness as articulated within scripture.

It is a bit of an oversimplification but presidential pardons typically involve a recognition of guilt.

I am not a lawyer, nor the child of a lawyer, so please bear with my analysis hear as that of a very ignorant layperson on the subject. What I know is that  Burdick v. United States (1915) states that acceptance of a pardon implies a confession of guilt. Now there are other circumstances under which a pardon may be issued. For example, a pardon may be issued on the grounds that the person is now viewed as innocent or that the whole act was a miscarriage of justice. In addition, a person may have been legally guilty but morally innocent because the law was a bad law. I know there are other reasons but I want to focus on the recognition of guilt in regard to forgiveness because often those being asked to forgive can see such forgiveness as letting the perpetrator “off the hook” and even more often the perpetrator can hope that forgiveness is literally avoiding the rightful punishment for their actions.

Forgiveness implies guilt and that guilt needs to be recognized.

Of course, looking at and actually confronting our own sin is a difficult thing. It is so much easier to point out someone else’s sin than it is to acknowledge our own. I once ear Miroslav Volf say that it is always a work of the Holy Spirit when someone repents and acknowledges their sin because this is not something we typically can do in our own human strength. Forgiving someone is an act of taking back power, you, not them, are determining how you will respond to something someone else has done. Want an example of this? Watch Rachael Denhollander’s victim impact statement to Larry Nasher. There is nothing passive about that statement. It is an act of taking power back.

Repentance, on the other hand, is an act of vulnerability. It is opening yourself up to someone saying “No! I am not going to forgive you!” You can get hurt when you repent. I believe that is why it is so hard to do and so miraculous when it does happen. Laying our sin bare and truly admitting our guilt is incredibly difficult.

Demond Tutu is the man!

This is why the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission was so powerful. The people who admitted to their crimes there weren’t “let off the hook.” No, they were seen clearly for the first time. They were no longer allowed the veneer of respectability. They were seen as murders and bigots because their guilt was made public for the whole world to see. There was no denying it any longer. This is why many decided they would rather face punishment than have the truth laid bare for all to see. Their sin being made public was simply too great a punishment for them to bear.

Like them, instead of admitting our own wrong we often would rather deny it, deflect to someone else’s error, or offer bland apologies that aren’t actually repentance. “I am sorry if your feelings were hurt.” There is no pardon that comes from such actions because no repentance has been made.

To be pardoned you have to recognize your sin. That is when we are really set free. That is when we receive the gift of forgiveness. We can be forgiveness without recognizing our guilt because that is the act of the one forgiving, but we never really receive the freedom that comes with forgiveness without acknowledging our error.

SIDE NOTE – none of what I just wrote is true for the turkeys that are pardoned each year by the President. To my knowledge those turkey have done nothing wrong, other than being delicious.

Jesus vs Influencers

Yesterday (at least it was yesterday when I began this post last week) I bumped into a friend of mine who is a pastor at another church (he is a wonderful minister that I like and respect a lot, but I will not name him since I haven’t asked his permission). While shooting the bull we hit on a few different subjects. We solved most of the problems of the world – I love these bump in conversations, they are one of the things I miss the most right now. One of the subjects we alighted on was a discussion he was going to have with some Christian “influencers”.

I can not stand the idea of “influencers” in general and I really struggle with the idea of “Christian influencers”. If you don’t know what an influencer is here’s a definition:

An influencer is someone who has the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience.

definition from Influencer Marketing Hub

What this means in real life is that an influencer is someone other people believe they want to be like and thus will buy products and experiences if the influencer promotes those items. Thus a “Christian influencer” supposedly draws people to Jesus because people see them and want to be like them. It is about the power of the influencer being alluring to others.

Apparently to be a female influencer you have to own this hat – there is even a reddit thread discussing it.

It isn’t that I am against the idea of influence, that can be a great thing when done in faithful manners. I have many people who have influenced me in my life and I am grateful for that influence. Of course, their influence was that they were faithful, not that they were trying to be influential.

Usually “Christian influencers” aren’t just being faithful but instead actively trying to present a picture of influence and power that pretty much mirrors what the rest of the world values, only with some spiritual language. They are very much a part of the culture and leaning into the values of the world around them. There seems to be very little difference between them and the non-Christians influencers, from their look to their values, other than spiritual issues being sprinkled into their content. “Christian Influencers” wear the same “influencer hats” and tattoo sleeves, and pretty much do the same things as secular influencers, in my opinion, because it is more about the influencer brand than it is about the beaten and disgraced Lord.

When I was a youth minister every now and then I would hear someone make reference to a ministry model that was focused on drawing in the “cool” and “popular” kids, with the mindset that if they came then all the other groups would come to the church too. Draw the powerful and the weak will come along too. So the ministry would be structured in such a manner to draw the powerful people. Clearly, this isn’t just a youth ministry problem.

Thus churches and Christian ministers are tempted to fawn over the powerful and long for success. Thus we put on our stages the “hot” and influential in hopes of impressing Jesus with our success rate. We strive for excellence rather than faithfulness, thinking that smooth transitions and high skill levels make up the foundations of the Kingdom of the crucified God. Our pastors exchange our roles as shepherds of the sheep and wounded healers for the titles of author and speaker because we think what Jesus wants is a very well-done TED Talk or TikTok post. Jesus had a few things to say about such actions (Luke 14:7-14).

But when we think like influencers we often tell ourselves, “more people will be reached with the gospel if we do this”. After all, more power and influence will equal more people in the pews, right? We neglect the nagging feeling that such thoughts are the modus operandi of the Roman Empire rather than the gospel of the meek and mild Jesus. When He began His ministry He quoted Isaiah as describing the gospel as “good news to the poor,” “freedom for the prisoners,” “recovery of sight for the blind,” and “set(ting) the oppressed free” (Luke 7:22) – subjects decidedly focused or the weak and marginalized not the powerful and influential.

I get the desire to influence people though. As a pastor and a chaplain I feel that jolt of energy and pride when someone tells me that something I said or wrote helped them. I produce a video every week and two podcast episodes every month for my chaplaining gig and I would be lying to you if I said the “likes” don’t make me feel good when they occur. Those small, electronic thumbs-ups feel real nice. My ego and self-worth receive a little boost when they occur. Yet those momentary digital encouragements are usually more about me and than the kingdom of the Crucified One. I have to always remember that. Narrow is the gate to walking in the Kingdom, not because Jesus wants to exclude, but because the Kingdom life of strength being made perfect in weakness and following the crucified God by taking up my cross and denying myself is otherworldly and goes against the way of the world. Jesus had lots of people following Him till “many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” (John 6:60) Hard teachings have a way of affecting us this way. They are difficult and we want the easy way. The way of depending upon God to work through weakness and requires much more trust than thinking we can do things through our own power and influence.

That is my frustration with the idea of “Christian influencers”. When I read scripture I see the opposite of a Kingdom made by being stylish and cool, from having money and power. One of my heroes, Jurgen Moltmann once answered a question by stating:

“Well, first I would ask them if they had read the Bible; then I would ask them if they had understood it.”

His point was that if the people in question read the Bible and understood it they obviously would not think the way they were thinking. I am convinced that when we read scripture and understand it we will see the Lord Who makes Himself at home with the marginalized and the weak and is a threat to those in power. That Jesus is the Messiah Who taught that it is “not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” and thus He was with the “tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:11-13).

Like the sons of Zebedee, we long to sit in places of power, on Jesus’s right and left (Matthew 20:20-28). We seek to have influence and power for the Kingdom not realizing that it was thieves and rebels who were on Jesus’s left and right, the places of honor that had been prepared for them because Jesus’s place is with the weak. People without influence. This should lead to us not seek to influence but to serve. Not to seek power to proclaim but to ask ourselves if greater sacrifice is necessary. I believe it will lead us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and die surrounded by sinners and thieves, rather than buy cool hats and take influential pictures.

Unmarked Cars and Emotional “Fines”

As I was driving down to Madison today I saw a fellow driver who was pulled over for some driving offence by an unmarked police car. I am not a fan of unmarked cars in traffic stops. I don’t even really like police and trooper cars that blend into the surroundings. Police cars should be loud and proud in my opinion. Paint them with the boldest colors possible. Bright blue and glaring green.

Why?

Because unmarked cars and boldly visible marked cars have different purposes. Unmarked cars (in traffic stops) are for the purpose of catching someone committing a violation while boldly marked cars are for the purpose of promoting public safety. Unmarked cars operate from the view that you don’t want the driver to see you and have a chance to correct the behavior. When you see a cop car you slow down and that is a good thing. When the car is unmarked you don’t modify your behavior until you see lights flashing, and then it is too late.

One of my favorite examples of this from New Orleans. When I grew up along the Gulf Coast, and eventually moved to Baton Rouge, there was a broken-down cop car that was pretty famous in the NOLA region. It was placed along I-10 so that you would visibly see it, think that an officer might be hitting you with radar. You could see the tail lights go off ahead of you as you got closers to the car, as people saw the car and hit their brakes. It was there for decades. It may still be there as far as I know. What I loved though was that it wasn’t there to give you a ticket or generate income for the city. Nope. It was just there to cause you to slow down.

If I had my way police cars would be more like the top example. Bold & bright!

Sometimes we can judge people in the same manner. We love to call someone out after the fact when they have done something wrong. It builds our ego up and makes us feel more righteous. Such judgment isn’t about helping another to live a better life and prevent them from engaging in destructive behavior. Nope, it is about us generating ego “income” at their expense. We feel better and they feel worse.

I once had a manager who loved to tell people that she didn’t want to give us strict instructions and bind us into a certain way of doing things because she wanted us to be “free” to do what was right. We would ask for guidance on how to make sure that we were doing what this boss wanted and she would respond with “don’t worry about doing what I want, just make sure that you are doing what is right.” Then we would get chewed out after the fact because we didn’t type up a form in the manner that this boss wanted. It was never an action that someone would get fired over, just something that this boss could chew someone out over whenever she needed stress relief. There were “unmarked” expectations that always led to an “emotional fine” rather than guiding us in what to do and what not to do.

I much prefer “marked” expectations and judgment. Such marked items lead to safer, more productive lives, rather than emotional “fines”.