Towards Cycling Culture

As I make my way down the final stretch to the Ride to Conquer Cancer, I find myself pondering the move towards cycle culture in North America and why it isn’t more like Europe?

For the last year or so I’ve been following a blog called Copenhagenize.  Written by an ex-Calgarian now living in Copenhagen, it and it’s sister site Copenhagen Cycle Chic chronicle how Danish cycle-culture is progressing and Copenhagen in particular should be the model the rest of the world uses to shape cycling infrastructure in the big cities. To be fair, there’s a great deal I like about what Mikael has to say, and I certainly would like to see Canada follow more of the Danish example when it comes to cycling infrastructure; separated bike lanes, extensive bicycle parking at malls and public buildings, elimination of helmet laws, etc.  But there is one major difference between Europe and North America that will likely always stand in the way.

Europe moves at a much slower pace.

It’s a mindset thing. Throughout most of Europe things happen when they happen. Deadlines are largely regarded as suggestions, stress relief often involves coffee in a street cafe in the middle of the afternoon, shops will even close in the middle of the day to take in a soccer game or a concert.  The trip to the shop or office is as much an experience as being there.

Not so in North America.  Here it’s all about getting as much done as possible in as short a time as possible.  Fulfillment is found not in relishing every moment of an experience but rather in cramming as many experiences into the moment as possible.  North America has always had a quantity over quality mindset. The daily commute, the trip to the store is a means to an end and nothing more. We get from A to B is as few steps as Google Maps can lay out for us and it better not take one second longer than the estimate.

Even what passes for cycling culture reflects this.   The mainstay of the European bicycle commute is the city-bike.  Ridden by men and women alike it allows one to travel in style; long coats, skirts, pumps and even stilettos are suitable cycling fashion. For families, the bakfeit or cargo bike allows mom or dad to ferry the kids around in safety without ever having to take the eyes of the hope of the future.

In North America however, it’s all Spandex and helmets, 27 speeds and razor thin tires, beat the rush and get to the office in time to grab a shower and wash away the record setting attempt at getting to work.  Kids interrupt air-flow so tuck ’em in back or park ’em in a trailer out of sight so we can focus on the road ahead.  Slow bikes are as much an annoyance as slow drivers and cycle chic is measured in Day-Glo jerseys and the latest high-tech shoe clips.

As long as this is the case I’m afraid that cycling culture in Canada will always be at war with the cars.  Bicycles don’t mesh with North Americas high speed lifestyle. It’s hard to embrace the bicycle when you want to be everywhere 10 minutes before you left and want to take half the house with you in case you need something.

Slow Bike Movement

Slow Bike Movement

If North America is ever going to move towards a vibrant effective bicycle culture the first thing it needs to do is slow down. Not just on the roads but in the way we approach life itself.

“Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.”

See you in Niagara Falls —

How far we have come… or have we?

Among the many shades of gray that make up my reality we find my role as technical director for Kortright Presbyterian Church in Guelph. This role requires that I try to keep abreast of what’s what in the world of technology, such as Audio and Video systems, Computer developments, and of course, the Internet.

In regard to the third item on that list one question that pops up from time to time is, “Just how big is the Internet anyway?” I’m sure if you haven’t actually had this discussion with anyone, you have probably wondered about it at least once in your life. So here then, presented for your perusal, are the latest figures from Pingdom, an Internet uptime monitoring firm in Sweden that is very good at keeping track of this sort of thing. The blog article can be found here, but the following are some of the highlights.

1.3 billion – The number of email users worldwide.
210 billion – The number of emails sent per day in 2008.
70% – The percentage of emails that are spam.

186,727,854 – The number of websites on the Internet in December 2008.
31.5 million – The number of websites added during 2008.

Domain names
77.5 million – .COM domain names at the end of 2008.
11.8 million – .NET domain names at the end of 2008.
7.2 million – .ORG domain names at the end of 2008.
174 million – The number of domain names across all top-level domains.

Internet users
1,463,632,361 – The number of Internet users worldwide.
248,241,969 – Internet users in North America.

133 million – The number of blogs on the Internet (as tracked by Technorati).
900,000 – The number of new blog posts in a day.

19.2 billion – Photos hosted by Facebook, Flickr, and Photobucket. (my note: This actually represents a small percentage of the images available when you consider these three only account for 3 out of 174 million web domains.)

12.7 billion – The number of online videos watched by American Internet users in a month.
34% – The increase in viewing of online video in USA compared to 2007.

Malicious software
1 million – The number of computer viruses in April 2008.
468% – The increase in malicious code compared to 2007.

With an estimated world population of 6,706,993,152 (according to the CIA) the above figure means roughly 22% of Humanity is connected to the World Wide Web which is 16% larger than a year ago, 1 in 5 of us don’t write letters much anymore, North America has only 17% of the Internet population, and yours truly constitutes a mere 0.000002% of the Blogosphere. How’s that for a little perspective?

But while these numbers remind me just how small a part of the whole I am, they also remind me of just how quickly our world is shrinking. (I’m going to do a little ‘old guy’ shtick here so be warned and bear with me.)

You see when I was a kid, long distance phone calls from England were still a really big thing. The whole family would gather round and wait almost breathlessly for our turn to say ‘Hi’ to Grandma and Grandpa. I’d get a letter from my penpal in Australia about every other month. When I did get a letter from him the information was already at least two weeks old. The encyclopedia set my parents bought me for high school cost over $1000 dollars and was somewhat out of date by the time I finished.

Now, well you know how it is; through Skype I call a number of people all over the world every day and gripe if the sound quality isn’t up to my 128bit 44.1kHz standard, Facebook’s status line tells me what my friends in Malawi were doing as little as 30 seconds ago, and about $50/year gives me access to the entire reference edition of Encyclopedia Britannica which is constantly updated month to month.

So, what’s my point? Well, the scriptures tell us that God separated the people at the tower of Babel because as one unified force they were getting ideas too big for them to handle. They began to think there was nothing they couldn’t do and were losing perspective as to where they fit into the grand scheme of things. They began to think of themselves as gods. So God confused their language making it harder for them to communicate and therefore harder for them to collaborate on the insanely big stuff, like skyscrapers.

Today technology is reversing what happened at Babel. Every year we grow closer to being a true world-wide community. Every year scientists, engineers and guys tinkering around in the garage (yes that still happens) build on each other’s work to create ever increasingly spectacular feats of technology, some of which has us once again infringing on God’s domain.

In his book ‘Unceasing Worship’ Harold Best points out that we are all worshiping all the time. It is the nature of our being to worship. The key point is who do we worship at this moment, the Creator or the creature. As I watch technology continue to progress I can fully appreciate the temptation to self-worship. We have accomplished a great deal in the lifetime of the human race, and it does indeed seem that there are no limits as to what we might accomplish in the future. But I would ask us all, my self included, to remember that for all our creativity we are only building on what God has done before us.

You see, it’s not about skyscrapers – it’s about how we think of ourselves, and our place in God’s creation. We have learned to do marvelous things with resources such as iron, oil and silicone; but we still have to go looking for them because we have not learned to make them. Only God can do that. We can clone a sheep named Dolly and engineer a tougher tomato by introducing animal genes to its DNA; but we still can’t create life out of lifelessness. Only God can do that. We can communicate ideas, and pack a million calculations into ever more infinitesimal periods of time; but we can’t stop time from rolling on or reverse it’s direction. Only God can do that.

And dispite all the advances in technology we have made, in one thing we have not advanced hardly at all. What has not changed is our propensity to use our creativity to find ever more inventive ways of hurting, oppressing, and killing each other. Despite our best efforts to the contrary greed, pride and ego remain the most prevalent motivations for our advancing technologies. We find we cannot escape the nature of our fallen existence as we continue to exert our superiority over the planet and each other. We cannot wash away the stain of what humanity has done with its creations over the millennia. We do not have within us the capacity to make right the burden of sin that we have created by how we treat each other and our planet.

Only God can do that.

On a Leg and a Chair.

Well, it’s been two days and I think I’m starting to adapt. Most of yesterday I struggled to get from the chair to the bathroom to the dining room table where my computer is set up on crutches. I hated it!

Oh it was tolerable enough with Roberta around to get things for me, but she will be gone 12 hours a day starting Monday, so I needed to think of something else. So I tried using a roling office chair my friend Rachel gave me, and it seems to be doing the job. I get around for the most part and my bad foot never gets any weight put on it as per doctors orders. It is still a drag though.

Fortunately, a pleasant distraction arrived to help take my mind off things – my good friend David. David lives in Goderich and had a day or so off work and knowing of my situation decided to come down and pay me a visit. He stopped in just before supper last night and we had a great time eating, talking and watching on old sci-fi movie on DVD.

I suppose that’s one advantage of what’s going on right now. If things were the way they normally are I wouldn’t have been home to visit with David; instead I likely would have been out and about doing something somewhere. This situation has certainly caused me to slow down. As I mentioned earlier, I had been looking for a way to do just that, to find more time to write, to read, and to get a few other things done. It makes me wonder if I was so busy, so obsessed with all the tasks I needed to perform that this was the only way God could get my attention. That seems rather extreme, but then Israel wasn’t far different.

Time and again in the Bible we find Israel ignoring God to the point where the only way He can bring them up short enough to listen for a while is to have some other nation drop in and conquer them. Then of course, they spend more time wailing and complaining then listening, but eventually they clue in, get their act together, and pay attention. Then God puts the other nation in its place and Israel is fine for another generation until they decide they know better than God and follow the same destructive pattern of behaviour.

There’s no denying that I do have a hard time slowing down and focusing, even though prayer and meditation are part of my routine. But is it reasonable to imagine that God would allow such an injury to take place just to get my attention, or am I just reading something into the situation trying to find some meaning that will make it less agonizing?

I mean, if this accident is entirely the result of my own stupidity, then I have nobody to blame but myself. But, if it is the maneuverings of divine providence, then it’s not entirely my fault. God did this to get my attention, in fact, in some bizarre way it is an answer to prayer and I am completely off the hook for not looking where I was going and falling down that stupid hole. Wouldn’t that make this a good thing?

Truth is, I’ve had a few people tell me that is exactly what is happening and I should regard this situation as a gift from God, sent by Him in answer to my needs. Frankly, I don’t buy it.

You see, while it’s true that God is all about forgiveness, the scripture makes it clear he’ also about taking responsibility for our own actions. He didn’t let Moses off the hook; his rebellion kept Him from entering the promised land. He didn’t cut David any slack; his disobedience cost him a son and kept him from fulfilling His dream to build the temple. Moses, David and many others all eventually learned from their experiences and were blessed by God in what they did; but forgiveness was never a blank cheque. They all had to live with the consequences of their actions.

That’s why some non-Chrsitians have a hard time with the idea of forgiveness. They see it as some kind of cosmic ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card and to them it’s just wrong that people who do bad things don’t have to pay the price. Unfortunately some Christians look at it that way too and that does a disservice to God and His message.

Forgiveness does not mean you don’t have to face the consequences of your actions, it means you want have to pay the price for what you did beyond those consequences. There is a commoon feeling among people in general that if what you have done is bad enough you should have to pay for it over and over and over again. That there is no amount of suffering that will balance the books for what you have done. They want the sinner to suffer not just once, but always, and for the rest of their lives, because that’s the only way they can see justice being done. Because to them justice means balancing the books, and eye for an eye.

But God’s Justice is a little different. God’s justice recognizes that in the sum of all things it is impossible to balance the books. We will never, no matter how hard we try, manage to achieve justice because even an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth doesn’t make things right. It just makes us feel better because revenge is sweet and since it’s sweet it is the most incidous form of comfort food. Because revenge makes us think we have justice because the books appear to have been balanced, but in reality we’ve just been given a candy that makes us feel better because we got someting out of it.

That’s why God’s justice is different, because it’s about paying the immediete unavoidable consequences of what we do, without making us the victims of revenge. Forgiveness wipes the slate clean, so that instead of falling prey to revenge, we can like Daivd, learn from our mistakes and go on to be a blessing to others.

Because we also need to realize that the victims of revenge are not just those who commit the sin, but those who seek revenge are also it’s victims. Because like comfort food revenge does not deal with the problem, it just make us feel better and distracts us from the problem, so it never gets dealt with properly. You see, forgiveness is the remedy not just for the sinner, but for those who have been sinned against as well. It purges us of the pain we feel that causes us to never be satisfied. That pain is why justice never seems enoough and revenge appears as the only answer. For both sides forgiveness is the only solution.

By now I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Dennis, how did we get from you falling down a hole having more time to write, to pondering the varities of justice and revenge? Man isn’t that a bit of a stretch?”

Well, yes, I suppose it is. But that’s what happens when you give a guy time to think and to ponder. And yet it’s not that big a stretch either because the nature of justice and forgiveness is at the root of how God works. It would not be just for God to inflict pain solely for the purpose of teaching me a few things. Israel’s perils were a direct result of their choosing to violate a covenant that they made with God at Mount Sinaih, the attacks by other nations were never random.

So my current situation is not God’s doing. I don’t believe that for a second. However, just as with Israel, God is not above using my stupidity to His advantage. I didn’t see the hole, now I’m here; and so is God, and while He forgices my stupidity he’s not above taking advantage of the situation. I’m sureHe has a few things he wants to draw to my attention while He has it. The question is will I quit complaining about the inconveniences of my current situation long enough to listen to what He has to say?

I pray that I do. Until next time…


Starting Over.. over New Years

It’s been a long time since I have posted here. I’m not sure exactly why I stopped posting, but I imagine it had a lot to do with the desire to do so fading into the background. So be it. My father often said there was no sense doing something if the joy has gone out of it for you.

But I have been thinking lately that I might start blogging again, but I think I’ll stick with just the one blog. I suspect part of my problem was trying to keep up with keeping three blogs going and doing all the other things I enjoy as well. Something had to give, or everything would suffer.

So I’ve decided just to post to this blog and this blog alone. I’ll likely copy it to my Multiply site. It will encompass a lot of the things I blogged about before only this time all in one blog. Sometimes it will be about the Bible and faith, sometimes about church history, sometimes about theatre or cycling all the various things that go into making me who I am. In short it will live up to it’s name – Myriad Shades of Gray… Dennis Gray.

I hope you don’t mind coming along for the ride…

So where to begin? How about a video? Some of you may not recognize or know of Penn Fraser Jillette, if not you can read about him here.

Jillette poses a question in this piece that really stuck with me when I heard it.

How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much to you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

I have often heard a variety of preachers encourage me to spend more of my time witnessing to others about Jesus. I have been told I should do it out of compassion for the deluded, because God has commanded it, because I won’t get any heavenly brownie points called crowns if I don’t, and of course I have been told I should do it out of love for the lost.

And while all of them have had varying degrees of effectiveness for varying lengths of time; none have struck me as this strait-forward, in-your-face question from a non-believer. I don’t usually make New Years resolutions, but I’m downloading this video and watching it over and over until the point sinks in.

If you haven’t done so, take the time to watch the video. Share it with your friends, both Christian and non-Christian. And while I do pray that all of you will have a safe, happy and blessed by God abundantly New Year; I also hope that this question stays foremost in your consciousness for each of the next 365 days.


A Bright Light shines no more.

I’ll tell you up front, this is the same post as I placed on my Java and Jesus blog two days ago. I Just felt I needed to post it here as well. The subject seems appropriate for this venue. For me it’s a pretty black and white issue….

I had fully intended to write the next episode of ‘Exploring the Kingdom Gospel” this week, but then something unexpected happened. Late Wednesday night a man walked out of a local bar, got into his truck and drove off. Because he was drunk, instead of taking the on-ramp to Hwy 6 south, he took the off ramp and wound up driving south in the North-bound lanes. A few minutes later he drove head on into a car, killing the driver. That driver was a wonderful young woman named Anna Graham.

I first met Anna about a year ago. Her uncle asked me to work on a production of “Death of a Salesman” that he was directing for Guelph Little Theatre. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and Anna was no small part of it. Anna, along with Anthony “Pooch” Brown, was designing the lighting for the production. You didn’t have to watch her work for long to know that this woman not only knew what she was doing, she enjoyed it immensely and had a real gift for creativity. You also didn’t have to watch for long to see just how proud her uncle, my friend Lloyd, was of her.

And now she’s gone!

As you scan the status lines of her friends on Facebook you can see the range of emotions. One person “is sad“, another “is numb“, one more is “trying to come to terms.” The most vocal of the lot is “Really mad….and hurt…and not understanding why this life has to be so f**kin unfair!!!” (the asterisks are mine). I know how he feels. I felt the same way when James died a year ago (I wrote about it here.). But somehow, I don’t feel the same pain about Anna, not the same way.

I know part of the reason is the simple fact Anna and I weren’t as close as James and I were. It’s no reflection on Anna; we worked together on ‘Salesman’ and then went our separate ways, her to her circle and me to mine. Most of the pain I feel is for her uncle Lloyd. Him I do consider a friend, and as both actor/director and human being, have a great deal of respect and admiration for the man. I can only imagine what he is going through. He’s never far from my thoughts.

But the biggest difference in this case is there was some good to be found in Jame’s death. He had been sick for a long time. In many ways his passing was a relief. His suffering is over and the spiritual part of me can at least begin to wrap my head around the idea that God decided it was for the best.

But in Anna’s case this logic does not apply. The hard cold fact is Anna died because someone couldn’t find anything better to do with a Wednesday night than get drunk watching naked women dance on stage. And even that might not matter except he then compounded things by making the selfish decision to drive himself home, and no one, not the bartender, not the servers, not his friends, nor the big burly guy at the door took the necessary steps to stop him. Anna is gone because human beings made selfish and wrong choices! Plain and simple!

Do I sound like I’m ranting? Of course I am. I’m angry! Because the simple fact is THIS IS WHY WE NEED GOD!!

Every day on the news and in other media I hear people trying to tell me how outmoded a concept God is. How human beings don’t need some invisible being in the sky, they are quite capable of conducting their own affairs. Morality is a flexible concept and changes from day to day, what’s good for you is bad for me, etc. etc. etc. Religion is no longer required because we can run our own affairs quite nicely thank you.

But the fact is, human beings, generally speaking, as a species, are no where near smart enough, wise enough, deep enough or insightful enough to be their own moral compass. When push comes to shove each of us, left to our own devices, will make a decision based not on the common good, or the welfare of others, but on our selfish wants and desires. The only hope for us is to have a moral guide that comes from outside of ourselves. A culture of accountability which holds us personally responsible for our actions on a level above and beyond the human trappings of law and order. This is the role religion fulfills.

And before you get started on the evils of organized religion, let me say it’s not the institution of religion I’m talking about. Rather it is the ground level, day-to-day belief that God is watching, and that someday we will have to face Him one-on-one and He will say, “Explain it to me again why you were a complete and total moron” – or words to that effect. For thousands of years the love for and fear of God has kept human beings from acting out of selfish motives and inspired us to think twice before we act, even if the only reason is the slim possibility that if we don’t behave we might find ourselves spending eternity roasting on a spit over a lava-fed barbecue. Though personally I have always suspected the lake of fire in Revelation is a metaphor for something far worse.

I know – I’m preaching. I’m taking advantage of Anna’s death to get on my soapbox and call down fire and brimstone. Well, I make no apologies for it. I’m not trying to be comforting, I’m trying to stop this kind of thing from happening the only way I know how.

I know full well that if it were not for the work of God in my life, I could well be that same moron getting drunk watching naked women dance. Or possibly something much worse. This is why Jesus came to earth as a child and sacrificed himself as a man – to save us from ourselves. To give us an option other than hopelessly trying to be our own moral compass. He is God’s response to our insistance on doing things our own way.

The hard cold fact is that this world is the way it is because human beings, collectively and individually, have said “Sorry God, we don’t need you any more. We are totally capable of making our own decisions. We are the captains of our own fates. Thanks for all your help in the past – we’ll take it from here.” And like it or not – this fractured, faulty, unfair world we live in is the result. I don’t like it either, but that’s the way it is.

The good news is this; when we said that, God responded by saying, “Fine. Have it your way. But when it all falls apart, when the unfairness of it all gets to you and you just can’t take it any more – please, please, PLEASE! Come crying back to Me and I promise – I WILL HELP YOU GET THROUGH IT!”

Good-bye Anna.

Shalom everyone.