Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stupid! (Old Fart on Fixie)

I'm preaching a sermon series on the five points of Calvinism.  It's called "A Big God".  The point being that even though we have free will and ultimately we decide to choose or reject God's grace for us, we still need God far more than we realize we do.  In fact we even need him to help us to be able to choose him.  Furthermore we simply need Him to be involved in every area of our lives, because without him...well who knows what we might do?

Some folks don't like a God who's that big or that involved.  He seems controlling.  They'd rather make their own decisions and deal with their own problems.

Well, I intended to write this blog post about that series.  But I'm going to tell you a little story instead.

Our oldest son John is into fixed gear bicycles.  Fixies, they call them.  Basically they're regular road bikes without special gears or the ability to coast.  Or brakes.  (The no-brakes thing is a key element in this story.)  Because John wouldn't be riding his bike this summer he let me store it in our garage.  Or ride it.

Riding a fixed gear bicycle is a lot different than riding a regular bike.  You never realize how handy it is to coast until you can't.  You swing a leg over the bike and push off and those pedals start going.  If you get your feet situated right you pedal right along with them.  But if you don't, you've got nothing to stand on:  those pedals just kind of push you around until you get settled on the seat or the top bar or whatever part of the bike you land on while you're trying to match your feet to the pedals.

Riding a fixie isn't hard once you get going.  At least on straight roads where there are no cars or other obstacles to avoid.  You just ride straight and steady and when you want to slow down you start resisting the pedals a little bit, and then a little bit more and then finally you slow down enough that you can step off the thing.   However it's a lot harder if you have to stop suddenly.   The really good fixie riders know how to lock up the back wheel into a really cool skid and they stop that way.  Then they go buy a new tire, I guess.  But I'm not a really good fixie rider, so I can't skid.  I just kind of slow down gradually.   Riders like me need to be really careful.   I also made one little change to John's bike:  I took his toe clips off.  As scary as it was to be riding a bike that kept trying to take charge, the last thing I wanted was to have my feet strapped to those pedals.  I'd probably hurt myself, I figured.

I commute by bike a lot, so I took John's fixie to my office.  On the way I worked really hard to resist the pedals at every intersection.  By the time I got to work my legs felt like jelly, but I think I looked really cool.  I mean, how many 40-something pastors ride fixies to work?

There's a big overpass right by our office.  My commute takes me over it, and then back again on my way home.    My mind was pretty absorbed as I left my office that day, probably thinking about deep spiritual things or the emails I hadn't returned.  As my thoughts whirled, my legs churned up and over that overpass, heading down the other side.  I'd ridden that climb so often I could do it without thinking.

Which was exactly what I did.  Shortly after cresting the incline the high-pressure racing tires started rolling faster and faster.   That was usually the place where I squeezed the brakes on my commuter bike. Right about then that must have I started thinking again, as my brain suddenly realized that I had no brakes.  I immediately started doing the resist-the-pedals thing, but after a couple strokes the pedals started going too fast for my feet to keep up with them.

(Right about now in the story my son starts doing the dad thing:  "Oh no...I can't believe you...What were you thinking?"  Just ignore him and listen to the story.)

Apparently those toe clips really serve a purpose on a fixie.  I guess they make it a lot easier to slow a bike down because you can resist all the way around the pedal stroke, both pulling and pushing.   If you don't have toe clips pretty quickly the pedals get a away from your feet and it's darn near impossible to get them back.

I had an idea:  I would lift my feet and let the pedals slap the bottom of them as they spun by.   Picture several people rapidly hitting the bottoms of your feet with golf clubs while you're riding a zip line.  Didn't really work for me either.  And the unnerving thing was that I was still gaining speed.

One little detail I didn't tell you is that there is a traffic light right at the bottom of this downhill.  In fact, it never really occurred to me how stupid of a place that was for an intersection, but there it was.  The street was packed with cars from all directions.  And there comes this pastor flying down the hill with his feet lifted up off the pedals.  I swerved out into the lane and easily kept up with all the cars.  This should be interesting, I figured.

I'm not much of a gambler, but I quickly figured the chances of catching that light on a green were about 50-50.  I feared what might happen if I crashed into a truck or a tree or something.  But what I feared even more was crumpling the gorgeous new frame my son had bought when he built the bike last winter.  As I continued to accelerate I began to brainstorm just what I might do if the light turned red and I was faced with a delivery truck crossing my path.  Try though I might, I really couldn't come up with any good ideas.

And then I saw it.  I've seen a lot of beautiful sights in my life:  sunsets, mountain ranges, rocky coasts--but I don't think I've ever seen something as beautiful as that green traffic light shining over my intersection from hell.  It's viridescent sphere of hope boldly marking the path that I could take as I careened past the other more-conventional commuters.

In a moment it was done.  I'd reached level ground, the pedals slowed and eventually accepted my feet again and my pulse slowed to something a little closer to normal.   It was like waking from a bad dream.

Like I told you, originally I was going to write a blog post about why I find such comfort in the Reformed understand of a sovereign God who manages even mundane events in our universe.  There are those who bristle at the idea of a controlling God who would try to micro-manage the world we live in.   They'd prefer to think that they could do just fine on their own.   We're not stupid, they would insist.

I would beg to differ.


  1. I don't know any Armenians that would claim that we're not stupid.

  2. Nobody wishes any more sermons
    It is for each person to find out and to choose
    No to Indoctrination
    No to Stupid talk
    For those keen in reading and researching
    many answers and, yes, we are entitled to our own opinion and to keep it for ourselves and to be shared with those who are keen to share
    Have a great life