About twenty seconds into a twenty-mile bike ride, I thought, this is foolish.
The mid-40s temperature lowered dramatically when I started the ride because cyclists create their own wind chill factor. Brrrr! Good news: the streets were dry. Bad news: Californiaâ€™s San Joaquin Valley has Tule fog, and looks like a soup tureen filled with thin gruel. The good news about the bad news was the fog wasnâ€™t terrible on the day I shidled* for about an hour.
Cold as it was, I did one smart thing.
3rd Sunday after the Epiphany â€“ for January 23, 2011
The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of Godâ€¦ (I Corinthians 1:18)
Ah, but the day before, that was a foolish day. In the final moments of my wifeâ€™s winter break from teaching we cross-country skied. We wanted to put the San Joaquinâ€™s Valleyâ€™s dismal fog in our rear view mirror. We selected the snow-covered road that led to Yosemiteâ€™s Mariposa Grove for our adventure. Two miles down this road awaited the fabled sequoias. Just. Two. Miles. Alas, since Californiaâ€™s had a zillion inches of moisture in the last month, the snow depth on the usually pleasant road rivaled the Sahara Desertâ€™s sand dunes. But freezing! Brrrr! I fell. Often. Several times, in the endless, powdery snow, I feared I might drown if I wasnâ€™t careful.
Cold as it was, I did one smart thing.
See that picture of me on my two-wheeler? I may look like a dork, and I may be a fool to pedal in the winter, but do you notice how good my hair looks? No. You donâ€™t. When I bike, my helmetâ€™s strapped on. Of the 714 bicycle-related deaths in the United States during 2008, 616 (86%) of those cyclists were helmetless. Boys and girls, don your dorky headgear!
Hereâ€™s another stirring statistic: approximately 40% of the bodyâ€™s heat â€œescapesâ€ from the head. Your noggin will â€œloseâ€ more heat while struggling in cold conditions than arms, legs, and derriere combined. And so, even though I fell early and often on the snow-choked road to the Big Trees (which on that day I never saw), I was also a mostly toasty lad. I wore a cap. My ears were covered.
Donâ€™t call me no fool! I guard my thinning follicles and vanishing brain cells. If I fall off my bike, Iâ€™ll probably be able to talk about it the next day. When the wind howls across the Sierra ridges, Iâ€™ll adjust my comfy hat and bravely smile.
In my physical activity, Iâ€™m good at protecting my head. And yet, in my spiritual life, my head often gets in my way.
I read Paulâ€™s statement in I Corinthiansâ€”the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of Godâ€”and smile. What a clever use of words he has. And then I cringe. If Christians are fools for Christâ€™s sake, I will often do everything possible to avoid looking faithfully foolish.
I prefer to think about God. Me? Iâ€™ll read the Bible. Or Iâ€™ll read scholarly insights about the Bible. Or Iâ€™ll even read commentary about commentary about the Bible. Itâ€™s all so, well, interesting to ponder what Iâ€™ve read about God. And safe.
I enjoy debating scripture. A few weeks back, the lectionary focused on Jesusâ€™ baptism. Isnâ€™t it bothersome that Mark has the spiritâ€”like a doveâ€”arriving immediately as Jesus rises from the Jordan, while Luke has the same feathered metaphor appearing later? Hey, get your stories straight! And letâ€™s ignore how Johnâ€™s Gospel depicted Jesusâ€™ baptism, â€˜cuz Iâ€™ll get agitated about how different that was! Give me a scripture and Iâ€™ll figuratively arm-wrestle you about why itâ€™s a PR ploy by first-century evangelists wary of the Roman Empire.
Talk, I will. Argue, I will. Too often, and too easily, I protect myself with fancy words and selected facts.
When my wife and I returned to the car, and after Iâ€™d fallen in the snow those zillion times, I told her, â€œIâ€™m glad Iâ€™ve had good ski experiences in the past.â€ If that day had been my only point of reference for cross-country skiing, Iâ€™d consider tossing my skis and poles into the fireplace for kindling.
But I knew of the good days. And could anticipate more good days.
Itâ€™s like that for my faith, for my sense of the foolishness of the cross. I can recall and celebrate the momentsâ€”the small percentages of timeâ€”where my â€œheadâ€ didnâ€™t protect me, but instead my â€œheartâ€ felt fully engaged. Not too long ago, while visiting a hospice patient, I heard his anguish over a family situation. Iâ€™m merely a volunteer. Iâ€™m not there as an ordained pastor, though I am. Iâ€™m not there because itâ€™s my â€œChristian duty,â€ though Iâ€™m a follower of Jesus. He hurt. I know hurt. He felt broken. I too am broken. I sat beside him, mostly saying nothing. I sat beside him, and I thinkâ€”I believeâ€”he knew Iâ€™d stay with him until that momentâ€™s anguish passed. He needed another to listen. I listened. He asked for a prayer. We prayed.
The foolishness of the cross is many things. Indeed, it would easy to debate its multitude of meanings. But itâ€™s at least one thing for me in some of my fleeting best moments: a challenge to let my go of those things I protect myself with and risk being fully with another.
*shidled or shidling: shivering while pedaling, usually done by people wearing odd helmets and brightly-colored jackets.