“You gotta keep pedaling, babe, or you’ll fall!”
“Keep pedaling…keep pedaling…keep pedaling…”
This was my refrain yesterday as I got my 6 year old out to ride her bike for only the second time without training wheels. As I started to hear myself repeating it, I thought maybe there was a timely life lesson here akin to my reflections the first time she rode with training wheels a couple of years ago.
Given a recent tornado and a current pandemic and the pain of friends who have lost homes, are losing jobs and businesses, and my own challenges in keeping a startup alive, the message of “just keep pedaling” seemed like it might be wise. After all what else are you going to do!?
And, there is some truth to this. I fear if I stop pedaling or my community stops pedaling amid this almost unfathomable reality, I may just hit the ground. I’ve got to keep some momentum, some inertia, or steering will become more difficult. I’ll end up jerking the handle bars back and forth more rapidly, erratically, directionless, just to stay upright. I will ultimately lose my balance anyway.
As these thoughts were flooding my mind and my simultaneous refrain to my daughter echoed in my ears, my daughter did something else. She had fallen once again. But, this time she had stopped and started quietly looking at a patch of clover, focusing on something else, engaging in another component of her world, other senses, shifting her perspective. Stopping. Not pedaling.
And then, she got back up, got back on her bike, and started pedaling - and she kept pedaling this time. When she did fall, she suddenly figured out how to do it without hitting the ground. She also figured out how to get started on her own, to generate her own momentum, to start riding again.
The reality is, I guess, that yes, sometimes we do have to keep pedaling…pedaling…pedaling or we will fall. But, maybe sometimes we also have to stop pedaling for a bit to learn how to fall, or to learn that falling isn’t necessarily all we feared it would be, or maybe it’s worse, but we figure out how to start again, more wise, more prepared to keep pedaling, more resilient knowing how to - and that we can - get back up.
This morning, in many ways, I had my first Communion. Well, let me clarify: I had my first Communion that I felt I could truly believe in - with full heart, mind, intellect, emotion, lived reality, and faith.
Growing up as a Christian, I have been through all of the key sacraments and milestones. Communion did, however, take two tries because as a Protestant in Catholic School, I was denied my first Communion when all of my peers prepared for and received theirs. I sat in the back pew and waited while they presumably opened their doors to heaven. I crossed that milestone as a Methodist some years later with markedly less fanfare.
I never really resented my presumed lack of salvation in the Catholic Church - presumed damnation depending on how you chose to look at it. I just knew something didn’t make sense in my mind that as an 8 year old child I was denied this central symbol of the Christian Church while my peers partook. And, even as a child, I understood what its denial meant according to the faith of the people around me.
Not for that reason only, but for the life I lived and the family I was raised in, faith usually didn’t cut it for my connection with a higher power. Action was what mattered. People - all people - are what mattered. Living the right life was what I could control and living the wrong one could never be overcome by quoting scripture or proselytizing my faith.
This morning, I attended Church where a Church barely stood. I attended East End United Methodist’s service outside, in the grass, on a beautiful morning, with the tornado-torn bones of the old Church and the exposed rafters of its roof looming over us. I attended Church with several hundred neighbors, some of whom were members of the Church, many of whom just needed to gather after the tornado to be part of a community, to connect and find comfort.
I still don’t connect much with scripture. I love the music and I do like a good and thought-provoking sermon. Today, more than anything, I loved being among people who all in our own ways are struggling with the tragedy of the week - whether our own tragedy or that of our neighbor or the tragedy of the loss of a Church.
As the service wrapped up, the minister announced that in lieu of the sacrament of Communion, they would be passing out pieces of the broken glass from their shattered stained glass window - which until Tuesday told the story in light and glass and color of Christian Communion. The shattered shards they passed out even mirrored that of the broken Eucharist in my memory. This simple, beautiful, creative act amid destruction took my recent reflections on the Art of Church to a whole new level. In fact, this loving act, this sharing, this humble gesture, told the story of Christianity better than the window in its wholeness ever could have.
It also didn’t require faith to believe. It was a symbol of the present. It was a symbol of the basic human brokenness we are all experiencing. It was a remnant of human creativity and storytelling and inspiration. It was the sharing of brokenness as a means of bringing us together.
This is Church to me. This was a sacrament that I understand, and that I can believe in. I didn’t need Christian faith to find its transcendence. I have people. I have love. I have art. I have community. And, I have faith in these things.
There’s a lot that has changed about my community. That happens when you live someplace for 43 years. But, despite an entirely different complexion and economic status and just about everything else, there is some strange and persistent spirit that is East Nashville.
This week, East Nashville friends, families, neighbors, and small businesses have suffered extraordinary loss - including two lives - due to a middle-of-the-night EF3 tornado. It’s been devastating.
I have seen the East Nashville community rally before and I know they can work like dogs when it comes to helping a neighbor and uplifting our community. I saw this in 2010 when the city flooded and I saw the results from the 1998 tornado when I was stuck at college and couldn’t get home to do my part. I saw it growing up when families were advocating and organizing for anything from cleaner alleys to safer streets to better schools to battling slum lords. We would gather in the basement of Tulip Street Methodist Church around a potluck of someone’s potato salad, someone’s deviled eggs, someone’s lime jello salad, and someone’s fried chicken - and be a community.
I have been reminded this week how, in a crisis, in real community, people will activate and just do what they can: you have a chainsaw, you cut fallen trees. You still have electricity, you offer a shower or laundry or a place just to be. You have a few bucks and a wagon, you pass out water and snacks. You have a pair of gloves, you pick up whatever debris is out there - whether the remnants of a roof or shredded insulation or a pile of bricks formerly protecting someone’s home or business. You have a full heart and just don’t know what else to do, you give a hug and just let people know you care.
You do all of it, big and small, and all of it matters.
This is a truth I’ve known about East Nashville - all of my life.
Tonight, Margot McCormack of Margot’s Cafe hosted a “cookout” outside of her restaurant supported by some needed libations from Woodland Wine Merchant and some sweets from 5 Daughters to bring the community together and share some food, a little alcohol, and some camaraderie and love. Many of us still do not have power. Many others cannot stay in their own homes and cannot run their businesses. Some have lost everything. People are hurting.
I went to the cookout because I have felt helpless and disconnected and my spirit has been deeply troubled by the loss my community has faced. I just needed to see some familiar faces. I just needed to give a hug to a neighbor. I figured I’d grab a hot dog or something and just hang out with my wife and kids. It was oddly very important to me to be there.
This time, thanks to Margot, I traded the lime jello for a lamb chop - and some greens with black-eyed peas, and a kale salad, and maybe some Israeli couscous salad (guessing, but delicious!), and much more. It was just so East Nashville. All of it. Today. Always.
I do love lamb chops. I do love East Nashville.
Some things change. Some things stay the same.