Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Zabel, Zabel, Zabel!

For some reason I was thinking about what advice I would give to someone who wanted to take up bike racing. I was raking leaves as I was doing this so there was plenty of time for my mind to wander. I would advise a burgeoning race to learn to do everything well. If you are a climber learn how to sprint, if you are a sprinter learn how to climb. I know that seems like ridiculous common sense but I have seen too many people pigeon hole themselves and not reach their potential. I believe that races are won on strengths and lost on weaknesses.

When I was thinking about how this advice might apply I thought about Erik Zabel. During his long career, in an age when racers began to really specialize toward one day races or Grand Tours, Zabel raced them all. Not only did he race a full season, but he also competed in the grueling six day track races in the winter. He won Milan San Remo four times, the points classification at the Tour de France six times, and also the points jerseys in the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana  as well. In a long career he won nearly two hundred races as a professional. Erik Zabel was not ever the fastest sprinter in the bunch. What set him apart was his ability to climb better than faster sprinters. His successes in the Tour came because he could make it to Paris, long after many of the other sprinters had retired rather than facing the mountains. As a sprinter who could climb Erik Zabel made the most of his natural abilities while minimizing his weaknesses.

In Zabel's story I see a lesson of universal application. First of all I believe that it is important to know who you are and to recognize your gifts. Many people who experience real frustration in life do so because they are not in a position to use what they have. I know many people, myself included, who have found themselves at a dead end because their skill set was a poor fit for their work. You are who you are and if you try to be someone else it will never bring real contentment.

However knowing who you are and where your strengths lie does not mean you should ignore your weaknesses and allow them to become liabilities. I have seen equal frustration and stagnation similar to the dead end of misapplication where what someone needed was a little growth to rise above the things that were bringing them down. I have to admit that my natural inclination is to do what I like, but most of the real success and satisfaction has come when I used my natural abilities and worked hard to be more complete. For me at least there is a sense of pride that comes from having applied yourself and done something you thought was impossible.

No matter what it is that you do, ride your bike, go to the mat, do your job, build your relationships or strive for spiritual growth, think about Erik Zabel. His capacity to limit his weaknesses set him free to use his gifts more fully. Having written this I hope to carry it around with me, so that when I am frustrated or stagnant, I ask myself the important questions. At those times it will probably be the case that I am not utilizing what I have, or allowing my weaknesses  to undermine my strengths. I hope this helps some of you out there. Let me know if it sets you free to experience joy and contentment.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hope = Insight?

After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne.                                                      Revelation 4:1-2

I was speaking with a friend recently and I asked what might be useful as a theme for my yoga classes for this week. Her reply was that "hope" would be good. I thought about that for a while and concluded that hope really is not something that is part of the yogic tradition. Hope is the Christian belief that despite present current circumstances, Jesus' victory over death means that suffering is not the end. Sometimes hope is presented to the believer as, "Don't worry, one day you'll be in Heaven." This kind of thought overlooks the fact that Christian hope is not only about a better future, the present is also affected when things are seen from God's perspective.

In yoga, we see ignorance or avidya as the source of pain and suffering. Ignorance is not meant to be negative or a simple lack of knowledge. Avidya means an inability to see the big picture. So when we find ourselves in a situation where the next step is unclear or we are fearful, pain comes because we fear what might happen. The fear often causes us to make rapid decisions that are not helpful. This is not entirely our fault though. From what we know, humans evolved on the plains of Africa. Deeply embedded in the human brain is the fight or flight reflex. Early human survival was based on the ability to fend off or escape from an attacker. The problem is there is a big difference in fending off a marauding lion and dealing with a relationship issue, but our brains still process it the same.

Hope a seen from a biblical perspective is much like overcoming avidya. The Revelation to John is one of the most challenging books in our Bible. It is also one of the most misused. The premise of the book is simple; John is granted this vision as one undergoing persecution, so that he may see things from God's perspective, moving beyond ignorance. Even though our earthly vision is clouded, the vision allows us to peer into the ultimate future of Jesus' victory over death. The removal of the blinders of ignorance help us to look differently at the present in light of our future.

So how then can we develop insight on the mat? First and foremost is a regular practice. With a regular diet of back and forward bends, twists, inversion, balance poses and breath work we can learn to recognize our animal instincts and subdue them when they are not necessarily helpful in a given instance. This deep insight allows us to live gracefully without always being victims of our reflexes. A fearful situation does not have to leave us without hope; Through practice we can learn to penetrate to new, deeper understandings of what it means to live in the present with our eyes on the future.

Let me know what you think, I always appreciate feedback.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Passive? Aggressive? Assertive?

Following a yoga class recently, a student asked me what poses might help improve self confidence and assertiveness. That is one of the most unique questions that I have been asked, but it sparked some productive thought in me. (I actually offered some suggestions but I won't give them away now. You will have to attend a class to find out) I was intrigued that he used the word assertive because it is a powerful, yet appropriate way to live life.

In a learning environment a few years ago we discussed three different ways of being. One is passive. While passivity is not a bad thing people who are passive in nature often get pushed around often leading them into difficulties in life because they are unable or unwilling to speak for themselves. Depression, withdrawal from society and many other issues follow preventing the person from experiencing a fulfilling life.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is aggression. Aggression behavior shows little or no regard for others. I am not qualified to speak on this a a clinical level but overly aggressive people are very destructive and are often unable to make the connection between their actions and harm done to others. In my opinion there is no room for this in society because we are all interconnected and what we do affects others whether we acknowledge it or not.

There is a sweet spot in between these two extremes called assertiveness. An assertive person is willing to stand up for their rights and the rights of others but not at the expense of another. As I told the inquisitive yogi, assertiveness says, "I'm here and you are not going to push me around, but I will not push you around either." The thing about assertive behavior is that it involves vulnerability and risk. To assert one's self you must be open to others.

So the question is; "Can you learn to be more assertive through posture and breath." I believe so. This is an activity that involves all seven chakras, but I believe the third, fourth and fifth are critical here. That is all the information I will offer on this now. Come to one of my classes this week and see for yourself.


Update on the Lotus

Last week I wrote about the 1980's Lotus Odyssey that I have been restoring. I finished the bike on Friday after purchasing a new saddle, chrome toeclips and a water bottle cage. After a final polish, I delivered the bike to its owner yesterday. He and I are both very pleased with the way it turned out. I hope he enjoys the bike for many years.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


A few weeks before Christmas a friend invited me over to his house to look at a bike he had rescued on its trip to the dump. The story was a man had done some work for an elderly woman in her yard. While cleaning up the yard he found the bike which had belonged to her deceased son. She asked him if he would carry it off to the dump. On the way there my friend spotted it and asked if he could have it.

I stopped by after church and took a look at the bike and told him I thought it was worth it. It was a Lotus Odyssey, which a vague memory told me came from the golden days of the Japanese bicycle in the early 80's. In those days the Dollar did well against the Yen and some very high quality bikes came here from Japan. I looked it over and saw that it was all there and barring something unforeseen could easily be a ridable bike with a small expenditure. The components were top of the line or second tier parts from their time.After a little research I found that my hunch was right; It was a sport touring bike from the early 80's and the frame would have been handbuilt in Japan.

After returning from our Christmas vacation I picked the bike up and began to disassemble it. It came apart very easily and I found one quirk, it has a reverse pull front derailleur. After stripping it down to the bare frame I spent several hours removing years of accumulated dirt. What appeared from underneath truly surprised me. The chrome was one hundred percent intact with no pitting. About ninety-five percent of the paint was there and there was very little external rust. I inspected the lugs inside and out and was pleased to find that this was a very well made bicycle and reported this to my friend.

This is the point where I began to think philosophically. In this day and age most road bicycles are styled after what you see professional racers riding. It's no secret that bike shops get a big bump in July after the Tour de France, the only major pro race that gets big press in the U.S. It's not uncommon to see older new riders out on $6-8000 bicycles because that is what they wanted and the shop was more than happy to sell it to them. The problem is that these bikes are meant for young professional racers who are light and flexible. This is not a criticism of bike shops because the industry decided to create this trend, leaving little room for the person who wants a sturdy, comfortable bike that they can ride for years. I told my friend, "You cannot walk into a shop today and buy such a bike off the floor. You would have to have one built for you, which would be very expensive."

After all of the stripping and cleaning I began to reassemble the bike, discovering that beyond a few things that normally wear out, it needed very little. I went with large 28mm tires for comfort and decided that the silver paint with blue decals needed blue handlebar tape and brake housing. A trip to my local bike shop netted me most of the parts I needed and a long time friend/mechanic got the wheels in good shape.The whole thing went together with surprising ease and with a few tweaks it was a bike that shifted and braked well and to my eye, looked damn good.

The moral of the story is that you do not know what is underneath something until you actually get there. This bike was a diamond in the rough that will shine for my friend as long as he wants it. In my mind it has also confirmed my belief that there is great value in something that another person makes by hand. Yes, carbon fiber bikes weigh much less, but they will be disposed of long before this 30 year old gem is retired. You can ride anything you want, but don't look down upon someone who chooses a different and perhaps less conventional path because sometimes the minority is right.

Keep on doing what you do and don't let fashion dictate how you live.

P.S. I'm still new to blogging, so I will try to provide photos as I can load them.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And the 78th Time as Well

"Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times."
Matthew 18:21-22

I do not know anyone who wants to live who will intentionality drink poison. I do however know people who poison themselves every day because they are unwilling to extend forgiveness. I understand why people hold grudges; when someone has done something to wrong you, you want them to hurt in the same way that they have hurt you. The problem here is that you are most certainly harming yourself and you have no control over the other person. It even happens that your opponent is unaware of the injury, so while you are laying in bed at night seething with anger, he is sleeping like a baby.

The truth is forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person, no matter how severe the wrong. Forgiveness is about letting  go of that anger that is slowly eating you and controlling your life. Worst case scenario is that you forgive someone and they don't care. They were already alright in the first place and now you have given yourself the antidote to what was killing you. Best case scenario is the possibility of reconciliation with another person.

Jesus advises Peter to make forgiveness a bottomless well because he understands that this is the way his Father forgives. Despite all of the harm that we have done, the Creator of all that is still wants nothing more than reconciliation. No one has done more harm to me than has already been forgiven me by God.

My theme for the week Tapas is about detoxifying all that we are. We come to the yoga mat again and again craving that post savasana feeling of lightness that comes after our practice has detoxified the body. The same thing is available to our mental and spiritual well-being when we apply tapas to the whole life. I intend to spend some time this week allowing the purifying heat of Divine Grace to burn away the toxins that burden me. Try taking your practice off the mat to experience real freedom.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Conversion of St. Paul

I just noticed on my calendar is the festival of the Conversion of St. Paul. For those of you who don't know, Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee among Pharisees. These were people who devoured scripture and literally lived it. They were keepers of tradition and interpretation of the Torah or God's divine teaching. The Pharisees had a lot of trouble with a man named Yeshua (Jesus) who came from Nazareth. Theologically they were probably not far away from each other, but Yeshua lacked credentials and spoke with an authority that did not derive from any tradition source.

After the death, and as Christians claim, resurrection of Yeshua, people began to proclaim him as God's long promised Messiah. The Pharisees wanted no part of this and Saul was one who was a leader. He apparently was very important in the stoning of the Deacon Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Saul got permission from the leaders to go to Damascus and round up any of these followers that he found. On his way there he had a vision of Yeshua and that threw Saul into a quandary. If Yeshua was truly risen from the dead, then God was acting differently then he expected, which meant he was wrong.

Saul lost his sight and spent a long time praying until a Christian named Annanias came and laid his hands on him restoring his sight. Saul was then baptized and then spent much time among believers learning the faith. This man became Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, who pushed the faith well beyond where anyone thought it could go.

I see two important things in this story. The first of which is Saul's willingness to change. His life was on a fairly certain path and likely one that would have brought him riches, comfort and respect. Yet when he realized that he was on the wrong path he abruptly changed his course in life and took on a life that rewarded him with poverty, jail time and public scorn. How many of us are willing to admit that we are wrong much less make such a 180 in our lives?

The bigger story here is the God that we meet. Too often we create our own god who loves us and hates what we hate. This is idolatry. But here is a God who goes into the camp of those who are fighting against him to recruit his advocates. That is grace. I don't hear very much about this God in the public sphere. I hear of a god who hates homosexuals or judgmental people. I hear of a god who hates liberal or conservatives. Our god that many of us worship simply confirms what we believe and that's why I spell it with a small g. The God who recruited Saul even loves those who don't love him. If this is the true God, then we have much to be thankful for and much to do so that people may know this new life.

As always tell me what you think.

Drum Roll Please

For he is like a refiner's fire (somewhere in Isaiah)

Tapas is a purifying heat (The Yoga Sutras)

My theme for this week is Tapas. No I don't mean food you eat in Spain before you go drinking. Tapas is one of the niyamas that reminds us that we grow more pure when we bring the heat of discipline into our lives. Suffering is caused by impurities which can be removed by discipline. On the yoga mat this comes about as practice detoxifies the body and we are left with that light, clean feeling post savasana. Spiritually drawing close to God through prayer, study and meditation removes the obstacles we construct. Learning about our mental impurities frees the mind to see things as they really are.

Come visit one of my classes or contact me to hear more about this


Yoga, Bikes and Jesus?

I have been asked by a few friends to start a blog because either they think I have something to say or they want to laugh at how crazy I am. I am fine with it either way. I chose this title because I am a pastor who loves everything about bicycles and am trying to change my life and the world around me through yoga. Perhaps that seems like an odd combination, but hey, I never claimed to be very conventional.

I promise to never post anything negative on this blog because I believe that when two objects vibrate at different frequencies they will throw each other off. When two objects vibrate at the same frequency they amplify their sound. So by only remaining positive I can amplify positive people and I certainly don't want to contribute to the other. And, if I am going to do something as narcissistic as blogging I prefer to use it to do good.

So, sit back, tune in and enjoy the ride!