Archives for category: Uncategorized

Today was an ideal day for biking to work: partly sunny, partly cloudy, teen temperatures, and only a slight breeze. So, perhaps this is a good day to post something I wrote 13 years ago about the worst day of biking to work I’ve ever had.

Yesterday was the absolute worst cycling commute to work I have had in seven years of living in BC! I have biked in various extreme conditions: torrential downpours, high winds, falling snow and icy streets but remind me never to set out when it is plus two with a mixture of snow and rain coming down on a layer of snow and rain already there. In the morning, as I looked outside into the wet and dreary darkness of the pre-dawn and began to whine about the conditions, my wife actually had the audacity to laugh at me for my cowardice. And so I consoled myself as I often do, “I guess it’s not that bad once I get out there; people in Winnipeg bike in a lot worse conditions.” So I set out with determination.

After about a kilometer of tenacious pedaling a colleague waved cheerfully as he passed me in his car. I gritted my teeth wishing I had asked for a ride. And then a few kilometers further as I turned a corner I wiped out because of the greasy ice that was forming underneath the slush. I picked myself up off the slimy pavement with luckily only my arm and my pride in pain. From then on I was on busier streets and each car that passed me mercilessly spewed forth a rich concoction of sand, salt, and slush in my direction. My Gortex suit is like armor but eventually even it surrendered to the barrage of slush that began oozing up and down my left side. My gears began to be clogged by the freezing slush so that my chain constantly slipped, turning my usual rhythmic pedaling into a vicious staccato. I was not happy. And to top it all off, the man at the bus stop who usually ignores me when I greet him upon passing, sneered visibly at my misery as I limped by.

In the past I have cycled in great self-righteousness. I am reducing green-house gasses and saving the planet and halting the ominous onslaught of global warming. In fact if all of us were biking we wouldn’t be having all this strange weather in the first place! I am stopping the war in Iraq because I am reducing our dependence on foreign oil imports. I am keeping my body in good health by getting an hour of cardiovascular exercise every day. I am saving ten dollars a day on fuel and the cost of another car and can instead spend that money on more worthy things like going on a family vacation or feeding the hungry. I am slowing down my life by becoming more in tune with my surroundings and my body and spirit. And on and on I could pontificate about the benefits of cycling to work (I did that in a previous post written five years after this particular day). All this did not matter yesterday morning as I cursed my own stupidity and stubbornness, my wife for laughing, my colleague for waving, each passing slush-spewing motorist, my bike for freezing up, the meteorologist who forecasted this mess and God who is ultimately to blame for everything.

The rain and snow turned to rain only by day’s end so I decided I would brave the commute home rather than bedding down in my office as I had initially surmised. After hearing about my ordeal, another colleague did feel great sympathy and offered me a ride home, but I refused just to prove to myself that it was an isolated experience. I could not let the elements defeat my high principles. If it was not for the world, I had to do it for myself at least!

The cycle home was wet but routine. My heart felt light after the heaviness of the morning. As I approached the intersection where I had wiped out in the morning I decided to symbolically spit on the very spot in victorious defiance of the elements. Just as I was about to launch a mighty “arch de triumph” toward the cursed street, a car rolled through the intersection oblivious to my presence in the midst of my sacred moment. Were it not for my blood-curdling yell and the straight arm tactic honed in the cow pasture football games of western Manitoba, that car would have made me the latest item on the menu of some Road-kill Café. When the poor woman driving the car came to from the shock of seeing my hand and open mouth so close to her windshield, she finally slammed on the brakes to avoid me by mere inches.

Oh the joys of cycling to work! This morning—with the previous day now a muddled memory—as I peered through the cracks of the Venetian louvers I was soothed by the predictable drizzle of a more typical west coast winter morning. Ahhh! The delectable beauty of this damp grayness unmatched by any clear prairie sunrise! I set out with new hope for a routine ride to work and I was not disappointed. Although climate change and the war in Iraq continue, at least my life of cycling to work was as it should be. The man at the bus stop did not even acknowledge my existence.

It was a nice day on Wednesday and I had a few things to do at the office that could not be done from home so I took to the path. It was nice to meet two of the regulars.

Since changing my cycling route some years ago I travel on pathway for over half the distance. The longest section of the pathway is relatively remote for a city trail, going through a marshland past a former garbage transfer station, but I do meet the occasional walker or fellow cyclist. Since I’m introverted and on my way to work, I generally do not stop to talk to strangers but I have developed a few relationships along the way. When has that happened while driving in a car?

I wrote about Bill a number of years ago. I did not see him for a year or so and I wondered if he had died and actually became concerned that I would miss his funeral although I had no idea how I would ever find out. But then one day there he was hobbling with a cane and he showed me the shiny new braces on his legs! The dog he faithfully walked did die and now he walks alone and not as far but we continue to meet on occasion and swap stories about the weather, kids and grandkids, his adventures growing up on army bases, and even politics and religion if I do not have a schedule to meet. He never does and loves to talk.

Since I met Bill I have encountered a few other regulars in the morning. There is one older man who always has his earphones on, holding what looks like a real, vintage walk-man in one hand. We always nod to each other. There is a woman who is walking her pit-bull and always politely stops to hold him until I have passed for which I am grateful. If I am approaching from behind her I always shout a warning, “biker on the left” because I do not want to spook that dog! And there is the mysterious other cyclist whom I have never seen but see the tire marks if it has rained or if there has been a slight frost. This rider obviously gets going before I do.

For the past couple years my timing has given me the opportunity to meet Cyrus and Sally, a newly retired couple who walk their dogs. Well, they walked one and had one in a child’s stroller which I found kind of weird and funny at first until I found out that it was in its last days and they were basically doing palliative care. Although I’m not a dog lover, I was impressed with their compassion. Then last year it was Cyrus alone and I stopped to ask why. I found out Sally had some serious health concerns and was hospitalized for some time. I was glad to see both of them a few months later, minus the dog in the stroller. They are a cheery couple, former postal carriers who are familiar with walking. I meet them almost every day so I only stop on occasion but they always shout a friendly greeting each time I pass. “Have a good day Gareth.” Cyrus always says my name which makes me feel good. It was good to catch up with them this week and to see that they were both well.

This was my first post—with some updates—when I began blogging on this website in January, 2012.

Besides the house, the car is the biggest consumer item in a typical North American household. It is also the biggest polluter in an average North American household. It is my privilege and responsibility as a Christian to be a good steward of my wealth as well as of the earth entrusted to my care. Since shelter is a basic human necessity, maybe the car should be the first thing to chop off the consumerist block. But a car is a necessity in our society! We can’t live without it! Or can we?

Someday I’d like to try to live without a car in our society but we aren’t quite there yet. It is always good to start small so my wife and I decided when we got married that we would only own one car between the two of us even though we have always both worked outside of the home. It was difficult when I was doing youth ministry and when we were carting our four kids off to various events and had evening church meetings and such. It didn’t become easier when we had five drivers at one point but thankfully that did not last long. Our four kids are all grown up now and two have their own cars but the one thing that has remained consistent in the past twenty years is that I bike to work.

For me personally, biking to work every day has become an important part of my daily routine. Here are my top ten reasons why I bike to work:
1. It gets me going in the morning better than a cup of coffee.
2. It slows down my life and gives space for praying, thinking, reflecting and debriefing (much better for the soul than sitting in a tin can getting road rage).
3. It saves a whole pile of money we use for better things than supporting oil and auto companies.
4. Food is my fuel which I consume anyway and besides, food tastes and smells better than car fuel.
5. There is no speed limit; I can go as fast as my energy source will allow.
6. It gets me in touch with the surrounding environment and breathing God’s fresh air.
7. It is good stewardship of the body. It keeps me in good physical health.
8. I see and recognize people on the way instead of everyone hiding in their metal shell.
9. It is good stewardship of the earth. It causes no pollution.
10. It’s fun.

This year I am celebrating 20 years of cycling to work. I do not have an odometer but a bit of rough math—20-22 km per day (depending on the route), approximately 200 days a year for 20 years, minus years like this last one—would reveal that I have cycled at least 75,000 km! I could have traveled from coast to coast a few times so I guess I can stroke that off my bucket list. To celebrate this milestone I will write about a few cycling adventures this month.

Unfortunately, this past year was my worst year for cycling. It began when I pulled my hamstring in a very bad way during the first week of classes. The funny thing is that I did not pull the muscle while biking. I had successfully biked to work and then, while setting up tables and chairs in my classroom, I extended myself while lifting in just the wrong way and I felt a huge pop in my hamstring that almost caused me to faint. It was so bad I had bruising all the way down the back of my leg. Needless to say, I took the bus for the next five weeks before I felt secure enough to resume cycling. Now eight months later I can still feel that the hamstring is not yet back to normal!

Winter is rainy season in the lower mainland of BC so I was enjoying a beautiful winter morning with no rain and about +3 degrees during my first week back in January. I was energized as I made my way to work along Discovery Trail, a smooth paved trail that meanders across Abbotsford from east to west. It has made my commute a bit longer every day but the serenity of the trail with grasses, trees, cattails, birds, dog walkers, and even a beaver, muskrat, coyote, or deer on occasion as my companions—instead of speeding cars and lumbering trucks—are worth the extra five or ten minutes. There was no sign of frost anywhere that morning so I was moving along at a good pace on the paved trail with a transition to boardwalk up ahead. Unfortunately, I was not considering that at about +3 in a humid climate a seasoned boardwalk turns into a greasy slick! I went down hard as I hit the transition from pavement to boardwalk. Of course, it happened so fast I had no time to react and I must have landed on my head (I was wearing a helmet) because my only memory is the sound of dropping a large rock on concrete.

As I came to, I literally saw stars swirling around like they show in the cartoons. I eventually pushed the bike off of me and sat up. It seemed the bike was okay so my first impulse was to get back on to continue the journey. I decided to walk for a while to clear my head but the unsteadiness on my feet made me think that perhaps this was a good time to use that cell phone I had for no good reason. I had to pull out my glasses along with the phone so I could see the numbers and somehow in the midst of the malaise I lost my glasses into a reedy swamp off the boardwalk. I did manage to get them back and called the office, asking that someone come pick me up. I had about 1 km till the nearest pick-up point and a passerby asked if I was okay. She told me that I had a gash on my cheek with some unsightly coagulation of blood. When I arrived at work they promptly took me to a walk-in clinic where I was diagnosed with a concussion and sent for X-rays. I had instructions to avoid physical exertion, so no biking. Instead, I had a head-ache every day for the next six weeks, lived in a bit of a fog, walked into the wrong classroom, and forgot administrative details, but managed to show up for all my classes other than the day of the accident.

Then just as I was getting back on the bike they tell us all to stay home because of COVID-19! I have been going for a bike ride every day to try and simulate traveling to work but this year has been an unexpected sabbatical from biking to work every day. What a way to celebrate 20 years!

I can identify with the folk music, vocal performance arts, poetry and collage, of my eldest three children but my youngest son’s artistic gifts leave me scratching my hoary head. I am posting a blog on a website but that is as far as my social media involvement goes. I do not have a Twitter account, I am not on YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook, and I was the last of my peers to get a cell phone. The last six weeks have necessitated that people like me learn to use zoom and other social media platforms in order to finish the semester but I did so kicking and screaming. I will not be leading the way in advocating that college education move towards a completely online delivery system even though many are doing so!

Our youngest son, Micah, is the most “outdoorsy” of any of our children and also the most social media savvy (a good balance). Micah is a regular vlogger, meme-maker, and YouTuber who actually operates multiple YouTube channels. Here is one of them. “Like and subscribe.”

https://www.youtube.com/c/miketheboy89

I read a very insightful book a number of years ago entitled, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. The basic premise of his book is an extension of Marshall McLuhan’s now famous quote, “The medium is the message.” Christians have rightfully always been discerning of how new inventions might be used for positive and negative purposes and content, but the point here is that no tools [and maybe particularly tools that we use for self-expression, for shaping personal and public identity, and cultivating relations with others] are entirely neutral. Here are a few quotes that are still relevant today.

“The shift from paper to screen doesn’t just change the way we navigate a piece of writing. It also influences the degree of attention we devote to it and the depth of our immersion in it.”

“The Net’s cacophony of stimuli short-circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively.
The offloading of memory to external data banks doesn’t just threaten the depth and distinctiveness of the self. It threatens the depth and distinctiveness of the culture we all share.”

“The great danger we face as we become more intimately involved with our computers – as we come to experience more of our lives through the disembodied symbols flickering across our screens – is that we’ll begin to lose our humanness, to sacrifice the very qualities that separate us from machines. The only way to avoid that fate is to have the self-awareness and courage to refuse to delegate to computers the most human of our mental activities and intellectual pursuits, particularly tasks that demand wisdom.”

What is ironic is that during this global pandemic with physical distancing regulations, social media has actually helped us to be human and helped us to connect with other humans more deeply. I am still skeptical and keenly aware of the dangers of the internet as a system of disseminating and communicating thoughts and creativity but self-aware, critical-thinking, and creative young people like my son Micah give me some hope that depth of human relationship is possible in a digital world.

Poetry speaks more with less words. I have written poetry since I was a young teenager. It is a wonderful way to express deep emotions that would be impossible to express in prose. There is no better description of what poetry is than in Eugene Peterson’s book on the Psalms.

“Poetry is language used with personal intensity. It is not, as so many suppose, decorative speech… Poets use words to drag us into the depths of reality itself. They do not do it by reporting on how life is, but by push-pulling us into the middle of it. Poetry grabs for the jugular… Poetry doesn’t so much tell us something we never knew as bring into recognition what is latent, forgotten, overlooked, or suppressed.”

Our only daughter, Sarina Rose Marie Brandt, was named after both of her grandmothers. Her poetry cannot be found online so in true Sarina-fashion she chose one that honours me even though I’m trying to honour my children this month.

Radical Dad
I Love you, Dad.
Because Meat on the Grill doesn’t taste nearly as good as
home-grown vegetables
cooked (by you) into a poor-man’s stew;
Because you don’t bike to be the Strongest
but to respect your God, the earth God gave you,
and the lungs of your children;
Because you don’t like Fishing
(or fish), but you do like Green
though not for its manly sheen, instead
Because it reminds you of the forests–
of their beauty and their darkness,
of their aliveness;
Because Ties threaten the throat,
and Watches the wallet,
and Guns the peace;
Because I don’t need a Superhero to protect me,
a Warrior to rescue me,
or a Tycoon to pay for me;
Because I need a father to cry with me,
A wise-man to discuss with me,
An artist to read my poetry.
I love you, Dad.

My daughter gets me! Poets know each other. I am a man who would rather write poetry than pump iron. Most of the poetry I write is the journal variety and not for publication. It is in the most intense parts of my life that I have written the most poetry. Poetry helps me to reflect on life.

Just as poetry is not merely decorative speech, collage is not merely pasting nice pictures together in a scrapbook. Art is the best form of social protest. Here is one of my daughter’s collage pieces [another art form we share interest in].

gnat 4

 

My second son, Adriel Sebastian Brandt, is a freelance artist gifted with a—here I was searching for an appropriate affirming superlative but could not find one that does justice, so you will just have to listen to it—voice that he has used in stage acting, poetry recitation, and recording audio books. Here is a link to a partial reading of “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran. This classic piece of literature, a wise and thoughtful reflection on life, is given reverence and respect by Adriel’s seasoned, whiskey-smooth baritone voice.

https://asember.bandcamp.com/album/the-prophet

What of a voice? A voice is commonly defined as “the sound produced in a person’s larynx and uttered through the mouth”. This is what I was initially referring to above. Although sometimes my brother and I have fooled people with the similarity of our voices, each person has a unique voice. Voice can also be a verb as in “to express something, usually with words.”

My calling as a professor and a preacher requires both of the above but I want to focus on the latter. My job as a preacher and a professor of spiritual formation is to give voice to what is going on inside each of my listeners’ hearts/psyches/spirits/insides, whatever you want to call it. My job is not to impart new information which they can then regurgitate on an exam. No! My job is to give words, to articulate, to express, to voice what each one is experiencing as they connect to the divine. I do not tell them how they must experience God. I do not give them a magic formula for growing in their love for God and others. I help them find a voice. And, I believe that by finding their voice, people begin to come alive; people begin to truly be themselves.

This is why people talk and write about the importance of giving everyone a voice or “I want to give a voice to the voiceless” which usually refers to those who are forgotten or marginalized on the edges of society. Artists in particular, have given voice to what is within us through poetry, stories, paintings, music, theatre, film, sculpture, dance, and the like. Unfortunately and ironically, in times of austerity as we have in the present, it is our artists who suffer financially along with the other marginalized people. Listen to the voices of the artists, and pay them for their services when you can.