"The Winter I Gave Up My Car" by Pastor G. Travis Norvell (CRCDS '01)

The following essay, "The Winter I Gave Up My Car," was written by CRCDS alumnus G. Travis Norvell and was published in the November 21, 2014 issue of The Christian Century:
Last winter the heater in my car went kaput. It was a terrible time for the heater to stop working. I am a pastor in Minneapolis, where winter is a six-month teeth-chattering battle for warmth. And did I mention that this past winter was the ninth coldest in Minne­apolis history?

Nevertheless, a heaterless car in a severe winter turned out to be a blessing—or, in the words of Elvis Costello, a brilliant mistake. For months the idea of giving up my car had been stirring in my soul, but I could not find the courage or the imagination to make it happen. One Sunday evening my 13-year-old daughter asked me to explain Christian socialism (youth do pay attention to sermons—sometimes). I did my best. Later, when I was saying goodnight, she asked, “Dad, what are you willing to give up so others can have more?”

I called a family meeting to propose an experiment that would affect us all: we would not repair the heaterless car nor would we buy another car. Instead, we would sell the car, and I would ride my bike or take the bus to work. Everyone agreed.

I was tired of feeling helpless in the face of climate change, tired of being all talk and no action. I would sacrifice a small amount of convenience, choice, and comfort in order to renew my commitment to the healing of creation.

I took some of the proceeds from the sale of the old car and purchased metal-studded bicycle tires, a pair of heavy-duty gloves (the kind a person handling molten steel would wear), and a bus card. I reckoned that if I could make this idea work in the dead of winter, then I could easily do it year-round.

The devils on my shoulders kept questioning my decision, asking: How will you get to the nursing homes in the exurbs? How will you respond to emergencies? What will you do when it rains or snows? What about your clothes (you cannot bike in a suit)? Plus, you’ll arrive late and sweaty to meetings.

I did not have the answers to those questions; I hoped the answers would come as I pedaled and rode the bus.

The first few days were horrible. I had not ridden my bike on a regular basis in years. Every inch of my body was sore afterward. Then there was the cold. In order to counter the below-zero wind that blasted through my layers of clothing, I would repeat the mantra, “Mother Earth, you better appreciate this. Mother Earth, you better appreciate this.”

When it rained or snowed, I took the bus. At first I had no idea about the bus routes or even how to pay for a bus ride. In 14 years of ministry I had taken the bus only once to get to the inauguration ceremonies of a newly elected mayor. I discovered that bus trips offered the equivalent of a course in human studies. Liberals like me may talk about diversity and economic equality, but many of us rarely spend extended time with the poor or share life with the diverse populations of the city. Riding the bus, I found myself sitting or standing beside a Somali woman reading Barbara Ehren­reich’s Nickle and Dimed, a father of five en route from the midnight shift at McDonald’s to his daytime job cleaning offices, a woman with a disability and her abusive aide, a recent college graduate on her way to a job interview, and school kids making their way across the city to the library. Riding in the comfort of my car had kept me from contact or communion with all these people. I had often prayed for the welfare of my city, but I had little idea whom (or what) I was praying for until I rode the bus.

When my pastoral destination in the exurbs was nowhere near a bus stop and too far away for a bicycle commute, parishioners offered to take me. I was uneasy with this reliance on parishioners. I did not like giving up my control of the situation or surrendering my time to another driver. But many of these trips turned out to be extended pastoral visits. As on all good road trips, the discussions in the car were often deep and revealing—moments of unexpected grace.

At the end of each month I tallied up my savings. By owning only one car, my family pays only one insurance bill and fills up only one gas tank. Needless to say, my mileage reimbursement account at church ends each month with a surplus. If my bike needs a repair, the cost is a fraction of that of an auto repair. Thus far I have been able to make all the repairs myself, thanks to a $3.00 used copy of Glenn’s Complete Bicycle Repair Manual.

Bicycles are simple machines with few moving parts; they are difficult to mess up. I spend my days with broken people, broken buildings, and broken bank accounts—complex things that are easy to mess up. There is nothing more satisfying than actually repairing something that’s broken.

Although biking or taking the bus takes longer than driving, these activities offer some fringe benefits. When I bike, I arrive at the church or nursing home with my mind clear and my soul ready. When I take the bus, I can read, rest, and learn from others.

The sacrifice has caused some stress. Each evening I have to spend a few minutes planning out the next day, mapping out routes, double-checking bus times, and developing a backup plan. I have also had to alter my wardrobe—but there is no better outfit for biking and clergy work than a pair of khakis and a clergy shirt with a removable tab collar.

Not everyone can bike to work, and not everyone can take the bus or has access to public transit. But we can do meaningful and symbolic acts that will inspire each other, the churches we serve, and the communities we inhabit. We are not helpless. At rush hour, when I look at the solitary masses in their cars while I am pedaling over I–35 or reading on the bus, I want to shout at the top of my lungs, “There are other choices.” But those choices will never be visible unless people start living differently, making some small sacrifices for the greater good, and in the process becoming better acquainted with the cities we call home and those whose welfare we pray for each Sunday.

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Peace on Earth Takes Many Forms: Dr. Marvin A. McMickle comments on the re-opening of U.S.-Cuba relations

Dr. McMickle recently wrote about the developments with Cuba in the Rochester, NY Democrat and Chronicle's Unite Rochester blog:

This morning I received a letter co-written by the National Council of Churches and the Cuban Council of Churches which began with a reference to a biblical verse that says: “Behold, I make all things new.” The letter was celebrating the new era of relationships between the United States of America and Cuba. For the last fifty-three years there has been an economic embargo and a break in diplomatic relations between our two countries. Much has happened during those 53 years. First of all, the other nations of the world ignored our embargo and continued to engage with Cuba. Next, the United States reopened diplomatic relations and trade relations with China when President Nixon traveled to Beijing. It must also be noted, for those who object to these changes on the grounds that Cuba is a communist nation ruled by a dictator, that we never broke off diplomatic relations with Russia even during the height of the Cold War. This was done under the assumption that you gain greater leverage through engagement than you do through estrangement. If we were to end diplomatic and trade relations with every nation governed by a dictator that denied democratic rights to their citizens, we would not be on speaking terms with half the nations in the world. Most of the people in Cuba and most Cuban-Americans want to see this “new thing” between our two countries, because they understand that more exposure to the freedoms enjoyed in other countries will result in those freedoms coming more quickly to their country as well. The embargo certainly did not work. If the chief objective of the embargo was to drive the Castro regime from power, then the embargo can only be deemed an absolute failure. It is time to try a “new thing.” This change in relations between our two countries did not occur without some effort on the part of many people. Negotiations involved the Canadian government, the Vatican and Pope Francis, and various members of the United States Senate, the State Department, and direct conversations between President Barack Obama and President Raoul Castro. That level of direct communication had not occurred since President Kennedy was in the White House. Their efforts have resulted in changes that greatly contribute to peace in our region of the world. Will Cuba be transformed over night into a beacon of liberty and freedom? Probably not! Will democratic principles and free trade agreements begin to take root almost immediately? Absolutely! There will undoubtedly be some grinches that would like to rob the world of this small bit of Christmas joy. The usual cast of characters, most of them in Florida are still viewing the world through the lens of the Cold War; a time in our nation’s history that most Americans including Cuban-Americans under 50, do not even remember. Let me see, we were bombed by the Japanese in 1941, but they are one of our closest allies today. We went to war with Germany in 1941, but they are our major European trading partner today. We fought a war in Viet Nam and lost 58,000 soldiers in the process, but today we have an embassy in Hanoi. Surely, in light of these precedents it is time to enter a new phase of diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba. Maybe the former Beatle, John Lennon said it best: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”

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CRCDS D.Min. student & Episcopal priest Deborah Duguid-May advocates for homeless

Deborah Duguid-May, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity school student and priest at Trinity Episcopal Church in Greece, NY, spoke out recently on the City of Rochester-ordered razing of tents occupied by the homeless last weekend.

The homeless community, dubbed "Sanctuary Village," is located under a bridge and housed up to 35 people, many of whom struggle with mental illness and drug addiction.

"This is just not OK," Duguid-May said, noting that people at her church on Sunday morning, many of whom learned of the city's actions through photos posted on social media, "were just horrified."

"We're the problem, the homeless aren't the problem," she said. "We're not taking care of our community. You don't bulldoze a human community."

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Dr. John R. Tyson, Professor of Church History and Director of United Methodist Studies, publishes book

wesleyDr. John R. Tyson, Professor of Church History and Director of Methodist Studies at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, announces the publication of his newest book, The Way of the Wesleys: A Short Introduction. The 212-page book offers an intriguing introduction to the main teachings and practices of both John and Charles Wesley and is available in the CRCDS bookstore. For more information, click here: http://www.crcds.edu/resources-for/the-crcds-bookstore/ or call (585)340-6601.

The Wesley brothers, John (1703–1791) and Charles (1707–1788), are famous as the co-founders of the Wesleyan tradition and the Methodist family of churches. The Way of the Wesleys takes readers through main theological points thematically and is the first book that details how Charles, the younger and lesser-known brother, contributed to Wesleyan theology.

Publisher Wm. B. Eerdmans calls the book "engaging and accessible" and says it shows why the Wesleys remain relevant to the faith journey of Christians today.

Dr. Tyson has authored more than 80 articles and conference papers, has edited or written eight books. His publications include: Charles Wesley on Sanctification (Zondervan, 1986), and Charles Wesley: A Reader (Oxford University Press, 1989), Invitation to Christian Spirituality (Oxford University Press, 1999), and Assist Me To Proclaim: The Life and Hymns of Charles Wesley (Eerdmans, 2007).



Dr. McMickle reacts to Ferguson, MO verdict

Following are two news clips from last evening's events surrounding the grand jury's decision regarding the death of Michael Brown.

Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School President Dr. Marvin A. McMickle was interviewed before and after the verdict was announced.





Dr. McMickle will be issuing a statement on the Democrat and Chronicle's Unite Rochester blog as well.