"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.

To view the article online or to make a comment, click here:


CRCDS Students Sara Campbell and Brae Adams provide pastoral leadership at Open Arms Metropolitan Community Church

Sara Campbell and Brae Adams, Masters of Divinity students at CRCDS, were recently highlighted in the November 2014 edition of The Empty Closet, a monthly publication of the Gay Alliance. Both say they are thrilled with the opportunity to talk about the church, their mission and their goals.
Sara, who will obtain her M.Div. in May 2015, says, “We at Open Arms are trying to talk openly about these issues and how we are called to act on them. Not just LGBTQ issues but gun violence, systemic poverty, homelessness, racial issues, the school to prison pipeline, border issues . . . these are the issues the gospel wants us to talk about and create change around.”

Brae, who is on track to receive her M.Div. in May 2016, works in other types of community outreach and also has a holistic view of ministry. In addition to starting a limited food cupboard, Brae helps people access community resources such as housing.

Both students say the diversity of their skills is the best thing for making connections in the community. Brae says, "Sara does outreach to college-age through 30's people, who maybe aren't that interested in a traditional service. The service has a modern feel to it, encouraging participants to interact with the preacher, both through their smart phones and direct questions.  I lead the Sunday morning service and hold the monthly Agape Potluck on Sunday evenings."

Above all, they say, Open Arms Metropolitan Community Church is completely inclusive and not just 'affirming'. Sara says, "OAMCC has gotten beyond what people think of us and is focusing on how to serve others . . . it doesn't matter what our opinions are, only that we are serving others.  That's 'Radical Hospitality'.  We show our hospitality to all."

To read the entire article online, click here: http://www.gayalliance.org/2011-07-26-18-20-59/ecol.html


Kairos Students Experience Gaza Cooking

Dr. Melanie Duguid-May's students had a literal hands-on learning experience this week.

Students enrolled in her new course, Cry For Repentance, Cry for Hope, part of the CRCDS Kairos Master's track program (offered again in the Fall of 2016) prepared and shared an authentic Palestinian meal based on the book, "The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey."kairos meal

The book is based on two women who traveled to Gaza in 2010 to collect and compile traditional Palestinian recipes from the historic Gaza district, using food as a narrative device to explore both the impact of the Palestinian exodus of 1948, and the stories of those erased towns and villages. They also wanted to investigate the current situation: the conflicts, being in the "largest open air prison in the world," agricultural policies, restrictions on fishing zones, and access to farms.

Most importantly, the women wanted to profile other women, to put a human face to the Palestinian story. In a place where women can control so little about their lives, the one place they exercise authority is their kitchen.

Students prepared recipes from the cookbook including hummus, soup, bread and dessert, while contemplating the plight and strength of the Palestinian women.

Pictured, left to right, are students John Bowens, Debbie Allen, Sara Campbell, Nicole Iaquinto, Andrea Abbott, Ray Allen, Jamal Young, Pat Wheelhouse, Robert Hoggard and Professor Duguid-May.

Thanks to Dr. Stephanie Sauve, Vice President for Academic Life, and to Nicole Iaquninto, Student Cabinet President, who shared these photos. kairos class