bike trip 2013.4: Headwind!

By unanimous consent, the word for the day is “headwind!” There’s nothing like a stiff breeze to take the pleasure right out of a long downhill glide. For much of the day, we were hunkered down against the wind, when we wanted to have our heads up, enjoying the beautiful scenery. But wind and weather, sun and stone – it’s all part of the experience of spending most of the day on one’s bicycle.
We awoke to the smell of bacon, as Dave rustled up some bacon and eggs in the kitchen of the outreach center. We washed up, packed our bags and headed over to the church for Bible study. Pastor Ed explained that once a month (i.e. the Sunday we were there) the church has gone to a combined service at 10:15. So we decided to attend the 9 a.m. Bible study to meet some folks. 
Our Bible study was a circle of about 20 members, all of whom clearly knew one another very well. The leader, Joe, asked for prayer concerns, and I introduced our group. Joe then engaged in a running meditation on what it means to have character as a Christian, what ways Jesus exhibited his character and how we can strive to be more like him. The examples were personal, deeply meaningful, and we were grateful to be invited in. 
Hannah and Jesse joined the Sunday school classes, where Hannah talked about her trip and the children sent along some drawings and prayers. Turns out one of the Sunday school teachers was SO pleased, as she has been trying to get the congregation to work on sustainability issues for years. We felt embraced, loved and blessed as we headed out on our trip.
Then: SMACK! From the get-go we hit strong winds as we made the long, slow climbs up through Shade Gap to Cowan’s Gap State Park. For me, it was a special pleasure as I still have fond memories of this part of the trip from last year, the mill, the farms and the quiet country lanes (Ray was somehow able to keep up with his family while riding, and whenever we stopped). I also knew, from my experience, to plan for us to stop and picnic by the lake. It was hard to leave that lovely piece of paradise.
It was a long day of biking, but we made it. Bill Shank and his wife Sandy, members at Christ’s Reformed UCC in Hagerstown received us warmly, along with a few other members of the congregation and Tim, pastor at another UCC church in town. There’s nothing quite so delicious after a long ride as lasagna, fresh salad and fruit, all lovingly prepared. Christ’s Reformed recently bought an old factory building next door to the church and is in the process of transforming the space inside. We are staying in part of the homeless shelter, which is now closed for the season – the food, the showers and now actual cots are all very welcome pleasures tonight. 
We reflect on the many blessings we have received on this trip: food, support, love, a good place to sleep, cell phones – and surprising drive-by visits by the executive director of PA IPL (who also happens to be Dave’s wife!). 
Jon (and the gang)

bike blog 2013.3

Day 2, Saturday April 6.  (guest blogger:  Dave)
Everyone slept well at Bethany and Micah’s house after Friday night’s feast, even two-and-a-halfmonth old Benjamin.  After less than twenty miles of biking the previous day, I’d say we were all feeling ready toget on the bikes again.  We even agreed to do some weeding and carrot-thinning in Plowshare’s greenhouse, which seemed more than fair given the wonderful breakfast of baked oatmeal Bethany had prepared.  After a sample from the world’s largest bucket of peanut butter and a few final words of goodbye to our gracious hosts,we were on our way to Huntingdon by 10am.  
The beautiful weather we had enjoyed for our sendoff heldfor another day, and we felt very lucky to be on the road on such a beautiful morning. 
As we got closer to Huntingdon, we picked up a couple extra bikers: Laura White and her daughter Sarah accompanied us for the last few miles into town.   Then our group roughly doubled after we were joined by several other riders, includingthree fourths of the Juniata College Cycling Club, after a short stop at the College.  From there, a short ridethrough Huntingdon took us to St. James Lutheran Church, where Pastor Morelliand several others had set up a fantastic potluck spread that included four giant urns of coffee that Greg Anderson had brought from Standing Stone Coffee House.  We stopped at the Coffee House on the way out of town for more refreshments and good conversation.  The several hours we spent talking withpeople in Huntingdon reminded all of us why we’re making this ride:  So many people care so much about so many aspects of the issue of climate change.
Leaving Huntingdon onHighway 22 east was NOT one of the highlights of the trip:  A narrow shoulder littered with gravel and made even narrower by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s misguided attempt to create rumble strips by carving divots into the asphalt.  So we opted to turn off 22 as quickly as we could do so and wound up on a peaceful, tree-lined street along the Juniata River.  Beautiful.  
Thinking we would take a bit of a scenic route down to Orbisonia, we crossed over the river and were about to start down a bucolic highway when some guy pulled up next to a stop sign, got out of his truck, and flagged us down.  He explained that the road was about to get a lot steeper and narrower, and if we were headed to Orbisonia we’d be much better advised to double back across the bridge and take an alternate route.  After consulting our surprisingly pathetic navigational aids, Jon commented that we couldn’t simply discard this bit of serendipitously provided advice. Long story short:  Our guardian angel was absolutely right:  We were much better off, and the rest of the trip to Orbisonia was pleasant and uneventful.  
Ed, the local Methodist pastor in Orbisonia, could not be more helpful and welcoming.  He has put us up in the local community center, where I now sit in a comfortable, spacious room, typing and getting drowsy and deciding it’s time to sign off…
Dave (and the gang)

Blessing of the Bicycles and Riders 2013

Friends (with and without bikes) gathered on Friday afternoon for a blessing and send-off of the PA-to-DC bicyclists.  Many thanks to all who participated: leaders, long-haul cyclists, in-town cyclists, and all who brought voices to raise in song, prayer and joyful cheer.

Barb Ballenger joined us in song, teaching those gathered a round based on the words of Hillel the Elder:

If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? If I am only for myself than what am I?  If not now, when?

Pastor Steve Lynn offered the blessing:

We begin our blessing of the bicycles, the riders and their mission with a reading from scripture.

From Ezekiel: When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. When they moved, the others moved; when they stopped, the others stopped; and when they rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.

Let us pray:  Present in a world groaning under the excesses of consumption, we acknowledge the goodness of non-motorized human powered transportation and give thanks for the simple beauty of the bicycle. Lord In your Mercy, Hear our prayer. 

We ask your blessing and protection today on all who ride: Pedi cabbies, weekend bikers, athletes, homeless folks, students, children, eco-bikers, bike messengers and all who take to the streets and highways, bike paths, parks and mountains. Lord In Your Mercy, hear our prayer 

We pray for the safety of Jon, Dave, Jesse and Hannah, Ray and Andy as they ride. Please keep them safe, give them energy and enthusiasm, good judgment, grant them welcome in their rest stops, and restful sleep at night. Lord In Your Mercy, hear our prayer 

We pray for their mission, Please bless their example of riding their bikes to Washington, bless their words about caring for creation and allow their words to fall on receptive ears. Lord In Your Mercy, hear our prayers. 

And last Holy God, please bless our riders with a strong sense of your presence, joy and peace.   Amen

Please receive one more blessing: 

May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back, may your journeying be joyous; and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of God’s hand. Amen and Godspeed.

And finally, Cricket added a closing:

We gathered here today to bless and send off these intrepid bicyclists as they
travel to spread the word about the enormous challenge facing us; urge others to action; join in with communities of faith as they demonstrate and explore their own strength of conviction

But in fact, they are also blessing us.

They are, of course, blessing PA IPL by fundraising to help make it possible for us to do this work.  As importantly, they are blessing us as individuals and communities, by being visible signs of hope.

 As the rest of us walk through the next few days, let us recall your pedals with our steps.  Let us feel the strength of hope in your pedaled prayers.

In these days we will pray for that same bright hope of healing action to awaken in each of us, in all those aware of your trip, and in the leaders you are going to visit.

Thank you.
Travel in hope.
Join in community.
Be safe.
Thank you.

Bike Trip blog 2013.2: Send-off and welcome

This is the best way to begin our trek to DC. We arrived at Micah and Bethany’s farm (Plowshare Produce) about six p.m. after a short, but tough, 18-mile ride from State College. We had a short tour of the farm, saw the impressive Percheron draft horses that plough the fields, and cooed over the new lambs and goats. 

This farm is such an inspiration – from solar-powered pumps to a woodstove heating the greenhouse, this is what a low-carbon lifestyle is all about. Some 20 family members and friends joined us for a wonderful dinner and conversation – we even broke into song – seriously! Now we’re sitting around, relaxing and getting ready for bed (there are, however, three computers open and running). 

Many, many folks showed up to wish us off from Grace Lutheran Church. We loved all the hugs, well-wishes and prayers. Pastor Steve Lynn read from Ezekiel 1:19-20: “When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.” Most impressive, however, were all the prayers, drawings and well-wishes that were presented to Hannah – she’s carrying them in a bag over her shoulder! 

About fifteen people accompanied us on bikes out of State College, causing University students to spontaneously cheer us on. We even stopped traffic on Atherton (our main street) as our group crossed. It was a great atmosphere. But, gradually, we six were abandoned to face Pine Grove Mills mountain alone. 

We all made it, though not without scars (sorry, Ray); I was particularly impressed with Hannah and Jesse pushing their way up on the tandem! The view from the top is so great, though, and with the warm sun and light breeze, we felt a real sense of accomplishment. 
Huntingdon, where we’re looking forward to helping make the town more bicycle friendly. Tomorrow, we’ll do some weeding and other farm chores in the morning and then head to 

Jon (Andy, Dave, Hannah, Jess and Ray)

PA IPL bike trip 2013.1: training and preparation

Bike Trip blog: 2013.1 

Our big trip is only five days away, and there’s still a lot to do. I’ve decided to start the blog early this year to give everyone a sense of the preparations that the six of us are undertaking. I’m the only veteran in the crowd, and I have to say that everything’s a bit easier than last year, since I now know most of the route and the places we will stay. The training is harder, though. 

Frankly, we’ve had trouble getting in training rides in between snowstorms here in Central PA. We did get together last week for a 30-mile ride, and our local paper wrote up a nice story, with pictures. You can read it here. Personally, I’m about a week behind my training regimen, but I did make it up Pine Grove Mills’ mountain (pictured above) on Saturday and now have a picture of the view to prove it. 

Donations have been pouring in from family and friends – almost $2,000 so far, which is great! Thanks to everyone who has responded to our appeal; we’re very humbled by your support. If you haven’t donated, there’s still time, and it’s tax deductible! We’re still quite a ways from our goal of $6,000, and we could use your support. Just click here

We have also received many letters from kids of all ages who have written to support 12-year-old Hannah, who is riding along on a tandem with her father, Jesse Ballenger. You can read Hannah’s letter here, and I’m including a few photos of submissions we’ve received. On Friday, April 5, the morning of the day we leave, Hannah will be visiting the pre-school at Grace Lutheran Church; the kids there have been making drawings to send along and are excited for the chance to talk with her. 

Grace is also the site for our send-off. If you’re in State College, please come join us at 4 p.m. You can even ride a few miles with us. If you can’t join us, please say a prayer. It’s a long trip and we hope to all make it in one piece! 

More from our first stop, 
Jon (Andy, Dave, Hannah, Jesse and Ray) 

Religion begins with wonder

This post is reprinted with permission from our friends at COEJL.  You can see it in its original here.
Passover: The Four Signs of Climate Change Action

By Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz

“… for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)
One: Religion begins with wonder. We stand in awe of the universe around us. We sense the miracle that is existence. Abraham Joshua Heschel called this spiritual feeling “radical amazement.” Such amazement, he taught, is the root of religion and the responsibility that flows from it. We want to preserve that which is precious; safeguard that which we deem sacred. We sense a calling; an obligation. The spiritual is prelude to the ethical.
Passover is a statement of radical amazement. Later, Passover comes to commemorate the miraculous rebirth of a people, but at its most ancient heart, the holiday celebrates the miraculous rebirth of the Earth as it emerges from the dead of winter to the glory of spring. In the same way, the people of Israel emerge from the dead of slavery to the glory of redemption. These foundational stories of radical amazement are retold year after year, generation after generation, to keep the motivating spirit of Jewish identity and responsibility alive.
Moses experiences his own transformational moment of radical amazement while in the embrace of nature. He arrives to a great mountain and on that mountain side beholds a burning bush that is not consumed. Precisely when Moses turns aside to marvel at this sight does he hear the voice of God. Moses feels summoned in that time and place. He hears God call him by name. Moses responds with that classic affirmation of presence, “Hineni” — here I am.
Is it because Moses feels so truly awed and humbled that he removes his sandals in recognition that he treads on holy ground?
Do we recognize the miracles around us? Do we turn aside to marvel? Do we hear the commanding voice? Do we affirm our presence? Do we acknowledge that the very ground upon which we stand is holy?
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God!
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.”  (Elizabeth Browning)
Two: The Torah tells us that Moses is “tending his flock” when he comes upon the place that is called “Horeb, the mountain of God.”
Indeed, Moses has withdrawn into the wilderness of his personal isolation. At this point he is far from family and community, minding his goats and his business. He has observed the desperation of his people, reacted impulsively to the injustice before him, but now has withdrawn from the fight. The encounter on the mountain changes something at his core. Moses is still reluctant and afraid. Yet inertia is no longer a plan; apathy is no longer an option.
“God says to man as he said to Moses: Put off thy shoes off thy feet — put off the habitual which encloses your foot and you will recognize that the place on which you happen to be standing at this moment is holy ground.” (Martin Buber)
Moses has come upon a sacred place of understanding that compels him to act. The rest, as they say, is history. The Exodus hinges on this pivotal moment. Moses reengages the fight. He returns to the belly of the beast. Against all odds he will overcome not only the heartlessness of Pharaoh but the despondency of a broken people.
One would like to think that the memory of a mountain, of that amazing encounter that birthed the vision of a covenant restored, sustained him through the darkest period.
That mountain of God is identified as one and the same with Sinai. Moses’ personal epiphany foreshadows the grand event of communal revelation yet to unfold. An entire people will experience their moment of radical amazement. Like Moses, they will be changed forever — not completely, not perfectly, but enough to dare to dream of a different destiny.
Three: The dreariness of winter and the renewal of spring; the dark of Egypt and the light of Sinai; the crush of despair and the release of hope: All this propels the mixed multitudes forward during the long and winding trek toward the promised land.
The eternal rhythms of the Earth, echoed by the story of a people, will animate our ancestors in their annual celebrations of the cycle of the seasons. The Torah commands that the first of three great pilgrimage festivals shall be “…in the month of spring, the time when you came out of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:14)  Radical amazement at the turn of the Earth, and the turn of history, cannot be missed.
“Arise, my darling;
My fair one, come away!
For now the winter has past,
The rains are over and gone.
The blossoms have appeared in the land;
The time of singing has come…”  Song of Songs 2:10-12
The flowers push through the soil to greet the sun.
by a million
wings of fire
the rocket tore a tunnel
through the sky —
and everybody cheered.
only by a thought from God —
the seedling
urged its way
through the thickness of black —
as it pierced
the heavy ceiling of the soil —
up into outer space
even clapped.”  (Marcy Hans)
Flowers, flocks, family, community — all is reborn. Pesach applauds the miracle of the seed of life sprouting anew. Of course this festival also memorializes the dark side of degradation — the winter of discontent is an inescapable part of the story — but it does so in the context of the stirring song of spring.
Four: When we sense with radical amazement this spring awakening we will reengage both the fight for the planet and the fight for humanity.
We understand that a more responsible environmental policy in general, and a drastically more disciplined energy program in particular, is called for to insure that “so long as the Earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22)
During Passover, with close proximity to Earth Day, a discussion on the perils of ignoring energy conservation and the spiraling consequences of climate change as a series of modern day plagues can be provocative. So too can an exploration of our personal enslavements to habit and inertia, coupled with the entrenched indifference and hostility of modern day bureaucracies that echo Pharaoh’s insecurities and hardened heart.
Signing on to an energy covenant as a family and as an institution becomes an ethical imperative and a sacred task. Passover shows the way — the reawakening of the Earth to new life, the reawakening of our spirit to new possibilities, the transformative recognition of self-empowerment — for we stand on holy ground…and our name is called.
Rabbi Barry Schwartz is the CEO of the Jewish Publication Society. He has served on the grassroots advisory committee of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and he helps lead the environment committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. He was a founding member of the Washington chapter of Shomrei Adamah, the first national Jewish environmental organization. Schwartz is also the author of several books, including Judaism’s Great Debates: Timeless Controversies from Abraham to Herzl.
The Jewish Energy Guide presents a comprehensive Jewish approach to the challenges of energy security and climate change and offers a blueprint for the Jewish community to achieve a 14% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by September of 2014, which is the next Shmittah, or sabbatical, year in the Jewish calendar.
The Jewish Energy Guide is part of COEJL’s Jewish Energy Network, a collaborative effort with Jewcology’s Year of Action to engage Jews in energy action and advocacy. The guide was created in partnership with the Green Zionist Alliance.
Sign up here to join the Jewish Energy Network and receive weekly articles from the Jewish Energy Guide.