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August 28, 2006

A Different Path

I have, over the past two years or so (it's amazing how time grows larger as you grow older--remember when six months was a long time?), settled into a rhythm with my daily activity. My bicycle has become my primary means of transportation whenever the family is not involved, and I cannot remember the last time I went to work via any other means. During that time, I've dabbled a bit in the black art of alleycat racing, and even tried my hand at proper racing at the Oval. Many of our climbing friends have slowly morphed into (or returned to being) cyclists, and several race on a regular basis. While there is certainly a draw to return myself, my short-lived career at the Oval reminded me that in order to excel, you must train--a lot.

I have become sparse at the climbing gym, in part because I would rather spend the time between and bedtime with my kids, and in part because I cannot muster the motivation to after 8:00pm, especially after my commute. This is not say that I don't want to climb. I've enjoyed the (little) time we've spent outside thus far, and I'm looking forward to cooler temps for the fall. And I've been content to simply climb--not concerned about grades, or whether I fall--just moving over stone. Simple.


As of late, I have been interested in randonneuring--essentially, longer distance, unsupported cycling events. These range from facile, sub 115km populaires to the brutal 1200km of Paris-Brest-Paris. These events are not races, but simply tests of endurance and self-sufficiency where the rider must maintain a simple 10mph to finish the event within the time limit. Easier said than done, I suppose.

Today I caught wind of a populaire being held outside of Philly (apparently there are no randonneurs in the Pittsburgh area) in October, so we have a rather tenative plan to spend time with family there so I can get my feet wet. Ideally, such events could be a springboard for doing something a bit more ambitious, like the cross-state brevet that was held this Spring (Crushing the Commonwealth). But who knows, perhaps I'll too much misery in so much time in the saddle. Only one way to find out.

August 24, 2006

Busy Signal

I am currently buried under a mountain of work. Such is life, I suppose. At least I can look forward to a cross country trek in ten days.

There could be much bike riding in my immediate future. If all goes well, I should be at the track races on Friday night at the Oval. If you stop down, I'll be the guy rubber banding off the back. There are also alleycats on Saturday and Sunday, though I am committed to volunteering for Sunday's event. I've also taken a keen interest in randonneuring, figuring that I am, first of all, too lazy to train for proper racing, and too slow to be any good at it, so why not take part in events where you need to average no more than roughly 10mph to participate. This newfound interest also has me pondering a fall populaire (a sub 100 mile event with a fixed, unmarked course), but more on that when plans become more complete.

And, for your viewing pleasure, below is the cockpit of the Surly, as kitted for the daily commute and longer weekend rides.

Urban Homesteading

Whilst poking around Flickr for photos of porteurs, I found Hen Waller, a blog from a couple in Portland attempting an urban homesteading existence, complete with chickens and a Wendell Berry-esqye sense of place and respect for the home economy.

Their escapades and musings are well worth a read.

August 17, 2006

On the Building of Institutions

David Koyzis has stirred the hornets' nest that is the New Pantagruel editorial board with his his discussion of Jacques Ellul's short essay Technique and the Opening Chapters of Genesis. Koyzis explains that Ellul, showing his Barthian side, believes that the created order of Eden did not include the development of what Ellul calls Technique--essentially the always-forward progression of technological means which, in Ellul's words "eliminates or subordinates the natural world"--and therefore, while technology is not necessarily sinful, it is a result of the Fall. To a Neocalvinist like Koyzis, this perspective is flawed because in the Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1:26-28), God commands Adam to multiply (create society) and subdue the Earth (develop technological means). Technique, then, is a part of the created order, and therefore something to be embraced by Christians in an effort to use it glorify God.

Ellul was, much as his contemporary Ivan Illich, distrustful of institutions (schools and governments, for example) as vehicles for the work of Christ. Institutions would simply become corrupt over time (as a result of sin), and while there is also the possibility for reform, the cycle would repeat itself. Illich, more than Ellul, saw this clearly, even at work within the family. Relying on the State, or a school system, to change culture at best wishful thinking, and at worst rather dangerous. For both Ellul and Illich (and this is most visible in Ellul's Presence of the Kingdom, true Christian action was the act of rolling up one's sleeves and doing the dirty work of meeting the needs of your fellow man. For Ellul, this meant working with "troubled" youth and fighting for the preservation of the Frech sea coast. Christian action begins with a supple heart, listening for God's call, and more often than not, when this call comes, the Christian is simply asked to act. Ellul offers no specifics, no policies, no programs (in fact, he says spefically such things can be antithetical to real Christian action)--simply the exhortation that the Church (that is, the body of believers) help those that need it. For the Neocalvinist, however, Christian action often takes the form of polciy and program. Government can be reformed (in the Christian sense) and used for the work of Christ. And (to get back to the point of Ellul's essay) Technique, being a part of the created order, should be molded by Christian hands.

Reading Ellul and Illich over the past few months, and then reading this essay by Koyzis, has given some voice to the feeling that I am not really a Neocalvinist. While I'm not sure that Ellul's Edenic vision is correct, I am also uncomfortable with the Neocalvinist faith in progress and the ability of institutions to do the work of Christ. That's not to say that I am an anarchist who wishes to turn back the clock so we live in caves, or that we should seek to disband governments and school systems, but we absolutely must acknowledge that, living in a fallen world, that these institutions will fail time and again. And, while technological progress may discover latent possibilities in the created order (and this is our job, according to the Neocalvinist view of Genesis), such progress has often done much of the damage to culture and, more importantly, the state of our souls.

I am troubled, much as the tNP folks are, that some Neocalvinists so quickly dismiss thinkers like Ellul and Illich. I don't expect Koyzis to suddenly embrace an Ellulian or Illichian view of the world (in fact, I reckon that Ellul and Illich would be against such discipleship), but he should be more open to the critiques of modern society that they offer instead of beating them down with the triumphalist hand of Dooyeweerd's theory of differentiation. Yes, technology can bring about good, as can a government, or a school, but we cannot expect that these things will be completely turned back to God until this world passes away. To expect anything else would be an attempt to immanentize the eschaton. And while technology has in some ways made our lives better, this is a doubled-edged sword, as such progress often reduces the quality of our lives in other, less obvious ways.

So what of the Neocalvinist call to institution building? The goal of, say, the Work Research Foundation is good and proper, and the organization is geniunely trying to bring a Biblical perspective to how we view our jobs and vocations. But in the work, one must realize the limitations and dangers as well, namely that this is a fallen world, and sin cannot be escaped. Institutions will fail thanks to power struggles or corruption, just as they have in the past. Some may succeed, at least for time. Even if, as Koyzis contends, that family, government, and school were indeed part of the Edenic order, we can never hope to attain that on this Earth. So, do your work, but season it with the critiques of Ellul and Illich.

August 15, 2006


So Mr. Martel has tagged me to answer a few questions regarding my reading habits. Here we go, then.

1. One book that changed your life: I shall take the easy way out and say the Bible.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once: On the Road. Yes, in many ways it is antithetical to sorts of things I believe, but Kerouac's writing, at least in spots, is beautiful.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: Finnegan's Wake. I might actually have the motivation to digest it, though without the proper resources, I'd likely miss a lot.

4. One book that made you laugh: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Update: I remembed that Fever Pitch made me chuckle as well, and was quite good.

5. One book that made you cry: The Town and the City, by Kerouac. His first novel, and quite different in style than everything else.

6. One book that you wish had been written: Errr. Ummm. Dunno, do I?

7. One book that you wish had never been written: Catcher in the Rye. Sorry, much like the whole Nirvana thing, I never got it.

8. One book you’re currently reading: Presence of the Kingdom by Ellul and Deschooling Society by Illich.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: Anarchy and Christianity by Ellul.

August 09, 2006


...our life reminds me of a forest
in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers,
red and yellow in the sun,
a pattern made in the light
for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark,
its ways to be made a new
day after day,
the dark richer than the light
and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.

Wendell Berry, from "The Country of Marriage"

August 03, 2006

On Landis, Cycling in General

Floyd Landis, based on the results from the A and B urine samples taken after his dramatic stage 17 win in the Tour de France, has been declared a cheater. He was found to have elevated testosterone levels (nearly three times above the UCI limit), and traces of synthetic testosterone were found. The first charge (the elevated amounts) were not a kiss of death, as many cyclists have successfully proven that such results are a result of natural causes. But the discovery of synthetic hormone will likely doom Landis, as it has already in the media. There will not be a quick resolution to this, as Landis has already vowed to fight the charges, so it could be until the new year before Landis' case is heard before the international sports arbitration court (CAS).

Since the positive B test result was released Saturday morning, Landis has been sacked by his team, Phonak, which was doing little more than following the ProTour ethical code that requires a team to release a rider who fails a doping test. At the moment, the U.S. cycling association and the U.S. anti-doping association are reviewing the findings and will make a recommendation to the UCI (the international cycling union) as to whether or not Landis should be sanctioned. The typical result for a rider guilty of doping is a two year suspension.

So, is Landis guilty? Golly, it seems like it. Yes, the UCI and the French lab handling the test should not have leaked information prior to the press release on Saturday morning. That does not, however, change the results of the test. Before I heard the news of the synthetic hormone, I thought that Landis could simply have elevated testosterone levels. But that discovery makes it hard to believe him. Add to that the spin from his rather large legal team ("It was the beer...it was his body....it was the cortisone...it was thyroid meds....it was dehydration"), and you get the sense that something is amiss. I might, might, believe that a soigneur may have used a steroid cream during a post-race rub down, especially given Phonak's rather poor doping record, but it's up to Landis to prove that.

And what about cycling in general? This year's Tour was supposed to be a fresh start for the race, now out from under the shadow of a certain Texan. The race was dealt a blow when favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso were set home by their teams for apparent involvement in a Spanish doping operation, but this was spun in the best way possible--a sign that, yes, this would be a clean race, and the best man would win. The race was dealt another black eye, the worst in its history perhaps, as the winner might be stripped of his yellow jersey (the first time in 103 years) because of doping. While there was no car boot filled with syringes, as during the Festina scandal, cycling's biggest event just might become it's biggest joke. I'm not sure I'll be very interested in the Tour next year, other than to see what sort of doping scandal swallows the race. I will, however, still enjoy the spring classics--Paris-Roubaix, the Amstel Gold race, Gent-Wevelgem, the Ronde. Does doping still occur? Probably. But the draw is not necessarily the racers, but the races themselves--the unsettled, often unfriendly northern European spring weather, the cobbles, the mud. I'm afraid not even the worst doping scandal could ruin those races, at least for me.