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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013


The past year has been a learning experience. Not only has UBFM learned a lot of fundamental lessons but also we have grown. We have made new friends, we have networked with other organizations, and we have gained a lot of publicity. Though this has the potential to be overwhelming at times, it is a wonderful thing. This growth has allowed us to reach more people and it is because of the volunteers and contributors that we have the opportunity to do this.

As Thanksgiving slowly crept near, I was reminded of last year’s giving holiday for UBFM. There were only three of us, it was very cold, and we decided to drive a car rather than use our bicycles to deliver food. We learned a valuable lesson that night: our friends on the streets do not respond as well to someone getting out of a warm car. Some people ignored us, many would not accept our gifts, but nevertheless we tried. This year I wanted to try something different. “Why not make it big?” I thought to myself. I called all the members who subscribe to the UBFM Facebook page to donate extra blankets, jackets, cold weather gear, and snacks. I requested that we have a large group of discyplists (pedaling disciples) on the streets of Memphis. I asked that we come together and celebrate Thanksgiving by giving to our neighbors. I asked that we meet our friends on the street where they are at and shower them with love and supplies.

I posted that message Monday night and the response was immediate. Many members responded to the event, committing help with delivery on Wednesday night others committed to donating. When I returned from work on Tuesday evening I could not get into my house due to the boxes of donations blocking the door. Ecstatically, I sorted the items and prepared them to be loaded on Wednesday night.

The next morning I started preparing everything for the evening. Members kept calling throughout the day, asking if there was anything they could do in addition to preparation. Groups of people, families, and organizations called asking if they could bring or donate food and supplies. I started to get the felling that it was going to be a big night.

When six o’ clock rolled around four people were already at the house preparing burritos and care packages. It was shortly after this when local news Channel 5 walked in. They received word of our efforts and wanted to do a story. At 6:30 UBFM members started showing up with bicycles and supplies. Some members brought pickup trucks full of blankets, coats, jackets, clothes, food, and cold weather supplies. The front room of my house started to fill with supplies to be allocated to our neighbors affected by homelessness. My front yard started to fill with cyclists with zeal to serve. The night was shaping up to be one of the biggest nights of UBFM history.

By 8:00 we were all loaded with supplies. Twenty-two disciplists stood in my front yard with loaded backpacks. Four bike trailers were loaded; one was carrying a large cooler full of hot cocoa. I was quite surprised to see so much participation for two reasons: 1) It was the eve before Thanksgiving. 2) It was 25 degrees outside. The weather forecast claimed to potentially be the coldest night of the year. However, those two factors only fueled the compassion of this group.

Before we departed I told the group to look around. I told them to look at the person beside them. I said that is what God looks like in the world today. I believe this. I believe that God exists through the love of people in the world. God works through people. When I looked over the people in my front yard waiting and anticipating a connection with our less fortunate neighbors, I saw the love of God shining bright.

That night we distributed everything we left with. I witnessed a group of compassionate discyplits devote time, effort, and love to the people on the streets of Memphis. It was a wonderful thing and a marvelous night. Thank you all for the work you do to make this ministry possible.


Monday, September 2, 2013

A God Story by a UBFM member

Church is a spiritual institution, a place of worship. My experience with the church as a child was one of fire and brimstone, discomfort and intolerance. I found myself connected with a God I thought to be different. I visualized remaining outside of the church, peering into the window, witnessing a pseudo-worshipping congregation, dissimulated by the precepts of hell and damnation. I was not spiritually uplifted. Instead, I felt demeaned and afraid. But, I also visualized, standing next to me, other people who dared not go in, and among the crowd, there was always God. That is when I knew my Church was elsewhere.

Years later, through decisions, hardships, and life, I truly believe God answered a prayer that I made outside of that church window a long time ago. There was no building, nor steeple, nor choir, nor hymns. My Church started with friendship; a friend who was called by God to become a minister. His movement in the community lifted my spirit and his compassion encouraged me to find peace through worship and scripture. He introduced me to a whole new way to connect with God, a way that fit every inch of who I am.

My congregation is friendship and fellowship, growing every week. My Praises are within nature; hitting the trails, zoning out, being thankful, coming clean, asking for advice, accelerating my heart rate, feeling loved, feeling alive, feeling uplifted. My Worship starts with hopping on my bike and handing out burritos to my friends on the streets. My Worship never ends, now that I know I, too, can bring Church to those who are looking for a home.

UBFM is a spiritual institution. Together, let’s educate one another on love, movement, devotion, and being the light for others to see. Let Church, wherever that may be, guide us to make the world a better place, to connect one-on-one with God, or to just see yourself as a perfect mold in an imperfect world. I love you all. Thank you for being a part of my family and my home.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being rewarded day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Dangers

The Dangers

When volunteers come to participate with Urban Bicycle Food Ministry on Wednesday night I try to always give a disclaimer that includes the dangers of what we do. It is indeed not the safest bike ride you can participate in. As all cyclists know, it is a dangerous activity. Though, this ride has other elements of danger: riding among Memphis traffic, through alleyways, under bridges, and meeting with people who live on the street. Most of us don’t think twice about it. Not once have I ever felt threatened while fulfilling our weekly mission. But, I know the dangers are apparent. This doesn’t bother me. There is a strong since of security with this activity.

Recently some folks in Raleigh NC who participate in a similar ministry to UBFM were threatened in a way that is quite disappointing. This has exposed a new danger to our mission. It is a case of injustice and a good example of how to approach it. It seems that a group of people who have been providing breakfast for the homeless community for nearly fifteen years were threatened with arrest by the local authorities. This is quite sad. I have yet to experience a threat of this nature but UBFM could potentially be faced with it some day. The group in NC has responded with a non-violent approach. They have rallied numbers of people to contact local congressmen, protesting against the law, which forbids them from feeding the poor. I do believe this is the best approach. If an arrest is appropriate to make a point, then so be it. Many non-violent activists have welcomed handcuffs to uncover injustice. However in memory of Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech (it was delivered 50 years ago today) here is a thought to be mindful of:

“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

I believe that being a Christian is not supposed to be safe or comfortable. If it is, you might be missing something. When a person makes the commitment to follow Christ and forms a covenant with God, things are not suppose to get easy. Life becomes something else, a mission or a calling. The person’s gifts and talents become more relevant and unique. And if they are willing, God leads them to the places they can put their gifts to work. But, there is no guarantee it will be safe, especially when injustice is involved. One may, very well, feel threatened. Nevertheless, we do it for love. And I believe that love is God living through God’s people.

Peace be with you!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Baptism, Communion, and Mountain Biking

Baptism, Communion, and Mountain Biking

Recently one of my loyal UBFM associates came to me and asked if I would baptize him. Naturally, I affirmed but I have to say I was little shocked. Shocked primarily because I have never been approached with that question. This would actually my inaugural baptism. I’m not including those performed in seminary classes on my niece’s dolls. But since being ordained, this would be my foundational. At any rate, the associate told me that he was involved in church and believed in Christ; he’s already accepted Christ into his life. But there was never a baptism involved and it was something he truly wanted. My first thought was, “Well you’re a Christian; is it necessary?” After a quick thought, though, I recognized the significance in the ritual. It is the spiritual experience that allows the Christian to grow in faith. It is significant in the profession of faith and it makes the experience more memorable for the participant and those present. He told me he wanted it done outdoors, perhaps in a lake or a river. Here in Memphis we recognize and represent the Mississippi River quite well but many of us have a closer connection to the Wolf River. We spend a lot of time on the Wolf River trail system hiking, running, and biking. Many of us spend time at various locations around Shelby Farms. This is a large agriculture park beside the river. It is a place where local outdoor enthusiasts enjoy time off. It is something of a local refuge for.  

So, the Wolf River it is and I knew just the place. There is a small beach in between the river and the Wolf Trail, which is parallel to the river. It appeared to be the best location. Since many of the people present were cyclists (including the one being baptized) I decided to coordinate a trail ride following the sacrament. Speaking of sacrament, the baptism was taking place on the first Sunday of the month (many Christian traditions take communion on the first Sunday of the month) why don’t we break bread together as well? So, the first Baptism, Communion, and Mountain Bike Sunday was on the calendar.

A question that came to me while planning this was the baptism method. The person being baptized wanted to be submersed. In my Christian tradition, we are accustomed to sprinkling or pouring water over the person. The significance is a little dissimilar than submersion. Pouring signifies the “pouring of the Holy Spirit on to one’s life” or “the baptism of the Holy Spirit in one’s life”. Submersion has a very similar meaning but it signifies the “washing away of an old life and the putting on of a new one”. Regardless of the method, it is a witness of God’s initiative to claim a person in Christ, forgive their sins, grant them grace, shape and order their lives through the work of the Holy Spirit, and set them apart for service. This is all done with the element of water. And, the significance in this element makes it truly genuine.

Water is something we tend to take for granted. It is a very interesting element. The majority of the planet is made of water. The majority of the body is made of water. Not enough water can kill us but in certain situations too much can procure our lives as well. We consume water; most recipes contain it. It cleanses us. In some way or another we are surrounded by water. Water was one of God’s first creations. With that being said it is a work of art. God painted it into the world; God whispered it into existence.

During this sacrament I wanted to bring both traditions together by means of God’s artistic expression. I wanted to use water to celebrate and signify a person’s faith in Jesus Christ. It is said that words cannot express everything; it takes a work of art to project emotion. I can tell you a story but sometimes you just get it better through a song, poetry, or a painting.

And, that we did. The event was successful. A small group of family and friends walked down to the river, I presented a short homily, we witnessed a baptism, a communion service was presented, and then we went mountain biking. While witnessing the two sacraments there were two little girls running around playing in the water watching their daddy profess his faith in Christ. This enhanced the experience. Two of God’s little children celebrating and playing while a host of angles were doing the same. God’s presence was very apparent.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

A God Story 7-4-13

A God Story
by: UBFM Member

Homeless. We indeed tend to attribute this word to our friends on the streets. The definition: without a home or permanent residence. Although most of our friends do not in fact have a permanent residence, nor your typical environment one might call a home, some of our friends prefer to be where they are. Homeless has been used in such a derogatory way; from the media, to the government, to local authorities, to individuals across the world. The stigma surrounding our friends over the years, have been about danger, crime, trash, and a waste to society. Our friends are human beings, men and women who are who they choose to be, who are where they want to be, who are where they think they ought to be, who are where they are for whatever reason. They have a name and a story. Don’t we all?

How do we define our homes? Is it by bricks, stone, or wood? Is there a kitchen or a bed? Is there a friend, a wife, a husband, children, or pets? Are you alone? If you were to take something out of the equation, would it shake your home? Would it tear it down altogether? I think we have all felt homeless at one point in our lives. We have built foundations and structures that have been demolished. How much would it take not to want to rebuild? How much would it take to just want to disappear? When that happens, at the end of the day, there isn’t anything that could ever tumble down again. Caring is just too much of a struggle, that you would rather go hungry. . Let’s face it, if you can’t get out of bed long enough, someone will eventually come and take that bed away.

The beauty of UBFM is that we make our friend’s home a little more welcoming. There is hope in friendship and a non-judgmental attitude. I believe we have the power to restore something in broken individuals, to at least share an inkling of security and trust, much of what our own homes are made of. Our burritos and our hands can create a foundation of faith for what has fallen victim to whatever misfortune, pain, or choice one has had to endure. We can't impose our own views of salvation on anyone. We can only teach, support, and love. We give them more opportunities, more choices. Then we love them regardless of the choices they make.

They are either strangers or friends. I don’t have a stamp with Homeless. engraved on it; it is not a title. But I do have my own Home-less scars, which fuels my compassion to make Memphis a more welcoming home for our friends.

UBFM has the potential to be a home.