#coffeeneuring 5&6: God in a Cup

#5: Potter’s House, Washington, DC (26 miles): Counter Culture Kenyan Thiriku Cooperative pourover

#6: Vigilante Stand, DCCX (11.2 miles), Washington, DC: Brazilian Santa Ines pourover/Acme hazelnut nutella pie—Will Race for Nutella.

IMG_2916It’s been a noisy week in Washington, my hometown, out on the Anacostia.

A DDOT meeting on bike lanes turned into a well-publicised shouting match in Shaw. Churchgoers vs. cyclists, long-time residents vs. newcomers, suburbs vs. the new DC, black vs. white, cars vs. bikes…pick your side of the battle lines and start cursing at one another.

Lord knows the incivility didn’t stop with the meeting. Heard it the next day, at work, at advocacy happy hours, in (God forgive me for reading them) the comments sections…

Look, I’m as much of a crazy cyclist as anyone. I’ve had friends seriously hurt in collisions with cars. These lanes aren’t a matter of public funds paying for amenities for the affluent—this is an issue of public safety.

But we’ve allowed our bike infrastructure to be hijacked by the narrative of “bike lanes and doggie parks,” shorthand for gentrification and displacement.

Can’t say that view’s unwarranted. How many yuppies have to move in before bike lanes arrive? Why can Fifteenth NW get lanes but not Taylor NE? E NW, but not Alabama SE? Columbia Heights, but not Skyland? Union Market is redeveloped, money and pale skin follows, and surprise surprise, West Virginia Avenue NE gets bike infrastructure! How Convenient.

Yes, there are exceptions—Marvin Gaye, Fort Dupont, Anacostia Riverwalk, MLK SE—and we’re fighting for a meaningful, significant loop in southeast DC. But that’s exactly the thing; in the poor, majority black, wards of DC, the infrastructure just isn’t there for the many people who ride every day. It is there for the wealthy, new residents, and people see that more’s coming where they’re moving.

There’s also a dark history of using transit projects to disrupt neighborhoods and institutions in the name of urban renewal. From Union Station and the City Beautiful destroying the Irish enclave of Swampoodle to L’Enfant Plaza, the Inner Loop highways, and the Radiant City, It’s Happened Before. It’s all to easy to dismiss people’s worries as Barry-era nattering about The Plan to destroy middle-class and poor black neighborhoods, move them out to the suburbs, and resettle wealthy newcomers in their place—but, come to think of it, that’s kinda what happened in Southwest.

So we hear about a proxy war of churches vs. cyclists, with long-standing anger and fear vented on what should be a project benefitting all.


Not that there’s ever a bad time for a good, calming cup, but there are especially good times. Needed to touch base with Garrett on this blog post I’m writing for the PG Bike Action Committee anyway (and get more WABA maps for work), so first, the Potter’s House.

I sometimes joke about Potter’s House being “Coffee for Comrade Christ” or “if Red Emma’s got religion.” And sure, I liked it a bit more before they redid the place and covered over the Light of the World mural, making it all Tasteful rather than slightly funky, a little crunchy, and exactly the kind of joint you’d expect to feature pay-what-you-can-if-you-can soup and coffee.

But Please. Like anyone, even now, doesn’t pick up on the combination of leftist ‘zines and progressive Christian theology on the bookshelves. Chances are, if one or the other of those doesn’t weird you out a bit, the combination makes ya right at home. You can’t hide your light from the world, even under a couple buckets of tasteful taupe paint.

As I think I’ve said, Counter Culture has really stepped up its game since the dark days they dominated the DC coffee scene. Gone is the espresso that you ended up tasting all day, along with the rather bland Central Americans that you usually saw with it. Lately, I’ve found their offerings zippy, often unusually floral and fruity, especially their Ethiopians and East Africans. Yasureyoubetcha, I think I’ll try that Kenyan. It’ll be a few minutes? Oh no. Whatever will I do with myself while I’m waiting, stuck here in a bookstore filled with liberation theologians and radical feminists?

IMG_3234Surprised I found Nadia Bolz-Weber’s new book? Neither was I. I’d heard her interviewed on NPR coming back from Pittsburgh; along with Augustine, she’s one of two people whose sermons I can sometimes actually stomach. Throughout her work, there’s a running theme of “finding God in all the wrong people,” of her odd parish of folks society says shouldn’t be caught dead in a church, and a Church Militant supremely inconvenienced by a transformative and gratuitous grace, no matter how much its members really and truly would rather just be left alone by the Spirit just once for a change.

Yes, she’s snarky, profane, and not at all what people expect a pastor to be. Frankly, I expect pastors to avoid significant wrestling with darker theological truths in favor of passing off easy and optimistic platitudes to the Unwashed Unsaved or the comfortable upper-middle who plop themselves in the pews in deference to the demands of respectability. Expectations, as she writes time and time again, are constantly being upset by the work of the Spirit. God is not always seen in the places we expect, but often where we would never think to look.


IMG_3303DCCX.

#bikedc’s biggest party of the year…now UCI sanctioned.

Two days. Everyone you know.

Get yer heckle on!

IMG_3235Day one was spent insulting and cowbelling coworkers while drinking some pretty amazing 94+ Ethiopian Nekisse natural process (floral, fruity, not nearly as thin as most Ethiopians are, reminiscent of the Ka’u the Hyattsville roastery had a few months back) from the Vigilante stand before sprinting off to work.

Day two? Raceday.

So yeah, I’m starting 110 places back out of a 120 person field. That’s, um, not exactly ideal. Juuust gonna try to keep the rubber down, the shiny up, and not eff up too many remounts. Oh yeah, and run that sandy section before the barriers. No way I’m riding through that loose stuff. The rain’s nice. Doesn’t bother me. The turns on loose stuff on the course do. Maybe I shoulda taken it a tad easier on the preride. Ohhey. Starting soon. God help me…

So, it’s not quite a Proteus pastry ride at the back of a 4/5 field, but it can be pretty close at times. Enough folks going down that you get more bottlenecked, have to work to get around them, speed up, stop, go again, hit someone who stalls out on a hill…okay, maybe my decision to just run the sandy bit wasn’t so bad, given all the folks piled up at the bottom in the tape. Heck, I think I’ll just keep running for a bit.

Short story shorter: despite a lot of other bad ideas, nervous turns, questionable handling, and botched remounts, I somehow ended up passing a ton of gassed folks in the last lap and finishing somewhere in the middle. Pete awarded me a couple extra L’s as I finished.

Sweet! I’m 4L now! Phillll…
IMG_3241Ditch the kit. Find real clothes. Get coffee. Snag Nutellapie. Heckle coworkers.

IMG_3242The coffee took the whole of the next race to prepare (granted, there was a bit of a line, seeing as everyone wanted some), but did help me get my voice back in time to question people’s taste in socks and unearned fancy plastic bikes before heading off to church.

Hey, it’s Reformation Sunday at Reformation Lutheran. Can’t miss this one.

IMG_3243Predictably, Ellie’s still sporting a nice coating of racegrime when I lock her up. Heck, I’m just glad my pantlegs cover over my own from that wipeout near the stairs. My cleats click on the flagstones of the narthex chapel, and I really wish that St. Paul would consider revising Corinthians to let me cover that ungodly mess that’s my hair. Heck, even my collared shirt has pockets in back. Somehow, my attempts at respectability and decorum don’t quite work on raceday. The Prodigal Cyclist is trying to sneak his way into the assembly.

Actually, given that I’ve arrived mid-sermon, sneaking might be a good idea. Now, like I said, I’m not usually a sermon person. It’s not that I don’t mind a weekly lecture on faith, theology, and morals, it’s just that those kinds of lectures were my secular life—oh, and I tend to be a bit uncharitable towards whoever’s preaching when it comes to obscure nuances of theology. Fine, who cares that I know more than anybody else about how a certain statement could be read as verging on Arianism if one considers what Augustine says in De Trinitate, I’m still a jerk for focusing on it and thinking myself somehow superior. Sermons kinda bring out the worst in me.

Well, maybe not so much this one. Luther placed a great deal of emphasis on the notion of God being everywhere, in all things, in all acts, and in all people; just as Christ was present in both the Eucharist and Martin’s pea soup, so can Christ be served and worshiped in the church and in mundane life. The Reformation emphasized that the work of the Church is done not only by the ordained, but by the priesthood of all; while each may have their own individual vocation, in another way we are all called to one vocation as servants of God.  Thus, through right actions, fair dealing, and striving for excellence in all things, we manifest the glory of the Divine working through us and imitate the City of God here in life.

I’m no Major Taylor. I race and ride on Sunday mornings when I’m not working. I mean, sure, I tend to find God outside, in the midst of Creation, hiking boots my vestments and bike chain my rosary, but excuses for skipping Sunday service are still excuses. While I’m pretty sure most people pick up that I’ve had more than a passing acquaintance with Christianity and theology, I’m not sure how many would peg me as personally religious. It’s something I very, very rarely talk about.

Let’s face it, protected bike lanes are waaaaayyyy down on the list of things religious folks are supposed to hate. There’s a certain vision of what Christianity in America is and should be, and, even though I suspect many, many American Christians don’t subscribe to this vision, it’s become the dominant, oppressive, and odious narrative in our society. I know I may come from a Disciples background where Bolz-Weber and William Barber II aren’t the exceptions and the Ship is…uh, par for the course, if not ever normal, try explaining how that works to folks at Catholic U who, within three minutes of meeting, ask “well, then what are you?” Christians are supposed to be part of the dominant culture, complaining about oppression and persecution each time someone so much as thinks about questioning that supremacy. Avowed feminist cyclists with mild radical tendencies are supposed to burn Bibles, not read them.

I know I can’t hardly start in on a good anti-gentrification, smash the patriarchy, overturn the oppressive neoliberal order rant without sounding like Amos and Ezekiel. It happens increasingly often these days. Pretty much any time I talk about bike activism I end up alluding to or referencing Aquinas and Augustine, picking up rhetorical flourishes from Paul and Ecclesiastes. It’s there if you know what you’re hearing, this inescapable background, the core that, no matter how I may blend into the secular and urbane world, is behind every cause and every passion.

Is that enough, though? I’m only too happy to cite every source except for those, willing to use Kantspeak to cover over religious idealism and zeal. I mean, some of the Kantspeak’s honest, but why dissemble? Why hide? As the Gospel reading for Reformation Sunday reminds us, “the truth will set you free.”

Or maybe the would-be Old Testament prophet is more obvious than I’d think, and this just another case of a can of taupe paint utterly failing to cover over the slightly nutty interior, full of strange and seemingly conflicting ideas served next to the coffee.

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