Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns and appears each month.
by Tom Beutel
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col. 3:17 (NIV)
Mark Twain is credited with saying that “to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.” Sometimes I feel that way about peacemaking, and, I think, rightly so.
In his book Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice & Peace Perry Yoder unpacks the broad implications of the word that the Bible typically translates as “peace,” that is, shalom. One way to think of shalom is in terms of a healthy, right relationship with God, self, others, and the creation. This encompasses far more than simply avoiding violence with others; it includes our relationship with God, ourselves, and the creation as well, and it emphasizes healthy, right relationships; that is positive, active peace-making.
On a recent bike ride I was thinking about biking and the ways in which it fits well with the idea of shalom. For me biking is a multifaceted activity, providing exercise, relaxation, and a degree of solitude. The past couple of years I have begun to take fairly long rides, long for me – about 15-25 miles at a time. I maintain a decent pace, but I’m not trying to set any speed records. All of my biking is done exclusively on trails that are converted railroad lines; they are paved, level, and scenic, along rivers, through farmland and marshes, and connecting small local villages.
So, how do my rides relate to shalom? First, there is peace with God. With the somewhat longer rides, allowing stops to sit on a bench along the river or by a small frog pond, I can take time to meditate on the beauty of God’s creation, to be thankful for His provision and the opportunity to enjoy it, and even to study scripture or other Christian writing. It is a time of meditation and communion.
Peace with self, an important aspect of shalom, is probably the central element of my rides. Perhaps most obviously, biking is one way to get physical exercise which is vital to good health. The health benefits of biking are well-known and numerous. Biking builds strength, increases muscle tone, builds stamina, improves cardio-vascular fitness, burns calories, improves heart health and reduces stress (adultbicycling.com). A 180 pound adult, riding at the rate of 10-12 mph, burns 245 calories in 30 minutes. (http://www.bicycling.com/training/fitness/cycling-calories-burned-calculator) The 10-12 mph rate is moderate pace, easily achieved on a bike trail.
Beyond the obvious physical health benefits, biking, as noted, reduces stress. Biking at a moderate pace, fast enough to get the health benefits, but slow enough to enjoy the ride and the scenery, is therapeutic.
There are several ways in which biking provides peace with others. Biking with a friend, child, or spouse builds relationship through shared experience. But, there is more. Biking on a bike trail means that you are sharing space with others: walkers, other bikers, roller-bladers, people with dogs or strollers, children just learning to ride, serious riders going long distances or faster speeds. Each person must look out for the other, announce when passing from behind, slow down when necessary. There is the sense of a broader community. Meeting and taking time to talk with strangers enriches the experience and is a peacemaking activity.
Finally, wherever one bikes, there is an environment to be enjoyed and preserved. Bike trails constructed along disused railroad lines typically go through beautiful scenery and small villages. The pastoral beauty of the ride is inspiring and biking allows the rider to be a part of the environment. Wildflowers come and go as the seasons change; sun, clouds, wind and even rain are typically part of a ride. Biking has small impact on the environment, leaving it as it was. Peace with the creation is built in to biking.
May is National Bike Month (http://bikeleague.org/bikemonth) For many, this is a great time to embrace a healthy, fun activity. But, for peacemakers, biking can be an opportunity to think about and engage in shalom: peace with God, self, others, and the creation.
For more in formation on biking here are a few links you might find interesting:
- The League of American Bicyclists: general information, advocacy, biking tips. http://bikeleague.org/
- Rails-to-Trails: information about bike and multi-use trails from disused railroad lines, advocacy, trail guides http://www.railstotrails.org/
Calorie Burning Calculator: http://www.everydayhealth.com/Calories-Burned-Biking.htm