Cyclist Hell

Racing 08All eyes were on Denmark last week (well, some at least), as Copenhagen and Rudersdal hosted the UCI Cycling World Championships. The event itself went extremely well: huge amounts of spectators, interesting sporting moments, a well-organised affair, and great weather. Last Sunday, we went to Holte (just a 5K bike ride from our home) to watch part of the race and feel the excitement over such a big sporting event in little Denmark.

Of course, doing a road race in the middle of a big city is impossible without a certain hassle for its inhabitants. Major road closures changed the daily commute for the many people that usually rely on their car to take them into the city. But this is not what my title refers to. I ride the train everyday, and although last week saw an increase in the number of passengers, I was able to do pretty much the same as usual. And an event like this is great for the country in terms of tourist income and brand value.

Racing 02No, what I’m talking about is how you cannot go anywhere in Copenhagen (or its suburbs, for that matter) without being overwhelmed by people on bicycles. It’s easy, healthy, free, good for the environment, and what have you. For many Copenhageners and outsiders alike, that’s what they love about this city. Not me, though.

I don’t mind being able to get to the station quickly and inexpensively, especially when the weather is nice. But I do not subscribe to the prevailing sentiment that bicycles are oh, so good for a city.

Too many cyclists believe they own the place. They are a danger to themselves and others, not adhering to traffic rules, taking up space on trains, and terrorising innocent pedestrians and others who want a clean and safe city.

What if the police started actively enforcing traffic rules for bicycles? Not just running red lights (jayriding?), but also especially riding on sidewalks, pedestrian streets, and train platforms, parking in no-parking zones (towing should happen much more frequently), riding against traffic, and speeding (how about speed-cameras for bikes?). Most of this is illegal already, but seldom enforced.

I know cars take up a lot of space, but there are simply too many bicycles in Copenhagen. My solution? More public transit (trains, metro, trams/light rail, buses), pedestrian streets (free of bicycles, that is), and a limited number of cars where unavoidable (taxing visiting drivers in some form is fine by me).

Am I just becoming a grumpy old man? Possibly – I think many bloggers are. While we’re at it, we should prohibit dogs as well.

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Finding a Church, Part II

A year ago to this date, I wrote the entry Finding a Church, voicing my frustration about the too difficult task of finding a new church family. So what has happened since?

In short: too little. We put paper behind our actions and moved our membership to the Café Church in Copenhagen, after realising that this was the church we were primarily attending, and we got tired of treading water. Being a member hasn’t changed everything, though. Sure, some things have grown to the better, but it’s still not a perfect match. I can still have doubts as to whether this is the right church for me. I still don’t feel fully a part of the fellowship. I still find myself unmoved way too often. And I still have a hard time figuring out what the church is and wants.

So what is wrong? It seems fair to start by blaming myself.

For one, my own personal spiritual life has been somewhat lagging. I know this may be a chicken-and-egg issue, but it certainly plays a part. For this reason or others I have never been fully enthusiastic, and I have maintained a degree of dissociation – just in case. I could probably also have done more on my own part to integrate myself. And I have definitely been too focused on what others should do, and what the church should do, instead of what I could do.

I have tried my hand at some involvement, though. Playing the piano has been one thing that I have helped out with a bit. And more recently, I have taken the initiative to raise the level of fellowship dinners. This project had its debut two weeks ago, and is a great success so far. More than anything else it was started because I see a need for closer integration between church members. Eating together could help.

My own failures may be the greatest. However, there are also points where I have not been impressed with the church. Some may be a matter of match – things that work out fine for others. If so, then by all means carry on. I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all churches. But here are my observations.

It has been surprisingly difficult to break into the social side of being church, i.e., making friends. Especially surprising since I knew a lot of people beforehand. There are one or two exceptions, but most of our meaningful relationships are with people we know from elsewhere and happen to meet at church. There are a lot of cliques in the Café Church, and most people seem content to be with their own.

I have grown increasingly indifferent to the worship. Some of this may be personal taste or lack of spiritual engagement on my part. But it’s very rare that I’m actually moved by anything that goes on in church. Which is kind of sad.

Finally, for all its merits and entrepreneurial achievements, this church still doesn’t have a clue what it wants. Sure, some individuals, even within the leadership, may have ideas and visions. But there’s no common goal. No shared vision. No long-term planning. Why does the church exist? To some it seems like the raison d’être of the Café Church is the fact that it’s different. It may be less explicit than previously, but there is still somehow a prevalent sense of “we’re better than the others because we’re different”. Wake-up call: you’re not all that different. At least not to merit this kind of separation. So what’s the point? Why are you here?

Frankly, I’m tired of having to choose between Café Church and traditional church. At least in the Copenhagen area the options are divided to a degree that doesn’t make sense. I feel at home in both settings, but would like to see someone aiming for the middle ground. Who will lead into a Third Way?

Changes in Public Attitude in Denmark

Denmark is famous around the world for being a liberal society, surpassed by none (except maybe the Netherlands) in its everything-goes attitude towards life. We were the first in the world to legalise porn (1969), same-sex unions (1989), and the first to perform sex-change operations (1952). Freetown Christiania was unique at its time in providing a haven for lefties wishing an alternative lifestyle (not to mention marijuana).

Although these issues are not about to change, others are. Previously, the Danish zeitgeist could be described as: “we don’t need people telling us how to behave, thank you very much”. Now, this is increasingly giving way to “it’s perfectly all right to have common do’s and don’t’s”. Certain issues have seen a remarkably fast change in public opinion over the last decade or so. Let me highlight a few examples.

Smoking

I can only applaud this one. The U.S. were pioneers, and for a while in the late 90’s the difference was huge. I’d travel to America and notice with amusement the groups of office workers standing on the kerb outside their building, banished from the inside. And I’d return to Denmark to meet the unpleasantries of nicotine-deprived Danes puffing happily at baggage reclaim. It used to be impossible to travel any long distance in Denmark and not have your clothes smelling of tobacco from interaction on trains or ferries.

Not so today. The office building scene is now a common fixture in Copenhagen, and dining out is much more pleasant. Even more interesting is the fact that most Danes support the new laws. A genuine change in attitude has occurred, and a sizeable number of people are even open to the idea of restricting smoking in your own home, in order to protect children from second-hand smoke.

Child rearing

Another issue that has remarkably fast become a non-issue is domestic corporal punishment (also known as spanking your kids). It was not a common fixture in my childhood, but it did happen, and it probably worked, too. The practice was, however, outlawed in Denmark in 1997. And today, 13 years later, any discussion of the topic is a dead duck. This is just not socially acceptable any longer.

The ban follows other countries, all European. It is still legal practice in most of the world, including the U.S., but also England, Switzerland, France, and Australia. In many places, corporal punishment in schools is also legal. This was banished in Denmark in 1967.

The interesting thing to note in both examples is that new legislation has a very real effect on public attitude. The degree to which we accept new laws and let them become social mores is surprising.

Behaviour on trains and stations

My last example has no political connections, but is saying all the same. I notice it every time I ride the S-trains in Copenhagen. This year they have commenced a massive effort to teach us (the passengers) how to behave. Let people exit the train before entering. Use all train doors to ease congestion. Don’t let your bicycle block free passage of others. Etc., etc. Previously, campaigns like this would have been something you saw in Singapore and dismissed with a shrug. Perhaps it’s necessary, and I’m a big fan of public order, so that’s fine.

But it’s an altogether different attitude from not very long ago. I remember a letter to the editor in the DSB monthly, Ud & Se, in which a reader suggested putting signs on escalators telling people to stand on the right and walk on the left. Why couldn’t we figure it out here, when it worked so well in other world cities? The reply was non-committal: there is no need, people can figure it out for themselves. Apparently, they can’t. Not that many years after, signs exactly as requested started appearing throughout Copenhagen. And people have learned pretty well, I’d say.

I can’t really make up my mind as to whether the change is for the better or for the worse. On one hand, I like not getting second-hand smoke or being blocked on escalators. On the other, it is a little bit frightening how public opinion can change, given the right law or campaign.

The big question is: are we still as a people free-thinking, liberal and open-minded? Were we ever, really?

Why the Café Church Matters

At the upcoming business session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Denmark in May, delegates will vote on whether to grant the Café Church in Copenhagen full church status, thus upgrading it from its current “company” status.

The move will doubtless be controversial to some people, since this congregation has had more than its fair share of criticism and gossip since its inception 10-15 years ago. On the other hand, it will be crucial to the future of Adventism in Denmark, not because of this individual church, but because of the vision it represents.

The Café Church is a new way of doing church which downplays certain typical traits (or oddities) and focuses on bringing the gospel to people with as few restrains as possible. Just as Paul became Greek for the Greeks, etc., it strives to become postmodern Copenhagen-ish for postmodern Copenhageners.

And of course there have been hiccups along the way. One of most talked about is the struggle with Adventist identity. But this is hardly unique to the Café Church. We all struggle somewhat with the issue of identity, and that’s not going to go away anytime soon. Here, at least, some people are honest in expressing their concerns about how the connection should be to the wider church body, or whether it should exist at all. But now the Café Church actually wants to be a part of the Danish Union. It is not necessarily an enthusiastic move (which is understandable, given the bumpy history), but it is sincere in wanting to embrace a wider fellowship, while maintaining its unique position.

The CC has been a pioneer, not only in Denmark (inspiring, among others, Aarhus Café Church, a big part of my life for many years), but also internationally, showing the world church community that fresh expressions of church are in fact possible, and essential to kingdom growth.

The decision on whether to include the Café Church into the Danish Union will be a final litmus test of the church’s willingness to embrace change and diversity. A rejection would signal, and result in, segmentation and streamlining. While this might enhance efficiency, since there would be only one right way of doing things, in the end the church would suffer immensely. The remaining church would be narrow in thought and expression, and its relevance to society would have to be reconsidered.

On the other hand, an affirmation would send a clear signal that there is hope for the future. It would express a belief that there are, in fact, ways to make the gospel relevant to a new era. This is not the only way – but it underlines the idea that there is not one way of doing things, but many.

I believe that the majority of church members in Denmark are actually in favour of fresh expressions and new ways of doing church. They may not all cherish a certain style, but they will embrace diversity and acknowledge that we are working in different ways toward the same goal.

Recently, I moved my own membership to the Café Church. And so the fate of my own new church body is at stake. But more than that, this is an opportunity to move forward, putting old grievances behind us and uniting in diversity for the sake of the gospel.

Finding a Church

A common criticism of the post-modern ethos goes something like this: “Young people today are unwilling to commit to formal structures and engagements, such as church membership.” And this year, I’ve come to realise I’m one of them.

Not that I’ve stopped believing in church membership. I’m still a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and I’ll probably stay that for at least some years ahead. I’m referring to local church here. Upon moving to the Copenhagen area, we knew that it would be a challenge to decide for or against joining a specific church, but we were not anticipating that we should still be in the void after 7 months.

This may be a negative result of being involved in church planting. For all its faults, Aarhus Café Church was my church – literally, since I was part of it from even before the start. When you join something existing, you have to accept it as it is, living with inconsistencies and imbalances. So how do you find a church family to belong to? Some of our criteria are: we want to be able to make a difference; we are looking for a church that has a clear mission and vision; we want a church that is going somewhere and which has potential.

If we limit the search to Seventh-day Adventist Churches, there are at least 5 within reasonable distance, but our considerations have mainly focused on two of these. There’s the one in which we were married; a large, traditional church which is pleasant but has a built-in inertia that, despite honest efforts, seems difficult to shed. And there’s the one which we attend most regularly; a newer church with lots of young people and a bigger potential, but which seems to be treading water at the moment, lacking the drive and vision of earlier years.

Then there is the radical option: start something new. We had talked about this even before leaving Aarhus, but know from that experience that church planting is a huge undertaking and needs a big commitment. Furthermore, partners are needed for such ventures – we would need to build a vision together with other people, expanding the thoughts we already harbour with the input of others willing to join such a project.

So what path should we take? That has yet to be decided. And while thorough thinking is a blessing, indecision can be a bane. Somehow, somewhere, something needs to happen.

Olympic Gays

Tomorrow the second instalment of World Outgames begins here in Copenhagen. A mixture of sports and culture, this is a festival of all things queer. Homosexuals from around the world will visit our fair city and make the streets colourful. More than just a sports tournament, this is a celebration of diversity. And as such, I’m proud to live in a city this open. (In many other ways we’re somewhat closed, actually, but in my opinion this festival is a good thing.)

Some would doubtless criticise, and they might ask questions such as:

Why do gays need their own event? Can’t they just join the regular Olympic Games? To be short, no. In many countries being openly gay means condemnation, expulsion from professional sports or other careers, or even (capital) punishment. That’s not right.

You’re a Christian – shouldn’t you be condemning gays? It is true that the Bible opposes practised homosexuality. But much more vehemently, the Bible teaches love, acceptance and non-condemnation. Homosexuals and Christians are both minority groups, and as such we ought to have a common cause: the right to live as we wish, regardless of what the majority thinks. Instead of fighting each other, wouldn’t it be wonderful if gays and Christians could join hands in fighting for diversity and minority rights?

Are you gay? No, but if I were, would you think less of me? I hope not.