Ironman: Road Closures and Road Trips
I have a love/hate relationship with Ironman.
It’s not what you think… I hate running. Well, maybe that was what you were thinking. I hate to run but that doesn’t mean I hate the Ironman. As a matter of fact I’ve debated training for a sprint triathlon in the past. I love to bike. I love to swim. All athletes who complete 70.3 miles of run, bike, swim deserve nothing but deep respect from me and everyone else. Ironman is a unique competition and with its arrival in Chattanooga it presents unique challenges to churches like Bridge City Community.
Recently, Chattanooga overtook Boulder, CO as the #1 outdoor destination in America. Dethroning the eternal champion of outdoor activity isn’t easy but we did it here in the Scenic City adding that trophy to our growing outdoor, urban, and entrepreneurial collection. However, as the trophy case fills the inevitable happens - there’s less space. We are a geographically challenged mid-sized city. A twenty minute drive in any direction from city center and you end up enveloped by the beauty of rural America. In addition to world class kayaking, rock climbing, bicycling, and hiking we have now hosted three Ironman competitions and a marathon. Every single time the route designed to facilitate such a long race in such a tight space cuts off Alton Park from three different directions.
I have a love/hate relationship with Ironman because it is a serious pain in the butt of Bridge City Community. To be fair, City of Chattanooga Youth & Family Development Centers are all closed on Sundays with the exception of ours so I can’t blame planners on intentionally cutting us off, but it does beg the question - why must this community, which is largely absent from the Ironman demographic, suffer inconvenience? Furthermore, how the heck are people supposed to get to church when 3/4 roads are closed from 7am-1pm on Sunday?!
I love the exposure Ironman brings to our city. I hate the literal and figurative road blocks that exist for our Bridge City Community, particularly when I am out of town. Last weekend I was road trippin to St. Louis to preach at Reliant - a church that we are pursuing a relationship with. Preaching up there was one of the first steps to developing a ministry partnership that will hopefully end with financial support for BCC. As one of the necessary discomforts of urban ministry it has to happen for us to discover solvency. This particular weekend I got a text from Mark explaining the challenges presented to our people trying to get to church. Never mind the difficulty of our regulars getting to the rec center but with each dripping bicyclist passing by the center went the hope of a visitor joining us for worship.
It’s hard for me to leave BCC for a Sunday. Not because Mark can’t handle but because I miss my family. I preach to strangers so our family can grow - it’s how it has to be right now. Road closures aren’t anything new for us as we’ve experienced them since our public launch in August 2014. Sunday was different as they had even more roads closed to accommodate the triathlon. Mark wasn’t sure who, if anyone, was going to make it to church and suggested we call it off and mass-text cancel worship. Stuck 450 miles away and bummed out I told him to set up half as many chairs and wait it out. We need to open the doors even if nobody shows up.
I’m not sure how many other churches in Chattanooga are forced to contend with road closures and road trips? Are there other congregations isolated by orange cones and blockaded by blue lights like a Spanish armada? What other pastors are forced to abandon their people to chase down paychecks? What I find to be most offensive is that these closures will never inconvenience the privileged communities in our trophy winning gem of the south. I hate how we’re stuck in that position. I hate how there never seems to be a Sunday where something like that doesn’t come up. I hate how the city can segregate communities with road closures - a microcosm of the economic, educational, and legislative segregation already present. We face the Ironman everyday. We are swimming upstream to keep from drowning. Out of breath, muscles cramping we pedal uphill as we look up at power and control of Lookout Mountain from the valley below. Sweat stinging our eyes, lifting one heavy foot in front of the other we yearn to see the finish line but aren’t convinced that it even exists.
I love our Ironman though. I would rather face closed roads and long drives across the country in pursuit of justice and mercy than cheer on the sidelines. I love how road closures don’t stop Bridge City Community from gathering to worship. Mark and I were equally worried that Sunday morning would result in a flat tire. Instead, I get a text in the middle of my sermon 450 miles away showing our humble multi-purpose room sanctuary filled with our neighbors hearing the proclamation of Grace. I was self-conscious of my absenteeism, but driving south through Illinois our race was affirmed by the generous support of newfound partners in St. Louis and California alike.
Paul wrote to the church in Galatia these words, "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” [Galatians 6:9-10]
The author of the letter to the Hebrews spurred them on with this word, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” [Hebrews 12:2-3]
Road closures will cause momentary inconveniences and road trips will result in temporary absences but we will continue to swim, bike, run. Maybe I like running after all...