Cyclists take inspiration from faith

Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light bike riders get ready to leave Plowshare Produce in McAlevys Fort on the second day of their ride in 2015.
Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light bike riders get ready to leave Plowshare Produce in McAlevys Fort on the second day of their ride in 2015. Photo provided

For the fifth year in a row, I am riding my bicycle to Washington, D.C., to urge Congress to act on climate change. It is not easy. The trip is 200 miles and takes more than four days; my friends and I carry all our supplies with us, staying overnight in churches and homeless shelters.

But the physical demands of the trip are nothing compared to the mental and emotional strain. At the same time that our Earth continues to warm at a frightening pace, our political system is deadlocked: No one seems to be able or willing to do anything, and some prominent political leaders still deny that climate change is happening.

So why do I do it? Because I have faith, and the heart of faith is fiercely holding on to hope in a time of despair.

The bike trip is sponsored by Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light, an organization dedicated to a religious response to climate change. We represent Christian, Jewish, Unitarian and Baha’i congregations all over the commonwealth that are taking action to reduce their carbon footprint and to leave a better world for future generations.

Religions offer many examples of holding on to faith in the midst of despair, but Friday is both Earth Day and the beginning of Passover, so it seems appropriate to take a closer look at the Exodus story.

The plagues of that story are mirrored in our world today: our state tree, the hemlock, is dying; diseases such as the Zika virus are spreading; the ice is melting and the seas are rising. Yet the people in the Bible story are told to have faith.

Not only do they hold on during the worst of these plagues, they also take action — leaving their homes for the promised land. If the Hebrews can wander in the desert for 40 years, then we can ride, year after year, to Washington. I hope it won’t take 40 years of bike rides, but I know we will prevail.

I know this because our State College congregations are already taking action. Faith United Church of Christ added a state-of-the-art insulation system with its new roof. Grace Lutheran Church invested in a highly efficient boiler system that may cut its gas usage in half. State College Friends Meeting House put up solar panels that will cover most of its electricity usage.

I know this because of the amazing individuals who will join me on this trip: grandfather-granddaughter team Karl and Carina Raynar, members of Trinity Lutheran Church; professor Scott McDonald and grad student Spencer Carran, members of State College Presbyterian Church; Pastor Ben Wideman, of University Mennonite Church; Joyce Eveleth; retired professor Dorothy Blair, member of the Universalist Unitarian Fellowship of Centre County; and members of my own church, Grace Lutheran: professor Dave Hunter and Dr. Ed Prince.

I know this because of the hundreds of individuals who contribute to our fundraising campaign and who follow our story. Along the way, we are supported by individuals and congregations who continue to welcome our trip, year after year.

Passover is a sign of God’s steadfast promise in the face of human injustice; the plagues cease and Pharaoh is defeated. This ancient story is our inspiration to continue wandering to Washington on our bicycles, urging our representatives to respond. Yes, the situation is dire, but we have hope.

Our trip begins at 4 p.m. April 29 from State College Presbyterian Church; come see us off or follow our trip at paipl.org.

Jonathan Brockopp directs an initiative on religion and ethics for Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute.