Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Pope and a Bike Race

Two things happened this past week. There was a big important bicycle race going on in Richmond, and the Pope came to America. I will now compare and contrast.

The bike race is huge, or so we keep being told by the event organizers. The UCI Road World Championships is the second biggest world event in cycling, topped only by the Tour de France. Much of the city has been cordoned off. Traffic has been rerouted away from the course. Area schools were closed. VCU cancelled classes for the entire week. Downtown restaurants hired extra staff preparing for the onslaught of bike fan customers. Richmond 2015 had expected over 450,000 spectators to view the exciting event over the nine days of the race. Churches set up booths to help the tens of thousands of foreign tourists expected to be stumbling around the cobble-stoned streets of the Fan. This event was going to be the latest big thing to cement Richmond's growing reputation for being the up and coming hip city. I mean, what's more hip than a sporting event that's Europe? So far, no official attendance count has been published by Richmond 2015. However, the anecdotal evidence is not encouraging. There are reports of strategically positioned restaurants along the course who went to the expense of hiring extra staff only to go an entire day serving only seven customers. A headline on CBS 6's website blares, "SHOCKED" local businesses disappointed with UCI bike race sales, hope for big weekend." That big weekend will feature two days of rain...heavy at times.

Unlike the sparse crowds and empty streets of Richmond, the rest of the country has been teeming with the faithful straining for a glimpse of the Pope. The Pontif made his first ever visit to America this week, and has been greeted like a rock star by everyone from the media to the President of the United States. He became the first Pope to address a joint session of Congress, and when the picture of the event hit social media, a meme soon was born showing Francis standing in front of all of the senators and congressmen with the line...POPE VISITS THE SICK. His reception by the American media has been overwhelmingly positive, breathtakingly adoring, as if finally the press has found someone about whom nothing negative can be said. Over a million people are expected at a Mass he will give in Philladelphia. Within a week he will release his first spoken word album, a certain Grammy winner. There are Pope cookies for sale, even a special Pope inspired beer lineup at Pubs in the city of brotherly love with names like redemption ale, sacrament lager, and a spirited IPA called the holy confession! If there exists anyone who doubts the Pope's holy credentials, one only need witness his greatest miracle yet...keeping Donald Trump out of the news for three days!

Ok, what do these two seemingly disparate events have in common?

They both are European imports.
They both are loved by all the really cool people.
They are both into encyclicals.

So, how are they different from each other?

Americans seem to really care about the Pope.
If the Pope comes to your city, it's actually great for business.
The Pope has never been accused of doping.

But, seriously, what is a Protestant Christian like me supposed to think of all this Pope business? Honestly, I don't know. Obviously, I'm not buying this infallible baloney, and no, he's not the Vicar of Christ, and when I see the way he is worshipped by some, it strikes me as an awful lot like idolatry. When he starts getting into politics, my unenamored eyes start to roll, since he sounds more like Karl Marx than even Karl Marx! However....something in my heart tells me that he is a great man. I see his smile and feel the love that he has for people and it's inspiring. His tendency to resist the high and
mighty in favor of the common man can teach us all a thing or two about humility. When I read of his words about grace and forgiveness and the way he encourages his bishops to pray more and preen less, my soul is moved to agreement, and challenged to do so myself. The bottom line is, I don't have to agree with this Pope about everything. I don't even have to agree with his church about exactly who he is. But I can still be thankful for him and his witness and pray for his protection and success. If that seems contradictory to some, I get it. That's ok. It wouldn't be the first time I believed contradictory things. In that way I have something in common with Pope Francis...neither of us are infallible!