If you are new to this site, welcome! You are diving into an adventure whose boundaries stretch far beyond the width of this tiny blog. Whatever you are looking for, I assure you– seek, and you will find.
My name is Scott Claassen. In June 2011, I set off on a year-long adventure called the Carbon Sabbath. For one year, I refrained from riding in planes and cars, heating and cooling my home, and several other activities that contribute to climate change. During that time, I bicycled over 11,500 miles around the country to engage Christian communities in dialogue about the relationship between climate change and the love of God and neighbor. In the course of those travels, I mined the cultural and environmental depths of the country, and I am left with an inexhaustible wealth of gratitude.
Great adventures do not begin or end. They are grafted into the eternal so seamlessly that vestiges of their temporal nature become buried beneath the bark of lore and legend. Like great relationships or timeless narratives, the ends we use to smolder their ashes seem only to fan the flames. Such is the fire from which we walk.
After a year of living at the mercy of others, I am left overflowing with gratitude. So many people have contributed to this community. Some are no longer with us. Many others have gone on to start their own means of creating dialogue about climate change or seeking our deepest longing. Whatever you are doing now, I want to thank you for being a part of this incredible journey. However small or large you consider your contribution, please know that you have been a part of something that has inspired deep discussion and mindful action. Thanks! Last Sunday, I was back at my home church– Thad’s in Los Angeles. I had the pleasure of preaching again, as I did at the beginning of the trip. It was an honor and a comfort to be back in that community, where I hope to be for a while to come. Thanks to everyone at Thad’s for your support!
As you no doubt know, this will be my last official blog post. My year without flying or driving ended on Tuesday. Over the last few days, I’ve had a handful of occasions to ride in cars and even drive a little. I was not anxious to do so, and I now understand why. As I speed across town or down a highway, I feel that I am being robbed of my life. It’s like eating a cheap food when you’ve had the good stuff. Although my diet continues to be primarily plant-based, let me give an analogy from outside of that diet. The best beef I’ve ever tasted was a filet straight from the Pampa in Argentina. It was full of flavor but completely unadorned. Amazing. When I was a child, I consumed countless TV dinners with Salisbury Steak as the main course. That meat was scarcely recognizable as animal, and it was usually doused in some sort of gelatinous gravy. It’s hard to go back to that once you’ve had the Argentine filet. Believe me: most car rides are TV dinners compared to bike rides.
The bicycle allows for so many encounters that are impossible to catch in a car. Here, I caught a side of Compton I had previously missed.
I suspect much of that is due to connection. In a car, you are in your own world. Yes, you have choices, but those choices are less meaningful than you might think. Often, the isolation results in mindlessness. If you roll down the windows, you can feel the breeze. If you turn off the stereo, you might hear the birds or breeze. But you can’t feel the road. You don’t smell the world you pass. You are virtually robbed of your time because you can’t meet it with your full mind. You are removed, unplugged, and disconnected.
That mindless practice extends into our lives. It is not simply a question of atrophy. We actually work at our frenzied thought and disconnection. Every once in a while, something comes along to shake us up. Maybe it’s romantic love. Maybe it’s learning. Maybe it’s the passing of a loved one. But in all of those things, we realize we are far more connected to the world around us than we previously imagined. That connection enriches our lives.
Over the past year, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of shifting our discussion around climate change. Rather than emphasizing prevention, I believe it is time to equip our communities to deal with the consequences of climate change. That entails a focus on issues that are regionally prominent. Learn how your community will be affected by these changes, and try to minimize the effects and potential suffering. In the process, you’ll find yourself more connected to God, neighbor, and land. You’ll see how small actions like pedal strokes can lead you 11,530 miles down the road. You’ll look back on a crowd of individuals acting in small ways to contribute to a great journey. You will wake to find your being entwined with all around you—from neighbor to creator and back. And you’ll see how the love at work in all things finds a way where we see none.
Shortly after taking this picture, I stopped for a break in the shade of a billboard. When I came back to the road, the bike was gone. Totally disappeared. You can hear more about this event in my sermon at Thad's on Sunday, 6/3/12. Suffice it to say, I was shocked at the disappearance and relieved to recover my compadre.
Upon arrival at the ocean of my childhood, we had a refreshing reunion. The baptism of return.
After a year away, I got to spend some quality time with my family. While I was off cycling and talking with many of you, my nephews grew and developed in such a way as to refresh my perspective on life's steady march. Great to see them!
Future Carbon Cyclist.
My brother Brian got in on the Carbon Sabbath.
Brian took Thaddeus for a spin. Here, he logs his mile 1. Thanks to Brian and Anna-Marie for participating in the Carbon Sabbath!
While passing through Dana Point, I stopped to talk with some folks about the harbor there and its effects on the ocean nearby. Just below the bluffs on which the bike is perched, there used to be one of the best surf spots in California called Killer Dana. The construction of the harbor in 1966 radically altered marine life, the shifting of sand, and wave patterns in the area. This classic deep water reef stands as a testament to surfers for how drastically human beings alter the earth around them. For many, it was the destruction of an ancient cathedral. Some seek the divine in buildings. Others walk on water.
The transition out of the Sabbath has been greatly facilitated by the Bartz Clan. I will surely say this again, but the Carbon Sabbath could not have happened with out their support. Their presence in my life and their work at Thad's is incredible. To ease my transition, they have graciously allowed me to stay in their beautiful back house. Here, Jas and Jimmy get a little down time in the backyard.
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The Motel 29 Palms turns silent in the heat of the day. The kitschy sign that welcomes visitors from the eastern Mojave with a pert glow seems worn and humbled in the unbridled sun. Two curious roadrunners that stroll the grounds at dusk and dawn have retreated to somewhere likely shadier than the parking lot’s open oven. The motel’s denizens—mostly temporary laborers and tourists headed to or from Joshua Tree—have evaporated, which leaves me to some quality time with the desert heat and the world wide web.
It’s been a long journey since last we connected, Carbon Sabbath crew! Thaddeus has rolled through high desert snows, past ancient Native American civilizations, along the rim of the Grand Canyon, and down dead highways to the edge of the Mojave. The journey was not burdened by ease. Nor was it free of beauty. The overall experience was a treasure whose immediately apparent value will surely accrue in the years to come.
In the wake of my desert time and this year of abnormal living, I am feeling fairly unsettled. At several points in this trip, I pined for my home state. If a song like Wilco’s “California Stars” popped in my head, I would sing it heartily and hopefully. Now that I’ve reached California, I can’t quite accept it. When Odysseus finally sets foot on Ithaca after years of wandering, war, and hardship, he doesn’t recognize it. His view is impeded by a fog both literal and figurative. I can relate. It’s hard to believe that I am in my homeland. In the distance, I can see valleys I know and mountains I have climbed. I’ve driven the roads I now ride, and I have childhood memories that meander this very desert. But I am not yet home.
Home is a tough thing to define. It runs the gamut from sights and smells to relationships and feelings. Many folks I know are inspired by the song “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, which claims, “Home is whenever I’m with you.” This adds to the complexity of the concept with both a relational and a temporal quality to our sense of home. From a theological perspective, I believe that our longing for home is anchored in our longing for the divine. We get samples of that divine connection in our sense of home, our relationships, and in all that inspires us.
While it suits our postmodern tastes to divorce our longing for home from physical space, it can be misleading to think of home as purely conceptual. Most of us have left our childhood homes at some point in our lives, which is a necessary step in our development and education. We all know what it means to be apart from home physically. Many folks reading this blog have no physical place that they consider home that is not subject to changes in career, relationships or other high priorities. We live transient lives relative to most of human history. That transience separates us from particular physical places to varying degrees.
As part of our detachment from a physical home, it is hard for us to understand the ways in which the physical world around us is changing. Throughout the course of this trip, when I speak with people that have been connected to one piece of land for the majority of their lives—be they farmers, small town business owners, Native Americans, etc.—they easily acknowledge the changes we associate with climate. They know that their home is changing, and they can tell you about it. But most of us are not so connected to the land we inhabit or work. Most of us struggle for a sense of home while oblivious to the changes in the planet that is our physical home. Some might dismiss the notion of earth as our home, but it seems difficult to take such a stance given that we live, eat, breathe, give birth, and die as part of this planet. Jesus’ incarnation affirms that connection and reminds us the importance of living in such a manner as to be present and loving in all that we do. As the condition of the planet changes, our ability to live on the planet and our love of and neighbor will become more noticeably entwined. Home is changing for all of us.
This brazen roadrunner was ready to come right in a Greek restaurant in 29 Palms. For those of you who have never seen these creatures outside of cartoons, the picture below might give you a better sense of their body shape, etc.
Over the past year, I have been blessed by friendships, safety, bucolic wonders, inspiring dialogue, and classic adventures. Surely, those experiences and relationships will nourish me for the rest of my life. For now, I am still in what some would call a liminal space: I am neither a part of normal society nor entirely separated from it. It’s an unsettling position, but that can be good. When we are unsettled or removed from comfort, we can gain strength and perspective that can benefit ourselves and others. I find it both funny and sad that something as simple as not riding in cars or planes can be so profoundly unsettling—more so than years of traveling, playing music, or moving in pursuit of education and work. Still, I welcome the time that remains as I turn to all senses of home.
Joshua Tree National Park is an other-worldly land. The name calls to mind a string of oddities ranging from a U2 record and Gram Parsons’ partial cremation to vegetation that is most often compared to cartoonish artistry of Dr. Seuss. The peculiarity and austerity of life in this dry land conjures a flood of creativity that forces the visitor to reconsider what is possible on this planet. With granite balloons and manikin shrub trees still glowing in my retinae, I bellow: God bless the weird!
In its curiosities and unique beauty, Joshua Tree embodies an experience with the Other. Like travel or education, experiences with the other can energize us. When meeting the Other, we are invariably faced with the unknown and somehow new. Along with that newness, inexperience is also intimidating. In the cases of deserts and wilderness, that intimidation requires respect and attentiveness.
Holy weirdo Jordan Jones took advantage of a pause in his world exploring to meet me in Joshua Tree. With some gear he borrowed in Las Vegas, we headed off into the backcountry for a few days. Here, he takes Thaddeus for a test drive. Thanks to Jordan for contributing some of the photos in this blog post.
It is unsettling to consider how we have made our experiences with nature so exceptionally Other. In the interest of preservation, we set aside wilderness. Along with it, we set aside what we think of as nature. In this act, we deceive ourselves. We pretend that we are separate from nature—as if we could survive without water or food; as if water and food were also separate from nature; as if our actions could never exhaust nature. We have developed incredible techniques for minimizing the dangers associated with food and water. However, they will always be part of greater systems of biotic and abiotic processes interacting constantly.
While there is great danger in separating ourselves from nature, there is great value in preserving wilderness as set aside from the grip of humanity. Like cathedrals, temples, museums, and theaters, we need somewhere to remove ourselves from daily life, recover our fragility, and encounter the depths of being. We need to dig our hands in the soil and feel how our roots are embedded in the divine. That doesn’t happen everywhere or anytime. We occasionally glimpse that ever-present light around our busy feet, but the business takes precedence over beauty.
While scampering up a hillside to catch the moonrise near our first camp, we came across this oddity: a landing gear. We decided to return the next day and investigate. We found a good deal of debris from a fairly recent accident, including glass, pieces of the plane's body, medical gear, carpet, a tattered Disabled Veterans' hat, dentures, and several other items.
We overdress life. We place heavy shawls of activity, close-fitting cloth of expectation, and packs of emotional baggage over being’s untamed body. Occasionally, we go where those garments cannot come. We step back to the essential nakedness of life. This happens in wilderness. It happens in relationships. It happens in transitions, challenges, and poverty–both economic and spiritual. But the awareness requires naked simplicity. We have to put down all we’ve accumulated. Sometimes, it’s involuntary. It is always scary. But just beyond our fear of the unknown, untamed, and indescribable, the holy weirdness tickles our naked feet.
It’s easy to take that weirdness for granted when we talk about it enough. We’ve all heard of the lion lying down with the lamb, camels passing through the eyes of needles, weapons reshaped as tools, the blessed poor, the first becoming last, and the resurrection of the dead. Can we recall the weirdness? Those who seek justice, those who seek innovation– go there. Step out into the desert of the kingdom’s already-not-yet.
When we approached a distant canyon edge, we heard a rustling nearby. Turns out, it was a herd of bighorn sheep. After a moment of tranquil appreciation, I got a quick photo and a very short video. See below.
After parting ways with Jordan, I made my way to another part of the park that is littered with large, funky granite formations. I ended up sleeping in this little cave. You can get a broader view of the cave in the 7th photo of this post-- between the folded rock and the backlit yucca flower at night. In Japan, they have little sleeping capsoles for folks that need to sleep off an active night. This was the closest thing to a natural sleeping capsole-- just large enough for one person with gear. The wind howled all night, and the moon was very bright; I was glad for my accommodations.
As we turn a blind eye to the changes we are causing on our planet and the bold participation with divine love into which we are called, we need the holy weirdness. We need to think like we’ve never thought before and as we’ve forgotten we once dreamed. We need the eternal newness of innovation to re-envision life in the face of climate change. The planet now is as it never has been before. The potential for human suffering alongside massive biodiversity loss is staggering. Fear taps the shoulder opposite our gaze. Elsewhere, the Joshua trees remind us that the inconceivable is possible.
Until we meet again
More tickled by holy weirdness
Than we thought possible
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Special thanks to the great people at the Shaffer Hotel in Mountain Air, NM! They put me up in one of the cowboy rooms that is not notoriously haunted, as are many of the rooms and halls of their tasteful establishment. Their kindness was incredible after several days of headwinds, snow, ice, and heat. Thanks again!
I had the good fortune of participating in the Albuquerque area's annual Good Friday pilgrimage up Tome Hill. Here, families of other peregrinos made their way along irrigation ditches to the distant hill.
In Albuquerque, I stopped by the Center for Action and Contemplation and got to talk to the good folks there, including Richard Rohr. Thanks to that community for their kindness and great work!
Thanks to Fr. Guy from St. John's Episcopal in Farmington, NM!
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Before and behind, the desert of New Mexico stretches out its quiet brilliance. I’m paused in the cultural oasis of one of the weird West’s more curious holdouts: Roswell. Little green figures fill shop windows from real estate agencies to El Marcionito Cowboy Wear. Whispers of conspiracy and mystery are part of everyday habits– the latter bringing life and the former choking it. But a gaze at the night sky is all expanse and brilliance. It is a good reminder of the world outside our habits.
The seasons both liturgical and natural have changed. For those of us in North America, spring is well under way. For me, it is a phase of the trip that requires quieting. Through the desert, I’ll have less internet access and fewer contact with the greater Carbon Sabbath community. Instead of fighting this, I am planning on embracing my surroundings. I’m going to take a pause from the Carbon Sabbath blog. I hope that you can be enriched by the time that you are not reading this blog. Perhaps it is an opportunity for you to explore a small Sabbath practice in your own life. For those of you who are new to the blog, maybe this will give you a chance to look back on the past year’s adventures and musings.
In the fields of both environmentalism and spirituality, there is a long history of individuals seeking solitude in the desert. From Anthony to Abbey, many men and women that I admire found deep connection with both the planet and the divine in the austerity of this harsh landscape.
It is counter-intuitive that so many people find deep connection with the divine and the natural world in the desert. Our instinct is to suppose that our basic needs must be assured before we can look beyond ourselves. I have found the opposite to be true: I cannot fully appreciate or account for my most basic needs without recognizing my connection to the world beyond me. I still look for conveniences and connection in all of the typical places– technology, stability, etc. But those conveniences can cloud and clutter my vision. That’s a bit of what is so amazing about the desert: life is stripped down. When my concern is on having enough water, I can’t focus on the countless internet chores to which I could attend. Life becomes stripped down to its essentials. In that state, it’s much easier to recognize our dependence on others and divine love at work. It’s easier to see how our physical being is part of this planet and how the condition of the planet is crucial to our expression of caritas.
The virtue of life stripped down is at the heart of Sabbath. So often, we feel compelled to do more—to get more done, check off a list, work harder—in order to find peace. The truth is often the opposite. When we do less, we focus on what we are doing. By doing less, we clear our minds and get a better sense of the world beyond us. With regard to climate change, the ability to find Sabbath can both limit our impact and also give us the energy and focus on the divine that we need to address the significant challenges we will face for generations to come.
In the interest of preserving some Lenten silence and honoring my limited internet access, I am going to limit my writing on this post and let these pictures tell the stories. I hope that you can find some Sabbath in my quiet. Thank you to everyone who hosted me, chatted with me, and shared this time with me. Extra special thanks to Steve, Craig, and Susan Kinney for your extraordinary kindness and generosity! Thanks also to Chip Prehn, Tom Campbell, and the good folks at Trinity School in Midland!
Crew from Trinity School in Midland, TX!
Thank you to Emmanuel Episcopal Church in San Angelo for hosting a great discussion!
When I think of people who embody the sort of love of God and neighbor that can inspire communities in the face of climate change, I think of Craig and Susan Kinney. These folks live out a rich and nuanced faith in their private lives, their community involvement, and in their professional work (see: http://www.kinneyfranke.com/ or read on for more). Here, they stand before the San Angelo Visitor's Center, which they designed. They are also working on an extensive riverside public space that incorporates extensive knowledge on regional plants and other remarkable environmental considerations. They are working to make San Angelo a better city. Great job!
This incredible design by Craig uses a series of pools with various plants that naturally filter runoff water as it approaches the Concho River in downtown San Angelo.
In addition to their great work around town and insightful conversation, the Kinneys also cycled everywhere with me. Troopers! They swore it increased their mindfulness.
Mindfulness was readily apparent at Casa Kinney, which was strikingly beautiful and modern but also comfortable and energy efficient.
I tried to help Craig remove a branch that had broken in a winter snow.
Much of this country was grassland prior to the arrival of the European cattle folks. Once, the land was aerated by the hooves of buffalo. The story goes that cattle drives from Mexico brought in invasive mesquite, which soaks up an absurd amount of water. As you can see, the land has been transformed within the last few hundred years.
Fans of the book or movie versions of Friday Night Lights will recognize the name of Midland's Lee High School, which is the rival school of Odessa's Permian Panthers.
The Carbon Sabbath journey through Texas begins and ends with oil. Just as in Beaumont, the history of the region is inseparable from that of the Texas Oil Boom. The regional economy of Odessa-Midland has fluctuated greatly with the price and availability of oil. At present, oil and money are gushing out of Midland. Rumors of overnight multimillionaires flood the streets. At the same time, laborers are drawn to the abundant work that the region provides. None of this is recorded in the museum, but it is worth a visit if you are in town. Certainly a good practice in neighbor/enemy love.
The Petroleum Hall of Fame has a few presidents and several people who do not look very concerned about money.
I know of no natural bursting forth of colors that compares in tranquility with spring in the Texas Hill Country. While this season excites the attentive eye in any locale, most eyes must also suffer a beating of pollen and seasonal illnesses that impede the vision. Add to that clarity the gentle undulations, distant buttes, and a moderate sun ensuring perfect swimming conditions, and you have a very tough competitor. For fear of disbelief, it would be best not to mention that the only noticeable insects about are migrating butterflies. Also bordering on the truly unbelievable are the big sky sunsets whose pastels look like cheap Technicolor productions from Hollywood’s earliest flirtations with polychrome. Yes– the Texas Hill Country spring borders on absurd– like all beauty, generosity, or hope.
While I never welcome a flat tire, this was definitely the best place I've ever been blessed with that curse.
The cast of hill country wildflowers is dominated by the chorus of blue bonnets. Passing by in a car, it is most likely that the purplish blue of those characters is all that you see. Here, the cyclist or walker has a distinct advantage. In between the azure puddles, there are often tiny flowers of varying shades. Even my camera did a poor job of capturing these little beauties. To really see them, you have to stop and lean in. I think you see where I’m going here.
If you have no taste for this sort of Eden and could care less about wildflowers, you are not out of luck. The hill country is also home to world-class barbecue. The establishments have signs like the one above that might make you feel more at home.
Until we meet again
More attentive to the shades around us
Than we thought possible
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In the interest of preserving some Lenten silence and honoring my limited internet access, I am going to refrain from reviewing my Austin experience in words. I’m going to let these pictures tell the stories, and hope that you can find some Sabbath in my quiet. Thank you to all of my incredible friends and loved ones who made the time restorative and fun!
Compadre and Thad's denizen Hunter Perrin rocked out a great show with his band Thunderado during SXSW.
It was great to catch old friends and Austin tunesmiths Gold Beach several times during SXSW.
It was great to visit old friends Michael Winningham and Leyla Abou-Samra. Their son Moustapha is a real kick: smart, active, and full of life, as these next photos illustrate.
GIGANTIC THANK YOU TO TONY DAUGHERTY!!! Tony is an incredible human being. I've known this for years. I think of him like family, not simply because we played in an intimate four-piece band called the Glass Family. He's an excellent drummer and tried-and-true friend. Although he had to wrestle his career, several musical engagements for SXSW, and several major life changes, Tony let me crash on his floor for the entirety of SXSW. Thank you so much, Tony! Congratulations to Tony and Elena Perry on their recent engagement!!!
One of my favorite things about Austin is the abundance of places like this: the Greenbelt. Within a few miles of downtown, you can escape to the lush woods of this series of trails and water sources. Thaddeus and I took a trip to one of my favorite swimming spots and set up shop for an afternoon.
Austin is known for a bridge that houses the world's largest urban bat colony. Here they are, darting out at dusk for another night on the town. Seems to be the M.O. in Austin.
Here, Maribeth Schroeder shows her Carbon Sabbath support by inadvertently matching with the bike and South Austin's Curra's Tex Mex.
10 years ago, I moved to Austin with these two guys: Ross Flournoy and Ben Musser. Good to see them together again!
On a sunny day just before the festival began, someone stole the odometer off of Thaddeus outside of Allen's Boots on South Congress. It was a real blow. The last number I can remember reading was 9,286mi. I got a replacement and accepted the loss.
SXSW really is an extravaganza. There are bands everywhere. I was nearly run over by Fiona Apple as she darted out the back door of Stubbs afer her NPR showcase. I also ran into Norah Jones while she was signing records at Waterloo. Bands of varying quality and fame are everywhere. Best to focus on the folks you know you want to see and accept the surprises.
There were several free shows, including M Ward and the Shins out by the lake I still call Town.
Outside many shows and food venues, there were lines galore. In every line, I noticed the same phenomena: fixed stares at tiny screens killed conversation. I know that smart phones can make time go by quickly, but they also keep us from experiencing the world around us. They also contribute to our practice of distraction when used as a crutch or as a nervous vice. Be careful with that thing in your pocket. It really might impede your path to happiness and connection with the divine. Or maybe not! Use as you please.
I took a little break and met Hunter and Paul Beebe at Hunter's family ranch near Dripping Springs. Great little break from the mayhem.
Out on the ranch, I came across this beast that was unfamiliar to me. Apparently, various exotic game ranches across Texas have had difficulty keeping their animals encaged. As a result, beauties like this black buck antelope now roam the hill country. Shortly after this photo, I was cycling to dinner with Hunter and his folks when this buck charged across the road between a car coming the opposite direction and me. I was close enough to hear his hooves on the pavement and the air rush by his antlers. Striking.
Among the great things I learned about in ATX was the Austin Interfaith Environmental Network. Check out their work (http://interfaithenvironment.org/) and the musing of fellow environmentalist and musician Chris Searles (chrissearles.blogspot.com/), who regularly plays drums with Alejandro Escovedo and recently had the pleasure of playing with SXSW keynote musician Bruce Springsteen.
Special thanks to Miles Brandon, Scott Bader-Saye, Tony Baker and all of the folks at St. Julian's and Seminary of the Southwest for welcoming me and chatting with me! Sorry that we didn't get more pictures. Hope to remedy that in the future!
Thank you so much to brother Steve Kinney and the Front Porch community in Austin for hosting a great discussion on my last night in Austin! All of you who are interested in adventurous, authentic spiritual communities, keep your eye on the Front Porch!
By near accident, I met up with fellow YDS alumnus Beth Magill and some of the great UT students that she works with. Great to talk to you guys!
Thanks to Beth and the crew for making me breakfast tacos for the road!