“Follow your folly!” That’s the traditional slogan of Tour de Fat, New Belgium Brewing Company’s annual Labor Day weekend bike extravaganza in Fort Collins (I’m guessing the name is borrowed from their Fat Tire Golden Ale). For those of you who don’t follow such things, Tour de Fat is billed as a Halloween-like costume extravaganza–on bicycles–with beer, bands and fun, all hosted by New Belgium Brewing Company.
Its overall purpose, apart from fun, is to encourage muscle-powered (as opposed to gas-powered) transport. All proceeds go to ecological and sustainability non-profits.
Not being a CSU student, or a cyclist, or actually living in Fort Collins for several years, I didn’t pay much attention to Tour de Fat. But for the last couple of years I’ve been living near the city park where much of the craziness takes place. I suspect that its huge local success is partly due to CSU and the fact that Tour de Fat falls early enough in the academic year not to be overshadowed by academic pressures, but I think half of Fort Collins must turn out as well.
Everything from skateboards to unicycles and tall bikes crowd the streets, ridden by a truly bizarre assortment of contestants (yes, there are contests, too). My personal favorites in last year’s bicycle parade were the bucket-helmed bike jouster and the bearded senior on a yellow glider bike. But as soon as I say that, I remember the rolling occasional table with human lamp and the infinite variety of cross-dressing ballerinas and fairies. Everyone wears a smile and a good time is had by all.
Except perhaps for some of my more conservative Christian neighbors. I’m not sure exactly what sets them off about the Tour de Fat. Maybe it’s the beer, or the irreverent humor, or the amount of bare skin, or even the fun–but when I commented on the festival atmosphere, I felt like one of those cartoon characters bent backwards by the gale force of someone’s anger. I distinctly heard the words “pagan,” “heathen,” “godless,” “perverts,” and “shameless,” along with a predictable flow of tedious filler. I wriggled away as quickly as possible, making soothing noises as I went. They weren’t inviting dialogue.
Our encounter set me wondering, and not for the first time: How is it that Christianity so often takes on the sour and condemnatory face of believers like these? Where did it begin? It was certainly with us by the time of the Puritans. And let’s not forget the Inquisition. Or the Albigensian Crusades. Or even the early Church Councils that declared minority beliefs to be heresy. How did intolerance overwhelm the good news of God’s love for all people?
I thank God for Pope Francis whenever I think of him, although I’m not Catholic. His all-embracing love for humanity is a stream of living water in a thirsty land, even if I don’t agree with everything he says. Hate has taken root in too many of our churches: hate of the Other, of those unlike ourselves. This is the same hate that drove Nazi Germany, Bosnian and Cambodian genocide, and still drives the appalling atrocities of ISIS. I’m not sure that there is much qualitative difference between one person’s hate and another’s: there is degree, and opportunity, and restraint or incitement, but the root emotion is the same. None of us is altogether free of it.
A mirror might be a useful devotional tool as we consider Jesus’ warning that a hate-driven insult is as cruel as murder. There may be a difference in degree, but not in essence.