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Anger. Of course it is a deadly sin. News stories about road rage and disgruntled workers shooting former coworkers remind us of the deep anger which permeates society. Envy has destroyed many relationships and on a national level can lead to war. Surely it is a deadly sin. But Sloth? Really? Are our neighbors sinning because they enjoy extra time in the Jacuzzi? Are our children sinning when they procrastinate? Am I sinning by mindlessly decompressing in front of my iPad? Is sloth that bad?
In fact, as a type A personality, I envy (oops, a deadly sin). people who can relax and not worry Maybe the productive people in our society could use a dose of sloth in order to chill out. Few educated, productive individuals see sloth as a personal problem affecting them, and calling it a sin? Forget about it. No one asks a pastor, “I need help. Can you recommend a good book on sloth?”
In our society we see sloth applying to a class of people: the chronically unemployed, the stereotyped deadbeat welfare recipient, the mythical people we hear about who are on disability when they could work. But those of us who work, those of us with calendars filled with obligations – well, there is no way that sloth is an issue in our lives, and it is certainly not a sin we commit.
Not so fast. A problem in our understanding of sloth is one of translation. What we call sloth was called acedia (in Latin) and connoted much more than laziness. A full recipe for acedia includes 1/2 a cup of laziness, but also contains an equal part of apathy. A-pathos – without emotion – it means we don’t care. Thus, when we mix apathy with laziness, it means we don’t care that we don’t care. The acedia problem becomes more difficult to root out. An individual suffering from acedia finds herself in an unfulfilling job in a job, but doesn’t care enough to look for another. A married couple with acedia finds their relationship barren, but continues to go through the motions because change is too much effort.
But apathy and laziness are only part of the complete recipe. We must also add a stick of boredom and stir thoroughly. Here is James Gleick’s portrayal of boredom:
You are bored doing nothing, so you go for a drive. You are bored, just driving, so you turn on the radio. You are bored just driving and listening to the radio, so you make a call on the cellular phone. You realize that you are now driving, listening to the radio, and talking on the phone, and you are still bored. Then you reflect that it would be nice if you had time, occasionally, just to do nothing. Perhaps you have a kind of sense organ that can adjust to the slowness, after being blinded by the speed. The void is not so dark after all. With the phone not ringing, the television switched off, the computer rebooting, the newspaper out of reach, even the window shade down, you are alone with yourself. The neurons don’t stop firing. Your thoughts come through like distant radio signals finding a hole in the static. (James Gleick, in Faster, p. 268)
Now for the final ingredient in the mixing bowl of acedia: two cups of distraction. At this time of year, our primary distraction is football. We pretend it matters so much because it really matters so little. But it does distract us from real life, meaningful relationships, or involvement in causes that could make a difference. Did you know the word “sport” comes from the Latin disport, which means to distract? The latest mass shooting pales in importance next to Tom Brady’s availability for a fantasy football league. God bless you, Tom Brady. Thanks to deflategate, I don’t have to think about those victims. Or my soul. But sports is only one distraction.
Even our crammed schedules are distractions: 5:00 am – Crossfit; 7:30 am – take kids to school; 7:45 am -work, where I multitask all day; 4:30 pm – take kids to French and fencing lessons, while on a conference call in the car; 5:00 pm – gourmet cooking class; 6:30 pm – drive through Chik-fil-a while on the way to scouts….. And so it goes.
The distracted life is a wasted life and not only do we not care, but we are glad. Secretly, we love our busy-ness because it distracts us from the need to look for God working in the world or to think about how we might invest in the work of the Kingdom.
In the end we have the perfect recipe for purposeless, unfulfilling, unredeeming “life.” We waste our lives on things that don’t matter. We ignore the greater calling of life, lest it demand something of us. Yet, we are bored with it all and not care. As ancient Christians pointed out: we despair of it, but we don’t care enough to repent of it.
Such a life is acedia and such a life is sin, precisely because of its waste and because it is self centered and ignores God. Sloth is not just a sin of an imagined lazy member of of the welfare class; rather it is the sin of all who waste their lives on loves that are too small and causes that are not worthy of our devotion, but serve to protect us from having to respond to the impulse of the Spirit to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and with all our might. The fact we don’t care enough to do anything about it is just a further indictment that the sins ours.
Here are a few quotes that related to acedia:
The word “boredom” does not exist in any ancient language. It first appears in the 17th century. No one knows its origin.
Peter Kreft in Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 187
The Church name the sixth Deadly Sin as Sloth. It is the sin which believes nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for.
Dorothy Sayers in Creed or Chaos?, p. 108
The religion that costs nothing, that demands no hard sacrifices of other things, that does not lift the life out of low-level motives, is worth little and makes little difference to the life. The type of religion on the other hand, which costs the all, which makes the cross the central fact that dominates the life as its one driving power, becomes an incalculable force and turns many to salvation.
Rufus Jones in The World Within, p. 43
From The Seven Deadly Sins, Wilson Angus, editor:
The malice of sloth lies not merely in the neglect of duty, but in the refusal of joy. It is allied to despair. p. 58.
Fiction and non-fiction alike are full of characters who fail to do what they should because of the effort involved. p. 19
Sloth is the background radiation of the day. It is the easy listening station of the culture. It is everywhere and no longer noticed. p. 20
Above: Ed Hine crests the summit of the Beartooth Highway at 11,000 feet.
These last two days were what we trained for: The Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and Beartooth Pass. The Chief Joseph represented a spectacular climb, coming out of Cody. Ed, Tom and I made a strategic decision to ride in the van to the top of the climb, with hopes of finishing the day from there. The climb was so challenging that we were apprehensive that we might use all our energy for the climb.
As it turned out the day was difficult enough that we didn’t finish anyway. The descent from the top of the main climb was full of hairpins and the surface was bad “chip seal,” demanding extra care on the way down. Almost as soon as we bottomed out, we hit more ascents, one with a 10% grade for close to half-mile. The altitude and the headwind made me resort to weaving my way up the hill. After lunch, what should have been downhill still required much effort as the wind kicked up even more. We finally gave up the effort and rode the van at the end of the day as we had at the beginning. We were slightly mollified as only two riders finished the day on bikes. Altitude, wind, and grade are tough opponents.
The final few miles into Cooke City gave us a preview of the last day, as we would backtrack the final miles of Thursday to begin Friday’s attack on the Beartooth. As a result, all but two riders decided to take bump in the van Friday morning in order to start at a point that included some downhill in order to get warmed up before the remaining 24 miles of climbing.
Ed, Tom, and I took different bumps in the van, resulting in me riding for almost two hours by myself without a rider in sight. A few cars passed and one camper rode beside me so that a woman could lean out the window and take my picture, but the two hours were grueling.
Eventually I made the aid station and bumped past most of the group to where Ed had progressed with a combination of riding and bumps in the van. The last 4-5 miles was nothing but progressive switchbacks as we climbed toward 10,900+ feet. I actual found this stretch easier than many we had ridden. We ate lunch at the top and I decided to begin my recovery there, declining to ride the remaining miles of the day.
I’ve not added exact miles, but I rode more than 250, many at higher elevations than I’d ever ridden before. I was pleased with the accomplishment.
It was a great week with friends – those from Rome – Ed Hine, Tom Watters, and Dan Greason; and friends made on previous Lizardhead trips – the Texans, the Pratt’s, and Tony. As always there were new friends as well. Cycling includes great people. I wish Floyd County’s elected officials could catch that vision.
Thanks to the Lizardhead guides, DeAnne and Emily. They are truly amazing young women with tremendous abilities that could be used in many professions. They provide great food, great support, and loads of encouragement and fun. And thanks to owner John Humphries. Though you weren’t with us on this trip, we felt your presence on every challenging climb. You make us old guys stretch the limits. There’s still life in these legs.
The Park Service ran antique buses restored by Ford Motor Corp.
Tuesday was a recovery day from riding and many of us took a hike in the Lamar Valley of the park. If you’ve never been to Yellowstone, the Lamar Valley is where you want to go to see wildlife. We heard wolves and saw hundreds of bison. We met two hiking guides, Josh and Emily Jo, who took us on a 4-hour trek. Both were very helpful and fun to be with. Their business is Yellowstone Hiking Guides. I would recommend them. They taught us a healthy respect for bison. Listening to the thunder of a stampeded far across the valley was a unique experience.
The next day started with an encounter with a large bison on the way to breakfast. Ed and I came around the corner of a cabin and there he was, just a few feet in front of us. After the warning of Josh and Emily Jo on the previous day, we backed up and detoured around a couple of cabins.
After breakfast we rode out of the Lake Lodge area and began our longest day. The first several miles were flat, in evergreen forests or beside the lake. The remainder of our miles were outside Yellowstone on US 14 and US 20. We began climbing as we left the side of the lake, making our way through new growth forests which were snoring up where a fire had been. The claims start to run together, but the downhill side was quite memorable. It was the safest downhill we saw and most of us flew down the mountain.
From there we made our way to Cody. The grade was largely downhill, but the winds was 20 mph+ from our front-right, making the ride much more difficult. We rode along the Buffalo Bill Reservoir and descended through a tunnel as we approached Cody.
After 81 miles, we met the van at the Irma Hotel, which some described as “funky.” Others said “quirky.” Their breakfast may have been the best part of the stay there. Hey – it is historic. You can stay at a Best Western anywhere. Gunslingers strutted though parts of the hotel. I never figured out if they were paid or just loved the personna. One of the riders in the groups saw the regular evening gunfight in the street outside and said it was lam
On Sunday we took a taxi to the La Quinta Inn in Belgrade where we met the guides and other riders. Emily and DeAnne, our guides for the week, set up bikes with our pedal and seats, loaded us up and shuttled us to the West Entrance to the park. Traffic was lined up to enter, meaning once inside and on our bikes, the pent up line of cars, trucks, and campers came whizzing by for the first several miles. As we went deeper into the park, traffic became more spread out and slightly less of a problem.
Almost immediately we started to see the quintessential Yellowstone scenes: large meadows cut by streams and evergreen forests. Our first test of climbing came at Gibbon Falls. It wasn’t terrible, but we had begun to creep into higher elevations than we were accustomed.
One person who had visited Yellowstone as a child told me all they remembered was traffic. Traffic became problem every time we saw wildlife. If a bison was off to the side, cars in both directions stopped on their respective sides of the road, making it difficult for two way traffic to move forward.
Deeper into the park we took a narrower road past Victoria Cascades. This road was off limits to buses, campers, and trailers, making it much more enjoyable for us. In fact, there was very little traffic at all. As we came back to the main road we had short, steep climb that left us all short of breath. We were keeping track of altitude and thought we had passed the highest point for the day, but we were wrong. A quick downhill and then another, longer, steep climb was a challenge.
We made our way to the Lake Lodge area, having to stop twice for bison on the road. Rangers bumped them with their SUV’s leaving us safe passage. Our first day we rode 58 miles and enjoyed ourselves all day.
The next day we rode from the cabins at Lake Lodge to Old Faithful. This stretch is one of the busier in the park, as everyone wants to see Old Faithful. We ate lunch, prepared by our guides, in the parking lot and then went to see the eruption. I guess you need to go if you are already there, but many of us found it a letdown.
Following lunch we road 6 miles to the Firehole Lake loo, where we saw an abundance of sulphur springs. The ride back to Old Faithful was against a strong headwind and accompanied by the heavy traffic in the area. Eleven of the thirteen riders in the group, including me, decided to take a bump in the van instead of recrossing the continental divide in the wind. Our second day mileage was almost identical to the first day.