This one was written by Sarah Hinlicky Wilson.

Yes, that’s me: mild-mannered theologian by foot, hate-spewing demon by bike.

Note that when I say “bike,” I don’t mean a souped-up chopper bearing a Hell’s Angel in well-worn leather and a half-drunk can of Schlitz. I mean a dorky, human-powered eight-speed that I can’t even make go fast enough to get into the eighth speed. I am an evil person pedaling thirty-five pounds of spindly metal and rubber.

You can tell it’s me because I am distributing abuse with ecumenical breadth, catholic depth, and prophetic fervor. I am a velocipedic vigilante, cataloguing the crimes of both the foot-powered and the engine-powered, coequal malefactors in my book.

Allow me to introduce you to a few of these sinners.

Better yet, allow me to accuse you of being one of them.

  • I’m talking about you, pedestrian, the one who cannot possibly fail to see the pleasant, clean, neatly manicured foot path that lies exactly eighteen inches to the left of the bicycle path. Yet you insist on placing your squishy bag of bones and blood in the direct line of hurtling bicycles day after day. Why? Why? Is it for the sole purpose of hearing the screech of the brakes? Or do you crave the sound of my huffa-huffa-huffa as I try to regain lost momentum?
  • And I mean you, too, pedestrian plugged in to smartphone by ear and eye who cannot distinguish between sofa and intersection. You obliviously walk into and out of collisions, chuckling ironically over “This American Life” while I’m left to pick gravel out of my teeth. I’m stunned you can be so reckless, but it’s the privilege of your amble. Why can’t you realize that you’re endangering those of us moving a few miles an hour faster? Are you getting kickbacks from helmet companies for every unit you cause to shatter?
  • Don’t think you’re off the hook, driver, so insecure in your manhood and so unfit in your physique that you went into decades of debt to get your hands on that Hummer. I’m on to you, you bully. Your one joy in life is persecuting those of us who expose ourselves to such dangerous elements as oxygen and sunlight because yeah, it’s sooo impressive when you crowd a cyclist off the road with your six thousand pounds of steel.
  • And let’s not forget the bully’s close cousin, the driver who couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed on time. You feel it is your God-given right to speed past the punctual. Your favorite is when you’re waiting at a stoplight, inching forward, anticipating the change to green, so you can zoom out before the oncoming traffic can block you. Then you spot me. It’s pouring rain. I’m drenched and desperate to make it to the other side alive before the tidal wave spewed by spinning wheels knocks me flat. But you know that the right-of-way is yours by divine entitlement, because after all you’re dry and comfy, clear signs of God’s preferential option for drivers. So go ahead, shoot in front of me, I don’t care. I’m tough enough to take the typhoon.

Clearly, neither the police nor the priesthood is up to the task of shaming these buffoons and bullies, so the task falls to me. When I ride my bike, I distribute the full range of punishments: shaken fists, pedantic howls, disapproving clucks, rolled eyes, a slow and solemn tilt of the head accompanied by a piercing stare. The very posture of my body suggests retribution coming at an hour unknown. I feed on the averted gaze, the bobbed head of apology, and the guiltily mouthed “sorry.” My work here is done. At least for today.

At some point, the oceanic gap between my self-perception as a basically decent human being and the monster I become atop my bicycle forced me to ask why, exactly, this particular act of transportation brings the Mrs. Hyde out of my usual Rev. Dr. Jekyll.

Once I asked, the answer presented itself immediately. It’s because the bicycle is the one place I feel absolutely, completely, and unassailably righteous.

How am I righteous? Let me count the ways.

  • I’ve been riding the same bike for ten years. I have long since paid off the carbon footprint of its manufacture, and the amount of fuel it takes to power me powering it is negligible. As far as I’m concerned, the air gets cleaner and the climate gets cooler every time I go for a ride. You’re welcome.
  • During the same decade, the bike has permitted me not to own a car. I rarely even rent one or ride in someone else’s. I have adapted fully to public transit and bicycle commuting. Or I just walk. Though I am never, ever like the oblivious pedestrians when I do.
  • Which means furthermore that my non-dependence on fossil fuels exempts me not only from environmental degradation but from the geopolitics of petroleum. I don’t have to walk in one your marches to advocate for peace, which you probably drove or flew to anyway. I am a mobile banner for the Peaceable Kingdom itself. Lions and lambs trot along after me.
  • I ride my bike as a productive member of the economy, unlike the annoying old people who seem to walk just for fun of getting nowhere in particular. But at the same time, I’m not one of the productive types who live far from work and have to drive to get there. They clutter and pollute the city with their fumes and noise. Whereas I add an Amsterdam- or Copenhagen-like charm to the place. Except when I’m screaming, that is.
  • I follow the rules. I know that traffic safety depends on everyone doing exactly what they are supposed to do every single time. I’m not irritated that the rules are arbitrary conventions, because the arbitrary conventions keep us alive. You break the rules, and I risk dying. I keep the rules, and I grant you your life. See? I am almost godlike in my lawfulness. And I promise that I never run a red, even if I’m totally sure that no one’s coming in any direction. Really. Pinky swear.

I think you’ll concede that I’ve made a pretty compelling argument for my righteousness qua bicycle. Also, a pretty obnoxious one. Because it turns out that I’m Romans 7 on wheels. “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” Yup! Let all the cyclists say, Amen! And say it extra loud, to drown out what follows: “Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.”

Ay, there’s the rub. It’s in this one single place where I feel beyond criticism that I turn out to be the most unashamedly aggressive sinner. I pretend that I want actually to be good and do good. Actually, I only want to be seen as good—and not in a God-judges-me-righteous-because-of-Jesus kind of way; you can keep your forensic justification, thank you very much. I want to be seen as good so I can lord it over everyone else.

My righteous actions on the bike don’t make me righteous. They only expose the unrighteousness festering at the very core of my being; my utter disdain for the good unless I can get wangle some selfish advantage out of it.

One solution, the tidy antinomian solution, would be to give up the bike altogether. Simply remove myself from the temptation to self-righteousness. Go over to the dark side and drive a damn car. Sin all the more that grace may abound!

Besides the fact that my joining the ranks of the gas-guzzlers would not actually be doing the earth any favors, more to the point, it would not fix me. The need to be good in order to lord it over others would just manifest somewhere else—and, it seems likely, somewhere more toxic.

The law is not the problem. I am the problem. I and my close cohort sin are the problem. Between the two of us, we take the perfectly good law and exploit it to our own evil ends.

Who shall deliver me from this bicycle of death?

You know the answer. So do I. I have a feeling he will knock me off my bike next time I’m pedaling my way to Damascus.

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson is an associate pastor at Tokyo Lutheran Church, co-host of the podcast “Queen of the Sciences: Conversations between a Theologian and Her Dad,” and author of the quarterly e-newsletter “Theology & a Recipe.”