For Steve Long, life is a pilgrimage. That’s a theme that echoes through his scholarly work, writing, and even his vacations.
An avid cyclist who has commuted by bicycle for more than 40 years, he’s currently finishing a book, The Art of Cycling, Living and Dying: Moral Theology from Ordinary Life, which reflects on cycling, ethics and his recent experience with an emergency pacemaker after a complete heart block. Cascade Press will publish the book in late 2021. Written for a lay audience, Long says the book looks at life as a pilgrimage, with a beginning, middle and end, as well as “the virtues and vices” of cycling.
“Cycling can make you very competitive, but it also teaches you to cooperate,” he said. “And there’s a certain element of courage that’s required to share the road.”
The road, he adds, is one of the few remaining common spaces, at a time when much of modern life has been privatized.
“I’m struck by signs that remind motorists to ‘Share the road’ with cyclists,” he said. “Where else do you see that? When you go into a bank, you don’t see signs that say, ‘Share the wealth.’ I know how precarious that can be, when people don’t want to share the road. I’ve broken six bones over the years. But I’ve also seen how generous people can be.”
He’s also working on another book, aimed at a more academic audience, called Infusing Virtue: On Teaching and Learning Ethics, which looks at the role theology and the work of the Holy Spirit play in teaching ethics. In 2019, Wesley Foundery Books published Truth Telling in a Post-Truth World, which Long wrote at the request of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church. Long is also an ordained elder in the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.
As a university professor, Long has two offices – a small one in Hyer Hall, and another at Perkins. He teaches an undergraduate course each semester as well as one graduate-level course for master’s or Ph.D. students at Perkins.
For those who’d like to sample Long’s work and teaching, there’s a chance coming soon. He’s leading a program on “Truth Telling in a Post-Truth World” at the Perkins Summit for Faith and Learning March 19-20. Details are here.
Long says the course will be a discussion about why telling the truth is a political matter. He will begin with SMU’s motto, “Veritas Liberabit Vos,” which means, “The truth will set you free.”
“The question I pose is — do we still believe that?” he said. “Or do we now have a politics where we just assume it’s all just power and antagonism, and that power and antagonism is what finally sets us free? Trajectories in recent politics have suggested that we can’t come to any agreement on what may be true and good. That everyone has a right to their own view of what truth is, and that we really can’t adjudicate the most basic things, such as, how to respond to a pandemic. I also try to bring in the significance of theology and political theory.”
Outside of his scholarly work, Long volunteers with a nonprofit ministry called Bridges to Life, leading a 12-week restorative justice course for men who’ve just been released from prison. Four students from one of Long’s classes have gone through the program with him as well. The program brings together people who have committed crimes with those who’ve been victims of other crimes.
“They are all sitting in the same room, and they go around and tell their stories and have to listen to one another,” he said. “These prisoners are hard men, but you see them break down and cry. It reminds you how life is for everyone and not just those of us who’ve had so much privilege. It keeps me grounded.”
Christian Ethics; Systematic Theology; Moral Theology
Favorite Bible Passage
2 Corinthians 10:5: “Take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Book on his nightstand:
Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power by Pekka Hamalainen. “I love to always be reading something that’s not in my field,” he said. “This book has nothing to do with any research I’m doing.”
Fantasy Dinner Party
We have a lot of dinner parties – with our kids, grandkids and their friends – so I live my fantasy. But I’d be fascinated to bring together cyclist Eddy Merckx, theologian Karl Barth, and social activist Dorothy Day. And maybe someone like Randy Cooper, who spent his entire life in rural parish ministry. I’d like them to discuss vocations. I would ask: “What constitutes a live well lived? What regrets do you have?”
Long has been living in Wisconsin this past semester, near a medical facility where his wife is the former nurse manager. He’s getting follow-up care there for the treatment he underwent in November in Dallas. He and his wife Ricka have three adult children: daughter Lindsey, a United Methodist pastor in Chicago, daughter Rebecca and son Jonathan, and three granddaughters.
Favorite travel destinations?
Long has visited the Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain, the nexus of a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe, three times with family and friends. Another favorite spot is his parents’ lake cottage in Buffalo, Indiana. Growing up in rural Indiana, he spent a few weeks there every summer, and returns once a year. “To me, that’s going home,” he said.
Question He’d Ask at the Pearly Gates:
“Was I asking the right questions?”
Personal spiritual practice.
“I use the Book of Common Prayer,” he said. “Doing it that way, I can just receive and reflect on it. I tell people that I’m religious but not spiritual.”
Something you might not know about him
“I know all the words to Doctor Suess’s Hop on Pop, Fox on Socks and Cat in the Hat,” he said. “I love to read to my three granddaughters. I’ve memorized them!”