What do a Buddhist man at the Continental Divide, a long haul trucker from Arlington, Texas, an online poker player in Carbondale, Illinois, and a former special ops navy officer from Washington, DC all have in common? Each of them slowed for a few moments to share their thoughts with Lake Highlands neighbor Neil Tomba during his nearly 3,000-mile bicycle trek across the country. Tomba, senior pastor at Northwest Bible Church, has written a book about his month-long experience, and “The Listening Road” hits bookstores June 1.
Like most clergymen, Tomba has spent decades teaching and speaking for a living, but he’s grappled in recent years with the unfortunate inability of some congregants – and the country at large – to discuss weighty matters without devolving into argument. Tomba became determined to set an example by heading out on his bike to actively listen in a way which invited strangers to share with vulnerability.
Tomba, an avid cyclist, enlisted the help of other cyclists and of friends willing to help document the journey. These friends secured overnight accommodations, planned routes and snacks, photographed Tomba with people he met on the trip, and filmed the process for a Netflix documentary now in the works.
The book is a must-read for citizens tired of the constant point-counter point on political talk shows. Tomba proves that neighbors all over the nation can sit in cafes, shop at farmer’s markets, and pause at roadside pitstops to interact with consideration and kindness. It’s also a great gift for biking enthusiasts, as Tomba shares the highs and lows of his cross-country excursion. Mostly, though, it’s a chance to insert yourself, fly-on-the-wall-style, into “conversations coast to coast,” as his tour was billed, and hear from people as varied as T.J., who’s had 26 brain surgeries, including one by the famed Dr. Ben Carson, and Kim, the Buddhist who joined a Baptist choir in South Korea because he liked to sing.
Sometimes Tomba is given the royal treatment due to his status as a man of the cloth, with strangers paying his group’s bill at restaurants, repairing their broken bicycles or welcoming them into their homes for bathroom breaks. Other times, though, he is met with suspicion as folks wonder about his true agenda. He meets people who fear he’s trying to convert them, and some refuse to speak at all until they’re convinced he’s genuinely interested in their lives.
Tomba, whose education at seminary and experience in the pulpit leaves him qualified to “set people straight” on biblical matters, chooses instead to value the links built between humans as they spend time together. Some he encounters are angry at God after life’s disappointments and unfair turns. Others have been faithful followers without question. Most fall somewhere in the “seeking and questioning” category, and Tomba chooses to pray with them rather than preach at them, leaving them open to future encounters.
“The Listening Road” has plenty of lessons for those of us quick to pound our opinion and back it up with a list of reasons we’re right. Our heart knows that’s no way to gather followers, much less friends, but still our mouths – or our typing fingers – keep a’going. It’s also a great gift for the travel planner of the family. If you ever coordinated a trip and felt frustration when things didn’t go as planned, you’ll find yourself on “The Listening Road.”
The book can be pre-ordered on Amazon and most other places books are sold. Tomba and wife, Vela, who served as chief laundress and head cheerleader on the trip, will host an outdoor launch party June 6 from 5-7 p.m. at Northwest Bible Church, 8505 Douglas.