Monday, May 31, 2010

Home Again

Saturday morning I ran (and biked) the Apple Duathlon with Abby, Hannah, and Paul. It is a familiar race (3.1 run, 21 bike, 3.1 run), but it was an unfamiliar experience. I cannot ever remember my quads cramping--at the same time--and I am certain that I will not willingly repeat the experience. It is the closest that I have come to quitting a race. But I had to remind myself that DLF>DNF>DNS (dead last finisher is greater than did not finish is greater that did not start). And for those who may be wondering, I was not quite DLF.

It was first race in my new age group and I had hoped for better. Lesson learned--don't fly home from India on Friday and try to race on Saturday morning.

What did strike me was how I felt at the singing of the National Anthem before the race. Generally I am a pretty patriotic guy. I actually do sing the National Anthem at events. But there was something about singing on Saturday after having been out of the country for a couple of weeks. I was reminded afresh that despite the challenges we face as the U.S.A., we do live in the greatest country on the planet. The opportunities that most Americans have far outreach what any other country can offer to most of their residents. Education, work, clean air and water, hope ... these are the things that we have in abundance. I know that it is easy to look around sometimes and lament our economic situation or challenges with finding work or getting into the school you want. But we do not have to look long beyond our borders to see a lot of countries who would love to have what we see as problems.

So too with Saturday's run. On Sunday I was feeling all disappointed and sheepish about my result. But the people I talked with at church and at a gathering in the afternoon didn't care about the "miserable" race, they just thought it was amazing that a guy like me could still do such a thing. So much, I suppose, is a matter of perspective.

Pressing On!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tombs and Remembering

This morning I went with some of my work colleagues to see some sights around Delhi. Qutb Minar and Humayun's Tomb were the focus of our morning. The Qutb Minar complex is a World Heritage site that includes a couple of Qutbs (towers) and a number of tombs. The Humayan's Tomb complex is dominated by, ... well, the tomb of Humayan. All of the tombs were impressive structures built in and around the 1500's. Their upkeep and restoration over time must have taken an extraordinary amount of people, time, and money. And for what?

Frequent readers of this blog will find this theme familiar--why do we, as humans, feel this need to leave a legacy or be remembered by generations that follow? And perhaps the more important question--are my life and legacy worth remembering? I am becoming more convinced than ever that every person builds a "kingdom." We either build our own kingdom, another person's kingdom, or God's kingdom. Parents often build their childrens' kingdoms. Spouses often build each others' kingdoms. And, of course, we most often build our own kingdom. The person who truly builds God's kingdom is rare--mostly because such a kingdom-building focus is contrary to every cultural message.

Some cultural philosophies, such as consumerism, promote building our own kingdom. Many other philosophies urge self-sacrifice and unselfishness, which leads to build the kingdoms of other people, like our children. It is only a faith-based philosophy that call us to build God's kingdom first and foremost. Now this does not mean that we do not care for our children and parents and friends--or that we do not take care of ourselves--but it means that our priorities, efforts, interests, and mindset should reflect God's desires.

The question, "what would Jesus do?" almost became trite from overuse, biut it is still a valuable question to ask. In a given circumstance, what would Jesus do? With a certain decision, how would Jesus approach the choice In a particular conversation, what would Jesus say? Living by these answers will result in building God's kingdom. And a life spent building God's kingdom will be a life worth remembering.

That much is the easy part. Now comes figuring out what it means in 21st century life to build God's kingdom. Food for thought.

Press On!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Just Because You Can ...

This trip has been my first experience with the electronic book--the Amazon Kindle. For this trip, it has been great. I cannot imagine how much my suitcase would weigh if I had to bring enough books to last for a three week trip to the other side of the world. But the booksellers association need not fear that I will completely abandon them. The Kindle is convenient and space-smart and "gadget cool," but it will never fully replace paper for me. Don't get me wrong, the Kindle was a gift on my recent birthday and I am grateful. It will just not be my only source of reading material in the future.

I am not among those who see devices like the Kindle as the end of books, magazines, and newspapers. If the internet did not kill all of these "old" media, then an electronic book will not either. There will always be enough people who will remember the hefty weight of a classic; who will never want to fall asleep under War and Peace; who enjoy the tactile experience of turning pages.

Certainly there are attractions to electronic media, but just because we could go the route of making all media electronic in form, doesn't mean that we should. Sometimes we tend to feel like any advance--technological or otherwise--is a good advance that should be pursued. But I wonder whether we would be better off putting some advances on hold. I read a story recently about a family who would eat supper each night by candlelight. Not for ambiance, but in order to force a slowing down of life.

Here in India there is certainly plenty of hustle and bustle. With more than a billion people in your country, it goes without saying. I am surrounded by all of this activity, but it is such a relief to go back to the hotel room and sit in the peace and quiet--and just sit still. I cannot help but wonder whether I can bring some of that peace back to daily life at home. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of graduation and wedding and off-to-college, I feel like I must find some time to slow down.

I think that it will come down to a choice--just because I can have a life filled with hustle and bustle, do I need to choose to live that way? Or is there a better way?

Pressing On!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Like, yet not like

Yesterday's travels took me over Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and finally into India. From 33,000 feet, most of those countries look like flying over Kansas or Nebraska (until the desert parts--which sort of looked like the Nebraska sand hills). And once it became dark, Lahore, Pakistan looked like any mid-sized American city. This morning I attended the Delhi International Christian Fellowship with a colleague from work. I met people from many different countries, but we were all able to worship the same God at the same time in the same room--with a BGC lead pastor who is from Minneapolis.

At the same time, the differences are so easy to see. I walked around a bit this afternoon in a mall close to where I am staying and I understood very little of what was being said around me. Some of the products in the stores I recognized, but most of the names were unfamiliar. And the traffic. Reminds me of the Philippines with all sorts of vehicles operating in a seeming disorderly hodgepodge of cylinders. Yet most of the time everyone gets where they are going without incident.

I wonder how much of getting along with people is a matter of choosing to see more of the similarities than the differences? I am not so naive as to think that this is the answer to all of the world's problems, but if we were to make more consistent and deeper attempts to see life through the eyes of the other, I wonder if we would see ourselves as more alike after all.

Pressing On!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The High Ground

Here in the Bailiwick of Jersey (an island in the English Channel) I am looking out my hotel window at Fort Regent--a Napoleonic fort located on what looks to be the highest point of the island. So, of course, I wanted to run up to the fort. Jersey is roughly rectangular in shape (9 miles long and 5 high) and St. Helier, the town where I am staying, is in the lower right hand corner of Jersey.

Today's run, after a long day of meetings, took me up the center of the island about halfway, then out to the eastern coast. Running down the east coast brought me to the foot of South Hill, which is where Fort Regent is located. I am reminded that we really do not have hills in Minnesota. The climb up South Hill was steep and even had several sets of stairs. But the view from the top--WOW!

From the gun emplacement I found, a commander could control the entire eastern and southern approaches to the island. Not only that, but I could see France on the horizon. The view of the harbor and two major bays was spectacular. A person could drive close to the top, but by running, I felt that I earned the eye candy.

The run along the waterfront here the other day was magnificent, but there is something even better about being on the heights and looking out over the entire area--but it is not without a cost. Running along the waterfront was relatively easy--no real ups or downs. But running to the top of South Hill was all ups and downs.

Ascending the heights--whether physical or spiritual--requires an extra investment of energy. We may do "okay" with the regular amount of attention and energy, but "exceptional" requires that extra effort. And why settle for okay when exceptional is within reach for those who will expend the effort? Why not pursue the view from the fort? Is it hard work? Yes. Is it more tiring than running along the beach? Yes. Is the view utterly amazing? YES!

If we may be able to accomplish extraordinary things for God, why settle for the regular and ordinary? At the same time, it would be unreasonable to expect God to do amazing things through us if we are only willing to put in "regular" effort and time. Which will it be, the beach or the heights?

Pressing On!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Negative Splits

When you run the second half of a race or a run faster than the first half, we call that "negative splits." I generally run negative splits because it takes a while to get warmed up or because when I finish the first half of the run, I know that I have the juice to speed up the rest of the way. Today's trail run was no exception.

Since it was my birthday, I wanted to do something that I wanted to do--so I went out to our local state park, Lake Maria, to run the trails. 5.5 miles on the road is nothing like 5.5 miles on the trails--except that it is 5.5 miles. On the road I really don't have to pay too much attention. On the trails, if I am not attentive I will be eating dirt. On the road I rarely have to consider which way to go. On the Lake Maria trail network, I have to think about which trail ends up where or I could be out there all night. On the road the ups and downs are gradual. On the trails I am reminded that not all of central Minnesota is flat.

While I was running I spent some time reflecting on life. Turning 50 is supposed to be some kind of milestone, so I did not want to let the day pass without some serious contemplation. This thought process is not complete, but the start has been intriguing. I figure that I have now lived 30 more-or-less adult years. Also, absent some crisis, another 30 adult years may not be an unreasonable planning horizon. What I hear from people who have gone before me is that life is lived in negative splits--the second half goes more quickly than the first. If so, in order to maximize the effect and value of the second half will require a much more focused approach.

I think that a place to begin is to answer the question, "What have I accomplished in the first half?" I should tackle this from several perspectives--family, faith, work, mental, physical, friendships--and be thorough. Usually I tend to shortchange what I have accomplished, but this is not the time for false modesty. It is time to assess carefully what I have done and become. Only then can I chart a course for the next 30 years that will fill in the gaps or focus on the things that are emerging as more crucial. Mentoring, for example.

I may have taught a lot of classes and preached a lot of sermons, but my personal investment in the faith and leadership development of individuals in the next generation is something that I would see as a deficiency. This is not something that I can afford to be "too busy" to do. I am not sure what I have to offer, or who might be interested, but maybe I can find someone who will be willing to jump off the cliff with me (into the clear, refreshing pool of water under the Sugar Creek bridge).

One thing that I have learned when running negative splits is that the second half of the run requires more attention than the first. To run the second half faster than the first means that I need to pay attention and run a steady, but increasing pace. There is no room for wasted motion or charging up hills like a banshee. It may not look impressive to the spectators, but I know what it takes to make the second half faster.

If indeed the second half of my adult life does go faster than the first, I will need to be every bit as attentive to keeping a steady pace and not wasting time or energy. The pull to slow down and coast is ever present, but that pull must be fought and defeated.

What will it take to run the next 30 years better than the last 30? I am not sure what the answers will be. But I know that the second half needs to begin with asking the searching questions of mission, focus, and life purpose. Bring 'em on!

Pressing On,

P.S. The wedding was beautiful and I have never seen the bride happier in her entire life--a good start!