Friday, December 23, 2011

No "Post-Truth" on the Bike

This morning I read an editorial in the New York Times decrying the current post-truth political campaign. The writer was asserting that we have entered an era where candidates can simply make statements about other candidates or politicians that may have not connection to truth--without any real consequences. After all, it is the sound bite that makes the evening news or the headline in the newspaper that gets the attention; not the retraction several nights later or buried on page C-24.

One of things that I really like about biking is that it is an All-Truth zone. My heart rate monitor does not have a vested (or any) interest in whether I am happy with it or displeased--it reports the number of beats per minute. Period. The odometer doesn't add a mile here and there so that I will feel better about my workout. It records the distance that the wheel travels. Period. The clock doesn't say, "Let's just call it a full 90 minute workout" when it has only been 73. It tells the time. Period. The gears don't shift themselves because it seems like I might be working too hard. A 52/18 is what it is. Period.

Certainly I could record different numbers for my workouts than the HR monitor, or odometer, or clock actually show, but that would be me, not the devices. The devices tell it like it is. Period.

Sometimes I think that I might be surprised a bit when I see God face to face (understatement?). Sometimes I wonder whether I will mistake God's patience for tolerance, or His mercy for approval. I wonder if God might not be more like my bike devices in that He will, on that day, say "I told you how your life would be assessed, why are you now surprised? I told you what I wanted, did you think I was kidding?"

Yet, to make the message as clear and unmistakable as possible, God didn't just make proclamations and decrees, He came in person. In person. Himself. To make sure we wouldn't miss what He had to say to humanity.

How clearly am I hearing?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Caroling? Not so much :-(

This past Sunday night was our 3rd annual Christmas caroling event in our neighborhood. For the past couple of years our small group from church, along with family, have gone out on a Sunday evening to spread Christmas cheer in our neighborhood. The response this year was markedly different--and I am perplexed.

Almost no one would open their door to listen--and in many cases we could see people inside who looked as if they were ignoring that fact that we were at their doorstep singing. We had no intention of imposing on people or interrupting their evening in a distasteful way, but in other years people have generally been happy to see and hear us. (And it wasn't even cold or windy.)

Maybe it was just bad timing. Maybe the Nutcracker jackets and hats (new this year) put people off. Maybe it just wasn't cold and snowy enough to put people in the mood. Or maybe people are feeling different about this Christmas season.

It is easy to see how the message of Christmas resonates in good times--when there is much to celebrate and more margin with which to give gifts and bless others. But does the embracing of Christmas depend on the state of the economy? Does it depend on a stable and hopeful political situation? I have to think not. At least it didn't seem to matter with the first Christmas.

Not only was the engagement (betrothal) period not working out quite like either Joseph or Mary had envisioned, but they probably hadn't budgeted for the trip to Bethlehem. "Doesn't Caesar understand that travel this time of year is expensive? When I am gone from Nazareth I am not working--how am I supposed to pay the taxes AND the travel expenses?"

Taxation in those days was even more oppressive than it sometimes feels today. The political situation was far worse than ours--Israel was occupied territory and was ruled by puppets of Rome. Not exactly rousing good times. And yet ...

Mary could sing, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."
Joseph (the silent one) undoubtedly felt the joy of Mary's relief and the baby's safe arrival.
Shepherds were granted an audience with the King of the Universe.
Kings had to wait in line.
Simeon and Anna saw their hopes fulfilled and could die in peace.
The angels sang, "Peace on earth, goodwill to men."

I get the sense that these participants in the first Christmas were reading from a different script; singing a different song. The Romans were no less oppressive. The taxes no more manageable. But the lens through which they saw the world cast everything around them in a different light.

Some people deal with the apparent disconnect between God's promises and their experiences by projecting the promises into the future. "At least heaven will be different." And while I certainly believe that will be the case, I don't think that is the answer--it wasn't for Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds and the Kings and Angels. In Christlike, Bill Hull writes "the gospel of the kingdom not only promises life after earth, it also believes in life before death." Life before death--believing that "peace on earth and goodwill to men" is not just a hope for some different future. Believing that TODAY is the day that God has made for redemption and rejoicing. Believing that the baby Jesus; the God-Man; my Savior and Redeemer; our Rock, our Fortress, and our Strong Deliverer makes a real difference in the essence of TODAY, not just the quality of tomorrow.

Today, I will determine that MY soul will magnify the Lord. Because He has come and I worship and adore Him. Join with me?

Pressing On,

Monday, December 12, 2011

Birth of Jesus and Blah, Blah, Blah

The other day I was talking with one of our local business owners and we we discussing our plans for the upcoming Christmas holiday. In the conversation he mentioned that his family no longer exchanges gifts (since they are all adults--is that supposed to matter?), but that they get together to "celebrate the birth of Jesus and blah, blah, blah." He was not giving voice to his inner Scrooge, or dismissive of Christmas, or negative toward Jesus, instead I got the sense that the blah, blah, blah was just that every year is pretty much like the one before.

Is there a materialistic crassness about the holiday being defined more by the deals on Black Friday than by the birth of the Christ? Certainly. But the tension with the commercialism of Christmas is not new. Perhaps a more potent danger that threatens to gut Christmas of its meaning is the perceived blah, blah, blah of Christmas.

Maybe it is that the story is so familiar. Most of us have heard the story since childhood (and we often hear it in Linus' Charlie Brown Christmas voice) and the story hasn't changed over the decades. Same story. Same characters. Same angels. Same Mary. Same Joseph. Same Wise Men. Same shepherds. Same baby Jesus in the manger. Same "Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men."

What if?

What if this were a Christmas season when we each took time to reflect on what if? What if Mary had not believed Gabriel's message or had been unwilling to bear Jesus? What if Joseph has disregarded his angelic visit and had divorced Mary--as he had every right to do under the law at that time. What if Herod's efforts to execute the baby had been successful? What if God the Father had rethought the plan of sending the Son as the redeemer of the world? What if there had been no Christmas? What difference does Christmas make?

I am not necessarily suggesting that we engage in a "It's a Wonderful Life" review of how the world would be different without us. (We generally already spend way too much time thinking about our place in the world--or maybe that is just me.) Instead, I am going to take some time to reflect on how my world might be different had there not been Christmas. How would my world and life be different if God had remained distant and left me to my own devices? What would be different if I had no hope of present or future redemption? What if the only source of life direction was what I could figure out for myself? What if my only power for living was what I could muster within myself?

I am not seeking to simply look at how bleak life might be without Christ and Christmas, but instead to hopefully arrive at a new appreciation for the familiar Christmas event; Christmas story; and Christmas person. Here's to avoiding the blah, blah, blah.

Pressing On,

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Two-part Training

The winter months in Minnesota are not necessarily the best for outdoor cycling. But that doesn't mean that I will stop training and just sit on the couch until spring. I have my bike set up in a trainer in the basement and for the next several months any scenery will be in my imagination. I was reading an article about off season training the other day and it spoke of two ways in which the body works for cycling efficiency--the delivery of oxygen (via blood) to the muscles and the muscles ability to use the oxygen that gets delivered. One is a matter of blood volume and the other a matter of muscle efficiency. Not surprisingly, the same type of exercise will not increase both factors. But both factors will be crucial to increasing my cycling success next summer.

I need to increase the volume of blood that my heart can send to my muscles AND I need to increase the efficiency with which my muscles can process the blood that they receive. Apparently the volume-increasing effects of exercise cut off at about 60-65% of maximum heart rate. So riding any harder than that will not have a positive impact on increasing my heart's ability to deliver more blood to my muscles. What that means is that the best way to build heart capacity will be lots of miles at a relatively slow pace. Increasing the oxygen utilization by the muscles involves riding at a faster pace and heart rate so that they are trained to function more efficiently.

Both types of exercise are needed in order to increase both overall fitness and specific cycling-related efficiency. Yesterday I was also struck that this multiple approach training may be useful in other parts of life as well.

One of the most useful books I have read on the topic of personal holiness is Jerry Bridges', The Pursuit of Holiness. The first time I read Pursuit I remember being struck by the notion of my personal responsibility for making choices that lead to holiness and right living. The is one prong of training that is useful, but like cycling, another prong would be even better. This week I have been reading John Ortberg's, The Me I Want to Be. One statement that leapt off of the page was this, "Anytime I sin, I must remove any thought of the presence of God from my conscious awareness."

For some time my approach to dealing with temptation has been to try harder to do right, or to remind myself of Scripture that may apply to the situation, or to reflect on the downstream consequences of yielding to temptation. While those may have been more or less successful tools, the past day or so I have been asking, in the face of temptation, "Am I willing to knowingly deny the presence of God with me at this moment?"

The result has been surprising. Why would I ever want to deny the presence of God with me? What value could there be to not recalling that God is with me at all times? Not as a cosmic traffic cop or an accuser just waiting for me to choose wrongly, but as a loving Creator and Savior who, as part of His grand universal intention, has my eternal best interests in His mind.

I will be curious to see if the novelty of this approach wears off and diminishes its usefulness. But for now, it is good to have another tool in the pursuit-of-holiness toolbox. Perhaps it can enhance my life proficiency in the same way that I anticipate that building a winter training plan around both increasing blood volume delivery and increasing oxygen use efficiency will increase my cycling proficiency.

Pressing On,

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What I Recall Is Not Much Like What I See

Last week I had the occasion to ride my old mountain bike around town for a while. It didn't feel anything like I had remembered. The gearing is substantially different from my current road bike, the saddle hits me differently, and the shifters function in now unfamiliar ways. Riding the mountain bike brought back some distant memories of when I rode that bike all the time, but the old and new bikes bear relatively little functional resemblance to one another.

Listening to the radio and reading about our current political culture gives me a similar feeling. What happened to the America that I used to know? As I listen, read, and observe, it appears that our current political and social climate seems only vaguely familiar. When did we become a country of entitlement? Where hard work is punished and degraded and where people expect to receive something of value for no other reason than the fact that someone else has more? When did we become a country that would even take notice of protesters who are calling for punitive taxation of those who have accumulated wealth because, in the protesters' views, the wealthy don't need what they have? We have always been a country that valued philanthropy, but "forced philanthropy" is nothing less than stealing.

Have the protesters considered the rational and logical extension of their calls for taxation reform? For those who are students, would they favor the school administrators taking a portion of their 3.8 GPA and redistributing those grade points to someone with a 2.7--just because a 3.8 is higher? In 2002, it was reported that 3 billion people on this planet live on less than $2.00 per day. Would the protesters be OK with most of their "wealth" being taken from them and sent to those 3 billion people? Would the protesters be happy with opening their homes to the homeless in their cities--under government compulsion--just because some people have no place to call home, or have sufficient, but smaller homes?

It is easy to gain support for the notion of "taxing the rich" because "the rich" are always someone else. The rich or the elites or the _________ (fill in your favorite target) are always someone distant and different. They are never our friends, or our family members, or ourselves. But have the current "Occupy" protesters considered that to someone else, they are the rich or the elite or some other target?

Instead of the current political and social focus on taking from those who have in order to redistribute to those who do not have, why not look at creating opportunities for those who do not have to improve their lot in life? Rather than the focus on taking from others, why not focus on improving ourselves? Taking someone else's wealth is not a long term solution to anyone's poverty (or the fact that someone else may have more than me).

Don't get me wrong, I am all for compassion and generosity. I believe that these are virtues that support our American social compact. But forced compassion and generosity are neither compassionate nor generous.

Pressing on,

P.S. As always, my views expressed in this blog are just that--my views. They do not necessarily represent the views of my firm, my clients, my friends, my church, or my family.

Friday, October 21, 2011

No Fireworks or Rainbows

After traveling last week and being away from the bike (for the most part), I was really looking forward to getting back into my daily riding routine this week. The past couple of days have felt very good--the bike is a wonderful place to be. But getting back into the routine has felt more like returning to the familiar than a fresh start of something new. I suppose that is exactly how it should feel. As much as I have ridden over the course of the summer, it would be silly of me to expect that getting back on the bike after just a few days away would be accompanied by fireworks. And there is nothing wrong with getting back into the routine of daily riding. Nothing about the daily-ness should diminish the enjoyment or benefit of my regular rides.

The thrill of a great ride or of finding a new route is a nice feeling from time to time, but if everything was a "mountaintop" there would be nothing special about mountaintops.

Reading through the Gospel of Mark over the past couple of weeks I was struck that not much of what Jesus and His disciples did is captured in those pages. Much of what they did and talked about over nearly three years of being together remains shrouded in the mists of history--never to see the light of day. I wonder if the disciples ever got used to walking and eating and talking with God? Every day? Sometimes I wonder why I seem to take walking and talking with God every day for granted? Is it because it is not all fireworks and rainbows? Because so much of our interaction is in the midst of the ordinary and the mundane? The parts not written in my gospel?

While I never want to be in a place of taking God for granted, if my time with Him feels like a comfortable and familiar place, that is probably OK. The mountaintops are nice, but I want to revel in the daily-ness.

Pressing On,

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Beautiful Day, But For the Wall

This has been a week to remember here in central Minnesota. Sunny days and temps in the 80's--and it is October! In anticipation of the upcoming long winter, my friend Jeff and I took Wednesday afternoon to ride. The Lake Wobegon Trail from Avon to Albany, then up the Holdingford spur was truly spectacular. The trail wove between farm fields and woodlots and the tree-lined tunnels glowed with golden leafy-ness. Despite the beauty of the day, a danger was lurking that later in the ride reared its ugly head--hitting the wall, or the bonk.

Bonking is a term for the time when your body exhausts its stores of glycogen and turns almost exclusively to using fat for fuel. For someone like me, I welcome the time when my body starts using fat for fuel, but the physiological reality is that the body has to work harder to use fat than to use glycogen. The way to address the situation is not complex--either replenish glycogen or reduce the exertion level so that the body can keep up with converting fat to energy.

I have bonked before--about three times that I can recall (if you cannot recall if you have, then you probably haven't). The other three times were toward the end of high-exertion races. This was just a pleasant, autumn afternoon ride. Granted we were hitting a good pace, but we weren't racing. I did not recognize the signs, so did not take the actions necessary to avoid the bonk. It should not have been a surprise, but it was because I wasn't being attentive to the signs that would have been apparent had I just been paying attention.

Life these days does not foster a posture of attentiveness. Economic concerns, political turmoil, world events, the press of caring for a family--these all take us away from being attentive to our souls. Yet, if we fail to pay attention to our souls, we can bonk in our spirits just as much as in our bodies.

The notion of Sabbath was designed, at least in part, to call us to be attentive to our souls. One day each week that is devoted not to the ordinary and the pressing, but to the eternal and the everlasting. A day not devoted to daily work, but to restoration. For those of us from religious traditions that do not have a strong connection with Sabbath, it is easy for Sunday to become just another day (just with church in the morning). If we could--or would--recapture a practice of Sabbath, I wonder how our faith and our work might be different.

I feel like I have fully recovered from Wednesday's experience, but it did knock me off of my game for a couple of days. I am also reminded of the value of remaining attentive--even when a ride seems like it should not be a big deal.

Pressing on,

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cowlicks and Hair Direction

For most of my life I have had a cowlick on the back of my head. That swirl of hair that is largely uncontrollable, but that has been conveniently located out of sight. For most of my adult life I have also parted my hair on the same side--which happens to run against the cowlick. For decades I have parted and brushed my hair in the direction that I wanted it to go. But since the last time that I cut my hair very short, the cowlick has been winning. About two weeks after a haircut, the cowlick now pushes up from underneath and makes my hair stick up like a duck's tail feathers unless I part and brush it on the other side. I have decided that it is no longer worth the effort to fight the cowlick (not to mention looking like a duck).

You might think that changing the direction that you brush your hair would be an easy task. After all, it is just hair. But after spending most of my life running my hair back from right to left, the change from left to right is not easy. More than once I have found myself not thinking about what I am doing and running my hair back right to left--with the result that I look like I just woke up from a nap.

Now hair direction is not a big deal, but change certainly is.

Sometimes I am surprised at how hard it is to change. People seem to be hardwired for stasis--or decline. Think about it. No one ever became fit by sitting around, or smarter by not studying, or more holy by a lack of moral discipline. Change requires effort and attention. Attention alone is not sufficient because attention without effort is merely noticing. (Like all of those years when I could walk right past the overflowing wastebasket without taking it to the trash can--sorry Mom.) Effort alone is not sufficient because it ends up being sporadic at best and frenetic at worst. Real change requires consistent (attention) work (effort) over time.

Whether the change we seek is physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual; it will require consistent work over time. That also says that change generally does not occur overnight. So if you are in progress, then stay the course and be encouraged. You may not be finished changing yet, but you are one day closer--one day that cannot be skipped.

Pressing on,

Friday, September 2, 2011

Acacia Hill

My local bike shop--Broadway Cycle in Monticello--hosts a Thursday night social ride for anyone who wants to come. Last night was the first that I have been able to join this summer because the NSC velodrome also has racing on Thursday nights. It was a great ride. My friend Jeff was also riding, as were a number of people whom I know from around town. The group spread out a bit over the course of the ride, but you were never out of sight of the other riders.

I had heard rumors about the hill up Acacia off of County Road 106--steep and curving--but had never ridden the hill. Until last night. Wow, what a hill! It is steep and has a deceptive curve halfway up. I have never ridden a steeper hill and all of us in the group that I was with were struggling a bit. It was one of those hills where it would be easy for a lone rider to stop and walk the rest of the way up. But when you are riding with a group, it feels better to push hard and labor up to the top.

It was the group that was riding together that made the difference on the Acacia hill. It was nice to have others around while riding on the flats and the rolling hills before and after. But on the toughest part of the ride it was VERY good to have the rest of the group struggling together. And no one had to wonder, "Am I the only one this is hard for?"

Other parts of life are not as transparent as the Acacia hill. We rarely see others battling up the same hills that we are climbing. And it can become disheartening to look around and feel like I am climbing a mountain while everyone around me appears to be cruising on the flats. While I would generally agree that much of life is just plain difficult, the difficulty does not need to be crushing. But, how do we make the rest of life's hills as transparent as the Acacia hill?

It requires trust and a confidence that the people we are showing our "hills" to will not slow us down, but will climb with us. It probably starts with engaging with others. My Acacia hill experience would have been negatively different had I been riding alone. Then it requires honesty on our parts--just calling it what it is. No one climbing Acacia hill in my group was pretending that the hill was no big deal--we were all struggling. And it calls for us to actively encourage each other. Even in the midst of the challenge of Acacia hill, those of us on the climb were calling out encouragement to each other--"Good climb;" "Keep at it;" "Downhill on the other side."

Struggling up Acacia hill was not a sign that any of us were weak or didn't belong on the ride. It was simply part of the reality that hills are steep and require more effort than riding on the flats. In the same way, struggling with parts of the rest of life does not necessarily indicate weakness or that something is "wrong with me." Some parts of life are just more of an uphill struggle than others.

Pressing on,

Friday, August 12, 2011

Of Whaling Ships and Hula Hoops

Every boy dreams of being/doing something heroic. No boy wants to pass the ball to the guy who makes the winning shot or to save the cat while the beautiful girl perishes in the disaster. Boys want to be soldiers, firefighters, and policemen; not lawyers, accountants, and teachers. But over time, something sucks out our willingness to charge hard after windmills. I cannot remember the the last time I slept on deck (the front hallway), harpoon (broom handle) at the ready, eager to climb the rigging (Timmy's jungle gym), to hunt whales (hula hoops), at first light (after breakfast). [One of my earliest boyhood memories.] As the years go by we seem to get weighed down and distracted by the cares and concerns of living adult lives that seem devoid of the heroic and overflowing with the ordinary.

William Wallace is credited with saying "All men die, few men truly live." So how does one truly live in the midst of regular life? After all, someone needs to be the lawyers, accountants, and teachers. Not everyone can be soldiers, firefighters, and policemen. So is truly living beyond the grasp of regular people? I don't believe so. Since most of us cannot just forget our responsibilities and run off to hunt "whales", truly living must take place in the midst of the regular responsibilities of adult life.

I think that this may be part of the attraction of bike racing--a chance to do something out of the ordinary in the midst of regular life. Perhaps not heroic, but at least out of the ordinary. When I am on the track or out on the road I feel like I am moving into a world that is more like "whaling" than like lawyering. To be sure, bike racing is a hobby. But then, so was hunting whales.

I do not hope to escape William Wallace's "all men die", but one way or the other I will truly live--at least in enough of life to cast an "heroic" hue to the ordinary.

Pressing On,

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Footprints in the Sand -- but not that one

Walking along the beach this morning at about sunrise put me in a reflective mood. About 25 minutes down the beach one way and another 25 back. When I made the turn I noticed something--my footprints were gone. All week I have been reminded of the relentless nature of the sea. Waves crashing against the beach with seemingly no effort--again and again and again. No need to take a rest or to stop for supper. Just a continuous pounding on the shore.

I felt like I was walking pretty fast down the beach. Working hard. Making progress. Making tracks. But the relentless sea didn't care how hard I worked or how far I may have come or how quickly I got there. It just wiped the beach clean of my footprints.

As a somewhat driven person, I have this desire to make a difference in the world--to make a mark in important things that is hard to erase. But this morning got me thinking--is that a goal worth pursuing? Making a mark in the world?

I am not advocating an approach of simply sitting on the beach and letting life pass me by in the warm sunshine. Instead, what if I did my beach-walking, but without the expectation or hope that my footprints will endure? Might that make the beach-walking more pleasant, more enjoyable along the way? Doesn't mean that I would not do the work of walking down the beach, or living life, or developing professionally. But maybe a different look at beach-walking would give me a different perspective on the walk itself. Instead of being intent on preserving my footprints--which ARE getting washed away in any case--I can place a higher value on my surroundings and on the journey itself.

What a novel thought--enjoying the journey just for the journey's sake.

Pressing On,

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Long Ride Well Done

Props to Carmen and Abby for riding the 50-mile Tour of Saints yesterday (and our neighbors Gary and Annie). We managed to beat the hottest part of the day, which was very good, but 50 miles is still 50 miles. The ride was beautiful--undulating hills and verdant, central Minnesota countryside. There were about 700 people who made either the 35-mile or the 50-mile ride and the feeling of shared accomplishment was thick in the air at the finish.

The three of us--Team Prine--worked together all morning; encouraging, drafting, pulling at the front of the line. We had a few sections of the ride where we were in the groove together and humming along like a well-oiled machine. Other sections (mostly hills) were places where we each set our own pace until we crested the hill.

When we could work together, the ride was "better." Easier, more energy, friendly banter, singing. The miles were not shorter, but covering them seemed to go more quickly. What was true in the ride also seems to be true in most of the rest of life. When we can work together toward a common goal, our way is easier.

When we paint at our house one of us cuts in and the other uses the roller. When we are doing woodworking projects, one of us builds and the other finishes. Working as a team trumps going it alone.

On my faith journey, when I try to go it alone, I tend to have a harder time than when I am connected with others who are moving in the same direction. Granted, sometimes it can be distracting waiting for others or trying to catch up. But as a general rule, together is better than alone.

Pressing on,

Friday, July 15, 2011

A New Look at the Familiar

Last night was my first night of racing at the National Sports Center Velodrome. I have ridden a bike since I was a little kid, but nothing like last night. I have never ridden as fast on the flats (or ever felt as fast--even downhill). Over the past month and a half I completed the "Introductory Track Class" and even went to the track for a couple of open riding sessions. But lining up with about 13 other riders for the 10-lap Scratch Race was unlike anything else. That was followed up by the two-lap Chariot Race--where racers go all out for two laps (500 meters) from a standing start. The night was bike riding, but at the same time, not bike riding as I have ever known it. Although I have known how to ride a bike for decades, now I am beginning to know how to race.

Familiar, but Different.

Start with the bike. My regular road bike has 24 gears, front and rear brakes, and I can coast if I want to. My track bike (NSC #3) has one gear, no brakes, and is fixed--meaning no coasting. When the wheel is going around so are the pedals.

Next the riding surface. Most of my riding around my hometown is on country roads with the occasional rails-to-trails paved path. The National Sports Center velodrome ( is a 250 meter oval made of wood. The turns are banked at 43 degrees and the straights are banked at 15 degrees. At a certain slowness of speed (which I have not yet found), the bike will fall off of the track. The track is seven meters wide all the way around.

Finally the event. Thursday Night Lights is the NSC's summer-long series of racing nights. Anyone with a US Cycling Federation license can participate, although previous track-riding experience is a practical prerequisite. Last night's events varied in length from 500 meters (two-laps) to a 40 lap race. Other racing nights will have different events, but most for my level of rider (Cat 4/5) will be in this range. Most of my past riding has been by myself or friendly rides with friends and family. If the pace was too fast for someone in the group, we would slow the pace. If someone needed to stop and rest, we would do so. Not so last night. If the pace is too fast--get out of the way. If you want to rest--wait until the race is over. There are winners and losers and there are no "participant" ribbons.

On the way home I thought about how my night of racing relates to my work. For my day job I am a lawyer who helps my clients fulfill their discovery obligations in lawsuits and government investigations--specifically as it relates to the company's electronic information (such as, email, documents, databases). Earlier in my career as a commercial litigator, I did a lot of work with discovery--it is familiar. But as I have developed my information law practice over the past several years, I have learned that electronic information discovery is as dissimilar to my old discovery practice as track racing is to road riding.

Some aspects look familiar (the bike still has two wheels, pedals, and handlebars), but woe to the person who assumes that the similarities at one level mean that all is the same. (Imagine the surprise if you wanted to coast, only to find that your legs kept moving.) On the track and in my law practice, special skills are required to avoid a crash.

Last night's racing was pretty exciting--I will be going back. I also take great pleasure in serving my clients with the specialized knowledge and expertise that helps them to navigate a familiar looking, but different frontier. Without panic or crashing.

Pressing on,

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Spaces in the Shadow Box

Last winter I made a shadow box for my running medals and some race numbers. It was designed for encouragement and for a reminder that I had achieved some accomplishments that I might not have expected to achieve. I purposefully left three spaces in the shadow box for the three last long races that I intended to run in 2011--The Gary Bjorkland Half Marathon, the Afton Trail Run, and the Holiday Halfathon. These were either favorites (Afton and Holiday), or were races I had longed to run (Bjorkland) for years.

After last February's knee operation I expected the doctor to give me a tentative green light to run these races,. as long as I took it kind of easy. To my chagrin, the doctor's advice was that if I wanted to have much hope of keeping my knees for a couple of more years, I should not run any of these races. Or better yet, not run at all. Through the spring I have held out hope that I would heal enough to hobble through my running swan song. But this swan is silent.

So the spaces in my shadow box will remain unfilled. Empty sentinels of hopes once treasured. Silenced clarions of pre-dawn footfalls on Monticello's streets. Coming to grips with losing running has been more of a challenge than I ever thought it would be. I have probably been in a bit of a funk for a couple of months as the reality has settled like a heavy fog on a spring morning.

I wonder how Abraham felt as he looked at the Isaac-shaped space in his home? When he struggled to reconcile God's promise with his empty crib? The Bible tells us very little--just that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.

I wonder if the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 felt like their shadow boxes had empty spaces--unfulfilled hopes and dreams? The Bible tells us that these folks had received promises from God, but did not see their fulfillment in this life. Did they die unhappy? Wishing for more from this life? Longing to fill the spaces in their shadow boxes? Or did they see something different. Something more. Something beyond this life that melded unfulfilled promises and everlasting hope in a perfectly reconciled reality.

The spaces in my shadow box do not need to detract from the medals and race numbers that remind me of many of my fondest running days. The spaces in my shadow box do not need to cry out that my best days are behind me. Perhaps the spaces in my shadow box would be kind enough to remind me that this life is just a small portion of existence. Whether or not there is running in the life to come, I can be assured that heaven's shadow box has no empty spaces.

Pressing On!

Monday, June 27, 2011

A New Beginning ... of sorts

This blog was born out of realizing that when I ran, I had time to think. And the best way for me to process what I was thinking was to write. Over the years I have taken lots of time to run and think. I have even made some time to process thoughts that seemed important to me in this blog.

One of the great things about running is that you don't necessarily have to pay a lot of attention to what is going on. I could roll out of bed while it was still dark, step into my shoes, and hit the roads. It didn't take a lot of thought. It left plenty of mind capacity to mull over bigger questions, issues, and answers.

Now that my running days are over, I am turning to cycling as my exercise and competitive outlet. The orthopedist tells me that cycling will be easy enough on my knees that I may be able to put off knee replacements for a few years. But to ride outdoors, I have to pay attention. Granted, not pay attention like doing math, but pay attention enough not to get lost or run into anything. Nevertheless, I hope that before too long I will be able to think and ride at the same time. And who knows, perhaps there will be different lessons from riding the roads than there were from running the roads.

So I suppose I will need to change my tag line to "Reflections on the Integration of Cycling, Faith, and Life." Has a certain ring to it.

Pressing on!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Presidential Arrogance

The decision that President Obama announced last night regarding the schedule for troop withdrawals smacks of the arrogance of "I will just because I can." What I have gathered from listening and reading is that the President announced his preferred withdrawal schedule and scope in spite of different recommendations from his military advisers--professional soldiers who have devoted their lives and careers to military service. Maybe he will be right. But maybe the President's advisers have learned some things over the course of their military careers that should have had a greater influence on his decision.

Granted, the President is the Commander-in-Chief. He gets to make decisions such as the one he announced last night. But (no offense intended), what does this President know about waging war? He has never served and there is nothing from his known background that would lead me to think that he is in a position to make better decisions than his professional military advisers. Of course, as the President has said before, elections have consequences, and this is one of those.

Mr. Obama is not alone. The arrogance of "I will just because I can" is disgusting from the playground to the boardroom. Regulators, prosecutors, and the markets may have curbed some of the boardroom arrogance. Accountability is resurgent. But in far too many families, schools, churches, businesses, and neighborhoods, arrogance reigns.

Arrogance is ultimately debilitating because it serves to cut off the arrogant from others who may have wisdom to offer. We absolutely need strong leaders in all parts of life. But the strongest leaders recognize that there is wisdom in many counselors. And not just to have them around, but to take their advice to heart. When a leader embraces wisdom from his advisers, it means acknowledging that the leader needs wise advisers. Such self-awareness may actually be the beginning of wisdom. And wisdom defeats arrogance, in the long run, every time.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Last night I rode in my first time trial, which is bike race in which the riders start at 30 second intervals (in this case) and ride the race course as individuals. Team time trials also exist, but you get the idea. It is, for all intents and purposes, a one-person race against the clock. When I showed up at the church parking lot in Medina where the race would start I felt like a regular person must feel who stumbles into a Star Trek convention. Most people had special time trial bikes and time trial bike suits and helmets. I didn't see any bikes that looked like mine--just a good, but regular, road bike. The two things that I didn't want to do were to crash and to be the last finisher. Mission accomplished. As it turns out, I was the slowest of the 60 or so riders, but since I started 22nd, other faster riders finished after me.

It would have been easy for me to get discouraged about feeling like I really didn't fit in; like I was out of place. But I decided before I went that this race would just be me against the clock, regardless of any other riders. I also thought that I could set a benchmark for comparison when I ride the same time trial later in the summer. With that perspective, I could embrace the race for the new experience that it was and try to learn from it. And boy did I learn!

I learned that I need to learn how to climb hills. I learned that I need to practice riding on the drops. I learned that I need to not eat pizza for lunch on the day of a race. I learned that I am looking forward to the track racing class that I am taking with my daughter--because there are no hills! I gained a newfound respect for the guys that I see during TV coverage of the Tour de France. I also learned that no one who was racing cared whether I was slow or fast.

I wonder how often people at church feel like they have stumbled into a spiritual Star Trek convention? If you don't know the words; don't know what happens next; don't know exactly what the guy in front is talking about (at the race last night I had to ask someone where the starting line was--I might as well have painted "newbie" on my forehead in orange paint), then a person could feel out of place. It might be tempting to just not come back. But what if a church could make people feel like it is OK for new people to feel new? To be aware of new people without catering to them?

I was fine with being new at bike racing last night--and I will go back. But I am glad that no one made a big deal of me being a first-timer. That would have made me very uncomfortable. Not to brag on my own church too much, but this is something that the Quarry does well. The church is aware of how newer people may be feeling and explains things to help take away the anxiety of uncertainty. We talk about why we do some of the things we do. All without shining the spotlight on new people. Perhaps that will allow those who are new to church to check things out and get comfortable at their own speed.

Pressing On,

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Thoughts on Headwinds

Today was my first real outdoor run since the end of January and my most recent knee operation. I have run a few times on hotel treadmills while traveling, but today's 3.8 mile jaunt even went out of my neighborhood.

Since the knee op I have been doing lots of biking--both indoors and out--and the thing that strikes me when I go outside is the wind. No matter whether it seems breezy or still at the start, it always seems to get windy while I am riding. It occurs to me that part of the issue is that no matter what the rest of the weather is doing, I am creating about a 18 mph wind just by riding. So even if a 10 mph wind is at my back, I am riding into an 8 mph "headwind". And when I am riding into the wind I am facing a 28 mph headwind. So my biking reality seems to be that unless my riding pace is equal to or less than the general wind speed, I will be riding into a headwind. (The same is true of running, just a slower speeds.) Granted, this leaves out consideration of crosswinds, but this is a reflection on things other than wind patterns.

Bottom line, part of riding and running is facing a headwind--even when everything is going as it should. Why should this be a surprise? Living life is, in and of itself, a struggle--battling headwinds. Not that a struggle is a bad thing. Not at all. In fact, it is struggling and striving that proves that we have life. (Only dead fish float downstream.) And we probably all know of people--or have been those people--who stop trying. Who generally give up and, in a very real sense, stop living.

Until my run earlier today when I considered these thoughts, I was feeling bad about the biking headwinds. I was sort of feeling sorry for myself that I have chosen a fitness activity that will always go into the wind. My new perspective will not negate the headwind issue, but I can choose to see headwinds as markers of progress and effort. If I am not facing a headwind, then I must not be trying very hard or going very fast. Charging into a headwind is actually a sign of good things--life and vitality.

One of the things that I really like about my church is that the Quarry is more concerned about authentically pursuing Jesus than about making people comfortable. The main question is not what can we do to make people more comfortable, but instead is what can we do to lead people into a face-to-face, heart-to-heart encounter with the God of the Universe. Some have questioned whether we should be trying to make things easier for people who are not accustomed to church. I believe that we should not put needless roadblocks in place, but since following Jesus is charging into the headwind anyway, why try to make it seem like something it is not? Instead, what if we embrace the challenges of following Jesus as indicators that mark life and vitality?

Don't get me wrong, I would still rather face the stiffest headwinds early in a ride or run while I am relatively fresh, but I can welcome the later headwinds as the signposts of accomplishment that they are.

Pressing On,

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pretend World meets Real World

Yesterday was just my second outdoor Minnesota ride this season. The indoor training has been going well--lots of miles and feeling pretty good riding on the trainer in the basement and the garage. Yesterday brought a stiff wind out of the NW, so I planned the first half of my ride to go into the wind (so that I could have the wind assist on the way home). Needless to say, cycling in the real world of the outdoors was a different world than in the wind-free zone of my garage.

Every mile felt like a battle and every uphill was made even more challenging by the unrelenting headwind. There was no room for coasting, because even a momentary rest from pedaling brought a stunning decrease in forward speed. A pace that felt pretty easy and sustainable in the garage on the trainer felt like a lot of work out on the road.

I couldn't help but think that this was just one more area of life where the training zone or the classroom is--alone--inadequate preparation for the real world. How often has a parenting idea sounded like just the ticket, only to be shattered on the granite of my kids' stubbornness. How often has the most promising communication theory failed to translate into heart-to-heart sharing of thoughts and ideas.

How often has the faith concept from a sermon, a Bible study, or a book that seemed so elementary to integrate into my life proven to be like climbing a giant sand dune--sliding back five feet for every two gained. I shouldn't be surprised by this reality, but I wish that someone had the courage to tell us that it will not be as simple or as straightforward as it sounds. I wish that someone would be willing to risk saying that while Jesus may be the answer, that answer does not come without tremendous effort and perseverance.

Neither biking nor faith is all downhill and with the wind at your back. That you can count on!

Pressing on,

Friday, March 4, 2011

When I close my eyes ...

I can be riding any place that I can imagine. If your basement is like mine, it is not the most picturesque place to spend a lot of time. But the basement is where my bike will fit on the trainer (and it is not yet outdoor riding weather here in Minnesota). I have worked up to riding 35-45 minutes at a time and the view has not changed. Since my bike is secured in a trainer it is not going anywhere. So I really don't need to watch where I am going. In fact, I can close my eyes and imagine riding wherever I want to ride.

My imaginary ride along the Mississippi River on County Road 39 is a fun one. So is my ride along the imaginary Greek coast (double the imagination for double the fun!). My longer rides along Pensacola Beach almost feel warm and sunny, with a slight flavor of salt spray in the air. Of course, these wonderful rides are only taking place in my mind. As much as the imaginary rides may serve to distract me from the fact that I am riding my bike in the basement, I do not go any place. You may be able to understand my imaginary riding now, but in the spring and summer, when it is actually nice enough to ride outside, you might think it odd if I continued to ride in the basement and just imagine being outside. More than odd, you might consider it a wasted opportunity.

Sometimes I wonder how often I settle for imaginary spiritual growth. It is relatively easy to "close my eyes" and imagine that I am going great places in my faith journey. I can recall heights and grand vistas that I have seen in decades past and can imagine being there again. But if I am really just "riding in the basement," then all of my imaginations are just wasted opportunities. The value comes from staying on the actual journey and making real progress--and not settling for an imaginary journey.

I have learned (but seemingly constantly need to be reminded) that the way for me to stay authentic on the journey is to regularly clamber out of the basement of study and thinking to meaningfully interact with real people with real spiritual questions and needs. A couple of weeks ago my small group (GSGE) from church went to serve a meal and assist with a worship service at a shelter in Minneapolis. The eye-opener for me was when two gentlemen with whom I was talking began sharing with each other the bus routes where the drivers allowed them to stay on the bus all night. I was dumbstruck as I realized that I have never had to be concerned for where I would sleep at night. I have never had to wonder whether I could find a warm place to spend the night. And what answers does God have for these folks? I felt clearly that a faith that only imagines that it is growing and vibrant has nothing to offer to the real challenges that real people face.

I can rehab my knee by riding in the basement, but I cannot meaningfully engage with a world in need if my spiritual growth is just imaginary. With a billion people in the world who live on less than one dollar each day and another two billion who live on less than five dollars each day, I must not be satisfied with imaginary growth.

One thing I know about biking in the basement. The first ride outdoors will come as a shock. I can remember from years past that I may feel like I have kept a pretty good fitness level, but that first ride, with hills and headwinds is a kicker. The realization causes me to want to work harder with my basement riding so that the first ride outdoors goes well. For the sake of real people facing real challenges my faith training MUST also go to the next level.

One place I am starting is to prayer for a different country each day. This way I am reminded that God is not all about me, but that I am to be all about the people He has created--everywhere. Operation World has a great resource From this page you can sign up to receive an email each day with a different country highlighted. I have been going for 64 days now and it has certainly gotten my heart and praying out of the "basement."

Join me out on the road?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Time to Grow Up

The Wisconsin and Indiana legislatures are not teaching the lesson that I would want my kids to learn. The lesson they seem to be teaching is, "If the game is not going your way, then take your ball and go home." What ever happened to fight the good fight, play hard until the final buzzer, and run through the finish line? The essence of good sportsmanship is also the essence of good politics.

Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if every Big Ten basketball team simply left the court whenever they got behind Ohio State by 15 points? Or if teams in the ACC refused to come out of the locker room for the second half just because Duke or UNC was sure to win in the end? We chuckle because such a thing would never happen. The players on the opposing team have too much self-respect and sense of honor. They will play by the rules. That, and if they refuse to play, they will simply forfeit.

The political problem in Wisconsin and Indiana is that no one can declare a forfeit. The absent legislators have the power--misused as it is--to bring the machine to a grinding halt. But having the power does not mean that it is right or proper to use that power.

I can only imagine the rhetoric if it were the other side who had simply walked away and refused to play. They would be painted as villains who were not willing to play by the rules. Wasn't it President Obama himself who said, "Elections have consequences."? If the Wisconsin and Indiana democrats don't like the consequences of the election, then, like honorable legislators for generations before them, they should make their best case to persuade their colleagues, and if that fails, they should take their case to the voters of Wisconsin and Indiana in 2012 and try to return their party to a place where they can pass or block (legitimately) the bills that they care about. Running away solves nothing.

I know the frustration of playing a superior team and having absolutely no reasonable chance of winning. I know how it feels to step into the batter's box where my only hope of getting on base was to get hit by a pitch. I know how it feels to stand at the starting line and know that unless the guy next to me falls, he will finish the 110 meter hurdles while I am still running hard. But I still played. I still batted. I still ran. And if I lost that game or race, it was a driver to get better. Because there would be a next time.

I know the utter frustration of seeing legislation debated and passed that I believe is horribly unfair, unjust, or plain bad for my state or our country. But the answer is not to run away. The honorable response is to do what I can to elect representatives who will support an agenda that I believe is good for Minnesota and for America. To stay in the game. To make my best case. To win or to lose with honor and dignity.

But running away? Grow up kids!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Right Foot First

For my whole life I have been a "right foot first" guy. You know, putting on pants and shorts--right foot in first. For the past week and a half I have needed to become a left foot first guy--and it has not always been an easy adjustment. "Right," you say, "how hard can it be to use a different foot first when you are getting dressed?" Apparently harder for me than I would have thought two weeks ago.

Since my left leg doesn't bend quite as much yet as it eventually will, I have to put my left foot in first, then follow with the right. But the right foot first way of doing things is so ingrained that more than once I have gone right foot first, only to struggle to reach the left. Then you know what comes next--right foot back out and left foot first.

Do you recall back in school when the kid who broke his dominant arm had a tough time? The left-handed kid had to learn how to eat and write with his other hand. The right-handed girl had to figure out how to brush her teeth and hair from the other side. (Think it is easy? Next time, try brushing your teeth with the other hand.)

Old habits die hard. Patterns of behavior can be changed, but not without an effort commensurate with the length of time the behavior has been a habit. Not only effort, but some measure of time. The person who has mostly sat on the sidelines and watched for years will not suddenly become a fit and fast 10k runner. No matter how well intentioned. The person who has not read a book in years will not suddenly become the star of the book club. The instrument owner does not become the musician just by taking the horn out of the case. The person who has made a habit of living far from God doesn't become Mother Teresa overnight.

The challenge of changing habit patterns is to stick with it long enough, and with enough energy, to make it last. The temptation is to quit too soon. Because it may be difficult and the results are not instantaneous.

Patience is not my strong suit, but in my knee rehab, my faith, and the rest of life, I must be patient and invest the time and energy to own my new and healthier habits. Then the new, better habit will be even stronger than the old one.

Pressing On,

Friday, February 11, 2011

The First Bite

This morning I managed to get the bike pedal all the way around. That may not seem impressive at all to those who learned to ride a bike at age 4, but for those who have wrestled with "range of motion" it makes sense why it is an accomplishment worth noting. I am not supposed to have any real resistance quite yet, but the biking motion is supposed to keep the fluids from pooling in the joint and also start rebuilding some strength.

Yet, in the grand scheme of things, it is a very small step. I would much prefer to be getting on the bike to ride hard for an hour or so, but right now that is not prudent (and maybe not possible). I am not by nature very patient with myself and my limitations, so this will be a test. But without these small steps that seem so little, there will be no real progress, healing, or movement toward real health.

I wonder how often I have started some discipline that would be of great benefit in the long run, but have abandoned the effort early on because it seemed to be so small or the end goal so far off? In my mind I know that "the longest journey begins with a single step" and "the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time." But sometimes I get paralyzed by the enormity of the ultimate task rather than the progress of each small step in the right direction. A better approach for me would be to celebrate that I rode this morning, rather than looking at how far out of condition I feel or how many mornings it will take to get back to full activity.

My faith journey is a similar experience ion some ways. At times it is almost paralyzing to think about how far I have yet to go in pursuing Christlikeness. My shortcomings loom far larger than the gold stars marking my progress. But I wonder if it would be healthier to focus more on today's progress than on tomorrow's spiritual To-Do list. Today I can only do something about today. Tomorrow I can work on tomorrow's To-Do list.

If running and biking are any example, it won't be long before a focus on what needs to be done today will both keep me plenty busy and also give me enough progress to celebrate tomorrow.

Working on Enjoying the Elephant,

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Back in the Saddle ... sort of

Apparently Dr. Hwang had a field day in the playground that is my knee. As the PT guy (Dan) was explaining what all had been done, it struck me that there was not an interior surface of the knee that had not gotten some attention. No wonder Saturday and Sunday were lost days! (That and I really overdid Friday.)

Now comes the rehab and I have been told that because of the extent of the work and my knee' advanced age (do knee years equal dog years?) I am looking at 2-3 months for full recovery as opposed to the 4-6 weeks for "young-kneed" people. Nevertheless, my hope is to get all the way around on the bicycle pedals by the end of the weekend. To me, that will signal the start of getting back to full activity.

Yet I am faced with the looming question of what full activity means. In all likelihood, my running "career", as I have known it, is over. If I am able to continue to run, it will be much shorter distances and many fewer miles. For years I have known that this is inevitable, yet now that the time for assessment and decision-making is at hand, it makes me very sad.

As you might guess, running has been very important to me over the past few years. For fitness, as a place and time to think and process, as a rubric that pulls all of the various pieces of life and reflection together. But now things will change. What activity will take running's preeminent place? I cannot see becoming sedentary and inactive. Will it be biking? Hiking? Walking? Chasing a granddaughter? Time will tell, but I am definitely on the lookout.

One exciting near term goal--my good friend Frank is pulling together the old bike team from DePauw's Little 5 days for he alumni race this April. My goal is to be ready to ride with those guys. It sounds like all of the riders from both teams will be coming back, so it should be a great time to catch up with old friends--lots of shared memories and stories I am not necessarily sure that my kids need to hear :-)

In the meantime,

Pressing On!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Around the corner

Funny thing about what might be around the corner--we don't know exactly what it is. We may have some idea or we may be completely surprised. And what actually appears when we round the corner may be very much like, or nothing like, what we imagined.

In just a few hours, Dr. Matthew Hwang will be "drilling" a couple of holes into my knee to get his arthroscope and other tools inside. He has a bit of work to do and over the past couple of months we have talked about what this procedure may be able to do. Repair a torn meniscus, shave some rough cartilage, allow me to sit and work for more than a few minutes at a time without that nagging reminder that I live in a human body--a wonderful, but easily broken machine.

As good as Dr. Hwang may be (and I hear that he is very good), what is around the corner is still uncertain. It has been so long since the last time that I had something like this done that I cannot recall how it felt or how long it took to get back to normal. At least this is just physical and there are a limited number of variables that will come into play to determine what is around the corner.

Relational uncertainties would be much harder. Then there are two or more people involved and each one brings their own variables. Does each one want to invest in the friendship or other relationship? Is the timing right from both sides? Can the hurts--real or imagined--from the past be overcome? Fixing torn hearts is far more complicated than fixing a torn meniscus.

Yet the hope in either situation comes from the reality that there is One who knows what is around the corner. And not only that, but God has made a commitment to walk with His people around whatever corners they need to turn. Whether in the sunny, cheerful light of day or the dark, scary night of uncertainty. God never promised that all would be sweetness and light. But He did promised that His people would never walk alone.

I am hopeful about the next few weeks. I should be able to start biking in a couple of days and light running in 4 to 6 weeks--about when the show and ice go away here in Minnesota. I may be surprised when I turn the corner. but I will never be alone.

Press On!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Venice, New York, Paris, Ancient Rome--all in one morning!

This morning's 4.5 took me past ancient Rome, Paris, Venice, a pirate galleon, and New York--all in under an hour. Time travel? A Star Trek transporter? No, just Las Vegas. Last night some of my colleagues and I drove up and down the Strip to take in a macro view. The lights, the music, the crowds--it was all pretty impressive in a way. At 5:45 this morning, a bit of the glamor was gone from the the glitz.

Those who know me would probably say that while I hold strong personal opinions and convictions, I am generally not judgmental toward others. I guess I believe that grown-ups are responsible for their own choices--including the consequences of those choices. So while I am not a fan of the activities that Las Vegas seems to promote, that doesn't bother me as much as something else.

Everything that I have seen in ads and then seen for myself last night leads me to the conclusion that what the entertainment side of Vegas promotes is non-reality. From the hotels and casinos that are built to appear like famous landmarks and places, to the promise of doing here what you would never do at home--and not having any consequences--it is fake. The clearest example was the mobile billboard we were driving behind for a few blocks. It pictured some very good looking young women wearing not very much and the tag line read, "These girls want to talk with you." I said to myself, "Really? No they don't. They don't know me from Adam and couldn't care less about me. At best they want some of my money and my self-respect." If even half of the stories you hear around the office are close to accurate, time in Vegas is bathing in the un-genuine. And I hate the pursuit of that which is not genuine.

I would rather have genuine and difficult or ugly, than fake happiness or contentment. I prefer truth to deception--even when the truth is uncomfortable, unwanted, or unpleasant.

Toward the end of my run I wondered whether the non-churched world looks at our churches somewhat like I was seeing the hotels and casinos this morning. Places where people can go to be entertained (worship concerts and televised preachers), filled with people who put on fake smiles and are there for the show, whose involvement in whatever happens inside the doors makes no difference in their lives when they get back to the "real world." A lack of genuineness is as disgusting in the church as it is on the Strip--and more harmful.

At the end of the day, anyone who comes to the Strip expecting to find reality is just being silly. But people who come to church should be able to expect to find real people who are learning how to better know, love, and serve our great and wonderful God. People who may be broken or bruised, but who are candid about our imperfections--and graceful to the other imperfect people who worship beside us.

That is one thing I love about my own church--the Quarry--and my brother's church--Edgewater United Methodist in Port Charlotte, Florida. Recently Edgewater did a GO Saturday--God's heart, Our hands. Want to see what they are all about? Take a look here-- These people are genuine about their faith and I am really proud that Dan is leading them so well.

After people go home from, Las Vegas they may have some memories of the "fun" that they had--or they may not remember much about it at all. When God's people are genuine about expressing our faith in real and tangible ways, God changes the world through us. Which is the better investment of the one life that you have? That I have?

Pressing On!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When the dark is darkest ...

... the light shines brightest. This was certainly the case about 5 this morning. The moon was nearly full and the sky was crystal clear. (Which made for temps slightly below zero, but that's why I love running outdoors in Minnesota in the winter.) On the parts of the run where there were street lights, the moon did not seem so magnificent, but along the paths that are usually dark this time of year, I even saw my shadow this morning. It felt almost unreal. As much as it was breathtaking to have the moon be so bright, it did not cause the daytime to come any sooner.

How often is that the case with life. When things appear to be their darkest and most challenging, those points of light stand out more clearly. Those points of light--be they friends, comforting words, familiar places, or passages of Scripture--tend to stand out in stark contrast to what seems like the darkness of a difficult time of life. Yet, none of us is the first one to walk through the dark times, uplifted by points of light.

The Psalmist said, "Even though I walk through the valley of death, God's strength and presence are a comfort." I notice that the Psalmist did not say that he was mystically transported out of the valley of the shadow of death (a dark place indeed), but that God was present in the darkness and gave the encouragement necessary to emerge from that dark valley. God's promise is not to remove us from the dark places of life, but that He will not leave us alone in those dark places.

On my backpacking trips the darkest, coldest part of the night is right before daybreak. On long runs the hardest, loneliest part of the run is that section just before turning around to head back to the start--to the familiar. Once morning breaks, or the run is completed, those dark, cold, lonely places seem much less daunting than they did in the midst. The key is to persevere until "morning."

Today, may the points of light in the darkness remind you to persevere--morning is coming when the darkness will fade and the light will reign.

Press On!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Slow and Steady

Running outside during our Minnesota winter requires a tortoise-like approach. To run quickly is to invite disaster--or at least falling. It has snowed for 31 out of the last 41 days here, so there is plenty of the white stuff. Nevertheless, my town does a fantastic job of trying to keep enough of our paved paths cleared to give runners safe places to run. Despite the best efforts of the city crews, the past couple of days of light snow left a thin, uncleared layer on this morning's route.

Now I would guess that you are thinking that this will be a tale of slipping and falling, but no. It is a reminder of the small joys of squeaky snow and that sometimes taking your time is a good idea.

At a certain temperature, the snow squeaks underfoot. For some reason that is a comforting sound to me. Almost as enjoyable as the sound of being out in a heavy snowfall with nothing else around. I can actually hear the snow falling and I love the sound! Sure, it was 12 degrees out and I was starting to lose sensation in my cheeks and I could feel the icicles starting to form on my eye lashes, but the snow was squeaking. O, for the simple joys of winter.

Conditions like this morning also call for a pace reduction. It is simply reckless to try to keep a fast pace on snow-covered paths. Especially when you don't know what is underneath. Bottom line, this is not a season for PRs and for tempo runs. It is a season for logging enough miles to be able to stay reasonably fit for when the snow melts and it is not dark in the mornings. And it is OK for this season to be like that.

For more than 20 years my life has been governed by the seasons of my kids' school year. But now that season is passing and the seasons will be governed by something else. It is not bad, just different. I suppose that I could try to force keeping with the school year schedule for life, but why? Why not embrace something new and different? My time off no longer needs to fall in certain windows. A trip to here or there doesn't need to account for homework or school sports schedules. It means finding a new routine, but I am looking forward to embracing that.

One part of this year's new adventure is to engage in "The Radical Experiment". David Platt wrote Radical, a book that is upsetting my apple cart. Part of the Radical Experiment is to read through the entire Bible in a year and to pray around the entire world in a year. So far, so good (today is the Czech Republic). Tackling a project like this that spans the entire year cannot be a sprint. It must be like a winter run--slow and steady. But so very worth the effort!

Pressing On!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Skywarden at the Fine Line

Last night I went to see Paul's (son-in-law) band play at the Fine Line in Minneapolis. (A sample clip is at They were the second band of four for the evening and it was quite the experience. At 50, it was the first time that I have ever been to a club to hear a band. In addition to Skywarden being musically tight and lyrically vibrant, they looked like they were having great fun doing their thing.

The band before them was made up of three guys from Duluth and they sure had lots of energy. The lead guitarist looked like the bobblehead dog from the back window of your Grandpa's car and the bassist reminded me of Jar Jar Binks. But they too were loving being on stage.

When I first heard about the event, I wanted to go to support Paul and the band, but I had never been to that kind of gig before. I wasn't sure what to expect or who else might be there. It sounded foreign to me. Then Hannah and Kelsey told me that they would be there, so I felt like someone could give me some guidance. I am sure that the venue and the event was old hat to Blue River Band and Skywarden, but it felt new and unsettling to me.

On the drive home it occurred to me that going on that first run or going to a new church (or church at all) might feel the same to someone else. Running feels like second nature to me now. I know what to expect from running outside or indoors. I know what to wear and how to breathe. I know what to expect that I will feel like and I am pretty confident that I have my running etiquette down pat. (For example, spit away from your running buddies--and not into the wind). I also know what to expect from church. How to dress. What will happen. The singing and the praying do not freak me out and I know my way around the Bible.

Yet, I fear that I often mistakenly assume that just because I am familiar with running and church-going, that everyone else must be as well. Even if it is a short, no-sweat run, to someone who is new, it may be a daunting challenge. To a person who hasn't darkened the door of a church in years, or decades, going back--even to the friendliest of places--may be an insurmountable hurdle.

But I want people I know and care about to experience the joy and fulfillment that come from faith (first and foremost) and running. I cannot just tell myself that they might be uncomfortable, so don't even invite. But I can do what Hannah and Kelsey did for me. I can say, "Let's go together." Or "I'll be there too." Not needing to go alone may make all of the difference in the world.

The other thing that I realized was that he bands at the Fine Line last night were primarily there because they love their music, not because of the big crowds. Now there were plenty of people there for a Tuesday night, but it was Tuesday night. Blue River Band and Skywarden sounded very different, but they each appeared to be finding great joy in simply being able to play.

Same can be true for running and faith. I am a solitary runner. 95% of the time I run by myself. And when I run with a buddy or in a race, I really don't need to impress anyone but me. My faith journey is much the same. It is not about what someone else thinks about how I sing or pray or what I know about the Bible. It is about my connection with God and His call for me to take the gospel to the whole world. And if I am the only one, then so be it.

So keep at it Skywarden--you guys rock!

Pressing On,