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,