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!