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,