Tuesday, September 26, 2017

My Legs and I

Recently I received a link to a video capturing my crossing of the finish line of the recent Akron Marathon in which I ran/walked/stumbled/ambled for 13.1 miles before the race mercifully came to a close at Akron’s Canal Park stadium. I’ll be honest: my first response to receiving that link was anything but excitement. The last thing that I wanted to do was to relive any aspect of that race.

It was my 20th half marathon and my slowest by a long shot. I knew in advance that my time would be bad – the high temperatures predicted for the race would exact their pound of flesh. I knew it would be bad, I knew it would be challenging, but it was much tougher than I thought it would be. The first half was great fun, but by mile 10, I was done. Unfortunately the finish line was still over three miles away.

I often talk to my legs during the latter stages of a long race. “You can do it,” I will say – usually not too loudly. “You’ve done this before many times.” I have a few other things I say as well, but I would rather keep them private. These words almost always help my legs to keep grinding.

This was my legs’ response to my most recent attempts at encouragement: “Just who are you again? O yeah, I remember - that fool who didn’t ask our advice when signing up for this Akron race. You just watch. I can stop running without your permission. I’ll show you who is in charge.”

And sure enough – despite my fantastic motivational talk – my legs stopped running (or whatever you could say I was doing at that time) and began to walk. I realized that I didn’t have a whole lot of say in the matter. I could not will them to go any faster. Haven’t we all had parts of our body independently make choices for the whole group? It is often a knee or a back or it could be a stomach or a bladder. We can be made to feel like we are just along for the ride rather than being the operator of the attraction.

Over those last three miles my legs and I gradually reached an understanding – my legs needed to learn that under no circumstances was I going to quit and that they were coming along with me whether they liked it or not, whether they allowed me to run or to walk or if I had to drag them along like they were attempting a form of civil disobedience.. And I needed to learn from my legs that they were willing to assist me in my ludicrous pursuit of yet one more shiny finisher’s medal as long as I allowed them to dictate the pace and if I used my GPS watch only for personal amusement rather than direction.

Thankfully for both of us, we came to realize that not only was walking just as painful as running, but that it extended the time that we had to put up with each other. So I was able to run more than I walked in those final miles.

Which brings us to that video of the finish line. You won’t see my lips moving – my legs and I had given up talking at that point. But there I am stumbling in with a gait that looks like a old man’s poorly orchestrated attempt to run his 20th half marathon. As I reach that final and definitive “this is the end” black line, my legs stop running one millimeter after I cross it. They had had enough of my baloney, and I had had enough of their rebellion. I got that medal – “Look I am a finisher.” My legs didn’t even look up. I sensed their disgust or was it pity? We had to maneuver a long walk up a hill to get back to the car. I will not repeat what my legs were saying during that time.

When looking at the race results later that day, I was stunned to learn that while 2271 runners finished ahead of me (that was no surprise) 730 people finished behind me. It didn’t make me feel any better, but in most cases I would advise those people to consider a different form of fitness. I was even ahead of about 1/3 of the males in my age group. It might be time for them to turn their attention to Yahtzee before it is too late.

The truth is I respect every runner who finished the course that day – regardless of age or pace. More than one runner failed to reach to Canal Park and others needed medical treatment. Just getting to the finish line was a victory. I salute all who made it.

In the hours following that race, I wondered if I needed to redirect my time to something of more lasting value such as Facebook or my Fantasy Football team. Who needed the pain and humiliation of running anyway? My legs and I didn’t talk for a few days. What could we say?

But yesterday morning – two days after that racing disaster, I turned to my legs and asked: “Hey, you want to run?” “O boy, do I?” they replied. And yes, they were sore and yes, we moved slowly together. But we both loved it. It was like that old man sitting on the stump at the end of the book “The Giving Tree.”  We were both happy.

A few hours later I signed up for half marathon #21. My legs and I have a lot of work to do.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money


“Send lawyers, guns, and money” is a repeating lyric in a late 1970’s song “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” by Warren Zevon. Unfortunately it also seems to describe the current needs of our Regional Church – the Christian Church in Ohio. Not the guns part hopefully, but certainly legal advice, and definitely money.
I know that some of you have received one or another email from the Chair of our Regional Church Council lifting up part of the story. He is among those tasked with steering our Regional Church through some turbulent times, and it won’t be easy.
Few of the details have been shared – whether on the advice of lawyers or out of a sense of propriety - but as best I have been able to discern from my “out of the loop” position as a local church pastor in Akron, Ohio - the past decade or so at our Regional office has been allegedly stained by that age old and yet always popular mixture of the misuse of power and of money with a few other ingredients thrown in that I hesitate to mention.  I don’t share this news lightly but sadly.
I’ll be honest – I have a whole lot of feelings about this situation – sadness, anger, outrage, disbelief, confusion, disappointment, and maybe even a bit of fear. Though not a member of any Regional Council or Committee, I wonder if I could have done anything to prevent it. I am still working through my emotions and my possible culpability. And I know that a lot of other people are sorting through this wreckage as well.
When such a thing happens – and supposedly occurs not once but for years – it speaks to more than one person behaving badly. It indicates that an entire system has failed to prevent such abuse. It also suggests to me that the cleanup from this situation involves a much more extensive remedy than a single staff member moving on.
I am reminded of the flooding that occurred in the town where I live in the summer of 2003. As a result of historic amounts of rainfall, torrents of nasty water containing some very bad things flooded many residents’ basements not once but twice. I remember people’s ruined carpets and other possessions piled high on the devil strip, and I also recall scrubbing our basement with bleach to try to remove the germs and the odor. But we had it easy – two local men, one a teenager, were killed by rising floodwaters. None of us felt truly safe until the city redesigned the sewage and storm drain systems to reroute the water if it ever came at that intensity. Yet even now when heavy rains come, we check the basement just in case.
I have the feeling that a thorough scrubbing is needed for our Regional Church – maybe more than once. And a redesign of our structure is needed as well so that such a thing doesn’t happen again. Yet even after a new system, I think we’ll need to check in from time to time just in case.
What does all this mean to us at the New Horizons Christian Church?
For one thing, it should serve as a reminder for us to be as open and transparent as we can possibly be especially in matters related to finances as well as other significant decision-making opportunities. Some of my colleagues in ministry have been surprised to learn that we publicly post our local church operating budget including salaries. I think that people have a right to know how their offerings are spent.
As far as our relationship with the Regional Church is concerned, our denominational structure is not a top-down system in which our Regional or General church leaders give us orders. Disciples of Christ have always been fiercely independent and even a bit suspicious of authority. We participate freely with other churches because we know that together we can create ministries that we cannot do by ourselves. Our Regional ministries to young people and children – especially our ministries at Camp Christian - are the most visible manifestation of our cooperation with other churches in Ohio. It is not yet clear how the troubles at our Regional office will impact our shared ministries, but we have been assured that Camp Christian will be open and running once again this summer.
Ministries of the Christian Church in Ohio have transformed my life. My experiences at Camp Christian helped lead to my call to ministry as well as connected me to Holly. We will celebrate 36 years of marriage in a few months. And our children have also been touched by Camp Christian as have many, many of the young people at the New Horizons Christian Church. For the third year in a row, we’ll be sending a large group to Camp this summer. It would be difficult to overestimate the positive impact that Camp Christian and other Regional programs have had on so many people especially young people.
            I would ask that you keep our Regional Church in your prayers in the coming months. We are all part of the Body of Christ. As Paul wrote centuries ago in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoice with it.” There is no quick fix for what has happened, and it will take time for the restoration of healthy behavior and healthy relationships. It may get worse before it gets better. But I am hoping for some better days ahead – some days of rejoicing ahead - even if it takes some time for those days to come.