Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Preacher Man

PREACHER MAN (written on 12/19/12)
One of my favorite songs begins: The preacher man says it's the end of time. 

I received one of my most cherished gifts today--a t-shirt with "Preacher Man" on the back.

What does it mean to be a Preacher Man? What do I announce from week to week? Good news or just a bunch of downer-drab-millenial raptured hooey? Are they ever the same? Is the good news of the gospel ever that someday the world will end and we had better be ready?

What does it mean on 12/19/12 to say that it's the end of time or at the least Repent, God has come near? Somewhere in these sort of statements is the concept of Advent and Emmanuel. God has come near and things are not as they seem. A great change is upon us. If you are sleeping, wake the hell up and stand at attention.

Do I mean what I think Hank Williams Jr. intended? Should we all run to the gun store to form our own personal militia and defend ourselves? No, I just love the song, A Country Boy Can Survive, even if the lyrics scare me to death. It's true, I'd like to spit some beechnut in that dudes eye, I just don't because I am child of God and obedient to the God of PEACE.
I don't endorse guns as an ongoing response to violence, though I sure do love the concept of self-reliance and personal accountability. For me these come through repentance not retribution. I just am sure that God means for our swords to be draped in ribbons of peace--useless for shedding blood. We must shower one another with the Word of God not bullets, even if it means that we will die in a violent world that absolutely hates, hates, hates PEACE.

Seeking the Word of God

Tom Skeritt plays the role of a Presbyterian Minister in a River Runs Through It, and he and his son, Norman, describes a teaching moment with these gems, a moment when the preacher is teaching his boys about the river, fishing, and all the rest:

Long ago rain fell on mud and became rock. Half a billion years ago. But even before that, beneath the rocks...are the words of God. Listen.

And if Paul and I listened very carefully all our lives...we might hear those words.

Thinking Apocalyptically

Keep in mind I sketched this out four days ago—context is everything. I guess if I were of a Mayan persuasion then I might think the world is ending in two days. Though to the Mayans credit, from what I have been reading, they seemed to know that the beginning of one calendar means the start of something new. This is not lost on me. With destruction comes the birth of something new and vice versa.

I do think, preach, and pray in some particularly apocalyptic flows this time of year where apocalyptic refers to a season of great prophecy and revelation. On the 25th day of December I am persuaded, as many of you are, to celebrate the birth of a KING—a king that never seems to be what the world would expect of a king. He's not the world's kind of king. He's God's kind of king.

Mary gets this apocalyptic perspective, when she sings that her soul is magnified as she belts out in Luke's first chapter. She rejoices, as do I. This King has called out the lowly and said, you who are low down and filthy and of no regard and prostrate and worthy of being stoned according to the law by your new fiancé, I choose you. You get THE KING for your womb. It's the end of time as you know it.

All parents know something apocalyptic comes with child birth. There is a BK and an AK. The choices we make and the reality we experience are apocalyptically, cataclysmically different Before Kids and After Kids. The world is revealed to us in a way, quite frankly, unimaginable previously. We try to prepare the way, but we don’t know what it is going to be like until we are waist deep in it and surviving all our dreams having come true. The world even smells different. And so it was different for Mary.
Whenever I utter such statements about the differences before and after children it seems to be heard with despair like I am announcing the end of the world. NO WAY. It's great news, it is just hard to mask the exhaustion that comes from remembering what happened at the hospital or in Mary and Joseph's case, in what was likely more of a cave or an alley-way than a barn. But wherever He was born, it was low down and humble. Those present and those who came to pay homage would not soon forget what they saw, what they felt, how they cried, and how they sang songs of praise. It is to this point that we re-enact Nativity scenes throughout the course of history trying to catch a glimpse of what they saw, and heard, and smelled and sang.
I remember with the birth of each of my children, I prayed that everyone make it out alive. I bet Joseph prayed first for Mother Mary, as I prayed for Kristen. Even if our motives were selfish, scared out of our skins that we could not raise a baby alone, this is a good prayer, a natural place to begin with the partner he knew best.
Dear Lord, let Mother Mary survive, thrive, and continue on in her journey as mother which she has embraced in a way that I admire, envy, and dare not dream that I could do. Let her labor in a way that brings glory to you and brings her safely on the other side of this most sacred event in all our lives. If someone is to perish so that she can live, I gladly offer my life for hers.

Work: Gift via Sin

The men’s group is reading in Genesis and I have found that all of Genesis, perhaps all of the Bible, point back to Creation and Fall in the first three chapters. We might gloss over Genesis 3:16, but what’s the point, if we listen carefully, we might hear the word of God under the rocks: 

I will greatly increase your pangs, your toil, your work, in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.

Tough stuff. And true for all who have been there. What it means to be human is to work, to toil, and Mary was working hard to bear this child and Joseph was praying hard that everybody make it out alive. Humanity is offered WORK in labor, for food, to communicate, to relate to animals, but all have moments not just of toil and hardship, but of revelatory perfection. Look at Isaiah11:6—and what will happen and is happening as God’s Word comes true in the world. Not only does God's Word show signs of the redemption of our sinful ways, but right when we go astray God makes the necessary concessions so that we can go on as humanity. Work sometimes feels like a heavy burden, but it also a great gift that produces so much bounty. 

Bitter to the Stomach

Even upon survival and thriving life, praise God, it was tough for Joseph and Mary to stomach—to even accept their baby born healthy into the world. It still is. Children cry and we are reminded their life means that some of the time they will suffer and we can’t stop all of it—sometimes we can’t stop any of it. It’s hard to get what you want. As recounted in Chariots of Fire, Harold Abrams finally wins the Olympic gold medal for the 100 meters, and after his triumph cowers into a corner unable to celebrate outwardly with his mates when his goal has been realized. His friend, Lindsey, protects the fragile victor and says to the well-meaning, Aubrey who wants to toast the victor with champagne, Old chap, one day soon, you are going to win, and it is pretty hard to take.

Maybe this is why I have such trouble during the Christmas season. Maybe it's not the light or lack thereof. Maybe it's not the consumerism. I don't have a particular problem with buying stuff and giving it to those whom we love and certainly not in the name of and on behalf of Jesus. Heck, I sell running stuff every day and am proud to do it. I am as consumerist as the next person and these goods and services when rightly ordered and administered are part of God's bounty.

I think every year, I struggle because it's pretty hard to take that year after year, God comes into the world in human form and wrecks my entire life by saving it. He enters the world just like I did in June of 1975 and just like you did in the month and year on the tip of your tongue. Of no particular consequence and without huge headlines, and then on the other hand, so earth shattering, volcano erupting, tsunami breaking that your world and those around you, some of whom might be in this room has never been the same since. God laid down his life right then and there, when you were born, and said to the whole world, all those living in that time and all the times before and after: 

I come calling whenever any, ANY, of you are in need. I'm your parent, your sister, your brother, your best friend. I will defend you when no one else even cares or knows your hurts. You and I are fused together inseparably from now on and you will GIVE GLORY TO ME IN THE HIGHEST. All of your mountains are made low, and I've raised up the low places, and I've cut a river through the city and the tree that grows on its banks is watered perpetually.

Zechariah screams it from the mountaintop after his silence is broken, after his son is born, John, a preacher among preachers, the one who will show the way: 

the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

And it's pretty hard to take.

One of my deepest Christmas memories is as a teenager, 16 or 17 years old and my family was leaving one church and finding another. We had been to the downtown church for Christmas Eve services, probably at 7:00pm, but I yearned for more, so I went alone to the midnight service at First Presbyterian Church of Maitland, Florida. In truth, it was a nothing special sort of church. Looking back, the preaching was not that great by homiletic standards, but that’s never stopped God from getting it done. The budget struggled. The place smelled musty and looked totally Florida, circa 1960, though it was 25 years later. Not much majestic and awesome and refined and godly was there. It was kind of like Bethlehem, I guess. I was baptized there in what I didn’t think was all that great of an event probably three years earlier, but what did I know. That day among other days had saved my life.
I left the church in silence, with Silent Night on my heart and lips and I felt melancholy, kind of a pseudo-depression, not really despair, but just overwhelmed by the enormity of what was real in my life and in the life of those who claim the name of Jesus. I quaked like the shepherds that the chosen one of Israel has come into the world as one of us and I have no idea how to share this with others. It is so big, so awesome, so great, so earth-shattering. How will I give my life to him who has given up the very right hand of God to see me through all of my trials and tribulations? How will he ever know just how much I love him? I am paralyzed by the work at hand. I don’t know where to begin. And strangely, beyond even the word IRONIC, this is how I define PEACE. It’s not sedentary contentment, no, it’s knowing that your whole life depends on a journey that you did not exactly chose, and you do not exactly know how to navigate. And that’s IT—that’s PEACE. The faithfulness that comes through absolute depence on a God who loves you and promises to show you the way in the dark.

I always feel guilty when I feel heavy hearted this time of year, but it’s like leaving Durham Regional, when Jesus is born and all my dreams come true, and I have a savior, a redeemer, a God who is in my camp when the world does not know my heart—well, it’s pretty hard to take.

If you are filled with outward jubilation then praise God and sing it from the mountaintop and souls like me will catch your exuberance by the tail in our other-liness. And try to be easy on us. Don’t say we hate Christmas. That’s too flat a read of how we feel. We may seem burdened by the season, but just be patient with us, and let us celebrate in our own odd way. If you are like me, and perhaps I am a gross minority, but I know there are kindred spirit out there. If you are like me and it’s pretty hard to take that God has come near and made all our dreams come true, forgive yourself, go away from here silently, and wait upon the Lord, who time after time, day after day, year after year, will show you the way.

Scott’s right with what he put on the back of my shirt. I am a Preacher Man. And the path to preaching was not made plain for me in moments of athletic triumph, or a funny joke or having the upper hand in a debate. As extroverted as I might seem and in some ways truly am, I was set apart for this work more in the quiet nothing special worship at a Bethlehem-like church, a no-where sort of crossroads, where all of God’s work for the world is realized. Look for the nothing and the nowhere in your own life and don’t be surprised when God shows up and changes everything. As Mary says for her, and this day, for me, the mighty one has done great things to me, and holy is his name.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Grey December

from my kitchen table
threatening rain
it is a December morn
feels like soup
like snow might fall
like influenza and bronchitis and pneumonia are all around
and winning
feels like blankets
and sedentariness
a hibernating flow
but that’s only justifiable for bears

But don’t tell the birds
they are everywhere
all over our backyard
they perch
on bluebird house, of course
they may not nest this month, but they still seek the throne of power

and they rest on zip-line

it is steady and calm while children are off to learn

and they peck near frozen bunnies
it’s not that cold
but hares’ stone veneer won’t budge
without a miracle of a Medusa sort

and now, abruptly, the yard is without fowl
just when I am stirring to a second wind
I have no idea why they’ve departed
who knew birds could punctuate

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Everyone I know is Ridiculous...: The Quotable Runner

Everyone I know is Ridiculous...: The Quotable Runner: “If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.” ~Emil Zatopek “In running, it doesn...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Setting Realistic Goals

It's 46 days until Club Nats and I feel like some realistic goal setting is in order.  Training is going great this week, but the last 20 days were kind of a confidence downer as I've been fighting a nasty viral (maybe even bacterial) infection that has lingered as congestion in my chest.  But I'm pulling through despite one race effort that was a good bit slower than I had hoped based on my workouts and left me thoroughly dehydrated by all the not-fun means.

So now I want to look at some data from this fall compared to a year ago.  Best analysis is at the vdot calculator which can successfully predict race outcomes based on performances at other distances.  Here's my simple algebra equation.  Last year I ran 4:52 at the Magnificent Mile and then 34:30 at Club Nats.  Vdot predicts 34:45, but that just about accounts for improved fitness from September (Mag Mile) to December (Club Nats).  This year I ran 4:40 at the Magnificent Mile and that would put me at 33:23 based on Vdot.  Little improved fitness and we are looking at somewhere right around 33:00.  I would take that.

Over the next 46 days I will race another 5K (hope to get in under 16:00).
I will race an 8K on Thanksgiving (hope to get near 26 minutes).

My mileage will creep up to 100 miles in a week over the next three weeks and then I will probably plateau at about 75 miles right through December 8 with a lot of workouts and a lot of miles on the faster side.

I've noticed this fall that a lot more of my regular runs are between 6:00 and 6:45.  I think my tempo pace over the last two years has moved from 6:00 to about 5:40.

I feel good and very healthy.  A lot of runs that I expect to be pretty painful and slow are starting to come easy and I want to run longer and faster.  This is when training is really fun.  The aches and pains in my legs are getting better with more volume and more quality work as opposed to the summer when I felt tight and dehydrated much of the time even though I wasn't running nearly as much.  I'm having fun.

It might be time to read OAR again.  Just because I can.  Then top it off with Again to Carthage.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Thankful to Yellowdawg/Randy Young for including me in his article

excerpt from:
Running has never been more popular, and trail running is certainly drawing huge converts as more and more people trade in pavement for pines.But some feel the sudden spike in numbers and ability has come with a cost: indifference to etiquette.
Road runner and trail enthusiast Terry Kern said she and fellow runner Julie Keane have noticed that fewer runners offer up gratuitous greetings.

Read more

yellowdawg was kind enough to include this photo of me in his article. p.s. the shot was taken at the eno river trails and you can run in an inaugural race there, right on up and over Cox Mountain, on October 27.  Register here.

Inspired by Ruby Bost

On p. 38 of "Resurrecting Ruby" you can find "Writing Prompts are Every Where," and Ruby writes of a box of baking soda and titles the poem, "Untitled." Buy the book and read the rest. She invites readers: ON YOUR MARK, GET SET, WRITE! Here is my response from last week staring my mug in the face and writing at her prompt:

Title: Unlimited

Caked with stains of old
but all the same
dried, melti
ng, corroding, refreshing
the mug stands tall
announcing 2012

You bring me back and back and back again
to George, and officers, Alex and Jeff
to all the other starters
of mornings
in DRM

Let them all be blessed

This coffee pulses and stirs within me a blessing,
a prayer for the day.
Rich, bitter, sweet, dark, Columbian--a life together
this joe and I
Blessed and Faithful

Thursday, October 11, 2012

One of my running secrets

First, I just had a great six mile run and boy, did I need it.  I've been fighting a cold/sinus infection for about five or six days.  I arrogantly talk flippantly about how I never get sick anymore.  This week has taught me to learn some humility and remember the frailty of my immune system.  I've felt lousy all week and of course on my first day off from Bull City in six days, when the body finally had the chance to rest, I felt perhaps the worst.

I'm stressed because I have a 5K on Saturday and I have pretty high hopes for putting up a good mid-season mark and this has not been a great confidence building week.  It's amazing how fast confidence in my fitness can slip away as if I had never run before.  So far this fall I've improved on all four of my races which I raced last year.  I've run the mile in 4:40 which is a gear these legs have never seen.  Then one measly little cold and I wonder if I should hang up the spikes, flats, trainers and burn all my running gear.  It's pathetic.  The mind requires so much stroking of it's fragile ego that the legs, lungs, and heart could care less about.  The engine parts don't care about a few easy days.  In fact, they probably were due an easy week.  Last week I ran nine times in seven days, had two awesome speed workouts of 10 x 1,000 meters and 12 x 500 meters and ended the week with an 18 miler.  It's like I can't even remember all the good work that happened so long ago.  We are talking five days ago.  Shameful.

Until this afternoon and the script was flipped just in time.  Kristen got home at 5:45pm and I was ready to sneak out for a twilight run.  I expected so little, thinking it would be another failed attempt to run and feel good, loose, free.  I didn't wear a watch, but I knew I had to shake out the legs with the hopes that I might still run on Saturday.  I rolled along for six miles up MLK and looped around Bojangles and it must have been around six minute pace.

Here's the little training secret.  I sought grass wherever I could find it.

I used to think you would only do this if you were injured and needed to take it easy on the grass.  I was even annoyed by a training partner who used to employ this technique on the same grass, but of course, he gave me the idea and now I am thanking him.  I used to think, if the sidewalk is there why not run on the thing and give the legs a little pop.  But I've learned that real power, flexibility, and just great XC (Cross Country) training comes from taking an urban run and finding every inch of grass.  It builds power.  It forces the technique issue.  If you don't lean forward and clean up the arm and shoulder action you just kind of bounce around and almost roll your ankles in the grass.  When you get into a powerful forward lean on the grass it doesn't matter if you hit a hole or a mound or a little uneven divot.  You are already toeing off powerfully and into the next stride.  It's not the fastest way down a stretch of land that offers concrete, asphalt, and grass, but the green stuff is the best for training.  It just takes a little discipline in terms of terrain choice, and this is a good mental exercise for the disciplines needed all throughout the runner's life.

It was a great run.  I don't really know if I was rolling six minute miles or not.  I don't really know if I can roll low five minute miles on Saturday.  But instead of staying holed up on the couch, depressed and more anxious about Saturday morning, I had a great Thursday afternoon run on a perfect October day.  And to rip off Frost, that has made all the difference.

P.S. I actually really like this video on running uphill.  Check it out.  The Bull City Track Club will be doing a great hill workout next Wednesday!