What I Dream About When I Dream About Running

Friends… I’m low on hope today.

I’m still pretty sick about Newtown. And while I’m glad for developments like Sen. Bob Casey’s change of heart on increased gun regulation, and I wish Vice President Biden the best, I have little hope that meaningful change will happen. The NRA bills itself as an organization that’s all about the rights of individual gun owners, but it is increasingly funded by and cozy with the gazillion-dollar gun industry. I don’t care how many earnest Facebook updates we write. It’s about money and it’s about clout.

I sent some money to Gabby Giffords, but still… I’m low on hope.

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I woke up on this mid-January morning to discover that after three days of unnerving fog, we will now have three days of rain and ominously mild temperatures.

We have not had meaningful snow in three winters. Our normal average is 15 inches.

This is not the climate I moved into almost ten years ago. Yes… things have noticeably changed in less than a decade. Meanwhile, 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded.

Again, I don’t have much hope that our leaders will do anything to combat climate change… despite this:

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It just feels stacked against us, you know? We face difficult problems, and big debates need to happen. I may be wrong about stuff. I need to be called on things. But I don’t like the feeling that might equals right and that the ones with the money call the shots. Yet that’s what we’re dealing with.

Is it a marketplace of ideas? OK fine, it’s a marketplace. And some ideas are crackpot, and some are well-intentioned but based on bad data, and some are good but need some work. The problem is, there is no correlation between the validity of an idea and the amount of money behind it.

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What do you listen to during your morning run when you’re convinced the world is screwed? You listen to Krista Tippett. Krista will make it OK.

Boy howdy:

January 10, 2013

Compassion’s Edge States: Roshi Joan Halifax on Caring Better

 It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the bad news and horrific pictures in the world. This is a form of empathy, Joan Halifax says, that works against us. The Zen abbot and medical anthropologist has bracing, nourishing thoughts on finding buoyancy rather than burnout in how we work, live, and care.

Touché, Holy Spirit. Touché.

I will include the pertinent bit at the end of this post, because maybe you’re feeling low on hope too.

The other part is that I had a dream last night that I was running a half marathon. But it was a ridiculous one. We were running up and down the ramps of a parking garage, again and again, for 13.1 miles. There were no water stations. It was too crowded. Some of the inclines were so steep I had to use my hands to hoist myself along.

I woke up irritated and griped to Robert about this blatant anxiety dream. But then while I was running with Krista and Joan in my ears, I realized something.

I didn’t stop running.

No wait—I did stop. I had a hissy fit because this wasn’t what I expected and it shouldn’t be this way and who’s the idiot in charge and I didn’t even SIGN UP for this stupid race!!!

But then I started running again. And I didn’t reach the end before I woke up. But I knew I was capable of keeping going. And it was enough just to know that. That’s enough hope for today.

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Here’s the bit from the On Being show:

Ms. Tippett: And, you know, what I was thinking as I was reading this is it touches on something that’s happening even also to us as citizens to a different degree. It’s come up here at Chautauqua this week. Compassionate people are overwhelmed now with the deluge of terrible news. The pictures are too present and too vivid, you know, the news cycle is too relentless. I see pictures of children in faraway places that wreck me for a day, right? So the question that’s in this room and I think is out there in the world and in this country right now is how do we find the courage? How do we heal enough? How do we be present to that and not be overwhelmed by it?

Ms. Halifax: Well, I think this is one of the reasons why I identified these edge states because, when you realize — and the issue that you were bringing up, for example, about violence toward children, whether subtle or direct, and also that we are subjected to these images through our media, bombarded, is, I think, a more accurate statement. So we enter into what we would call a state of moral distress and futility. And the moral distress is something that where we see that something else needs to happen.

Children need to be protected, we have to stop rape and violence toward women in the Congo, and we feel this profound moral conflict. And yet we can’t do anything about it and we enter into a state either of moral outrage or we go into states of avoidance through addictive behaviors where we just, you know, don’t want to deal with it or we just go into another state of withdrawal, a kind of numbness, or …

Ms. Tippett: Tune out, right?

Ms. Halifax: Into freeze. And I think a lot of this world that is hooked up in the media right now, that a good part of the globe is going numb. And I don’t really agree, Krista, with the term “compassion fatigue.” I think what we’re seeing actually is not compassion fatigue, but empathic distress where there’s a resonance, but we’re not able to stabilize ourselves when we’re exposed to this kind of suffering. When we are more stabilized then we can face the world with more buoyancy, we have more resilience. You know, we’ve got more capacity to actually address these very profound social and environmental issues. So that’s why I call these things edge states because they really call us to our edge.

Ms. Tippett: I remember talking once to Ingrid Jordt who’s been a student and a practitioner in the Burmese Buddhist tradition. She talked about a teacher of hers who had also been a teacher to Aung San Suu Kyi who talked about how the great virtues have near enemies. Do you know this teaching?

Ms. Halifax: Oh, yeah.

Ms. Tippett: And that a near enemy to compassion is sorrow and that’s that sorrow, that’s me getting wrecked by the picture of the child in the newspaper so that I can’t actually help them.

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Friday Link Love: Waves, High-School Heroes, and Embracing Limitations

Huzzah!

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Wave Photographs by Kenji Croman — Colossal

Obligatory Colossal Link:

Many more at the link…

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Cross Country Runner Saves Life, Finishes Race — KnoxNews

The young man is a trained lifeguard. He came upon a fellow runner in medical distress and stopped to help:

In the midst of this, a woman named Jessica Chandler ran up. She’s the mother of another Germantown runner and had known the fallen runner for years.

“Honestly, I was in shock,” she said. “But this guy was taking complete control. He was like, ‘You — call 911. You — go get some ice.’ He turned him on his side. I thought he was a parent or an EMT.”

At this point, the victim was shaking, his body seizing again and again.

“This is normal,” said Goldstein. “I’ve seen this before.”

Note: Goldstein had actually never seen this before. But he didn’t see the point in panicking. He was calm, reassuring everyone involved.

Many parables of non-anxious leadership in that bolded statement.

If you ask him, Goldstein will tell you it’s the slowest race he’s ever run. It’s also his personal best.

Amen.

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Religion, Science and Easy Answers — NPR

Everyone knows that cell-phones work because of radio waves. Sure it’s complicated and, in general, few of us really get it. But we all know that cellphones work because the natural world is built in simultaneously subtle and complicated ways.

What is remarkable about the fundamentalist perspective, however, is an unwillingness to see spiritual life in the same light. Instead of seeing subtlety and complication that require a lifetime of intense dedicated effort — a genuine personal investigation of the world — to understand, everything is reduced to magic-marker outlines with unwavering, absolute answers….

While writing on science and religion, however, I have met lots of really amazing folks who are quite serious about their spiritual lives. They have come from a diversity of faith backgrounds: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and more. Some of these people were highly educated, some where not. What struck an atheist like me about these folks was their dedication to the investigation.

Fighting back with nuance in a sloganeering world…

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Why Women Should Stop Trying to Be Perfect — Newsweek

Yes, yes, yes. A worthy follow-up to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent tour de force, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Debora Spar writes:

So what, then, are we to do? One possibility, of course, is simply to give up; to acknowledge women’s destinies as something different from men’s and stop complaining about it. This, however, hardly seems fair, either to the generations who fought so hard for women’s freedoms, or to those who have not yet had the opportunity to give these freedoms a try. A second possibility, trumpeted most recently in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter in her examination of why women still can’t have it all, is to keep fighting the proverbial fights—for better day care, better family leaves, more flex time at work and co-parenting at home. These are all important goals. Yet they will never be sufficient to address the underlying issues.

This is because many of the problems that plague women now are not due to either government policy or overt discrimination. They cannot be resolved solely by money and they are not caused only by men. Instead, the problems we face are subtler. They come partly from the media, partly from society, partly from biology, and partly from our own vastly unrealistic expectations. To address them, we must go beyond either policy solutions or anger with the patriarchy. We must instead forge partnerships with those around us, and begin to dismantle the myth of solitary perfection.

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The Tricky Art of the Children’s Sermon — United Methodist Reporter

A good point/counterpoint on the efficacy of children’s sermons in worship. Most forward-thinking pastors I know have already done away with them or would dearly like to. I get the impulse. But I still do them. I try to avoid interactive questions that set kids up to be entertaining*. My approach is to tell the biblical story so that they’re ready to go upstairs to the Upper Room for the remainder of worship, or to Sunday School, where they engage the story they just read. It’s a way of setting up the rest of the morning’s experience for them.

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Videos on the Creative Process — 99U

What a treasure trove of wisdom. I’ve watched a few of the shorter ones, and others I’ve seen before, but I might make it a goal to watch the others during my time away for CREDO. I leave in a week and will spend a few days with my BFF before it starts. Squee.

Here’s a specific vid I liked, about the importance of constraints in fostering creativity:

I’ve had two different people recently ask me to help them think about the process of writing a book. One of their concerns is how to get it done with everything else going on in life. I’ve tried to explain how that busyness can benefit them. Assuming you have enough motivation to start, of course–if you’re lukewarm about doing it, the rest of life will conspire against you. But if you just have to write that book, you will find a way. And the limitations will help you. At the end of the process you will have an imperfect thing on paper, rather than a perfect thing in your brain and nowhere else.

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*My favorite children’s sermon story: I was talking about Jesus’ parable of the yeast and I’d brought some yeast from home. I showed it to the kids and said, “What is yeast used to make?” One of them piped up, “BEER!”

Yes, that was my child.

Friday Link Love

Trumpet Fanfare and Away We Go!

40 of the Most Powerful Photos Ever Taken — Buzzfeed

A big hit on Facebook this week:

Christians protect Muslims during prayer in the midst of the uprisings in Cairo, Egypt, in 2011.

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The Gospel of Stephen King — CNN

Who knew?

“People tend to think that Stephen King is anti-religious because he is a horror writer, but that’s completely mistaken,” says Zahl, a retired Episcopal priest who has written about King’s religious sensibility for Christianity Today magazine. “Several of his books are parables of grace in action.”

There is an actual body of literature devoted to King’s religious sensibility. Several pastors and authors say King displays a sophisticated grasp of theology in his books, and his stories are stuffed with biblical references and story lines taken straight from the Bible.

“If God brought lawsuits, Stephen King would face a charge of plagiarism,” says J.M. Rawbone, an English horror novelist who has written an essay about the Christian themes in “The Stand.”

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Time Flows Uphill for Remote Papua New Guinea Tribe — New Scientist

I adore this kind of stuff:

Núñez and his colleagues noticed that the tribespeople made spontaneous gestures when speaking about the past, present and future. They filmed and analysed the gestures and found that for the Yupno the past is always downhill, in the direction of the mouth of the local river. The future, meanwhile, is towards the river’s source, which lies uphill from Gua.

This was true regardless of the direction they were facing. For instance, if they were facing downhill when talking about the future, a person would gesture backwards up the slope. But when they turned around to face uphill, they pointed forwards.

The future is heavenward. That’ll preach.

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Modern Faith: Paying Paul His Due — The Daily

In “Paul Among the People,” Sarah Ruden, a classical translator and scholar, uses ancient sources to look at Paul as he would have been seen in his own time and context. She finds him to be neither the scourge of homosexuality nor the rigid puritan that today’s social right and left have seen in him. By the standards of his day, Paul was a progressive social reformer.

Oh no she DI-INT!!!!

“Rather than repressing women, slaves or homosexuals, he made — for his time — progressive rules for the inclusion of all of them in the Christian community,” writes Ruden. Ironically, the passages where Paul often seems most intolerant to modern readers are precisely the ones where he was trying hardest to reduce the appalling brutality of the Roman world he knew.

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All Men Can’t Jump — Slate

Subtitle–Why nearly every sport except long-distance running is fundamentally absurd:

Hear me out, sports fans—I’m a basketball nut myself, and so the joke is as much on me as anyone. To see where I’m coming from, you can’t do better than examining basketball’s most physically talented player, Michael Jordan. He was hailed as nearly repealing the law of gravity, and during his prime he made rival players look as if they were moving in slow motion. But Air Jordan wasn’t in the same league as a house cat when it comes to leaping. Consider how casually young cats can jump up onto refrigerators. To match that, a man would have to do a standing jump right over the backboard. And a top-notch Frisbee dog corkscrewing through the air eight feet up to snag a whizzing disc makes Jordan look decidedly human when it comes to the fantastic quickness, agility, strength, and ballistic precision various animals are endowed with.

There’s no denying it—our kind started substituting brains for brawn long ago, and it shows: We can’t begin to compete with animals when it comes to the raw ingredients of athletic prowess. Yet being the absurdly self-enthralled species we are, we crowd into arenas and stadiums to marvel at our pathetic physical abilities as if they were something special. But there is one exception to our general paltriness: We’re the right honorable kings and queens of the planet when it comes to long-distance running.

As a fledgling runner, this was an entertaining read. I used the M word in public for the first time this week, and a friend responded, “If God had intended for us to run that far…” Turns out… God did.

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And finally, Electionate.com

Any political junkies out there? This site is destined to be the 538 of the 2012 election. Mark my words.

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Peace be with you.

On (Not) Being a Runner

This is a re-post from several months ago on the RunRevRun website. It’s been on my mind lately, because my thinking is shifting on this topic. Being and doing, doing and being…

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I began the Couch to 5K program a few months ago. I wasn’t exactly starting from “couch”—I’ve been doing brisk walking several times a week for more than a year—and my fitness goal is not really to run a 5K, but to hike Mount Washington in New Hampshire this summer. I’ve hiked big mountains before, in various states of fitness, but it’s so much more enjoyable when you’re not wheezing your way up and stopping every ten yards to massage your charley horses. And since there’s no “couch to Mt. Washington” program, Couch to 5K is getting the job done.

Although I started this program to get myself up the mountain, I can see myself continuing it indefinitely, maybe even graduating to the 10k version. I’ve been an evangelist for this program on Twitter, Facebook and in real life. I’m grateful for the impact it’s had on my health and want to share it, but there’s also a selfish motive: I’m telling people far and wide to keep me accountable to continue. Along the way I have been very insistent with folks: “I run, but I’m not a runner.” This has been an oft-repeated refrain:

Oh, MaryAnn’s a runner now.
Actually, no I’m not.
But aren’t you in this running program?
Yes. But I’m not a runner.

What’s that about?

Why am I so reluctant to call myself a runner?

First off, I wonder what it means to be a runner. What exactly is a runner? Isn’t it simply “one who runs”? I think I have an image in my mind of a perfectly toned body, or a person obsessed with getting the right shoes, entering races, and reading Runner’s World, a magazine I wouldn’t even know existed were it not for the cover photo of Sarah Palin that emerged during the 2008 presidential election. I’m not really interested in running as a hobby. But is that really what it means to be a runner? Or is that just stereotypical stuff that’s not real?

Maybe I feel like I haven’t been doing it long enough to claim the identity of runner. I’m OK with the verb form—I run—but not with the noun—runner.

Am I giving myself an easy out by being Not a Runner? We are stuck with so many identities that we can’t shed in this life. I will be the daughter of my parents and the mother of my children forever. Maybe I resist calling myself a runner because I need to be free to have something in my life that I can quit without angst. Or that I can do badly. Intermittently.

Maybe I’m reluctant to call myself a runner because I’m playing old tapes about myself that aren’t helpful anymore. I was the slow kid on the softball team, the one the coach (my dad) would position at second base. It was a good fit for me because I had decent eye-hand coordination but couldn’t run very long without tiring. The best hit of my life would’ve been a home run with anyone else rounding the bases, but instead I was tagged out at home. By my best friend.

So, no. Not a runner.

My teams in school were theater/speech and Academic Decathlon.

But maybe that kind of baggage isn’t healthy. Over the last nine weeks I’ve been getting faster (slightly) and stronger (definitely). My endurance is increasing. Our bodies are for much more than brain housing and transport. Our bodies are built to dance, kneel, eat, love. Some of our bodies are built to grow other bodies and to push them out into the world. I get that in ways I didn’t understand when I was a kid.

As a pastor, I wonder about all this. I sometimes meet people who want to find a new term for “Christian.” They feel that the “brand” is fundamentally corrupted by people they see as judgmental, rancorous, loudmouthed. I’m not sure I agree that the word is irredeemable, but I sympathize with their struggle to find a label that fits.

I also know plenty of people who don’t identify themselves as Christian but whose behavior sure looks Christ-like to me. And I know Christians who are Christians in name only. I like it when people say they are seeking to follow in the way of Jesus. I can relate; it sounds like “I run but I’m not a runner.” And yet, belonging to Christ isn’t just what we do. It’s who we are; it is an identity.

I don’t know where all of these questions will lead me. Maybe someday I will consider myself a runner. Maybe I will continue to run and never take on that label. Maybe I will stop running and move on to some other physical activity. I expect that whatever I do, it will be in that strange space where action and identity intersect, where doing and being reside together.

Meanwhile, I pound the pavement.

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Image: Map of the 10K I ran last weekend. Funny, it looks a lot flatter on paper.

Trusting the Internal Ding

I finished the Couch to 5K program about six weeks ago, while I was at Preacher Camp. I don’t mind telling you that once I reached that milestone, I floundered for a while. I also got sick, which threw me off my game that week and next.

It’s been slow to get back into it.

People suggested, “Sign up for a 5K, that’ll motivate you!” For some reason that didn’t hold much interest. (Maybe it was the infernal heat we were having at the time. Find me a 5K that runs in an air conditioned arena on treadmills and I’m SO there.)

Besides, I already have a goal, and it’s this:

Mt. Washington. New Hampshire. July 2011. 3800-foot elevation change during the hike.

One of the things I loved about C25K was that it told me exactly what to do each day. I’m pretty clueless about running, so it was nice to have an expert right there in my iPhone, ordering me around.

DING! “Run.”

DING! “Walk.”

DING! “Cool down.”

Once you’ve graduated C25K, the app says, “Now you can go on a 30 minute run whenever you want!” Which is fine, except I never want. So, the last few weeks I’ve been running some of my favorite days in the program: Week 6 Day 2, Week 7 Day 1. At least I’m doing something, I reasoned, but it felt like a copout. These are all much easier than a 30 minute run.

Today I ran Week 6 Day 1, which is “run 5, walk 3, run 8, walk 3, run 5.” And I realized: Of course! I can work on increasing my speed! I achieved the 30 minute goal; now I can work on other goals that I set for myself.

It’s one of my classic “aha/duh” moments, but it also marks a milestone—I feel comfortable enough with my skill level that I don’t need a program to tell me what to do. I can trust my internal sense of what I need and want to do.

I’ve always liked the four levels of competency:

incompetent and unaware: you don’t know what you don’t know
incompetent and aware: the most anxious stage, because you know what you don’t know
competent and aware: the most fun stage, when you’re performing well and you know it
competent and unaware: the level of the sage; the skills becomes second nature; you’re out of your own way

I can’t even imagine stage 4 as it relates to running, but I’ve gotten there in other areas of my life. It’s a beautiful stage. A deep and wide place.

Endless Improvement and Other Myths and Idolatries

I recently began the Couch to 5K program. It’s been a great experience, even though I wasn’t exactly starting from Couch—I’ve been walking 3-5 times a week for over a year. I also don’t have much interest in a 5K—I’m climbing Mt. Washington this summer with family, and would like to do so without a) injury, b) wheezing embarrassment, or c) death. But I wasn’t able to find a Couch to Mt. Washington program, so this will have to do.

The c25k app I use makes everything a no-brainer—load your own music onto the app’s playlist, stick in your earbuds, and follow the verbal instructions, delivered in that Kindle text-t0-speech voice: “Warm-up,” “Run,” “Walk,” and my current favorite phrase in the English language, “Cool down.”

The app also includes a journal for jotting down notes, and there are several line graphs where you can view your progress in several areas, including distance traveled, average run pace, and average walk pace.

I wrote last week about Youngstown, Ohio and how they’ve decided to give up on the fundamental assumption of our economy: that a city (or a company, or a church?) should always be growing. I thought about that post again this morning, as I saw my line graph for “distance traveled” dip lower than it’s been since I started c25k four weeks ago. Apparently I’m normally slow as molasses, but today I was slower than peanut butter.

I felt pretty discouraged that I was losing ground on distance, and therefore on run and walk pace. After four weeks of seeing the line go up and up, or at least stay the same, today was a decent-sized dip, and I was bummed. I am not a born runner, and I began to consider the possibility (nay, likelihood) that I would hit a ceiling and no longer be on an upward trajectory of performance.

I guess I’ve bought into the idea of endless growth and improvement more than I’d thought.

On the other hand, this week’s program represents a major jump in ratio of running to walking. The 32-minute workout includes 16 minutes of running, in 2.5 and 5 minute increments. By contrast, last week’s workout involved only 9 minutes of running, with increments no longer than 3 minutes. It makes sense—in my quest for endurance, I slowed down considerably. It will probably take me a while to get back to where I was… and heck, maybe I never will! And I’ve decided to be OK with that.

This is harder than you might think.

Can I get an Amen?

I remembered receiving Caroline’s last report card. Caroline is a bright child, about whom I worry very little. The report card had nothing to worry about, really. Intellectually, I knew this. But I felt that expectation of endless growth and improvement heavy in the pit of my stomach when I saw that she had stayed the same or improved in every category except for one. She had slipped… in writing.

Way to hit me where it hurts, universe…

After sending a message to her teacher later that week to make sure there wasn’t something obvious we could do to encourage her (there was, but her teacher wasn’t worried about her progress), I remembered back to the baby and toddler years with our kids. It was common for them to regress in one area while they were making a developmental leap in another. Their sleep schedule would go to hell; meanwhile they’d bust out with complete sentences. Or they’d get very clumsy and trippy, but suddenly grow by leaps and bounds in terms of emotional intelligence and empathy.

So perhaps Caroline’s writing took a back seat to other developmental changes.

And maybe I run as slow as peanut butter, but I keep going for 16 minutes.

And maybe that’s OK.

Great, even.

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Image: How can you not love that pink stripe? Makes 6 a.m. a lot less dreadful.