Thursday, April 16, 2015

Training Day II

I've been hesitant to write about my spiritual journey on this blog.  The original purpose of this blog was to collect people from different political, religious, and geographical backgrounds and discuss the great issues of our day, sprinkled with our literary attempts at greatness.  I have primarily been very open about some of the things I have been learning about myself emotionally but I usually refrain from presenting that understanding from the spiritual lens through which I see the world.

I wrote earlier about my struggle with finishing tasks and how Training for the Cleveland Marathon has forced some of those underlying identifying factors in my life to come to the surface and be confronted.  I wrote about the physical and emotional side of my being in that post but the biggest impact it has had recently is on the spiritual side and I wanted to talk about that as well.

G.K. Chesterton wrote that, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult and not tried at all."  The past few years of my life have really embedded a similar understanding in me as well.  Hypocrisy and a lack of taking the teachings of Jesus seriously feel to me to be so rampant that I grew very critical of organized christianity.  The awkward side-effect of being critical about hypocrisy is that if one has any level of intellectual fairness and introspection then one must examine one's own hypocrisy and make certain changes to one's life when and where it is discovered.

I began working on a book in India that was going to go through the teachings of Jesus through the gospels and start to ask questions about how and if we were living those teachings out.  One of the common themes of the gospels is found in John 14:15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."  If we, as people who claim to be followers of Jesus, are not obeying him then we are not really followers at all.  I stopped that project because I realized that if taken in a different spirit then I was intending it, and the spirit in which most "religious" texts tend to be read, then it would by a handbook for legalism and open the door to a whole new level of hypocrisy of those who read it.  Which is obviously not what I want.

But if we are to be disciples of Jesus, ones who discipline themselves to follow him in his teachings and his way of life, then we must know what he said and obey it.  I'm not going to try here to make the argument of "what is a REAL Christian" and what is not.  I don't really like the word Christian because it defines a culture and a set of practices and history that I am not really talking about at all.  I also don't really know what would define a REAL Christian.  There are texts, however, in the Bible that if taken more seriously then they tend to be, can be downright scary when applied to our complacent and impotent group of people known as American Christians.  If anyone were to read the gospels, or the whole New Testament, or the whole Bible, they would not find what they expected to find when they thought about followers of Jesus.  They would find a lot of which they would never expect.

J. C. Ryle in his book Holiness makes several illusions to the fact that if people don't like Church they may be unpleasantly surprised that they don't like heaven.  I'm not completely convinced that a High Episcopal liturgy (which I do enjoy) is going to really be all that much like heaven.  But I can agree with the spirit of the question.  If godliness isn't something you want in this life, why would it be something you would want for everlasting after everlasting?  Because it is better than the alternative?  In a dichotemistic eternity heaven seems a better choice then hell, even if it is slightly less appealing than earth.  If one begins to mention sacrifice and freeing oneself from the chains of the great suburban lie then one is open to attacks with a vehemence that would not be matched if one had spouted the most damnable of heresies.

I constantly hear christians complaining about the attacks on their belief by "the Media."  I don't wonder why more christians haven't realized that their beliefs are worth attacking.  First of all we believe that a zombie god has, with his death and re-animation, cleansed us from the invisible taint called "sin" that is merely a bi-product of being human and acting so.  And in doing so has saved us from a place of judgement that we disagree on the reality of to be placed into an equally controversial after life.  If that isn't crazy enough, as a community christians have argued that other people should follow a moral code to which they; arguably more than any other religious, philosophical, or political group; have failed themselves in living up to.

I do think there is a lot of biblical evidence that the American church has, since before its founding on these shores, had it backwards.  We should hold ourselves to the highest standard and hold everyone outside to none at all.  Unfortunately the common label of bigotry and judgmentalism (which I believe is rightfully earned in most places) belies our failure on that point.

But this is not really what this post is about.  What this post is meant to be about is training ourselves for heaven.  Developing an affinity and taste for holiness.  When I began my marathon I did not enjoy running the 1/3 of a mile which I could run.  Now I enjoy running 6-7 miles, at which point my enthusiasm begins to diminish.  Similarly, as believers in Jesus Christ we are so unpracticed in following him that we have failed to enjoy living like him.  Mere tastes of the life of Jesus are uncomfortable, painful, and make us not want to repeat the performance.  An honest man would either acknowledge a need for training or a reason for the race not being worth running.  Unfortunately, christianity has beat Facebook to the punch in posting pictures of us running the marathon but sitting at home eating a bag of Potato Chips while feasting our eyes on the bachelor.  Since we've been doing this for several hundred years it has become the established tradition.

It has become unfortunately true that to practice the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are as radically counter-cultural inside a church, if not more so, than outside of one.  I am attempting to be purposefully vague here because I think the Holy Spirit can have far greater impact with his convictions than I ever should.  I'm also not trying to create an argument on what the life of a disciple should look like or should not look like, although I am definitely forming my own opinions.

I guess really I'm trying to say 2 things to the readers of this post.  If you claim to be a follower of Jesus then what are your credentials for doing so.  Do you have true love that inspires obedience?  If you do not claim to be a follower of Jesus then I'm sorry for not giving you a reason to.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Training Day Part I

It's been an exceptionally long time since I last blogged.  This is partially due to the difficulty of the last few months and partially due to the fact that I was in the midst of things.  I don't tend to be able to write coherently about anything until I've digested it a bit and I was having a full 7 course meal over the past few months with little time for digestion between.  We are looking at relocating again, changing school districts, making major lifestyle adjustments.  We have had to try to build relationships from scratch in a new place, dive into live here, and face the disappointments that come with other people not necessarily diving into life with you or worse yet mad that when you did so you splashed on them in their lounge chair.

This year I recommitted to run a marathon.  I didn't last year due to a knee injury that stopped me from running a few weeks while training and that training hiatus was prolonged by debilitating depression that came after my soul searching trip into the Himalayas.  Thankfully I was down with Typhoid when the Marathon actually occurred so I could bow out with a little more grace then, I got hurt, got sad, and gave up.  

Round 2 has been more difficult.  I don't have a training partner to run with.  Running a race in May in Cleveland means that the weather is not your friend during most of the training period.  It is hard to run 10 miles when your option is treadmill in a basement or snow.  I've had more blisters than I can count in trying to re-learn how to run and I hobble around like an old cavalry officer most of the time now.  The past month or so my knee started acting up again, I had to travel to California for my grandmother's funeral, and work got crazy.  This all means that I ran less and ate worse for about 2 weeks.  When I got back into it I tried a 12 miler where I pushed too hard and was out for almost another week as my legs and soul recovered.  I barely made 12 miles (the last 4 were an award loping walknjog).  I didn't even get to a half marathon and I was falling apart.

I was talking through my struggles with someone I love and respect and he told me that a half marathon is still a win and I could try the marathon later that year or the next.  I boldly decried with bluff & gusto that I would rather be carried out of the Marathon on an ambulance than settle for the half.  Within 2 hours I was seriously considering the downgrade.  I broke the subject with my young hot wife the next day and she made it very clear that not running the full marathon was simply not an option.  She knew I would not be happy with that decision and she had the courage to push me forward when I no longer wanted to go.  So with her small hand-prints on my back as she pushed me out the door I started to run again.

One crystalline thought entered my consciousness on the run that completely changed my attitude and my perception of what was currently going on in my running life.

I was training for a marathon.

"What?" you say, "how is that any different than the above statement, "This year I recommitted to run a Marathon?"  I have been telling people "I Will run the marathon in May."  And when I catch myself saying "I'm going to try to run the marathon in May," I am quick to correct my internal doubt.  Unfortunately though my commitment was high my understanding was low.  In order for a slightly round 30 year old to run the marathon, in order for his commitment to mean anything, he must train for a marathon.  Training for a marathon means that he must push his body beyond what it and he think are possible so that the distances and intensities grow and so the commitment of running a marathon moves from the plane of hopefully goal setting to a realistic prospect.  To move from brave words to even more courageous action.

One of the great lies I have allowed to define me is that I never finish anything.  There are a lot of things I have finished but that is never really the point.  I hear many people in my generation as well as other echo this sentiment.  We are a culture of non-finishers.  Of starters and someday-completers.  We have forgotten the ideals of training and long suffering.  I read a great Blog Post the other day about Odin and one of the quotes from it was:

The lesson from both of these tales is that gaining wisdom often comes with sacrifice. In our modern age, it seems people have come to believe that if something is hard, or sacrificial, it’s not worth doing. Odin, and his Viking followers, believed in just the opposite. If something is worth having, it absolutely requires sacrifice, and it’s always worth it, no matter how great the cost.

Even re-reading this my eyes mist up.  It rings a deeper truth inside my soul.  I have been afraid of completion and so use the training as an excuse.  I have not had the chutzpah for long suffering and justify my incompletion.  I re-value a desired goal as not being important because I am unwilling to do what it takes to achieve it.  I pursue things that are not worth having because they are obtainable.  In my dreaming I have champagne tastes on a beer budget.  In practice I convince myself that Busch Lite satisfies me because they sell it at the corner store.  Only being back in this country for 6 months and already my desire for comfort threatens to fill my life with cheap ambitions and easily obtainable goals.  A glittering, bedazzled husk of life.

I wish I did not need hard things in my life to keep me growing and learning.  I wish I could somehow become the man I want to be, the father I want to be, the husband I want to be.  I wish my insecurities would fade from more positive thinking and less pain and sweating.  I dream of the day when I pint of ale, a briar full of latakia, a fireplace, and a good book will sculpt the inner man into who I want him to be and that would sculpt the outer-man into the chiseled man of wax I see in my mind.  Times like that are fruitful.  Yesterday morning was spent with a bowl of Westminster, Dunkin Donuts Coffee, and a long chat with G.K. Chesterton that  rested my mind more than 3 hours of sleep could have done.  I had new thoughts and new energies.  But if those new thoughts and new energies are not applied in an aggressive way to my life they quickly fade and I can in only a few hours be back to where I was before.  The physical nature of the training reminds me of the other herculean tasks that lay before me and give me a similar feeling.  I have to train to overcome them.  I have to start working on them or they will never happen.  I need to start typing or I won't write.  I have to start making phone calls or we won't have a home to live in.  I have to go out my door or my community will not be altered by my presence.