You’re Invited!

I’m so close to my goal of giving clean water for life to 40 kids in Africa. Please give here (click the link to the left).

As some who know me personally and read this blog may know, I’m running the Twin Cities 10 Mile Race this weekend (tomorrow, in fact!). I actually signed up for the marathon, but “life happened,” and I had to adjust my goal race. The main goal, however, aside from learning, yet again, to be a runner, was to raise money for clean water in Africa. The stats, from World Vision, are devastating:

Every day, nearly 1,600 children under 5 die from diarrhea caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation, and improper hygiene.

About every minute, a child under 5 dies as a result of diarrhea caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation, and improper hygiene.

Globally, 1 in 9 people lack access to clean water.

Worldwide, 748 million people lack access to clean water.

Women and children in sub-Saharan Africa spend 20 million hours collecting water each day.

I’ve talked incessantly on this blog over the past year especially about the need to “get small.” Part of the drive to do so is rooted in a recognition that for others to come up, I have to come down. When so many around the world still lack the most basic necessity of life- water that won’t kill them because it’s contaminated- while I enjoy not just clean water but coffee and soda and orange juice and too much (often unhealthy) food and piles of books and a car and so much “stuff” that some of it has to be stored even after giving a lot of it away, something has to change. First, I must repent of keeping far more than my “daily bread” while some starve, for keeping far more than two coats while my neighbor freezes. Remember, though, repentance is an act. It’s a “turning around.” And so, I must act. Every day Kirsten and I are learning how to get smaller, how to be generous, how to share what God has given us to pass on to others.

I admit that I’m suspicious of “charity,” especially the professional kind. Capitalism- inherent to which is a love of Mammon- infects everything. Every day in the news there’s a new scandal about some big corporation being evil, and all too often you can find such news about some big professional charity too. So I remain dubious about many of them. Giving money to a charity can be more about “throwing money at a problem” than about anything else, especially for we rich people of European descent. Much more than money is needed, of course. We all need to repent. We all need to get a little “smaller,” I would argue. Directing resources (often, money) toward a problem must be part of a lifestyle of repentance, a lifestyle of generosity. It must be rooted, I believe, in a commitment to give to those who ask of us, as Jesus directed.

All of that is not to say, however, that money is not needed, that it will not help. There is so much to be said about economic development in impoverished areas here in the U.S. and around the globe, but I’m not looking to address that now. Elsewhere, I’ve written about my questions about the “toxic charity” crowd, for example. What I’m pretty sure of, however, is that this is not an “either/or.” It’s a “both/and.” I believe that if as a rich European American one is seeking to live a life of devolution, of “getting small” by sharing the many blessings that God has given us, by seeking to be close to those on the margins so that we can be in solidarity with them and learn from, receive from, and be loved by them even as we seek to love and give to them, then part of that effort can and should involve giving money, as strategically as possible, to address extreme global poverty, including and especially the clean water crisis in Africa. Here’s a video from World Vision about how they are helping do just that:

 

Remember, then, that Kirsten and I are trying really hard to be people who are ready to “give to those who ask of us.” So when we were asked to run with Team World Vision to give clean water to folks in Africa who die for lack of access to it, we pretty much had to say yes. It’s been an interesting journey as we’ve done so. As it turns out, again, we’re not running the marathon tomorrow. 10 miles will feel a bit like a marathon to us. We’re just not there yet. That said, we’re in this for the long haul. The journey of “getting small” and being in solidarity with our poor neighbors around the block and around the world is a marathon for us, not a sprint. Last night was the “team dinner” for Team World Vision, and we’ve already committed to running with them next year (our goal race will be the half, not the full, marathon). We also committed to sponsoring two children, two girls from Rwanda. Any dubiousness on my part aside, I’ve been struck by the culture among Team World Vision. Those who get up and speak at meetings and the like clearly take what they’re doing very seriously. They may not (yet, Lord willing) share our views on Empire and capitalism itself and the like, but they’re obviously committed to a lifestyle of generosity as they understand what that means in their journey at this point. Most of the speakers I’ve heard not only run for clean water, but sponsor kids too, and many of them can tell stories and show pictures from meeting their sponsor children. You know what that means? That means there’s at least some proximity in play. They’ve looked their sponsor children in the eye, seen their meager (by our standards) homes, and are being shaped by their relationship with these kids they feel called to love tangibly. That matters.

So when we were invited to sponsor a child, and told that by doing so we would not only get to love on our sponsor kid(s) but would also get a credit to our Team World Vision fundraising pages, we knew we had to say yes, and we each sponsored a child, four and five year old girls from Rwanda. Of course it’s a bit of an accounting gimmick, but the reality is that anything we give, and anything you give because we invite you to, is a win. It all goes toward changing the lives of our extremely poor neighbors around the world, and to their credit World Vision works very hard to make it as relational as possible. We’re invited into the lives of our sponsor kids, and have the opportunity to invite them into ours. Thus, as I said, there’s some proximity involved, paradoxically even with an ocean between us.

So will you join us in giving? Will you help me reach my goal of giving clean water to 40 kids? Here’s some more info about “the water effect” from World Vision:

THE WATER EFFECT

Nearly 1,600 children under 5 die every day from diarrhea caused by dirty water, poor sanitation, and improper hygiene. That’s why World Vision is providing a new person with clean water every 30 seconds as part of our full solution to poverty.

Water transforms. When you give clean water, you set off a chain reaction for good. Children are freed from deadly water-related diseases. People become healthier and more productive. Girls get to go to school rather than trek long distances to gather filthy water. Less money is spent on medicine, which means more savings and more investment in things like education. With better health and more time, parents can start small businesses—creating more jobs. Water promises a bright future, and a full life—the kind of life God intends.

The water effect is an outward spiral that positively transforms the entire community. And World Vision is there to support these solutions with programs that go well beyond water into every other aspect of human life—physical, emotional, and spiritual. That’s because we believe clean water and the love of Jesus are crucial elements in a full solution to poverty—a solution that includes food, education, healthcare, and more.

Our water projects are comprehensive, sustainable, and complex. World Vision’s projects engage the local community, local church, and local government. Staff and engineers choose from different types of water points depending on the geography and the needs of a community. Innovative projects like wells, solar-powered pumps, pipelines, dams, and rain catchments are implemented for human consumption, farm irrigation, livestock nourishment, and more.

World Vision’s water projects also focus on improved sanitation and hygiene solutions; this includes building latrines and organizing communities to implement good habits like hand-washing or repairing wells.

 

And here’s a bit about World Vision’s approach:

 

How World Vision helps address the clean water crisis.

 

Will you give? God the giver made us to be givers too. Generosity is something God wants for us, not from us. Kirsten and I are sponsoring two girls from Rwanda. We’re running in this race tomorrow, and we’re trying to get as “small” as we can, all because we were invited to join God in giving. We were asked to be part of a literal circle of life. You’re invited too! Just $50 gives clean water to one person for life. Here’s another link to my fundraising page.

Thanks

This is another cross post from my Fundracing page, and was also sent in an email to supporters.


I wanted to say thank you. According to my Fitbit I ran the 3.12 miles of the Torchlight 5k last night in about 35:15, for an 11 minute and 18 second pace (per mile). It’s not my best time, but I’m glad to be on the mend and able to run at all. So, to the 17 people who contributed a total of $435, I and the people experiencing homelessness I run with through Mile In My Shoes are deeply grateful. To the many more I hope who thought of me or prayed or sent good vibes my way as I ran under an excessive heat warning last night (due to a 90 degree temp. with 63% humidity), I am also deeply grateful. This was my first race in 4 years, and my first 5k in even longer. I’m very grateful that my knee held up and I finished. I still have a long way to go and some more weight to lose, but this was a milestone, and I’m grateful for your support.

This morning we had a Mile In My Shoes team meeting and talked about what’s next. Some resident members are planning for longer distances in upcoming races. Some will do relays; others will do a 10 mile race and still others will run half marathons and even marathons. One guy (a resident member/someone experiencing homelessness) I spoke to this morning is approaching running a longer race with the same bold commitment that helped him join MiMS in the first place. He knows he needs a big goal to help him stay motivated, and that’s something I can relate to.

I guess that relating is a big part of what MiMS is all about. I’ve known for a while that I’ll never advocate for change regarding any issue- so long as it remains just an “issue” or cause to me- nearly as passionately as I will if the “issue” ceases being an issue and instead is the lived experience of someone I have a relationship with. Thanks to MiMS and the opportunity it affords to know and spend time with folks I never would otherwise, I’ll never think of homelessness the same way again. My perception has been changed. Perhaps my life has too. And maybe even the people experiencing homelessness that I’m privileged to relate to regularly are finding their perceptions and lives changed too. If so, you had a part in that through your support of me as I ran this race for MiMS.

Thanks.

Black Boys Become Black Men. Black Men Scare Me.

I was listening to the great coverage on MPR of the recent murder of black men and the relationship between African-Americans and the police. A guest on the show I was listening to quoted a white police officer who frankly revealed that he was afraid of black men, especially large black men. Of course, fear drives behavior, often causing very irrational behavior, and if you listened to or saw the video taken after Philando Castile’s murder, you could hear the fear in the voice of the officer who killed him. As I listened to this story, it struck me, I am too. I’m afraid of black men too. I’ve been at least aware of my own racism since seminary, since 2002 or so, probably. It’s one of things I’m most grateful for about seminary, that I got a little anti-racism training and came to accept that “racism=prejudice+power,” and therefore most white people, especially and including myself, are racist whether we want to be or realize it or not. It’s a system we’re born into, again whether we like it or not. I could quote the statistics, but any earnest person reading this can quickly find evidence of systemic white privilege, of disparities between whites and blacks in wealth, in opportunities, in arrest and incarceration rates, and I could go on and on. I’m not really writing to debate these truths. I’m writing to confess my renewed awareness of the depth of my own racism, and perhaps discuss what I might do about it.

Naturally I like to think of myself as being fairly egalitarian, fairly self-aware and justice minded. When given the opportunity to interact with colleagues at work who happen to be people of color, or when out in the community in various settings, I like to think that I try to treat everyone lovingly, or if not lovingly, at least justly and kindly. I’m sure I fail at this as I do at so many things, but again that’s not really my point. My point is that I’ve long thought that in some small ways at least I was arguably moving in the right direction. There’s evidence even that I’ve had in my life very loving relationships with black folks. Take Willie and Nate for example.

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That’s Nate there on my back, where he basically lived (on my back) the summer I did Kingdomworks. Willie, his brother, has his back to the camera. I worked hard to build a relationship with and love Willie that summer, such that as the summer ended, just as I was leaving, after witholding such displays and words of affection all summer, at the last possible minute Willie told me he loved me. I have other evidence too. Many years after that summer, Kirsten and I became foster parents to two young black boys:

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That’s J’air and I. He’s the younger of the two boys we were foster parents of for a while. Do these efforts to love people of color, in these two cases black kids, make me some kind of saint? Of course not, and here’s just part of the reason why.

Black boys grow up to become black men.

And, I must regretfully confess, like so many white police officers and white people generally, I believe, on some level, in some way, I am afraid of black men. I know this in part because despite decades now of being aware of this impulse and what it represents, in non-controlled settings if I pass a black man on the street I still instinctively reach for my wallet at some point, just to make sure it’s still there. Maybe this is just “street smarts,” but in those non-controlled settings when passing black men on the street, I still keep my head on a swivel as much as I can. My senses are heightened; my mind is churning. I don’t like that I do this, and I don’t want to do it, but it feels instinctive.

What is this instinct then, I wonder? What is this really about?

Remembering that “racism=prejudice+power,” I think much of this “instinctual” behavior on my part has to do with my power, my power as a historically and statistically rich white person. My wallet grants access to my identity and also to all the money I’m supposed to be stewarding. My privilege usually insulates and protects me, thereby reinforcing that economic and systemic power I so often unwittingly wield. I have a car that I often drive alone. The townhouse my family rents has an attached garage and is located in a largely white, though changing, suburb. The congregation I too seldomly participate in is mostly white, and (again historically and statistically) wealthy. My kids go to good schools. In too many ways to count, all the systems that support me in my way of life also isolate and insulate me, protecting me from situations when that power and privilege might be put at risk.

The proverbial non-controlled situation when I might pass a black man on the street, then, is inherently one that finds me stripped of many of those isolating, insulating protections, and the resultant physical proximity to a black man stirs fear in me that my privilege might be at risk. Again statistically, chances are that my economic standard of living is better than the proverbial black man I’m passing, or at least that’s what I assume; so I likewise fear and assume that he might try to take what I have. Look, crime happens, and I don’t want to be naive, but there’s something wrong with this picture.

There are many things wrong with this picture. It starts with why statistically I’m likely to better off financially than my black brothers and sisters. It starts with all the systems of white power and privilege that perpetuate my way of life. That’s where it starts. But where does it end? I know that I must renew my efforts to not just “not be racist,” because I benefit from most of society’s structures in ways that make that well nigh impossible. I must work harder to be actively anti-racist. I must work to strip away all the barriers that protect my privilege, and isolate me from people of color, trapping both of us in our relative positions of power or lack thereof. Working to love and serve black kids in the ‘hood, even bringing them out of it as a foster parent, those are arguably nice steps in a better direction.

But they’re not nearly enough. I know I need to educate myself a little more, a little better. It would be helpful to have a better grasp on the issues including the mass incarceration of black men, the militarization of local police forces, unjust housing policies, lack of mental health resources, the education and technology gap, and so on. More than that, though, I need to be a learner and listen to the stories of black folk. I need to let them teach me where they’re coming from, what they need, what they want. I know my efforts won’t be perfect. I may fail. I probably will. But let me not fail for lack of trying. None of this can happen, though, if I keep on living in my silo, in my own affluent “ghetto.” I need to increase my opportunities simply to be in relationship with those who don’t look like me, especially those who don’t have access to the resources I take for granted.

I think participating in Mile in My Shoes is one halting step in that better, if not quite right, direction. Mile in My Shoes (MiMS) seeks to empower those experiencing homelessness and build community through the power of running. MiMS is about “running together to change perceptions and to change lives.” Mile in My Shoes creates opportunity for relationship between unlikely allies, between those experiencing homelessness and those that aren’t. It destigmatizes homelessness as people like me get to know those experiencing it. Perhaps it destigmatizes wealthy white people like myself too. In doing so, barriers are broken down. As perceptions are changed, lives are too. For those experiencing homelessness who adopt running as a lifestyle, success at running can build momentum for success in other areas of one’s life. For those not experiencing homelessness who get to know those that are, those relationships can lead to better advocacy and more effective efforts in the community to end homelessness, and maybe someday, racism too.

I need to have more pictures like this one:

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Black boys grow up to become black men, but I don’t have to fear them. May I one day grow up to become a man who much more effectively loves them.

On Saying “I Love You” to Strangers

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You’ve seen the “I love you” hand sign, right? In my family we use it every day. Today was different, though. Today I said “I love you” to a stranger. I didn’t mean to, exactly, but it happened nonetheless. I was out running in the afternoon after work, trying to get my 3 miles in. I had recently talked to Kirsten and knew she was on her way home and likely would pass me on the road I was running on; so I was watching for her. Almost midway through my run, I saw what I thought was her car approaching me from the opposite direction; so I put up the “I love you” hand sign and began waving at her. Given our relative speeds and the fact that we were moving in opposite directions, it was only as the car passed me that I could see that I wasn’t saying “I love you” to Kirsten, but rather was doing so to some strange guy instead. She later did pass me, and I did it again, but the fact is that from the time my hand shot up and I made that sign until the time I saw that it was somebody else I was making it to, all the loving thoughts and good vibes that I could muster were flowing out of me and toward that stranger. Of course, I was a stranger to him too; so I don’t even think he realized what was happening, but despite all that love was flowing. I said “I love you” to a stranger… and I plan to do it again in the morning.

Tomorrow morning at 6am about a dozen or so near strangers will gather to hug, run, and hug again. And as we greet one another, stretch, hear a question of the day to focus our conversation as we run, and then partner up and run before ending with more stretching and time to reflect on the conversations had around that question of the day; as we do all this in one way or another we are of course telling one another, “I love you.” That’s the beauty of Mile In My Shoes, and I wanted to give a quick update on my fundracing effort for them.

Thanks to some of you, I’ve raised $260 so far for Mile In My Shoes (MiMS), just $50 short of my goal. That’s amazing! Thank you to those who have contributed! Your giving helps put running shoes onto the feet of those experiencing homelessness and helps pay for race entries for them, and those shoes and opportunities to race help unlock hidden potential. There are lots of reasons why people wind up living in a shelter, but I suspect that at least some of them have to do with hope (or lack thereof) and the power of agency (or lack thereof). It’s hope that can keep one moving, keep one working toward a better future. And it’s agency, the capacity of a person to act- and to see the impact of one’s actions- that can build a cascade of success that spills over from one area of one’s life to another. Running is something that almost anyone can do. As someone who’s struggled with weight throughout my life, I should know. I started running when I was obese and have lost more than 100 pounds doing so. So I know that almost anyone can run, and I know that it can change your life in more ways than merely losing weight.

People experiencing homelessness can run- and maybe change their lives- too. Moving out of homelessness is hard for many reasons and may take time, but running is something that can be done right now, today. It takes a little discipline, but with support and encouragement, if you keep at it, running can be powerfully transformative. Running gives agency, and running gives hope. When I’m running everyday, I’m happier and more outgoing. I sleep better and have more energy, and I have more capacity to deal with the challenges I still face every day. It’s hard, though, and as with anything, community can be instrumental in providing the support that one trying to change their life, including by taking up running, needs.

That’s just what MiMS does. MiMS builds community among unlikely partners through the transformative power of running. For those experiencing homelessness, MiMS provides the empowerment, encouragement, and support needed to establish running as a lifestyle, and that newfound running lifestyle can provide small successes, small “wins” that serve as building blocks for larger ones both in running and in life itself. For run mentors, those who aren’t currently experiencing homelessness, the community that MiMS builds provides investment and education that destigmatizes homelessness so that it’s no longer an “issue” and instead has a face, in fact a whole team full of faces, each one possessing a story and a life that is deeper and more complex than any superficial reading of the “issue” of homelessness could provide. I’m glad to be part of this team, and I hope you’ll join me in working to support them. If you haven’t pitched in yet to my fundracer as I get ready for the Torchlight 5k in a mere two weeks, it’s not too late. Please give, if you can.

On Becoming, or “Run, Barry, Run!”

“What you’ve become is wonderful, a miracle even, but it won’t make bad things stop happening to you. Even The Flash can’t outrun the tragedies the universe is going to keep sending your way. You have to accept that, and then you can truly run free.”

I’ll just straight out claim my geek cred. and admit to being a Flash fan, really a fan of most things Geek. That said, aside from “with great power comes great responsibility” (aka “to whom much is given, much is required“), I try not to get too much of my wisdom for life from superhero TV shows, but when I heard the quote above while watching The Flash, I was struck by it. Without getting too much into the details of the show, in the scene Barry/The Flash is talking to a representation of his long dead mother. I suppose I in particular was struck by this because my own mother is long dead. That may be where the similarities end, however. Barry/The Flash loves his mom and was forever changed by her untimely death when he was a child. My mother, on the other hand, abused me and her death when I was in my early 20’s has yet to have that sort of impact on me. I’ve always said it’s almost as if I never had a mom; so when she died it was simply more of the same, the continuation of a through line. Still, I know there’s a deep part of me that oddly yearns for her to be proud of me, which again I’m sure is why the scene above (if you watch the whole thing) is so powerful.

Obviously, I’m not a superhero speedster, but running has repeatedly changed my life, and by the grace of God and with the help of some key people along the way, I’ve overcome some arguably long odds. I wouldn’t say that I’ve become something wonderful (I know too many who might say just the opposite), but I would say that for all my faults and failings whatever meager “success” I’ve achieved is near miraculous given my upbringing in a mobile home in Texas as the son of an abusive mother and devoted, but co-dependent and largely unavailable father.

There’s much to be said about that abusive upbringing in my mother’s home, but I’ve said a lot of that elsewhere. From that shaky foundation, though, enough has happened to fill several other lifetimes. Here’s some of it:

  • To the extent that I survived growing up in my mother’s home and proved resilient in the midst of it, much of it had to do with the love and support I received from a family I was connected to through school, and that of my youngest but much older half sibling, Lee. Shortly after I left home around the age of 18, Lee disappeared and was missing for the next three+ years.
  • While in college, I spent a summer in Philly doing a program that was then known as Kingdomworks (it’s now called Mission Year) during which, I always say, I “was able to build a bridge between my own personal suffering and the suffering that’s out there, in the world.”
  • In the year after doing Kingdomworks, I met and married Kirsten and we left college and the Boston area to start a life in Philly where I worked at Pizza Hut for $7.60/hour and she went to nursing school. Thanks be to God, we’re looking forward to our 20th anniversary in little more than a month.
  • While still in Philly the first time and in the midst of nursing school for Kirsten, I paid less than $100 to a company I saw I think a TV ad for, and they found Lee in Michigan. I reached out to her, and she was reunited and slowly reintegrated into our very dysfunctional family system.
  • Just after Kirsten finished nursing school we moved to MN to be near her family of origin as her dad quickly died of brain cancer. The day after he died, my mom in TX died. Their funerals in two different states bookended a weekend.
  • By the grace of God and via my own circuitous path I finished my Bachelor’s degree in MN finally through a degree completion program for working adults and started seminary. In the meantime I quit my last foodservice management job and went into social service, vowing to only pursue “meaningful” work from that point forward.
  • While in seminary, I participated in a weeklong leadership training in Chicago during which I discovered that that “bridge” I had built “between my own personal suffering and the suffering that’s out there, in the world” could be traveled in both directions as the suffering in the world led me to become newly aware of my own brokenness. I quit the MDiv program I had been pursuing and graduated with an MA instead.
  • We moved back to Philly to be part of Circle of Hope again, the faith community we had discovered in our first stint there that did so much to form my imagination about what Christian community could look like. While there, we lived “in community” in a house with others that we were trying to live “intentionally” with as we pursued a common dream for “life together.” Samuel’s exceptionally premature birth occurred in the midst of all that. His birth was very disruptive, but in a good way. It laid bare all the dysfunction and brokenness that was at the heart of all those good relationships we were trying to build, and we were confronted with a choice. We could do the personal and relational hard work that growth required in that moment, regroup, and Lord willing see the community we were building in that home and as a part of the larger church and in Philly itself be strengthened and reinvigorated as a result; or we could retreat/escape and nurse our wounds someplace else, delaying the pain of that growth we needed to endure and thereby delaying our growth too. For good or ill, we chose the latter.
  • So we moved to NEOH and bought a house while we still could just before the market tanked.
  • Homeownership forces a measure of stability that in some cases isn’t available otherwise. Following our move to OH, we had a measure of that, for a time. After a painful job search there, I found something that I was able to settle into and experience some success at for some time (in educational administration, working with mostly low income Special Education students/families), for which I was grateful.
  • Four years into our time in OH, however, we found ourselves abruptly moving to TX to be present for my dad’s cancer death. His cancer death was much slower than my father-in-law’s had been, however, as it was over 15 months after we got there that he finally passed. In the meantime I pursued and received teacher certification and spent a very painful year in a charter school there. There’s a lot to be said about it and much that was beyond my control, but I was not successful in the classroom…or, arguably, out of it. Dad’s death did not go as predicted (do they ever, I suppose?) and again there’s much more to be said about this, but somewhere along the way I became a villain to my all much older half siblings. I suppose that’s what I set myself up for when I swooped in to “rescue” them all. They all- all three much older half siblings, plus my same age niece and her teenage twin sons, and my Dad- all seven of them were living when we first got down to TX in the by then ramshackle, roach infested trailer I grew up in. I couldn’t stomach that being where my Dad was consigned to die; so we worked to find them other/better housing. However big or small my role was in all that, I pushed for it, and Kirsten and I paid to help make it happen. When my dad’s slow death finally progressed to the point where hospice was advisable, I pushed for and helped make that happen too. My half siblings accused me of trying to kill him.
  • Thus, once Dad died, we moved back to OH and the home we had been renting (at a loss) while we were gone. This may or may not have been another “escape” from an opportunity to learn a painful lesson and grow as a result. In this case, that’s less clear to me. Either way, we came back to OH with a life changing gift, our second son, Nathan. Whatever brought us there and whatever trauma contributed to our exit, we were in the right place at the right time with the right doctor to help us through a second, high risk pregnancy, and we thank God every day for our little Texan. Nathan was born about two months after Dad died. I describe them as “ships passing in the night.”
  • Back in OH, we returned each of us to the jobs we had left and the house we still owned, and resumed relationships with the few, but very, very good friends we had there. Within a couple of years, though, there was new turmoil for me at work. I was twice encouraged to apply for a promotion, including for one position that was allegedly created for me, and both times I was not selected. I wound up with a new boss and the job I did have became much more demanding, so much so that I couldn’t keep up anymore. Eventually, I found myself in an untenable position and had to leave. I tried to leave gracefully, but failed at that too and found myself on the receiving end of some revelatory character assaults on my way out. It took several months to find another job, which came with a roughly $17,000 pay cut.
  • In the meantime, we had found a new, just starting faith community in NEOH that was rich with much promise. The “manifesto” that was the core of its website and, we hoped, its vision, is still one of the best things I’ve ever read and one of the best visions I hoped to be a part of aspiring to. I’ve written elsewhere about this too, but as a community that church did not live up to its own vision, and as a participant and contributor, neither did I. The church faced a crisis that I need not get into, but much like the crisis my family and I faced in the wake of Samuel’s birth before we left Philly and Circle of Hope, this crisis served to lay bare the dysfunction and brokenness that was at the core of many of the relationships within the church. I think in this case I made an effort to do some of the hard work that growth required in the moment, but I did it poorly, and as before, it didn’t end well…and as before, another cross country move was in the offing.
  • During the relatively brief time we were part of that faith community, however, several significant things happened. We tried our hand again at an “intentional community” of sorts. Wanting to make good use/be good stewards of the small but “bigger on the inside” home we owned, we invited a young couple to come live with us in an effort to help them with their finances, among other things. They wound up living with us for only about four months, and their exit was part of the dysfunction and brokenness I alluded to above, part of which was related to our offer later on to have someone else move in too.
  • That “someone else” was a young teacher friend we made through that faith community whose mother was quickly dying of cancer, an experience we were all too familiar with. We worked hard to support her, sacrificially so even, but few in the larger community could understand this and our motives were no doubt mixed as they inevitably must be always be “this side of Heaven,” perhaps driven as much by the need to make sense and find meaning in our own parent deaths as by our still genuine desire to love and support our friend through hers. After her mom died, the couple that had been living with us moved out, and our friend moved in. It wasn’t all that long, though, before the larger faith community we all were part of experienced that “crisis” I alluded to above and began to unravel around us, again exposing the dysfunction and brokenness that much work was required to move beyond. As I said, I made a halting attempt at some of that work, but I did not do it well, and it was not well received…and again I was faced with no small measure of revelatory character assaults on our way out.
  • Consequently, after 9+ years of homeownership in OH (including that sojourn in TX), we struggled mightily to sell our house there at a significant loss and moved to MN. This was motivated as much by all of the above, I’m sure, as it was by the reality that Kirsten’s mom was in declining health and it was time to be present to her and Kirsten’s family of origin here as they all faced what was next for her mom.

Looking at that laundry list of life events above, I’m struck by the fact that if anything is “miraculous” about any “success” I’ve experienced, perhaps the most miraculous thing about it is that I keep trying. I keep showing up. So much of the wounding I describe above is self-inflicted, rooted in my brokenness. Every healthy parent-child relationship is marked by the development of the child in such a way that the child’s first steps are halting and not very “successful.” The child takes a few steps, falls, and with encouragement and support, gets up to try again. Eventually the infant becomes, literally, a “toddler.” As the toddler becomes more proficient and independent as a walker, they journey further away from their parent with each successive trip, hopefully growing each time in their proficiency and independence. No doubt they still fall from time to mine, but each “failure” is a learning moment and stepping stone to growth. There is an ebb and flow to this. I see something similar in the pattern above.

Failure can be the building block for future “success,” if the learning/growth that failure presents the opportunity for is embraced. Of course, that learning/growth comes in the form of hard work, and I stubbornly resist that work far too much of the time. This is true for me no less with running than with life itself. Amidst all the life events above, I got fat, ballooning from well under 200 on my wedding day at the age of 21 to well over 250 at some point not all that long into our first stint in MN from 1998 to 2003. In 2009, hearing that the growing swine flu pandemic seemed to be disproportionately affecting obese people like me, I started running. I just did it, on a whim. I could barely shuffle around a block or so, but I kept doing it. Day after day I could go a little further, and pretty soon I was counting calories and running 5k’s. Less than a year after starting running in OH, after a run in the TX heat on my 35th birthday, I weighed in at 150 pounds and had lost at least 100 pounds. I ran more 5k’s and a 10k, but I eventually did my first half marathon in part because the weight was already starting to creep back on. I struggled through that race, the Rock’n’Roll Dallas Half Marathon in 2011, but finishing it was a huge “success” for me.

Still, again amidst all the stress of the “life” that kept happening as I described above, the weight kept creeping back on, and by Christmas of that year I weighed 217 pounds. I joined TNT then and re-dedicated myself to running, and I got back down to 170 pounds when I ran the Canton Half Marathon in 2012. I felt good for that, my second half marathon, and looking back that may have been the high point of my running “career.” Not long after that race I broke a toe, and then tore my meniscus (and later broke another toe), and thus began almost four years of not being able to run at all during which I ballooned to 262.6 pounds.

I finally underwent surgery on my meniscus last fall (a partial meniscectomy), but still didn’t feel ready or able to run pain free. What I could do was count calories, and walk, and walk I did. I got a Fitbit (and wi-fi scale) at the end of this past November, when I weighed in at that 262.6. Since then I walked about 3 miles a day as many days as I could through the past winter and spring, and exclusively through walking and daily weigh-ins while keeping  my calories as low as possible, I lost about 60 pounds. I told myself that once I got to or near about 200 pounds again, I’d try running. I started running again about mid-April, and each time I get out there I vow not to “screw it up again.” I may not do a half marathon again, but I don’t need that kind of “success” to prove myself. If I can get out there and run about 3 miles most days of the rest of my life, that will be a well-nigh miraculous success, and will have come as a result of much growth and development and much, much hard work.

Like someone in recovery, I know that I have to take it one day at a time. I know that cardiovascular health and fitness can be lost within days if it isn’t renewed by continuing to get out there every day. I speak often of love (and forgiveness) being a choice, a choice that must be made every day. A marriage of 20 years, as I hope to celebrate in about a month, isn’t made by making a choice once and then somehow “sticking with it.” It’s made by making a choice every single day. I think forgiveness can work that way too, and I know that health can, does, and should.

Each day I have to choose to watch what I eat, and I have to choose to get out there and run. I’ve lost another 10 pounds or so since I started running again (about 70 total this time around, my third time losing weight), but have a ways to go before I’m at a “normal” weight. I know too that weight loss cannot be my goal, not because it can’t be achieved (it can! I’ve done it three times!), but because it can. It’s very, very hard to maintain though, because it’s not an end in itself and isn’t even really a means to an end. It’s more of a byproduct of an end. The end is a healthy lifestyle. The end is treating my body like the “temple” that it is and being a good steward of it. The means are those hard choices I must make every single day- eating right, running, getting enough sleep, etc. Weight loss, maybe even lasting weight loss, is a byproduct of all this good, hard work.

Becoming a person who can do that will be wonderful and miraculous, and maybe even my long dead mother will be proud of me. However, part of the process is knowing that the “becoming” never stops. I’ll always be on the way, in no small part because as with The Flash, this “won’t make bad things stop happening to me.” I can’t outrun them. I have to accept this in order to run “free.” Maybe acceptance is part of the becoming too. In the meantime, “run, Barry (Robert), run.”

Yes, I need help to get Back on My Feet again, but won’t you (run) a Mile in My Shoes first?

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(This is a cross post from my fundracing page.) Sorry for the gross picture. Just imagine how it felt! So…let me explain. I’ve mentioned before how grateful I am to have been part of several amazing running communities in the past since I started running as an obese 250+ pounder in 2009. The first such community was Back On My Feet (BOMF). I found BOMF, or BOMF found me, at just the right time. It was winter 2011 and we had been in Dallas (D/FW is where I’m from) for about a year, going through the by then slow, painful process of watching my Dad die. I was finishing up a very hard year of teaching in a charter school there. Running had already changed my life and I had lost 100 pounds, but I was also already starting to gain it back. In short, I was struggling. BOMF presented this amazing opportunity to marry the power of running with my desire to do justice, all while building community among unlikely partners, and thereby allowed me to be part of something larger than myself. Moreover, I got to join as the Dallas chapter was launching. Needless to say, I was hooked. Of course, that doesn’t mean this happy story ends there, or even that it’s a happy story. It was on a BOMF early morning run not long before Dad died that I tripped and fell and “ate it.” As I like to say now, sometimes the road rising up to meet you isn’t a good thing. I finished my run that morning (what else was I going to do?) but should have guessed from the looks on the faces of those I was with that morning that it wasn’t pretty. I guess the picture above tells you all you need to know. Anyway, not long after this my Dad died, and Nathan was born, and we left Dallas and returned to Ohio for another four years or so. I would be blessed to be part of another great running community there (Team In Training) as I trained for the Canton Half Marathon, but I always yearned for something like BOMF again.

So of course I’m super thrilled to have found Mile In My Shoes (MiMS). I would have loved to have found MiMS as it was starting up a few years ago, but we’ve only been back in the Twin Cities for a year, and quite simply I simply wasn’t ready. No, the timing of me finding MiMS is just as serendipitous and providential as was the timing of me finding BOMF. Since running the Canton Half Marathon in 2012 I’ve broken two toes and torn my meniscus. I gained back every bit of the weight I originally lost, and more, and basically went nearly 4 years without running. It took surgery and many miles walking before I dared to try running again. The first time I was losing weight through running I remember struggling through a run and thinking how grateful I was. I knew some people couldn’t run for whatever reason, and I was just glad that I could. After 4 years of not feeling able to do so, every time I get out there these days, I think to myself: “don’t screw it up this time.” I pray that MiMS will help me in that regard.

Having been part of the “first mile” for a new “cycle” of MiMS the other day, I’ve been thinking a lot about how MiMS is and is not like BOMF. It seems to me that BOMF tries to and probably does a good job of building community among unlikely partners (those experiencing homelessness and those who aren’t) while promoting running as a lifestyle for those experiencing homelessness. However, running is also used as a tool, even a lever, to move those experiencing homelessness out of homelessness. It tries to “solve” the homelessness “problem.” In my MiMS orientation it was said that every resident of the shelter MiMS partners with has a case manager whose job it is to help residents move out of homelssness. They’re the “experts” in doing that and probably have access to far more resources, etc., than we Run Mentors would. We, on the other hand, are (allegedly) experts at running and the power of running to change lives. So, it was said at orientation, let’s let each respective set of experts focus on their expertise. I think part of what’s powerful about what both BOMF and MiMS does is the way that running can build confidence and capacity that can be used to solve the other problems in one’s life. While having a very difficult year a few years back I can remember getting up early to run before work and thinking to myself, “whatever else happens today, I ran 4 miles this morning. That’s something.” BOMF works proactively to leverage that running success and turn it into success at solving homelessness. In doing so, however, perhaps it runs the risk of doing for what those experiencing homelessness need to learn to do themselves.

Instead, I see MiMS being focused solely on building that community between unlikely partners and helping those experiencing homelessness become lifelong runners. All that potential success at running is still there to be had for those experiencing homelessness, but at the critical moment when it’s time to turn that into success at solving the homelessness problem, MiMS steps back and lets the homelessness experts and, more importantly, the resident members themselves take that next step. MiMS also seems a little more focused on education about homelessness and destigmatization, thereby building empathy in the larger community and sowing the seeds of systemic and institutional change. That’s why I’m proud to be a part of MiMS and hopeful for this next stage in my journey as, Lord willing, a lifelong runner myself. The road may include some road rash here or there and a broken toe or torn meniscus or two. It may include homelessness and the myriad challenges we all face each day, but there’s also grit, determination, and perseverance. There’s community among unlikely partners to be built. There are hugs and snacks and love to be had as we all, Lord willing, keep showing up for that next run, that next step, that next mile.

Running Changes Lives, but If You’ve Come Here to Save Me, Don’t Bother.

As always, there’s so much to say, and so little time to say it. Here’s the short version. Having been amazingly blessed to be part of launching Back On My Feet in Dallas when we lived there briefly as my Dad was dying, I always hoped it or something like it would come here (whether my “here” was NE Ohio or the Twin Cities). Well, “something like it” has. Quite serendipitiously, perhaps even providentially, just as I’m losing weight and starting to run again, I discover another amazing running community that is building community between those experiencing homelessness and those that aren’t. Thus, I’m proud to be “fundracing” for them in my first race in 4 years, the upcoming Torchlight5k. Here’s my first post from my fundracing page:

Running changes lives. I should know.

It’s helped me lose over 150 pounds (total; hopefully the third time’s the charm), and I’ve been privileged to be part of several amazing running communities. Mile In My Shoes is one such community. Mile In My Shoes builds community between people experiencing homelessness and those who aren’t, using running as a vehicle to change the lives of all participants. To help Mile In My Shoes accomplish their mission, I’m running the Torchlight 5k. It’ll be my first race in about four years as I’ve battled back from a meniscus tear and a couple of broken toes and am struggling to get my weight back down. Sponsor me in the race and the funds go to Mile In My Shoes. Thanks for your support!

And then I just posted this, this morning:

If You’ve Come Here to Save Me, Don’t Bother.

Yesterday we stopped by Mill City Running and I picked up a Mile In My Shoes shirt. Every purchase helps fund gear for people experiencing homelessness who participate in the program. Later, while walking around the Stone Arch Bridge Festival, I saw someone wearing a slightly different Mile In My Shoes shirt that indicated he was an alum of the program. It was a little moment of serendipity that affirmed my desire to support, and, as much as I can, be a part of this community. Won’t you help me help them, and be helped myself in the process? I’m reminded, as I often am, of the saying that I first heard Duane Crabbs repeat, which went something like: “If you’ve come here to save me, don’t bother. But if you’ve come here because you understand that your salvation is wrapped up in mine, then let us labor together.” Let’s get to work.

If you can help out, I and the folks I hope to serve/with would appreciate it. Here’s the link to donate.

Hard Times

It’s 8:50am as I begin writing this, which means that I’m less than three hours from needing to show up….for surgery. I’ve never had surgery of any kind, never been anesthetized (unless you want me to wax philosophical here); so I will admit to being a bit nervous. I’m having a partial meniscectomy. It’s arthroscopic; so that’s nice, I’m told. They’re going to make a few incisions near my knee, and shove in a camera and a tool that can be used to bring instruments into my knee. Once inside, they’re going to cut away the torn part of my meniscus, including the “flap,” and probably “shave” down the rest until it’s somewhat smooth again. Lord willing, when all is said and done I’ll be able to run again. I sure hope so, as I haven’t been able to without pain for at least a couple of years now, and all that weight I lost (twice) is back. The surgery should take about half an hour, barring complications; so let’s pray for no complications. I’ll rest up this weekend, and then head back to work Monday, again Lord willing.

Of course, having surgery for the first time has me thinking about my own mortality. As surgeries go, this one is very common and quite low risk, but as they say, “surgery is surgery.” You just never know. So, with that context, here’s what has been occupying my thoughts. First, this song, another one by Gillian Welch:

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The lyrics are:

There was a camp town man, used to plow and sing
And he loved that mule and the mule loved him
When the day got long as it does about now
I’d hear him singing to his muley-cow
Calling, “Come on my sweet old girl, and I’d bet the whole damn world
That we’re gonna make it yet to the end of the row”

Singing “hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind
Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind, Bessie
Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more”

Said it’s a mean old world, heavy in need.
That big machine is just picking up speed
They were supping on tears, they were supping on wine
We all get to heaven in our own sweet time
So come all you Asheville boys and turn up your old-time noise
And kick ’til the dust comes up from the cracks in the floor

Singing, hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind, brother
Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind
Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more

But the camp town man, he doesn’t plow no more
I seen him walking down to the cigarette store
Guess he lost that knack and he forgot that song
Woke up one morning and the mule was gone
So come on, you ragtime kings, and come on, you dogs, and sing
And pick up the dusty old horn and give it a blow

Playing, hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind, honey
Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind, sugar
Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more

It’s a nice idea, isn’t it, not letting hard times rule one’s mind any more? I like the turn the song takes. It’s a potentially devastating one, when the camp town man has lost his mule, and his song, but it’s one that seems quite true to life for me. Of course I can’t know exactly what Gillian meant by the lines that follow, but there seems to be some hint of the song being picked up by others, perhaps many others. This too seems true to life, or true at least to the life I want to be a part of. The camp town man may have lost his song, but others will pick it up and sing it, perhaps for him. This, by the way, is why I appreciate liturgy and the historic, communal prayers and songs of the church. They provide words, and songs, when we have none. So here are some other words that I’ve found useful of late, from Rod White’s blog:

This week I had two experiences that taught me more about following when it is hard — in these cases when justice is hard to find. Here’s the essence of what I am learning: When we “break the law” (the “truth” we beat people with) and forgive (the love that doesn’t lie about who we are and what has happened), we are learning to walk in His steps. We must get beyond the rules and get to the Ruler.

More than one of my friends is harboring resentment toward another friend for something that person did — several of them are married to each other! You’ll probably relate to this: at one point the resented one did something my friend did not like or thought was wrong — or maybe they did it repeatedly, or maybe they just are it. In the case at hand, that person did something and it rubbed my friend the wrong way. It set off an unexplainable reaction in him. He told the person what he felt and got no satisfaction because they could not change what they did and they didn’t feel it was wrong.

So in some place in his heart, he cut the person off. In a very real way, the person had violated some law by which he ran his life. Just running into them began to feel awkward. They needed to be punished. If they got away with it, he would be giving  up something precious. The way he punished them was to cut them off. As we talked about the impact of this reaction, we found that it had a lot more to do with my friend’s heart than it did with the other person’s actions. (Meditating on the people who bother you the most may be fruitful at times). The resented one tripped off some ancient alarm wire in an area God needs to enter. After a long consideration, he realized that instead of holding on to this sense of injustice he felt, he should just forgive the person – even if they were still bad.

Forgiveness is the starting point that God gives us. Reconciliation follows. Holiness might be quite a ways down the road, justice even farther. Like God in Jesus, we also need to start with forgiveness, not judgment. Your truth might kill someone. Your “law” might need to be broken. In a cell group, starting at the starting point becomes even moreimportant to teach and to learn together. There are so many opportunities to trip over someone’s wire in a small community that people can quickly get the feeling that they need to be very careful, instead of ready to risk love. There is a lot more to a relationship than the starting point with God and others. But we may never start at all we don’t forgive as we have been forgiven.

Gary Bunt — Some People Following Jesus

The other experience is more theoretical because it came up as part of my dissertation presentation. My subject might be too dissertationy to introduce here. But part of it dealt with how psychotherapists apply their ethical standards and follow law.  One of the ethical standards therapists keep is to maintain a professional relationship with clients. It is outside their boundaries to have sex with clients, but also to have business relationships, social relations and other kinds of relationships that muddy up the waters of the alliance they make with a client in service to the client’s health. We discussed how hard following this law can be in a small community such as Circle of Hope where a therapist might run into a client (for example “At the Love Feast,” someone said). My research showed that most therapists take this ethical principle seriously. Some take it so seriously that it becomes a law they are afraid to break – even when breaking it might be in the best interest of their client. The dialogue reminded me that we are all prone to letting a law do the work of relating for us. We live under the influence of unforgiving powers and it takes some courage to violate their will.

At the heart of the world, Jesus is our law; he’s the way, the truth and the life. Our characters are containers for his Spirit. Whatever laws and agreements we might make are subject to his rule; they should be containers for his truth and love, too.

I told someone about my experiences and I said, “I want to be ruled, not just follow rules.”

Most of us are going to begin by following rules – the ones installed in our hearts by parents and teachers and the ones put upon us by governments and associations. But, like Paul says, even the Mosaic law was just a tutor to help us learn Christ, the king of the kingdom. Sometimes the rules will reveal our Ruler because of how absent he is from them.

If you are exploring all the rules you live by, how about installing a better one in the heart of your spiritual territory? Let’s try this: When someone is doing something wrong (at least wrong according to your rules you live by), maybe the first rule should be to follow the example of our ruler: forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.

Usually, I don’t fully know what I am doing either! It may seem backward to let ourselves or someone who offends us start off as forgiven and deal with the law later, but I think that is the gift God has given us. We may not get things right, but we can be righted. All those other lawbreakers need the same break as we do. Forgive them.

I appreciate this post for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that Rod unwittingly alludes to my mantra for many years now, that “rules are for relationship” (here’s an early articulation of this idea). Beyond that, though, I’ve been running into this theme a lot lately- forgiveness. Most likely it’s because I’m challenged to do so, to forgive some significant and deep wounding that has occurred over the past year+ (of course on top of a lifetime of it, but who’s counting). Maybe it’s like when you get something new (to you at least) and suddenly you start noticing other such items everywhere when you hadn’t before. I’ve seen t-shirts at farmer’s markets that trumpet the need to forgive; I heard a story on MPR about it; this was waiting for me as I picked up my Sunday paper recently. Is there a message in this, some divine, cosmic intention? Maybe.

I like the notion from the Star Tribune article of forgiveness as “a practice, a habit, like compassion or mindfulness.” It’s not linear. It’s a choice to be made, perhaps every day, like love.

It’s a choice I keep getting confronted with. Of course, the inclination when you’re hurt is to run, to get away and lick your wounds. There’s wisdom in finding a safe place to heal and recover, especially after trauma, but that healing, and recovery, will always be incomplete and unfinished without the work of forgiveness. I know this. Notice, I’m not addressing reconciliation. As Rod said, “forgiveness is the starting point” in a journey. Other steps may come. Anyway, through circumstances I won’t get into here, I’ve been confronted with reminders of my pain of late, just when I had hoped to be done with it. When one recent event happened that served as such a reminder, I remember having the image of my feet being held to the fire, and the thought came, “That’s right; you’re not done yet,” as in literally not done, still cooking. Like the new title of Rod’s blog, “development” is still happening….hopefully. Apparently my pain is an invitation to grow. If I can find the courage to face it and go through it, not to run away before I’m “done,” I might learn something. There’s a freedom there that I yearn for. In the meantime, “hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more.”

Now I have some work to do.