A Day of Wonder

I wonder.

Training for triathlon in this fall weather reminds me how much I love to run outside. After a rainy couple of days indoors on the dreadmill and the bicycle trainer, I shot out of the door today like a horse that’s been cooped up in the barn all winter. With temperatures in the Fahrenheit fifties and the sun shining, even the one-mile intervals at a speed too fast to talk while running feel like play, not training.

Doves fly around today with lowered anxiety since dove hunting season has passed. Deer season opened last week, so the deer creep warily out of the morning shadows, glance at me from too far away to see that I am unarmed, and then disappear into the brush.

A coyote crosses the road carrying a rabbit, or, to translate literally from the coyote language, breakfast.

mmm, breakfast
mmm, breakfast

On days like this, every breath brings thoughts full of wonder. How can the world contain so much beauty? How has nature wrought the complexity of a human body that can respond to the stress of training with adaptations of improved strength and speed? How has the ecosystem produced the balance of nature that yields rabbits slow enough to keep coyotes fed but fast enough to survive long enough to procreate? As a wannabe naturalist, I can explain the process of natural selection that has led to such a wonder as today, this moment right now, and all the things around me that are growing and dying and feeding new life and rising, but it is still a wonder.

Then, my knee begins to hurt.

And I catastrophize.

Maybe it’s not just sore. Maybe I have permanently damaged it and this is the last day of my life that I will ever be able to run.

The knee pain shifts my thoughts from Psalm 118,

This is the day that the Lord has made, Let us be glad and rejoice in it!

To Ecclesiastes 3,

For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; 

as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath,

and humans have no advantage over the animals;

for all is vanity.

All go to one place;

all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.

That pain in my knee turns my wonder in the other direction: Why must there be so much suffering? Why must rabbits die for coyotes to eat? Why must our bodies deteriorate with time? Why must we die for worms to eat?

All is vanity and chasing after wind, says Ecclesiastes.

I walk a few steps, then stop and stretch. I touch my toes, then bend a knee and grab each ankle in turn and stretch out my quads. I lean against a mailbox and stretch out each of my calves.

I stride out a few steps, then a few more, and a little faster, and all is well, the pain is gone. I chase after the wind, and it feels good, so good.

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What Motivation Wants

Neill Morgan, at mortalironman.com

When the road looks seductive, running is easy. When it’s not easy, how can we motivate ourselves?

Motivation is a lover who needs and deserves your attention if you expect her to stay faithful to you.

Here’s what Motivation wants:

  1. Atmosphere. Keep the environment conducive to her mood by laying out your clothes and shoes the night before. Make sure the shoes, shorts, and singlet look and feel good, that they’re not old, stinky, or worn out. You want to get out of bed each morning and tell your Motivation, “Let me slip into something more comfortable.”


  1. Frequent Feedback. Tell your Motivation how much she means to you
    There’s nothing like a healthy resting heart rate and blood pressure to keep you motivated.

    with frequent feedback. Weigh often. Measure your waistline. Take your blood pressure and measure your resting heart rate each morning. Test your fitness with a weekend race or a time trial on the track and plot your results on a chart. With frequent feedback, you tell your Motivation, “You make me a better man.”

Continue reading

Sabotaging Stewardship

This time of year, church leaders sharpen their pencils and write budgets, and preachers turn to the most inspirational sermon material we can find to motivate people to pledge and give enough to support those budgets. We do our best to talk about stewardship more inclusively than making a budget, and some of my friends do that very well. We preacher-types have become very skilled at laying out the benefits and joys of stepping up to a higher level of stewardship of our gifts, whether that means giving away more money or time, becoming a better friend, spouse, or parent, or taking better care of this earthly tent in which we live. What we almost always fail to tell anyone about is the dark side of stepping up:

If you become a better steward of your gifts, you will be sabotaged.

If you step up your leadership of an organization to the next level, and maintain a new sense of vision and clarity for more than a week, you will be sabotaged.

If you raise your fitness regimen, or your practice of spiritual discipline and ethics to a higher plane, you will be sabotaged.

Sabotage may come from others, especially Continue reading


“Why would anyone run 26.2 miles unless somebody is chasing you?”

It has something to do with love and death.

The day after running a marathon, hobbling around, draining fluid from my swollen toe, and popping naproxen to calm down all the inflammation in my knees and hips, I ask myself again, “Why am I doing this?” While friends and family members may leaf through the mental health diagnostic manual to point me toward the answer, I hand them a list of reasons. I’m too tired to recite them, so I have written them down.

It’s a good way to raise money for good causes.

There are other ways to raise money. That doesn’t really explain why someone would train for and run a 26.2 mile race.

It’s also a good outlet for my competitive instincts. There are parts of my natural personality that I have to hold in check in my role as pastor. Winning theological arguments may be a contact sport in academic circles, but in a church board meeting, throwing an opponent to the floor and doing a moonwalk victory dance, Continue reading