18 December 2013

Hi there! Remember this blog?

Hey!  If you've read my blog before you know this is typical...I blog a bit, then you don't hear from me for months or years and then I blog a bit more before another break.  So here is a brief reflection on my running lately.  I can't promise there will be more after this for a while.  I just write when the mood strikes and when I have time. 

Anyway, my running has changed a bit in the last year or so, but especially in the last 6 months.  This last spring, when the weather finally warmed up, our family did something we'd been meaning to do for a long time: we got an annual State Park permit and started hiking regularly at one of our local parks.  It helps that our boys are now both old enough to hike on their own without needing us to carry them in a backpack or on our shoulders.  Our second time out, we were having a nice time as usual, hiking through some woods and around a lake, stopping to have a snack, and just generally enjoying being outside together.  Suddenly, a man came running around a bend and dashed out of sight.  I knew people ran on trails in parks, but I never thought about doing it myself until I saw him.  I figured if he could do it, so could I, so when I had some time the next week, I drove to the park and tried it out.

I've learned by now that the best way to start doing something new in running is slowly, especially when you don't know exactly how hard the trail is going to be and you don't have proper shoes on!  So I started slowly, only running a mile or two at first.  The hills, the fun of running through the woods, and the softer trails were a revelation!  It wasn't long before I was running 5 to 7 miles every time out instead of only 2 to 4 and feeling just as great.  Besides all that, I got to run in an environment that encouraged reflection, peace, and prayer that I've come to love as much as the physical part of running.  Here is one of those places that I grew to love (Glacial Lakes State Park):

So I kind of fell in love with running all over again.  I still run on the street occasionally, but I'm already looking forward to this spring when I can get back on the trail.  I'm also searching for trail races in the area that I can participate in.  If you're a runner and you haven't tried trail running at least once, you should!  The sidewalk or street may never be the same again. In the meantime, happy running and may you have many opportunities to see something beautiful along the way!

27 May 2012

Back Issues, New Opportunities

Ugh, I've been neglecting you, blog, and I'm sorry.  And I've been neglecting you for the same reason this time that I neglected you before.  It's not you, it's me.  It's because I've been hurt again, so I've been doing my usual thing when I run up against adversity: I get kind of insulated and isolated and basically hide out for a while.  What can I say?  I'm a classic conflict avoidance personality type.  So I'm trying to face this head on and writing about it would help, I think, but first I had to say, I'm sorry. 

Here's the deal: if you can't tell from what I've written to you before, I love to run.  In fact, I feel like it's one of the few things I'm naturally gifted at.  Short list of things I enjoy doing and am pretty good at (not to toot my own horn or anything): talk to people, take pictures of trains, run.  I've turned the first one into a career where I express ideas through spoken words for a living, mostly because I'm called to it, but also partly because the second thing on that list wouldn't pay the bills.  The third one I've only discovered more recently and it has become a true joy in my life. I love running because, as a tall, lanky kid who wasn't very coordinated (and still isn't really), let's just say that athletics and I did not get along all the time when I was younger.  Then all of a sudden, I found out that there was an athlete inside of me...once I took off my shoes and started to run. 

Of course, there's no greater pain that having one of your sources of joy taken away from you.  It's sort of like when your favorite baseball player decides to sign with the Angels after saying again and again that he wanted to retire as a Cardinal.  So that's how I felt when I received a phone call from my doctor a few weeks ago following an MRI on my lower back and he told me that I have a herniated disc.  I knew it was a possibility since I had been having sciatic pain in my left leg for a few weeks, but the confirmation of it hit me hard.  All of a sudden, I was facing decisions about injections, therapy, and surgery.  Running, which I hadn't done for weeks anyway, was seeming like an impossibility for even more weeks, maybe months, maybe ever. 

To top it all off, I had to inform a couple of my best friends that I wouldn't be able to go on our much-anticipated train watching trip to Montana at the end of May, effectively killing the whole thing for all of us.  They've been extremely kind about it, though, and I think I'm taking it much harder than they are.  It's just one of those things where life seems to be going along a certain way, you have plans made, you're not worried about certain things, and suddenly it all changes.  Things you used to be able to do without thinking (like getting out of bed, walking, etc) are suddenly painful and difficult.  I have to say that the first few days of this ordeal were some of the worst of my life.  I couldn't do much without pain medication and with it, I was in a perpetual haze and unable to focus.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I've had one corticosteroid shot into my back and it has helped relieve the pain.  I'm continuing to do stretching and strengthening exercises and hoping and praying that my body can heal without the need for surgery.  I'm still not running, but once my doctor assured me that this injury was not running related, but more likely linked to sitting in one position or poor posture, I'm starting to contemplate going out and just trying a mile or two.  Above all, my friends and family (and parish) have been great through the whole thing. 

Of course, my optimism and brightsidedness (I think I invented a word there) can't be totally squashed by this.  I've learned a lot about myself and other people, especially those who suffer from chronic pain.  What I'm going through certainly can't compare to what others face, but even a small taste of daily, constant pain is enough to make me realize how difficult it must be, both physically and psychologically.  Also, I'm taking advantage of the opportunity to start fulfilling a long-time dream and goal of mine: I'm building a model railroad.  I built a few small layouts when I was in high school, but never had the time or space in college and seminary to start over.  My best friend from college bought me an N scale locomotive for Christmas and the bug has bit hard to give it a place to run.  I've collected another engine and a few cars over the last few months.  Now, with the week that I had planned to spend in Montana and the money I was going to use to get there, my friends and I are going to work on building a small layout along one wall of my garage.  For those of you more interested in that sort of thing, I'm going to be chronicling my progress over on a new blog called The Rev Goes Railroading.  You'll find pictures and details of how it all comes along.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll even be able to throw a few reflections on life in there as well. 

02 November 2011

Form Before Fast

Christopher McDougall, the author of the best-selling book Born to Run, published another article in the NY Times magazine about running today.  It's a great read for anyone curious about running in general, but especially about why the shoes you wear mean absolutely nothing when it comes to preventing running related injuries. Here is a link to the article:  The Once and Future Way to Run

It was a great read for me at this point.  I've discussed some of the points he makes before on this blog, but to recap: there is a natural way for us to run as human beings.  Our bodies were designed to run long distances without injury.  We naturally run this way as children, but we've forgotten how to run over the course of our lives.  Strapping on extra padding and support to our feet has actually increased the injury rate of distance runners over the last 30 years.  If you truly want to run without injury for miles and miles and years and years, it's essential to return to your natural running form.

I've found that this is easier said than done.  Even though I've been running in minimal footwear for almost two years now, I know that my form is still not what it should be.  I experienced some injury and setback in my first year of this simply because I went too fast and too far before I really learned the proper form.  I'm still hesitant to go too far because of this.

Oddly enough, I was just talking with my wife this morning about the possibility of running another half marathon next year.  This article comes at the right time for me.  What I've needed is some more precise direction about how to re-learn proper running form.  The simple exercise he explains in the article seems to be what I've been waiting for.  If you haven't watched the video included at the beginning of the article, go watch it: Video

I love that he actually demonstrates the exercise since the article made it sound more complex than it really is.  It's incredibly simple.  Anyone can do it.  Whether you run in shoes or without them, you need to seriously consider this form of running.  It will decrease your likelihood of injury and increase the fun you will have running.

We're probably like this in a lot of things in life, though.  We jump into something exciting and want to go too far, too fast, too soon.  Life (and faith) is about constantly returning to the basics.  We take off too quickly or head in the entirely wrong direction, but God gently (or sometimes not so gently) molds us back into our proper form.  Quite often, it's in the simplest of exercises that we retrain our bodies, our hearts, our minds, our souls, and get a little bit closer to the form we're meant to have.

24 October 2011

A word on division in the church

I haven't typically used this space to post things like newsletter articles and sermons.  However, I've had a few people tell me how much they appreciated my newsletter article for October, so I thought I might go ahead and share it.  Maybe some of it will be controversial to some of you theologically minded folks, but I welcome any discussion it might spark.  I'm curious to know what other people's standards are for "unity" in the church.  Anyway, here's what I wrote:

There’s something that’s been troubling me lately. Actually, it’s been troubling me for the last 2 years or so. Much has been written and talked about the decisions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly regarding sexuality and ordination. This article is not about those decisions or whether we should agree or disagree with them. Instead, what has bothered me since 2009 is the decision of various leaders, members, and congregations to cut giving or leave the ELCA entirely as a reaction to these decisions. While many of these actions took place soon after the decisions of 2009, the voices of division and discord continue in our denomination.
These actions are disturbing to me because they reflect a wider trend in our current culture. Our society seems to be more and more divided on more and more issues. Our political leaders are failing to act. Strong ideological rhetoric rules the day on both ends of the spectrum. Civil discourse and compromise seem to be rare commodities in so many places in our lives. Even as we gain the ability to be more closely connected through the power of social networking, we seem to be growing farther and farther apart. Rather than work through our disagreements, attempting to live together as fellow citizens and human beings, we often simply cut ties with the other and go our separate ways. We retreat to the safety of our own buildings, our own parties, our own homes, our own friends, our own websites, all while lobbing judgmental and self-righteous rhetoric against the other side.
This is something that we’re all guilty of at various times and places in our lives. It can work itself out in our homes, our workplaces, our schools, our government, or any other public place. However, it saddens me that this same spirit of division has taken root and flourishes in various places within the ELCA. It shouldn’t be so. The church is meant to be different from the rest of our lives. The church is special, not because it’s where all the good, perfect, and holy people are, but because it’s a place where everyone is welcome, no matter what your race, gender, political ideology, wealth, social status, and yes, sexual orientation. It is the one place where divisions should end and unity in Christ rules the day. To claim otherwise by dividing ourselves from one another is not only disheartening; it is a direct assault on the sacraments that are central to our faith and practice.
First, it is an affront to the baptismal promises that bind us together. When we were washed in the waters of baptism and “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever,” we were bound to Christ and to one another with a bond that cannot be broken. Leaving a congregation or the ELCA is a false division. It denies the Spirit of adoption that has claimed us all and holds us together as brothers and sisters in Christ. At its worst, it could be interpreted as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the one sin that Jesus says is unforgiveable. When we dismiss one another, we deny the Spirit’s power in baptism to overcome our sinfulness and unite us as the one body of Christ.
Second, it robs us of the powerful witness that is given when we share table fellowship with one another in the sacrament of Holy Communion. There is nothing more compelling in our broken and divided world today than the welcome Christ gives all people to his banquet table. Rich, poor, young, old, men, women, Republicans, Democrats, gay, straight, all races, sinners all of us, are welcome to receive mercy and pardon through the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why the most profound words we say to each other are “the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you.” It is humbling and powerful to stand in front of the congregation, to see each of you come forward, and to know how deeply Christ means those words for each of you. It is the one place I still see in our world where divisions truly cease and all are welcome on equal footing, no one greater than the other. If, then, we truly mean those words for one another, for every person that comes to Christ’s table, how can we go and divide ourselves as if they’re not true? What more do we need to unite us than the body and blood of Christ? I cannot tell you how sad it is to me that we are robbing ourselves of the chance to provide this witness to the world by deciding that these sideline issues are more powerful than the uniting power of Christ’s own body and blood.
I pray that these divisions will cease and that we can resume working together for the sake of the gospel. Rather than give in to the evil desire for division and discord, let us witness to the power of our unity in Christ. Let us have the courage to proclaim that, while we may deeply disagree with one another on certain issues, we are still united by the Holy Spirit through our baptism into Christ and by the power of his body and blood, given and shed for all people. There is no greater witness we can provide to our world today than to show how people of vastly differing opinions and backgrounds can live and worship together, united by a power that is greater than all false divisions: the power of the cross of Christ.
In Christ,
Pastor Bryant

So, what do you think?  The issue of sin in the church is a difficult one.  I wrote this from an ideological standpoint, but I understand that the way we live this out practically is full of compromises.  For instance, I don't want psychologically unstable and violent individuals endangering the safety of the congregation.  There may be instances when individuals would not be welcome to attend worship.  I wouldn't let every person on the street teach Sunday School.  However, as a basic stance of my faith, I need to look on my fellow sinners through the eyes of Christ, offering them mercy and pardon.  Like I said, I can understand a need to hold certain people at a distance for the sake of safety.  What's troubling is that we aren't dividing the church in order to protect ourselves from danger or violence.  Instead, we're dividing ourselves to protect some false sense of holiness and purity.  The only holiness we have is Christ's holiness, not our own.  Again, I feel like we're robbing ourselves of a huge opportunity to witness to the power of our faith precisely when the world needs to see examples of unity the most.

19 October 2011

Communicatio idiomatum

So I spent a good chunk of last week at the Southwestern Minnesota Synod's Fall Theological Conference, which is a fancy way of saying that the pastors and leaders in our area got together for a few days to hear some presentations, learn some things, share some ideas, and generally experience what we like to call "collegiality" (that's a fancy way of saying we work together, support one another, and try to get along).  Anyway, the theme of this year's conference was "Ecclesia," which is a fancy way of saying "Christian church."  We heard a couple of speakers who, in a lot of fancy ways, talked about how we might re-imagine what it means to be the Christian church in a post-modern, 21st century, post-Christendom, emergenty kind of way (that's a fancy way of saying we don't know who we are, the church as we know it is fading out of existence, so we probably need to do things differently).  There were plenty of great ideas thrown around and there was lively conversation and it was generally a good thing, in a Lutheran, theological, conferency kind of way.

On the other hand, I can't tell you how weird this sort of thing is.  I found myself wondering what people looking in from the outside would think of our Fall Theological Conference on the subject of "Ecclesia."  The theological language we use must be bizarre in and of itself, if not indecipherable (that's a fancy way of saying you can't understand it).  At some point, I wanted to walk out of the room, find one of the staff members of the conference center we were at and ask them, "What do you think about all this?  What do you think the church is?  Can you understand any of what we're talking about?  Do you think any of it matters?"  I really think I would have learned more from that conversation than I did from parts of the conference itself (as great as it was).

I guess these things are especially strange to me as a young pastor because I'm on the inside now, but I also remember what it's like to be on the outside of leadership in the church.  I remember looking at pastors sitting around tables talking and thinking, "Wow!  They're so much smarter than me!  They must be having great conversations!"  The truth is, we're not, and we're not.  (Ok, that's too harsh, but you get my point about putting pastors on a pedestal, right?)  Pastors are people who happen to have (presumably) learned a lot about the Bible and theology so that we can preach, lead worship, preside at Holy Communion, etc.  That doesn't make us better than anyone else or smarter than anyone else.  Some of the best theologians I've ever met are people who spend a lot of time behind the wheel of a tractor or truck, in front of a classroom, in a nursing home room, at home with young children, or behind a desk.  They're some of the best theologians because they take the Christian faith and interpret it in everyday language that's meaningful to them.  That's something pastors struggle to do because we're encumbered by all kinds of theological language and ideas that are generally confusing (even to us at times, which is why we have to think and talk about them a LOT).  We also are hindered by the fact that we generally spend our time sitting in church offices, in meetings, visiting church members, and doing other churchy things.  In other words, we, because it's our job, tend to focus on the church.  Unfortunately, that makes it somewhat difficult to focus know...the world.  That is, unless we make a conscious effort to get out of our churches and engage the world as pastors, not as our mild-mannered alter egos that go grocery shopping and other normal, everyday things, but as honest to goodness pastors.

Like the pastor that I am, I'm starting to ramble on too long, so I should wrap this up.  I basically wanted to say that I've sensed for a long time a disconnect between pastors and lay people in our church, and I don't think it's helpful.  I love theological conferences and learning new things, but it doesn't do a bit of good if it can't be communicated in ways that actually matter to people.  I get the sense that some pastors love these conferences because it gives them a chance to be among their peers and have the kinds of deep and thoughtful conversations that they long for.  (Or, as a pastor once told me, "If I had enough money, I never would have left seminary.")  I understand that, to a point, but then I just want to say, "Enough already! Let's get out of here and try having these conversations with other people!"  Let's get back into the world to keep trying to convey the message of Christianity in a way that's engaging, experiential, and meaningful.  I'm pretty sure that's what this whole "communicatio idiomatum" thing is about (that's a fancy way of saying the human and divine interact in the person of Jesus Christ so that we can be drawn closer to God in him).  However, I worry sometimes that our theological language, as wonderful as it is, obscures Christ more than it serves him.  This isn't meant to be critical of our pastors and theologians.  It's more like a warning against intellectualism, or worse, gnosticism (a fancy way of saying you're saved by your special knowledge of Christ instead of Christ himself)....myself included.  Having said that, I think I'll go up to the bakery and see what a few of my favorite theologians are talking about...

Required running content: this was all a fancy way of saying I think we as pastors and theologians do a great job of talking about running but often fail to lace up our shoes (or just run without them :-)