My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ugandan Road Trip: Fortaste of the feast to come

"For God and My Country"
I’m now just a little over a week away from embarking on the Ugandan road trip that I and four other individuals from Refuge will take. I’ve got my shots, purchased some toiletries and such but really haven’t begun to pack. As I relayed in an earlier post (see "GO TO AFRICA!"), this trip is really about making connections with fellow family members that, beside Pastor John Lutayaa, we have yet to meet. Over the past month both Randy and I have exchanged emails or Facebook messages with a handful of Ugandan pastors or ministry leaders with the hopes of firming up our itinerary which remains fairly open. It is, we’re told, the African way. I wouldn’t know. I don’t think we need chapter and verse for the week or so we’ll be in country but it might be nice to get a table of contents, at least.

We know where we’re going to stay (YWAM Hopeland near Jinja), where we’re going to be on both Sundays we’re in country and on St. Patrick’s Day. I have a good friend who serves in Nairobi, Kenya (where our other team is presently at) who wondered how difficult would it be for me to fly there for a visit. It is the country right next door but it all depends on how cheap an airplane ride it would come to. But otherwise, our itinerary feels as wide open as the savannah.

Our first Sunday we will be at Gospel Messengers Church in Kampala pastored by Pastor Moses and Hopkins Ssemanda. We’ve heard of Pastor Moses for several years through Tom Stamman of Impact Ministries International who has visited Refuge 2-3 times a year for some time. He tells us that this man is good people. One thing is for sure: if their choir performs the Sunday we are there I think we all are going to have a little bit of a challenge of returning to worship in the States as we know it. Here’s a brief clip of a amateur video they posted on YouTube of their choir performing:

We’re all hoping to see them in person. Pastor Moses, unfortunately, is in the States presently but Hopkins assures Randy that we will be sharing on the 11th. What that actually means, I guess we’ll find out. Good thing that for the last six years I have been practicing my extemporaneous preaching style at the Justice Center. Besides, what good respecting Pentecostal preacher doesn’t keep a message in his back pocket ready to use when necessity demands it?  It may demand it within 24 hours of being in Uganda.

On Sunday, March 18th – our last day in Uganda – I will be preaching at a Word of Victory church in Kampala as a guest of Pastor John Lutayaa. John stayed in our home in 2008 and in 2011, preaching at Refuge on both occasions. He is returning the favor, I guess. While searching YouTube I did find this brief video that was posted by an American couple that apparently spent some time with John back in 2008. Victory Christian Ministries have started numerous fellowships in Uganda and this video depicts a visit to Namatumba Victory Church that appears to be located in a rural area. The clip is long – a little over 9 minutes – but the audio of the Newsboys “He Reigns” makes up for it (I think).

I look forward to seeing John in his own element and get a better appreciation of the work he does there.

A day after I went public with my plan to travel to Uganda, a friend of mine posted a video promotional for a book I had never heard of, Kisses from Katie. It is the story of how Katie Davis, a young woman from Tennessee, walked away from a life that was hers for the taking and embraced a life of love and service in the very East African country we are about to travel to. What’s more, she happens to serve in the general vicinity of Jinja, right where we’re going to stay. Watch the video, and you’ll want to meet her, too. Even NPR seems impressed with her (see Foster mom to 13 Ugandan girls).

When we contacted her website as to how difficult it would be to arrange a meet-and-greet, we were informed that all we needed to do is show up at the feeding station she frequents with her 14 girls every Saturday. So while all of you will be darning your best green on St. Patty's Day, we'll be hanging out with Katie and her throng. As long as we were going (they asked) would we mind if they sent us something to bring to her? So now we’re serving as pack mules as well. Well, as long as we’re heading that way, right?

So, this is the foretaste of what will certainly be the feast to come. I can’t wait to take my own videos of some of the same people and others I’m sure we’ll be introduced to. I can’t wait to snap away with my 35mm camera. I can’t wait to get the soles of my running shoes dirty with good, red Ugandan dust. I can’t wait.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wincing at the words of Jesus

Looking at his disciples, he said:
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God...’”

It will not do to run to Matthew and emasculate Luke's words of verse 20. The point Matthew makes about ‘poor in spirit’ (Matt 5:3) is a true one, but so is the note that Luke raises.”
Darrell Bock, Luke: The NIV Application Commentary, pp. 196-97

The scene is a familiar one. As Luke tells it, Jesus has spent all night on a mountain in prayer prior to choosing those who will soon be referred to as The Twelve. As morning breaks he comes down, and selects out of what could be hundreds of followers those who will be his authoritative representatives of the Kingdom of God. But as usual, word has got out about his whereabouts and like a rock star people flock to him from all points of the compass – from highly conservative Jerusalem in the south to areas dominated by Gentiles in the far north. They are all converging on his locale primarily to get a piece of him, to touch him or be touched by him if they can. Wherever he goes, people are healed and delivered from unclean and tormenting spirits and in Jesus' day apparently there are a plethora of people in that condition. Either after he has tended to them or while he ministers he begins to articulate what the Kingdom of God is like. And the first thing he says is,
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God...” (Luke 6:20, NIV)

Something like this....
As Matthew relates this same event, however, he inserts this brief caveat - “in spirit” (see Matthew 5:3). But Luke doesn't attempt to spiritualize anything. It's those who are on the bottom rung of things who Jesus pronounces the blessing upon. Frankly, Luke's re-telling of Matthew's account is unsettling to me because I do not consider myself poor. Now, I don't think I'm rich either but in comparison to a whole lot of other people in Barron County, to say nothing of the rest of the world, I'm doing okay. I own a four bedroom house, two vehicles, a camper and a canoe. In various places around my house I seem to have two of every kind of foot ware that comes to mind - running shoes, dress shoes, sandals, boots, snowshoes, slippers, a pair of hiking shoes, as well as a couple of pairs of old running shoes that I use to work in the garden or run around town. It's fair to say my feet are adequately covered for every possible contingency. I look in my closet and even though I just culled the herd, as it were, of shirts and sweaters I no longer wear, the pole still remains full of shirts, dress pants, jeans and suits (of which I have two of those, too.) I'm guessing this description is little different than a lot of other folks in my income range. Never mind that many of my clothes have come by way of Christmas or birthday presents, I am more than adequately clothed.

I am well fed, too. Not only does my girth reveal it but I can say I eat three meals a day (except those days that I choose to fast) and often indulge in some snacking in between. We do not dine on filet mignon but we eat well enough that no one goes hungry at our home unless they choose to do so. In a world where countless children go to bed every night hungry, my children have never suffered even one lost meal save for sickness. So that is why I say I am not poor.

So, how am I to respond to Jesus' words? Am I to feel guilty because I eat well while others do not? Or feel bad because my wardrobe is more than adequate compared to others who have less than I do? But I work hard, pay my bills, am in good standing with my creditors. As long as I am meeting my obligations, why shouldn't I be allowed to take my wife out for lunch or my family out to the movies?

Conservatives like we are who attend a fellowship like Refuge think of the needs of the poor now and again. We are not a group of high-rollers by any stretch of the word. We are, for the most part, blue collar folk who live simply and more than likely prefer hot beef and mashed potatoes than sweet potato chips and anything dipped in humus. But going by the banter I sometimes pick up in the entryway of our building, the poor are that way because they're lazy and they expect the government is entitled to provide them 3-square and a nice house to boot. If they would work as hard at finding a job as they seem to work the system, they wouldn't be so poor and needy. And on it goes.

I suspect that one of our challenges is that a lot of us really don't personally know any poor people. We know they're out there, know that some of our hard-earned money goes to paying taxes so that the less fortunate may benefit but are not on a first-name basis with any of them. Add to the fact that most of us already consider ourselves “poor,” - or at least poorer than those fat cats who live on the lake – and its easier to put emotional distance between us and “them.” What’s more, it's always easier to come up with a solution of a stereotypical, faceless poor person from a distance. But get closer to the matter, put a name and a face on it and it gets more complicated. People aren’t as quick to think in terms of the Golden Rule anymore so that if our neighbor is in trouble we’re more than likely to hope there’s a government program somewhere “out there” to help them. “It's not my problem,” we say to ourselves. “Besides, I have small kids at home and it would be plain stupid to open my home to someone in need whom I hardly know.” I agree but what if it's someone you know just a little better ...? What then?

Personally, I struggle with the “social gospelers” who would rather feed a man a piece of bread instead of sharing with him where he might find the true Bread from heaven. At the same time, I’m not comfortable with just praying with a hungry man and asking for God to bless him with a good hot meal. I’m not at ease with either position. It's one of the reasons I eventually had to step away from my involvement with the Food Shelf and the Salvation Army. I saw and spoke with people all the time who needed food, who needed help with their rent or a utility bill that was past due. At the same time they also had serious life-issues that needed addressing as well. In my opinion, they were bleeding out. But once I helped them get a few bags of groceries on their table or got their landlord off their back for the time being, they thanked me and went on with their day. I felt like a doctor who knows his patient has a serious life-threatening condition but had just prescribed cold medicine. They’ll make it through another month but what about the rest of their life?

I go back to Jesus' words as Luke retells them:
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.”
“Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry...”
“Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
“Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”
(Luke 6:24-26, NIV)
And, honestly, I squirm. Because I'm presently “rich” (by comparison to much of the world), “well fed” (I'm overweight), “laugh” (life is good) and have, I think, “a good name” (but hopefully not because I only soft-sold the message). By the sound of it, I'm in some kind of trouble.

One artist's rendition of a Morlock
“The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus told his disciples when some of them were put out by the women of Bethany's extravagant display of affection as she essentially bathed him in hundreds of dollars worth of perfume. And it's true. They remain to this day an ever present and mostly silent majority. And while America's poor compared to, say, the poor in the Philippines is a matter of degrees, those who live in such a state are certainly people who are hungry, sad and rejected. Jesus promise to them is that a time is coming when they will be well fed, have a good laugh and enjoy rewards that are eternal. In this election year, some of the candidates vying to be the Republican candidate for President resent what they perceive as President Obama's tact at class warfare by fixing blame on “the rich” for their unwillingness to shoulder their fair share of the tax burden. Whether that is an accurate claim or not, throughout history there have always been “the haves” and “the have nots”, the “Eloi” and the “Morlocks” of H.G. Wells' Time Machine-fame. And like it or not, uncomfortable with it or not, Jesus expects me to share with those who are less fortunate than I. But it simply won’t do for me to keep my hands clean of the matter by just sending an offering to the Chetek Food Shelf trusting that my donation will go to help “a good family” in need. He commands me to love my neighbor whether he is a worthy man or not.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mission Progress Report

This past week, the steering group of what we simply refer to at Refuge as the Spring Missions Event began planning this year’s version. We are quick to not call it a “missions conference” as that implies big-ness and this is a decidedly small-scale occurrence as those things go. But having said that this (now) annual happening – called “For the Glory of the Name” the last two years – has been catalytic in the life of our fellowship in creating a greater vision and awareness of the work Jesus still calls his disciples to.

Some of us helped Dave....
Missions” – as the word is understood in churches like Refuge in the Charismatic/evangelical tradition – has been a regular part of our fellowship since before I got here. Under my predecessor, John Tuttle, our fellowship made a commitment to tithe 10% of our annual income to mission work (I don't know percentage-wise how we're doing today but most years its close – or more if you count all the mission money that flows through our small coffers). What’s more, the proximity of the YWAM-Northwood campus has nearly insured that there has been a regular flow of individuals who have either attended or joined our fellowship over the years who are committed to extending the Gospel to the uttermost part of the realm. And when you foster relationship with people who have dedicated their lives to “going”, often you end up coming alongside them to help in what they do simply because they’re your friends. Dave and Pam Innerebner, serving on the Lac Coutre Oreilles Reservation about an hour and a half north of here, are a case in point. Dave was a YWAM staffer when he began attending CFGT in the early 90s and as he has pursued his calling to serve the First Nations people, some of us have helped him in stints whether it’s been joining him in outreach, assisting him build “the Lodge” on the grounds of what is now the YWAM-Discovery campus or the biannual wood-cutting events one of the guys from Refuge organizes. For many years in November, CFGT would host our annual “reenactment” of the first Thanksgiving as Dave and his tribe of First Nation folk would come down off the Rez for turkey dinner with all the fixins'. And some years, it even led to dancing. At the turn of the 21st Century, we helped found and establish The Garage, our local youth center. And just a few years ago we joined a couple of other local fellowships in our area to open The Well International, a ministry in nearby Barron committed to reaching out to the small but growing Somali refugee population there (see Same time next year). All this to say that Refuge has been involved in mission and mission work for some time.

In 2010, the first year of “For the Glory of the Name”, Duane and Lois Pederson (See The essence of discipleship), on an extended sabbatical leave from the YWAM Crossroads Discipleship Training School they lead in Baguio, Philippines, were part of the planning group. As I recall, Renee and I met out at their cabin on Loon Lake east of New Auburn, and it was Duane, in fact, who was the inspiration for the title of our event. “We don't go in search of adventure. We go because he calls. We go for the glory of the Name,” is an approximate facsimile of Duanespeak. Duane, a former farmer and pastor, has a very practical, no-nonsense approach to missions. He and Lois have been serving cross-culturally overseas since the early 90s and are spiritual parents of many pastors and ministry leaders in the Far East. And so going is fun and includes adventure but ultimately the matter is about obedience that flows out of love for the God who has saved them. A promoter Duane is not and so whenever they return from their life on the Pacific Rim he never regales us with inspiring missionary tales out of principle – his humility forbids him from doing such. So, the only way to really get a grasp of the impact of their response to God's call is to go there and see for yourself (In '03 and '04, two small teams from CFGT did just that. And last year I taught a week at their CDTS and then Randy and I joined Duane and a few others who traveled up “into the bush” to spend a week with the Agta, Filipino aboriginals who live in far northeastern Luzon). In any case, our small planning group seized upon the next best thing from going there: we would invite all those we currently support either financially or regularly in prayer to come together for a weekend of intentional relationship building and strengthening.
Duane sharing at Refuge
In that, we feel, we were successful. Duane and Lois were on furlough, Dave and Pam came down off the Rez, Wade and Jessica Copland, the young California couple directing The Well (as well as Paul & Keri, another couple who were working with the Coplands at the time) came over from Barron, Tom and Lisa (YWAM-Northwood staffers who for several years running have lead small teams to northern Thailand as part of a DTS outreach) drove into town and even Don, the Director of the Chetek Youth Center Project (a.k.a., “The Garage”) were all on hand on that Friday night to share a brief synopsis of their ministry following an ethnic meal made of selections from each of the countries where they serve. The next afternoon, our ministry team assembled out at the River House just outside of Chetek and spent all afternoon and into the early evening ministering and praying over each couple. We had presumed it would only take a few hours and then we would enjoy a cook-out by the river but every couple were in need of ministry and that became the order of the day. On Sunday morning, Duane shared and challenged Refuge to a greater commitment to the Great Commission and living lives for “the glory of the Name.”

Crew Chief Dennis at Copland's house
Much came out of that first event. Relationships were, indeed, strengthened and some people who live very sacrificially were encouraged in the pursuit of their calling. Randy, whose heart was being stirred by a little book he had read while elk hunting in Colorado the fall before (Radical by David Platt), was “volunteered” to mc the Friday night gathering and surprised us all with the energy and passion which he brought to the task that evening. And last, but not least, during the Saturday ministry time, Jessica from The Well had shared a very practical need that weighed heavily on her: the roof of their house leaked and there was no money to fix it. Jon, a man in the building business and one of our deacons, heard that and the next day informed me that our small fellowship was to take that on. A few months later, while we were on sabbatical leave, that is exactly what happened. Their roof was replaced courtesy of generous donations of labor, equipment and money from people from our fellowship and a handful of others.

Focused on the Horn
As I detailed in an earlier post (see "Go to Africa!"), I was a bit surprised when Randy (who of his own volition had moved from just pitching in to actually help plan the event) and Renee and Kari felt persuaded that our focus for the 2011 event was to be Africa, specifically the nine countries around the Horn – Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan (which had yet to be divided into North and South Sudan), Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djoubouti and Egypt). We had no one there that our fellowship was in any kind of longstanding relationship with but if Africa was where we were supposed to draw our attention to, then it only made sense to find an African to speak to us. We found our Egyptian friend, Akram, but ultimately God found us a man to share with us his burden for his native country – Uganda – and sent him providentially our way just before our mini-missions conference was about to begin.

Maria stood in for all of us
On Friday night, we sat down to an African smorgasbord of falafel, sambusa, koshari and katayes and lots of rice. LeAnne led us in an African praise song sung in Swahili. And both Akram and Pastor John shared briefly of what was going on in their particular country. In the months leading up to the missions event, the planning group had asked for volunteers to “adopt” one of the nine countries for the weekend and every one was spoken for. On Saturday night, those who had adopted a country were responsible to present a list of prayer points to aid in our evening of intercession. None of us on the planning group were prepared for how seriously people took their assignment. Many prepared power point presentations and a few had created some things on poster board. The sharing alone lasted for an hour and a half and we all had a good laugh when Pastor John shared that he had learned things about Uganda he had never known before! On Sunday morning, Maria, a German woman with dual citizenship who is a part of us, asked if she could stand in the place of the European countries who in the 19th Century had colonized much of Africa and ask John's forgiveness for the exploitation that was done often in the name of Christendom. Pastor John was sincerely touched by this act of representative repentance. Later, in his rich Lugandan accent, he invited us to come to Uganda and “...serve the Lord!”

Our MC
Just like the first edition much has come about in part because of “For the Glory of the Name 2.” Most significantly, two weeks from today five of us from Refuge will be flying to Uganda to, among other things, visit Pastor John at his fellowship (Another group – four from Refuge, two from Chetek Alliance – flew out today bound for Kenya for a week before they head up to Israel for another 10 days). But looking closer at the make-up of this year's planning group is also revealing. As I mentioned earlier, two years ago Renee suggested we ask her husband, Randy, to MC the event, last year he helped plan it and this year he is the leader of Team Uganda. Renee went from encouraging those who serve in missions to going out and buying her passport and now eagerly preparing to leave with her husband on her first “out-of-the-country” missions journey.

Jon, who has been supportive of the mission event from the get-go has moved from observer/cheerleader to making a commitment to accompany Dennis whenever a wood-cutting crew heads north to Discovery or accompanying his wife to help serve a hot meal at the Benjamin House Shelter in Rice Lake, Barron County's only homeless shelter. He announced one night at one of the several Africa meetings we held following “For the Glory of the Name 2” that he had moved from “I'll never go to Africa” to “I'd better not say I'll never go.” Melissa, who has spiritual gifts of service and hospitality that get especially agitated around food, began a soup kitchen last year after God spoke to her at a leadership retreat we held. It began in the basement of Refuge with about 18-24 people attending once a week. About mid-year, after some consultations with some folks at Chetek United Methodist who had a similar dream, they officially combined efforts at their place this past fall and the result was synergistic: now regularly 60-70 people show up on Wednesday and Thursday night to sit down and enjoy a good hot meal.
The Meal in Common
And I haven't even mentioned Sheryl, the civil engineer from Refuge who feels compelled to step away from her fledgling new company and her very busy family and accompany us on our journey to Uganda or Troy, Tina, Cody and Sarah who shared this past Sunday that the reason they are going to Kenya is “that our heart might be broken by the things that break God's heart.” These are the résumés of disciples who are beginning to see what Jesus sees and are prepared to go where he leads whether that means across the yard or across the ocean. One trip may be more inexpensive than the other but each is fraught with its own kind of peril and ripe with opportunity to change the world one heart at a time. 
Be there soon...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Five $37 injection fees later...

There is a general threat from terrorism in Uganda. Attacks could be indiscriminate. Places known to be terrorist targets include places of worship, clubs, hotels, restaurants, airports, and marketplaces.”
TRAVAX® Traveler Health Report (2/15/12)
The lazy person claims, “There’s a lion out there!
If I go outside, I might be killed!”
Proverbs 22:13, NLT (1st Millennium B.C.)

Last Thursday, I sat in a small room at the Mayo's Travel Clinic in Eau Claire while a nurse walked me through all the vaccinations they recommend for those like myself who are intent on traveling to Africa. The only one that is really required as far as the U.S. government is concerned is the yellow fever vaccine. I can't get in (or is it out?) of Uganda without an official stamp on my International Certificate of Vaccination (otherwise known as the “yellow health card”'s yellow.) The only way to get yellow fever is to be bit by an infected mosquito (why don't they get the vaccination, then?) You can't catch it from a fellow human. If you are so unlucky to contract the disease you'll probably end up in a hospital suffering from fever (duh), flu-like symptoms, jaundice, bleeding from multiple body sites, organ failure and in 20-50% of the serious cases, you could die. So, it's good not to get bit by a nasty, sick little skeeter. She also showed me a map where in Uganda you are likely to contract yellow fever. It was all of it. I suddenly felt like one of those hired hands in The Cider House Rules who after hearing Homer recite the rules about not going up on the roof, or eating on the roof or sleeping on the roof replies to no one in particular, “Why don't they just say 'Stay off the dang roof?'” In other words, the best way to insure against getting yellow fever is, frankly, not to go to Uganda (or so she made me feel.)

If you don't want to get yellow fever, don't go to the places in yellow
But that vaccination was just the tip of the iceberg of several others they recommend for travelers bound for Central Africa. Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, Rabies, Meningococcal meningitis, Cholera, Influenza, Tetanus/diptheria/pertussis, Measles/mumps/rubella, and last, but not least, polio – all of these vaccines fill the 10-page packet that she handed to me. Oh and one thing more – how could I forget? - you need pills to ward off malaria which you could get in either the “Cadillac”-version, “mid-range” or “bargain basement” variety. She was adamant that I should avoid being bit by any animal while there because more than likely I would have to fly up to Europe to get treated as apparently nobody in all of Uganda is able to deal with that contingency (I'm pretty sure that's not on our agenda.) And finally, she asked me if I had ever heard of Ebola. I wanted to say, “Well, I've seen the movie Outbreak. Does that count?” but all I ended up saying was, “Yes, I've heard of Ebola.” “Well, I just want to remind you that its 100% fatal.” Yes, I get it. If I still have any courage to get on that plane and fly to Africa, like the show on cable tv there are probably a thousand ways to die there and all of them nasty.
I'm not planning on petting any stray monkeys
I asked her if I could call Randy, our team leader, to see what he and his wife, Renee, ended up getting when they sat in one of these little rooms the week before. “Absolutely,” she said as she stepped out to tend to other business. I got a hold of Randy and he chuckled a bit as he ran down the list that they got. “Our insurance will pick up a lot of it,” he remarked. Now, our family is on Badger Care, the state-run health insurance program, and while I had my suspicions that nothing I was about to submit to would be covered I called them anyway. “Is this for your job or something?” the nice lady on the phone asked. “ could say that,” I replied. She put me on hold – probably so she could laugh for awhile and then regain her composure – and then in a few minutes came back to inform me that none of these shots were covered by our plan. Of course. Where in Wisconsin are you likely to contract yellow fever or malaria anyway?

When the nurse returned I asked her if she could give me a general idea just how much this was going to run me and she very kindly began reciting prices as if she did this every day (and, I suppose, she does): “Yellow Fever. About $100 with a $37 injection fee. Hep A. About $80 with a $37 injection fee. Typhoid...” and on she went quickly adding the note on the $37 injection fee after each price. I felt slight chest pains. Add in $20 for my Wal-Mart variety malaria pills and I'm thinking it would have been better to invest in one of those pharmaceutical companies before I made my appointment at the travel clinic.

After waiting what seemed a long time, the doctor finally came in and began the process all over again of working through the travel packet and slightly applying professional pressure in recommending a whole work-up of vaccinations. “It's good to be prudent especially if you're going to be spending any time with orphans.” Well, I couldn't deny that we plan to spend some time with Ugandan children be they spoken for or not. He then repeated the warning about not getting bit by any stray dog for fear of rabies. While he talked on I suddenly thought of the movie The Pagemaster, one of Macaulay Culkin's lesser known films wherein he plays the little boy, Richard Tyler, who is paralyzed by fear. Where most 10-year old boys might be able to rattle off the stats of their favorite quarterback, Richard can just as easily tell you the statistical probability of getting seriously injured from any variety of household accidents (like falling from a tree house.) When he is forced to go to the hardware store to pick up some nails for his dad, he rides his bike there which looks like a mini-version of one of those heavily armored Strykers that our boys drove all over Iraq. He is ready for anything be it earthquake or solar eclipse. So as the doc continued to work through the travel packet and I seemed to balk at a certain vaccine he was quick to underscore what could happen to me should I be so foolish not to take what to him were prudent precautions.

Richard Tyler's Mini-Stryker
When he was through, he looked at me, shook my hand and said, “Well, good luck and have a good trip” and then left and shortly afterward the nurse returned with her clipboard and began filling out my vaccine cocktail as if the matter was concluded. I realize it's their job to alert travelers what they may run into “over there” but that moment brought to mind a similar moment back in 1985 when I was still in Bible college. On a bitterly cold winter day my Chevette had overheated and I ended up cracking the block. Under the suggestion of my future brother-in-law, I had it towed to Wheeling Auto Clinic. It turned out to be a real shady place. (When the mechanic is a guy whose shirt is open to his belly, has a match sticking out of the corner of his mouth and in the heart of February wears aviator sunglasses, I should have known better than to trust my business to him.) But he assured me that it was a relatively easy fix but every few days when I called he had found something new that needed fixing. When I finally raised my voice a bit and suggested that maybe I should simply have it taken to another place he said, “Fine. Your engine is all over my shop floor. When do you want to pick it up?” He had me over a barrel. The only way out was to see the matter through and $700-some dollars later I was driving my little four speed again. That's how I felt looking at the nurse in room #26 last Thursday. She and the doctor had properly conjured enough images of blood coming out of my nostrils and eyesockets that I finally concluded that whereas I don't want to be dead yet and I probably will be going back to Uganda or somewhere else in Africa in the future, the better course of valor was to bend over and let them have at it.

Exactly how I felt
After my order was made up, the nurse left and then a few minutes later another nurse came in with a tray of needles. In the end, I got five vaccines – yellow fever, typhoid, Hep A, meningitis and polio. When I was a kid I had been vaccinated against the measles, when I worked at a daycare in the early 80s I had got chickenpox and I still have a year left on my tetanus. I also received a prescription for malaria pills. Even though I felt I just had been stuck somewhere south around my wallet-region, I got three shots in my right arm and two in the left. Every time she stuck a needle in, in my head I could hear a little cash register go cha-ching and the figure $37 show up. When I jokingly asked if I needed to sign a promissory note of some kind, the nurse laughed in return and said, “No. We'll bill you and you can set up a payment plan. So long as you make your payments it'll be fine but miss one and...well, you know.” Yeah, maybe it would be better to get Ebola.

Well, you know what they say, “In for a penny, in for a pound.” Now that I have been vaccinated against all kinds of diseases I might as well as go. Again, I'm all for wisdom and prudence but I could just as easily step off a curb into Second Street on a busy summer day and become roadkill courtesy of some Illinois driver. I'd be just as dead as if struck down by typhoid – except it would be quicker. If you think about it, every day we take our life into our own hands as we hop into our car and drive off to school or work. Every day lots of potentially cancerous cells flow through our body. And every day, if you live around here, you could slip on the ice, crack open your head, take a very expensive helicopter ride that you'll never remember and acquire a staff infection while you're recovering in the hospital. It's a jungle out there, right? Just like Uganda. So, as far as I'm aware 10 out of 10 people still die. And like Malone in The Untouchables says after seeing the Canadian mounties riding down the hill prematurely before their trap for Capone's men has been properly set, mounts his horse and quips, “Oh, what the he**? You gotta die of something.” I'm hoping it's not from Ebola.
Death by a charge of the RCMPs might be a kinder, gentler way to go...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Look Who's Coming to Dinner

Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus. Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner. The Pharisees and their religion scholars came to his disciples greatly offended. 'What is he doing eating and drinking with crooks and “sinners”?'”
Jesus heard about it and spoke up, 'Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I'm here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.'”
Luke 5:29-32, The Message
I have been in enough churches to know that Christians often avoid sinners. Rather than seek them out, we run from them, often filled with fear about what issues they might bring up or what types of situations we might put ourselves in. Evangelism is a countercultural exercise that will produce its awkward moments.” Luke: The NIV Application Commentary by Darrell Bock, p. 166

Like that except without Alice
I'll never forget the Sunday morning when “the Johnsons” showed up at what was then Chetek Full Gospel Tabernacle (now Refuge) for worship. They were a small tribe of 8 – some of hers, some of his and a little boy between them. Now on a normal Sunday we average about 50 people in attendance all heads counted. On a good day we may be in the high 70s but 50-55 per week is our average attendance. We are a small fellowship in a small community and are not accustomed to receiving guests on a Sunday morning. But on that morning without a lot of fanfare “Bob” and “Sue” walked in escorting five and carrying a sixth and made their way to the second pew in the middle of the sanctuary – essentially the front row as in most North American churches the actual front row is culturally off-limits for reasons that have never been truly divined - and sat down as if they had been doing this since the place opened up. Now, when I said we normally don't have guests I do not mean to imply that we never do. But if they come they usually put a comfortable space between them and the front of the sanctuary and within lunging distance of the entryway (just in case?) But Bob and Sue brought their family to the pool that is our fellowship that morning and essentially cannon-balled in. After all, in a small fellowship it's difficult to not notice a family of eight sitting in nearly the front row.

Caravaggio's "Calling of St. Matthew"
Bob's daughter, Shelly, was a regular at our Wednesday night youth group and while she never came on Sunday morning, I figured she had put something in their ear to give our place a try. Or, maybe they were coming to find out just who it was that was speaking into their kid's life. In any case, there they all were and here we all were and so like I do with all our guests, welcomed them, introduced myself and told them to make themselves at home. I don't remember what happened at the worship gathering that morning, whether worship was subdued or more upbeat, whether I preached well or poorly but the following Sunday they were back. And once again they walked in, came down the aisle and sat in the second row. Apparently, they wanted more.

After attending our place three Sundays in a row, I pulled Bob aside and asked if Linda and I could come over to their place and get better acquainted with them. Later that afternoon, we were sitting in their living room and having coffee with them and doing just that. He had been married once before and had Shelly and her sister, Allison, which he shared custody with his ex-wife who also lived in town. Sue had children from two previous relationships and now had a son with Bob. They had been together for awhile now but not ready to get married given how much pain she had experienced the last few times around. While Bob had been raised in church, he hadn't gone to one in years. And Sue? When I asked her if she had been raised in any kind of church at all she shared with us that she hadn't. A moment later it dawned on me just what she was saying:

Me:'re saying this is the first church you've ever gone to other than for a wedding or a funeral?
Sue: Yes.

I swallowed my coffee slowly suddenly fearful as to how she was going to answer my next question:

Me: So....after three weeks, how has your church experience been?

Sue: Honestly, I'm loving it.
There's a reason he was considered disreputable by the religious right
Her answer simply floored me. I mean, I love our fellowship and the people who are a part of it. But we don't have a lot of musicians, whistles, lights, or bells. At that time we still sat in pews (chairs came in a few years later) and still used an overhead projector to display our songs (a digital projector now handles that task). All the things those church catalogs imply a happening, contemporary fellowship has to have to attract unchurched people we didn't have. And after three weeks at CFGT – the only church she had ever known (meaning I was the first pastor she had ever had a conversation with) - she was loving it. She had no beef with the order of service because she knew of no other way of “doing” it. She didn't think the songs were too fast or too slow or sung one too many times because she had zero reference point for that sort of thing. If we had been still singing hymns out of the ratty-looking hymnals we used to have that probably would have been fine, too.

Me: Um…Why us?

Sue: Well, my grandfather was dying of cancer and I was driving down the road one day thinking about that when suddenly I had a thought: we needed to find a church and go to it. So when I got home that night I told Bob that “we have to find a church.” [This was a little bit of a shocker to him] Shelly overheard and said, “Why don't you try Pastor Jeff's church?” So, that's why you.

Incredible. I can understand a person in fear for their relative's life crying out to God – even if it is in a “If you're up there, help me”- kinda way. But for heaven to respond by telling that hurting person to go and find a church somewhere is just amazing to me. I mean, pastors say that kind of thing all the time but for a decidedly unchurched person to deduce the same thing is to me something remarkable.

A month or so after they began attending, several of the fellowships in our community, ours included, were hosting the Alpha Course. She went on it and three weeks into it opened her heart to Jesus. Bob didn't participate in the course but due to the change in his wife's life by that summer had rededicated his life to Christ. Keep in mind during this time they were still living together but frankly more regular in their attendance than some of our own people. Some would probably disagree with me but in their case I didn't think that the number one issue in their spiritual journey at that particular moment was cleaning that little awkwardness up. I just figured that in due time the Holy Spirit would bring them to a place of “now.” So, week after week, the Johnsons would come in, take a bulletin, shake some hands and take what was now “their” pew prominently stationed in the front.

That June, Bob approached me with the following invitation:

Bob: Pastor, I just want you to know how much Sue and I appreciate how you and the rest of the church have made us feel so welcome here. And to show our gratitude, we'd like to have you all out for a picnic in our backyard a few weeks from now. We'll provide the grilled chicken if people can bring some sides and dessert.

Me: Sure! We'd love to!

And so their invitation went into the bulletin and was duly announced for the next few Sundays. What a nice gesture, I thought. All we had done is do what I think all churches are supposed to do: welcome all comers to their particular fellowship whatever baggage they might bring. But a week after I had announced the picnic, I got a call from one of the dear (and few) senior citizens that were a part of us at that time.

Dear Saint: [in hushed voice for fear of being overheard?] Pastor…I am calling with a concern. I think it’s great that the Johnsons are coming to church and that the Lord is doing a good work in their lives. But by making this a church event do you realize what you’ve done? You’ve endorsed their living arrangement, that it's okay for people to live together and not get married. What about all our young people? What do you think we’re telling them? Aren’t we encouraging the acceptance of that behavior?

Me: [Actually, a little stunned by the question] Ah…well, I guess I never thought of it that way. They invited us to chicken dinner and I said “yes.” They were extending us a welcome – in response to the welcome they felt they had received from us – and I simply said, “We’d love to. Thanks!”

She wasn’t the only one that broached the subject. There was another nearly-there senior who said as much the same to me in a personal conversation wherein he questioned the wisdom of accepting their invitation and announcing it as a CFGT-sponsored event. And as I responded to the dear woman on the telephone, I explained that Bob had invited us to dinner and I said “yes.” Wouldn’t it be inhospitable to say, “No. You guys are living in sin so I can’t eat with you?”

Like this...but without the quaint looking church
But other than these conversations, the picnic went on as planned. And to their credit both those who had expressed their reservations of attending were there and had brought something to pass. We had a wonderful afternoon in Bob and Sue’s backyard and the chicken was, frankly, to die for (a few years later our oldest daughter approached Bob and asked if he would grill the chicken for her graduation party which he happily agreed to do so.)

A year or so later, on what turned into a beautiful early summer day, our small building was packed to the gills to witness Bob and Sue share wedding vows. Today, they both serve in a variety of capacities in our fellowship and I consider them part of the inner core of Refuge. They are different people from that blended family that walked into our sanctuary eight years ago. They have grown and are in the process of growing into that changed life Jesus invites us all to enter into.

I think of that banquet Levi threw in his home after Jesus had invited him to leave his career of choice and become one of his students. It was something akin to amazing – a disreputable guy like himself, who in the tax business had made a good profit and a good living, had been invited to become a learner of Rabbi Jesus, to close up shop and leave everything. Who does that sort of thing? Who turns their back on security and a profitable business to follow an itinerant and controversial teacher? Someone who is persuaded that the life they are choosing is somehow fundamentally better than the one they are leading. Jesus enjoying table fellowship at Levi's was a scandalous thing. It wasn't so much what the neighbors will think; it's what kind of message is he sending to the religiously minded of matters of sin and separation. Apparently, when offered the choice between keeping company with the “righteous” or “sinners” - he usually chose to be numbered with the sinners!
Talk about an awkward moment...
I remember hearing Jim Cymbala of Brooklyn Tabernacle fame share that when people who call themselves Christians come to the Tab and are cohabitating together but ask him to marry them, he insists that they must separate before he does. In fact, if I remember correctly, he gets on the phone and asks different members to house one or the other until the two are properly married. He sees it a sin-issue and this is his way of keeping the church contaminated from the leaven of sin. Maybe he's right. Maybe I'm too loose on these sorts of things. It's true it worked out – Bob and Sue are now legally married and of good standing in our fellowship. But I think what Bock says is also true – that when dealing with sinners awkward moments are bound to happen. They say things and do things that are not necessarily “pc.” After all, everyone in a church like Refuge loves the idea of lost people coming to Christ – until they show up at our local place of worship. I've done some fishing in my life but I've never heard of a fish that came pre-cleaned when it was brought into the boat. They all come in need of cleaning. When Bob and Sue and their family chose our fellowship as their own (note: they did not actually become members until after they were married), we made room for them with no spoken expectation that they clean up their act. What will we do when John and Bill show up or Lisa and Caroline? God help us to show them the same welcome that God in Christ has shown us all.

A good friend of mine who pastors in the Twin Cities has made the acute observation that it is typical of churches to insist on right behavior and right beliefs first before a person can belong to their particular group. But in reality Jesus insists that we belong first and that it's in belonging that in time we will behave in a manner that honors God. But first things first. First he offers us love and acceptance and then the rest, in time, will follow suit.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Crossing the Century Mark for 2012

Today, on a bitterly cold morning, I went over the 100-mile mark for the first time this year. It took me 23 runs to get there (I began logging mileage for this year on January 3) but on a farm road southwest of town I crossed the century-mark. It's not like I haven't done that before. I've been recording mileage since 2000 and sometime in the next few months the odometer on my little engine should turn over the 10,000 mile mark. But last year was such a frustrating year running-wise that I have been intent on getting back on track this year. In 2011, it took me until April 9 to reach the century mark (compared to February 16 in 2010). So getting to 100 (actually 104.4) this early is a good indicator that I've hit a new groove.

Me on the Tuscobia Trail in '09
One of the odd things that is on my “bucket list” is to run every public road in Barron County. I don't know what mileage-wise that amounts to (although according to Wikipedia the county has a total area of 890 square miles.) Whether I am able to do that depends a lot on my continued fitness and whether the good people of Refuge continue to retain me long enough for me to accomplish this. At the present time I've got the entire southeastern corner of the county completed and parts of the northeastern corner as well. To those who may ask, “Why?” I reply, “Because.” But really the idea is inspired by the story found in Genesis 13. After Abram (later Abraham) and Lot separate, Yahweh makes a promise to his junior partner to give the land to him as an inheritance. In response, Abram is commanded to make a faith-walk as a promissory note: “Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you” (13:17, NIV.) Several years ago that verse got inside of me and I've made it my intent to run the length and breadth of this land ever since, if only to say there is not a road in our county where a disciple of Jesus has not run. Admittedly, I've got a long way to go.

Mine is something like this
But this morning, in anticipation of crossing the century-mark for the year, I decided to run these miles out on some roads I had not run before. The temperature on the sign at the former Nelson Realty read 1 above at 7:20 a.m. when I left town. The sign at Sterling Bank read 2 above. But a strong head wind from the north bringing in bitterly cold arctic air most certainly made the air temperature somewhere below zero. I drove out on County I heading toward Dallas. When I got to 20th Street, I turned right and parked the van. After putting my sports belt on containing a bottle of water and a bottle of Gatorade Rain (even on a cold morning like this, I knew I was going to sweat a lot and experience has taught me that it's important to refuel) I threw on my balaclava. This little item is essentially a large sock that covers your whole head and that you can adjust as to what parts of your face you want covered according to weather conditions. On frigidly cold mornings it's a “must use” piece of equipment. I also wore my Saucony gloves that come with an overlay that turn them into mittens and protecting me from frostbite (back in 2008 on a cold, winter morning I got frostbite on my thumb and it hurt like billyo for over a week.) Once geared up, I took off directly into the teeth of that arctic air coming right out of Saskatchewan.

I was running in Amish country not because I saw any out and about (in fact, I was the only human being out on 20th Street [and 7th, 18th and 5th as well] this morning.) No, it was the frozen horse apples that were copiously strewn intermittently along 20th Street that gave it away. This neck of the woods in Barron County lying just west of the Red Cedar River is made up of a lot of “rollers”, hills that rise and fall like a roller coaster in the kiddie section of an amusement park. Nothing overly steep but none that do not take some effort to get up. Add in a stiff wind punching you in the face and you got challenge.

Like me except more hair
I'm not a gazelle. I'm not even a broken-down gazelle. I'm more like an overfed Shetland pony (in fact, I ran past an Amish farm on Highway D who had two grazing in the field next to the road; they did not even afford me the respect of a glance) who just clips along at a steady pace. “Slower than molasses in wintertime” I think is how the old saying goes. But I just plodded along taking scheduled breaks for either water or Gatorade along the way. It was a real blessing when I finally reached 18th Street because that meant that from therein out, that cold wind would be at my back. 18th Street has a couple good dips in it and as difficult as the climbs were I repeated the oft-spoken running mantra that, “What goes up must come down” as I made my way up them. On 5th Avenue I ran past a farm I suddenly recognized – it was Kurt & Marilyn's old place, a couple who used to be a part of our fellowship back in the 90s. They lived up here for about a season or two and discovered that they much preferred the weather in Arizona, where they had moved from, from the kind that we are used to and eventually moved back there. I remembered her name right away but it took me until almost 20th Street before his name came loose from foggy bottom.

Once back on 20th Street, with the exception of one fairly large hill that I had run down before on my way out, I knew it would be all downhill to the van and with the wind at my back I was half-wishing for a sail. My short legs were moving pretty steadily and I was feeling fairly strong but then a guy in a truck pulled up alongside of me and asked if I was alright. I know he was just being neighborly and had I been dealing with a cramp or something I would have been so grateful for him asking. Maybe he was just checking or maybe my pace looked more like a guy who's really cold and just trying to get back to his van. In any case, I thanked him for his concern and waved him on. A few minutes later I was back at the van. I had recorded 10.8 miles.

As I stated earlier, I'm just really glad that I feel at long last back on track. In 2011 life-interrupted a lot so that I only recorded 421 miles the entire year. Since 2000, an average year for me is more in the area of 575 (although a few years I did record over a 1,000 road miles.) I was inconsistent and I gained about 10 pounds. I'm not making a lot of headway on my weight (my metabolism is way too slow to control it simply by exercise) but with the exception of one day, I have been consistent in my work-out schedule (I run four days a week.) A few weeks ago, on an even colder morning than today, I ran 6.5 miles around 4:30 a.m. Our fellowship was driving up to Lac Coutre Oreilles Reservation to spend a day in the cold cutting wood and so if I was going to get a run in it had to be then before we took off at 6 a.m. Part of the course ran by the Chetek River where hundreds of geese winter. As I ran by them in the pre-dawn dark, one began to honk, and then another and within a hundred paces or more a whole chorus of honkers were going at it. When I told that to one of the guys later he looked at me and said, “Jeff, that's how geese laugh.” Hm, really? Well, I'm glad they enjoyed a good laugh at my expense. A goose's life can be challenging enough.

If it's red its been run
When I got to our building late morning, I got my Barron County map out. It's tradition for me now that following running an “uncharted” road that I indicate on this map with a red marker that it has now been officially ran (by me, that is). Today I was able to color in four roads. I've already got my sights set on a section immediately west of where I ran this morning. Hopefully next Saturday morning I'll get to mark that map again, cold or no cold, wind or no wind. After all, another item on my bucket list is running the Antarctica Marathon so I figure running on a day like today is just giving me a small taste of the harsh conditions I will face should I ever be so fortunate to run there. 

Great finishes

Four years ago, Chetek (now Chetek-Weyerhaueser) High School hired me as their boys and girls Cross Country coach. I wouldn't call it my dream job – after all, pastoring the fellowship known as The Refuge is probably the best job a guy like me could ever work at – but I really love and relish the opportunity to coach the sport of Cross Country. It is such a metaphor of life – everybody who wants to and is able to runs; some run the course faster than others and many run it slower but all run and strive to cross the finish line. Most of the kids who run for me aren't consciously running against who ever else is also in the race. They are running against the clock, against themselves,  to beat their personal best and record another PR (“personal record”). As far as I'm concerned, the only way you lose the race is, barring injury, is dropping out, not finishing what you started. And in four seasons, that's only happened once.

 Like every other CC team, every year we have a motto or a theme for that particular season. In 2011, our theme was:

Jane (Bib # 123) broke "18" for the very first time
It wasn't really creative. It's actually standard runningspeak but it's so true on the course, on the track and in life. A lot of people burst out of the box or the blocks looking like the predestined champion who will be crowned at the race's end only to bonk or fade into the pack somewhere before the end. Anybody can start a race. Really, even those who are overweight and out-of-shape can get a little head of steam and look stellar in the first 300 meters or so. But its how they run the remaining 4.7km that ultimately will decide how they are judged. So, this past season I did a lot of preaching to my team on “finishing strong”, on going the distance and crossing the line with a strong kick. Whether or not that helped my runners is something you'll have to ask them about but at the Sectional meet in Barron last October they were rewarded for their hard work and effort when over half of my kids recorded PRs and some of them crossed time barriers they had never crossed before.

In this blog entry, I've gathered a few video clips of some great finishes because, as I've already chanted, it's not how you start it's how you finish that matters. This first one is a clip from Chariots of Fire, the 1981 Academy Award winning picture that dramatized the efforts of two of the members of Great Britain's track team in the 1924 Olympics, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams. I don't know if the race depicted was an actual event or simply a scene concocted to illustrate the heart of Liddell, “the Flying Scot”, but either way it's inspiring to watch:

Mr. Mussabini is right: when you fall down you must get up and finish the race (cool sound track or not).

The next one is the amazing finish of Billy Mills in the 10,000 meter run in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. With 300 meters to go it appears that Australian runner Ron Clarke pushes Mills out in the third lane making Mills' attempt to win gold even more difficult (however, in a recent interview run in March 2012 edition of Runner's World Mills says that this was a blessing in disguise because the track was firmer on the outside lanes and made it easier for him to accelerate.) Undeterred and undaunted that last 100 is one of the greatest feats in running history made even more dramatic by the announcer screaming in disbelief, “LOOK AT MILLS! LOOK AT MILLS!”

When you run your heart out, even if they don't crown you with the winner's laurel at the race's end, everyone notices.

The beginning of the 3200m race at the Bloomer Regionals
Our son, Ed, has been running since, long as I can remember. He had a solid high school running career but in his pursuit of his goal of making it to the Cross Country finals in Wisconsin Rapids he came up short. It was a tough winter for him last year. A dream had died and while he ran steadily through the cold, winter months his fire was spent. But in the spring of the year when the southerly winds began to blow he felt fresh wind in his sails and as the 2011 track season began he set his sights in qualifying for the State Meet in LaCrosse. We had a cold spring and in April more than a handful of practices, as well as some meets, were canceled due to snow and ugly weather. But with the coming of May Ed began to hit his stride. In every successive meet he set one PR after another. His 1600m times dropped from 5:05 to 5:02 to 4:56 to 4:53; his 3200m followed suit from 11:13 to 10:55 to 10:53. He was running with poise and confidence and at the Northwestern Invite, the night he finally cracked the “5 minute” barrier, at long last he caught “the rabbit” he had chased for over a year – Hetke from Ladysmith.

400 meters to go
At the Bloomer Regionals, on a warm, overcast night, he ran well in the mile finishing 4:57 but missed qualifying for Sectionals by one position. That just left him the two mile for the chance to qualify where only the top 4 would advance to the next level of competition. As he lined up at the starting line, both he and we his parents standing in the bleachers were cognizant of the fact that this was possibly the last race of his high school career.

After one lap he was running in 10th place. Although his racing strategy is never to charge off the line I was surprised at how far back he was especially given the pace of the front runner, John Vodacek from Bloomer. But as the race progressed he steadily moved up so that by the end of the first mile he was running 5th. There was a significant gap, however, between he and the 4th place kid, Kirkhoven from Stanley-Boyd. But with two laps to go Ed had closed the gap and for 800m these two dogged it out, neck and neck, elbow to elbow, each trying to gas the other. I had never seen Ed run with such poise and determination. Hetke, the kid who had bested Ed in every race his junior year, was running a distant 6th and on his last lap actually was more interested in this duel than his own. In the last 100 meters, the Stanley-Boyd runner inched ahead and crossed the line ahead of Ed by 6 or 7 steps. Even though he recorded a personal best of 10:48:37, he came in 5th. Once again a State qualifying dream evaporated in the mugginess of that spring night. But I will always cherish the memory of that last 800meters when my son ran with fire in his heart and his legs. He had given all that he had which is also about finishing strong.

Truthfully, this blog entry is really just an excuse so I can post the following video. What makes it even more special is that its true. University of Minnesota runner Heather Dorniden, now running professionally, was expected to win this qualifying heat for the 600m finals in the 2008 Big Ten Championship Meet. With a lap to go she and another one of her competitors got tripped up and she fell flat upon the track in the University Fieldhouse. What happened next is the stuff of legend. She not only got up, but she accelerated, caught the fourth place runner, caught the third place runner and went on to catch her teammate at the line to win the heat. Again, when we fall down we must get back up and do what we can. She did that and more.

Despite the fall she wins the race
I saw an interview she gave last summer. She described the memory of that race as "magical." "I was just trying to catch the last runner and score some points for the team and then when I heard the announcer say, 'Watch out for Heather Dorniden!' and then I thought to myself, 'Yes, watch out for me, watch out for me...' and well, things ended as they did." It's simply an amazing race that sap that I am makes me weep every time I watch it again. It wasn't bio-mechanics and fitness that got her across that line. It was heart, "guts" as Mr. Mussabini would say, sheer will over body. 

I will never run as fast as Liddell, Mills, Dorniden and Ed. I'm really just a domestic Clydesdale (and an overweight one at that) but watching these clips and reliving the memory of Ed's last high school race inspire me to redouble my efforts to " in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever" (1 Corinthians 9:24-25, NIV). And ultimately it's that crown that I want to be eager to win.