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.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Urgent business


Jesus said to another, 'Follow me.'”

He said, 'Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father's funeral.'”

Jesus refused. 'First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God's kingdom!'”

Then another said, 'I'm ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.'”

Jesus said, 'No procrastination. No backward looks. You can't put God's kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.'”
Luke 9:58-62, The Message
...
Later on the Lord commissioned seventy other disciples and sent them off in twos as advance-parties into every town and district where he intended to go.”

There is a great harvest,” he told them, “but only a few are working in it—which means you must pray to the Lord of the harvest that he will send out more reapers.”

Now go on your way. I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Don’t carry a purse or a pair of shoes, and don’t stop to pass the time of day with anyone you meet on the road...”
Luke 10:1-3, Phillips NT

This is my workshop
In my line of work I meet with disciples of Jesus (mostly) once a week. The exception to that would be the young folk from our fellowship and other ones that gather every Wednesday night in our sanctuary for Focus and the elders, deacons and other ministry leaders of Refuge whom I meet with twice monthly. But for the majority of the people who consider Refuge their personal faith community, I see them once a week – if I'm lucky. No one is ever there every Sunday (not even me) and frequently we have guest speakers who share during the teaching time of our weekly worship gathering. While I make a stab at either hugging or patting on the back everyone who shows up, some of them are just too quick for me. They're out the door right after the last prayer. I really feel the need to connect more intentionally with the people who make up our group but I'm also a husband and a father and a chaplain at the Justice Center and a coach and, from time to time, a substitute teacher. What's more, at this time of year I need to cut my grass and get my garden in. And so what happens is that desire or not, beyond my 30ish minutes of preaching (okay, I admit it usually is longer than that) my only face-time with the disciples of Jesus who gather at the corner of Leonard and 8th in Chetek on Sunday mornings are fleeting bits of conversation that you are accustomed to hear at a wedding or a reunion – more like half-conversations that are interrupted intermittently. Usually, by 12:30ish the building is empty and it's time to lock-up and go home or on to my next ministry assignment. Suffice to say, it's not the greatest environment for making disciples. But at the end of the day (or the morning), I head home for some family time and, usually, to take a short nap. That kid I wanted to pray with? I'll catch up with him on Wednesday night. That guy I wanted to check up on, well...hopefully next week. After all, I have all the time in the world, I reckon, to do what needs to be done.

"First things first..." 
But during the last week or so, I've come across these verses (again) and the contrast between Jesus' attitude regarding the kingdom and mine couldn't be starker. To the guy who asks permission to attend to his family responsibility of presiding over his father's funeral, Jesus is not a bit understanding. “My business is much too urgent for that kind of low priority stuff!” Say what? I can hear the guy muttering (and me, too.) What possible difference could a few days actually mean? Besides, all he's doing is tying up some loose ends. Jesus, of course, will have none of it. “First things first. Your business is life not death. And life is urgent...” (9:60, Msg). In other words, top priority for any disciple of Jesus whether he is a pastor or a contractor, whether he works at Subway or Sugar Bol Farms is the Kingdom of God. Everything else is a distant second or lower. Jesus replies to the other guy who just wants to put his affairs in order, give his two week notice at work, say good-bye to his mom and dad or wife and kids. “Nothing doing,” Jesus says. “Carpe diem. Seize the day. Jump. Go. NOW.” Easy (we say). Chill. All those sinners will be there tomorrow. But apparently Jesus sees it differently. The announcing of the kingdom of God is more than urgent. It's dire. For lives are at stake.

Time is critical
Frankly, I don't take my work that seriously. I mean, I am cognizant of the fact it's important work that I do. A word or a series of words strung together rashly or immaturely can do serious damage to a soul. Being AWOL when someone in your care is at a spiritual crossroads is reckless. But the reality is these people of Refuge listen to Christian radio and a plethora of other ministers either on TV or via podcast. I'm a voice but just one of many that they listen to. They certainly don't cling on every word I say. In fact, it appears my words are so soothing that they often put some of them entirely out. Besides, I speak to the choir who have heard the Gospel sound-bite time out of mind: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But reading Jesus' response to these two would-be followers makes me think I am too passé about matters that he clearly sees are life or death.

When he sends the 70 (or 72 depending on your preferred version) out, he gives them a series of instructions that sound odd to my 21st Century ears among them which are, “...Don't carry a purse or a pair of shoes and don't stop to pass the time of day with anyone you meet on the road” (10:3, Phillips NT). What? Are we suddenly to travel mendicant-style from town to town barefooting our way just like any hippie from the 70s? What about all those “No shirt. No shoes. No service” signs? And why can't we chat and visit a bit like good Midwesteners are wont to do. What about all that talk about developing a friendship with unchurched Harry or Mary? Meaningful relationships cannot be microwaved. They grow at their own rate. But the way I read this it's like Jesus is saying, “Put your game face on. The sky is about to fall and no one knows. We gotta get the word out because time is critical.” Again, the contrast between my style of ministry and the one Jesus is advocating here are miles apart. I'm certain he's not in need of adjusting his style so why am I so laid back in mine? Why indeed.

A little background study reminds me that the onus of both texts is a sense of urgency and therefore disciples of Jesus are to be single-minded in how they spend their lives. We are not here to live a good life, be a good citizen, pay taxes and go to church as often as we can. We are to keep the main thing the main thing: God's kingdom is breaking into history and wise people prepare themselves for the age to come and pass the word to any and all to do the same. The sky will fall at a time no one knows so “...people get ready. Jesus is coming. Soon we will be going home. People get ready Jesus is coming to take from the world his own...” The Great Harvest is at hand. In the words of Michael Wilcock:

The message is a matter of life and death: the last judgment is in view, heaven and hell, eternal bliss or woe, which will be determined by the acceptance or rejection of the divine message (10:12-16). (The Message of Luke, Intervarsity Press, © 1979, p. 120).

The 70/72 are to travel extremely light. Thus the charge to not pack extra shoes and sandals (or money for that matter). They are not on a sight-seeing vacation. They are on a mission of the utmost seriousness that may, in fact, determine the fate of entire communities. And this is why they are not to behave like everything's fine and chit chat about the weather with strangers. Judgment draweth nigh (and within 40 years of their mission that is exactly what happened.)

Writes Professor Darrell Bock:
There should be no doubt...that eternal life and death are the issue when it comes to Jesus. Our era has made it easy to pass off religious opinion as if we were choosing flavors at an ice cream store. God is not so cold as to allow such important matters to be left to human whim. In offering his Son, he has put the true life to death, so that men and women can experience life. In death the true life has removed any obstacle that may stand in the way of relationship with God. Strange as it may seem, the world often accuses God of narrowness for opening the way so wide through his Son. What seems as a narrow way in Jesus is in fact a door that opens up to a vast field of blessing. Jesus will speak of his message as the narrow door in 13:24. Disciples know that the key is not the width of the door but where it leads. (Luke: The NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, © 1996, p. 297)

I should not take myself any more seriously than I do now but I should, it seems, take greater care to keep my wits about me in my preaching, teaching and the content of my conversations. The matter is life and death. Time is critical. Peoples lives really do hang in the balance. If my neighbor's house was on fire and I thought he was still inside, I hope I wouldn't hang back for fear of being impolite. The only right response in that instance is to go bang on the door rudely and make sure he can get out. I can't help but think that all our talk of “not wanting to shove the Gospel down anyone's throat” only makes us less likely to share at all. And clearly that is not what Jesus is saying here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

You're wrong, Mr. President, but I'll pray for you anyway


The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.” 1 Timothy 1:1-3, The Message

I don't consider myself someone who revels in talking about political matters. It isn't that I don't have opinions – of course, I do. Like so many other people I know, I loathe the negative ads that run like a dirty river right into my home every night regardless of who's behind them. I believe that no one should have the right to kill an innocent human being regardless of the circumstances that brought about the creation of that life. I think leaders whatever their stripe – be they political or religious ones – are meant to serve people not rule over them. I think we have an obligation to help the poor but not at the expense of their own willingness to work. I don't think schools should raise my kids or tell me how to raise them. When my children were young and I thought one of them earned a spanking, I gave it to them regardless if the State of Wisconsin thought I should not. Tough beans. Contrary to what some wise guy in Madison says, fear is good. So, sure, I have political opinions. And for the time being, I'm entitled to them.

But I don't consider myself an expert, either. The only news I watch in the course of a day is the 20 minutes or so of The Today Show that is on while we are all getting breakfast in the morning or from time to time, the 5:30-6:30 p.m. national and local news segments on NBC. Which is why I don't claim to be up on all the issues. I don't have CNN or Fox scrolling on my computer screen throughout the day. When there were all kinds of Republican candidates still in the race, I watched none of the debates. Maybe I should have but I didn't. All I saw were the clips that were rebroadcast the following day. I don't watch Steven Colbert nor the Daily Show nor Huckabee nor any of the programming on MS-NBC. While certain evenings I may have the time to do so, frankly, I just don't have the appetite.

But the other day President Obama did something that to my knowledge no other president has ever done – he spoke out in favor of gay marriage. It's true that VP Joe Biden had beat him to the punch a few days before but whatever the case in stead of pushing back from “Uncle Joe's” comments President Obama essentially told all of us in that May 9 interview, “Me, too.” And all of Hollywood roared with approval. That they did no one is surprised.
Going public on Good Morning, America
The irony is that while he may think he has done something politically courageous those who oppose such an opinion believe he has caved to the most liberal in his camp. In the short term, lots of people think he was real smart for going on the record – after all it apparently didn't hurt him in raising $21 million dollars in just a few days after stating his support for same sex marriage. And while evangelicals may be riled up by his announcement, I'm sure his people did the numbers and figured the most vocal of us are in a definitive minority.

Cocky Locky and Henny Penny
This past week I had a Nigerian pastor stay with us. For the life of him he couldn't understand how a married man with children could embrace such a thing. After all, in chickendom, a rooster always goes for the hen and fights any other rooster who may vie for her affection. “If the animals know right from wrong,” he asked me, “why can't he see it?” He informed me that something like this could not happen in Nigeria. Apparently, shortly after some kind of bill advocating same sex unions was introduced in the equivalent of the Nigerian Senate, there was rioting in the streets and the Church came out in mass to protest the legislation. There was fighting going on in the Senate chamber as well (or so he tells me). The long and short of it was that this bill was dead on arrival. “It will never happen in Nigeria,” my friend insists.

Of course, I don't consider abortion and gay marriage strictly “political” issues, that whatever the people think is right should stand. They are moral issues that must be contended with however in the right way. In saying I'm against homosexual marriage I'm not saying I'm against homosexual people. (Technically, as far as I understand Scripture, there is no one whom the Bible calls a “homosexual.” There are only men or women who, for whatever reason, practice a homosexual lifestyle.) No, I welcome practicing homosexuals to Refuge just like I welcome drug addicts at the Barron County Justice Center to visit us as well. We all come to Jesus the same way – he welcomes us and then, if we're willing, he transforms us from the inside-out (and not the other way round). We remind those who worship at Refuge that we do not hate any – Muslims, drug addicts, alcoholics, thieves, and gay individuals. Let them come. Let them taste and see that the Lord is good.

But what President Obama did the other day is akin to calling something crooked straight (pun accidentally placed). “What God has not created we have no right to create,” says my friend from Nigeria. It's true. In the beginning of all things he created a man and woman and said, “It is very good.” But now the highest executive in the land has said that apparently God is mistaken, that in fact, there are sub-categories that need to be appreciated. I don't know...I don't believe he is the Antichrist but I would be a little nervous if I were him. Newsweek's recent cover of him with a rainbow halo just adds to my queasiness. A symbol that God used to assure a man that he would never destroy the earth by flood again is now flouted by the minority who risks divine judgment by another means.

Here's the point of my rambling. I am not riled up to “rage against the machine.” I have not begun a “Hate Obama” campaign. But my response to his announcement is, “Well, he's gone and done it now. Now, I will really commit to praying for him.” I do want to so commit not just because it is necessary (and clearly it is) but because God calls disciples to pray for all those in authority “to rule well.” I should have been doing it all along anyway. I have to believe that the prayers of millions of followers of Jesus Christ across this country will, ultimately, amount to something significant for our collective future as a nation.

 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What gives?

I, too, want to be in that number
The seventy came back triumphant. "Master, even the demons danced to your tune!"  Luke 10:17, Msg



A text like this gets me all riled up inside. It's not that I don't believe it. I'm a Pentecostal after all and by definition believe in the “full” Gospel – that all the stuff that Jesus and then his disciples did back then in Bible days has not gone out of style or become out of date. I've heard and read the countless stories of so many others who have gone out and done “the stuff” (as John Wimber was wont to say) whether it was in Africa, Asia, Timbuktu or Tennessee. My beef is this: why don't I see and experience more of that triumph in my place of ministry – Chetek, Wisconsin? Between 2004-2010, our fellowship hosted a monthly Service of Healing where we laid hands on the sick, anointed them with oil, prayed for their recovery and, when necessary, cast out evil spirits. With perhaps one or two exceptions, they were always low-key affairs. What I mean is that not many people came out and while we loved on lots of people over that six year period, we had few testimonies of actual healings and deliverances. In the last year, the only ones who came were those who came to pray for the sick and so after several months of this I made a pastoral decision to park the meetings indefinitely. So when I read, The seventy [or the seventy-two depending on what version you prefer] came back triumphant...I sincerely cannot relate. We were not as successful. True, a lot of people were encouraged and ministered to. Lots of folks felt comforted and consoled in their sickness. But out-and-out healed? No. Out-and-out set free? It doesn't seem that way to me. So, my question is, What gives?


This is how I sometimes feel

During that six year period I read over a dozen books on healing and/or deliverance not only for knowledge but to build my faith. I attended healing conferences if only for the benefit of spiritual impartation. I kept myself and my small ministry team encouraged by reminding them that we shouldn't “despise the days of small things” and all the other standard things we tell each other to keep going in the things God gives us to do. Whoever these 70/72 guys were they had stories to tell – and they knew it. There doesn't seem to be a lot of speculation in their accounts to Jesus upon their return. They are high-fiving and chest-bumping each other (or would have been if they were from our time). Personally, if I had been part of that group you would have found me hanging out at the back, hoping that Jesus wouldn't make eye contact with me because in reality I and my small team, faithful though we were at praying, have little to show for our efforts.

That's not to say we've given up praying for the sick or shy away from an invitation to send an unclean spirit packing. Since discontinuing our monthly service, we have had multiple opportunities to do just this (and with equally questionable results). And as long as I am pastor of our fellowship this will be standard operating procedure – we will follow what’s in the Book and trust the results to God. But with a guy at Regions Hospital in St. Paul in serious condition and a few others from our fellowship who suffer from some form of mental illness, though we pray in English and in tongues, though we anoint with oil, though we are, to the best of my knowledge, praying in faith, why do we not share in the “triumph” of these 70/72 saints who came marching in a whoopin’ and a hollerin’ that wherever they went “the demons had to dance to their Lord’s tune.” Gee whiz, I want to see that. No, I want to do that.

In that last year or so that we hosted the healing gathering my ongoing question to myself and to anyone else who might listen was, What if you hosted a Service of Healing that no one decided to come to? Either a) no one in community (for we always put a notice in the paper about it) needed prayer for healing/deliverance (that's a good one) or b) no one considered our Service of Healing something at which heavenly power resided. After all, whenever a bonafide healing occurred in Jesus' day, you didn't need to put a release in the local paper – everyone knew and people came running to get a little of whatever had spilled out onto that sick person. I mean, the contrast could not be greater: Jesus often would perform a miracle and beg a person to say nothing about it. If we, by God’s grace, did the same it would be on Facebook, Twitter, and (if someone had their Iphone handy) on YouTube within minutes of confirmation. So, again, What gives?

I don’t feel pouty as I write these words as in something is wrong with me or us. I like John Wimber’s approach to things: in his heyday wherever he was ministering to the sick or afflicted after praying for awhile he would reportedly take a potato chip break. His reasoning was since the power was all from God there really was nothing unsanctified in having a snack half way through a deliverance session. I can hardly argue with his results. So, there it is again, the question – What gives? If Jesus has still given all authority to we his modern day disciples to go out and “heal the sick and tell them ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:9, NIV) than why don’t we see more of what those guys saw in these here parts? I have yet to think up an answer that satisfies. I believe, Lord…so help me in my unbelief to make room for You to do the things that only You can do.



Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Soul Food


Everybody does “devotions” differently. Some have a Daily Bible reading plan they use. Some read a daily devotional that includes a brief Bible passage, a thought and a brief prayer. Some love playing “Bible roulette” - you know, close your eyes, open your Bible and insert finger. Wherever your index lands, well...there you go. I have used a variation of most of these (my few attempts at Bible roulette usually has led me to texts like Job 2:9: “Hast thou lost thine integrity? Curse God and die.” Yeah, not what you call the Good News Verse of the Day.) For many years, in addition to my regular Scripture reading, I have read from a book as well. It's never been a tome about parsing Greek verbs or something (although I know a few guys who actually enjoy that sorta thing.) It's usually a work that ministers to me at the soul level. Like, William Young's The Shack, Healing by Francis MacNutt or anything by Peterson like A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

For several months now I have been trudging through Richard Foster's and Emilie Griffin Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines. My mom, who essentially taught me to read and has kept me in books pretty much since, gifted it to me several Christmases ago and only this past school year have I decided to give her a go. As the subtitle suggests, its an archipelago of various readings from mystics, saints, pastors and church leaders over the centuries all focused on the twelve spiritual disciplines. Frankly, it's been tough sledding. Often dry and not very life-giving. I don't say it's Foster. It's just that what he thinks is good reading I find...er...dull...or truthfully, like I'm in over my head. Like a kindergartener who took a wrong turn and suddenly found himself in a fifth grade class. While I appreciate being exposed to the thoughts and musings of disciples I would normally not seek out my own, I often simply feel out of my depth. I mean he obviously believes that divines like Simone Weil, Karl Rahner, Dorothy Sayers and Frederick Buechner (to name four) having something to say about spiritual formation today, um...they do nothing for me. Why keep reading it then? Well...with only three more installments to go I might as well see it through.

And yesterday, for the first time in weeks, I was glad I did. For yesterday I read the words of a pastor who though he's been off the scene for over 200 years still speaks loudly and assuredly to me. We've all heard about John Wesley, a man of the 18th Century who after being converted at a Moravian gathering on Aldersgate Street in London, over the scope of his career went on horseback over a quarter of a million miles preaching and delivering forty thousand sermons testifying of the grace of God that had saved him. The selection that Foster & Griffin include in Spiritual Classics is taken from one of the forty thousand message he wrote entitled The New Birth. Somehow listening to his words about a subject I have heard much about (and have spoke much about as well) was like water in a thirsty land.

...All the sins you have committed from your childhood right up to the moment when you were “accepted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:5) are driven away as chaff. They are gone. They are lost. They are swallowed up. They are remembered no more. You are now “born” from spirit (John 3:6). Why are you afraid? Why be troubled even about what happened before you were born? Throw away your fears! “For the spirit of God gave us is no craven spirit, but one to inspire strength, love and self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7). Know your calling! Rejoice in God your Savior and give thanks to God your Father through Him...

...Some will say, “But I have once again done serious wrongs, even after receiving this redemption. I seem like a lost cause. I still feel deep remorse.” It is fitting that you feel a proportional remorse after doing wrong. For it is God who has awakened this very feeling in you. But you are now invited to transcend it in trust. Hasn't the Spirit also enabled you to say, “But in my heart I know that my vindicator lives, and that he will rise last to speak in court” (Job 19:25); and “the life I now live is not my life, but the life which Christ lives in me; and my present bodily life is lived by faith in the Son of God” (Gal 2:20). It is that faith that cancels all that is past, and in it there is no condemnation. At whatever time you truly believe in the name of the Son of God, all your sins prior to that time vanish like the morning dew...

...There is no condemnation for any inward sin still remaining in those who “walk by the Spirit.” Even though sin may seem to cling tenaciously to everything we do, we are not guilty as long as we do not give way to it. So do not be disturbed because ungodly imaginations remain in your heart. Do not feel dejection because you still come short of the glorious image of God, or because pride, self-will, or unbelief cling to all your words and works. Do not be afraid to face candidly all these distortions of your heart. Know yourself as you are known. Desire fervently of God that you may not think more highly of yourself than you ought to think. Let your continuous prayer be:
Show me, as my soul can bear,
The depth of inbred sin;
All the unbelief declare,
The pride that lurks within.
As God hears your prayer, he will let you see your heart. Then he will show you in entirety the spirit to which you belong. Then take care that your faith does not fail you, or that your protection is not torn from you. Now you are free to see yourself quite openly even at your lowest, to be humbled in the dust, to see yourself as nothing, less than nothing, and empty. At that very moment you may still “set your troubled hearts at rest, and banish your fears” (John 14:27). Remember that you, even you, have an Advocate “with the Father, Jesus Christ, and he is just” (1 John 2:1). Hold fast to the recollection that “as the heaven stands high above the earth” (Ps 103:11), so is God's love higher even than my sins...

...God is merciful to you, a sinner! Precisely the sinner you are! God is love, and Christ has died! That means: the Father himself loves you! You are his child! God will not withhold from you anything that is for your good. Is it not good that the whole body of sin, which is now crucified in you, should be destroyed? It shall be done! You will be cleansed “from all that can defile flesh or spirit” (2 Cor 7:1). Is it not good that nothing should remain in your heart but the pure love of God alone?...

...If you have stumbled, O seeker of God, do not just lie there fretting and bemoaning your weakness! Patiently pray: “Lord, I acknowledge that every moment I would be stumbling if you were not upholding me.” And then get up! Leap! Walk! Go on your way! “Run with resolution the race” in which you are entered (Heb 12:1)...

...Just love God who loves you. That is sufficient. The more deeply you love, the stronger you feel. And as soon as you have learned to love God with all your heart, “if you give fortitude full play you will go on to complete a balanced character that will fall short in nothing” (James 1:4)...

Though he has been gone since 1791, reading these words John Wesley still speaks a good word that I can apply to my life today. I'm so glad I can cease and desist from dwelling on what's wrong with me and focus primarily on what Jesus has done for me. The other day one of my runners charged out of the blocks for the 100 yard dash only to trip and turn head over heels while the other runners left him behind in their dust. But to his credit he did what we are all supposed to do when we stumble – pick ourselves up and get back in the race. In spiritual terms, we turn to Jesus, confess our sin and then – to quote Wesley - “...get up! Leap! Walk! Go on your way! [and] 'Run with resolution the race' in which [we] are entered (Heb 12:1).” Amen. Good word, John Wesley...and thanks!
"Why do we fall...? So we might learn to pick ourselves up."


50K for 50

This past Saturday, on a cool and overcast day, I ran the Chippewa Moraine 50K, an out-and-back ultra run (mostly) on the Ice Age Trail. It wasn’t my first ultra (By definition, an ultra-marathon is anything longer than a marathon which is 26.2 miles. Typically it refers to either a 50K [31 miles], a 50 or 100 mile race – yes, there are 100-milers and more than you would guess.) My baptism of snow and ice came at the hands of the Tuscobia Ultra on a cold December day in 2009. But that race was run on a former railroad bed flat as a…well, rail, whereas this one would be run on a single track trail featuring not only lots of ups and downs but uncountable rocks and tree roots hungrily waiting for an errant runner’s foot. Given that this was my first long race in three years my main goal was just to finish before the cut-off time of 9 hours and cross the line before dark.

Before...

How do you train for an ultra? Well, I’ve only done two so I’m hardly the guy to clue you in on that one. What I’ve picked up from others with far more experience than I at these kinds of things is to be lean, svelte and be not only an avid marathoner but a cyclist and a Birkie veteran to boot. At the peak of your training it also helps to log a lot of hill work and put in some two-a-days (10 in the morning, 10 at night.) I am none of that and I didn’t do any of that. I trained as I would for any marathon (I’ve done 8 of those): I slowly increased my weekly long run from 8 to 16 miles over the course of five weeks with my field trip to Uganda thrown in as a convenient breather. If I had more time, I would have logged an “18” and a couple of “20s” but I ran out of calendar and had to line up this past Saturday knowing I was going to need to run twice as far as I usually did. Plus, all my training miles I had logged were road ones and with the exception of short jaunts on Rattlesnake Hill and Plummer Lake Roads the lion’s share of my race that day would be on trail. All this to say that I probably wasn’t the best prepared for the Chippewa 50K. But I was feeling good and thus far having one of my best running years since I began logging miles in 2000 so in honor of my upcoming 50th birthday (May 4) I figured...what the heck.


I'd be the guy just to the left of this pic

The race began at the Chippewa Moraine Interpretive Center, that bastion of knowledge concerning all things the Ice Age that sits atop Highway M east of New Auburn. Our family has been coming to this place literally for years to either check out the unique displays in the center, to hike, to hunt, to snowshoe by moonlight and daylight and to watch our daughter, Christine, compete in the Cross Country races that used to be held on part of the same course I ran that day. As I mentioned, it was cool – especially for late April – but given my propensity to copiously sweat the weather was in my favor. There were, according to the results list, 159 other individuals running as well and as is my habit, I put myself at the back of that small pack. After all there is far greater psychological impact of passing someone as opposed to being passed. Besides, I had all day, right?


About 4 miles in
 After a number of reminders and suggestions, the race director said the magic words: “On your mark. Get set. Go.” And we were off running briefly atop the hill only to take that deep plunge off the back side. My one thought going down was, “Great. I'm gonna have to walk, run or climb up that thing on the home stretch.” But that was a little under 31 miles away and there was no time to worry about that. After perhaps a quarter mile jaunt, the whole back of the pack began to walk. We had reached our first incline. It wasn't much of an incline really and looking directly to our left we could see the starting line at the top of the hill but the ultra (for guys like me) is all about pacing. So, until we reached the “peak” of that little hill, I walked only to pick it up again on the back side. This is essentially how my race would go for the rest of the way – quickly walking the inclines and trotting the down hills and staying steady on the flats (and there weren't many of those.)


North Shattuck Lake
In my trek to be a Thru Hiker on the Ice Age Trail, I have already walked the length of the course we ran on Saturday. I had done it in brief, shorter bursts, however, – perhaps no more than five miles in a single hike with plenty of time to sit down and enjoy the view if the whimsy struck me. But on Saturday there wasn’t really time to do that. It wasn’t that I was “hauling the mail”, moving at the speed of…well…you know “fast.” The trail simply required too much attention as I ran the gauntlet of crags, rocks, roots and soft spots. And when the front runners (which were really almost everyone in front of me) came at me from the other direction on their return journey that, too, required me to yield to the far faster racers. And frankly, due to the cool April we have experienced up in these parts, the buds are just beginning to fire in the woods so that it looks more like late winter with a touch of green around the edge. In other words, the scenery was nothing really to write home about.


Okay, mine's a little smaller
On my way to the turn around, I ran in the general vicinity of some more normal looking runners – a bit more rounder around the middle and the backside, far more grayer around the temples. I felt good, relaxed and reasonably strong. I got a lot of ribbing for the size of my CamelBak I wore – a mini-backpack of sorts that contains a compartment for a litre size rubber bladder of water as well as several other items (on Saturday I stored a lightweight jacket in another compartment in case it began to rain). “Whaddya got in there? Your vacuum cleaner?” “Can I ride inside your pack?” “Are you training for a self-supportive marathon or something?” and on it went. “Nah,” I came to reply, “I just sweat a lot.” (What do they care what size my hydration system is anyway?) Besides, I had trained with the thing on my back and so I rarely even noticed it.


Really the only "wild" life I saw all day
 At the half way point, there was a fully manned aid station with the small cooler I had sent on ahead full of Gatorade, water, apples, bananas and several other sundries. I refilled my bottles with fresh Gatorade, made sure my CamelBak had plenty of water for the return trip, drank about a half a small bottle of orange juice, ate a salted nut roll, several slices of apple, and a handful of potato chips (to replace some of the salt I undoubtedly had lost.) I got out my small bottle of Vaseline to rub under both arms to keep any rashes from breaking out and then saddled up the horse. Perhaps within 10 minutes I was on my way home. But early on I began to feel the first real tinges of fatigue. It’s more a mental-thing than anything else. You begin to second-think this crazy idea to run (in this case) 31 miles and have to focus more intently on the task at hand. I did come across a small group of horseback riders out on the Chippewa County horse trail that runs briefly with the IAT and when one of them asked me, “What’s the run for?” I simply replied, “For a $60 T-shirt, of course.” That got a laugh. About the 18-mile mark a real nice man caught up with me and for a good part of the rest of the race we ran either together or within shouting distance of each other.

By the time I reached the 26-mile mark (somewhere around 6-hours plus), I had a good sense that I was going to make it in less than 9 but the miles were coming slower now. Usually when I run the marathon, it’s my calves that take a beating but due to all the down hills I was running it was my quads that were crying for relief as well as my arches. Perhaps the hardest bit of the race (for me) was between the 26 and 27 mile mark. That “27” mile marker seemed like forever to reach and I had to keep repeating my favorite running mantra – “I’m still here” (see Reaching the 10,000 mile mark baby-stepping it). I whispered that a lot.



This is what the second half of the race looked like -running in the woods alone

With less than a mile to go I had two fears: 1) that once out of the trees I would be in full view of those on top of the hill; i.e., anytime I chose to walk people would notice and 2) that last huge uber hill we had run down at the beginning of the race. I know if this were a movie I would push myself to the brink and gut out the last half mile to the finish. But…this is was not a movie. There was a little incline just below the hill and yes, I walked up it. And when it came to that 70 yard mountain, I walked up that, too. Frankly, I was just about spent. Linda and Charlie were on top to cheer me on and once there, I took a breath and then ran the last 25 yards around the crest of the hill and across the finish line. Done. I had finished my second ultra in personal record time: 8:15:34, over 45 minutes faster than the Tuscobia Ultra back in 2009.

One of the race-guys who had been at the turn around clapped for me, “50K for 50. Way to go.” “Thanks,” is about all I could get out. “Wanna beer?” the race director asked me. Although I have only had one sip of ale my whole life at that moment I almost said yes. Somehow the thought of cold suds sounded good (even though I really don’t know what that tastes like). “Nah,” I replied. “I’m good.” And after making myself a sandwich sat down. My racing day was over.

Yesterday and today I have hobbled around like the Tin Man looking for his oil can. Lots of people have seen my status update and have patted me on the back either virtually or in person. And just like every other long race I have yet run, I don’t really feel anything except the discomfort of an overdose of lactic acid. The sense of satisfaction of a goal completed will come later when I get my legs back and start dreaming about my next long race. With any luck that’ll be later this summer.

Until next time...