Understanding the how.

I have a book called Marathon: The ultimate training guide. It’s by Hal Higdon. He’s 83.

At the back, in the appendix, are four training plans. Here’s what I know. You can get training plans for free through a simple web-search. They are for the self-directed, the independent, the learn it the hard way. But they are available.

In the the rest of the book, Hal talks about training for a marathon. It’s the soft stuff, the stories, the encouragement. He tells beginners that it will be hard, but to expect that. He says to ignore the purists. He describes what it will feel like to run consistently, the pains to expect, the joys to be found. He tells what it was like in the old days, before we knew better.

1108041102.jpgHal’s been running for a long time. He’s been teaching for a long time, too. To read the book, you’d think that his way of coaching is to run with people. As you read the book, you discover that he’s learned a lot while running and coaching. For someone like me, who has never run a marathon, Hal’s book makes it seem possible to maybe think about it. I have this sense that he’d encourage me, that his book is for normal people like me rather than for elite athletes.

Marathon has got me thinking about following God. I’m thinking that giving people a schedule of activities is helpful. But so are the stories of the struggles. Stories like Hal’s about not finishing the first three marathon’s he tried. Which is a lot like Peter trying to understand Jesus and missing it the first few times. And just like Hal didn’t redefine a marathon as a distance of 26 yards and 385 feet, Peter kept conversing, kept learning, kept trying.

Like us.

Sarah gets an assignment.

“So what does the Samaritan do for the beat up man?” Sarah asked.

“Apparently he doesn’t check on his religious affiliation,” Carol said. “The Samaritan stops by the man, cleans him up, anoints him with oil, (which was like putting salve on his wounds) loads him on a donkey to carry him to safety, and then covers the cost of his recovery. He gets the man ready for travelling again.”

Sarah looked at her watch. “I hate to say this, but I have to get travelling, too. Can we keep going next week?”

Carol nodded. “A couple more minutes, and then I have an assignment for you. Because you wanted to do something amazing, remember?”

Sarah laughed. “You always remember those kinds of statements. Go ahead.”

“What James and Jesus are doing with this interplay around the royal law is drawing a deep connection between what we say and what we do,” Carol said. “If we say we keep the law, we have to love our neighbor, or we’re lying. If we say love our neighbor, we have to be very open to uncomfortable definitions of the neighborhood. If we say we love our neighbor, we have to do something, or we’re lying. And doing something can be costly.”

“But it is significant, right?” Sarah said. “Rescuing people beat up by the side of the road is part of the royal law? But I’ve never seen a beat-up person.”

“Have you ever looked?” Sarah squirmed.

“Here’s a project for the weekend,” Carol said. “It won’t be hard. As you are going about your business, as you are on your normal route to work or travel or coffee, look along the edges. Look for someone who is too bruised to act. And then act. It could be someone in the food line who is counting their money too carefully. It could be noticing that the yard that was always so carefully tended by that old lady is not as nice as it was last year. It could be noticing the vacant look in the eyes of the receptionist just before she comes back to the present and smiles.”

Carol looked over Sarah’s shoulder. “It could be noticing that couple trying not to cry at that table in the corner.”

“How long has that been happening?” Sarah whispered.

“Not long after we walked in, she got a call,” Carol said.  “They whispered a bit and then have been sitting very still.”

“So what does a Samaritan do?” Sarah asked.

Carol was brief. “Walks over and says, ‘Are you okay?'”

“But that feels invasive.” Sarah was uncertain.

“But isn’t it the royal law?” Carol said. “And it’s closer than building an orphanage.”


The Sarah story will be available as a PDF next week.

Sarah, Jesus, and James.

Carol kept explaining the parable of the beaten man. “The first two people to walk past the man were people who would have known what the law said about helping your neighbor. They were a priest and a Levite, both employed in the temple, both aware of the commands to love. But both were also aware of the risk in touching someone sick. They would have been ceremonially unclean if they had helped him. They would have been kept from their work for God for several days.”

“But how do you resolve that?” Sara asked. “If making God happy means going to church all the time, but when I go to church all the time I don’t have time for doing what might make God happy, what do I do?”

“That states the question that James raises very well.” Carol said, referring back to the beginning of their conversation. “James was looking at the tension between saying that you believe God and then acting as if you don’t. He’s already given the principle by talking about the royal law. If we love our neighbor, we are doing right. If we are favoring the rich and ignoring the poor, we are not.”

Carol sipped her coffee. “Then James tells a story, like his brother Jesus had. Imagine that you know a person from your church that is hungry and cold. You are both people who follow God, who know the spiritual things to say. And imagine you say to the person, ‘be warm and well-fed.’ And then you turn back to your life without given them a sandwich or a coat.”

“Imagine you are like the priest or the Levite,” Sarah said.

“Exactly.” Carol nodded. “Which takes us back to the story Jesus told. Jesus offered another alternative. He creates a third person in the story, a Samaritan. A person separated from the Jews by culture and by religion. There is no one we hate more than someone we think has a warped practice of our religion.”

“It’s in every newscast from every part of the world.” Sarah sighed.


[to be continued]

Sarah and the parable

Continuing our Sarah story from last week.

Carol continued her story. “A man was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was about 17 miles, about a day’s journey. We have no idea why he was walking. In fact, that doesn’t matter. This was a story Jesus was telling. The details he leaves out don’t actually exist.”

Sarah took a swallow of coffee. “What do you mean?

“This is a parable.” Carol said. “It’s a story that Jesus is telling, a made-up story, to make a point. The details he includes are to help illustrate, the details excluded never actually happened. It seldom helps to say, ‘What would have happened if?’ because that would have been a different story.”

Sarah shrugged. “Whatever. What’s the point he was trying to make?”

Carol smiled. She was always trying to show how to read the Bible even as she was explaining teachings. She knew that Sarah wouldn’t remember everything, but her way of reading would rub off.

“Jesus is trying to answer the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?'” Carol said. “Jesus had just agreed that ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ was the second most important commandment. A man trained in Jewish law, including interpretations of this very statement, was trying to determine what boundaries Jesus put around the neighborhood. So Jesus tells about the man who was walking the 17 miles to Jericho.

“Along the way, he is mugged. The man is left stripped and beaten and bleeding. No one argues with that part of Jesus’ story, so it must have been a common occurrence. ”

“And three men come along,” Sarah said. “And only the last one helps. A mayor, a doctor, and a little boy. I remember that from VeggieTales. But I also know that it was a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. It feels like the setup to a joke.”

Carol nodded. “It wasn’t a joke, exactly, but Jesus was picking on the people listening to his answer.”


[to be continued]

A long run.

richardToday, in Boston, lots of people will try to run 26 miles and 385 yards. One of them is my friend Richard. (He’s number 19394. If you see him, tell him I said “hi”.) Because of this run, he’ll be missing our weekly Monday morning conversation. But I said it was okay.

If you run a mile in less than 8:23, and the next one that same speed, and you do that for 26 miles, then for another 385 yards, and are a male between 55 and 59, you can qualify to put your name in the hat to have the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon. (If you are a female, 9:32.)

At present, I can run 3.5 miles at 10:34. Last fall, I ran 6 miles at 9:55. I’m not planning to run a marathon. But we know that anyone can do anything if they want to. So to qualify to maybe get picked to run the Boston Marathon, I would have to run four times farther than I have ever run, and do it a minute and a half faster for every mile.

The last few miles of a marathon are, according to Richard, pretty awful. Recently while he was preparing, he ran out of energy after 16 miles. He ended up walking home. There’s nothing wrong with walking, but if you are planning to run 26 miles, that’s frustrating.

When people say that something isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, I smile. Because it means that you will use more energy than you ever imagined for longer than you ever imagined. You will need more concentration than you ever imagined and will need more consistent preparation than you ever imagined. You will have to say no to more things for longer than you ever imagined.

But if you want to complete the marathon well, that’s what it takes. Whatever the marathon is. And there are some things worth doing well.

Richard after the 2015 Boston Marathon