Run Nos. 10 and11 – Barefoot running

barefoot-running1

Time Unrecorded           Total Distance 8km (5 miles)

Time 42’ 50”                      Total Distance 7.3 km (4.54 miles)

On run no. 9 I actually ran with someone else! I had met the guy’s wife a few times and she mentioned that her husband was a runner (well they are both super-sporty, running marathons, cycling holidays, etc.).

Anyway, her husband emailed me and invited me to go on a 5 mile training run with him. It turned out he was a top bloke and we had a good run and some great conversation – then he even offered me breakfast. All in all the perfect start to a day!

What made the run even more interesting is that he is a barefoot runner.

This was something I had never even heard of. He explained the theory to me, in that running barefoot forces you to adopt a gait that is much less hard on the joints and is more natural. He told me that had adopted this as a means of avoiding injury, as he is a high miler and not of a lithe, lanky build.

Contrary to what I expected, he didn’t actually run barefoot. He wore a pair of sort of flip-flops. They were a training shoe sole, but without the cushioning and fitted with a toe-bar and an ankle strap. He explained that these prevent abrasion when running on hard surfaces, and protects against cuts, from glass, sharp stones etc. but maintain the barefoot experience and the running style.

The soles being very thin you feel every sharp stone, every slight unevenness of surface. This meant we had very different running styles. He was much more sensitive to the ground over which he was running, he would have to slow down and carefully pick his way over stony places, he was always on the lookout for potential dangers, glass, nails, etc (as the sides of your feet and toes are still quite exposed). In contrast, I blithely blundered on, not looking where I was going, not conscious of the nature of the ground over which I was running.

Which provoked an odd spiritual reflection.

I have read quite a lot of hagiography – the lives of the saints – and one thing you notice is that the more holy people are, the more sensitive they are to sin.

They feel the pain and the weight of their own sin, they understand the horror of what sin is, as it drives a wedge between themselves and the God they love, they see its capacity for harm in lives and relationships.

Consequently, they are always on the lookout for it, they fear it, they do everything in their power to avoid it, they are constantly scanning the path ahead for dangers and snares.

Whereas numpties like me blithely blunder on, with nary a care and soon find myself bang in trouble.

I have no real desire to take up barefoot running – although I may consider it should ever injury strike – but I’m hopeful my modest distances (9 miles a week) and the regular purchase of good running shoes, will aviod this.

However, in my runningwithgod I think that I need to adopt more of a barefoot strategy.

How I can do this, is through connection.

Connecting with God in His word – studied privately and explained to me at church.

Connecting with God in prayer – as this attunes my spirit to His Spirit.

Connecting to those holier than I, whose lives will act as a challenge, an encouragement, an exhortation and a rebuke to me.

As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17 NIVUK)


Run No. 9 – The ‘How Do?’ reverberation

Ripples in Water ca. 2000

Time 41’ 43”                      Total Distance 7.3 km (4.54 miles)

I try to be a friendly, polite runner, and so as I pass people (or they overtake me!) I throw out a cheery ‘Good morning!’

Birstall, being a friendly place, most of the time I get a response.

Today as I chugged slowly around Watermeads (my times are getting progressively slower, which is most galling) I was stopped short by an old man who replied to my ‘Morning!’ with a ‘How do?’

Those two words brought back the most powerful evocation of my Grandad, who died almost 40 years ago. He was a Black Country boy and ‘How do?’ was how he always greeted people.

Now, if you had asked me that, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. But just hearing those two words brought that memory back.

In that moment of memory, lots of stuff came flooding back.

I remembered how he smelt. He was an outdoors man. He worked as a track layer for British Rail and when he wasn’t out in all weathers laying track, he was in his large garden and two allotments, growing vegetables. He seemed to keep his whole family and several friends and neighbours in fruit and veg. He always smelt of the earth. He always had dirt under his fingernails. He always smelt of Golden Virginia rolling tobacco. He had a machine that rolled his cigarettes and I would love to sit on his knee and roll them for him.

I remembered the scratchy wool jackets he used to wear and the blue cotton jacket (presumably railway issue!) that he always wore when gardening.

I remembered his voice. The twinkle in his eyes. He was always a little boy inside. His pockets were always full of interesting stuff. Stones that he picked up, bits of metal, pen-knives.

I remembered he was always curious about how things worked. He had a shed where he would take things apart, just to see how they operated. Unfortunately, as a man who laid railway track for a living he was very strong and somewhat ham-fisted! So often he achieved the taking to bits phase, but never managed the putting back together! So his shed was full of dismantled clocks and mechanisms that were in the process of ‘being repaired’!

I remembered his affection for me, his first grandson. I remembered my love for him.

Two words ‘How do?’ brought all that back in an instant. In that moment of time my dear old grandad, Bill Goodman, was as present to me today as he ever was when he was alive.

All of which made me realise how unutterable false and stupid is our cultural notion that the past is passed and gone. It is never gone.

The Christian faith denies the notion of time.

When a person turns from their rebellion against God and accepts the free gift of reconciliation made available through Christ’s death on the cross, time no longer exists for them.

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3 NUVUK)

To be united to God is to be outside of time.

In a nutshell, God will not allow Himself to be separated from His beloved children, the ones who have been bought by His own precious blood. He will not allow His children to die.

For the child of God, such petty things as time and geography no longer apply.

In the letter to the Hebrews the author used the image of the Roman games as a metaphor for the Christian life. He pictures those Christians currently living as the athletes competing, and the saints in glory as the crowd cheering them on to victory.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1 NIVUK)

Heaven and earth are not separated, but vitally interlinked, we are one with;

… thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect

And those who go to God before us are completely absorbed in us and in our struggles, for it was their struggle too.

I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’

One of the earliest symbols in Christian iconography was the skull and crossbones. It originated out of the necessity to remove Christian graves. As the hope of the resurrection of the body is a central aspect of Christian belief, it was wondered, how much of a person physical remains does God need to be able to bring them back? After theological debate it was agreed that, God being God, probably He didn’t need any physical remains – given that He made us out of nothing originally! But, just to be on the safe side, whenever a Christian grave was loved the two long bones and the skull would be kept together.

The tomb of every Christian should be inscribed with the skull and crossbones, it is a sign of our hope of the resurrection.

When my time comes, place on my tombstone the skull and crossbones, and carve these words:

‘By the unstoppable power of the Risen Christ,

By the impossibility that God should lie,

I’m coming back baby.

All is grace’


Run No. 8 – The comforting delusion of the lonely runner

Time 41’ 17”                      Total Distance 7.3 km (4.54 miles)

99.9999% of my runs throughout my life have been on my own.

Partly that is due to circumstances, but mostly it’s due to the fact that I like being alone when I run.

I like being alone with my thoughts, time to think, no distractions.

Of course the other great advantage is that you can happily believe that you are running quite fast.

As recounted in a previous instalment, an encounter with a be-lycra-ed septuagenarian, somewhat dented that particular myth.

However, I have now been back running for a few weeks and I was quite prepared to believe that I had improved.

However, as I toiled around King Lear Lake I heard a soft, gazelle-like footfall behind me.

I was soon overtaken by a guy. He was probably two decades younger than me (see how I’m building in diminishing factors already), and certainly 10 kg lighter.

His relative advantages were somewhat undermined by his carrying in his right hand a 1.5 litre bottle of water. As any serious runner will tell you, carrying a heavy weight in one hand is not conducive to good running. One should use a camel pack, or at least a gourd carried on a belt, as these will improve weight distribution and not prevent your arms from the natural swinging that is important in running.

Yet, in spite of his clear ignorance of good running practice, he nonetheless sped past me with soul-sucking swiftness.

As I watched him (rapidly) disappear, I noted that actually he wasn’t running that quickly. Which could only mean that my own speed was malacological.

I noticed that I was mid-sole striking – more of a joggers footfall- as opposed to the heel-striking of the proper runner. I tried lengthening my stride and for a few hundred metres I was able to at least slow the rate at which my nemesis disappeared.

This provoked the reflection that the lack of comparison is a great weakness in almost every human endeavour. Without rubbing up against those who are better, more committed, more knowledgeable than ourselves, we can easily believe we are better than we are.

Which I guess is one of the reasons why the Christian faith is specifically stated as incapable of solo execution. It can only ever be lived as a communal reality.

An intrinsic part of the Christian faith is the messy, challenging, frustrating, inspiring, encouraging, faith-building interaction with others. Together – with our varied gifts, life-experience, learning, broken-ness, healing – we are capable of helping each other go deeper, understand better, live more fully, our relationship with God and, improve our service in His kingdom.

Alone we can fool ourselves. Together we see the truth. Sometimes that will be an encouragement. Much of the time that will be a spur.


Run No. 7 – Not quite perfect

Time 42’ 05”                      Total Distance 7.3 km (4.54 miles)

Not good today. Woke up, and as soon as my feet hit the deck I pulled on my running gear, a quick stretch and off out.

Sometimes that works.

Sometimes if you hit your system with strenuous exercise before it knows where it is, you just get into a rhythm.

Not today!

I just felt knackered from the off and all the way ‘round.

I was thinking that my 7th run since re-starting after a long break should have been good. Then I wondered why I made that connection between the number 7 and perfection.

I remembered it is from the Bible, in biblical symbolism 7 represents perfection. This probably originates with the Genesis creation story, where God makes a perfect world in 7 days (well 6 and a rest day!).

From then on 7 came to stand for that which is perfect ideal.

I then remembered the Number of the Beast – 666 – in the book of Revelation – a number which represents all that stands most forcefully against God and against good.

It struck me that we might have expected his number to be 111 and not 666. For surely that represents a greater opposition. Bu then I realised that the closeness of the numbers 6 and 7 is precisely the point.

The greatest danger to mankind are not the religions and philosophies that starkly contradict the Christian faith, they are too obvious, they stand too starkly against all the good and charity that the Christian faith promotes and demands.

No the real danger, the greatest threat are the religions and philosophies that are just a little bit off. Just so slightly deviant in a few crucial areas

  • Who was Jesus? Was He God incarnate – fully God and fully man at the same time?
  • What did Jesus do? Was His death on Calvary the unique salvific act that opens up to human kind the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation with God, if we only repent of our sin and turn to Him in faith?).

Just a little off in these crucial areas and, instead of a faith that bring forgiveness of our sins and failures, reconciliation with God and the glorious adventure of working with Him in His unimaginable plans for the redemption of humankind and then who know what adventures in the eternity of His Cosmos, all you get is an ethic, a ritual observance, a philosophy.

The step from 6 to 7 makes all the difference.


Run No. 6 – It all started in Scotland

turn it around

Time 41’ 50”                      Total Distance 7.3 km (4.54 miles)

Lagging it down this morning!

Which I love; I absolutely love running in the rain.

I suppose it reminds me of how I started running.

I was an English boy in a Scottish school, if that were not enough to make me unpopular, my father was also a local vicar!

In PE we always played football – hail, snow, rain, summer, winter whatever, always football. As they say, it is not a sport but a religion in Scotland!

Partly due to my deep unpopularity and partly because I wasn’t much good anyway, no-one would pass the ball to me, which, in football, pretty much closes down your options for involvement!

So they used to stick me in goal and then berate me when I let a goal in.

Standing in the freezing rain in Scotland, the wind howling across the pitch, dressed only in nylon shorts and top, and expected to dive to save the ball on a red ash pitch – well, let’s just say it didn’t appeal!

Fortunately, the one other sport we did do was cross country. Which was so hated and detested by the boys (because it wasn’t football!) that it was used as a form of punishment. I discovered that the PE teachers would actually let you do a voluntary cross country instead of football – salvation!

Instead of 40 minutes of boring, freezing, torture laced with verbal abuse I could do a 1 and 3/4 mile cross country run and spend the rest of the period having a leisurely hot shower! Fantastic!

I wasn’t particularly good at running, but I was tall and lanky and could get into a rhythm I could sustain for a long time. Of all those who really ran at school, I was probably only just in the top half.

But I enjoyed it. I liked the solitude. I liked the rain.

And here I am, 40 years later, still running, still enjoying the solitude, still enjoying the rain.

Running has been a sport I’ve always been able to practice. Even in rural France where the options for sport were minimal – I could run. Even when I’ve been financially poor (which has been most of my adult life) I’ve still been able to run.

Running has served me well and I’m grateful.

It strikes me that had I not been unpopular at school, had I not been unskilled at football, had I not been discomforted by the rigours of the Scottish climate; then I might never have started running.

In which case I would have missed out on so much that has really positive and a blessing in my life.

The Christian faith holds this dichotomy at its heart – that good can come from evil.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,

who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 NIVUK)

You meant ·evil against me, but God ·turned your evil into good (Genesis 50:20)

There is no such thing as wasted suffering from a Christian perspective.

In Jesus Christ all our sorrows are redeemable somehow.

Everything can be turned around, can become positive.

If not in this life, then certainly in the next, as our grace filled and grace-fuelled responses to hurtful and difficult circumstances will be honoured by God and have their full reward, bare their ultimate fruit.

The therapy of grace – God’s redemptive option for life.


Run No. 5 – Losing myself

finding my way

Total Distance 8.8km     Total Time 50’ 37” (Geologically slow)

Run out to and around Watermeads Country Park again. Going around King Lear Lake I was distracting myself from the pain by going over my sermon for Sunday Morning at St James the Great.

I was preaching so well, so erudite, so interesting, so spiritually dynamic (at least in my own imagination!) that I missed the turn off and ended up doing a second circuit of the lake.

This somewhat damped the warm spiritual feelings I had been having up to this point.

Next time I may leave a trail of lentils…

So you can judge for yourselves the quality (or otherwise!) of my sermon, here is the text;

 

Shaped by God Sermon:

(Texts: Genesis 1:1-12, 1 Peter 2:1-12, Matthew 13:31-32)

The Christian message is, at its heart, a tale of trees.

The creation story we read culminates its description of the world that God had made for humankind to live in with trees. Trees that will bear fruit for people to eat. All that God makes is good, all that God makes is fruitful, all that God makes brings Him glory.

The next chapter of genesis brings into the story two other trees, supernatural strange trees. In the middle of the garden are the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – which is forbidden to humankind – and the other the tree of life – which is not forbidden.

As we know Adam and Eve make the wrong choice. They disobey God, they rebel against Him, they refuse to believe He has their best interests at heart and they eat from the wrong tree.

In that act of disobedience they break the relationship they enjoyed with God, they also break the relationship between themselves and they also break their relationship to the created world.

Access to the tree of life is dependent upon a right relationship to God, in fact as Jesus will say later, eternal life flows from a right relationship with God;

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God,

and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3 NIVUK)

Under the metaphor of the garden, in their new state of brokenness God forbids humankind to eat of the tree of life.

The rest of the whole story of the Bible is about God working to restore the broken relationship between Himself and humankind.

The culmination of this happens on a tree, when God Himself is crucified to open up the possibility for us to be reconciled to our Heavenly Father, each other and the created world.

The last page of the Bible describes what happens when the relationship of harmony (shalom) between humankind, God and the creation is fully restored.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal,

flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.

On each side of the river stood the tree of life,

bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.

And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

No longer will there be any curse.” (Revelation 22:1-3 NIVUK)

That tree of life – which was forbidden to humankind because of sin and rebellion, is now made available through the death of Christ on the tree of Calvary.

The Christian story – it’s all a tale about trees.

In our gospel reading Jesus is telling his disciples about another tree – the gospel tree, the tree of the kingdom.

In between Christ’s death on the tree of Calvary and our full and final access to the tree of life in glory, stands this gospel tree.

As the gospel seed takes root in hearts and lives it creates a community of people that should be like this tree.

It is through the ministry of this tree that people get to hear the good news about what Jesus has done on the tree of Calvary.

It is through the ministry of this tree that they learn how Jesus’ death opens up the possibility for the broken relationship between us and God to be restored; a process which then works in our lives to restore the broken relationships we have with each other and with the created world.

All of which finds its ultimate, unimaginably glorious expression when we will join God in His eternal Kingdom fed of the fruit of the tree of life, healed by its leaves of all our ills and freed from every curse!

Each Christian community is called to be a gospel tree where this can happen.

The gospel tree is a place where the spiritually sick can find healing. As we read in the Revelation texts, leaves are a symbol of healing in the Bible – many of the herbal remedies of the ancient world were made from leaves. If we are truly a gospel tree the spiritually sick will find healing in our midst.

The gospel tree is a place where the spiritually hungry can find sustenance. Trees in the Bible are nearly always fruiting trees – figs, olives, dates etc. We read in Revelation that the tree of life bears 12 kind of fruit one each month of the year. If we are truly a gospel tree the spiritually hungry will find sustenance in our midst that satisfies their hunger.

The gospel tree should also be a place where people can find a welcome and a place they can make their spiritual home. If we are truly a gospel tree people will find a welcome amongst us, they will experience integration into the fellowship and feel accepted.

Today is “Shaped by God” Sunday, as you know this is a diocesan initiative designed to help each congregation, perhaps each ministry within each parish, take a long hard look at ourselves and ask what kind of a gospel tree are we?

SBG Mustard Tree Final

This is a great image isn’t it? It’s a great tree. Who wouldn’t want a tree like that in their garden?! And those birds!

But sadly we can sometimes be a very different kind of tree.

2015-06-07 21.06.39

This is a picture of a tree I saw in Leicester last Sunday evening. And I just felt God prompted me to take a photo of it and to show it to you.

This tree has been pollarded; all the ends of the branches have been cut off. There are no leaves on this tree, no fruit and there are certainly no birds nesting in it.

Sadly, our churches can sometimes be this kind of tree.

Ironically it can be quite a pleasant experience being this kind of a gospel tree.

No change, no cost, no discomfort, no effort, no messy new people who don’t know how to speak, how to dress, how to behave in church etc.

But sadly, this tree is totally useless – it serves no purpose, it is just using up the ground – there are no leaves to provide healing for the spiritually sick, there is no fruit to feed the spiritually hungry, there is no place for anyone to find a spiritual home. It would be best to chop it down and use it for firewood.

Most gospel trees, most church communities are somewhere between these two extremes. Shaped by God is a challenge, a gauntlet thrown down by the diocese;

The diocese has identified nine marks of mission that we can use to evaluate how well we are doing, celebrate our successes, re-think areas where we are not so good.

9 marks of mission

What kind of tree are we?

What kind of tree do we want to be?

Are we willing to work, to pray, to give, to strive that our church community might be a place that brings healing to the spiritual sick – if so how will we do that?

Are we willing to work, to pray, to give, to strive that our church community might be a place that feeds the spiritually hungry – if so how will we do that?

Are we willing to work, to pray, to give, to strive that our church community might be a place that offers people a welcome, and is a safe place for them to make their spiritual home – if so how will we do that?

May God grant us His Spirit’s anointing and the enthusiasm to embark on a new adventure with God in St James and Our Lady and St Nicholas.

May God grant that we become a flourishing gospel tree, a tree full of leaves that minister healing to the spiritually sick and full of fruit that satisfies the spiritually hungry, and may we be a gospel tree where people can find a welcome and make their home.


Run No. 4 – Accidentally in French

french-flag

Time 42’ 06”                      Total Distance 7.3 km (4.54 miles)

Up and out this morning for a run around Watermeads Country Park. Great day for it!

This time I was determined to avoid my previous mistake – losing my sense of direction and running around King Lear’s Lake twice!

So as the lake hove into view I spotted some white statues the other side of the lake as a marker that would let me know I was getting close to the start point.

So there I was chugging along in my ponderous and belaboured way when I suddenly realised, “Wait a minute! I can’t see those statues on the other side of the lake anymore!”

I was desperately scanning the far side of the lake when suddenly they popped into view right in front of me! I had actually gone three quarters of the way around the lake without realising it!

This was quite a surprise, but I guess on a gently curving path it is difficult to measure how far around you have gone.

I only had one moment of madness on today’s run. As I ran past a lady walking her dog, the dog crouched down in front of her trying to incite her to throw a stick for him. I naturally responded, “Il veut jouer!” (He wants to play).

In order to explain, for the past 14 years I have lived in France, so speaking French is something I have learned to do almost unconsciously.

In my distracted state, thinking about running, not losing my way, trying to forget the discomfort. Some wiring got crossed in my brain and instead of my thought coming out in English, it came out in French.

Which made me realise that this same cross-wiring often happens, but without the language change.

For example, I might make a comment to someone, but instead of expressing my thoughts in a gentle, sensitive, respectful way, I might find myself accidentally uttering a more cutting, hurtful remark. Often this is not intentional, it is purely accidental, but the results can be major – relationships can be damaged, even broken, just through a careless, accidental word.

It is not for no reason that the Bible refers to the tongue as one of the most significant parts of a human person;

Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21)

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble (Proverbs 21:23)

I read once that the best judge of a man was not his actions, but his reactions. It is our unfiltered responses  to concrete situations that best reveal the reality of who we are.

An accidental phrase in French is not a major problem, but it reminded me that my mind and my mouth are more than capable of running away with me. And they can run me bang into trouble.

But if you read stories in the local press of a mad French runner at large in Watermeads – please think kindly of him!