Run no. 21 – Who do you run with?

Community

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 41’ 19”

I have written before about my generally solo running career. Mostly this is down to circumstances, but it also because running on my own gives me time and space to think; ‘headspace’ as it is sometimes termed, and this is actually one of the things I most appreciate about running.

In my ‘headspace’ zone this morning, I reflected on the fact of accompaniment, and on the fact that, at least in spiritual terms, running alone is not an option.

When people first start out on the life of faith, it is generally because some faith community shared the faith with them. Either directly, through personal contact, or indirectly through media, books, etc. In either case some presentation is received that has its origin in a particular faith community, either transmitted person to person, or in a crafted and created presentation medium, made to share the faith with others.

Which means that the beginning of a life of faith is never a purely solo affair; it is nearly always instigated by an encounter with a message that is the product and promulgation of a specific faith community.

This creates a great tension, for the reality of what actually happens in order to start us out on the life of faith is an encounter with the Divine; an encounter, which being beyond words, cannot be other than intensely personal and interior.

So our faith is both intensely private and unavoidably communitarian.

As we move on in faith we find that spiritual progress is likewise a communal affair. The Bible knows nothing of lone Christians living out their faith in separation from a faith community, or from the Universal Church.

To be a child of God is to be sibling with every other member of His family. And God expects, desires and demands that His family function as such; as a deeply loving, mutually committed and cohesive unit.

Any attempt to live the life of faith without reference to the family of faith is an act of rebellion against our Father; it is also to place ourselves in a position of fragility and danger, separated from the teaching, training, encouragement and discipline that our spiritual family is meant to provide.

This is possibly one of the key areas in which Western culture most clashes with the Christian ethos. The intense individualism of contemporary Western culture negates and refutes the communitarian nature of the Christian faith.

This idea of responsibility for each other, mutual accountability, is strange and uncomfortable to most contemporary Christians. Sometimes this is because of the negative examples of past abuse of authority in Christian communities, where love has not been felt to be the motivating force at work. But mostly it is because we do not want to have other people having input into one of the most personal areas of our lives, neither do we want the hassle and responsibility of watching over the spiritual lives of others.

In a real sense we all know ourselves to have enough on our plate trying to keep ourselves on track spiritually and we feel no ‘moral authority’ to go poking our noses into other’s people’s struggles and difficulties.

But as Luther famously wrote, the answer to abuse is not non-use but right use.

Given that loving community creates a plausibility structure for the gospel message, our failure to create this will only serve to undermine any attempt we make to reach others for God.

Community is not an option.

We do not run alone, we are not permitted to pretend that we do.

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Run no. 16 – Running against the grain

against the grain

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 40’ 46”

Out for a run, slightly later this morning, around 0800 when I left and the sun was already out and it felt quite warm.

As I trundled around the lake I noticed that I don’t overtake many runners – not surprising in and of itself! But neither am I overtaken by many. This is mostly because everyone else seems to run around the lake in the opposite direction. I run counter clockwise whilst nearly everyone else runs clockwise.

I wondered as to why that might be?

Is it because after 14 years living in France and driving on the right hand side of the road, that I naturally tend to veer right at any junction?

Is it because my running gait has a tendency to throw me off to one side?

Or is it because I am just contrary and out of step with the world?! Am I just someone running against the grain?

There are many ways in which running goes against the grain for me.

I used to be tall and skinny – as a young man I was painfully thin and with long legs I was morphologically suited to long distance running. I would accidently find myself running as a young man. It was effortless.

Now I am still 6 foot tall, but the skinny adjective no longer applies! I’m therefore less well suited to running than I was. Running is less a natural expression of my youthful vitality and more something that goes against the grain.

Another way in which running goes against the grain is the fact that I don’t often enjoy running that much when I’m doing it – usually the pleasure only kicks in once I have stopped!

This pleasure is mostly linked to a sense of achievement that I have done it, that I’m still doing sport; that I am still trying to maintain a certain level of fitness and I am positive about the health benefits and sense of well-being that running supports. I know that exercise is no guarantee that I won’t get some awful disease or die young. But at least I know that I am helping my chances statistically; I am putting myself on the side of the angels.

In my spiritual life I also find myself required to do things that go against the grain.

The world tells me that happiness comes from outside of myself – people, possessions, money, and power.

Whereas the spiritual truth of the matter is that happiness comes from a restored relationship with God, at the deepest core of my being;

…you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you[1]

The process of being reconciled to God is only made possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God the Son;

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’[2]

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them[3]

We must hope that the way(s) in which people can access this reconciliation that only Christ makes possible are as varied as possible. However, the only specific model we have is from Christ Himself and is presented in the nature of a choice freely made to trust in Him, to believe in Him.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.[4]

As we believe in Christ, we receive as a free gift, forgiveness, reconciliation, the indwelling Spirit of God, adoption into God’s family, and new life, which is unquenchable and eternal.

This then leads to a turning away from a life characterised by rebellion against God and from all that is displeasing to Him, and positively we turn ourselves towards God and orient our lives to pleasing Him, doing His will.

All of this goes against the grain. It requires a person to win that greatest of all battles -the battle against themselves.

[1] St Augustine (Trans. E. M. Blaiklock), The Confessions of Saint Augustine, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1983, p15

[2] John 14:6 NIV

[3] John 3:36 NIV

[4] John 3:16-18 NIV