This morning I awoke at my in law’s house in Western Washington. I only find myself here once or twice a year and usually feel somewhat claustrophobic. I was born and raised between the big skies and wide open spaces of southern Idaho. Here the low hanging clouds and giant, lumbering trees create an unsettling eeriness. At least it unsettles me. My wife, who grew up here, calls it “comforting.”
Be that as it may, I generally look forward to running a few miles whenever I am here. To the west of my in law’s house lies acres and acres of narrow roads that wind through dense forests. When I was here in November I ran out on a narrow road without a shoulder. The forest to each side is beautiful. However, this road has a disturbing amount of traffic and no room for pedestrians. The gorgeous forests were ideal. The 40 mile per hour cars trying not to hit me were less than.
Apparently I remembered the beauty and forgot the traffic because this morning I ran out that way again.
As I carefully dodged the cars, most of which were ambivalent to my well being, I found myself imagining what might happen if one of these cars did kill me.
What would happen to my church? How would my wife handle it? Would my kids be okay without a dad? What friends would come to the funeral? These are eery thoughts, perfect for such an eery place as the Pacific Northwest.
But more than family and friends, I also wondered about secret emotions and feeling I might take with me to my grave. After all, within these 150 pounds of loosely jointed muscles and bones I have a startling amount of baggage.
Which is unfortunate, given that us runners are a minimalist bunch. Now I know there is an entire industry of runner related gadgets that you can carry on your miles. However their cell phone arm straps, runner friendly head phones, heart rate monitors, calorie trackers, absorbent head bands, mp3 players and the billions of marketing that sells them are all superfluous. The best way to tell a runner from a jogger is to look for these needless accessories.
I am purist and have been since college. When I leave home I wear running shoes, socks, a watch and the shortest pair of shorts this pastor can get away with wearing. More than that, I wait until my stomach is empty, not being one who can run comfortably with anything sloshing around in there.
Yet when I head out to the roads and trails I find a surprising amount of baggage weighing me down. Yesterday I met with two of my dearest friends in Portland. As has been the case with every good friend I have made since junior high I am desperate to retain their friendship. I spent a few minutes this morning going over everything I said and did wrong yesterday while with them and worried that they might not like me as much after.
More than that, I am a pastor of a church that seems fairly stable and yet I worry about how precarious the situation is. Whenever I run I try to assess each congregants discipleship status. Are they making gains? Are they giving the enemy ground? Are they willing to hear me ask them the tough questions and read the tough scriptures to them or do they need something the Apostle Paul would compare to “milk?” Is my relationship with my associate strong enough, good enough? What congregants can I build trusting friendships with and what ones are waiting in the weeds to destroy me?
In fact, the problem with evangelical pews is that the more you sit in them the more arrogant you become, thinking you are right about everything. How do I fight that trend and teach and model a humility through which the other virtues will grow? And how do I do that knowing that the problem with evangelical pulpits are that the more you stand behind them the more sure of yourself you become? How do I fight that tendency within myself and model the needed humility?
Then there is the macro vision. How do I work and live into my calling to make disciples who make disciples and plant churches who plant churches? What conversations do I need to have? What partnerships do I need to foster? What steps do I need to take this next week to work towards the mission?
Then there is that church I left. We met yesterday with a member of that church. They do not yet have a pastor and are struggling to find and afford one. There have been several blows to their congregational life since I left. A divorce, a death, a few severe illnesses, financial instability and of course, leadership changes. When I left that church in February, I foretold that I was going to break a lot of hearts, starting with my own. And my heart is still aching and breaking for them and for me.
I also think of friends. I spent last weekend with a friend who has pastored what we call a “buzzsaw” church. He went into it whole. He came out in pieces. It was my deep honor to share his pain last weekend and yet it was a taxing time. We cried together, raged together and even laughed at the absurd world. I still mourn from him.
Then there is another friend, I have known and respected since high school. He won all the awards in high school and is now becoming somewhat of a national celebrity for a shoe he invented. I admire and respect him and yet feel like in the race to save the world, I am far behind him and losing ground daily. How do I possibly catch up? Should I even try? Can my small daily sacrifices even compare to his amazing ability to make roses out of dog poop?
Needless to say in this 150 pound body striding effortlessly through the forests of Washington, is a surprising amount of stress, grief, frustration and fear. No wonder I didn’t even bother with a shirt. The extra weight would be the straw that broke this camel’s back.
I would take all this to my grave if one of these haphazard drivers ends my life. In fact, if that had happened, all you would have is a half written sermon for next Sunday and last week’s blog post about Monday Morning’s Repentance. Hardly a legacy, but a legacy I am not sure I want to leave anyway.
As I dodge three or four more cars, an asphalt sidewalk suddenly appears in front of me. It starts at the road and then weaves away through some trees, curving in and out. When I see it I seem to hear a different voice in the back of my head, a comforting and familiar presence that says, “Follow the path and I will keep you safe.”
A minute or two later I stop to catch my breath. As sweat forms and pours off me I offer up prayers for my church, my denomination, my last church, my friends and for myself.
For the one who called me is faithful. . .