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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Feels Like a Thursday

 Thanksgiving Day 2020 feels a lot like a Thursday.  Without family and feast, Thanksgiving sort of sucks!

The Pandemic strikes again!  Are we better off ignoring the day all together or adapting the experience to fit today’s New Normal?  Even in my season of trying new things, I have little interest in manufacturing new holiday traditions.  Something just ain’t right.


Maybe my attitude sucks.  I feel guilty about complaining.  Sure, 2020 has had a colossal number of low points, but as the character played by Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting so rightly points out:


“You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”


Having part of something is better than having nothing at all.  There will still be food, football and slumber.  We’ll talk over the phone rather than the dinner table.  It will be the most civilized holiday meal in decades!  There will be a lot fewer dishes to clean.  Less stress.  We’ve missed birthdays, anniversaries, and other events this year to protect the health of friends and family.  If you think about it, it takes a certain level of love to avoid one another. 


The first harvest celebration that started all this was in October 1621.  90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims attended it.  Thanksgiving (giving thanks to God for rain, survival, or military victory) happened when warranted thereafter.  It was celebrated more frequently following President George Washington’s proclamation in 1789, but didn’t take root until President Abraham Lincoln called for an annual day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” in November 1863.  It took until 1942 for Congress to settle in on the fourth Thursday of November as the national holiday we find ourselves bitching about today.  And, it took Texas until 1956 to get with the program.  Those Texans.  Gotta love ‘em.


Thanksgiving has a fluid history in our country.  Is it possible COVID-19 is the catalyst for another permanent shift in how we celebrate?  The only change I support is to simplify it.  Strip away all the pageantry and formality that muck it all up.  There is one consistent thing about the holiday.  Giving Thanks.  It was and should always be an expression of our gratitude to God.  I don’t think this year is any different just because our gatherings are more intimate.  It might even be easier to be more sincere this time around.  



Yes, it saddens me that far too many people have died, lost jobs, or otherwise rocked to the core by the Pandemic. But there are also many that have recognized just how lost in the externals we are as a nation.  We have been so busy chasing more, more, more, faster, faster, faster that when we could not run anymore we didn’t know what to do with ourselves.  I spent two months in denial, followed by learning to exist in my own home 24/7.  Only now can I walk into the kitchen at midday and not have my wife look at me like I was a burglar.


So, tomorrow will be Thursday.  It may feel like most Thursdays, but it is Thanksgiving Thursday and I plan to be more thankful than ever.  My life is blessed.  Beyond blessed.  So is yours.  Zoom out and take another look.


“You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”


Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Friday, November 20, 2020

Artsy

 Renoir or Gauguin?  Huh?

Public Art has always been difficult for me.  Sometimes I enjoy it and see purpose, but most of the time I do not.  I have a real hard time justifying the expense when a city has more pressing needs.  Pressing in my mind anyway.


That is the problem.  Who gets to decide what is more important?  Pot holes or a painted mural? Helping the homeless or erecting a sculpture?  Public art, while commendable, does not hold up to the harsh demand for dollars.  Okay, maybe those without a car would take the mural.


But, here’s the kicker:

Louis Armstrong by Eduardo Kobra - New Orleans
No, this isn't one of the projects we selected

Against impossible odds, I received a request to serve as a panelist for a series of public art projects in my community?  This was so unbelievable that I questioned it when they called to make sure I received the invitation.  Were they serious?  It turns out that in the past, panels with only members of the local art community received gruesome criticism.  This “misuse of public funds” landed at the feet of the elected officials.  The opponents insisted that “normal” people be included.  Surely the funds would not get spent poorly, or at all, if someone with business experience had a say in the matter.


I agreed to serve without thinking.  An all too common error on my part.  If I had thought about it, the potential for public outcry and derogatory media attention might have crossed my mind.  One of the elected officials saw my name on the list and called me to make sure I understood the original invitation.  It turns out, they gave their staff my name so I could recommend a “Common Man” to serve, not serve myself.  Now this was awkward.  Neither of us knew what to do next.  They didn’t want to say they didn’t want me to do it, and I couldn’t bring myself to back out.  It was what one might have called a Mexican Standoff long ago… today we just call it a stalemate, I guess.  


The first round of selections involved sifting through portfolios submitted by over 100 artists.     If it is not already apparent, I’m a few feet short at the wrong end of a swimming pool.  It turns out Art can be a lot of things not resembling the Art I few up with.  I suppose if we have the New Math, we can have the New Art.  The good news is that almost half were easy to turn away for subject matter (violence, blood, freaky, drug inspired, etc.).  From the Common Man perspective, that is.  The others were much more difficult to assess.


Each panelist submitted electronic ballots of our top three artists.  The list got smaller, and we did it again…. and again, until there were three remaining artists.  They asked these finalists to present their work to the panel in-person.  No longer could I hide behind secret ballots over the internet.  This was going to be serious panel work, my friends!  Like Dancing with the Stars or American Idol.  Okay, not like those at all.


As expected, the panel turned out to be an odd mix of individuals.  My suit and tie drew stares and was not very befitting of my Common Man role.  I’d have dressed “down” if I would have known what the art scene crowd might wear on a Tuesday morning at 9 AM.


As each artist made their presentations, one thing became evident.  Everyone in that room saw the world much differently than I did.  The vision and purpose expressed by each artist was quite inspiring.  How could they look at a grain silo and see that?  Viewing life from an artist’s angle sure makes the world look a lot more interesting.


And I could see their passion.  Much was explained to me, but I felt a genuine connection and understanding and appreciation for it.  Yeah, me, the Common Man.  At that point, I felt bad about my participation on the panel.  They intended for me to raise questions on the sanity of the expenditure, not opacity of the image.  I failed to represent the opposition.  Public Art was happening.  Now.  I was unprepared and unwilling to stop it.


It took some time, but we were able to select a unique artist for each project.  We cast aside the secret ballot and just talked about each artist and their work.  We expressed what we liked or did not.  How we felt the piece was a fit for the location or was not.  There we were, a half-dozen people from different backgrounds and cultures agreeing on something.  Unanimously.  Without hate.  With respect.


Huh, I wasn’t sure that was possible anymore.  There may just be some hope for all of us.  Looks like those pot holes won’t be getting fixed.


Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Spiritual Retreat: Tales from the First 24 Hours

Learning and experiencing new things interests me for the first time in a long time.  Maybe the whole pandemic lifestyle has me looking for alternative ways to spend time.  Regardless, when a friend described a weekend sabbatical he took, my internal hyper-drive fired up.  Sabbatical is not a term we use much here in Texas.  Seems all academia-like.


This was not a traditional type sabbatical, but a 24 hour spiritual retreat to get closer to God and recharge the old batteries.  I was interested.  All I had to do was take a quick look at the calendar to pick a date and clear it with work and my wife.  When you mention a religious get-away, approvals come quick.  I set my Spiritual Retreat for October 30th.


This “Retreat” had to include a digital detox.  So all electronic devices needed to be left at home or turned off and stowed away.  I was to take only faith inspiring reading materials.  So I packed my Bible, a journal, and a few other books that I thought might light the fuse of spiritual thinking.


The ideal location was our lake house.  Quiet when alone and interruption free during the offseason.  I planned to go down on Thursday evening, rise early for a 5:30 AM Zoom Meeting and begin my 24 hour retreat at 7 AM sharp on Friday morning.


Establishing what I was expecting to achieve in this time of solitude may be of interest.  The answer to that was nothing.  All we do as a society is strive for things.  We pursue few things without a specific outcome in mind.  Not knowing had some level of freedom to it.  Besides, the whole idea was to let God handle it.  My job was to show up and let the magic happen!


—————


By 9 AM, I felt comfortable in the silence while reading about God telling Elijah to head for a brook that feeds into the Jordan River and wait (1 Kings 17).  Elijah, suggested reading for such an occasion, was a prophet.  Hearing from God was part of his gig.  I am not a prophet and unsure when I hear from God if it is Him at all.  This, hearing from God thing, was the point of the Retreat.  It looked like Elijah and I both had some waiting to do.


As the day progressed, I wondered if I was putting too much pressure on myself to “hear from God”.  It was my first retreat and I wasn’t even sure I was doing it right.  Just then it happened.  Not a booming voice from far or near.  Just clarity.   I knew why I was there.  I was there to learn.


As mentioned, the date was October 30th.  In the afternoon, I opened Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.  Jesus Calling is a Christian daily devotional.  I’m sorry, THE Christian daily devotional read by millions.  I know dozens who read it daily, year after year making notes in the margins.  


The entry for October 30th is:


I AM with you. I am with you. I am with you.


Heaven's bells continually peal with that promise of My Presence. Some people never hear those bells because their minds are earthbound and their hearts are closed to Me. Others hear those bells only once or twice in their lifetimes, in rare moments of seeking Me above all else. My desire is that My "sheep" hear My voice continually, for I am the ever-present Shepherd.


Quietness is the classroom where you learn to hear My voice. Beginners need a quiet place in order to still their minds. As you advance in this discipline, you gradually learn to carry the stillness with you wherever you go. When you step back into the mainstream of life, strain to hear those glorious bells: I am with you. I am with you. I am with you.


God works this way all the time.  That my retreat and this entry fit so tight is not a coincidence.  “Quietness is the classroom where you learn to hear my voice.”  I was in the classroom and committed to 24 hours there and elated to be so.


My uplifted spirit was short-lived as I read again…


“Others hear those bells only once or twice in their lifetimes…”


“Some people never hear the bells because their minds earthbound…”  


Many of us do not relate to being “earthbound” in thought and deed as having hearts closed to God, but are we certain?  We all know wonderful and kind people connected addictively to media (social or otherwise), shopping, gossip, success, and other mindless activities.  How much of that can one handle without trapped in its web?  I do not know many people who would spend 24 hours disconnected from the outside world with no television, internet, telephone, or human interaction of any kind.  As I did an inventory of those I am closest to, most spend much of their day earthbound.  


And I am no better just because I will invest 24 hours in the classroom.  Far from it.  I lost count of the number of times during the retreat I wanted to do a Google search or add something to my Amazon shopping cart.  Countless times I also dozed off while “deep” in thought and ate a snack between page turns of my red-hot spiritual reading.  In the classroom, yes, but in the back row goofing off as in my youth.


I fail to hear the bells just like everyone else for the same reasons as everyone else.  But we need to hear those bells.  


To live an entire life pursuing what we want rather than what God designed for us is a life wasted.  We can only know his desires by asking him to tell us and waiting on the answer.  The wait may be long, but the payoff is perfect.


—————————


As my 24 hours wrapped up, I was unsure what to do next.  The silence had become so comfortable that I did not want to disturb it.  What if God had something else to say?  After a long run, I returned to the silence.  It was late afternoon back at home before I engaged with the connected world around me.  It may sound strange, but this was just as uncomfortable as the silence was the day before.  


More than a week later, I am again failing to hear the bells.  No matter how hard I try, my mind gets lured back earthbound.  Face it.  It is dang hard to slow down long enough to hear from God.  I never knew how hard until I actually did it, just once.


 “Quietness is the classroom where you learn to hear my voice...  I am with you.  I am with you.  I am with you."


Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Monday, November 2, 2020

Hope for Unity

     On the eve of our election here in the U.S., I’m not sure any of us are ready for the outcome.  Many are ready for it to be over with.  The bickering, the political ads, the yard signs, the slinging of half-truths and insults.  The media, the polls, the opinions and the what-ifs or what-thens.  

    Enough already!

Why can’t we just get along!  What happened to finding similarities and common ground?


If you are anything like me, you have family and friends who disagree on politics.  While we are smart to avoid those conversations at the dinner table, it is not so divisive as to wish the other harm.  There remains a bond.


One thing is certain.  We will never unite as a country if we continue to magnify our differences.  Our media (broadcast and social) thrives on division.  Division drives ratings and advertising.  But it tears apart the core values of the nation.


Regardless of the outcome, I wish everyone would just stay home and be quiet for a change.  Turn off your televisions.  Let the dust settle.  Be civil to one another and have a healthy chat.  Don’t let outsiders tell you how you should feel.


Acknowledge that all sides are right.  That may not seem possible, but admit that life according each person’s environment, influences, income, upbringing and education forms their truth.  If you were in the “other persons” shoes you may have arrived at the same conclusions.  Accept that we are all at least a little misinformed.


I’ll be praying for our country and for someone of influence to set the tone of peace and unity.


I have a lot of hope for our future.  Faith gives a person a reason to embrace hope.  Hope is not quite tangible, but it is something people have in common.


John Ortberg on Hope:


“Hope means, among other things, a joyful dying to my need to have my life turn out any particular way at all.  Hope comes when I live in the reality that the world is in better, larger, more capable hands than mine.”


And so it goes.


"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances." 

(1 Thess.5:16-18)


Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Call Me Flash

     Writing about specific running results is super boring for everyone, even me.  But, in a time of cancelled events, I’m craving some results to let me know the sport is still alive.  Sure, there have been a few live events, but the whole COVID-19 era, like the steroid era in baseball, will forever have an asterisk by it.  We’ll look back and say “yeah, so and so is a major marathon winner, but that WAS during the Covid era.”


Enough of that nonsense, let’s talk about me.


The wind chill was 33 degrees, blustery wind out of the north with a fine mist in the air.  I don’t normally run after work, but given the conditions were worse at 5 AM morning, I made an exception.  Am I crazy?  Why not knock out five miles on the treadmill?


This was to be a Fitness Test, that’s why.  While I am not training for a specific race (thanks Covid), I still have a training plan that I keep reshuffling with the hope that live in-person racing will be back soon.  This test calls for a ten-minute warm-up, 30 minutes running as hard as possible at a sustained effort followed by a five-minute cooldown.


When the weather is nasty like this, I always choose a route that starts with the direction of the wind.  Running into the wind when your body is cold up is a good way to mess with your mind and quit before reaching the end of the block.  Downwind, I set off.


At the 10 minute mark I hit the gas.  At 52 it’s more of Press than a Hit, but I sped up.  Within five minutes, I’m worried that I have gone out too fast.  Bad feeling since this is a downhill segment.  My body settles into the pace.  What pace, I’m not sure, but my mile times are dropping and staying there.


I’m soaked on the outside by rain and on the inside by sweat, so remove my gloves and hat.  The last 7 minutes of the 30 minute push are uphill and I struggled.  Once I reached the mark, 40 minutes total, I eased to a walk to catch my breath and turned for the short 5 minute jog home.


My workouts upload to TrainingPeaks automatically from my watch, so the data is readily available.  While I was happy with the effort, I waited a day to dive into the numbers.  There was little chance I improved from the August Test, but not much slower either.  


The next morning, as I’m isolating the hard 30 minute effort, I notice a star and a plus sign next to the Records column.  It thrilled me to see that I ran my fasted mile of the year at 7:47.  In looking at the map, this ended up being the downhill segment I mentioned above.


The most shocking thing was just below the mile record was the 5k record.  At 8:10 per mile, it is my fastest 5k segment on record.  “On record” is limited to the past 10-ish years.  My training seldom had me going all out for over 10 minutes, so the “Record” effort is misleading.  I “could” have run faster in the past if I tried.  Regardless, it was an improved Fitness Test.  My time in the mountains and on the bike in late summer paid off.


I was curious what qualified as the second fastest 5k.  It turns out to be on my birthday in 2013.  What is also interesting to me is that this second fastest 5k came in the final 5k of the Cowtown Half Marathon.  I finished that race with an 8:15 pace for the last 3.1 miles.  After running ten miles first!  Yeah, I was probably faster back then.


Cowtown’s pace had me looking for more.  I finished the final 5k of the Dallas Half Marathon in 2016 at an 8:17 pace.  In my 30 years of running, I’ve always been good at pacing my races.  Starting out slow and then gauging how I feel in the second half of the race is part science and part experience.  A hard effort too early is a disaster.


There is something fun to me about running fast at the end when others are hobbling to their slowest miles of the day.  This helps lift me up another level and carries me to the end.  It also limits the suffering to the final 25 minutes in an almost two-hour effort.  Suffering sucks.


All this is silly.  Like I said before, nobody enjoys reading running results.  It is just that there is so much negativity consuming our world that I wanted to focus on something personally positive.  I am thriving in COVID-19’s wake!  But most important, I might just be faster than I was 7 years ago!


Run in Peace, Rest in Grace