Running for Your Life

Guest Writer:  Kelly Pheulpin, reflects on her vocation of inspiring others, to run for their health.  This is the second of  a two-part article

Kelly writes: ‘I’m a proud mom of two girls, who is into fitness and helping others around me achieve their goals of living a healthier lifestyle.  I’m a mom of a child with Type 1 diabetes and I love to educate others on healthy living and small changes to make their diabetes more manageable’.

Fellow FlowersA community of runners supporting others through inspiring stories of why we run. Membership into the group is free but it is preferred that a fellow flower invite you to join with the gift of a flower that represents your story. https://fellowflowers.com

Kelly: ‘I have been running and working out since 2011, I have met so many amazing men and women through my journey to get healthy. In 2017 I was asked to teach a class to help members of North shore medical center’s gastric bypass. Forward to 2018 I have been working with this dedicated group for almost a year. Their commitment to a healthy lifestyle is inspirational especially since all of them thought I was crazy upon meeting them, however they all dedicated themselves to the program.

Kim one of the members in the class was the most skeptical of the bunch, when I told her she would someday run a ½ marathon she laughed and said not me; all I want is to pass my physical fitness test at work. Slowly she started working towards small goals. She walked the 2017 reindeer run in Beverly then walk/ran the frosty four-miles on New Year’s day, then on and on.

When we laced up our sneakers to take on Zooma’s ½ marathon, she was almost a year to the day I met her and she was crushing goals, we had a fun exciting race on the cape enjoying the views and each other, once she completed her first ½ marathon days later she would be facing her final goal… The fitness test.

Tuesday came, and I was fortunate enough to be present when Kim took her test, I knew she was more than ready. To pass she needed to run 1.5 miles in under 18 minutes complete at least 12 push-ups in under a minute, complete 30 sit-ups in under a minute, and be able to reach more than 23 inches on the sit and reach. Not only did Kim nail her goal she was encouraging others and coaching them through passing their tests as well. Coach and student had come full circle right before my eyes.

Kelly (left), Kim (right) concluding their race.

 

I had been waiting for this day for so long, I could barely contain my excitement for her as she passed the test and I handed her a flower, she had earned her entrance into the fellow flowers, I picked purple for her.

Purple represents: “SELF; The odds are against me. I’m too slow. too old. Self-doubt. No time. No training partner. The kids need me. Its dark out. It’s too early. I’m Tired. I have to work. It hurts. I’m scared they will laugh. Doctor says maybe I shouldn’t. Can’t find a sitter. Life is too Busy. I look in the mirror and don’t see a runner. What if I fail? NO MORE EXCUSES……. I’m doing it anyway!”

Even when everything was going wrong and Kim thought about giving up she didn’t, and she surpassed goals she never thought she could achieve. I couldn’t think of a more fitting flower than purple for her. She is continuing to move forward with her health journey and helping others by leading through example to pay forward what was given to her. I can’t wait to see what she tackles next!’

 

Dancing with the Devil

The great sin of our nation is racism. It has been with us since the beginning.  Think of the subjugation of Native Americans, an economy built on slavery and legalized segregation into the 1960’s.   Think of reoccurring waves of anti-immigrant sentiment in our nations history.

Racism is sometimes tamped down but always reemerges.  The latest manifestation was Charlottesville on Saturday as hundreds of white supremacists, ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis strode through the streets of this small southern city.

 

 

That many carried Trump signs is concerning. That the President initially refused to specifically condemn the hate filled messages of the white supremacists is particularly alarming.  In response he offered a general condemnation of violence with an implication that the counter marchers were equally to blame.

Certainly people voted for Mr. Trump  for many reasons.  Many I’m sure condemn the message of those who marched with torches held high.

But what is apparent to me and many others is that Mr. Trump in his run up to the election and as president, has  played to a racist portion of his base.  He has regularly played the fear card:  ‘Mexicans crossing the border are murderers and rapists’….’Muslims are Islamic extremists’…’the undocumented are raising the crime rate and must be deported’….’Obama was not born in America’….and the list goes on.

In the midst of a society that is racially and ethnically more diverse and with a shifting economy that leaves more people behind, Mr. Trump has chosen the time-honored path of a demagogue… division and fear.   Division is easier than finding a positive way forward as a united people.

The crowd that marched through Charlottesville, for the most part were outsiders to that community.  They marched through this progressive college town with a message of hate.  Carrying torches they reminded us of the KKK in the days of Jim Crow.   They shouted ‘blood and soil’ as they marched, a fascist slogan of the Nazis in pre-World War II Germany.

President Trump’s response was muted and muddy.  He chose not to condemn those who helped him get elected.

It’s been said: ‘You can’t dance with the devil and not be tainted’.

In the Bible we hear:  ‘What good is it to gain the whole world but forfeit your soul?’ (Mark 8:36).  Mr. Trump has made his choice as to what kind of man and leader he will be.  He has chosen to align himself with those who promote bigotry and division.

The choice is ours.  Who will we dance with? What kind of America do we believe in and seek to be?  Being silent or complacent is a choice with consequences too.  Who will you stand with?

On Sunday evening I gathered with approx. 200 of my neighbors.  We were brought together by a woman named Jena Beers who decided to act. Jena was horrified by the images of violence in Charlottesville.  Her heart broke as she saw a racist drive his car into a crowd of peaceful marchers, killing a young woman and injuring many more.   She decided to act.

On Sunday morning via social media she invited her community to gather that very evening,  to say no to hate and yes to love, no to racism and yes to diversity.   200 plus neighbors gathered to speak to the best part of who we are as a people. Hundreds of such groups took place in villages, towns and cities across our nation.

President Lincoln said it is incumbent upon each generation to ‘become a more perfect Union’.  Our time has come.  Who will you dance with?  What message will you add your voice to?  Who will you stand and march with?

 

 

When the Visible and Invisible World Meet

There is in Celtic spirituality an awareness of ‘thin places’ in the universe, where the visible and the invisible world come into closest proximity. Monasteries and holy places were meant to be founded at such spots to increase the likelihood of a transcendental communication. These thin places are threshold places, a border or frontier place where two worlds meet and where one has the possibility of communicating with the other. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/travel/thin-places-where-we-are-jolted-out-of-old-ways-of-seeing-the-world.html

Marsha Sinetar in a wonderful little book entitled ‘Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics’, reminds us that the search for thin places is not just the purview of those religious types who live in set apart places. Each of us has the ability to discern and experience such places and moments of awe and wonder.

From my experience such places sometimes are found in houses of worship but more often are found in the everyday. Often in nature.

Have you ever been in a thin place?

I am a pastor serving a church along the North Shore of Massachusetts.  With a limited warm weather window many of us savor days at a nearby beach or on rivers and lakes.   Instinctively we are drawn to such places because they not only provide relief from the heat but also nourish our soul.

This summer at church we are spending less time indoors and more time attending the ‘Church of Woods and Water’.  At this church we dig our toes in the sand and our paddle in the water.  We listen for the voice of the Creator in the wind and waves just as aboriginal Peoples have done since the beginning of time.

Such settings serve as portals into the ancient rhythm of creation.  Such thin places remind us to slow down, to savor, to reflect on what matters and where we belong.

John Muir said:  “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

This summer I wish you a good journey to places both familiar and thin.  May we walk slowly, breathe deeply and paddle well.

Hope for a Post-Christian Era

We in the USA, live in a ‘post-Christian’ era. This refers to a movement over the last 40 years away from organized Christianity. There are many reasons including a growing distrust of institutions in general and religion in particular.  Some of the distrust is deserved i.e. systemic cover up of decades of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church; conservative churches being co-opted by right-wing politics; liberal churches who’ve lost their spiritual mooring.

The results are seen across the nation and readily evident here in New England.  According to the Massachusetts Council of Churches on any given Sunday only 25% of our neighbors are attending a house of worship of any type.

Churches for the most part are growing grayer and in time becoming smaller. For millennials approx. 30% nationwide  say they identify with ‘no religious tradition’. This %  is increasing at a rapid rate.

Some say ‘good riddance’.  Not surprisingly, I don’t agree.  For all the imperfections of the church, I still love it.  I love that it is one of the few places where diverse ages and backgrounds gather.  I love that the wisdom of Jesus continues to cut to the heart of what is good, lasting and true.

I see many churches looking in the rear view mirror.  They aren’t looking back to Jesus but rather to a fading memory of the way church life was practiced 20 -40 years ago.

Such churches focus on comfort, familiarity and being in control.  They become hospices, lovingly overseeing the comfort of the beloved until the doors eventually close.

Last week I attended a reunion of the seminary that nurtured my call to ministry 30 plus years ago, Andover Newton Theological School (ANTS).   ANTS recently sold its campus and is affiliating with another seminary. Bottom line the number of students has shrunk as the churches they serve have grown smaller and grayer.

Looking at the religious landscape, one might think that all is lost.

Thankfully, there is a timeless quality to the Christian story.  Easter is all about life over death, hope over despair, love over hate, courage over fear.

Let me offer one such story:  In Sahuarita, Arizona, 40 miles from the border with Mexico is Church of the Good Shepherd.  My friend Randy Mayer serves as the pastor http://www.thegoodshepherducc.org Good Shepherd is a multi-cultural, growing congregation deeply rooted in the story of Jesus.

Good Shepherd on a daily basis sends a small fleet of trucks into the Arizona desert.  The trucks drop off water for migrants fleeing poverty and often oppression. On average 300 bodies are found in the southern Arizona desert each year.  Their bodies have no identification and are buried nameless.

photo-of-water-in-desert

The people of Good Shepherd know that these travelers have names.  They know them as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Such a bond transcends government policy and the threat  to build even higher walls.  Their compassion is rooted in a story Jesus told in Luke 10: 25-37.  A seemingly simple story with profound cultural and political implications.

photo-good-samaritan

Jesus was never about building an institution. He was all about a movement.  A movement of the heart that builds bridges of understanding.  A movement that restores us to health and harmony with God.

The antidote to irrelevance for the Christian church is in remembering the story of the One who brought us into being.  It was true then.  It’s true now.

 

Foolish Wisdom

I serve a church in the downtown section of a small city.  City leaders are working hard to spiff up the downtown.  A retro theater from the 1930’s has been refurbished, restaurants are opening and artists are moving in.

In short the community is being rediscovered as a place to live and relax.  Just a few blocks from the ocean we are attractive to tourists.  We are fostering community development that is sustainable, that attracts a critical mass of people who will spend money.

In the midst of this carefully crafted image is a neighbor I’ll call Bryce.   He’s a character that defies expectations.  Bryce is a street person who lives in alleys, in the woods and occasionally on a friends couch.  His belongings are kept in a shopping cart.  This in itself isn’t unusual.  Cities large and small have neighbors who struggle due to economics or mental health issues or addiction or a combination.  Such neighbors are familiar.  Easy to look and walk past.

Homeless neighbor

But Bryce is different. He refuses to blend into the background.  Bryce wrestles with a variety of mental health issues.  On occasion his behavior is belligerent.  But those times are the exception.

What makes Bryce stand out is his love of beauty. With an inability to differentiate boundaries he is apt to commandeer a flat of flowers and plant them  in front of the Fire Station.

It’s not uncommon to see mini parks emerge at traffic roundabouts  festooned with American flags, trinkets, tinsel and flowers.   All Bryce’s work.

Where he gets his treasurers is anyone’s guess.  A police officer with a smile told me of Bryce walking into the station with freshly baked cookies.  He offered the cookies with words of thanks to the officers for treating him with such kindness.  Later it was discovered that the cookies had been taken from a local bakery when a worker had turned his back.

This is Bryce.  A neighbor who functions on a different frequency. A neighbor who often amuses and confounds those he crosses paths with.  It’s hard to be too angry with such a person.  But not impossible.  One lady I met was furious at the mess he made by throwing bread to the birds in the local park.

Some consider Bryce to be a fool.  People avoid him or make fun of him.  Yet fools have a purpose. The fool serves as a mirror to our own character, the person we strive to be.

Jesus often took on the role of the fool, the poor, oppressed, unlovely, unlovable.  He said: ‘Whoever shows compassion and kindness to one such as these, shows kindness to  me.  For these fools, these broken ones, these deemed untouchable…these are my family.’ (paraphrase of Matthew 25: 31-46).

Bryce is a gift.  A frustrating gift on occasion but a gift nonetheless. He invites us to bring beauty into places we wouldn’t think of.  He invites us to question our own carefully constructed boundaries.  He offers us the choice to include or exclude.

Bryce in his irrepressible way says: ‘I belong.  I too have a place in this community’.

Bryce knows my name.  He always greets me with a smile.  And sometimes with a warm cookie or fresh flowers…which have come from God knows where.

 

 

Ernie and the Babe

Sometimes a treasure is found in the most unexpected places. Last week my wife and I were exploring Cooperstown, NY the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. We stopped by a used book bookstore which was a rabbits warren of packed shelves and heaps of books on the floor. It was a place seemingly without order, which was also part of its charm. You had the sense that hiding within each pile was a gift waiting to be found.

Being a bookstore in Cooperstown there were lots of books and memorabilia related to baseball. Over one bookshelf was a dusty photograph depicting two baseball players seated by a dugout. One was instantly recognizable, the great Babe Ruth. The other was unfamiliar. Both were young, wearing the uniform of my Red Sox. Clearly this was early in Babe’s career before being sold to the Evil Empire (the Yankees). Who was the other guy sitting beside Babe?

Babe and Ernie

The owner of the shop didn’t know. I took a photo with my phone and texted it to my buddy Bruce. Bruce knows more about baseball than I will ever know. He has kept a scorecard for the thousands of games he has attended over the course of his lifetime. He’s also a walking baseball encyclopedia. Within minutes Bruce texted me back, providing the answer to our mystery man: Ernie Shore.

Later a web search of Ernie Shore provided lots of stats on the pitchers life. I learned he had grown up and played ball in the Carolina’s, been recruited by Baltimore and traded with Babe to the Sox. One headline caught my attention:

Ernie Shore’s ‘Perfect’ Game and Babe Ruth’s Ejection in 1917

The Boston Globe covered this game with as much attention to the fracas that got Babe Ruth ejected after walking the first batter as to Ernie Shore’s feat of retiring the 26 batters he faced in relief, which, with the first batter being thrown out stealing, made 27 straight outs, if not quite an absolute perfect game. It happened at Fenway Park on June 23, 1917, in the first game of a doubleheader vs. the Washington Senators. Here’s part of the Globe’s account:

FAME FOR SHORE, SOX IN TWIN WIN
No-Hit, No-Run and No-Man-to-First Performance
Modest Ernie Shore took a place in the Hall of Fame as a no-hit, no-run, no man-reached-first base pitcher in the curtain-raiser of the twin bill with the Griffmen at Fenway Park yesterday. It was the best pitching seen in this city since 1904 when Cy Young put over a similar feat, the only difference being that Uncle Cyrus pitched to every batter, while the Carolina professor did not get into the exercises until after Ruth, who had walked Morgan, the first batter, had been removed from the pastime for striking Umpire Brick Owns. . .

The rest of the article had to do with Babe punching the ump for not calling a strike. Babe being tossed opened the door for the ‘modest Ernie Shore’ to enter the game and make history. Now this photo of Ernie and the Babe hangs by my desk. In the photo Babe seems to be looking away. But Ernie seems to be looking directly at me. Sizing me up. I wonder if he had that same look on June 23, 1917 when he pitched a perfect game, knocking back 27 batters in a row.

Sometimes you find a treasure in the most unexpected places.

The Practice of Walking on the Earth

In our fast paced motorized society I invite you to join me in a counter cultural act: Take off your shoes, wiggle your toes in the grass or sand and walk.

Walking and walking barefoot in particular, has a way of heightening your senses and making you mindful of where you step. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk and mentor offers this: ‘The miracle is not to walk on water but on the earth.’ True. Walking slows us down and makes us aware of where we are. More than other modes of travel, walking invites us to experience what is immediately behind, around and in front.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book ‘An Altar in the World’ writes:
‘Jesus walked a lot. If Jesus had driven a car it is difficult to imagine how that might have changed his impact. Walking gave him time to see things, like the milky eyes of the beggar sitting by the side of the read, or the round black eyes of sparrows sitting in their cages at the market.’

It is one thing to drive by a person in need, a very different experience to walk past.

My friend Joe walked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Only by walking do you get in touch with your own dreams and longings. Only by walking can you receive ‘trail magic’, gifts left by strangers such as a cold beer in a stream or a chocolate bar tied to a branch. Only by walking can a stranger become a friend as you listen to each others story.

This past Sunday several of us met in the woods to walk in silence. This was our Sabbath, to experience silence as we paused by a wetlands and listened to that which otherwise would have been masked by talk.

3000 years ago a prophet named Isaiah offered this gift: ‘Listen, and your soul will live.’ To walk in silence, barefoot or in shoes is a counter-cultural act. To do so is to receive gifts that otherwise would be lost to us. As Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, to walk on the earth open, attentive, engaged

woman_walking_in_the_tao-resized-600

is a miracle.

Note: I lead mindful walks and contemplative paddle trips. Contact me for information on the next scheduled event. This summer 2015 the church I serve is hosting a study and sermon series based on Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World. Go to church web site http://www.fbcbeverly.org for more info.