Tag Archives: friendship

Running Away?

As 2015 nears the finish line, I am ever grateful for the blessings the year has held. My extended family gathered to celebrate the life of my mom and the many gifts she bestowed on us before her death.  I completed five wonderful, challenging years of pastoral ministry at Resurrection Lutheran Church.   My practice of mindfulness meditation and prayer deepened as I focused on Paul’s prayer in Ephesians, “as you are being rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:17)

A weekly blessing that I too often take for granted is a group of runners who, as the miles roll on, have become friends.  We gather most Saturday morning at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church at 7:30, in summer and winter.  Some are always early, a couple are always late.   We greet one another, teasing whoever has new shoes or jacket.  Some stretch.  Others debate what to wear or what route to run.  Eventually we are out the door and the run begins.Jan 06 Group at GatewayWe always start the run together and kibitz about the past week. We joke that we are “running away from our problems.”   Occasionally there is big news to share, a daughter’s graduation or the loss of a job.  After a mile or two the group begins to break apart as the faster runners pull ahead.  Over the years our runs seem to be shorter.  The group started as a marathon training group, providing weekly long runs of 12+ miles.  Now we rarely run more than six to eight. Last Saturday it was five.

Participation has ebbed and flowed.  We have had more than a dozen runners show up, but more often it is four to eight.  In years past we had weekly e-mails, but now it seems to be texts and Facebook.

Mike Johnson 12

The blessings come in the friendships. Not only do we hold each other accountable for our physical exercise, but we genuinely care about each other. We celebrated when Mike Johnson completed twelve marathons in twelve months.  In mid-December we gather for our White Elephant Gift Exchange where our  zany personalities are in stiff competition to be creative.


McDonnell’s Medal Monument

Jim McDonnell always wins the prize.

Remembering Libby

Steve at Ragnar crop enhnancedThe camaraderie  came into clear focus this past year when one of our runners, Steve Libby, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February and died in May.  During his illness, we visited him or huddled up to pray before our morning run.  We organized a prayer service for him and shared Libby stories.  We grieved at his memorial service and we continue to remember the way Libby touched our lives.

As we approach the start of 2016, I wonder what the year will hold.  I will be starting my first interim ministry at Trinity in Lindstrom. I am contemplating hikes on the Superior Hiking Trail and the PCT.  I hope to make a trip south to visit my daughter in Texas.   And most Saturday morning, I plan to lace up my running shoes and join friends for a run.  Upon reflection, I realize that we run not away from our problems, but towards love and peace.

Go in peace.

Running Gifts of Laughter

The excitement builds for the gift exchange

The excitement builds for the gift exchange

This morning my running friends held our annual white elephant gift exchange. After completing our normal Saturday run, we headed over to a coffee shop to exchange odd gifts.

Gift Exchange 1The rules are that the gift must be something from your home that is running related and you no longer need. No one is to buy anything new.  The gifts take on a bizarre quality because several gifts of old running shirts or race gift bags are re-exchanged ever year. We compete to see who can give the most memorable gift.

This year was particularly rich. One of our members, Tim Torgerson, retired from referring college football. His autographed framed photo in his referee uniform caused quite a stir (this gift barely qualified as “running” related). Several people exchanged un-open gifts for the right to his photo.

Gift Exchange  SculptureBut perhaps the best gift was a sculpture, called “The anatomy of a runner.” It was created with wood dowels and cut cross-sections of old running shoes. That is one white elephant gift that will be re-gifted next year.

I ended up with a new cap that I think I will actually wear.

The gift exchanged reminded me once again of the power of community and rituals. This is the eighth year that our group convenes for this silliness. We laugh, talk and reflect. We remember old gifts and wonder what new gifts will come.

Running is often seen as a solitary sport. Yet the power of community is real and significant. The same is true for our Christian faith. We each come to Jesus as unique individuals by our own path. Yet we also belong to Jesus through the body of Christ. The shared rituals of worship, prayer, communion, and song link us together. Together we rejoice with those who rejoice and we weep with those who weep.

The running group not only helps me keep a healthy practice of running, but also a healthy practice of friendship. Thanks.

Lord Jesus, thank you for friends who laugh and cry with me.

Friends Between Stories

Friendship by Nova Scotia artist Karen Morrison

In John 20: 19-29 two stories are told.  The first is Jesus’ initial appearance to the disciples in a locked room.  He appears, not as a ghost, but in a resurrected body, and gives them the blessings of peace and the Holy Spirit.  The encounter is quick yet vibrant.   Afterwards the disciples are excited to tell Thomas, their friend and colleague.

For some unreported reason, Thomas was not present during Jesus initial appearance.   Perhaps he was the only disciple who had courage to go out and pick up some fish and bread for supper.  Perhaps he went out to get a stiff drink or wanted some time alone to think.  Whatever the reason, Thomas was gone and missed all the excitement.

Then he ruins the disciple’s excitement with his skeptical response, “Unless I see the marks, touch the wounds, I will not believe.”   I suspect that such honest skepticism threw cold water on the disciples.  How were they to tell other about Jesus’ resurrection when their own friend immediately rejected the claim?  I wonder if an argument between Thomas and the others ensued; there is no report of one.   Did the disciples’ faith simply wilt under the harsh, cold logic of Thomas, or did they continue to believe with burning hearts? 

It was a week before Jesus showed up and turned doubting Thomas to confessing Thomas.   A week of wonder, questions, and some dis-ease.  I wonder how Thomas and the others got along during that time.  It is a powerful witness to their lasting friendship that he is still hanging out with the guys when Jesus briefly appears again. 

I remember my friend, Jerry Zimler, in college.  Raised a secular Jew in New York, he came to a faith in Jesus while in college.  He and I would disagree on many matters of faith, like worship, prayer, and ethics.  Still he invited me home over Thanksgiving break to experience the love (and chaotic vitality) of his family.   I still cherish that visit even though Jerry died some twenty-five years ago.

How do you handle those who disagree with you?  Do all your friends have to think like you?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, teach me to listen to my friends and neighbors and to learn from them.

Apples and Friends

Is Your Apple Finished?

Yesterday’s I mentioned my childhood friend, David Brown, and our logging adventures.  Our friendship had many ups and downs.    He was bigger and more athletic than I was and so he was often selected for playground teams when I was not.  I thrived in the classroom, where he often struggled.  On most days these differences did not bother us. We were best friends.  Occasionally, however, we get into intense disagreements over trivial matters. 

I remember the day my mom gave us each an apple to eat.  I ate my apple down to the core, savoring every bite.  David nibbled around the outside and said it was finished.

 I said, “Your apple isn’t finished.  You barely started.”

“Oh, my apple is done.”

“No, it’s not!”

“Yes it is!” 

He stormed off home and I swore we would never be friends again.  But the next morning, I stopped at his house on the way to school and we picked up as if nothing happened, until the next argument erupted.

In Simply Christianity, N. T. Wright describes our hunger and deep desire for relationships and yet our daily struggle to make our relationships work.  Wright writes, “We are made for each other.  Yet making relationships work, let alone making them flourish, is often remarkably difficult.  We all know that we belong to communities, that we were made to be social creatures. Yet there are many times when we are tempted to slam the door and stomp off into the night by ourselves, simultaneously  making a statement that we don’t belong anymore and that we want someone to take pity on us , to come to the rescue and comfort us.  We all know we belong in relationships, but we can’t quite work out how to get them right.  The voice we hear echoing in our heads and our hearts reminding us of both parts of this paradox and its worth pondering”  (p. 30). He goes on to suggest that the “echo” we are experiencing is the love God created us to experience with God and our neighbor, but our human sin has clouded and twisted our capacity to give and receive love.

How have you struggled in your relationships? How has God been faithful?

Newcomer or Old-Timer?

Snow shoes and Sauna mix well

This morning I visited my old running group for their annual mid-winter sauna run and brunch at a runner’s home.  It was my first time back since coming to Resurrection.  After our brief Bible study, most went for a six-mile run, while my friend Tim and I tried some snowshoe jogging on a nearby lake.  Gary, the host, loaned me his new shoe shows to try.  Tim and I weren’t fast, but we had a blast staying upright.   When we got back it was time for sauna, brunch and conversation. 

It was great fun seeing old friends, swapping stories and telling some tall tales.  Many of us have run together for more than eight years, so the stories have gained some embellishment over time.  Who amazed me this morning was a newcomer named Joe.   Tim had invited him after working out together at the Y.  Joe had never run with the group, only knew Tim (who did not run this morning) and had only a vague idea what would happen.   I like to think the running club provides great hospitality, but it always takes courage to walk into an established group, especially on such a social occasion.  Joe ran the six miles, enjoyed the sauna and brunch and smiled as we told our stories.  He plans to be back.

 As a new pastor in a young congregation, I sort of feel like Joe each Sunday morning.  I seek to fully participate, to learn names, and to listen to the stories.  People at Resurrection Lutheran Church have warmly welcomed me, that’s for sure.   I am excited to be with them.   Yet I am still the newcomer, without the history, the mileage that comes with time.  I want to race ahead, but right now it’s learning to be patient and consistently present.    

 I sort of wonder how the disciples felt after their first days with Jesus.  They knew exciting days were ahead, but each day held something of a surprise.  What was coming?   

Are you a newcomer, an old-timer, or somewhere-in-between in your faith community?  How does that affect your attitude and actions?

Spin Class or Worship Newbie

Spin Class Bike

 A couple of weeks ago, my friend Tim invited me to a spinning class.  Usually when I go to a fitness gym, I work out by myself.  I use a treadmill or an elliptical machine for my cardio workout and then some weight machines for the strength portion. I like having my own routine and control as I work out.  A fitness class always seemed a bit too structured and I did not want to look foolish to the other participants as I learned the routine.

Tim encouraged me to come anyway. He assured me that it would be a fun and a new challenge.  He told me to bring a sweat towel, water bottle, and my bike shoes; he showed me how to adjust the bike to my body; and he introduced me to some of the regulars in the class.  He and the instructor told me that I could adjust the workout to my abilities and not to expect perfection immediately.  As the class progressed, I discovered that I needed to relax and simply “flow” with the others, taking breaks as I needed them.  By the end I was enjoying myself.  Last night I went back for my second class with Tim.   Now I feel ready to go to a class on my own, though I still plan to “spin” with Tim.

I think many people approach their first visit to a congregation for worship in a similar way.  They wonder if they will do or say something wrong.  They fear that they will not be welcomed nor helped if needed.   It was the encouragement and assistance of my friend Tim that made my first class a positive experience.   In the same way, it is the job or call of each regular worship attendee to welcome and assist the newbies at worship.   What I especially appreciated about Tim was not only the invitation to the class, but the willingness to assist me in my first class.    I pray that I can be as hospitable when I invite someone to worship at Resurrection. 

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.  Hebrews 13:2

Have you had a memorable first time worship experience?