Be Courageous – Every Day

 

Your body cannot store vitamin C. The vitamin C in your body is a finite resource you have to constantly replenish, or you will die. Every day you start at zero, and at the end of every day it is gone.

And if you ignore your body’s need for vitamin C, you will die of scurvy. A long, horrible death. It turns out, vitamin C is pretty important. But your body can’t store it.

So some of us take vitamin C supplements. Because it is that important.

Courage is a lot like Vitamin C.

You can’t store it.  That you were courageous yesterday has no effect on today, and will not save you. Neither will your plan to do courageous things in the future. What matters is that you are courageous today.

So do something courageous every day, just like you take your vitamins every day. Do it in order to not just live, but to thrive. Because trying to live without courage is just another way to die a long, slow, horrible death.

And just like you eventually become the sort of person who takes vitamins each day, one day you realize you have become the sort of person who does courageous things.

Don’t say you are bringing God to the inner city

Just don’t do it, ok?

You know who you are, my self-styled urban missionary peeps. I don’t care what it says on your Facebook profile, I wish we could have a little less talk about your “bringing God to the inner city.”

God has always been in the inner-city – and will be long after you get burned out because you aren’t getting what you want. Because there is no place God is not, and if there is one thing on which the Christian scriptures are clear, it is that if you are on the bottom of the system, God is on your side.

And when you go back to the ‘burbs and resume buying your food at Trader Joe’s, and talk about your time of sacrifice of living in the inner city and how you tried to share the love of God with the people there? God will still be at work here.

It is not for the church to evangelize the poor – because the poor evangelize the church. But they do not exist to be objects for your spiritual transformation, and they are not props in a movie about you.

 

Do what you can

Me, as a teenager: I don’t know what to do.

Dad: Well, there are things you do know to do, so focus on doing that.

This has been surprisingly useful life advice. The problem is seldom that we don’t know anything to do – it’s that we don’t know everything to do.

But that’s a copout. It’s like waiting for the all the lights to turn green before you can leave the house.

In The Didichae, a collection of early Christian teachings,  it tells us “For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able, then at least do what you can.”

Do what you can, where you are right now. If you can’t love everyone, love someone. If you can’t house everyone, house someone. If you can’t feed everyone, feed someone.

Lack of omniscience isn’t an excuse for inaction.

Praying at Three in the Morning

Converging on the Milky Way

In the summer of 2010, I was weary.

I had been carrying big things for far too long without any ability to put them down, and I needed a break. So I went, like many have before me, to a monastery.

I went to Mepkin Abby in South Carolina, on the banks of the Cooper River. There, on a former plantation amidst the live oak trees covered in Spanish moss they gave me a modest room, three meals a day and, as they have for countless others before me, sanctuary. For five days I ate with them, prayed with them and kept silence with them.

You would wake up at three in the morning and get dressed quietly. My room was in a cabin some hundred yards from the church, so I would grab my flashlight and walk the long path in the darkness, seeing the bobbing lights of other retreatants coming from their cabins as well. We would enter the dimly lit church – an anachronistic modernist structure, looking out of place on these former antebellum plantation grounds – and slide into the choir on the polished wooden bench, next to monks who had made this act their life’s vocation.

And then we would pray.

Seven times a day, we would do this thing, where we entered silently into a holy place and pray, chanting the ancient words written by people long since dead, speaking to a pain and a longing we all still know.

I have been told that the French word for pray is prière, which means to ask, and after a lifetime of doing it – ten years as a professional Christian – I still don’t have a better explanation of what prayer is. It makes no faith demands, it requires no allegiances, and it is irrespective of belief. It is just asking.

A recurring line in the monk’s prayers comes from the old Douay Rheims translation of Psalm 70:1:

O God, come to my assistance. Oh Lord, make haste to help me.

That line has become my favorite prayer.

* * *

Sometimes I have trouble staying asleep at night. As I have said elsewhere, it is in the early morning – about three in the morning, actually – that I wake up and the mad rush of thoughts comes, a near unstoppable flood that overwhelms me. The old demons come back, the fears, the anxieties. They are instantly recognizable – like a person you once knew, but didn’t like.

I lay in bed, the quiet breathing of my wife next to me, the glow of the streetlight coming through the window blinds, the shadows caused by the headlights of passing cars rolling across the ceiling. I tell myself that this time it will be different, that this time I will be able to drift off to sleep again, that this time I won’t stare at the ceiling until dawn, that this time I won’t be exhausted all day, that this time my anxieties and my fears will not win.

It is then that I beg for help, and I pray the simple prayer of the monks, and thousands of years before them, of David. The prayer belongs to many people. It isn’t just mine, and that is important. I am crying out in symphony with millions before me, and collectively, at three in the morning, our voices ask:

O God, come to my assistance. Oh Lord, make haste to help me.

Running as Therapy

New shoes for a new year of #running races. @adidas #knitwear #boost

It was Tuesday at 7:00AM, and I put on my shorts, laced up my shoes and hit the road. I would run the trails by my house, covering 2 and a half miles by the time I was done.

I don’t like to run. But I like to have ran. I like the feeling of sweat all over my body. I like the warmth in my muscles, the rush of blood pulsing in my veins. I feel the tension I carry in my neck and back melt away, and I feel myself getting stronger every time I do it.

Earlier this week, I turned 45. Over the last year, I have lost 40 pounds, and could still stand to lose another 40. But I haven’t really exercised at all. Oh, I belonged to a gym, where I paid $25 a month for more than three years, but I seldom went. I would get a routine going, but then would go out of town for work, or I would get busy at work, or any number of things, and then I would break the habit and the next thing you know, it has been six weeks since I have been to the gym and my pants are tight again.

When I was in the Marines, I routinely ran 5 miles a day or so. I was never the fastest thing – my thick ankles and bull neck prevented that – but I was sturdy and dependable. I once ran 10 miles in combat boots, and pretty routinely knocked out 5K races in 28 minutes or so.

That was also 26 years and 60 pounds ago.

But I am at my best when I am moving. As an eight on the enneagram, I tend to carry stress in my body, and kinesthetic is my preferred learning style. I often don’t know something until I do it with my body. Moving is important to me.

I was fairly physically active most of my adult life in a middling sort of way. I played golf with clients when I worked for New York Life, and I lifted heavy weights in the gym and would fight the onset of middle age spread by peddling an exercise bike until my ass was numb. When I moved to Raleigh in 2007, my primary exercise was walking – I regularly walked more than 5 miles a day for the first several years I was here.

And then in fall of 2010, I had a motorcycle accident, breaking my collarbone, putting me on my ass for three months. I gained a lot of weight, and my activity levels never recovered.

Back in February, I realized I needed a physical outlet. Not to lose weight, or even for health purposes, but to have a physical outlet that I would be able to keep up with. That I could do anywhere, any time. That would not cost much money, and that had an easy learning curve and that I could do by myself.

So I began to run again.

I bought some good shoes – they cost about as much as six months at the gym, but I wasn’t actually going to the gym anyway, and this way, I would at least get a pair of shoes out of the deal.

I did the couch to 5K thing for a while, but it moved faster than my body wanted to, so I settled for cycles of a 2 minute run and a 30 second walk. And I do that over and over until I am done for the day, and I do that a couple of times a week and have done for months now.

I think it’s a habit now. I know I feel worse when I skip a day, and antsy if I skip two of them.  And I give myself permission to listen to my body and move slowly if I need to on a particular day, or even knock off early if I just am not feeling it. Because this time, I am running just for me.