29 September 2012

My Big Run, Part II: Speed, Banana Cannibals, and World War I

Note from the Blogger: This is the second -- and EXTREMELY LATE -- edition in a potentially interminable series on my first half marathon. To see my previous post, go here.

Everything I'd ever heard about preparing for a long run told me to pace myself. I knew that if I didn't limit myself early in the race, I'd have nothing left to give later on. In short, the end would be miserable. So I did what any reasonable, forward-looking person would do: I ran too fast anyway.

Sure, it's stupid, but think about it. What would you do if, in 90 days, you'd gone from an out-of-shape couch potato to an out-of-shape couch potato who can run a half marathon? You'd be tempted to think of yourself as an exception, wouldn't you? You might even harbor delusions of invincibility. Not making excuses; just telling you why it happened.

The good news is that my first 5k, and even my first 10k, were the best I'd run in years. Not fast, mind you, but faster than I was used to. And with good reason. I was in a huge pack of runners, most of them much better than me, running through some of my favorite parts of Kansas City. What's not to motivate?

For example, my very favorite part of the city (maybe of the state - it IS Missouri, after all) is the Liberty Memorial, which houses an excellent World War I museum. Just being near it always energizes me.

However, not all was sweetness and light. It just so happens that the memorial is situated on a hill. A very steep hill. Which, for those of you who are keeping score, is a difficult thing for a runner. Not impossible or anything, but definitely a cause for breathing hard.

What a hill it was! It seemed like it kept going. And going. And going. Just when I thought I'd reached the top, I'd run around the corner, and lo! Another bit of hill. It was probably the most exhausting thing I'd experienced in months.

And so I was glad to be overtaken by the Banana Man. He handed me what he said was his last banana, mentioned something about potassium and muscle cramps, and sprinted on by, shouting over his shoulder that he had to catch up with his "bunch."

The question you're probably asking yourself is: "When he gave that last banana away, did he stop being the Banana Man?" The answer is no. Because he was still wearing an enormous banana suit. Yes, that's right: a man in a cumbersome banana suit was able to run up to me, give me a banana, carry on half of a conversation, and SPRINT PAST ME. Stupid hill.

Shortly thereafter, I learned why the Banana Man was running so fast: I saw a gorilla, intent on chasing him down, sprint by me as well. Or maybe it was a man in a gorilla suit; he, too, was running MUCH faster than me. The one good part about the hill was that I caught up with a friend who was going even slower than me. This gave me a good excuse to slow down EVEN MORE while chatting with her.

As I (FINALLY) crested the hill and approached the checkpoint near Liberty Memorial, I wondered about that Banana Man. How many bananas did he start with? Did he eat any of them himself? And if so, would that make him a cannibal? If it did, would he be subjected to trial by a jury of his peers? And wouldn't that make a great cartoon?

Questions, questions, questions. But they shall have to wait for another time, dear reader, for we are out of blogspace for today.

Until next time...

27 September 2012

Hutchmoot 2012 (Part 2: Favorite Moments)

In the weeks leading up to Hutchmoot 2012, I grew tired of answering the perennial question, "What's a Hutch Moose?" One of my Facebook friends said an acquaintance of hers had called it a "Hooch Mooch," which I guess would be worse than a Hutch Moose. But not quite as bad as "That Hoochy Mama thing you go to," which is what yet another friend's friend calls it.

Anyway, I started vaguely referring to it "a conference" or "a gathering of Christians who like art." This seemed like a lie, since it is much, much more than those things. In fact, a Hutchmoot is such a special, unique thing that  I'm not sure any definition could capture it correctly. A top-ten list, however, might come closer... so here goes:

Ten of My Top Experiences at Hutchmoot 2012
(Ordered Chronologically, Since I Loved Them All So Much; Also, I Am Probably Forgetting Some, So I Will Not Call This The Top Ten)

Thursday Night: Square Peg Alliance and Friends Concert in the round. This is always a lot of fun, with many very talented artists participating. This year, many of the usual suspects were present: The Andys (Peterson, Gullahorn, and Osenga), Jill Philips, Eric Peters, Randall Goodgame, Jason Gray and Ron Block. (Ben Shive, however, was sadly absent because he had to hit a record production deadline.) One fun surprise was the Chaffers (remember Waterdeep?). If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Jason Gray, who is extremely skillful at transmogrifying performance into worship.

Friday Afternoon: Talking with N. D. Wilson about his fantastic, mind-bending work of apologetics, Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl. I was concerned with his approach on a couple of points, and I wanted to hear what he had to say. Nate was very real, very considerate, and very generous with his time. I left not convinced of his rightness, but more understanding of his approach. He is a stand-up guy and you should buy each and every one of his brilliant books.

Saturday Morning: The Ragamuffin Legacy Session. Rich Mullins has always been one of my favorite musicians, and it was amazing to hear Andrew Peterson, Ben Shive, and many others talk about his background, his music, and his effects on both Christian Contemporary Music and the lives of his listeners.

Saturday Afternoon: Singing with saints. While waiting for the dinner bell to ring, a group of folks sat around and jammed together. This soon turned into one of my favorite hymn-sings in a long time. I forgot how much I love being able to lose myself in the harmony of a familiar song.

Saturday Night: Joining in service with others. There's something very therapeutic about cleaning. When my mind and heart are full, as they were by Saturday night, I was more than ready for straightening, sweeping, and mopping. It did my heart good to work alongside some of my favorite people on earth with the common goal of setting the place in order.

Sunday Night: I was really excited to continue a tradition we started at Hutchmoot 2011 with some new lifelong friends from San Diego. We had a good dinner, honest conversations, and a sound pint at a local burger place, and then sought out the sweet strains of Bluegrass. Last year, it was Layla's Bluegrass Inn with a young but very talented band. This year, it was a jam session peopled by a number of very talented folks at the Station Inn

All Weekend Long: Evie's (and Lewis's) amazing food. I cannot say enough about the simple culinary delights of the fare we shared, so I won't try.

All Weekend Long: The people I stayed with. I didn't know Mark and Wendy before Hutchmoot, and they weren't even part of the event (they're my brother's friend's friends), but they were nothing but gracious, inviting, and caring all weekend long. They tolerated our irregular hours, gave us great meals, and provided wonderful conversation. They obviously believe in the Romans 12 type of hospitality. 

All Weekend Long: Hanging out with my big brother. Andrew has always been one of my heroes, so it makes me happy to spend time with him. From the time he picked me up on Wednesday night to the time he dropped me off on Monday morning, he was encouraging, kind, and really fun to be with. His enthusiasm is contagious, and he is extremely patient with my lack of navigational skills. Together, we saw the Parthenon, the Farmer's Market, a WWII landing craft, and some of the greatest people you'll ever meet. All this and more made me delighted to be able to spend the weekend with him.

From Now On:
The life-changing consequences of this amazing event. It would be a shame to be there and see all the effort, love, and caring that people invested, and come away unchanged. The Lord used this weekend to teach me some important things. Hopefully, He won't have to re-teach them to me again very soon. (See Hutchmoot 2012 (Part 1: The Spiritual Stuff).)

25 September 2012

Hutchmoot 2012 (Part 1: The Spiritual Stuff)

If you know what a Hutchmoot is, you won't be surprised to hear that Hutchmoot 2012 was an occasion of breaking (the good kind), challenge (also the good kind), and immense blessing (I don't think there's a bad kind) for me.

That's the short version of how this event affected me. To explain why, we're going to have to take a scenic drive through the ugliness of my festering, not-quite-dead-yet flesh. Feel free to exit the vehicle at any time if you find yourself growing ill.

Light at the end of the tunnel: If we make it through my old self's rotting corpse in one piece, I'll tell you why Hutchmoot was one of the most beautiful things to happen to it in a long time.

So here are three things you need to know about me:
  1. I'm insecure. Debilitatingly so. I crave validation and acceptance and live in constant fear of not being good enough to receive them. I thrive on praise and cringe at the slightest hint of criticism. I use other people as benchmarks, caring more that I can compare myself to them than that they are made in the very image of God.
  2. I'm selfish. I seek my own pleasure, my own goals, my own way, with every wretched breath. I march, jackbooted, over the needs and desires of others. (The exception is when their needs or desires coincide with mine, in which case I tolerate them for a while, as Hitler tolerated Stalin before Operation Barbarossa.)
  3. The first two things about me are lies. Well, they're starting to become lies. Chapters 4 - 6 of Paul's Letter to the Romans tell me this is true. Like Abraham, I have believed the impossible, and my faith in Christ has been credited to me as righteousness (4:19-25). God has restored my relationship with Himself and given me a glorious hope (5:1-5). In large part, this hope springs from the fact that my old self is dead. When I came to Christ, I died, just as surely as if a divine executioner had stood me up against a brick wall and used an expertly aimed hollow-point round to turn my brains into soup (6:1-7). In my old man's place lives the new man, the image of Christ in me.
Still with me? Good. So how did Hutchmoot 2012 change me? How did it make Thing #3 truer while making Things #1 and #2 falser? (And is "falser" even a word?)

God used my sweet communion with Hutchfriends, my tummy full of Hutchfood, and the megadoses of truth in the Hutchsessions to clear up my cloudy vision a little bit. And, quite frankly, I didn't really like what I saw. I realized that my flesh was still much too alive. Rather than giving wholeheartedly and unstintingly to others, my old self wanted to measure my skills, talent, experiences, and accomplishments against theirs. It wanted to use these precious friends to my advantage. Perhaps talking with certain people would give me the appearance of being important, of being worthy of spending time with. Vicarious power and prestige? Yes, please.

I saw these natural tendencies and found them utterly disgusting.

Here's the really beautiful part: This clarity of vision was accompanied by encouraging words of truth from Scripture. Russ Ramsey gave a devotion on I Corinthians 4:3-4, reminding me that I am not my own judge, and that no other human is, either. My worth and value are judged by the One who thought I was important enough to sacrifice His Son for. Sally Lloyd-Jones followed this up with a two-word sermon that I needed badly: "Never compare."

So what do I take away from Hutchmoot? Three things, conveniently enough.
  1. The remembrance that God loves me and that He alone judges me. This means I don't need to try so hard to be lovable or admirable. He sees me with all my faults and still gave His Son's life for mine. This frees me up to love others in the same way rather than seeing them as competitors.
  2. God made me in His image, and He made me to share my creativity with others. I suffer from a sort of creative attention deficit disorder -- it is very difficult for me to finish things I have started. I realized this week that if God is going to use my work to encourage others, I need to complete what I start. I will do this not out of obligation or guilt, but because I believe God has given me resources so I will use them. This means I am going to make a concerted effort to first finish all the half-done things sitting around my mind, and then diligently let new things flow out as often -- and as completely -- as I can.
  3. I need to keep dying. I've been dying for two and a half decades so far, and sometimes it seems like the flesh is stronger than ever. The good news is that one day, I will finally attain death, and then I will be more alive than I ever dreamed was possible. In the meantime, I will keep seeking out other believers to encourage me along to greater depths of love and sacrifice, as I do the same for them.
I am planning to post at least one more time on my favorite Hutchmoot 2012 moments, so you can look forward to that later this week (if the Lord wills). For now, I'll end by saying I'm extremely humbled by and grateful for this experience. You can check out other responses to it at the Rabbit Room.

And, oh, yes: "falser" is apparently a real word. In Scrabble, anyway.