Thoughts on a 3 mile run …

ImageI took special care this afternoon to pay attention to the thoughts going through my mind during my run. Mainly because a co-worker asked me “What do you think about when you run? I get so bored on long runs.” I told her the truth – not much. I’m very aware of what’s going on around me and I have quick observational thoughts about that, but mostly I’m just trying to focus on a spot on the horizon and go and I repeat my mantra: focus … breathe … glide.

This is more or less what a 30 minute run looks like … for context, this route starts in a parking lot and then follows a 3 mile paved trail. At the beginning of the trail there is a pond, then the trail does a loop through the woods, comes back to the pond and feeds me back into the parking lot. The first half of the loop is pretty much uphill. The last half is mostly downhill.

Go! … back straight … breathe … glide … head up. Ugh … next song. I forgot to update my playlist again. No pain. Wait … pain. Injury? No. Old. Feel tired today. Relax. Nice car. Geese. Move geese. Move geese! GOSLINGS!! Ugly and cute. Ew. Goose grease. Fly fisherman. So much fun. Miss that. He’s not paying attention to what’s behind him. I’m gonna lose an eye. Jackass. Focus … breathe … glide. Pick a spot in the distance. Focus. Focus … breathe … glide. Love this song. First hill, lean into it. Tired. Pace myself. What is my pace? Whoa! Slow down. Easy day dummy. Focus … breathe … glide.

That’s about the first 5 minutes. It’s the busiest time of the run because I’m navigating my way to the woods where there are far less people. After that first hill, I’ll see maybe 6 people over the next half hour. I don’t have many thoughts. I’m just running. When I do have a thought, it’s usually in response to something nearby. I’m not pondering life’s mysteries. I’m just in the moment. I’m just trying to be. I’m more or less meditating.

People. Is he smoking? On a fitness trail? Doing it wrong! Jackass. Smoke going to make me puke. Focus … breathe … glide. Pace? Good. Form? Back, feet slapping. Bad. Focus … breathe … glide. Smells like rotting fish. Cool flower. Focus … breathe … glide. Don’t bounce … glide. Lungs getting tight. Feeling asthmatic. Distance? 1.5 miles. Typical. Inhaler? Pocket. Relax. Focus … breathe … glide. Why can’t shuffle only pick songs that it hasn’t already played!? Bike. Expensive hobby. Bike. Helmet. Gear. Just run. Focus … breathe … glide. Cruising. Love this hill. Flying. 2.5. Finish strong. Focus … breathe … glide.

I then more or less repeated focus … breathe … glide to myself for the next 1/2 mile. That’s almost always the fastest part of my run.

When I’m finished I usually feel balanced, calm, and clear-headed. Lately, the asthma from allergies has been having a pretty serious negative impact on that though. I joke that running is what keeps me from killing folks. It helps me work out my stress. It is meditation.

Boston News Coverage

Dear News Talking Head People:

I really wish you would stop trying to give the terrorists a cute name.  They are not “Boston Bombers” or “Beantown Boomers,” nor are they “Marathon Bombers,” “Chechnyan Childkillers,” “Finish Line Fanatics” or even “Radicals on the Run.”  Stop it.  They are terrorists.  Misguided, radical, heartless killers who don’t deserve to share the air on this earth with the rest of us.

I don’t care what religion they are, because it’s irrelevant to what they did.  I don’t care what country they immigrated from, because that’s irrelevant to what they did.  I do care whether they acted alone and whether the other one we know about is dead yet.

Also, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to say “We really don’t know anything more now than we did 10 minutes ago.  We will now return you to your mindless local programming.”

Finally, I know that people say stupid things when they’re asked to speak non-stop for a given period of time and not allow any dead air.  I get that.  Heck, I’ve even done that.  But one comment from Richard Engel on NBC this morning was really disturbing to me.  The Uncle of the bombers gave his statement to the press and the news people started talking about it afterward and Engel said something like “He certainly was outraged … or at least he wanted to project outrage … it could have been fake.”  I find that comment despicable.

Take a step back for a minute and imagine that same treatment being given to almost anyone else.  “We just heard a statement delivered by the mother of the young teen driver who it is believed caused this traffic accident because she was texting while driving.  She was very upset … or at least she seemed upset … she may have been faking.”

The man was outraged.  Two members of his family committed a heinous and horrible act of senseless violence against innocent people for the purpose of causing terror.  It brought shame and suspicion to his family (and his religion and his ethnicity).  He wasn’t faking it.

My thoughts on the Boston Marathon Bombing

As a parent, I’m deeply concerned about the fact that my children live in a world where something like the bombing in Boston is even possible. It makes me want to hide them in an underground bunker somewhere.

As an American, my thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston first and foremost this morning. But also for my own friends and family, my children, and with the families of the several hundred people around the world (that we know of) who died by violence at the hands of organized groups of extremists yesterday.

As a human being, I find what happened to be inexplicable. There is simply no justification religious, political, or otherwise for doing something so evil. Moreover, when you stop to think that things like this happen all around the world every day, you could assume that we are failing as a civilization.

The first responders and rescuers, including those who found themselves in the blast itself and still turned to help their fellow victims are, as always, amazing, inspiring and sad. They’re amazing and inspiring for obvious reasons. They make me sad because we’re wasting their courage, nobility and compassion on responses to horrible events when it could instead be leading our species to new heights.

As for who did this, I find myself caring less and less by the minute. Whoever they are, foreign or domestic, they are extremists and they have declared themselves to be our enemies – and they’re right. Extremists, regardless of their championed cause or underlying beliefs, are the enemies of reasonable people everywhere and, as this sentence illustrates, they incite even more extremist views.

Our response can and should be extreme, but it should also be guided by reason. What that will look like remains to be seen. I don’t know.

I’m only certain about this: We have got to love each other better.

On the picture below – it’s graphic. It’s graphic because the scene was a horrible one and it’s my feeling that having a picture of a heroic looking first responder running to the scene, sanitized of blood and char inspires a certain sense of glory. Nothing about this horrible attack should be viewed as glorious. Similarly, a gory photo of a victim would just be contributing to the raw terror and anger events like this one cause (and it would be disrespectful of the victims’ privacy.)

By contrast, this scene is empty except for the aftermath and that’s how an attack like this one should make us feel.

I would love to give credit to the photographer, but I don’t know who that is. I found the picture on a Twitter stream under #bostonmarathon.

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Fundamental Principles of Civilization

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There are certain moral issues on which we as a society must never compromise.

Principles so closely held and central to our culture and tradition that to undermine them, undermines us.

Lesser things may be viewed with some disagreement and there is room for flexibility. Which English Football team is second best (first is quite clearly Arsenal) and which other item of your wardrobe should match your shoes are examples of this less important group.

But there are absolutes. Issues which should only ever be viewed one way because there is only one correct way to view them.

I speak of the orientation of the toilet paper roll. Don’t pretend you don’t know the right way to do it. Only a savage does it the wrong way.

Unless we draw this line in the sand and guard it fiercely, society will collapse.

On Faith…

For the first time in my life I’m not struggling with my faith.  As in … I have some now.  I have finally solved the riddle of faith, and here’s how I did it:  Are you ready? Are you sure? Here goes: I asked God to give me faith.

I KNOW!  Isn’t that amazing?  I’m so brilliant.  <insert eye roll here>  It only took me 35 years, but I finally just asked God to give me faith and remove my doubts.  I told Him I needed His help and that I couldn’t do it on my own and that I was willing to part with my doubt and skepticism and just accept Him if he would have me and if He would just give me the strength to take the first step.  And then it hit me (or maybe He hit me): I already had faith.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been praying in the first place.  Circular logic? Yes.  Do I care? No.  Even *I* didn’t realize what a burden the lack of faith had been for me.  I’ve been happy since that morning and He has reaffirmed my faith in a hundred ways since.

Here’s one:  While on a business trip last week, I caught a program on the Catholic TV station EWTN about St. Thomas Aquinas and something about it piqued my interest a little, but I fell asleep anyway – give me a break, I’d been up for 22 hours at that point.  Then this past weekend, I found out that I could download audiobooks to my iPhone for free through my public library via an app called Overdrive and the library’s website – and in my browsing I found a book called Aquinas for Armchair Theologians by Timothy M. Renick, which I downloaded because of that program I’d fallen asleep to.  Yesterday, I was listening to it on the way home from Bloomington and there was a section about whether man truly has free will, and the differing views on the issue (which I won’t get into here).  The questions implied by this conversation include one that’s bugged me for a long time: Does God control everything or does some stuff just happen?  I know in my heart of hearts, from my intellect, that God doesn’t cause the evil that’s in the world.  He doesn’t cause the tragedy.  Some stuff just happens.  But how do you square that with the concept of an omniscient, omnipotent God?

Let me put it another way.  If God is all-knowing, then He already knows every thing that will ever happen.  If he is perfect, then He cannot be wrong about what he knows.  If he is both all-knowing and all-powerful, then everything that happens is His will (or he would see it coming and change it).  Makes sense, right?  But I know, somehow, that not everything that happens is God’s will.  So then, I’m left with a conundrum.  If God didn’t cause it and God didn’t allow it but it happened anyway – then how can God be considered all-powerful and all-knowing?  Head hurt yet?

The book points out that Aquinas addressed this problem, albeit indirectly when he addressed whether man has free will at all or if everything is predetermined by God.  He essentially came to the conclusion that God can create in more than one way.  He can will something to happen absolutely – as in “Let there be light.”  There is no doubt that it will happen.  But maybe he can also will that something happens dependent on other circumstances.

All of this was interesting on a purely academic level and I pondered it as I drove, wondering why I had a mild headache all of the sudden.

Then about 2 hours later, I found myself on the phone with my Brother’s girlfriend – the one who lost her beautiful, tiny, innocent baby in July.  My nephew Caden.  And during the conversation with her, this very issue came up as she questioned whether Caden’s death was somehow her fault – as in she was being punished for something by God, or whether God had anything to do with it at all – and I had an answer for her – maybe not a perfect answer and maybe I didn’t articulate it perfectly – that’s quite likely in fact – but I had something to say to her.  I was able to offer her some comfort and maybe that’s all she needed right then at that moment, for that minute.  The answer I was given just two hours before, was there for me when I needed to pass it on to her.

Okay, okay you say – that’s convoluted and ridiculous and you’re stretching.  First off, I disagree…it’s actually very simple, it’s just tough to communicate.  But okay –

Here’s another:  Two weeks ago I went to the Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference, and God got me with a right hook.

It was a wonderful day and featured, by pure coincidence, a speaker who addressed two of the exact questions about my faith that I had come to accept but that I still didn’t understand.  How by coincidence?  Well, a speaker who was originally scheduled to be there had to cancel last minute due to illness and they brought in a replacement – who addressed my two primary questions about Catholicism.  Questions I’d prayed for more understanding on just a few days prior.

While I was still reeling over that, God hit with me with a jab with his left: I have issues with the legal profession.  Rule of law and justice are such noble pursuits, but the profession itself is twisted and warped to the point that it’s nearly impossible to be involved in it without becoming corrupted yourself.  At lunch, I sat down next to a man and we started talking and it turns out he’s a lawyer, shares most of my legal interests and experience and we had a great talk that gave me some amount of peace on this issue.

And then another right: the man on my right, whom I’d sat next to all morning struck up a conversation after lunch and it turned out he is an aspiring author who is concerned about how to connect with a younger generation.  Folks, in case you don’t know, that’s what I DO for a living.  I work with some of the best and brightest young minds in the country and while I’m by no means perfect at engaging them – I do have a lot of experience and lessons learned in the last 5 years of trying, and in the next 10 minutes before the conference started I was able to share a lot of what I’d learned with this man.

Then came the knockout blow: I was feeling so close to God and so blessed by this day that as I sat at my table during a break I prayed to God to please let this Conference continue in future years so that it could reach others like me and to show me how I could help.  When we came back from the break, the Master of Ceremonies took a minute to thank the conference organizers and had them stand up.  Yeah – the man on my left was one of the 10-15 people in a room of hundreds and I was able to thank him personally and tell him how the conference had blessed me, and I hope he gets the chance to share what I told him with the other organizers.

Those are just two ways…it’s only been a month, but I’ve had dozens of smaller things as well.  If I ask a question, it gets answered in the very next homily at Sunday Mass, or in one case, my know it all 10 year old son gives me the answer in a seemingly unrelated conversation on the way to Mass.  Or, in another case, I go to bed confused on something and wake up totally clear the next day as if I’d known it all along.

Moral and ethical issues I’ve wrestled with since I was in Junior High School are now clear as day for me because I asked for them to be made clear to me.  Habits I’ve been trying to break for years are just gone, because I asked for them to be.

Folks – I don’t know how else to say it but this: I’m absolutely sure that God is.