This Forbe’s magazine article talks about the American cities that are set to boom over the next 10 years, and Austin, Texas is #1 on the list.
A lot of you know that Tina and I along with several friends are considering moving to Austin, Texas next year to plant a new faith community. We’ve been spending some time–the last five years–thinking about what we value in a community of faith/church, and I’ll talk about that a lot more as the days begin to pass. But I need your help with something. I’m working on a name for our new endeavor. I’ve got some ideas, but I would love your input. Here are some very preliminary thoughts:
LifeBridge. This is the name of the college student ministry we started here in Cleveland at South Cleveland Church of God and here on campus at Lee University. Bridges figure prominently into the landscape of Austin. Also, the name speaks of the way Christ and His body is a means to life for us.
Gloria Dei. Latin for “the glory of God.” I love the feeling of antiquity that comes from channeling the Latin. It connects the modern church to 2,000 years of church history. It’s also a constant reminder that Christ should have the preeminence in everything that is done in the church–it exists solely for the glory of God.
Covenant Community. I think this name says so much about the nature of what the church is. A community bound together by its covenant with Christ and its covenant with each other. I have a friend in Kentucky who has named his church Covenant Community, but even before I knew his church was so named, this choice really resonated with me. It does sound a little bit churchy though, especially for a place like Austin.
So, now it’s your turn. We’re going to a very liberal, fairly unchurched city with a ton of college students. It will be a community-centered, post-modern church with a strong emphasis on history, theology, symbols, service and mission. Ideas?
The third thing I noticed when I got alone to run was that I had a heightened awareness of when I was getting undisciplined in my form. When I run I like to match my breathing to my pace. So I might inhale for three paces and exhale for three paces. It may vary as I go faster or slower, but it’s a good way for me to keep a steady approach to making sure my body is getting some O2 while I’m running. It’s also important to pay attention to your overall form. If you get sloppy, bad physical mechanics can cost you lots of energy. When I’m running with someone else or with earbuds in my ears, it’s very easy to lose awareness of these things. You start having conversation with your partner or getting caught up in the music or audio book you are listening to. But when you are alone, there’s not a whole lot else to do but pay attention to good form.
You probably have guessed where I’m going with this. In our spiritual lives, solitude is a chance for us to examine how disciplined our approach has been to our walk. It is the place to re-institute those spiritual disciplines that fill our pipeline with grace for growth. Sometimes we just keep running in our lives with poor breathing until ultimately we collapse from the lack of “oxygen” to our souls. Solitude turns our attention to the spiritual gauges of our hearts. It answers questions like, “Why doI feel so drained all of a sudden?” with, “Oh, I haven’t breathed in three weeks” or “I’m running like I’m on crutches.” Then we take the opportunity to re-calibrate our “breathing” and regain our “form” so that we can run more efficiently.
I love Paul’s analogy of the way that athletes train in 1 Corinthians 9. After he makes the comparison to the way that ancient athletes trained to the Christian life, he talks about the way he wanted to train himself:
“I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition.”
If we are serious about training and becoming stronger, It will require constant introspection and re-alignment, sometimes on the fly. Christian solitude can serve the same purposes as the film room for a quarterback. We examine ourselves, we watch what the enemy has been trying and we make plans for our own approach to victory.
A summary of this little series will be on tap next.
The second thing I noticed from my solitary jaunt last night was that during the run, my mood and motivation would go through subtle changes. The longer I ran, the more I was able to pinpoint the places on my course where I felt the best. My little “front yard” is mostly flat, but one half goes very slightly uphill, and the other half goes very slightly downhill. When you’re in the kind of shape I am, you notice even slight changes in the elevation. When I was running downhill, I felt like Steve Prefontaine, but when I made to turn to go uphill I felt like Mr. Snuffaluffagus.
It is important for us to also identify the rhythms of our lives. All of us have different times and seasons in our lives where we will feel stronger or weaker. In my experience, some of the times of great temptation in my life have not been necessarily because of spiritual inferiority, but during times of physical weariness. We look back and wonder why we were struggling with something, and we think that we must have just been spiritually weak, but there are other factors at work. Think of how much it harder it is for your three-year-old to be good when they are tired!
One spring Tina and I went through a time where we were just on opposite sides of the fence. There weren’t any knock-down-drag-outs, but we just seemed to have trouble getting on the same page about stuff. I couldn’t figure out why we had gone through that since we have generally always been able to get through any obstacles in our marriage. At the end of the summer, in prayer I seemed to get an answer. We just had not spent any time together. The spring semester in my job at Lee U. is really, really packed. She is a middle school teacher and was having a lot of stress at her job, was coaching volleyball, taking 6 hours of grad classes at night and teaching 2 times a week at the Y. On top of this we were trying to manage a household and be parents. Duh. We had very little time to make our relationship a priority or communicate what was going on inside, so there was a lot of tension building up.
If you go running outside at all, you will encounter hills, or at least some increased elevation here and there. You may think that the Snuffaluffagus feeling is there because you are out of shape, or just not really cut out to be a runner, or fighting against nature itself. But realizing that you’re just going uphill for a time can ease that feeling. You know that every rise is coupled with a time to coast. Understanding the rhythms of your life will help you to plan ahead for the uphill and take advantage of the downhill
Last night at about 7 pm I told my wife that I was going to take an evening run. After dinner, kids, bath time, bed time, wife-time, reading, it didn’t look like it was going to happen. Around 11:30 though, I got a wild hair and took off for our front yard. Our front yard is far from normal as it consists of two softball fields joined at the outfield. One lap around both fields is around a quarter mile, give or take.
By far my preference is to run with a friend. The act of making big circles by yourself in the dark is much better when you have someone to talk to—trust me. But I didn’t have the courage to call anyone else so late at night and took off to run alone.
I don’t typically run with any earphones in my ears—I like the solitude and the time to think. Tonight it became very plain to me that my run was a great metaphor for the spiritual discipline of solitude. The first thing I noticed running by myself was that there was no one else there to compete with. Living in a life of three dimensions (four, if you count time) forces our brains to constantly be measuring. Are we going to be late? How much do I weigh today? What is my mile time? How much milk do I put in the pancake mix? Is that person taller/thinner/smarter/better looking/luckier/richer than I am? But on tonight’s run, I was alone. In fact I didn’t have a watch on so I couldn’t time myself. I lost track of the laps I had run, so I didn’t know how far I went, and even if I knew how many laps I had run, I was on an un-marked field, and I’m not sure that I could have measured my distance anyway. All sense of measurement was totally gone. You know what? I enjoyed this run so much. I just ran. I thought I could run all night if I had to. I told myself that I would only go in when my wife came outside to get me…and she did. But it was some of the most enjoyable exercise I have ever done, all because I erased the finish line and the competition.
I think that many things would be so much more enjoyable if we could implement the discipline of non-comparison into our lives. It really makes for a miserable existence to spend your days wondering why you are not like someone else, breeding envy, jealousy and covetousness. No doubt that there is a place for discontent in our lives when we get lazy or in a dry spell, but it is impossible to compare your spiritual journey with someone else’s. You have no idea where they are coming from and what they have gone through to become who they are. Apart from that, we rarely have insight into the true pain that others are enduring when no one else is watching. In the Christian life, there is one true standard, and it is the person of Christ. Since we will never measure up to the life of Jesus Christ, the one thing that we all do have in common is our dependence upon grace. So if you want to compare yourself to someone else, just know that both of you are in dire need of God’s mercy and grace.
It’s difficult to realize this when you are in the midst of the fray. It’s one of those things that you have to get alone for. When we are surrounded by other people, the tendency to measure is magnified. When we are alone, however, there is only one Standard present. It’s one of those things you learn when you run alone. Two more things will be coming over the next couple of days…