Friday, August 24, 2012

Gospel Economics

The gospel readings for the last couple of days have left me with reflections of an economic nature.

On Wednesday, we heard the parable of the landowner (Mt 20:1-16). In the parable, the laborers are each paid what they agreed to, yet those who worked the longest feel cheated. Jesus, saying that the kingdom of heaven is like the landowner, tells his audience, “Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?” One could argue that Jesus is really talking about spiritual grace rather than money, but his point doesn’t work without the underlying economic principle, which strikes me as fairly conservative.

On Thursday, we heard the parable of the wedding feast (Mt 22:1-14). In this parable, those invited to the feast decline to come. The king burns them, then has the invitation extended to whomever his servants can find. When one of these consolation guests arrives without the proper attire, the king has him bound and cast out. This seems to me to be similar to the reports that I hear from the Personnel Department at the manufacturing company where I work. There are open positions that can’t be filled because the applicants can’t pass the drug test. At a time in which unemployment is at 8.3% with a reduced labor force, too many individuals are either declining to accept the invitation, or showing up with disqualifying attire.

So, how would Jesus have formulated a parable beginning, “The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a factory owner. . . ?”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hostility to Religion

The Catholic News Agency reports:

A report examining court cases from recent years has found that hostility towards religion has grown to unprecedented levels in the United States.

Seeing this news made me think of the verses right after last Sunday’s reading from Proverbs 9:

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult;
whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you;
rebuke a wise man and he will be wiser still;
teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.

How do we evangelize a hostile society? We do it through our own fidelity and love. We must strive to remain faithful to what we know to be true, and we must demonstrate the love of God to those who are blind to the truth.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Decoding Speech

Hmm. I've always thought the word "angry" meant "angry". Now the friendly folks at MSNBC are telling me that "angry" really means "scary black man" when uttered by any Republican politician. Thanks for clearing that up. Can you please tell me what word we can use when we mean "angry"? Oh, and please send me the revised lexicon of racist dog whistle code words for my future reference.


Seriously, is this what they think? (And by "they" I mean all of the democrats, liberals, progressives, and socialists that occupy the left side of the political spectrum. I don't want to be accused of writing anything uncivil.)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Training for the Race

There is something qualitatively different about training for a marathon, as opposed to the 5K training that I was doing last year.

My 5K training revolved around trying to improve my pace. There were some mileage base runs, but my main focus was on finding the 6:10 to 6:20 per mile gait that I would be able to maintain for two miles, knowing that I would die (metaphorically speaking, of course) in the third mile and finish with rubber legs.

The training I’m doing this year, however, is all about increasing the distance that I can run, and that means slowing my pace down. I’m estimating that my pace for the marathon will have to be in the 8:30 to 9:00 per mile range. My problem is that I can’t run that slowly! Even when I go out at what I think is a snail’s pace that I’ll be able to maintain forever, I still find myself running at 8:20. Thus, whenever I go for a long run, I have to constantly tell myself to run slower.

The key point that I’m trying to make here is that the kind of training you do is very dependent upon the type of race that you’re planning to run. So, when St. Paul says to run the race so as to win, the first question to ask is what’s the distance? I guarantee that if you try to run a marathon like a 5K, you’re going to burn out early.

Paul, of course, was not talking about a physical race. He was using a material example to illustrate a spiritual principle. There are different spiritual training programs, and it’s necessary to fit the training program to the event in which you’re competing. In practical terms, a layman father of seven or eight can’t fully embrace a contemplative or Benedictine spiritual program. Even so, I don’t know for certain what distance I’m training to race. Should I be focusing on quickening my pace, or slowing my pace? Without a spiritual training program, it feels as though I’m just running aimlessly in circles, which might keep me fit, but won’t win any races.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer of the Long Run

I have long considered myself a casual runner. I was not the sort to never miss a day. Rain, or even just the threat, was often enough to deter me, and if the temperature dipped below 40° F, I was staying inside. For the last several years, I competed in a local tour of 5K road races. I managed, mainly by entering nearly every race, to win my age group in the tour, even though my times were not particularly noteworthy.

That started to change last year. Rather than just running occasionally, I started training – mixing in middle distance, long runs, and speed work. My times improved dramatically. There were only two 5K races, early in the season, when I failed to break 20 minutes, and I took nearly two minutes off of my time at the Oktoberfest 10K. Still, I had trouble getting up early enough to run on consecutive days and fell into an every-other-day routine. The longest distance that I could muster the energy for was about seven miles.

I still wasn’t the sort to run in cold weather, either. I spent most of the winter running circles at the YMCA on the elevated track, where 16 laps are counted as a mile. Rather than try to count laps, I would just run for 40 minutes and call it five miles. By the end of the winter, I could tell that I was covering quite a bit more than five miles in those 40 minutes.

When warmer weather returned, I signed up for a pre-season non-tour 5K and started thinking about what my running goals would be for the year. I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove on the 5K circuit, and winning my age group in the tour didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment any more.

Then, suddenly, for the first time in my life, I started to consider running a marathon. Podcasters like Steve Runner at Phedippidations, Jeff Smith at The Running Podcast, and Roland Cavanaugh at The Twenty Minute Runner made it sound like an achievable goal. My brother-in-law and his wife had run the Chicago Marathon just four months earlier, and they ran much less than I did. I set out for a test run one Saturday, and completed ten miles without too much difficulty.

After talking to my wife and family, I decided to forego the 5K tour this year and instead registered to run the Air Force Marathon on September 15. My entire summer of running would be spent in training for that one race at the end of the season.

That was in April. It is now August. The first half of the training program went about as expected, although the 14 and 15 mile training runs were pretty brutal. Then I hit an obstacle. The morning after my mom’s funeral, I left home for a nine-mile run. Two miles into it, my hamstring seized up, and I couldn’t run anymore. I had to walk home.

For the next two weeks, I could only run about ½ mile before being compelled to stop by my protesting hamstring. I tried to maintain some kind of training regimen as I watched the probability of being able to run the marathon reduce daily. I tried walking briskly and found that after two days, my legs were sore and my feet blistered, even though my heart rate was barely elevated and I never really even breathed hard. Walking wasn’t working, so I returned to the YMCA and put some time in on the elliptical and stationary bike, along with some extra stretching.

Seventeen days after injuring my hamstring, I tentatively tried running again. I made it three miles before I felt my hamstring growing tight, and I stopped to avoid further injury. Three days later, I managed eight miles. Two days ago, with five weeks until the marathon, I ran twelve. My original training program had me running twenty. I have two more weeks to build distance, although at a rate that risks injury, and then I enter the taper.

God willing, I might still be able to run the marathon.