Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why Do I Run? A Story of Five Outings

Yesterday's blog entry did not meet my goal of 100 words per day, but, despite the small number of words, I found it very useful.  And, I spent a good bit of my short run thinking about it.  So, I think it is still in the spirit of writing each day with spiritual and well-being reflections.

In any case, my next entry won't be reflecting back on Sunday's homily but will also be about running.  My last five runs nicely capture why I do this.

Friday--8 miles that were only a means to an end.  Each goal is like a project.  Especially going into a business school in which people discuss operations, I think of completing each race like completing a project.  The 8 miles I ran last Friday were simply an input into "project completion".  Nothing more. Nothing less.

Saturday--variation and socialization.  I ran at three very different paces.  And the middle stretch was over conversation with friends.  Combining socializing and exercise--always a winner.

Sunday--how far can I push myself and exploring new routes.  This was the last 14 of 40 miles in three days.  Could I do it?  Could I do it at the same pace I'd run Friday and Saturday?  And could I do it on a course I'd never run exactly before?  All fun things.

Wednesday--after two days off it was all about reawakening.  Using my legs again.  Getting up and getting out and letting my legs stretch and push and feel the ground beneath them making contact over and over again.  Just the joy and wonder of running.

Today--speed.  My fastest 4x1600 in a long, long time.  Just how fast can I push myself.  Can I get faster?  How many times can I do it over and over again?

I know that some people think that running is a boring sport.  I think that running offers such a wide variety of great experiences that I could never consider it boring.

These are the reasons I run. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sunday's Homily Part 2: The Most Important Part of the Last Supper for the Apostles Mission

Yesterday, I commented on how the priest at mass on Sunday pointed out that the only person to whom Jesus ever made a promise that he would join Jesus in paradise was the thief crucified by his side.  Interestingly, while all the Gospels mention the two others, only Luke tells the story of the repetent thief, who in other Gospels was identified as a revolutionary.  In any case, Fr. Sam made another interesting comment.  He suggested that for the apostles mission the most important part of the  Last Supper was not so much the breaking of the bread and wine but the washing of the feet.  I had to stop and ponder that for a moment.  Clearly, the Eucharist is central to our belief system.  The interpretation fo the Eucharist sets the Catholic church apart from some of our Christian counterparts.  But the key here was that the Catholic priest said the initiation of the Eucharist at the last supper was not the most important part.  Instead, the sign of service to others was the most important part.  That is consistent with a world view that Fr. Sam has expressed many times.  Jesus's concern for the poor.  The concern that we should all have for the less fortunate.  It was just amazing to me to hear that a priest would call this the most important aspect of the last supper.  And, if I accept this thesis, what it says about how I should lead my life and what may or may not be key in thinking about tradeoffs between various aspects of the way I practice my faith.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Interesting Observation from Father Sam

Last night, as on most Sunday evenings, I attended and played in the worship band at the St. Pius X 5:30 PM mass.  During his homily he made several interesting observations that I will spend some time over the next few days focused on.  But one of the most profound observations he made was this.  Last night's reading was not Luke 23:33-43 (it was about the Transfiguration), but Father Sam made a reference to it.  He pointed out that the penitent thief who said "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" was the only person to whom Jesus ever promised joining him in Paradise (verses 42 and 43).  

This moved me for two reasons.  First, in the "traditional contemporary choir" for years at Palm Sunday mass they have sung a tune that has nothing but those words.  It is haunting.  And even after 7 years of playing with and attending a mass with a much different musical style, I still find that the song can completely capture my attention and imagination.

Second, it is amazing to think about to whom Jesus made this promise.  It was not to any of his apostles.  It was not to his Mother.  It was not to his earthly father.  It was not to Lazarus or Mary Magdalene, any other person he crossed paths with in his earthly life.  It was to a thief who asked for forgiveness at the last possible moment. Father Sam pointed out that this is the main theme of Lent--sincere repentance and the rewards it can bring.  Not that we should steal, of course, but that repentance for whatever our sins is a key.  Lent is a great time to prepare.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Blessings of the Day

The fact that I can go out on the third day of three relatively long distances (8, 18, and 14 miles) on a hilly course I have not run before and pull my third day in a row of 8 minute/mile average miles over a total of 40 miles.  I felt God's grace this morning differently than on another recent Sunday when I "just" ran 6.  Today it was about getting me out there, keeping me going, and helping me to feel stronger and stronger with each mile.  It is an incredible feeling.  Some may simply describe it as what happens naturally as the legs get loosened up on day 3 of a series of days like this.  Maybe.  But I prefer to believe there is something divine that guides me and blesses me each time I go out to prove myself and to share with the world the wonderful and amazing and incredible experiences I have.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Many Blessings

A Facebook post from Charm City Run this morning.  The store had put up a quote from Kara Goucher and commented that sometimes the best runs are when you clear your mind and appreciate the simple things in life for you which you thankful.  So throughout the day, I thought about what I was thankful for:


  • Being able to get up at 4:25 and feel confident that by 5:05, I'd be out and starting an 18 mile run around Baltimore that I had no doubt I could finish.
  • Being able to run the first 7 miles at a sub-7:40 pace feeling safe through all types of neighborhoods running from the Lake Walker neighborhood to the north side of Patterson Park.
  • Having friends willing to meet me at 6 AM to run 6 miles with me before running even more (16 more in at least one person's case).  We had a great 6 mile run with conversation the whole way running to the Canton waterfront, over to Harbor East, and up to Penn Station.
  • Being able to finish the last 5 mostly uphill miles alone feeling strong.
  • Having a family who liked the banana vanilla buttermilk pancakes I whipped up when I got home.
  • Having a wife I enjoyed spending the hour of my eight year old's last hockey game with.
  • Having great leftovers for lunch.
  • Having a son also into basketball.
  • Having a wife who found something she wanted to do--going to a high end craft festival--and my being able to facilitate her getting there.
  • Having an eight year old who loves to grocery shop with me.
  • Having two boys who could help me to prepare an amazing dinner including Italian rolls and a wonderful Italian chicken dish.
  • Having the time to pick up my wife to make her commute back from the craft festival as easy as possible.
  • Enjoying a lovely dinner with our one son who had not fallen asleep before dinner with a nice Chardonnay complimenting the food.
  • Being ready to take on the world again tomorrow.


Hope everyone is having a great weekend. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

First Letter from Peter

Today's first reading for the Catholic church mass is 1 Peter 5:1-4--his advice to presbyters.  As I read it, I thought it would not only be good advice for presbyters but for anyone asked to lead.  Such simple things too.  Oversee willingly--do my job because I want to.  Don't do it for profit but eagerly. Well, sometimes the pay from leadership positions is nice, but I should do it not just because of the money but because I truly love and believe in what I am doing. Be an example--that is one of the keys to any for of leadership.  The whole "do as I say, not as I do" idea never really works.  Good advice for early leaders of the church. Good advice for me as a leader today. Something for us all to ponder.   

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Made by Hand

Yesterday, I received a hand written congratulations note by US mail at my office in the Carey Business School.  It really made an impression on me for two reasons.  One, of course, was for the very nice thoughts expressed by the note writer.  The second, I realize, was because of the effort.  It was not just a quick email.  It was not just a Facebook post.  I have nothing against those.  But someone had to make the effort to find a card, consider what to write.  Write it in long hand.  And put it in the mail.  That shows a lot of effort and thought.  And it really made an impression.

I realized that there are many things that people are doing these days "by hand" that others recognize for their effort.  Knitting things.  Making foods from scratch.  Hand-kneading breads.  Crafts by hand.  While there are many things to be impressed about when it comes to modern technology, bread machines, and things like 3D printing or computer art, the fact that some people do things by hand, make the effort, and use their God given and learned talents to produce wondering, interesting, thoughtful things is being noticed.

It doesn't mean that anyone necessarily wants to go back to a "pre-email" time or no microwave meals, but it does suggest that many recognize the value of what is done by hand.   

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Jonah and Jesus

Today's Catholic church readings are confusing ones.  The first is Chapter 3 (of 4) of the book of Jonah and speaks of God's repentance.  I always find reading that interesting to grapple with, but that is not the main subject of my entry this morning.  In the Gospel of Luke reading that follows, Jesus refers to Jonah when people are looking for a sign and refers to the generation in which he is living as evil.  Pretty harsh words.  As I read the verses from Luke 11, it seems like Jesus is saying "at least people repented when they heard Jonah--look you are being exposed to something even bigger and you aren't paying attention."

While that may be an overly simple interpretation, the contrast between the reading and the Gospel brings me to my main point this morning.   How do I know when I am onto something big as compared with something small?  How do I know when I am being asked to do something big rather than something minor?  How do I know how to prioritize?  Part of it is following my conscience.  That is guided by God through the Holy Spirit.  I do not always seek out incredible things but  simply seek to understand what has come my way and make sure that I act carefully and wisely and not ignore what may be much bigger but is less flashy.  Jesus didn't threaten to have an entire city destroyed in forty days.  But should I need such flashy things to get our attention?  Perhaps meteorologists think so.  It seems like every new storm is described as "the big one" and then only a handful actually are what was predicted.  But again, the question is how to focus, understand, and react even when the signs are subtle.  No easy answers.  A lot to ponder contrasting today's two readings.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Running with God by My Side

I know I used a Haiku the other morning to comment on running in the presence of the grace of God. Today, I was with a group of six on the track.  Once again, I had a chance to see the sun starting to rise in the east.  That always makes me think of the grace of God--his warmth, his strength, his energy shining down on us all.  And the run was eight half miles.  Each of which I ran at a pace faster than 3 minutes for a half mile.  I have not run a workout like that in a long time.  And what's more, I was not wearing a watch.  I was surrounded by people wearing watches, but for once I just trusted myself.  I just ran and let the grace of God carry me.  All eight were under 3 minutes and the last several were consistently around the same time of 2:55.  I have run very few workouts like that in the past.  And at age 43, I'm not sure how many more I have in me in the future.  But it is a good symbol of not having to plan and analyze everything down to the second, but just trusting that God will take care.  And he did.  55 days till Boston!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday Morning Reflections after the First Sunday of Lent

In today's Catholic mass readings, I'm not finding anything that speaks to me quite as much as the past few days, although in the reading from Leviticus (19:1-2, 11-18), it mentions "love your neighbor as yourself".  When I read through part of the Old Testament, it made a big impression on me that this appeared in the Old Testament as I thought it was new when Jesus said it.  I recall reading one interpretation was that neighbor meant something different in the two cases--extending from other Israelites in Moses's case to everyone in Jesus's.

I also want to share my experience playing at mass last night. I have not been asked to sing in a while, but I think that I am going to go back to practicing singing and playing my bass together on a regular basis whether I am given a microphone at Sunday mass or not.  I enjoyed singing and playing.  And I found that after the amount of time I have been back and practicing slightly more complex bass parts that while I did have to lay off the complexity in a few songs, in general, I was able to manage the same bas parts I'd play otherwise while singing.  I'll see how it goes moving forward, but in light of recent blog entries about being "all in" it seems fitting for me to focus my efforts on that as part of my participation in the music ministry.  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Haiku

A run with God's grace.
Sunday morning.  Chilled city.
Six near silent miles.

Spiritual Reflections on the First Sunday of Lent

Yesterday's run was a gift from God.  The weather--while nippy--was not really that cold.  I had not tried to find a temperature right near my house (I sometimes overlook the fact that a "Baltimore" temperature often means out in the more open area where the airport is a half hour from here).  Looking at "Yesterday's Weather" on the weather channel website with my zip code suggests if was actually 40 degrees most of the time while I ran yesterday.  That truly is perfect and with hat and an extra layer, I was probably overdressed.  The run alone gave me time just to enjoy the run for one thing only--the sake of running and how it bring me closer to the end of a three year quest--to qualify for and then run a respectable time in Boston.  At one point I said, "If I run Boston it will be my last." I'm not sure if I will stick to that assertion or not, but certainly after Boston for a while I will limit the number of very long runs I do and probably change my workouts to focus more on speeding up my track times and my 5K.

In any case, glancing at today's Catholic mass readings fro Deuteronomy, Psalm 91 (which is quoted heavily in On Eagles Wings, a standard for years at Catholic contemporary masses), the letter the Romans, and then the story of Jesus in the desert for 40 days from Luke's gospel, many things caught my attention.  Today at mass, the worship band with which I play will sing a song called "40 Days".  But what caught my attention most was the reading from Romans--chapter 10 verses 8-13.

In the context of what the reading is about, it focuses on belief being realized by confessing with your mouth and believing with your heart.  In this case, confessing is not confessing as in going to the sacrament of reconciliation but confessing as it stating a belief very clearly.  I find the idea useful in situations outside of church as well as for my spiritual well being.  If you really are passionate about something then it should be something you can talk about, something you are willing to talk about, and something that you hold dear in your heart at the core of your soul.  I am lucky to be in a position where I can balance (or at least try to balance in life) multiple things that I am passionate about at this level.  I suppose am lucky to be in a position where I can do this with even one thing.  If we think about Maslow's triangle representing a hierarchy of needs, when I get to that level I am pretty sure that all the basics are taken care of and I am at self-actualization.  To be there is yet another gift from God--a gift I celebrate every day--and something that guides me in my actions to help others achieve the same.  A Facebook friend posed the question the other day what makes my heart sore.  Leaving aside obvious answers like love for wife and children, I said, "Helping others to achieve."  Outside religion, that is what I confess with my mouth and believe with my heart is one of the most critical things that I am called on to do.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Spiritual Reflections Before a Saturday Run

The area got rain and a little wet snow last night.  As I was driving my oldest son's girlfriend home the wet snow even led to a conversation about Ms. Frizzle.  It is fun to see what kids associate with wet snow (or any snow for that matter).  This winter, I know I have associated snow with "a problem for my training" but we haven't had any snow that has kept me from running the whole weekend.  I have just had to shift.  And I should not complain.  Looks like it is just wet this morning where I live and to the south, so I do plan to run outside today for a nice 15-16 miler.

In any case, today's readings bring more rules with consequences.  In particular, today's first reading is Isaiah 58:9B-14.  This is one of the readings with positive consequences of following the rules.  I like the images it uses.  It talks about getting rid of oppression and malicious speech.  It talks about feeding the hungry.  The positive consequences are light and strength among others.  Those are pretty images. 

I find myself liking the rules set down in recent readings.  I am not always someone who likes rules.  Humans in general do not always like (or at least find easy) following rules.  If people generally followed rules the outcome in the Garden of Eden would have been much different.  

However, as I get ready to change jobs, I find that rules will be useful.  As I say, when I manage, I do not necessarily want to have rules that are completely inflexible. Or even rules when simply relying on someone's good sense or professionalism should do the trick. But rules can be useful.  It will be interesting to see what happens as I am the one who gets to generate rules and procedures and how useful or detrimental they can be to an organization and its performance.

The latter part of today's reading talks about one rule in particular--keeping the Lord's day holy.  It begins
If you hold back your foot on the sabbath
from following your own pursuits on my holy day 
With this, I ponder what God thinks of Sunday runs. I think that running actually draws me closer to God.  I think that running is a way that I connect with God.  I think that God intended for me to run and that running has helped me to crystalize other things in my life and to bring out aspects of my being that were not always apparent.  But I use my feet a lot for what could be considered my own pursuit.  

It is always fascinating to me to interpret the words in the Bible and carefully figure out how apply to my life.  How literally they are supposed to be interpreted.  What they truly mean.  My own sense is that running, Sunday school teaching, preparing meals with my kids, and attending mass (playing my bass guitar) all bring me closer to God throughout the day on Sunday and that hopefully pleases God.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

First Friday of Lent

Fridays during Lent have traditionally meant stations of the cross.  This year, the church I attend regularly has decided to join forces with another church and the other church is hosting stations.  Interesting changes in times.  

I won't make mass today or stations tonight, but I have looked at today's readings.  The first reading is of great interest to me (Isaiah 58:1-9A).  Of course, much of Isaiah is interesting to me, so perhaps this is no surprise.  In any case, it talks about the kind of "fasting" that God wishes.  Verses 6 and 7 in particular:
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking off every yoke? 
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry,
bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own flesh?
After this, the next verse goes on to talk about a person's light shining forth.  The key to me is that this is a wonderful message of what Lent should really be about when it comes to sacrifice.  For so long we focused on denying ourselves.  That is fine.  However, that is not all there is to it.  This emphasizes good things we should anyway, but reminds of me the modern Lenten focus within the church of making more effort to do good things.  The right balance between self-denial and more good things for more people is tough to manage sometimes, but that is what I see myself needing to focus on.  

So far the readings this year have given me a lot to think about and provided a lot of insight into where I am in my own faith. It just goes to show how much of the wisdom of the Bible truly is eternal.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Choice to Start my Day with God

While even my third grade Sunday school students would tell me, we are always with God, there is still the choice of whether to acknowledge that.  Whether to focus on that.  Whether to make that a vital part of my life.

And, during Lent, I am going to make every effort to spend time each day in full acknowledgment of the importance of my relationship with God.  And what better way to do that than to start my day with God.

I will not make it to mass today, but I look at today's readings from Deuteronomy(30:15-20), Psalm 1, and Luke (9: 22-25).  What is the common focus?

Making a choice.  And making a clear choice.  And being focused on the choice.  A choice to follow the ways that God set down for the Israelites being addressed by Moses and a choice to follow the path set by Jesus.  In Psalms a choice to follow not wicked ways but the way set by God.  I like Psalm 1:3
He is like a tree
planted near streams of water,
that yields its fruit in season;
Its leaves never wither;
whatever he does prospers.
I like the imagery of a tree--tall, strong, and bearing fruit.  But the fruit comes only at the proper time. And it prospers.  For my own life perhaps that is financially.  But more importantly, it is just in being able to be happy with life.  Loving my wife.  Loving my children.  Being supported by wonderful friends.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Reflections for the First Day of Lent

Looking at today's Catholic mass readings (Joel 2:12-18, Psalm 51, 2 Cor 5:20-6:2, Mt 5:1-6, 16-18) they offer me a chance to reflect in a way that follow ups on my recent posts of how people show what they care about and what they choose to get excited about.

The first reading talks about gathering everyone together and returning to God with your whole heart.

The psalm asks God to be merciful for we have sinned.  The idea that God can be forgiving in spite of our sins is a big idea and one that should be celebrated with attempts to live more in the ways of the Lord.

The reading from the new testament talks about being an ambassador for God (something that should not be done if one's whole heart is not in it) and now being the day of salvation (good news!).

But interesting, the Gospel offers a contrast.  In the Gospel it is no less important to live in God's ways, but what is suggesting is not an approach to "praise God with drums and dancing" but to act serenely and with dignity.  This is an interesting contrast.

I hope to take both forward with me into Lent.  To use my blog as a time of personal reflection with serenity while being willing to share it with all who care to read it and continuing to proclaim my joy in following the ways of the Lord through my Sunday school teaching and the way I live out my daily life with my friends and family.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Doing Things Over and Over Again--And Still Getting Better

Last year, for Lent, I wrote in my blog at the time every day.  That was one way to connect with what is most important to me.  I am making a commitment to do the same again this year.

Doing things over and over again helps me improve at doing the activity, but there is always room for improvement.  Case in point--this morning's workout.  I have run mile after mile both as part of long runs as mile repeats on the track for several years now.  This morning, after the 20 miles I did on Sunday, my legs were still stiff.  However, I pushed through and still hit four miles at my stated goal (6:30 or better) and surprised myself by doing the last mile at 6:13--which was just under what my one friend at the workout had suggested for all four.

In any case, that said, there were two reasons the last one was better.  First, after that many miles, my legs had finally loosened up.  Second, while I try very hard not to overthink my running, I did think more in the last mile about rapid turnover rather than long strides.  And that made a big difference.  So, as I look ahead, I think that I will have an opportunity to continue to improve my running and to continue to improve my relationship with God this Lenten season as I do things over and over and keep my head in the game more than ever.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fun with 7th Grade Math as a Symbol for My New Job

Tonight's after dinner highlight--helping my 7th grader figure out how to change a number from a repeating decimal to a fraction.  He had been taught a sequence of steps I don't recall learning (does not mean that I didn't learn them just that I don't recall).  The steps were shown for a two digit repeating decimal.  The problem he had was with a decimal that had one non-repeating digit plus one repeating digit.  I reasoned through the solution.  I shared it with him.  It is good to know that what I have loved doing since I was eight or nine is something that I an still do when I need to--figuring out the solution to math puzzles.  Finding creative solutions to problems involving people certainly won't be as easy, but it is a good symbol for the work that I will have to do and hopefully enjoy as I enter into my new position--for which I have been warned that problem solving will be the order of the day almost every day to start with.  

Another Question of What People Care About

So, last night my wife and I went to see Bon Jovi in concert at the Verizon Center in Washington DC.  What a great concert.  Lots of energy.  Mr. Bon Jovi and his band honestly look like they are having fun.  Great crowd.  It was just a nice experience.

But when during the last few songs everyone was one their feet and everyone was singing/shouting at the top of their lungs, I had to ask a question once more--why do people give their all and have so much energy to sing at a rock concert but not so much in church?  Shouldn't we be just as excited about church?  Shouldn't we be energetic about our gifts from God and sharing them?  Shouldn't we sing out like that ever Sunday?

What was even more interesting, was that one of the last few songs was a staple Bon Jovi song since the first time I went to see him in concert back in the 1980's--Living on a Prayer.  What occurred to me is that with a few key changes you could make the song "Living Out a Prayer" rather than living on a prayer with a clear family values message.  If we were to bring that to a church setting would people get so excited?  Could we bring the energy and emotion to church that we see at a rock concert?  I'm not so sure, but here is my musing for "Living out a Prayer"...

After a wedding in a church
Not so long ago

Tommy used to work on the docks
Unions been on strike
He's down on his luck... it's tough, so tough
Gina works the diner all day
Working for her man, she brings home her pay
For love - for love

She says we've got to hold on to what we've got
Cause it makes a lot of difference
If we make it or not
We've got each other and that's a lot
For love - we'll give it a shot

Chorus:
Whooah, God knows how much we care
Whooah, we're living out a prayer
You took my hand and we'll make it - I swear
Living out our marriage prayer...

Tommy's got his six string in hock
Now he's holding in what he used
To make it talk - so tough, it's tough
Gina doesn't know what to say
When she cries in the night
Tommy whispers baby we're okay, our love will stay

We've got to hold on to what we've got
Cause it makes a lot of difference
If we make it or not
We've got each other and that's a lot
For love - well give it a shot

Chorus

We've got to hold on ready or not
You live with God's grace when it's all that you've got

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Even Jesus Knew We Need to Get Away

As I look at the readings for today's Catholic mass (Saturday morning), the first verse of the Gospel reading caught my attention (Mk 6:30-32, although the full reading goes on to verse 34):
The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.
He had not taken any management classes as far as we know.  But this shows that despite his divinity, he had a sense for what people need, i.e., a sense of his humanity.  

Sometimes the pressures of leadership and the pressures more generally of what we are called to do day after day suggest that we need time away. Sometimes this is in the form of vacation even away from those we work with.  Sometimes this is in the form of a retreat with those with whom we work.  Sometimes the retreat involves everyone at all levels in an organization.  Other times, it is just leadership.  But the key is that it is good for people to get away to think differently, to ponder differently, and to be able to see what things look like when they are able to remove themselves from the day to day.

Unfortunately it didn't work out that way for Jesus and his apostles as people figured out where they had gone and he taught them anyway.  But for those of us who manage in the world today, the use of this type of tool is important.  I have seen different people above me make a variety of decisions about retreats recently.  It is interesting to see the relative value that leaders perceive that individuals who work for them put on the opportunity to step out and experience and think differently.  When we barely have enough time to get work done anyway, we rarely see the value here.  But I think that the value remains.       

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Joy of Teaching

So, yesterday I received an email from my teaching assistant that included the following:

Students are finding the course to be very different and challenging and "refreshing" and some students in particular talked about how they can tell that you really enjoy teaching and how great that is.  
I wrote back that even with my two Golden Apples on the bookshelf in my office, comments like this mean the world to me.  This is a course in which each class begins with me providing some background on an article we will discuss, having a couple of students try to lead a discussion, and then my going over and elaborating on certain points.  What do I bring to class?  Just a copy of the article and a few hand written notes.  No power point slides.  I use chalk at the chalk board.  And I ask students to write after almost every class putting to use the logic they are learning.  The discussion is completely organic.  I do have some ideas of what I want to cover but how much detail, how much elaboration, and how I transition from one topic to the next emerges as I teach.  It is a wonderful "old school" teaching style.  And while I enjoy teaching in general, it is just as refreshing for me as it is for the students as I have never had a chance to teach this way before.  And the whole time, I am thinking about what I need to cover, pacing myself, and thinking about how to link everything together.  It is an amazing experience and I am glad that students appreciate that.  This is why I love to teach.  And this is why I am so glad that my next career move if going to be toward a position that is even more concerned about education than I am now.   

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Short and Sweet Thought

They say practice makes perfect.  Today I experienced that in a way I'd never expected.  I have spent so much time recently running miles (one or more at a time) at a 7:19 pace on the treadmill that my legs just seem to "know that pace".  I started my run with a training partner today a little fast, but over 6.5 miles averaged just about exactly 7:19.  I probably would have been a little fast if left to my own devices, but I held up on the large uphill.  When all was said and done it averaged out to what I needed and I am one step closer to being able to just hold that kind of pace so that when I run Boston nine weeks from now I will have the feel of that pace and hopefully be able to keep it up for 26.2 miles.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What Matters?

Back on January 20, I reflected on a homily and asked why people are not as excited about God as about Ray Lewis.  With all respect to a person who is one of the best at the position he played for 17 years, I have to ask: so what?  And this is reflecting comments from my wife and from the director of religious education at my church on Facebook yesterday.

Why did tens of thousands take time out for a parade and gathering?  So a bunch of player were deemed the best at what they do as a team among a group of professional teams.  Why does it matter?

And why does it matter more than anyone else who is among the best at what they do?  If we had a Nobel prize winning scientist at JHU, would they get a parade from City Hall to the hospital or the Homewood campus?  Probably not.

And, do we only need to recognize people who are among the best at what they do?  I don't think so. What about people who have achieved milestones in their own lives.  Each residential member of Back on My Feet who breaks the cycle that brought them to a facility in the first place.  Each runner who sets a goal of running a marathon and achieves it.  Each physician who helps someone overcome or manage a condition.  Each person who loses five pounds.

I suppose that not all achievements are equal.  What I wonder is why we, as a society, put so much value on some achievements and so little on others.  I don't have a good answer.  As an economist, I would say there is a market and the market rewards what is deemed to be worthy.  I just wonder why we deem to be worthy a bunch of guys on a football field and not the people who help to education and raise our children--at least not at the same level.  If a city improves, why are its leaders not just as worthy.  And I listed other examples above.

I am not here to judge what other people should find worthy.  (If I had commented on today's readings one thing that caught my attention was a statement about striving for peace with everyone, so I am not trying to get on anyone's case.)  I am just saying that I don't understand why we as a society think certain things deserve so much more attention and fanfare.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Looking at Today's Catholic Mass Reading as a Runner

Today's reading for those who attend a Catholic mass is Hebrews 12:1-4
Brothers and sisters:Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to usand persevere in running the race that lies before uswhile keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,the leader and perfecter of faith.For the sake of the joy that lay before himJesus endured the cross, despising its shame,and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.
What caught my attention about today's reading was when it got to, "and persevere in running the race that lies before us." I don't often think of Jesus as running (a race or otherwise) and I realize that the part about running is for the sake of imagery and symbolism, but it is a wonderful image. Having faith in both the highest times and the lowest times is something that can cause some people to grow weary and lose heart (see near the end). Running a very long race is something during which a runner knows the joy that lays before him but also knows that he must endure. So, the images that are used here are definitely images to which I can relate as I try to strengthen (realizing I will never perfect) my faith. I also know that my races have been relatively easy ones (even my marathons in comparison with some people I know) and I have not had to work to the point of literally or symbolically shedding blood.

It is days like this when I try to break open the word and think about how it relates to me and how I can bring my experiences to what I read to help me understand how the wisdom of what I read fits into my life that I am amazed.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The "Baltimore" Way

After the Ravens won the Super Bowl last night both the quarterback and the coach were interviewed (as, I am sure, were many other player and people related to the team(.  What caught my attention were similar comments made by the quarterback and the coach.  Each said, essentially, that the win was not pretty or easy but that it was a win and what was the way things were done in Baltimore.

Why did this catch my attention?  Well, as I look back and look ahead, I think of what I used to think symbolized my life and my running.  Growing up outside Philadelphia, I used to take a lot of inspiration from the Rocky movies (particularly the original and the first sequel--not so much the rest).  What I took away was the underdog, the almost getting something, the fact that the almost getting something still involved an incredible process, and the coming back to succeed on a second try.  

Looking ahead, I think of my career since undergrad.  There were steps that I took that were not the most obvious and didn't always make things the easiest.  Switching away from a comfortable major in undergrad.  Taking on a double program in graduate school with one of the two being something that was still kind of new to me.  Taking on a position at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with no prior grant experience.  Failing to take the "simplest" path to promotion.  Deciding after reaching full professor that teaching was my passion.  And now taking on a position for which I think I am ready but for which even my new boss (i.e., the Dean of the Business School at JHU) has said there are some things I will need to do that I have not demonstrated before.  Even in my running--I have always had the ability and the talent but I took nearly 20 years off and then came back.  I have come back to a combination of different challenges but carried on.  Even in my music, I decided to take on a new instrument in my mid 30's to join a worship band.

Each example, I have not done things the most obvious way, the prettiest way, or the easiest way, but I have succeeded despite the less than obvious choices.  Hopefully this will continue to describe my adult hometown football team.  Hopefully this may describe my adult hometown as it tries to bring itself to a greater sense of economic and general well-being.  And hopefully it will continue to describe my own life.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

God's Gifts, God's Will, Free Choice

Today's first reading in the Catholic church is a challenge for me when I think about free will.  The reading today is Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19.  It begins with
The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
This challenges me to think about what it really means.  Now, of course, I am not claiming to be like the prophet Jeremiah in any way, shape, or form in terms of the whatever God had intended for me.  (At least not in terms of being a prophet.  I do think that God cares about each of us equally and does not play favorites.)  

In any case, if God knows a person before they are formed in the womb, when exactly is that?  From one perspective it reminds me of philosophies (new age or otherwise) that suggest that the souls are waiting somewhere to come to Earth as life when an opportunity arises.  Is that where God knows a person before they are formed?  My question is more rhetorical than anything else as I realize that not everything ie meant to be read literally but it is nevertheless fun to consider.

Then it says that God dedicated Jeremiah and appointed him a prophet to the nations.  This suggests that God had something in mind for Jeremiah.  It also suggests that God may have something in mind for each of us.  

But, to avoid a thought of complete predestination, the reading goes on to ask whether Jeremiah does certain things and reassures him that God will be there.

That, to me, emphasizes the free choice that Jeremiah had even though God had appointed hi a prophet.  And that reflects then on the free choice we all, as humans, have.  And it also makes me comfortable with what I think of as "God given gifts" and my ongoing spiritual question to figure out what those are and how I am "supposed" to be using them.  I am not Mother Teresa, but I try to make the world a better place for those with whom I associate in little ways.  I particularly focus on the question of "what was intended" in times of change.  Looking ahead I can only hope that the choices I have made that will modify my career path are the right ones and that God will continue to reveal to me as I go along how I can use the gifts I was given and the opportunities that come my way to make life on earth one step closer to what God had hoped for a kingdom for all those who are around me.  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Emmaus

Today, I accompanied my eight year old to church at 9 AM to participate in a workshop that is part of the preparation for his First Holy Communion.   One of the elements of the workshop was the director from the parish reading a version of the story of the road to Emmaus.  I have always liked the story (perhaps not as much as our director who described it as one of her favorite stories from the Bible), but my view of the story has changed in the past six months.  Back in September, I was at a wedding of two runners who used the story of the road to Emmaus as the Gospel reading for their wedding mass.  I blogged about it back then, so I won't repeat my earlier thoughts here.  

I will, however, comment on two things.  First, it is wonderful for the kids to think about ways that they might be surprised to "meet Jesus".  Second, while I thought about it last time as a runner, I thought about it today with that in mind but also as a "baker" as we talked about and participated in making unleavened bread.  I was glad to hear the diretor make a point about unleavened bread because in at least one of our parish Sunday school textbooks there is a picture of Jesus at the last supper with what is clearly a loaf of bread that had a chance to rise which is just so wrong.  Third, the director's emphasis was on how the two people on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus because of something he did as part of a meal that they recognized.  So much of this is about how people related. (As a brief aside, this is also critical to me looking ahead as my new position will really involve working with people more than working with data or research and that is a skill that really shows in the story of Emmaus.)

What I struggled with in listening to the story this morning was that in the version read to the kids it identified the two on the road to Emmaus before meeting Jesus as two men. So, I went back to the NABRE version of Luke 24:13-35 and it never says they were two men.  It only mentions the name of one.  I'd always pictured two men until the wedding in September where my one friend suggested that it might have been a couple and the beauty of the idea of discovering Jesus together.  If one focuses on verse 32 (and I don't typically like to focus on just one verse), one finds "Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?"  That alone is an amazing thought for a couple.  To share the love for, passion for, and joy for their spiritual, religious experience and relationship with God.  It is a wonderful way for a couple to come together and an even more amazing way for a couple to stay together.

I suppose I'll ask our director tomorrow before I teach what she thinks about the two people on the road.  Regardless, it was a great story for a wedding four months ago, and a great story for the kids today.  And, as the director said, it gives us so much to think about in terms of how Jesus relates to us and how we related to each other and God in just 23 verses.  

Friday, February 1, 2013

Other Spirituality Comforts

This morning, I mentioned turning (and turning again) to the Bible for inspirational verses and guidance at a time of change.  If I think about when I turn for inspiration it is usually in times of change or times of fear.  I should get better at remembering to thank God for all the joy and all the excitement in good times as well and not just look to God when there is uncertainty.

That aside, on Spotify the other day, found myself turning to all favorite songs.  While I have been a part of the worship band experience at our Catholic church for over six years now, there are some songs by Steve Angrisano that I go back to again and again.  Sacred Silence--silence is one way to experience God and I've blogged about that concept in the past.  Ready the Way--and I should always be ready for God.    My Soul is Thirsting--another one that I really feel more acutely when there is uncertainty.

Skeptics may just say that religion and spirituality is just something I turn to in times of need.  I think that my blog and all that I have pondered over the past several years since first deciding to blog and to run a marathon to raise money for cancer says that it is more than that.  The key is not to let my life and my actions drift to a place at which I am only turning to God in need.  Rather to continue to celebrate life (or possess life fro the phrase in Hebrews earlier) and share life and be alive as part of a community with God and with my brothers and sisters in Christ and with all those who share the sense that we are all part of something bigger and something more powerful and more good than any of us individually.

Hebrews 10:39

As I take on new responsibilities and prepare for my new position at the Business School, I find myself looking for inspiration and stability.  I suppose while I am excited about change, the goal of still having some rock of stability is a natural one to have.  In any case, I turn to my traditional spiritual outlet and look to the daily readings offered by the Catholic church as part of the mass to find some source of inspiration.  Today's mass readings include Hebrews 10:39,
We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life
And while St. Paul in his letter to the Hebrews was talking about this in the context of coming through trials and I am have not really come through trials recently, I do feel the need for strength and sustenance as I move ahead.  Words like this help me to focus and to realize that the lessons I need are not "new".  The lessons I need are lessons that have been around for thousands of years.  And as I grab the opportunities that life provides and need someone guidance, I have a source.  And as I go back to that spiritual well or guidance again and again, it will always be there and I will use it to help me in my efforts to (as the verse above says) "possess life".