Friday, February 18, 2011

You Only Think I'm Kidding Chapter 3


I would have thought this kind of thing went without saying, but it appears that more and more people have been suckered in by the innocuous rhetoric of this peculiar hobby. Try as I might to persuade people of the danger, no one seems to acknowledge it. Wit ye well, noble readers, I have glimpsed the unnatural contortions of mind and soul wreaked upon otherwise reasonable individuals. There are millions across the world who have surrendered themselves ignorantly into the clutches of a dastardly slaver. With Dionysus as my witness, I make my final appeal against this fiefdom of blackest night from the podium of Artery Bloggage. Know now and forevermore that people you love are even now becoming runners. Yes and even you, reader, are but a few quickened steps away from being a cardio-addict.

Some deny that running is a drug at all, much less that it is bad. Perhaps a hypothetical would be helpful. Let's assume that you have two friends. One is named Randy. Randy is a true runner; he runs somewhere around ten miles a day. He is very enthusiastic about fitness and his favored sport. The other friend is a crack head. He can't remember his real name, yet he swears the angel Gabriel has dubbed him Antonio Jones, the Prophet of Funk. "A.J." is very enthusiastic about crack and his favored forms of it. A.J. is a true addict; he smokes around for around ten hours a day. You will begin to notice some similarities between these two as we move forward.

Have you ever been on a long car ride with a guy like A.J.? Say, a two-day car ride out to Texas from your hometown in Virginia. Part way through day 1, Randy grows restless. He really wants to stretch his legs at your first stop for gas. He starts talking about how bored he's getting. By nightfall, he's begun to talk about how slow the trip seems to be going. He mentions a burning, a yearning, a churning craving he can't control. He really missed his "special time" today. By day 2 at lunch time, he's begging for any chance to get it in. He's starting to feel a little depressed because he didn't have any endorphins pumping yesterday or today. He begs for any opportunity for them. You notice by nightfall that he is about to twitch himself out of the seat from sheer restlessness. He claws at the seat belt frantically like a squirrel duct-taped to a car bumper. Must. Have. A. Fix.

Oh, my bad. That was supposed to be Randy. In real life, the crack head is much more subtle.

Some say the worst thing of all is the evangelistic fervor with which the runner proclaims his favorite practice. Running is so good for you, he says. Sure, it's tough at first. Nobody really likes it to begin with, but stick through and I promise you'll love it. It's the best. The runner speaks often about how he can't really imagine how people can live without it.

Others say the worst thing of all is the way it alters your brain. We all have had friends sucked into this mindset. Slowly but surely, they too became runners just like the circuit-riding runner who brought the running revival to them. It soon consumes all their thoughts. The idea of being cooped up in a car for even three hours becomes inconceivable. "But how will I stretch my legs?" they plead. "How will I those calories burned?" These are questions they never asked before. Now, because of running, they can't stop. And they want you to come too. Right now. "Join us in a marathon. Join us. Join us," chants the chorus. "If you'll only eschew the sedentary road trip, the lazy movie, all the droning conversation and debate and embrace the warm burn of the jog at sunrise." They aren't your friends anymore. They're runners now.

I disagree with all that; I think the worst thing about this abominable addiction is the swagger which grows in alongside it. Everyone knows that exercise is good for you. Nevertheless, it's no reason to get all self-righteous about it. Yes, we get that it's your hobby. Yes, we get that you're addicted. But that's the thing about running--many runners reach that awful place where they know they're better than us "normies". Unlike the crack head, who seems perfectly content to hog the crack cocaine for himself and feels mostly shame, the runner will begin to snub you if you don't cave into his social pressuring. Some will say so aloud. Others will say so by gesturing Vanna-White-style to a trendy 26.1 sticker on their rear windshield. Still more will ask you if you're eager to move yet after three hours of Seinfeld marathon. Maybe you're better than me, runner, but you're not better than Cosmo Kramer.

I mean it, America. Runners' high is still a high.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Because I Wasn't Always: Why I Am Reformed Part 2

My first experience with Lutheran/Calvinist soteriology (beliefs about salvation) came when I was fifteen. I was on a mission trip to New Orleans to work on a week-long project at the Baptist seminary there. (This was before the hurricane.) I was getting awfully bored on the drive so I picked up an issue of Breakaway, a Focus on the Family magazine for teen boys. They were going through a series where they compared and contrasted different Christian denominations. There they laid out in a very simple diagram the five points of Calvinism and Arminianism. This first taste of Reformed theology was not particularly positive.

Upon comparing the two charts, I found that I agreed with four out of five Arminian points. I believed that people could do good apart from Christ. After all, wasn't it good when people who didn't know Jesus fought for justice and freedom? I believed that only those who made the conscious, adult, free choice to follow Jesus were truly saved. I believed that Jesus died on the cross for all people, but that not all choose to follow Him. He couldn't force them to follow Him or else it wouldn't be willing. Thus, those who went to Hell went because they wanted to be there. I believed God would never force someone to go to Heaven who didn't wholeheartedly want to.

In fact the only thing the Calvinists seemed to get right was the issue of eternal security or perseverance of the saints. Classical Arminian theology teaches that people can lose their salvation through habitual sin or choosing to leave Christ. I have quite frankly always been convicted that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. I don't need to look very far to find justification for that conviction. The notion that Jesus' sacrifice does not cover over sin once and for all is so offensive to me that I don't know that I can actually hold a conversation at once civil and serious on that point. "Jesus saves you, but your good behavior keeps your ticket to Heaven valid!" Revolting.

So I was what I called a "Baptist Arminian". I said "Baptist" versus "Classical" because I had never met a Baptist who denied eternal security. This was an opinion that I not only found to be very self-consistent and easy, I also found it to be the majority opinion of adults I knew. Most folks my age were not particularly conversant on the subject. Thus, I found a lot of grown-ups who affirmed my conclusion. In fact, I found none to dispute it.

At the root of it all, I thought that a love wasn't love unless you were free to choose it. A free choice is one which is based wholly on free will. Therefore, God can't force people into anything; they have to freely choose. We're not robots, after all. How could a loving God overwhelm our freedom?

Some of these opinions I would hold, some I would shed, but most I would simply modify when I switched teams a few years later...