Sunday, June 07, 2009

Berry,Tickle, Winner, Willard, McKnight

What do all these names have in common?

Ding-Ding-Ding! Yooooou guessed it! They're all authors. And, they've all made themselves across my path recently. We'll get to them later. In the meantime, I'd like to entertain you with a poem I just wrote:

Please pray. I'm running a 10k.

[That was it. The whole poem.] Yup. I am. The one-and-only Amanda Munroe has begun training for the first-ever official run-that-you-get-a-t-shirt-for in her whole life, the Esslingen Citylauf. July 4. I think I'll paint my body the colors of the American flag, too, just to show off. (Just kidding). That's one month between me and 10 kilometers and baby, I'm going to do it.

You may be asking why 10k seems so astonishing. Let me give you an example: I once told my parents that a friend had asked me to join the rowing team at school. My dad chortled. "You want to become an athlete? Good luck. You're a Munroe. You're uncle can't even walk and chew gum at the same time."

...Ahem. Yes, I am a Munroe and yes, I am going to run a 10k race. (Then again, no one is asking me to chew gum while I'm doing it).

This is the first time I have ever really "trained" for something physically. (I used to train for Forensics, but memorizing lines is different from getting your body to endure pounding the ground for over an hour). I think I'm on a "sacred rhythms" kick, and running is part of it.

I like the new challenge of pushing my body farther. Usually when I run, I give myself a time limit: 30 minutes and then I'm back home, just four more blocks and then I'm done. In these cases I end up looking at my watch a lot, and I feel I can hardly make it the last block or five minutes. Now that I'm training for something in the future, I don't look at my watch as often (because I know I have longer to go) and I find the route feeling shorter and easier every time. It's more fun. The first time I ran for an hour instead of 30 minutes (not all that long ago) I was amazed at how far I could go -- and I wasn't hurt or exhausted. I had been underestimating myself!

I've just begun reading Scot McKnight's new book, Fasting (part of Thomas Nelson's new "The Ancient Practices Series", edited by our good friend Phyllis Tickle). I haven't finished it yet, but so far I am really enjoying it. McKnight's big point is that our perspective on fasting has been skewed from its original biblical expression. Fasting is not a tool to make our needs met more expediently by God. Rather, in McKnight's words, it is a whole-body expression; "the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life".

McKnight stresses throughout the book that fasting is a whole-person bodily expression of our spirituality that combats the (Western) concept that our bodies and souls are separate entities at war with each other. They're not, and in fasting, body and soul go hand-in-hand. Currently, I'm on the chapter that expresses fasting as "body discipline". McKnight says, "this kind of discipline...brings to expression an overall yearning to be more holy, to be more loving, and to be more responsive to God, self, others, and the entire world." Running for me (if this isn't sacrilegious) is likewise a discipline. This is what I'm getting at when I say that I'm running because I'm on a "sacred rhythms kick" -- this idea of having a more holy, loving, responsive life is really attractive to me, but I'm aware that this idea requires giving up the immediate-gratification, live-for-pleasure physical lifestyle that I live. My desire is to live more moderately, more rhythmically; less abruptly.

I am enjoying training for this race because, for the first time since I've begun running, my eyes are on a goal farther away. I don't run just to feel better (or because I want to look better). I run because I'm working toward something. I have to run tomorrow, whether I feel like it or not, because my body needs to be ready when the day comes to run the whole race. I have to rest on Sunday or else I'll pull something. Though I've just begun, my hope is that as my body and my brain learn how to train physically and mentally, I'll also learn about "training" spiritually.

When I run, my whole physical self is engaged, from the arch of my foot to the bob of my pony tail. But my spiritual self is engaged, too. Given the full hour to myself, I get to think, a lot.

I think about where God is, where I've been, where I'm going, who I've been with, and what I've read. That's how we ended up with this title. I listed all of the authors here because the books I've read by them lately all them seem to stress the idea of living with the whole body (both the human body and the body of Christ). Berry, Tickle, Winner, Willard and McKnight are saying that we can't ignore one part of the body as we seek to please another. They're saying we should live more intentionally.


So I run and I think about books (currently reading Fasting) and I think about people, which means I inevitably think about food. Over the last few weeks, I've been given the gift of having a lot of free meals -- a blessing for someone who lives on a small budget. But as I read, and as I run, I get to thinking about what I've dubbed "Vacation Eating Syndrome" [VES for short]: the eating culture I've experienced at camp, on retreats, or simply visiting friends and family.

I seriously think that half or more of my time at these events is spent thinking about food: where it is going to come from, how we are going to prepare it for so many people (or if I'm with my family on Mackinac Island: The Yankee Rebel or the VI?), what it will be, how good it will it taste, finally eating it, cleaning up, and doing it all again three hours later. Why is it that, especially when we are with big groups, we feel the need to eat so much? More often than not on these retreats, I ate when I wasn't hungry, and ate so much that I was uncomfortable. Quite literally stuffed my face full, and watched others around me do so, too, with little or no thought as to where and how it was produced (was the worker who picked these coffee beans fairly paid? How much gasoline did it take to transport this rump roast, or this pineapple, to my plate?) And at the end we all say together, "Ahh! I'm so full!"

Talking to one of my roommates about my new diagnosis ("VES"), he said his dad sometimes says: "Some people in the world are in pain because they don't have enough to eat. Some people are in because they've had too much."

What are we afraid of? Certainly not going hungry.

I wonder if, when we go shopping for group meals, instead of saying to ourselves, "better to get more than to not have enough", if we could say, "let's try for less and see if we make it." Could we surprise ourselves the same way I did when I ran for an hour instead of a half? Maybe, if there wasn't so much on the table, we wouldn't want to keep eating, the same way that I find the distance shorter and easier the longer I think I have to run for. Maybe, if there wasn't so much there, we'd spend less time racing to fill our own plates, and more time figuring how we can all have enough to eat.

This post is no soapbox for reprimanding fat Americans (or fat Germans, for that matter). I'll be the first to say that food is clearly a blessing that should be communally enjoyed (why else would I live in Europe??). The same roommate likes to say: "Can you believe God blessed us with the pleasure of eating not once but three times a day? Think about how many chances we have to enjoy that in one lifetime!" I have to agree. I just want to say that I'm frustrated with myself, despite the books I've read and the classes I've taken, that I can't seem to stop stuffing my face nearly every meal, just because I want to have the pleasure of tasting for a few minutes longer, without thinking about where it came from, and even though I know the pleasure will come back in a few hours.

This theory isn't limited to the pleasure of eating (though I haven't read it yet, I think the book Amusing Ourselves to Death probably makes this point well). This is why I find Berry, Tickle, Winner, Willard, and McKnight's thoughts so attractive. Books like Real Sex, The Spirit of the Disciplines and Fasting promote re-igniting ancient spiritual disciplines (engaging our whole [physical + spiritual] person) as a method of awakening ourselves to the insatiable greed we've created and perpetuate. And they seem to be able to do this in a 'hip' way - that is to say, none of them has had to move to the deserts of Egypt (or the open plains of Shipshewana, IN) to get "away" from the culture that perpetuates this greed. Rather they are proponents, (and indeed agents) of Christ's redemptive kingdom within culture.

B,T,W,W, and M are not the only ones, of course. There are many others! [Check out for blog doing just that]. I listed their names together becuase that's who I've been reading lately, and I found it amusing that they inter-reference each other so much. (In 11th grade I read a book by Dallas Willard. Last December I read a book by Lauren Winner in which she referenced Phyllis Tickle. In January I read a book by Wendell Berry. In February I read another book by Lauren Winner (in which she referenced Wendell Berry) with recommendation by Phyllis Tickle on the dust jacket. Now I'm reading a book by Scot McKnight that's edited by Phyllis Tickle in which he references Dallas Willard. Whose praise is printed on the first page? Lauren Winner's, of course).

We'll see how fasting goes after I finish the book (hopefully after I finish the race, too - not sure if fasting and training go together so well...)

Pray that I'll be able to run the race. But more importantly, pray that learning to run will help me to live more intentionally.


Chris said...


Lately I've been having a lot of "Wow" moments. A lot of them have to do with my orientation staff and how amazing everything works, and how even more amazing people are when things go wrong. But this blog post is certainly one of the best Wow moments I've had.

I'e been thinking a lot about some of our returning staff who I worked with last summer, and how they've grown up in just a year, and how they bring that to our staff every single day.

I thought the same thing about you today, when I was reading this... but I've known you since 6th grade. You have grown into such a beautiful, amazing woman. I am very blessed to be your friend, and you inspire me every time I read something you write, talk to you, or see you. I just want you to know that. This post was no exception... I have just started a "Couch to 5K" running program, which has you run/walk at different times and works you up to eventually running the 5K. It's built for people who have never run, which is me! I am so encouraged to know that even thousands of miles away, you're working on running too, even if you're more advanced than I am. How cool! I am praying for you and sending you crazy good running thoughts. Right now, 5K seems impossible, but your post helps me feel a little more like I can make it.

I hope your life is good. I like your sacred rhythms idea. If you have one book you would want me to read right NOW, please tell me, and I will pick it up. Seriously. Let me know. <3 <3 Love you so much, and I miss you!

Chris said...

So if I didn't already leave you enough of a novel, I forgot something sort of exciting I was going to tell you: I think I finally arrived at the point to where I can see that the relationship I wanted to be in (I told you about this person, remember?) would have been the very wrong thing for me. And that decision feels better and more real every day. It's been wonderful. <3 Thanks for listening and supporting me.

Arika said...

Amanda Munroe, you totally rock! Seriously. I give you so much credit for pursuing this running thing, especially for the fact that you are pursuing it with a goal in mind and with steadfast determination to reach your goal. When you run on July 4, know that you will be running as an inspiration to all non-athletic non-runners around the world, including me! Maybe someday I can follow in your footsteps... (hey, I can always dream, right?)

Discipline is a hard thing for some of us, you know, but you--because you are a great writer and a high-quality individual--make it seem doable. Nice work.

Lots of love to you!

Samuel said...

Amanda, I'm impressed and got some new ideas... What should I say more?