Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter


As I walked this morning, I met a young man who was running. He was striding well, had good form, smiled and said “Hello.” I wanted to say “Lookin’ good,” to him. That is what we called to one another, as encouragement, back when I was a long distance runner. I wasn’t sure, however, if that is what runners still say to one another. It’s been a long time since I was a runner, since my colon cancer surgery and year of chemotherapy got me so out of shape that I figured I was just better off walking.

“Lookin’ good” doesn’t really have much to do with how good we look. Judging from TV and actors and commercials, there is certainly an obsession with looking good these days, but looking good is different from “Lookin’ good.”

It is okay to look good. Indeed, it is probably preferable, if we have a choice. We feel better about ourselves if we look good, and little children are less frightened when they see us, if we don’t look like witches or trolls, either of which is usually a real possibility for old people, especially before makeup and clothes have been applied.

Some old folks go overboard, though. I know a woman who complains that it takes her husband six hours to get ready to go somewhere. I know him. It’s not worth it. I figure, six hours or six minutes, I’m going to look about the same.

Come to think of it, I did look better in my running days, and it took a lot more than six hours. There were times when I ran for six hours in just one day, although it was usually more like one or two hours per day.

I started running when I was forty. That’s mid-life crisis time, when you think you are stagnating, when everything seems like it’s recycled, when you want a new challenge. I took on the challenge of running in a big way.

For some reason that I can’t now recall, the alumni magazine of my theological alma mater interviewed me during that period. I told them, with a bit too much arrogance, I’m afraid, that I was a runner first and a minister second, that it was running that gave meaning to my life. I thought I had seen and experienced everything ministry had to offer. That was so not true, but when you are forty, everything looks like it’s standing still. You want something to be on the move.

My racing mentor and model was Barney Hance. He was a real runner, fast and durable and bare-chested. I wanted to run like Barney. Since I was neither fast nor durable, my best chance at being like Barney was bare-chestededness. After one race, I bragged to my family that I had bugs on my chest, just like Barney. Daughter Katie said, “Yes, but the bugs on Barney’s chest are dead.” So much for being like Barney Hance. I ran more like Barney Fife. But I loved it.

Most of the races I ran were out-and-back courses. Go out half-way, usually 5 K, and turn around and run back. Out and back are easier courses to manage. The folks putting on the race can use the same race monitors [people, not TV screens] and water stations and cardio surgeons. But that meant we live-bug runners met the dead-bug runners coming back while we were still going out. Our custom was, when you met another runner, in a race or just out practicing, to call out, “Lookin’ good.” I got really good at that on those out and back courses.

We did not look good, not very many of us. We looked tired and sweaty and dehydrated and fatigued and miserable. But it was always great to have someone say, “Lookin’ good.” That meant you looked tired and sweaty and dehydrated and fatigued and miserable, the way a real runner is supposed to look.

As we were moving from Hoopeston, IL, because the bishop was appointing me to a church in Charleston, IL, I was standing beside the moving van when Wheeler T. Hardin, the pastor of First Christian Church, a block down the street, came to say goodbye. He looked good, as he always did, in a dark three-piece suit, with a gold chain across his rather expansive lower chest. I had always been a little jealous of W.T. My members often told me how personable he was, how he came downtown every morning and had coffee and ate a donut with them. I never went downtown for coffee and donut time; that was when I was trying to recover from my morning run.

I figured saying good-bye was a good time to come clean, so I told him about my jealousy. W.T. said, “Yes, but when I’m eating that donut with your members, they look at my middle and say, You know, our pastor runs.”

Next time you’re busy, and on the run, sweaty and tired and dehydrated and fatigued and miserable, so that you have time only to glance up at the cross and see Jesus there, broken and battered and alone, remember to call out to him, “Lookin’ good.” That’s the way a real savior is supposed to look.


I tweet as yooper1721. I’m no longer a Yooper, and probably should change my twitter handle to my name, but I don’t know how.

No, you’re not crazy. I did use some of this same idea in the CIW of 4-13-14.

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