This one weird trick will change your life: Slow Down

The tree in the backyard is growing, relentlessly, powerfully, and slowly.

Our children are growing, as we do too, slowly; imperceptibly every day.

The meat in the crock pot is tenderizing; slowly.

Our world, very much alive and changing all the time, is changing slowly.

Slow, it seems, is most natural, most of the time.  And yet we lust for speed.

We look for quick fixes to relationship issues, addictions, fears and anxieties, intimacy with Christ, weight loss, studying for tests, and o so much more.  Hucksters over promise on quick transformation  (six minute abs anyone?), have been doing so for centuries, and succeed because there’s always a market for “instant”.   Lately though, I’ve learned once again, that the way of Christ followers is utterly other than that – it’s SLOW.

I’m planning a big long hike this summer, over 400 miles, with over 100,000 feet of elevation gain, and in preparation I’ve been trying to fix some injuries.  My strategy though, of resting until I feel no pain, and then getting back at it with 150 calf raises, and running stairs in a weighted backpack, hasn’t been working.  Every attempted return to activity has sent me limping home, frustrated and angry.  “They say ‘stay active as you age!'” I rant to my wife, “but they don’t tell you that when you try to, you’ll get hurt… every – single – time.”

It was during my most recent period of forced convalescence that I discovered a word I’d not encountered before:  SLOW.  The author suggested that the best thing to do after an injury is to let your jogging pace be bound by two limits:  your heart rate, and your pain.  He suggested running in minimalist shoes so that, if there was something wrong, you’d get feedback from your body earlier rather than later enabling you to adjust or stop, letting your pain be your guide.  He also suggested using a heart rate monitor and staying, relentlessly, at the low end of the aerobic zone for your age.

All right then.  With toe shoes and pulse watch, I set off, striding lightly and slowly.  Quickly, my pulse is out of bounds, so I slow down further still.  I’m on the path by the lake, “running” but not really, more like “jogging”.  No, that’s not right either.  It’s just a cut above a brisk walk, and I feel fragile and weak as all who aren’t walking pass me as if I’m standing still!  I see people from the church I lead and they wave and smile kindly, as I do when I see senior citizens courageously walking the lake.  I’m frustrated because I know that I could run faster.

But recently, running faster hasn’t been good for me, so I stick with the plan, refusing to let my pulse rise above 140.  After 28 minutes, I’m home.  The pace is embarrassingly slow on my little exercise phone app, and I fear someone will find my phone and post the data on facebook.  I ponder deleting it, but determine to run the same route two days later, keeping my heart in the same zone, just to see if my pace would quicken a bit.  It did.  So I did it again, and again, again.

I’m still running, faster every time, and injury free, as I stay in the zone and slowly, slowly, slowly, add distance.  I don’t feel the changes, day to day, workout to workout, but I know they’re happening because of that nifty app on my phone!

Of course, this isn’t ultimately about running, or hiking.  It’s about the true nature of the path to which each of us are called; the path of transformation.  Paul says that we’re called to look towards Christ, soaking in his glory and learning to enjoy intimacy with him.  This in itself is a practice which takes time to develop and countless Christ followers, if honest, would say they have little or no enjoyment of intimacy with Christ as a reality.  One reason for this is because we have this sickly “cost/benefit analysis” mentality whereby we assess the value of our activities solely based on whether they yield immediate fruit.  So we try a little Bible reading, maybe light a candle and read a prayer – but our minds wander.  It’s challenging to meet with Jesus because he’s Mr. Invisible and we’re not sure, at the level of our deepest selves, whether we’re even meeting with anyone.  So, after a little while, we ditch the effort.  Cross-fit’s more measurable, clearly a better investment of our free time.

The problem is that meeting with Jesus is like meeting with anyone.  It takes effort to carve out the time, and no single encounter, any more than a single run, or cross fit workout, is necessarily meaningful or measurable.  Like romance, or practicing the violin, meeting with Jesus is sometimes profound, sometimes painful, sometimes boring. sometimes enchanting.  And just like romance and the violin, it gets better with time.   The ones who quit too soon don’t know what they’re missing.  They think the problem is the practice, or their skill level – but the problem is impatience.  Keep showing up and good things will happen….slowly.

The transformation we’re promised is “from glory to glory” and the language implies that the change is imperceptible because it’s slow.  To the extent that we’re concerned with “how we’re doing” we’ll become mindful of our shortcomings, and then looking to fix them, one at a time, as quickly as possible.  How much better to just keep showing up in the presence of Jesus, learning to enjoy companionship with him, and resting in the belief that, by staying “in the zone” so to speak, good things will happen.

in his book Run or Die, Kilian Jornet, a very skillful runner who ascends and descends mountains at unusual speed, talks about why he doesn’t suffer from race-day nerves:

“I practice and train for almost 360 days of the year. It’s like a baker getting the jitters the day he has to bake bread. In the end, bread is bread and maybe the bread turns out good or bad depending on a number of things that escape the baker’s control, but the bread will be made according to the same recipe whether it is Monday or Sunday.”

Despite his success in competitions, Jornet has come to focus on the practice, and not the expectation.  (thanks to Justin Roth of  “The Stone Mind” for this)

Focus on the practice of enjoying fellowship with Jesus, not the expectation that if you read your Bible enough, or pray enough, or are quiet long enough, you’ll make a quantum leap out of addictions, or fears.  You’ll move out alright… but It. Will. Be….. Slowly.  Step by Step.   enjoy the journey.

PS… if you’re interested in practical help with developing habits of pursuing intimacy with Jesus, I’ll be re-releasing my book “O2” for Kindle on Amazon under the title, “Breathing New Life into Faith”   Stay tuned!

The Seahawks: Finding Christ in Football Culture

My friend Matthew Kaemingk is a theologian and a sports fan. His guest post today shows us how these two worlds intersect if we’re looking for Christ in culture. You can find more of his writings at Christ and Cascadia.  Enjoy!  

“If we would know ourselves, [as] the ancient Temple at Delphi advises, the study of sports in all its connections to the rest of art and life would seem to be an ideal quest for understanding of self and the world.” Simon Kuper, athletic anthropologist

I am a rabid fan of the Seattle Seahawks. I am also a Christian theologian. It appears that Christ & Cascadia might just be the only “place” where I can bring these two disparate aspects of my life together.

When I claim to be a “rabid fan,” I mean what I say. Consider the following evidence of my semi-neurotic devotion. While studying theology in Amsterdam I would regularly wake up in the middle of the night to watch Seahawk games (pre and post-game shows as well). I regularly frequent no less than four Seahawk blogs (Hawkblogger, Field Gulls, Seahawks Draft Blog, and Seahawks Addicts). I have engaged in more than one extended debate with friends and family over who should start at the left offensive guard position.

Being active in the worlds of Christian theology and American football I have always felt a subtle pressure to keep these interests separate. My fellow theologians do not usually welcome extended discussions of football. Many find the game violent, stupid, frivolous, un-cultured, un-Christian, and/or corrupt. Likewise Seahawk bloggers typically maintain strict “no religion” restrictions on their discussion boards (as if discussing religion would endanger the genteel and civilized dialogue of a sports blog).

What follows is a series of “propositions” on the connections between my faith and Seahawk football. In this first section I reflect on the coaching and drafting philosophy of Pete Carroll, the coach of the Seattle Seahawks. In the second section, coming out soon, I will reflect theologically on the fan culture of the Seattle Seahawks (the 12th man). If the Seahawks continue to win in the playoffs, I might just write a third section.

In the following propositions my words of praise for football, the Seahawks, and Pete Carroll may at times seem effusive. My apologies. I am fully aware of the many valid criticisms that have been leveled against all three. My argument here is not that Seahawk football is perfect or divine (far from it). Nor am I arguing that Christians should skip or move Sunday worship to watch it. My argument is that Seahawk football is theologically interesting. What does that mean? Read on.

Proposition #1 – Pete Carrol and a Theology of Fun

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“Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” G.K. Chesterton

“I’ve got to find a way to make it into the game that they love.” Pete Carroll

“Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice, It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally, but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity…” G.K. Chesterton

“[I]f we’re not having a good time doing it, then I’m screwing it up.” Pete Carroll

G.K. Chesterton is known as one of Christendom’s most playful theologians. A gifted philosopher, novelist, debater, and columnist, Chesterton never took himself too seriously. If there was such a thing, Chesterton most certainly had the spiritual gift of levity. Chesterton argues again and again that human beings were not made to take themselves so seriously. He argues that “Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One ‘settles down’ into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness.”

Coach Pete Carroll recognizes the central importance of play to the flourishing of the human person. His football practices regularly feature hip hop music, practical jokes, comedians, weird games and quirky competitions. While most football coaches are known for yelling and negative reinforcement, Carroll is known for a positive and playful approach to the game of football.

His players are, of course, well aware that Carroll expects high effort, competition, and intense focus on the practice field. That said, Carroll places a high importance on finding and cultivating players who genuinely love the game of football. Carroll is always cognizant of the ultimate reason why his players started playing the game in the first place—play.

Whether he recognizes the divine source of playfulness or not, Pete Carroll is the leader of 53 young men who were created in the image of a playful God. Carroll has tapped into the created human need for play.
“You watch [coach Carroll] for any length of time during the season, and you realize the thing you see him do more than anything else is throwing the football. He throws it before practice. He throws it after practice… He throws it around during meetings. You suspect, before he goes to sleep at night, he sits up in bed tossing a football in the air.” Steve Bischeff, Carroll biographer

“…for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” G.K. Chesterton

Proposition # 2 Pete Carroll and a Theology of Creative Competition.

“Competition to me is not about beating your opponent. It is about doing your best; it is about striving to reach your potential.” Pete Carroll

“Competition” is a bad word in some circles, but I am convinced that a certain kind of competition can be a way of fulfilling God’s creating purposes. Here is an interesting question, for example: Might Adam and Eve have played chess in their unfallen condition? I like to think that it would have been a good way to spend some of their time in the Garden. As human creatures whose chief aim it was to glorify God and to enjoy him forever, I think they could have competed in a way that pleased their Maker. Playing chess would have been a way of matching wits, of accepting the mutual challenge to devise winning strategies. As unfallen persons, they would not want to humiliate each other–instead they would want to use the abilities of the other person as a challenge to cultivate their own capacity for problem-solving.” Richard Mouw, theologian.

Kam “Bam-Bam” Chancellor is a 6’3 230 pound strong safety who has always loved to smack opposing receivers in the chest. That said, “Bam-Bam” was not always adept at actually covering wide receivers down the field. But Pete Carroll saw potential in the hard-hitting Virginia Tech safety and over the course of two years Carroll brought that potency out and developed him into what can only be described as the central “death-backer” in Seattle’s infamous “legion of boom.”

The theologian Richard Mouw argues that God actively plants in creation (and in all people) certain potencies, gifts, and talents. These gifts, like seeds, lie dormant waiting for the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve to cultivate, grow, and develop them. God did not want humanity to simply nap in the garden and suck on its fruits. God wanted the garden (and its inhabitants) to grow, unfold, develop, learn, and flourish. According to Mouw, “God likes it when people cultivate the sorts of capacities and abilities that he has invested in the creation.”

Whether Pete Carroll knows it or not, whenever he nurtures a quarterback that is “too short,” a corner that is “too tall,” a defensive end that is “too slow,” or successfully switches a lineman from defense to offense he is cultivating divinely-given gifts that have been planted in players by the God of the universe.

On Sunday mornings Christians gather to purposefully worship and glorify their Creator through prayer and song.

On Sunday afternoons (whether they recognize it or not) the Seattle Seahawks gather to glorify their Creator through the competitive development of the gifts God has given them.

“The Glory of God is humanity fully alive” – St Irenaeus

Proposition #3 – Pete Carroll and a Theology of Community and Individuality

“We have an approach to help each guy be the very best he can possibly be. We’ll take a very precise look at each guy and find out their uniqueness and discover what they bring that’s special, then fit it into our football team.” Pete Carroll

The Church “is not a collective where the individual is of no importance… in the life of the Christian community each individual is indispensable to that of the whole.” Karl Barth, theologian

The Seattle Seahawks are “the weirdest looking team in NFL history.”
• A 6-4 cornerback whose knees seem to bend in all four directions;
• A monstrosity of a man who looks out of place at defensive end;
• A linebacker whose arms and legs are so long it seems he might never get himself underneath a blocker;
• An offensive guard who was playing defensive tackle this time last year … in college;
• Oh, and a quarterback who makes Doug Flutie look like an NBA center.” Dave Wyman, Seahawks reporter

Whether or not Pete Carroll is a Christian is immaterial, Carroll understands something very important about what it means to be human and what it means to be a member of a flourishing community.

Strong communities require a diverse cast of characters, gifts, and abilities. Coach Carroll takes unique talents and rare gifts and creatively appropriates those gifts towards the flourishing of the team. The NFL is full of athletic potential. What makes Carroll successful is his ability to move players from a state of unique potential to a state of unique production. According to Carroll, “We’re looking for unique qualities that separate players from other players,” Carroll said. “And then we try to accentuate that weakness and make them special.”

Dave Wyman is right. The Seattle Seahawks might be the “the weirdest looking team in NFL history.” Pete Carroll has indeed assembled an odd and motley crew of characters. He is adept at finding talents that are either unrecognized or underappreciated by other teams. The key to his success, however, has not simply been his ability to find unique talents but to bring those unique characters together into a common community with a common vision and a common purpose.

As has been discussed a number of times in Christ & Cascadia, developing deep Christian community in the Pacific Northwest can be extremely difficult. Cascadia is a culture of deep individualism. Cascadians consider themselves unique, special, and autonomous individuals. They are extremely wary of thick communities that might stifle their individual freedom, gifts, and desires. Cascadians look at the Christian church as a place where their liberty, creativity, and individuality will be threatened.

Cascadians are tragic victims of the false modern dichotomy of individuality and community. Cascadians readily accept the false choice and opt for a lonely individuality.

While there are important differences and caveats to be made, the Seattle Seahawks offer an excellent example of overcoming this modern dichotomy. Their team is made up of unique individuals who can only flourish when they are brought together.

Dave Wyman calls the Seahawks an “Island of Misfit Toys.” Is there a better name for the church? Are we not, after all, a motley collection of weird, gifted, and broken cast-offs called to a higher common purpose?

The dogma of “deep individualism” found in the Pacific Northwest claims that human beings can only be their “true selves” when they are “free” from communal restraint. Pete Carroll and the apostle Paul demonstrate that the opposite is true. We can only become our “true selves” in community.
“This whole [Seahawk] experiment may work and it may not. Either way, I admire it. It’s not safe. It’s not what everyone else is doing. It’s bold, ballsy, and iconoclastic… But if it works out the way I think it will, you may see teams scouring the country for big, lanky corners, converting mediocre defensive tackles to offensive guard and throwing out the rulebook on quarterbacks under 6-feet tall” Dave Wyman, Seahawks Reporter

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Apostle Paul, I Corinthians 12

Enjoy the Game!!