I love to try new running routes. Sure, I have certain routes that I like, and I do them often. There is one six or seven miler that I do first thing in the morning. At one point in the run I am heading East, and I can see the sun coming up over rolling farmland, behind the silos and barns of Lancaster County. It is just gorgeous! I have another run where in summer, I am running down a narrow road that bisects a cornfield. The corn towers over my head, and all I can see is green. My own green mile.
I like to run new routes because I am a tourist at heart. When you are a tourist, your role is to look around, see what you can see, and try to figure out the neighborhood. That’s what I like to do when I run. If there are new sights to see, there is no telling what new thoughts they will inspire. When my husband and I run with our local running club, we run at a different location each week during the spring, summer and fall. Besides the great company, this is the reason I love our club. I get to look at new scenery each week. My husband, by the way, does not look around when he runs. One of our favorite races is Ukrop’s 10K in Richmond, VA. We love the city of Richmond, especially in the spring, when the race is held, and we love the run. It is like a six mile moving party. Completely flat, with tons of cheering spectators and bands, I almost hate for it to be over each year when I cross the finish line. There are two sections of the race that are run on bricked streets – one near the beginning and one near the end. After the first time we ran it, I asked Bill if running on bricks bothered him. “Bricks?” he responded. “We ran on then for about a mile.” I showed him a picture of us running on bricks. “Huh! I never noticed them.” I shook my head.
One of the only things that I don’t like about trail running is that I am usually running through beautiful scenery, but I can’t take my eyes off the trail to appreciate it! I would fall even more often than I normally do (a lot). I sometimes stop in a trail race just to take in a beautiful vista, adding seconds to my race time. Once, we were running at the county park in Lancaster with a group of friends. As we crested a big hill that overlooks the Conestoga River, we stopped for a breather. Just then a bald eagle flew by at eye level about 10 feet away. What a memory! To compensate for not being able to look around during a trail race, I sometimes bird by ear while running through the woods. During a spring marathon, I one time identified over 20 birds by their calls. (Yes, I am a birding nerd!)
There is a hilly route near my house that I run a lot. The sign in the picture that accompanies this post is along that route. I ran past it many times, but didn’t really think about it until a few months ago. It is outside a Mennonite Reception Center. I wasn’t sure if the reception center is used for the purpose that its name suggests, so I looked it up. It is. It is a building used for wedding receptions for Mennonite couples. I thought about the sign for the rest of the run, and I am still thinking about it months later. God is Love. Not God is loving. God is Love itself. In Exodus Moses asked to see God. God said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” So, Moses saw the back side of God, but if God is love, what did he see? I am much more comfortable picturing God as Love than as an old white haired Caucasian man.
One of my favorite books is Letters and Papers From Prison by the mid-20th century Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer wrote several theological books before the Nazis came to power in Germany. Most of them involved the intellectual side of theology, stressing concepts like duty, discipleship, personal responsibility and “costly grace”. Typical German ideology. Bonhoeffer protested the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany, actually worked as a spy for the Allies during World War II, and even helped some Jews escape to Switzerland. Then in 1943 at age 36 and a bachelor, he fell in love for the first time with a much younger woman and got engaged. Unfortunately soon after his engagement he was arrested for being part of a plot to assassinate Hitler and imprisoned at Tegel prison. While Bonhoeffer certainly had knowledge of the plot, his actual involvement is not certain. While he was at the prison, he was able to write letters to his fiancee, family and friends. He also wrote theological documents, which were smuggled out by sympathetic guards. His fiancee was able to visit him in prison, and Bonhoeffer described those visits in his letters. As the war ended, he was transferred to Flossenburg concentration camp. He was hanged at the camp for his part in the plot in April, 1945, just two weeks before it was liberated by the Allies. Letters and Papers From Prison was published posthumously. Remarkably in these letters Bonhoeffer basically said “No, I got it wrong in my earlier books. It’s not all about duty, responsibility and having to prove ourselves worthy of God’s grace. It’s about love. God is love.” Grace is a gift to you on your birthday. You don’t have to do anything to earn it. There is no catch. It’s yours. There is no “cost” for grace. Love is unconditional. Imagine that you are God. You are love. You have the best possible gift to give humanity – grace. Do you attach strings to the gift? Say that you will give it only under certain conditions? No! You wouldn’t do that to your children (if you have kids, you know what I mean). You love them no matter what. Grace is free. That’s what Bonhoeffer was telling his family and friends in his last writings.
(Here’s where I get up on my soapbox). So, get out and see what there is to see in the world. Look around. Appreciate it. Take care of our planet. Protect the weakest and most vulnerable in our society. We are all tourists.