Random acts? No. Lifestyle change? Yes.

CrossOver reflection for Week 34 • Beginning July 28, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 47 

Rev. Carlo Rapanut

I am a long-distance runner who dabbles in the marathon and ultramarathon distances (26.2 miles or longer). Mind you; I am not one who competes to race and win. I am a “middle of the pack” runner who aims to finish and hopefully improve on my time from the last race.

I was not always a runner. In fact, I grew up as a kid with exercise-induced asthma who could barely run 100 feet without running out of breath and chest wheezing. But I always had a fascination with running and have long wanted to be a runner. And for most of my youth and young adult life, it remained that—a dream that seemed to go farther and farther from grasp the older I got.

When my family and I moved to Chugiak, Alaska more than a decade ago, I watched a local 5K race that rekindled my dream of being a runner. I thought to myself, “5K isn’t that long. I can probably do that next year.”

So I set it as my goal, and I signed up. And I ran it. Without training. Without running a single mile to practice. Without any knowledge of pacing or hydration or technique. I ran only with the resolve that I wanted to be a runner, and I paid the price for it. Heavily. I did finish the race, but I think I may have walked half of it. And my legs revolted against me for a week.

Lesson learned? To run a 5K, one needs to train and start with a shorter distance. 100 feet. Then 200. Then 400. Half a mile. A mile. It takes time to build up to a 5K. The body needs time to adjust. Your muscles need to learn the new action they are being made to do over and over again until it is encoded in their memory.

Before I was running ultras, I ran marathons. Before I was running marathons, I ran half-marathons. Before those, 10Ks. Before 10Ks, 5Ks. And it’s the shorter daily, regular runs that allow me to run any of these longer distances. Running, for me, has become a lifestyle.

My point? When we go about transforming the world for Jesus Christ, we don’t suddenly decide to do that in one major, earth-shaking act. We do so in smaller acts of kindness, justice, grace, love, and mercy.

In this week’s chapter of We Make the Road By Walking, Brian McLaren reminds us that if we are serious about our faith in God and desire to take part in God’s movement of transformation, we need to start with smaller acts that the Holy Spirit inspires us to do in our various circles of influence.

I believe, though, that this is more than doing “random acts of kindness” as many espouse. While I agree that doing random acts of kindness is a start, it isn’t the goal. Lifestyle change is. McLaren says that the Holy Spirit is inviting us on a mission of transformation by living a lifestyle of mercy. Regular, instinctive, and intentional acts of kindness and mercy are the goal.

I can’t run ultras on random runs here and there. We can’t transform the world with random acts either. What McLaren is saying is that acts of kindness, mercy, justice, grace, peace, and love need to be encoded into our very beings through repetition in our daily circles so that they become our natural, automatic response to whatever circumstance life throws our way. We exercise that muscle over and over again until it is encoded in our muscle memory. Think of the Holy Spirit as a trainer, pushing us to a lifestyle of spiritual fitness for the race called life.

Rev. Carlo Rapanut serves as Conference Superintendent for the Alaska Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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