A Theology of Running

Yep, there is such a thing! Okay, I could have made it up, but just work with me here.

It has been ten years since I ran my last half-marathon and I have decided it’s time to dust off my running shoes and get back in the game. God help me. This will probably kill me!

I began running thirty years ago when a friend dragged me to a high school track near us. We planned to run the St. Patrick’s Day 5K in St. Louis. It was three miles. Since I had never run a day in my life, it seemed reasonable. I could easily drive three miles without getting winded. So, why not?!

The first morning we ran once around the track – a quarter mile. OMG, I thought I would die! But, I didn’t. So, I went back for more; again and again until it got easier and I decided I could do it. Not just that, but I was actually beginning to love it and the challenge that came with each turn around the track. Initially, my ambitions didn’t go beyond the 5K and the free beer at the end!

It wouldn’t be long before I was hooked as I grew to love the challenge of discovering my ability to go beyond anything I had imagined. Let’s see whatcha got Linda! Though I have run several half-marathons over the years since then it has always been that initial 5K that developed my theology of running.

I started off slowly, but pushing myself to run faster became a passion for me, especially when we moved to a rural area where I would run country roads at 5:00 in the morning. I was often told I was getting too old to run and that I should slow down because it wasn’t good for my joints (jealous couch potatoes every last one of you!). I had no desire to slow down. Every time I decided to walk instead it didn’t last long. It wasn’t the same. I didn’t feel the joy and fulfillment I experienced when I ran.

I discovered that I am most fully alive when I am running, especially in nature. When we moved further out into the country I enjoyed it even more. I could run right out my front door and be in the woods. It was so peaceful and serene. In the early morning the sunrise was breathtaking.

There was something else I noticed: God was there. In those moments my connection with God was most vibrant and my prayers seemed most profound. That never happened for me sitting in a pew in church (I don’t need forgiveness father…that ain’t a sin!)

St. Irenaeus said that, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”  Being fully alive is the quintessential manifestation of Divine Love. That magical mysterious Love is most revealed to me in these moments when I am in the midst of; when I know I am fully a part of his creation.

One of the beauties of running is its simplicity. You need only a good pair of shoes. Actually, shoes aren’t even necessary as Ethiopian Abebe Bikila proved. He set a world record in the Rome Olympics barefoot! 

For sure there is a stark difference between the simple needs I have as a runner and the “perceived needs” of those in many sports. How does that relate to what we understand as “church”? Is church the magnificent cathedrals built centuries ago or some of the mega churches of today that entertain like a new rendition of Jesus Christ Super Star?! Not according to Jesus. The “ideal” church he modeled was about action: humble service, love, unity, hope, and mission – all easily accomplished barefoot – or at the most, wearing sandals.

When training for a race there are specific practices that can be incorporated. One such practice is called “fartlek”. It’s a Swedish word for “speed play” and it’s simply short bursts of accelerating at various times during a run. Here again, fartleking could have a spiritual meaning. Well, it could! Okay, the name might have to be changed to something a bit less like a bodily function, but it could work nicely when considering the process of growing spiritually, and, yes, it is a process.

I believe there is a misunderstanding for so many of us about just how important it is to “train” if we are to grow in faith and that may be what discourages new Christians. I don’t believe faith just “happens” with a dunk in a bucket of water even if there is some sort of “ritual” to prepare new converts for acceptance into a particular faith. There’s just more to it than that. It’s not an event, it’s a life-long journey. What about babies that are baptized in the Catholic Church? Does that baby jump right out the Priest’s arms and start serving in a soup kitchen? No.

You start out testing the waters with things that aren’t too risky like smiling instead of flipping someone off in traffic. Then, maybe you graduate to a bumper sticker…or two…or six. Don’t do that. That’s not right.

Anyway, we are taught that in baptism we are to put on Christ. But, what does that really mean? We are called to live and move and have our being as followers of Christ who teaches self-giving love by his example. And how does that happen? We learn from him to be less self-centered and more other-centered. For most of us none of that growing happens at the moment of our baptism. We will struggle in life, have set backs, and often lose our way. We have fits and starts trying to believe we truly are God’s beloved and our life has purpose. 

As we journey through life, hopefully, we will grow in the fullness of that baptismal call to be an instrument of God’s love for the good of the world we live in. This realization can surely be likened to a “runners high”! When we finally become conscious of who and whose we are and we respond through works of love, justice and mercy. Call it a “Jesus high”! You just can’t get enough.

Now I am at the place where I need to tell on myself and share a couple of final important AHA moments in my long running and faith journey. The first experience goes back to the beginning when my friend and I started training for that 5K. When we got to the day of the race we both felt we were not prepared, especially since, just a few days before, her husband, an avid runner, told us that the route of the race was very hilly! Wait…what? Hilly?! As in mountainous hilly? As in, crap, we didn’t train on hills, hilly?! After that initial shock we decided to do it anyway even if we had to walk – or crawl – or call an Uber.

But we were going and we were getting that beer at the end. Period. So, off we went. When we got to the start line we immediately saw the “hill” staring down at us laughing hysterically! Undeterred, we went for it. It was hard, but we both endured and walked when we had to. AND THEN, we turned a corner and saw the finish line! I got so excited I took off running with all I had in me (it was downhill which helped). As I got to the end, gasping for air, my friend caught up with me. She was visibly upset, “Why did you take off like that? We spent all this time training together and we were supposed to finish together! Why did you do that?” I felt so bad for leaving her behind. I was only thinking of myself and that was just wrong. Sadly, I suppose I believed that everything revolved around me.


Our faith journey is not meant to be about us alone. If we are merely growing in a personal faith that does not embrace others on their journey; if we are so self-centered that we sprint toward life’s finish line knocking others aside, I’m pretty sure God will be waiting with those chilling words, “You came alone? Where’s your friend?”

Okay, that experience wasn’t funny, but this one is. A few years ago, another friend and I signed up for a 10K. She wasn’t concerned about training because she planned to walk. I think she just wanted to be sure I survived because, well, by then, I was old. So, off we went agreeing to meet at…that’s right…the beer truck at the end.

There were a lot of turns so volunteers stood at designated intersections to point the way. At one intersection I was a bit confused and was alone to choose. I turned right and kept running. After a mile on that road with no one in sight, it became clear to me that I had gone the wrong way. So, I turned around and ran another mile back to where I should have been. I was tired, but knew the end was near. And there, around the last corner, I saw it! The finish line! WOOT WOOT…

Then I realized the race was over and they were deflating the blow up finish line! I panicked and ran faster, but I was too late. By then most everyone had left. No one cheering. No one telling me I was almost there and to not poop myself (they tell you that. It’s not funny. Neither is the lie that “You’re almost done” when you’re not. It’s not right). Anyway, I was devastated and my friend was in a panic!  When I finally did see someone carrying some medals I insisted I deserved a first place metal for being the only person who ran eight miles instead of six! So, technically I reasoned I came in first in the unofficial eight mile race. That logic didn’t fly. I was handed a “Yep, you did finish even though you screwed up” medal. FINE. WHATEVER.  “Where’s the free beer?”

There were still a few drops of beer left for my friend and I to cheer each other and I did survive, so it wasn’t all in vain. And the lesson? Yeah you know. On this journey of faith we will also make wrong turns, but God is always at the finish line with a cold beer (don’t tell me there ain’t no beer in heaven!) and a “well done, my good and faithful servant” cheer!

You’ll have to decide for yourself if there’s beer at the finish line of life, or if that’s really why you want to run that race – to get some reward. As for me, I fully trust that a life of faith is all about the journey, not the finish line. That will take care of itself.

The Gospel According to Monsanto

Matthew 13:3-8 “Then he (Jesus) told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

We have lived in our current home for four years now. I’m sure I annoy more than a few of my neighbors because I refuse to use chemicals on my lawn. Here’s why:

Dr. (Anthony) Samsel is a research scientist who is passionate about farming, gardening, and agriculture, making him particularly suitable for investigating glyphosate. “I was with the ‘think tank,’ Arthur D. Little (ADL) in Cambridge, Massachusetts for many years working as a research scientist on many types of projects, from product development to environmental sciences to later switching to health sciences,” he says.

He’s also done contract work for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and as a hazardous materials expert, he’s worked for the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the United States Navy (USN), and the United States Coast Guard (USCG).

What he has learned:

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide Roundup, is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world. An estimated one billion pounds a year is sprayed on our food crops, resulting in the average American eating several hundred pounds of glyphosate-contaminated food every year.

Monsanto Has Known for Nearly 35 Years That GMOs Promote Cancer

Monsanto’s own research also supports the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determination that glyphosate is a Class 2 A “probable human carcinogen.”–a determination Monsanto is now trying to get retracted….

Monsanto Never Published These Negative Findings

So how did Monsanto and Biodynamics—the company doing the research—hide these inconvenient facts? According to Dr. Samsel, they cancelled out the controls and the damning findings by using historical control data from unrelated studies. It’s also worth noting that these negative findings were never published in the peer-reviewed literature or submitted to the EPA or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Cancer was clearly shown in their 26-month long feeding study….Monsanto knew in 1981 that glyphosate caused tumorigenic growth and carcinomas in multiple organs and tissues…

“At the rate we’re going, we’re going to kill billions of people,” Dr. Samsel says. 


So, back to my yard. We have weeds. I do my best to keep the grass cut short so it isn’t too obvious. I also have a small raised-bed organic garden. Well, it’s as organic as it can be considering we are surrounded by neighbors who spray their lawns with chemicals. That’s why I’m moving to Auroville, India:


Seriously! It was the vision of Sri Aurobindo that came to fruition in the 1960s.

Welcome to Utopia!

I imagined life in Auroville to be as close to perfect as anything this side of heaven. There’s probably no self-serving politicians, rabid neighbors, or drunken uncles. No cancer or heart disease or PMS, gluten intolerance, or out-of-control chocolate cravings, and they have no idea who the Kardashians are!


Well, not quite.

After all, if God had intended to use Auroville to test market a perfect world I doubt he would have used humans, especially greedy, self-absorbed, money-hungry humans who run multinational corporations like Monsanto to come in and mess it all up.

My bubble burst when I read about Monsanto’s disastrous corporate greed that has literally scorched the earth and destroyed thousands of lives in it’s wake in India (all over the world actually). You can read the article here.

Basically, Monsanto came in and made unattainable promises to hungry farmers and their families, who unwittingly signed on the dotted line. As a result, thousands of farmers and laborers have committed suicide because they lost everything as Monsanto became richer and richer.

The number of suicides by farmers and farm labourers increased five per cent at 12,360 in 2014.  Bankruptcy and indebtedness accounted for the major cause of suicides. More here.

No doubt Monsanto hopes the destruction they leave in the wake of their self-interest goes unnoticed by the rest of the world. It must be working because we happily spray their poisonous chemicals all over the earth.

I know what you’re thinking! “SO?  What does that have to do with me?” Stay with me.

Who would have thought Monsanto, the purveyor of everything deadly and toxic, would become a metaphor for a Scripture meditation? But, here we are. They not only destroy our soil, they are now irrefutably linked to diseases that are killing us. How many people are aware of that right now? Before their recent exposure in the media, were any of us fearful of the chemical content of these products? Obviously not, as they are a multi-billion dollar corporation set for a buy-out from Bayer.

bayer and monsanto

Look at these two kids, just all giddy about their successes.

india suicide farmers

I doubt the people of India will be joining them in their celebration…

Can you see where I am going with this analogy? No? Okay. Follow my A.D.D. brain on this journey to the point I want to make about Matthews gospel.

We are the seed and the soil would be where we are planted, right?

I have some seeds that I start in small pots of organic soil. When they begin to grow into seedlings I repot them or move them into my garden which is also filled with rich organic soil. (Don’t be too impressed – I actually suck at gardening. Most of my plants start out beautifully but fail to thrive for one reason or another.

Anyway…Matthew’s parable…

Because we were created in God’s image we start out perfect.  But, sometimes things go terribly wrong. We can be “repotted”, if you will, into dysfunctional families where we fail to thrive, as was my case. Fortunately, God reclaimed me and did his best to “repot” me into the soil of his divine love and mercy. I began to thrive again, striving for perfection, reaching toward the Light.

But often I allowed the world around me to convince me that what I had wasn’t enough; that I wasn’t enough. I needed more: worldly pursuits, obsessions, longings for things other than God, selfishness. Like unsuspecting plants sprayed with Roundup, my soul was dying little by little.

We have been called to be watchful of the often subtle and insidious destruction the world can inflict on us. Like corporations that skillfully market their products, the world markets an exciting and fulfilling life, “You deserve this new car, this great job, this man of your dreams.” Never mind the cost: the car you can’t afford, the job that will take you away from your family, the man who happens to be married –oops. And, to the extreme, in the case in India: death and destruction.

What is our foundation? Is it God in which we live and breathe and have our being? Or is it worldly pursuits and obsessions in which we give away all that we are; all that we were created to be?

John 10:10 tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” And you can be sure that thief is cunning and resourceful. He knows our weaknesses and vulnerabilities so we must always be on guard.

And, my friends, this is where we get real, as Christians, we have also been given the responsibility of helping to protect those seeds that God has created and planted among us. Are we helping or hindering God’s work among the most vulnerable? We are surrounded by such tremendous need and suffering. What are we doing to help relieve that suffering?

Think about this: Because of the unbearable suffering and death of the people of India, one man stands out as their David against the Goliath, Monsanto. His name is M. Prabhakara Rao. This is what he gave up to battle a Corporate Giant:

Tens of millions of dollars were within reach for M. Prabhakara Rao as he prepared in April 2015 to take his Indian cotton seed company public. The Indian businessman already had $54 million in initial funding from an American private equity investor. Rao had also locked in a long-term licensing agreement with Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, for the technology used in genetically modified cotton seeds that made up the majority of his annual sales.


david and goliath

Could you or I have walked away from such wealth to stand before a giant like Monsanto?

It’s something to ponder and pray about don’t you think?

Okay, we’re done here. I have to get busy finding a recipe for dandelion wine! I’m hoping if I give a bottle of it to all the neighbors for Christmas, they’ll forgive me!

Let us be Silly!


This song has made me laugh for years: I Will Survive 

Watch it, it’s very short. Then come back!

Are you laughing? Come on. That was funny! Now wipe that frown off your face and let’s get to the funny business because we just take life way too serious.

Do you think that God doesn’t have a sense of humor?


If He wouldn’t have had a sense of humor, Genesis may have read a bit differently, “And God made the beasts of the earth according to its kind (Genesis 1:25)…. Then God decided to quit while He was ahead, “I can now kick back and enjoy all the beauty of my creation; the mountains, streams, and valleys, all the lovely, well-behaved animals. Aha, those majestic sunsets, whew, I think I out-did myself with that one! My grand plan is for every creature to simply exist for my pure pleasure. I like it. I’m done. Why muck it up?”

But one other part of “Us” (probably the Spirit) objected, “But, Lord, who will return our love then? Isn’t that what this all about”?  To which God replied, “Oh, please! Let’s think about this. If we want them to love us, we will have to give them all the free-will to do it, and you know what that’s gonna make them don’t you? A royal pain! They’ll go their own way and forget that I created them to live in peace and joy and harmony.”

But, alas, God recanted, “Okay, fine. But if we’re going to do this, we can’t have all drama and whining. If they can’t laugh at themselves; if they can’t take a little ribbing occasionally, then we’re gonna replace them with more trees and rocks”!

So God made humankind in his image (Genesis 1:26), reluctantly giving everyone a free-will (He already knew how it was going to turn out). And just as He foresaw, almost immediately, it went downhill! Whining and complaining just as God predicted. Adam and Eve started it. You know, if you read Scripture, it reads like a litany of pouters and grumblers: Cain, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Sarah, the apostles. I could go on and on. And, yes, we do the same thing. Shake our fists and whine to God when our day doesn’t go as planned; when our kids don’t turn out as planned; when dinner is burnt; when we aren’t succeeding – obtaining enough “stuff” –  losing enough weight.

Come on, people!

“A cheerful heart is a good medicine.”—Proverbs 17:22

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” James 1:2

God gave us a sense of humor to help us over the rough spots. And, truth be told, to keep us from that incessant bellyaching, “Why me, Lord”? Wha, wha, wha…

And here’s something to ponder: If God didn’t have a sense of humor there might be some modern day Noah working diligently in his backyard!

If you are going to get through this life you had better learn to really laugh – I mean laugh till you pee – laugh, or the sorrows that come, and they will come, will eat you alive. I can’t tell you how often my life lessons are peppered with laughter; laughter at myself for doing something ridiculous. God has the uncanny ability to admonish me and then stick a mirror in front of me until I can no longer keep a straight face, “I saw that Linda Russell!”

It’s a beautiful thing to know that I am a deeply loved idiot!


LET US BE LOVELY – Edward Monkton

Let us be lovely,

And let us be kind,

Let us be silly and free.

It won’t make us famous,

It won’t make us rich.

But damnit how HAPPY we’ll be!

CDC Concedes: No Known Cure for #1 Cause of Death

(Originally posted 10/17/13)

After extensive research by the Center for Disease Control, it is confirmed that everyone who starts breathing will eventually stop. If you’re holding out for a miracle cure, I have some bad news for you. Are you sitting down? Stop breathing, and you’re gonna die. So, stop breathing at your own peril…


Do we really need the Center for Disease Control to tell us that we are ALL going to die?


Apparently, in our western culture anyway, many believe that if they ignore that 900 pound gorilla in the room, death will never darken their door.

Not so, folks. Sorry to be the one to dampen your dreams of living forever, at least here on this earth, in this body. It just ain’t gonna happen. Why does it matter? Because there’s a reason we refuse to accept that death is another part of our journey. Sadly, if we can’t bring ourselves to face our own mortality then those following us may be doomed to that same fear and uncertainty.

There could be any number of reasons we avoid the inevitable. Pick one or choose your own:

  • I am afraid of the unknown, and death is the ultimate unknown.  If someone, anyone, would just come back and tell me what it’s like…sigh…

Remember the rich man begging from hell that his five brothers be told of his torment so they wouldn’t end up there? The rich man said, “Then let me ask you, Father: Send him to the house of my father where I have five brothers, so he can tell them the score and warn them so they won’t end up here in this place of torment.” Abraham answered, “They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score. Let them listen to them.” “I know, Father Abraham,” he said, “but they’re not listening (my emphasis). If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.” Abraham replied, “If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.” Luke 16:27-31

  • I kinda like it here with all my _____________(fill in the blank)
  • I don’t want my husband to remarry some snarky woman who will raise my children. (That used to be my favorite. Never mind that I was that snarky woman!)
  • I wanna be here for: graduations, weddings, and grandkids. Oh yeah, and the anniversary when you get all those cool red vases and candy dishes you never use.
  • I have lots of plans: I have to finish school, finish a marathon, finish the dishes.
  • And, what I believe is probably the biggest reason: fear that my sins will come back to haunt me on that great Judgment Day. They are surely logged somewhere: I never forgave _________, I never asked forgiveness from ________, I never admitted to stealing ________, or lying about _________, or coveting ___________. And – the sin of sins – I missed Mass on October 23rd, 1974.

It’s all there. All my ugliness. I really intended to clean that up “one of these days” I just never got around to it because there was lots of time. I mean, I never considered that I would die at an inopportune time.

  • All the above.
  • None of the above.

Death is Cousin Eddie: obnoxious, showing up unannounced, making impossible demands, and flushing our sewage in the middle of the street for everyone’s viewing pleasure.


Beauty, for sure, but ugliness also manifests itself during the dying process: ours, that of the person dying, or both, as the world watches in horror and disbelief. “Whoa, didn’t see that coming!”

A good example was the funeral of my grandmother. With a room full of friends and relatives, my mother and aunt began to fight over who would get my grandmother’s…ready?…wheelchair. Not millions of dollars or prized possessions, but her wheelchair. There you go. What’s your worst memory? I’m sure you have one. We all have at least one.

As I sit here and write today, tears well up in my eyes from an experience I had just last night. When called by my supervisor, I will sit vigil with dying patients as a Hospice volunteer. I consider it a blessing and a privilege to be in such a holy place at such a time in a dying person’s life and to be with their loved ones if they’re there. Some are not by choice, as was the case last night. I cannot share details for obvious reasons, but I can tell you this – she was a believer, but her husband was not. They had no children and no other family. When her husband was told she would likely not make it through the night, he refused to go see her.

Now, I have no way of knowing why. She had dementia and was not coherent enough for me to understand her needs or the source of her torment. I can only speculate after reading volumes of examples from the experiences of hospice RNs. While appreciating that trying to fully understand what is happening during the dying process is impossible because it is one of God’s great mysteries, we do have hints of what may be taking place. For example, some people will not die until, say, a son from out-of-town arrives, or until a beloved spouse says they will be okay and gives them “permission” to die. They may be waiting to die until a loved one leaves the room. I am slowly witnessing glimpses of the mystery of God that unfolds within the dying process.

We just welcomed our thirteenth grandbaby two days ago. YEA! What an amazing event!!! Even at number thirteen, I am still awestruck by the magnificence of the beginning of life. Aren’t we all? Isn’t it just breathtaking? (Update 8/30/20150, we now have fourteen!)

But the end of life? Not so much.

I’m going to try my best, as inadequate as this may be, to summarize what I have grown to understand about death and dying. Bear with me.

Up until and at that moment of birth, we are most connected to the very core of our Being – God. Remember, God knew us before we were born: Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” Then, so many things go awry, don’t they?  We lose our way, push away, “cut the cord,” I suppose you could say, and go our own way.

Then the end comes. (I told you that was going to happen, right? Okay, just wanted to be sure I didn’t leave that little detail out.) So, guess what happens then? God shows up, if you will, to bring us back to our Core; back to His very Essence; back home. It’s mysterious and glorious. But, if we’re not ready; if we’re afraid, we will fight it with all we have left.

We so often struggle getting to that place of peace and trust in the process because of all of our “stuff”. And that’s what I believe was happening to the woman I sat with last night. This is what I know: she’s a believer, her husband is not (huge problem for her). They both were very ill and at some point promised not to put the other in a nursing home. That’s all I know for sure. The rest is speculation.

Her breathing would slow, then race, then stop – over and over again. She would seem to be peaceful one moment and then cry out inaudibly. What was she trying so desperately to say? Was it physical pain or emotionally torment? I don’t know. I prayed for her and her husband, and at times that would make her cry out. At one point, she said clearly, “Pray”. So I did. Is she still with us today? I don’t know as yet. But, here’s what is so important about what I have shared with you: Life should be lived each day as if it’s the last, because it may very well be. If you and I would just accept that fact and live accordingly wouldn’t we make our little world a better place while we’re here and possibly make our own dying something beautiful and memorable for our loved ones?

When it’s my turn to take that final journey I want my kids, my fourteen grandkids, and fifteen great-grandkids (updated 7/27/20) to witness the glory of God at His best and to not fear their own journey. I want to die with grace and surety that there is a loving and merciful God waiting for me with open arms. And I want to hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matt. 25:21) How cool will that be?!