Guest Outpost blog by Alex Becker
I used to be a runner.
Back in elementary school, my parents thought it would be a good idea for me to join track. I guess they figured that my running around wild at home might translate well into running in between painted white lines on the middle school’s black rubber track. They were right. In fact, running sprints and doing long jump wasn’t enough for me, and I joined cross country in seventh grade. In high school cross country, we ran a 5K every weekend and I built some incredible friendships with my teammates as we trained and raced together on a daily basis. I never ran very fast, never made varsity, never earned my team any points. But I loved it.
During my junior year, when my friends were really improving their times, I stopped getting better. In fact, I started getting worse. Towards the end of one particularly easy run, I took my pulse – it was well over 200. The coach got worried, my parents took me in for a stress test, and I was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse. Between that diagnosis, my other interests and a difficult upcoming senior year, I decided to make my junior year cross country season my last.
I have known that I wanted to be a pastor since before I quit running, and I learned during my college years that pastors tend to be one of the least active, least healthy groups of people. Yet despite two failed attempts to start running again (with the help of my doctor), I couldn’t motivate myself to stay healthy. I don’t think I ever would have run again if it wasn’t for Sweaty Sheep.
In seminary I met this off-the-wall guy named Ryan Althaus who thought he could bring runners together to experience God. He called his ministry Sweaty Sheep, and he asked me to help him build the ministry – knowing that I wasn’t a runner anymore. He knew intuitively that there was a connection between my body and my soul – that if I ran, I would find God running beside me. And he was right.
As I served with Ryan in Sweaty Sheep, I rediscovered both my running and the value God placed on my body. I saw how helping people to take charge of their eating disorders allowed them to be fed by the Lord’s Supper. I was surprised to see the church where I interned form a kickball team for the Sweaty Sheep league (go Predestinators!) with bright pink team shirts! I was humbled when I went to Kaleidoscope adult day care to help people with severe mental and physical disabilities exercise and play. I was inspired by the dozens of people who spent an entire Sunday ministering at an aid station with me to cyclists who were halfway through an Ironman Triathlon. And as I witnessed all of these things and more, I realized more and more deeply that God wants me to do more than write beautiful sermons and pray poetic prayers; God wants me to preach with every step I take and pray with every breath I breathe.
Sweaty Sheep brought these experiences primarily to people who were interested in athletics and new ways of doing church; I want to bring them to every church in my denomination. This is the motivation behind Active Life Sunday: to remind us that our bodies – broken as they may be – are nevertheless God’s gift to us. To encourage us to take care of ourselves, to go out and play, to perform acts of kindness and service in our communities. To help us treat our neighbor as a whole person, not just a set of financial, emotional or spiritual problems. On June 26, the second Active Life Sunday, I hope churches around the country take the opportunity to plan a 5K, launch an exercise group, commit to making their sanctuaries handicap accessible, invite a local nutritionist or food educator to speak, start a book study on a book like “Every Body Matters” or organize a field day for the both the kids and the adults in the congregation. I think taking seriously God’s call to live active lives – as individuals and as the church – will rejuvenate a community and reconnect them with the movement of the Holy Spirit.
I’ve started running again, and even though I’ve moved on from my ministry with Sweaty Sheep, I still make sure to exercise three times a week. Sometimes I run, sometimes I walk and sometimes I go out back and garden. No matter what I do, I try to do it giving thanks for the body God has given me, praying with each breath the same prayer Paul shared with the Philippians: that “Christ will be exalted, now as always, in my body.” May Christ be exalted in yours as well!
ALEX BECKER serves as the pastor of Langcliffe Presbyterian Church just outside of Scranton in the wonderful town of Avoca, Pennsylvania, where you might catch him out for a run, or more likely a walk.
Bulletin inserts for this year’s Active Life Sunday are available here.