“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”Matthew 5:43-44
I’ll be honest, I don’t really have an enemy. There is no one that I know who I really, genuinely hate. The closest are probably those on the extreme conservative right wings of the church who use the Bible, quote scripture and use the name of Jesus for selfish gain, control of people those who follow them and to exclude anyone who has a different point of view. Hate is a strong word, but they take the words of scripture that I hold dear, the words which have been a guide to my understanding of life, love and relationships and they use them to drive fear into those who will listen and drive away those who won’t. They disgrace my faith and the Jesus who they purport to honour and worship. That is all an aside to explain that there is no one person who I know, who I’ve ever met, who I hate.
I do carry hatred for things like injustice and sometimes my disdain becomes apparent in my words or actions in opposition to someone. I frequently disagree with policies and practices of the Conservative Party (I disagree with Labour, Lib Dem and Green too but not with such veracity or frequency), I can’t stand the rhetoric and lies spread by Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and other but I don’t hate them as people. I wasn’t a fan of Jeremy Corbin as leader of Labour, but I didn’t hate him.
The one thing I can say that I really do hate, that I can do something about, is running distances. I don’t mean I don’t like it a little bit or that I have grown to dislike it since I grew older and less fit, I mean I really hate it.
I recall being in primary school and having to run around our school field. Mostly this involved walking and running occasionally as we rounded a corner and saw a teacher. I can still recall sports days and enjoying the competition of a sprint, hurdles or and obstacle race but the shear embarrassment of having teachers, pupils and parents watching as I ambled around the field wishing the moment would end and someone would swallow me up.
Things didn’t improve in high school. During PE we’d have to do a ‘road run’ which involved running a figure of eight around a few roads and then a smaller loop. It is the one thing I can remember cheating at. And when I say cheat, I was clever enough not to get caught. I’d head out the gate with the crowd and be up with the leaders (I was reasonably good at sport and would get picked occasionally for teams or to represent the school at athletics). As we rounded the first corner and got out of sight of teachers I’d slow down, walk and get myself to a good position to re-join the pack as they came around the last section of the figure of eight. At this point I would get myself into the first 10 places (but not too close to the front) as we ran past the teachers and then I could jog and walk with enough pace to finish just outside the top 10. I made myself appear mediocre so as not to arouse suspicion but didn’t finish last because I wanted to get showered and changed quickly.
My downfall came when a team of runners were selected to represent the school at a cross-country race. I wasn’t included… that it until another boy had to drop out for some reason (I assume they were ill) and apparently I was next on the list! I couldn’t find an excuse quick enough as I was called out of registration, asked if I had my PE kit and then hurried onto a mini-bus with the rest of the running team. I have cast the worst memories of that run out of my mind, but I do recall that there was me and one other lad from another school who pretty much walked the entire course. We didn’t see any other runners from the moment the race started. We never spoke to each other but the whole way around we’d be walking and then one of us would begin to run for a while so the other would join in. Then we’d slow down and walk again. As we finally and exhaustedly reached the finish line all that remained of any evidence of a race were the mini bus from my school and the one from his, all students and staff on board and ready to leave. The other school buses had already gone, any cones, bags or bottle of water were cleared. We both sprinted to our respective buses and I have no idea whether I ended up last or second to last, it didn’t matter, it was over and the lads on the bus weren’t going to let me forget how slow I must have been.
And so to this Lent. I have watched over the years as friends of mine post photos of their latest run on Facebook. 20 miles here, 40 miles there. Marathons, park runs, fun runs (there is no such thing in my view), ridiculous mountain marathons or extreme distance running. Sometimes there is a fund raising page for a marathon and I think to myself, ‘Why would I sponsor you? You run 26.2 miles all the time for pleasure.’ I have sponsored marathon runners though, and folk who have run shorter courses, when I can see the effort they have put in to start from no running to building up their fitness and confidence, training come rain or shine and pushing themselves to run for a cause they believe in.
More recently I have been inspired by friends and family members who have decided to take up running and have improved their fitness and, in my view more importantly, their mental well-being. My brother invited me about 18 months ago to join him for some kind of sponsored run that would be about 16km. I simply refused. I don’t run. I hate running. Running is my enemy.
And yet, something has been niggling away. Perhaps it’s the amount of time at home because of the covid pandemic; the questions my doctor now asks (since I turned 40) about cholesterol and diet; the pair of trousers that no longer fit; the reflections I do which emphasise the importance of healthy mind, body and soul (and admitting that I focus less on the body which impacts on the others); maybe it’s part of a mini midlife-crisis; it could be that I get easily exhausted hanging around with my kids. Whatever the reason I have been reflected that I don’t want to live my life carry a hatred for anything or anyone. I want to overcome my loathing of running and have therefore decided that Lent is the perfect time to find out whether I can learn to love my enemy, or at least look my life long enemy in the face and say you will not defeat me. So I am taking on the Couch to 5km with Lent as my starting time frame to get a feel for it.
As I run I will also be reflecting, as I have been over the past few months on who is my enemy. Not just my hatred of running but those I am seeing as an enemy of Christianity, faith and scripture – the extreme conservative right wings of the church. Since the appalling events of 6th January, 2021 when a group of thugs stormed the Capitol Building in Washington DC I have been asked myself what is the distance between me and those who instilled me with anger, pain and sorrow as they sang songs of worship – songs I have sung in churches many times and which hold special memories for me – as armed men and women smashed windows, desecrated offices, sought a lynching, and in which 5 people were killed. Their acts of worship on the steps of the Capitol building was like having them spit on the face of my faith as they blasphemed the name of Jesus is such a publicly arrogant and misguided way. I have a faith that says I should seek to love my enemies. They are the hardest people for me to love right now, so I must pray for them. Just like me taking up running, this is a distance run, a marathon and not a sprint.