The long present COVID-19 pandemic and the unrest resulting from racial injustices have caused me to recall my days of racing marathons, those races of 26.2 miles. Both the pandemic and racist acts are grinding us as if we were in the final miles of a marathon , and we need to remind ourselves that the way to finish strong is to maintain our form, which is gained from proper training for the race or knowledge acquired through study to make us better citizens. Let me explain.
When I raced a marathon I trained to run a steady pace, and when my energy began to ebb, as it would, I concentrated on my form: Maintaining a relaxed arm rhythm with my head erect as I aligned my shoulders, hips, and knees over my feet. I also kept a good foot strike by gently landing on the outside of each heel and then rolling to the big toe before pushing off. By keeping a relaxed, upright posture I held fatigue at bay . Concentrating on form, not food or some other such subject, worked best for me, and I recommend it still for any road racer or athlete in any sport. Thinking about my task helped me continue racing as I passed runners whose form had melted into the roadway causing their last miles to be grueling. In any race, even the 100-meter dash, or other athletic event, form is important, and a racer’s form is a result of his or her training. Or knowledge when we think of citizenship.
Like the marathoner, citizens can perfect a form made from knowledge to follow in these times of racial injustice. The form that I write of is our individual and collective knowledge of our history, literature, religion, and more. For instance: Knowing the name Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and some of his accomplishments is a good beginning. However, we should go a step more and read and study, for example, his essay Letter from the Birmingham Jail, but do not stop there. Read the April 12, 1963 appeal to “local blacks of Birmingham” that was signed by eight religious leaders and printed in many area newspapers. Read their condemnation of Dr. King as “an outside agitator” and then read his essay in answer to their words. By doing this, you will earn more about the struggle for racial justice and develop an appreciation for some people’s impatience 50 years after Dr. King penned his magnificent words. Reading like this is training for citizenship and like the training to race a marathon, it is difficult and requires diligence. It is not easily required but when done it will lead to a better result.
The COVID-19 plague continues to wear on us. Some of us ignore safety protocol in a belief that “rights” are being infringed upon by any governmental restriction that aims for public safety. We are tense. We are tired. We are troubled. Yet, if we read John Barry’s fine study of a horrific flu epidemic one hundred years ago, The Great Influenza, we will be better equipped to place our struggle in an important historical context and act from that perspective; not one of selfish disregard for others. Again, an understanding of what has come before us helps us to better battle our foes today. Just as the trained marathoner is less likely to fall apart in the latter miles of the race, the enlightened citizen will be stronger when events cause crises. Form from training and study holds.
Just like a well-trained marathoner or athlete who benefits from good base-training, a modern sufferer will benefit from knowledge and have solace because he or she will rely on that base. Out of that solace will come patience which is necessary for productive action. And we need action today, but action based on facts, not emotions. The patience that grows out of knowledge will help us see the complexities we face and to understand how we came to where we are and to find solutions. The marathoner, to race a good race, must prepare by training for a goal, and as citizens we must prepare for the goal of citizenship. The two examples cited above are historical and literary, and while they and more resources are valuable for training or preparation to have a productive and quality filled life, I also recommend another base to help when weariness sets in; and just as in a marathon, every-day life will cause fatigue for every person. The marathoner knows that fatigue will come, and he or she trains to be prepared for that pain. Citizens will also face fatigue and through knowledge they will be better prepared to act in a civil manner that leads to positive results, not a rattling of sabers.
We all will benefit from a higher power. As a Christ follower, I read and study my Bible, but the Sermon on the Mount is what I draw from most—especially when I am weary as I am now. During the 1960’s I marched and protested against the war in Vietnam and for equality in America. I know the sting of gas agents and the useless destruction that can come from an angry mob, which Mark Twain described as an army without a leader. I see that same anger now, but offer that if we, Christ followers or not, follow the words in Matthew 5-7, we would be better for it. Speaking to a large crowd on a mountain, Jesus gives instruction for living. Self-respect. Respect for others. Decency. Forgiveness. Dignity. Instruction for a productive life and a life of quality.
Dr. Clarence Jordan founded and lived on Koinonia Farm in Southwest Georgia during the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 60’s. His life proved that if we follow the teaching of The Sermon on the Mount, we will have the training that is necessary when the fatigue of running our marathon sets in. And that training will enable us to maintain form, to finish not only the race, but to finish it well.