Would Jesus race? I had never pondered that question until I received this posting from Off the Couch contributor Sara Knutson.
Deep in her divinity studies at Boston College, Knutson reflects on the priorities in her life, and reaches a decision that would be unthinkable for many who love to compete.
It slipped out without conscious thought.
My friend Anna and I were out running last week, catching up after Easter break, and as often happens with us, the conversation shifted into a hybrid of politics and religion.
We were lamenting the state of poverty around the world, our thoughts fueled by having just read “Half the Sky,” a vivid investigation of world issues - forced prostitution, the lack of maternal medical care and the prevalence of rape - and an examination of the interrelation of those issues with poverty and human rights.
Anna and I are both grad students, trying to stretch our meager savings as long as possible. Compared to most of the world, we’re flush with cash.
“I gave up baking for Lent,” Anna said. “And it was hard. But I saved a lot of money by not buying chocolate chips and brown sugar for six weeks. What I should have done was donate that money to an organization or charity.
“I mean; are cookies a necessity?” she continued. “Do I really need chocolate chips when other people don’t have rice? What if I gave up baking?”
“What if I gave up racing?” I responded.
I had never thought about it before. Now I can’t stop.
I’m looking around my room right now. Books and papers for school, a few photo frames, a dresser full of clothes, a couple sets of shoes. I rarely go out to eat or to movies. I’ve been to Target once since moving to Boston, and to Wal-Mart not at all.
However, I’m a big spender in one way. The vast majority of my disposable income has for years gone toward the outdoors - primarily backpacking, cross country skiing, and running.
Don’t get me wrong, I think this is an excellent place to put my dollars. Gear lasts a long time, and I go backpacking and camping enough to make good use of it. I treasure my skis and use them every day during Wisconsin winters. Running this year has kept me fit, sane, and social.
The World Food Programme noted in a July 2008 report that it cost $225 per year provide nutritional support to an AIDS patient receiving end of life care and his or her family. Between race fee, air travel, condo, car rental, and food, the amount I spent on the Birkie in one weekend could have given three families the nutrition they need for an entire year.
Races vary in price, but I barely think about plunking down $25 for a 5K, and that’s enough to help microfinance an entrepreneur in Guatemala or Thailand. Marathons rarely cost less than $65, and they often require a night of lodging and a tank of gas to get there.
In the Final Judgment scene in the book of Matthew, Jesus pronounces: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” The more I reflect on that statement in my theology program or regular life, the more difficult it is to gloss over.
If I’m serious about living more generously, cutting out race fees is the logical place to start.
Why “basically? Well, if I qualify at Sugarloaf for the 2012 Boston Marathon, I will run Boston, as I may not get the opportunity again. However, I’ll ask my family to pay the race fee instead of giving me Christmas/birthday gifts, and I’ll donate the cash I would have paid.
There’s also a relay race in September that I committed to with friends, and I’ll need to think about that one further.
Even with those exceptions, I’ll be dropping several races over the course of the year. Most importantly, I’ll skip next year’s Birkie.
That will undoubtedly be the most difficult part. The Birkie is my favorite weekend of the year. I always go with the same people, soak up the atmosphere, revel in the race, and let the memories overlay one another year by year.
I promised a friend just last month that I would never miss a year. In fact, I’ve registered already for 2012.
Still, given my current location, that race is by far the biggest single expense in my budget. To give myself a pass for the Birkie would undermine the whole premise of cutting back so as to live more generously. For one year, the Birkie and I can live without each other.
This decision is by no means an indictment of races in general. They build community bonds and give people a goal to work toward, and I’m certainly aware that many races exist to support worthy organizations.
I have no intention of avoiding the race scene. The last time I volunteered for a race was in high school. I can’t wait to lend a hand again.
I can give more time to helping friends train for their races. I can get the beginning running series started that I’ve envisioned for my school, with a 5K as the final accomplishment.
Surprisingly, I’m excited. I can’t wait to write bigger checks to Kiva and CRS.
The Sugarloaf Marathon just ballooned in importance to me (my only chance to qualify for Boston!). I’ll be able to give back to racing, and maybe even find a free race or two to participate in along the way.
This is going to be good.
Knutson is a runner and skier and Shorewood native (class of 2002) who now lives in Boston, Mass.