Running, Reasoning and Renewal

James Tonkowich | Columnist | Thursday, October 10, 2013

Running, Reasoning and Renewal

Just before his 50th birthday, my friend, Bruce Matson was in big trouble, a story he tells, along with the solution in his book The Race Before Us: A Journey of Running and Faith.

Bruce’s trouble was “big” in the sense that he was overweight. No only that, but he had or was developing the health problems that often attend overweight, things such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, “and a few other defects.” His doctor warned him that his body was headed toward diabetes. Added to that, he also suffered from what a sleep specialist called “a severe case of sleep apnea.” How severe? When he got the apnea under control, coworkers noted that his facial color was no longer gray.

The story of how he got in bad shape is the typical one. Bruce was very athletic as a young man. In college he participated in competitive canoeing and, for the fun of it, ran a marathon. In law school, he kept up his exercise, but then, he went into law practice.

Bruce continued to play some squash and is a great golfer, but between climbing the ladder as a young lawyer, growing a practice as a successful veteran, marriage, children, church, a social life, and all the other responsibilities of modern living, time for regular exercise became harder and harder to find. And a couple of decades later, Bruce was in big trouble.

His solution was not typical. He decided to run the next New York City Marathon.

That’s right, Bruce trained for about a year before running the 26.4 miles from the Staten Island side of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge all the way to Central Park. The book tells the story about how Bruce went from barely being able to run an entire mile to not only finishing the New York Marathon, but marathons in his home town of Richmond, in Boston, in Edinburg, and more.

Now if that was the whole story, I probably wouldn’t have spent a column to tell you about it, but it’s not the whole story.

Those of us who run and enjoy it (as opposed to those who run and endure it) know that there’s something about the rhythmic, repetitive sound and feel of feet on pavement that is almost hypnotic. Running has been compared to meditation for good reasons. It lets the mind roam in unexpected directions.

In Bruce’s case, his mind roamed to questions about his spiritual life. He grew up going to church and had gone to church all his adult life as well. While running in the months around his 50th birthday, he began asking questions that had never occurred to him before: “I recited either the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed each Sunday, but did I really believe what I said I believed? And if I believed, why did it believe?”

In this way, Bruce’s quest for physical health dovetailed with his quest for spiritual health. His book tells both stories: the strain of the final miles in any marathon and the strain of sifting the evidence for the existence of God, the deity of Jesus, the Atonement, and the reliability of the Scriptures.

As a lawyer, Bruce carefully examined the evidence for Christianity’s truth looking for any reasonable doubt. He read widely. Not satisfied with just Christian apologists, he confronted Christianity’s ardent critics as well. In the final analysis, he concludes, Christianity is true well beyond any reasonable doubt.

And yet, even then, in an all too human way, he honestly admits that when confronted with the question of trusting Jesus, it took time to come around. “I was afraid to trust anything or anybody other than myself,” he writes, “That plus my ongoing fear of the obligations that would likely flow from such a commitment held me back.”

Most books that look at the reasons to believe the Christian message offer arguments. And while there’s nothing wrong with arguments, our hearts are wired to respond to stories.

In The Race Before Us, Bruce Matson presents the reasons to believe in the context of his story as a lawyer, thinker, husband, father, and runner. Told with great transparency and candor, the book can help both believers and seekers in the race God sets before us.