When asked what he would do if told the world would end the next day, Martin Luther commented that he would plant a tree. In other words, Luther remembered the words of Jesus, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only,” (Matthew 24:36). About a decade ago there was a lot of conversation around the Mayan calendar presumably predicting the end of the world on the first day of 2012. A few days before that New Year I made a resolution — it was not to plant a tree; I lived in Wisconsin and it would have been much too cold. Instead, I pledged to run at least a mile every single day that it was physically possible.
Had the world ended as the Mayan calendar projected, this resolution would have been easy enough to keep. Instead, doing my best Forrest Gump imitation, I ran every single day for more than six years at an average of nearly five miles a day. A case of the flu, which landed me in the hospital, ended that streak (Concordia students who saw me collapse at the altar while leading worship and then being carted off by ambulance will not soon forget that day). After a week of rest, I resumed my resolve and started another consecutive-days running streak.
Streak 2.0 ended three-and-a-half years later this past October. For some inexplicable reason I missed the bottom step leading to the basement in my daughter and son-in-law’s Michigan home and fell. In the process I completely tore the quad tendon from my right kneecap and dropped to the floor writhing in excruciating pain. After yet another ambulance ride to the hospital, it was clear that surgical repair would be necessary. The subsequent healing and rehabilitation, I am told, will prevent me from running for at least six months and perhaps as long as a year. Completely unexpected!
Everything was going so well. The below photo was from a race only a month before the injury. My quads were fine, and I was running strong. One single misstep, and I went from running between four and five miles every single day to not running at all. Running, not running, just like that.
One of the things that excited me about retiring after 24 years as president of Concordia University was stepping away from church politics. So many things about the politics of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod frustrated me, and I was content to run away and move to Texas where it is warmer in the wintertime and where we could be near our grandchildren and watch them grow. Frankly, that still sounds good to me. Becoming president of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod has never been my aspiration. From not running suddenly to running was not at all what I expected.
Taking this big step, however, is not inexplicable. I was asked to run — enough times by enough people that I began to pay attention. The concerns and frustrations that I had before I retired have not diminished. If anything, they have increased. I am running because I am concerned and frustrated. More than that, however, I am running because I know we can do so much more, and so much better together. Pushed forward by our hopes and not driven by our fears, I am in this race because, in the long run, so much is at stake. Our neighbors, near and far, will hear from us the powerful promise of the saving Gospel; our children and grandchildren — along with their unchurched friends and classmates — will grow in their faith in Jesus and their love for the church; and our colleagues in church work will be supported in their service as we rejoice in the “mutual conversation and consolation” of brothers and sisters in Christ.
I realize that some would say that I ought not to be “running” at all. The office should seek the man and not the man the office. Trust me, this was not my idea! I could employ a euphemism and say that “I am willing to let my name stand.” To stand or to run — running, not running, running — I am convinced that it is time for us to move forward. The election of the president of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod is part of a political process. Politics, as we observe all around us, is often rather unsavory business. Regrettably, that happens in the church, too. My hope, by contrast, is that we would be able as a Synod to “walk together,” indeed, to run together in a way that allows us respectfully to support and encourage one another even as we compete.
Over the years I have run in lots of races. I can count on one finger the number of times that I actually won one (it was a small field). For me, running in this race is not so much about winning as it is about allowing competing ideas and perspectives to be considered. I respect and support my brothers who also run (or let their name stand). Running, not running, running — however you want to describe it — what we are doing is not easy, but it is good for the Body of Christ.