By Norris Burkes Dec 9, 2018

Last week, I proudly donned my old Air Force marathon shirt to run the steep streets of my new community in the Sierra foothills.

The shirt reminded me of that day in 2013 when I ran the Dayton, Ohio, race, drenched in sweat and perhaps drowning in pride. After all, I thought, I wasn’t like the wimps who’d attempted only the 13-mile half marathon or those who’d run the abbreviated relay race.

I assumed the role of self-appointed monitor so as to confirm that only those who were qualified wore the 26-mile marathon shirt. I expected all other runners to wear shirts that reflected their shorter commitments.

I know, judgmental. Not cool, right? A chaplain should aim higher in his thoughts. But I’m not perfect. I’d trained hard and I wasn’t about to share bragging rights with short-cutters. I didn’t want anyone on my Sacramento-bound plane to be wearing the wrong shirt. A “poser,” as my children used to say.

The whole thing reminds me of religion.

“Wait, what?” you ask.

Stay with me as we chase this rabbit down the course.

My attitude during that marathon was similar to the one people often take when comparing religions.

On a good day, we should be running the faith race together, albeit often with different purposes, different goals and varying distances, but still together.

Yet sometimes we employ the strategy I used in the marathon. We run only to note whether others are as committed as we believe ourselves to be. When we choose this judgmental path, we become distracted from the true course we’ve set for ourselves.

Take a moment and reflect on the course you’ve chosen to run.

For instance, if you’ve entered this race as a Christian, be happy that you run with a partner, Jesus himself. Run with fun, contentment and joy. Don’t compare yourself with other religions. Don’t be like me in the marathon wondering whether everyone is qualified to run beside you or what kind of reward awaits them at the finish.

If you are a member of any of the other eight major world religions, find your tradition, claim it and seek out the joy of your faith. You needn’t look over your shoulder wondering whether other faiths are stronger or faster. Just settle into your pace and run the race.

Or perhaps you run in a different lane as an agnostic or atheist. If so, feel the strength of the humanity that surrounds you, but don’t trip with the same pride that entangles some religious folks. Don’t be smug thinking yours is the only race. Avoid the detour of self-congratulation thinking you’re too smart or intellectual to spend your time with organized religion.

This holiday season, perhaps we can find some unity as we celebrate the privilege we all share in just being a race entrant. Take time to hold your loved ones close. Wish your fellow man and woman happiness and satisfaction in whatever race they choose to enter or distance they choose to engage.

Run with the encouraging words of the Apostle Paul who said, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

As for me, I’m working on my pride issue. I’m also working on another 26er, but this time it’s not miles. It’s the 26 pounds that have returned since running that marathon. Pride is a rough taskmaster and it will always finish last.