The Drum Major Instinct

Early in my community organizing career (which, let’s be honest, wasn’t that long ago), I was required to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon entitled “The Drum Major Instinct”. I haven’t thought about it in about a year, but it came into my mind this weekend during Mass.

Everyone should read this piece by MLK. But just so you understand the context for this blog post, MLK discusses our very human desires for recognition, importance, attention, and just in general being first. He describes the scene in Mark when James and John ask to be seated at Jesus’s left and right. Instead of condemning James and John like we might be predisposed to do, we should realize that there must be a reason all of us have this instinct – what MLK calls the drum major instinct. Like all other things we’ve been given by God, this drum major instinct has been so perverted that we use it to get ahead of others by pushing them down. But Jesus’s response doesn’t indicate that James and John should get rid of their desire to be the best. He simply redefines the definition of greatness.

So why did this come into my mind at Mass this Sunday? Well, every Sunday, I always seem to be struck by someone who seems holier than I do. Who smiles at the perfect time. Who looks solemn and contrite in the appropriate places. Who can recite everything without looking at her Missal. And who generally looks so focused on the Word and on God in the Mass that I wonder how I can get that focused.

This Sunday, I felt a twinge of guilt about it. I should be thinking about God and his mercy and love, after all. Not comparing myself to someone else. I do enough of that outside of church.

But then I thought, well, isn’t that why we have saints? To strive to be as good and holy as people who achieved the highest level of union with God before us?

Sure, this can quickly become distorted. There’s the typical “holier than thou” stereotype about less-than-welcoming religious people, after all. What else is new? My research on Theology of the Body is another example of how a great gift can be corrupted by our sins. But TOB shows us that we must harness the gift of sexuality to get the joy and peace we can out of it. Similarly, we must harness this gift of achievement that we’ve been given by God if we truly want to feel accomplished. And that means serving. Serving individuals. Serving communities. Serving the world.

So I won’t feel so bad about looking up to someone else in Mass anymore. As long as I remember that my desire to be better is ultimately for the benefit of God and fear of his judgement, not for or because of anyone else who’s sitting in the church that day.

“Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right side or your left side, not for any selfish reason…I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.”

Keep striving.



10 Bible Verses That Connect Running to Catholicism

I’m not surprised there are so many verses in the Bible about running or endurance sports. In fact, running is one of the most important things that brought me to the Catholic Church, since it prepared me for the spiritual discipline required in my faith.

Here are some of my favorite Bible verses for running!

10 Bible Verses That Connect Running to Catholicism

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, who you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. 1 Corinthians 9:25

Let us…persevere in running the race that lies before us. Hebrews 12:1

…all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. Hebrews 12:11

…while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future. 1 Timothy 4:8

I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

…we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope. Romans 5:3-4

Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace. Acts 20:24

They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. Isaiah 40:31

Let your eyes look straight ahead and your gaze be focused forward. Survey the path for your feet, and all your ways will be sure. Proverbs 4:25-26

Want to connect physical discipline with spiritual discipline? Sign up for the #CatholicWomenRun challenge! We start December 4!


What Are You Missing?

Jesus was a pair of hiking boots for me today.

Let me start from the beginning. This weekend I’m going on my first ever backpacking trip. I’ve run half marathons and marathons. I’ve hiked to the top of El Capitan. But I’ve never hiked the distance of a half marathon or marathon while carrying 20-30 pounds of stuff on my back. And then camping overnight. And then doing it all again the next day.

This doesn’t particularly sound fun to me. But neither did running. And I love the feeling of accomplishment I get from that. The pain hurts so good. So I’m intrigued to see if backpacking is the sort of misery I will enjoy.

My boyfriend and I started packing for this endeavor on Wednesday night. I didn’t understand why it was necessary to pack so early. Then we started doing it. I started getting stressed thinking about all of the things I needed in my backpack. But my boyfriend pointed out that it was better to be stressed thinking about all of the things you need and all of the possibilities of what could go wrong before we were out on the trail rather than on it. I was a grumpy person that night, but I’m glad we packed so early.

Especially because, last night, we realized that I didn’t know where my hiking boots were.

The last time I needed to wear them was in August. And I moved in June. I searched the house three times. I checked my car twice. My boyfriend checked his car two or three times. We called his parents, who had helped me move, and asked if they happened to find my boots in one of the boxes they let me borrow.

My hiking boots were gone.

We still haven’t found them. I normally put my hiking boots in a trash bag after I wear them on the trail, since they get pretty muddy and I don’t want them getting my car or my boyfriend’s car dirty. So, unfortunately, my boots may have accidentally been thrown away.

Last night was pretty bad. Like I mentioned in my last post, I have some mental health issues. I get really upset about small things, which turns into a downward spiral of blaming and hating myself. Losing my hiking boots isn’t necessarily a small thing, since I needed hiking boots for my backpacking trip in..uh..two days. But it is much less of a deal than I made it out to be. I started thinking things like, “It’s my fault. I’m so stupid. How could I throw away my boots? I don’t deserve to go backpacking because I can’t even take care of something that cost so much money. I’m a horrible person.”

I was aware how stupid this was as it was happening. Sometimes when I’m in an episode like that I’m not as aware. But since I was, that’s what helped me snap out of it. My next thoughts were, “Hey, wait. It is pretty ridiculous that you might have thrown away your hiking boots. But stranger things have happened. There’s still time to fix this since you started packing so early. It’s going to suck to buy new hiking boots. But you can do it tomorrow.”

So I did. I went to the local outdoor store after work today and got new hiking boots. And as I was driving there, I thought about how this story could be a metaphor for the spiritual life. (Yes, that’s how much I think about the spiritual life. Almost anything can be a metaphor for it.)

You can do all of the preparation and get all of the important things you need for salvation. I need all of the things I packed that first night – food, water, flashlight. But if you’re missing the one thing that puts your feet to the ground to move you forward, it’s all for nothing. That could be hiking boots. Or it could be Jesus.

There’s a spiritual metaphor for the way I reacted, as well. I started demeaning myself, blaming myself, telling myself I wasn’t worthy because I had made a poor decision. I almost let it stop me. I was going to stay home all weekend and mope while my boyfriend and friends went on without me. How often do we tell ourselves that we’re unloved because of a decision we’ve made? How often do we settle for something less because we don’t feel like we’re deserving enough of the thing we really want?

But that is not the Truth. And I recognized that the first voice in my head was being irrational. There was a simple solution. Granted, it was a hard solution for my bank account. But if I wanted to go backpacking, I needed to do what needed to be done and get the essential thing that I needed. In the same way, we have to do what we need to do in order to follow Christ. Often what He calls us to do is difficult. It can even hurt. But He is the most essential thing. And if I want to reach that eternal mountain, I need to go after Him.

I hope you always find exactly what you need. And if you don’t, I hope you remember that you’re worthy enough to chase after it.


The Other Topic That Needs to Be Included When I Write About Running and Catholicism

Today I realized how connected all of the different forms of my brokenness are. I have embraced running and Catholicism, because they have healed my mental health and body image issues.

It all started as I was prayed the rosary yesterday. Like every Tuesday when I pray the rosary, I reflected on the Sorrowful Mysteries. This includes the crucifixion. But for the first time, I thought about my own crucifixions. Specifically, how the death of some of my identities and resurrections from those “persons” have turned me into someone who may look completely different. Yet all of those versions of me have formed who I am today.

Let’s be honest – runner and Catholic were not ways I would have described myself in high school. I actually hated running. I used to wear a back brace for my scoliosis in middle school. So high school runs just gave me horrible flashbacks about running around outside with a bulky plastic mold making my clothing stick out. And although I was dating a Catholic boy in high school, and my mother taught Spanish in a Catholic high school, I was Jewish. I didn’t realize I had any mental health issues then. But now I can definitely see how my insecurities and anxieties caused me to form unhealthy, codependent relationships with friends and family.

In undergraduate, I didn’t even really claim any religious identity, since I wasn’t connected to my Judaism anymore. I couldn’t find a Jewish group that I liked on campus. My favorite groups were actually my Classics Club and the group of girlfriends I formed in the last three years. As for running – I was finally getting there. I picked it up for short distances, off and on. Mainly whenever I was going through a broken heart. Because controlling my body and how it looked was how I coped with my anxiety in college. I exercised to look a certain way, and I was constantly on some sort of diet. Yet, oddly enough, I also became promiscuous and claimed that it was because I loved my body and could decide exactly what I wanted to do with it. And what I wanted to do with it was gain pleasure – even though it never really felt that good and I never was satisfied. Most of the time, it was just the opposite. I felt lonely, unloved, and unloveable. However, there is always redemption. And in this time, the redemption is that even though I didn’t truly love my body, it did help me to learn more about it. This is where the seed of natural birth control and fertility tracking was planted in my mind.

Then came graduate school, when I recognized my unhealthy mental states. I started going to therapy. I became an Episcopalian and started going to my college campus. I formed a great group of friends in Christ. I began to run more seriously, and when I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon, there were a few people from my Christian small group that were there to greet me. I was still worried about being single, feeling that I was missing something, but I was beginning to heal. I could go much longer without dating anyone, or really doing anything sexual. I even went off birth control for a while because – well, I wasn’t having sex. This is when I truly noticed things about my fertility that made me excited and confident about my body. I think now that the Episcopal Church was where I needed to be because, at that point, trying to follow the Catholic “rules” exactly would have literally driven me crazy. Because I would have seen them as rules. I would have felt so unworthy because I wasn’t perfect that I wouldn’t have been able to hear and feel the love that God has for me.

After graduate school, I decided to explore the Episcopal faith by serving as an Episcopal Service Corps Intern in Los Angeles. This was exactly what I needed to see when it came to justice and social issues. So often, we judge people because we don’t know their experiences. I think my time in LA taught me that I must always be open to what other have to say because I can never know what they’re going through. This includes being open to God. Even now, I think my openness to learn more about the things in the Church that I disagree with is because of my time in LA. But, there were also some residual issues with feeling unloveable during this time. I have one big regret that was a result of a choice I made when I was feeling low. And I have a much smaller, but still significant moment that I can see as a shift in my perspectives. In any case, running was the way I decided to cope with these situations. I signed up for Team in Training and raised money for cancer research. Running showed me how much stronger I could get with just a little bit more work every week, as well as how much stronger people who seemed to have so much less than me were. It gave me a group of friends that weren’t as focused on night life and all that entailed, but rather getting up to run for a just cause. I began to love myself and my body because I could run. If someone couldn’t respect my running habit or who I was? That was their problem, not mine. I ran my second half-marathon in LA, as well as my first full marathon. I haven’t looked back ever since.

By the time I landed here in Kentucky, runner was definitely a part of my new identity. And I would say that my body image and sexuality issues were healed very quickly through God’s grace. I entered into a relationship where I didn’t have to worry about if who I was or the decisions I made about my own body would make him leave me. He respects me and loves me, just as I am. And yet we also push each other to be better and help each other grow into the best version of ourselves. God also immediately began using my job to show me how rich the Catholic faith is, both in its historical context and in its ideals of justice. God then used running and the high expectations of my job to demonstrate that restrictions and discipline are necessary and loving – not judgmental or hateful as I thought they were when I was Jewish or Episcopalian.

Now here I am. A blogger writing about running and Catholicism and – because I now realize how relevant this is to my journey – mental health and body image. The latter makes sense, since TOB is something I want to explore. But mental health is so intertwined with the body. So stress, anxiety, and how these have resulted in body image and sexual issues may come up more often.

This is just a rough timeline about who I was and who I’ve become. And it may not make a lot of sense right now because of that. But this is just the beginning of me exploring that. I just realized I couldn’t write about my body only from a running perspective. And that if I’m talking about my body and soul, I need to also write about my mind.

This blog, like myself, is a work in progress.


#CatholicWomenRun Challenge

Now that I have a running prayer journal, I’ve decided to create an opportunity for women to use it!

Catholic Women Run.png

Step 1:

Sign up to get your training plan and prayer journal!

You need one prayer journal to join the challenge. Sign up here to get it sent to you the week before the challenge starts. There are no recurring fees or hidden costs.

You will also get a training plan for a 5k or half marathon. I recommend you start with the 5k training plan if you’re new!

Step 2:

Post to Instagram with the picture above, or with this one:

I'm In! (1).png

Put @johnnaruns and #catholicwomenrun in the caption of your post. Meet other women who are doing the challenge by finding their posts in the hashtags. Then keep posting throughout your journey! I recommend posting every time you run to keep yourself accountable. That’s 3 days a week.

Step 3:

Follow along starting 12/4 with other women!

Everything you need will be sent to your email every week. Just read them and follow along! Challenge goes from December 3rd 2017 – February 25th 2018.

Chasing God during the Bourbon Chase

Yesterday, I completed my first relay race: the Ragnar Bourbon Chase!

The Bourbon Chase is a 200-mile race that starts in Clermont, Kentucky and ends in Lexington, Kentucky. There are 36 legs, with each member of the 12 person team running 3 legs each. There are two vans on a team, so 6 runners are in each van. Then you keep switching!

I was in Van 2, and I was the last runner in the Van. My first leg started at 6:22PM on Friday and was a total of 3.3 miles. My second leg started at 3:16AM on Saturday and was a total of 8.7 miles. My last leg – which was the last leg of the entire race! – started at 2:22PM on Saturday and was a total of 4.9 miles. So, in total, I ran almost 17 miles!

A year ago, I never would have thought I would do something like this. In fact, after my first marathon, a few people I had been training with were talking about a relay race they were training for, and I thought to myself that it sounded crazy. Then, last year, some people I was running with were doing the Bourbon Chase. This time, I said out loud that I would never want to do it.

I also remember saying I would never to a full marathon after my first half-marathon. And now I’ve done 2!

I feel like God laughs every time I say “never”.

This was one of the best race experiences I have ever had, so I definitely want to do it again.

Oddly enough, my favorite leg was the one in the middle of the night, which also happened to be my longest run. I had to wear a headlamp, a bright vest, and a few other lights on the vest to make sure that people driving could see me running since it was an open road course. I’ve never run at night before, especially not by myself. (Well, I wasn’t exactly by myself. There was always someone running a few feet ahead of me, or someone behind me. But not close enough that I could have a conversation with them.)

I started the run by praying the rosary. I forced myself to slow down when I said every piece. I matched a word or a syllable to each footfall. And since I’m a pretty slow runner, it forced me to pray the rosary much slower than I usually do. Overall, it took me about 30 minutes, which was about 3 miles of my nearly 9 mile run.

Next, I listened to an episode of the Catholic Feminist Podcast. That was another 40 or so minutes, so it left me with 2 more miles to entertain myself.

Finally, I decided to play some music by Ed Sheeran. The first song that come on the shuffle was Thinking Out Loud. This was so appropriate, since the opening line is, “When your legs don’t work like they used to no more.” I definitely felt like God was acknowledging the pain in my legs, and yet encouraging me to remember His love ans keep going. Not to mention that there’s a line “kiss you under the light of a thousand stars.” And since I was in the middle-of-nowhere Kentucky, I could see the moon and the stars much better than I could in a town or city. In that moment, I almost felt like God had made the beautiful night sky just for me.

That quiet time alone was exactly what I needed for that leg of the race. But God also knew that, for my last leg, I needed some human help. Unlike the second leg, the third one was in the middle of the day, so it was much hotter. I was at least 30 seconds per mile slower because of that. Even though I started praying the rosary again, it didn’t feel as meditative or as helpful the second time. Thankfully, there was an older man called Mark who caught up with me. He was struggling because of the heat, too. So we decided to stick together for the entire time. We didn’t talk too much, but we didn’t need to. It was still a tough leg, but having some company kept both of us accountable to sticking with it.

I’m still too excited after the race. But it will be nice to run without a particular goal in mind for a few weeks. I won’t be training for anything new until Advent.

When Advent starts on December 3rd, I’ve decided to start a #catholicwomenrun challenge!

I’ve created a prayer journal for Catholic women who want to train and strengthen their faith through running. If you want to be empowered to become a more perfect disciple of Christ in the world, sign up here!

Currently there’s a plan for a 5k and a half marathon, but any distance is possible! I recommend you start with the 5k if you’re new, though. 😉


Liturgical Running

I’ve been on a female Catholic podcast kick lately. They’re perfect for my runs, especially the longer ones. And since I’ve been dreaming up how running could fit into a ministry for Catholic women, listening to these podcasts inspires me and gives me great ideas.

There is one podcast I listen to that doesn’t fit into the “female Catholic” category. It’s called The Liturgy Guys. It’s just what it sounds like…three guys talking about liturgy. What it is, what it means, how to do it, etc.

It’s super relevant to my admittedly laser-focused thoughts right now, though. Because there is definitely a way to turn running into more than just physical exercise. Dare I say…running could be liturgical?

Hear me out.

There is a gap between us and God. We are not in perfect union with His will. Our goal is to make ourselves as perfect as we can be, but we will fail. Jesus is there to bridge the gap, of course. He’s the only one who can. Yet even knowing we will never achieve perfection, we don’t stop trying to get better. And that’s where liturgy come in.

As the liturgy guys explain in the first episode of the podcast, liturgy is an exercise in uniting us to God the Father. Liturgy is practical in that it transforms us. By going through the habits in the sacramental liturgy, we are literally training ourselves for heaven. We will know how to live in heaven because we’ve been learning the language, going through the motions, and generally conforming ourselves to that venue right here on earth.

This is why rules and regulations are necessary in the Church. I used to think the Catholic Church had too much red tape. Now, when I feel myself disagreeing with something, I instead ask God to open my heart and mind to discovering why that rule might be there. (For example, a few days ago I prayed for God to help me learn about why women can’t be priests in the Catholic Church. God has definitely been answering that prayer. Stay tuned for another blog post on that.)

Because here’s the truth. If you want to achieve perfection, there need to be restrictions.

I think running is what made my mind shift and become more receptive to Catholic teachings. Because if I want to run 26.2 miles, I can’t just do whatever I want. There is a training plan I have to follow. I didn’t follow it very well on my last marathon…and I felt horrible. Well, more horrible than I would have felt if I had trained correctly.

I used to say I wasn’t a runner. It took me a while to say I was. Probably not until after my third half marathon, actually. But now I have been transformed by it. My habits are different, my thought processes are different, my muscles and bones are different. Now I would definitely say that I am a runner.

In the same way, going to Mass every Sunday transforms me. I’ve also started going in the middle of the week, as well. That has sped up my transformation. I am surrounding myself by other Catholic women and their ministries and devotions. This turns my gaze toward God even more. I would definitely say that I am a Catholic woman.

Liturgy isn’t easy work. It’s not just coming to church on Sunday and sitting through the Mass, twiddling your thumbs and focused on the rest of your day. In order to achieve perfect action, there’s a lot of sacrifice. Jesus, the perfect example, gave the ultimate sacrifice. In the Mass, we celebrate Jesus’s surrender, as well as His resurrection. This teaches us that if we give ourselves over to God, with all of the sins within us, He will give us back something better – a sanctified self.

Similarly, running isn’t showing up on race day and being able to cross the finish line without a hitch. It takes a lot of work to run a race, and it takes a lot of work to achieve perfect action. The more you do it, though, the better you become. If you run every day, a little bit more every time, then you can reach 26.2 miles.

There’s sacrifice involved in running, too. The hardest part about running is often lacing up your shoes and starting. Because it’s not always fun, it doesn’t always feel good, and it takes away time you could be doing something else. But it makes you healthier. I may feel grumpy before I run, or even when I’m running, but I have never regretted it.

The Church is sacramental. That means we can encounter God through earthly things that reveal heavenly things.

How do I want to be transformed? I want to go to participate in all of the sacraments of the Church, of course. But I also want to run.