Ever See a Kenyan Run? (by Casey Beckley)
Ever watch a Kenyan run? Most of us have only had this pleasure if we’ve had the misfortune of being committed to watching a back of the pack marathon runner and we see the Kenyans with their East African brethren zip by while we wait and wait. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of Kenyans run.
In my nine or ten visits to Kenya, I’ve rarely seen the average Kenyan run for recreation or health reasons. By contrast, many Americans run because we feel guilty about last night’s dessert or double-bacon cheeseburger. I’ve seen Kenyans run because they are VERY late for work, VERY late for school, or are playing soccer.
Even the ones who look least athletic have the same gate as the few I have seen who are obviously VERY good at it. The latter run like gazelles, hovering over the ground. But both run like boys and girls who learned to run without shoes.1 Meaning, they aren’t cloggers. They don’t bow their heads beaten and low, slam their heels into the ground, jar their knees sideways with impact, and then wonder why their knees stab with pain and lower back hurts. They all run on the front or mid-foot, kicking up their heels behind their rear, head tall in the sky. I’ve never seen a Kenyan with more pride or better posture than when they run. I’ve seen the same posture in a Kenyan child running alongside me giggling “How are you?” as they run past me in their flip-flop sandals, or a 30 something day laborer trotting in his work shoes.
How is it that a people with little or no footwear technology run so elegantly? To run fast, don’t you need the right equipment, orthotics, and wraps? Or do our Western ideas of what it takes to run actually slow us down, or push us into injury? I’ve been running minimalist for over a year and have no nagging aches caused by injury. Two years ago I started my recovery from a stress fracture in my tibia while wearing cushioned motion control $120 shoes. While rehabbing, I was set free by my minimalist shoe evangelist Physical Therapist, then went sans cushion while revamping my form and have now run a LTB marathon and 10K.
Watching and appreciating a group of Kenyan men run by me while I waited for some friends, I wondered, “How much has my faith been cushioned with Western ideas of what spirituality or what life with God should look or feel like?” I don’t mean Jesus or Christianity need to get thrown out. After all, Jesus was a Jewish man from the Middle East – hardly an Anglo Western European. Who made who Western? Instead, I wondered “How have others taken the purity of the Scriptures and what it is to follow Jesus, and told me its all about an easier more comfortable life. How have I bought into thinking faith and even following God’s plan for me is about me and less about – obey me, love me, follow me, bear fruit, pray. (John 15)?”
As I’ve tried to answer these questions, I’ve come across these answers and further questions. First, I’ve needed to discern what is being produced, sung, and written for my consumption and cushion. Christianity has an industry that is funded by our desire for an easy me-Centered Christian life, and they’ve got lots of people buying. I’ve got good, really good friends in these fields, and I work for a company with a publishing arm. (I’m on thin ice here.) That’s just to say that I bought my new, and beautiful Merrell Trail Glove minimalist shoes at the same store that sells 1-1/2-inch platform cloggers that cushion the impact of inappropriate form. My neighborhood sporting goods store makes money selling what is popular, not necessarily what is good for my feet, not sure why we would think Christian retailers are different.
Secondly, I’ve seen how and when I say “No” to God because what he is calling me to seems to hard or is moving me towards greater the sacrifice of cushion and comfort. Most of us would want to think we don’t say “no” to God. However, I know my propensity to give to the poor and the work of the Gospel only AFTER I’ve bought what I want. My tendency to give from my left-overs at minimum indicates a lack of obedience to the most basic of Christian duties – generosity.
Remember, it’s not about buying or finding the right shoes that give us correct form and speed or endurance. It’s about you being the right form. Following Jesus, the original minimalist sandal-wearing runner, the one who came to show us how to do it and to make it possible.
** If you ever make your way to Kenya, Native American Reservations, or anywhere where people who have been beaten down live, you’ll be shocked to see the numbers of kids barefoot, particularly in rural areas leaving them in danger of disease and infection.
Casey Beckley has been a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for the past 12 years. He can’t believe people give him money to be with college students, learning from their perspective on the world, and having their passion for worship and Scripture rub off on him. Find him on Facebook.