Running for My Life
By John W. Fountain
It’s almost winter now. Sweat pours like rivers of water as I pedal on the Lifecycle, my white, blue-striped towel draped over the bar to catch at least some of my perspiration. My music rings in my ears and I am focused on the task at hand. This is my morning ritual.
I am joined at my local gym by other like-minded, middle-aged folks battling the bulge and seeking to extract from faithful exercise all of its health benefits. But inasmuch as I have come to recognize the regulars, I cannot shake from my mind and soul those who are not here, or the visions of those black men left behind—those brothers for whom life has become a swamp, or whom the scars of life, in many ways, has left debilitated or crippled.
I know I could be one of them. I know that in so many ways I am like them, a glaring statistic, whether on this side of the grave or the other. And I know that after having survived life in the ‘hood, and even after having laid hold on my slice of the American dream, I am still running for my life.
I am a black man in an unforgiving land—where we lead the pack in heart attack and stroke and in the shortness of lifespan. And I am still honing my plan for survival.
On the physical side, I have found a community of wellness—medical Web sites and public dossiers on nutrition, herbs and supplements, on the importance of getting a routine physical, of not smoking. But on the spiritual side, I have found no single relevant and credible source for what ails me as a black man in America, where the toll of slights, innuendo and systemic racial friction and discrimination that accounts for much of the stress that leads so many of us to alcoholism, drug abuse and ill health—to the swamp.
The swamp. It is the place where some black men lie, where some of us cry in alcoholic tears, or writhe with addiction and fears. A place of darkness, where we teeter or too often are trapped, in part, by our inability to confide, even to each other, our failings, faults, foibles and fears through which we might find some solace, if not also some measure of healing from a group of brothers more bent on love and grace than on condemnation, criticism and reminding us of our mistakes.
OUR HOPE IN GOD NOT MAN
OUR HOPE IN GOD NOT MAN
Some would point me—us—toward “the church,” to the Lord’s House. It would seem a logical place for the healing of the souls of black men. But I—we—have gone there. Many of us were raised there. Saved there—and so many of us have come to find no balm there.
Even as I reflect over my 48 years, as the grandson of a Holiness pastor, I can recount few times that I found in my fellowship with men within the church the kind of nurturing, intimate, truth-sharing and real talk that might feed me in a spiritual sense beyond the platitudes and church-speak usually uttered in between half-sung sermons. And yet, I must hold fast to hope.
A hope that lies in the root of faith I saw in my grandmother and the church mothers whose prayers rose like the sun each morning; in my memories of their tenderness and also the love I felt when they stared into my brown eyes and saw all of my potential as a boy, as a man. It is a hope lies in having witnessed as a boy the fervent prayers of my grandmother answered and also in the truth that my hope—our hope, brothers—is in God, not in man.
So rather than leading you to “the church,” will you follow me—a sinful man, a brother with some issues, a brother with some struggles, a brother with some hurts, a brother who has made some mistakes in his life, a brother with failings, faults, flaws and fears—to the cross?
We need not go to church to do so. We need only to go to Him, down that short pathway toward repentance on our knees in prayer—in your closet, bedroom, living room—and beginning anew the journey of fellowship with God through His son Jesus Christ who needs not man nor building to heal us.
Inasmuch as my morning exercise is my physical medicine—part of my daily prescription against high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease—I know that it is time to return fully and completely to the cross for the most essential part of me. And I am running—back to the cross—for my life.
Brother to Brother is an occasional column on At the Well dealing with men and faith.