April 9, 2021

Martyn Iles: A good racer, not just a Strava king.

I’m a Strava junkie. I check it every day.

You know Strava yeah? If you’re a runner, cyclist or triathlete, it’s the go-to app/website to upload your training. Strava is the social network for athletes. I put up my runs everyday on Strava. My hard training. My intervals. My long slow runs. My heart rate runs. Every run. Every day.

And I receive kudos from other Strava athletes that I follow. Lots of them. All of the time. I hand out kudos to other runners on Strava. I receive kind comments from people on Strava for my efforts. I hand out kind comments to people on Strava for their efforts.

And I love getting those little golden crowns for being the fastest on a segment (I still hold a few!). You get congratulations from Strava-central for those too. In fact Strava-central is full of backslapping for every “fastest”, “most often run”, “local legend” segment, plus a few more. Strava continually adds prizes and trophies for just about everything. Not everyone gets a trophy? Yes on Strava they do!

But here’s what Strava is not. It’s not the real race.

Sure you can upload your real race to Strava, and of course we do, good, bad and ugly though those races may be. But precious few Strava uploads are actual races. Precious few. And all the best training in the world, with all the kindest comments, and highest number of kudos, don’t mean jack if you can’t toe the line in the race and be in the mix at the end.

Being a Strava junkie can lull you into a false sense of security. Lull you into the sense that you’re racing all of the time. That somehow if you translated that training day hard run into a race, you’d be killing it. You start to compare yourself on Strava with everyone else on Strava (at least the ones you follow), and give yourself a small pat on the back that the sub-39 minute hard training 10km you did last week, would have placed you top 50 in the city’s ten km fun run if you’d upped the ante on the day. Given the weather, the opponents, that ankle niggle etc. But pretty sure it would!

In the end, Strava racing is a vanity project unless you can back it up on the day when the gun fires.

Last night on Australia’s cultural coliseum – the studio guest current affairs program – QandA, Martyn Iles, proved he was more than a Strava racer. He proved he could back it up when the gun fires. And that’s not even saying I agree with everything that Australian Christian Lobby does, and it’s certainly not that I endorse the Israel Folau thing. And as for any quibbling on vaccinations, don’t count me in.

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But when staring down the barrel of questions that the national leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK, Tim Farron – an evangelical – , blinked at, went red, and refused to answer when asked about on national TV; questions around sexuality, heaven, hell, judgement, salvation, Martyn was clear, respectful, direct and orthodox. Yep, that’s right, orthodox.

And at the moment Christian orthodoxy on these matters is heresy to the wider culture. I’ve been calling for a few years for some Christian to go on QandA and not merely present a vanilla Christian pastiche that has never gotten any pagan out of bed on a Sunday morning to turn up at a church and investigate. Why are we trying to present ourselves as sensible all of the time? What we believe is outrageous and it bleeds into our practices. Or it isn’t outrageous and we simply say what everyone else does and get a cultural biscuit for being good.

Martyn was outrageous in all the right ways last night. In spades. Everyone else in the Christian social media had their say in the days leading up, then they sat back in the bleachers and watched, as Martyn took off with the gun, measured his race, kept his head about him, and crossed the line in good shape.

Did he answer everyone in the audience or on the panel satisfactorily? Was everyone pleased that he had given them the fully orbed answer that sated their query? Course not. No one can and no one will. But he faced down a level of hostility that quite frankly most Strava Christians (Christian Facebook celebs who have a lot to say to a closed audience) have never experienced, and would leave them curled up in a ball in the corner.

The Strava racer-types who inhabit the virtuous echo chambers of so much Christian conversation had given their pre-race verdict of how bad it would be and that if they got the chance to actually toe the line they would “blah blah blah“. Or to put it another way, they would turn up, sound as sensible as the next QandA guest, and avoid answering anything too difficult, or that might get them mocked or scorned in public.

The social media analysts the day after the race? Most were a bit more generous. Monday’s experts always are. But Martyn was the one in the race, and even if you vehemently disagree with him on everything, he showed a dignity, a willingness to listen to others, and a gracious spirit that is often lacking from many Christian conversations on social media. And which is certainly absent on pagan conversations on Twitter.

Perhaps one word sums it up. Courage.

Or three words “Courage under fire”. I’ve seen a lot of flat-track bullies in the Christian social media scene, I really have, but they’re either a no-show on race day or a DNF.

Courage is sadly lacking generally in our cultural context, not just our Christian one. And we’re going to have to dose up on it if the shrill cultural banshees keep shouting people down who they disagree with.

Indeed, and it’s timely, Steve Chavura, writing in The Australian today in another context, put it like this:

The only remedy to cancel culture is courage culture. But individuals with courage need knowledge and support. Thankfully, there are organisations and individuals rising to this challenge here and abroad.

I’d love to see us recover courage, even courage to support those Christians with whom we disagree on some issues, and for whom standing up with on anything that they say risks social-media suicide. I’ve lost count of the number of times I get hauled on social media by someone with far more progressive views than mine, who comes back to my privately to say they agree with me on certain aspects of what I said. If you can’t say it publicly and back me, you aren’t backing me. Simple as that. And when the pack dogs comes calling for me on my culturally heterodox views – which seems inevitable at some stage given what I write – I simply assume it will be a lonely experience.

My advice? Practice courage now. You can’t take out of the bank what you haven’t put in beforehand. And those who lack courage seem to possess a rather less desirable attribute: excuses for why they failed to show it.

Martyn showed courage. I don’t have to agree with him on everything to say that. And not just courage, godly courage. He showcased Jesus beautifully. He demonstrated the courage of a racer who toed the line and took on the pack. And he isn’t looking for a Strava crown. He’s looking for a different crown altogether, one that’s given for running the race, not uploading a training session on Strava.

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ (Rev2:9-11).

Happy for you to respond to me on FB, but just remember, if you’re not willing to toe the line on race day with those who would take you down, then a Strava PB and some kudos from your friends just won’t cut it.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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