Color Me Christian

I first heard of the Color Run when a friend posted their YouTube promo video on Facebook.  Tagged as the “happiest run on the planet” the video featured runners covered in a paint-like substance smiling and declaring how much fun it was.  The details of the race were vague at best. Not wanting to give too much away, promoters only revealed that there would be color modules along the race course and a culminating color throw at the end.  Intrigued, I registered and convinced a couple of my new-to-running friends to share the adventure with me.

Not long after registering, my email inbox became flooded with Color Run propaganda assuring me that I was about to be a part of something big.  Included was a 79 page post race doc that gave strict instructions to wear white, described a beautiful course along a river, and interjected humorous FAQ’s to peak both interest and confidence that this was sure to be a good time.  I who have signed my life away to Google, iTunes, and various bounce houses without even skimming the waiver, read every last page of the post race doc.  A good sign, I thought.

All the anticipation finally culminated this past Saturday as my friends and I met in a parking lot armed with Starbucks coffee, towels, baby wipes, Ziploc baggies, snacks, and a few post race outfit options.  We were less like Thelma and Louise and more like a trio of Bunco mom’s who lost a bet.  Piling into an SUV better suited for a soccer team, we discussed the details of the race based on the random information we’d received.  We even plotted the best twirling techniques to assure a well-painted outcome.

The day dreaming ended, when we pulled into the location: the Portland International Raceway.  A two-mile racing strip surrounded by the freeway, a Burger King, and the blinking lights of the Horse track.    We parked in the grass and made our way with the 16,000 other runners towards the check-in.  Every move we made felt more like a cattle drive than finding our happy place, but I tried to remain optimistic.

After firmly attaching our race bibs and tucking our paint packets (for the color throw) into places no paint packet should ever go, I hopped a fence and broke a barrier to assume a position at the front of the crowd.   From the top of a man-made tower, an announcer drew cheers from the sea of white by tossing frisbees and announcing just how much money they had made for “the Cause.”

Without any kind of countdown or gun fire, the crowd began to move unexpectedly.  My friends and I tried to push to the side to make way for the fast runners only to realize we were the fast runners.  It seemed that everyone around us had come for the experience, they were drawn by the promise of happy, they had fallen for the hype. It seemed we were the only ones who were actually there to run.

The lead car winded us around the first curve of the oval track, onto a gravel road, and literally into the Raceway Junkyard.  The promised scenery faded behind the reality of tire piles, broken bleachers, sand bags, and an overturned shopping cart.  The “river,” though flowing, was actually a muddy drainage ditch.

The participants around us had obviously taken seriously page 59 of the pre-race doc which encouraged creativity in attire.  But creative quickly turned obscene when the only requirement was white.  Nobody should wear white spandex.  Nobody. Granny panties pulled over zebra print tights, men in thinning white bike shorts, and lace in every crevice left me pleading with my friends to “love me enough to never let me leave the house in any such outfit.”

And as creepy as the outfits and scenery were, nothing was more eerie than the silence.  Besides the sisters fighting over whether to walk or run and the mom guilting her young child into “doing it for her,”  the race was silent.  No music blared, not a single spectator cheered, our efforts to whoop up the crowd around us resulted only in blank stares.

The color zones offered little entertainment as well.  Over the 3 miles, we ran through just four colors.  Each featured colored flags to mark the area and a team of adolescents squirting colored cornstarch through ketchup bottles.  Even these zones were lifeless.  All that we heard was a limp clap and faint “welcome to yellow.”

I was mortified that, upon my prompting, two innocent friends had spent $50 and an entire Saturday on this bomb of a race.  “C’mon,”  I told them, “let’s do this right.”  And we did . . . we ran through the tires, did intervals on the bleachers, zig zagged up and down the slope next to the track, jumped the rocks, ran with the sandbags, and took a ride in the shopping cart.  We sang our own tunes, danced the running man, and laughed until we cried.

We ditched the formulated experience and created our own.  We seized the opportunity.

The drag of a race at the drag strip became something special when we stopped running with the herd and just went for jog as friends.

I think the tragedy of the modern church is the hype of the experience.  Churches build large domes with media centers and coffee shops.  They promise a drama team, rock band worship, and charismatic teaching.  People passionately p the promise of happy, with no real intention of ever running the race.  In some ways, as a Christian, I stand mortified by what we have allowed the church to become.

We, as a church, strive for the title of “Mega”.  We feed more on numbers than the truth we claim to possess.  We strive harder to preserve attendance than we do to create community.  We are more about entertainment than substance.  We, as the church,  have created a sea of spectators all “for the Cause.” And a real passion for people has been lost.

When Christ looked out upon the sea of people He felt compassion for their individual needs.  When the people swarmed towards Him in a cluster of white tunics He commanded his disciples to look, and to see them as a harvest to tend.  Church experience should never be about how entertained we were, but the community that we found.   Christians ought to herd one another less, and love one another more.  We have so much more to offer than just happy . . . we have eternity . . . we have opportunity.

Hype will disappoint and the search for happy will always fail, but love never does.