DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Run, just run

Written by: on March 15, 2019

Running is my exercise of choice. Aerobics classes frustrate me lifting weights is fine and biking is nice, but nothing has captured me like running. I also happen to be a data guy. More data equals better results – in that way I am very much like Berger and Johnston from last week’s reading. As a runner I have a plethora of ways to accumulate data. In my case I strap on my GPS watch and head out. I get home and sync it and pore over the data gathered during my most recent run. Pace, gradient adjusted pace, effort zones, and time all weigh into my post run routine. I have been tempted on more times than I can count to get a heart rate monitor so that I can have that data as well. In spite of the fact that my days being competitive as a runner are long over I still treat all the information as if it is going to push me that extra bit. But if I am honest I haven’t gotten much better in years, I am just habitually tied to the data.

Recently my spiritual director asked me what it felt like when I ran. I did not remember, outside of the tiredness. He suggested I unplug my runs and be conscious about what was happening. With that in mind I have started trying to run without my GPS watch and mp3 player. It is, shall we say, different.

In his book Digital Minimalism Cal Newport spends a good deal of time discussing the negative aspects of our current social media obsessed cultures. He takes Bill Maher’s analogy of these companies as “Tobacco farmers in t-shirts”i as far as possible directly pointing to the purposefully addictive properties of their products. Most notably how intermittent positive reinforcement an drive for social approval cause people to continue to use these products.ii His solution is to institute a minimalist approach to social media, which he defines as:

A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.iii

He is working against FOMO, the anxiety that you will missing something on social media if you are not constantly connected.iv His argument is that you are not actually missing anything and the quality of your life is not as good as it could be if you were in control of your use of the media. He sites numerous studies that prove his point, which I had no doubt to be true in the first place.

I was running on a Sunday morning recently, sans watch and audio player, and I heard a Vietnamese church worshiping. It was one of the most pleasant things I can remember experiencing on a run, ever. There was a joyfulness to the sound, it made me joyful. My legs were screaming and I was exhausted from the run and a hard night before, but the sound of this church singing, I could not understand the words, lifted my spirit in a way I would not have expected. I would have missed it had I had my headphones in and a podcast running. I think this is what Newport is getting at, social media dulls our sense of the sublime with a fire hose of data that is basically useless. Learning to unplug and hear what “sparks joy”v is a skill refined purposefully and over time.

Most of the time I will still run with my devices, but I will also, from time to time, purposefully choose to just run and not gather data and be entertained. Perhaps we should do this with our social media as well.

p.s. Bill Maher’s assertion that social media employees are like tobacco farmers, while visceral is fairly inaccurate. It is more accurate to call them digital mercenaries. Farming takes time and patience. The average employee turnover at a social media company is about 3.2 yearsvi with workers cycling from one company to the next as the need arises for the service they provide.

i Newport, Cal. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. (2019), 9.

ii Ibid 17.

iii Ibid 28.

iv “FOMO | Definition of FOMO in English by Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford Dictionaries | English. Accessed March 15, 2019.

v “Who We Are.” KonMari. Accessed March 15, 2019.

vi Fagan, Kaylee. “Silicon Valley Techies Get Free Food and Dazzling Offices, but They’re Not Very Loyal – Here’s How Long the Average Employee Stays at the Biggest Tech Companies.” Business Insider. Last modified April 16, 2018.

About the Author


Sean Dean

An expat of the great state of Maine where the lobster is cheap and the winters are brutal I've settled in as a web developer in Tacoma, Washington. As a foster-adoptive parent of 3 beautiful boys, I have deep questions about the American church's response to the public health crisis that is our foster system.

11 responses to “Run, just run”

  1. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    Your experience with running is a neat tie in Sean. I never run with head phones in, because, well, I’m female so that was the safest habit to adopt. It is one of the things I like most about running. But more recently, with little ones that can’t be left alone, I’ve had to switch to a treadmill. I add Netflix on the IPad because my garage is not very interesting. But I’m definitely finding that while I’m getting some benefit out of the exercise, I’ve lost a lot of what refreshed me. Now I have ‘data’ to process from the treadmill (I’ve resisted synching the app). What was once life-giving is now just fitness. I’m looking forward to the snow melting, and a shift in schedules in the hopes that I can reclaim the outdoor runs. Particularly because the solitude creates space to think through looming research papers. Do you find that your mind keeps buzzing during your unplugged runs, or will it wander into creativity and do you find yourself making links you wouldn’t otherwise have found?

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      I can go both ways depending on where I’m at personally. Some unplugged runs are all about feeling my body – mostly how tired I feel. Others are contemplating situations in life and still others are really philosophical. It really does depend on all the things happening in my life at the moment. That being said, I often stop listening to the podcast I have running and go off on a rabbit trail inspired by something a person on the podcast said – and that’s also great.

  2. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    I have some friends that live out in your part of the world that go on these beautiful trail runs . . . and then post images of Cascadian mountains and trees on their Instagram feeds and with the words 7 miles on the trail written on them. They look other worldly beautiful.

    Most of my runs go right along the highly polluted Hutchinson River, next to a decaying old football stadium with toxic levels of carcinogens found in its soil samples, and one of the largest metal recycling plants in New York City. Maybe I should take some pictures of those runs and post them to Instagram. FOMO!

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      Out of habit I’ve stuck to the roads around my house, which is to my detriment. We have Point Defiance Park here in Tacoma, which is one of the biggest urban parks in the country I believe. I keep wanting to go do trail runs there, but I just haven’t gotten to it.

  3. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Sean, your post speaks to me. Especially this statement:
    “I would have missed it had I had my headphones in and a podcast running. I think this is what Newport is getting at, social media dulls our sense of the sublime with a fire hose of data that is basically useless. Learning to unplug and hear what ‘sparks joy’v is a skill refined purposefully and over time.”

    This is turning what we’re missing into reality rather than illusion as Newport argues. I keep wondering if our insatiable need for more (data, relationship, money, things) is a God-given desire for him. It seems this may have been the central message of Jesus in the Beatitudes. In the mad search we miss the sublime. Thank you!

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      I wonder if our need for more is really about dulling our desire for God. The fulfillment of the desire for God requires the relinquishing of the desire for more and allowing God to fill us. Rather than surrendering to God we double down on desire for more hoping our desire for God goes away. It’s a vicious circle until we finally surrender and discover that it was really that easy all along.

      Anyway, you’re welcome. I’m glad the post spoke to you.

  4. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Sean, Thanks for daring to run “unplugged.” Your spiritual director is obviously experienced and competent. I appreciate your summation that it does not need to be either/or but can be both/and. In my current expression of fitness, I think this is why I lift weights with no gloves, I like the tactile feeling of the effort (ha, ha, there is much to make light of here!) Many blessings as you run and lead both plugged in and unplugged.

  5. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    This is such a good post. I do CrossFit and most of the times, I appreciate the loud, screaming music, because it distracts me from being out of breath, or hearing myself. However, I have realized a few times that there is something to the rhythm of breath that is nice to be reminded of. The fact that I have breath, and can move my body is good. In the same way, it’s nice to be reminded that I have ways to connect with friends outside of technology. Good post!

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      I go to a gym and we work out barefoot for a similar reason. The sensation of our bodies is just as, if not more, important than how much we’re able to lift.

  6. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    In honor of this post, I took nothing on my evening run tonight. I hate to admit how hard it was for me to be unplugged. When I got home it was even harder to not have the comparative data. Why do I need this? I’m not a competitive runner. It was an excellent discipline for me, and one I will continue. Being unplugged from all the voices forced me into some quality solitude with God. Thanks, Sean.

  7. Sean, you’ve added to my perspective on selective unplugging in order to do that which contributes to the things that are useful and what I value. I’m not as disciplined in running except when I’m practicing to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro (I plan to climb a third time in January 2020 to fundraise for sports ministry) but I’m plugged to the gadgets for more than I should. Thank you for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *