For centuries it was accepted science that the human body was incapable of running one mile in under four minutes. All of that changed on May 6, 1954, when British athlete and medical student Roger Bannister ran a mile in 3:59.4. Forty-six days later, Bannister’s record was broken by Australian John Landy. Two months after Bannister’s first four-minute mile, both he and Landy ran sub-four-minute miles in the same race. A year after Bannister’s feat, three runners broke the four-minute mile in the same race!
In fact, a year after Bannister first broke the barrier, 37 other people had. After two years 300 people broke the four-minute barrier. Roughly 1,400 people have now run a mile in under four minutes, and one has run two miles in under eight minutes. So, what changed? Bannister broke more than a time barrier. He broke the attitude barrier. No runner lining up to run a mile in under four minutes would ever hear that small voice in his head saying, “it can’t be done.” The new goal was to do the “impossible” faster than the last guy did.
Everything is impossible until it happens. Several weeks ago, before the current racial unrest exploded in America, a group of pastors I meet with weekly was discussing what it would take to unify an American divided by COVID-19. I said the answer was to unify under Christ and as church leaders, it was our responsibility to lead the way.
One pastor argued that the task I proposed seemed difficult if not impossible. So did the four-minute mile 66 years ago. Besides, impossible tasks are exactly the kind to which Jesus calls us. Impossible for us, not for Him. Since that conversation, the fissure dividing America has grown into a gaping chasm. So how do we break the attitude barrier on disunity in America the way Bannister did to the four-minute mile? First, we need to clearly identify the goal. I believe it is to break the barrier between us and people we don’t know and who, perhaps, don’t look like us.
Yes, most of us know members of other ethnic groups. But are we really willing to get to know them? Get into their community, attend their churches, and accept that there is much we don’t understand about their culture? That, of course, would give them a chance to learn about us. Both sides might come to recognize misperceptions it has of the other. Jesus modeled this concept perfectly when he met the woman at the well in John 4.
The woman was a Samaritan and Jesus a Jew. This was a natural barrier. The two groups despised each other. The woman had five marriages and was living with a sixth man to whom she wasn’t married. She was shunned by her community, which is why she waited until noon to get water. She’d rather face the midday heat than other women talking about her while they got water in the morning. This would have been another barrier; she would expect Jesus to likewise shun her. Instead, Jesus masterfully broke the barriers.
– He asked questions and did not focus on Himself.
– He established a relationship with the woman.
– He attempted to discern her spiritual interest. For us, it might be discerning what people are interested in discussing with us (and what they’re not interested in discussing).
– Jesus stepped into her journey and didn’t judge her story based on the chapter He had walked in on.
– Jesus displayed compassion and love for the woman.
Following Jesus’ example will take a step out in faith and the willingness to show vulnerability and humility. My pastor friend is right. This is a daunting task. And it won’t happen overnight. But what if every Christian pastor in the United States chose to do this? And what if each of the 240 million Americans who call themselves Christians followed suit? Everything is impossible until someone accomplishes it. And once someone does, more and more people become convinced they can do it, just as was the case with the four-minute mile. Where can you break a barrier today? And who will be inspired into changing their negative attitude about it once they see you do it? Jesus is waiting for you to find out!
This post is republished with permission from Oakbrook Church, De Pere.