Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Just amazing!

My friend Tim shared this on Facebook. Just brilliant!

Faith is easy.... sometimes!

“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”
Malachi 3:14-15

Faith is really easy when everything is going for you rather than appearing to go against you. It's easy to praise God when you feel blessed and secure and certain about the future. It's not so easy when you don't. I wouldn't say that we're in the difficult phase, neither of us feel any great sense of turmoil or distance from God. On the other hand, we would like a few answers to a few questions like what is happening with the house purchase, will it be done in time to get the necessary work completed on the house before we have to move out of our current home, what will I do for a job in May?

Somehow we have to learn to live in the in-between space of uncertainty without falling into the trap that Israel seems to have fallen into at the time of Malachi. It's so easy, when things are not going according to our grand plan, to wonder why we continue to serve God when he doesn't appear to be working for us. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe too often we set things in a context of my dreams, my aspirations, my ideal scenario, and not in the bigger picture of God's eternal plans and purposes. Of course it would be so much easier to that if we actually knew the details of the said eternal plan, but we don't. And we won't.

So how do we live in the in-between space? Honestly, I don't have a definitive answer for that one. I think it's a mixture of faith, realism, asking questions where they need to be asked and finding a balance between being proactive (for example, pestering the solicitor to find out what's happening) and some sort of prayerful reaction as we wait and trust.

But it's certainly not easy and I wish I could see the future and tell the story of the amazing things that God did when we stepped out in faith on our new adventure. Maybe next year I will a story to tell, or maybe I will still be waiting. I just keep reminding myself that it is always worth serving God not matter what the evidence might suggest. Maybe I need a poster that says: "Keep calm and stay faithful"!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Got an old bike?

I used to cycle a lot. Well around 120 miles a week, but that is a long time ago. I actually came to cycling quite late, never having a bike when I was a kid. At university I learned the skills to ride by buying a bike and getting back on it every time I fell off until I stopped falling off!

Sadly my cycling days are long gone, mainly due to a knee that reacts rather painfully to the stop and start routine. Oddly I can ride a bike at the gym without problems, but on the road eventually my knee complains and I have to stop. So my bike sits in the shed along with Anne's and two of Ally's bikes.

We're moving soon and I have been thinking that painful as it would be, it's time to get rid of these bikes and clear some space. But I didn't really want to throw them in a skip. Today, while I was looking at something else I came across an organisation that takes old bikes and reuses them in Africa. The main collection point is on Colchester, just an hour away from me. I think I've found a new home for my precious Raleigh tourer!

Bicycle Aid for Africa sounds like a great idea, and they don't just want your old bike, they are interested in bike tools and general workshop tools. If I'm honest I could probably supply a complete small workshop if I took the time to sort out all the tools I've inherited and bought over the years. So maybe a few spanners and hammers might find their way out of my garage and into a more regular place of use.

If you have an old bike, don't throw it away, consider instead donating it. The website has a list of UK-based bike recycling charities if you're not close enough to one of their own collection points.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Massage Course Blog

If you're interested in following the progress of the massage course I'm doing, then we have a blog for everyone on the course to add stories, questions and anything they want within reason!

You can find it at TwelveBW.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Why I hesitate to talk about Church Planting

I read a quote this morning that popped up in my RSS feed:

his [Jesus] disciples were to establish beachheads of his Person, word, and power in the midst of a failing and futile humanity. They were to bring the presence of the kingdom and its King into every corner of human life by fully living in the kingdom with him.

This comes from Dallas Willard and it is part of a longer quote. (You can read the whole quote here.) In the original blog post the question asked is a simple one: Is this just about semantics? To which my response is mostly no it's not, it's deeper than that. As you know, I'm concerned about the way we do church, the way we've turned church into an institution based largely around gathering a suitably sized group of likeminded individuals together on a week-by-week basis to sing songs and learn three things they already know about a text with which they are often over familiar but with which they are under engaged.

Okay, that's overstating it a bit, but you get my point. Church has become a refuge for the insider more than for the outsider. You have to know the language, know the songs, know the form and fit in on order to access what we do. At some point every institution or even group or tribe has it's now language and practices. In order to be part of that group you have to learn these things. So it's not just about clearing away those elements, as if building something without those limits will magically work a different outcome.

So why the problem with church planting? Well I guess it's because when you say you're setting off into the unknown then you need a label so people can identify with what you're doing and church planting seems to be the label that most closely fits what we are about to do. But on the other hand it doesn't fit at all because everyone seems to know what church planting is, and it doesn't look like the thing that I see happening! Yes, Im;' awkward and different and all those things, but the point is that I'm not that interested in filling the local village hall with a group of already believers who have become disenchanted with their current experience of local church life.

Perhaps I can't avoid the label, perhaps it's not important to avoid the label, perhaps it doesn't matter what it's called as long as God is honoured. I'm sure though that when some Christians get to hear about it they will make their own assumptions about what we should be doing. I just hope we are open enough to listen and strong enough to resist and wise enough to do both at the right time!

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Question of Faithfulness

I started the year reading Habakkuk and Haggai and I've recently turned my attention to Malachi. The small group with whom we meet occasionally are studying Malachi so it seems reasonable to read it! So many of the prophets raise a simple question, Malachi is no different. The question is the simple question of faithfulness. A simple question, but never a simple answer!

The problem is, how do we measure our faithfulness? Malachi sets out a series of faithfulness tests in the area of worship, marriage and giving (three that I remember off the top of my head). Perhaps the easiest way to see it all is through the lens of one of my often asked questions: How will God be most honoured? In other words,  if I make choice "a" then will God be honoured in it, and if I make choice 'b' will he be more or less honoured? I know it sounds simplistic, but can you see the deeper value in this simple approach to living a gospel life?

As we make the transition out of local church ministry, and in many ways out of local church life too, we have to keep our eyes on the faithfulness ball. It would be so easy to drift into a place of permanent isolation from the local church and thereby from the local community of Christ-followers. We don't want to do that, even though we want to pursue a different pattern of life for a faith community.

So maybe we need to mirror-read Malachi and ask ourselves what the tests of faithfulness might be in our 21st century Christian culture. I suspect some of them will be the same even if they don't involve grain into store houses!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Joy of Articulation

For once I'm not talking about the art of talking or the joy derived from vocabulary. No, I'm talking about the joy and excitement of feeling the movement in the articulation of a joint. You can't believe how excited four early-days students of sports massage got when they found the greater tuberosity of the humerus and then felt the the intertubercular groove and then the lesser tuberosity as the arm went through a lateral movement! Now your idea of fun might not be to spend your time with your thumb inside someone else's armpit trying to feel the surface of the shoulder blade and the rib cage, but we were having a fine time of it!
There is of course so much to learn and not enough brain capacity to retain it, or so it seems, so repetition os key. I just keep reading an poking about around my shoulder and chest and arms looking for these landmarks. As I do I think several things ranging from "is that the right place?", to "I hope no one caught a glimpse of me probing around my sternum again!"
But the more I read, the more I try to learn and the more I get explore, the more in awe I am of how my body works. Of how the bones have their shapes and movements. It is a truly amazing things the way the skeleton and muscles work together to make even the most complex articulation work effortlessly. The degree of control I have over my movements and muscles is quite awesome. I can toss a ball with one hand, while rotating my other arm in the opposite direction to bring it up and over my shoulder from behind, rotating the forearm and wrist in such a way that I can hit a tennis ball. Or, using the same muscles I can bowl a leg-break, delivering a cricket ball out of the back of my hand. And yet again, another combination of all these muscles allows me to pick a cat hair of my jumper or strum a chord on a guitar.
How amazing is that!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Back to School

I took the opportunity yesterday to begin the process of familiarising myself with the contents of the first paper for my massage course. It's all about anatomy and physiology. And it's scary! It's bound to be when you haven't studied either topic before in any detail. But I've been down unfamiliar roads before, so it's books out, head down and get started. At least I don't have to fill my head with information for a written exam at this stage.

First task was read chapter 3 of the A&P set text. Off to a quiet place I went, book in hand. A quick read through I thought and the once more making notes. It turned out to be somewhat more demanding. New words and technical terms filled every sentence. I probably got half way and my brain began to seize up.

So it's going to be slower than I thought and possibly in need of more repetition. But that's the nature of doing something new. If our only adventure was to do what we have always done before, read only about the familiar, the usual, then how would we conquer new challenges?

Church planting is not something Anne or I saw ourselves doing. We've been involved once before, but not leaders. But here we go. The house should be ours in a few weeks. The builder is working out a quote for the work. We're planning the move. Ready or not, here we come!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Have couch, will travel!

Well, my massage couch arrived today, so I'm all set to start practicing my new skills. The question is, will those folk who said they'd volunteer stand up and be counted. Maybe that should be lie down and be counted. Anyway, I'm sure I'll get some volunteers and it will be interesting to see how my ability and technique develops over the next few months.

For interested parties, this is the couch I've chosen:

Mine is grey and looks very smart. I've tried lying on it, and it's quite comfortable. It's an Affinity portaflex (portable/flexible on some websites), and as you can see it has a lifting backrest. I'm not sure how important that will be, but I'd rather have it and not use it than want it but not have it. Over the course of the year I will work out what really suits my purposes and then if I choose to replace this couch I'll have a better idea of what to get.

It truly is a minefield trying to choose one of these things without really knowing what you are looking for in a couch. There weren't that many reviews to read or that many place where you can go and check them out. In the end I took the plunges based on a couple of recommendations. I got mine from Massage Warehouse. Ordered it on Sunday and it came today, Tuesday by next day delivery, which was free. The other supplies I ordered will come in the next day or two by separate carriage.

The technical data is that it weighs just under 17Kg, which is quite heavy. There are much lighter ones, but they come with a price. Once I get established and have made some money (!) I might invest in something like the Tarsus lightweight table, but at over £600 I don't think that represents a starting point unless weight is a real issue.

Friday, February 03, 2012

A bit more on BMR

If you're interested in knowing how to calculate your BMR rather than let a web-based calculator do it for you, then this is a good place to start. If you read the article, you will see that BMR can be calculated in a number of ways. The most accurate, it says, is to use lean body mass. That's the weight of your body minus the fat! You need to know your body fat percentage to do this, which makes it a little less accessible for those without access to the technology to do this. However, it's not that difficult to get it measured. Be aware that when you measure it can affect the reading.

The basic calculation is this:

BMR=  370+(21.6 x LBM)

LBM is Lean Body Mass in Kg.

It's not gender specific, so the same equation works for male and female.

The BMR figure I played with yesterday for myself was based on what I think would be an ideal personal weight for me as an active individual. When I used this formula for me at my current weight and BF% the BMR came out very similar (1882 vs 1811). So it's not a big difference, although 70 calories a day over a year would add up!

On the other hand, there's no allowance for exercise or activity in these numbers, so as a general guide I'm not sure either would be a problem.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Calculating BMR

My earlier post got me thinking about BMR a little more and I did a quick bit of maths! I know, 8:00am on a Thursday morning and I'm doing maths, it's not a good sign! Anyway, here's a graph of my BMR profile according to this BMR calculator.

Now I don't know how accurate this calculation is, but as you can see from the simple data set I used, BMR falls in a nice neat straight line with age. I've made no allowances for changes in fitness, I've just let the BMR calculator do the work, so whatever equations it uses, I've used!

I put in my height as it is when I stand up straight and again without allowing for shrinkage over time! I've also used a fixed weight which is probably a bit low for me, but one I'd like to be. No harm in having a dream. Given it's a straight line, changing the weight would simply shift the line up or down.

If you do a bit of simple maths, the calorie count drops by about 7 calories a  day each year. Not much is it? It's 49 calories a week or 2555 calories a year. If I remember correctly, 1lb of body fat is something like 3500 calories. Now it starts to add up. If you are eating the same amount of calories now as you were 30 years ago, you're almost certainly taking in more than you're using up. Unless you are dramatically more active, you could easily be 200 calories a day over your BMR, which is 7300 calories a year. Equivalent to 2lbs of body fat!

Now I'm not talking as an expert and there might well be something intrinsically wrong about my maths here, and if not the maths then the science or the logic! For one, I'm not wholly convinced that BMR is a straight line. If it were, my BMR at 20 would have been 2049. Maybe it was and I was just very active. But at this simple level, knowing your BMR would seem like a very useful bit of information!

It's all a bit sobering isn't it.

Playing with My Fitness Pal

So, I've been using the MyFitnessPal website for three weeks now and it's rather interesting. I'm not going to give away any results as yet, but I have lost some weight and it's been interesting trying to track my food intake, especially when it comes to eating out! I've created some recipes and I hope to do some more. what is helpful is seeing what a portion actually looks like. I've talked before about how easy it is to get portion sizes wrong simply because we don't know what apportion really looks like.

When you first sign up with the application you can let it do the maths and set your goals for you depending upon your aims (weight loss or weight gain). It works to a standard spread of calories from carbs, proteins and fats, but you can change this in the custom set up section from the website where you can also reset your daily calorie goal. So, if you find that the calorie goal isn't helping you to achieve the progress you're looking for then you can change it. In the end the goal is a guide and the scales are the evidence! Just because it says you will lose 0.5Kg a week by eating 1900 calories doesn't guarantee it!

For example, when I first signed up the system calculated my BMR at around 2400, but using another website calculator I got a figure of around 1900. Those 500 calories equate to about 1lb of weight loss a week. If I put in my goal weight, then my BMR drops to around 1800 calories a day. So, as my weight goes down (and as my age goes up!), so does my BMR and that would suggest to me that if I want to maintain weight loss then I'll need to adjust my calorie target appropriately. The basic rule is experiment. See what works and keep reviewing. The more you learn about what works for you, the more control you will have. and the more control you have, the more freedom I think you will have when it comes to those treats we all like and the less guilt you will feel.

I've changed my goal slightly on the basis of this theory and I'll review the most successful weeks to see what was different about those weeks compared to other weeks. That's a bit of a job, and a way of maybe getting some reports out based on a few user chosen parameters would be helpful. I haven't found anything that will let me do that yet, but then I haven't really explored the reports that much. Maybe the printable version would give me the data I want.

I think the other comment I would make is that you shouldn't assume that when you put in your exercise that the figure calculated for calories used will be wholly accurate. If it says you've burned 1,000 calories just don't assume you can eat those calories back and still reach your goal if it's weight loss. I think you'll be disappointed if you do that too often.

Overall I think this is a great tool for tracking how your diet is working both nutritionally and in terms of weight management. Used well, it can help you plan menus to balance your diet. Simply fill out the daily diary with your expected meals and snacks for the day and then see how that sits alongside your goals and make any necessary adjustments. Yes it would be time consuming to do it that way, but over time you might learn more about your own nutritional requirements than any quick fix diet will give you and it might just help you develop long-term healthier habits. That's my hope for myself anyway!

It will only ever be as accurate as the data you supply and the algorithms it uses. If you cheat it can't tell. So don't cheat! I'm off for some breakfast.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The BU money gap

I need to start by offering a spoiler alert! At some point in this post it might sound like I'm actually advocating widespread redundancies as the way out of our financial crisis. I'm not, and please don't read it as such. On the other hand, if we are not prepared to think the apparently unthinkable, then the novel and creative might just be out of reach too. Let me explain by way of two stories.

The first comes from my time at British Gas. I was on some sort of course, can't remember what exactly, based at a hotel somewhere in West London. We were divided into groups and on one occasion given a research project to consider. In my group I was the only one currently working in a research environment. The project was the remote reading of gas meters. Each group had to do a presentation and a senior member of one of the research stations was brought in to reflect on our presentations. We were third up and I got the job of presenting our ideas.

The first two groups both included in their presentations thoughts about the impact of remote reading on the jobs of the meter readers. They both received the same criticism that that was not their concern, they were to focus on the remote reading question and possible solutions. So, although we'd talked about the same issue, I dropped it from our presentation because I thought by now we'd all have got the idea that this was not part of the project. Not so. One member of our group spoke up after my presentation to say that I hadn't mentioned the meter readers. My response was to point out to them that we already knew that this was not part of the brief.

The point is quite simple. No matter how much we cared about the meter readers and their jobs, that wasn't the project. Focussing on that one issue would not help us think creatively about solutions to the questions raised by the project brief.

The second story comes from a conference I attend some years ago. It reaffirmed something I learnt in my early days as a research scientist about the non-evaluation of initial ideas. The speaker at the conference talked about how they came to design a standard control circuit for many household appliances like washing machines and dishwashers. They began by thinking about how a ladybug might control such an appliance. From that seemingly ridiculous starting point came the design of the circuit board.

Again the point is simple. Think the unusual, even the unthinkable and maybe you will find your way to the solution.

So what about the financial gap in the Baptist Union's funding. Well, we could take the kind of approach we've taken many times before and simply ask the churches to give more. The truth is I can't ever remember that working. We may have increased income, but never enough to cover the shortfall. And it all rather assumes that the churches, and the people in them, actually want to give towards the centre. From personal experience the evidence is very strong that fewer people in our baptist churches feel any sense of connection to the denomination for all sorts of reasons.

Perhaps we need to take the radical thinking approach, not as the end of the game, but the beginning. Maybe we start by asking what a movement would look like if we started it today, rather than how we can shore up our denominational structures that may have served us well in the past, but may not be the best way to do things now. I don't know.

At our recent ministers' gathering someone said something along the lines of, "Well, of course we can't make everyone at Didcot redundant can we?" I have to confess that I wanted to ask why not. I also wanted to ask why we couldn't do a few other things either, like stopping home mission grants. I know it sounds horrible, but unless we're willing to ask the question and answer it in a way that has less to do with jobs and careers and more to do with mission and kingdom, well how far will we actually get.

Thinking the so-called unthinkable does not mean doing the unthinkable. On the other hand it might just allow some hitherto unexplored creative ideas to emerge.