Saturday, December 14, 2013

The narcissism of social media

Well now, here's an interesting thing!

Selfie Syndrome

You don't have to be a social scientist or psychology student to notice how self-centred social media can be. Just think about the number of times you see a " post this" message on Facebook. Even worse are those messages that suggest you somehow don't care about an issue because you choose not to repost some bit of social media chain mail.

There is sometimes also a run of people posting something along the lines of a request to write something on their timeline just to let them know you've read their status update. It's as if they are seeking assurance that they still exist and the only affirmation of that comes through being noticed on the internet.

I often refrain from commenting on status updates, sometimes because the only comment I want to make is grammatical! The other reason is more subtle in some ways. While I like to know what people are doing, what they've discovered or what they are reading, even sometimes what they've found funny or inspiring, it should be enough that they share that with me. It ought not to need my response in order to validate the worth of their sharing. I blog, for example, as a process of thinking out loud about stuff. If I did only on the basis that people read what I write, then I'd have stopped long ago. I don't stop thinking because you don't read or comment on what I write. I am at least not that preoccupied with self.

It also has to be said that when someone shares that they are looking forward to taking part in the donkey procession, I'm tempted to ask them which donkey they will be the said procession!

I think social media has real value in connecting us and sharing stories and news, but if we treat it as a way to validate ourselves, then we truly will become increasingly narcissistic. And where, I wonder, might that lead us?

Just to let you know: I haven't checked this for typing errors or grammatical mistakes and I don't really want to know if I've made any unless they substantially alter the intended meaning! Just in case you were struggling to sleep wondering if I knew about the misplaced comma or dropped capitalisation!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Light in the darkness

It's advent. At some point in the next few weeks the opening prologue of John's gospel will be read in churches up and down the country. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word was God." It's a great opening to the unfolding story of the gospel narrative.

I was talking to some friends the other and they were lamenting the state of the world as usual. Big business avoiding tax and destroying the local traders; pay rates for MPs (it may be deserved but is it appropriate to do it now?); the unsustainable nature of first world economic models; does greed mitigate against the emergence of an equitable society? The usual list of things. Add to that the drugs issues, the crime rates, the lack of opportunity, falling pension rates, higher retirement ages and you might be tempted to despair of the situation. Is this really the world as it should be?

Even as a follower of Jesus Christ it is hard sometimes to remain hopeful in the face of what we around us. But that's where John's prologue comes to life. It's not just about the eternal nature of the Son and the Father or the opportunity we have to become children of God, or even the incarnation, important as these things are to our faith. No, here's a crucial phrase from those opening verses:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Whether you prefer overcome or understood doesn't really matter. What matters is that light drives out darkness.  Darkness is, as I'm sure you know, simply the lack of light. While there is light there is hope.  Paul reminds us that hope has two partners, faith and love, and together these three can change the world. Hope may not be the greatest according to the apostle, but hope breaks into our present reality and points us to a better future. Much of that may only be realised in the future kingdom, but that doesn't mean we do not have hope in the present and for the present. If one who advocated violence can a way of peace and reconciliation, then although the world may be lost it is not doomed and the gospel can and does change everything.

Light truly does drive out darkness.

Exploring a book idea

I know there are plenty of books out there, and adding to their numbers might not be the best idea I've ever had, but I have something in mind and thought I should at the very least explore the idea.

My plan is to write a short guide about funerals. Planning funeral is difficult enough without the added effects of grief and loss. I've met well organised people and I've met people who are so stunned that they can hardly think straight. Grief is such an individual journey and I'd like to see if I can do something to help.

The idea is to write something that can read in an hour or less and that sets out some thoughts about the things to consider. I thought I'd look at including something about how to celebrate someone's life away from the funeral. In church life we have thanksgiving services, but what might you do if you don't want to gather in that way?

So that's my idea. I thought if I went a little more public with the idea, then that might encourage me to get disciplined about the task and see where I get in the next few months. At the very least it might help me improve my service to those families I have the privilege to serve at times of loss.

Monday, December 09, 2013

What happens to the surplus stock?

Anne and I were wandering around our local shopping centre on Saturday looking for a few Christmas gifts. What struck me, as I stood in the dedicated Christmas section of a large, well-know, high street retailer, was what happens to all the stuff that doesn't get sold? Once the sales come to and end, there's bound to still be stock left-over, where does it all go? My guess was landfill.

So there I was. Surrounded by all the retailing razzmatazz of tinsel and glitter and I'm suddenly struck by the wastefulness of it all. A bah-humbug moment if ever I saw one coming. But then, this morning on the breakfast news a ray of hope. A new supermarket selling remaindered stack to low income families. What a great idea.

The article is here if you missed the news item live, but how long it will be at this link I don't know, so a few details might help. It's called a "social supermarket" and is the first of its kind in the UK. I think it compliments Foodbanks and looks like a great way to keep unsold stock out of landfill. The supermarket is run by an organisation called the Company Shop, a business that has been dealing with surplus stock for over 20 years according to their corporate website. They run staff shops across the country, but the social supermarket is the first foray into something new.

It makes a whole lot of sense in so many ways. Enabling families facing economic challenges to have access to affordable products; protecting the environment by keeping unnecessary waste out of landfill; offering a longer-term solution to food poverty than food banks can, to name three that come to mind. Let's hope it proves a great success.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ah, Meccano!

When I was growing up I had Meccano, and I loved it. My first set came at Christmas one year when I was probably around 6 or 8. It was the old red and green stuff as I recall. The first few projects mainly involved me sitting watching my Dad put models together. He was engrossed in what he was doing, I was "helping" but mostly wondering who had got Meccano for Christmas, me or him!

My father did make me a wooden tray with a sliding lid in which to keep my construction kit, and when it was added to another year, I was allowed to make things myself. My favourite project was a large crane with a roll-out bogey on s swivel platform that I could use to raise and lower things from the landing over the stairs. 

Eventually the Meccano was packed away and passed on in later years to another member of the family. Sadly not all of it came back, and the disappointment I felt even as an adult was palpable. I don't think I realised just how much this simple construction kit meant to me. It was more than a toy, it was a world of creativity. Even now I can hardly bear thinking about opening the box in which I have what's left of my original sets, knowing what I'll find. My Meccano was probably the only thing I ever put away completely when I'd finished with it. I could account for every item, it was that important to me to have all the parts exactly where they should be.

Well, it's obviously been a long time since it saw the light of day, but I have been thinking, rather wistfully I have to say, about the possibility of reinvesting in this wonderful engineering toy. Maybe I'm just daft, but perhaps it might be fun to build that crane, or something similar once again. I know I don't have all the parts, and I don't even have the books (they were lost too) so I can't even write a list of what's missing and try to replace it all. But I have seen a great set and maybe I could argue that it's just in case I ever become a grandparent!! After, what grandchild of mine wouldn't want to sit for hours watching me put together a model crane!

An Equitable Society

I have, among my list of posts, a number of "draft" pieces that I've never quite figured out how to finish or what to do with them. This is one I started a while ago after a report on the news one morning. It's far from a complete, even thoughtful exploration of an idea, but it's an emerging theme that I want to think about in more depth. It concerns the growing divide between the wealthy and the poor and everyone else in-between. Theologically, it is the starting point for thinking about what the gospel has to say about economics and issues around greed, power, and wealth. 

Am I getting old or is the world actually becoming a less equitable society? I choose the word carefully because I'm not advocating equality, an equalised distribution of wealth and resources. I have no problem with there being a degree of differentiation, but the current state of economics leaves me wondering if the first world economic dream can be anything but unrealistic  and inequitable.

This morning the news carried the story of the referendum in Switzerland to limit executive pay to 12 times that of the lowest paid worker. It will probably fail. Vested interests will make sure of that. Apparently businesses will leave the country in droves should it pass, or at least that's what we are told. For years we've been fed the half-truth that you have to pay high salaries to chief executives if we want the best, but as we all know those people we thought were the best turned out to less than capable of leading the way anywhere except into a financial meltdown.

And whoever came up with the idea that the performance of a business is based solely on the performance of the person at the top? Good as they may be, they rely on the performance of those lower down the ladder for the success of the company. I'm not sure at what point along the way we lose sight of this simple truth. Is it when we reach a position of authority where we have more to lose financially, or is it just a matter of personal greed?

So, apart from being just a rant about executive pay in the top 100 companies going up by 14% while most workers have lost money, hours or jobs, what am I trying to say? I'm not sure. I just know that something must change. A new model is needed if we are going to dismantle the growing divide between rich and poor and replace it with something that reflects an understanding of society that doesn't concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the few. The issue isn't that some people are rich while others are poor, it's that the difference continues to grow wider and deeper.

Perhaps, if the top 100 companies took a longer term look at themselves they would invest across the workforce and encourage their senior executives to see themselves as part of the package and not the icing on the cake. There are examples of this, executives who don't pay themselves excessively, but they are probably too few and too far between.

Maybe if we stopped measuring our value in terms of what we own or what we can buy, then that too might just make a move in the direction of a more equitable society.

Perhaps this is all just tilting at windmills, but while the divide grows, so too it seems does a presumption that the poor are poor because of something they have done. It's their fault. While we buy into such an argument, we will never ask the truly tough questions about our first world greed and the kind of model we are exporting to the rest of the world. Concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the few cannot be good for society as a whole.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Where was I in '63?

I was six years old when John Kennedy was assassinated. I remember, vaguely, the events and the news, but I can't say I belong to the club that remembers where they were the day it all happened. I guess as a six year old in the UK, it actually wasn't that high on my list of important events that day.

I have clearer memories of the events of 1968, when in April Martin Luther King, and then in June Bobby Kennedy where both assassinated. By then I was a more mature ten, going on eleven. I was getting ready to go up to secondary school. I managed to pass my 11+ and secure a place at a Grammar School, starting in September 1969. Most of that year, '68-'69, was focussed on this transition and getting used to the idea that I was meant to feel both privileged and grateful for achieving this goal. Needless to say I felt neither, and wondered more about what I'd done. After all it was me who passed the exam!

On the other hand, there was something about the three political murders that nagged away at the back of my young mind, but chemistry, maths and biology, along with cricket and rugby soon occupied rather more of my thinking than political changes and the under current of conspiracy theories.

As the '60's turned into the '70's I was probably still too young to to either fully understand or appreciate the nuances of the political world, but things were changing. I started to read about the political events that lead up to the Vietnam war, I became more interested in what society was like and what it meant to choose a political ideology. Naive I might have been, but brainless I certainly wasn't!

Although I was later to discover that John Kennedy wasn't quite the hero he was portrayed to be, there were aspects of his life that were far from ideal, I guess his death did have some impact on me even though I was sonly six. Somewhere deep in my subconscious questions-political, social, moral, ethical questions-took up residence, and they shaped the way I began to think about the world.

The assassination of the Kennedy's, Martin Luther King and many more are acts of evil. Looking for the positives in them cannot diminish that truth. Perhaps, because of their untimely end, we can still aspire to something bigger, something ultimately less selfish because we have their examples. History is less kind to the memory of such individuals than popular culture.

Had Kennedy lived on and served out his time as President, then as one historian put it on the news this morning, he'd probably have been blamed for many of the social and political ills America endured in the latter part of the 1960's. Because he didn't we have an enduring image of a young president who looked forward to a better world and sought to challenge his generation to do something about it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Doing workshops

So, here's an interesting turn of events. I've been asked to run a workshop for dance students on the subjects of nutrition and physiology as it relates to stretching and movement etc. Quite a challenge, but one I'm really keen to explore.

I don't pretend to be an expert, but this is a great opportunity for me both to share some of the things I've learnt over the last two years, and to reinforce some of that learning by reviewing it and passing it on. I've sketched out a rough idea of what I could cover, and as usual there's way too much for the time allowed, but I'll get it better organised. I'd also have too much to cover than not enough. I'll work out a plan of what is top of the list and what could be left for another time.

The workshops will be in January, but I'll need to have it planned in the next few weeks.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Holiday reading

We've just come home from a week away in Portugal. Wall-to-wall sunshine, lazy days walking around, sliding into the pool, playing tennis and reading.

I took my trusty pedometer with me and recorded my steps each day. I managed a creditable 124, 200 steps over the week (that's 17, 742 a day, or the equivalent of 8.9 miles a day!) It's staggering how far you will walk when there's no rush to get anywhere! Although we had a car, we didn't use it, except to go to and from the airport and one shopping trip.

I took my Kindle with me. I think it's possibly one of the greatest bits of tech kit I own. It does one job and does it really well. I can carry a wide range of books and reading material without getting my bags checked at the airport (it has happened to me once when I had a lot of books with me) or adding extra weight to my luggage.

I read "Zoo Station" by David Downing. It's set in pre-war Germany in 1939. The story begins on New Year's Eve '38 and centres around John Russell, a freelance journalist who sees the regime for what it is and how he drifts into spying and uses his connections to help get a Jewish family out of Berlin. It's the first in a series and I've got the second book to read now we're back home.

I also read "How to like Paul Again" by Conrad Gempf. I haven't quite finished this, but I've thoroughly enjoyed what I have read. Conrad was one of my tutors at college many years ago (over 25 years now I think about it). It's a really helpful book for those who have issues with some of the things Paul has to say and how best to handle them. There's great encouragement to get stuck into the task of understanding the nature of the text and the context too, before ploughing into interpreting.

Perhaps what Conrad does best is to make hermeneutics and exegesis something that lives and breathes rather than just some dusty academic exercise. He humanises the text, reminds us that these are "other people's mail" and that Paul was doing his best to address real situations among real people and not writing some abstract theologise treatise on your favourite topic!

Beyond those two, I dipped into a short monograph about exercise and health and I read the free e-book short from Jim Wallis about politics, Conservatives, Liberals, and the Fight for America's Future. It's abstracted from a longer work, but popped us a free offering just before I went away. It's well worth a read even if you're not interested in America or politics. The call for a more civil society, one in which we can honour each other even when we disagree is a call we all need to hear. As TV programmes seem more and more to be predicated on the principle of how insulting we can be about each other, and while live audiences boo judges with whom they disagree, a little civility wouldn't go amiss. Maybe our own political leaders would do well to read it while it's free!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Turning corners, changing cars and cleaning house

I just noticed that it's been a month since I last posted anything on this blog. There was a time when I posted something every day. Thankfully that was only an experiment and I've slowed down since then! I have written a few posts, well started them, but not finished any of them. There was one about the need to pray for Syria, a still current concern, and I thought about writing something about stretching quad muscles, but that was for my other blog.

Then there have a been a few reflective thoughts on 1Thessalonians around the connection between Paul's opening prayer and words to the church and missional thinking. I'm constantly trying to figure out what exactly it mans to live missionally. It's such a slippery turn of phrase, easier to recognise what it isn't rather than what it is. Perhaps I'll get around to making sense of those thoughts.

As we continue to think about what it means to live in a community, serving among the members of that community, working with them and living out our faith as we do so. One of the things that we had to decide concerned our relationship with the denomination we've served for over twenty years. In order to remain an accredited minister of the denomination I needed to be in membership of a church in the denomination. The thing is the nearest church to us that fits that bill is the one we left!

So, in the end, we decided that it was time to call it a day. We didn't feel we could join a church just to retain accreditation and then not attend, that runs counter to my view of membership of a local church. Had we not taken the decision to resign then others would have made the decision for us, so it was better we decided. To be honest, the debate about accreditation just seemed to get in the way of meaningful conversations with other baptist ministers about partnership and relationship.

So here we are. We're not alone. We have a faith community that shares some of the same vision and vocabulary about the missional journey as we do. To all those who keep asking how I'm doing now I've "left the ministry", my answer remains that I have not left the ministry, I'm just doing it differently.

So, we've turned a new corner in our journey and in some ways we've cleaned house by tidying up some of the loose ends concerning our relationship with the denomination. A sad day, but a liberating one too. As to cars, well, if the dealer can get their act together, that too will change in the next few days!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Steps again

So, after a few weeks of "normal" activity it's fairly obvious that some days I easily reach my 10K target, and some days I don't. Nothing unexpected there. We've had a few weekends when we've gone to visit family and that's one reason my step count has been down, but as I said before, this is about seeing what normal looks like.

The next step, excuse the pun, is to work out some routes and their approximate step count. When we lived in Upminster I knew that if I walked to the station with Anne in the morning and then to meet her in the evening, it was going to take me past 10K steps a day even if I did nothing else. I also had a series of routes I followed and I pretty much knew what I needed to do in order to add that last 750 or 1000 steps at the end of the day.

Part of the fun of working on a routine for me is doing this kind of number crunching. Just putting in the miles is too tedious for me, so having a plan of where to walk and see how many steps that takes keeps me interested enough to get started. It takes time to build a new habit. When I was setting targets a few years ago I discovered that actually getting out and walking was fairly easy because I had a goal. Just churning out the miles or even the steps can become monotonous if you don't have a purpose that motivates you.

After a few weeks, I'm not sure how long it takes, I usually find a rhythm and I know I've got into a routine when I feel like running rather than just walking. I don't run long distances any more, mostly because of a knee problem that I haven't solved yet and that get irritated by running.

So, I think I'm all set to set a goal for September, and now I seem to have addressed a minor issue with my plantar fascia (see here for that story), I'm ready to set myself going. So fire up Runkeeper, dust of my music library on my iPhone and let's hit the mean streets of South Essex!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Wimbledon Photo

We might not have been allowed on Centre Court, but we could at least stand outside!

Counting steps-again!

I'm revisiting my walking 10,000 steps a day principle, easing myself back into at the moment. This time around I've decided to start by simply measuring how many steps I take a day without setting out to achieve the 10K goal. I think this is helpful because it gives toy a baseline from which to work. Anyone who has ever set themselves a health or fitness goal knows that starting is the first hurdle, but once you start, the initial phase is full of enthusiasm. This can lead to over extending your efforts, and then it's down the slippery slope of relapse and failure through injury or boredom!

Getting a baseline is also useful because it tells you the truth about how sedentary you've become. It might surprise you and tell you that you're more active than you thought, but I suspect the former is more likely. It's important at this stage to record the data. It might sound a bit OCD to do that, but you need to know where you started. Getting fitter and healthier (the two are not the same) takes time and discipline. You will need a way of measuring the changes and it won't just be through the scales.

Once you have your baseline data, then you can start to get a bit more active. I'd suggest (assuming you have no medical reason not to do this) that you find a route that's a mile long and see how long it takes to walk it comfortably. Then maybe try it again and do it as quickly as you can without having to stop. control your pace and note down the times. This will give you another measure.

Having done my challenge before I know that I can walk 4 miles (6.Km) in an hour when I've been practicing. That's not too fast but fast enough. I also know that I can sustain that over at least 5 miles without any problems. That will be one of my first tests, to go out and see if I can walk 4 miles in an hour. This will help me work out how fit I am compared with two years ago.

Being healthy is another thing, and that really comes down to getting out of breath for at least 30 minutes 3 to 5 times a week. Given that I play tennis 3 times in an average week and at least 1.5 hours of that is playing singles, doing the extra walking will do the healthy part. fitness only improves with a progressive increase in effort. The technical term is 'progressive overload', and you get this by changing at least one of the following principles:


So, for example, if you're walking your 10,000 steps a day and your fitness has improved over say 3 to 4 weeks, the next stage will need you to change of of these principles. But you might not have any more time available, so you can't walk for longer or more often. The easiest thing to do is to find a hill to add to your route. That will change the intensity. Easy if you live in Nottingham, where I grew up, less easy if your out in the fens! The other choice would be to change you speed. Walk faster, even add a little bit of running. When I go out walking I sometimes run for short bursts, say 3-4 minutes. That pushes up the intensity quite nicely.

The point of this is that it's not actually that complicated to do something about improving health and fitness. small changes, discipline and determination go a long way, provided that is that you get off the couch and into those rather too clean pair of trainers you keep hidden at the back of the wardrobe.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


I've known if for some time if I'm honest, I've just been avoiding as best I can. It's the old issue we all face at some point in our lives. I'm not talking about getting older or going grey. I'm not even talking about coming to the realisation that your eyesight isn't what it was and you're reactions aren't as quick and your body is so much slower.

No, although all of that it true, I'm not thinking about those things today.

I've been setting up my bright shiny new MacBook that arrived yesterday. It's a replacement for the one of which I was relieved of a week or so ago during the night while we slept peacefully at home. My 13" Black MacBook was my first step into the world of Apple and I've never wanted anything else since! I shall miss it. I have set it to self destruct when it's opened, but so far it hasn't connected to the internet. We wait and see. The insurance company have been very good, and they've dealt with the claim quickly and efficiently, so that's the end of that.

Anyway, I decided not to go down the migration route for some reason, but rather to sit and work out what I wanted on my new machine. It's rather interesting to look at all the applications I've got and how little I use some of those I once thought I couldn't live without. It was also interesting to think about apps that have laid dormant because the way I do things has changed or because I simply don't do those things anymore.

Take Scrivener for example. One of my all-time favourite writing applications, but I haven't done the kind of writing that it is best suited to for a long time. Maybe I should start that book project or do a case study and put it to good use. Similarly there are mind mapping tools, notebook tools, outliners, archivers etc, etc. All of which, if one is not careful, mean that you can lose your files and threads simply because you can't remember which application you used to create the thing in the first place.

Which brings me to my original thought in a somewhat circuitous way. Focus. Focus is the thing I am in need of today. Well not just today. I installed my task tracking and planning app on the new MacBook only to realise it's been several months since I used it. Now reinstalling an application, cleaning up the contents and synchronising across various platforms isn't going to focus my attention. I need a project.

More than that, I need to make myself accountable for a project.

Since stepping out of formal church leadership I've focussed most of my efforts on completing the soft tissue therapy course. But that happened in February when I qualified, so I need to pick up my brain and get it stuck into something meaningful and challenging. I'm not busy at the moment so it's ought to be an ideal time to learn more, research things and really consolidate my learning and knowledge.

Rather than see the present quietness of work as either a negative thing or just an excuse to become lazy, I should take control and do what I can to find clients but also to redeem the time by doing something useful with my time.

So here's the plan. Over the next few days I'm going to think about a few ideas I have for things to work on. Something related to missional church and the vision for our community and something to do with therapy and practice. For the latter I have some thinking I want to do about lower back pain and hip mobility. For the church thing there's lots of things to think about, vision is one and a study project I've had on my wish list is another.

I've got other things to do to. Things like tennis coaching (I passed my Level One qualification), PT stuff and practical project around the house. The list will be long, but it's time to get stuck in, get the brain up and running and get some focus back.

You see, without a focus there doesn't seem to be a vision and without a vision there is no real direction and without direction there can be no plan and with a plan there is no purpose and without a purpose self-esteem plummets and the couch beckons. I'm not ready for that.

I might even start to blog a bit more as a way of being of accountable, but don't hold me to that!!

Monday, August 05, 2013

Helpful instructions

We had quite a busy weekend that culminated in a small family lunch on Sunday. It was a great day, and as usual in such circumstances, we over-catered. Better to have too much than too little. Anyway. I was checking the sultana and cherry cake to see if we could or needed to freeze it, and came across these most helpful instructions:

Preparation guidelines: Remove packaging - Place the cake of a flat surface - holding the cake and with a long clean serrated sharp knife, cut the cake into slices using a sawing action - It is important to keep the knife clean.

So, that explains why balancing a cake on a ballon and cutting it with a blunt spoon doesn't work then! It just strikes me as odd to think that someone might buy cake and not know how to cut it. And why doesn't cheese come with similar instructions? Maybe it does, I'll have to check. I wonder if it deals with the hazards of cutting cheese when you stand in on it's narrow edge rather than its flatter surface? And coffee too. I don't drink it, but I occasionally make it for Anne, I wonder if the jar has details about how to stir and whether it should be clockwise or anti-clockwise. This could be a most interesting search through the cupboards later today!

Everyone laughed when Delia Smith was teaching people how to boil an egg, but that doesn't seem so daft now!

Friday, August 02, 2013

Another String to the Bow

Well, I'm part way through getting my Level 1 tennis coaching certificate. It's not a long course, three days with a few hours of practice along the way. It's the first step almost anyone needs to take if they want to become a registered coach. I'm not sure I'll ever go quite that far, but it's an interesting thought.

The reason I'm doing the course is quite simple. Over the past couple of months I've been asked to look at running some sort of social tennis activity in the local park where we have a couple of tennis courts. I've had a bit of interest, mostly from beginners and others for whom a bit of help would increase their enjoyment. So it seemed like a good idea to go and learn some coaching skills. I've played sport with people who like to coach, even though they clearly have no skills in that area. I don't want to be one of those people!

The Level 1 course is really a coaching assistant qualification, level 2 is directed at those who want to work on their own with adult beginners, so I may have to do that course too. Will it never end? The course is based around what is known as mini-tennis, the form of the game used for under 10's. I guess it makes sense to start there, but part of me wonders why working with children is not a developmental stage rather than a starting point. It seems much harder to get children to understand what you want them to do than it does an adult who can ask questions. But that's probably me!

I suppose the obvious question is why am I dong this? Am I doing it as pre-evangelism as we used to call it? Actually, no. I'm doing it because I think it's a good way to get people active and I rather like playing tennis. It gets me involved in the life of the village by engaging with sport and activity. This is part of what it means to live in and serve the community. It's about building friendships that are not predicated upon an evangelistic opportunity.

Where it might lead I simply don't know. Perhaps I'll end up running a summer sports camp, perhaps someone will start talking to me about an issue or problem and all my other skills will come into play. Who knows!

Jim Wallis used to say, "Find out what you're good at and then do it in a way that makes a difference." Could I add to that, "Do something you love in a way that makes a contribution."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Little Project!

So, I've been busy building a log cabin in the garden. The idea is that this will become a treatment room rather than using the lounge. Of course this is rather dependent upon whether I can heat/cool the cabin sufficiently, but only a winter and summer will answer that question.

I may look at insulation for both the floor and the roof if that proves necessary, but we will see how things go. At the moment it is quite hot in there.

As you can see from the second photograph, it doesn't overpower the garden itself. we have about 150/160ft of garden and the cabin is only 13/14ft wide and 8 deep.

I built the cabin onto a 4" frame which, with the floor bearers in place, gives enough room to add a deck if we decide to do that.

I will need to sort out getting power into it and also broadband, although the wireless signal in the garden is pretty good considering it's probably somewhere near 100ft from the hub. The wireless doorbell doesn't reach that far!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Fun with telemarketers!

So, I'm working away at a project in the kitchen and the telephone rings. "Hello, I'm [whatever her name was] calling about personal injury compensation. Have you have an accident or injury?"

"No. I don't need or want compensation for an accident thank you."

"Ok, Goodbye."

So went the first conversation. But we have two telephone lines, and a few minutes later the other 'phone rings and hear the same background noise that I heard in the first call, preceded by the same silence. So I guessed it was the same company.

" Hello," said the same voice I'd just heard.

"Hello," I replied, "I don't need personal injury compensation, I haven't had an accident, and I guessing you're trying to figure out how I knew what you were going to say!"

Silence. Possibly stunned silence. Eventually the voice returned, said thank you and hung up. What joy to feel like you scored a direct hit. It won't stop the calls, even though we're signed up to TPS on both lines, but it did make the second interruption bring a smile rather than a frown to my face.

Back to the kitchen project then.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Dreams and visions

I have many a dream and vision. I dream of having a well-euipped workshop where I create furniture and make things. I dream of having a successful private practice where I treat clients effectively and work with a partner or two. I dream of a church where it's less about filling a building and more about incarnating the gospel into the life of a community.

I have many a dream and vision.

The problem is not only in seeking to realise any or all of these dreams and visions, but living with the tension of what is, what might be, and the journey in between. The truth of the matter is that some dreams and vision may never become a reality. But if you don't have a dream, then there's no way it can become a reality!

So what do you do in the meantime? Well I guess one of the things you have to hold in tension is the now and the maybe. It's the Wimbledon tennis tournament at the moment. It is, as I'm sure everyone knows, one of four Grand Slam events through the year. 128 players start the first round in the singles draw. Only one can win it. Even if you take the view that it will probably be one of the top 8 players, it remains a strong possibility that most tennis players, even some of the very best, might never win a Grand Slam tournament.

What does this have to do with dreams? Well, a dream can drive you but it can also destroy you. Think of Captain Ahab. Somehow we have to find a way to be inspired by our dreams but not being imprisoned by them. I think you can tell the difference in part by how much of a sense of failure you carry each day, how much you are weighed down by that consuming sense of the unattainable that dreams so often seem to generate. I'm not talking here about the unrealistic dreams of the tone deaf singer or the unskilled sports person. I'm talking about those of us who carry the burden of being able to see what others cannot see and knowing that the reality may be that our dream will outlive us.

If you can't be comfortable about not realising your dream, you might find yourself in a dungeon of dashed hopes and angst. If you can find a place of comfort, then you stand a chance of seeing the possible along the way as well as holding onto the dream that draws you forward.

As for me? Well the garage is much tidier and looks like a workshop in progress. I continue to dream of making things and even have a few ideas in my head and a list of wonderful gadgets and tools I;d love to own! I'm building a log cabin as a place to relax but also a place to treat clients when they come to see me and I'm exploring opportunities to involve myself in the community. The latter not as a minister but maybe as a tennis coach! Now honestly, who would have thought that wold ever be on my agenda!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Spending reviews and easy targets

When I first read Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change I was struck by the simplicity of the premise that if the gospel is good news it must have something to say to about the big questions we face as individuals, families, communities and nations. I was thinking about this again as I listen to some of the reports of the government's plans and proposals for the future of our economy. Grand plans for infrastructure, cutting departmental spending and predictions of recovery that might just turn out to overly optimistic again. Maybe I'm a bit too cynical.

What bothers me is that some of the ideas seem rather too political, designed to assuage the cries of middle England and do little in the present other than make life harder for the most vulnerable. It is hard to see how we are in this together when the poor get poorer while the wealthy appear safe and secure in their tax havens.

There was some humour in the whole process, but even describing Eric Pickles as a shining example of lean government cannot hide the hard truth that welfare was once again the target. Is it any surprise that alongside the stringent cutting of benefits and spending on services we have seen a rise in pay day loan companies and food banks?

Perhaps we need a more reflective approach to the economy alongside the accounting reality. We certainly spent money unwisely in the past, but we've also encouraged more selfishness too. I'm no economist, I was once told off for suggesting that the idea of a constantly growing economy seemed like an unsustainable as a model to apply across the whole world. Surely someone has to pay for it?

So, what does the gospel have to say to such things? Answers on a postcard please. There do seem to be some basic principles that could be teased out and that do not require a particular political stance in order for them to be applied. What we need to careful to avoid in simple grabbing a few texts here and there and building our perspective on them alone. Perhaps we could start by asking ourselves how did God intend to make Israel distinctive, and then look at how Jesus interpreted and expressed that during his ministry. Interesting to think about the Old Testament views the alien and the poor and how that transfers to the gospel.

Back in the 80's, when I was at college, I read some stuff about the poor. I seem to recall something coming out of the Lausanne Conference that spoke about the poor in three ways. There were the relative poor, those people who are poor in comparison to the rest of their society. Then there were the indigenous poor, those who are poor by nature of the situation and circumstances. The their group were those who were made poor by the exploitation and abuse of the wealthy and powerful.

For what it's worth, I think the gospel is more concerned with equity than equality, but I think we might also be judged by not only how we treat the poorest in our society but how poor we make them.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Building a treatment room

Ever since we decided upon our current house a year and a half ago, I thought some sort of summerhouse or cabin in the garden would be a good idea. There are so many form which to choose but I need somewhere that is big enough to work comfortably. I decided that something around 4m x 2.5m was about right and I've been searching the web for ideas.

It's taken me a long time to choose, but I think I've made my choice based upon available space. We have quite a big garden but we have trees and borders, so choosing a place for a building involved working around all these things. The next step was to decide on a foundation. I didn't want to do a solid concrete base, so in the end I've opted for a recycled plastic framework filled with gravel. Here's a picture.

The next step will be to build a raised base from 100mm x 50mm timber. I'm doing this to lift the building just enough to allow for the addition of a veranda a later date if we want to do that.

The timber is coming next week, and I'll order the cabin soon.

After that electrics and a path.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Can we change?

I've noticed a little trend in my social media feeds recently. It goes along the line of new problems needing new solutions, not being able to solve new issues with old thinking, that kind of thing. Einstein gets quoted (the one about expecting different results, even though we do things the same way), and I've even quoted Craig Groeschel a couple of times on this very blog in the past (if we're going to reach the people other people aren't reaching, we're going to have do what other people aren't doing). They are great quotes, challenging and thought provoking. But are they changing anything?

In order to think in new ways you have to innovate, and innovating can be a very lonely endeavour. To be a pioneer means to be leading the way to a place we have not been to before. We may have a sense of what it might look like, but we have yet to experience the breath-taking wonder and beauty of the new.

When we sense the call to pioneer, to move out of the comfort of what we know and towards something yet to be realised, we face the double challenge of the journey into the unknown and how to take people with us. We can go alone, but alone isn't usually a great plan. Casting a vision for the new can be the most frustrating thing you ever do. I know from personal experience that it's very tough to get some people to see what you see, to understand what you say and to want to change and embrace a new adventure.

The problem seems to be that what you are offering them in this new vision is a swap. You're asking them to swap the thing they know for the thing they don't know. Their something for your nothing. So what do you do?

In the midst of all these hints and calls for new ways of thinking and new solutions I think it's worth spending some time reflecting on something I've heard Bill Hybels talk about a couple of times in the last year or so. Bill is a great vision caster, he's had a few years experience doing it! He knows a thing or two about the way vision leaks as people grapple with what they've just heard and how important it is to reinforce the vision and revisit it regularly in order to keep in the front of minds that get preoccupied with other stuff. But he's recently tried a new approach when casting a vision.

Rather than just describe what things could be like, he urges us to describe how things are right now and how unimaginable it is to stay where we are. In other words we have to be able to see the future in the context of the present and the present in the context of the future. We have to agree together that we simply can't go on as we are and that we have to journey somewhere new.

Perhaps, in church life, we have not yet reached that place where staying as we are is not unthinkable for most churched people. Perhaps until we do, little will change.

I'm not sold on the idea of importing business ideas and practices into the church, but I am struck sometimes by the difference in approach to innovation in church and in business. Would anyone have said to Steve Jobs when he announced the first iPod to the world that he needed to make sure he didn't upset or alienate users of portable CD players?

If the gospel is the power of God to change lives, if the church is God's chosen vehicle for the proclamation of that message, why are we so afraid of breaking it? Why are so we so afraid to try something new?

The church must change, we must innovate, we must pioneer, but do we have the courage to see it and to acknowledge that where are in not where we should stay.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The cost of discipleship

A link to an old article by Mike Breen popped up on an RSS feed a couple of days ago. As I recall from the first time I read the article (it's about why the missional movement will fail), the gist of his argument lies in the principle that if you make disciples you will always get church, but if you make church you won't necessarily get disciples.

Well yesterday, in one of those wonderfully relevant but totally unconnected ways, I found myself reading what Jesus had to say about being a disciple in Luke 14. We all know that Jesus said the cost of being a disciple was high. Love for others would look like in comparison to loving him; everything you own would be surrendered; you'd need to carry a cross; home, family, personal ambition, security and comfort would all be sacrificed. No wonder then that it is through these disciples that Jesus will change the world. Having given up so much for the cause of Christ, they are the ones who live wholeheartedly for the kingdom.

But what about those of us who have stuff? How exactly do we live out the radical call to discipleship that Jesus makes in our 21st century world? We have savings, houses, cars and clothes. We have goals and ambitions, dreams and plans. All must be subsumed under the authority of Jesus if we are going to live out the discipled life that will change the world.

I guess the issue most of us face is how do we balance the call to give away everything we possess and follow Jesus, with the simple fact that most of us would find that impossible to do. space in the wardrobe and garage wouldn't be a bad thing, but reducing my relationship with God to something measured by what I don't have seems just as ridiculous as measuring it by what I do have. Is a poverty gospel any more spiritual or less harmful than a prosperity gospel?

Discerning when Jesus uses hyperbole to make a point is sometimes glaringly obvious and sometimes really difficult to see. To what extent does Jesus push the thinking of the rich young man beyond rote obedience to the law by raising the stakes and calling him to abandon his wealth, but actually not expecting him to do it? I don't know, but clearly the young man has much to think about how he measures his life and its worth.

I guess in the end we have to keep asking questions, we have to keep searching our hearts to see where our treasure is located. Do I possess my possessions or do they possess me? Do they get in the way of following Jesus, or rather how much do they get in the way?

Not quite ATP, but fun!

Well, with Wimbledon just around the corner, I thought I'd share my current tennis status with you! I started to play about three years ago and, after some pushing by my coach, decided to have a go at a few competitions. I don't have any pretension towards greatness. In fact winning a first round match would be nice! But, because I've entered one competition and just taken part is a pre-qualifier for a clay court tournament (lost again!), I now have a national ranking! It's not that impressive, but it's fun to see oneself on a list! Here are the details after one result.

I'm in a few grass court competitions over the summer, so you never know by the end of the season I may have accumulated a whole two or even three points!

Getting through a first round match is my first goal. After that we might just have to try and take over the world!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Write about what and to whom?

I got another letter recently urging me to write to peers about the same-sex marriage bill. I can't remember how many I've had over the time period since the first announcement of the bill, it's not so many that I'm overly bothered about the amount of paper and post involved. No, my concern is with the image of the church it presents and the questions and issues upon which it doesn't challenge me to engage with my elected representatives. Mind you, if I wrote to my MP about everything that maybe should concern me, I too would be adding to the deforestation of the forests but increasing the turn over of the Post Office. Truly a dilemma for an advocate of both environmental awareness and the national postal system!

No, the real question for e remains one of how the church is perceived, how the things about which we protest or campaign generate an image about the things that most concern us. It's the old issue of people knowing what the church is against but not what it is for. As one person recently tweeted: People think christians are obsessed with same sex marriage. I'm obsessed with protesting about a million people who need food banks. 

Too often we remain silent or unheard on issues like poverty, racism, social policy etc. We fail to be the voice of the powerless because we are too busy defending doctrine. I've said before that personally I am not convinced that we should be that concerned about the same-sex bill. Why would be want to deny in law the right to marry to the gay community just because it doesn't fit our theology? Again this isn't a matter of theology, it's a matter of justice, an although our theology should be clearly reflected in our ethics, is the rule of law in our society a theological question?

Perhaps, if I were to write to a peer or my MP it would be more about government policy towards the poor and powerless, about the human rights of detainees in Afghanistan, about my worries over arming "moderate opposition forces" in Syria (does putting a rocket in their hands make them more or less moderate?).

And on the issue of marriage? Well what makes marriage more than a civil partnership, a legal contract? I am married. I have a piece of paper to prove it. But my marriage is more than a piece of paper, and is in no way defined solely by that piece of paper.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Things I've learned while using the bus

I'm no stranger to public transport in the sense that I often take the train to London, but riding on the buses is a different experience. Yesterday I had a funeral visit to make, and because the car is being fixed, I took the bus. On Sunday I used the bus to get to the tennis tournament and home again afterwards. It's quite liberating in one sense, but I can imagine how frustrating it can be if it's your only choice. I'm not about to wax lyrical about the joys of public transport!

Anyway, I've learned a few lessons form my bus days. Here are a few:

  • Trains run to a timetable, and that's important. Buses run to a timetable, but who cares what it is. The buses don't appear to worry!
  • Double-decker buses can corner a lot faster than you imagine. Don't try and get up just before a sharp bend or roundabout. You may find yourself closer to someone you don't know than you want to be.
  • Teenagers on buses appear to have a generally good grasp of Anglo-saxon but little knowledge of the rules governing the construction of a simple sentence in English. Can one really, "Go Lakeside"?
  • Bus stops are built next to large puddles, probably by law.
  • Not all driver know where the bus stop is, so be prepared for sudden braking and the possibility of loose old people being thrown around the inside of the vehicle.
  • Hearing yourself think is not possible if you catch a bus during the school run.
  • Every so often everything works and the bus comes just after you arrive at the bus stop. This is a anomaly on the space time continuum that will be corrected the next time you're a little late leaving the house.
  • Knowing there's another bus in 15 minutes doesn't make having just missed one easier (see rule 1 above!)
  • When the sun is shining and you have an ice-cream and you're not in a hurry to get somewhere, waiting for the bus is not an issue. 
  • Riding on the top deck raises lots of questions. For example, "Who put a racecourse behind that hedge?" Or, "Why hasn't someone developed a ventilation system that stops the windows steaming up on anything bu the driest day?"

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Making notes while browsing the web

There are lots of ways to make notes, capture information and collate stuff while you are browsing the internet. I've used iClip, when it existed, Circus Ponies Notebook, Textedit, Pages and Scrivener to name a few. It's never usually a problem having two applications open at the same time, I've often got more than that, and tabbing between them or having them side-by-side doesn't pose any real problems.

But what if you could do it all in your web browser? Well apparently you can! There's a simply command line that you can type into the address bar of your browser which will allow to you type notes directly into a blank web page.

You can save or print or email the contents of the page.

I discovered this through the Lifehack Blog, but if you don't want to go there to get the command, then this is what you need to type:


I guess you could even save it as a bookmark, or set your browser to open a notes page every time you start it up. Just in case you find html hard to memorise!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The priority of discipleship

Interesting clip from Verge Network of Alan Hirsch talking about the centrality of discipleship in transformative movements.

I guess one of the questions is that if we don't invest in both discipleship and disciplemaking, then what is the future of any new movement? And trying to build church without discipleship is a pretty pointless exercise. Mike Breen, I seem to recall, said that if you make disciples then you will get church, but if you make church, you won't necessarily get disciples, or something along those lines.

Here's a big question then: What's the point of being missional over legacy church if discipleship is the key? The point is that it's one of the keys, and not the only key. It's just really important. Missional is a way of life not just a model of church, and we ought not to forget that.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Currently Reading

I decided I'd like to read Michael Mosley's book about intermittent fasting. We were away during the Olympics, so we missed the BBC Horizon programme about it, although I did see his "The truth about exercise programme", which I found very interesting. 

Anyway I bought myself a copy of The Fast Diet: The secret of intermittent fasting - lose weight, stay healthy, live longer, which he co-wrote with Mimi Spencer, and set about reading it. I'm about a quarter of the way through the book, but reading it on Kindle means I have no idea if I'm near the end of the theory/practice bit before we hit the recipe section, or if there's more scientific revelation to come!

I guess that with our societal issues with obesity and preoccupation with diets as the solution, putting "diet" in the title was a no-brainer from a marketing point of view. But this is not really a diet book, although there are plans (recipes) and patterns to help you get started. 

If you already know about things like GI and GL, you'll probably skip over those bits, and to be honest, you can skim through much of the early pages as long as you don't miss some of the really interesting things that are being explored and discovered through current research. The thing is, this is not just about weight control, it goes to the heart of a healthy life. If the book is right, then our bodies need the routine of fasting (more accurately low-calorie days, around 600 for men, 500 for women) to get down to the business of repair. Giving our liver and pancreas a couple of days off might just reduce our risk of a number of diseases like diabetes and dementia.

Ever one to experiment, I think I'll explore the ideas. Being able to combine an age-old spiritual discipline with a 21st century exploration of healthy living sounds like a good plan! After all, I suspect one of the major reasons any of us puts on weight is a lack of discipline in the first place.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Reload Ethel, I feel another fundamental issue approaching!

Do we do it intentionally, or are we just innately insensitive or arrogantly self-assured that shooting ourselves in the foot is an essential part of evangelical theology?

I've just read an article, albeit a newspaper article, that reports the statement of one church leader who says, "People can be cured from being gay. Not everyone is but everyone can be.” Pass me another bullet while reload and look for another distal appendage at which to take aim.

While the rest of argument may be coherent, and biblical, this kind of language does not help the discussion. Being homosexually orientated is not a disease. And the parallel with a murderer, that's not helpful either. No wonder the gay community have issues with the church.

There must be a better way to explain our position, such as it is, to those with whom we differ. We may not be able to endorse so-called gay marriage, but do we have to sound quite so condemnatory in the process? Perhaps we've forgotten that God's love for us is not predicated upon our sexual orientation. John's Gospel does not report: "For God so loved the straight that he gave his one and only Son...."

An extract from Sunday's notes

Here's an extract from my notes from Sunday. There are some qualifications needed, but I simply present it here to try and spark some thinking for you. 
The world is not the enemy, and it’s not the fault of the world that it finds itself as it is. Let me explain. 
Darkness is by its very nature dark. The problem is not the darkness, but the lack of light. When light shines, darkness disappears. Darkness does not overcome light, but where there is no light, darkness will rule.
Field of dreams: We all seem to buy into the principle of Kevin Costner’s character in the film. The famous line from the film: "If you build it they will come”, has become the subconscious mantra of the evangelical movement.
But the truth is they won’t come. At least not in the numbers we think. Church works for church people. Bigger and better won’t change that. 
Our structures also bear little relevance to the world beyond the bricks and mortar. I have a Masters degree in theology. If I wanted to teach in a theological college I've been told I would need a doctorate or at the very least a published book! But neither of these qualifies me for anything in the wider world. Outside of the church these degrees and diplomas mean nothing. They means very little to very few people.
What does matter is that I'm there when a member of the family passes away. What might matter is that I'm there to cheer them on when everyone else has given up on them. What could matter is someone being available when they need friendship. And you don't have to be a well-trained, over qualified minister or pastor to do that!
Perhaps the gospel looks like the community we say it is but often fail to live out in any real sense. Like everyone else we've become too busy in our individual world to be connected to anything beyond ourselves. 
When we look in the mirror we see and army of ordinary people totally committed to Christ and the cause of Christ, declaring the gospel of God with a passion, against a backdrop of hostility and apathy from a world spiralling away from God. What the world sees is a group of out of touch, bible bashing, hymn singing, moralising hypocrites that are more concerned about who uses the car park than how to love their neighbour. 
Something has to change. 

Monday, May 06, 2013

Reflecting on preaching

Preaching on Sunday reminded me of a few things that I'd probably allowed to drift out of my line of sight in recent months. When I preach these days, and it's not very often at all, this was only the second time this year, I tend simply to share my heart rather than do a good old fashioned expository sermon. That's not because I don't think such an approach has no value, but at the moment because I guess it's just about trying to share what has been the concern of my heart for the last few years. Plus the fact that I wasn't given a topic or theme or text, so it seemed an appropriate approach. Little did I know that it would be so pertinent to where the church finds itself at this moment in time. Reminder number one: God knows what he is doing!

The second reminder was more personal. It was the reminder that this is what I do, this is part of the shape God has given to my life and that ought not to be ignored or rejected just because I'm no longer leading a church. I don't have to preach, but I ought not to avoid it just because it's no longer a regular part of my life. That means taking the responsibility seriously when I get asked. If I get asked!

The third reminder was about the things for which I have a passion. I may have no idea how to start whatever it is we're starting or supposed to start in South Ockendon, but I do have something in my head and heart that is not just a frustrated outworking of my concerns about the legacy model of church.

The truth is that our society is accelerating away from us and we are failing to keep pace with it. We are more out of touch than we were a year ago and getting further out of touch as I write.

There many other reminders yesterday. Things like preaching is not always, if ever, about how good you are, but about how God uses you; that the bigger the church, the harder change will probably be simply because getting everyone to reimagine things isn't easy; it's okay to do what we do "in" church, but if that doesn't translate into something we do beyond the building amongst the people of our communities, then what value does it have?

And to the people who took the time to speak to me afterwards and encourage me, a big thank you. I know that the folk that didn't like what I said, or didn't approve of the way I said it, won't usually come to speak to me afterwards, so I know that the positive response was not the whole church's response, but that's okay.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Am I that fig tree?

Have you noticed how easy it is to fall into the trap of self-judgement? Okay, so there is a place for accepting responsibility and owning our mistakes and failures, but we so easily take on the mantle of the worst of sinners that I think it gets in the way of a more realistic understanding of who and what we are in Christ.

Yesterday my reading in Luke was the story of the fig tree that hadn't borne any fruit for some time. The solution was either cut it down now or give it another year and then cut it down if things haven't changed. Hands up who feels like the fig tree. But is asking, "Am I the fig tree?" the right question? I'm not so sure. Perhaps some days it is, but most of the time it's not the most helpful question to ask. It only leads you to judge yourself unworthy and of no value to the mission of God in the world he created and for which he sent his Son as the Father, and for the Son died as a Saviour. If God thought we were worth that kind of effort, who are we to argue?

So, here's an alternative question to ask having read about the fig tree.

How am I living intentionally for the kingdom of God in ways that have the potential to bear fruit for that kingdom?

Or, as I seem to recall Rick Warren putting it: Are you living on purpose and with purpose? Or words to that effect. It's the spiritual equivalent of David Allen's, "What is the next physical thing I have to do to get this thing done?" It's a motivator not a demotivator. Too often our spiritual questions are laden with guilt. But the goal of our lives is not to wallow in guilt and the almost inevitable self-pity that follows, but to pursue God and in pursuing him to be found by him. Can I really do that if most of the time I'm worrying that he will cast me aside like the fig tree in the story?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Off to preach at the weekend

In this odd world of ministry without church that I now inhabit, I don't preach or speak publicly much anymore. Sometimes I miss it, most times I don't. I don't miss staying up late on Saturdays trying to figure out if I've got it straight, and I don't miss getting up a few hours later on a Sunday morning to completely rewrite everything because it just doesn't sit right in my head. I never envied those folk who had Wednesday as sermon preparation day and seemed to be able to sit down at the desk and turn out the finished article by the end of a single day's work. For me, sermon preparation was a week long process of walking with the text, exploring it from a range of angles, reflecting on its context and generally letting is all coalesce in my head. Mind maps and sketchy notes were my route to a Sunday presentation.

So it's rather odd to be in a place where I don't have to do that on a regulars basis.

But this weekend I am preaching. Now I know that I've been asked because all the main stays of the church are at the BU Assembly. I also know that it's almost a racing certainty that it will be a one off invitation. So I could go in with the attitude of nothing to lose, but that would seem to be a somewhat arrogant approach. The truth is that I still believe that the local church is the hope of the world as Bill Hybels would say. And yes, I know it's the message that carries the hope, but the church remains God's chosen vehicle.

Having said that, it would be unwise to assume that the church as it presents itself in our times is somehow sacred to the purposes of God. We ought to remember the salutary lesson of those who believed Jerusalem could not possibly fall because it was God's chosen city.

So I will preach, and I won't go out of my way to upset or alienate anyone, but I won't hold back either in presenting a challenge to change. We shall see how it goes!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Bohemian Rhapsody... but not as you may remember it!

There are many version's of Queen's BR, I even have the original on vinyl in the loft. But this one makes me smile. I was looking for a piece of music for someone, and came across this brass ensemble version.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Christian non-religious funeral?

I know, from conversations that I've had, that for some people the idea of a Christian minister doing non-religious funerals is at best confusing, at worst dishonouring to God. But just because God doesn't get mentioned during the service, and that's not always the case, it doesn't mean that he's not involved or taking the opportunity to catch up on a bit of paperwork because he isn't needed for this one.

If we believe that God is ever present, then non-religious doesn't have to equate to being without faith. One might not pray out loud during the funeral, one might not read the bible or preach a short sermon, but God will be there, of that i am sure.

Today I'm off to do funerals number 28 and 29 of the year so far. Some of them have been non-religious, one of today's falls into that category. But what I have noticed is that non-religious doesn't necessarily mean non-spiritual, or even non-faith. In conversation with the family, non-religious often turns out to be a preconception of overly religious language and style of presentation rather than specific content. I can only remember one funeral in the last year or so, the time during which I've been doing non-religious funerals, where I was expressly told that God was not to be mentioned at all.

So I will continue to do my duties, to serve God and families through this ministry, religious or not. Over the past 20 years I've learnt a lot about doing a funeral. I've learnt about being adaptable, about listening to families and helping them shape the life-celebration funeral they want. I never feel the need to impose prayers or readings on them, but rest in the knowledge that God is ever-present and my role is to partner with him in his mission to these hurting friends and relatives.

Some, I'm sure, will continue to raise issues and even criticise my approach, but that's okay. As far as I'm concerned, God has granted me a rare and special privilege for a season. How long it will continue I do not know. But what is interesting is that it is far more challenging to work out how to share some element of faith when you can't simply follow the script of the service book to do it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Oh, what fun!

So, as I was wandering around the internet, aimlessly looking at a few things, I found myself reading the Slim Fast website to see what they have to say about diet and weight loss. Rather like fitness programmes and tennis videos, it's something I look at from time to time. I also quite like the Slim Fast milkshakes, not sure why.

Anyway, apparently you can buy their products through Amazon, so I wandered over the Amazon store, and there they were. All flavours, in multipacks, or singly, available to the determined milkshake dieter! But wait, What's this?

Slim-Fast Summer Strawberry Flavour Milkshake Powder 438g (Pack of 3) Starring Richard Dean Anderson

Sorry, what's that? Could it be that the ultimate weapon in the fight against the system lords is a milkshake! Or maybe it's the secret to escaping from a locked room (you've seen McGyver haven't you?) I'm sure Richard Dean Anderson has been in other productions, but this must be the strangest!

And then it just gets better. Follow the link to the product specific page and you discover this:

Slim-Fast Summer Strawberry Flavour Milkshake Powder 438g (Pack of 3)

Richard Dean Anderson    Parental Guidance   DVD 
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews) Like(3)

Available from these sellers.

4 new from £23.85
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Well it made me smile anyway.

I wish Richard Dean Anderson every success as he seeks to protect us from alien attack and lose those extra pounds along the way.

PS. According to one reviewer it "arrived well packed and on time".

 Just what you want from the military leader of SG-1

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Better Argument Needed

I was watching the news this morning and listening to the discussion about the right to die that has been raised again. As someone who does a few funerals, 29 so far this year, I see the pain and sadness that goes with such an event. Yes, almost without exception, I get told that the person who has died wanted it to be a celebration of their life and not a time of tears and sadness. But the reality is that it is a time of sadness and tears for most people even though they try to celebrate. Emotions are well and truly mixed.

Having said that, I can't conceive of the challenges that one might face
living with a life-limiting condition or near constant severe pain. Dark days must be a regular companion in such circumstances.

So what about the issue of assisted dying?

Those in favour seem to edge towards the right to self determination, and those against towards the sanctity of life and the fear of opening a door to pressure and abuse, pushing the vulnerable towards a choice they may not want to make.

I have no simple answers, but I do wonder if there's a question we are missing, common ground we share that could help us help each other understand and explore the issue together. Rather than an argument, could we not take a journey as partners? Why is the debate always polarised in the bite-sized media into for and against? Where is the informed discussion involving those who care for the dying, the palliative care experts alongside those who support or question the proposals?

I suspect those in favour of a right to die are equally concerned to protect the rights of the vulnerable and to not create a open door to abuse. Could we not start there? How does grace and compassion influence the debate and how does it challenge the pro lobby?

Perhaps we are simply too used to the idea of an adversarial debate to be able to listen thoughtfully to all sides.

You may have noticed that I've not offered a theological reflection, I've not spoken about a specifically Christian or Evangelical perspective. I do have one, but I hope that it informs and shapes my understanding while still allowing room for continued reflection.

Personally I try to remember that theological answers work for those who share a similar conviction that God is at work in our world. For those who do not, it's not an argument at all. I respect that, and want to think with them, not against them.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Has Spring sprung?

Last year, the magnolia was well and truly finished by this time. This year, it is just coming into flower.

Clients welcome!

It's quite a challenge, setting out to start your own sports massage practice. I've tried a few avenues, but the reality seems to be that it's going to take time and perseverance to get going. So far I've visited the local golf club, three gyms and written to several local sports clubs (rugby, hockey, volleyball etc). A couple of the visits were fairly positive, but the emails have yielded very little. I shall press on however!

One thing I've noticed is that many local sports clubs that have a website have no information about how to advertise through them. I know not every club does a match-day programme, but those that do ought to say something about advertising via their websites. I must admit that until I was offered advertising space at the local rugby club I'd never thought of that as a possible route, but now I'm looking at local clubs and trying to find out if they have programmes. The other frustrating thing is that you simply don't get a reply to an email. If you have a contact form on your website, then please, please have the courtesy to respond to contacts!

So, at the moment I'm still treating one or two clients at my house. I'd like a nice treatment cabin in the garden, but I need to take out a few trees first.

This weekend I'll be working at the London Marathon, and I will take some cards and flyers with me. I'm not sure how useful it is to do volunteer work, I guess you have to be thoughtful about choosing the right events in the right places that might produce the right contacts.

Oh, and I have the possibility of starting a clinic at a leisure centre not too far away.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Iris Notes Executive2

So, how do you go about translating hand-written notes into electronic files? One way is simply to scan them and store them as PDF's. I came across a special offer on the Iris Executive notes system that now looks easier to use with a Mac than when I first thought about trying it a few years ago.

It's simple to set up, and ought to be really simple to use, unless you're left-handed like me! You see I have a rather unusual writing style, even for a lefty, so it was gong to be interesting to see how the device coped with both my script and how I orientate the paper to write.

Logic told me that the device wouldn't know whether the paper was rotated in one direction or the other, so it ought to work. The issue is getting the clip on receiver out of the way of my trailing hand. Ideally I'd like to put it at the bottom of the page, but then I reasoned the text would be upside down. In the end the choices are top centre, top left or top right. I tried top right, the place least likely to be affected by my writing angle. The result was okay for an image, but totally scrambled when the software tried to convert my text to typed text.

No matter what I tried, the results were pretty awful each time, and I'd just about given up on the idea of it ever working for me when I put the device top-centre. The results were very good.

Here's the handwritten note:

It was very awkward working around the receiver, so much so that long-term I think I'd probably suffer some sort of RSI issue in my wrist. I have the same problem with clipboards where the clip gets in the way. As far as I can see the only solution is to start lower down the page!

Anyway, the software sees the text as horizontal and the resultant conversion is very impressive. I haven't "taught" the software my version of handwriting, so you have to be impressed with its interpretation of what it found. Only the lowercase S and the apostrophe are the only errors I can see. 

The device comes with a connector to link it directly to an iPad. I haven't tried that yet, but now I've got it reading my writing it might be worth exploring.

So why not just use the iPad I hear you say. Well, good question. The problem with the iPad is that I haven't found an app yet that will do what I want it to do when it comes to taking therapy notes. Nothing has what I want, so this might just be a way of getting my handwritten notes into an electronic format. On the other hand, I might just stick with pen and paper until it becomes too cumbersome or I decide I don't need pretty little pictures for posture notes and squiggles!

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

New Blog

I thought I might try a new blog where I can talk about stuff to do with Sports Massage and other related items. I will probably repost a few older items from this blog there, but there will be new stuff too.

If you're interested in that side of things, then you can read the blog here.

Touch Rugby

I've been wondering about playing touch rugby. It's something we used to do at school, many, many years ago, and I think it's probably a great way to get a run about and gain some fitness. Running for long distances can be quite boring, and if like me your knees are increasingly reluctant to be pounded mile after mile, then maybe something like touch rugby is a alternative for that cardio workout you crave.

The rules have developed somewhat since my schooldays, which makes it an easier game to play for anyone, and a few cones, a ball and a good spirit should make it possible. There's even a couple of official websites with leagues! Sadly, there's nothing I can find this far east of Kingston or Clapham, so maybe it's time to start something in deepest Essex!

I'm not sure exactly how to get things started, but it would only take a minimum of 10, ideally 12 people, men and women, to get underway.

Any takers? Vets like me welcome!!

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Church, mental illness and suicide

With the recent news of the sad death of Matthew Warren, there are probably questions surfacing for many people in our Christian communities. Ed Stetzer has written a helpful blog post about the church and mental illness and a longer article here.