Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Some rambling thoughts about independence

I'm not Scottish. I'm English, to be more or less precise about things. Actually I prefer to think about being a citizen of the UK, although that has caused confusion in the past! We were in Chicago staying at a local motel. I'd put "UK" on the form as our country of origin. The owner thought that meant Ukraine and complemented me on my English language skills!

Anyway, back to independence. In a few months time Scotland will decide whether to remain a part of the union or not. It sounds simple, but as with all of these things it's actually quite a complicated issue, made ever more complicated by history, or so it seems. Now, not only am I not a Scot, but I'm not an economist and I'm no great student of either history, politics or social sciences. I'm pretty neutral about who should vote too. I don't have a "West Lothian" question to raise.

What I do wonder is why the arguments in favour of staying in the union seem to be predicated upon a foundation of fear about what might be lost. don't go independent, you'll lose the pound, membership of the EU is not a given, all those sorts of things. Are there no better arguments pro union that these? Surely there are things about the union that are positive beyond a common currency a shared defence force and oil revenues.

Perhaps, what the arguments lacks something to do with interdependence, working and living together in a society not divided by our historical mistakes and prejudices, but shaped by a mutually positive future. You don't have to have an old Roman wall between you and Westminster to wonder about some of the decisions that are made there. I lived in London in the early 80's and watched as the then government dismantled the coal and manufacturing industries of the Midlands and other regions of our country. I only had to jump on a train back to my home city of Nottingham to see that central government appeared to be out of touch life away from the metropolis of London.

So here's my plea. If you're going to say anything about why Scotland should vote to stay in the union, then make it positive. If they vote for independence than we will work out what to do with the currency, what to do about sharing out the debt and how to negotiate our way through a period of change. Hopefully we'd support them in a bid to be part of the EU in their own right and we wouldn't become protective of the border!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Storms, tempest and judgment

If someone asked you if you believed that God was judging the nation through the floods and storms of recent weeks, what would you say? Would you say no in order to avoid being thought of as a religious fanatic, when in fact you rather think the correct answer is yes. Or would you say no and wonder what that says about your view of the Old Testament in particular?

On the other hand you might well say yes because you see God acting in this way in the Bible and see no reason to deny that he continues to to do the same and that in fact the Bible makes it quite clear that judgment is coming and that will take the form of earthquakes and floods because you remember reading that somewhere or you heard it one Sunday night when someone preached about the end times.

Perhaps I should call my insurance company and ask them how the determine whether something is an "act of God". Then again, maybe we ought to remind ourselves that judgment, whatever form it might or might not take, is God's area of expertise and his prerogative, not ours. You'd think sometimes that we believe that we're best placed to make the call, but that would put us at the very least on an equal footing with God if not slightly ahead of him, and that is surely a dangerous position in which to find ourselves! Is it not enough for us to know that one day God will judge and he will do so righteously. Ours is a simpler task: to live lives that honour God. To love others into the kingdom rather than judge them out of it. Sometimes that's messy, sometimes it looks like we're compromising our faith. Jesus was known as a friend of sinners and it wasn't meant as a complement.

I try not to judge anyone. When I was the minister of a local church, something I did for 20 years, I often seemed to end up asking folk who's found themselves in some situation or another whether they thought their situation and the way they were handling it honoured God or not. Rarely did I ever have to point them to a particular verse or passage that talked about their situation. They knew the Bible well enough to work it out for themselves.

Is that enough? I don't know. And for the record, neither do I know whether the recent storms are a result of global warming to divine displeasure. The former is certainly a factor and as to the latter, I haven't asked and God hasn't told me.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sugar versus Fat

Did you see the Horizon programme about sugar and fat? It's still available on iPlayer until about the 3rd of March if you haven't seen it. It's an interesting experiment with some interesting conclusions. I know it's a bit of a spoiler, but the final conclusion, that refined foods are the biggest issue, is far from as surprising at it appears to be in the programme. What was interesting is the reason why.

It would appear that it's down to the fat/sugar ratio and the way that tricks our bodies into not self-regulating our intake. In other words, we just keep eating. These refined foods are calorie dense, very pleasing to eat and have the ability to switch off the self-regualting system. That's what makes them dangerous.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Myth of Talent

I've started reading Matthew Syed's book "Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice". It's a book I've been wanting to read for some time along with Malcolm Gladwell's "Tipping Point". Gladwell's book was first published in 2000, and Bounce in 2011, so I'm typically late to the party, but better late than never!

The premise of Bounce is that practice not talent is what produces excellence. Elite sports people might look super talented, but it's the hours of practice that make the difference. The first part of the book is all about debunking the myth that it's talent that distinguished the best from the rest, and that anyone can achieve things that seem beyond their abilities with sufficient application. Interesting.

Syed cites a number of researchers and research studies that support his thesis, and the data is compelling. It's quite heartening to know that, for example, I can become a consistently better tennis player given enough practice. But the practice must be purposeful rather than undirected. There's one great quote from Jack Nicklaus:

It isn't so much a lack of talent; it's a lack of being able to repeat good shots consistently that frustrates most players. And the only answer to that is practice.
 Okay, so here's the not so good news. It takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve excellence! At 1,000 hours a year, that means it takes on average 10 years to achieve that level of performance. This apparently holds true across the board. Those youngsters who appear talented beyond their years and in comparison to their peers, on investigation have just compressed their practice into a shorter time frame and have had the advantage of superior coaching along the way.

How does that inform the rest of us? Well, take the example of church leadership, something I have some experience in! When someone is appointed to the leadership team of a church do we just assume they come with all the skills and gifts required of them to perform well as a leader? How do we give them the time to practice, to prepare for leadership? How do we develop their skills so they become excellent leaders?

We can't get them practicing four hours a day for the next ten years, and in truth they come to the leadership table with many gifts and skills already developed. That's why we appointed them, right? But a typical two terms as a deacon in many baptist churches might just not give someone the opportunity to truly develop their potential. Asking them to serve for 10+ years in a row would often wear out all but the most determined or simply belligerent of leaders!

I don't have an answer, but simply ask the question. As for me, I realise a couple of things. Firstly, if I'm going to improve my tennis I need to practice more and maybe play less. At the very least the balance of practice and play needs to be thought through. When it comes to my massage practice, there's a similar challenge around the amount of clinical practice I need to go from being a competent therapist and an excellent one. Sadly I probably don't have enough years left to fully achieve my potential in either of these disciplines, but that doesn't mean I don't have a target in mind and some goals to achieve.

The point here I guess is that you need a plan. Whatever your goals might be and no matter how realistic they appear, the key is in that phrase "purposeful practice". It might be a simple plan, for example to hit ten consecutive cross court forehands into a specific area of the court rather than just "over and in". It might be to sign up for a CPD course on sports injuries to further my knowledge base for therapy.

And for you? How are you going to apply the principle that it's not about how much talent you have but how much you are willing to invest in practice whatever that might mean?

Online abuse and bullying

I must say, I'm getting rather concerned about the whole issue of online abuse and bullying. It's come to the fore once again as yet another sports person closes their Twitter account because of threats received via that particular medium. Something surely needs to be done. But what?

Not being an internet savvy kind of person, at least not in the tracing ISP's or DNS locations, I have no idea how easy it would be to block a particular location regularly used by an abuser. Obviously companies could close accounts and block usernames, but choosing a new username and setting up a new account is the obvious get around for such action.

I guess this kind of behaviour is almost a natural extension of the couch bound sports watcher who shouts abuse at the TV from the comfort of their armchair or even from the terraces when they can muster the energy to drag themselves to the stadium. Perhaps you have to play or have played sport to understand just a little of what it means to compete and how small errors of judgement in the moment can lead to failing to achieve the goals you've set for yourself.

Perhaps online abuse is just a symptom of a wider malaise that infects our society and undermines our communities. How different might it be if we sought to be encouragers rather than critics.

In the end the only thing that is likely to have an impact on social media giants is loss of revenue. That would require a large scale rejection of the service, thousands of people closing their Twitter or Facebook accounts, or maybe a strike on updates and comments. Perhaps a day of action when everyone posts a "This must stop" message, a sort of internet version of the famous scene from Network, when Peter Finch's character, Howard Beale, calls on his audience to open their windows and shout: "We're as mad as hell, and we're not going to take this anymore."

On the other hand, a quieter revolution, one where we we teach ourselves and others that there is a better way,  one where we take responsibility for ourselves and own our comments. One where we remember that abuse hurts whatever form it takes and most people are actually more fragile than we think.

If you have a minute, read the Wikipedia entry on "Sticks and stones", the old adage that suggests that abuse, in the form of name calling, doesn't hurt. And then ask yourself if it's true.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Communities not missionaries

Here's a really interesting post from David Fitch about sending communities rather than individuals. The premise is that migration is key as communities move into new areas and live subject to God's reign.

Read the article here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

David Puttnam on "A duty of care"

This is an interring short talk and worth a watch. It raises a number of issues, particularly around the role of the media, but it has implications beyond that. For those who access the Bible, the theme of "a duty of care" should certainly not be unfamiliar and echoes of Isaiah and the story of the Good Samaritan, to name but two, come immediately to mind.

I guess the really big question from the talk is how do we go about reengaging in a democratic system that has lost it's soul as ours appears to have done.

Monday, February 03, 2014

My first attempt with a sewing machine!

I talked Anne into buying a new sewing machine on the basis that I would have a go with it too. I wanted to make a thin hoodie to replace one I used to have but wore out. When I play tennis in the winter it's nice to use several thin layers, but most hoodies are relatively thick and too warm for me.

And this is the result of my efforts with help and encouragement from the aforementioned Anne who helped me understand the pattern, cut the pieces and figure out the assembly process. But I did all the sewing, which is probably the most straightforward bit of the whole process!