Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Having finished "Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice"

So I've finished reading Bounce. The last section of the book seemed to take a long time to make its point about genetics and relative success, but the conclusion is in keeping with the premise of the book that it's practice that makes the difference. Whist your genetic make up may predispose you towards a particular sport and/or sporting success, there's no substitute for good and focussed practice.

Actually, when you put it like that it doesn't seem that new a concept. The only "new" thing is the demythologising of talent as an overriding factor. However, the jury is still out on the role of talent in many ways. For example, is hand eye coordination built in or developed? The answer is probably a combination of the two. I could always catch as far as I remember. I don't ever remember having to learn how to do that. I do remember learning how to refine the technique of catching in order to improve my skill and I do remember practicing throwing a ball and catching it for endless hours. I even remember the infamous cradle at school we used for catching practice.

As to the premise of the book, that it takes 10,000 hours of focussed and appropriate practice to achieve excellence is anything, well that statistic is somewhat undone when you dig a little deeper. The research on which this principle rests shows a much more significant variation that you'd want to see if you're going to establish a precise principle in terms of hours spent developing technical skills. I also suspect that it is quite difficult to control all the contributing factors. Put simply, not everyone practises the same way with the same coach and the same equipment. Not everyone develops at the same rate physically, mentally or technically. So variation is to be expected and trying to draw a universal conclusion is always going to be difficult.

Maybe the key concept form the book is grounded ion the basic principle that practice matters because practice makes a difference. If you want to get better at anything you have to practice and you have to practice in ways that help you improve and not in ways that ingrain bad habits.

Bounce is certainly a book worth reading if you are tempted to think that you will never be any good at anything because you simply lack the talent to do it. Just remember that you have to pick the right thing. If you can't hold a tune, I doubt whether 10,000 hours of practice will ever give you the pitch required to star in your musical!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Competitive Sport in School

Once again (is this an annual debate I wonder) we're having a debate about competitive sport in schools. At least on BBC Breakfast we are. There are those who say life is competitive so get on with with it and there are those who have been put off sport for life because it was, or seemed to be, all about winning and losing.

Now I have to be honest and say that there are times when I've got quite frustrated by those who advocate a completely non-competitive approach to sport at school. Competing is a fundamental part of sport and learning to do so in an honourable and healthy way is a good thing. But, if we fail to recognise that there are many people for whom competing is not the goal, then we are doing them a great disservice by making them think that if you can't win it's not worth the effort in the first place.  We need some perspective. How many children and young people playing sport at school go on to play professionally? Very few. For every 25 children playing tennis at a local club perhaps only 2 or 3 will still be playing in their late teens. Some may return later in life, but many will simply find something else to do with their time, especially when work and other life pressures are added.

So what we need is a strategy that encourages the widest possible participation and that teaches everyone from children to adults that sport is good in and of itself without having to win anything, and that playing sport to improve is just as significant as playing to win something. We need to stop debating competitive versus non-competitive and start discussing participation and the proper place for competition.

And last but not least, those of us who can play need to encourage those who struggle to have fun trying.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Quiet Day at the Marathon

Well this year was a much quieter day at the marathon compared to last year. It would seem quite that the location is quite important if you're going to get runners to come to the charity's reception. The last two years I've been in St James Park and we had a lot of runners come through. I think last year we had over 130, certainly over a 100 across the 8 or so couched we had open. This year, although the charity with whom I was working had over 150 runners, only 24 came to the reception point.

That was rather disappointing for the therapists, but you can't blame the runners for maybe not wanting to walk the extra half mile or so up towards Piccadilly after running 26.2 of them! It might have been that they just wanted to sit in the park or just hop on the tube home. It never ceases to amaze me that after running all that way, many of the participant just casually get on the tube and very people seem to take any notice.

As for me, I got to act in a supervisory role rather than a hands on therapist. That was good for me and I'm very grateful to the actual supervisor who gave me the opportunity. It 's always good to extend what you do and think about how you might lead a team should the opportunity ever arise. The one thing that can be said for supervising is that you don't have to drag your couch across the city. This year's assault course included navigating West Ham station between the C2C and Jubilee line, then changing from the Jubilee to the Piccadilly line at Green Park before dragging myself up the stairs to street level in search of my final destination.

All the runners were magnificent. Some just thrilled to have made it, some achieving or just missing out on personal bests. Mo Farah was not alone on missing his target, and like all the runners I met you would never dare to call them failures. Perhaps those who do ought to try a mile or two for themselves before offering such twaddle in judgement.

Friday, April 11, 2014

If the Ark isn't a symbol of God's power, what is it?

I'm talking here about the Ark of the Covenant and not the large vessel Noah built and has become the subject of heated debate with the release of the film, just to save any confusion!

The story of the the loss and return of the Ark in 1 Samuel is still in my mind as I think about the implications of the story. There are plenty of theological books available that will discuss the Ark, it's significance and meaning. What I've been doing is thinking about why Israel took it into battle and why, when it was captured, the events unfolded as they did. Perhaps some of the answers lie in the relationship between God and Israel and God and the Philistines. Perhaps not so much.

I guess some of the problem lies in the simple fact that we can make what was sacred into something far more superstitious than sacred. There's an almost logical reductionism that causes us to interpret and then reinterpret things to the point that they bear little resemblance to the original. And it has to be said that whichever side of an argument you present, you face the danger of interpreting texts and objects in line with your presuppositions and prejudices. It's only natural.

So, without this turning into an in-depth bible study, what does the Ark represent? What is it's significance? Well, at it's very heart it is the resting place of the God-given law code for Israel. That law describes life under the covenant between God and the people. It's a treaty document you might say, and it describes the responsibilities of both suzerain and vassal, master and servant. Failure to live up to the terms of the covenant brings consequences.

But there's something else at work with this particular covenant. There's an escape route if you like for when things go wrong, for when the people fail to meet the expectations of the code. A rite takes place and blood is sprinkled on the Ark. Now, I happen to think that Ark contained both copies of the law. Typically treaties of the era would be written out in two copies, one for each party. I think both god's copy and the people's copy are in the box. both people and Lord have only one reference point, the Ark and so when the blood is sprinkled both copies are "covered" by the blood of the sacrifice.

Now, when God looks at the law he sees the blood first. There law is "hidden" beneath the blood. It does not disappear. Rather than being judged against the law, the people are now judged against the sacrifice. Mercy, and grace, triumph over judgment, to paraphrase James.

Perhaps that's why the Philistine statue falls over, because there is no blood to cover the law and so judgment prevails (You shall have no other gods...). But even where judgement might prevail. God remains gracious and even the Philistines work out a way to send the Ark back. Even in their misdirected faith and practice, God seems to find a way to be gracious towards them. Perhaps this is a symbol too of what is to come when he will make a covenant that is wider than a nation.

You see, I find it fascinating the way that God interacts with people. The way he seeks to save and not destroy. The way he works with where they are rather than where they ought to be if only they knew  better.

Missional church life is not just about doing more mission or doing more social action. Part of the missional DNA is to inhabit the neighbourhood not just visit it. To find ways of incarnating the gospel, living the grace of God n the mists of a community that is mixed up and messed up. To find a way of demonstrating a better way to live from within. We are in the community, we are for the community and are with the community as together we journey with and towards God. This is not a universalist position before someone accuses me of such. It is an assumption that everyone is somewhere on a journey with God. That God is at work in my community.

For the record, I think God loved the Philistines just as much as he loved Israel. I think he wanted to show them a better way, to bless them in ways they couldn't imaging. It was just that the example he longed to set for them through the people he had set apart wasn't working.

You might be tempted to say the same is true today.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Will there be tennis in heaven?

Over Easter I'll be in Ipswich taking part in the first tournament of the year for me. It would be nice to think that this year I might make some progress and win a few matches. I have no expectations of winning any tournaments, but a match or tow wouldn't go amiss!

The other day, while speaking at church, I jokingly suggested that if there wasn't going to be the chance to play tennis in heaven I wasn't sure I wanted to go! To which someone replied that it would be boring because it would be just one long rally because no one would miss. That made me laugh but also go me thinking. To what do we really owe our concept of heaven?

Either we se heaven as some sort of idealised paradise based on some utopian world, or we seem to see it as one long worship event. We'll wander around with sickly sweet smiles on faces, living out an eternal version of a Star Trek episode where we're all happy and have rejected technology to live in simplicity in a temperate climate where time is no longer relevant.

But is that really what it will be like? If all we are going to do all day is sing then I for one will need a much better voice than Currently possess. i know God loves a joyful noise, but surely even he would baulk at it for all eternity!

Too often our view of heaven is based on an assumption of a return to the garden ideal. I'm not sure that's how it will be. On the other hand, I don't know much more than that it will be a place where God dwells among his people and that the old order of things will have passed away. But what belongs to that old order? John tells us that it has to do with things like dying, mourning, crying and pain. So, my knees and back might not ache, but does it mean that technology will disappear and that sport will become a distant memory.

I'm not so sure.

For what it's worth, if there is the opportunity to play tennis in heaven I think my backhand will still need work and that playing it will still be just as difficult then as it is now. Heaven won't be some stylised paradise where nothing goes awry and mistakes don't happen. It will be a place where we have learned to live in true relationship with the God who loves us. A place not marred by sin and fallen human characteristics but defined by the character of God expressed through the people who dwell there.

Perhaps I will finally be able to see in colour and without glasses, but if I'm still chromatically challenged and short-sighted then who cares. I'm not seeking perfection, I'm seeking God.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Where are we now?

A video conversation with Reggie McNeal about the missional movement. In this video he makes some interesting observations about the journey so far and shares both concerns and hopes for the movement going forward.

The hardest thing for most people as far as I can tell is getting  grip on a completely new way of seeing the church. It's not about adding more programmes, but fundamentally shifting our paradigm for what it means to be the church. Moving from a church-centric narrative to a kingdom narrative is one of our challenges. Seeing ourselves as 'in', 'for' and 'with' our communities is also a challenge.

Some thoughts about the early part of 1Samuel

I decided I wanted to read the story of Samuel and the transition to a monarchy in the life of Israel for my daily devotional and I saw something I'd not seen before in the first few chapters. Well I guess I had noticed it, but not quite in the same way. As the story unfolds we find Hannah praying, moving her lips but with no sound coming out. Eli assumes she's been drinking but soon discovers that's not the case and that in fact it is out of her deep distress that Hannah is praying with such intensity.

But why did Eli presume Hannah was drunk? How bad had things got at the Tabernacle that it was more normal to assume someone was drunk than deep in prayer? This has little to do with ecstatic prayer or issues around speaking in tongues as was the case in Acts. Things must have been pretty awful, and indeed we soon discover just how bad things were as the antics of Eli's sons are revealed.

Yet God still speaks. Hannah gets an answer to her prayer, Samuel is born. Even though life around the Tabernacle is far from holy, God still connects with his people, still looks for someone to stand in the gap, still desires righteousness. His passion remains to be amongst his people.

A second thing that caught my eye comes after the battle and the loss of the Ark. Now quite why Israel thought that taking the Ark into battle was a good idea and that a wooden box covered in gold was a solution to their problem is a bit of a mystery when you think about it. I guess they were trying to assure God's presence with them, but as with all human beings, they'd forgotten the fundamentals. Anyway they lose the battle and lose the Ark.

The Philistines however win the battle, capture the Ark, but things don't go so well for them. All along, whether Israel or Philistine, the people look for man-made solutions. The Philistines never ask what the wider implications are of the presence of the Ark. In fact their response to the Ark is to avoid stepping on the threshold of the temple because that's where some of the bits of the statue of their god had landed when it fell over.

Life among the Philistines was pretty messed up too.

As it get moved from town to town, people fear it's arrival, and at the end of chapter 5 of 1Samuel there's this little phrase: the cry from the town rose to heaven.

The cry from the town rose to heaven. God even hears the cry of the Philistines. Somehow they work out a solution. There's no great act of repentance, they just want rid of this problematic box.

But this got me thinking. If God still speaks in the midst of the mixed up, messed up life of Israel; and if God hears the cry of the mixed up messed up lives of the Philistines; and he he responds, then what about my neighbourhood and what about yours?

Our God is the God of mission and we are called to partner with him. IF he is listening to the cries of our neighbours then how do we learn to listen too? And having heard, how do we then respond? I have no simple answers, only questions. But if he cared enough to engage with unfaithful Israel and irreligious Philistia, then there surely is hope for the place where I live.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

TED Talks

there are many helpful and interesting TED talks. The other day I posted a link to a conversation with Edward Snowden on Facebook, and after I watched that broadcast I followed a link to a talk about bionics. Now if you grew up in the 70's you will remember The Six Million Dollar Man and the spin-off The Bionic Woman. I believe there was also a bionic dog somewhere in the storyline too, but maybe I'm just dreaming!

Whilst the programming became more and more ridiculous, the early concept, loosely based on the novel Cyborg, was intriguing and seemingly far-fetched and futuristic at the time. But here we are 40 years on and we now actually do have some amazing technology that has incredible potential for prosthetics.

Interestingly, in the Ted talk, alongside the amazing bionic legs described is a very challenging idea. Put simply, it's that technology is what is broken not the individuals with challenges. We are, or so it seems, edging ever closer to the reality of those famous opening lines form 1973, "We have the technology, we can rebuild him..."