Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday, 29th August 2014

It's been one of those weeks where the weather has had quite an influence on my diary! Mostly because I was due to play in a gras court tennis tournament, but the rain washed out the first two days and I decided that time had run out and I needed to withdraw.The decision was helped by having commitments later in the week and the likely probability that the courts are so wet that I'm not sure they'll dry out much before the weekend anyway.

Fortunately the weekend wasn't so bad. In fact Sunday morning was really nice and rather interesting. I"d been asked if I'd coach the child of one of the adults who plays on a Saturday morning in our little social tennis group that's come together at the local recreation ground. In the process of preparing I met another parent with their daughter who was interested in joining and then two more and finally another parent came to me to ask if I would consider coaching their son. Now until they sign up and pay the money it's just a possibility, and by next weekend it might all have come to nothing, but you never know.

Just around three years ago we were in the final throes of our time as local church leaders. Things were pretty clear that how we wanted to pursue ministry didn't fit with the model the local church wanted. To be honest, we knew right from the start that it was going to be tough, but it turned out to so much harder than even I imagined. Anyway, that situation precipitated our buying a home of own and a change of direction. After two and a bit years in our new community we've begun to see signs of things opening. Working with the community, learning to be in the community, we're taking small steps through sport to engage with people.

Over the last couple of years we've often been asked how the new church is going, have we got a building yet, what have we been doing? Many of these questions presuppose a particular expression of mission and ministry that produces some gathered group in a building somewhere on a Sunday morning as a sign that we're succeeding in mission. For good or ill we've fought against that. Not that meeting together is unimportant or that gathering a group for worship and discipleship is irrelevant. It's just that we didn't want to be be defined by a model too soon, and we didn't want simply to reproduce what many others are already doing in our community.

So, instead of describing what church is and then trying to fit that into what we are doing, or worse still trying to fit what we are doing into a prescribed definition of church, we're simply trying to see what God is up to and how we can be part of that, building relationships as we go. We've talked about what else we can do if the Sunday morning coaching grows. About how we could open up the Pavilion for tea and coffee during the colder months, maybe have the Sunday papers out.

The pattern is simple, it is about responding to what we see around us, the opportunities that arise from just being amongst ordinary people doing ordinary things. We haven't cracked it by any means, and we're not celebrating some sort of breakthrough in mission. It may all come to very little. It may all disappear as quickly as it appeared. The council might ban us! Who knows.

What is exciting is that we don't know. There are no predictable outcomes, no established measures. When I was training as a therapist we were constantly told that we must learn to see through our sense of touch. We even spent one training session working with blindfolds on. Living a missional life is, in many ways, a process of learning to see without using your church-conditioned eyes. It's about setting aside the filters through which we always used to see things.

Measuring missional success is a tricky business. For some, the measure will always remain pretty much as it was in the legacy model of church. For others the measure may drift too far from the intentional outcomes of the kingdom. When I get worried about outcomes I remind myself of something I tell myself constantly while I play tennis. Process not outcome. Between points, especial when I mess up a shot or make an error, I flick my wristband and say to myself, "Process, not outcome." It's a simple reminder that if I focus on the process, the outcome will take of itself. On the other hand, if I focus solely on the outcome, the process invariably gets messed up.

When it comes to the kingdom, God does the saving, he takes care of the outcome because that's his job not mine. If I pay attention to the process, the being there for people,  making relationships, forming friendships, sharing stories and hearing stories, then I believe the outcome will take care of itself because it's in God's hands and not mine. This, I believe, is being intentional without being gladiatorial in mission.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What was it with king Saul?

Every time I read through the story of Saul I find myself wondering what went wrong with Saul. If you fall into the trap of comparing sin, then you might come to the conclusion that his offences were no worse than David's or even that David's sin was the more serious. But we know that such a comparison is pointless because all sin is sin from a Biblical perspective (Jas. 2:10). So what went wrong for Saul?

It seems to start with hiding in the luggage. It would be rather odd, to my mind at least, to suggest that God chose Saul because he knew he would fail and that would prove a point about how worn the nation had been for asking for a king. It's pretty obvious that God was displeased with heir demand to be like the other nations, but I do not believe that God is so petty that he would do such a thing. No, I'd rather look more positively at the way God would use the monarchy to continue to work out his plan and purpose.

So Saul was not chosen to fail. He had all the potential to be a great king, a good leader of the people. But he became driven. His call became lost in the need to hold on to power. Dare one suggest that this might even be true for one or two of the high profile church leaders of our own day? Rapidly growing a church from nothing to thousands seems to come at a price. When churches become corporations it must be very hard not to become the king of your own empire. Peter Parker's uncle had it right when he spoke of great responsibility being associated with great power.

When he first became king, Saul was greeted with scepticism that soon turned to adulation when he won his first battle. But within only a few chapters the king who had led thousands had only a few hundred with him. What was more important was that he was becoming less and less connected, making every more rash decisions and vows.

Did Saul confess his mistakes, did he repent of his sin? Is this what makes him different to David? Saul was not described as a man after God's own heart, but then neither were a number of good kings either. David was not a "special one", but clearly something was different.

I once caused a minor tremor when I wondered aloud about what set Peter apart from Judas? Both had betrayed Jesus to some extent, Peter through his denial, Judas directly. But once again you can't weight their actions and say one comes up worse than the other. No, the thing that seems to distinguish these two is that one of them dealt with it through confession and therefore found forgiveness and the other chose to deal with their sin on their own. One judged himself, the other trusted the judgement of God. Could this have been Saul's problem too? Did he become so selfish, so driven that he paid the price for his own sin and never put himself in the hands of God? I'll keep reading and I'll keep trying to make sense of it all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Of ice buckets and challenges

Social media is awash with videos of people doing the ice-bucket challenge. I haven't looked up the origin of this movement, and quite honestly I'm not that interested. I'm not saying I don't care about ALS (or Motor Neurone Disease as it is more commonly known here in the UK). I'm just not that interested in how it all began.

What is fascinating is the way peer pressure and social media seem to be working. I haven't been nominated, and there's no point nominating me anyway because I'd probably just ignore the whole thing. Again, not because I'm some sort of callous uncaring individual but because I'm an individual who makes their own decisions and choices. And who's to say whether I have or have not made a donation anyway.

As I understand it, the basic idea of the challenge is to drench yourself in ice water or make a donation to the charity. I'm rather hoping that everyone who soaks themselves also chooses to make a donation and not just a soggy nomination of three other people. If you've yet to see Patrick Stewart's challenge yet, then find it, watch it and think about it. Without words he makes the point wonderfully well.

Then read some of the comments. You won't get too far before you come across those who miss the point entirely. Perhaps we need a few more silent videos of people writing cheques to remind people that this isn't just about getting wet, but there's a serous side to it all as well. In the meantime, if pouring ice cold water over yourself is something you want to try, then make sure you put plenty of ice in the water first. Just using cold water is surely cheating!

You can donate to the Motor Neurone Disease Association in the UK through their website

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday, 22nd Aug 2014

It almost feels as if I ought not to reflect on the things I'm going to share just in case I somehow jinx them and they come to nothing. Ah well, here goes!

It's been an interesting few weeks when it comes to opportunities to live out this missional life. Defining missional remains challenging and the more it becomes a buzz word the more undefined it seems to become. Something doesn't become missional just because you attach the tag missional to it.

Anyway, to the things we've been doing. I mentioned last week the sports event we ran in the village for junior aged children. We didn't have great numbers of kids turning up, but those who did had a good time and I got to meet some people (parents, passers-by, local authority representatives) and share some ideas and vision for the park with them. Is this missional? I suspect the answer could be both yes and no. What was interesting was that everyone with whom I spoke was very positive about what we were doing. I don't know how many of these people would have come had it been a church based event. Not because it was in church, but because it would probably have been run totally internally and not have engaged with organisations and authorities beyond the church. It was a community run project and that made the difference.

Perhaps, in the process of sharing a vision for the park and the story of how we got to where we are at this moment in time is one component of our missional journey as we seek to be part of the community. The gospel after all demands incarnation and where better to live it out than amongst the people Jesus misses most? We've been living in our new community for just over two years now and slowly we are beginning to make connections. It is a slow process, but hopefully slow will also mean deep rather than shallow.

Other things have begun to take shape include some tennis activities in the park and my new role as club therapist at May and Baker RFC. The tennis has taken shape through connections made via Streetlife, a social media platform about community life. We now have a small group of 5 adults playing on a Saturday morning and I do a bit of coaching with them. I've also been asked to provide a bit of coaching on a more formal basis. With a couple of the adults who are playing regularly we're talking about how we can access some school tennis courts where we might be able to start a local club, which would be really interesting.

And then there's the therapy stuff with the rugby club. That's an interesting challenge too in so many ways.

So it seems that finally, after two and half years, that things are beginning to emerge and take a little bit of shape. It's not what you'd describe as runaway success and it certainly won't mean a book deal and lots of invitations to speak at conferences, although I did get an invitation to write an article for a journal that was only going to cost me £400 to take part. And I thought they paid you for writing!! Still we don't do this for fame and fortune, and when you look at what happens to those we raise up onto pedestals, then who would want that anyway.

Which bring me to my final thought this Friday. Reading some of the evangelical news this week, we are once again reminded that success, whatever that looks like, is no guarantee of continued faithfulness and integrity. It's tough, I assume, to remain humble and spiritually grounded when your getting the applause and praise and the criticism that come along too. The latter sometimes out of jealously, sometimes out of genuine concern. We seem to expect so much from those we admire, and even in church circles we haven't learnt much at all from the cult of celebrity that pervades our modern culture. I even heard on the breakfast news one morning this week the newsreader describe President Obama as a celebrity, the biggest one of all no less. The man is President, he a politician, a world leader, He is surely not a celebrity.

When it comes to church leaders we would do well not to create a cult of evangelical celebrity around them. It doesn't help them and it doesn't help us. There are no superstars in the life of the church. Pedestals are for vases and works of art, not servants.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday 15th Aug, 2014

It's been quite a week. The tragic loss of Robin Williams sadly produced some negative comments, but there were also many positive things said. That his daughter has chosen to close her Twitter account reminds us there are plenty of mindless, thoughtless people who fail utterly to understand the nature of the emotional and mental turmoil he was undoubtedly experiencing.

For me, it's been a very positive week, with several highlights. Several months ago I proposed the idea of a sports week for children at our local recreation ground. I wasn't sure we were going to be able to organise it, and we definitely needed lots of help with admin and just knowing what to do to put something like this together. Well, the week arrived and on Monday we had our first day. We haven't been packed out, but all the kids seem to have had a good time as we've explored football, cricket, bowls and tennis. With all the talk of children staying indoors and playing computer games all day, it's been nice to see a few running, jumping and generally having a good time in the great outdoors.

On Thursday I got to do some tennis coaching, and realised how much fun that can be and actually how much I really enjoy doing it. We had some great help from a local tennis club, but it turned out that I was the only one with any coaching qualification. So I ended up running one group with the help of another adult and we had a lot of fun.

On Tuesday I started work as the therapist for a rugby club. It's lower league level stuff and really only expenses for pay, but it's really good to be putting my skills to use. I guess that's what's been so good about this week, that I've been able to do things I like doing and things that I'm actually good at doing! That also includes leading a couple of funerals, winning a tennis match and "networking", as they say, with various people with job titles at the local council that I can't remember let alone understand what they are!

So I'm ending the week feeling quite positive. It's not that often that I get to be so busy doing such a wide range of things I love to do. Saturday will be my first day on the side of the pitch ready to run on and administer the cold spray and vaseline. That of course is after leading the adult tennis group we've started in the village.

Maybe one day I'll actually make a living from it all.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Why I prefer rugby

There are lots of things that commend rugby over "football" in my world, but I accept that some have yet to see the light! On the other hand this clip makes two things really clear. First , the respect the players have for the referee, and second the authority of the referee. Listen carefully and you will hear Nigel Owens tell the No.9 that he will get penalised if he carries on with his behaviour.

Notice too that neither player nor captain say a word!

This most definitely is not soccer!!

Why I have't switched energy companies or bank accounts.

A number of months ago there was a lot of talk about investigating energy companies and their rather predictable response that power cuts are imminent as a result. It's all wrapped up in the issue of prices and the apparent reluctance of consumers to switch suppliers. The same argument comes around about banking and current accounts. apparently we're reluctant to do that too.

In all of this the basic assumption is that somehow the consumer is either apathetic or confused about how simple it is to switch. But there's one question they seem never to ask, Is the consumer happy with what they have? You see I haven't switched either my bank account or my energy supplier for the simple reason that I'm actually quite happy as I am. Perhaps I could save a little money, perhaps the benefits of another a bank would better suit my current needs, but I don't care because I'm happy as I am. I like the service I've had from my bank over the last nearly 40 years so why should I change?

Quite honestly, I get rather annoyed that regulators and financial whizz kids or consumer champions suggest that I'm too apathetic or uninformed to change. It's more likely that I'm a little too cynical, particularly when it comes to energy suppliers. If they could all save me the money they say they can, they'd be paying me to use their gas or electricity!

When it comes to energy supply, I find myself wondering whether privatisation was ever in the interests of the consumer. We were told, back in the day of selling off those assets, that energy prices would drop as competition drove the market. Call me cynical, but I don't remember being told about the need to satisfy the demands of shareholders, or the implications of our energy supply being owned by overseas companies, or anything about what the likely scenario would be when our natural gas and oil resources began to run out. It was imply assumed that a privatised industry would lower consumer prices whilst maintaining investment and research. It didn't.

The old nationalised energy industries might have been somewhat cumbersome, but private industry is rarely any better run. Senior executives still get paid over the odds for the job they do and they don't necessarily seem to do it any better just because there are shareholders to whom they are accountable. I know we can't go backwards, and we can't assume that things would have been better or worse under a nationalised system. So I'm just wondering out loud really about in whose best interest are these private companies run and how will breaking them up even further help refocus them on the needs of the consumer? If privatisation was about consumer choice, how come most of the big companies want you to get both your gas and electricity from them and while you're at it buy your insurance, telephone, internet and banking through them at the same time.

And the banks, well their reputation couldn't get any more tarnished. Fixing interest rates, mis-selling insurance, the list goes on. I suspect that the debates and arguments about current accounts will go and on. They will continue to threaten to charge for account services, but I guess things will pretty much stay the same. Stay in credit and it will be free. This is possibly unique to the UK. Friends from America certainly find it amazing that we generally are able to access free banking on private current accounts.

I have checked the comparison websites, and the savings or benefits are marginal at best insignificant most of the time. So I haven't changed and I probably won't. If they have been for you then that's great.

What I really don't like is someone on the TV or radio telling me that because I haven't switched that I'm somehow responsible for the low levels of switching and that this in turn is somehow keeping prices up. It would be nice to hear someone suggest that companies and banks failing to recognise and reward loyalty is the reason they maintain higher prices and not because consumers don't switch supplier every year or so.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Friday, August 8th

On Wednesday I happened to go into London to meet Anne. The plan was to walk from Canary Wharf to Fenchurch Street for no other reason than we can and the exercise is good for us. Our route takes us along the Thames Path and down a few streets that have some interesting buildings hidden away on them.

The exercise was somewhat negated by the stop at a small Italian restaurant we found last time we were out exploring for a park where we could play rounders with anyone from Anne's work who might be interested. Having eaten, we set off on the final stretch of the walk from Wapping to Fenchurch Street mindful of the time and knowing we would probably miss the next train home and have to wait a while for another. As it turned out we caught a train to Upminster and arrived just in time to ump of a bus that stops right outside the house.

Now, I'm telling you all this because rather than take the street route up to the station we decided to go under Tower Bridge and up past Tower Hill. It's a bit further round, but it's a nice detour. We hadn't intended to do this, we just decided on the spur of the moment to make the detour. I don't think either of us was aware of the sight that would greet us as we passed the Tower. Although I'd heard about it, I hadn't realised that the ceramic poppy sculpture, for that's the best way I can describe it, was at the Tower. Appearing to spill out of the side of the building and flowing around it in both directions, our first sight was at the river side as the poppies took the form of a waterfall entering a pool. It's quite a sight, a poignant one at that, and worth seeing if you're coming to town.

With the world in what seems like a never ending circle of turmoil, as nations continue to fight with each other and seemingly with themselves, it's not a bad time to reflect on the past and present loss that is the constant companion of war. It is surely something of a miracle that we haven't been sucked into another worldwide conflict. How easily could the Middle Eastern conflicts of the last two decades created a wider scale of conflict. Or what about the Balkans or the present situation in Ukraine and the Crimea, a place not unfamiliar with fighting.

When you think that the Great War was finally precipitated by the assassination of single head of state, how much could any of these situations have been the catalyst for something more all-encompassing?

If there is hope to be found, and surely there is hope to be found, then this is where it is. Not in the fear of what might happen, or even in the fear of what is currently happening, but in the possibility of peace because we've experienced a long period of relative peace for so many years. War is not like a sleeping volcano or dormant geological fault line to which we apply some simple statistic and arrive an the inevitable conclusion that sooner or later it will erupt or shift. War is something we can and must manage, for it is of our own making. And the hope is that if we can wage war we can also wage peace.

This in no way reduces the theological route to peace and the hope those of us who share a faith perspective have for the world around us. It fact it ought to strengthen our resolve to pray and work for peace in the world. To support and encourage those who do and challenge those who don't. How we do the latter I'm not too sure, but there are those who do and who stand for peace in powerful places. At times we've allowed our theology to get in the way of peace, but we are hopefully wiser than we were!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

If you'd have told me then....

It's a classic start to a story, the line, "If you'd have told me 10 years ago...", and yet somehow it may be cliche but it's so true. If someone had said to me 5 years ago that I would be doing the things I'm doing now, I'm not sure I'd have believed them and if they'd told me 10, 20, or 30 years ago I think I most definitely would have considered them to be wide of the mark.

So, if I could access time travel, would I go back and tell my younger self to do things differently. Would I tell them not to do certain things because only pain and heartache lay that way, or would I accept that I wouldn't be who I am and where I am if I had not followed those paths? We find ourselves living in South Essex because we've gone through some very painful times. The truth be told, form an outside point of view, the move to Upminster was a disaster and possibly the most painful period of our lives. We will never know whether we would still be serving churches full-time had it not been for that two years. On the other hand we would not have considered buying a house where we have and doing what we are doing had we not been through that particular mill. I may have to live with the pain of feeling a complete failure, and the pain of rejection we both felt, but that may be the price we have to pay to engage with the future we now have.

Perhaps I was never shaped for ministry and church leadership. Perhaps those twenty years were the error and this is what I should always have pursued. Who knows! What I do know is that were I to discover time travel, I think in the end I'd probably leave things pretty much as they are. I wouldn't interfere. It's an appealing thought to be able to go back and rerun the experiment and compare results, but you can't keep dong it until you get the answer you prefer. Life doesn't work like that. Life is not a repeatable experiment, you have to live with the results as they come along, good and bad.

If I changed anything it might be to tell myself not to get on that bike in '74 that resulted in my broken collarbone, or maybe even earlier I'd have suggested not climbing up the outside of the slide in the park, the slide from which I fell onto the concrete below and knocked myself out fracturing my skull (just a little fracture). Maybe I'd tell myself to go to university for a year, meet Anne and then change course and study physiotherapy instead. On the other hand, maybe I'd leave well alone and just hand over a book on nutrition and fitness and say don't ever let yourself get unfit and unhealthy!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

There go my Saturdays!

So, yesterday I had a meeting with a local rugby club about working with them in my capacity as a sports & remedial massage therapist and I'm starting next week! It will be quite a challenge, but I'm looking forward to it, albeit a little apprehensively.

My role is to look after the players and help with injury rehab etc. I'll also be doing pitch-side stuff. I've booked myself onto a one-day taping workshop and I've already done pitch-side first aid and a kinesio-taping course. What I hope to do is to apply my particular skill set to the role rather than try to be something I am not. I'm not a physio', and I've made that clear, but I do have skills and knowledge that I think will be really useful to the club.

The next step is to figure out what needs to go in the first aid bag and how much tape to buy! The club doesn't have a lot of money, show me an amateur sports club that does, so we will need to be careful and buy wisely.

I haven't seen a fixture list, but the first game is set for a couple of weeks time and the season runs through into April. It's strange to think that after 20 years of my weekends being shaped by the needs of the church that I've now swapped that for the needs of a rugby club! I guess that makes the last two years or so a bit of a sabbatical from weekend busyness!

I'm hoping that by taking on this role it will open opportunities to run more clinics and expand my private practice. We shall have to wait and see. What's exciting is the possibility and the thought that things are beginning to take a bit of shape. I wonder if I will feel the same way when we reach to dark cold night of mid-winter training!!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Fixing clocks

Fast on the heels of my success with the printer, I turned my attention to our non-working clock. It's a small brass carriage clock that was given to us when we got married 34 years ago. The only value it has is sentimental, and to be honest we're not that sentimental, so replacing wouldn't be an issue. However, every so often I get interested in why something has stopped working and how I might be able to fix it.

Maybe a year ago the clock started to have problems. A battery had failed and the negative battery connection had become corroded. I cleaned it up with a bit of emery paper and the clock worked again with a new battery. But the problem with corrosion is that it takes a lot of effort to clean up and once it's set in it doesn't easily go away. Eventually the clock failed again and I assumed that that was it. For over a month now it's been sitting in the lounge declaring the time to be 11:55, causing confusion and occasional panic!

So I decided it was time to explore, and I had a look at it. The terminal was indeed terminal. Corrosion had spread over the whole surface and there was little point attempting to clean it away in the ope of restarting the stopped clock. The question was: Did the mechanisms still work? Off the the man garage!

No doubt you've heard of the concept of the man-drawer, a place where men keep useless stuff that might come in useful one day. Well for some of a drawer is simply not enough space, we need a shed or even a garage! I have bits of things in boxes and crates. I have a large supply of screws, nuts, bolts, washers, hinges, plastic thingies form fitted kitchens and wardrobes stored away just in case a major incident occurs and one of the stability brackets from an Ikea bookcase is the ideal solution to the problem.

I dug around and found some flat town and earth cable from an old wiring project from years ago and stripped out a bit of copper wire. Using a fresh battery I bridged the connections and listened. The clock ticked. It was alive again! Next job was to remove the old negative terminal and come up with a solution. I twisted the copper wire into a spiral rather like the ones you see in the end of a torch or battery compartment and shaped the other end to make a connection with the circuit board. A bit of soldering and the job was done.

The clock is ticking, or at least it was when I left it half an hour ago. If it runs for a day I think I can declare it fixed. If it doesn't, it's still fixed, just not in a permanent fashion!

Friday, August 01, 2014

All my music on demand!

A few months ago I finally got around to getting all our music into our iTunes library. I say all, there were a few CD's that I decided to omit from the digital storeroom because quite frankly I'm not sure I want them popping up in a random playlist and send me lunging across the floor for the nearest available way to skip the track! I remember meeting someone at the gym who was rehabbing a broken ankle sustained getting off an exercise bike to answer his mobile 'phone. Don't want, "Trying to skip that annoying version of a song I'd forgotten we had on a CD" on a list of weird accidents reported at A&E!

Anyway, it's nice to have completed this part of our digital library. Whether I'll get around to doing the same with our DVD and Bluray collection who can say. But having done the CD's it's rather nice to use the Remote facility of my iPhone to set a playlist in motion. We have our sound system in the lounge connected to the network and I invested in a sound bar for the extension so we can have a nice jazz mix playing quietly in the background during dinner. Had you there for a minute!

At the moment I've got an interesting playlist running: Bob Dylan, Crowded House, Eva Cassidy, The Zutons, Simon and Garfunkel. It's certainly an interesting mix. I'm not sure how many CD's we have, but I"m guessing we listen to far more music using digital playlists than we would if we had to go to the CD's and stand there staring at them to decide what to choose.

Perhaps this is indicative of the way we listen to music these days. Rarely do we sit down and listen to a whole CD anymore. I guess the digital library is our own private radio station without annoying adverts or DJ's. The only problem is that sometimes you get the opening of a live concert but nothing more because that's where the engineer decided to put a track break. Ah well, it makes for interesting juxta-positioning of musical styles!

Friday, August 1st 2014

I'm experimenting, I don't know for how long, with the idea of using Friday as a day to reflect on the events of the week. I'm doing it because I want to, because I think processing ideas and thoughts is important, and because it's one way of breathing a bit of new life into my blogging. I've been blogging for quite a long time now. Six years, maybe more, I don't remember. I've seen others come and go. Some reappear, but many of the folk who got me started have long since faded away.

Over the years I've occupied myself with theology, woodworking, sport and a lot of general nonsense. I make no pretensions to be an opinion former or commentator on world affairs. I just write about things that are on my mind.

This week, the things that concern me include the ongoing crisis in Gaza (good news this morning that a short-term ceasefire has been agreed, lets hope it sticks), the increasing isolation of Russia and the implications for the future, and the Commonwealth Games! I've already talked about Gaza, so I won't revisit that. Russia worries me.

It worries me because the leadership seems to feed on the growing isolation, becoming ever more entrenched. I wonder if the country as a whole suffers from some form of collective paranoia about the rest of the world. Perhaps you can take a country out of a cold war but you can't take the cold war out of a country.

As we commemorate the outbreak of a war that became the Great War because of its scale and then became the First World War because a second soon followed, we can but hope that a situation like that in the Ukraine does not precipitate another major conflict. It seems hard to imagine that major powers would end up fighting each other again, but such complacency would be dangerous. The UN and NATO need to work harder than ever to keep the peace whilst seeking justice. The world remains a dangerous place that appears to teeter on the edge of conflict whether in the Middle East or the edges of Europe.

The Commonwealth Games are moving towards their climax. Amidst all the fun and games there are the subtle reminders of the inequalities that exist across the world. Cycling teams from so-called poorer nations turning up at a local bike shop for repairs and even to borrow bikes! it reminded me of the wheelchair racer we met at the pre-paralympic training camp who didn't even have a proper racing chair. In that case too a generous individual made one available and it's been good to see a dedicated charity working hard to make sure those who need fresh kit can access it.

It's easy to forget, with all the money poured into the high profile sports in the UK, that for many taking part is significant in itself. We measure so many things by very narrow margins of success and failure that we so easily lose sight of the triumph for some of simply being there. Not everyone gets to win.

And maybe that takes us full circle to Gaza and the Ukraine. They are in many ways no win situations. Compromise will have to be the way forward at some point. Easy to say, difficult to apply I know.