My 10 best things about the world: 1. Parkrun

Parkrun

So those who know me well at the moment will not be surprised that I am enthusiastic about parkrun, which is the largest running event on the planet.  There are many who can write more articulately and more informatively than me on this topic, but it is definitely one of the highlights of my week.  Why?

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It launches me into my tree-shrouded, spacious local park, which is a soul-refreshing place to visit; just like any natural space, there are subtle and gorgeous changes on a daily basis.  9am every Saturday morning, brightly coloured, expensive-trainer-shod runners converge from varying directions to complete one short and three long laps of the Park, 5k, to be precise.  The ambitious and seasoned canter round and notch up impressive times (last week we had James Baker, a regular parkrunner who happened to break the Bognor record by one second at 16:11 seconds, read Run Number 160); others walk round in clusters, chatting to others and coming in under an hour.  All are welcome.  All are encouraged!  And it’s totally free.  Free forever.  It is not a race, it is a run.

What else is good about it?

 It mobilizes one of the largest numbers of volunteers of any community activity.  People come and marshal for the event, act as the Tail Walker, as a barcode scanner, Timekeeper, and more; every event has a Run Director who does an opening welcome, informs about any particular details, celebrates first timers, volunteers and milestones, and gets everyone going.  There is a marshal at our local run who sadly broke his hip last weekend and we missed him today: his bellows of encouragement as we run down the alleyway give you that extra push.  A number of the marshals greet and encourage you by name as you keep on running.

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Later on that Saturday, when you have even forgotten that you began the day in such spectacular style, you receive an email confirming your time, and giving you the list of all the runners and the times they came in at.  The level of data that parkrun generates is truly astounding.  Just for Bognor alone over three years 443 people have volunteered, to allow 4,180 participants to complete a combined total of 26,695 parkruns.  This covers a total distance of 133,475km, more than 3 circumnavigations of the planet.  Just over a third of the distance to the moon. Our local parkrun has grown over the last eighteen months from perhaps 60-100 runners a week, to 300 most weeks now.  It is ridiculously and at times ‘unsafely’ popular!  And you collect ongoing statistics on your performance, all totally free.  If you volunteer 25 times, and when you have completed 50 runs, you even get free T-shirts as well.

But you think that’s mad?   What about the whole of the UK?  According to the latest parkrun news email, last week there were 114,082 people who finished a 5k parkrun somewhere in this country, there were 12,266 people who volunteered to make it happen, there were 7,831 individuals who ran a parkrun for the first time, and there were 22,847 runners who got new Personal Bests.  Not only that but globally, 18,817 people who are registered with parkrun joined a running club this year, stepping up into a fuller running commitment.

Recently Bognor marked its three year anniversary with a beach-themed run, and the run report commented that “the most impressive thing for me is another thing that is free; friendly and inspiring attitudes. Here, it is never more than an inch away. Every corner of the park non-stop encouragement is evident from all to all others; volunteers, on lookers and those taking part.”

bognor parkrun

But I’m not a runner!

I hear you say.  What can I get from parkrun?  Why are you ludicrously claiming that parkrun is THE best thing in the world today?  Let me cut to the chase (or perhaps the ‘run’).

Parkrun happens and parkrun works.  Knowing this means that lots of other things (not just running-related) can also happen and work.  It shows the strength of local community wherever a parkrun has got off the ground.  It prioritises kindness, thoughtfulness for others and getting out more.  It shows that if there is the real attention to detail for a regular event, with a clear and straightforward demand on your time and many obvious wins, your volunteer base is more secure and you can make something astonishing sustainable for the long-term.

For those wanting to exercise more and in different ways, it is a fine ‘way in’ where you will find more hardcore runners and sportspeople who can get you an introduction or break the ice to encourage you to sign up to another challenge (a 10k run, for example or to join a local running club).  I know, you’re still not into running.  But whatever you’re into, what is the ‘parkrun’ for that?  If there isn’t one, you could set it up!  Parkrun is so much more than just a run in the park.

Parkrun makes you healthier.  It gets you out of the house.  It means you meet lots of other people and can have an easy opening to a conversation with them, about their running.  Running (or lack of it) becomes a common factor.  There are so many lonely people out there.  Apart from work, or a small number of family, they don’t get the encouragement to have those extra conversations.  Every time I go on parkrun I speak to people I have never spoken to before.  Just an observation about the temperature, or a smile and a word of encouragement, and lots of people will happily engage in a little running-related discussion.   And I meet and re-meet people that I know from lots of different contexts.

While I know that at the most basic I am going to get some physical exercise, and be motivated to finish the run (which I may not be on my own!) I also know that there will be an open opportunity for befriending, being befriended, and encouraging others in their daily lives, even if it’s only with a smile as I run past.  Why does this matter?  The best moments for me at work can sometimes be the spaces that I mentioned in my last post, the brief opening I get to have a conversation with someone I’ve not talked to before.  It’s new – it’s fresh.  It affects the course of my day.  Parkrun is like that moment a thousand times distilled.  The feel as everyone starts running together, carefully, not wanting to knock anyone over, past the onlookers, the cameras, the spectators.  The thrill as you come into the funnel at the end, pushing those few seconds off your time.

I could spend an hour on Facebook, and no one would really know I was there, not really. I could be watching Netflix. I could be throwing more hours at that toad ‘work’.  (A reference to a Philip Larkin poem).

But parkrun points out beyond me and mine to you and yours, reminds me of common humanity and the hope for a better future.  A new T-shirt slogan that I saw on parkrun this morning said: ‘I’m better than I was yesterday, but not as good as I’ll be tomorrow.’  I’m on that.  Parkrun is the first of my Ten Best Things about the World.

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About Time

It’s about time I came back to the blogosphere.  I reflected yesterday, early in the morning, that I had the opportunity over the next three months or so to work on my writing more.

Even that opening paragraph shows this.  What does my work amount to?  Have I stretched my writing muscles?  Have I exercised my working vocabulary?  Could I put a candle to any of the writers that I admire?

I am reasonably proud of some of the posts on this blog.  Having said that, the ones I produced that have been more widely read were composed some time ago.

There is a certain sameness to news articles, to opinion pieces, to how-to and go-to pieces.  One does not, after all, write until one has something to say.

Part of the justification, then, for deciding to come back to writing, is the conviction that I do after all have something to say.  And that it is different to a lot of the things that I stumble across on my Google notifications, on Facebook from time to time, in books that happen to get recommended to me, or that come my way.  For in the current global information swamp, I cannot hope to be chancing across the best that is written and thought at the moment.  And I some time ago, I believe, stopped getting anxious about that, and decided that I would make do with what comes my way.

So here is my pennyworth for today.  What I haven’t read anywhere else, but I feel I can express.  No one out there is going to write something that I need more than me.  It’s not about the art of eloquence, or original thought.  What I need, specifically, is what has been worked through in my experience, applied to me, and then moved forward into tomorrow.  What do I mean by that?  We have to take our lives a day at a time.  I don’t think I can cope with much more than that BUT there has to be space in our lives for more than JUST the routine.  There has to be the tiny spaces where the unthinkable can happen, the surprising, the serendipitous.  I live for those spaces.  We share those spaces.  We may not share the same work, the same worries, the same trials.  But we all share the tiny spaces.  More on these next time!

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Luke 9

Luke 9 the Reading

Just read this one through, and I’m struck by what David Pawson said about Luke, that it is the most loved of the gospels, but the least read (about 3 mins in).  For example, I am very familiar with the story of Jesus healing the man’s son with a demon, but I’m not familiar with the Lucan version of the story: it’s great that Jesus heals him with such little ado.  In other versions, the man is saying ‘Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief!’ which I think is more well known.  But here we are told:

Then Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the child, and gave him back to his father.

This is all it took with Jesus – and yet he was concerned as he would not be with his disciples for much longer.  Have we learned how to do what he did?  He called the disciples ‘faithless and perverse’.  We need to follow His steps.

I also enjoyed the repetition of the would-be disciples at the end of the chapter – it’s not just one person who has something else to do before they follow Jesus, but two: and it brings out the powerful words that you are not fit for the kingdom of God if you look back.  Keep looking forward.

This is going up in our Boiler Room:

Then he said to them all, ‘If anyone desire to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.

 

 

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More awesome

Get a load of Psalm 68:

A father of the fatherless…

You have ascended on high..

Blessed be the Lord who daily loads us with benefits…

Strengthen, O God, what You have done for us…

O God, You are more awesome than Your holy places.

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Looking for Luke 2

So I have now read up to the end of Luke chapter 8, and I have been reduced both to astonishment, tears and laughter as I have been reading.

I am seeing that the connections from the start of the gospel echo out, and I want to read this gospel from now on in large chunks, as much as I can handle, so that I can get the echoes.  For example, you will have noticed how many times people are astonished at Jesus, all the way through!  Also, you will have noticed that there is already a theme that Jesus loves the poor, and the outcast, and is not interested in the rich and highly religious.  He certainly treats them with kid gloves, and later on takes the gloves off.

I thought his treatment of Simon the Pharisee stood out, and I saw (which I had not seen before) that his criticism of Simon was far-reaching.  Simon did not provide water for him to wash his own feet, but the sinful woman washed his feet with her tears.  Simon did not even give him a kiss of greeting, but the sinful woman kissed his feet – not counting herself worthy to kiss his face.  How low Simon was in Jesus’ eyes, and how virtuous the sinful woman was!  How counter to the ways of the world is our Lord.

I must just also comment that having spent quite a lot of time previously with the gospel of Mark (I memorised up to around chapter 8 before ‘moving on’), I feel that Luke has a real ring of variety and eloquence about it.  Mark is a little repetitive and straightforward.  Luke has many wonderful turns of phrase, some of which seem to me quite fresh as I am reading it.  What about the Lukan version of the explanation of the parable of the sower, which has quite a different flavour to the Markan one (which I like very much):

The Parable of the Sower Explained

11 “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. 13 But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. 14 Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. 15 But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.

What caught me here was both the theme of fruit, and its importance.  We are not saved for ourselves, we are saved to bear fruit.  Backsliders and lone cannons spring to mind; those who say they’re okay, but it is bringing fruit to maturity that matters for all of us.  Also, the ones who hear the word with a ‘noble and good heart’.  It is important when we sit under the word of God, that our hearts are pure, clean, fresh: that we have guarded our hearts, as the issues of life spring out of them.  Our hearts cannot be bitter, harsh, hardened, or divided.

But why did I cry and laugh at the end of chapter 8?  I have never read this before really with the eyes of a parent, I don’t think.  Jesus raises a twelve year old from the dead, as calm as you like, and then he instructs the parents: tell no one what has happened.  I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon!  Everyone would have known about how ill she was, and there were mourners just outside, and they were supposed to keep quiet about what Jesus had done for them!  I’ll have to put some thought into why Jesus told them this – and I wonder how seriously they took his request?  Find videos of my readings below, you’ll see I almost lost it at the end of chapter 8 as this took me quite by surprise.

Luke 5 and 6

Luke 7

Luke 8

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Looking for Luke

Why not a project on Luke?  My last reference on here was to Romans, and I have very much enjoyed that… sorry for not sharing more of it.  Perhaps I will at some point!

But I read Luke recently, and it seems to me time to spend some moments looking at this incredible gospel,  and understanding where it is coming from a little more.

How do you get to know a book of the Bible better? I follow Torrey’s method, which is to read the book through, and then simply to list, in my own words, the events of each chapter.  You can see my handwritten notes on Luke below:

So having made those notes, I read through them again, and started to get a sense of some of the bigger ideas and preoccupations of the gospel of Luke.

At one point, I thought about going back to Matthew, to get a point of comparison, but then felt it was not right to, as every single book of the Bible has an artistic whole, and also a spiritual whole.   I will get insight into Jesus’ life, and how the Father works, through Luke that I will not get from a different gospel.  Yes, Luke might have referred to a mutual source, and as one of the later gospels to be written certainly would have done.  BUT there is a special anointing on Luke, that yields special treasures.

Don’t you often find, the more you burrow into something of worth, that the more distinct and rarefied and precious it is?  Half the delights of study and specialised knowledge, come from particular discoveries.  And a quarter again of the delights of this study are being able to induct others into the joy of those particular discoveries.  This is true of all literary study, but SO MUCH MORE TRUE of the Word of God, as it carries authority, creativity, fecundity, divinity and life-transforming power of the highest order.

So I have also started to read through the gospel of Luke, to start to see the connections between it all; my plan is to read through it in a reasonably short space of time, so that the connections come through to me.  You can see the recordings already done below, if you’re interested.  And I must say, that simply the reading of Scripture, simply the entrance of God’s Word, brings light.  Next time I record, I will do two chapters in each ‘slot’.

Let me encourage you to read Luke along with me over the next few weeks.

 

Luke 1

Luke 2

Luke 3

Luke 4

 

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Keeping current and staying humble

Below see some of my current reading interests. In particular, the vice list in Romans 1, apparently the longest such list in the NT. I listed in my journal the faults that I often fall prey to – the list is too long! Remind yourself that greed, backbiting, violence (and this reaches farther than we imagine into our thats and the vehemence of them), boasting, inventing evil things…. In my better moments, I would shy away from them all, but often without intention I find myself in a morass of issues which according to Romans 1, God has reserved for those who have ignored Him completely.

What has struck me about this is without God, we do not stand a chance of keeping our heads in this world. The logic of this epistle of Paul’s is so strong. We must not change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man. Also, we cannot worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. And this is so easily done. Day after day, I veer towards it. I am much quicker to praise an aspect of modern life than I am to praise the Almighty, the unchanging God. And this should not be.

Looking forward to be delving more into Romans…


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Sent from my iPad

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Declared with Power (and scruples)

The idea of Jesus in a manger is a cute one; a ‘helpless babe’ actually holding the universe in his hands. In the word of Michael Card: more than you can see; give up on your ponderings and fall down on your knees.

Okay, but more powerful still, much more meaningful in its fullness and completeness: not Christ on the cross (again, awesome and worthy of our deepest and best reflection, and NOT absolved by recent flagship statements and theologising, I don’t believe), but rather Jesus Christ our Lord ‘declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.’ (Romans 1:4)

It’s the resurrection from the dead that fills me with whoops and joy, with YES! And with a direction for the rest of my life. Unless a seed dies and falls into the ground it remains alone. I do not want to remain alone; I want to bear much fruit in this life. I would never have dared to do it, if I were not following, however, feebly (and pehaps unrecognisably) in the steps of Jesus, who has gone before in everything.

Do you ever worry about something you’ve done, and think – I must have really sinned there, and confess it to God, even though it seems foolish? Ignatius has a note on scruples: a true scruple is being disturbed about something you have done, doubting and not doubting, that it is a sin. It has something of the enemy in it. A scruple CAN be good, separating yourself from even the appearance of sin. But do you have a coarse or a sensitive conscience? If coarse, you do not recognise even serious sins – then the devil will try to coarsen your conscience still further. If sensitive, the devil will make you see sin where there is none. 

Always go in the opposite way to the devil: instead of thinking about yourself, raise your understanding to the Lord and see if what is being proposed is for His glory or not. If Jesus put the devil to flight, then in His strength and under His covering we can do the same.

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Learning from Martin Luther (The Kingdom Of God: Romans and Galatians)

There is some material here on Luther that I haven’t read before and it excites me as I am about to embark on a new look at Romans!

Learning From God's Word

This message was preached as part of a series in which we looked at what the books of the New Testament say about “the Kingdom of God.” Since the focus is really on Martin Luther, I’ve made “Learning from Martin Luther the main title, with “The Kingdom of God: Romans and Galatians” being given as a sub-title.

Justification by faith – This is a useful summary of the central message of Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians. This gospel teaching is the exact opposite of the way many people think about Christianity. So often, Christianity is confused with morality. What is a Christian? Many people will say to us, ‘It’s someone who tries hard to be good. It’s someone who lives a decent, respectable, law-abiding life. It’s someone who helps his neighbour and gives to good causes.’ This is not, however, the way in which the gospel answers…

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This caught my imagination… Love it

Cristian Mihai

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“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds.”Charles Bukowski

Sacrifice is a a rare thing these days. In a society of instant gratification, we want to pay the price, and get something in return.

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