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.”

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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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My Ten Best Things in all the world No. 4

During the school holidays (I’m a teacher, okay?) I have a daily quandary – do I grind some beans and make myself my second hot drink of the day, the first being always a decaf tea, OR do I pop across the road where we happen to have a self-service Costa? Today I went for grinding beans, saving a couple of pounds, because of the topic of this post (that’s obviously not my hand in the photo!).

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Christians Against Poverty, otherwise known as CAP. This is my fourth best thing in all the world, and it’s fairly serious!  They are a national UK charity who help thousands of people every year to get out of debt free of charge.  Another way of putting it would be, that I think ‘solvency’ is one of the best things in the world. Thank you, by the way, for those of you who have liked my post on YouTube so far – keeps me going. If any of you want to recommend any of your ‘best things’ do let me know in a comment.

There is a well known saying, actually it comes from the Bible, saying ‘If you think you’re standing firm, take heed lest you fall’. This applies well to money and solvency. For maybe two years now my wife and I have kept a monthly budget. When we have worked out the direct debit outgoings for the month, and the current bank balance, we come up with a total for disposable income, and then divide it up between the essential areas of spending. We have areas such as Groceries, Fuel, Medical, Cat Costs, Books, my leisure, my wife’s leisure, eating out…. We have fun each month negotiating how much money I should have for leisure and how much my wife! I like to associate money discussions in our marriage with a glass of wine, as that helps to lower the blood pressure (not that we always drink when talking money, that would be unwise methinks).  We regularly give to our church, and also sponsor a child in Haiti, and allow an option each month to give to a different charity.  We also give a small amount to CAP, which is a direct debit.

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Lots of people don’t use a monthly budget. For whatever reason. My wife and I both completed A-Levels, both did university degrees, and still it’s taken us to the last couple of years to do a budget. I marvel at our early years of marriage where we were both DINKY and what on earth we did with all our money! If only we’d budgeted, how much we would have saved.  To see more on budgeting try The Frugal Cottage which is very accessible and straightforward.

CAP tells us that whereas ten years ago, around the time of the crash in 2007, those who came to them in debt had the majority of their debt in secondary spending, such as ‘leisure’, TV and installment payment on larger items, there is now much more of an increase in debt in priority debts, such as utilities and rent. I had a very enlightening conversation recently with the CEO of a local homeless charity who expressed a fear that there will be many more homeless young people on the streets, as a recent government decision means that until you are 21 you will not be eligible for housing benefit.  On government websites I think this rule is under the restriction of ‘being a full-time student. There are so many areas of need in our society. Homelessness is a very visible and real blight. But before it happens, there need to be people who can rescue families and individuals from sliding down into that pit of hopelessness. CAP are such people.

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I’m proud to say that my sister is actually a CAP Manager and fulfils various roles for the charity. It is an award-winning debt-counselling organisation set up by an inspirational figure called John Kirkby who in his autobiography Nevertheless tells the gripping story of how he got into debt himself, managed to get out of it, and then wanted to help those in a similar experience.

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John Kirkby

Being in debt seems to be one of those situations that brings such a private torture and stress that it really does need someone else to lift you out of it. Once you are regularly getting bills through the door, and receiving bullying phonecalls; when you simply don’t have the money to pay your creditors, and you can’t buy food for your children, and you have no work, then depression, alcoholism, divorce, stress, misery ensue very quickly. It is true that most households in this country have no debt buffer.  In 2015 four out of ten adults had no more than a few hundred pounds in savings.  It is good advice to have three months’ income in savings at any one time (Martin Lewis suggests six months savings (delve into the article to find this) and others do too, so that should you lose a job without warning, you have enough money to pay your bills for three months while you find a new job. This is as a minimum. It is more essential for those renting properties, as on a mortgage one can take a payment holiday if previously you have been consistent in your payments, and perhaps on one income, to have this three months’ buffer. Perhaps some would rely on family in a case like this; but it is so quick to slide into debt. Not everyone has solvent family members who can help you out, and this can easily become a source of contention and bitterness. Many homeless people became homeless very quickly through job loss and the ensuing debt. For me and my wife, we will be taking steps to create that three month buffer ourselves, now my awareness has increased of this, and as we will both be working part-time now.

What do CAP do? They send a discreet, caring person to come round and ‘look at’ all the growing pile of correspondence, debt, etc. Then they pick up all the debt envelopes and take them off the client. If they have no food in their cupboards, they take them to the supermarket and buy them a good load of shopping. They will explain to the client that CAP is a Christian organisation and they will pray with them. It will usually be a meeting in which the client is very emotional, crying, vulnerable – but at the same time grateful as they know they have found someone who is going to help them.

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CAP have a well-organised system centrally that supports the handling of personal debt. They will open up a fresh bank account for the client, and get in touch with all the client’s creditors, and negotiate payment with them over a period of time. They will ensure that the client’s income is being prioritised to pay off the debt, but a small, manageable piece at a time. When creditors know that a debt service with the track record of CAP is on the case, they are very happy to negotiate smaller repayments over a few years. The moment that the client is finally ‘debt-free’ is celebrated! CAP not only gives someone in debt a lifeline but also gives them a network of friends. Many CAP clients join churches (although they are not obliged to, I hasten to add!) and find a huge amount of social support there. Let me give you Neville’s story below:

We had a low income. Three kids at home. The money we had we had to give to them to pay for the bus. The amount of stuff we got out of a catalogue, the payments went too high and we couldn’t keep up. I had a really bad breakdown. If I couldn’t get anybody to help me with my debts, which were in my name, I thought if I wasn’t here, then no one could touch the family.

We did go on to CAP and pick up that phone. We got a nice call off a lady, Sally, who told me the ins and outs of what CAP can do, and they take over for you. And once they take over, you don’t have to worry about letters coming to your door or phonecalls, CAP are in charge. That’s it. I am totally debt-free and it’s all over with. But I’ll never forget what they’ve done for me. I’m getting on better with my family, there’s no more thoughts of self-harm and I’m very happy indeed. God bless CAP. I love ya – you’re brilliant.

I am a Life Changer. I’m not bigheaded about that! It means that officially I make a small monthly contribution to CAP. I could give more. I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I watch documentaries on the TV about poverty in Britain (is it just me or are there more of them at the moment) it’s rare to see someone properly helped. Every time I read a story from a CAP magazine, or their website, I’m hearing about people who have come out the other side of their distress, and are now solvent, grateful to God and to CAP, and even in a position to help others. Children who were unhappy and distressed, now able to express in simple terms how much better their lives are. To hear these personal stories provides me with a ‘shot of happiness’. We need these!

I do get torn sometimes. I know that there is dreadful poverty overseas. Unacceptable poverty. I have never forgotten a comment that a Russian revolutionary made (not in my hearing) that the only problem that thinking people should be dealing with is that of naked and starving people. I will devote two more of the ‘best things in the world’ to worldwide poverty issues and things that are being done about them.

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BUT CAP is a great example, a great inspiration, of a company that is brilliant to work for, great to support, excellent to promote. They don’t just lift people out of debt. They also help to find people employment (Job Clubs), and provide training in budgeting (Money Course).  Just this last year over 1,000 people have found work through the Job Clubs.  You will see on their website that David Cameron and Martin Lewis as well as Prince Charles commend the charity.  I have heard the current CEO of CAP talk first hand of his involvement on the ground in a CAP Centre, which shows that those employed by the charity are genuinely committed to it. All of us have a little to give, whether it’s volunteer time, a little extra cash to support it, or even if we are inclined some prayer. If you’ve never heard of them, take a look at their website. Tell someone else about them. If you’re reading this in a different country, perhaps you could start up something similar.

Let’s give a shout out for CAP.

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Ten best things about the world No. 3….

internet-of-things

Have you ever prepared for a presentation, or a lesson, or a research project, and just as you have printed your piece or sent it off, done and dusted, you come across a startling YouTube video that says it all better than you could ever have done?  In a fresh and vibrant way that mocks your efforts? Yes, me too.

So my third best thing about the world after parkrun and family is YouTube, with a nod to podcasts and the whole internet world of free media (not, notice, pirated).

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Why, I hear you shriek?  What’s good about YouTube?  Isn’t it a source of annoyance and trouble for copyrights, adverts and self-promoters the world over?

Well yes, but also it represents much that is best about the internet.  I have deliberately not included reddit or Facebook, but I feel that YouTube can be a gateway into new worlds, and this surely is what learning and also the internet is all about.  For me, YouTube is a chest that somehow has been filled with all sorts of odd material, but you just know that if you keep rummaging for long enough you will find something valuable.  It’s the thrill of the chase at times, but if you find it too time-consuming, perhaps this post will reinvigorate your YouTube experience.  Have you ever watched any YouTube videos about Tiny Houses? You’re missing a treat it you haven’t.  What about life hacks?  Again, these can be surprisingly addictive (Well, perhaps not the one I put up, but try this one!

A little personal history.  For me, my elation with YouTube began when as a professional teacher, our school network finally unblocked it, and allowed us to use it in the classroom.  There are pitfalls with YouTube (in particular the fact the Minecraft videos my sons watched on my channel always flashed up on the board), but up till then, you were really expected to download film clips FROM YouTube, which seemed very technical to someone like me.  Now, as a teacher, I can curate playlists of YouTube videos on whatever topic I choose.

Teachers are inveterate creators of YouTube content, and during the recent changes at English GCSE, it means that at the click of a button myself, and my students, can access creative content free of charge from any number of excellent practitioners.  And the good videos increase in likes, and the poor ones disappear from sight.  All hail Mr Bruff, Mr Salles and many others who produce reputable content and all with the students’ best interest at heart, rather than making money!

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But we’re not all teachers.  And we don’t all use YouTube for professional reasons.  Can I make it clear that I am not writing this as an expert in using YouTube. I have a huge amount to learn.  I spend quite a lot of time at the moment asking people who they follow on YouTube, and what channels they enjoy.  I was disappointed that my Dad couldn’t give me any…  One of the reasons YouTube is so good is that unlike TV, you have so much more choice on what you pay attention to.  I was delighted to chance across some wonderful videos on cathedral architecture, for example.  I’ve never seen programmes quite like this on TV.  Also, let’s not forget that for anyone who ever wants to know how to do anything, YouTube HAS to be your first port of call – let’s please give it credit for that.  Only the other day, my mother-in-law (who is not the most technological of women, by her own admission) proudly declared that she had used YouTube to create some quite charming icing flowers on a cake for her sister’s 80th birthday.

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My wife has used similar videos when using clippers to cut my and our son’s hair.  We can all be professionals now.  Whatever you want to learn, be it guitar, calligraphy, Spanish or gardening, YouTube shows you the experts, the learners and the no-hopers all giving it a go.  You can quickly work out who knows what they’re doing from how they talk, and the number of views they have.

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I think there are some obvious tricks that a YouTube newbie would be well-advised to follow in order to get best use from YouTube.  The first would be to create your own account.  In doing this, you can upload your own videos, should you wish, and you can create lists of videos under different headings, for example ‘cats’, ‘chocolate’, ‘Stephen King’, or whatever takes your fancy.  Personally, being a cheapskate, I listen to a lot of music on YouTube, and I like to keep lists of songs in the version I prefer, especially worship music.  With any music, if you type the genre of music into the search box, it will give you a playlist of songs, so ‘rock ballads’ or ‘gentle worship music’ or ‘music to do housework’.  Once you’ve hit play, it will give you continuous music, interspersed with ads.  When you get a great playlist, it’s worth liking it or saving it.

Another tip is not to just watch the videos that YouTube pop up on their homepage, but once you have found some good channels who consistently release videos that you enjoy, subscribe to those channels, and work through that feed.  ‘Subscribe’ does not mean that you are paying anything.  All this content is free.  Youtubers who make money make it because viewers have to sit through adverts.   I have a friend who tells me that he reserves his daily YouTube fix for just before sleep, and chills out to the latest videos from his favourite feeds.

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I spoke to another friend who told me he has now kicked his YouTube habit – he was accustomed to watching up to five hours of YouTube a day, and those he subscribed to such as Jacksepticeye and the Yogscast ‘family’ who were creating content he felt he just HAD to watch – just google these names to find them.  Have you come across FOMO (fear of missing out?).  It’s one of the deceptive, addictive things about surfing the internet that is NOT the same as taking advantage of the really good content out there.  There are many vloggers who have used YouTube to promote their own lives and have become quite watchable – this is not what I am suggesting you do!  Family vlogging is highly popular now, but it becomes a substitute for your own life.

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Technical Tips

There are some nice little tricks that will improve your YouTube experience if you are technically minded – I may try some of these.

But from my point of view as very simple minded, and older than the average YouTube enthusiast, I find it very helpful to keep lists of videos that I want to keep track of.  What a lot of people fear is never being able to find the video again.  Rather than relying on the search function, if you have a channel, you can add a video to a relevant channel by pressing the ‘add’ button as the video is playing, and you can put it under ‘Watch Later’, or put it on another list.  Alternatively, make it a ‘liked’ video and then go to your Liked Videos list; if you’re signed into your channel it’s URL is http://youtube.com/my_liked_videos (or youtube.com/playlist?list={your user ID}).

However, that becomes a very long list, and you’re better off creating lists under headings that make sense to you.  There is theoretically no limit to the number that you can have.  If you want to know more about how to set up a YouTube channel, why not watch this?!  One consideration with YouTube is that you can watch it on your phone (I only do this when using my home broadband), or on TV, or on the computer.  It makes sense to be signed in, rather than on open YouTube, for example on TV, otherwise you can’t quickly access all your ‘bookmarked’ videos.  To quickly show someone a video you’re watching on your phone, just ‘cast’ it to your TV.  As long as your TV has registered your device, it will start playing the video from your phone, and your phone becomes a remote control.  It quickly becomes much more attractive than watching regular TV.

On a perhaps not technical note, YouTube is quite a personal viewing experience.  If you’re controlling what you’re watching, your friends or family may quickly get bored.

Just some great videos!

So I’ve spent way too much time now researching YouTube content for this post, and while I still believe that YouTube is an excellent resource, and represents the best of the internet, it does remain frustratingly difficult to find the best content, and it is a reminder that YouTube is essentially an entertainment channel that will brighten your day.  The most watched videos on YouTube are all music videos promoted by Vevo, with a few videos that toddlers watch (because they watch them again and again!).  Don’t waste time dreaming of going viral because it probably won’t happen, but if you for some reason missed youtube in 2016 here are the virals.

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Addicted to YouTube

Are you?  Then you have probably already checked out how to quit, but in case you haven’t the Art of Manliness is here to help.  Take it off your phone, take the favourite off your computer, go and find something else to do.  Get a life.  Remind yourself that you have to pay some bills.  Talk to your neighbour.  Stroke the cat.  All these things should help you to get off YouTube.

Finally, I said I would give a nod to podcasts.  These are great, and where you don’t find someone’s content on youtube, you may well find it on a podcast somewhere.  Recently I have found myself waiting to pick my son up on a regular basis with ten minutes to kill, and just stood listening to them on my phone.  I’ve taken this opportunity to check out some that may be a little quirky or current, and if it suits your lifestyle why not learn something more tailored to your interests than radio, or music? While YouTube is great for sermons and lectures, podcasts are a bit more consistent and the audio version of the ‘vlogger’, on more of a weekly basis – there is a ‘reasonable’  list of Christian podcasts here.

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YouTube – it’s quick, it’s rough and ready, but it’s like a friend at your elbow.  Just don’t let it get too annoying.  For me, I would check into my subscriptions weekly rather than daily, and I reckon that’s enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Ten Best Things about the World: No. 2…

So the logic with this series of posts is to go ‘slightly wacky’, then, ‘serious’.  This is the serious one after parkrun.  And it doesn’t get much more serious than this.  Now that I have a little more leisure, I am hoping to complete this series within a week or so, so watch this space!

Most of life I could do without. I could do without work, perhaps do without food, do without networking, without the rain (right now!), do without decaffeinated coffee, do without mobile phones.  Okay, I admit, it’s a rainy afternoon and I am in that kind of mood.  BUT I just cannot do without this ‘best thing in the world’.  It’s family.  I will do parents, the family unit, then life partner!

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Let’s start with the ‘accursed progenitors’, as Beckett called them in his dark play ‘Endgame’.  Parents are inescapable.  We cannot separate ourselves from their influence on our lives if we want to, and when we try, we often define ourselves by being different.  When I became a parent, I noticed that many of the things I say to my children were said to me before.  ‘Little birds in their nests agree, or they fall out.’  ‘It takes two to make a quarrel.’  I’ve often pondered on how these observations lead to no action, particularly, except perhaps ominous threats.  I loved reading to my son the other day the poem ‘Jim, who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion and noticed how he started sitting up and listening when it described in detail first his toes, then his heels, are ‘slowly eaten, bit by bit.’  Why do parents love scaring their children?  Why do children love being scared by their parents?  Perhaps because they know that they are safe, and that they can cuddle in Daddy’s arms.

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Thank you parents, for all the cultural capital you passed on.  For the support blanket that you were in all my trembly and lost moments.  No one can pity another, and screw up everything in their heart and give it to another, like a parent can to their child.  I know that both ways now, and it’s both the most wonderful thing, and the most fearful.  Just the thought of harm to one of my children is a dangerous thought, I know that now.  Thank you too for the launchpad that you were, for the identity you gave me.  Thank you that in a way you are behind me, and yet you reach out in front of me.  That even when you are gone, you will still be with me, in the memories, in my thoughts, in your actions, in your prescience and wisdom.  What an unspeakable privilege to have had wise and godly parents.  Also, to have lived so long and still be able to share with them.  Long may it continue.

Larkin said there was something ‘so sad‘ about home.  Our family home was sold and gone now – but every time I see something that came from my childhood, it stirs something up in me. The copy of a book I knew, a piece of furniture.  Things become part of family, don’t they.  We can get caught off guard if we’re not careful.  I have grieved my childhood a hundred times.  It gives me an odd feeling of pleasure, slightly guilty, to grieve my childhood, that it’s gone.  Did I really live it?  Did I just dream it away?  Who knows now…

There are so many great things about family.  They can be so kind to you when you are down.  Also, a whole family REALLY looking forward to something, e.g. a day out, family holiday, and the excitement just building and building.  Equally good, a spontaneous day that just turns out perfect (as opposed to all those days where you’ve dragged the family somewhere and they didn’t want to go, and everyone’s tired, or sick, or cross); also the way a family cheers one family member on when they are doing something exceptional – the way a family cheers its members on MAKES whatever they are doing exceptional – and it’s actually the encouragement that matters.  The achievement itself is forgotten in the euphoria of knowing that your kid or your wife is so pleased for you.

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None of this is unique to family – but family is like a built-in guarantee of these things, and these things more often in your life, than perhaps anyone deserves to have – certainly me.  Even a taster of it from a distance; joining in someone else’s family’s waterfight – being at someone’s birthday party, sharing in a family’s joy, brother’s family, sister’s family, is also a wonderful thing.  Being part of a REALLY BIG family unit, and knowing there is SO MUCH life in it, and so much future and promise – something that will carry on, that HAS to carry on, even after you’re gone.  This is a reminder that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves.  This is good.

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I have just finished reading an unusual book for me, a chatty, popular biography of Phil Collins, Not Dead Yet.  What runs through the whole book is the bitter regret that in the pursuit of his career, he was not able to give his family the time and love that he should have, with dramatic and painful results.  Even so, his family (including his children) were there to help him through his darkest days, and kept him going.  Coming back from that narrative, where Collins picks up and puts down family so often along with telling the story of the next album and the next tour and who he’s worked with; and being able to help my young son get dressed, or spend time on holiday with my own wife and children, makes me so glad to be normal and not pursuing a glittering career.

So my wife.  Marriage.  The bedrock of family is a strong relationship with your other half.  This has to be good.  I remember when I was perhaps 17 or 18, sitting at a wedding breakfast after my cousin had got married, and he said: ‘I can recommend it!’ with a wink in his eye.  I can as well.  To have someone who knows you in your weakest moments, but also loves you in your best.  Who forgives and overlooks your faults, but at the same time does not give up on you overcoming those faults.  For me, when I get down on my knees and pray (which is not as often as I’d like) the first thing I hear the Father saying to me is: Love your wife!  Cherish her!  It talks in Ephesians 5 about laying your life down for your wife, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.  It also says: For no one hates his own flesh but loves and cherishes it.  Part of being ready for marriage is being ready to accept yourself.  No one is going to sort you out if you’re not able to know that you are good enough, somehow, in a rough kind of way, at least!

Why is having a life partner one of the best things in the world?  Don’t get me wrong, you can get by without it.  And sometimes if you’re not prepared to work on the relationship, or if your partner isn’t, then perhaps it’s wiser to steer clear.  We can do each other a lot of good in family life, but we can also inflict pain on others.  Sometimes the sensible question is: what’s the least damage I can do?  We hype ourselves up in our most egotistic moments, hoping to be able to leave a lot of good behind us; but I think that as we mature and get older, our prayers become more humble: help me not to hurt others too much; limit the emotional and physical pain that I cause other people.

Pehurt peoplerhaps as we realise, a few years down the line, that the painful comment that a family member said to us still hurts us, still restricts us rather than helps us trust that we are loved; perhaps we bite back that hurtful comment a bit more often than before.  Perhaps we think about saying the considered, but meaningful thing a little bit more.  Not the hollow: You’re just great!  But rather, ‘You were really thoughtful for making breakfast for me in bed.  I appreciate the little things you do for me.’  We don’t need to throw out our grateful comments on social media, but we do need to say them to our family face to face, so they know we mean it.

fathres day

St. Paul knew what he was talking about in 1 Corinthians 13 when he talked on love.  Love keeps no record of wrongs.  This is so important in family.  Without forgiveness, family becomes bitter and a well of discouragement and pain in our lives.  It also says that love ‘bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things’.  A little more of this childlike expectation about those we love would fill our lives with more joy.  Can you seriously ‘bear all things’ about your spouse?  Can you ‘believe all things’?  Do you expect that because they have failed in that area before, they will always fail?  Do your words put them down?  I will leave the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians here to read as the end of my post (in the Message to keep it fresh), but let me just say, three cheers for family.  Who’d want to live without ’em?

And looking at 1 Corinthians 13 has reminded me: the very best thing about family is that it gives you a reason to get up in the mornings.  A reason to keep going when you don’t really want to.  Because you care enough about your children, about your wife, about your parents or siblings, to go out of your way to help them.  The best human instinct is not selfish, but is actually to help others.  This has to be extended beyond family, but it needs to start with family.  If I can’t get it right with those closest to me, I won’t get it right with strangers.  The apostle John puts it well in his short letter 1 John; if I don’t love my brother whom I have seen, how can I love God whom I have not seen?  Love begins with the person nearest to us.

feet out of bed

So for those of you a bit short on family at the moment, don’t be scared to find commitment with other families and with friends.  Because families all need others to come in, and friends are an extra special ‘best thing about the world’ that deserve a post of their own.  By the way – what would be YOUR ten best things about the world?  Any suggestions?  Eight more to come – the next one will be ‘wacky’.

The Way of Love

13 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut,

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Isn’t always “me first,”

Doesn’t fly off the handle,

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.

8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

 

 

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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…


135DC59B-A158-4A1C-96C8-532A584870BA

Sent from my iPad

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