Thursday, 28 July 2011

take 2

Catherine writes
This year david was given 3 more tomato plants to grow, and 2 pepper plants as a present from his fellow blogger. Last year the tomato plants did a kamikaze leap off his conservatory windowsill, without setting a single fruit. He has learned this year, and has put them outside on hot days, lovingly watered them – possibly talked to them (though he denies this). The plants are now starting to set fruits, tiny tomatoes can be seen, David is growing in confidence as a gardener, and feeling rather happy that his tomatoes are bigger than mine...
Got me thinking about mistakes and failure, and how we respond to these... We often see failure and sin as the same thing. We have been taught that both are somehow a 'falling short' of that which is acceptable. In everyday life we (or the world around us) set targets for success - if we don't reach these we have failed.  

David writes
But maybe we've bought a lie.  Maybe the criteria for 'success' is not measured by achievement alone. Maybe we should take note of Jesus' words as he advised us for life. The Father's words of approval are not 'well done, high-achiever' but 'well done good and faithful servant'. In the Kingdom, it is goodness, godly character that counts - and a life lived based on faith. This might just be radical! Faith is 'the substance of that which is not seen'. In other words it is acting as if something were true without first having conclusive evidence that it is. Faith is inherently risky!

Yet, if we take risks, sometimes it will go wrong - that's the very nature of risk and faith. The problem is that this looks horribly like failure, so aside from the inconvenience and pain of getting the faith-step wrong, of taking the risk and discovering it didn't work as expected, we also have the world (and ourselves) berating us for failing.

We did a blog on Wimbledon recently - there is really nothing wrong with being the fourth best male tennis player in the world. It is a fantastic combination of natural ability, dilligent practice and a tenacious character. But lurking behind the applause is that sense of it not being good enough, because it isn't number one, because he hasn't won a grand-slam, instead of it being praiseworthy it is counted as failure.

Shouldn't we look at our lives in the same way? Not 'did that faith step succeed' but 'did I step out in faith?', not 'do I accomplish everything I set out to do' but 'am I exhibiting godly character in the process and irrespective of the outcome?'. Instead of getting our self-worth and approval from 'good' outcomes wouldn't it be healthier to learn to receive these from taking steps of faith, from responding in godly ways? Maybe we need to reset the criteria for success if we are going to 'succeed' in the Kingdom.

Catherine writes
It would have been easy for David to avoid growing stuff this year based on last years failure, to decide that he couldn't grow stuff because he was not green fingered. But (after a little bit of persuasion) he didn't.

Maybe that's how it's supposed to work. Maybe last year was only a failure up to the point he decided to have another go. Maybe the act of faith, the risk of trying again turned last years attempt into a part of this years success. Most entrepeneurs have several business 'failures' before they 'succeed'. In the end, it's what they learn through the earlier attempts that enables them to 'succeed'. And it's their character, their willingness to keep taking the risk, that gets them there in the end.

David writes
Had tuna mayo sandwiches for lunch. With tomato. The sweet taste of success. Lets keep taking risks, lets be people of faith, lets rejoice in our 'failures' and celebrate our success!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Life & Death

A short blog - it touches sensitive areas (sex, pregnancy, abortion, contraception...), so we've tried to strike a balance - hopefully there's enough here to spark a debate without upsetting people for whom these are difficult issues - if you do want to read more, there's a link at the end, but be warned, it is deliberately provocative!

Anyway, to kick us off, here's some statistics... because I know how much everyone loves statistics.

There's a one in thirty chance that unprotected sex will result, eighteen years later, in another independent adult (possibly having unprotected sex, but that's another blog entirely)

So, at the start of this journey, celibacy or contraception reduce the prospect of an independent adult from one in thirty to zero.

Moving on in the journey to adulthood,  69% of all confirmed pregnancies (US statistics) end up as 18 year olds. That's roughly seven in every ten pregnancies that result in an independent adult. In other words, an intervention at any point after pregnancy is confirmed reduces the chances of an independent adult from seven in ten to zero.

What are the moral implications on contraception, abortion, embryo research?


(If you want more fuel to this fire, click here.)

life & death - the detail

Before conception
What about contraception?  It reduces the probability of intercourse resulting in an independent adult from one in thirty to close to zero. That's the whole point I hear you cry! One in thirty may not sound very high, but it's infinitely greater than zero... To put this in concrete terms, a couple who marry in their mid 20's and subsequently have three kids and then use contraception would statistically have ended up with seven independent adults had they not used contraception. Thats four more independent adults than they actually have. Now none of us would gun down four seventeen year olds to prevent them reaching adulthood, but by using contraception the result is the same. Four adults who would in all liklihood have existed, now don't.

Before birth
In our heads we have persuaded ourselves that we are terminating this thing called a foetus. It has no feelings, it might look a bit like a baby, but it isn't. It hasn't developed - and there's always the chance that it wouldn't have made it anyway. But here's the truth - there is a small chance that tragedy might intervene between now and their 18th birthday. But it is statistically very unlikely. By far the biggest risk to it becoming an adult is the decision to terminate the pregnancy - to kill the potential. In all probablity, what we are terminating is in 18 years time, an independent adult.

We might argue that ending the process to protect the mother whilst this potential adult is in the womb is an acceptable, if difficult trade. But what about the child who's behaviour threatens the mother's mental health a few years later? Of course there are other options by then - foster care or whatever. But what if there weren't? What if the choice was either the mother's health and safety or the child's? Where is the difference? In the first instance the safety of the mother is deemed to over-ride that of the life that is dependent on her. Yet no-one would argue that the same applied in the second case. Why? 

Now, I occasionally hear distraught mother's shouting at their kids 'If you do that one more time, I'll kill you' but very few people would advocate that as an actual form of discipline... In fact, no matter how inconvenient, disruptive or risky they are to parental health, no one suggests the execution of the child as a solution. Yet stopping the natural growth process at any point after two weeks has statistically the same outcome. Instead of a 98+% chance of becoming an adult, it now has zero chance.

What about embryo research? Isn't every conception, however caused, statistically a potential adult? I know how important stem-cell research might be but aren't we taking what would otherwise have the potential to be an adult and deciding on its behalf that it will not become one? Created, not to become an adult but to serve those who had the privilege of becoming adults. Does it not sound like that old prophecy: 'One man, for the sake of the people, must die'

These aren't easy issues. We are not anti-abortion and we are not against contraception! What we want to encourage is a debate on why these are acceptable and under what conditions - in the full knowledge that adult lives do not exist as a direct result of these choices.

Sunday, 3 July 2011


Tennis, Tennis, Tennis, all day every day.... Got to be Wimbledon fortnight! So time for a tennis blog.....
Scene: Centre Court, Wimbledon. An ageing Sue Barker is interviewing the new champion.
It’s hard to make myself heard above the sound of the crowd here.
Actually, they’re quiet now, think you need to turn up your hearing aid...
Oh, thanks – that’s better! Well, Stew, tell us how it feels, the first British man to win Wimbledon  for over 300 years!
Amazing! I can’t put it into words...
That’s great, we wait 300 years and you don’t know what to say...
Well, obviously it’s amazing. The crowd were fantastic.
Indeed, they’ve stuck with you through the difficult times...
Yep, losing semi-finalist 8 times!
And the injuries...
Yep, you can never be sure after a hip replacement...
So talk us through this extraordinary few days.. when did you start to dream this might be it?
I guess getting a wildcard at the last minute and a bye into the third round was a lucky break
And talking of breaks,  just a thought for poor Michael Smith... slipping on the banana skin you had just discarded..
I know, terribly hard to play on with a broken leg, so you have to applaud him for taking that set, but really there was no way back....
Which of course got you to the semi-final which you have really made your home!
I know, but this year I had an extra motivation
Ah, the birth of your grand-daughter..
No, I just couldn’t bear another year of inane questions and comments: ‘Do you think you’ll ever win a grand-slam event? How does it feel like, losing again? What changes will you make? Are you going to come back stronger?’
So, about the final – do you think the circumstances devalue your victory?
I don’t think so, you can only play against the opponent in front of you...
But that’s the point really.... he didn’t turn up did he?
Well we’d been waiting three days for the rain to stop long enough for them to fix the roof and I guess he just got bored waiting – after all, the only thing to watch were re-runs of Fred Perry getting beaten by  Bjorn Borg in the 2022  simulated final...
Well, unconventional it may have been, but the wait is over at last, Britain has another Men’s Champion at Wimbledon!
Yeah, just one sad note really – I’m no longer a member of that even more august group. The Motram, Bates, Lloyd, Rusedski, Henman, Murray club.
Ah yes, great British losers every one!

Catherine writes about reaction times
Can't believe how hard they hit the ball. The other day David did some calculations on how long you would have to react to a fast serve. (You know he loves a spreadsheet!) Apparently, you would have .38 seconds reaction time in tennis with a 140mph serve, .45 seconds in cricket with a fast bowler at close to 100mph. Scariest of all though is Josh (my 2 year old). When he bowls to you from 4ft, at 20mph you only have 0.14 seconds to react.... Have you ever noticed how you find yourself dwelling on stuff? Processing, thinking about things without actually wanting to? I find myself spending way too much time and energy with my brain power over stuff that is at best irrelevant to now and at worse, actually counter productive. We're told to 'take every thought captive to Christ'. Seems to me that key to that is having fast reaction times. If we grab the rogue thought as it enters our mind, we can refocus on healthier things. If we are slow in our defence, it gets in and takes root and is much harder to dig out. Back to tennis. Serve, volley, win the point, don't get involved in long baseline rallies they take too much energy and we don't always win! I'm praying that the Holy Spirit and my conscience give me faster reaction times!

David writes about champions
Apologies to anyone who thought the sketch at the start of the blog was disrespectful. Being the 4th best player in the world is a marvelous achievement. The problem is less to do with Murray, Henman and the rest and more to do with commentators and us in general! Strange tribe the British, very conflicted! We have this inate idea that we should be the best (witness the unrealistic expectations for the England football team), but we hate actually being the best (hence our love of the underdog). We're embarassed by the person who does well and is comfortable with their success, we're angry with those we expect to do well who then don't. I have a suspicion that Murray is actually the best tennis player in the world. If he plays at his best and Nadal plays at his best, I think Murray wins. Honestly. You don't quite believe me do you? And here's the crux of my argument - nor does he.

Scripture tells me that I in Christ am a winner - in fact I win an 'overwhelming victory'. In the battle I fight against the enemy over sin, over every effect of sin, it should be a straight sets victory. But I believe the incipient, insiduous lies of the enemy. 'You can't do it, you'll never win, it's for others not you.....' It's not lack of power that stops us being the champion, it's lack of belief.

Catherine writes about grunting
So to my second entirely unrelated thought on tennis.... The grunting, shrieking, uggghhhing - its getting louder, think in a few years time it might cause glass to shatter. Reckon they do it to put off the opponent, as a tool to try and win the battle. As christians we are in a battle, and sound of the enemy is often loud. He shouts and screams and grunts to distract us from the truth. If you want to beat Sharapova, you'd better wear ear-plugs. They're a great invention - many of you will know that I suffered for a long time with a sleeping disorder. My brain was hyper-alert and woke me up many times an hour. What I needed was something to bring silence and peace. Bizarrely, ear-plugs did the trick! Even though there was little external noise, they somehow fooled my brain into a calmer place! In the end of course prayer is the bigger key - praying for God's ear-plugs for the soul! Protection from lies, from the incessant noise from the world, allowing the still, calm voice of God that says 'hush child, I'm here, go to sleep, be at peace'. 

Catherine writes about follow through
Have you seen how hard they hit the ball these days? Amazing new technology in the rackets, new more aerodynamic tennis balls, stronger more athletic players. But I reckon the real key is all about follow through...
Thats what gives real power to the shot. If the swing is stopped as you hit the ball, there is not much power, if you follow through, it's all there!

It's so much like faith and vision.... So easy to stop halfway with what God has said to do. We get the thoughts like 'this is too hard, I am no good at this, maybe we heard wrong, was that really what God said...?' Then the exciting adventure God has called us to is missed, because we sit on the fence, mither, bring up worries etc... Its like stalling mid swing. But, if God is calling us to do something even if it seems tough, even if it looks nearly impossible, he is faithful, he will be with us, he will provide. Where things seem impossible or too difficult he helps find a way - the narrow path through it. This might be on a personal level - something seeming too hard to change, or it might be on a level where more people are involved, a vision God giving us seeming too large, there seeming to be too few people, it not seeming logical in our mind, too risky...

David sums up
So I guess Wimbledon was good  after all! Lets believe what God says - we are winners, champions, victors, let's be secure in that, look the world and the enemy in the eye and say 'In Christ, I win'. Then when the enemy comes with his lies and his distractions we will be quicker to identify and deal with them. Much less chance then of stopping short, of not following through on the vision God has given.

Cheesy end; friend pointed out today that tennis is a game that starts with 'love all' begins with someone serving and allows for a second chance if we get it wrong. Hmm, maybe I still don't like Wimbledon....