Mud play days


Arm deep in sticky mud, they shape yummy cakes and scary castles. The bright yellow, red and green of the tiny plastic wheel barrow are being splattered in fresh mud. It only seems to be a matter of time before the amount of mud in the barrow will equal that on clothes, faces and bare fore arms.

Given simple raw materials, children will play. Their creativity unrestricted and unshaped by the need to colour in the lines. No need for each moment to be filled with the instance gratification of reward driven games.

I long for those days of innocence again. Wishing I could send my children back to that wonderful place where success is measured by clothes in the washing pile rather than new clothes failing to make them look like the air brushed model.

Life has become complicated and painful.

In the Industrial Age they believed that factory’s could mechanise work for good. But it simply robbed us of the satisfaction of hands on work and craftsmanship. In the fifties they thought the we would all have more leisure time as robots and machines served us. But they did not realise that we would just have to keep working harder and harder to afford those luxuries.

Progress always comes with a shadow.

The progress in this generation has been exponential. Yet still the shadows have surprised us. Our electronic communication allows us to connect instantly across the globe from a slither of tech in our pockets. But words in a email rarely transmit the subtle tones of human conversation. Social networks held the promise that we would never be alone. But living our lives on the back of other people’s newsfeeds, means we are more alone that ever. Passing likes are not a reflection of loving, lifegiving connections.

The dopamine fix means our phone twitch and even cause us to imagine the subtle vibrations on a latest notification. We are unknowing addicts on an intravenous drip loaded with the unremarkable glossed lives of other nobodies. 

Each day bombarded with news, gossip and images. We were suppose to care more, to connect more deeply and have our creativity fired up. But in reality we become numb to the hardships of others, fascinated by the failure of our neighbours and our imaginations manipulated by a thousand fake photos. Tomorrows fix will need to be stronger. 

I wish I had seen the shadow side of our always on age. I wish I had listened to my gut and protected my children from the tusunami of social information for longer. 

I long for those innocent, uncomplicated days of mud pie creations in multi colour wheel barrows. But we can’t go back. 

Over the last week one of the kids has been grounded and this has included an electronic grounding, no iPhone, Facebook or tumblr. Just space to think, read, converse and create. For tonight a request has even been put in for a campfire. The best bit… They love it and so do we.


Always Stop and Remove the Stones

Running by the sea is one of the best things about living on the coast. Every time your out the landscape is completely different. Not only are legs engaged, but mind, emotions and soul are revitalised by the ever changing vista. The downside of all this beauty is all the stones and grit that you can collect in your shoes. Most of the time it is not an issue but occasionally the smallest fragment makes it to a place of irritation.

As I ran yesterday that is exactly what happened. It had been a perfect day, sun bright, but not too hot. Yet with waves crashing on the incoming tide. The sunlight through the breaking waves was magical, as if each one for a moment had been frozen in liquid metal. The glory of the day and the fact that I was running on yesterdays legs meant that I ignored the fragment of gravel that was working its way round to my heal. I must have picked it up on the promenade from the sand thrown up in last weeks storm. Six miles later as I pushed on, trying to keep my pace, I knew I had made a simple error.

Every time I come back from a run, or any activity, I want to know what I could have done differently. While I am no reader, I am an avid learner. The lesson from that day was simple, “always stop and remove the stones”.

The same is true in life. We put up with so many minor irritation’s. Maybe not aware of the damage being caused down the line. We get used to second screens and overtime, minor ailments in our bodies that with a little focus will not need surgery. We put up with unresolved conflicts that with time to listen could be stopped from becoming a marriage break down.  Simply taking time to stop and reflect on the stones of life that have begun to cause us irritation might mean that we choose to remove them.

As in life so in leadership. So often we see the problem clearly. But we are going at such a pace that we don’t want to stop and deal with the issue. Anyway, if we did it might cause someone to get upset, that unwritten rule of pastoral leadership, “no one is allowed to be unhappy”. What is now a minor irritant will in the future be the blister that causes enough pain to stop us in our tracks. I hope I can become more sensitive to the grit when running and attentive to the issues in life and leadership. Note to self: always stop and remove the stone.

Running on Yesterdays Legs

Part of my training for completing two marathons just a week apart is to learn how to run on tired legs. Typically this involves doing my weekly long run and then the following day, within 24 hours were possible, a tempo run at marathon pace. The total distance for the two covers the full 26.2 miles. After almost three months I am not sure I am used to it yet. Running on yesterdays legs really hurts.

In all three of my previous marathons I have hit the wall. Your running along quite happily, at your planned pace and then suddenly the tanks are empty. It is as if the legs have just decided, “no more running for us, it’s time to stop”. There can be many causes. During my first marathon in London in 2008 I simply set of way too fast, at mile nine I crashed into the wall but by mile seventeen I was back. There are elements of nutrition, anaerobic fitness and endurance. The biggest battle is in the mind. Learning to push through, to keep going even though everything in you is screaming at you to stop. This is the challenge for me especially now I am facing the marathon double.

This is why running on yesterdays legs has become such an important part of my training. I want to learn how to keep on going so that when I put it all together on race day I can run at a consistent pace. Going out again and again on legs that are tired, stiff and really don’t want to move seems to be the best training for being able to keep on going on the day.

Pushing through that pain is a normal part of the training but one that only happens a few times a week. In fact although I now run everyday, a minimum of one mile, I only train three times a week. On all the other days I rest. This is probably as important if not more important than the training. Our bodies need time to recover, to repair and to grow. This can’t happen if we just hammer them all the time.

I am hoping that the benefit of this training and the pain of running on yesterdays legs will pay off with a consistent and improved time for this years marathon double.

++++++++Support me if you can+++++++++

You can support me in the following ways:

1. Like this post (or comment) and any others that I put up over the next month – this will encourage me loads (yes this is an occasion to be that shallow)

2. Donate to one of the causes below (you are a hero!)

3. Donate to both of the causes below (you are a super hero and you have my permission to make a special costume and wear it in public just because you can!)

Marathon one: Brighton 17th of April for The Living Room, the community cafe that is run in my church. We have 80-100 people in each day we open, give away the coffee and bacon baps and make no charge… Brighton Marathon

Marathon two: London 24th April for Exeter Cathedral. It has been open for over 900 years and with your help it will be there in another 900… London Marathon

Thanks Loads, Mark

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Choosing Difficult Anyway

I find myself in a strange position where the things I think are at odds with those around me.

A shift of a hundred years has brought much needed change and freedom. To so much of it yes, yes, yes. But there are also fundamental fractures that if untended may never heal. I am choosing to stand on this hallowed and uncomfortable turf called home. To keep on placing myself in a painful place is difficult but I am choosing difficult anyway.

What is stranger still is the packaging of this thinking in the form of “British Values”. I should be able to sign up for them; they should be the reference point for something good. They should be mine but they just sound like lies from the spin doctors. Did we vote on them or have a referendum? Maybe I was away for that one, or perhaps no one thought we would notice. They try to provide unity and peace of mind but really they are just a cover for the rich getting richer and pleasing themselves. I have lived here all my life but this turf feels less and less like home. I could hide away and keep low but I feel the need to engage. I am choosing difficult anyway.

New freedoms in living for some mean that the old prisons become places where ideas are locked away. Old wisdom no longer valid; theology altered so none are offended. I don’t have words to express to this world the truth that lives in me in a way that translates beyond the bars of it’s incapacitated thinking.

Strange how a society that values tolerance what’s to imprison or better still eradicate my freedom to think differently. Surely tolerance is more that just not upsetting others with different views. I don’t like or want the pain of this, yet I choose difficult anyway.

Perhaps I should pull away? Pursue the easy life and not cause trouble or ask questions.

Just like everything and give my silent consent.

But this is not true to who I am, to the truth living in me who invites me to choose difficult anyway. So I stay and love and listen, with my theology and thinking still in tact, knowing there is hope in this life and the next.

I am choosing that old and difficult way of love anyway.

Dear David

Dear David,

Thanks so much for getting back in touch with me today. I must say it has been a while, about five years I think. I was so pleased to have a personal letter through my door from you because there is so much I would like to talk with you about and so much that you have a duty as leader to address. However….

I was a bit disappointed that you spent most (97%) of your letter talking about your “dreadful” colleagues and “awful” possible future colleagues. In fact it was as if you did not have anything of any substance to say at all! At one point you made what sounded like a promise, I was listening… “that one of the other parties would bankrupt the country.” How do you know this with such certainty, please write back and let me know? Otherwise it just sounds like you are in a bit of a panic. 
Then after a whole side of a4 you signed off. You had said nothing about what you would do. You made no apology for deep and wounding cuts in local government funding. You just wasted an entire letter putting everyone else down. Do you talk about everyone like this? If you do I don’t expect anyone will want to work with you again. Maybe you are just feeling a bit cross, try talking to someone, it might help. 
But then at the end of your letter a PS. Great I thought, maybe an invitation for feedback or a real promise. But no, you’re just asking me to vote for you by saying something trite about job creation…. On this occasion I think I will pass. Perhaps if you write back with some substance rather than just slagging, then I might change my mind. Do write again, just try not to leave it so long next time. 
By the way, thanks for running the country for the last few years. I am not joking, it’s a really tough job and someone has to do it. I don’t agree with large chunks of what you have done, but I am still grateful that you have taken the time to be a leader. Whatever happens this week please do one thing for me…. Remember to keep on taking holidays and time off, it is so key as a leader to get proper rest and don’t listen to the press or anyone else who tells you otherwise. Enough for now and hope to see you at the beach more often.
yours sincerely