Moments of joy. Album review: Bethel Music – Mighty Sound (Moments)

Bethel music says this album, recorded live at Bethel Church, “captures the essence of our worship.” If that’s true, we can learn three things about Bethel:

  • They really love spontaneous worship
  • They get really excited for what God is going to do.
  • Their worship is half about God and half about them.

 

I wonder what you think when you hear the words ‘spontaneous worship’. At it’s heart is letting a new song rise out of our hearts. Yet it seems so alien, particularly to Presbyterian ears used to sitting down immediately after singing a psalm or hymn.

But we would do well not to dismiss the idea. On a personal note, some of the most powerful worship times I’ve had used spontaneous worship. Indeed I became a Christian during one such meeting. In a wider context, God has given us all different desires and mediums with which we can praise him. The beauty of the church is that we can all worship the same God with our myriad tastes for particular styles.

This is just to say – my Free Church friends might struggle with the concept of a spontaneous album.

I plunged into this album because I was intrigued. I hypothesised that spontaneous worship wouldn’t work in a CD format as much as it does live. The spontaneity comes from the Holy Spirit and is peculiar to that particular moment in space and time. All the CD can do is record the out-workings of that moment, not recreate it. And we shouldn’t try to emulate what the Spirit did in that particular session at the time. But I plunged in anyway, because I wanted to test my hypothesis.

I was half right. On a CD the quieter spontaneity can allow for some prayerfulness.
And the congregants’ excitement about who God is and what He has done is tangible. Just because Presbyterians don’t show our excitement in audible woops, hand raising, amens, hallelujah’s and applause (all audible here) doesn’t make our excitement any less, or Bethel’s any more, valid. But it is infectious, and I have found myself singing some of the lyrics, and my heart being warmed by the Hallelujah’s in Mighty Sound. They’re right: “when we sing it’s a mighty sound.”

Like Bethel, we too can sing “you don’t give your heart in pieces” (Pieces). We can join them and sing that “my hope is built on nothing less/than Jesus’ blood and righteousness ” (Cornerstone). Reckless Love has made it onto my worship playlist because it is a great reminder of how much God moved in his pursuit of me. I would caveat that the mixing isn’t quite right on this track, and it took a few listens before I understood what was being sung. (But hey, I still can’t work out what Thom Yorke is singing most of the time)

We can also sing that God heals.

Woah! Hold-up!

If you know anything about Bethel church, you may know that they have a healing ministry. We who don’t have such a ministry must still acknowledge that we too believe that God heals. We do after-all pray for that He would. All good, then, so long as it is done with the right attitude of boldness and humility.

We can come to God with boldness and confidence, knowing we have a great high priest in Jesus (Hebrews 4:14-16), but we must also come knowing that “His ways are not our ways” (Isaiah 56:8-9). God may heal on this Earth, he may not. We come humbly because it is not our doing, but God and God’s alone.

However, I don’t believe Bethel has this balance.

For example, take the album cover.
mighty sounds

It’s a confused image. I think they want to say “he’s on his knees, humbled by God” but overall I feel it’s a bit more rock-star than humble.

Next, notice the lyrics in Catch the Wind:

I am strong and full of life
I am steadfast no compromise
I lift myself to the sky
I’m gonna catch the wind
I’m gonna catch the wind

I am bold no fear inside
Spread my wings open my life
Like an eagle whose home is the sky
I’m gonna catch the wind.
I’m gonna catch the wind.

Presumably (no explanation is given) the wind is the Holy Spirit. But the ordering is all wrong here:
By myself I am not strong.
It is Christ who gives life.
The Holy Spirit catches me.

I am fearful but with His help I am bold.
He will lift me up on eagles wings.

Further on in the song, I was a little weirded out. The music goes quiet, and the worship leader sings at us to let “the healing honey of Jesus rain down.”

I’ve never heard Jesus’ healing being described as honey before. I can kind of see it, in that Jesus is sweet, as is honey… and heaven (if I remember rightly) is described as being like honey. She goes on:
“I see it raining honey… The honey of heaven… The healing honey of heaven… Thick thick healing honey… Raining down… “. This is very bizarre imagery, and is presented as truth with no explanation. Perhaps the preceding sermon unpacked it – so it may have been helpful in that moment, because the Holy Spirit may have been working. But on a recording it just sounds odd. That is the danger of having “raw and unfiltered” (Bethel’s words) worship on a disc. Sometimes we need to filter out the unhelpful.

And then the singer makes a bold and frightening claim: “Depression’s gonna go! Panic is gonna go! Heaviness is gonna go!”

She goes on “healing, healing.”
With rising urgency, “healing! Healing!

It was all I could do to not switch the album off. I am testament to the fact that God can heal from depression, if he chooses. It is an uncomfortable truth that for some he may not heal in this life.

But my journey is also testament to the fact that I had assimilated enough of this teaching that it kept my depression going. It lead me to think that It’s my fault I have this! Am I pressing into Jesus? I should be pressing into Jesus more! I must be a bad Christian! God can’t be healing me because I’m not good enough! I must have some sin elsewhere, because he only hears the prayers of the righteous! which just made it worse.

There are some good parts to this album. Listening to some spontaneity reminds me how rigid I can be, and how I sometimes expect I need to worship in particular ways. It helps me be more open to what the Spirit might be saying. Us Presbyterians sometimes need that. Overall I can only recommend two tracks in the album: Reckless Love and Cornerstone. Both have made it on my worship playlist. The rest is either unhelpful, turn worship inward to us rather than God, or scripturally false.

Bethel Music – Moments: Mighty Sound was released 11 May 2018, and is available on Amazon and Spotify.

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Sarah Reeves – Easy Never Needed You

I’m sitting at a beach bar, cocktail in my hand, watching the sun make its final move for the day, layering the sky with a mix of reds and pinks. Heavenly (apart from the volume of the beats which are ear-piercing and conversation straining).

Easy Never Needed You
Wishy-washy electronics, lo-fi Radiohead-esque drums on what sounds like a drum machine, rather than a traditional set, tell me that the above scene is where the album is most comfortable.

Odd, given that this is apparently a Christian EP.

Easy Never Needed You has made me revisit what makes an album ‘Christian.’ Is it enough to be a Christian? No; there are plenty of Christian artists producing music with no mention of Christ.  Is it enough to mention God? Not really. Christians tend to get really excited when an artist with heavy radio plays mentions God, but there are two obvious questions we need to ask: is their god the Christian God, and what is the general thrust of the rest of their lyrics? This gives a third option – it must consistently point toward God.

By that standard, this EP is generally Christian.

For example, Details tracks how well we are known by God:

You know me better than I know myself
Your ways are higher than anything else
You have the plan far beyond all my wildest dreams
Just like You paint the fiery skies
You chose the color of my eyes
From the start until the end of time
You’re in the details, You’re in the details.

The obvious comparison is with Psalm 139:

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

I think “those works” refer not just to the making of humanity, but of the whole of creation. The stars, planets, everything we see, smell and touch. It’s true: God is in the details because he made them.

So despite not explicitly taking a specific verse and expanding on it, the general gist of the album is that of pointing to God. Taken in the context, this includes the track I can most see working well at that beach bar: Something About You. The lyrics are true of of God but could just as much be about a lover:

Fascinated, captivated
I’m amazed by all that you are, oh
Uncontrollable emotion
All Your love exposing my heart.

Removed from the context of the EP it becomes a chilled love song because it doesn’t mention God at all, only his attributes and how the writer feels about Him.

This brings us back to the question of what makes an album ‘Christian.’ I think the next question is an album’s purpose. Is it to help us in public worship, or is it for listening in private to encourage us and remind us of who we are and what we have in Christ. Or is there a third option? Non-explicit lyrics which somehow point to God.

Eisley are a fascinating band. They explicitly chose to sign to a non-Christian label, partly because they wanted to reach a bigger audience. Their lyrics are definitely not ‘Christian’ – at the time of signing to Warner, they were mostly whimsical and dreamy, with their faith as a background. But they knew they could reach more people on a secular label. According to Relevant Magazine, they feel “Christian music is for Christians and they want to play for people outside the Church, too.”

I feel that this EP is somewhere between these options. As we can interpret Something About You as being about someone else other than God, it isn’t just for Christians. Sharing it with them might lead them to listening to the E.P and learn more about God.

Easy Never Needed You took time to grow on me. It’s a poppy little EP. But if you’re looking for Bjork-ish Christian music for chilling out to, look no further.

Released 27 April 2018.
Available at Amazon or Spotify

Not another Rend Collective album. Good News: Review.

Here’s a fun game for a long journey: fire up your music device, put it on shuffle and guess the artist within the first few bars. Make it more inclusive by playing your spouse tracks you think she should be able to work out.

Sometimes, artists surprise you. “Woah, that’s 10CC?” Often, it is easy: “hmmm… African sounding drums, electronics, a bit of fiddle too; can only be Afro Celt Sound System!” Not only do you know most of the music back to front, but many artists have a distinct sound.

I find that with Rend Collective. The domineering kick drums, the “aaaoooooaaaaawooo” noises in choruses and bridges, pithy verses with four words per line.

I definitely found that in the first track, Life is Beautiful, of their latest album, Good News.

Good news

Good News, by Rend Collective. Album out now.

I felt on the first spin that it would be ‘just another’ Rend album, more of the samey sound. After all, how much progression can a band have in nine albums over eight years? I found myself resenting it, and wondering how distinguishable it would be from their other albums.

Musically, it’s not. They have an infectious joy that makes it tempting to sing along on the bus. But their relentless joy is sometimes disingenuous. The lyric “I will be undignified” in the track of the same name comes alongside a David Crowder style fiddle session. The music doesn’t reflect how difficult a lyric that is to comprehend, much less sing and action.

Lyrically, however, there are the same level of biblical truths as they have produced before. They have an ability to cut through to the essentials of the faith and so enable us to worship.

The stand out track is Nailed to the Cross. This is where Rend Collective really show themselves. All good worship songs should remind us where we have been rescued from, and where we can go. Yet Rend go further; they remind us that we struggle now, today, and that Jesus continues to conquer those struggles:

“When I stand accused by my regrets
And the devil roars his empty threats
I will preach the gospel to myself
That I am not a man condemned
For Jesus Christ is my defence”

The drums drive home the horror of the event that brings our salvation:
“My sin is nailed to the cross
My soul is healed by the scars”

Over-layed with high-noted guitar, we are reminded too of the beauty and so we are able to sing with them:
“The weight of guilt I bear no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord”

Rend also have really great metaphors. True North reminds us that we are able to carry on through the darkness. Admittedly, the metaphor isn’t as fleshed out as another (old) compass related track – Delirious?’s Love is the Compass. But it’s a great anthem none-the-less. Sometimes we need a little crazy after the mellow.

Personally, I need the mellow before the crazy – and this is where the album is difficult for me. It starts with a joyful sound, assuming that I can jump in with them. But God takes me from where I am, and brings me to that point. This means I’ve often skipped ahead to track 5.

Is that a terrible thing in this day, when we don’t need to wait till the needle gets to the end of the first half? I think it’s symptomatic of a desire to get an album out without thinking about the overall story; concept albums just aren’t a thing anymore.

I can only think of one recent(ish) album the Getty’s Awaken the Dawn, which is an album you simply can not skip any tracks of. Individually they make sense, but they make much more sense when played in order. Not so with Good News. Individually each track is great, but the story only begins a few tracks in.

So the story order in Good News seems a little mixed, and their distinctive sound is sometimes tiring and doesn’t always relate to the lyrics. But the lyrics are, all of them, true and weighty. It’s an odd mix, but I’ll take it – because in an age where Christian lyrics are often watered down, we need worship that allows us to actually worship the true God. And their distinctive sound? It lets you slot in. It lets you guess where the tune is going, which enables you to sing at the top of your voice as soon as you know the lyric. Not on the bus though.

Good News was dropped in January 2018. Available for £10 at the CLC Bookshop website

Logging back in.

A cardinal rule of social media is to post, post, post.

If you don’t post anything, you can’t expect people to come.

This is my first post in such a long time, I had to reset my password.

Yet in the last few weeks, I have received numerous emails from WordPress saying “[email address] is now following your blog.”

The first one was great, if a little odd. I couldn’t remember when I last posted. Why would someone follow a dormant blog?

The next few were more odd, but they kept on coming.

If this is you, thank you.

One thing I remember from university is Prochaska and Diclemente’s Cycle of Change model. The theory goes that people move from being unaware they need to make a change, to contemplating the the fact that the need to change. They then ready themselves, preparing the ground, moving toward action by thinking about the action. And then they act.

During the last couple of months I have contemplated writing on the blog again.
I have been writing, on Quora. But there’s something special here. Not everyone is on Quora, and I’m limited to what people ask. To a greater extent I am free to write what I want here.

Those emails, and the people the represent, have moved me toward acting.

And I am now acting.

I was scared to look at when I last posted, in the same way you get scared to look at your bank account. I was pleasantly surprised that it was “only November”, until I remembered that November was actually half a year ago. We are further on in the year than I thought we were.

And here I am.

Thank you for prodding me into acting.

At your service…

Let’s pray.

I’ve been sitting on this one for a long time, but with the Free Church’s National Day of Prayer on Thursday, it seems prescient.

On Sunday I did something I have done only a handful of times. Each time, there was some sort of whisper or confused looks. On one occasion, my wife was sitting next to the minister’s wife. What I did was this. After the service I clasped my hands together and bowed my head. I overheard my wife and the minister’s wife having a conversation about me, her opening gambit being “is Ewan OK?” On the first occasion I was a teen visiting a friend’s Anglican church. After receiving the bread and wine during the Eucharist I sat down, clasped my hands and bowed my head.

“what…what’s he doing?” someone asked their friend.
“I think he’s praying.”

I may have placed more emphasis on the word “praying” than was actually given at the time. But those were the actual words spoken. I remember, because I found it strange.

Why should the act of praying be such a bizarre thing to do in a church?

The church, which should be seeking after God.
The church, which is commanded to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
The church, the people for whom Christ’s prayer is that we would have complete union with God (John 17: 20-23).
The church, the people for whom the spirit intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26).

Why should the first sign that I may not be ‘OK’ be the act of praying? Ought it not to be the other way round? Shouldn’t the act of not praying be a sign that I’m not OK?
Praying should be one of the most natural things we should do. Even as an introvert, I love spending time with my friends talking about the things we love. So it follows that as God has bought us back into a relationship with him, so we should love him and desire to spend time with him.

But we don’t, partly because we don’t realise what riches we have in Christ.

And partly because we say ‘tomorrow’.

 

Moses says “you don’t have to live with the frogs anymore, Pharoah. I’ve got Frog-Be-Gone. Say the word – they’re history. Ready?”
And Phraroah thinks, “… Maybe if I’ll wait, the frogs will decide to go away by themselves.”
Pharoah has learned – he can live with the frogs. He can tolerate a frog-saturated life. It’s not great. There’s not much joy in it. But he can survive. He prefers is to the change that would be required by surrendering to Yahweh.
“I’ll try another night with the frogs.”
– John Ortberg, God is Closer than you Think

We do the same as Pharoah. I know I do. I so often like the theory of a better life with God, but don’t so much like the actual giving up of the very stuff I need to.

But there’s more.

What matters most is this: God is present in this instant, offering to partner with us in whatever we face. The failure to embrace “the sacrament of the present moment” will keep us from being fully present to God right here, right now.
Not because we consciously say no to God.
We just say, “tomorrow.” Spiritual akrasia. Another night with the frogs.
– John Ortberg, God is Closer than you Think

That is why I always pray after communion, and occasionally pray after a service. In a way, my minister’s wife got it right: I wasn’t OK – I needed Christ.
And I still do. I need him every day. Every moment every day.
I am normally praying to say “I believe, help my unbelief!” I am normally asking God to help me follow through on whatever I learned in the service.

Because I am not good at praying. I don’t pray often enough. I use the same excuses as you do. Mostly I forget. If I don’t do it right there and then about the service, I probably won’t.

But I want to be better at praying – by which I simply mean ‘pray more’. There are loads of great words written about the deed, but the fact is: we ought to pray. Pray without ceasing. Pray within our own room. Pray with others.

I want to be in a place in my faith where the point that people ask if I’m OK is the day I don’t pray after church. I want the church to be a church in which the people pray individually and together often.

So why have a national day of prayer?

Well, why-ever not? What could be greater than seeking God with other people? Praising the creator and  sustainer of the universe, and of us; the orchestrator of our faith; the one who will keep us trusting Him; the one who gives us brothers and sisters and life in abundance. Today.

If we truly want to know God, we must ask him to reveal himself.
If we truly want God to change us, we must let him.
If we truly want rid of our sin, we must trust him.
If we truly want our leaders to be wise, we must ask him.
If we want our friends to know him, we must ask him.

There is joy in unity with God; there is joy when the church is united in Him.

Yes, I can and should pray today. But I will be joining others on Thursday because there is different type of nourishment there. I have learnt as much about God from hearing others pray than I have heard in sermons or books.

So my prayer this Thursday is that as a people we would be more prayerful (and that I would keep up the habit of praying after church services). And that we’ll all say no more nights with the frogs.

Degrees of Success

I received a very fancy magazine from Dundee Uni recently – matte, heavy-weight paper –  celebrating 50 years of independence from St Andrews. It was cover to cover of stories of alumni who had made their mark in their field. There was the Oscar nominated film-maker, the owner of a worldwide private member’s club, the physio to a gold winning Olympic team, the British High Commissioner in Ghana, the comic artist who had made it onto DC Comics within a few years of graduating, the microbiologist who made it onto the Forbes’ 30 under 30 list.dav

It was in part inspiring but mostly crippling. It made it out that success in your field was the most important thing you can do in life; that to really make it in life you have to be at the top and influence loads of people. That to be a mover and shaker is the pinnacle of life. That how worthwhile your life is depends on the degree you have utilised your degree. 

It really made me doubt what impact, if any, I would have on the world. Given how my work life is going, will I ever make it? Essentially, I am working in a job I needn’t have gone to uni for, so in some senses I am not really using the degree. I sometimes feel I have gone backward, especially as I completed a college course after my university degree, to stay in my field. And I have no idea, in my late 30’s, of the general trajectory of my career.

Maybe it’s because of this I hold onto a broader definition of success than Dundee Uni allude to. Call it jealousy if you like. But for those few stories of people at the top, there are thousands of others just putting in the hours, day to day. So here’s some more everyday markers of success. 

Success is coming through depression (and a bad case of burn out), a break from uni, and coming back to finish a degree.

Success is getting up on Monday morning.

Success is about surviving the day not unscathed but wounded and refusing to go down like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Success is about getting stuff done regardless of how you feel – both in the low and highs.

Success is about keeping the negative talk muted – or on quiet – so that you can concentrate on the bigger stuff.

Success is getting up on Tuesday.

Success is about plodding on through the mire even when you feel like every ounce in your body aches, your heart has no desire to go on and your mind tells you that it’s just not possible.

Success is about managing self-loahing so that you don’t harm yourself.

Success is getting up on Wednesday.

Success is about doing the best you can and not getting lost in the trap of being at the top: not all of us will be first but we can all cross the finish line.

Success is getting up on Thursday.

Success is about coming home Friday having seen through another week, despite everything it’s thrown at you.

Success is about working day in day out at the thing you are called to do, because that is where you fit and that is where you make a difference, be it in front of many of a handful.
Perhaps I set the bar too low and I could aim higher. I do, when I am well which I am at the moment, but I have lapses especially with regard to self talk and getting up… I have markers of success within my day job as well. But we keep going, you and I dear reader, and in so doing are making successes of our lives. 

Cutting the Noise

I am not the same man I was ten years ago. On many ways this is a good thing, but in others I am worse. Ten years ago I was content in my own thoughts. I loved listening to music or reading but I didn’t need these things. 

Now I spend an inordinate of time trying to amuse myself. I browse Imgur far too much. You have to dig for gold even in the most viral page (it takes way longer in usersub). I have many old programs I would like to watch – House of Cards, Breaking Bad, The Thick Of It – but I can’t sit for thirty minutes anymore, because while I am ‘watching’ I am simultaneously online browsing nothingness. This weekend I discovered that Spongebob (another long-running series I had been aching to watch) is perfect for me because it’s genuinely funny and identifiable and about twelve minutes an episode. (BTW, I would be Squidward). Spongebob was perfect at getting me into a place in which I could watch more grown-up programs. 

Which really makes me wonder why I have let myself become so accustomed to Imgur, youtube, Twitter and Facebook that my brain struggles to switch off. But it’s more than that. If I’m by myself I will most likely fall asleep with reruns of old comedies playing in the background – comedies I could recite backward. Comedies which are so like friends they are a comfort. Or I read the exact same comedy book every night (I go through the five part trilogy multiple times a year). Why do I need distractions all the time? 

I read a book for a solid two hour stretch on Saturday. I don’t think I’ve ever done that. I was in that world for that time. I felt what I think I seek in all the noise I have: connection. 

Yet there lies a disconnect between that desire for being part of something bigger than me and the way I go about it. When I flick through any of those social media, all I’m really doing is passively watching other people’s lives and it makes me feel small, like my life doesn’t matter. At the same time I am trying to live their life through their images, their stories, their memes. This is similar to when I was reading that book. I was emotionally involved. I was there. It wasn’t noise. It was reality. I put on noise because I can’t listen to my own thoughts. I am discontent. 

So the obvious answer would be to “disconnect.” Well, yeah. But the truth is at the moment I need that noise. I need to find a way of becoming less reliant on it. I guess the noise prevents me thinking, which is ironic because this blog has become more and more diaryesque, and thus a space for becoming content in my thoughts. I’ve downloaded one of those phone use tracker apps, and I will be forgetting it’s there so that I use my phone as normal this week. This will help he better diagnose the problem areas. Then I cut down on the phone usage and begin to reconnect the disconnect so I begin to be content again. 

Why Parkrun?

What makes a man jump out of bed at the same time he should have left the house, throw on the nearest running gear, justify a lack of breakfast by “it’s just going to be a fasted run,” abandon the car in the first space he finds, hop out with one hand locking the car, the other starting the tracking app and the legs starting running, jacket unzipped, hoping to not be that late? Parkrun, that’s what. When my body woke me up on Saturday I had a clear choice: stay in bed and run later or Parkrun.

Parkrun is a weekly, free and timed 5k hosted by volunteers all around the world. And yes, I am verbing the noun. Saturday’s decision was an easy one. But I realise it sounds ridiculous to go through all that stress to run 5K at a free run (it would make sense if I was about to lose an entry fee!) when I could have just calmly stepped out of the house at a time that suited. I guess it comes down to the fact that I friggin love parkrun in a way I don’t love any other 5k training run.


It’s sociable, but anonymous

I would love to be a member of a club, but the times just don’t suit because of my working pattern and other commitments. As an introvert it takes time to build relationships, even with people who have shared interests. Some Parkruns are huge – the busiest I’ve seen Edinburgh is 600 people – which can make it daunting. But the sheer scale has an advantage – it’s a crowd, which means you still have the benefit of being with people, but can do so without actually talking to people. Everyone is really focused or chatting with the people they came with.

Yet I have found myself making conversations with people, like I’m doing in this photo from Saturday. I’ve not seen those folk again, but it doesn’t matter because for those moments we are chums. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had were with people I will never see again. This has given me confidence in the whole ‘being personable’ area of life, which I often struggle with. The last couple of times I have bumped into people I know, which is cool. It’s a chance to catch up with them after we’ve gotten our breath back. That human connection, no matter how small, is an important boost to a person.

It’s a marked out course, but it’s not a race.

My Parkrun registration email is dated January 2013. Yet I never actually took part until January this year. This was mostly a confidence issue: I’m not incredibly fast, I have terrible form, and never really felt I could call myself a runner (still don’t sometimes feel that way). Sometimes when I run in my local haunts strangers laugh at me.

Parkrunners are some of the loveliest people, and no-one really cares about form or pace. When someone slower gets a PB, we praise ’em! In Edinburgh some people have to walk back along the route to get to their car. Those fast runners are always humble enough to cheer us slow ones on. If I had known that I would have gone when I first registered. There’s a reason this photo of Dawn Nisbitt is so powerful.

Dawn Nisbet crossing the finish line with her hands in the air and a big smile on her face

Parkrunner’s rightly love this photo of Dawn Nisbet at the finish line!

It’s like any other running event that you pay for, except it’s free. There’s the same buzz of people cheering you on. The marshals keep everyone safe, and there is a tail-runner to make sure everyone gets to the finish safely. You can walk. Some people aim to run the whole thing without stopping; some people make Parkrun their final run in the couch-to-5K program. I really regret not doing this, as it would have made my first 5k actually memorable.

There are kilometer markers every km. This is horrible if it’s your first run in a while as you really feel you’ve done twenty by the time you see the 1km marker. But it means you can do some funky speed work with the run. Run the first couple of minutes at each km faster, then recover. I’m trying to do the 2nd and 4th km’s in 5 minutes to train myself to run at that pace.

The crowd also means you can practice race strategy. It’s easy to be caught up in the crowds at the start and let them take you faster than you should be going. So the day before Stirling I specifically did the whole thing as if I were doing the first 5k of the marathon, reminding my body what that pace really felt like (it was in some ways tougher than blitzing it out). On a day you arrive late and have to play catch-up (I’ve done this three times now…) the timing doesn’t matter so much to me as being able to get into the body of the kirk. One day I arrived about 4 minutes after the gun and felt I would never catch them. That run became purely psychological.

It’s a change of scenery

14 of my 15 Parkruns have been at Crammond, which is a back and forth. I generally prefer circles, and I really thought I would get bored of doing the same route week in week out. I would look at the locations of other parkruns and wonder how long it would take me before I went to those instead. But it’s been fun to watch see how the promenade and the Firth of Forth change during the seasons.  As you do the route once a only once a week this is easier to appreciate, a bit like a granny remarking each Christmas “my, how you’ve grown!” In the heavy training seasons when you’re pounding your local routes over and over, your mind and legs can get bored, which is demotivating. On this note, doing a parkrun while on holiday (as many people do), gives an opportunity to see a non-touristy part of town and meet some locals.

One run and you’re done

After 15 Parkruns I still want to sing “all the people, so many people – and they all go hand in hand, hand in hand through there: parkrun! … it’s all about the joggers, who go round and round…”

I know, Albarn called them joggers. We’re runners, and we despise it when anyone calls us a jogger! But there’s truth in the song. It’s catchy, not just because the two syllables mean you can easily swap ‘parklife’ with ‘parkrun.’ There’s something more to it.

“I sometimes feed the sparras too. It gives me a sense of enormous well-being.”
The song is really about having time to watch all the people in the park. The line about feeding the sparrows says to me a lot about Albarn’s state of mind. Sometimes the small things give us the greatest sense of achievement. Regardless of the timestamp my Parkrun stays with me the rest of the day. I find it hard to get-up and go at the weekends, especially when I am by myself! Parkrun means I have already gotten up, and went, and did by 10.30, which is a pretty big kick in the face to the part of me which calls me lazy and a thinker not a doer.

Parkrun is almost a non-negotiable (we skipped Inverness on the basis it was blattering, which would have made running on grass in road trainers somewhat treacherous). Having Parkrun as a ‘thing’ helps me get out the house and achieve at least one quality run a week. This makes it perfect for when you’re in maintenance mode or just too dang busy. And it doesn’t take all morning, which means you can look still look forward to your chores with the joy they deserve.

 

 

 

 

“What are you reading?” 

If I’m honest I’m fairly glad that no-one has asked me the question “what are you reading?” bible-wise. I have recently been good at ignoring my spiritual health.

When I think about the little bible i have read, my mind inevitibly drifts toward habits. Yet the only habit I seem to have successfully formed is the habit of saying how terrible I am at forming habits.

I do not know why I am so concerned about this. Maybe it’s because I am always in the game of self-improvement, and habits seem to be a gold standard of behavioural change. CBT is all about changing thought life habits and making them better ones. To take the old analogy of learning to drive, you know you have learnt to drive when you are able to do the actions without consciously thinking about it (to say “without thinking” is a misnomer as there is a lot of brain power still used, and of course driving does require full concentration). Habits can increase your ability to do other things.

It is like a life-hack but in reality it is difficult to hack. Once a habit is formed, you are able to just get on and do it, which leaves brain power for other things. The habit, once formed, leads to a simpler life. it provides a base from which more complex things can be achieved.

Having a regular time of reading and praying is vital in the Christian life. We are encouraged to make it a habit. And I have once again been challenged by this because today I hit a 20 day streak on a brain training app, and as we all know it takes 21 days to form a habit, right? Wrong. It actually takes a minimum of 21 days, and could take anywhere up to 254 days.

I know that the science on these brain-training apps is… sketchy, so I’m almost embarrassed to say that I use one of them, but y’know what? It takes five minutes out of my day. It makes me feel I am doing something good for my brain. Time shall tell whether it has long term benefits – but it does wake my brain up, which makes it a dangerous thing to do before bed. It may be entirely useless, in which case I have only wasted five minutes a day.

I am going to do something similar to impact my physical health: a very short strength program a couple of times a week. Yes, I would probably see bigger gains by becoming a gym rat but I would rather make a small change I can keep to. If I want to run faster I’ve got to start somewhere.


And it has got me thinking. If I am so wrapped up about making these mental and physical changes, where is the effort into my spiritual well-being? The adage that we put time into the things we love is true. So there is the harsh truth that I don’t love God as much as I either claim to or want to. The remedy: get to know him better, which means – yep, reading His word.

I have tried so many plans in the past, and I have one major gripe with them. Even if I find a good one, I always fall behind and then pretty much read for the sake of the tick, rather than communion with God, which as Tony Reinke helpfully reminds us, is the point of reading.

So I am now taking a different approach with very general plan: read through the New Testament. That’s my plan. Sometimes when I have tried to read through the bible I set myself artificial targets, like a few chapters at a time. But chapters don’t really work in the same way as they would in other books; sometimes the new chapter begins halfway through an author’s logic. I have been looking out for a reading bible – one without the chapter and verses, but I haven’t found one yet. They allow for a more natural reading style, perfect for reading the bible as a whole.

Until I find one, I have downloaded a bible onto my kindle. I have a bible app as well, but there is so much gumph on it it often hinders a straight reading process. My kindle bible still has chapter numbers, headings and verses, but it does still at least make for a slightly more natural process. I can simply read it as it comes. I am not setting aside time to, but simply reading when I have time. Which, as my twenty day streak tells me, I have oodles of

Taking the time to rest.

Some of the best holiday moments I have experienced haven’t been anything fancy. Sure, I remember as a youngster bombing down a dry luge in Germany, experimenting with going down a weir in a kayak (same holiday), roller-coaster rides or suspending my disbelief at the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Those were all scary but they haven’t necessarily been the best holiday moments.

Perhaps its because I am an introvert, but the best family holiday moments have been where we have pretty much just lounged around, reading our books or magazines. I can remember specific instances, and I love them all. I remember loving them at the time, because they just felt so chilled, and was exactly what I needed at that specific time.

Some of them were forced by the rain, but others weren’t. Whatever the reason, they were all refreshing. I remember one particular week away in which I actually felt like I was on a retreat, as I read through so much bible and other books (like Amy Orr-Ewing’s Why Trust the Bible, Randy Newman’s Questioning Evangelism and Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God’s Word).

The most recent holiday thrill was in New Zealand. Adrenaline Forest has six levels of high ropes courses, each more physically and psychologically demanding than the last. I definitely pushed myself to the limit and went as far as I could. Totally glad we took time out to do it. But there was something far greater and more satisfying in what we did the weekend before with my sister and nephew: just hanging out.

Because it’s during those days or weeks of just reading and thinking and pottering, which allow us to go through the thrills of everyday life. I have been able to resolve internal dilemmas or correct thought/action processes, which made living life outside back in the real world a little easier.

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Adrenaline Forest, bay of plentyNew Zealand.

Remembering these times of forced stoppages has been a helpful tool this week. One week after Stirling and with seven weeks until Dundee Half Marathon, I really want to jump right back in with cycling and the long runs. This is a good desire – it means that I still love it. I did run on Saturday,  which was hard because of a cough (almost gone!). Hopefully by the end of the week I will be ready to get back into full swing, but although the cold will have lifted there may yet be underlying tissue damage still needing to heal. I’m treating all bike commutes as ‘recovery’ – slow enough to pump blood without draining energy, much like it is often wise to mull on just one helpful verse than speed-read many but forget them all.

Incidentally, as I was writing this, someone messaged me saying they’ve had to pull out of the half marathon we were supposed to be doing together. A break from an injury is far worse than what I describe here, but it’s an important reminder to force ourselves to take the time so that when other things force us to stop, we’re better able to do so.