Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Deliberate Eater - a.k.a. Eating for Life (feeling good now and later)

I try to lead a relatively deliberate life. That means I like to have reasons for everything I do. This, in turn, prevents me from wasting time and usually leads to more enjoyment in life. I want to share some of this here so that others can find more enjoyment and how to feel good in the way I have.

For the James Brown song "I feel good" there is a video at the end!

A warning: this post might require a bit of brain engagement, but the rewards of doing so are worth the effort. Here we go!

My reasons to eat
The way my deliberate life works out in things nutritional is that I eat for the following reasons (in no particular order):
  1. To enjoy what I am currently eating in the moment - every mouthful 
  2. To have what I crave, when I crave it 
  3. To be able to control what I crave so that I don’t feel guilty after eating
  4. To feel satisfied after eating, not hungry, not craving anything bad, e.g. sweetness 
  5. To be able to stay active, fuelling for the exercise I love to do 
  6. To be healthy for life, by taking in a good balance of nutrients and not adding to my waistline 
  7. To be stress free (including stressing over cravings) 
Most people eat only because they’re hungry and/or they want to enjoy the experience. That’s okay with me as long as this is a deliberate decision and as long as my tax dollars don’t fund their health care (which it does in this country).

A lot of people also try to eat to be healthy but are usually misinformed about how to eat to accomplish this, or they are ill-disciplined in their approach. Hopefully there are a few useful tips here to help overcome these two problems. I have had, and continue to battle them in myself. I want to be clear about that. But having dropped from 130kg+ down to an average of about 95kg (maintained over the last 2 years), I think I’ve worked out a few things that can help - and I really want to help.

Why you should start being deliberate today
Because the things you eat have a huge impact on your emotions, energy, stress, concentration, and more, you must consider your nutrition deliberately and carefully if you have any goals in life that come under mental or physical (or even spiritual) categories. It sounds like this will turn out to be complex, but really it’s quite simple to make some major changes, and these changes will have such an effect that you should be inspired to make even more positive changes in your diet.

Achieving goals, or just feeling great, no matter what age you are, is entirely achievable. And the quicker you make a start, the sooner you will see more happiness and enjoyment in life.

Some quick ideas to get you started
I suggest choosing two or three of these ideas to try first, then come back after a few weeks to assess your progress. Some people will have more lasting habit changes by bookmarking and re-reading this every week. Others will prefer to make a written note and stick it up in an obvious place (I’ve found it helpful to make desktop backgrounds with goals and long-term reminders incorporated).

Idea 1 - Start thinking about food as a pharmaceutical drug that controls your hormones (which control your mood and your energy level). Anything that spikes your energy requires you to come down from that spike - a low in energy and a resulting low mood.

Foods that make your energy spike include sugar, bread, potatoes, pasta, cereal, any other white/starchy carbohydrates, sugary fruit, fruit juice.

Idea 2 - There’s a difference between a mental and a physical craving. If you decide you feel like something sweet, first pause and work out where it is coming from. I find it helps to become consciously aware of my taste buds and to imagine what the response in my mouth will be if I put something sweet on my tongue.

If I decide my sweetness craving is physical, then I have the healthiest options I can. My first preference is natural and unprocessed honey - I savour a teaspoon full in my mouth and then reassess my craving. Sometimes a small piece of sweet fruit will do, e.g. a peach or strawberry. In the absence of honey or fruit, a small glass of diet coke with it’s evil artificial sugar. While this isn’t ideal, it is better than some refined sugar in lollies or biscuits.

Idea 3 - Stress is a killer that makes you crave sweetness. Unsatisfied craving for sweetness can lead to more stress than it’s worth which is why you should keep some honey nearby. I firmly believe it is better to binge on honey than on giant jellybeans (my nemesis sweet). Honey satisfies much quicker too.

Idea 4 - Drink plenty of water but spread it out rather than having it all in one big hit.

Idea 5 - You shouldn’t feel very hungry between meals if you eat this way but spreading out your food into smaller meals every three or four hours is good.

Idea 6 - Eat before you are hungry to prevent overdoing it with a panic-sized meal. Try to limit meals to 2000KJ (approx 500 calories)

Idea 7 - Of the foods that are okay to eat, find something reliable and have plenty of that around. The more thinking you have to do about what to eat, the harder it is to stick to an eating routine that will work for you. I have two or three quick and reliable meals, and another two or three quick foods which usually stop me craving. The more I crave food (of whatever kind) the more likely I am to misinterpret that craving as a desire for sweet.

My reliable foods/meals to eat as much of as I want are:
Tuna (plain chunky in spring water - drained) + four bean mix (from a can with no chickpeas - drained and rinsed also) + salt + extra virgin olive oil + balsamic vinegar. Variations can remove the beans and add veges (cucumber + tomato). This is a large-ish meal for me now and I usually have half only, saving the other half for another time.

Scrambled eggs - Extra virgin olive oil or butter in a pan + two to five eggs (depends how hungry I am) + salt. A cup of mixed veg on the side if you want a little more colour on your plate.

Coffee with cream (liquid, unprocessed, pouring cream). I usually make my coffee weak and I am moving to decaff.

Cheese, unprocessed of course. I prefer mild cheddar or another harder cheese.

Cream (as above in my coffee) straight from the bottle. This is a good top-up for me because I love fresh cream but it is rich enough that I can’t take too much before I feel satisfied.

Mixed vegetables.

There you go
I hope there is something of use here to help you become a more deliberate eater.

If there is one main idea to take away it is that we should eat not just for the immediate rewards, but also for the mid-term and long-term rewards. Rather than feeling bad shortly after finishing your meal, whether due to guilt or a low in energy, you can eat in such a way that you feel good all day and every day into the foreseeable future.

All the best! (and don’t forget to let me know how it goes)

PS - Eating this way can help prevent diabetes and many inflammatory diseases.

PPS - Take a quality fish oil supplement that is high in EPA. This is essential if you are an athlete.

And James Brown:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Parkour History: 3 Key Principles of My Parkour

This is the final post from my old parkour blog.  That means you will no longer be able to find that blog.  Have no fear though, everything that was there is now here.  Enjoy this last one!

October 2009

Through reading and watching interviews with some of the founders of modern movement disciplines, and in watching them move, I have arrived at a sort of philosophy or approach to my training that hangs on three concepts. I will begin by explaining my understanding of these three ideas, including their benefits to the individual who pursues them, and then I will show how they link together in my training and wider life.

It is important to be clear about something at the beginning. I believe these concepts are a part of my wider life and existed before I began training. I am certain that if I didn't do parkour these ideas would manifest themselves in some other way. However, parkour has given me a context to form these ideas together and develop them. Other movement activities and non-movement activities may also be legitimate forms of developing the same ideas, but I think parkour is one of the better ones because of the need to incorporate both body and mind into training at the more advanced stages of development.

The bible says that man is made in the image of God. Creativity in man is considered to be one way that man shows similarity between himself and his maker. One way to describe creativity is by giving an example of a creative person. Someone who is creative is able to come up with something new out of something old or something considered as waste. As mortals, we cannot create anything physical out of nothing. So here I am considering creative use of pre-existing materials. John Britten was a creative genius who most people associate with the creation of the Britten motorcycle. Many do not know that he also built a home out of recycled materials, being creative with what he had, to reduce costs and to produce something totally unique. This was not the only amazing thing he produced with his creativity. That's another story though.

Some people think that creativity needs to have a useful purpose for it to be real. I don't think it is possible for creativity to be useless because the mind is developing its ability to think in different ways no matter what the use. Creative thinking can be applied to anything.

Parkour is a context for movement creativity. It doesn't even matter that much of the movement is discovered for the first time on a regular basis by every new practitioner that tries something they've never done before. There is almost nothing that beats the feeling of joy and elation that rises from within and fills our limbs with something wonderful as we move. This is the joy of creation in movement and can be experienced in a number of other contexts, e.g. writing, singing, playing music. It is creativity that gives energy to our training to keep it up and to push the boundaries. It is the desire to share something wonderful and new that leads to positive and fulfilling interactions with the rest of mankind. Creativity is the doorway to so much more.

Discipline is also easier to explain with some examples. Someone who is disciplined will train regularly in a controlled and thoughtful manner. Distractions and excuses are not something that the disciplined person allows. They train hard and strive to do the best they can at whatever they apply themselves to.

Without discipline our creativity would stagnate and the boundaries of movement would come crashing in. High repetition of movement gives us the technical mastery that becomes instinctive movement as well as the physical fitness to move where, when, and how we want.

Except for a few geniuses, we must train regularly to grow and widen the boundaries of what we can do. This is a lesson that parkour teaches beginners very quickly.

Another side of discipline is developing the mental toughness to be able to push on through the discomfort of training to find the limits of our bodies. Very few people in the world will know what it means to strive against themselves and overcome, beating their body into submission. There is also the discipline of knowing when to rest so as not to over-train, which can result in injury or slow recovery and progression.

Roughly speaking, altruism is helping others at your own expense. This expense could be in the form of time, money, even life.

In the field of parkour, traceurs often devote some time to coach and support beginners. Going beyond this, many will also look for opportunities to assist the wider community with their strength. This might be jumping at the chance to help push start a car with a flat battery, chasing down a purse snatcher, or assisting with community programs for holidays/camps/after school events.

Without the creativity and discipline that shapes a traceur, they are in much less of a position to assist others. The stronger we are, the more strength we can bring to bear on a difficult scenario. The more creative we are, the greater our range of options for applying ourselves to a problem.

Even the lowliest beginner can be altruistic by having a "give it a go" attitude that will inspire others, or by not making excuses for their weakness and instead seeking to improve from where they're currently at in their abilities.

Why are these things so important to parkour?
Lets imagine what parkour would be like without any one of these individual aspects.

First, without creativity we would not have the ability to become strong in a wide range of movements. Our "vision" would be dark and we could not see over the hill and far away to the furthest boundaries of our potential. Many people walk through life trying to fill up their day with shallow pursuits. We would be one of those, without creative insight into our own lives.

Second, without discipline we would lack the ability to fulfil our creative potential. With grandoise goals and no drive to reach them we would settle for an easy and shallow life once more. However, we would be incredibly frustrated with our lot because we would be able to see what we could've been, if only we had the discipline to make it happen.

Third, with no drive to help others we would be left to pursue our limits in total selfishness. People would only come to dislike us since we would never do anything for them. We would be reckless with other peoples' property and would likely leave a trail of destuction behind us at local training spots. Beginners would get no assistance and would be left to their own devices which would prove destructive all over again. Without the time and effort of experienced traceurs we would not have constructive communities online, and in the physical world, that build a positive and healthy segment of society, which in turn feeds this altruism into the world as a whole.

Each one of these three ideas builds into my life (and my parkour) in a necessary way. Without any one of them I would not be who I am. While they don't describe the complete me, i.e. I am more than just these three things, they are one framework to hang ideas on that would build a picture of my life. I would even go so far as to say that these three things should be a large focus in the lives of everyone in the world. Parkour is a great way for young people to approach these key concepts, and as such it should be something offered to children everywhere while they are young enough to latch on in a natural way.

Finally, these three ideas are where the simple joy in movement comes from. Expanding ourselves, growing into our ideas, sharing with others, and forming valuable relationships with communities. In all of this there is much happiness to be had!

Now its time for you to go away and think about how these ideas apply to your life.

Think hard, train hard,


Monday, December 26, 2011

History: My Response to the Barclaycard World Free Running Champs 2009

Another post from my old parkour blog that I've nearly finished shutting down. Enjoy!

From August 2009

I don't think I can respond to this event in a positive way. I've listed a few quotes from the vids (which you can view here), along with a few of my random thoughts. This is not the same as a carefully thought out response - just an instinctive response which gives you an idea of how I think. I tried to be positive where I could but it was really hard. Hopefully those of you who have met me, trained with me, and have seen how positive I normally try to be, will realise just how much of a rebuke these comments are towards this event:

On defining free running: "...fastest way from A to B, throwing in some flips and tricks to spice things up..." Nobody in the champs were trying to go from A to B in a fast way. These bozos are just piggybacking on the true roots of parkour when they say stuff like that.

"...all about freedom of expression..." How does this line up with A to B in a fast way? Is trying to please the crowd being free or is it actually just the opposite?

All about showing off to the crowd really. 8000 people, T.V. cameras. What message is this sending? Is it one that's worth supporting?

" running can be dangerous, so know your limits..." "...two of the first three competitors injured..." Again, what message is this sending. Sounds very confusing to me. Just a collection of phrases that sound good being thrown out to the young and impressionable crowd for their absorption and to get them hyped up. Vague philosophical foundations with no real substance. The same thing you get in religious circles from the charlatans who are just out for money. Injuries of this frequency are unheard of in elite competitive sports. Imagine losing 20% of your country's olympic team on competition day. Madness. Competition already encourages an attitude towards safety that we don't want to see in parkour, this seems much worse than that even. I wouldn't be so upset if they said it how it was, i.e. we like jumping of stuff and doing big moves that everyone can go "wow" at.

"...5 year background in break dancing before he started pk, parkour, whatever you want to call it [chuckle] - free running for this evening..." Tim is a legend. It's a shame he's involved in this. I wonder if it was rigged somehow since his good friend Damien Walters was a judge. Still a bloody talented dude though. It's probably not as far fetched as it sounds since EZ comes from a boxing background and has been known for a while for dodgy business practice.

EZ giving a reason why Blue didn't get into the final: "...he was trying to be too sensible in his approach..." Implies Blue should have been more reckless.

" front of 8000 people, there's a lot of pressure on them..." Definitely something we want to distance ourselves from.

"...that's what it takes - solid training..." Yeeha! But I can't help but feel that this positive message is greatly overshadowed by the hype and the meaninglessness of the rest of their propaganda.

From the German lad who got 3rd place, being asked about the crowd influence/distraction: " soon as I jumped, I didn't see anything more, except the obstacles..." Shot bro! He also moved one of the best and had a few more natural variations of movements.

From the winner (Livewire): "...I just wanna train every day like I've been doing..." " creative as possible..." "...inspire other people to open their mind..." You, sir, are a legend! This just goes to show how out of place you are at this event Tim...

An overly excited audience member by the sound of it: "...somebody tried to do a flip of the stairs and landed flat on his back..." and the response to this incident from EZ: "...start slow, stay low, take your time, be sensible..."

I'm all for some level of performance (which is necessary to inspire others) but anything that hypes people up to do stuff in a crazy way rather than inspiring them to be a better person is going too far. There is a big difference between having your mind engaged when you are inspired and getting a rush of blood to the head that blocks reasonable thought and inhibits a healthy appreciation of danger.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Interpret my Zombie Dream

The start was less relevant than the end. 

The end saw me with time on my hands to pass and wanting to go train and challenge myself (parkour) while in a strange city (which may have been a mixture of some major world cities I’ve been too). As I was looking for a place to train, I started noticing people. Some noticed me back but others did not. 

These people wore suits and expressionless faces and were tall and imposing but at the same time real enough for me to know they were real people just like me. They were in the system and they were loveless. I tried to get some of them to wake up out of their single minded, zombie like, determination to maintain their lives and their relentless onward walk.

Then I ended up with a group of people in front of me listening to me passionately telling them to LOVE!!!

Feel free to speculate about the meaning of my dream!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dealing with the Down-side: Chronic Aches and Pains in Parkour

This post is from a parkour forum and I posted it about 6 months ago

The Problem (and Solution)
Everyone knows that we experience chronic aches and pains in parkour. It is inevitable, right? Some would even say it's a good part of the learning process.

I've found, through my experiences with training myself and others and through reading (Dr. Phil Maffetone and Thomas Kurz mostly), that it is not necessarily an inevitable part of training.

They describe the problem, in short, as having a severely undeveloped aerobic energy system.

The solution, for those who are experiencing regular interruptions to their training due to injury, is to build the aerobic energy system using really low intensity aerobic activity by monitoring using a heart rate monitor to stay in your aerobic range.

Unfortunately, parkour is almost entirely anaerobic (high intensity, short duration) and this type of training easily leads to over-training from not allowing enough recovery. Anaerobic training takes more recovery if the aerobic system is not well developed.

The Solution Isn't Practical!
Ideally, we would get beginners to spend 3 to 6 months building their aerobic base before gradually introducing them into the higher intensity parkour. Also, those who intend to train regularly for years to come will need to build an artificial "season" or seasons into their year. A couple of months each year should be devoted to building the aerobic base to avoid aches and pains. This would detract from the appeal to beginners so it doesn't seem very practical.

So, I've been learning about this in more detail lately. The results from case studies seem undeniable and I am going to embark upon an "off" season to build my aerobic base. I realise that this doesn't fit in with parkour as we know it so I'm happy to be the guinea pig and report back how the experiment goes. Maybe, if the results are good enough, others might try it too. The best motivation comes from great results.

Your Part
I'm really interested to hear from the sport-scientists and the cross-fitters among you on these issues. I seem to have some injury, even minor ones, come up every year. It's enough that I'm sick of the interruption to my routine and I want to solve it. It may not be much of an issue for the young uns though...

Over the last few years I've found that reducing the amount of work per session and having more sessions is a better way to train as recovery is better, but there is a barrier still and I think I need to reduce the intensity even more to be totally aerobic for a time.

There are a lot of factors, like how I intend to carry this out, but that will come in further discussion or you can have a read here and here or here on my blog

That was then, this is now: Having spend 6 months building my aerobic base, I have lost very little parkour strength and skill.  My immunity is much better, my recovery is insanely better (combined with fish-oil high in EPA), and I have higher energy combined with lower stress.  Well worth the experiment!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Nutrition and Diet (Properly Interpreted Evidence Trumps Worldview)

This is a post from my old parkour blog (which I'm slowly closing down). The important thing to take out of this post is that we don't need to fight about where our reasons come from for some things. The evidence can stand for itself. I've shifted the links to the bottom that were originally at the top because I have a whole set of links from that are your one-stop shop for starting nutrition. They are the 8 parts of a lecture by Dr. Sears, creator of the Zone diet. In them, he explains how nutrition can be treated like medication, with dosages to control different hormone levels in your body. Get the hormone levels in the right zone and your weight sorts itself out.

Diet, Inflammation and Disease - parts 1 to 3
Diet, Inflammation and Disease - part 4 (Fish Oil)
Diet, Inflammation and Disease - part 5
Diet, Inflammation and Disease - part 6 (performance)
Diet, Inflammation and Disease - part 7 (performance)
Diet, Inflammation and Disease - part 8 (performance)

3rd July 2009

As I've said in a number of places before (though not on this blog), I disagree with the reasoning behind some of the sorts of dietary advice mentioned but my reasoning leads to basically the same general ideas. The main exception is the recommendation not to eat fruit (or "real fruit" juices) - I think fruit is something that should be part of every diet though, as with everything, in moderation.

Some of my reasoning and assumptions:
  1. Disease has become much more prevalent in the last couple of hundred years and is easily linked to diet (though not solely). This means we only need to look back to the diet of people within recorded history to see what is good for us to eat - supposed evolutionary models are not required. 
  2. A long life is not automatically an important thing - quality of life (mental, physical, spiritual) is more important than a long life.
  3. Nutrition is simple and the main principles can be understood by everyone with a mind to consider it.
These are the ideas that I think everyone can relate to. There are more concrete concepts that derive specifically from my Christian worldview, but my primary desire in this post isn't to get into that side of things, just to give people some ideas for developing their health through diet. If you want more info on that side, email me or post in the comments and I'll give you a brief run down.

A couple of worthwhile articles that Tom Kurz linked to on his blog:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Facebook Friending Strategy (Social Network Niceties)

This post is a few scattered thoughts on the following:
What is the purpose of facebook?
Why have a “friending” strategy?
Who do I consider “friending” on facebook?
Of those I consider “friending”, how do I filter?

Before making any serious choices, you must have a set of values and ideals that give you direction. Putting it another way, if you don’t care about anything then you don’t need to make decisions. What you care about and value will influence your use of social media tools, and how you use them.

If you are using facebook, chances are that you want to connect with friends and people you know. That’s kind of the whole point of this thing. Unless you are a celebrity of some sort with fans you want to communicate with, or who you want to communicate with each other, there is not a whole lot of point in deliberately trying to tick up a great number of friends.

Facebook is not (first and foremost) a marketing website. Google plus is where you can get to know new people based on interests rather than merely interacting with people you already know. This makes G+ much more useful as an all-encompassing (one-stop) social media tool.

Why have a friending strategy?
So that you are being considerate to others. So that you are aware of your own actions (you might be stalking or freaking others out without realising)

Who do I consider friending on facebook?
Anyone I know through work (other teachers and students), sport (parkour, rugby of old), old school mates, people I know from church, people that I interact with in other ways (online, meet in airports, etc)

How do I filter?
I don’t usually friend anyone who has a high level of privacy on their facebook page. If they don’t reveal a lot of info about them self it is likely they don’t want further interactions or they only want to interact with close friends.
I don’t tend to friend anyone who doesn’t have many friends. If someone has 50 friends and is one of my students then they clearly don’t have much online activity. I will balance this with how old someone is - older people tend to have fewer friends but sometimes it is good to have that connection in case you might want to get in touch.
I don’t friend anyone who is immature and who I am not seeking to influence to help them grow into a more mature person - they will only spam my information stream.
I try to only friend people that I will potentially interact with, either to contribute something of value to them or to for them to contribute something of value to me.

There is a tension to keep in balance with friending. You must balance your desire to be in contact with (have access to) a person with your reasonable guess of how much they desire to have contact with you.

I can see more shift towards Google+ over the next few years as the platform develops and as people begin to understand (and trust) the wider social use that G+ offers compared to it’s main competitors (facebook and twitter).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Voting System Analysis for the Referendum + Helpful Table Format (NZ Elections)

The following is my current reasoning behind voting in the referendum the way I plan to (for a change to SM). I'm interested in your thoughts about my reasoning so please let me know what you think.  If you want to skip to it, the table is at the end with a link to the Google Doc (it wouldn't fit nicely on the Blogger layout).

Ranking systems seem superior to non-ranking methods of voting. This is due to votes not being wasted. If your top ranked person doesn’t get in, and there isn’t already a clear winner, your second placed ranking will count. This means FPP and MMP should be crossed off the list leaving PV, STV, and SM. [Edit: I've just discovered that I misread the info - SM IS NOT A RANKING SYSTEM.  However, it is good because, like MMP, it is a good combination of local and nation-wide representation

If we didn’t have a party system, I would prefer PV because that gives the best local representation. Since we seem stuck with a party system it makes sense to have some influence over the party representation in government. This means we should be considering STV and SM only. [Edit: and MMP if my ranking criteria is out the window - still SM + ranking would be good]

STV requires a coalition to be formed on most occasions. This gives “extra” influence to smaller parties beyond the influence they deserve from the votes. I don’t think this is fair. [Edit: Likewise MMP relatively more often requires coalitions, and with parties that are over-represented because of so many list seats available]

SM doesn’t usually require a coalition which means smaller parties have the influence in parliament at the same level as the number of votes they received. [Edit: and those smaller parties do have influence which is important]

From this analysis, SM (Supplementary Member) seems like the best system of voting. So vote for a change in voting system and vote for SM.

My analysis began by forming a table [Edit: Table will be updated to fix my error but I will keep the original available] (link goes to a Google Doc you can print for easy reference).  I used the information sent out to all registered voters in the election pack.  If you prefer more detail you can read what the Maxim Institute have to say.  My view was not influenced by their conclusion that SM is the one to pick.  I came to my choice independently.  A quick look around the Internet has failed to turn up anything from the political left on the voting systems.  There is the campaign for MMP group perhaps, but they don't seem to realise that all of the benefits of MMP and more are available under SM.

Maybe I'm way off.  If you think so, let me know and let me know why you think this is so.



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Speaking “To” Versus Speaking “With”

Do you see other participants in a conversation as and audience for your ego? Or do you listen with intent?

Quite a while ago I came to the hard conclusion that I was often seeing myself as the main person involved in the conversation. I became concerned that I wasn’t listening to the other person in a way that was meaningful. Instead of trying to understand the meaning of their words and their feelings behind the words, I was listening for key words that I could use to jump in and speak my opinion.

What I do now is to try and follow what the other person says, repeating back to them in my own words and with my own experiences in order to ensure that I understand what they are saying and how they feel about it. This creates strong links with the person you are conversing with, and even if you don’t have an experience that is similar to them you can still show that you value what they say.

The trick is to really value what they say. If you fake it, they will know. Two things that are helpful to remember in this “real” valuing:
  1. You don’t have to value something that is not valuable to you. There is a difference between understanding what someone else values and valuing it yourself. You will not typically form any lasting friendship with someone in whom you do not share much in the way of values. In practice, there are very few people who do not share something with others though. We are all human and seeking answers on one level or another.
  2. Someone may be further ahead, or further behind you, in their experiences. You can see your role in listening to them as an encourager to keep them inspired, or you can draw inspiration from them. It can be hard to listen to someone excited about something you discovered yourself some years ago, but if you apply the right mindset to the situation you can forge a positive link with the person.

At the heart of all of this is love. Do you care enough for others to take the time to listen to them? Or would you rather say your piece and then move on to the next person - cold marketing style that is no different from email spam that nobody wants to engage with?

“To” is a one-way process.

“With” is communication together, on a journey, sharing strengths and overcoming weakness.

Even if you see this as splitting semantic hairs, I hope you can see the value of real listening and collaborative communication.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ecclesiastes (Funeral Reading/Message)

My grandmother died last week and I had the honour of giving the following reading at her funeral.  The people attending were mostly non-churchgoing folk.  I wanted something that could provide some comfort but at the same time challenged people.  As always, I welcome your feedback.

This reading is from the book of Ecclesiastes which is wise king Solomon’s account of his search for meaning in life, and in death.

(3) What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (4) A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.

2:4, 8, 21, 
(4) I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. (8) I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines (20) [but] I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, (21) because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it.

3:1-2, 12-13 
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: (2) a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; (12) I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; (13) also that everyone should eat and drin/>And Solomon’s second conclusion is that we will all die one day, and we are reminded of this in the death of all loves ones, so we need to ensure that we bear our own mortality in mind when we make decisions and go about our lives.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Custom Short Story: James (fictional example)

The following is an example of a tailor made cutsom short story for "James", who wants to lose weight.  The story serves as an inspiration to help James stick with his efforts to achieve his weight loss goal.  If you want a custom short story for free, email me your version of the background and personal info.  If you're not sure how to answer these, just let me know and I can help.

Background Info
Name: James
Age: 25
Where I am now: 110 kg
Where I want to be (goal): 95 kg
What I plan to do to get there (I can help with this process if you're unsure): Gradual changes in diet and exercise

Personal Info 
(select at least three questions to answer - more is better)

Favourite past-time: Eating and reading while listening to some nice music
What hours do you sleep: 2am until about midday
What do you do for a living: student
What subjects are you knowledgeable about:
Pets and names:
Married/In a relationship:
Favourite music genre:
How comfortable you are in new situations:
I'm not comfortable at all. I prefer to stay home and read.
Anything else you would like to volunteer: I'd love to meet more people like me ir real life. Internet connections seem a bit empty at the moment.

First Draft
After jumping up the shallow curb on the side of the road, James slowed from a jog to a walk. He made his way over to the narrow door of the convenience store, noting that the red sprayed graffiti from yesterday was already cleaned up from the window.

He paused at the entrance, fumbling in his backpack for his wallet while he waited for a young couple to clear the doorway. James nodded politely to them as they passed and then took a single step inside, but then paused and turned to look at the couple again. He had noticed the young woman looking at him intently, trying to place his face. Recognition dawned on them both at the same time.

"Katie!" "James!" They spoke at the same time, and then broke into gentle laughter.

Katie's partner looked on with an odd expression of confusion and a desire to keep moving.

"Hi Katie, how've you been?"
"James! I'm okay. Same old really. But man, you look good. You must have lost what... 10kg?"
"Ha ha, yeah. About that much."
"Well that's great!
Hey, this is my boyfriend Maurice. He needs to lose a bit of weight, what did you do? Maurice can try it out."
"I'm not that fat, Katie. Sheesh," said Maurice, quite pained by the whole conversation by now, "We have to go, love."
"Okay, okay. But just a quick tip please James?"
"Sure Katie. Uh, well the main thing I did was just to make small changes over time that gradually snowballed. I started off changing just one meal and walking an extra 15 minutes morning and night."
"Oh cool, that doesn't sound too hard," said Katie.
"Anyone can do it," said James, "Hey you better go - Maurice looks like he's about to miss the final of the Rugby World Cup or something. Take care."
"Thanks," said Maurice with a grateful look at James for wrapping it up.
"Okay. Might bump into you again some time, James," then with a spiteful glance at Maurice, "I might try and find you on facebook and then we can catch up properly. Or even go for a run together some time... This one's too attached to the couch! Seeya!"

James took a deep breath to suppress the blush that had started creeping up his neck.

Well, that was awkward, he thought to himself. At least people were starting to notice the changes that had taken place over the last few months. It was great to know that he had it in him to be used to make a girl's boyfriend jealous, but it wasn't nice to have to face that in real life. Still, it was good to talk with someone who seemed to appreciate the effort it took to get fit and healthy. And to think that all it took was a few eggs and walking to the store instead of driving. And it saved him some petrol money too!

Continuing inside, he moved through the store to pick up a carton of free-range eggs. Coming back to the counter by the door, he nodded to the store owner and handed over some cash.
"Morning Casey. You dealt with that bloody graffiti pretty smartly."
"Thank you, Mr James," the tall and lean Indian gentleman said, "I was inspired to tidy it up by you actually."
"Wow. How so?" said James, tucking his change away in his bag but keeping the fragile eggs in hand for the return journey.
"Mr James, you've been coming here every day or two for at least a year now. About four months ago you started buying more eggs and less lollies and less fizzy drink. About three months ago you stopped with the sugary food altogether. And now, you're running and have clearly lost weight. In such a short time too. That, my friend, is inspiring! If you can take care of your body, I can take care of my store!"
"Gosh, I had no idea it was that obvious a change. Thanks, I guess."
Casey touched one lean finger to his temple and cheerfully spoke, "Casey is a very observant man, Mr James. And keeping track of the regulars breaks up the routine of the day," he paused before continuing, "You know, Mr James, my daughter will be back from her lectures soon. You should really meet her - it would do her good to get to know a disciplined man like yourself."

James was speechless. This fine Indian Gentleman was trying to set him up with his daughter!

"Uh, maybe some other time, Casey," he thought fast, "I have some work to do before the game tonight. Sorry."

James turned and started moving with quick steps toward the shop door.

Casey watched him with a twinkle in his eye and a smile, and then called after him, "Okay Mr James. Have a nice day. See you tomorrow."
"Bye Casey," he called over his shoulder, and then muttering under his breath, "Probably won't see you tomorrow. I might need a week to build up the courage to come back. Sheesh!"

James couldn't help but smile to himself as he continued on his way, though. With this sort of positive reinforcement, it was going to be easy to put the next change in his routine - a proper training schedule for the half marathon around the lake in three months time. 21 kilometers sounded like a lot right now, but if the last three months were anything to go by, the next should be great. He was sure he could make it all the way!

The End

Possible Titles (choose one)
James' Journey
Double Joy
Inspiring Trouble by Accident

I'd love to hear from anyone who wants me to write them a custom short story.  Go to my contact page to see how you can get in touch.  Please share this with anyone who might like to have one written for themselves, or for others as a gift.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Return To Sender (Why You Should Bother)

Will snail-mail ever become redundant?  I doubt it.

I’m the sort of person who takes the time to:

  • put a line through the address
  • writes “Return to sender - no longer at this address” on the front (sometimes with a big arrow pointing to the return address if it’s at the top of the envelope), and 
  • drops it back in the post when I get a chance.
Here’s a couple of reasons why I think this is a good practice:
  1. It’s doing someone a favour without you getting a reward. A practice of unselfish behaviour.
  2. If I was running a company, I would appreciate knowing that my client/consumer details needed updating.
  3. If I was the person, no longer living there, I would want the groups I interact with to know so that they could remind me to change my details next time I see them.
  4. If everyone did this, then companies would see the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of this means of communication for a certain profile of client/consumer.
  5. Your might save some trees if you maintain this practice over a life-time.

It’s interesting to note that you can perform a snail-mail “return to sender’ totally anonymously, but with incorrectly addressed/sent electronic-mail you always run the risk of spam hitting you back. Marking or deleting spam is today’s equivalent action and no feedback goes to the companies unless the spam becomes excessive or wide-spread.

Is there something lost in this new process?

Snail mail will be around for a while, so I wouldn’t panic just yet.

For those who like Elvis Presley:

Twilight of Education (Kristen Stewart and Differentiated Learning)

People with a lot of uniqueness will struggle to have their needs met by a system designed for the average person.

Kristen Stewart, who played "Bella" of recent Twilight fame, blames her teachers for failing to meet her educational needs when she didn't fit into the education system. Her acting meant that she couldn't make classes regularly and needed personalised "packages" from her teachers to help her keep up her education.

Three things I want to mention about this.

One - This is differentiated learning, i.e. having a unique program of learning that is tailor made to the individual needs of the student.

Two - The workload of high school teachers is impossible if they are expected to provide individual packages for their 125 to 150 students (under a differentiated learning model)

Three - Teaching students how to teach themselves, and weaning them off of their dependence on the (current) education system as early as possible, seems like a good way to differentiate in a meaningful way. Developing learning power according to Guy Claxton, or building Key Competencies according to the New Zealand Curriculum.

For the full news article, visit:

Friday, October 7, 2011

"Tactics" by Gregory Koukl (Summary: part 3 of 3)

Tactics is a book that teaches the reader some of the most useful tools of discussion (the tactics) for debating. The specific context for using these tools is in defense of the Christian faith and Christian world view.

Purchase the book or read more about it here on

Here is a brief summary of each of the main tools and chapters presented. It is worth reading the entire book because of the conversations detailed and the specific examples of each strategy.

Steamroller - Sometimes people will try to overpower you with words and ideas without listening to valid counter-arguments. Learn to identify this behaviour, stop it by saying, "stop right there. You haven't answered my question". If they persist, shame them by pointing out exactly what they have avoided answering. If they refuse to play ball after that there is no point in talking with them - just leave the conversation. Don't cast pearls before swine.

Rhodes Scholar - Just because someone is an academic expert it doesn't mean that they are basing their arguments on logical lines of reasoning. Be aware of when someone is trying to educate you or inform you. Informers don't try to justify their position. Educators make a case and leave the conclusion as a result of the evidence.

Sometimes two definitions of science are used to confuse. "Science deals with the natural world only" suits when evidence points to a supernatural designer. But when it suits to rubbish faith, "science is a method using evidence and experiments." So the right methods are expected and the right answers are also expected!

Historical science also includes assumptions about the expected findings, denying miracles even though we have records of eye-witness accounts.

The Rhodes Scholar tactic is merely to ask for the reasons for what the opponent believes, and not just accepting their statement as truth.

Just the facts ma'am - Use facts and figures to make a strong case. This is especially useful when a claim is made that doesn't stand up to the facts, e.g. "Religion has caused more wars and death than anything else" but 66 million were wiped out under Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev (atheistic communists); between 32 and 61 million Chinese have been killed under communist regimes since 1949; etc.

Memorise with precision any dates, figures, and facts that apply (the more specific the better) and then suggest that the person with the vague counter claim must face those facts. Facts are more powerful than a louder voice.

Finding the right context for a reading can be used as facts to help interpret scripture too, e.g. using the log in your own eye verse against judging. This verse actually says you can judge if you do not have a log in your eye. IT is about not being hypocritical in your judgment so is actually telling you to judge!

More Sweat, Less Blood - Working hard in training means less blood in the battle. Spend time with others who share the passion of learning these tactics and it gets easier to learn them. Face legitimate objections to your faith - they will only lead to a clearer understanding of the truth and a stronger faith (if your faith is correct). Don't be shy, you have the truth so give it a go at least. Have courage. Even the best arguments may result in failure to convince because at the end of the day people can't believe unless God changes their heart.

Follow the Ambassador's Creed. Be ready, patient, reasonable, tactical, clear, fair, honest, humble, attractive, and dependent on God.
I am intending to write a follow up to this series about some of my experiences implementing these tactics over the 12 years of my own discussions defending the Christian Faith.  Subscribe or add my blog to your reader to receive these automatically.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Tactics" by Gregory Koukl (Summary: part 2 of 3)

Tactics is a book that teaches the reader some of the most useful tools of discussion (the tactics) for debating. The specific context for using these tools is in defense of the Christian faith and Christian world view.

Purchase the book or read more about it here on

Here is a brief summary of each of the main tools and chapters presented. It is worth reading the entire book because of the conversations detailed and the specific examples of each strategy.


Suicide: Views that self destruct - These are views or statements that, if they are true, prove themselves false. Variations on the theme "there is no truth" are common. Saying that "God doesn't take sides" assumes that God takes that side, proving the view false.

Pseudo-questions such as "Can God make a rock so big that he can't lift it" are nonsense questions. It's like asking if god is stronger than god and makes no sense.

"People make mistakes, so I won't trust the bible." But you're a person and could make mistakes, so I'll trust the bible.

"Saying that evolution designs by chance." Design implies a designer with a hand in events and is not chance at work.

"Only science gives reliable truth." But science doesn't give itself its truth so is it true?

"All religions are true." But some deny the truth of all other religions, e.g. Jesus is the only way versus other views.

Practical Suicide - These are views that fail when you put them into practice (even if they aren't contradictory in them self), e.g. Saying that "arguing is wrong" is not contradictory but as soon as you try to defend that view you are arguing and proving it impractical.

"It's wrong to condemn people". But that condemns people who think that it isn't wrong to condemn people.

"You shouldn't force your morality on others". Isn't that view forcing your morality on others?

Sibling Rivalry and Infanticide - Sibling rivalry is a way of describing ideas that compete, i.e. both can't be true, e.g. "good people go to heaven" and "good and bad are relative, not absolute". How then do good people go to heaven if there are no truly good people!

Another example of sibling rivalry: "A loving God would never send anyone to hell" and "Why does God allow evil in the world, why doesn't he punish bad people?" If you punish bad people you need a god who will bring pain!

"Homosexuality isn't wrong because it's natural". This implies that anything natural is right, but when it comes to homosexual couples adopting children they are trying to do what is clearly not natural, or they would have their own children!

Infanticide is when prior concepts disprove what is being claimed, e.g. vocal chords do not exists first requires vocal chords to exists if one is to say them.

"I can't believe in a God who allows evil in the world". This presumes the existence of evil, which can only exist if God is in the world. Also, if morals are relative then how can the claim that evil exists disprove God? If evil is relative, then the objection is nonsense.

Remember that Atheists can act moral, so don't accuse them of that, but they can't justify their actions in the absence of a moral law giver. Their defense of their own morality works against themselves!

Taking the roof off - Some views result in absurd conclusions if they are pushed to their limit. Saying that there is no objective moral good or bad means that we can't say that rape is bad, or that Hitler was wrong. To realise when an idea is absurd you will have to take it for a test drive to find out if the roof comes off.

Example - the claim that homosexual marriage is morally okay because the government supports it. The government also supported slavery at one time, so it is a non-argument to say that anything is okay if the government supports it.

"I was born homosexual so it's not bad". But people are born liars and murders too...

The philosophy professor who "proves" god doesn't exist by dropping a pen and saying god doesn't exist because he couldn't stop it hitting the ground. Say that the professor doesn't exist if you don't catch a pen and then choose to let it fall.

"That's just your interpretation of the bible!" But he will object if you interpret his words to mean that you can have his car. It's not the interpretation that matters, it's what the words really mean.

Still to come is the third and final section.  Please subscribe or check back for in a few days for the conclusion and a link to the full summary in PDF format.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Tactics" by Gregory Koukl (Summary: part 1 of 3)

Tactics is a book that teaches the reader some of the most useful tools of discussion (the tactics) for debating. The specific context for using these tools is in defense of the Christian faith and Christian world view. It is interesting that these same tools can be used by anyone to defend their point of view, regardless of their faith (or lack thereof).

Purchase the book or read more about it here on

Here is a brief summary of each of the main tools and chapters presented. It is worth reading the entire book because of the conversations detailed and the specific examples of each strategy.


Diplomacy or D-Day - Be diplomatic. A diplomat tries not to be offensive but will still face up to the other side rather than running away or screaming back at a challenge. Listening to an Atheist's point of view and responding firmly but gently, rather than ducking for cover or making empty accusations in return, this is the diplomat's way.

Reservations - If you have reservations about debate or argument, remember that people can disagree with each other without screaming at each other. Greg suggests that if anyone in the argument/debate gets angry, then you lose. So try and control the conversation to keep things civil. If you are calm and speak softly and controlled it is harder for your opposition to flare up. Also remember that division is okay if you are dividing the good from the bad - clearly it is good to keep Atheist ideas out when it comes to running the church. If we are searching for truth then we have to cut away that which is untrue!

Remember that you can't argue someone into the kingdom of heaven but having the right knowledge is a good start for them. It is not your responsibility to get someone converted, that's God's part in the process, you just have to step up and be willing to give it a go - defend God and his truth, and the rest will follow.

Getting in the drivers seat: The Columbo Tactic (named after TV detective Lieutenant Columbo) - Learn to recognise when to engage someone in conversation about their ideas/beliefs. If someone makes a statement that challenges Christianity or some moral view from Christianity, ask them why they think what they do. You have roughly a ten second window to engage them. Use questions because this keeps the pressure off you and on them. Using questions you can direct the discussion and it is the other person who has to think more than you. Questions lead to thoughtful dialog rather than "loud statements" for and against. It's also a good way to really learn what the other person thinks. If you don't have an answer after that, just thank them for sharing and then think about what they said to come up with a response for next time.

Often people haven't thought through some of their ideas (which may be quite ridiculous) and just asking "Why do you think that?" or "What do you mean by that?" or "Could you explain that idea further?" these questions may make them stop and realise there is no reason for believing their ideas.

A classic example is the challenge to truth: "There is no absolute truth" or "Truth is relative". You could ask if their statement that there is no absolute truth is an absolute truth, highlighting the contradiction.

Columbo step two: The Burden of Truth - Remember that others who make claims are the ones who have to defend them. Even Atheists or Pro-choice advocates have to justify their positions if they stand up and make statements. This is where questions come in handy - if you are not making statements and asking others' opinions then they have to justify their answers, not you. Use the questions "How did you come to that conclusion?" or "What evidence led you to believe that?" Never let someone change the subject when they can't answer. Always come back to the evidence for their opinion and then let them falter when they have none. Offer the Christian answers if they ask and be ready to defend the truth because you too have to defend your ideas and justify them using evidence.

Step three: Using Columbo to Lead the Way - This chapter covers a number of situations that come up, and how to respond using Colombo questions. How to respond if someone asks if non-Christians are going to hell (a straight yes, though correct, is not diplomatic. Try asking them about their understanding of justice and punishment for crimes and whether it is right to do so. Then share Jesus as a way for justice to be paid but for us to "get out of jail")

You can use questions to help someone voice something they already know, leading them through a line of reasoning.

You can use questions to ensure a safe discussion occurs, e.g. setting rules for conversation or clarifying that the other person understands we can disagree without hating each other.

Use questions to narrate the debate, e.g. "Do you realise that you just avoided answering my question?"

Don't forget to be diplomatic (nice) because it is too easy to use these tactics to beat someone rather than love them and lead them to the truth. It's not about shaming them, it's about revealing something that needs to change and then lifting them up by helping them come to the truth.

Perfecting Columbo - Step up, give it a go, reflect on each conversation and encounter and use this as ongoing practice to improve.

Check back in a few days for part two, or subscribe to receive notifications of new posts automatically.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mid Winter Blues and Reflections

The following post was taken from my old parkour blog as a part of transferring these historical articles to the new blog.  It's also a chance to reflect on some past thoughts, both in an embarrassed and a proud way at different times.  In facing any past foolishness, I can grow and remain humble.  Here it is in it's entirety.  Enjoy!

2nd July 2009
In New Zealand we are very fortunate to have fairly mild weather compared to some other parts of the world. We get mild extremes is what I mean, and in terms of parkour there is very little in the way of weather that can prevent us from training all year round. However, something which can have a negative impact on training frequency and quality of training, is the phenomenon of "mid winter blues".

The mid winter blues is a sort of mental sluggishness, depression, or inability to deal with stress. It comes about through the lack of invigorating sunshine (shorter days in winter) which see the average person going to work in the dark and returning home during twilight hours. The more regular rain and cold is also notably depressing for many people. Documented suicides increase during this time which, while not true evidence, creates a statistical link between the seasons and mental health. It is possible that due to the weather, people will get out of their homes less and will feel lonelier and more isolated because of this. Whatever the reasons, and whatever you call it, these mid winter blues are a reality for many.

So how does this affect parkour? (And how does parkour affect this?)
If we let it, our training can suffer. The mental lethargy that accompanies depression, a sort of "can't be bothered with anything", will likely put a serious dampener on our desire to train. So the amount of training will be less. It may also be hard to keep a good intensity during training because of this same reason. I find that in a group, if just a couple of people back off and lose motivation it affects the mood of everyone. Perhaps solo training is good during these times.

On the other side of the coin: any exercise will get the endorphins pumping, directly counteracting depression and low feelings. Also, if you can get out during the weekend to enjoy some goodly amounts of sun you can lift your spirits significantly and even get a bit of a mid winter tan - a healthy natural glow!

Personally, I have found the middle of winter to be very tough this time around. I've had to drop back to just 3 or 4 light trainings each week for the last couple of weeks. This is partly due to work spilling into my home life and having to take more time out of "fun" things to complete routine things like marking and report writing (the joys of being a high school teacher). This is also due to my body taking longer to recover during the colder weather - an extra day in a lot of cases which can see me training when I'm not sufficiently recovered from the previous day's training - always a bad idea. Longer recovery time generally means less training anyway. A significant part of this reduction in training though, has been due to a kind of apathy that has felt almost physical at times. However, I believe it is mostly mental. I just couldn't be bothered gathering the energy to train (which comes so easily during the light and warm days of summer!). I'm pleased to say that I wouldn't just vegetate on the couch in front of the TV during these times. I'd practise on my new drums, read/research/write, stimulate my creativity listening to some music, or engage in some other productive substitute activity.

A more personal reflection on things
I'm not sure if this state of things is inevitable, but in some ways I don't mind. Perhaps it is the solitude that I'm really craving? Apart from one semi-solo training session each week for about 45 minutes (parkour specific weights in the gym), I normally train with at least several other people. Half of my trainings are running group sessions and the other half are training amongst people of similar ability to myself. I'm thinking that I should be training parkour solo at least once a week, maybe more. The problem is not the willingness in this case, but the time. Perhaps I need to get up a couple of hours earlier to get in some solid repetition of movement - something that lacks in most other trainings lately, as people are less motivated or are only capable of a lower intensity than myself. Alternatively I could whip the whip at group trainings and try to lift the others. Sometimes this can take too much energy though, which means less to put into the movement. One encouraging thing is that I feel capable of more than I am doing now, and I will pursue more over the coming months in the build up to summer. Looking back on the previous years of training parkour, my volume and intensity is definitely consistently higher than it has ever been. Something for beginners to look forward to perhaps!

Concluding remarks
Reflect on how different external stimuli affect you and your mental and physical state. Do your best not to let the seasons affect you negatively. Use parkour to beat the mid winter blues if you can. Try talking about your feelings with someone if you like - this can be very challenging and scary, but it is worth it in the long run. Finally, have fun and look after yourself!

Train hard!


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Unite My Heart

Psalm 86, a prayer of King David, is a favourite of mine.  It seems to sum up much of the Christian existence.  I often make verse 11 my prayer:
"Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name"
While some verses can seem a little presumptuous to pray, verse two for example says, "Preserve my life, for I am godly;" we should be aware that this is the direction of life of the Christian.  Everyone who is born again has been fundamentally changed into a new being - into one who can come before God to pray with the confidence of Christ who is the perfect and godly one in each of us.

Unfortunately, we do not often share this confidence with King David.  Our recent sin is fresh in our memory, and we do not feel holy.  Whether we have said words in anger, let our gaze linger upon something we shouldn't, or have harboured resentful thoughts, our own heart is betraying our new nature and our prayer lacks conviction because of our guilt.

In such moments we must take hold of forgiveness from the Father and have him unite our heart, lest we be like the kingdom divided against itself that will fall (Matthew 12:25).  Prayer is a part of this process, but the same verse 11 gives us further advice to achieve a united heart.

The first part, learning God's ways, and learning to walk in His truth, is the same thing as having a heart united and set upon Him.  The internal conviction is not separate from the external action.  1John 1:6 from the New Testament shows us that our actions, how we "walk", must match our words which claim fellowship.  If it is clear that our actions don't meet our convictions, we should be praying for something more serious than our walk with God - our souls are likely more in step with the world and our heart is united with the devil.

Before you can worry about becoming more like Jesus, you must first seek salvation from him.  Only then will your heart be freed from the devil to become new and holy, and then the battle with competing desires will begin.  You can be sure that you are saved if you long for your heart to be united, to walk in God's ways, and to live by His truth.  In a sense, the prayer for a united heart will only be truly complete when Jesus returns and our transformation is complete, but for now we can continue to strive, and pray, and enjoy each step of progress.

Pray, with David:
"Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name"
May God grant you to desire and to achieve this prayer.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

How do we do this thing called life?

Just recently, a Christian friend posed the question above in a Facebook status update. I have no idea what led to the question being asked, but an air of frustration, or even desperation, seemed to come through. Whether I read the situation right or not, I always feel that such questions are deserving of careful consideration and genuine answers - especially coming from brothers or sisters in Christ.

Before I get to my reply, I want to dwell a moment on some of the other responses. I was struck in two ways by some of the comments. First was the manner in which the comments were made. Despite this being a serious existential question, it was treated to humourous responses, which did have an edge of seriousness but still failed to address the gravity of the question. Second was the actual advice offered which focused on material pleasure, presumably as a source of happiness, implying that we “do life” to get as much pleasure and happiness as we can.

Now, I don’t think that it is wrong to seek happiness, but the forms of pleasure that were mentioned the most (food, sex, drugs, and the like) do not bring any lasting happiness, and if taken to excess, or in the wrong way, are severely damaging. In fact, these things have a huge potential to hurt or to disappoint! I actually think that the pursuit of happiness (or joy) is part and parcel of our number one purpose. Even more, I believe that the pursuit of joy is a divine command that, if not obvious, is strongly implicit in a plain reading of God’s revelation to us in scripture (the bible).

So getting right to it, the answer that I offered my friend is below; and I would like to explain the answer in more detail, including how our happiness is fulfilled within this pursuit. Here’s my take on how we do this thing called life:

“Love God and love your neighbour. Easier said than done but the same One who commands also enables those who try in His name.”

If I was to quote the Westminster Catechism, a document based on the bible and designed to summarise and teach the Christian faith - completed in 1647; in the very first question and answer, you might see some of how I arrived at my response:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

In only a short (and hopefully obvious) step, we can see that to glorify God (or honour Him) is to keep his commands, and in this is the meaning of life and the way to “do” life. Jesus summed up all of God’s commands by telling us to love God and to love our neighbour (Luke 10:26-28). Basically, love everyone but love God first. It also seems obvious that if we keep the opposite of this, i.e. not loving God or others (which includes ambivalence), is a dishonouring of God and is where all that is called “sin” is rooted.

Knowing that we should love is one thing, but managing to do that successfully for the rest of your life is another. Nobody can do it perfectly. God knows this, but He has mercy on those who try and he does not count their mistakes against them. He even goes so far as to strike any past offenses (deliberate or not) from their record. Even though we cannot love perfectly, we are still expected to try, and God has said that He will help anyone who tries. Even more, he inspires us to want to love, shows us how to love, and makes it so that we can love.

The final part of my response is about trying “in His name”. This is crucial, because anyone who tries to love in their own name and power will be seeking their own glory. Unfortunately for every person on earth and who has ever lived, we cannot accomplish this. We are unable to love “in His name”. This is because everything that we do is ultimately to serve our own pleasure in life. As fallen human beings, we need fixing before we can operate outside of ourselves. God steps in and does the fixing, often when we least expect it. This fixing process has many stages, but begins with being re-created or born again, and then the ongoing work that keeps us improving in our ability to love is called sanctification.

I realise that it is a huge mouthful to swallow, the claim that everyone is self-serving until God steps in, but that is a topic for another time. Feel free to discuss it in the comments if you are moved to reply.

As a concluding comment, I want to contrast the happiness that comes from loving God alongside the happiness that comes from the material pleasures of this world. For happiness to last it must be grounded in something lasting. The main contrast here is that God is eternal and material pleasures can only last as long as we are alive to enjoy them, many of them passing in scattered moments during our lives anyway. This means, that the only happiness we can count on for ever, and in any circumstance, is grounded in God. This is the truth and the means to do this thing called life.

May God bless you with joy everlasting!


Friday, August 5, 2011

Rolling (Parkour Drop Landing)

The following post was begun on my parkour blog but left incomplete and never published.  I've copied it over and added a little bit to finish it off.  I've ended it rather more sharply than intended because I don't have in mind the original thoughts and have instead used my current thinking on rolls, combined with my physics knowledge.

The old bit:
Rolling is one of the techniques that are most commonly seen by beginners in their introduction to parkour. The skill is not particularly difficult and it is essential to learn early on for safer landings. This article will focus on the main purpose of the roll in parkour, one of the major misconceptions of how a roll decreases impact on the body, and then finish with a description of the technique for beginners to learn. More experienced practitioners may like to use this technique for developing rolls on their weak side.

What is the purpose of a roll in parkour?
While there are different uses for the roll in parkour, e.g. dive rolls, fast direction changes, etc. we are considering the roll as used during the landing of a jump. There are two main uses within this category: to help reduce horizontal momentum for a high speed landing where it is impossible to remain standing, and to reduce the forces experienced by the body when jumping/dropping from a height. Our primary consideration is the latter - reducing forces on the body when landing from a height.

One obvious misconception is that a roll will save you no matter how high you drop from. More experienced traceurs often joke about being able to jump off the tenth story of a building and rolling in the landing to save themselves. While it seems pretty obvious that there are limits to the ability of a roll to reduce impact on the body, many people don't understand exactly why this is. The answer lies in the way a roll reduces impact forces on the body and what muscles in the body are engaged (and to what extent) during a roll compared to landing without a roll.

The new bit:
The other main misconception is that rolls transfer vertical momentum into horizontal momentum, and that this protects the jumper from injury.  Now, it is true that injury can be reduced, but the reasons are not to do with a vertical to horizontal transition.  Any momentum in a vertical direction must be removed by a force applied in the opposite direction.  And any momentum gained in the horizontal direction must be added by a force applied in that direction.  The vertical and horizontal are independent of each other in such analyses.

So the body experiences reaction forces in the landing which remove the vertical momentum.  The longer the force is applied, the greater the change in momentum.  Or for the same amount of momentum, the longer the force is applied, the lower the force needs to be to remove the vertical momentum.  The main reaction force is upwards from the ground and this transfers through the body's natural suspension system of joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles to halt the descent.  From the physics we know that the greater the instantaneous force, the higher the chance of breakage.  

Here's the final conclusion of all that science:
A parkour roll used in a vertical landing works because it reduces the maximum instantaneous force used to remove the vertical momentum from the drop.  The force experienced by the body is spread out over a greater time during the landing.  A roll landing allows the lander to take more time in the landing by crumpling, much the same way that a car bumper is designed to crumple to absorb momentum.  

Another way to look at it is with an egg falling onto a brick compared to an egg falling onto a foam mattress.  The brick tries to stop the egg instantly because it has no give.  The mattress slows the egg more gradually and lowers the maximum force on the egg.

So why bother rolling?  Why not just crouch on the landing?  Well, for at least three reasons.  One is that you can't crouch to bring your center of gravity as low as you can get with a roll, this means a roll is better at increasing the amount of time taken to land.  Two is that very often there is some horizontal momentum from the jump which means a roll is a more stable technique for landing.  Three is it is possible that more muscles can be recruited to spread the force out between while rolling because a greater body tension is required for the execution of the roll.

This information can inform our rolling technique.  Instead of just copying a video, you now know what to do to have the most effective roll.  You need to make your landing last as long (and as smooth) as possible to ensure the lowest possible force on your body.  This means resisting the landing from the highest point all the way down to the lowest crouch possible before rolling to continue the descent a fraction longer.

It is worth mentioning that the roll is also just smoother and allows you to regain your feet easily.  Paratroopers in past wars have used a crumple method of landing that didn't rely on getting to their feet again.  They would crumple into a sideways kind of heap like the video below (about 1 minute into the clip):