So I splurged a little and got myself the hydration pack the pros use, the Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 Set. Catchy name, I know. But I’m already very impressed with it. Empty, it weighs basically nothing. It fits more like a vest than a backpack, hugging very snugly around the upper torso, with no pressure at all on the stomach.
I took it for a quick 20km trial run down to Heritage Park and back. Firstly, I was very pleased that despite a light training load over the winter I still have the fitness to pull of a half-marathon just for the fun of it. And secondly, I found the pack very comfortable. With any kind of water-belt, I start getting stomach cramps after a while, because of the pressure on my abdomen. The Salomon pack fits so well it’s almost unnoticeable.
And unlike packs designed for hikers, all the equipment pouches are at the front, so you can easily grab your gels or iPod without breaking stride. This has been my major complaint with my other pack; the fact that I have to take it off to access food.
And finally, the hydration system itself works well, and I like the under-the arm layout of the tube. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether the ultra-light construction results in less durability.
Now this is interesting. A survey at the New York Times shows a significant difference of opinion between the average person in the pew and the Catholic church hierarchy. 66% favour allowing priests to marry. 79% favour the use of birth control, and my understanding is that a higher percentage of Catholics than that will actually use birth control at some point.
I’d be very interested in seeing what these figures look like on a global basis, whether this is a uniquely North American phenomenon, or whether there is genuinely a huge rift between the official teaching of the hierarchy and the Sensus Fidelium, the understanding of the faithful, of the church as a whole.
This raises questions for those outside the Catholic church, too. What happens when the official key holders of doctrine state one thing but the general population holds a different position?
From inside the system, it’s easy to say ‘we have the Truth on matters of ethics and behaviour, and those who disagree with us do so because they wish to behave immorally.’
But on matters such as the ordination of women priests, this is seen as an issue of justice and equality. The laity has considered the position of the hierarchy and said ‘No. We believe that you are in the wrong here. The right, honourable and just thing to do is to stop discriminating on grounds of gender.’
What happens when a long-held claim to divine authority encounters a groundswell sense that the hierarchy is actually in the wrong?
Although it is somewhat skewed by its biases, it’s a valuable document. A solid research effort went into interviewing several thousand participants and analysing their responses.
All of the participants were between 18 and 34, and all had some kind of church background. The study examines the extent to which they are currently engaged with the institutional church, and their reasons for their level of engagement.
It’s a welcome document, not least because it is firmly rooted in the Canadian context. For once, we don’t have to rely on American materials to understand our culture. The unique religious environment in Quebec is examined, as are the churchgoing trends of first-generation immigrants.
Unfortunately, the report doesn’t go far enough. It recognises the large number of young people who have rejected the church, and carefully notes their reasons, but doesn’t really allow that their criticisms might be valid. The report sometimes feels as if it has been written by a group that used to enjoy a position of influence and prestige in society, and is frustrated that now it needs to compete on a level playing field with other sources of information and ideas.
Despite that, I’d recommend the report to any church leader, and I’d recommend thinking long and hard about the implications of the report’s findings.
In some respects it addresses the same ground that has already been covered in the excellent book unChristian, but does so in a Canadian context.
I have yet to read the entire report, but several points caught my attention from the overview we were given.
Firstly, people’s attitudes towards the church are shaped by a variety of sources. The primary influence on young people, perhaps surprisingly, is still their parents. Whether positive or negative, our family experiences have a huge influence on the choices we make in life. After parents, respondents said that their attitude towards church was shaped by their experiences or lack thereof of God, whether their church communities had felt authentic or hypocritical, and the nature of their churches’ formal teaching.
Another important point that was raised was that the biggest drop-off in church attendance is not at the end of teenagehood, but in tweenagehood. The transition between Sunday School age and youth-group age, when kids start taking more responsibility for their own use of time, is one of the most critical life-transition events they will experience.
Unfortunately, however, the publication did not actually survey anyone in this age group, and so I feel missed out on one or two important reasons for kids choosing to leave church.
I attempted to correct this oversight this evening, with a couple of interviews with representatives of this age group, and learned that kids may choose to cease church attendance for the following reasons:
They do not feel they are able to ask questions, or engage in honest dialogue.
They are made to feel unwelcome.
Their time is constrained with growing responsibilities such as homework and jobs, and and there does not seem to be a clear sense of purpose in church attendance.
They have no age-group peers, and feel isolated.
But most importantly, I learned that kids also leave church not because they choose to, but because they are kicked out. Kids who look wrong, dress wrong, talk wrong, or ask difficult questions are made to feel unwelcome or even asked directly to leave.
I appreciate the insight of the EVF report, but I feel that it is incomplete if it does not address the way that as well as failing to retain young people, at times the church directly drives them away.
I’ve been enjoying this documentary series on the Paris-Ancaster bike race. As well as serving as inspiration for me since I signed up for the race, it’s a nice example of SLR film-making, something that’s really becoming more accessible these days.
So, go watch the video and then sign up for the race – there are still a few spots left.
A couple of really neat tools caught my eye this week.
Try F# – F# is a functional language built on top of Microsoft’s CLR, drawing on languages like Haskell and O’Caml. Every language should have a site like this, it’s a great way to explore the syntax and start getting your head wrapped around the design philosophy.
SQLFiddle – A brilliant little tool that allows you to create a SQL database schema and execute queries against it directly in your browser. It supports Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, Postgres and Oracle. It even gives you a nice query planner output to help you understand the cost of your query. If you choose Postgres, it provides you with a direct link to http://explain.depesz.com, a neat tool for visualising the output of the Postgres EXPLAIN command.
Postges provides some very powerful mechanisms for profiling and optimizing your queries, but they can be a little arcane to get started with. These tools could really help speed up your workflow.
For the past year or so I’ve been engaged in what I like to call a Church Crawl, whereby I visit different churches to get a feel for the varied and diverse expressions of Christianity in the city.
In his excellent book Towards a True Kinship of Faiths, the Dalai Lama goes several steps further, and provides a sympathetic and extremely well observed review of the teachings and practices of the major world religions, along with a well reasoned consideration of the challenges facing us as a global society as we figure out how to live side by side with people of different cultures and faiths.
One of his most interesting points is the way that he has seen first hand as a citizen of India the ways in which it is possible for those of different religions to live next door to each other peacefully. He also fearlessly approaches the very real philosophical differences between the monotheistic, polytheistic and non-theistic traditions.
He makes no bones about his commitment to Buddhism, and yet his treatment of Christian theology is one of the most succinct and accurate that I have ever read.
I’ve had an idea for the ultimate running race. An event like no other that you’ve even seen or taken part in. A race that more closely takes us back to the persistence hunting roots of our ancestors than any Olympic marathon.
I first heard about persistence hunting in Chris McDougall’s amazing book, Born to Run. Before we developed spears or bows and arrows, the only way humans could hunt down game was to run after it, for hour upon hour, across the baking savannah, until the prey dropped dead of heat exhaustion. Humans are such exquisitely tuned runners, with incredible powers of heat dissipation and breath control, that no other animal stands a chance in a long distance race.
It is still practised today by hunters in the Kalahari:
One of the most awe-inspiring things about persistence hunting is the idea that, when you set off in the morning,you have no idea how far you’re going to run that day.
There’s a level of uncertainty present that no 10k runner, no marathoner, not even an ultra-runner faces. The common feature of all competitive running is that it is over a fixed distance.
But what if it wasn’t?
What if we developed a race where we brought back this level of uncertainty? Where tactics, strategy and anticipation played out against a backdrop of the unknown? Where speedsters could compete against distance experts?
I believe I’ve come up with a format to do just that. I call it persistence running.
The idea is very simple. Take a looped circuit. It could be a 400m track, it could be longer. Give every runner a timing chip that records the number of laps they have run. Start them off.
Whenever a runner’s total achieved laps is two less than the front-runner, he is eliminated. Keep going until there is only one runner left.
The format can be explained in a couple of sentences. Runners compete on a loop, and those who are lapped are eliminated. But I have no idea how it would play out in practice. What would be the ideal strategy? Would it favour speed or endurance? Would some competitors attempt to sprint right at the beginning? Would others hang back in the pack and wait to grind out victory? What would change if the course was on a longer circuit? How long would the event even last? Would different strategies emerge as the people became more familiar with the format?
The biggest attraction for me is the emotional challenge. How would you feel, lined up at the start line, having no idea what sort of a race you were facing or how long it would go on for?
Of course, to truly capture the spirit of a persistence hunt, we’d have to add a rule that said only the winner got to eat afterwards, but that might be taking things a little to far!
I have been thinking a lot recently about incarceration.
At its highest levels, the Soviet Union’s gulag system imprisoned 800 people for every 100,000 people in the country. Today the United States has 743 prisoners for every 100,000 people. Nearly a quarter of all the prisoners in the world are in United States prisons.
This worries me, and when I read about the Stephen Harper proposing more ‘tough-on-crime’ legislation, I wonder what exactly we are trying to achieve. But before I delve to deeply into the subject, I first have to recognize how this must be approached. As a Christian, I belong to a faith tradition that has, frankly, spent quite a lot of time in jail.
I recognise in our society the need for a judicial system, for police officers, magistrates, prison guards and probation workers.
But when we are discussing the criminal justice system, the starting point for those who call themselves Christians needs to be this – our first and primary identity is with the jailed, not the jailer. As the founder of our movement said, “I was in prison and you came to visit me.”