Towards Simplicity.


“All is flux, not one thing remains.” – Heraclitus of Ephesus

All is flux. Nothing remains in stasis for long. While all is change, that is not to say that there is one singular type of change. To my mind, in fact, there are two; intentional and unintentional. Chances are, and if I were a gambling man I would bet on this, you have encountered one of these in the past week.

However, for all the change we experience, are we growing in a positive, meaningful, curated way, or are we more like a rambling rose? There’s growth alright, rapid and sprawling, but without order and discipline our lives become increasingly entangled and harder to manage. Like last years Christmas lights we almost invariably end up a mess of knots. Quite chaotic, but worst of all we become stuck. Are we growing by design, or by default? What would life be life if it was live in a less chaotic, but more curated way?

Business and hurry are essentially forms of violence enacted against our most precious resource: time itself. Often our default is to dash madly around playing at spinning plates. There may be movement alright, and lots of it, but rarely is momentum perpetuated beyond a single effort.

What if there were less plates, with a greater focus and intentionality levelled at the care of each one? What if it was possible to approach each plate with greater clarity and sense of its purpose within your life? What if instead of being discontented by business we found contentment in effectiveness in the areas of our life that matter to us most and that we find most meaning in? How would your life be different if you pursued simplicity over ease?

Over the past month I have begun stripping out the superfluous in my own life in favour of simpler practices, gentler rhythms, and greater meaning attached to each of those things that still remain. You may not agree with all you read, but that’s okay! I had become discontented with the ‘noise’ I felt my life was making and the ease with which I was living.

But where did this begin? Like many of the best things, it started with two simple questions:

  1. Does ‘this’ belong here?
  2. Does ‘this’ give evidence to what I say I believe?

These two questions have since been joined by a myriad of other questions that now act as the filters through which I now make many of my daily decisions, from how I order my week and prioritise my time, to how I choose to spend my money. You might well say that this all sounds incredibly complicated, but what I am finding is that simplicity can often be quite a complex thing. After all, simplicity and ease are not common bedfellows. These are explorations Towards Simplicity.



The Shape of Time


What shape is time?

‘What shape?’ I hear you say, ‘how is it that Time can have a shape?’

But stop and think for just a moment, just pause and ask yourself these additional questions;

What are my expectations over time?
Have I found myself repeating experiences?
Why is it that I am disappointed when things don’t progress positively in time?
Is time not just a continuous progression?

The challenge of time is age. Progressively growing in age fools us into thinking that Time itself is shaped in a linear fashion; it has a beginning and an end – at least for us. This leads us to measure not only our ages, but the years we live through in an ascending order – a neat, linear progression of things.

And yet.

And yet we also know that much of time is not just – not only, not simply – linear. For example; there aren’t an infinite number of ever increasing days in the week. There are 7. Equally, there are 12 months in a year – which is why they are named, not numbered (imagine having to up with a new name for the month… every month!).

While these are all human constructs – ways to measure the passing of time – it is also found in nature that much of life is not in fact linear, but cyclical. Time runs not as some giant infinity loop and yet in a circular, repetitive fashion.

With the dawning of a new year I am reminded that much of life is repeated, the days roll on, but the dates repeat. The sun rises and falls, the days turn into weeks, which turns to months and those to a year before beginning again.

“Always, we must begin again.” – St. Benedict

My hope for 2018, as I continue to journey ever increasingly towards simplicity is that I might learn to understand time differently. To understand that progress is not always found in a linear, unending, incline curve that could be neatly plotted onto the type of graph that my maths and science teachers were so fond of, but to recognise that much growth is in the repetitive cycle of the seasons.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. But perfect practice does. To rehearse the imperfect is to reinforce imperfection. This is not to say that perfection in all things is the ‘goal’, but more to say that growth, sustained growth, is not always found in constant newness and innovation but in repetition and in rehearsal.

I could spend this year trying 12 different activities for a month each, and at the end of the year I would have experienced new things, but would I have grown in ability in any of them? Barely. Instead I am choosing to dedicate my time to that which I am gifted in, that which I am excited by, and ultimately that which is important.

Choose to forsake the superfluous in favour of that which brings satisfaction repeatedly. Choose not to be disheartened by repetition. And then do it again. Always, we must begin again.

The Lie of ‘Unlimited’

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How many of you have ordered a ‘bottomless’ or ‘unlimted’ soft drink at a restaurant? It sounds like living the dream, right? As much as you want! Of course, these things are really unlimited… there are still constraints such as opening hours, or stomach capacity to consider. I get the idea – that we can consume or use as much as we can of one thing or another, but supposed ‘unlimted’ consumption does not mean that there is not, in fact, limited capacity.

Equally, we’ve all experienced moments of staring out to sea – at the seemingly endless, limitless expanse, and yet we often make this observation from high above, perched upon some cliff or beach… the boundaries of such a limitless expanse.

For most of my life I’ve been told that ‘I can do anything I want’, in terms of life aspirations (rather than general behaviour). I don’t believe my experience in this is a unique one, in fact much of my generation appears to have been weaned on the same truth.

On the one hand, I suppose, that this statement is helpful and has probably resulted in the rise in entrepreneurs and start-ups that have boomed more recently. People, a great many of them, who have ridden the wave of the technological revolution and set about to genuinely bring about change, many of them in ways that were previously inconceivable. Because, it seems, that we can do anything we set our minds to, and often we are the biggest barriers to progression and advancement.

I am convinced that there are more options on offer for people of my generation, and the generations below us. There is certainly greater choice, and less time to wait in an almost instant market. The world is our oyster, we can do anything, and there are less constraints in many ways upon people to conform to traditional pursuits.

As much as I am convinced by this, I am equally convinced that, while essentially true, it is also limited in its truthfulness. It is an incomplete truth. I am less convinced that we are likely to achieve anything of lasting worth, or really contribute in a meaningful way beyond ourselves, if we pursue every flight of fancy. While we can do anything we set ourselves to, we cannot do it all at once (if at all).

Wisdom tells us that it makes a mere 10,000 hours of dedicated pursuit to master a craft. Whether that be a language, a technical ability or a more artisan craft. Presuming, for a moment, that you are also employed for 40 hours a week to pursue this one thing (which is unlikely), it would take nearly 5 years of 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year in order to achieve such mastery of what is a relatively ‘small’ pursuit.

In reality, most of us have a number of things that we are passionate about, or are working towards. Equally, most of us are employed doing a mixture of some things we really love and other things that we have to do in order to do the ‘other stuff’.

In all honesty, we can’t do it all. Or let me put it another way, if we try to do it all we will struggle to achieve anything of significance, of value, of worth in any given area. Our time, energy, and resources are mostly finite. They replenish, but we do not have unlimited resources, least of all Time. So by saying ‘Yes’ to one pursuit we are invariably saying ‘No’ to another.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth St. Paul writes;

You say that, “I have the right to do anything!”, and yet not everything is beneficial… not everything is constructive.

Here’s the point: whilst there are a great many things that we might tend to on any given day, are they of benefit? Are thy constructive? Do the things we pursue lead us – and others – into greater fulfilment or into a depleated sense of worth and value?

What are you saying Yes to today, that you should really say No to? Are you saying yes to things that act as numbing agents – whether excessive alcohol, or even excessive social media or binge watching of Netflix? You say that your health is important to you, but do the things we say yes to on a weekly basis attest to that fact, or are your actions in contradiction to your values? Sure, we can fill our hours and our days with any number of combinations of things, but is it beneficial, is it constructive, to you or to another?

  • A brilliant book that has added great value to my own life (though I have my bias’ towards the author) on a similar subject is ‘The Freedom of Limitation’, by Dr. John Andrews, available here.

Tis the Season

Well, almost anyway. Yes, that time of year is rapidly approaching. Soon enough windows and lampposts will be adorned with festive colour as the season of goodwill approaches. A time for showing those we love how much they mean to us, through the exchanging of gifts.

Except it’s not, though, is it? We all know that generosity is meant to be a hallmark of the Christmas season, but increasingly it seems that consumption and indulgence is the prevailing ‘reason’ for the season.

It is also a time of year where, even before I encountered Minimalism, I struggled with the levels of consumption around us. The closest I think I’ve ever come to a panic attack was at a large shopping complex two or three weeks before Christmas. I was out shopping with my family. I’d purchased the majority of the gifts that I would be giving, but was left with the task of selecting a gift for myself. This, usually quite enjoyable venture, left me feeling like I had reached saturation point, the pressure was tangible and I could feel my stress levels rising. I couldn’t find the ‘perfect’ gift for myself. But leaving without one didn’t occur to me at the time. I had to find something, I needed to have selected a gift.

I ended up panic buying a pair of shoes that I didn’t particularly like, but felt compelled to buy as they were the closes thing to what I felt I wanted. However, they were also at least a size too big. Nonetheless, I needed them, right? It was that Christmas that I first remember feeling like I’d reached saturation level. To quote The Minimalists, we often do not know that we are not thirsty, that we’ve had enough, until we realise that we are drowning.

Our ‘need’ to purchase, particularly on impulse, I am learning is less to do with our current state of reality, but the perceived reality we think we will experience once we own said item – we don’t just buy an item, we buy a reality that is alternate to the one we currently inhabit. This may be as simple as an alternate reality in which I own a new pair of jeans that don’t have a hole in the crotch, in contrast to my current experience. But it can also be more subtle, a ‘hope’, for example, that we’ll be more ‘something’ (confident, alluring, comfortable, etc…) once we own the item.

In the competitive and personality driven context of 1920’s America Woodbury’s soap reminded their prospective customer that ‘All Around You People Are Judging You Silently’, the implication being that if you had only used Woodbury’s, you would be able to navigate the prying eyes of the general public with ease.

The run up to Christmas each year is marked by a rise in adverts. All of which are promising a variety of things far more than the product they are selling. “This Christmas”, the TV ad for Marks and Spencer’s Food declares, “the table is your stage!” And suddenly we are transported to world in which the food that fills the table is more important than the people you share it with. Christmas, more than any other time of year, sees food, and the over-consumption of food, as entertainment par-excellence.

The competitive Christmas is echoed in an advert by The Range. It depicts two families who live opposite each other and are locked into ‘keeping up with the Jones’. Whilst comical in style, the message is clear: if we don’t sell it, you don’t need it. The advert closes with the enduring slogan ‘Go One Better’ firmly etched into the mind of the viewer. Christmas, it seems, is about competition.

This even transfers into the realm of gift giving as well! It’s a long established principle of Gift theory (yes, there is such a thing) within the world of social-sciences that at its core, much of gift giving is reciprocal. Whenever we receive one, we feel obligated to return in kind, and to a similar level of perceived value, if not to go one better.

But we know that this is pure folly. We’ve all experienced that initial buzz from a purchase we’ve made because we think it will afford us something in addition to the product, that initial hit of dopamine that makes us feel more confident, more certain. But this feeling fades, it rarely lasts longer than the moment itself. We all know as well that happiness and success have little to do with material possessions. To quote the real reason for the season:

“Life does not consist of an abundance of stuff.” – Jesus, Luke 12:15.

I have been touched this year by many who are close to me who have already spoken to either myself or my wife, Elaina, who have sought to understand the transitions I am making and want to give us something meaningful, something valuable (rather than just something of economic worth).

In a bid to help myself, though, this Christmas, I will endeavour to shop more cautiously,  and more conscientiously; to remember that what makes a Christmas memorable is not what is on the table, but those who are around it.

For an excellent blog post about the mental habits of impulse buying, see Leo Babauta’s post The Key Mental Habit of Simplicity.

For more of why I’ve begun exploring Minimalism more recently, click here. Or for more on Minimalism and my experience with it thus far, click here.

The Global Significance of Your Diet: part 1

It’s been a little while now since I last wrote about our explorations of an increasingly plant-based diet, and that is because I have been doing some reading! Not a vast amount, but there was something I came across that I wanted to take some time to understand, interpret, and then attempt to communicate to you all.

Have you ever taken a moment to consider the global implications of the food you eat? I certainly hadn’t until about 4 months ago. What jump-started my intrigue was the following statistic: 65% of all Green House Gasses are produced by the meat, dairy, and egg industries, which is a greater amount than even the transport industry that we all seem so concerned about.

I remember wondering what the long term implications of my diet (which at the time was pretty healthy in many respects, and not too dissimilar from the ‘healthy/clean eating’ movement sweeping much of the western world) would be, not just for myself, but if something as ‘everyday’ as what I ate could make a difference to anyone other than myself.

In April 2016, an article was published in the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences titled Analysis and Valuation of the Health and Climate Change Cobenefits of Dietary Change (a truly catchy title). I recently fell over it when a friend of mine shared the journal on social media (thanks Katie!). The article summarises a study that examined the long term implications of three variable diets; the Healthy Global Diet, a Vegetarian diet, and a Vegan (or plant-based diet), in contrast to the projections made by the Farming and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations for the year 2050. Essentially they set out to compare the global health and environmental implications of what we choose to put into our bodies. They then split their findings into three segments; health, environmental (specifically looking at Green House Gas emissions), and the economic valuation of the 3 alternate diets. Still with me? Great!

The study builds on previous research that sees a correlation between diet and diseases such as Coronary Heart Disease, strokes, type 2 Diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. These 4 accounted for about 40% of global deaths in the year 2010 alone, and have since risen, and are all thought to be directly connected to the diets we consume.

The projection from the Food and Agriculture Organisation isn’t overly favourable with almost every region of the world projected to fail to meet the ‘healthy’ guidelines by the year 2050, presumably with the % of diet related deaths increasing with our levels of consumption the world over.

The three variable diets are as follows; the Healthy Global Diets assumes the implementation of global dietary guidelines on healthy eating, combined with a calorific intake sufficient to maintain body weight. The guidelines include your 5-a-day, fewer than 50g of sugar, and a maximum of 43g of red meat.

The second variation is a Vegetarian Diet, a diet absent of meat, but that includes other animal products like eggs or dairy. These are based on a similar calorific intake, though a Vegitarian and Vegan diet seems to require 15% less calories than a ‘regular’ diet, but with 6 portions of fruit and veg being the recommended amount, along with 1 portion of Pulses.

Finally, the third variation is that of the Plant-based, or Vegan, diet; a diet that does not include meat, or other animal products such as eggs and dairy. The same applies as the Vegitarian diet, but with 7-a-day portions of fruit and veg, along with the single portion of Pulses.

While all of this, so far, hasn’t actually helped to illustrate the global significance of your diet, I promise that the stage is now set for exploring how what you eat impacts your health and the environment you live in.

Full article reference: M. Spingmann, H. Charles J. Godfray, M. Rayner, and P. Scarborough, in Journal of the National Academy of Sciences, ‘Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change’, pp.4146-4151

For an introduction to some of the reasons I have begun to make a move towards a predominantly ‘plant-based’ diet, click here or here.

Why I don’t help out my wife with the housework


I realise that this doesn’t really fit any of the topics I usually write about on here, so brace yourselves for a brief break in service.

I have a confession to make, it’s something that has been burdening me increasingly as time has gone by and the time has come to finally say something; I don’t help my wife with the housework. Not any of it. Not a single chore, a single dish washed, a single item of clothing hung, a floor swept. None of it.

Wow. It feel good to say it!

But let me also say this; It’s not because ‘It’s a wife’s place’, nor is it because I am incapable. Neither is it because ‘I’m the bread winner’ or because I don’t have the time – my wife and I are employed for similar hours, but she’s also studying part-time… If anything, I have more time.

The reason I don’t help my wife with any of the house work is because whenever I clean the kitchen, or do the laundry, or tidy the living room or bedroom, I am not helping her. Those are not her primary spheres of responsibility, nor are they her station and lot in life that I just, graciously, chip in with or lend a hand to as a man. It is not her calling or vocation to keep house.

No. I keep a tidy kitchen, because believe it or not, I like a tidy kitchen. I do not do these things to lend a hand, as if she was able to do 90% of the cleaning, but really needs the help of someone of my gender to take the bins out once a week. The primary reason I do the housework that I do is not to help her out, but it’s because it is my house. I take pride in our home, I am a participant in it, I have ownership for it and therefore I do the work that needs to be done. I am not some guest or casual resident, I am a husband and a housekeeper.

Can we please drop the rhetoric of ‘helping’ so-and-so out around the house, if you live there, you are not helping… It’s your responsibility, and actually your privilege. I don’t see how the work of ordering ones space so that it is clean, inviting, comfortable, organised and clear from clutter could ever be seen as demeaning to a man. I take great pride in what I do. And no, I don’t see it as undermining my manliness (whatever that is).

So there we are, I’ve finally said it; I don’t help my wife out with the housework. We do it together. I don’t lend a hand for her benefit, but I do the work that needs to be done in order to benefit me, and Elaina, and anyone else who visits our home. But it certainly isn’t to be helpful.

The Problem With Knowing Your Passions

Time. It’s our most precious resource. The thing we always seem to want more of, and the one thing we cannot generate. One of the things I’ve come to find, and I guess in many ways I am reminding myself through the process of writing and communicating (not uncommon for me), is that minimalism is a tool to reappropriate time.

Through the process of ejecting much of the superfluous from our lives, initially at least, there seems to be an abundance of time.  Time we then exchange in pursuit of ventures that add meaning and value to others and to ourselves. And yet. And yet far too quickly time appears scarce again. A sense of panick sets in because now that we have identified those things that mean most to us it is no longer merely the superfluous, the additional, the extra that gets left, but instead it is the important, the necessary, the things that bring us joy.

This, I suppose, is the tension of discovering purpose. Or your calling, vocation, passion (whatever term you wish to attach to this driving force). When we begin to discover why we are here, and what we are here for, the loss of those things effects us far more than the monotony that filled our days before.

This has been my inner tension over the past couple of weeks. The October-December season at my place of work is the busiest of the year. I work for a local church as an Associate Pastor, and believe it or not church leaders do in fact work on days that don’t begin with the word Sun – contrary to popular opinion.

As I reflect on this today, however, another thought comforts me. That this is all very new. New for me atleast. Minimalism, in a variety of forms has been around for, literally, thousands of years. But it’s new to me. Why does this comfort me? I guess because these changes are recent enough that I afford myself the grace of knowing that I don’t have to have it all figured out yet. I am still very much exploring what Minimalism, and simplicity more generally, looks like in my day-to-day.

As I look back over the past 5 years, I realise quite how much – that seemed minuscule and incremental at the time – has changed, most of it for the better! What feels like frustratingly small changes that I make today, if I carry long this same trajectory, will undoubtly underpin huge changes over the coming years.

In a fast-food, microwave meal, next-day-delivery, buy it now, 1-click order world, taking more time than an instant seems infuriatingly slow at times. And yet time marches on. Anything that has lasted took great time to build or accomplish. The same is true, I think, with the lives we build. While my time in the moment is precious, and ideally filled with my passions, I am comforted today by the knowledge that I have more time than I often feel like I do, if only I would curate my days a little better, and remember to take a long view of things.

Why I Am Celebrating This October, As A Christian. 

Well, today is a day that year on year seems to split opinion within the local church here in the U.K. Each year, 3 main options seem to be on offer: do we boycott, do we embrace, or do we seek to offer an alternative to the normal Halloween traditions. 

For the past few years, as well as engaging in alternative events facilitated by my local church, I’ve sought after a fourth option: history. 

You see, today is a day where the global church – particularly traditions far older than mine – celebrate the Christian festival of All Hallows’ Eve. A day in the life of the church where we can take a moment to remember those who have made the roads of faith that we now walk upon, those who have carved out new ways of living, and to celebrate those who have impacted our faith – whether directly or indirectly.  

This year I am particularly thinking about ancient saints like St. Augustine, St. Benedict and St. Francis. I also find myself reflecting upon the works of Eugene Peterson and Richard Foster – two people whose writings have had a particular impact upon me this past year. In addition to both of these I’m also thankful for my Senior Leader, Russ Westfield. 

But, perhaps, far more significantly this year in particular is Martin Luther. Today, in fact, is the 500th anniversary of what is now considered to be the birth of the Reformation; a time when portions of the Church reorientated itself around scripture. As someone who now finds himself as part of a Pentecostal church I am one who is essentially at the far reaches of the traditions attributed to Luthers actions. 

Of course, it is not enough for us to merely remember those who have died, nor is it sufficient to simply recall recent works and influences. Perhaps more than any other festival (bar Easter itself) All Hallows’ Eve is a time where we encounter death, and yet celebrated that because of Christ, death has lost its sting. It is a redundant power in the world. Instead, we look forward not to the dawn of the living dead, but the day of the resurrected dead. 

A Christian response to Halloween is perhaps not a response at all, but a recovery of a day long forgotten in some circles; a day to remember the hallowed dead, and a day to anticipate the coming day when all that has gone wrong with the world will be put right. 

The Joy of Discipline


Mid-morning on the 19th of October 2017 I laced up my running shoes and set of into the grey, damp morning. My aim was to run. Simple. I had an intended route in mind, but I’ve learned to be flexible with my routes, running for health and enjoyment, rather than for speed or distance are part of the outlook I’m currently trying to adopt. As it is, I ended up running approximately 10k (6.4 miles). But the distance is not what matters today.

Over the past few weeks I have found some of the habits I’ve begun quite difficult, even taxing in places. I’ve written previously of the limits of enthusiasm, so won’t give too many words here to this, but suffice it to say that enthusiasm may be great for starting out, but it does little to hold us accountable.

Whenever we set out to make positive changes, or even just changes that are contrary to our default patterns of behaviour, they can feel like a chore once enthusiasm dissipates. For example, this run this morning. I wasn’t overly enthused with the idea of heading out into a damp October morning, and was even less convinced by the idea of running longer distances once it began absolutely hurling it down with rain; rain so heavy that I struggled to read a sign across the road at once point. This resulted in me running down a cul-de-sac; not my best moment as a runner. The discipline of getting up and going out into the damp held little joy. It was something I felt obliged to do, not for the sake of running per-se, but in order to continually work for the betterment of my long term health.

At around mile 3 I was utterly wet through. My pace had dropped a little and I felt heavy with all the additional weight. I’d also been running through an industrial estate for the last 10 minutes, having gotten lost once, which didn’t exactly make for inspiring surroundings. Regardless, I pressed on and finally found the path I was looking for; a section of the Ridgeway in Scunthorpe. I had never run this way before but it’s a section of track I’ve been wanting to explore for a while now. I set off down this path and it wound its way round the back of the last industrial unit and suddenly the path drops away and descends into the woodland. It was there, with the track winding down, running through silver birch, fir, and beech woodlands that I encountered a feeling of Joy. An almost euphoric experience. I realised in that moment part of why it is that I run: I run not because of a desire to fulfil an something I feel obliged to do, but because of what I get to experience whilst engaging in the discipline of running. This, for me, is where the Joy of Discipline is to be found; not in the acts themselves, but in what the actions enable us to experience.

Another example, is that of Prayer – another discipline I’ve been learning this year. I do not pray for the sake of prayer, nor do I pray because I feel obliged to. I pray in order to experience something of the presence of God, and to listen for the divine whisper. I may engage in that in a number of different ways, but the method is not the same as what we experience through the method. Again, I find little joy at times in rising early, or in learning to pray. But I do find joy in developing my spirituality, my faith, in that way. Joy is found through the disciplines, not in them.

I am increasingly convinced that we struggle to remain enthused in our habits because our focus is wrong. After the initial elation at positive change subsides we have a tendency to become fixated on simply completing the task, rather than on what completing the habit achieves, and more importantly; what we experience in engagement in a particular habit.

I would encourage you, think about the habits or disciplines you hold to this week; If you are holding to them out of a sense of obligation – ask yourself, are you finding any joy in it? If not, don’t stop! But think about why it is you engaged in them in the first place, and think about your expectations in completing them. But most of all, look beyond the participation in such tasks and disciplines and locate times you experienced something in the participation, rather than simply completed the task. It is in what we experience that we discover the Joy of Discipline.

Learning to Pray: part one

While the title of this piece is fairly self-explanatory – clearly the first part to a series on prayer – it is not quite so simple. You see, as of yet I have no successive pieces planned out or even an intention to write further. And yet, I am keenly aware that all that follows is not all that there is to be known about prayer.

Prayer, in its ever varied forms, is a universally held practice within the Christianity. Whatever your particular flavour, denomination, expression or tradition within the sphere of Christianity, it is there. You cannot escape the practice of prayer.

At the age of 27 I have spent the vast majority of my life either in local church, engaging with other Christians, studying scripture through academic learning, and exploring forms of Christian practice that differ to my own experience. And yet, even with my not inconsiderable experience (and numerous 24/7 prayer weeks, prayer meetings, or events as a child), and having recently taken up the post as an associate pastor at a church in North Lincolnshire, I must confess that I do not feel as though I am very good at prayer.

But is prayer an exercise we are to become competent in, or a means to another end? For much of my life I have felt obligated to pray, or to engage in prayer, simply because it’s an expected practice, an ‘obvious’ part of Christian devotion, an assumed element in the teachings of Jesus – the list could go on. Over the last year, however, I have spent much of my spare time thinking around prayer, as a personal discipline – as well as a corporate act –  and I am coming to some conclusions. Some of which have changed the way I pray, but mostly they have changed the reasons that I pray.

This year I have had the pleasure (and pain) of reading Richard Foster’s classic work, Celebration of Discipline. And It has bothered me a great deal! In his masterful chapter on Prayer, Foster writes this:

“The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’. They had prayed all their lives, and yet something about the quality and quantity of Jesus’ praying caused them to see how little they knew about prayer.”

And all at once, it struck me that simply because I have been engaging in an action for a particular length of time does not necessarily equate to proficiency in that area.

The other thing I have learned this year is that prayer is not an end in itself. But the more I think on prayer, and the more time I spend in prayer, the more I am convinced that the primary purpose of prayerful activity is to cultivate a relationship with God, and thus be changed by that relationship. Prayer may be understood to change much of the external, but that is not its primary purpose. It’s purpose is to enter into a climate within which a relationship might be cultivated.

With that being said, this is not to say that prayer does not change anything; far from it. But far more often than I have seen external things changed through prayer, I have experienced internal shifts as a result of engaging in prayer. Again, as Foster writes; ‘Prayer is the central avenue God uses to change us.’

So when we say, ‘I’m not very good at prayer’, what is it that we mean? Perhaps it is that we feel ineffective in our prayer; that the changes (external or otherwise) we sought have not come to pass. Perhaps it is that we feel unable, or incompetent of expressing or communicating, verbalising, something of what we feel or perceive.

But as I have already said, the primary purpose of prayer is not to effect a change, although that does happen, but to cultivate a relationship. And I know from my own personal relationships that building a relationship is far less about me learning to communicate clearly, and far more about me being able to listen. Prayer, I am finding, is exactly the same. It is about creating space to listen. To shut out the noise and the busyness and simply to exercise listening. And with this I will close.

“A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until, in the end, he realised that prayer is listening.”

Soren Kierkgaard

If you are in the habit of praying, however you normally would do so this week, can I encourage you to try and spend as much time listening as you do trying to express something of the internal. In doing so I do believe we can better engage in prayer, cultivate a more meaningful relationship, and ultimately be changed by the experience.

Plant-based and Vegan: What is the difference?


If you have watched a documentary, or fallen over a blog, recently on either one of these diets then I am sure you’ll have noticed that some aspects of them are almost identical. Certainly the ethical and environmental implications are very similar, not to mention the avoidance of meat, egg, and diary products. But if you scratch a little deeper there does appear to be subtle, and yet – I feel – important distinctions between the two.

I’ve been following a mixture of a predominantly vegan and plant-based diet for a little over a month – at the time that I began this experiment (exploration may be a better word) I honestly couldn’t see the difference between the two. In that time I’ve thought a little about the difference between these two diets, and why the distinction is an important one.

Let’s start by looking at Veganism.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I am sure that at one point or another you’ll have encountered Veganism (or ridiculed a Vegan for their ‘poor’ choices and idealistic tendencies (enter Me, about a year ago.. sorry Jonah!). During my initial points of contact with it as a lifestyle, those who held such beliefs seemed to be predominantly motived by animal welfare. To this day I am still unsure how accurate a representation of the Vegan movement is, but suffice it to say that the vast majority of propaganda (in the loosest sense of the word) seems to be orientated around strong images of mutilated and mistreated animals, all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small.

The adoption of Veganism then seemed to me to mostly be a reaction against the mistreatment of animals, with the logical progression being that ‘if I don’t eat meat/dairy/eggs then I am not contributing to the suffering of animals.’ Which is in fact sound logic. My trouble, historically speaking, is that I was never that bothered by animal welfare… But of course a plant-based diet promises the same effect on the welfare of animals.

What sets the two apart for me is the health benefits. Let me say this loud and clear: it is possible to be an unhealthy vegan. With the amount of processed substitutes around, not to mention the fact that you could eat a solid diet of Potato Smiles and technically be a Vegan, and your cholesterol may even drop as well, but would your general health improve? It is somewhat unlikely. This seems altogether harder to do if one transitions from a vegan diet to a predominantly plant-based diet.

One of the things my wife and I have been learning is that having moved away from a whole foods diet that included meat to a predominantly vegan diet, we have forgotten (or left behind unintentionally) some of the great things about that health movement; namely its commitment to clean, unprocessed foods. In our haste to adopt a healthier lifestyle, which we’ve chosen veganism as a means to pursue that, we have noticed that certain processed foods (still vegan) and a higher proportion of white bread (something we’d almost entirely eliminated from our diets a year ago, not to mention processed sugars etc. have progressively crept back into our diet.

In an attempt to right this imbalance in our diet at the moment I’ve purchased a new  cookbook; it’s by Ultra-runner Matt Frazier, co-written with runner and yoga instructor Stepfanie Romine. As well as running distances that most of us dislike driving if we can avoid it, Matt Frazier started a blog called the No Meat Athlete. What Matt, and other plant-based eaters, seem to combine really well is the approach of veganism to diet more generally, and with it the ethical and environmental implications, but combined with the dedication to consuming simpler Wholefoods over and above easier processed vegan products.

To me, this seems to be the biggest difference between a plant-based diet and a more ‘traditional’ vegan diet. This is all very much a work in progress for us, so if you’re on a similar journey to us I’d really appreciate hearing from you! Thanks for reading.

For glance over some of my reasoning for changing my diet, click here. For more about what prompted some of the more general changes i’ve sought to make, click here.