Sport and parenthood

Cards on the table – I’ve never been a particularly sporty person. It may have had something to do with being short-sighted and wearing glasses from the age of five; coupled with the fact that my limbs never seemed to go quite where I wanted them to go or as quickly as I’d have liked. So I never developed the passion that many others have for football and cricket, either as a player or as a spectator. At school my most enjoyable sporting moments were in the sixth form, when we were introduced to playing badminton and basketball in the new school gym.

In adult life, though, I have developed a passion for watching certain sports, though not the standard British ones. I always loved watching skiing on TV, and a few years ago learned to ski at a (fairly) local indoor slope. In the early 90s I picked up Channel 4’s coverage of the Tour de France, initially for the views of the French countryside but then got drawn into the intricacies of the race itself, thanks to the expert commentary from Phil Liggett, Gary Imlach et al. I had never appreciated the team nature of Tour and its tactics until then. Amongst the other, more personal significances of the month (birthday, wedding and ordination anniversaries), July in our household is now Tour de France month, when catching the highlights on ITV4 is a daily fixture.

The third sport I got into, again thanks to C4, was American Football. I recall as a child seeing snatches of the Superbowl when Grandstand deigned to show very limited highlights on a Saturday afternoon (usually in the dead spot around 2 p.m.). I was fascinated. So when C4 started in the mid 80s and began showing an hour of highlights early on Sunday evening I got truly hooked. It was about the time our elder son was born, and he and I watched while my wife went out to the evening service at our church. Fast forward a couple of years and our younger son joined us both. Again, the thing that stuck me was the tactical nature of the sport, and the way in which different players specialised in bringing particular skills to their teams.

As a result, twenty five years on the three of us remain passionate about the National Football League. Each of us has our favourite team (all different) to follow. Our elder son lives in Canada where he can watch regularly on TV. Two weeks ago we travelled to Buffalo on a gloriously warm Fall day to watch the Buffalo Bills lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Our younger son watches mainly through the internet, but next Sunday we are off to Wembley to see the annual “International” full season game. Good times.

All of which goes to show how stuff we do in childhood, especially with parents, can affect and influence us later in life. What sports are you passionate about and what/who influenced you to be passionate about them? Has participating in sport, or watching it, taught lessons that were transferable to other areas of your life?

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Hallowe’en

While I was in Canada, the Vicar’s Wife (not mine, who is a Rector’s wife in any case)  had an online poll going about how Christians would be spending Hallowe’en. The results and analysis can be found here.

I was in Canada when this poll began, so missed it until now. However, the subject of Hallowe’en came up with our Canadian hosts (who are ex-YWAMers).  It seems that although Hallowe’en is as massive in Canada as it is in the States, it is a pretty benign festival over there. The dressing up doesn’t need to be particularly ghoulish or horrific. Our host family’s “trick or treating” this year will be done dressed as farmyard animals, with the two year old grandson playing the farmer, and with none of the implied menace that seems to have developed over here. The “tricking” part is, so I’m told, extremely rare, maybe because everyone is set up to enjoy the treat part.  Perhaps this is another instance of the UK adopting someone else’s customs without properly understanding them.

On their first Halloween in their present house, our hosts set up a barbecue on their front lawn, with smores (marshmallows heated and placed between biscuits) and drinks available for any of the families in the street. Most parents turned up with their kids after trick or treating. A great way to meet and get to know the neighbours.

What will I be doing next Sunday evening? I shall be at Wembley with my son, enjoying another American institution – a Sunday Night American football game between the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers.

Volunteering and the Big Society

Last Sunday, I went with my son and wife to pick up our daughter-in-law from her work at the Mississauga Food Bank near Toronto. Normally the Food Bank is closed at the weekend, but the previous weekend having been Thanksgiving, teams of volunteers were needed to sort all the donations of food from the general public. Shoppers at local supermarkets had been asked to purchase certain items along with their shopping and then place them in special collection crates.

When we arrived, there was a queue of high school age youngsters waiting to have their volunteer records signed off by the directors. We learned that community volunteering is built into the Ontario education system. High school kids are expected to do a certain amount with local charities and community groups, and this becomes part of their educational record. Whereas in the UK, students have to opt in (perhaps via the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme), in Canada it is a normal part of growing up. This then feeds into the rest of the culture, with individuals and businesses providing not only money but energy and expertise to the voluntary sector.

As I reflect on this, I can’t help wondering how the Big Society envisioned by our coalition government would benefit from an educational system that took community service as part of our citizenship more seriously. Shouldn’t education be more than simply being prepared for future employment? How can we encourage all levels of our society to take an interest in the needs of our more vulnerable members?

Catching up

As my last couple of posts will have made clear, Tree has spent the last couple of weeks across the Atlantic visiting family and friends in Canada. It has been one of those seasons when, in spite of regular access to the internet, real life has asserted its claims over the blogosphere, with very limited time available for reading or posting. Unlike Lesley, Tree did not have a series of posts stacked up in advance to cover his absence, but I did manage to squeeze time for a couple of posts while I was over there. We arrived in Birmingham early yesterday morning on a red-eye from Toronto, so the combination of jet-lag and catching up on what’s been going on in the Forest while I’ve been away is likely to delay significant blog output for a while longer.

This was our third trip to the land of the maple since our son got married over there over two and a half years ago, and each time there have been new experiences to reflect on. This trip was no different, and there will be some of these reflections appearing here over the next few days and weeks. These will include further thoughts on harvest and thankgiving, food banks, American football, autumn/fall. And I will, as promised, post a short review of Africa United, which I hope to see this weekend, and there will, no doubt, be other topics to which I will need to add my two penn’orth.

Give us this day

Tree is currently visiting the maple side of the Forest where our daughter-in-law works for a Food Bank. Bishop Alan Wilson blogged about his visit to the Food Bank in Milton Keynes back in July. So I was interested to visit the Mississauga Food Bank a few days ago to see how it worked.

Mississauga is a city of around 700,000 residents immediately to the West of Toronto and part of the same connurbation. Like all cities it has people who are struggling to make ends meet, those on welfare and others who are in low-paid employment. There is no social housing, so rent takes up a large part of the income of those on the lowest incomes. So many struggle to eke out the money to feed themselves and their families.

Across the city there are a number of food banks, often run by churches and other voluntary and community groups. These supply boxes of food that really make a difference to those who receive them. Most of the food is donated, either by companies who do it as part of their community and charitable involvement, or by individuals. This weekend is the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, and across the city people donate food items -tinned produce, packets of pasta and other non-perishables – as they do their shopping for the family celebrations. This Fall Drive is a major event in the calendar of the food banks, and people can be incredibly generous in their giving.

Many of the locally based food banks in church halls and community centres are served by more centralised depot facilities, such as the Mississauga Food Bank and Daily Bread. These have the space to store large quantities of food, and even, since last year, to store cool or frozen produce. This means that food can be distributed when and where needed.

Around 12,000 people (almost 2% of the population) at some time make use of the food banks. Food is supplied to cover needs for around 7-10 days of the month (around twice the national average for Canadian food banks), so it is not possible to rely entirely on the food banks for individual needs. Nevertheless, it makes a significant difference between getting by and not getting by. One of the most satisfying experiences for those who work or volunteer at the banks is to hear the stories of those who now no longer need their services.

As Bishop Alan noted, there is a gap in the UK where similar food banks could make a significant difference to the poorest in our own society, and groups are beginning to react to this need. I heard from a member of our UK family that a food bank has recently been set up in Norwich, and plans are going ahead in other places. I hope that churches and Christians will be at the forefront of this – after all, what we do to the least…

Harvest vs. Thanksgiving

“Is the Harvest Festival redundant?” asks the Church Mouse. Some of the comments posted in response would suggest that the answer is a qualified “No.” Having live most of his life in cities and suburbs, Tree can see where the Mouse is coming from. But in the Forest, Harvest is still an important time, and the children in our local primary schools still come to the churches for their harvest celebrations.

The Hebrew scriptures enjoin the Israelites to give thanks to God for their harvests. The Jewish festivals of Shavuot (Firstfruits or Pentecost) and Succoth (Shelters or Tabernacles) are agricultural in origin. So there is precedent in the Bible for harvest festivals. But in our churches the “traditional” harvest festival is a recent (19th century) innovation. The earlier celebration of Rogationtide is still important in rural areas like the Forest, though Tree has not thought it wise to resurrect “beating the bounds” in this benefice, as it would be a job for a whole week.

Mouse had wondered whether it might be more appropriate to replace Harvest festivals with something that would have more meaning in urban situations; something along the lines of Thanksgiving in the US or Canada. Tree is currently visiting Canadian relatives, and this coming weekend is their Thanksgiving (a few weeks earlier than in the States). He will share reflections on the experience in the near future.