Saturday, April 11, 2015

Virtual marathon running

Yesterday (10th April 2015) the Wall Street Journal reported a new trend in North American distance running.

Runners bling!

No longer satisfied with boring their friends with tales of blisters and missed personal bests, its now all about the finisher's medal. Not only do competitors receive medals for completing the medal or half marathon, but they can now receive "frequent runner" medals for completing multiple races that belong to a series. One runner interviewed spoke of the 20 medals she had collected this season along. Runner's Magazines have "Top 10 races" tables based on the size and style of medal that finishers receive.

But this is America - of course there is more! Several companies will sell you custom built medal display stands (emblazoned with slogans like "Pain is the pathway to success") so you can discreetly brag when you friends come over.

That's all great - but my favourite was the "virtual race" medal. Capitalising on the modern desire to do-it-all-my-way-when-it-suits-me-but-I-still-want-everyone-to-know-about-it, entrepreneurial startups will now allow you (for around $30) to register for a "virtual race", in which as you run on your treadmill, around the block, or even just walk around your house, you can rack up the miles you need to complete you own personal marathon. When you cross your personal "finish line", our friendly .com startup will send you a medal, and no doubt an invitation to run another "race" (and pay another $30.)

I'm going to join out on a grumpy middle-aged man limb here, and I speak as someone who has run 20-odd marathon, but doesn't that should just sound a bit ridiculous and self-centred? It almost seems as if the key element in training for and running a marathon - that is, discipline, has been sacrificed at the altar of "everything is about me and my convenience."

I was thinking about this in terms of our life as Christians.

As Christians, we are disciples of Christ. Not consumers, not users, friends or colleagues. So often Jesus and the apostles use the language of discipleship, being a soldier, struggling, taking up your cross, to describe the christian life. They don't use the language of convenience, comfort or self-importance.

There is no doubt that in many aspects of life, from running to shopping to career, we are being encouraged to be self centred and to make things are "time convenient" as possible.

A great temptation is that we carry this attitude over into our Christian life, but we need to work against that, and rather, live as disciplined, hard working disciples of Christ.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Why so much more work is needed

Today I was reading a journal article entitled "The challenge to make extension education culturally relevant"*, written as a reflection about theological education in Latin America, with a particular focus on distance education.

Don't go back to your Facebook browsing - this is actually really interesting and gives a good insight into why what we are doing in Latin America is important.

The "classical" model of theological education is residential. You go to an institution, live there or there-abouts for 2-4 years, study full time, and come out at the end, returning home or going to a new place.

Reporting on a workshop in Bolivia, the author summaries several deficiencies / problems with this model of education in Latin America.

i. There are currently a very small number of students enrolled on most Bible institutes in Latin America.
ii. Very high cost of maintaining the infrastructure and faculty.
iii. Because of family circumstances and limited education, the option of living somewhere else for 2-4 years for training is not an option.
iv. Taking students out of their cultural "home" and transferring them into a residencial institution presents huge challenges.

In the context of these problems, distance education was presented as something of a panacea - because so many of these challenges can be addressed.

But - surveying a large denomination in Bolivia that uses distance education, the following problems were identified - showing clearly that distance education is not the "magic bullet". These include:
- failure of students to complete assignments (because someone is not "one their case"
- inadequate materials in the language of study (in this case Spanish)
- lack of resources written by local authors
- lack of sufficiently trained teachers
- lack of contact between the student and teacher
- pressure of the teacher to travel widely to visit students, thus creating pressure at home
- lack of high level theological preparation (MA, MTh level)
- lack of financial support from local churches. Programs largely funded from outside sources introduce problems of commitment.
- lack of being able to graduate in reasonable time. Because distance education is typically part time, a 2-4 year program can take 10+ years to complete, and people don't want to wait that long.

This all echoes my experience, and is a summary of many of the things we are trying to address in MOCLAM.

But here's the really interesting thing.

The workshop that the author is reporting on was held in 1968, and the journal paper written in 1976!

In 40 years we've been trying to solve pretty much the same problems - fortunately with some success - but there is a long way to go. The internet helps sometimes, but in many aspects it speeds material delivery and thats about it.

We, and others are giving it a go, and we appreciate your prayers and support.

*William J. Kornfield: The challenge to make extension education culturally relevant, EMQ Vol 12 No. 1, Jan 1976.