Author Archives: barstep

About barstep

Founding Director of Restore (York), Digital Storyteller, cyclist, runner, walker, journalist, photographer, grandfather, Christian, churchwarden, and tech head esp. Apple stuff

Second Letter from the Lockdown

Digital Thermometer

Hi

I hope you’re well at the start of a new week.

How am I?

I am doing well. My anxiety is being managed so I feel free to deal with other effects of the lockdown. So what happened since the first letter; how did I manage the anxiety? I hope this account might help you.

I’ve maintained the routines I spoke about last time. Daily exercise, twice weekly run, less news, meditation, prayer, faith, hope, writing and science. It’s not enough to know about routines; I must do them often enough for them to become routine.

Here are a few of the faith things.

  • Small shrines.
    I picked this up from Tom Wright’s article in Time Magazine where he was asked to write about the pandemic. Tom was Bishop of Durham and now a much read Christian writer and teacher.

It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope. New wisdom for our leaders? Now there’s a thought.

In my anxiety I become a small shrine where the healing love of God can dwell. When I feel anxious, I know that many others, maybe you, are suffering too. Others are suffering from the virus itself and sadly some grieve for loved ones who have fallen victim to the pandemic. In the small shrine of my heart I can pray and lament with them. It doesn’t necessarily ease my anxiety, but it gives it purpose.

  • Tell God how you feel.
    It’s tempting, in prayer, to say something like “Lord you know how I feel.” without describing those feelings. Jim is a friend of mine. We are in the same church small group. In a recent virtual meeting Jim suggested we look at the post Easter story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. (Luke 24:13-35) They talked to a stranger who joined them on their journey and assumed he knew all about the crucifixion the previous Friday. So they just referred to the things that had happened. The stranger, who turned out to be the risen Jesus asked, “What things?” Jim asked us why we thought Jesus, who knew all too well what had happened, had bothered to ask this question. I felt Jesus wanted them to tell him their story in their own words to find out how they felt and why they had become so disillusioned. I decided to try it when I talk to Jesus about my anxiety. Instead of just asking him to help me with my anxiety, I describe how I actually feel. My cry for help then has substance and I gain a better perspective on my feelings as I pray. It also makes sure God and I are dealing with the same issues.
  • Hope is a choice.
    Sunday morning, I’m watching Andy, our Associate Minister, on our YouTube service, encouraging us from the scriptures. “Hope is a choice,” he said. I’d never thought of hope like that, but it’s true. Our Christian hope is certain, but how that affects the way we live is a choice. This pandemic is not the end. There is a hope stored up in heaven for those who put their trust in Jesus Christ. Andy said “Look to others – love your neighbours – hope looks out, not in. We can’t afford to be naval gazing.” Anxiety has a habit of breeding self pity and introversion. Anxiety is caused by fearing what might be. Looking out in hope lets me focus on the certainty of what will be.

You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
‘Til all my fears are gone

I think anxiety feeds on fear, so removing its food supply with a song that lifts my heart up to God in thankfulness, can be good. It’s easy to be glib and think, ‘how can a song help me with anxiety?’, but when it’s a song of worship, it can.

  • Meditation using Lectio365 continues to work for me. When meditation was the popular new age thing to do, I remember someone saying, “If you empty your mind, be careful what fills it when you meditate.” In the Psalms, the singer promotes meditating on the words of scripture. There are myriad things trying to own my mind. Meditation on scripture fills it with good things.
     “… whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” said Paul in his letter to the Christians in Philippi two thousand years ago – ancient wisdom.

  • Science
    I could point to the intense research to discover the best way to deal with this pandemic. It is both hopeful and significant and there are positive signs coming out of laboratories around the world. But I want to mention a mundane scientific instrument. The thermometer. In my most anxious moments at night, when my hay fever parades with the vital symptoms of coronavirus, I walk downstairs, pick up our electronic thermometer; switch it on; stuff it in my ear; press the button; wait for the beep; read the digital display. It’s 36.4˚C. Normal body temperature. No fever. Fear subsides. I am thankful for science and the technology that springs from it. It’s a gift from God.

Practicing these routines manages my anxiety. It’s a well-known idea, although I only learned it recently, that courage is not the absence of fear but the management of fear. I’ll go one further. Perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18) Allowing the love that comes from Jesus Christ to work in my life is what makes the difference. I could be a victim of my anxiety, or with His help start to overcome it. The things I’ve listed above are working for me in my anxiety if I persist in practicing them. I hope they help you too.

All the best and God bless you

Barrie

Letter from the Lockdown

April 20th 2020

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Lockdown stops the clock

Hi

How are you? These are difficult times aren’t they.

How am I?

I am under pressure. The virus gives me anxiety. The lockdown confines me. My voluntary work is all remote. My faith is getting more attention in the abstract, less exercise in the real world, and I am missing my family and the normal routine of life with which I was content.

Anxiety took me by surprise. I wasn’t aware of how much I suppress my anxiety until it burst out from under the threat of catching the virus. My throat dries up, my digestion rebels, my head fizzes, sleep is interrupted by distorted thoughts, until dawn restores my perspective.

Action is needed.  Less news. The radio, normally on all day, is off. I watch just one TV news broadcast at 6pm. Reading online news for too long makes me nauseous so I stop doing it.

I’m helped by meditation on the goodness of God, who shares my anxiety and feels my weakness. I have found a daily prayer app called Lectio365 that enables me to focus on good things, to pray out how I feel and to yield to the peace of God in my life.

Exercise. Running, walking and cycling. I take the full allowance of permitted daily exercise and sometimes more. Those endorphins certainly know how to restore well being.

There’s some singing too. Breathlessly to the tunes playing in my head whilst I run – a personal praise party or a good times song from one of my playlists. At other times when my memory is jogged by an earworm replaying something from the online service from church, I’ll whistle the tune or burst into song.

Its counterintuitive for me not to rush off to help someone, with something, somewhere. Any help I now offer is online or on the phone. When tempted to step out of the house in response to a simple request I remember #stayathome – home is the only place I feel truly safe from this virus.

This week I will have three video conference meetings – some may be fruitful; some frustrating and others possibly inconclusive. In this time of lockdown they feel like an intrusion into my home because they would normally be conducted somewhere else. There’s no excuse not to attend, no variety of location, concentration is, at times, difficult and the strain of no proper eye contact makes them less engaging. I have no way of measuring the response in the room to my contributions. It’s quite sterile.

Holidays are now located in Never Never Land, while refreshing and inspiring trips into the lovely surrounding Yorkshire dales and moors are denied.

Add all of this together with lockdown and it is like inhabiting another world; of being ‘away from home at home’, with a constant question, “When can I get back to normal?” A question that has no answer. Life is on hold, but it hasn’t stopped. My grandchildren continue to grow and develop without me. This is especially true of our youngest, Rowan, born just days before the restrictions. I have to be content with seeing his smiles on a screen.

On the positive side, I am at home with Joan and we enjoy each other’s company and generally work well together. Our frustrations with the lockdown are shared. There’s good cooking, some long delayed chores receive attention, the sun is shining and the buds of spring are bursting open in our small garden. Our house is pleasant and especially the garden room.

So I use my frustration to remember those who are confined in less pleasant places, alone and anxious. I use my anxiety to pray for those suffering, serving on the front line of health and social care and parents working from home alongside home schooling in cramped spaces. At times my prayers range wider to the refugee camps and warzones across the world where the pandemic adds more fear and death to those already frail and broken.

I could say ‘who am I to be anxious and concerned about my plight’ when so many suffer infinitely more than me. But it’s right to deal with anxiety and not to ignore it simply because others have greater needs. If I address my needs alongside theirs, I am better equipped to serve – even if action is confined to prayer and other things that can be done remotely. Left to run riot, anxiety will consume all my strength and distract me from ever caring about others.

This is a writing exercise but also a real letter. It’s part of my treatment. Writing allows me to leave the house and imagine better things. It’s a longer letter than I had anticipated, but writing it is helping me to rise above the circumstances. I’ll let you judge its value to you.

Let me know how you are coping in these strange days.

All the best

Barrie

 

An appeal to my MP to back the EU’s deal – from a Labour Party member

I have written to my MP Rachael Maskell appealing to her to, at this late stage, vote to accept the deal offered by the EU. Here’s what I wrote:-

Dear Rachael
I am a member of the Labour Party and an enthusiastic supporter and admirer of you as my MP. I voted wholeheartedly to remain in the EU in the referendum. I also think the PMs podium speech last night was totally inadequate. She said nothing new and did nothing to win over her opponents – most of whom are in her own party.
This is a straightforward appeal to you, as my MP, to now back the deal the UK has been offered by the EU, to save the country from further uncertainty.
It may only be the best a set of bad options but the alternatives are much worse.
Doing nothing and crashing out without a deal is unthinkable and unacceptable, but by default it could happen next week.
A delay, if the EU leaders accept it, only kicks the can down the road. A long delay leaves us with so much uncertainty that business and Brits living in the EU, to name just two groups, would be left in an unacceptable position of uncertainty.
The repeal of Article 50 would, in my opinion, lead to civil unrest and a denial of the democratic process.
As a remainer I have reluctantly come to accept that we are leaving and as a believer in democracy have to accept the outcome of this tedious process of leaving the EU. I don’t think I’m the only one. I don’t believe in underhanded or filibustering techniques to make it impossible for us to leave the EU. A deal has been offered, it’s clearly not going to be renegotiated, we should now accept it, so that we can move on to the next stage of negotiation.
The party may say that it will not vote for a deal that threatens Human Rights and jobs – but the alternatives to the deal are a bigger threat. The party may say it would have done things differently. The fact remains that as a party we couldn’t and didn’t do things differently. Our attempts to bring down the government failed and the PM is still in power. I’m not convinced that Labour in power could now change the deal, it’s too late, but we can stop the country crashing out without a deal by voting in parliament to accept it.
I’ve heard too much rhetoric; too many MPs saying the same thing over and over again; too much sarcasm about the ability of one side or the other; too many trite jibes. None of these will now change the predicament we are in.
For the sake of National Unity I appeal to you vote to accept the EUs deal, and in your influential position, persuade the parliamentary party to accept the deal too.
Yours in good faith
All the best
Barrie Stephenson

 

Let’s get out of this BREXIT stalemate

I’m weary of the continued and mindless negotiations for a BREXIT plan. They appear to be going nowhere. Our Prime Minister Teresa May has dug her heels in and is making no progress with the European Union, Parliament and even her own party. She has clearly lost the support of her back benchers and she seems to have lost the plot. Nothing magical will happen by simply repeating her monotonous mantra. Without imagination there will not be a miraculous change of mind either in Brussels or Westminster. Imagination is something Mrs May seems to lack.

So how do we proceed? May I humbly suggest.

Parliament takes back the process – snatching it out of the hands of the PM and the government. And then put the various options to the vote.

  1. No deal – if that fails then …
  2. The negotiated position from the EU complete with backstop (because that’s all we’re going to get) – if that fails …
  3. Remain – if that fails Parliament has to concede it is unable to reach a decision and asks for …
  4. A People’s Vote offering the above three options on the ballot paper – let the people decide. The two leave votes would be added together – if the total exceeds the remain vote then leave wins and the option with the largest support is accepted as the winning option.

It may appear long winded but it won’t be as drawn out as the stalemate we have at the moment. It would deliver a result based on where we are now – a result is something the PM will never achieve. The parliamentary vote could happen immediately. A new people’s referendum would obviously take time to organise.

I commend my process to anyone who will listen.

May I also recommend regular listening to the BBC Brexitcast. The four contributors have opened the windows on this otherwise stifling process. Thank you Laura Kuenssberg, Katya Adler, Adam Fleming and Chris Mason for your wit and insight. No imagination lacking there.

For a week I’m a 49er

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Approaching the end of a Parkrun on York Knavesmire

I ran my 49th Parkrun this week. Before I reach the milestone 50th I’ll reflect on how I reached this point.

Two hundred and forty five Parkrun kilometres ago (153 miles) I was a ‘first timer’ having just completed a ‘Couch to 5k’ programme because I had never run for fitness before. I’d cycled but running engages another set of muscles and techniques and I didn’t want to damage my ageing limbs.

I registered on the Parkrun website, printed my unique barcode and stood with the crowd of runners at the start line on the Knavesmire in York.

The first surprise was the range of people standing with me. They were not all athletes in the Olympic Games sense. But they were all up for the challenge. A great briefing from the run director preceded the starting countdown. Those reaching milestones were congratulated; first timers welcomed; ‘tourists’ shouted out their home run; applause for everyone; countdown and we were off. That was in October 2016. In reality it’s not a race. The only person I run against is myself. Can I beat my PB (personal best time). It’s some encouragement that on the first week everyone gets a PB –  incentive to return next week to beat it.

I’d completed a few 5k runs before joining the York Parkrun so I was confident of reaching ‘The Funnel’ in reasonable shape. As you cross the finish line the timer clicks the watch. “Stay in order” calls a marshal as we are lined up in the funnel. Staying in order is vital to preserve your finishing position until you reach the first volunteer handing out the position tags with a barcode and a number; your finishing position. Mine was 392 (out of 496). Next another volunteer scans your position tag and your unique barcode. Later a bit of computer number crunching matches your position with the stopwatch click and spews out your result.  It’s sent to me by email and text. My first Parkrun result – 30 minutes and 47 seconds. Since then I’ve knocked off over 4½ minutes. My PB now is 26:07.

It has to be said that York Knavesmire is a route to which many Parkrunners flock to set a PB. It’s flat, has a good surface with no odd bends or obstacles. I have run other Parkruns where the paths are narrow leading to congestion; sharp bends slow you down; hills, mud, puddles, underpasses, narrow bridges, tree roots – all kinds of handicaps for the determined PB setter.

But the pursuit of a good time is really secondary to the main benefit of running. Fitness. I’ve lost weight, strengthened my heart, improved my lung capacity and visibly toned my leg muscles. Running has driven me to discover exercises and stretches to warm up and warm down to avoid injury and to generally make sure the rest of my body keeps up with my legs! The sense of wellbeing after a run is worth all the effort.

All this has prepared me to be more adventurous. 10k runs, 10 mile runs and the odd half marathon. This September I will run the Great North Run for the second time. Half a marathon (13.1 miles) on roads from Newcastle to South Shields in a crowd of 57,000 other runners. I’m running for Shelter. You can sponsor me here.

Lots of people ask when I’ll run a marathon. I won’t. I’m 70 next year and I’d like to keep running for many years yet. I think a marathon takes its toll on any body – and mine probably hasn’t many tolls left to take. So I’ll stick to 13 miles as my limit. Having said that there are half marathons and half marathons. In October I’m going to the Lake District to run the Langdale Half. That’s likely to be tougher than a run in the park. But it’s where I was born – returning after 69 years to run the roads my father knew so well seems like a challenge I can’t refuse even if some of the inclines are 25%.

[Talking to a friend who shares my birth year I realised I’ll always be a 49er because I  was born in 1949]

On Saturday 1st Sept 2018 I run my 50th Parkrun. Will it be a PB? I’ll run it at York’s Knavesmire to be in with a fighting chance.


(49er was the nickname given to speculators who flocked to California in 1849 for the Goldrush. It generally became slang for any miner and an American Football team in San Francisco the city founded as a result of the goldrush)

 

 

I don’t just run to end homelessness

If you follow me on any of the social networks you will know that I regularly undertake running and cycling challenges to raise funds to help homeless people.

shelter-logo2I am running another fundraising half marathon on the 9th of September when, along with my brother Mark, I will run the Great North Run. For this run we are looking for sponsors for Shelter. I make no excuse for asking you to donate again because as long as there are people without a home there’s a need to raise funds. I know many of my friends, contacts and former work colleagues gave generously when I ran the Great North Run last year. I’m asking again because there are still people homeless. Shelter’s tag line, printed on the back of my running shirt, says “Until there’s a home for everyone” and the last time I looked not everyone yet has a home.

logo-sigBut I don’t just run. Eight years ago I was one of the founders of a charity in York called Restore. It houses people who, without support, would inevitably be homeless. Today I am that charity’s chairman. We employ 6 staff, run 8 houses and provide supported accommodation for up to 30 people.

Three years ago I became the chair of the York Homeless Forum. Hosted by the City of York Council it brings together a wide range of providers in the city; statutory, independent, voluntary and charity providers. This group helped produce the city’s five year strategy for preventing homelessness. You can read it here, including my forwardYES - Below Zero Vol Flyer

I am now supporting the formation of a team of volunteers to staff a new overnight service for people sleeping rough on winter nights. It will provide a bed, showers and food on the coldest nights this winter.  YES Below Zero is a joint venture between churches, voluntary groups and the council.

So while I often run or cycle to raise funds for these projects and more, I’m directly involved in solving homelessness, not least for those who still remain with nowhere to live. Most of those people are hidden. For each of the people you may see sleeping rough around cities and towns there are many more, sofa surfing, in overcrowded and unfit houses and flats, in temporary hostels or even camping illegally on someone’s land.

So I unashamedly ask. Will you sponsor me and my brother as we run the Great North Run this September for Shelter – one of the national charities researching, campaigning and offering advice to end homelessness. Together we must fight the injustice of homelessness. In one of the richest countries in the world people have nowhere to call home. It’s not right is it. So please be generous –   donate here

 

 

 

No Direction Home

I was running and listening to Bob Dylan on my headphones. “Like a Rolling Stone”. The run was  longer than usual, part of the build up to the Great North Run in September.

The words of the refrain alerted me to the pertinence of this song to my training.

How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To be without a home?
Like a complete unknown?
Like a rolling stone?

Barrie at the start of the Great North Run

Great North Run 2017

I am running the Great North Run for the charity Shelter. One of the leading charities campaigning to eliminate homelessness.

I don’t know how it feels to have no home, but I speak to many people who have experienced the raw edge of homelessness. I am chairman of a charity called Restore (York) which provides supported housing for people who are homeless.

Dylan’s words were penned in the 1960s – I was a teenager. Now, over 50 years later the problem of people being homeless is still with us. I don’t think homelessness figures were collected in the 60s to tell us how many people were without a home. Homeless people were ‘a complete unknown‘. Today we do count them but that doesn’t solve the problem. To be a number is hardly progress from being ‘a complete unknown‘ unless houses are built and affordable for the people who need a home. We are not building enough houses. We are still not providing enough care and support for people who are homeless. The numbers have increased year on year for the last 7 years. This is unacceptable.

Shelter has been offering advice, researching and campaigning on behalf of homeless people for almost as long as Dylan has been singing his song.

Subsequent refrains in the song use the line With no direction home. My sat nav has a HOME button which is programmed with my home address. One press and the route home is displayed on the screen with an estimate of the time I will arrive there. Homeless people have no address to preset that button. No direction home, like a rolling stone

I’ve been listening to this song since my youth – but it took a moment in time on a training run for the cry of the refrain to touch my heart. It’s just a small thing, but a helpful one, to donate to Shelter so that they can raise their game to end homelessness.

The shirt I am wearing for the Great North Run has the Shelter logo front and back with a tag line on the back until there’s a home for everyone. That’s why I’m running. Donate here