Saturday, December 20, 2014


My work mug
Like any proud dad I have pictures of my family in my office. Not plastered all over the walls, but the background on my desktop (yes I still have one of those) and on my mug (I drink a lot of tea).

The thing is (to quote the cliché)  kids really do grow up so fast and so the photos I have in my office are out of date very quickly. I find myself saying to people, “of course they’re much bigger now”, or “this was when they were much younger”.

Unless you’re in the world of Harry Potter, pictures are static things, framed moments, and life moves on at speed the instant after the snapshot.
"You can make better decisions when you've got an up to date picture."
Pictures are powerful things, and our worlds are full of them. I remember that Google Streetview caused a stir when it launched because of what it caught some people doing. We’ve seen their camera cars a few times, and once we even had a chat to one of their drivers. When we were looking at moving house a few years ago we found Streetview pretty helpful, although even with something as newish as Streetview or satellite photography the images can get dated very quickly. You can't rely that the images you see still represent the present reality.

I was sent a link the other day to this brilliant TED talk by Will Marshall  all about his company sending up dozens of nano satellites into orbit, at a fraction of the cost of more typical and larger satellites. Their ambitious plan is to have a hundred satellites in orbit, taking photos of the entire earth every 24 hours. Even more amazing is that they want to make their information feely available - they talk about the "democratisation" of satellite imagery. They've already launched over 28 of their tiny 4kg units, with more in the pipeline. Check out their website, it's fascinating!

Already there's a burgeoning market in "Landscape Intelligence" or "Earth Observation", where companies are seeking to use satellite imaging in lots of interesting ways. Such as to monitor how crops are growing and when they need watering, or to track illegal logging or monitor the spread of silt in river mouths. This information is helping farmers and landowners make better decisions about the use of their land, helping enforcement agencies better target illegal activity, and helping government agencies make good decisions about the natural environment. You can make better decisions when you've got an up to date picture.
"Is the picture of myself in my mind still representative?"
In our own lives, like the Google Streetview images, it's very easy to make decisions based on what might be an "old" picture of who we are. How we see ourself impacts on the way we treat ourselves, how we treat others and the actions that we take. I've been wondering whether the picture of myself in my mind is still representative. Am I being honest with where I am and who I am right now? It's easy to be in denial about, say, our health and make poor food choices as a result! (I am very guilty of this!). 

Perhaps we prefer to think of the things we're good at, the places in our lives we're happy with and gloss over or ignore those parts of our life that aren't so great. Perhaps there are things in our lives we take for granted, we assume are a static snapshot and therefore don't give them the attention they deserve. A bit like taking a photo of your lawn just after you've cut it, when it's looking great. If you only think of the lawn in the picture then you don't need to take any action - when instead it keeps growing, needs cutting again a few weeks later or watering in the summer. We can kid ourselves that we don't need to take action if our picture is out of date.

"How are you reading your own landscape?"
As a person of faith something that's important to me is my relationship with God. I've found it's easy to dwell on the "perfect lawn" snapshot of my faith, when in reality my relationship with God gets overgrown and messy if I leave it untended. If you're a good farmer you take daily observations of your crops or livestock, and take action accordingly. So how are you reading your own landscape?

How are you reading your landscape?
It's that time of the year when we find ourselves reflecting on the year gone by and turning our minds to the year to come. This week I dug out some notes I made last January about some of the things I wanted to prioritise in 2014 and a few goals I wanted to aim for. As much as it's important to have "big picture" strategic reviews like this, it's also important to have regular check-ups and check-ins on ourselves - Regularly reading our own landscape and being honest about what we see in ourselves. 

One tool some Christians use to do this is called the Examen, which is a way of reflecting at the end of each day on the things that energised us and the things that drained us - a means of being honest with ourselves and God about where we've found ourself.

Perhaps now's a good time to refresh your perspective on where you really are in relation to the things that are important to you. Snapshots are great to remember moments, but our lives change so fast that, like the nano satellites, we need a regular refresher on what we see to make the best decisions.

As I finish I just want to end with perspective. Sometimes we can get so caught up in life's circumstances, the daily battle to make ends meet, that we can lose all sense of perspective. Life can feel overwhelming at times, even suffocating, and it's at these times that a change of perspective can help.
"Perhaps now's a good time to refresh your perspective"
I find that taking a bigger picture and longer term view can help - for instance rather than being disappointed that my recent book isn't an instant number one bestseller I take comfort in the fact that even producing it has been a major milestone for me and that it's a waymarker on my journey and not the final destination. When I pray I often experience a change in perspective as well.. it's funny how different a situation can feel when viewed from a heavenly perspective instead of an earthly one.

So maybe now's the time to send up a few nano satellites in your own life. Things that will help you read your own life's landscape and help you make good decisions for the days, weeks and year ahead. And don't forget to enjoy the view! 

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