Saturday, February 28, 2009

Get inside a camera (2)

Here's a link to the clip from the BBC's "The Genius of Photography" series when they built a camera obscura.

When you see it I wonder if like me, you'll be wondering what it would be like to do this.

Another disappointing day!

As some of you know, I'm a rather passionate follower of Rugby Union especially English Rugby Union. Being an England follower since playing the game at school in the 1970's, there have been times of great excitement and awful disappointment. The high point was of course the 2003 World Cup, but there have been good times outside of that competition. 

At the moment it would be hard to describe English rugby as anything but floundering. Whilst the optimist would say that there are signs of hope, they often hide themselves behind a failure to take opportunities and incredible naivety when it comes to staying focused and doing the right thing at the right time. 

I sit amazed that highly professional players make the kind of mistakes we were not allowed to make at schoolboy level. Simple things like like not playing the man without the ball. Today, as I watched England lose another game they could have won, I was amazed to see people diving over rucks and slapping the ball out of the scrum-half's hands; seasoned professionals going into rucks and mauls from so far off-side you'd have thought they were playing for the opposition, just wearing the wrong shirt.

One day, I sincerely hope, England will again dominate the rugby world, but at the moment I just have to sigh and grin and bear it. At least it was Ireland this week, and for some reason I don't mind that quite as much as I might. As it is, 2009 is going to be another year of damage limitation. with only two matches left, it's a sad reality that they could lose both of them, and that would be a poor season by any measure.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Notes from elsewhere

Apart from the issue of sausages and spelling, Michael Mckinley provides some thoughts worthy of deeper reflection in his notes from Tim Chester's talk. I'm not at the conference, so I value snippets like this that cause me to think.

From his notes, these are the things that most caught my eye:
  • We need a culture in our churches where you don't need permission to do mission.
  • Leadership is about creating an ethos of mission.
  • Leadership is about organising the chaos that results (Acts 11:19-26) and catching up with what God is doing.
Follow the link to read the whole post.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Trilogies in more than three parts!

I saw this on a recent RSS feed and thought of one of my all-time favourite authors, the late Douglas Adams.

This entry is part 4 of 3 in the series

For those of you unfamiliar with his work, he was the author The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Dirk Gentley's Holistic Detective Agency.

To be known is to be loved...

Not sure when it was, possibly a couple of years ago, I came across this video. I bought it then, and am going to use it at church for the first time this weekend. The main reason I've waited so long is because I kept losing the DVD copy we made!

We're currently doing a series on love and this video is a powerful expression of the desire to be loved through the eyes of the woman at the well. I bought my copy from Faith Visuals, but I think it might also be available on Sermon Spice.

(Just checked and you can download it from either site, just search for "Woman at the Well")

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Of all the numbers he could have called...

So, I'm sitting in the lounge doing nothing in particular when the 'phone rings. So far so normal. But then the conversation starts and I'm caught off guard by what happens next.

James, not his real name, tells me he's a non-practising Christian but wonders if I can answer a question for him. He goes on to tell me that he watched a documentary on TV last night about Africa and Christianity. There was someone tracing his roots and apparently there was some discussion about the church in Ethiopia being older than the church in the West, having a different Bible and a few other things. He told me about the conversation he'd had with a work colleague about it all and how fascinated he was to learn that the church was actually growing across the world rather than declining.

So we talked for a few minutes about how the gospel might have made it's way to Ethiopia through the events of Acts 8 with Philip and the eunuch and about how Eastern and Western Orthodoxy developed differently. I never thought my Church history course would be useful for evangelism!

It was a whirlwind conversation and it ended with James saying that watching the programme really made him think again about his faith.

I don't know what drew him to my 'phone number apart from something God was doing. Maybe I was the only Christian minister in the 'phone book who wasn't busy at the time he wanted to make the call. Who knows.

What I do know is that it's really exciting to suddenly come across evidence that God is at work in all sorts of places and lives about which I am wonderfully unaware until they interrupt my day.

I wonder if James will ever call back, or start going to church. He said he knew lots of non-practising believers. Maybe God will start a new church where he lives through him or for him. Maybe he'll turn up at church sometime. Whatever happens I hope I've left him ready for his next spiritual encounter, that whoever he connects with next is someone who can help nudge him towards faith, and that I'm also ready in case God wants to use me again.

I wonder what my next 'phone call will be?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Get inside a camera

I was watching a programme about photography, something that has been a long time interest of mine, when I saw something I'd love to try. Blacking out the windows of a room, somewhere in Venice I think, a small hole was cut in the plastic sheet used for blackout.

All of a sudden the upside-down image of the outside world is projected onto the wall of the room. It was amazing. 

Strikes me that this would be a great thing to try in a classroom. We're  constantly being told of the need to bring stuff to life in school, if you have a classroom with an interesting view and lots of natural light falling on the image it might be worth trying. Perhaps they might let me try it at my local school if I ask them nicely!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Podcasts are us, or rather me!

I've had a horrible, nasty cold for a couple of days and haven't really felt like doing much at all other than sleep, something that seemed to escape me last night as I coughed my way through the early hours of the morning. 

I'm not given to so-called "man-flu" having had the real thing when I was 17. Believe me, if I can get up and walk around at all, I don't call it flu. My 1975/76 encounter with the flu virus left me weak, 30 pounds lighter, and unable to drink coffee ever again! My Grandmother thought I'd seen my last Christmas, she was a cheery soul!

Anyway, this head-cold made concentrating difficult so I've been playing with Garageband and iWeb just to see how easy or otherwise it is to create podcasts.

The answer is pretty easy. Neither programme is particular difficult to use at what I guess is a really basic level. Once you get the concept of dragging and dropping media files where you want them, it's all pretty straightforward. Actually Garageband even exports the finished podcast to iWeb and it's a few simple editorial changes and a few click to publish it to the web. Having a MobileMe account probably helps, but I guess it's not that much more complicated if you use another server somewhere.

Anyway, I've podcasted three sermons, two from our recent series on 1 Corinthians and one from three years ago just to see how it works. They are live recordings and sometimes the quality is not so good, but that's not an issue with either bits of software.

Here's the link to my podcasts if you want to listen, or in fact even if you don't want to listen! You can of course follow the outlines on the church blog as you listen to see how closely they reflect what is said!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bed repairs

Our lovely pine bed is showing it's age. It uses these hook and lock fixtures to secure the side rails to the head and foot boards but they are not that substantial and they wear pretty quickly if the truth be told. The problem is that all the mass rests on some fairly thin steel.

After a few years we began to notice that these plates were working loose and it turns out that the two parts were cutting into each other. The place where we bought the bed had closed down,so I couldn't track down any replacements until just recently when I happened to be looking for small hinges and fixings for a toolbox project last year.

An article in a woodworking magazine pointed me to Isaac Lord where I found the needed replacement fittings. Fitting them should be very simple, just a matter of removing the old ones and fixing the new ones. While I'm doing that, I might just look at providing some extra support so that the weight of the rails and all that they support (which includes me of course) isn't solely borne by these thin metal fixings. A simple block might do the trick.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Music to my ears, wherever I go!

So, one of my Premium bonds came up. For those who are not familiar with these things, Premium Bonds were introduced by the UK government in the 1950's as a way to promote savings, although I can't quite see how that worked because yo are only ever guaranteed that your bond will be worth exactly what you paid for it when you bought it.

The thing is that unlike a lottery, where you buy a ticket in the hope of wining but lose your "stake", a Premium Bond can be cashed in any time. But while you have it, there's a monthly draw. A typical prize is £50 and if you have enough bonds you can generate a return similar to that of a Building Society account but without the tax liability. 

Anyway, one of my bonds came up and it was a nice surprise when the the envelope landed on the mat this morning. 

I decide to invest my winnings in an Airport Express for the lounge. This wonderful little gadget extends the range of my wireless network and allows me to plug my stereo (yes I still have one of those) into my iTunes library.

After a few minutes setting up, we now have a random selection of music playing in the lounge straight from the iMac on my desk. Brilliant!

It was always my intention eventually to put all my music on a hard drive and then to do this Express manoeuvre. What's more I can use another Express to boost the wireless network upstairs, and even to add the printer/copier in the dining room (there's nowhere else for it to sit).

It has to be said, Apple have some really neat solutions to problems you never thought you had until you saw the solution!

And not forgetting the book about...

So, I just started to read Total Church towards the end of last week and what happens? Amazon deliver my pre-ordered copy of Organic Leadership by Neil Cole. 

So many books, so little time!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Love assumes the best

Love has no limits. Love never says, "You've gone too far. I can't love you now." "All things" means everything is included. Christlike love leaves no doubt in the mind of another that you will continue to love steadfastly. Do those close to you know that they can fail and do foolish things, yet you will not falter in your love for them? Are others assured that, even when they hurt you, you still love them, holding nothing against them?

Love assumes the best about others. If someone inadvertently offends you, you choose to believe the offense was unintentional. If someone seeks to harm you, you "bear all things", forgiving unconditionally. If a positive light can be shed on a difficult encounter, you grasp it. If someone continually provokes you, you "endure all things". You never lose hope in the ones you love. You practice the same unconditional love towards others that Christ gives you.

Paul said that he was nothing if he had faith to move mountains, the tongue of an angel, and the gift of prophecy to understand all mysteries, yet did not have God's love. It is unacceptable to say, "Well, I just can't love people that way!" When God loves people through you, this is the only kind of love he has! Read 1 Corinthians 13 with gratitude that God has already expressed this complete and selfless love to you. Pray and ask Him to express it through you now, to others.

Day-by-day Feb. 13th

seems rather apt given that we're studying 1 Corinthians on Sunday mornings.

How hard do you find the middle paragraph?

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I came across this software via an rss feed. Having had a quick look at the website, it looks like quite a powerful tool. Mind maps, notes, sketches, all sorts of tools are available.

I currently have two mind mapping tools, Freemind and Xmind and I have Notebook. Curio looks like an application that would do everything that these other do, but in one package.

Anyway, if you're looking for a Mac application that does notes and project planning, Curio might be worth a look.

And if you are looking for a mindmapping tool for the iPhone or ipod touch, then there's a review of an application called ithoughts here.

Dipping wary toes in the water of Applescript

Actually, this has turned out to be slightly less scary than I thought. Here's the project.

I like my paper diary, but it doesn't have alarms, so if I'm not careful about looking in my diary at regular intervals during the day, I'm likely to forget or a miss an appointment. I've long since given up on trying to carry all the data around in my head, so a diary is essential. 

The problems of alarms is solved by making sure my Mac diary is up-to-date with my paper diary and then synchronised to my 'phone. I have a Nokia 6085 that I've made compatible with iSync. So far so good. The only thing is that I have to remember to perform the sync regularly.

So I got to thinking. It's a Bluetooth 'phone and there must be a way of automating the process. My daughter Ally has shown me how to use Automator to do things like this, but I also thought it should be possible to use the Bluetooth connectivity to trigger the event. A quick search found a little utility called Proximity.

Proximity detects Bluetooth devices when they come into range of your computer and will run scripts when it does so. It can also run scripts when they go out of range too, so you could use your Bluetooth 'phone to lock your Mac when you leave the office my running an appropriate script.

Next I needed some help with the script. Knowing nothing about Applescript I searched for some help. I found exactly what I wanted here. And used the following bit of script to fire up iSync:

tell application "iSync"
if last sync is less than ((current date) - 900) then
end if
end tell

Essentially this performs a sync every 15 minutes, which I think I'll change to an hour, and I need to modify it to do two things if possible. First I want it to quit iSync when it's finished. I'm sure that's just the addition of a simple line of code,. I just need to find the code!

 Secondly, I'd like, if possible, to figure out how to sync my Palm PDA  automatically (I use that as a diary and address book backup device) without having to press the button or just to ignore the PDA and do that manually as and when.

So there's work to be done, but it seems to be functioning okay at the moment. I'll be going out soon, so we'll see what happens when I come back in range!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Books, books, books

In common with many ministers and church leaders, I have a growing reading list. Among the top picks to read from by overfilled shelves are:

Visioneering by Andy Stanley. I've had this around for some time, but only dipped into it.

Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, which arrived from the lovely folk at Amazon recently.

The Mind Map Book by Tony and Barry Buzan. I've become a fan of mind mapping over recent years. Although I don't follow the rules as laid down by Buzan, I think it would be good to read his thoughts and reasons for mapping the way he does. I use a version of mind mapping to prepare sermons and series of sermons, to map out church structures, to explore questions and vision. It is so much more versatile than the kind of linear way we were all taught to think in the 60's and 70's.

The Buzan Study Skills Handbook by Tony Buzan. I bought this for my daughter to help her with her university studies. When she's finished with it I'd like to read it. You're never to old to discover new things about how to learn effectively and study efficiently.

Intelligent Church by Steve Chalke. Well he's a baptist and the premise of the book looks right up my street!

Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes by Kenneth Bailey. A big and most probably a very thoughtful book. This could be my summer holiday read, or maybe sooner if I get inspired to take on its 400 pages.

So there you have it, my current growing list of books I want to read. There's a whole lot more on my Amazon wish list. And if your list is as long as mine, or even longer then remember the wisdom of Ecclesiastes: Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. (12:12). And not to forget the words of Festus to Paul, "Your great learning is driving you insane." 

Oh dear, I fear I may already be well on the way!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Everything must change

From The view from here
Where do I begin to review this book? 

There are many who will not agree with some of McLaren's theology as hinted at in this book. But then again that goes without saying given the way some conservative evangelicals view him and the emerging church circles from which he comes. However, even if you don't agree with his theology, you might well be advised to put this book on your reading list because of the questions it raises and the challenge to engage with ideas about solutions it offers.

The two central questions are simply these:

What are the biggest problems the world is facing?

What does the message of Jesus have to say to these problems?

If the gospel really is good news, is it only good news about future heaven or does it have good news for present earth, might be another way of putting the question.

Some of the statistics presented are alarming to say the least. But the value of the book lies in the author's attempt to more closely connect the core message of Jesus, the kingdom of God, with solutions to our current, impending big issues. Instead of telling us that the earth stands condemned, is passing away, and is therefore of no real concern to us as Christians, he takes seriously the idea that we can make a difference now. More than that, that we should make a difference now because our message calls us to do just that.

For those who want to begin to think about how faith and issues come together, this is as good a place to start as there is. You may not like the conclusions, but I think there is real merit in the analysis.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Music maestro please!

I neve thought I'd ever see the day when a mobile 'phone became a musical instrument!

Off to Twickenham

Well tomorrow is a big day as I get to go to Twickenham for England's opening fixture in this year's RBS Six Nations. Long gone is any expectation of England actually winning the competition, and I'm even somewhat nervous about their ability to win tomorrow, but they should be okay.

It's an odd thing, sport. I guess had I not gone to a Grammar School in the 70's I would probably be less interested in rugby that I would be in football. But rugby is the winter game I played and so rugby is the game I enjoy most. 

Anyway, I'll be one amongst eighty thousand watching to see if there are signs that last year's appointment of Martin Johnson is going to make the difference. The autumn internationals suggest that little changed in the early days of his ascension to the throne. 

I worry that those who make such appointments have fallen into the search for a messiah for English rugby rather than taking a long hard look at what has gone wrong since 2003. I wonder, has anyone looked at the successful years and compared the structure, the management, the training etc. of that era to this? I certainly don't envy Johnson his task and I certainly wish him well and let's hope they can compete. We will have something of an idea at 4:00pm tomorrow!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Twitter vanishes

Twitter seems to have disappeared from Swurl. No tweets have appeared since Saturday. It usually sorts itself out but it's quite frustrating.

Never mind. The world is unlikely to stop turning or collapse just because my Twitter updates don't appear on Swurl. Life will go on.

The curious case of Sherlock Holmes and Caller ID

"Ah Watson, the wonder of technology," said Holmes. "How so," asked Watson...

So it was the telephone rang this morning and I found myself talking to a very nice person who claimed to have missed a number of calls from the very telephone I was using. Not recognising their name, I wondered how this could be. Has the network been playing games? Was there a new scam whereby people faked the calling number? Had I been making 'phone calls in my sleep? Had the cats been trying to place an order for food from Tescos home delivery service?

"Who are you with?" the voice on the other end of the line enquired. "I'm with myself, " I said, "all alone in the snow. Where are you?" "The call came through to BP in London," she replied.

All of a sudden things became clear. The mystery was unfolding before my very ears. 

Anne works for BP. Anne had been working from home on Monday and Tuesday. Anne had been making the calls.

"Ah. that would be my wife making the calls, she works for BP." "Oh, I know Anne, she'll laugh when I tell her this story."

I guess she will.

So another exciting mystery solved. Of course without Caller ID it would never have been a mystery in the first. But it was fun. Time to put the kettle on.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Quote of the day

"...despair is boring and uncreative, and to succumb to it is to empower it." 
Brian McLaren Everything must change

Now there's a thought worth pondering.

I'm really enjoying the book, although some things are more disturbing than enjoyable. Take for example the statistic that 10% of the US military budget reinvested in aid would care for the world's poor. 

Shades of Learning

Walk this Way, the one day conference organised by Spring Harvest that I attended recently, focused on being better followers of Jesus Christ. The main thrust of the day was how we learn and by extension I guess, how we are taught. It was also a book launch!

There wasn't much information that was actually new to me, but this is probably because I've had some connection with the ideas about individual learning styles through my role as a governor at a local school. But it was still fascinating to listen to well informed speakers reflect on learning and how it relates to the church and its disciple-making ministry.

In a nutshell we were introduced the the concept of shallow, deep and profound learning. Shallow learning is focused on information. It's the gathering of facts and data in order to be able to regurgitate them at the right time (think University Challenge). I guess you could say that at this stage you know stuff but you probably haven't learnt anything yet!

Take learning to play an instrument. you might, at the shallow stage, know where the notes are on the instrument but you can't be said to be playing it yet. Deep learning occurs when the information becomes knowledge and to keep to our music theme, this is when you can play something accurately and recognisably. Profound learning is that point where when you play someone is moved by what they hear.

Some people seem able to go straight to the deep or profound stages, but most of us have to start shallow and progress towards profound. The problem is that we don't always progress. Fixated too often on getting the right answer, we are more concerned with amassing information and that means we're stuck at the shallow end of learning. But shallow learning does not transform.

To become a wholehearted follower of Jesus Christ requires, no demands, that our learning is deep and ultimately profound because profound leads to change and change is the goal.

So the question becomes: How do we promote profound learning in our churches? I don't have a full answer for that yet, but I do think it has a lot to do with changing the culture of the church. We need to move away from testing knowledge and approving people on the basis of what they know. In the past this type of approach has produced the users that John Ortberg speaks about. Secondly we have to take more responsibility for our own development instead of looking constantly to experts to guide us. In other words we need to get some self-discipline into our lives and take responsibility for our own discipleship. Third we have to learn in community as well as in isolation. In other words, what you do in private to grow as a follower needs to be tested and challenged and accountable to a community. That community maybe two other people, ie a group of three along the lines of Todd Hunter's Three is Enough model.

I'm sure there's much more to explore and develop in this, and I'm going to continue to reflect on it all, but that will do for now.

Any thoughts?

Say hello

It was really interesting to spend the day last Saturday at the Walk this Way conference. As a person there on my own I was acutely aware of how isolating it can be to be a "one" amongst a crowd of "manys". I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only person in that position, and I'm okay with it. I go to a lot of seminars and conferences on my own.

What intrigues me is that I've yet to come across a church that considers itself anything less than friendly, and yet, as on Saturday, we still have to be told to say hello to someone we don't know. 

For some reason, let's be spiritual and suggest that God prompted me, I was thinking about this as we began the day in the chapel at King's College. My solution was to take the initiative and speak to someone I didn't know rather than wait for someone to speak to me. Turning around I introduced myself to Colin who, it turned out, was studying missional church for his dissertation and we had a quite wonderful conversation at the end of the morning as we went in search of lunch. Had it not been that I didn't want a sit-down lunch, I suspect our conversation would have developed further but we went separate ways for our meals.

In the book Just Walk Across the Room, Bill Hybels discusses just such a simple approach to outreach. But here's the rub, if we are not open enough and observant enough to be able to reach out a hand of welcome in a gathering of Christians, how likely are we to do it in another context? If we don't live inclusively within the church, how are we going to live inclusively beyond it?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Well, I would work at my desk but...

So I'm just dealing with a 'phone call when Pip wanders onto my desk and flops down preventing access to just about every square inch of work surface.

Oh well, I was going to do a bit of reading anyway!

Is Preaching Dead?

Having spent the day on Saturday listening to a series of speakers stand at the front of a large group of people and say, "This is not the best way to learn," you'd have thought that the obvious answer would be that preaching should be scrapped and a more interactive, group focused style adopted. 

But that rather assumes that the primary role of preaching is to teach, and I'd want to question that assumption. It seems to be that we've actually reduced preaching to teaching rather than allowing it to be something rather more inspirational. Maybe aspirational is a better word, given that we tend to think of inspirational as leaving us with a good feeling and a pumped up level of expectation. 

By aspirational I mean that preaching is not necessarily about presenting new information but sometimes about presenting old information in a way that encourages us to aspire to become better followers of Jesus Christ. Yes, there are times when the information will be new, but I've too often heard the phrase that we need more teaching in church if we are going to produce more commitment and deeper devotional lives. 

But how well taught do we need to be to do that? Do we not have more resources available to us now than ever before, but our devotional lives are possibly more shallow on a general scale than they were decades or centuries ago? It's not teaching we need, it's practice!

I found Saturday's conference really challenging and, dare I say, inspirational when it comes to thinking about how we learn and how we do that in church. These unconnected ramblings are my emerging thoughts about all of this. So much of my early Christian life was focused on getting the right answers to the questions. Even when I was baptised I felt that it was more important to the church at the time that I understood the theology and practice of baptism than that I had a deepening and growing relationship with God. But being a follower of Jesus is not about preparing for a Bible Quiz. forgive me, but I don't think God is going to check to see if I know all the books of the Bible in order before allowing me access to heaven.

And as for preaching? Well I will continue to preach and my goal will remain what it has always been: to challenge and inspire us all to better connect with God and to walk in his ways. It's not about trying to impress people with a wide range of theological vocabulary or an extensive reading list. There will always be a teaching element, but teaching is not the only goal.

Anyway. I'm rambling a bit again and there are snowmen and women to be built!

Water filters, Dyson filters, flea treatment and noticeboards

Whilst getting breakfast this morning, I decided it was high time I changed the filter cartridge in our water jug. Two things struck me. 

First, how come I never think of changing the filter more often? I checked in the cupboard and we have a good 18 months supply of filters! I keep buying them but forgetting to use them. Oh well, another item for the kitchen notice board.

Secondly, it's a bit worrying, if you want to worry about such things, that you have to discard the first two jugs of water filtered before its "Okay" to use. Now for something that's meant to take impurities out of the water, how does that work?!

Anyway, the job is done while eating toast, and I now have a reminder on my noticeboard to change the filter in a month's time. Actually we have a short list of regular things to do on our noticeboard as well as an area for shopping items. We find it helps us get the things we need when we shop rather than the things we think we need. It's everyone's job to write down items on the list and it's a wipe clean board so we can erase those items as they are replaced.

And much to their horror, there's even a reminder to give the cats their flea treatment! Oh the deep joy of some semblance of organisation!