Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Twitter battles hate and upskirt images

I think it's interesting that when I read that title I saw a comma where none existed: at first pass it read "Twitter battles, hate and upskirt images".

Bearing in mind that it's not a site I use or even visit if at all possible, they appear to have a brand problem.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Just 5 working days to go

Before I leave one of my roles to go full time in the other.

Exit interview - done.

Writing of handover essentials for my replacement - started.

Off-colour jokes hard to resist - (insert rude pun here).

Etc.

The last 3 or 4 months I've been intentionally posting science and innovation articles on Linkedin, both personally and on behalf of the lab, and we suddenly seem to have started getting enquiries, plus we've sent out 2 rental proposals today for potential customers. In the summer I wrote a competition  entry for one of our previous businesses and they won 3rd place out of about 75 entries.

It would be nice to go out on something of a high. As I observed at my exit interview, this was a strange process, because I haven't resigned from a job with an HR dept. since 1989. There's a strange feeling of detachment, as well as a pressing need to clear up & throw my rubbish away so that I can leave with a clear conscience.

Life is going to become quite complicated over the next few months.

One of our tenant companies here is also shutting down, last day in the centre for them today, and saying goodbye to someone who has become a friend, albeit somewhat awkwardly, was difficult.

But life goes on.

Friday, 13 October 2017

A good quote from CS Lewis.

“What do people mean when they say ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good.’? Have they never been to a dentist?”

Thanks to Ineke

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Having started to blog the Cretan holiday

I did not continue. In a nutshell:

It was wet & miserable the first couple of days, overcast with occasional rain the next 2 days and finally warm and pleasantly sunny the last 2 days.
Chris was ill, gradually recovering over the course of the week.
We had progressively increasing amounts of activity, finishing with a 7 kilometer walk at the end of the week, rather than the 18 kilometer Samaria gorge that we had hoped to do.
And then we went home.

There were a few special bits, but we have concluded that because of our travels we are now a bit jaded and what was once amazing is now expected, plus the world is no longer 'innocent' when one visits as a tourist. So the palace of Knossos outside Iraklion was crowded, and areas where we could once walk were now of limits - it was a real anti-climax. Tavernas supply 'village sausage' instead of loukanika (λουκάνικο), Greek omelette instead of sfougato (σφουγγατο) and giant beans instead of  gigantes plaki (γίγαντες πλακί). There were some beautiful views along the way, so at least we're not completely spoiled, but the holiday wasn't special as I think we'd hoped.

We had a little 'excitement' on the way to the airport, with signs either defaced or removed, and the phone navigation software unable to recognise the words Chania Airport despite them actually appearing on the map, making finding the airport a little more of a final challenge than expected. Obviously we got there in the end. :-)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Welcome to sunny Crete.



I believe the rain has stopped for now.  Or not – within a minute of typing that it had begun to hammer down, notified to us by the noise of water hitting foliage.

Yesterday I was reminded of why package holidays make life easier – rock up at the airport and the tour company take over all the effort. Not that yesterday’s travel was especially difficult, and in some ways was the kind of exploration we enjoy, but Chris was feeling really unwell with a nasty cold and the early start combined with a really crappy hire car raised the challenge level. There is also something about Greek that I had forgotten, that words frequently don’t get translated the same on every occasion, so that having managed to find the sister hotel to the one we were using (Dimitrios village hotel instead of Dimitrios beach hotel) and then entering the street address, sat nave declared that the address was not known. (The difference was down to the ‘official’ address being on Apostolon street and the map address being Afpostolon).

We drove this way 30 years ago, when Chris was pregnant with Ben.

I recall the drive quite well. Mostly it was beside the sea on a smallish road that sometimes had bits of dual carriageway, and we were able to drive right up to the town of Rethymno (or Rethymnon – as it used to be, names being updated round here). Now the coastline has been covered in hotels, shops and apartments, and the occasional ruined house was evidence of how things used to be. The roads between these buildings are tiny, narrow affairs that look like driveways or garage entrances, and when the satnav tried to take us down the first one I drove right past, thinking there was no road there.

Arrival eventually happened, and we slithered across slick marble floors to check in.

“Please sit over there just 2 minutes”

That was from the hotel receptionist, on seeing our reservation paperwork. Someone else was called, phone calls were made, another “2 minutes please wait” request made, and eventually a still smiling and cheerful receptionist showed us to our room.

The hotel was clearly once self-catering apartments as shown by the kitchenette in our room, but presumably a change in the tourism market made them go all inclusive, which is the package we have with them.

The room itself is the opposite of the one we had in Turkey last year – spacious and light (instead of small and dark, well designed) but with odd arrangements (wash basin in the main room, little wardrobe space, mirror + hair drier just a couple of feet in front of a pillar, tiny bathroom).  We got our bags in and then I hunted down a parking space, fortunately just round the corner by the sea front.

Chris went to bed with her cold, and I unpacked. Thrilling. ;-)

Dinner was the typical buffet thing, and pleasant enough, even though the dining area was crowded, and the first table we were allocated was taken by someone else while we got food. It’s a little odd to have wine and beer on tap for the taking, but the days of feeling like a kid in a sweetshop have long gone, and we just eat & drink what we would normally have as much as availability allows before hitting the slightly firm sack.

And it was night and it was morning, the second day.

We must have been tired yesterday, because we were in bed for 10 hours, and Chris had already slept some during the early evening.

So as alluded to in the introduction to this piece, today is another day with rain. It’s not cold – about 20’C – but it is a little humid and everything is damp outside. Given the nature of the hotel it’s tempting to explore the limits of the ‘all inclusiveness’ but instead we’ll probably head out for a moist walk along the sea front.

Monday, 9 October 2017

The first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word Biocoal?

For me, it was compressed poo.

On investigation, first impressions are, in fact, correct.

Where there's muck there's brass - and calories - as the phrase has it.

Monday, 25 September 2017

You may not be able to say "Ruddy Duck" 10 times quickly

But they can have some most surprising attributes, especially when females are scare and the competition is strong.

I'm not sure whether this is rude, fascinating science, puerile, extremely funny or just a poorly understood bit of developmental biology. Possibly all of them.

Some thoughts about upbringing and preference.

Funny how stuff lands on your mental desk sometimes.

I recently read this article about impressing on children the pattern they will adopt as adults. Of course the article was written in a negative sense about how wrong it is that children are being imprinted with their cultural patterns. Obvious, innit?

We live in an age where there is a lack of leadership, of clarity, where self-will is the law and personal freedom of expression in any and every way must not - may not - be denied.

What if this patterning is beneficial to the majority of children and subsequent adults. Suppose instead of a gender straitjacket, one helps girls to be normal healthy heterosexual girls and the boys to be normal healthy heterosexual boys. You help them recognise the strengths and weaknesses that characterise both their sexes in general and their bodies and minds in particular, you work with them to develop them to the best of their potential?

Would this lead to them growing up distorted and reduced or would it give them reassurance in knowing who and what they were? I rather think it would reduce much of the uncertainty and also the pressure to try all kinds of things, and enable them to be happier, more secure. Sexuality and gender is somewhat plastic in most people, and we are attracted to what we are told is attractive.

What about those who don't fit?

I still think they would be happier, particularly if given opportunity to be guided in their exploration and understanding of who they are, by people who wanted them to be the best they could be. In all ways.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

But are you a mouse or a man?

A recent article in New Scientist suggests that in male mouse brains there is a link between aggression and sexual behaviour - these behaviours are controlled by the same section of the hypothalamus - while for females there is no such link. While it's a big jump to extrapolate from this research to humans, these parts of the brain are often quite conserved.

From an observed social perspective, humans seem to often behave as though sex and violence are connected in the male as frequently portrayed in films and books, while traditionally sex has had a passive approach from females. Of course there are many exceptions to this, and it's hard to image a marriage being long and happy where violence and sex were irrevocably linked: one would hope that people were not completely at the mercy of their basic lusts and desires. Likewise one occasionally comes across stories of women where these behaviours seem linked, but much more rarely.

Why bother to comment at all?

There has been scholarly work done to demonstrate that male and female brains are no different, yet here is something that suggests otherwise, subject to further investigation. This obviously has overlap into sexual preference and gender too, but that's another blog post. To me, it seems that the differences between men and women, are many and various, and much more than 'just' about the controlling brain. While there's a feminist approach to women in society that seems to suggest they are really the superior side of homo sapiens, repressed by stronger but inferior males, it seems far more likely that the 2 halves of the species are complementary.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Eugene Peterson The Jesus Way

So I've embarked upon reading another Christian book.

EP described consumer church as antichrist church in the introduction. Which, as I've just realised, is interesting for someone who authored what I always thought was THE consumer translation of the bible (I appreciate that may not have been the intent).

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Why shoot urbex*

This short video gives one perspective.

Personally I like the feeling of going somewhere abandoned, and it certainly takes me back to being a kid in London, growing up with all kinds of places and facilities that had fallen out of use and could be used as playgrounds (providing one did not get caught). I've done a little urbex work over the last year, as can be seen on my flickr pages.

*Urban exploration, if that's not obvious.

Link to flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/143909484@N04/albums/72157679468784383

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Ever wonder what 'reading mode' was for?

Over the last year or 2 I've seen a 'reading mode' mentioned as a new browser feature, that clears away clutter & just presents the user with the page content. Now I normally run ad-blockers on my own computers, and usually my pages are uncluttered with moving, flashing, irritating content and I've been wondering who would actually care about such a feature.

So about 3 months ago my 'own' laptop arrived, provided by Oxford Innovation using their standard build. No ad blockers by default, and I'd decided to leave it that way.

Suddenly I get reading mode.

It converts Tech Radar's hideous monstrosity of a review site buried in flashing adverts and unexpectedly playing videos into something pleasantly readable without ghastly distractions. TR has been one of my go-to review sites in the past, but without ad blockers the useful content gets buried in pulsating visual faeces and it's simply horrible to view. It was so bad that I'd often prefer not to bother unless I was feeling especially focussed and robust that day.

Perhaps this is the browser designer's answer to adverts? It made me feel like I had my browser back.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

And when you write software, everything can look like a technology problem.

I saw and liked this quote because it's kind-of true:

“There’s an intrinsic incompatibility between the internet and nation states,” says Santiago Siri, one of Democracy Earth’s co-founders. “If we’re going to think about digital governance, we need to think in a borderless, global way.”

People connect across frontiers, cultures, ethnicities, religions and age differences. I can't tell if you're gay, straight or trans unless you choose to tell me when you're on a forum. I have no idea if a comment on a blog came from a Goan, Eskimo, Catalan or Tutsi unless there's additional information provided. And we can - sometimes even do - talk freely to each other.

So starting from the point of the quote, it seems that some clever people are trying to put together a voting system that can cross borders and even political parties.


And that's great.


But it completely ignores human nature, which not only revels in diversity, but is still affected by all the differences I've mentioned PLUS by various levels of honesty and of a desire to control others.


My first thought when reading the articles was about how quickly and easily votes could be bought by those with hard cash or actual bitcoins*. How a transparent system like this was bound to very very quickly fail because human nature is corrupt and greedy, careless and arrogant. Yes, there are many thoughtful, loving, kind, gentle, honest and careful people out there, but there's also a lot of stupid, greedy, careless, hard-hearted or even just plain poor or easily misled people out there too. 


You can connect people across borders, cultures and all the rest, but they will still be people, susceptible to all the things to which people fall prey. Any any voting system they use will be susceptible too.


*I first came across bitcoins in around 2010, through the Diaspora network, and had no real idea what they were. The guy running a particular server through which we connected had a computer fail and was asking for donations in bitcoins to help him buy new parts, presumably because of the anonymity aspect/alternative culture of the currency. I slightly wish I'd bought a couple then, but y'know how 20:20 hindsight goes.



Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Local rogues gallery

Well, maybe not quite. As part of the millenium celebrations I was asked to photograph every household in the village. The pictures seem to have been scanned, and are now all available on the Somerton village website. It was an interesting project, and I managed to get almost everyone.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Lord of the flies - but with women?

The times, they are a'changing.

Apparently there may be plans to film an all-female version of LotF, but the idea is being poo-pooed with the suggestion that women would naturally just band together & look after each other.

Naturally this produced a number of thoughts fairly spontaneously, not least that western millenial males often behave like women too, and would be much less likely to create such a toxic microcosm. And building on the millenials theme, when I was at school there was a distinct minority of girls that would have fitted in to the story just fine, with some being physically violent and others quite poisonous in the way they tried to manipulate others. Finally this is a story about children, rather than adults, and children do still often get themselves in a social pickle.

But y'know, everyone has to have something to be offended about in the news. ;-)

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Heard in the office

If you get it wrong then put snopake on your boobs.

From an earlier, more innocent age.

But is this a loss?

Terry Pratchett had up to 10 unfinished books left on a hard drive - now apparently crushed according to the BBC.

I've not read a novel in ages, but Ben had "Raising Steam" from the library to keep him company while recovering from his op recently, & I've been reading it now he's finished it.

Disappointing is a good word.

Basically it just seems to lack imagination: lets bring 19th century technology to the magical discworld. Also let Dwarves = Islamic fundamentalists, but let them just be cardboard cut-out characters, written from a deliberately myopic understanding of people.

Pardon the pun, but all the magic that was present in The Colour Of Magic has by now been thoroughly drained to create a society that kind of looks like ours, but one which can be used to protest about what's wrong with the world and where a main character falls dully and predictably in love. It's boringly moralising, despite trying to raise a sense of outrage at the mistreatment of (fictional) goblins, predictable and not much fun.

The more the Discworld has been developed, the less exciting and novel it has become. I'm not sorry there won't be any more novels from 'beyond the grave' (that's a phrase that should resonate with Pratchett fans) though if a different writer had been at the helm then perhaps they would have been more enjoyable.

What shapes our thinking?

I came across 2 New Scientist articles today that both talked about perception in different ways.

The first was discussing how the types of images of people we viewed affected what we saw as desirable, though of course the title had to be worded as click-bait instead of offering a balanced view.

The second, and this one triggered me wanting to post this, discussed creating a video game based around entering the world of someone with psychosis. (note - first image is disturbing) it was a quote in the article from psychiatrist Paul Fletcher that made me want to post:

“Someone — I’ve never been able to find out who — said that perception is controlled hallucination. This is true. You bring what you know to bear on what you sense. That is how we recognise things.”

To flip that on its head, a sales person I once worked with described perception as reality when it came to dealing with customers. If the customer thought something defective wasn't "that bad" then they'd live with it, or if they though it was broken even when it wasn't bad at all then they would complain & reject things. This can also be quite malleable, as I once found out when - as part of a joke - they told a customer whose instrument I was servicing, that I was breaking it. Ever after I was 'unwelcome' in their lab, despite having a good track record there, and soon after someone else had to go in to service it.

In a way we are talking about faith & expectation, and how we view the world: you bring what you know to be true to bear on what you sense.

I can feel there's a long article sitting there about what we tell ourselves about the world, what we take onboard to feed our senses and perceptions, how we calibrate our internal compass to know what's real and what is not etc. etc. I don't want to go there, but as a Christian struggling to come to terms with things that have caused a major re-alignment of internal compasses, I want to be able to carefully pick a path that doesn't lead to the edge of a cliff or a large pit - to mix metaphors again.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

I wonder why modern society treats drug abuse as cool?

Part of my job is to scan the scientific press for interesting articles to post on Linked In in the hope of promoting the innovation centre and labs. New Scientist often runs articles designed to be easy reviews or editorials that can be digested comfortably by those without expertise in a particular discipline, and to cover a broad sweep of technology.

I came across the following recently: psychedelics-pioneer-keeps-his-inner-hippy-in-check.

One thrust of the article is about how investigation of psychoactive compounds has long been frowned on, and is potentially hazardous for the career of anyone investigating medical application. That's sensible. But then it seems to be continually trying to make drug abuse look like something smart people can do, almost presenting it as desirable, something essential to become part of an in crowd.

Great that many compounds aren't addictive, and even better that they may have useful applications to medicine in the future. But do we have to make drug consumption look like something the smarter echelons of society are doing? I'm far from blindly opposed to use of psychoactive compounds as medicines, provided their use is based on the same kind of trials performed routinely to establish efficacy of medicines, but their use does need to be supported by that kind of evidence.


BBC News was slightly surreal this morning

Rescued piglets served up as sausages to firefighters here.

How stone poses became a surreal hobby here.

Labour MP says merit in "women only" train carriages here.

Vaginal seeding 'risky' warn doctors here.

Trump: I'll close government to build wall here.


All are legitimate articles, but collectively helped make the BBC front page seem quite strange.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

I get paid to surf the internet

But not quite like that, although LinkedIn seems to be a healthier place than Facebook since no-one makes a fuss if you're gay or straight, look good in a bikini, or find it difficult to keep the house tidy.

So an article popped up - apparently tech firms in Ottawa are recruiting thousands of staff. This is just a little premature, y'know? ;-)

They're probably all coding and other software jobs, I suspect, and no use to a practical scientist anyway. And Ottawa is a long way from the sea. :-p

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Is there anything sweeter than the unintended pun?

A previous tenant of the Innovation centre had been involved developing a device that would allow a female to urinate tidily while standing up. In conversation with a receptionist yesterday, I mentioned finding a she-wee, and if it was useful then she was welcome to it.

Her comment "I'll pass on that".


Actually yes, there are things sweeter than an unintended pun, but I still enjoy them.

Monday, 7 August 2017

There's a question.




Kinda funky embedding, google.

So last week we were at 'Transform' - a church camp with the theme Taking New Ground…..Mission, Miracles and Multiplication”. If you visit the page, those are our friends Vic and Owen caught unawares last year in the video still.

When we saw the title we both groaned out loud - Mission. 

Mission has felt like being part of a group of lemmings, rushing toward a cliff that we can feel coming and going harder because of it. Churches have been shrinking as people melt away - often those who were once quite committed rather than fringers - and for us at least, there has been a combined sense of being under pressure to find people to bring to stuff, along with a feeling of failure for not bringing people along to stuff, together with a feeling of holding on with slipping fingertips. The more mission, the seeming faster the shrink*. Talking with some of the other guys there during the week, it seems we've not been alone in feeling that.

And last year was a bit poo for us anyway.

Opening speaker on Saturday night was Grace Wheeler, evangelist for Youth For Christ. Her message was one carefully judged to demonstrate God was at work, she was ordinary and could still be used, scattered with examples of the things she was seeing happening. Standard fare for someone doing the kind of work she does when speaking to people who don't do the kind of work she does - the lass was good, but too many more of those and we were going to be exploring the nearby Malvern hills while other people sat & listened. We escaped feeling moderately guilty/failed & went back to our accommodation wondering how much more of this there would be.

Somewhere in the first day we were there, we heard about a couple we knew who were leading a small church not far away, who were planning to move to lead another congregation. There was a question about their replacement and something inside said "you could do that". Humm. After our church experiences of the last 8 years I've been actually wanting to walk away from church completely.

Sunday morning came & Chris had a migraine, so we missed the meeting where it was explained how various leaders & groups had fallen out over the last 3 years, but it was all sorted out now. We didn't know that was going to be the subject, of course, but it partly explains the last few lines of my blogpost from 2 years ago, when in retrospect I realised there had been an atmosphere that wasn't healthy.

The next few days are slightly hazy in terms of ways to express the content, and I don't want to do a blow-by-blow account of the content.

Basically the 2 key speakers, Paul Manwaring and Malcolm Duncan did not drum in the message about mission, miracles and multiplication, but instead brought teaching, guidance, encouragement, insight and hope. On one occasion Malcolm Duncan started slowly, as though trying to hear where what he was saying should be going instead of launching into program teaching. It's felt like a long time since I had a sense of the Holy Spirit at work in something like this, and I'm grateful that I was able to respond instead of staying in the trench I'd dug to help preserve some sanity. So I have a sense of what's next, possibly, and hopefully also a bit of freedom from things of the past. Both speakers had aspects to them that made me think "I'm not at all sure that scripture means that" or made me feel quite uncomfy with celtic stuff, but they both seemed to bring what I think God had given them, and for that I'm really grateful.

I've not mentioned worship so far. That's because it a) was not significant and b) is something I'm finding very difficult right now. The band was tight, the mix was the best I've ever heard there, right from the first night, and it was loud enough for door stewards to give out ear plugs to anyone who seemed to be walking out because of noise. Our old friend Mr Smoke Machine was hard at work, but at least the lights were kept shining on-stage only, so thumbs up to Dave Knott for getting that sorted.


Where does this leave us?

Y'know - I'm still me. Still Toni who is wary of people, wants to do things his way, has a bunch of un-healed scars, who still struggles with the idea that God is good & doesn't let us down, and in many ways would STILL like to walk away from church. Chris says she'll follow me where ever I go, and I think she would, trusting I'd not screw both our lives up. But change is around the corner, and will be here before too long, at least a bit.



*Talking with a good friend who IS missional by inclination, he agreed that when we had a real sense of the presence of God powerfully at work among us then we were much more inclined to reach out to people outside the church, and to do it with faith and expectation. It's not that we want to feed Christians so they become fat, but that we want to see God at work in the church so that we can see God at work outside the church.

Friday, 21 July 2017

So for the sake of completion

regarding the Caesar Kalinowski Gospel Primer review below, I managed to read the first 3 weeks (out of 7 or 8) before it had to go back.

The good:
A stated aim is to get people talking about Jesus and the gospel to each other in normal conversation. This is admirable, though I don't know how effectively the artificial situations of being made to 'talk gospel' would transfer into daily practice. Experience suggests with this kind of thing that it persists about a week after the end of the course, when everyone breathes a sigh of relief and reverts, but who knows.

There is also an encouragement to develop a personal salvation story that puts God at the centre, and again this is very admirable. Tools are provided and help given to do this, albeit in a CK kind of way, and it also made me remember how things were when I first became a Christian, which was useful.

The less good:
The book sets out to belittle the reader's own faith and church, tells them that they are doing it wrong and assumes that they haven't really experienced salvation yet. I found the sets of questions, especially in the first 2 chapters, to be bullying and deliberately dodging the real answers one might give in order to force the user into a weak position. Both Chris and I independantly came to the conclusion when offered a series of options, "none of these" was the only answer for us.

While there is good material in there, this is not a book I could recommend anyone read unless they were strong enough to extract the good stuff without being harmed by the bad.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

It was something you said.

Is there an expression 'preachers hyperbole'?

Perhaps there should be one along the lines of 'missional leader's made up story'.

I've described my views of Mike Breen and 3DM in the past, and have serious concerns that they are, in fact, a cult that will gradually draw people away from orthodox Christianity and into some kind of nebulous gnosticism combined with an understanding of evangelism like the jehovah's witnesses.

So today I started looking at The Gospel Primer by Caesar Kalinowski.

I don't get why people need to tear others down if they have something good. In the introduction it is suggested that you must use HIS method of meeting together, because at present your bible studies are empty and your housegroup meeting is pathetic. Then further on in the start of the section talking about The Gospel, he describes a meeting of pastors where he asked the question 'what is the gospel', and apparently out of a dozen answers not a single one mentioned creation, sin, Jesus, the cross or the kingdom. Really? From a dozen answers to the question put straight like that and not a single one mentioned any of those things? Not once, not any of them? Really? Was this the pagan pastoral association we were asking?

Is that underwear I smell smouldering?

Further on in the section, there are a series of questions weighted to demonstrate how the reader is inadequate and getting it wrong if they aren't doing it the CK way. One of them was based around 'why aren't you sharing the gospel with more people' and the slightly naughty Toni wanted to say 'it's because they aren't my people of peace'.

To be fair to the book, it looks like there might be some good stuff in there too, and 30 years ago we'd probably have swallowed this and run with it, believing that the only God is Yahweh and Caesar Kalinowski is His prophet this was all good teaching and that we were building God's kingdom. I just can't get past the made up stuff, the bullying, emotionally manipulative presentation of it all now.

Please, if you're going to write books for the people of God, leave out the crap - it just destroys your credibility and devalues the teaching you present.


Chris and I have been talking about being challenged recently. We've been through quite a bit over the years, and TBH have had enough of it now. I'm seriously wondering if it isn't time to go re-join the church of England so that we can get on with trying to live as Christians while this missional fad blows over.

*edit*

I've read a bit further - there is some genuinely good stuff in there, though I keep reading things that don't match what I see as sound theology (forgive the old-fashioned term) that feel like the scriptures have been made to fit a theory, rather than theory made to fit the scriptures. An example of this would be discipleship=evangelism=disipleship, where the word evangeism has been used to replace the word salvation in the context used, and while there's an explanation for doing this, it doesn't ring true.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Does your head do funny things?

Mine certainly does.

Apart from saying inappropriate things sometimes.*

And occasionally talking complete rubbish.

Make that often complete rubbish.

And not doing stuff when I should.

And doing stuff when I shouldn't.

But regardless. Chris has a nasty cold right now, probably the third of spring-summer 2017. Ben has also had at least 2 moderately unpleasant infections, and was quite rough a while back. As for me, I had a cold, back in April running into May, though not bad enough to stay away from work, and my cough from that finally lifted a week of so back.

But it feels wrong.

I'm the one who normally gets bad respiratory infections & Chris is the one who may feel a little off but keeps going. So first off I feel guilty, like it should be me and not her who's down with it (I cope much better being ill than she does: I give myself to it & wait to get better while she fights & struggles feeling worse & worse). Then it occurred to me that I'd like the time off sick - note that she has gone to work feeling 'grotty' - so I could sit at home & not do anything, and I felt slightly cheated that it wasn't me. Then I felt guilty about it.

My head does funny-unfunny things.

*I can't be bothered to explain about the disposable plastic cups and the Mae West greeting.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Why did the world’s largest supplier of lentils choose to invest in Saskatchewan?

That's about as esoteric a title as you'll see here.

About second or third post down in my LinkedIn feed there was a photo of an enormously fat man in a grey suit with a small balding head on top and the title of this post underneath.

Take home message - eating lentils makes you very fat, and they are bringing the problem to Sask so that everyone there can be obese too.

I'm told they make you fart as well, so the state could well become a major producer of greenhouse gas too. Those of you who moved west - looks like a well-timed escape. ;-)

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Is teaching in churches an unwanted throwback?

As we're moving into a post-Christian era and the church, at least in North American and the UK, is heading towards missional communities and outreach by social interaction, I'm wondering if strong, clear teaching is becoming a preserve of leaders and the old people, while the younger ones are all socially motivated to just eat together and enjoy a bit of worship every couple of weeks.

That was a long sentence.

We're making the trip, somewhat against my better judgement (hey, twice in one year) to our church groups annual camp together. What used to be a time of challenge, of inspiration and aspiration, amazement and above all great teaching, seems to have become a bunch of people telling us how to outreach using their testimonies as examples. Perhaps there is a certain Pauline precedent (maybe that's why people fell asleep on him!) but as I recall Paul taught a lot of much deeper theology than simply relating how he went to foreign synagogues and talked about Jesus.

I had the slightly bizarre experience of being complimented last night on helping someone with a Christian background and a need to become connected into a church family become connected into a church in another area. It was done in the context of evangelism, but it was not outreach - purely pastoral care and being a father.

Perhaps I'm becoming a post-outreach Christian?

I'm already moving towards the opinion that the 'great commission' was nothing of the kind, and was quite specifically aimed at the disciples there & then. It's only mentioned that way in 1 gospel, while in every other gospel Jesus commissions specific people to go out - if it's such a fundamental understanding surely at least a second writer would mention it? Certainly some people are called to be evangelists, but that seems a relatively uncommon calling. What about being ready to share the reason for our hope then? Yes, but that's NOTHING like being sent to outreach.

It seems I've been diverted from the original point.

Historically the church seems to have taught the uneducated, and a large part of what they needed to do was impart basic understanding, in so many ways, to those people. Now our society is well educated, able to access an enormous amount of information at will. Is the flip-side of a drift away from teaching people, a hope or even push for them to self-educate? I wonder how Christianity will shape up in the latter half of the 21st century - will looser relationships and a stronger social conscience become the hallmarks of this era, just like evangelism damp-squib was for the latter half of the 20th?

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Darn that's hot

33.5'C indicated by the car thermometer while driving (i.e. not sat in the sun) at 6.30om this evening.

Tarmac on the roads has melted & torn up in places.

Offices without aircon were not nice places to be today.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Don't look back in anger

or regret.

Holidays don't often generate this many mixed feelings, generally being sources of significant pleasure and just occasionally considerable disappointment.

The reason we did this trip was probably not good: certain friends had been on similar trips organised by the same people, and come back exulting over how wonderful it had been, including a friend who is generally similarly inclined to question things in the way that I do. And it is THE place with so many significant historical sites that have influenced Middle Eastern and European culture for the last 2000 odd years, so of course we *should* see it.

Stepping back for a moment, I'm aware of my feelings oscillating about the whole thing, sometimes damning the experience and sometimes thinking that I *should* have enjoyed it (and asking why I didn't).

And that's hard to answer.

Curiously, I didn't find the traditional church stuff especially jarring or wrong, and it was the times of contemporary worship and even bible reading that grated as being out of place, getting in the way of understanding what happened and where I was. It felt a little like trying to impose pop-culture on something deeper, when silence would have been better. I'm guessing some of the others felt it too, when some noted the silent time while floating on the sea of Galilee was most significant for them.

Our tour leaders, Geoff and Mary, did an incredibly good job of organising and making sure we saw everything on the itinerary as much as was humanly possible, while trying to include faith moments (even if those faith moments worked against it for me). They gave themselves, and are probably now trying to rest & recuperate, since they aren't exactly young any more.

As for the land itself, Israel seems to be burying much of their heritage under concrete and stone, building everywhere to house their expanding population, although I'm not so sure they've taken care of necessary infrastructure. Galilee area wasn't so bad, but the land around Jerusalem is now ugly - no other word for it really - and apart from the temple area it could be any large, badly managed urban sprawl in a hot climate.

Would I go back or recommend anyone else to visit?

That's difficult. Jerusalem has fascinating areas that could have stood a lot more exploration, and likewise the wilderness has both beauty and bleakness that would justify spending much more time in. Otherwise I'd say no, and to someone visiting I'd suggest avoiding the key religious sites, because whatever meaning they might have for you now, the actuality will almost certainly be disappointing. So what if Jesus walked there - if He's not alive in your heart and much larger than that pavement then it doesn't matter. I still remember the excitement of Raja the coach driver, stopping at the Elvis American Diner compared to how he felt about the rest of the stuff we visited, and that may tell you something.

My attitude will probably soften in forgetting the poor and mediocre, and in remembering the exploration.

Day 8 - final temple and travelling home


We had another early start this morning: alarm call at 6am, bags packed by 7 and on the coach at 7.30, to be dropped off at the gate like a bell (the dung gate).

Under the western wall is a tunnel running a short length of the temple mount, exposing some of the lower stonework and cisterns from Herod’s structure. The tunnel is also used by many Jewish women to pray, because it gets them closer to the place where the original holy of holies was thought to be than they can manage at the women’s section of the western wall.


The tunnel & structures are mildly interesting, with the few scraps of ‘original’ pavement where Jesus may have walked giving a slightly stronger sense of history. There’s a huge stone, estimated at 570 tons, supporting the wall down there too, and it must have been an incredible feat getting it into place. Also impressive is the quality of stone work required to get the stones to butt together with barely a gap between.


Previous excavations made by Warren in the late 1800s come up during the explanations. It seems Warren ‘discovered’ quite a bit, sometimes having to find novel ways to access parts that he wasn't welcome to explore, and plenty of features got named for him.

Eventually walking through the tunnel, we came to a place where the ceiling is high: probably 25 feet above us, and that indicates the height of the current pavement. The original walls would have been very tall, requiring high ramps and stairs for access to the temple area.

After emerging in the city we walk through the Damascus gate to the garden tomb and Gordon Calvary area. We have a brief explanation about the area, why it was considered to be possibly authentic and then visit the wine press, putative Golgotha and garden tomb there. This area looks less unlikely to be authentic than the area given by tradition, but after 2000 years of erosion, it may be rather different in appearance from the time of Jesus - recently a piece of stone forming the ‘nose’ of the skull shape broke off, reducing the resemblance to a skull. A seating area is given for the group's use and we have readings, songs and communion.  In earlier times I’d probably have found it wonderful, but right then I’d have preferred to slip away and have time alone, however in the hope of better things I stuck it out.


At last we made our way back, walking to the hotel, arriving rather sweaty from the heat and the climb but with no chance of a shower. Bags are loaded onto the coach and we’re finally on our way. A quick stop at the town where Emmaus was, then on to an Elvis burger bar to get ripped off $16 for burger and chips. The burger bar is striking and very different, and Raja the driver is ‘in heaven’, but traditional Jewish it ‘aint.


And so to the airport.

After the usual quizzing and security checks we make it through to the departure lounge. Biometric passport readers work very efficiently. There’s a fountain in the middle of the lounge with an annulus in the ceiling through which water pours downwards like rain while the fountain sprays upwards. Quite elegant and unusual.


18.18pm. Boarding starts at 18.50pm.

Plane leaves at 7.50pm. The movie on the tiny screen ahead of me is ‘Gold’, but the controls built into the seat arm don’t work, so the only audio channel is French and the volume is at maximum. And the chap next to me is breathing out some serious garlic, so effective that even the plane air con can’t completely remove it. Ho hum, pigs bum as Kita used to say, only another 4 hours - at least I've been able to write up the day.

Mr Fragrant next door speaks to the stewardesses and they go away & reboot the system several times, after which last occasion the English audio can also be heard, volume etc is now adjustable. It’s not all bad then.

We eventually arrive at Luton. Long queues for passport control, and this time I am rejected by the biometric scanner and get sent to another desk where I wait and wait, eventually being cleared. We get bags, say goodbye and the put warm clothes & jackets on to face the winds and rain waiting for us at the bus stop. Car collected, and our friends drive us home by a slightly curious route, to arrive around 1.15amUK/3.15am Israeli time. Glad I booked Tuesday off.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Day 7 - ‘Free’ day - walking the walls of Jerusalem, Hezekiah’s tunnel, getting lost


Another retrospective writeup, though as I try to relive the memories it may become written as if in the present.

There were several options possible for the day, including visiting the Israel museum, the holocaust museum, walking the city walls, visiting the city of David ruins, Hezekiah’s tunnel to the Gihon spring or just generally walking round the city. Chris had wanted to do the tunnel, and the wall walk also seemed a sensible plan, so finding ourselves ready to go a little sooner than the suggested start time, we go a taxi from the hotel to the Damascus gate, then bought tickets for the wall.

I’m wondering a little what to write about the actual walk. It’s just what you might expect: you’re high up on a wide stone wall, looking down on roofs and into people’s back gardens. There are areas of steep stone steps and metal railings, the occasional fortification used by the Jordanian army during the first war in 1948. In places there is barbed and razor wire to discourage uninvited guests, and the roofscape consists of water tanks and heaters, plus in many cases a certain amount of rubbish plus the occasional cross or Islamic cresent. Sometimes the view is good, peering down into street scenes or catching interesting individuals passing beneath, while sometimes it’s just squalid.


The wall walk is in 2 halves, norther and southern, and we tackle the northern first, from the Damascus gate to the Lion gate before lunch, then making our way across Jerusalem, picking up the southern route afterward.

We started out with Nick, who we’ve known vaguely for a long time. He wanted a chance to take pictures properly too, and he came equipped with 2 Fuji XT-2 bodies plus standard, wide and super zoom lenses and a bunch of other kit. It becomes obvious fairly quickly that we need to separate so that he can take his time. About half way round we are caught up by some other members of the group who started off after we had, taking the tram into Jerusalem from near the hotel (more on this later).

Eventually we complete the walk and head off for lunch to Israel’s answer to Starbucks - Aroma - which we were told was so successful that it put starbucks out of business there. Lunch is a sandwich and a bottle of drink for the equivalent of £10/CAD15 each.

After lunch we go our own way, heading up to the south section.

Sunday afternoon seems to be a day for schools to go out on field trips. The school children here are some of the most obnoxious I have met anywhere, elbowing and barging passers-by, walking at and blocking tourists, generally behaving with a sense of entitlement I’ve never experienced in children before - God help Israel if this generation don't change before adulthood. We run the gauntlet of the school parties to access the steps up - the day is hot again, and there’s no shade on this part of the wall.


This section has generally less exciting stuff to see, although the views over the Kidron valley are OK. Once we reach the end point we make our way back to the area around the old city of David and buy tickets for Hezekiah’s tunnel.

The tunnel itself is cut through solid rock for around 533 meters, is wide enough for a man that isn’t fat and in places so low as to require me to duck uncomfortably, a lack of lighting requiring that walkers take a torch as they wade through the water that varies between ankle and mid-thigh deep - all fine then. ;-) 

Unfortunately we get stuck between a group of teenage schoolgirls, screaming and throwing water over each other, and a group of students in their late teens & early 20s who shout & sing. The girls frequently stop, which makes for discomfort when standing in a tunnel that feels about 4 feet high, and by the time we reach the zigzag section that marks roughly half way, we are ready to stop.

Eventually daylight is seen in the distance, and we emerge at a pool of siloam (possibly not THE pool of siloam).


There are 2 options for travelling back at this point - either past the pool and up on the road, or via a tunnel that runs back up the hill to the CoD - though the signage doesn’t express it like that. By happy chance we decide to take the tunnel - probably part of the Roman-era sewer system that ran below a wide stairway & ramp that went from the temple area to the pool at the bottom - and get a much better sense of how the 2 might have been connected 2000 years ago over the roughly 600-800 meter distance. After this we walk past some of the CoD ruins, out into the current city & carefully read the map to negotiate our way to the Damascus gate again.


At this point we then make a mistake - trying to use the tram system to get back.

We caught the tram in the right direction after getting advice from the local tourist information centre, alighting at Ammunition hill.

Where is Ammunition hill????

A quick search on the maps on my phone suggested that the Ambassador hotel was just a few hundred yards away, but the location suggested turned out to be the main police depot for the area. A passerby can’t help us either, and in the end we try to use a combination of phone and tourist maps to navigate us to something we might recognise.

Now before the obvious mockery, we are usually pretty good at this kind of thing, finding our way to all sorts of places in foreign lands.

Not this time.
 
We walk for an hour before discovering that we are on the Jericho road, about level with Jerusalem, but to the east side. Along the route we pass many landmarks that we've seen from the coach, but none of them allow us to place our location. After our experience a few nights before I pray for a merciful taxi & and lo and behold a man walks out of a café and gets into the driving seat of a taxi right beside me, but when I ask for the Ambassador hotel he holds up his hands and shakes his head.

So we do it the way we’ve had to so much now - we figure it out ourselves.
 
Having finally found where we are on the map - where we REALLY are now - we navigate gradually back to the Nablus road that we should have been on. A hotel receptionist on the way is able to direct us (incorrectly as it turned out) to the Ambassador, and after around another 20min we finally get back, sweaty, sore of foot and exhausted.

The relief is huge.