Wednesday 29 September 2004

Gone, gone. The wretched thing's left at last!

My tax return, that is.

So simple.

So stressfull.

Tuesday 28 September 2004

Obituary of a good friend.

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Mr Common Sense. Mr Sense had been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.

He will be remembered as having cultivated such value lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm and that life isn't always fair. Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn) and reliable parenting strategies (adults, not kids, are in charge).

His health began to rapidly deteriorate when well intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a six-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Mr Sense declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer aspirin to a student; but, could not inform the parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Finally, Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband; churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense finally gave up the ghost after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot, she spilled a bit in her lap, and was awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust, his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason. He is survived by two stepbrothers; My Rights and Ima Whiner. Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still know him pass this on, if not join the majority and do nothing.

Monday 27 September 2004

Pressing forward, not looking back.

"I imagine there are a lot of people that could find incredible richness in the traditions and theology of their denominations"

I took this quote from a post on The Heresy about the Anabaptists, and their rise and decline. The thrust was that there is a great deal of value in the traditions of the various denominations and movements scattered through church history. Maybe because of what God is saying to the church line I'm part of, and maybe because He's saying it to me, but I feel quite strongly otherwise.

"You say 'I am rich. I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing'. But you do not realise you are wretched, pitiful, poor blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire so that you can become rich..."

This was not spoken to individuals, but to a church. This particular church had an appearence of godliness, but was neither persuing God with all it's heart, nor turning away from Him. Sound familiar? To me, with every move of God's spirit has come fresh reminders of different aspects of the truth He wants us to walk in. For example one can draw the need to confess our sins to our bretheren from Catholic practice, the need for each individual to find their own faith from the anabaptists, the need to be baptised from the baptists etc etc. The problem is that what has become of these 'traditions' are man's way of holding on to what they've got when the Spirit of God has progressed to the next truth He planned to reveal. The tradition is a way of making sure everyone keeps on doing what they did, rather than following the cloud.

Paul grew up in a culture rich with traditions given them by God. He had position and credibility in those traditions, yet what did he say? "I count it all rubbish compared to knowing Jesus". I appreciate this is slightly out of context, since he was referring to Judaism vs Christianity, but I think the comparison is a sound one - he was comparing a set of traditions that had been organised to substitute for a living faith in God and seeing they could not measure up to *knowing* God.

Please don't think I'm throwing away all the theology that goes with church history. However a portion of it has been carefully constructed to support whatever heresies were used to build and maintain the tradition, and it all needs thorough and careful examination before it should be accepted.

We recently were visited in the main church in Oxford by John Kelly from Bangor in Northern Ireland. He preached an impassioned message about how important it was to never be satisfied with seeing fulfilled God's promises to us. The thrust was that as one set of 'promises' are completed, so God opens up a wider expanse of possibilities to us, with 'promises' to match the wider scope. As an example he used the 'missionaries' sent from Ireland throughout Europe in the middle ages (he gave dates and much detail, but alas, I didn't record them) planting churches and bringing both education and the word of God to the courts of europe. His point - it was inconceivable that an insignificant church in a geographical backwater could have such a major role in a burgeoning world. It was only because several generations built each upon the previous, getting hold of God afresh for greater things that it was able to happen.

The essence of all this is that while there may be some nuggets to be found, I believe traditions are just man's way of keeping the clockwork wound long after the electricity of the Spirit has departed. I am sure that if Wesley appeared tomorrow, he would ask the methodists "What on earth do you think you're doing?" He would not be worrying whether people would still be talking about the things he talked of - he'd be wanting to know what God had done over the last couple of centuries. He wouldn't want people to find comfort in methodism - he'd want people to cast themselves on God for their ongoing salvation.

I want it to be said that I served God in my generation, but I certainly would not wish to leave behind anything that will allow other men to walk as I did, rather than find their own walk with God. This is not a negative word, but for me at least, a call to press forward, leaving behind all that has been and straining for the goal.

Saturday 25 September 2004

French market in Bicester

They apparently came all the way from France too! It was rather fun to bonjour, merci and au revoir with the real thing in sheep street.

I took the camera along and, fotopic willing, there should be 2 collections of images from it. I still haven't completed the holiday pics OR the Basel pics yet, but there were few enough of these (around 55, edited down to 42ish) that I just got them through sharpish. There were some interesting patterns, colours and people for the camera to catch.

Links are here for set I and set II.

Wednesday 22 September 2004

Fascinating discussion

that however seems to be providing more heat than light here.

It's funny, but you can say things that appear to have a clear and obvious meaning, yet the reader totally misunderstands. And their reply shows they completely missed it. In the thread in question there is the problem of patriotism overcoming objectivity. Shame really.

The original article was all about how Europe and America perceive each other. I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that people should not be allowed to use web forums until they can demonstrate an acceptance of differing opinions in other people.

Oh well.

Tuesday 21 September 2004

Delusions of adequacy

Are what I may have had recently.

Y'know that rosy glow you get when things work out? In my case, feeling like I'd lead a significant time of worship, managing to organise a couple of things. That's like saying to God "go ahead and show me what I'm really like" and of course He does.

I managed a complete debacle last night trying to organise the first worship team meeting for ages. For various reasons I'd managed to get the date, time and location to everyone. Everyone, that is, except the people who's house it was at :(

Oh, there are extenuating circumstances, but they count for diddly squat. I could have crawled under a brick last night, and never emerged again, let alone carried on leading things. But people were gracious, Mark and Helen coped with us turning up and the evening was of some use after all.

Life goes on.

Monday 20 September 2004

An interesting link and resources

For us as Christians in a postmodern world.

Facing the challenge.

This link is not opposing postmodernism, but it does start to address how we need to adapt our approach (if we hadn't already) to people with this outlook. It also helps show why Alpha has been effective.

Sunday 19 September 2004

Hug, hug, huggy

We had a celebration in Oxford this morning, rather than our usual church meeting. There were lots of good and prophetic things said, but I don't want to discuss them now.

A celebration is, at least partially, a time to maintain relationships with the more distant bits of the body of Jesus. In other words, say 'hi' to all those friends that you haven't seen for a while, catch up on news etc.

And it's a time of hugging.

Women generally seem much more relaxed with a hug than men. There are some guys that will do it happily, like my good friend Nigel (married to Liz, from 'somewhere green'). There are some guys that are too large to hug easily, like my friend Toby who's around 6'4" and 280lbs.

I also met Sarah (from "the family Clarke") there, just up visiting. Hope my hug wasn't too much of a surprise. Good to see you again.

Wednesday 15 September 2004

Please pray for Chris

We've just got back from the hospital. While we were doing circuit training this evening her vision in 1 eye went very dark, then started going into sparkles and she felt disorientated. After a few miniutes the vision partially cleared, but even now, hours later it still isn't right. On top of that she had a dull ache behind the eye which has sharpened over the last few hours to become very painful. Now just moving the eyeball hurts enough to make her yelp.

The hospital checked her reflexes and looked for pressure behind the eyes, but didn't find any. Tomorrow she'll go to the optician for more detailed examination.

Hope she can sleep.

Tuesday 14 September 2004

Well, the blog roll has seen a few changes.

There were a couple of links that I've stopped bothering to follow, mostly because I feel they've stopped saying anything significant. Jordon's still there, because he often links to interesting things, although he's stopped posting much of his own thoughts. Somewhere green is sleeping, but I hope that it'll come back to life one day.

So, please welcome Marc and Johanna.

Talking of success.

I had a call from a head hunter today. The job sounds really interesting, and is related to what I do already quite strongly. I've read through the description, and I'm very sure that I could do it well.

But I like my present job, and if I go then it will add very greatly to the stress of those left behind. And I think I actually love the people I work with too.

Not too hard to know what the answer is, apart from Chris's "we don't want to move now" after I told her.

Which should we be more scared of: success or failure?

I was reading Scott's blog just now. He's been talking about the fear of allowing others to see him as he really is. And as the leader of a fellowship, so the people. They are discovering things about themselves too.

The post from Rose's blog struck a chord. She'd stepped out and danced, feeling self conscious about it, yet obviously with ability. When that ability was recognised and ridicule didn't result she felt amazed, yet released at the same time. This struck a chord for me in a number of ways.

Failure is a familiar friend, and occasional enemy, to me. I'm used to it and while not necessarily looking for it, have strategies in place to cope.

Success can be frightening.

Or to be more accurate, other people's recognition and appreciation of success can be very difficult to handle. I've been reasonably successful at work, and from time to time having that publicly recognised has caused a welling of emotion that is very difficult to handle. Not pride, but almost tears and certainly discomfiture. Church is a little different, since you can shrug off a bit of praise or say "it wasn't me: God did it" and often that's true.

And then there's confidence and assurance.

I wonder how much faith is linked to confidence? This Sunday I led worship. Before the meeting Clive (playing Keyboards) Paul(meeting leader) and I got together briefly. I said I had a cold, and that if the meeting went well then it was 'God's fault'. And although I stepped out in my own little strength, and stumbled a bit, He then took over and I was able to pray out words about healing hearts. I could instruct people to kneel before God in a way that 'I' could never do. But it all just happened, and rather like being part of a dance troup or playing a piece of music, there was a flow and I was moving into each place (rather lumpily as I didn't know where that place was) following the unseen score.

And you follow this or that, then people think you're a worship leader, and successful. I can feel those unwanted emotions even while typing. All I've done is read off a page I can't quite see and forget to trip up.

Monday 13 September 2004

It's good not to get in the way.

By Sunday morning my cold had fully developed - nothing too serious, but a husky voice, fuzzy head and general feeling tired. What does the bible say - God is able to be strong in our weaknesses. Well, I was down to lead worship, and He was able to turn up without me getting in the way too much. What more can one ask?

Sunday 12 September 2004

Long post warning

The account from my visit to Basel in all it's glory. Read it if you have trouble sleeping - almost guaranteed to be a cure!

Well, good morning everyone.

This is the second start at typing for the blog, here at London Heathrow airport. I started off thinking I had plenty of time: the flight was leaving at 9.30 and I got to the airport at about 7.30. But once parking, check in etc were all factored in, I was no better than ‘comfy’ (i.e. not running for the gate).

I’m glad the check in desk is already open for me. I’m taking the smaller corporate exhibition stand etc with me, which consists of a 1.3 meter high bright yellow plastic drum on wheels (needs them) and a small suitcase with lights and cables. I’ve also got a back for the laptop and a very small bag with overnight essentials. A pleasant lass 2 people in front turned to look at my ‘effects’ with amazement. It’s obvious it’s all equipment, and I can see she wants to comment, so I wave my tiny O/N bag and say “and this one is for me, OK?” which gets a smile.

Managed to grab a bite of breakfast at the Café Uno in the departure lounge. All the cafes are hidden on the 3rd level, but what the heck. Start writing and breakfast arrives, so I can’t complain. Sat across from me are 2 older guys and 2 younger girls, one of who is one of the loveliest looking women I’ve seen for a long time. Well, until she lights up and puffs away. I’m slightly puzzled, because the women look too much younger to be wives, but they’re all chatting away very intimately, and less like bosses and employees. I don’t know if people watching is good or bad, but at least it gives the imagination something to work with.

Anyway, off to the plane. I should have 10 mins before we start to board, but the laptop is painfully slow to start on battery power now I’ve installed XP SP2. 3 or 4 mins of waiting screens I reckon, plus another half minute while word awakes up. I type the first 2 sentences and then we get called.

*edit* I’ve just started the laptop while waiting to return at Basel airport. It’s been charging all day, and started almost as quickly as if it were plugged in. Who knows what’s going on? Not Bill Gates, certainly.

In the tunnel it’s like a family reunion. Everyone seems to know everyone else, backs are slapped, hands shaken, a few introductions made. Both the lass I spoke to in the check in queue and the people from the café are there. Onto the plane, find the seat and then settle down for the next 1.5 hours. The inflight magazine is finished before the plane even taxis to the runway, and I’m gently steaming. A key feature is about Switzerland and banking services for High Net Worth Individuals (or HNWI as the article repeats). All the way through there are overtones about what money can buy you and how it makes you worthy of notice and honour. After takeoff I read a paper I got from the net yesterday about singlet oxygen degradation of Vitamin D, which is actually interesting.

Landed. Basle/Basel (depending on whether you’re Francais or Deutsch speaking) is blinkin’ hot and steamy. 28’C in brilliant sunshine (it was raining when we took off) is too much when you’ve a shed load of baggage and have to wear your jacket too. The cab driver from the airport drives like his wife’s giving birth in the back.

As the city flashes past I get a bit of a feel for it. Between the airport and centre is a major industrial area, all stainless steel tanks, chimneys and fabricated sheet buildings. Moving into the residential areas, it appears a little scruffier than Austria: roughly on a par with Germany and quite a lot tidier than France. There is a uniformity of colour scheme to the buildings that is immediately striking. Most houses are cream with green shutters or window frames and doors. It’s all quite homely and attractive though, very pleasant looking.

The conference centre and exhibition halls (Messe) are huge. I manage to get a bit overawed, but eventually get to the booth, get the stand up etc. By this time it’s 2.00pm, and a need for lunch is starting to press, so I head for the restaurant on the street outside.

This is where things start getting linguistically interesting. Basel is close to the border by Germany and France, and you can see these racial origins well represented on the streets, as well as what I think of as classically Swiss looking people. On top of that, Swiss German (the dominant language) is a different dialect, with a very ‘English’ sound to it, to the point that if you can’t hear words clearly it’s easy to think someone is speaking English. Now when I sat down in the restaurant outside and I got the menu, all the dishes were listed first boldly in French, then in German and finally in English. So when the waitress turned up to take my order I requested “Roti Epaule et une bierre, shlossgold si’vous plait” (or however it’s written). After a little rapid-fire German I was told “sorry, but I don’t speak French”. Then “ you would like to order the…. pause, then flaps arms like wings…. roast pork and a beer? Jah!

Dinner was good. What was advertised as ‘butter beans’ meant long green beans covered in garlic butter, and with roast new potatoes too, all quite delicious. I was thinking how good the beer seemed, only to find it was alcohol free!

Back in again, the exhibition area was chaos, with many of the bigger stands are still in the early stages of construction. I won’t bore you with the registration saga, but eventually I got fed up, found my hotel (got a bollocking from Frau Manuela Kroll, the resident Mrs Terrible for making an internet booking when they didn’t have any rooms free) before going out for a walk.

Basel is a fascinating place of contrasts. Just round the corner from the hotel and conference centre was a sex bar, a pole dancing bar (advertised as ‘American dancing’ – insight into how Europeans view America?) and 3 shops selling the kind of underwear that normally never leaves the house etc etc, plus a few slightly seedy conventional shops. However I kept walking and things became progressively better. By the time I reached the Rhine it was really rather nice, although later in the afternoon I came across what look like deals being done. I’ll try to get the pics up ASAP (yeah, said that about the holiday pics too).

Don’t EVER get an Orange phone.

Mine ran out of credit, and I couldn’t get it recharged without either A) using a 4 digit PIN number that I didn’t have) or B) a swipe card obtained in Switzerland. And you can’t call customer services for help if you don’t have any credit. Faecal.

While walking round I came across the main church building, which is a focal point for the city. At one end there seemed to be a bit of a wedding going on, but I avoided the participants and wandered through the cloisters and into the open square at the back, overlooking the Rhine. It was fairly busy for 4.30pm on a hot Friday afternoon, however while I was there I noticed 2 crowds gathering: men on one side, women on the other. The Men all had a single snare drums and the women all carried short flutes. Aha thought I – authentic spontaneous Swiss folk gathering. Took some pictures as they started playing, then noticed than I seemed to be standing in a rather large gap. When I looked round, there was the bride and groom from the wedding! Exit stage left, and try to become as inconspicuous as possible.

After walking round the city for some hours my legs have virtually given out.

I bumped into the lass that I’d spoken with at the airport, back at the exhibition. She was over from Israel (there was a significant Israeli contingent) and we passed the time of day. She mentioned how much safer it seemed over here than in Israel. I also bumped into a couple of people here from the UK, eventually spending the evening after the last session has finished in their company. Got to bed with a tummy half full of smoked ham canapés and a half litre of weissbier. Mrs. Terrible got the last laugh on me though. The (smelly) room they found me faces out on the main road past the Messe. The Hotel has a bar attached, and there was a group downstairs that were having a party until after 2.00am. It’s too hot to shut the window, and in any case, the Tram’s bells and the laughter penetrate through the glass.

Saturday 11th Sept, 6.45 am.


Amazing how one word covers it all.

Sore throat (been developing since Thursday, made worse by talking) legs *really* hurt from walking on top of circuit training, generally crappy from insufficient sleep.

Crawl back to the meeting after breakfast and checking out. Breakfast was lovely, except for the coffee (which had more bitterness than a Thomas Hardy novel) and the grapefruit juice that seemed to remove any remaining skin in my throat at first swallow.

The first session starts well, with Zinkernagel bringing some reality back to experimental data, explaining why experiments sometimes don’t follow reality. It then deteriorated into a semi-coherent mumble, with the otherwise eminent JF Bach from France struggling with English while talking about immunotherapies to handle diabetes. When he finishes there is an ‘invitation’ to the delegates to look around the exhibition, and a cue for me to get my backside downstairs. Fast.

I ‘enjoy’ a coffee even more aggressive than my first, plus an excellent choc-chip muffin while manning the stand. We have a very small (3M x 3M) booth with a simpl,e backdrop and posters, plus a few catalogues. Some of the (now completed) stands are vast edifices, temples to the art of attracting the idly wandering punter. Thus we have Pfizer running a quiz show, complete with compere. Next door to me, Sanofi have a couple of nice coffee machines and a supply of croissants, pastries etc. Novo-Nordisk have set up an internet café. Even Astra Zeneca (with a stand the same size as mine) attract punters with freebies like sweets, pens, notepads and a special modem cable in a credit-card sized device that retracts so fast it threatens to take a finger off J

The upside is that I only have to deal with real customers – those that actually want our products or want to ask questions. At least. feeling as rough as I do, I haven’t got to beat off crowds, and it has given me time to write this up, live from the conference, as it were.

I mentioned the family atmosphere earlier. Well that has continued. Everywhere people greet each other like long-lost brothers. I have seen a number of couples walking round, holding hands completely un-selfconsciously. I’m amazed at the number of pregnant women here too – I believe there are around 1400 to 1600 delegates, and I must have seen at least 10, probably more like 15 pregnant ladies. There are 4 or 5 couples with children.

It‘s a very international affair too. Last night I struggled to find anyone else that spoke English automatically (I don’t know the people in this field, so fraternising wasn’t so easy). There are Turks and Greeks, Jews (complete with skullcap) and Arabs (women wearing clothing covering everything but the face and hands, Egyptians, Slavs, Serbs, Lithuanians, Russians, Koreans, Poles, Argentinians and Americans, as well as all the traditional western European races. The Italians are the most noticeable. Every time they meet there are loud cries of greeting, hugging, kissing on both cheeks etc. Quite a show.

Right, 3.05 pm. Time to break the stand for the return home. It was OK first thing, but for the last hour or so no-one’s come into the booth. There have been people constantly milling however, so I couldn’t just escape to the meetings.

5.00pm sat in the departure lounge. Well, that was relatively painless, if a little more hassle than the outward journey. I got the stand down and packed, thanks to a little help from Paul of Astra Zeneca, who were next to me. Reached the airport by 4.30pm. First oddity, all the airport staff speak to each other in French. Except when they don’t, of course. Next, my luggage is 2Kg overweight, so I have to pay another 34CHF for the priviledge (no one minded on the way out). Then, because the yellow box with the stand is so large, it has to go through a special door and different X-ray scanner. Finally I’m offered the opportunity to use a special lounge at a bargain price. 30 CHF seems rather a lot to me, so although I’m assured it is a “very lovely lounge” I try to decline graciously and wander through to departures.

On this side of the gate it makes the Marie celeste look like the London underground in the rush hour. The airport is beautiful (although it stinks of cigarettes everywhere). I don’t know how it’s economical to run the place though, unless mid-week traffic is a great deal higher. Anyway, I’ve just made the interesting discovery that although I need gate 24, despite the fact I’m sitting by gate 22 and 23, the next one along is gate 25. Ummm.

Stay with me. I’m just going to hibernate you while I look for the gate.

Awake again now? Good.

That wasn’t so bad really, since it was just around the corner after all. The sign for 25-30 actually indicated for passengers to walk down some steps. For a little while there I thought the Swiss might be more like the French, rather than the Germans, as I suspect them to be.

Since this posting is now 4.5 A4 M$ word pages long, I’ll stop there unless anything entertaining happens. Hope you found this entertaining.

Thursday 9 September 2004

Better, calmer

after the storm.

Nuts. I've not been that angry for ages. Must be all the energy I should now have since I've been on holiday. I was so fed up with everything that I've come very close to wishing I could hand in my notice.

By the grace of God, I've settled down a bit. Thankyou Father.

I see blogger is publishing again.

I wonder what else can go wrong.

We had a coldroom go COLD on us last night. instead of +2'C to +8'C it went to -12'C. We may have just lost our entire stock for sale. On top of that I've got sales people whinging and asking for stupid irrational things that they insist are important, but don't actually move things forward.


And I've been listening to a new worship CD I was given. The production and music on it have left me feeling really churned up - they are just so bad. Why is it that 'christian' music is so lifeless, sterile, pretentious and dull. These are big names here - Tim Hughes, Rebecca st James (sounds like she's being distracted from an orgasm while she's singing. Really.) Matt Redman and a bunch of others. It's completely trivial, but it's occupying far too much emotional energy.

Why isn't it ever good, coming home from holidays

Wednesday 8 September 2004

My feet have barely touched the ground

after the holiday, when I'm off to Basel on Friday. I'll try to get some pictures of the city if I get out of the conference at all. It's the European Society for Pediatric Endocrinology meeting.

Monday 6 September 2004

While I was away I read "The Heavenly Man"

In 2 days.

Many things are still dropping through the system from this - I've not read anything so significant for a long time, despite the fact it's a biography and contains no formal teaching whatsoever. I can't possible review it meaningfully, but I will make comments from time to time. It shows how shallow we are in the west, that issues like sexuality and marriage, desires for comfort and possessions can get in the way of us pursuing God's will for our lives.

A couple of things I'll mention:

In their bible school where they are training people to go out and take the gospel, they don't just receive bible teaching. They're also trained how to jump from a 2nd floor window while handcuffed and survive, and how to handle being tortured.

Western 'christian' philosophy and teaching caused the Chinese house churches to become fragmented and in a state of dis-unity.

God's will can include imprisonment, intense physical suffering, deprivation and even death for Christians. God's will, not man's or the devil's.

I wonder if many people actually believe in the same god at all?

Saturday 4 September 2004

I'm back, in case you wondered.

And I can confidently say the French Alps are a darn long way from rural Oxfordshire!

We left the apartment at 8.45am this morning, and got to Calais around 5.10pm. 645 miles including a 40 min lunch break, plus 2 other stops: you do the math. Finally arrived home at 8.00pm UK time after almost 800 miles. And why does it have to get so hot? The car has no air con, and the temperature gauge said the air was 32'C. Even in England it was 28-29'C, which is almost unheard of for September. My brain is now scrambled by the heat and the miles.

Maybe it's going to be an Indian summer? Dry trails would be nice.

I have more than 350 images to sort through, although I'll try to get that done soon. Tomorrow is purportedly a day of rest.

By for now.