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Good Friday: Seven Last Words From The Cross

Obviously it’s too late for this year, but I thought I’d share with you a resource I used in a meditation for Good Friday this morning. For some time now I’ve received regular emails from the Audiopot website. On this site you can find radio-style broadcasts in MP3 format on Christian themes. It was set up by a long-standing evangelical missionary organisation, HCJB Global, whose activities have included radio and media for many years.

Recently, they posted on the site a series of four-minute meditations on the ‘seven last words from the Cross’. I downloaded them (you need to register free of charge on the site in order to do that or to preview them in full). There is no compulsion to pay for the downloads, but they ask if you can donate 50p per item to help towards the cost of the site. And that is almost certainly why these MP3s are not in a podcast and/or with an RSS feed.

I don’t know what the reaction of my congregation was this morning, because I had to rush off to another service, but I thought they were worthwhile. They ranged from a woman who lives on the ‘peace line’ in Belfast speaking about ‘Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing’, to the mother of a soldier killed in friendly fire reflecting on ‘Woman, here is your son’ and an elderly dying minister talking about ‘Into your hands I commend my spirit’. Nothing trite, triumphalistic or easy.

If these interest you, then I suggest you register on the site and search for ‘Seven last words’.

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A Financial Decision

This week, I bought a new toy. Actually, you might say I’m treating it less like a toy and more like a pet, given how regularly I am feeding it and taking it for walks.

I bought an iPod.

I’ve wanted one for aeons. I love music. I have a large CD collection. The thought of portable, available music is bliss. Yet I’ve never bought an iPod before.

Sure, the last time I had to buy a mobile phone, I bought one that came with an MP3 player. But despite good reviews, the Sony Ericsson W810i proved to be unrecyclable rubbish. As a phone it’s good, but the MP3 is terrible. The software provided is the most unreliable I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve become quite acquainted with Sony Ericsson‘s technical support people, who could only blame it on an unspecified clash with other programs on our PC. What are the problems? When I do get tracks on it, either because the software got out of the bed the right side just for once, or because I resort to a conventional copy and paste in Windows, it has a sneaky trick for me. It mangles the order of the tracks. Usually, they are completely reversed. Occasionally, just the first track is moved to the end. Imagine that when you’re listening to a live recording, such as Bruce Cockburn‘s brilliant recent release Slice O Life.

Then it has another trick. It calls this ‘Playback failed’. At the end of a track (and lately in the middle, too) it goes on strike. The only solution is to reboot the phone.

In short, it’s about as productive as a nineteen seventies British Leyland shop steward. I swear I have a Friday afternoon phone, much as we used to speak of being saddled with Friday afternoon cars.

So I’ve been Googling around forums, seeking advice. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who have reported the same faults with this phone. (So maybe it’s not a Friday afternoon one, but Sony Ericsson’s regular standard. Do they supply specially tweaked ones to reviewers and then ship piles of manure to the shops?) I’ve tried all the suggestions I could find. Nothing has improved the phone.

Well, I clearly needed a new MP3 player. And rather like Janis Joplin singing, ‘O Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz‘, I prayed, ‘O Lord, please may I have an iPod?’

Now my ideal iPod would be an iPod Classic. The 120Gb version. No, actually, the short-lived 160GB model. I would need all that capacity and more to fit in what I want. But the price was not right. Money for treats is not plentiful chez Faulkner. I could pray for the Lord to provide, but what had he provided? I had £25 in Amazon vouchers, and someone had also recently given me £20. The new bottom of the range 4GB iPod Shuffle was £56.60 on Amazon, whereas everybody else was charging the full £59.00. Whoo and indeed hoo, a £2.40 discount. I would only need to find £11.60 of my own money.

That was manageable, but was it right? I’ve always made a point of praying about financial decisions, especially big ones. I know this isn’t the biggest, but much as I wanted an iPod, I knew I could be giving in to self-indulgence here. There have been various occasions when God’s answer has been dramatically clear in my life. One was about getting to theological college the first time, when I was turned down for a student grant. There is a long and wonderful story I can tell about how God provided the finances.

And in 1998, I had another example. I was praying about buying a new computer. I wanted one. The old one was crawling and there was little more that could be done to cure its arthritis. I had an ongoing prayer, asking God to show me whether it was right to buy a new one or whether I was merely justifying my love of PCs.

I had a woman in one of my churches who had received the most remarkable gift of prophecy. One Saturday, she went down to the church building to pray on her own. While she was at the front of the worship area near the pulpit and communion table, she prayed for me. She told me soon afterwards that the Lord had told her to tell me I could have what I wanted. She had no idea that I was praying about buying a new PC.

It wasn’t so dramatic with the iPod. It clicked in a simple way. What was the reason I’d gone for a phone with an MP3 player? Answer: because I need to exercise more., and I needed a motivation to get out walking. Listening to music and podcasts became my incentive. All I can say is that still just felt ‘right’, and hence I welcomed my new silver arrival on Thursday morning.

And this experience prompts me to ask: what are the criteria you use as a Christian in making a serious financial decision? One or two of mine have poked their heads above the parapet in this story, not least the importance of prayer in the discernment of motives. Let’s have a conversation below in the Comments where we can encourage one another. And if you have some good stories, please share them. I for one would love to read them.

Christian Resources Exhibition

As trailled yesterday, I drove to the Christian Resources Exhibition today. Why do a round trip of around 150 miles once a year? Isn’t it just today’s equivalent to the moneychangers in the Temple?

It could be, but I don’t use it like that. I asked a treasurer at one church and stewards at another what they might like me to look out for, so I took a list. That helped me focus on where to spend my time and where just to smile and walk on quickly. I did end up talking to other people, not least some companies I hadn’t previously seen on the church website scene, but I could largely concentrate and easily not lose time on some stalls.

What was I seeking? Two of my churches face problems now in having a musician available for every service. I obtained some details about electronic reproduction of hymns and worship songs. Hymn Technology were plugging their HT-300 Hymnal Plus, and that might well be a good solution for one of the churches. DM Music (whom I’ve used for various things in both previous circuits) are still selling affordable MIDI file players from Roland. We bought one for a church in my last circuit. They have become more sophisticated now and will also handle MP3s, but are good for churches on a tight budget. The guy was also honest, in that once I said we owned a Yamaha Clavinova keyboard, he said we didn’t need the MIDI player if it were a modern Clav; we just needed to buy the MIDI files of the particular hymns and put them on a USB memory stick, because today’s Clavs have USB ports and we could play the files that way.

My other search target was unsuccessful, though: one church wanted information about communion kneelers and pulpit falls. I could have obtained all sorts of information about vestments and the like, but not about these. I’m sure we’ll track down what we want through other means, though.

There were a few personal interests I wanted to look up. I always like the bookstalls, but resisted this year. Partly that was because I have several books piled up from the sabbatical, partly it was because brutally in an Internet age the deals weren’t that good. I know that will sound awful to some Christian booksellers who will rightly point out that Amazon is not a ministry, but a minister whose wife is not in paid employment only has so many pennies and cost becomes a real factor for us. (And I do support the local Christian bookshops whenever possible: the Diocesan Resources Centre is a mine of information; the other bookshop is the local agent for IVP’s Leadership Book Club, so they get some orders from me, too, when the good books aren’t too Calvinist!)

I also wanted to see the stall for the Essex Christian Healing Trust, on whose committee I serve. They were at the show for the first time, and getting encouraging responses. It was also pleasing to see them in a section with other healing ministries, with whom there was an evident good rapport rather than competition. 

I took my rucksack as a disincentive to those exhibitors who want to thrust large plastic bags into your hand. There is a certain environmental unfriendliness to the exhibition in that respect.

But one aspect of the CRE always makes it a pleasure. I always bump into old friends, I just don’t know who it’s going to be from year to year. Today, I saw three old friend, all of whom had connections with my last appointment. Adam used to be the curate at one of my ecumenical churches; he’s been an incumbent for several years now. Bernard was my technical whizz at another church, always able to come up with some amazing Heath Robinson contraption to solve an electrical problem. And Peter, a pastor, missionary and international evangelist. He travels to Uganda, India and other places, eschewing the big conurbations to take the Gospel to obscure rural areas.

Yet this year, there was one other meeting with a friend. Someone I’ve known through blogging for a few years, but never met before. Dave Warnock. It’s funny how you have an image of a person before you meet them, and find you’re wrong. In Dave’s case, I did have an image: there’s a photo of him on his blog. Somehow, though, I’d wrongly projected that into an idea of him as taller and thinner than he is. (No, Dave, I’m not saying you’re fat, just that I was wrong.) And somehow from his writing, I didn’t expect such an extravert!

It reminded me there are all sorts of ways in which we wrongly extrapolate in church life and outside. How tempting to fill in the missing details, only to be hopelessly wrong!

Podcasts

Most mornings I go for a walk after the school run. As I stride out, I gaze upon the architectural wonder of our 1980s housing estate.

No, that isn’t the reason. It’s blood pressure. Longstanding friends will know how I used to have a dog. While he was still vigorous, he used to take me for a daily walk. He was a lively, if obscure breed in this country – a Finnish Spitz. When he died three years ago, I started putting on weight. Eventually, a medical paid for by the church nearly two years ago raised concerns. To cut a long story (largely filled with my procrastination) short, my prescription is mild medication and regular brisk walks.

But how to make the walks interesting? I decided that an MP3 player would make it worthwhile. Not being able to stretch to an iPod (or at least, not to the 160GB model I would have wanted for my CD collection), I bought a phone with an MP3 player.

Unfortunately, the Sony Ericsson W810i is a pain in the neck, despite outstanding reviews. The software on the PC always crashes, and SE technical support tried to blame other software I had installed (not that they could say which). When you transfer CDs to it, the tracklisting is scrambled. The first track may be put at the end, they may be put in reverse or even random order.

But it’s OK with podcasts. You only have one ‘track’ there. Even the W810i can’t foul that up.

So I’ve started to entertain and edify myself by listening to podcasts while I walk. For music, the weekly production from The Word magazine is entertaining and informative, as is their occasional ‘Backstage’ interview. On the latter, I’ve heard conversations with folkie Pete Atkin and his famoust lyricist Clive James, and a sci-fi author whose name escapes me, but who believes in ‘mathematical Platonism’, jsut at the time when Platonism is long discredited in theology.

Christian-wise, I’ve subscribed to the Sunday talks from HTB and heard the odd decent sermon. Godpod from HTB’s St Paul’s Theological Centre has so far been a little worthy but dull. Less intellectual on the surface but LOL-funny has been the podcast from the American show Steve Brown Etc. Other pleasures await from the Internet Monk, including his coffee cup apologetics show.

These are just my early explorations. What do you listen to? Any recommendations? Anything to avoid?