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Sabbatical, Day 20: Libraries, Linux And Slow Broadband

If anything demonstrates a failure to understand different religions today, it’s this story: Bible moved to library top shelf over inequality fears. Muslims in Leicester had been upset to find the Koran on lower shelves of public libraries. They felt their holy text should be on the top shelf to show that it is above commonplace things. Librarians agreed to their request, but also moved copies of the Bible to the top shelf.

I’m prepared to believe they did so out of good intentions. Perhaps they didn’t want to look like they were favouring Islam over other faiths. Perhaps they thought all holy texts should be treated the same, as if the holy book of a religion occupies the same relative place in each faith. If so, they were adopting an approach that has been used in schools to teach about different religions. It takes the phenomena of various faiths, and directly compares them. It is a flawed approach. For, as reaction to this story shows, religious texts are treated differently. My research supervisor, Richard Bauckham, used to say that the place of the Koran in Islam was more akin to the place of Christ in Christianity, because it is revered as eternal, uncreated and coming down out of heaven. 

Christians do not treat the Bible that way, however ‘high’ their doctrine of inspiration. In the story, even the spokesperson for the extremely conservative Christian Institute is concerned that the scriptures are not placed out of reach. They are meant to be within the reach of all, a point understood by the spokesperson for Civitas when he called for libraries to be run on principles of librarianship rather than as places of worship. However much we honour the Bible for its revelation of God, we do not worship it. Only God is to be worshipped. The Bible is a holy tool. Like all tools, it needs to be close at hand.

How ironic this news comes in the same week that the atheist Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has said that children need to be taught the Bible or they will fail to understand our culture. As a Christian, I would of course want to make much larger claims for the narrative of Scripture than that, arguing that it is the framework to make sense of life, the universe and everything. However, I welcome his comments nonetheless.

Meanwhile, on the personal front, once again family circumstances have meant I’ve achieved none of my sabbatical aims today. I stayed in with Mark this morning while Debbie, Aunt Pat and Rebekah went into town. At lunch-time, Debbie and Pat left for a day trip to Sussex. However, Mark has been full of beans – or, more accurately even more pasta shapes – and we managed his first trip out this afternoon since he became ill. The local library was putting on a James Bond afternoon for children. If I took it seriously, I wouldn’t like it. Although I’m not a convinced pacifist, I don’t believe you talk about guns and poison casually. The visiting speaker was from a military museum, and was showing examples of equipment used by British spies a few decades ago. Thankfully, it went over our children’s heads and they were more keen to take out some of the books to which they normally gravitate. 

Finally, I’m trying to install some extras to the Ubuntu Linux partition on my laptop, ready for my next sabbatical jaunt on Monday. Some things install better on that Vista laptop than our Vista desktop – Ubuntu, for one! I might reboot into Windows and see whether the software for my Sony Ericcson Walkman phone will install properly on that machine – it doesn’t on the desktop. Everything so far has been immensely frustrating, because our broadband has slowed to a crawl in the last day or two. I tested it at and it reported a download speed of just 0.1 Mbps. I’ve been trying to find out tonight whether we’ve been throtted by our ISP for over-use, but so far I can’t find anything – not that it’s easy to find out. I’m going to sign off now and try again to find out some answers.

Sabbatical, Day 11

First of all, a bit of techie stuff: late last night I finally succeeded in installing Ubuntu Linux in a separate partition on the hard drive of my laptop. Previously, I’ve managed to install it within Windows using ‘wubi’ on our desktop, but that PC always protested regarding a separate installation. Anyway, I saw a suitable hand-holding article in Computeractive magazine in a newsagent last week. I bought it and it came in handy yesterday evening. So now I can have some fun.

Or so I thought. Ubuntu doesn’t recognise the wireless receiver in the laptop, so I can’t connect to the Internet through it while I’m here. Windows Vista only for that task. I’ll be able to use it when connected via an Ethernet cable to our router at home. Not exactly the flexibility you hope for with a laptop, but at least there is an operating system that will to some extent substitute should Windows ever fall over or crawl in RAM.

Anyway, to change the words of Olivia Newton-John, let’s get spiritual. The lectures have been extraordinary today, right from the get-go. Phil Meadows could hardly read a quote from Samuel Chadwick at the beginning of our first session this morning without weeping. A lecture that began in prayer ended in prayer, with some overcome by the power of the Spirit. A constant theme today has been pain at people in church not receiving Gospel basics. It hasn’t been the judgmentalism of such people that can be found in some evangelical circles: it has more been an agony. And the recurring response has been that we are just as free to proclaim the Gospel as we always have been, but with it we are free to be persecuted. There is a constant historical thread that people who have initiated reform or renewal in the church have done so from the margins (how postmodern is that? If you’ve followed my Starfish and the Spider posts, you’ll have seen it recurring there) and have suffered for doing so.

After lunch we had the coffee and cakes I mentioned yesterday. I ended up sitting again with Stephen Skuce, talking about all sorts of things from family to church life to – yes, the question of a PhD again. I shared a particular misgiving I have about the idea. Not the money: we’ll pray about that if it’s right. But I’ve been deeply concerned about motivation. I don’t want to explore this if it’s just an ego trip to get more alphabet soup after my name. Stephen encouraged me that there might be a number of worthy reasons for pursuing one. I really wasn’t ready for these conversations. Suddenly these ideas are accelerating and I’m thinking ‘Oo-er’. Clearly, I shouldn’t have opened my big mouth on Monday!

Well, I’m going to draw this to a close in a moment. I’m typing this whilst taking part in a chat with three other students about children’s openness to God and other aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. Also, someone wants to find the Lego Gospel on the web and have a look. There are a few possible sites she might mean: The Brick Testament, this YouTube clip

or maybe this site.

See you tomorrow.

Left-Handed

Dearly belovèd, my text for today is this:

‘Since the right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body, only left-handed people are in their right mind.’

Copyright © Anything Left-Handed.

Yes, I am one of those select human beings who is left-handed. Moreover, both our children share this delightful trait. My wife, who writes with her right hand, is ‘mixed handed’ – that is, not ambidextrous, where one can perform the same task with either hand, but she is largely split between those activities she performs right-handed and those for which she uses her left hand. Having said that, she is ambidextrous in the use of a computer mouse, and that is important in what I am about to type.

With three left-handers in the house and one who can use a mouse left or right-handed, we have both our PCs set up left-handed. That is more than putting the mouse to the left of the keyboard. It means (in the case of Microsoft Windows) going into Control Panel, finding the Mouse applet, and reversing the mouse buttons, so that left-handers still use their index finger and ring finger as right-handers would do. Just moving the mouse over would mean excessive use of the ring finger and might risk tendinitis. (Ubuntu Linux is similar; with Apple Macs, I understand it’s irrelevant, with mice that have only one button.)

Thus, our children have learned how to use a computer at home in a left-handed fashion. That means no damage to their natural hand-eye co-ordination. It also means no criticism from ignorant right-handers, telling them they are doing things wrongly, which is a common experience for left-handers, and thus little surprise we are more clumsy than the average, and sometimes suffer lower than average self-esteem due to regularly being told we are wrong when we’re not.

Here comes the problem. Nobody forces left-handers to write right-handed any more, to my knowledge – although I once worked with someone younger than me to whom that had happened. But it is astonishing to find schools not understanding that left-handers should be able to use PCs left-handed. Our children’s school didn’t. Our daughter was coming home from school saying she was struggling with the school computers, and always getting her clicks wrong. She was distressed. 

We had raised the issue at a parents’ evening, only to be told that left-handed children were adaptable. To which my question has always been, ‘Why?’ We have to be! I wrote to the teacher, asking that they change the aforementioned mouse settings in Control Panel. No joy.

So another letter. I had downloaded a piece of software recommended by Anything Left-Handed. Once installed, you only have to click CTRL-F12 to alternate between left and right-handed use. Simple? No, the IT guy wasn’t prepared to go round, installing it on every computer.

Instead, they suggested we bought Rebekah her own wireless mouse that she could use. Then it dawned on me – doh! – that it was no solution. The change had to be in the operating system, not the mouse. So I wrote again, also pointing out this wasn’t a Rebekah issue, this was potentially an issue for the 10% of the school population that was left-handed.

All of which brought us to today, and a meeting with the Head Teacher. Now, we love the Head. I have known her for three years, which is two years before she came to our children’s school, because she twisted my arm into taking assemblies at her previous school. She is a lovely, caring person, and in a recent OFSTED was almost promoted to sainthood for her dynamic leadership. She deserved every word of praise.

Nevertheless, I was nervous about seeing her. But there was good news. She had phoned the county IT department. They had confirmed what I had said about Control Panel, so it’s now all systems go, and our children will be able to use the computers left-handed. The Head and Deputy had never come across the issue before, which surprised me, but maybe I’m just a militant left-hander with minor geek tendencies who will stand up for his children! They needed some reassurance that if children learned PCs left-handed at primary school that they would not then have to switch back to right-handed in secondary schools or in industry, but I couldn’t see that would be a problem. They also have decided to survey who is left and who is right-handed in the school, and have asked me for any research on whether left-handers are better or worse at any particular curriculum subjects. It is an amazing result for something that looked so unpromising when I was running up against a major lack of understanding.

I am also thrilled if this means the school is open to expanding its horizons. It is better than I faced at school, although I had far more problems at secondary school than primary. Of course, computers weren’t in schools back in the Stone Age, and primary school was made quite easy by the fact that we only wrote with a pencil. Yes, I got some discoloration on the small finger of my left hand as I moved across the page from left to right, but that was the worst it got. I’ll grant they didn’t know to teach me to slant my paper at 45°, and nor did they know about left-handed scissors (but my parents did, thanks to Anything Left-Handed’s old shop in Brewer Street, London). But it wasn’t oppressive.

Secondary school was, though. I went to a young school where the Head wanted to infuse it with instant ancient traditions. In fact, my brother-in-law read the Wikipedia entry on it and said to my sister, “Good grief, you went to Hogwarts!” It was compulsory to write with a fountain pen. Fountain pens are torture for left-handers, due to our pushing of a pen across the paper. (Indeed, it remains the one thing I don’t enjoy about conducting weddings as a minister – I must use a fountain pen with registrar’s ink to complete the registers.) Ballpoints are different. One sympathetic Maths teacher told me to disregard the school rules and use a ballpoint. However, I would have risked punishment for doing so. So it was that I began the ‘hook’ style of writing that many left-handers adopt. It isn’t good or healthy, but I didn’t know that then. I was just trying to reduce my frequent use of blotting paper.

Similarly, PE lessons were a problem. The one sport at which I was remotely talented was cricket. I bowled left arm. The Games teacher (sorry, ‘master’) would give me the usual ignorant instruction that many left-handers endure in all sorts of situations: “Just reverse what I tell the right-handers.” It was only when a former Middlesex and England cricketer, Jack Robertson, came in to do some coaching, that this was challenged. He told the Games master that left-handers had a special contribution to cricket and I should be nurtured. I don’t think I ever was, once Jack stopped coming.

Worst of all was probably Sixth Form (that’s Years Twelve and Thirteen in new money). We were provided with seats that had a hinged desktop on them. They were all hinged on the right, on which side the desktop was extended so you could rest your right arm. They were shorter on the left side, making for a very stretched writing style. I believe it was one major factor that contributed to the sudden onset of severe neck pain a month before my A-Levels (which I never took).

Much of the time, we left-handers have to accept we are the minority and that most of life is going to be set up for the majority. It doesn’t make it any easier for us to be at a bank or Post Office counter where the pen is always chained on the right, or to have paying-in books with a counterfoil on the left – although major banks have begun to learn their lesson on that and now offer left-handed paying in books and cheque books.

Not only that, the Anything Left-Handed people offer a wonderful range of resources, including one of my favourites, the left-handed ruler. It’s numbered from right to left, which is instinctively the way my brain works. Come and see how I file my books or CDs and you’ll see my point.

We also have certain advantages in life, and should not just play the victim. It is a blessing to be in a country where we have right-hand drive cars, because it means the gear lever is on the driver’s left, and falls to our stronger hand. In most sports, the different angle used by a left-hander, being less common, is a strategic advantage. Rafael Nadal, the current men’s tennis number one, plays left-handed but in life writes right-handed. The only exception I know is hockey, where it is contrary to the laws to play left-handed.

But overall, we are at a disadvantage. I would hate people to interpret this as my saying we are disabled, because we are not. However, given the barriers I have had to cross for the sake of my children – but also the warm-hearted response of the Head – I do hope others will take the trouble to understand.

And in the meantime, more power to Anything Left-Handed: you do a great job and deserve tons of custom.