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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.

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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?