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Sabbatical, Day 85: Random Links And Thoughts

 There’s not a lot to report today on the cat front. Debbie had a long phone conversation with a woman who runs what amounts to a clearing house for people who cannot keep their pets. We’ve expressed an interest in two separate pairs of cats, and now await a call back regarding arrangements to visit them.

In the area of church and sabbatical, there is also little to say today for delicate reasons.

So instead of the usual, I offer you a pot-pourri. (No, not popery, Mr Paisley.)

Here are some interesting links I came across. 

Some Video Fun 
How about Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody played on old school computer equipment?

(Via the weekly Mojo magazine email.) 

Here’s a parody of the Christian worship – ahem – ‘industry’:


Jesus Stuff 

Not a link, but a couple of great quotes from an interview with J John in the Summer 2009 issue of New Wine magazine, pages 10 and 11:

If we are all witnesses, does that mean we are all evangelists? 
Not everyone is an evangelist, but everyone is a witness. In a court of law, you have a lawyer who takes the facts and presents them in a convincing manner. As an evangelist, that’s what I do. I take the facts and try to get people to the point where they are convinced that Christianity is true. An evangelist will communicate much more of the substance of Christianity.

But if you are a follower of Jesus, then you are a witness. And a witness in the court stands up and says, ‘Well I don’t know very much, but let me tell you my story.’ Everyone that’s a follower of Jesus has a testimony of what Jesus has done for them. Therefore everyone can answer. It’s not hard at all.

How do you approach people of other faiths? 
I don’t get defensive. Rather, I ask questions such as: in what way does your faith help you in your life, give you confidence for the future or help you face death? I reveal cracks in their philosophy and show them that in Christ, we have a confidence and a hope. But I wouldn’t ever put people down. All we have to do is lift Jesus up.

(This material copyright New Wine Magazine and used with permission.)

Chopping down the Sunday tree: radical thoughts on how to approach a potentially dying church from Graham Peacock. HT: Maggi Dawn.

Mr Tweet recommended Mike Todd on Twitter to me. I found his blog, Waving Or Drowning, and among a feast of riches I found in this post a brilliant quote from Brian McLaren about what Christians might consider to be a proper view from the economic crisis. Do read it. He says that we might contemplate recovery in the way an addict does, in which case we don’t want recovery to be a return to our old addictive highs, but a facing of the addictions.

1st Web Designer: 28 Online Photo Editing Sites To Have Fun With – via@problogger.

Read-Write Web has great first impressions of Wolfram-Alpha, not a ‘Google killer’ search engine but a ‘computational knowledge engine’ that will cross over into Wikipedia‘s domain. TechCrunch reports there will be a public preview on Tuesday, streamed live from Harvard.

Sabbatical, Day 52: Clay Shirky, Chapters 4-6

A few more thoughts from Shirky today.

Chapter 4 Economically, old media filtered information, and then published. Social media does the reverse: the process is now ‘publish, then filter’. And whereas one could do small things for love and big things for money, it’s now possible to do big things for love. People are no longer passive consumers, they are symmetrical producers. 

‘Publish, then filter’ has enormous implications for our instinctive desire to want things we don’t like banned. How do we cope if things we don’t like are already out in the wild?

How might we ‘do big things for love’?

It’s easy to treat church members and others with whom we ministers come into contact as passive consumers. Some are happy to be treated that way (especially in a consumerist culture). But what about those who want to be symmetrical producers? 

Chapter 5 Wikipedia works on the ‘publish, then filter’ principle. Hence criticism of errors, but Wikipedia is a tool (wiki) plus community, and it ‘self-heals’ on this ‘publish, then filter’ basis. It is a process, not a product. There is an unequal distribution among the contributors – a ‘power law distribution’ whre a few make a lot of contributions, and most people only make one contribution. This works, because people have a non-financial motive for contributing.

Often we complain about the ‘power law distribution’ in churches, where a small group of people do most of the work. But in the world of social media, this isn’t a bad thing. Discuss!

Chapter 6 Social tools and the Internet have made it easier for protest groups to assemble and campaign. It’s not so much about the latest technology, but about using that which has become commonplace.

This should be good news for the Church. TEAR Fund deploys its SuperBadger campaigns this way, but they are centrally driven. Maybe more might rise up from the margins.

The Starfish And The Spider, Part 2: Eight Principles Of Decentralisation

Here is part two of my summary of The Starfish And The Spider. Of the eight principles of decentralisation enunciated here, six fall together fairly early on in the book, but numbers seven and eight are separately scattered later on.

First principle of decentralisation: when attacked, a decentralised organisation tends to become even more open and decentralised.E.g., killing of Apache Nant’ans, suing of P2P networks. Decentralisation is not new to Christianity with the emerging church. Not only did it exist in movements like the Brethren, it has surely also been a reason for the flourishing of underground churches in countries where Christians are persecuted for their faith. If persecution of the church broke out in the west, Brafman and Beckstrom’s theory suggests our spider structures would leave us vulnerable to decimation, but a move to starfish decentralisation could help us survive and thrive. If this were to be true, what steps should we take now?

Second principle of decentralisation: it’s easy to mistake starfish for spiders. Whatever the advantages of centralisation, distributed power can make for quicker decisions and adaptation. No-one’s in charge, yet everyone is. No-one owns the group. Each can do what they believe is right.

Third principle of decentralisation: an open system doesn’t have central intelligence; the intelligence is spread throughout the system. Information and knowledge naturally filters in from the edges, where the action is. This is about working from the margins, a typical postmodern theme, but also one that resonates with the Gospel. God uses a small, insignificant nation like Israel; the Messiah is born into obscurity, salvation comes through the Cross, etc.

Fourth principle of decentralisation: open systems can easily mutate. Note the spread of AA. Those of us who work in centralised churches will appreciate this point, given how long it can take to get permission for action. It would be interesting to hear the perspectives of Christians in more federal or independent traditions.

Fifth principle of decentralisation: the decentralised organisation sneaks up on you. Fast mutation means rapid growth and with it, the quick takeover of an industry. Brafman and Beckstrom cite the changes in the music industry, from the dominance of individual performers, to the power of the record labels in signing artists, and then the P2P networks, the last phase taking only five years to cause damage. However, they might want also to bear in mind the way things generally happen faster today, due to improvements in communications technology (on which P2P depends). One might think of the progress made by the early Church as a parallel, but it doesn’t entirely work. What began in a largely decentralised form became more and more centralised (‘catholic’) and eventually achieved a takeover through Constantine, which meant considerable centralisation. So a Christian equivalent is difficult to find.

Sixth principle of decentralisation: as industries become decentralised, overall profits decrease. The record companies lost profits, and the P2Ps hardly made any. For a church based on megachurches and stipendiary clergy, ‘profit’ is an issue. Well, income is. Decentralised churches have lower running costs: they have fewer buildings and programmes, and their leaders are far more likely to be bivocational. Rather, they concentrate on community and relationships, qualities that are not absent in traditional churches and indeed are ascribed high value there, but which do not always get the concentration they deserve because centralised structures get in the way.

Seventh principle of decentralisation: put people into an open system and they’ll automatically want to contribute. Apache software, Wikipedia, etc – no profit for contributors, just the pleasure of contributing and helping others. There may be chaos, but there will also be creativity. And we wonder about the problems of getting people to participate in church life. Is it because we are too centralised and there is little incentive, only a sense of obligation and moral pressure we put on people we are trying to persuade to help out? Do we prefer orderliness to chaos and this miss out on creativity? Cf. keeping ‘good order’ at communion is biblical but wrongly centred on a person and an office, not on teaching (1 Cor 1 & 11).

Eighth principle of decentralisation: when attacked, centralised organisations tend to become more centralised. Obvious examples w.r.t. Islamic terrorism and centralisation of US ‘Federal’ government. This could be life and death for the church, though, when persecution comes. 


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.