Friday, 30 April 2010

My top 10 iPhone Apps

At the moment, with piles of boxes in my garage, filled with things I once thought I needed, I am keenly aware of the perils of having too much stuff; and that anything that isn't necessary to fill some legitimate need or other is too much. There are, on the other hand, a couple of things that I am very pleased to have right now. The big black Subaru Forester I swan about in for instance. It is fast and handles well. It is comfortable enough that after 3 hours driving it I can get out and do a day's work. It goes pretty well on a gravel road, and I suspect (though I haven't tried it yet) that it will go equally well in snow. And it has a port for plugging in that other thing I am pleased to have: my iPhone.

The iPhone is, of course, a telephone, and it works pretty well in that department. It sends texts and it relays voice calls. It doesn't have a forward facing camera so it can't do video calls, but my last phone could and I never, but never used that feature, so who cares? It receives emails and although the funny little keyboard is not very fast to use, it sends them. It keeps my diary and syncs it with my computer and that of my PA. It plays music, shows videos, surfs the web and does a passable job as a GPS unit. Plug it into a laptop anywhere where there is Vodafone coverage and you instantly have a cheap, reasonably fast and stable Internet connection. It has a camera capable of taking pictures like the one above: surprisingly OK in a pinch. But the best thing about it is the little programs -apps - that can be downloaded from the apple store and which can turn the phone into thousands of other appliances. Like a compass, or an altimeter or a spirit level or a dictionary of a language translator or.... I have about 50 0r so apps loaded on mine. Some of them seemed like a good idea at the time, but sit like the boxes in my garage doing nothing. There are some very useful but unremarkable ones for accessing Skype and Facebook and Google and all that kind of thing, but there some others with a definite gee whizz factor to them. So, on my iPhone, these are the 10 I like the most:

1. mPass. Stores the details of my Air New Zealand flights. Tells me when the plane is leaving and how long the flight will take. Displays a bar code so that if I haven't got check in luggage, I don't need to check in; just place the phone on the machine at the boarding gate to get my seat number
2. Olive Tree. A Bible reader. I have the NIV, the NRSV, KJV, and The Message loaded into the phone along with a Greek New Testament and Hebrew Bible, each with a pretty good lexicon.
3. Take Me Back. Press a button. Wander off. Later press the button again and the phone shows a map and tells you how to get back to the place.
4. Zen Timer . A meditation timer which is the best of the 3 or 4 different ones I've tried. Plays little gongs to tell you how time is passing, and keeps a log and gives statistics for the week if that sort of thing interests you.
5. 2Do A to do list organiser
6. Weather New Zealand. Gives the current weather and the forecast for the next 3 days for as many cities as you want to set it up for.
7. My Measures. Take a photo of something you want to measure, eg the corner of a room where you think you want to put a couch, or the couch you have seen in a shop that you think may fit there. Quickly and easily enter the dimensions of the object onto the photo.
8. Scrabble. You know, that game. Little squares with letters on them. Triple word scores. All that. The iPhone knows some funny words and is pretty shrewd about placing them but I always beat it. I think it is trying to flatter me.
9. Peak Ar. Look at a mountain range using the iPhone's camera. Any mountain range, anywhere in the world, even little ones like the hills around Dunedin. The app checks the GPS, finds out what all the various mountains are and conveniently places the names and heights of them onto the image of them on the screen
10 Dictionary. Self explanatory really. Useful when trying to beat your iPhone at Scrabble.

Apps usually cost $1.29 (ie $US0.99) each though many of my most useful ones were free. Some of the expensive ones might cost $3 or $4. The only problem with the iPhone is having to use iTunes: a sometimes clumsy and inconvenient program expressly designed to ensure the maximum level of profit for the Apple Corp, but by and large even that works most of the time and it's annoyances are more than compensated for by the usefulness of this little bit of kit. If I come across any other good apps I'll tell you, if you will do the same for me.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Finding Stuff

I went for supervision this morning and took this photo with my iPhone of a leaf on Paul's patio floor.
It hasn't got a thing to do with the words that follow,
I just like it.

In July I am going to take some annual leave and we are going to visit my daughter Bridget in Qatar. There is an itinerary sort of planned and there have been lots of excited texts passing back and forth between us and the Middle East because we still don't have an internet connection and can't email or skype. Last night was time for finalising tickets and all went well except for one small detail. Or to be more accurate, two small details: passports. We couldn't find them and we couldn't book the flights without them. Our house is cosily furnished but still the garage is filled, wall to wall, corner to corner, floor to about waist high with boxes, boxes, more boxes and yet more boxes and somewhere in the middle of all that junk were two passports. It was needle in the haystack stuff; well, I admit the passports are bigger than most needles but then again the garage is bigger than most haystacks. We looked and opened boxes and shuffled the contents about and opened more and restacked and generally made the confusion worse. We looked for about three hours. I wondered if they were in a bag I had left in the St. John's parish hall and at 11:30 pm went and had a look. They weren't, but while I was away on the other side of town Clemency sat on the bed and prayed. Without any words forming in her head, she then stood up, went to the linen cupboard, reached in to the stack of pillowslips behind the stack of towels and halfway down it, there they were.

So what's going on here? In the middle of making sure the planets of the solar system whizz around in the approved fashion, and keeping the universe on track vis a vis the task of producing life and consciousness, and answering a zillion prayers going up simultaneously in every known language and from every known belief system, the Lord God Almighty is keeping track of our passports and taking the time to let Clemency know that they are where only God can see them. Is this what prayer and its answers amount to? Well, in a word.... yes. This is of course, not as preposterous as it first appears. If God is God then God is infinite. Which means God has an infinite amount of time in which to do things. Which means that God has an infinite amount of time to devote to each and every single thing in the universe, including each atom and all the planets and Clemency and her passport; and plenty of time for God to whisper in her ear about where to find lost stuff. There's a more complicated explanation, of course, but if you don't want to follow it, stop here. The simple answer will do, and you won't jeopardise your spiritual health by taking it as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

God, or so God said to Moses, is what God is. God is the truth, and to draw close to the truth - any truth - is to draw close to God. And the truth is, I put those passports in the linen cupboard. I remember now, though I had forgotten last night. Our move was conducted over about a fortnight. During that time we were between two houses, ferrying stuff back and forth. On one of many trips, I had taken the passports out of their box and put them, for safekeeping, into a place which was going to be settled, secure and (ahem. blush) easy to remember. I told Clemency when I did it. When she put the linen in there she must have seen them, though maybe not thought too much about them. The human brain is a wonderful instrument but it is finite. That little piece of knowledge was simply swamped by the myriad of other bits of knowledge and decisions and anxieties competing for synapse space in that frenetic fortnight. When Clemency sat down and invoked God she placed herself, still and open before all that she held most holy. In that place of openness all the dross faded away and the information she needed bubbled up from her unconscious without even needing to alert her to its presence; she simply stood and acted on it. This is, I think, the heart of prayer. It is not the production of words but the cessation of them. Prayer is stopping the babbling machine which runs constantly between our ears and in that place of silence being present to what is: that is, to the reality of he world, to the reality of ourselves and to the reality of God. There is the added dimension, of course, that Clemency was concentrated on this one problem, as was I and as was Bridget who knew and prayed about the passport problem from half a world away. In the silence, that concentration of consciousness probably had some effect.

In the long run, prayer is about awareness and all the various techniques in prayer have to do with reducing the factors in our lives which constantly keep us from being aware. Which all sounds a bit complicated so perhaps you had better go back a paragraph of two and take the phenomenon of prayer at face value. God hears and God answers, and that's enough understanding to be getting on with.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Why I found Avatar a bit disappointing

A couple of nights back I found myself on my own and not at home with an empty evening stretching out before me. One of the handy apps on my iPhone informed me that Avatar was playing in 3D at a theatre not 5 minutes walk away with the next session starting in 30 minutes. So I toddled around the block, bought a ticket, a set of 3D glasses, a large latte and found my allocated seat. I'd wanted to see this movie for a while, and hadn't because I strongly suspected that Clemency wouldn't enjoy it, but now, with all the ducks in a row, I leaned back into the semi-sofa comfort and expectantly put on the specs. The 3D system uses some sort of polarising arrangement and works beautifully. Little leaves and seeds and things drifted out of the screen and looked like they were going to land in my lap. Canyons opened terrifyingly in front of me. Spacecraft loomed menacingly or darted about nimbly according to script requirements. Wow! Amazing! And the CG effects! Even more Wow! Doubly Amazing! Big blue people and ingeniously devised monsters and dayglo plants and islands floating in the air all appeared and did their thing and looked unbelievably believable. It was fantastic! Except perhaps for the bits that I actually go to the movies for.

Characters for example. This is the area which was the first disappointment. None of the characters seemed to be much more than a shallow stereotype, and consequently I couldn't identify with any of them or sympathise with them or feel anything for them, so I never managed to engage with the film except as a spectacle. And the plot. I sat for the first half an hour trying to think of what other movie it was that this one reminded me of. Then I got it: Some nasty commercial types arrive in their impressive vehicles from some civilised place to a pristine land where a bunch of noble savages live peaceably and commune with nature and the earth goddess and talk to the animals. A spy is sent out to get the lowdown on the natives so they can be more easily persuaded to part with their assets. The spy falls in love with the lovely indigenous lady, learns to admire the wisdom of their ways and switches sides. Of course! Avatar is Pocohantas with better graphics but with fewer songs.

But there was something that was more disappointing than that. Essentially this is a film about exploitation, and ecology and all that. It treats the issue by pitching the goodies (enlightened spiritual, aware, at one with nature blue folk) against the baddies (materialistic, grasping, amoral, lets get the unobtainium by any methods we can think of corporate folk). The exploiters were them: THEM! Those guys with the big machines and the close cropped hair. But of course there was a bit of a paradox built Marshall McLuhan like into the very medium. Here was I, sitting in a very high tech theatre, with a pair of 3D glasses perched on my nose, holding a cup of coffee probably made from beans that grew on a plantation that had only recently been a bit of rain forest, with the brilliant Dolby stereo sound and the projector and the lights taking up goodness knows how many kilowatts, watching a film that condemned hi tech exploitation and urged a return to a simple and natural life.

And here is my disappontment. In the end Avatar is just another goodies v baddies shoot 'em up which reduces the complex issues of global inequity and the destruction of the planet to simplistic stereotypes. The problem we have is not them, it is us: our addiction to things and the production of things and the consumption and disposal of things. If we weren't so addicted the corporates would have no one to sell to and the exploitation would end. Avatar lets the big nasty companies carry all the blame and then solves the issue by having the good enlightened guys prove to be even better at fighting and destroying the people who oppose them than the bad guys ever were.

I came home from this film about the blessedness of nature with a pair of plastic glasses which will no doubt sit around the house for a few months before they go into the landfill, where they will sit again, unchanged and probably perfectly useable for about another ten thousand years. A friend had asked me to watch out for the reverse iconography in the film. I didn't really see any of that, although I'm willing to be persuaded that it's there. But I won't be rushing back for a second look. Avatar isn't a bad film. It's probably quite a good film, but it's not a great film. My opinion of it was coloured by my own perception that it doesn't offer any solutions, and in fact is itself part of the problem. Perhaps I shouldn't have expected more from it than what it was: a way of wowing me with technology into shelling out for a seat and a pair of glasses. And it did a pretty good job of that.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Stage Presence

Copyright unknown
On Wednesday we went to hear the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Or see them, I suppose, but anyway, to sit in those ridiculously uncomfortable seats in the Dunedin Town Hall while they played some bits of music. We lucked out and got the row just near the stage where there is sort of an aisle and thus some leg room. The conductor was Pietari Inkinen, a young man with amazingly well cut hair and a glittering future ahead of him,both as a conductor and as a violinist by all accounts. He led the NZSO through a very lively and accomplished performance of a cycle of tone poem by Bedrich Smetana, whom I had never heard of though no doubt I should have. Then there was a short break while the chairs were shifted about - the musician's, not the listener's - and an expectant hush as the people in the white ties and/or black dresses all took their places. Pieari Inkinen walked out again, confident and self assured, and stood on his little platform. Then a young woman in a scarlet dress emerged from the wings, through the orchestra, and everything in the theatre changed.

Hilary Hahn is about the same age as my son Nick and has been playing the violin since she was three years old. She finished university at age 16 but stuck around anyway for the sheer joy of learning. She is a smallish woman: "elfin" was the first word that came to my mind on seeing her, but I think more in keeping with Tolkien's elves than Enid Blyton's. She has pale skin and longish dark hair, and is quite beautiful, though I suspect that if you met her on the street you might pass her by without giving her too much notice. But not on stage. From the moment she bowed and turned to nod at the conductor and give him permission to start, I don't think anybody in the theatre looked at anybody other than her. The orchestra played- or rather, she played and the orchestra supported her- Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D Minor (op 47). Her musicianship was extraordinary, but what was memorable was her presence: the sense of her being. She moved continually but seemed to emanate, paradoxically, a great stillness. When not playing she looked around her, watching the orchestra the way a manufacturer might survey a perfectly running factory, with a proprietary sense of expectation and knowing. Her face was collected and calm and still. Her slight hands and the muscles of her shoulders moving and tensing as she became and as she made the music. It's a cliche I know, but she owned the stage; owned it more than anyone I have ever seen in any discipline before. I know it is one concert I shall remember for the rest of my life, and I suspect I shall be boasting for years to come that once I heard her play.

She left the stage after countless curtain calls and the orchestra continued with an extremely polished, emotionally rich rendition of the Pathetique - Tchaikovsky's one, not Beethoven's. What went before Hilary Hahn and after her was well worth the entrance price, but it was her that I think of now. It is the sense of a human spirit which has somehow found the ground; that she is being, more fully than most of us manage, what she was intended to be from before the dawn of time

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Just Shall Live By Faith.

I mentioned last post the three young people from YWAM who visited us during their Faith Week. Watching them bustle around the house so full of youthful Christian energy made me think, with a pang, of myself at their age, the age when this photo was taken. I was converted to the faith of Christ at 21 and in 1975, a couple of years afterward, went to work for a fellow Christian who ran a window cleaning business in Christchurch. My fellow employees, both about my age, were Graeme Carle, who is now senior pastor of Hillside Church in Auckland, and Marcus Arden who was then, is now and perhaps forever shall be a travelling evangelist. We cleaned the windows in Noah's Hotel in Christchurch, and the days were spent in long and earnest and inventive and hilarious discussions of the Bible, life, the Bible, the universe, the Bible, and everything. And the Bible. A month or so into the job two things happened simultaneously. Firstly we three employees developed the growing conviction that we should preach in Cathedral Square, in competition to the Wizard. Secondly our employer went broke. It looked like our jobs were over anyway, so the three of us decided to stay on, cleaning windows for him, but not to draw wages until he got himself out of his financial embarrassment. So began one of the most remarkable months of my life.

Marcus started. After many days standing round gathering courage, making resolutions and not keeping them he one day just stood up and let fly some basic Christian message or other.Marcus being Marcus, a smallish crowd gathered. Over the next few days, as our courage increased enough, Graeme and I joined him. Because we were donating our work, we felt OK about taking the required very long lunch hours. We would preach for an hour or 90 minutes in a sort of three way tag team, then retire for a while to the shop Marcus owned in High St: The Christian Love Shop, which was a sort of drop in centre /op shop where all the merchandise was free. We continued this regime for exactly a month, and over that brief time three things happened.

Firstly, I learned how to preach. 30 days in Cathedral Square was a far better course in preaching than the 3 years of homiletics training I would later receive at St. John's College. Far, far better. It was more valuable to me than any book I've ever read on preaching, or in fact, than all of the books I've ever read on preaching combined. I learned with a vengeance that preaching was an act of communication. Therefore, if you are not communicating you are not preaching you're doing something else, probably to do with obligation and/or ego. In the open air you knew when you stopped communicating because people walked away. You knew when your were communicating because they told you. You knew when you were talking tosh because they told you that also. Ahhh... hecklers... the memories..... There's nothing better than a witty heckler when preaching: they certainly help draw a crowd and they certainly keep you communicating.

Secondly, I learned about faith. For a month I had no income. Not a cent. And I had no reserves at all, not a cent. I had bills to pay and all the usual requirements of food and transport and clothing, and for a month all my needs were met. Marcus taught me not to let anyone know what my needs were; that, he said, was merely begging. Instead, he told me, I was to pray and trust. It worked. It was a little nerve wracking at times, but I never had a single prayer for my daily bread go unanswered.

Thirdly, and most importantly, our preaching bore fruit. In the course of the month 30 people - that is, on average one a day - came to know Christ as Saviour, or had their faith restored. We had some amazing tales to tell. Such as the Hare Krishna guy in a saffron robe who followed us to the Love Shop and there switched faiths. Such as the young girl sitting 500 metres away in a cafe on the other side of the square, who, over the top of the Wizard's very loud oration, and the buses and the traffic heard my repeated catch phrase "Where Is Your Life Heading?" and came the next day to talk to us. Such as the baptisms we held on New Brighton Beach to immerse people who had come to faith in the Square. As far as evangelism anyway, I have never had such an intensely fruitful period in all the 30 some years of ministry which followed.

We stopped when we all had other things to be getting on with, and when, providentially, our employer's financial situation had been sorted out. Ray Comfort took over the street preaching and continued for many years until he too went on to grander and more sophisticated things. I've never done that sort of street evangelism since, though I was sorely tempted -both on my own account and that of my charges - during the five years I was responsible for clergy formation in the Diocese of Waikato, but of course you can't relive the past. Back in 1975 were young. We were theologically naive. We were not very conversant with inclusiveness and broad mindedness, and all that genteel stuff that makes the Anglican Church what it is today and I know a whole lot better now. Unfortunately. I looked at those three kids in my house last week, serving God with paintbrushes and cleaning rags, and revelling in a depth of new untrammelled faith that was invigorating to be around. And yes Mr. Fowler, I know that I am well into the subjunctive faith stage and they, being young adults are just over the transition from synthetic conventional to individuative-reflective faith, but still, there is a sense that I have lost something. I have so much now in the way of intellectual and social and material capital that I can get on pretty well under my own steam. Yet the whole deal about faith is that you can't, not ever, not in any way learn it unless you DO it, and doing it requires being in a situation where you have no resources but one, and that is the willingness to trust. I guess that is why Jesus said the thing about rich people and camels and eyes of needles. And I know that the very survival of our diocese and perhaps even of our denomination depends exactly on us rediscovering a whole renewed level of trust in and dependence on the Living God. I.e., faith.

Friday, 9 April 2010


Last Saturday evening it poured with rain when we had our annual new fire service at the Cathedral. Trevor, the dean, pointed me in the right direction, the choir was in extraordinary voice and everything went as smoothly and beautifully as it should. At the end of the service Clemency told me that we were to have a few extras at home that night: some young hitchhikers had found their way into the service and had nowhere to sleep. What with us not being short of space and everything, our place seemed a logical answer to their immediate need. It turns out they were students at a Discipleship Training Course being run by YWAM (Youth With A Mission) and Saturday was the first day of their Faith Week.

When the course curriculum gets round to faith, the kids are not expected to exegete the main Pauline references nor to paraphrase the principle meanings of the Greek pisteuo. Instead they are given $20 each, dumped at some remote spot and told to return to base in a week, having depended entirely on prayer for their sustenance in the meantime. Pernille from Norway, Kesia from Hawaii and Danny from Vancouver Island had been left at Windwhistle earlier in the day (Windwhistle!) By 9 pm their prayer and Providence had led them to the Octagon in the pouring rain which is where Clemency and I stepped in to do our angel impersonation.

Next day they rose earlier than most people their age and asked if there was anything they could do to be of service. We told them Easter Day was a rest day, and we'd think about it. We wracked our brains to come up with stuff they might do: old ladies to be helped across streets or kids to be minded for instance but nothing came to mind. Not even the most obvious, which was that we ourselves had a daunting task before us, namely to shift house. The list of things to be done before we could shift was so long and our timetable over the last month had been, for both of us, so crowded and chaotic that we had just put the whole moving thing into the too hard basket and ignored it, telling ourselves we'd do it in the school holidays. Which began, so we suddenly realised, the next day, on Easter Monday.

So, on Monday when the penny dropped, we stopped being angels and became angelees. These three showed a formidable capacity for work. On Monday they painted two bedrooms at our new house, cleaned out our woodshed, helped transport the wood across town, weeded part of the garden and scrubbed down our pantry. By the time they left early this morning, all of the things we had needed to get done before the move had been done, including stripping out our enormous basement and piling most of the contents into a skip. Now lest's be frank about this: I can't honestly say we had prayed too much about our needs - we hadn't had the time or the energy - but God acted anyway in a way which surprised us with its timeliness and sheer extravagance. The carpet layers come on Monday. The burly guys with the truck come on Thursday. Windows are cleaned and books are cartoned up. We've got a whole week of the holidays left and we're all ready to go. Who would ever have believed it possible?

There was something else I was gifted with in all this, which is a reminder of the nature of faith. I'll talk about it on Sunday when I go to Lumsden, and perhaps on here in a day or two.

Wedding Photos

This is a link to a slideshow of wedding photos from Nick and Charmayne's wedding. As you can see the quality of the photography is superb. The quality of the subjects is even better.

Sunday, 4 April 2010


I spent most of last week in Southland. I preached and talked to people and drove and celebrated the eucharist and drove and talked to people and drove and talked some more. Wynston and Lorraine Cooper gave me somewhere to sleep and provided me with interesting conversation and showed me some of the parts of the countryside I had never seen before, for example Curio Bay where there is a petrified forest. Amongst the slowly eroding composite rocks ancient tree trunks lie exposed to the actions of surf and wind and rain. Some of the trunks lie straight along the ground, scattered around like pick-up-sticks. Others are stumps of trees that must have stood upright when they were petrified sometime in the Jurassic period; that is sometime before even birds and flowers were invented. More ages ago than my mind can get itself around these long straight patterned rocks were living things. Now they are being turned to sand and are slowly being washed onto the ocean floor. At some equally unimaginably vast distance in the future they will, I suppose, be compressed into rock again, and then, who knows? be lifted and bent into hills and covered in dust and guano and dirt which will grow trees or some as yet unknown thing descended from trees.

Standing there in that place, with the old trees set into the rocks and the shallow bay where the Hectors Dolphins like to come and feed within feet of the shore and the terns wheeling in the updrafts I was overcome with a sense of the great continuing pulse of the Universe. Things come into existence; they are, they move (some of them), they live (some fewer of them), they cease to be (all of them). Then again (all of them) they become something else. Birth - Life -Death -Resurrection. It is the way of all that is. It is the way the universe is made.

Today I remember the one whose life gives me the clearest possible picture of the great mind which conceived this pattern. The life of Jesus shows the self giving love which gives rise to all things; and, clearer even than the patterns of life in a petrified log, he lived out for us the great design of the universe: Birth - Life -Death -Resurrection. What else could we expect?

This is how things are, so this is how he is.
And this is how we are.