SansBlogue  
Saturday, March 31, 2007
  Wow! Bible Places, fun and progress
OpenBible.info, whose blog I am now watching with interest, was mentioned by Sean at Blogos. I want to write about it in two ways, though given that this is likely to be the busiest week of my year, briefly ;-) First the wow response to what you can already do with the data and then a brief reminder of why this is really important.

OpenBible.info offers us lists of places mentioned in the Bible with associated with their locations. Or as OB's first post (kind of the opposite of the "Last Post"?) puts it, answering the question "Why this site?":
Simple. It’s weird that no one’s ever collected basic biblical data—such as the locations of all the places in the Bible—into an accessible format.
What this means now is a series of small files you can plugin to Google Earth (the post "How to Add KMLs to Google Earth" explains how) and double click to zoom to places mentioned in the Bible. So I started with Amos 1, and away I went.... I wonder could I record Google Earth animations of swooping from one tro another of the places in the Oracles against the Nations in chs.1-2, that could be fun and interesting... Meanwhile here's one that pictures the phrase "from Dan to Beersheba" ;-)


Wow!

[Incidentally for those with Windows, or who are willing to download VLC the great media player for most OS here's a Windows Media version of the file that gives better quality for small file size ;-) Here's the link to view it on YouTube, or get the code to embed it in your blog.]

Now, having got the "wow" out of the way for a few minutes, here's why it is really important. This data, linking place names with locations has been collected, and made available under a Creative Commons licence. Which means that as long as they attribute the data people can correct it, and reuse it in new ways in new applications... Sean explains it well with lots of detail, so if you can't instantly see why this is significant read the post!

Scholars are inveterate examiners of the standards of dentistry in complimentary equines. So, I'll note that on the OpenBible.info front page their goal is expressed like this, to present: "The location of every identifiable place mentioned in the Bible." Now, inevitable there are many judgement calls in such a list. Is Tell es-Seba`the biblical Beersheba? Or Tell es-Safi Gath? The fact that this data has been presented under a CC licence means that someone can produce a more cautious list, or a more adventurous one, depending on their needs and the use they plan for the data.

Data is used to grow knowledge, and knowledge can be used to develop understanding... BUT if the data is held in proprietary formats it can only be used by some privileged people... So, not merely "Wow!" but also grateful thanks for a fine job begun...

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Thursday, March 29, 2007
  Education for a change!
Mark Nichols the E-BCNZer links to a fascinating and infuriating YouTube video. Which, since it was fascinating as well as infuriating (mainly because I wanted footnotes, so I could find out more or check up on their "facts") I will link here:

Now, there is much (If only it had footnotes!) that you or I might argue with. There is also much in the clip that looks strikingly different when viewed from NZ rather than USA. And we could, and perhaps should, argue for hours if this kind of "video" was the best format for the information. Where it seems to me there is no room for discussion is that we are educating students for change.

Well we aren't... Actually we are educating them for the 1990s (an average figure taking into account that we do, a little, expose them to 21st century ways of doing things, but that on the other hand we mainly expose them to traditional ways!), but, since the world in which they will live, work and share their learning, the world they will live in will have changed hugely almost before they graduate... We should be educating for change.

Education though is past focused. It repackages knowledge and understanding already gained. Theological education invites students to read books that summarise and restate previously acquired understanding. Inevitably theology, of all disciplines is past focused. Yet, there is something significant in the traditional claim that degree level education should be taught by active researchers. Because then it will also have a future edge... Education for a change!

Incidentally, students should also be encouraged to explore and research for themselves. Because that will prepare them to remain educated for the next decades of their lives.

But we don't. At just the period when future-focused, research-driven education is more vitally necessary than ever before, we are busy "dumbing down". The rise of distance learning (which I welcome and enjoy) has led to a mere packaging of information and ideas, which the student can "learn". (OK I know, we do try - quite hard sometimes - to do more, but in practice we seldom really achieve an exploratory future focus in our teaching.) And, the onsite students "benefit" too, because they also increasingly get these bite-sized, prepackaged chunks of information and ideas, rather than being stimulated to learn.

And "the culture" does not help, students (with growing debt burdens) need "qualifications", so they focus on passing courses. But a focus on passing courses hampers education for a change!

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  Cafe Review: Eiffel en Eden
Yesterday we tried Eiffel en Eden which came highly recommended. (An award this year from Metro [the magazine is so "hip" it has no web presence, so read the Wikipedia article!], as well as friends...).

The setting has no street appeal, Eiffel en Eden occupies a large shed alongside a bed factory. It backs onto a large hole in the ground where gravel has been quarried for so long that the entire neighbourhood has fallen measurably because the soil is drying out from the water that is pumped out of the hole! However, the decor is good, light and airy with the food cabinets as the focus. It was a nice morning, so we sat outside and people-watched, lots of folk come for a takeaway from the patisserie.

Coffee: Not bad. My long black came (bonus points) with a separate jug of hot water (though a steel jug which cooled quickly - so less bonus). The beans are (I believe) from Atomic roasters, which I think are among the best. However, the brew though rich was slightly bitter. So overall, not really good, but not bad either.

Food: could do better - but maybe we could have chosen better. Perhaps, judging by the takeaway clients, we should have chosen patisserie.

But I didn't. I chose bacon and eggs. The bacon fat (it was streaky bacon so lots of fat) was not crisp, but soggy white. The eggs were OK, though the yolks were only semi-soft and I do like a really gooey yolk over my spinach and toast. The toast was some soft bread, perhaps corn bread, which did not offer the crispness that poached eggs need. (It would have been better to toast rounds of baguette...)

I am not convinced by the patisserie claim though, because Barbara says her croissant was cold (as in straight from the chill-cabinet) and "not quite as good as the ones from the Vietnamese baker up the road" - he's almost on the corner where Mt Eden meets Duke St, or Landscape Rd, and his baguettes and croissants are superb). However, the patisserie cabinet did look mouthwatering, and all those takeaway people must know something...

Maybe it's a case of good pastry chef, let down by poor service? Or maybe we'll try it again and take away a different impression...

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Saturday, March 24, 2007
  It is all in how you look
Several bibliobloggers have posted about the conversation on Biblical Archaeology Review about the interrelationship of biblical scholarship and faith. Since I am trying out tumblr (see below) as a way of grabbing quotes I will add to the list.

As you might expect, I don't agree with any of the four, who were:
  • Bart Ehrman (apocryphal gospels) lost his faith study,
  • James F. Strange (archaeologist) a quite untypical Baptist,
  • Lawrence H. Schiffman (Dead Sea Scrolls) Orthodox Jew
  • and William G. Dever (archaeologist) evangelical preacher, who lost his faith, and then became a Reform Jew.
They began the conversation considering the "fundamentalist" notion
of Scripture as the inerrant word of God, no mistakes of any kind—geographical or historical. No contradictions. Inviolate.
Ehrman exhibits clearly the danger of placing one's faith in the Bible, rather than the Lord of History.
My scholarship early on as a graduate student showed me that in fact these views about the Bible were wrong. I started finding contradictions and finding other discrepancies and started finding problems with the Bible. What that ended up doing for me was showing me that the basis of my faith, which at that time was the Bible, was problematic.
Strange seems to have started with a less "fundamentalist" religion, though in a fundamentalist context, and his faith seems always to have been founded on his love for God:
I grew up in east Texas, where the choices were you believed in the Bible literally or you didn’t believe in the Bible literally. That was it. I didn’t. So it’s my own experience with God that tipped me over on the other side. My best analogy is falling in love.
James F. Strange — Biblical Archaeology Society
Shanks: Does this God of yours have any attributes?

Strange: I suppose so, but I’m not really much interested. If I’m passionately in love, I hardly ever want to discuss the attributes of the person I’m in love with. Or if I do, I wind up saying superfluous things for everybody listening. “She’s wonderful.” “Can you give me some more information?” “Yeah, she’s really wonderful.” [Laughs] When you’re in this state, you don’t utter propositions.
James F. Strange — Biblical Archaeology Society
This seems to me a good way of explaining, or at least picturing, why one wants to resist attempts to pin theology down too much to a set of propositions. And yet as Ehrman says:
In other words, the faith is rooted in certain historical claims. As historical claims, they can be shown as either probable or improbable. And I got to a point where the historical claims about Jesus seemed implausible, especially the resurrection.
Bart Ehrman — Biblical Archaeology Society
I agree with his point, I just disagree with his conclusions. His central historical conclusion is that the resurrection did not happen. By contrast it seems to me the only sensible explanation for the descriptions of the disciples' behaviour after the crucifixion. I do not imagine that these descriptions of a terrified group huddling and hiding are deliberate "spin". Yet this fear is followed by an explosion of evangelism that, within a generation, takes faith in Jesus around most of the Mediterranean world.

Beyond this I can't get overly excited by history. It seems to me that here Strange is closer to the mark, it is about loving and being loved. And as he says:
What I can’t help but notice is that two people look at precisely the same event and one sees God intervening and the other does not.
James F. Strange — Biblical Archaeology Society
Or, as Isaiah puts it:
They do not know, nor do they comprehend; for their eyes are shut, so that they cannot see, and their minds as well, so that they cannot understand.
Isaiah 44:18
It is all in how you look. Just do not expect comfort and joy in this life, and you will be blessed like Job to see God at work and to learn:
Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.
Isaiah 30:20

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Friday, March 23, 2007
  The Carey Wig!
Lingamish's latest post from Mozambique regales us with stories of William Carey, including this one that I do not remember hearing before about the consequences of cross-cultural mission!
While Dorothy was taking leave of her senses, William was bidding farewell to the fashion mores of his day. Carey, who was prematurely bald had for several years worn a truly ugly wig. According to Mr. Riley, one of Carey’s friends, “Good Mr. Wilson of Olney is an excellent Christian, but one of the ugliest wigmakers that ever was born.” At some point on the journey, Carey grabbed the wig off his head and threw it overboard. I’ve always loved that image, imagining the dreadful wig sailing through the air to land with a plop on the water’s surface. I imagine Carey watching with satisfaction as the wig sank below the surface. While he would no longer have to wear a hot, itchy and ugly wig, he would now have to contend with sunburn on his stark white head!


  Tumblr...
I'm trying out a new service tumblr:
The neatest thing about tumblelogs is that unlike regular blogging - which confronts you with a large, empty textarea to type your thoughts into - there are 6 distinct types of posts that have their own visual format: a "traditional" blog post, a photo, a quote, a single link, a conversational transcript, and a video.



  On the move?

» PortableApps

Stephen emailed me this link, looks neat "carry your favorite computer programs along with all of your bookmarks, settings, email and more with you."

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007
  Late Mechanical Age III artefacts
Text criticism is not everyone's cup of tea (odd expression! but one I grew up with...) indeed, the discussions that get specialists in the field excited often leave others yawning. And yet, it is vital to any and all biblical interpretation. A bit like a visit to the dentist, no fun (sometimes far from it) but important and not to be avoided!

However, John's substantial and argumentative review of the new fascicles of Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ): Taking Stock of Biblia Hebraica Quinta (and perhaps inevitably also of the whole field of textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible) makes interesting and even entertaining reading.

Not long ago the Targuman had a post Ehrman @ PSU that included the subtitle "Making Text Criticism Sexy". This is what John achieves, though perhaps for a different audience ;-) Writing like this:
According to James Sanders in his review of BHQ 18, a review more rambling, believe it or not, than this one, “Another highly commendable trait of BHQ is that of presenting the text honoring the te’amim or masoretic accent marks.”[9] Would that this were true.
Will hold my interest, even when the topic is text criticism!

Once again, I am left wondering, bewildered at the attachment of biblical scholars to the codex as tribal totem. As John points out, thanks to the explosion of information about earlier (than Medieval) forms of the text in the last century or so, printing such works has become a massive task:

Upon completion, BHQ is slated to be issued as a single volume containing text, masorah, and apparatus. An accompanying volume is expected to contain the other components of the fascicles that are now coming out: an introduction to each textual unit, notes on the masorah parva, notes on the masorah magna, notes on the critical apparatus, and an index of cited works.

That may not be realistic. Text, masorah, and apparatus of the two BHQ fascicles published so far exceed by 20 and 60 per cent in cumulative girth their equivalents in BHS. A single-volume edition is still imaginable, but will be bulky. Based on the fascicles published to date, it seems likely that the commentary to the single volume edition will require three volumes, not one.
Oh, goody! A three volume Bible to carry into class... Not only this, but John also points out the need for "Updateability" (in a section of that title). Any reference work of this sort needs to be updateable, information available changes... So, you ask - well I do even if you didn't! - is this magnificent opus being produced and disseminated electronically, thus allowing me to subscribe to the latest edition. Well, no. We scholars produce "books", so we'll be stuck with the out of date, three volume (how practical!) but beautifully bound codex edition. Or, after a decent delay, in case the electronic edition diminishes sales of the (horrendously expensive to produce) print edition, we can buy at an inflated price (though happily now a little lower than the angels print edition) a convenient, portable, searchable, updateable electronic edition.

Oh, boy, how the primitive culture (Late Mechanical Age III) of these biblical scholars causes them to suffer in order to maintain their signs of tribal allegiance!

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Sunday, March 18, 2007
  Boost! Cafe review
Today we tried Boost! on Dominion Road. It is another small local cafe, again people who live or work nearby seem to pop in for a takeaway. It was quiet while we were there and the couches are comfortable.

Again the menu is short and straight forward. I had "Bacon and eggs" and Barbara had pancakes.

Coffee: OK

The coffee was OK, Barbara seemed to really enjoy her Moccachino (choice of glass or mug) but my Long Black was neither as strong, nor as smooth, as last week's at Okra I was offered hot water, but the coffee was already pretty wet, so I declined ;-)

Food: Good value

The eggs (poached) were done well, though the eggs were not as fresh as they might have been so the shape was poor. [A really fresh egg will pull itself into a nice round shape when it hits the boiling water, so you can always tell!] The bacon was nice thin enough to be crisp, but not too thin, smoked and tasty. Accompanied by a tangy tomato relish/sauce. BUT take off points for white toast, and no choice offered.

Barbara's pancakes were reportedly good, with a good variety of fruits.

The total bill, at about $26 was good value.

Boost!
245 Dominion Road
Mt Eden
Auckland
Phone: 0-9-630 0103

Verdict: OK no prizes, but a competent and good value small cafe - and a big plus it was the only one open on Dominion Road at 8:30am!

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Saturday, March 17, 2007
  Wither Authority?
"What is a book?" seems too simple a question at first glance. The closer we look the further a simple answer eludes us. Even if we associate "book" with the physical form that writing has historically taken in modern times, the printed codex of more than a certain number of leaves (smaller codices being "booklets!), the notion is still problematic.

For example:
  • How is a collection of essays, which most of us would call a "book" different from a similar collection that appears as one fascicle of a Journal?
  • Some of our "books" today existed already in the manuscript age, were they "books" then? Are manuscript texts not books today?
  • Some even existed as scrolls, so should the notion of book be technology agnostic?
  • What is the relationship between a "phone book" and its electronic equivalent?
So, to what extent is "book" a technology independent concept, or to what extent is it technologically bounded?

In a thought-provoking post, "the network made visible - some thoughts on the present continuous of books", Sebastian Mary (one of the interesting bloggers associated with the Institute for the Future of the Book) offers this list of "common and often unexamined assumptions that underpin the tradition of the book.

Physicality - Books are physical: text and sometimes pictures organised in a linear form, and collected in physical libraries.

Authority - Books are time-consuming and expensive to make. Their ‘authority’ exists in proportion to this scarcity. The implication is that no-one would bother laboriously to typeset, print and bind drivel; so if a book doesn’t make sense then the fault lies with the reader. , and hence failure to comprehend a text lies with the reader, not with the text. This principle of authority in proportion to scarcity can be seen by comparing the medieval reverence for hand-copied books, through to modern offhand treatment of mass-produced ‘airport novels’. Authoritative texts reinforce their authority with reference to one another.

Fixity - The physicality of books perpetuates the impression of text as something immutable. This physicality also give rise to a tradition of books holding otherwise ephemeral knowledge in fixed form for posterity, and thus of books’ being timeless in a way that human life is not.

Universality - This is the trope most heavily challenged by twentieth century theory. The traditional ideal – and arguably the central proposition of the canon - is that books marked thus are of value to everyone, regardless of who, when and where.

Boundedness – Being a physical object, a book cannot contain everything.

The whole post/essay is really worth reading, please do not be satisfied with this chunk alone, torn from its context.

The opening paragraphs of the section "Whither Authority?" lead me in a different direction fro that Sebastian Mary takes, though that is probably the more interesting and significant direction (so, again read the post!) since my direction is different, after quoting the paragraphs I will diverge and follow my own nose!
Whither Authority?

On the Net, readers write, and writers read. Anyone can self-publish. So, following the principle that the status and authority of a text is in direct proportion to its scarcity, to write is no longer to be the privileged accessor and producer of canonical, authoritative texts. Notions of authorship and any but the most provisional and conversational kind of intellectual leadership become meaningless.

The boundary between ‘worth reading’ and ‘worthless blah’ is blurred by the visible, trackable emergence of content from the swamp of chatter. And, watching content emerge, it is plainly impossible to posit for the Net a set of human-centric values as (however speciously) the literary canon allowed. The Net has no transcendental signifier except itself, no cohesion to celebrate except that of technologically-enabled pseudo-diversity.
I am tempted by this dystopian vision, of a net that diminishes everything to a level morass of equal and opposite worthlessness. (Which is not quite what SM means, but provides a neat caricature of this tendency.)

Except, it ignores the imperial power of Google. (Using "Google" as a convenient shorthand for "Search Engines and other means of sorting and finding material on the net".) Google prioritises pages. If I am looking for material: population statistics, poetry, pictures... I never trawl the net myself, and nor do you. We always use some meta-site (like NT Gateway or iTanakh ;-) or search engine/directory like Yahoo to begin our "surfing".

This "beginning" also orients us. It provides an authoritative list. Explicitly: because the contents are selected (meta-sites) or ranked (Google) and implicitly: because in the past I have found the material they list, or that ranks highly, to be useful (more often than not, the occasional foray down to page three of the Google list is strangely rare, hence all the brouhaha over SEO).

Which brings me back to SM's post...
The grammar of the Web is not one of human languages or literary forms, but one of computer languages. Online, the Writers (in the sense of those invested with weight, status and Authority) are software developers. No text writer may have the final word; nor will he shape the grammars he works with. Coders, on the other hand, create the enabling conditions for interaction.
For in the net it is the composers of Google's algorithms who confer "authority", and not mere authorship - which belongs to all without fear or favour. And yet it is not! For, given the complexity of the net, the algorithms can hardly take account of each page, or author, or even site. Rather, as well as the material itself:
  • the material itself:
    • is it coherent?
    • focused?
    • tight? etc...
they consider things like:
  • how others have viewed this material:
    • How many link to it?
    • Do these pages use similar keywords?
    • Are those sites "authoritative"? etc...
In other words, they consult the great unwashed, go for the wisdom of crowds, and all the rest. And as a result among the networked, some are more authoritative than others.

In a way it is the reverse of the old culture, which authorised by excluding. As SM put it the economics of print or manuscript writing creates "principle of authority in proportion to scarcity". Publishers, in other words authorise this work by excluding others. In a sense the old Vatican Index Of Forbidden Books - a list intended to ensure certain books were/are not read - was the eputome of this approach. By authority by exclusion cannot work on the net.

Except if Google (in this case meaning both the broad category of search facilitators and the particular eponymous example) were to select and exclude on grounds other than the views of the mass of netizens. Which is what in fact happens. Google does censor the data. Authority in the net is powerful, if Google bans you who can find your work, yet hidden and secretive. Big Brother may no be watching you, but whether you know it or not, whether he is intent on "doing no evil" or not, his censorship has unauthorised works you might wish to see.

Quis custodiet Google? Although it may seem that the net is egalitarian, once the "whither" of authority is recognised one can see that it has not "withered", but merely disguised its hegemonic tendency behind a benign smile.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007
  Online and face to face teaching
Way back in December Kevin posted on A Semester with Moodle ever since I've had it bookmarked intending to reply and follow it a bit further. First the similarities:
  • we also use Moodle which works well, is fairly intuitive, free, has lots of modules and is scalable (the British Open University uses it for their 154,660 students)
  • I have found online machine marked "quizzes" brilliant to check that students have done their reading. Basically I use them as a reward for reading the set texts and it turned the 80/20 rule on its head - before 80% actually read only 20% of the material (I suspect ;-) now 80% read almost all the set readings!
  • I too have some reservations about totally distance teaching - though we do it - as the face to face personal component has been important to me over the years.
But, the big difference is that Kevin seems not to have used the discussion forum feature, even in onsite classes I encourage this. Often I set a "reading blog" as one of the assessments. This encourages students to read exploratively, by rewarding them for doing so. Gets them to share this reading and comment on its value, and makes them interact with other students and their reading. (They are required to both "post" new readings, and "comment" on what others have posted.)

This extensive encouragement of discussion forums (which email the posts to students as well) has produced some of the most obvious personal growth I have ever seen come out of the interaction of students. In a class on the prophets one student began with a narrow judgemental approach that assumed that anyone who was desperately poor had to be lazy. Another student was working in Southern Asia and began to describe small events from is family life, like the way their son felt for the boy selling flowers on the road side... through their interaction the first student over several weeks evidently came to change their understanding of the world, and therefore their attitudes.

Real personal growth through purely online communication. What's more I suspect that in the faster world of a face to face classroom little change would have taken place. Because:
  1. the student with Asian experience would be speaking about last year not last night (the breadth would be less immediate)
  2. the interaction requires an instant response, I've seen it in the past a knee jerk "the flower seller was just pretending to be in real need, like all the false beggars" - more thought and perhaps follow up questions undo the knee jerk!
  3. Face to face macho males take "sides"
  4. Face to face the extrovert and aggressive dominate the "discussion"
So, my conclusion is that - though face to face teaching is great for some things - online teaching is too. That means that the absolute ideal is a class with a mix...

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007
  Stinky Worship II: how it went...
Photo by T.Lot
On Friday I posted requesting help with ideas for Sunday's service (the first in our missionary society self-denial programme) I needed to make one small room at church smell really bad.

I had several really good suggestions on the blog. I was not convinced church incense could really be called "stinky" - in my youth I spent a fine Easter at Mirfield and got to appreciate scented worship! In the end I did not have time to search the $2 shops for Stephen's "fart bombs" - I wasn't sure anyway how some of the congregation would respond ;-)

And then... I remembered seeing Durian for sale frozen in the local Chinese supermarket. (While there is apparently a World Durian Festival, most sources warn that this fruit is banned on Asian Airlines because of its smell like "rotting flesh".)

So we set up four prayer stations:
  • stinky prayer: a small enclosed room in which one of our Durian-loving members cut up the fruit, whilst others prayed first for local concerns, and then for people whose lives are lived in smelly cities
  • noisy study: in the church Bob led a Bible study using the KJV, whilst industrial and crowd noises were played in stereo over the loudspeakers - then people prayed for people living in noisy crowded slums
  • information exchange: this group tried to get information related to our theme, they phoned my daughter who had researched the info, the trouble was she was at work at Parnell Baths - a great place for a swim, but a nightmare phone system - then prayed for people who do not have our easy access to the information we need
  • hot work: this group moved rocks large (adult size) or small (large pebbles) from one side of the lawn to the other in the sun - then prayed for people with hot repetitive jobs
Feedback was mixed, one anonymous critic was heard to say "If we have much more worship like this I'm going to another church!" to which a deacon replied "I'll give you a lift!" On the other hand several people mentioned that they found these prayers more "real" than often when we pray for others, and that even if not realistic, sharing a bit how others feel, smell, hear helped them pray.

The sermon included the line that "Take up your cross" (Matt 10:38) does not mean we lean against it hoping for sympathy! These ideas were all based on Tranzsend's always excellent Self Denial pack.

I hope that we manage to generate even more interest and money this year than last :)


Tuesday, March 13, 2007
  PodBible down
PodBible the audio Bible podcasts of the CEV is "down". Stopped some time over the weekend. Our host's own site is also down, and they are answering neither email nor telephone... So, Scott and I are trying to get it running elsewhere. (BTW if you know a good hosting service, reliable etc...) Please if you know someone who listens assure them that: "We'll be back!"


Sunday, March 11, 2007
  Okra Espresso Lounge
This is the first of a new series! Barbara and I have decided that now that the children are pretty much grown up, we can sometimes enjoy the treat of a breakfast out. So, over the coming months we plan to visit and try quite a few of Central Auckland's cafes. We've already visited some before I decided to blog them, some of those we'll be glad to return to, and then review, a few ("Oh the shame!" - though to spare your blushes, we'll not name you ;-) we don't plan to return to, unless someone suggests they have improved!

Yesterday we visited Okra Espresso Lounge a narrow fronted corner shop on Sandringham Road. The menu is as narrow as the shop-front (but as you will see below, this is no bad thing), but has a reasonable range of standards, often with an interesting twist.

We chose to sit on a couch while reading the menu and waiting - you order from your seat, not at the counter (there's hardly room!) and then moved to a table for the serious business.

Coffee: excellent

The coffee got extra points from me even before I sipped, they served my "long black" with the extra water in a jug on the side, and in a china jug so it would keep its heat till I was ready to add it. (A nice touch, so often even cafes who realise that not everyone who orders a "long black" wants their esspresso drowned in a liter of hot water, serve the water in metal jugs, which though they look nice cool fast!)

Barbara said her cappuchino was "a bit strong", but surely this is a good failing :) mine was near perfect, strong dark and fragrant!

Food: Good (small menu but done well and with some nice inventive touches)

Although the menu is fairly short, there were some inventive touches. The basics were well done, poached eggs soft, but not too soft, frying crisp and not too oily, presentation good...

My Eggs Royale (poached on toasted bread, with spinach and smoked salmon) came with a "hash brown" actually a mashed potato croquette - but the mash was fresh and lightly spiced (corriander and cumin I think) the frying crisped the outside nicely. Yum.

Barbara's pancakes with blueberries were good, and large enough that she was in doubt if she could finish the whole helping.

Okra Espresso Lounge
161 Sandringham Rd
Morningside
Auckland

Phone: 09 846 6662

Verdict: We'll be back! (apparently Okra won an award from Metro in 2006, I'm not surprised.)

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Friday, March 09, 2007
  Stinky Worship?
Photo by T.Lot
For Sunday's service (the first in our missionary society self-denial programme) I need/want to make one small room at church smell really bad. But there are conditions:
  • I'd like the smell to go away fairly quickly after the service
  • I do not want to create a health hazard
  • I only have till Sunday
Does anyone have any suggestions?

Way back when I'd have gone to a "joke shop" and bought a stink bomb, do such delights still exist?


  Illiterate students and the end of cyberpunk ::
One day computers and the networks we use to communicate will become ubiquitous, and we will forget the technology. As most of us forget the complex and once esoteric technologies of pen and paper.

That day was foreseen back in 1993 (the year I started at Carey) by a cyperpunk called "Stranger", and recognised as a significant insight by Nathan Cobb, "Cyberpunk -- Terminal Chic?," Boston Globe (24 November 1992, pp. 29, 32), now online in various places. [Hat tip to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang of The End of Cyberspace and his "former student Josh Buhs".]
It was nearly midnight deep inside Venus de Milo, a dark and sweaty Boston dance emporium. The Shamen, a British musical duo augmented by an assortment of digital gewgaws, was unleashing a storm of high-energy technopop that was cyberpunk through and through. "We can see tomorrow in each other's eyes," they sang at one point as the bouncing crowd raised its collective fist, presumably in the direction of cyberspace.

...

A handful of computer jockeys have spawned a style and an attitude. It's no coincidence that Mondo 2000, a glossy quarterly magazine that trumpets the pop version of cyberpunk, likes to talk about "surfin' the new edge." Way cool.

And consider: Cyberpunk is only a corner of a much broader cyberculture- at-large, which includes an online worldwide population of middle-aged couch potatoes, wheezy academics, corporate pooh-bahs, govermnet drones, and on and one. "In the future it will be everywhere, but it won't be called cyberculture," says Stranger, a 17-year-old Miami high school senior who, like most hackers, prefers his computer handle to his real name. "It will just be called culture. A few years ago, people used to talk about 'the emerging TV cuture.' We no longer talk about a 'TV culture' today. It's a given. Somdeay soon, no one will talk about 'emerging cyberculture.' Because it will be a given, too."
Meanwhile back on planet Carey... it's the start of the year, and students are facing the challenging world of networked electronic communication. Some arrive already literate, but others - mainly the over-forties - are illiterate by 21st century standards. Like 19th century factory workers or farmers who could not read or write a letter, they have difficulty reading and writing online. "Discussion forums" are frightening, online multi-choice tests terrify... today they are illiterate, even if their spelling and punctuation are hugely better than that of their, usually younger, literate peers.

Oh, for the day when networked communication technology is ubiquitous, and as invisible to us as the complex and esoteric technologies of alphabets, pens and paper have become. In the meanwhile, we'll muddle through, and try along with Job and Genesis to help you gain the basic skills for educated survival in the current century!

(Shame most of you cannot yet read this blog post, and God forbid I should podcast the ideas ;-)

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007
  Amos reviewed in English
The first print review of Amos in English that I am aware of appeared in the post today. From International Review of Biblical Studies (2005/6) 52, 162 the review concludes:
It may well be that, in the future, most biblical commentaries will follow Bulkeley’s model at least in its technical aspects. One can only hope that the author continues his wonderful project.
Amen!

The journal was formerly known as Internationale Zeitschriftenschau für Bibelwissenschaft und Grenzgebiete and is of good repute ;-) so now all we need is lots of libraries to order copies...


  Theologians without boarders!?
I've always found most strange the English "translation" of the French organisation name Médecins sans frontières which renders it as "Doctors without borders". But when it is adapted to theologians - who less well paid than doctors of medicine - one can imagine taking in boarders to pay the rent, it becomes bizarre! Yet the concept is not - take theological teachers on sabbatical and put them for some of the time in contexts where there is a desperate shortage of theological teaching... Theologians without borders may make no sense as a name, but the idea is great.

My colleague George has tried it, and his guest post on the TWB blog includes this gem:
The Gospel really Works!

For me, as a product of Christian influence filtered through many centuries of Western culture and assumptions, it was startling to see the tangible effects of embracing Christian faith seen in a very short period of time, with cleaner villages, better health, valuing of education, improved housing, etc. From my own context in which church growth is slow, incremental and individual, seeing families and communities that have come to faith was very refreshing.

Time and again I found myself thinking, what if B hadn’t pressed on with that translation, and there had been no NT for the churches mushrooming in the 80’s and the communities continuing to come to faith today? What if the pioneers and others in their wake… had just not bothered? I’ve always believed that “your labour in the Lord is not in vain” but it was thrilling to have the chance to see such fruit from service in the (relatively) recent past, and I’ve come away with renewed desire to invest wisely whatever gifts and opportunities I have and work diligently.


Friday, March 02, 2007
  God gives birth (Isaiah 42:14)
For a long time I have held my peace,
    I have kept still and restrained myself;
  now I will cry out like a woman in labour,
    I will gasp and pant.
Isaiah 42:14
Stephen Cook has a couple of interesting posts responding to a paper given recently at VTS. ("The presenter was Dr. Juliana Claassens and the paper looked at the image of God in Isaiah 42.")

Stephen concludes his first post, God "Like a Woman in Labor" (Isaiah 42)
A woman's helplessness and frailty during labor is nothing less than power, the power to bring about new life--something a "powerful" male cannot do! This theological theme that vulnerability and frailty is a source of true, marvelous power is a big one throughout Isaiah 40-66. I think Juliana is really on to something here.
Which captures one of the ways in which this passage fits so well with traditional Christian theology and preaching, though using an image that did not become a major part of the tradition - at least since the Middle Ages, I've argued that various sorts of mother imagery for God was more common earlier than 1450AD!

In his second post Whence Comes God's Pain in Labor (Isaiah 42)? Stephen says:
Dr. Claassens in her paper interpreted God's pain in labor as God's work of entering into the trials and trauma of the people, who have been exiled to Babylonia as prisoners of war. In my response to her paper, I suggested another possibility that to me seems more in keeping with the overall theology and thinking of 2 Isaiah.
Stephen locates God's pain in this passage in the idea that "In 2 Isaiah God is seen to put aside God's right to justice, to put aside what's fair and deserved." His discussion provides a good theological entry point into the passage in Isaiah 42. It is one that fits well with the description of the "servant" at the start of the chapter.

However, it seems to me that this discussion rather misses the immediate cotext of verse 14. The preceding verse presents God as a (male?) warrior:
The LORD goes forth like a soldier,
    like a warrior he stirs up his fury;
  he cries out, he shouts aloud,
    he shows himself mighty against his foes.
Isaiah 42:13
and in the following God declares:
I will lay waste mountains and hills,
    and dry up all their herbage;
  I will turn the rivers into islands,
    and dry up the pools.
Isaiah 42:15
The verse about pregnancy, labour and birth is thus set in a context that is surprising, at least in a world of sanitised congratulations cards and Baby's First Blog's! Fury, destruction and war seem out of place in such a world. But these images are not so strange in a delivery room. Mothers can speak for themselves, but to a husband and lover standing, almost helplessly, by these images fit the event. So, in my reading of this passage vv.13 and 15 need to be heard. The terror, cries and anguish you are seeing - says YHWH - are the birth pangs of something new, to which I am giving birth!

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