Sunday, September 26, 2004
Rites of Passage ::

There's an interesting post and discussion of the plethora of small (secular) sites of passage in Western cultures, and the lack of any marked sense of moving from childhood to adulthood. (Thanks Stephen for pointing it out - as well as your contribution. [PS: And double thanks for pointing out your post where he talks about, and links to the Flipside program video on the subject. All this was way back before I got Blog!])

It all leaves this dinosaur wondering.

Partly whether my old social psychology lecturer was correct and that academia in some ways "works" by prolonging adolescence with its unformed flexibility and desire to try everything....

But also, whether we have given up too quickly on the traditional rites. We were at Thomas' and Melissa's for lunch. Thomas followed almost a classic path to adulthood. First as a young adolescent baptism: a public, communal assertion of accepting his own responsibility for, and God's authority over, his life. This was followed by a year or two of full participation in the community (he and other "teens" shared in the work in various ways, as worship leaders, teachers..., and then as others in the community began to recognise their qualities two of the youngsters (Thomas and a girl a couple of years younger) were elected as deacons.

Of course, that group of "youth" were fortunate, small church, a series of good youth leaders, a pastor who is into encouraging everyone to participate... But to me at least it does suggest that the main problem to be overcome is the adults!

(BTW as I remember it, it was members of an older "generation" than mine who proposed the youngsters as deacons - probably those who themselves learned about taking responsibility during "the war" and just after...)

Saturday, September 25, 2004
BibleDudes! ::

I can't remember how I first noticed BibleDudes, probably from Mike Homan's own blog (incidentally full of thought-provoking material on the culture of teaching). But it definitely goes on my list of sites for students.

It's full of good and yet condensed information. Geared at beginning students and interested lay readers, it offers a good web attempt at infotainment. The design is clever, with many images reused, making it a quickly responsive site - even on our home dialup connection - yet with a very graphic "feel". For it to be "perfect" I'd like to see more interaction, and links; but there are always ways something good could be better!

For my taste the humour is a little heavy handed. Though at times yesterday morning, as I was exploring wondering whether it would possible required prereading for my intensive Intro course, I was chuckling and guffawing. (Barbara who was reading over my shoulder joined in too...)

Do take a look. ...and Michael or Jeffrey Geoghegan if either of you read this, do PLEASE finish it!

I'm still toying with making the site compulsory prereading for the course, so I'd be glad of anyone's comments on that idea...

Thursday, September 23, 2004
Navigation, usability and conventions ::

Stephen's comment on the post below is interesting. He gives links to some of the main easily accessed research-based discussion of the issues. However, I disagree with him on this, it's not a "religious" issue, it's all about conventions.

One of the pages (from Jakob Neilsen, no less) that Stephen references: "The Need for Web Design Standards" I read as a plea for stronger conventions. Another "When Bad Design Elements Become the Standard" pointed out that although in theory the nav bar would be better on the right, in practice the left was (already in 1999!) conventional for web pages.
Two things that are absolutely clear is that the navigation rail has to have some kind of colored background to set it aside from the content and that it has to be on the left side of the page. There are a few usability reasons why it would have been better to have the navigation rail on the right side of the page:
* Fitts' Law dictates that shorter mouse movements are better: it is always faster to click a target if it is closer to your starting position. Thus, placing the navigation rail next to the scroll bar will usually save users time over placing these two frequently-accessed areas on opposite sides of the window.
* Users always look at the content first when they encounter a new web page, so it would be better if the content started at the left border of the window (for users in cultures that read left-to-right). After the users are done with the content, their gaze could naturally shift to the right to decide where to go next. In contrast, placing the navigation rail to the left requires users to skip over it before they can start scanning the content area.
That convention is probably stronger now than then!

However, for blogs different conventions operate, and right-hand nav bars are relatively common.

The long and the short of it is that Jakob N is right, standards are better kept, and his site is still one of the best sources for discovering what they are! Though good web design books can be a help too!

(Actually as well as usability - JN suggests a potential 1% improvement - the right side is often better for search engine placement - it puts the "content" at the top of the code. But it's still a case where usability wins out, and conventions aid usability.)

Fighting talk from a librarian of the future ::

A blog I enjoy for the style of the writing - first went in search of info. on topic maps, keep going for the quirky humour - has entered the Open Access fray swinging. First at the publishers:
And now that the publishers are finally starting to see that open access isn’t going away just because they sling mud at it, they’re getting scared.
Then Dorothea takes a swing at Data Conversion Labs. Their web presence seems to be "down" as I write, perhaps its an overload with all the visitors D has sent their way!
You can wake up and start talking to librarians, figuring out how to serve us—or you can get the hell out of our way.
So lets hear the cheer people:
Go the librarians!

Synoptic Problem Home Page becomes a blog ::

Stephen Carlson announced on his blog that Mahlon Smith's review of his Synoptic Problem Home Page had prompted a makeover.

The biggest visible change is that the new site uses Blogger as its CMS. Stephen stresses that this is "very much a work in progress", so these comments are intended to be a contribution to his thinking as he develops the new pattern of the site.

On the whole during my first explorations the new look is cleaner and clearer. However, I ran across an issue of web design. Hopefully Stephen will move the vital navigation tools from the standard "blog" position (on the right) to a more standard "web site" position (on the left).

In a blog these links are extras, they may add to the experience of readers, but they are not an essential part of the basic function. Therefore they can safely be relegated to less visible screen space. However, in a website - as the new Synoptic Problem Web Site proclaims itself to be - those links form an essential navigation tool. I was looking for Stephen's Synopsis and the Patristic quotes, on the new site it took several frustrating moments before I recognised that the right column contained this vital navigation information.

(I was looking for those parts because of some of Mahlon's comments on fonts. I'll follow these up in a later posting. I'm still investigating.)

Stephen's experiment with a move to Blogger is not just part of a wider trend to blur the boundaries of web genres, but an interesting precedent. I'll be fascinated to follow his fortunes and see how it works.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Spirituality, Fatherhood and Motherhood ::

Maggi Dawn in her "Three Must-Reads in blogville" drew my attention to John Sloas' post in Crooked Line titled "motherly spirituality for a dad". I started to post these thoughts as a comment there, but they grew...

My "kids" are now almost grown, I still love sitting with them, but now it's more often in the spa than over building blocks, except when we borrow some small children from friends at church.

There is something really special about looking after a small one that is different, and lovely. Holding a baby or toddler always helps one get in tune with God. Perhaps that's why parenting (both mother and father) is such a strong biblical picture of what God is like.

Shame so many Western fathers have missed out over the years. And now, keen as we are to provide equal deprivation for all, many mothers miss out as well. Yet these experiences are times when we are open to those rumors of another world. They should not be missed.

Friday, September 17, 2004
Online religion pioneer gets Blog ::

Mahlon H. Smith author of:
Virtual Religion Index - one of the best longterm listings of religion including biblical online resources
Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus - a collection of English translations of key texts providing background to the New Testament world
A Synoptic Gospels Primer - fine online introduction to synoptic issues
Jesus Seminar Forum - resources around this attempt to define the historical Jesus
And now (thanks to Mark G. who pointed it out) he has a blog, which already has some useful hints on getting a Google search for academic sites.

Thursday, September 16, 2004
The nature of blogs, the wedding and the nature of God ::

The nature of blogs ::

It's always interesting the way we read things differently, especially interesting to biblical scholars!

Rubén and Mark both read the piece in the NZ NetGuide with 47 key tips from the World's best BLOGGERS. They both take up the comment by J Hash (of that:
The blog should do what you say it’s going to do.
And, because they are working with a distinction between "professional blogs" and some other category - presumably "personal blog" - both suggest that mixing professional interests and personal ones is a good way to loose readers.

But not readers like me!

I like to "get to know" the people I read. I enjoy meeting at SBL the authors of works I've enjoyed and learned from. It adds a rich and depth to future reading of their work. (I know, I know, l'auteur est mort... but personally I'm glad that this metaphor has limited application!)

The wedding ::

Saturday was our son, Thomas', wedding. A big day, not least for a parent... Melissa and Thomas are a lovely couple, and it was great to sit and listen to speaker after speaker describe our son using just the language we'd have chosen for the qualities we sought to inculcate over the years.

Cynic that I am, though, I could not help thinking that as a parent I could tell another story! Parenting someone through 20+ years is a good way to learn their weaknesses...

the nature of God ::

But then, that - presumably - is how God sees us. Glowing with pride in our achievements, yet all too aware of our weakness and even failings. Knowledge of those does not diminish one jot of parental pride, or love. So, as Adrian Plass says:
God is nice and he likes me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Stimulus article and RBL Review ::

The article I contributed to the August issue of Stimulus is now available online as it's title indicates it attempts to describe the project:
Hypertext Bible Commentary and Encyclopedia:
a New Zealand based international electronic publishing project

Also recently published online (in RBL) a review of:
G. Johannes Botterweck And Helmer Ringgren And Heinz-Josef Fabry, eds., Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament: Volume 13, Review of Biblical Literature []

Sunday, September 12, 2004
Today's the Day ::

The first wedding in our (nuclear) family, the first of the generation in the wider family, and the first I've conducted in nearly 30 years!

Please pray for Melissa and Thomas' wedding. That the ceremony run well, that the cake cutting and the reception are pleasant times and fun, and that the partnership that's sealed today may be solid and enduring!

(The last previous wedding was in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, UK while I was pastor there. Back in the seventies!)

Friday, September 10, 2004
Evil Beyond Salvation? ::

Isn't it interesting when people do not act the way you expect, and isn't it sad when they act all too predictably?

Peter Liddell's case was in the news again. A multiple child molester, who keeps reoffending, his latest conviction was for crimes committed not far from our bach. A lovely spot tarnished by human evil.

And then there's Glynn Cardy (Vicar of St Matthew's in the City) in SMACA - the liberal Anglican parish's newsletter. He knew Liddell years ago. Despite his Liberal Christianity he'd lock Liddell up for life and throw away the key. (Do read his well-argued, impassioned thoughts, they're worth pondering).

Can Liddell be saved?
  Could he be redeemed?
    Should he ever be released?
How do we respond to the stain of evil hidden behind a plausible manner and a winning smile?

Tuesday, September 07, 2004
TNIV - Today’s New International Version ::

In a post the other day Finker was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the TNIV in the UK, largely because:
Jason seems to have liked hearing from it and links to Conrad's tale of controversy and book-banning.
As a long time protestor at the decision of the IBS to bow to pressure and reinstate the gratuitously sexist translations in the NIV, I am interested in the "new" translation.
(The story was that the IBS translation team had proposed a few small changes to the text, mainly removing gender specific terms like "man" where the Hebrew and Greek original texts have gender neutral terms like 'adamand anthropos. But, pressure from fundamentalists in the USA caused the edition to be withdrawn. However, in the UK [and in, at least, NZ as well] the revised edition continued to be available as the "inclusive language edition" after a glowing review by John Stott.)

Actually, to me the "new" TNIV seems hardly changed from the old revised NIV. The text of the NT is available at So I looked at the prologue to John's gospel, here is a link to the text with my annotations of what seems different from the NIV (British inclusive language edition).

So, you tell me will the TNIV be a great leap forwards for Evangelical Christianity?

Friday, September 03, 2004
New Theological Pilgrimage Site ::

It's now official, our bach is a good place for theological writers. Steve Taylor's thesis, Martin Sutherland's book Peace, Toleration And Decay: The Ecclesiology Of Later Stuart Dissent (Studies in Evangelical History and Thought) also contains a reference to writing at Matakawau.

We are currently entertaining proposals from aspiring authors for the position of [temporary] writer in residence.

Thursday, September 02, 2004
The big C: marriage, divorce and the meaning of life ::

It’s 3:30am, no time to be awake, but I can’t sleep. I’ve just had two days away at the bach marking, dealing to the pile of assignments just before the next one is due – sleeping fine, even at their best student essays don’t shake the world! I came home to an evening of wedding-planning. Our son Thomas is marrying Melissa in ten days, and I’m to conduct the wedding. So we sat at the dining table and first talked about the shape of the liturgy, and who does what. Then some practical stuff about what to eat and drink…

It’s all got me thinking, is it so different for them? Sure the world has changed… My parents’ generation made legal divorce a less painful process. My generation has run behind, and overtaken them - the statistics are terrible. Marriages don’t last (at least not in the affluent egotistical West). Among our kids’ friends from school there were always more “broken” or “blended” homes, than those with parents still till-death-do-us-parting. Churches too, seldom slow to learn bad ways from the world around, are full of separated and divorced halves of what once were couples. And one has to admit, people concerned are often the better for it.

Daya Willis had an op ed piece in the Herald last Saturday, summed the social context up nicely:
Clearly, the baby boomers cocked up the whole marriage thing. They got hitched too young, felt unfulfilled en masse, split up and occasionally repeated the process.
Later she goes on:
My beloved and I will get married when we’re good and ready – and only because we can see the value in celebrating our commitment to each other with all the people who matter to us.
What’s more we’ve already taken the ultimate leap of faith – we had a baby together. Having both emerged (slightly dented) from broken homes, it’s our sworn mission to maintain a happy whole family for the sake of our son.
From other things she writes it’s clear she sees this as totally different from the dreams and ideals of the generation before. Perhaps it is. Though, it shares with the boomers’ the belief that a couple “should stick together for the sake of the kids”. And like theirs it is also, in its own way, totally different from the Christian view of marriage.

When a couple promise each other (however they word it) to love, and cherish, and share their lives, till death alone parts them - it’s not “for the children”, it’s for each other. It’s all about the big C, the word neither the boomers nor their successors can say: commitment.

Oddly (in a time of “Civil Unions”) it is the story of two women that best illustrates what it means. Ruth and Naomi:
Don't force me to leave you; don't make me go home.
Where you go, I go;
and where you live, I'll live.
Your people are my people,
your God is my god;
where you die, I'll die, and that's where I'll be buried,
so help me GOD--not even death itself is going to come between us!
(Ruth 1:16 17)
Isn’t that what Gen 1 and 2 tell us the Creator planned for marriage – partnership with no holds barred. I hope and pray, that when Thomas and Melissa watch Barbara and me locked in fiery argument, they see the for-richer-for-poorer-in-sickness-and-in-health commitment that undergirds our lives and even feeds the flames!

Marriage isn’t about “a perfect match”, it’s about commitment – promises that you’ll keep, and those that you can rely on.

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