Here’s the list of the dietary requirement options for the conference I’m going to be attending in September. It takes up probably a good 25% of the whole booking form.

Vegetarian but eats fish
Demi-Vegetarian (no red meat)
No beef
No pork
Nut allergy
No seafood
Diabetes (low sugar)
Other: Please specify

I suppose it’s no joke if you do have food allergies or intolerances of one kind or another. But I also can’t help thinking we’ve become a lot more picky than we need to be. Too bad there isn’t a
No tasteless

Fun with Linux

For several years I was a real Linux devotee and proud of it. In spite of the frustrations, it seemed to me a model of how computing should be, and a parable of what human endeavour (and the Christian Church) could be, if people worked together instead of trying to compete or make a profit from everything. I even built my own computer and installed various versions of Linux on it, and used it most happily.

That ended when I found myself one day in John Lewis, looking at a reduced end-of-line MacBook, and realised /I could afford it/! For a while it seemed like perfect bliss: MacOS was based on UNIX, but it worked. Seamlessly. Without the frustrations that so often were part of the Linux experience back then.

That was the beginning of my love affair with Apple which lasted through two laptops and a desktop computer, and a couple of iPads. But when the last of those MacBooks was reaching the end of its natural life, and upgrades to the next OS were just coming thicker and faster, and outstripping the hardware so that I could no longer run the latest versions of essential software, and the prices had risen so high… I found I could no longer be a Mac user.

So the next step was to buy a PC laptop (the very one on which I’m typing this) and a desktop machine running Linux. The desktop was a bit wobbly, and for a while I installed Windows 8 on it, but have recently gone back to Linux Mint; while the laptop became my primary computer. And I have now set up a dual boot system on the laptop and installed Linux on the ‘other half’, which is the half I am now principally using. And remembering just what fun Linux is, what a sense of achievement there is in learning how to do things with it, and the freedom to do things that are not constrained by the tech-giants like Microsoft, Apple and Google. Linux has come on a lot since I last used it, and has even more to offer than it did then.

Chromebook and BT Homehub

After my last upgrade of my Chromebook, it wouldn’t connect to the Internet via the BT Homehub.

This is a pretty common problem according to what a Google search throws up, and occasionally what I found there has worked, though mostly it’s involved tinkering with the Homehub settings (for which you need to be able to connect to it, d’you see the problem?) Why should a Chromebook update have messed with the Homehub settings?

Anyway, after a frustrating couple of weeks of not being able to use it, I was playing around with the advanced settings on Chromebook and thought I’d try pressing Restore Defaults. Wonder of wonders, we were suddenly connecting to the Internet again.

I haven’t seen this fix on any of the forums. Could it be this simple after all? Anyway – note to self – next time Chromebook goes AWOL from the Internet, remember to try this.

A blog post written in Emacs

Still trying to find a good way to write blog posts in Emacs and then post them to my WordPress blog that doesn’t involve running of Lisp publishing projects, or extensive editing of HTML files to remove breakline tags.

Will it work if I publish this post to HTML, then open the file in Chrome, copy from the browser and paste into WordPress new post window?

It seems to work, except for a couple of strange anomalies…

COMMENT: There’s got to be a better way!? This is roundabout and fiddly; though it does solve the problem of the unwanted linebreaks.

A draft blog post

When I draft a blog post in Emacs Org Mode, and then copy and paste it

to WordPress, WordPress adds line breaks at the end of the visual
lines (i.e. those visual in Emacs) where you don’t want them to be
when you put it in HTML. This doesn’t happen when you /export/ to
HTML. Does it always happen if you copy and paste?

It /does/ happen when you copy and paste. Let’s test again, to make
sure it doesn’t happen with Export to HTML.

It does happen, even when you copy and paste formatted HTML text. What’s going on? Why does it behave like that? (This paragraph typed directly into WordPress dashboard, Edit Post.)

Because I can

The aim of drafting blog posts in Emacs and then posting them to Storyteller’s World…

I haven’t yet worked out how to do that with the Emacs extension Org2blog; I’m wary of trying to add extensions to Emacs in Windows, with directions that look as if they’re Unix based.

So for this I’m drafting in Emacs, then copying and pasting into Windows Live Writer to see if that works.

Here goes…

There’s liars, and then there’s politicians

It’s going to be increasingly difficult to decide how to vote in the Election. The further it goes on, the more it becomes obvious that many of the politicians are

a) liars, and/or

b) think the voters are idiots, and/or

c) are acting as if the General Election was a series of the X-Factor
(cf b above).

So the Tories are promising to eliminate the deficit and run a surplus by the end of the Parliament, apparently thinking we have forgotten that the deficit has actually increased during their time in power.

While Labour are promising to spend more money on everything, while not increasing taxation or borrowing.

And neither of them is telling us how?

When are we going to hear from an honest politician saying: There’s only so much you can bring into the Treasury by cutting benefits to the poor and paying public sector workers less and less. If you want all these services (health care, education, benefits, pensions) you’re going to have to pay for them. That means raising taxes. Maybe 5% on the basic rate and 10% on the higher rate, along with closing tax loopholes and making sure that corporations and billionaires pay what they should. (I’m pretty sure most of us wouldn’t mind paying more tax for a proper NHS, provided we were confident the tax system was fair.)

Here in Oxford East we have a wonderful MP in Andrew Smith. I’d vote for Andrew with no hesitation, if I wasn’t so p*ssed off with the Labour Party leadership, policies, cowardice, and its record the last time it was in power. So does that leave me with only the choice of voting Green, even though some of their policies (e.g. on the place of faith in public life) are just barking mad?

Playing with Emacs

I never met a text editor I didn’t love. Well, actually, that’s not really true. I love the text editors that I love, and I love to play with them. For a long time my favourite was TextMate, but that’s only available for Mac which in my case I am no longer using. I also used vim and learned a lot about its capabilities, chiefly from Drew Neill’s wonderful book, Practical Vim: heaven for geeks. But I find I need a manual of some kind to discover all the potential of the editor I’m using. That’s one of the reasons I’ve never been able to get on with Sublime Text, even though many people rave about it. I could never find a manual that actually explained how you could make it work, and use all its wonderful stuff.

And Emacs? Well, it all seemed so complicated and difficult to learn the commands, though I loved the idea that it could be a single environment in which you spent your whole working life…

But then, inspired by bsag and the fact that I’m currently also playing with reinstalling Linux on my moribund desktop, I decided to have another go at Emacs. She was actually writing about Spacemacs, a kind of hybrid of Emacs and vim (often thought to be the two arch
rivals for geeky fans of text editors), which makes the claim: “The best editor is neither Emacs nor Vim, it’s Emacs and Vim!” But she also mentioned org-mode as one of the great attractions of Emacs. Org-mode is that promise of living and working in a single
environment: it talks about living and organising your life in plain text (another of my fantasy desires…)

So, I installed Emacs, on my Linux box but also on my Windows 8 laptop – because, after all, that’s the machine I can bring out of my refrigerated study and use in a room with a survivable temperature. And started playing with org-mode, which is now part of
the standard installation of Emacs. The jury’s still out about its long term capability, but hey! it comes with manuals, which you can get free on the Web in PDF format, or buy a hard copy of! you can find an awful lot of answers to your questions with a very simple Google search! it does a load of stuff like managing your agenda and Todo lists, providing an environment for note-taking, drafting documents and publishing them in varying formats, and stuff I haven’t yet even heard of, never mind imagining I might want to do.

So, I am having fun. And the next step will be learning how to write blog posts and post them from within org-mode. For the time being, I’m going to be unambitious, and simply copy and paste this via Chrome.

Maybe the more direct way comes later.

We want to see Jesus

You know, after nearly 36 years, I’m tired of preaching.


OK, that was a bit of a storyteller’s exaggeration, to get your attention. After 36 years, I’m tired of preaching – sometimes. Because of course preaching is the best thing. As many of you know, it was a call to preach that was the heart of my call to be ordained in the first place. It was about the second or third time I went to church as an adult believer, and undergraduate here in Oxford, and I was listening to the sermon, and I suddenly had the powerful thought: I want to do that! And it was like God said, OK, you’ve got it. And I love it, it’s the best job in the world: telling people about Jesus, about God; doing your best to make that introduction: Harry, this is Jesus; Jesus, Harry. I can’t understand why anyone would want to do anything else, really. It’s the best thing in the world – and you get paid for it, too.

But preaching is heartbreaking, too. You preach your heart out (on your good days), and yet you don’t see lives dramatically changed week by week as people are converted. You don’t see revival beginning in this nation. You don’t see people flocking to church and bringing their friends because word has got about that when you preach, God is really there and doing something. None of that is the heartbreaking thing. The heartbreaking thing is that I’m not listening to what I say; that I don’t really live out the word I preach. I am not that disciple of Jesus, that I invite others to become and to be.

At the festival some Greeks – Gentiles – came to Philip and said to him, We want to see Jesus. No problem! Philip went and told Andrew, and they both went and told Jesus. I suppose they took the Greeks with them and made the introduction, though it doesn’t actually say so. Some people wanted to meet Jesus, and his friends introduced them to him.

Where are the people today, who are saying, We want to see Jesus? Do you know where they are? Do they come and ask you for an introduction?

People can still meet and see Jesus now, even though he lived 2,000 years ago, because he did not cling to his life, but became like that seed he talked about, the seed that falls into the ground and dies. In obedience to the Father, he gave up his life for all of us, so that he might (rise again and) keep it for eternal life, and – and! – make that same eternal life available for everyone who sees him. Jesus wants people to meet him; but the thing is, he chooses first of all to be visible, for people to meet him, in his body: the men and women and children he calls to be his church.

But you know, maybe Christians get in the way so much, like the tiny moon crossing the face of the sun, that people can no longer see the glorious light of the Son of God, it’s eclipsed for them. Perhaps people have stopped wanting to see Jesus, because they can see Christians all too clearly, and if Jesus is anything like that, they don’t want any. Or, maybe there still are people crying out to see Jesus, but they sure as hell aren’t seeing him in the Church.

Why, why, why? Why do we hide the face of Christ? Because we forget what Jesus is like… Preachers tell you about God, rather than tell you how to find God. Actually, that’s one of the better case scenarios. What often happens, rather, is that Christian leaders are intent on painting a picture of a hating and hateful God, a God who is against this or that or everything, instead of showing you a God who is so much for the world, for us, that he endured the very worst we could do to him, the cruel and senseless death of the cross, and then said, Is that it? Well, I still love you. I still want you to be my friends.

When we think of the present state of the Church: the people wanting to tear it apart in disputes about human sexuality, or about the ministry and place of women, or just generally judging other Christians for one thing or another. The Christians who resort to hateful words or threats or violence to try and impose their views on others, or who are quick to give their blessing to the use of military force to try and solve problems, instead of weeping tears of repentance that we live in a world where that has become necessary. The Christians who are so sure that they are right, they are the sole possessors of truth, and everyone else is wrong. Is it any wonder that Jesus is obscured, hidden from view, that people have stopped looking for him, or stopped looking for him in the church?

We are the people of the covenant, the new covenant, that God has made. We heard this in the reading from Jeremiah. The first covenant was that of the Law given at Mount Sinai, it was an external kind of law, that required being taught it, consciously learning, deliberately obeying. The new covenant God promised was an internal one: God’s will would be written in his people’s hearts, so that they wouldn’t need anyone to teach them, to urge them to know God; they would all know him for themselves, they would intuitively know what God wanted, and be able to do it. That’s what it means, that we have the Holy Spirit, the life of God within each one of us. You don’t need a preacher! (Well, maybe occasionally it helps to have someone articulating what we all think and know?) What you need, what we all need, is to let the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, breathe in us. But remember, this new covenant was first new 2,000 years ago. It only goes on being new if we make it new, day by day and minute by minute, living this new relationship that God makes between himself and us.

Go home and be quiet. Turn off the noise in your life for a little while. Find something that will help you to pay attention to God. It may be a short passage of scripture. (Short!) A simple repeated word or prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Or if that’s too long, just the name Jesus. Or the contemplation of something made: a flower, a fruit, a stone, a child. God needs no introduction from me or any preacher: you will know him. He will be found by you, if you seek him with all your heart.

And then: we don’t need to know more or be taught more about God. We just need to do what he says. To feed on him in the word and the sacrament. To love God with all our heart, to love ourselves and then to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. Do this, and you will know God, and people will catch a glimpse of Jesus in his Church, and if all the people who profess to follow Jesus would do this, people would once again start coming to us with that request: We want to see Jesus.

On Reading Cover Her Face by P. D. James

Hearing the news last week of the death of P. D. James made me want to re-read some of her novels. As I noted last week, she is one of the few crime writers whose books we usually bought in hardback, because we didn’t want to wait for the paperback editions to come out. So it was a surprise to find how few of them we actually have on our shelves: just 9 out of 19 novels. I thought we had more, but it’s just possible some have got lost in the recent redecoration of parts of the vicarage, involving large scale packing, relocating and unpacking of books. In the resulting confusion it’s more than likely some titles will have got misplaced, with the resultant risk of us ending up with multiple copies.

Anyway, I started with the first of her published Adam Dalgliesh novels, Cover Her Face, published in 1962. It was a fascinating experience. The overwhelming impression I had was of entering a bygone, post-war age which really did feel like a foreign country. A place with different social and moral attitudes, where the English class system ruled even more rampantly than it still does. I wasn’t entirely sure how much irony the author intended in one of her comic interludes, in which a member of the public is surprised (during the parish summer fete, glory be!) by the people in the great house where the murder is to take place:

‘Were you looking for someone? This is a private house.’ … ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. Please excuse me. I was looking for the toilet.’ It was not an attractive voice. ‘If you mean the lavatory,’ said Deborah shortly, ‘there’s one in the garden. It seemed adequately signposted to me.’

It was with something of a shock that I realized it’s 52 years since Cover Her Face was published. This means that the time-gap between then and now is greater than the interval between some of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels, and the time when I first read them in the 1970s.

Why did I never feel the same historical distance between me and Peter Wimsy – who is much more upper class than anyone in Cover My Face? I wonder if it’s because, being set years before I was even born, Dorothy Sayers’ novels are prehistory to me. 1962 I remember, so that the social changes between then and now are ones I have actually lived through. Strangely enough, that makes them feel greater and more far-reaching.