30 November 2008

People: Different and similar

You know, in the grand scheme of things, people are people.
I found that to be true in Zimbabwe. It is true in New Zealand. It proved true again in India.
We were all born in to families and cultures. There are differences in skin colour and languages, but so many of the things that make us human, that give life meaning and give us value are much the same from place to place and generation to generation.

Kids like a laugh and grandmas like to have the kids in view. Jesus is the same from hemisphere to hemisphere, though the way He is worshipped may look different. Meal times are often about relationships and buy & selling can be a form of community.

Hopes and fears persist. Parents hope for something better or different for their kids.
People suffer and overcome. I'm impressed by many of the people I meet in my travels, the ones who make the most of what they have, who laugh easily and who invest in the next generation.

Durable Cell Phones?

I need a phone that bounces. The Sonim is only $800.
The Casio G'zOne seems to be available via Amazon for $50. Read more about it on PCMag.
The Sonim is supposed to be the Bond or the Rambo phone for all elements. The Tech Briefspells it all out nicely.

The Sonim XP1 is certified capable of withstanding extreme environmental conditions – water, wind, dirt, dust and extreme temperatures.

According to the makers, Sonim, the XP1 works perfectly in harsh temperatures, doesn’t die when exposed to the elements, can be dropped, kicked, tossed into a toolbox or backpack, seen and heard in bright/dark and noisy conditions, and provides reliable voice, push-to-talk and data services.

I've had mixed luck with Nokia. I liked my old 5140 that bounced well, but my new fliptop hasn't lasted 6 months. Something that is in and out of my hand, pocket, purse & backpack ought to be more robust! If these boots were made for walkin' then a phone should be made for more than talkin'!

I'd like an iPhone for sure, or even a Nokia95 with built in GPS. That would be good for geocaching! Palm has some smart devices that you can actually talk to people through. I like calendar features so I can organise myself electronically with a device I'll usually have on me. I can set the alarm to tell me I'm supposed to be somewhere in 30 minutes so I don't have to keep looking at the clock. Reduces anxiety! Technology serving me rather than me serving technology!

Any suggestions as to good durable phones? Or maybe I should only walk on padded surfaces?

The blurb on Nokia 5140- Gotta love it, but of course it's old school now.

The Nokia 5140 phone features a durable dust, bump and splash-resistant housing that allows it to keep up with demanding users, but its active nature is more than just skin deep. To keep users oriented on the trail, an integrated digital compass displays the direction both graphically and numerically. After dark, a built-in flashlight helps to guide the way.

29 November 2008

What Tennessee Is Doing About Health Insurance

By Mr. Bredesen, the governor of Tennessee, USA.

Dottie Landry is one of those uninsured Americans. She lives in Nashville and is self-employed. She makes and sells jewelry. Over the years, she has been generally healthy but uninsured. In 2000 she got very sick -- from a tick bite -- and had to spend about $9,000 for medical care. She put most of it on her credit cards, which took years to pay off.

We all want to help Ms. Landry, but here's the problem: a comprehensive health-insurance policy for her costs about $5,000 a year, and someone has to pay that. That's a real number that won't go away with group purchasing or by beating up insurance companies. Ms. Landry can't afford that, and in a world of trillion-dollar deficits it's hard to see how the federal government can either.

We need a national health-insurance solution, but isn't it sensible in the meantime to make sure everyone has a basic health plan before we give a few more people a perfect but expensive one? Shouldn't we make sure everyone at least has a Chevy rather than providing a Cadillac to a few and letting the rest walk? We're trying that in Tennessee with CoverTN.

CoverTN, which began in 2006, is a health-insurance plan for those who are self-employed, or who work for small businesses that can't afford a traditional policy.

It is not free health care. Rather it is a limited plan with shared costs. In devising this plan, we didn't start out the usual way -- by defining what benefits we wanted -- but instead set how much we wanted to pay. And then we began a competitive-bidding process to see how much health care we could buy. We initially set the amount we would pay at an average of $150 a month, and split the responsibility for that premium three ways. The company would be responsible for $50, the individual for $50, and the state for the final $50.

The bidding was vigorous. It was ultimately won by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee with a benefit package that meets a great many -- not all -- of the real needs of the uninsured at a cost far below conventional plans.

Coverage with limits is better than no coverage at all.

At these premium levels -- less than half of what a conventional plan might cost -- the benefits are limited. But the benefit structure is also different than in a conventional plan. Most limited plans achieve their savings with high front-end deductibles, requiring a person to spend often thousands of dollars out-of-pocket before benefits kick in. But when we asked our customers -- uninsured Tennesseans -- what they actually wanted, we found that they were most interested in some help with the more common things; a doctor's visit, prescriptions, a short hospital stay.

CoverTN emphasizes covering these front-end costs. It features free checkups, free mammograms and $15 doctor visits without deductibles, for example. And it achieves its savings on the back end, with relatively low limits on hospital stays and an overall $25,000 benefit limit in any one year. It does not cover truly catastrophic events.

This makes medical sense. Good access to a doctor and a drugstore when you first have a problem can avoid a lot of cost and heartache later.

Read the rest of the article on The Wall Street Journal site.

Poetry: the beating muscle and translucent beauty

(Guest post from Karsten Piper) from 22 Words.

These poets are writing with the beating muscle and translucent beauty that’s often missing from church libraries and waiting room magazine piles.

1. Scott Cairns ( “Adventures in New Testament Greek: Nous)
2. Lucille Clifton (”oh antic God“)
3. B.H. Fairchild (”Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest“)
4. Carolyn Forche (”The Memory of Elena“)
5. Tony Hoagland ( “America“)
6. Andrew Hudgins (”Blur“)
7. Mary Karr (”Descending Theology: The Resurrection“)
8. Brigit Pegeen Kelly (“Song“)
9. Yusef Komunyakaa (”Reflections“)
10. Li-Young Lee (”Eating Together“)
11. Thomas Lux (”Render, Render“)
12. Naomi Shihab Nye (”Blood“)
13. Mary Oliver (”White-Eyes“)
14. Don Paterson (”Luing“)
15. Jack Prelutsky(”A Wolf Is at the Laundromat“)
16. Michael Symmons Roberts (”Jairus“)
17. Kay Ryan (”All Shall Be Restored“)
18. Charles Simic (”Fork“)
19. Cathy Song (”Heaven“)
20. A.E. Stallings (”Four Fibs“)
21. Franz Wright (”The Face“)
22. Adam Zagajewski (”Self-Portrait“)

28 November 2008

Need or Want?

Read a modern discussion of Gandhi's ideas on Seth Godin's blog post Hungry:

"I had lunch (a big lunch) with a college student last week. An hour later, she got up and announced she was going to get a snack. Apparently, she was hungry.

By any traditional definition of the word, she wasn’t actually hungry. She didn’t need more fuel to power her through an afternoon of sitting around. No, she was bored. Or yearning for a feeling of fullness. Or eager for the fun of making something or the break in the routine that comes from eating it. Most likely, she wanted the psychic satisfaction that she associates with eating well-marketed snacks.

Marketers taught us this. Marketers taught well-fed consumers to want to eat more than we needed, and consumers responded by spending more and getting fat in the process.

Marketers taught to us amplify our wants, since needs aren’t a particularly profitable niche for them. Isn't it interesting that we don't even have a word for these marketing-induced non-needs? No word for sold-hungry or sold-lonely...

Thirsty? Well, Coke doesn’t satisfy thirst nearly as well as water does. What Coke does do is satisfy our need for connection or sugar or brand fun or consumption or Americana or remembering summer days by the creek...

People don’t need Twitter or an SUV or a purse from Coach. We don’t need much of anything, actually, but we want a lot. Truly successful industries align their ‘wants’ with basic needs (like hunger) and consumers (that’s us) cooperate all day long.

Think you could live without the $1800 a year you spend on cell phone service and $1200 a year you spend on cable TV? Of course you can. You did ten years ago. But now, that high-speed, always-on connection to the rest of the world is so associated with your basic need of connection that you can't easily divorce the two.

As discretionary corporate and individual spending contracts, what’s going to get cut first? The obvious wants. The corporate dining room or the big screen TV for Christmas. What’s interesting to watch are the things that we can’t live without, the things we think we need, not want. Those things won’t get cut, yet most of them aren’t needs at all. That’s because the industries that market these items have done a brilliant job of persuading us that they are needs after all.

If you truly believe in what you sell, that's where you need to be, creating wants that become needs. And if you're a consumer (or a business that consumers) it might be time to look at what you've been sold as a need that's actually a want." S. Godin

27 November 2008

Travel Photos: Nothing More

From The Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bangal,
from the reclining Buddha to Hindu temples,
huge boulders to geocaches, trains buses and India Gate . . . ah yes, the Taj Mahal. I touched it.

Religious? Nope.

From The Philosophical Pastor blog.

Today, “religious people” are not hard to find. In the United States, we have religious, irreligious, and post-religious people. But who among them are actually being shaped from the inside out by their religion? Moreover, who among them, having taken shape, are imitable personalities?

A person who is, in reality and truth, being shaped by a vibrant relationship with God in such a way that anyone “out there” would be impressed and desirous of the same is a rare find today. The solution for many has been to put a bumper-sticker on the car that assures everyone behind them that they enjoy forgiveness for their lazy attitude about sacred living.

26 November 2008

All Blacks -vs- Wales Haka

Hungry in Zimbabwe

By ANGUS SHAW, Associated Press Writer Angus Shaw, Associated Press Writer Wed Nov 19, 4:09 pm ET

A child shows termites caught to eat near Murehwa, Zimbabwe, Sunday, Nov. 16, AP – A child shows termites caught to eat near Murehwa, Zimbabwe, Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008.

MHANGURA, Zimbabwe – Katy Phiri, who is in her 70s, picks up single corn kernels spilled from trucks that ferry the harvest to market. She says she hasn't eaten for three days.

Rebecca Chipika, a child of 9, prods a stick into a termite mound to draw out insects. She sweeps them into a bag for her family's evening meal.

These scenes from a food catastrophe are unfolding in Doma, a district of rural Zimbabwe where journalists rarely venture. It's a stronghold of President Robert Mugabe's party and his enforcers and informants are everywhere.

At a school for villagers visited by The Associated Press, enrollment is down to four pupils from 20. The teachers still willing to work in this once-thriving farming and mining district 160 miles northeast of Harare, the capital, say parents pay them in corn, cooking oil, goats or chickens. One trip by bus to the nearest bank to draw their government salaries costs more than teachers earn in a month.

Meanwhile, the country is in political paralysis following disputed elections in March. A power-sharing deal signed two months ago has stalled over the allocation of ministries between President Robert Mugabe's party and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change.

Shingirayi Chiyamite is a trader from Harare who brings household goods to the countryside to barter for crops. He says a 12-inch bar of laundry soap exchanges for 22 pounds of corn. He crisscrosses the land in search of the few villages that have corn to spare, hauls his purchases to the highway and hitchhikes back to the city. Some of the corn will feed his family; the rest he sells. He is constantly on the move.

"If you rest, you starve," he says.

Information is almost as scarce as food. Survival is the obsession.

Cell phones operate only sporadically. State radio has not been received since the district relay beacon broke down eight months ago.

Mhangura, a town of about 3,000 people, has had no running water for months. Power outages happen daily because of a lack of cash to maintain utilities. People walk about three miles to a dam to fill pails or gasoline cans.

Some of the scarce water is used to embalm the dead in wet sand, a centuries-old African tradition to preserve a body until family members gather for the burial.

"There's nothing here. People are dying of illness and hunger. Burial parties are going out every day," said Michael Zava, a trader in Mhangura.

The hospital that serves the district is closed, and so is its small morgue, so there's no way of telling how many are dying, Zava said. Children's hair is discoloring, a sign of malnutrition. Adults are wizened and dressed in rags — they have no cash for new clothes.

Zava said he has seen villagers plucking undigested corn kernels from cow dung to wash and eat. A slaughtered goat is eaten down to everything but hooves, bones and teeth. Crickets, cicadas and beetles also can make a meal.

The food crisis began after 2000, when Mugabe launched an often violent campaign to seize white-owned farms and give them to veterans of his guerrilla war against white rule over the former British colony.

Officials from Mugabe's party toured the Doma district recently and told the new farm owners that the government could not supply their needs. They were advised to make do with what seed they had left, and with animal manure for fertilizer.

Ordinarily, after harvest the cotton fields are burned to protect the next year's crop from disease. Not this year. People couldn't afford to buy new seeds, and were hoping to get another season out of last year's crop. Instead, the crops came up diseased.

Pasture has been burned by poachers to scare rabbits and rodents into traps. Deer are being hunted for food, and lions from remote parts of the Doma region and Chenanga nature reserve are killing cattle, donkeys and goats, villagers said.

Jackals, baboons and goats compete with villagers for roots and wild fruits.

The wild guava season is over and matamba, a hard orange-like fruit, cannot safely be eaten until ripe. Villagers pick the fruit and cover it with donkey or cow dung, leaving it in the sun to hasten ripening.

Katy Phiri, the grandmother collecting corn kernels, said she put her trust in God.

"There's nothing else I can do," she said. "I have never gone this hungry before."

25 November 2008

Photos: Good People in India

As I travel I meet some of the best people!
Here are a few . . .

Mrs. Piper's Eggnog

Mix well and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

6 pasteurized eggs
¾ cup maple syrup
½ teaspoon salt
1 pint half-and-half
1 pint milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons nutmeg

From Abraham Piper's blog, 22 Words.

Blah, blah, blah, blah...

From Seth Godin's Blog.

You hear yourself saying:

"First, let me apologize for the lighting. We tried very hard to make the screen brighter, but we failed. Before I start, I want to thank seventeen people by name... Now, on this third slide, we see the dynamic effects of our incendiary marketing strategy... Just a few more minutes here... I'm sorry, I don't know why the web connection isn't working quite right... For those of you that remember my talk two years ago... As I was saying to Sir Reginald..."

What the audience hears:

"Blah, blah, blah... interesting tidbit... blah, blah, blah... exciting insight... blah, blah, blah, etc."

My suggestion is that you eliminate all the blahs, eliminate the apologies, eliminate the thank you's, eliminate everything except two interesting tidbits and all the exciting insights.

No audience member, in the history of presentations (written or live) has ever said, "it was exciting, useful and insightful but far too short."

24 November 2008

Childhood Memories?

What is a childhood memory that warms your heart?
Go on. Think about it. What comes to mind that brings a smile to your lips or a lightness to your thoughts? I hope there's something.

I'm blessed by having too many to choose from, but one involves drawers. You know, the kind where you grab the handle and pull it out.

In both grandparents' houses there was a drawer to which I had access.
In my paternal grandparents' house the drawer had games and books . . . things we could access without asking for permission, unless a large number of adults were arriving imminently and the house was to be tidy. The drawer was on the far wall of the living room, dark wood and at the bottom, under some bookshelves.

In my maternal grandparents' house it was a large drawer in the kitchen, below and to the left of the over, a lighter wood with a black handle. This drawer had grandpa's snacks in it, the ones granny put in his dinner pail. It wasn't really a pail, but it wasn't a box either. Don't know why they called it that. As long as there was at least one thing to add to grandpa's lunch, I could have some snacks too. Often it was grandpa who sent me to the snack drawer for a Fig Newton or some Oreos.

We always had snacks on our fishing trips too. Squirt to drink, rubber worms with which to bait our hooks, and strawberries for dessert! He or she who caught the largest fish got the biggest strawberry. Grandpa and I would clean the berries while granny fried the fish. It was a big deal if grandpa left a bone in the fish while we filleted them! My brother has the fillet knife now.

Memories ought to be remembered. If you don't have a good supply of happy memories, make a few with some of your favourite kids. Borrow the kid if you have to. I do.

Drunk Email Protector

From Pete on . . without wax . .

I was reading THIS ARTICLE the other night about googles “drunk email protector”. At first, I thought it was a joke, but apparently it actually does exist. Google has unveiled a new feature in Gmail called Mail Goggles designed to stop you from sending embarrassing e-mails while drunk by requiring you to do math problems before the email will be sent.

Not a bad idea. However I still think the real money maker would be an “angry email protector”. I have a feeling we’ve probably done a lot more relational damage from sending emails when we’re angry then when we’re drunk.

How many times have you wished 30 minutes later there was a “get my email back” button on your computer?

I’ve made this mistake a few times so I’ve established a few email rules in this area.

1) I try to never send a message via email that is dealing with a relational conflict. I’ve gone as far as instructing all of our staff they shouldn’t either. This always leads to trouble.

2) Never, ever respond to an email within the first hour of receiving it. YOU WILL regret it and in case you haven’t figured it out …. there is no “get my email back” button. This applies to blog comments as well!

Any suggestions from you? Any stories of email gone wrong?

23 November 2008

Jill's Photo Sampler: India

I can do historical or hysterical, fine dining or casual. I've long thought that for international travel and a multi-cultural lifestyle, flexibility should have been included as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Influence & Leadership

It's a small world, when you're thinking and seeking ideas of value and truth that resonates and . . . anyway, here's a post from Mark Berry a pioneer leader who writes Way Out West from the UK. He's quoting my friend and co-thinker here in NZ, Tash McGill.

Follow the links and you'll be introduced to some great people who have links to thinkers they read and you'll inevitably trip over some good ideas on the way. Feel free to leave comments and links to other blog we might enjoy.

"Are you a Medicine Man or a Chief? Mike Frost (Small Boat Big Sea - Forge) spent some time yesterday talking about a theory known as "Medicine Man Chief"... I was going to explain it, but then whilst Googling I found a blog post from Tash McGill that puts it nice and succinctly!

The Chief

Tribes arrange themselves around chiefs. The stronger the chief, the bigger the tribe. Chiefs have mini-chiefs. They are found at the centre of the tribe - the Chieftains house is always in the centre - the focal point of the tribe's direction and leadership. Tribespeople need a chief, and chiefs need tribespeople in order to be a chief at all. The loyalty is chief to tribe, tribe to chief. They are dependant on one another for security.
The Medicine Man
The medicine man never lives within the tribe. He lives on the outskirts, outside the city gates or simply travels in a nomadic fashion between tribes that require his services. The medicine man isn't loyal to the tribe or to the chief. He's loyal to the Higher Truth. His is the business of healing. Of bringing truth to the tribe. As such, he has great influence and power. He can be magnetic and charismatic, just like a chief, but his loyalty to truth (which is ultimately for the sake and care of the tribespeople) will always be his highest priority.
Go and read Tash's Post for more on the "story"... Mike's perspective was that we need to be aware of the role and significance of both... and of who we are... a Chief on their own means the community quickly becomes institutionalised; pragmatic, following good practice but unable to improvise or take creative risks... a Medicine (wo)man on their own leads to chaos and confusion, a constant state of reinvention and restlessness. The Medicine man can be a thorn in the side of the Chief, never allowing the community to become too self-satisfied, to become petrified or institutionalised... most Pioneers are Medicine men Mike suggests... but there comes a time in the life of a new community that Chiefs have to emerge to begin to stabilise living conditions and practice. The question becomes then, does the Medicine man move on to start new things leaving the Chief to build the structures (to move the community from the Storming and Forming toward the Norming) or should the Medicine man hang around, be part of the "leadership" preventing the community from entering the first stages of decline by becoming unresponsive and inflexible, losing its creativity and dynamism? But the Medicine man is not a "moaner" who always sees the grass on the other side as more lush and fulsome, they are more idealistic, more visionary than that.

As ever with "models" it seems somewhat simplistic, but there also seems to be some use in the narrative... I can see that my role has elements of both, but I guess most I am a Medicine man, a pioneer who gets excited by challenging institution etc. but needs to find the Chief, the do-er, the pragmatist in the community... I do live within the tribe and therefore I want to question the story (above) of the itinerant Medicine man, I see much more of a complimentary dynamic where different elements/people come into play in leadership in a fluid but mutually involved way - for me the Medicine man needs to be part of the community, feeling, listening, learning from the community in it's every day life, not someone who reflects from the outside. It occurred to me that we are perhaps blind to the Medicine men, that when we think of leadership we think of the Chief? When one looks at the attitude of modern writers/bloggers etc. to the likes of Brian McLaren, they see a Chief - when perhaps he is a Medicine man, someone who does not want to run the village, but does want to ask the awkward questions, prompt new thinking etc.? Perhaps "our" model of leadership has become defined by Chiefdom, we expect to see a leader who leads, who demands loyalty, who manages life and business, etc. perhaps we have marginalised and even exiled the Medicine men, the Apostles, Prophets etc. the "Awkward Squad"? Do we cripple Chiefs by putting all the weight of leadership on their shoulders, fine when things are going well but what when challenges to change or rethink arise?

I also began to wonder whether there are communities themselves that manifest as Medicine men for the wider community? Communities who perhaps do not seem loyal to the Chief, communities that are prepared to be a thorn in the side, idealistic, who live to be creative and to ask difficult questions? And yet do see themselves as a part of the wider community, related to it but living on its edge... Perhaps communities of exiled Medicine men are gathering together because they have no place to live? If so we shouldn't necessarily worry about sustainability etc. those are Chief issues, we should talk about the impact that they have on the wider community - do they bring new thinking, do they challenge structures and institutions that have themselves become idols? Do they stir up petrified communities to re-examine purpose, vision and mission? How do we make space for Medicine men and Medicine man communities in the Chief's world?"

Agree? Disagree? Variations we should consider?

22 November 2008

Of Bibliophilia and Biblioclasm

by Theodore Dalyrmple (Nov. 2008 New English Review)

In 1936, George Orwell published a little essay entitled Bookshop Memories. In it, he recalled his time as an assistant in a second-hand bookshop, a time that was happy only when viewed through the soft-focus lens of nostalgia. Irony might be defined as disgust recalled in tranquillity, and Orwell’s essay is nothing if not full of irony. He was glad to have had the experience, no doubt, but more glad that it was over.
Not much has changed in the three quarters of a century that have elapsed since Orwell’s experience as a bookseller. Second-hand bookshops the world over still tend to be inadequately heated places, Orwell says because the owners fear condensation in the windows, but also because profits are small and heating bills would be large. There is a peculiar chill, quite unlike any other, to be experienced between the stacks of second-hand bookshops.
. . . And second-hand bookshops are still one of the few indoor public places where a person may loiter for hours without being suspected of any serious ulterior motive.

Orwell did not have a high regard for the customers, who struck him as awkward and mainly suffering from psychological problems. As a long-time habitué of second-hand bookshops, I should say that this is a fairly typical attitude of booksellers to buyers, whom they regard largely with contempt. This contempt arises not only from the character of book-buyers, but from their tastes. I knew a bookseller, a communist of the Enver Hoxha faction, who was constantly frustrated and irritated that the elderly black ladies of the area in which he had his shop were always asking for Bibles rather than for revolutionary literature that he thought that they, as the most downtrodden of the downtrodden, ought to have been reading. Another bookshop owner of my acquaintance so hated his customers that he would sometimes play Schoenberg very loudly to clear the shop of them. It was a very effective technique.

Not everything has remained the same since Orwell’s day, however. He says that anyone ought to be able to make a go of a second-hand bookshop, but this is no longer the case. Such bookshops are declining fast in number – recently I was in a coastal town in England that a decade ago had ten of them, and now the last of them was about to close in a week’s time.

Two developments have led to the decline of the second-hand bookshop. The first, of course, is the internet. The internet is both wonderful and terrible. For instance, it enables patients to learn a lot about their own diseases, and if they are discriminating, sometimes even to save their own lives. But medical information, or opinion, on the internet has probably already killed far more people than it has saved: the fact that Thabo Mbeki, the recently deposed President of South Africa, found a site on the internet while browsing that convinced him that AIDS was not caused by a virus, and that therefore treatment of HIV with drugs was harmful, resulted in untold premature loss of life that it will take many years for the internet to balance by lives it has saved.

With regard to books, the internet is a wonderful instrument for finding a book that you particularly need or want: if, for example (and for some obscure reason), you are searching for the 1490 edition of Pietro D’Abano’s Tractatus de Venenis, then you can find it on a site that claims to list 110,000,000 books. Suffice it to say that you could spend several lifetimes scouring the bookshops of the world in the old-fashioned way without finding it.

But the pleasure of second-hand bookshops is not only in finding what you want: it is in leafing through many volumes and alighting upon something that you never knew existed, that fascinates you and therefore widens your horizons in a completely unanticipated way, helping you to make the most unexpected connections.
According to the owner of a bookshop that I have now been patronising for forty years (and who seemed to me to be of the older generation when I first met him, but now seems, mysteriously, to be precisely the same age as I), browsing in the fashion and for the purpose that I have just described is a thing of the past. Young people do not do it any more, as they still did when he started his life in the trade. Instead, they have a purely instrumental or utilitarian attitude to bookshops: they come in, ask whether he has such and such a title, and if he does not they leave at once, usually with visible disgruntlement: for what is the point of a bookshop that does not have the very title that they want here and now?

There are other pleasures of the imagination that those who do not browse forgo. When first I bought books from second-hand bookshops I eschewed those with inscriptions, and to this day there are buyers who regard any mark on a book as a defect. (Orwell tells us that working in a bookshop taught him how few really bookish people there were, and how ‘first edition snobs’ are much more common than lovers of literature. I suppose that first edition snobs are to literature what hi-fi addicts are to music.) But I have changed my mind over the years, and now even prefer books to be inscribed in some way.

I like copies of books inscribed by the author, particularly when dedicated with a message, and association copies: that is to say, copies that are inscribed by a known personage who has some intellectual or other connection with the book’s contents. My rationalist friends find this taste of mine odd and surprising: after all, the value of a book, they tell me, is overwhelmingly in its content, and secondarily (perhaps) in its aesthetic appeal as a physical artefact.

. . .
Now William Blades was a civilised man who loved books and knew that one never really owned books: one was their trustee. He was a printer who waxed eloquent on the subject:
Looked at rightly, the possession of any old book is a sacred trust,
which a conscientious owner or guardian would as soon think of
ignoring as a parent would of neglecting his child. An old book,
whatever its subject or internal merits, is truly a portion of the
national history…
One might add, ‘And not of the national history alone, but of all mankind’s history.’ As Blades puts it, ‘I do not envy any man that absence of sentiment which makes some people careless of the memorials of their ancestors…’
Inscriptions in books, even by the unknown, have the effect of reminding us that we are necessarily part of something bigger, and altogether grander, than ourselves. Inscriptions are, of course, intimations of mortality, for they are mostly by people who are dead but who wrote them with all the same disregard of death with which we pursue of own present moments. But they also give rise to other thoughts and feelings. . . .

My copy of Why Was I Killed, by Rex Warner, printed in 1946, three years after the first edition, contains the following inscription, in a cultivated hand:
Bought at Portmadoc and read while on holiday at Portmerion 10.x.1947
Below it is another inscription, in a completely unchanged hand, dated thirty years and nine days later:
The last book read by Barbara during the illness which ended in her death. She liked the book enormously. 19.x.1977
I read the book in October 2007, thirty years later still. For the last twelve months or so, I have taken to inscribing all the books I read, in a bid no doubt to outlast my own death.

To visit a quality bookshop in:
Takapuna, Auckland - Bookmark
Sydney - Glee Books
Onehunga, Auckland - Hard To Find
Denver, CO - Capitol Hill Books
LongBeach, CA - Acres of Books
And while City Lights Books in San Francisco is not secondhand books, it's still worth a wander.
Look for Browser's on Victoria St. in Hamilton, NZ
Christchurch - Smith's Books
Wellington - Arty Bees

Other goldmines not to be missed is your local Goodwill, Salvation Army or Hospice Shop.

Where's your favourite secondhand bookshop?

21 November 2008

Spirituality: What is it?

From Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed
"How do you define spirituality? In Evan Howard's new book, Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality, The (Brazos Introduction), we get an opening chp that is devoted to this discussion. Here are his central claims:
According to Howard, there are three dimensions to the use of the word "spirituality" today:

1. A lived relationship with God.
2. A formulation of how we relate to God.
3. A field of study.

It is not the same as mysticism; mysticism refers to special experiences of God while spirituality refers to the whole relationship to God. Sanctification refers to a doctrine but spirituality to a relationship. It is more narrowly focused than religious studies and is not the same as spiritual formation since that expression focuses on the means of maturity -- and again spirituality refers to the whole relationship.

Howard clearly defines his terms and his focus: he sees spirituality primarily in terms of our relationship with God. This book may be the finest study available on an individual's relationship with God.

How would I define "spirituality"? I'd go to bigger ideas and, in particular, to what Paul means by a "spiritual person" vs. a "carnal person." Hence, I'd define spirituality broader: as our relationship to God and the creation of a spiritual/Spirit-ual life wherein we manifest the fruit of the Spirit in both loving God and others and manifest the gifts of the Spirit as God grants them to us for the good of others."

McKnight's definition is specifically Christian, which is valid in light of the focus of Howard's book. I have many friends are spiritual, but do not acknowledge God.

In discussing spirituality with many Chinese students at the university, I must start with the feelings associated with a sunrise or newborn baby. Some of these students seem to have little or no framework for spirituality.

At a chaplains' retreat this week we arrived at "religion being the container and spirituality being the contents".

Some people practice religion, but don't seem to engage spiritually.


Saying thank you is more than good manners. It is good spirituality.

Alfred Painter

Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy -- because we will always want to have something else or something more.

Brother David Steindl-Rast

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.


Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.

Denis Waitley

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice.

Meister Eckhart

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

John F Kennedy

There is as much greatness of mind in acknowledging a good turn, as in doing it.


The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.

William James

In the New Testament, religion is grace and ethics is gratitude.

Thomas Erskine

20 November 2008

Pictures or Thousands of Words?

While this blog is not a travelogue, if you don't mind, I'll use my photos as prompts for writing about my recent travels in Thailand & India.

Some of my readers might be more interested in useful info, links and current events, so I'll try to intersperse. Please let me know where the interest is so I don't bore anyone too much. I respect the fact that you probably read other blogs and choose to stop in here now and then.

I'm back in Auckland and even had minor surgery this AM, so am really ticcing things off my list. I'm very grateful that being away means I don't have a full calendar and can move forward choosing carefully and well. Much of what I get to do with my life is meaningful and satisfying, it's just that I usually try to do too much.

My recent trip was as much about getting me out of my comfort zone as it was about making a contribution in the places I visited. My hosts did put me to work a bit, but our conversations were often about perspective and what I was seeing and where I saw God at work. Sometimes when you are in the midst of things, you don't see as clearly as an outsider can. I hope I left my hosts encouraged and my listeners with some things to consider and add to their toolboxes. I'll possibly never know the blessings or the blunders.

All of the places I visited had obvious situations of sorrow & suffering, as well as laughter & community. I'll try not to dwell on the needs, but I do hope you'll consider how your spheres of influence might be tapped in to for funding of buildings and staff for the orphanages I visited. They can do so much with so little in those places.

  • $3000 US will add a floor on to an existing building in India to house abandoned kids who are HIV+.
  • Less than $150US p/month will pay the salary of a child counselor or child development supervisor in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Who do you know who will participate?
Let me know and I'll make the connections directly with where the funding will be used; no big organisations or loss due to admin costs.

The children pictured here did not ask for the virus they carry within them. I woulda brought several of them, from both Thailand & India, home with me if I could have. They are quick to smile and laugh and tease each other. But many of them also wonder where their parents are and why they have to go to the hospital for regular blood tests and check ups and why they have to take medicines like clockwork. Some of them don't even know their ABC's yet, but HIV is written on every official form associated with them.

Look at their faces and consider how we can help just these few children. We'll leave the masses to the Bill & Belinda Gates' of the world, but we can equip the good people on the ground showing love to the children I met, the kids who sat on my lap and sang to me or told me a story.
It's not statistics. They are people.

Jack Kerouac

“His ideal was not to display his literary skill, but to have a conversation with the reader.”

-- noted Jazz musician, David Amram

19 November 2008

Seth Godin's book, Tribes

My friend Tash posted this and I thought you might want to follow the links.
I too read Seth's blog when I've a moment to spare. He challenges me.

"If you need convincing that this is a GREAT little book to read try this...and this for just a taste of how these ideas about leadership and community momentum can dramatically impact what you get up to.

It also sits well alongside the ideas of Medicine Man Chief, about instinctive tribal leadership and community structure.

An eBook version of Tribes Q&A is available here, a work put together by volunteers and inspired by the book. As Seth says - juicy insight on every page and it's very pretty too."

Words from some Wise Guys

Let me share some quotes my dad sent me recently. I think they came from his recent reading of P. Yancey. It's great to have grown up in a home with books and readers and parents who valued good manners & and good grammar.

"A saint is one who exaggerates what the world neglects."

--G. K. Chesterton

"Love consents to all and commands only those who consent. Love is abdication. God is abdication".
--Simone Weil

"The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Faith does not...spring from the miracle, but the miracle from faith."
--Fyodor Dostoevsky

"This again is a great contradiction: though he was a Jew, his followers were not Jews."

"Suppose we hear an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair.
One explanation....would be that he might be an odd shape.
But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape....Perhaps [in short] this extraordinary thing is really the ordinary thing; at least the normal thing, the centre."
--G.K. Chesterton

"Why did Providence hide it's face at the most critical moment ... as though voluntarily submitting to the blind, dumb, pitiless laws of nature?"
---Fyodor Dostoevsky

"The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven...
And earthly power doth then show likest God's when mercy seasons justice."
--Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

18 November 2008

Chaplaincy: Wellington & Back Again

OK, I think I can finally unpack my suitcase.

After arriving back in NZ on Saturday early morning, I slept, walked on the beach with friends, did some geocaching, repacked, saw everyone at church, and then flew to Wellington for a retreat and part of the chaplaincy conference. It was good to see everyone yesterday and to catch up. One of the comments last night was that it was good to be in a crowd of people where everyone actually knew what it is we do!

Chaplaincy can be a lonely role as it is rarely understood by people in church-based ministry and definitely not understood by your average individual on a university campus. Unfortunately, it is often only at a time of crisis that chaplains play a role that is appreciated. We've had a few of those this past year and, while we were happy to help people navigate through those rough times, we'd rather not be needed in those particular ways.

It's normal that when people are cruising comfortably through their days and agendas, they don't call on outside assistance. It's when the way ahead becomes unclear or complicated that they consider seeking advice. It's when people want to make sense of life that they consider conversations with someone they think might have some insight.

That is just one of the reasons I like to have people of all ages in my circle of friends. I learn so much from young people, from kids, and especially from older people. What good is it to only be around people who know as much, or as little, as you? Likewise, what good is it to only be around people who agree with you, or who think as you do on most important issues?

Conversations with well informed people, or people who can think things through, can be quite entertaining and enlightening. You may go away with the same opinion you had at the beginning, but there may well be more integrity in why and how you hold that opinion.

Such conversations need not be debates or arguments. I've had many students seek me out to debate a particular religion or faith in general. I tend to sidestep those debates as I don't find that argument is the best way to pursue a spiritual path. There's more involved than information and logic, though those are important components to any worldview.

A conversation, between people who respect each other, can be deep and wide and have tangents and dead ends and can result in greater respect between individuals.

I've just left a meeting of chaplains from nearly every Christian tradition. We'd not all agree on several things. We choose to focus on the welfare of those God has placed in our care, on doing our best within the spheres of influence in which we find ourselves. Can't do much better than that.

16 November 2008

The Stuff of Dreams

I arrived back in Auckland last night knowing I had one day of talcum powder left.

How odd it is to

To take a shower and not worry about water getting in your mouth.
To take a shower! I’ve been bathing out of a bucket for weeks now.
To have the option of hot or cold water. I’ve just had to use what came out of the pipes, sometimes waiting for it to cool off before I could use it. Other times, cold was the only way to clean.
To dry off and not start sweating immediately.
To use a full size bottle of shampoo and a real hair brush, rather than the travel version.
To brush my teeth with tap water rather than remembering to take a bottle in with me.

To take clothing out of drawers or off of hangers rather than out of a suitcase.
To have a choice in which shoes to wear.

To drive down a road and see no litter piled everywhere.
To see grass meet the edge of sidewalks which are more or less intact, and are bordered again by grass to the roads’ edge. No dust blowing up as buses roar past.
To hear no horns honking.
To see almost every vehicle pulled by an engine rather than by animals or people.
To be in a crowd and not be pushed and jostled as everyone seeks their own advantage.
To hear people complain about traffic in a place where everyone stays in their lane and respects traffic signals.

To look at a menu and know I can eat anything on it, even the fresh vegetables.
To drink from a tap and not need to request bottled water and then checking the bottle to make sure the seal is intact.

To just pay the price on the tag without having to ask or barter.
To hear a phone ring and know I was expected to answer it.
To have keys again.

Over time, in a radical change of culture,
The familiar becomes the stuff of dreams,
and the stuff of dreams becomes familiar.

15 November 2008

Christmas Shopping Idea!

Do not give dustables! People who have to do their own dusting should have the option of buying their own dustables, or not. Give useful gifts. Gifts that fill a gap in someone's life. Give a gift that says, "I know you and love you and thought of just the perfect thing for you."
Give a goat. Or a toilet. Or a number of other very useful things that the recipient will not have to dust.

Do you know that for $100 NZ you can immunise 10 children for a year! Now that's a gift!

tear Fund will take care of the wrapping and delivery! No tape, no mess, no tagging and trying to keep them all straight! Go on. Go to Tear Fund and Give a Gift For Life.

Make it a family project and see how many goats or pigs or whatever your family can give or receive! Spread the word!

14 November 2008

In Singapore, again

People are sure nice and polite here. It's not that Indians are not, it's just that there are so many of them jostling for every inch of space that some expressions of polite might seem a bit of a luxury.

Luxury: fresh air, space, choices, no dust, being alone . . .

I had many conversations . . . and was often frustrated at not being able to converse.
I was at many intersections . . . and was a bit daunted at the idea of crossing through them.

I hope I'll remember to tell you about the leathery old woman I saw between the lanes of traffic, and of the man I saw under a huge burden of fruit in the market.

I'm on my way to New Zealand, another place and another life. Some of those people retrace the same paths each day and might sometimes wonder if they are getting anywhere.

Reading Quiz Show by Vikas Swarup. Amazing now that I've been to India. Kinda like The Gods Must Be Crazy is even more insightful after living in Africa.

India beat Australia in cricket. Bombs are still going off for various reasons across India.
America has a new president and New Zealand a new Prime Minister. Much has changed since I left, possibly especially me.

Enroute: Madras - Mangere

Winging from Madras to Mangere today, Lord willing.

Ever think of that phrase; Lord willing?

In chiShona it is kana Mwari achida. In Arabic, Insha Allah.

It's good to not be too proud, especially when you're really not sure how all that weight stays up in the air.

Track the flight if you're interested: Flytecomm or FlightStats.

SQ529 out of Madras on morning of 13th. Then SQ281 out of Singapore Friday AM, 14th.

11 November 2008

Seeking Experience

The Lifestyle Beat Editorial Mission
from The Smart Set From Drexel University

The slippery notion of authenticity — The Authentic Experience — is something that people in lifestyle journalism endlessly wring their hands over.

Just pick up any magazine on food or travel and you’ll find alliterative boasts of authenticity on the cover: “Insider’s Istanbul”; “In Search of the Real Romania”; “The True Taste of Tashkent.” The message seems clear: If you’re not traveling to see our “hidden gems” or dining on our “local secrets,” well, you’re hopeless. Worse than hopeless. You’re a tourist.

Travel Weekly, the national newspaper of the travel industry, hosted a round-table discussion a couple of years ago and invited top editors from seven of the nation’s leading travel publications. They gathered in the Ed Sullivan Room at the Friar’s Club in New York and discussed a variety of pressing issues, such as: “What are the ingredients that create buzz for a destination?”

The issue of authentic travel experience was quickly raised. The editor-in-chief of one of the nation’s largest travel magazines explained: “That new adventure traveler is the person who wants to fly to India first class or business class. They want to stay in a great hotel. Then they want to be taken to a small village where they meet the rug dealer. Then they want to buy the rug. But the thing is, they want the genuine, authentic experience, and they’re willing to pay to get there.”

“That doesn’t sound authentic at all, to have someone take you to a rug dealer,” said the editor of a more budget-conscious magazine.

“I don’t agree,” the first editor persisted. “You can go there and find someone who can take you into the mountains. I have a story in the works on just this thing. They will take you to the guy who will sell you the rug. And it is real, and when they return, it is what they’re going to talk about when people come over for dinner.” read more . . .

COMMENT: What's the difference between being a traveller and a tourist?

10 November 2008

Swear Words

“Life's disappointments are harder to take when you don't know any swear words.”

Calvin & Hobbes

Alternative to dominant culture

"The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us."

The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Bruegemann, 1978

09 November 2008

Arts & Letters Daily delivers best ideas at high speeds

If there was only one website that you'd want your computer to get stuck on, what would it be?
I'd very possibly want mine to be Arts & Letters Daily! It's a plethora of ideas gleaned from sources around the world!

A buffet sure to leave you hungry Robert Fulford, National Post

Among the most unlikely residents of Christchurch, a New Zealand city of 414,000, is a philosophy professor whose work reaches every corner of the planet, a man Time magazine described as one of the most influential media personalities anywhere. Denis Dutton, born in Los Angeles 63 years ago, sits down at his computer every day and carefully begins explaining the world to itself through Arts & Letters Daily, a great intellectual magazine that could have existed at no previous moment in history.

In online jargon, Arts & Letters Daily is an aggregator, meaning it pulls together material from many sources. But its fans know it's much more than that. It's both a daily reminder of the riches available in the publications of the world and a map to finding those riches.

Since 1998, A & LD has been searching tirelessly for online articles that should be known everywhere, providing the links that make it possible for us to put them on our screens with a single mouse-click. The editors show a god-like way to find, in the most obscure places, material that pleases, surprises and stimulates their readers. Apparently not a sparrow falls, intellectually speaking, without their knowledge.

They carry brief introductions that have a way of making every article sound essential. Dutton's style of summarizing is all his own: "Science does not follow a clear road to truth; better is the idea of a meandering river in flood and drought ..."

A & LD's reach keeps growing broader. More than ever, it sends us to marvellous publications of which some of us have never previously heard. If it has a political tendency, it's libertarian. My feeling is that its openness to new thinking is the opposite of conservatism.

In just one of the three columns that make up its front page, A & LD sent us to articles on globalization, the political fading of Europe, the failure of Canada to create superhero comics, the fresh popularity of atheism, Shakespeare as the first great generalizer in English, the insane popularity of expensive weddings, the chances for real democracy in India and the surprising longevity of Goth styles among the young.

In the way the editors defy space and time, it's a uniquely 21st-century enterprise. Dutton's managing editor, Tran Huu Dung, is an economist at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, 13,846 km from Christchurch as the crow flies. When it's 8 p.m. on Wednesday night in Dayton, it's noon on Thursday in Christchurch. (The editorial meetings must be murder.) Even their relationship began digitally: Dutton hired Dung when he knew him only through e-mail.

A writer in The Times once remarked, "Arts & Letters Daily satisfies your intellectual cravings like an expert sommelier at the swankest restaurant in town." That's dead wrong. The idea of satisfaction misses the point. Daniel Bell said that a book is not a meal; it should not satisfy us but make us hungry for more books. The best article works in the same way.

Intellectuals like to believe they exist on a plane of serene detachment, where issues of fashion are ignored, no one worries about keeping up with the cultural news, and certainly no one cares which ideas are hot and which are limping sadly off the stage, spent or discredited.

A & LD embodies another view. Its elegant design resembles the little papers that were passed around in 18th-century London coffee houses, sometimes called "the penny university" because you could read all the news if you paid a penny for coffee. (A & LD is cheaper.)

Dutton treats even the most serious thinking as news and proudly displays a motto borrowed from Seneca: Veritas odit moras, meaning "Truth hates delay." Born out of a depressingly slow university world where books sometimes take four years to go through the press, A & LD delivers the best thinking at the highest speed.

Dutton loves the intellectually eccentric -- he gleefully tells us about a Marxist critique of basketball, for instance. But as he says, he hopes mainly to focus on subjects that count. He sees the encounter between Islam and the West as one essential theme. "We need deeper, better thinking and better analysis, to understand this great cultural moment," he remarked a couple of years ago. On that topic, he chooses material so well that he can enrich even those who think they know it well.

A & LD does for ideas what the Bloomberg service does for commerce. It watches developments, sorts things out, tells you what you need to know. It doesn't produce the profits Bloomberg brings in, but over time its ability to make connections may turn out to be even more important than the stock market.


Wikipedia says: A&L Daily was preceded by an electronic mailing list discussion group, "Phil-Lit", that served as a continuous internet symposium on articles and reviews found on the web. The list was initiated by Denis Dutton, a native of Los Angeles, California, and a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury, in Christchurch, New Zealand. When the list reached eight hundred subscribers, Dutton suggested putting the articles together on a single webpage. Phil-Lit subscribers and Dutton's friends came up with the name "Arts & Letters Daily."

After several months of planning and design, Arts & Letters Daily went online on September 28, 1998. Dutton was assisted in operating the site by three former Phil-Lit subscribers: Sharon Killgrove of the Mojave Desert; Harrison Solow of Malibu, California; and Kenneth Chen, then a student at University of California, Berkeley. The site quickly acquired a large following and a great deal of positive press, and in January 1999, the British Sunday broadsheet The Observer named A&L Daily the "Best Website in the World."

Today Dutton and Dung continue as the editors of A&L Daily, which remains a service of The Chronicle of Higher Education. As of March, 2007 it was receiving around 3.7 million page views per month.

From Time Magazine Sunday, June. 13, 2004 " . . .a philosophy professor in New Zealand named Denis Dutton started the blog Arts & Letters Daily artsandlettersdaily.com) to create a website "where people could go daily for a dose of intellectual stimulation." Now the site draws more than 100,000 readers a month. Compare that with, say, the New York Review of Books, which has a circulation of 115,000. The tail is beginning to wag the blog.