30 April 2009

Marietta W. Shaw, 1940 - 1995

Today my mother would have been 69.

Not sure what all we've missed in the past 13 years, but I know that no one loves you quite like your mother.

A father's love is different. Not better or less or quantifiable at all. My dad and I have a great relationship!

But, I can't count the number of times over the years I wanted to call my mom.

I did one day. Weird response on her old phone line.

Network, Swarm, More

More from Kevin Kelly on Embracing the Swarm

Count on more being different.

A handful of sand grains will never form an avalanche no matter how hard one tries to do it. Indeed one could study a single grain of sand for a hundred years and never conclude that sand can avalanche. To form avalanches you need millions of grains. In systems, more is different. A network with a million nodes acts significantly different from one with hundreds. The two networks are like separate species--a whale and an ant, or perhaps more accurately, a hive and an ant. Twenty million steel hammers swinging in unison is still 20 million steel hammers. But 20 million computers in a swarm is much, much more than 20 million individual computers.

Do what you can to make "more." In a network the chicken-and-egg problem can hinder growth at first--there's no audience because there is no content, and there is no content because there is no audience. Thus, the first efforts at connecting everything to everything sometimes yield thin fruit. At first, smart cards look no different from credit cards--just more inconvenient. But more is different; 20 million smart cards is a vastly different beast than 20 million credit cards.

It's the small things that change the most in value as they become "more."

• A tiny capsule that beeps and displays a number, multiplied by millions: the pager system. What if all the Gameboys or Playstations in the world could talk to one another?

• What if all the residential electric meters in a city were connected together into a large swarm? If all the outdoor thermometers were connected, we would have a picture of our climate a thousand times better than we have ever had before.

The ants have shown us that there is almost nothing so small in the world that it can't be made larger by embedding a bit of interaction in many copies of it, and then connecting them all together.

The game in the network economy will be to find the overlooked small and figure out the best way to have them embrace the swarm. KK's blog

29 April 2009

Are there laws concerning profanity in NZ?

Swearing still jolts in south from The New Zealand Herald

South Islanders are more likely to take offence at nasty expletives than their fellow citizens in the North Island.

Charges for public profanities may be dropping in New Zealand generally, but in the South Island they are rising.

But Auckland criminal law professor Warren Brookbanks says this is probably not because South Islanders are more potty-mouthed but rather because they are more conservative.

"I can't believe it's because there are more foul-mouthed people in the South Island," he said.

It was more likely that the people in the north are more liberal and less offended by expletives,"while in the south, people take offence at rude things people say more readily".

New statistics show 207 charges were laid for public profanity in 2007, up 11 per cent on the previous year and 29 per cent on 2005.

Professor Brookbanks said the charge, which carries a $1000 fine, is "elusive" and dependent on "circumstances in which the utterance is made".


Change: Don't Ignore it

I remember watching car ads on TV with my engineer grandfather. He was interested in the specs of the car, its performance not the scenery behind it or the music that makes us want to experience it. Now the specs are nearly nonexistent!

There was a lot of car talk in my home growing up. My dad & brother could compare features and minute differences on cars from different years. Road trips were filled with casual competitions to see who could accurately identify the year and model of an old car we passed.

Now I hear more talk about various computer specs or the latest digital this-or-that than about what we drive. Things change. Can we change with it to make the most of it?

Seth Godin has a few things to contribute to the conversation . . .

Sixty to zero

Ever notice that most car specs focus on acceleration,

not braking? It's more fun to focus on getting fast than it is on getting slow.

How would you manage or market differently if you knew that you had to hit the brakes, and hard? Slowing one thing and speeding up something else.

Prediction: there will be no significant newspapers printed on newsprint in the US by 2012. So, you've got two and a half years before the newspaper industry is going to be doing something else with the news and the ads, or not be there at all. Does that change what you do today if you work in this business?

Insight! The newspaper industry is in trouble, but news is not going to go away, just the paper part. Those who are working hard to preserve the paper part are asking the wrong questions and are doomed to fail.

Prediction: 90% of your sales will come from word of mouth or digital promotion by 2011. How do you change what you're doing today to be ready for that?

Prediction: The effort required to outsource a task involving the manipulation of data of any kind will continue to decrease until it will be faster and cheaper to outsource just about anything than it will be to use in-house talent. What will you do today to ensure your prosperity when that happens?

It seems to me that if you know the old world is about to end, you'd run like crazy to master the new one.

Going fast, doing your best and then slamming into a cliff works best for Wile E. Coyote, not humans.

28 April 2009

Sci-Fi's Christian Themes

An excerpt of Benjamin A. Plotinsky's, How Science Fiction Found Religion

Once overtly political, the genre increasingly employs Christian allegory.

Antichrist than Christ,
Darth Vader, in George Lucas’s
Star Wars series, is the
product of a virgin birth.

There is a young man, different from other young men. Ancient prophecies foretell his coming, and he performs miraculous feats. Eventually, confronted by his enemies, he must sacrifice his own life—an act that saves mankind from calamity—but in a mystery as great as that of his origin, he is reborn, to preside in glory over a world redeemed. Tell this story to one of the world’s 2 billion Christians, and he’ll recognize it instantly. Tell it to a science-fiction and fantasy fan, and he’ll ask why you’re making minor alterations to the plot of The Matrix or Superman Returns. For reasons that have as much to do with global politics as with our cultural moment, some of this generation’s most successful sci-fi and fantasy movie franchises follow an essentially Christian plotline.

Hallelujah!” cries a minor character early in The Matrix, the 1999 cyberpunk flick, directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski, that took the nation by storm and, together with its two sequels, raked in about $600 million domestically. “You’re my savior, man, my own personal Jesus Christ.” The character is addressing Thomas Anderson, a restless computer hacker, played by Keanu Reeves, who goes by the handle “Neo” and has sold him some precious illegal software. It’s just one of the movie’s many references to its central inspiration. Neo, we learn eventually, is in fact a nearly divine savior, the Jesus Christ of the bizarre world in which he lives.

Anderson doesn’t realize it yet, however. First, a mysterious man named Morpheus must contact him, conveying a shocking truth: the universe isn’t real but is actually a “Matrix”—a “neural interactive simulation,” a “computer-generated dreamworld”—and the year isn’t 1999 but something like 2199. Early in the twenty-first century, Morpheus explains, human beings and intelligent machines went to war against one another. The machines, seeking a constant source of bioelectrical energy, started to breed people and use them as human generators, keeping them in little cells but convincing them, through illusion-conveying cables attached to their brains, that they still lived in an ordinary world. “You are a slave, Neo,” Morpheus says. “Like everyone else, you were born into bondage.”

Yet escape from bondage is possible. “When the Matrix was first built, there was a man born inside who had the ability to change whatever he wanted, to remake the Matrix as he saw fit,” Morpheus tells Neo. “It was he who freed the first of us, taught us the truth. . . . After he died, the Oracle prophesied his return—that his coming would hail the destruction of the Matrix, end the war, bring freedom to our people.” Is Neo this reincarnated savior—the “One” whom Morpheus and his fellow rebels await? We don’t know until near the movie’s end, when a comrade-in-arms betrays Neo and Morpheus. Neo chooses to save Morpheus’s life by surrendering his own. The machines kill him—but then he mysteriously returns to life and obliterates his enemies, to the grand accompaniment of trumpets and a choir. He is indeed the One.

It takes no great perception to recognize how closely this plot tracks the basic Christian narrative, though it conflates the Passion with the End Days, adding the betrayal of a Judas to a messianic Second Coming. Neo’s very name isn’t just an anagram of “One” but also a prefix meaning “new,” a word with important Christian overtones: Jesus is a “new man,” we read in Ephesians 2:15, who says that he brings a new testament. Continued . . .

Read the whole article on City Journal where Plotinsky touches on Superman, Star Trek, Terminator, Lord of the Rings, The Lion the Witch & The Wardrobe & Harry Potter. Benjamin A. Plotinsky is the managing editor of City Journal.

And what of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series? Anything redemptive there?

27 April 2009

Chittister on Struggle & Hope

Joan Chittister is convinced that it is unrealistic in these tense and fearful times to write about hope without dealing at the same time with struggle. In these excerpts, she notes the importance of hope in all the world's religions and discusses how it is an antidote to despair.

"Every major spiritual revelation known to humankind, in fact, is based on the bedrock of hope. Hinduism sees life as the gathering of graces that leads, eventually, to the eternal dissolution of each of us into the energy that is God. Buddhism teaches the path to Enlightenment, to the end of suffering. Judaism lives in the life-giving law of God and waits for the Messiah who will turn an unjust world into the eternal glory of God. Christianity embraces the Pascal Mystery and its movement from death to life through the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Islam awaits the transformation from the physical burdens of this life to the spiritual freedom that comes with submission to God. Embedded in each is a spirituality of hope that imbues their followers with the power to believe in life, to cope with life, to live life, whatever the burdens that come with the daily dyings of life. . . .

"Hope is rooted in the past but believes in the future. God's world is in God's Hands, hope says. and therefore cannot possibly be hopeless. Life, already fulfilled in God, is only the process of coming to realize that we have been given everything we need to come to fullness of life, both here and hereafter. The greater the hope, the greater the appreciation of life now, the greater the confidence in the future, whatever it is.

"But if struggle is the process of evolution from spiritual emptiness to spiritual wisdom, hope is the process as well. Hope, the response of the spiritual person to struggle, takes us from the risk of inner stagnation, of emotional despair, to a total transformation of life. Every stage of the process of struggle is a call to move from spiritual torpor to spiritual vitality. It is an invitation to live at an antipodal depth of soul, a higher level of meaning than the ordinary, the commonplace generally inspires. The spirituality of struggle gives birth to the spirituality of hope. . . .

"Despair is a spiritual disease into which is built its antidote: hope. It is a matter of refusing to die at exactly the moment when we are being offered new life.

"Hope is not a denial of reality. But it is also not some kind of spiritual elixir. It is not a placebo infused out of nowhere. Hope is a series of small actions that transform darkness into light. It is putting one foot in front of the other when we can find no reason to do so at all.

An Excerpt from Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope by Joan Chittister

26 April 2009

Time Management Tools & Video

All of us have the same number of hours in a day, and no amount of effort can change that. What we can influence is how we spend those hours.

A quote from Stephen Covey sums up how we can best use our time: "I am personally persuaded that the best thinking in the area of time management can be captured in a single phrase: Organize and execute around priorities."

Quadrant 1 represents things which are both urgent and important. The activities need to be dealt with immediately, and they're important.

Quadrant 2 represents things which are important, but not urgent. Although the activities here are important, and contribute to achieving the goals and priorities - they don't have to be done right now. As a result, they can be scheduled in when you can give quality thought to them. A good example would be the preparation of an important talk, or mentoring a key individual. Prayer time, family time and personal relaxation/recreation are also part of Quadrant 2.

Quadrant 3 are distractions. They must be dealt with right now, but frankly, are not important. For example, when you answer an unwanted phone call, - you've had to interrupt whatever you were doing to answer it.

The final quadrant, Quadrant 4, are things which are neither urgent nor important. Some meetings could fall into this category - they've been scheduled in advance, but if they achieve nothing, or you don't contribute to them, then they have simply wasted time. Other examples could include driving time and low quality relaxation or family time.

Using the tool: consciously strive to maximize Quadrant 2 time. Allocate time in your diary to carry out these tasks when you are at your best. Doing so can reduce the amount of time taken up by firefighting quadrant 1 activities, since many quadrant 1 activities could have been quadrant 2 if they had been done earlier.

You can also seek to reduce time spent in Quadrant 3 by improving your systems and processes for dealing with distractions, and you can seek to eliminate as much as possible of quadrant 4 activities, by either not spending time on these things, or changing the nature of them to make them more productive. For example, driving can be quadrant 4 if the time is unproductive, but there are a number of ways of making this time more productive by listening to a podcast,dictating notes, planning and so on.

Check out Wikipedia's entry for downloads, worksheets and links. Seven Habits entry.

Stephen Covey's site.

Randy Pausch's Time Management Lecture video

Book Club: Discussion Guide

Book clubs are great for stimulating conversation! As with any group though, the focus can shift a bit and frustration can set in if expectations are unmet. Any group can reinvent itself as it evolves over time, but to maintain your identity as a book club, consider a standard set of questions to apply to your reading and discussions.

The list of discussion questions for fiction

  1. Which character do you like the most and why? The least and why?
  2. What passage from the book stood out to you?
  3. Are there situations and/or characters you can identify with, if so how?
  4. Did you learn something you didn’t know before?
  5. Do you feel as if your views on a subject have changed by reading this text?
  6. Have you had a life changing revelation from reading this text?
  7. What major emotion did the story evoke in you as a reader?
  8. At what point in the book did you decide if you liked it or not? What helped make this decision?
  9. Name your favorite thing overall about the book. Your least favorite?
  10. If you could change something about the book what would it be and why?
  11. Describe what you liked or disliked about the writer’s style?
Which ones lend themselves best to the book you’ve just finished? Remember, you don’t have to ask and answer every single question! You may find that with some books you can answer them all and with others you may focus on only one or two. If you use the questions as a book club study guide, you’ll create a focus for the group discussion.

Nonfiction Book Club Discussion Questions
There are many different types of nonfiction book club reads so these questions will aim at the general nonfiction book.

  1. Did you admire or detest this person? Why? (Biography or Autobiography)
  2. What life lesson can be learned from this event or story? (General Nonfiction)
  3. Did the book read like a story, a newspaper article, a report, something else? Give examples. (General Nonfiction)
  4. What one new fact did you learn from reading this book? (General Nonfiction)
  5. What was the motivation for the writing of this book? (General but great for Bio or Auto Bio)
  6. Did you feel this book truly belonged in the nonfiction genre? (Memoir)
  7. Was the point of the book to share an opinion, explain a topic, tell about a personal journey, or something else? Did the author do it well? (General Nonfiction)
  8. What part of this book inspired you in some way? Explain. (Motivational, Self Help)
  9. Will you read other books by this author? Why or why not? (General Nonfiction)
  10. Did this book change your life in a positive or negative way? Explain (General Nonfiction)
Extracted from book-club-queen.com

25 April 2009

Remember the Sacrifice

One of the Stations of the Cross at Hamilton Gardens during Easter Week was a field of crosses, systematically placed in rows with lights throwing dramatic shadows.

I walked past part of this exhibit with a friend and then looked up to see the whole of it!

The poppies told us who the crosses represented; all of those who died in the cause of freedom.

I am repeatedly humbled by such displays, such reminders, by the sacrifice, the atrocities I cannot begin to imagine. I cry at Veteran Day events, ANZAC parades & ceremonies, and historical memorials. I read through the books of names in Scotland and saw far too many Shaws. I've been to Arlington Cemetary and the Vietnam Memorial. I'll honour ANZAC Day again this year on Piha Beach at Lion Rock with a lone bagpiper playing his soulful tune over the waves.

What got us, though, at the Hamilton Gardens exhibit, was that all the crosses were placed in rows that made a wedge shape that pointed to a large cross at the end. That cross had no poppy on it. It was proportionately much larger than all the others and stood in stark contrast to the night sky. It was breath taking. That cross summed it all up.

Jesus said, "And I, as I am lifted up from the earth,
will attract everyone to me and gather them around me."
He put it this way to show how he was going to be put to death.

The Message, John 12:32-33

24 April 2009

Art can be learnt, but not taught.

"Art can't be taught. You can learn and be taught the craft of it, the way things are made, but the things an artist makes and we the audience consume come from somewhere far more complex and unteachable. Which, just to complicate the argument, does not mean that they can't be learnt - they just can't be taught."

Hamish Keith in Native Wit. p 93

"Keith's witty, revealing memoir, gives readers an insight into his well-lived, rich and immensely varied life. Whether as a confrere of Colin McCahon, the chairman of the Arts Council, husband of Oscar-wining film costume dseigner Ngila Dickson, bon vivant and accomplished chef or arch enemy of doddering bureaucrats, Keith has a dynamic personality and a trenchant analysis that makes him a pleasure to read."

"Gets by on native wit unsupported by hard work." ADH

Networks Add Connections & Value

A blog by Seth Godin pointed me to Kevin Kelly's blog and caused me to think deeply and post some of his writing here.

One thing leads to another. You may refer someone to this blog post or go to KK's blog to read more. It all adds up, or multiplies and creates networks that are far stronger and more pervasive than what you or I, writing and reading on our own little screens, can even imagine.

Don't let the math talk put you off. We don't do much math on Conversations@Intersections, but it is useful in discussing relationships and networks. Who watches Numb3rs on TV? It's one of my favourites, but I think it might be because of the Charlie's curly hair!

Ready? Here we go!

Self-Reinforcing Success

From Kevin Kelly's New Rules for the New Economy: Radical Strategies for a Connected World

Networks have their own logic. When you connect all to all, curious things happen.

Mathematics says the sum value of a network increases as the square of the number of members. In other words, as the number of nodes in a network increases arithmetically, the value of the network increases exponentially.* Adding a few more members can dramatically increase the value for all members.

[*I use the vernacular meaning of "exponential" to mean "explosive compounded growth." Technically, n2 growth should be called polynomial, or even more precisely, a quadratic; a fixed exponent (2 in this case) is applied to a growing number n. True exponential growth in mathematics entails a fixed number (say 2) that has a growing exponent, n, as in 2n. The curves of some polynomials and exponentials look similar, except the exponential is even steeper; in common discourse the two are lumped together.]

This amazing boom is not hard to visualize. Take 4 acquaintances; there are 12 distinct one-to-one friendships among them. If we add a fifth friend to the group, the friendship network increases to 20 different relations; 6 friends makes 30 connections; 7 makes 42. As the number of members goes beyond 10, the total number of relationships among the friends escalates rapidly. When the number of people (n) involved is large, the total number of connections can be approximated as simply n X n, or n2. Thus a thousand members can have a million friendships.

The magic of n2 is that when you annex one more new member,
you add many more connections; you get more value than you add.

How do you see this to be true in your life? In your social or professional interactions?
We know it is true of social networking online (Facebook) and in various shared interest groups via Google or Yahoo.

23 April 2009

Action Motivated by Belief from Experience . . .

"Because traditional religions permeate all the departments of life, there is no formal distinction between the sacred and the secular, between religious and non-religious, between the spiritual and the material areas of life…Where the individual is, there is his religion, for he is a religious being. It is this that makes Africans so religious: religion is in their whole system of being…What people do is motivated by what they believe, and what they believe springs from what they do and experience. So then, belief and action in African traditional society cannot be separated: they belong to a single whole."
John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy

Are Westerners really so different?

How did we get to our compartmentalised view of the world?

We speak of holistic and organic lifestyles, but function as bits of a scientific management process or as modern mechanised entities.

Being human is to . . .
To have faith means to dare, to think the unthinkable, yet to act within the limits of the realistically possible; it is the paradoxical hope to expect the Messiah every day, yet not to lose heart when he has not come at the appointed hour. This hope is not passive and it is not patient; on the contrary, it is impatient an active, looking for every possibility of action within the realm of real possibilities. Least of all it is passive as far as the growth and liberation of one's own person are concerned....

The situation of mankind is too serious to permit us to listen to the demagogues - least of all demagogues who are attracted to destruction - or even to the leaders who use only their brains and whose hearts have hardened. Critical and radical thought will only bear fruit when it is blended with the most precious quality man is endowed with - the love of life.
Erich Fromm (1973) The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, page 438

We are more than what we do, how we perform or what we can possess.

22 April 2009

Conflict & Hope

Another Excerpt from Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope by Joan Chittister

"A Native American tale tells of the elder who was talking to a disciple about tragedy. The elder said, "I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one." The disciple asked, "But which wolf will win the fight in your heart?" And the holy one answered, "It depends on which one I feed."

"The spiritual task of life is to feed the hope that comes out of despair. Hope is not something to be found outside of us. It lies in the spiritual life we cultivate within. The whole purpose of wrestling with God is to be transformed into the self we were meant to become, to step out of the confines of our false securities and allow our creating God to go on creating. In us."

Book Club: Lively Conversation

Want tips on how to promote a lively conversation in your book club?
Whether you are an outgoing extrovert or the shy one in the group, you can lead your book club in an engaging conversation by following these few simple steps.

  1. Read the book - This may seem obvious, but it is the most important step, so it is worth stating. It is a good idea to plan on finishing the book a little earlier than you might otherwise so that you have time to think about it and prepare before your book club meets.
  2. Write down important page numbers - If there are parts of the book that made an impact on you or that you think may come up in discussion, write down the page numbers so that you can access the passages easily.
  3. Come up with eight to ten questions about the book - There are online ready-to-go book club discussion questions on bestsellers. Print them out and you are done with this step.

    Want to come up with your own questions? Check out the tips for writing book club discussion questions below.

  4. Let others answer first - When you are asking questions, you want to facilitate discussion, not come off as a teacher. By letting others in the book club answer first, you will promote conversation and help everyone feel like their opinions matter.

    Note: Sometimes people may need to think before they answer. Part of being a good leader is being comfortable with silence. Don't feel like you have to jump in if no one answers immediately. If needed, clarify, expand or rephrase the question.

  5. Make connections between comments - If someone gives an answer to question 2 that connects well with question 5, don't feel obligated to ask questions 3 and 4 before moving to 5. You are the leader and you can go in whatever order you want. Even if you go in order, try to find a link between an answer and the next question. By connecting people's comments to the questions, you'll help build momentum in the conversation.
  6. Occasionally direct questions toward quiet people - You don't want to put anyone on the spot, but you want everyone to know their opinions are valued. If you have a few talkative people who always jump right in, directing a question to a specific person may help draw out the quieter people (and let the loud people know it is time to give someone else a turn).
  7. Rein in tangents - Book clubs are popular not only because people like to read, but also because they are great social outlets. A little off topic conversation is fine, but you also want to respect the fact that people have read the book and expect to talk about it. As the facilitator, it is your job to recognize tangents and bring the discussion back to the book.
  8. Don't feel obligated to get through all the questions - The best questions sometimes lead to intense conversations. That's a good thing! The questions are there as a guide. While you will want to get through at least three or four questions, it will probably be rare that you finish all ten. Respect people's time by wrapping up the discussion when the meeting time is over rather than pushing on until you finish everything you planned.
  9. Wrap up the discussion - One good way to wrap up a conversation and help people summarize their opinions of the book is to ask each person to rate the book on a scale of one to ten.


  1. When writing your own book club discussion questions, avoid questions that are too general, like "What did you think of the book?" Also avoid questions that have yes or no answers. You want to ask questions that are open ended and help people talk about themes and how the book relates to deeper issues.
  2. Do not make dismissive statements toward other people's comments. Even if you disagree, take the conversation back to the book rather than saying "That's ridiculous," etc. Making people feel embarrassed or defensive is a sure way to shut down the conversation.

21 April 2009

Erich Fromm Quotes

Quotes of Erich Fromm:

If I am what I have and if I lose what I have who then am I?

Authority is not a quality one person "has," in the sense that he has property or physical qualities. Authority refers to an interpersonal relation in which one person looks upon another as somebody superior to him.

Both dreams and myths are important communications from ourselves to ourselves. If we do not understand the language in which they are written, we miss a great deal of what we know and tell ourselves in those hours when we are not busy manipulating the outside world.

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.

If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to all others,
his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism.

Immature love says: 'I love you because I need you.'
Mature love says 'I need you because I love you.'

In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.

In the nineteenth century the problem was that God is dead.
In the twentieth century the problem is that man is dead.

Just as modern mass production requires the standardization of commodities, so the social process requires standardization of man, and this standardization is called equality.

Love is often nothing but a favorable exchange between two people who get the most of what they can expect, considering their value on the personality market.

Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.

Love is union with somebody, or something, outside oneself, under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity of one's own self.

Man always dies before he is fully born.

Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve.

Most people die before they are fully born. Creativeness means to be born before one dies.

Sanity is only that which is within the frame of reference of conventional thought.

New Zealanders are becoming less religious

Paul, of Prodigal Kiwis Blog, writes – a post by Jason Goroncy directs us to a recent new story that states the obvious – New Zealanders are becoming less religious.

So what difference is/will this make to how we are church? Probably none! They’ll probably only intensify their inward focus and their love of safety and security – nothing wrong with that in and of itself (except when it becomes an end-unto-itself), but I wonder where God is and where God is at work. Inside the church? Outside the church? Both?

Do Christians Know How to Be Spiritual - CoverI wonder too, along with John Drane, if “Christians Know How to Be Spiritual?” Our responses to these kinds of questions have significant implications for how we are church, how we in practice embody and enact “good news” and how we creatively and imaginatively engage (rather than retreat from) the socio-cultural realties of our local contexts. I think the voices woven through the last few posts on this blog (Ignatius of Loyola, Hauerwas, McCabe, Drane, Rahner, and Mobsby, etc) will help frame the challenges and highlight the possibilities, but it will take hard work to earth the thinking in the realities of everyday life and living, and the ways in which we understand ourselves and are church.

It will take creative and imaginative work to begin and to nourish ways of being church that make possible ever deepening conversation between “gospel” and the deep longings, yearning and desires that lie beneath the surface of people’s lives and what is reflected in studies like the one Jason directs our attention to.

“There has been a sharp rise in the number of New Zealanders with no religious affiliation, new research shows. In a study by [Massey] University, 40 per cent of respondents say they have no religious affiliation compared to 29 per cent 17 years ago. Just over a third of New Zealanders describe themselves as religious. Fifty-three per cent say they believe in God (although half of those say they have doubts), 20 per cent believe in some form of higher power and about third say they don’t believe or don’t know… “So perhaps the apparent decline in religiosity reflects a decline in traditional religious loyalties – rather than a decline in spirituality as such.” [Reminds me of some of the excellent content of Ian Mobsby’s workshop in Hamilton]

The study found that significant numbers of New Zealanders believe in the supernatural with 57 per cent believing in life after death, 51 per cent believing in heaven and 36 per cent believing in hell. A quarter of those surveyed think star signs affect people’s futures, 28 per cent say good luck charms work and 39 per cent believe fortune-tellers can foresee the future…”

Remember this quote which Dave Tomlinson uses in his latest book: “Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.” Lenny Bruce

While people might not articulate their “spiritual seeking” as a search for “God” I think Bruce and Tomlinson’s insights are deeply relevant.

From Prodigal Kiwis Blog

20 April 2009

Proportionate Punishment

Shall the punishment be proportionate to the suffering of the victim?
Shall it be proportionate to socially predetermined code of criminal action?

Should remorse come in to consideration at all?

How to measure the nature and influence of the crime?
Was it a crime against an individual or against society?
How to measure suffering? Remorse? Fear?

Is punishment retributive or a deterrent?

How to measure the effect or scope of the punishment?

What is legal in one society is not in another. Is there a universal principle which may be applied?

Can every society do what is right in their own eyes?

"Sanity is only that which is within the frame of reference of conventional thought."

Erich Fromm

Early Bird Song

We get our phrases and slang from all kinds of common everyday events.
To be "up before the sparrows" is a common phrase. One NZ pie company even uses it as a slogan to tell folks how early they get up to bake pies.

Have you ever taken the time to hear which birds in your garden sing the earliest songs, which has the ‘singing order’ as opposed to ‘pecking order’? Why do those species start calling earlier than others?

There is no fixed order in which each species takes its cue from the eastern skies but there is a genuine tendency for some to start earlier than others. Incidentally this natural phenomenon has given raise to such phrases as ‘up-with-the-sparrows’ and ‘rise-before-cockcrow”.

In fact, this dawn chorus serves as battle hymn and love song, so whilst some sing “Come on!” others sing “Clear off!” It seems to be those who seek territories that are most active at first light. There is just enough light to move about but not yet light enough to hunt and forage, low temperatures of early morning keeping their insect prey on the ground.

Click here to read more about sparrows and hear the song sparrow.
For a NZ dawn chorus of forest birds, click here.

19 April 2009

Proverbs: African Wisdom

Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet.

Where water is boss, the land must obey.

The world did not make any promises.

Wherever a man goes to dwell, his character goes with him.

However long the night, the dawn will break.

If you refuse to be made straight when you are green, you will not be made straight when you are dry”

Sankofa is an Akan(West African) term that literally means, "to go back and get it." One of the Adinkra symbols for Sankofa depicts a mythical bird flying forward with its head turned backward. The egg in its mouth represents the "gems" or knowledge of the past upon which wisdom is based; it also signifies the generation to come that would benefit from that wisdom. This symbol often is associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi," which translates to, "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten." The Akan believe that the past illuminates the present and that the search for knowledge is a life-long process. The pictograph illustrates the quest for knowledge, while the proverb suggests the rightness of such a quest as long as it is based on knowledge of the past.

(san = "to return") + (ko = "to go") + (fa = "to look, to seek and take")

read more

18 April 2009

Birdwatching: Links & Quotes

For a helpful and well designed site on Birds of North America, visit Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

It has a guide for identifying birds by size & shape, habitat, markings, etc. The lovely photos are a real treat and there are several ways to search for a bird you might like to ID and learn about.

For New Zealand Birds, explore Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of NZ's section on Native Birds & Bats.

God gives every bird its food, but He does not throw it into its nest. ~J.G. Holland

Use the talents you possess - the woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang there except those that sang best. ~Henry Van Dyke

There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before. ~Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays

A wonderful bird is the pelican
His bill will hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak

Food enough for a week,
But I'm damned if I see how the helican.

~Dixon Lanier Merritt

Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn't people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them?
~Rose F. Kennedy

Two birds disputed about a kernel, when a third swooped down and carried it off. ˜ African Proverb

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings
because it has a song. ~Chinese Proverb

We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers. ˜ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

17 April 2009

Tolerate Insecurity

The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure,
but to be able to tolerate insecurity.

Erich Fromm

Struggle & Hope

Whether up against physical illness, sadness, injury, disability, on going pain or stress, financial disaster, menopause, sorrow or another giant we cannot seem to defeat, we all struggle.

Here are excerpts from Joan Chittister's book, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, from the chapter The Struggle of Vulnerability.

In the end, the United States' clash with terrorism wounded us as much or more psychologically than it cost us either in people or in places. It became a struggle of major proportions that struck at our sense of self, our stature in the world, our unassailable aplomb. Worst of all, it was a case of Gulliver finding himself at the mercy of the Lilliputians, little people nowhere equal to the foe they had chosen. But in control, nonetheless. And therein lies the pain. The burden of humanity is the knowledge that at any time any one of us, all of us, may be brought down to size, defeated and left to bear it. The message of struggle is clear: No one, nothing, is totally invulnerable. Inside, all of us wage war with a sense of self that resists destructibility, defenselessness and fragility with might and main.

. . To go on going on, in the face of repeated failures, despite being clearly damaged, in full view of a world that sees us to have been wounded, is to discover what it really means to be human. It is also the moment in which we are given the opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to become the rest of what we are able to be.

. . . To be less than perfect in a culture and an era that expects perfection rankles our sense of self. It puts in to jeopardy all the unassailability we worked so hard to imply. I have heard men who have come hoe to a burgled house say that the shock of it was worse than the loss of what had been taken. Pressed, one man said, "Now I know something about how a woman must feel when she's been raped." It compares, in other words, to a violent encroachment on the private and pallid self. It is the awful proof that we are not as secure as we like to pretend we are, not as strong as we purport to be. It is the living sign that no matter how impressive I see myself, there is always the possibility that I, too, may be vulnerable to forces I cannot see and do not know and cannot vanquish.

. . . . Vulnerability is the call to self-acceptance. It is the great liberating moment on the human journey.

16 April 2009


Ya know, sometimes people can use a word repeatedly and not know what it means.
I was recently asked about a word that was repeted in a song. I thought I knew what it meant, but it had been so long since I had thought about it, I wasn't sure if my thinking was right. So I looked it up.

"Hosanna" (Greek transcription: ὡσαννά, hōsanna) is the cry of praise or adoration shouted in recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem, Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! It is used in the same way in Christian praise. Overall, it seems that, "Hosanna," is a cry for salvation, while at the same time is a declaration of praise. Therefore, it may be derived that this plea for help is out of an agreeably positive connotation.

The old interpretation "Save, now!" which may be a popular etymology, is based on Psalm 118:25 (Hebrew הושענא hOshEeah-nna) (Possibly "Savior"). This does not fully explain the occurrence of the word in the Gospels, which has given rise to complex discussions.
There are lots of words we use this way, casually, without thinking of the etymology or real meaning behind the word or phrase.

How about "In the wings" or "Good as gold."

What other phrases can you contribute that could have varying meanings or usage, very possibly nothing near what it originally meant?

15 April 2009

Seneca Quotes

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.

Love in its essence is spiritual fire.

A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.

A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.

Anger is like those ruins which smash themselves on what they fall.

Be wary of the man who urges an action in which he himself incurs no risk.

Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.
Lucius Seneca

13 April 2009

Sights on Road Trip

Shona Proverbs

Here are a few bits of wisdom given me by the vaShona of Zimbabwe:

Munhu munhu navanhu. Translated:a person is a person because of others.

A new thing does not come to she who sits, but to she who travels.

What can be expected to be dropped is held in the hands,
but what is in the heart I shall die with.

12 April 2009


Weekends on the Road: Waitomo

Had a great time at Waitomo a few weekends back on the way to Rotorua.

I'm off to Hamilton to spend Easter weekend with 4000 plus young people.

Will it keep me young in my thinking or just make me feel old in body?

Not sure, but we'll hope for the best. I like spending time with the different generations and tend to learn from both the older and younger.

11 April 2009

Sculpture Trail: Waiheke

What comes to mind for you?

What Does BETTER Mean?

Seth Godin raised this issue in his blog recently. Think about it. Who decides what is better?

Do we let the advertisers decide? Do we let our friends, neighbours or salesmen decide?

Read what Seth says . . .

Are zippers better?

For years, I always wore jeans with a zipper. After all, zippers are better. They're faster and easier and they do what they're told. What an amazing invention! How did we survive without zippers?

Last year, just for kicks, I bought a pair of jeans with a button fly. Middle age crisis, I guess.

Now, that's all I wear. Buttons are better.

How can buttons be better? They're archaic. They take a long time. They're difficult.

Except that I like the way they look. And since I like them better, they are better.

This is a hard lesson for marketers, particularly technical marketers, to learn. You don't get to decide what's better. I do.

If you look at the decisions you've made about features, benefits, pricing, timing, hiring, etc., how many of them are obviously 'better' from your point of view, and how many people might disagree? There are very few markets where majority rule is the best way to grow.

10 April 2009

Suffering & Pain Ended

The body of Jesus is taken down from the cross

Jesus, how brutally you were put to death. How gently you are taken from the cross. Your suffering and pain are ended, and you are put in the lap of your mother. The dirt and blood are wiped away. You are treated with love.

From Wellington Cathedral's Stations of The Cross images. Damon MacLachlan

09 April 2009

Leadership: Imagination

Tash's Leadership Blurb #4

"You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus." - Mark Twain

Imagination is the ability to form a mental image of something that is not perceived through the senses. It is the ability of the mind to build mental scenes, objects or events that do not exist, are not present or have happened in the past.

It gives the ability to look at any situation from a different point of view, and enables one to mentally explore the past and the future.

A developed and strong imagination strengthens your creative abilities, and is a great tool for recreating and remodeling your world and life.

We use our imagination everyday, whenever we plan a trip, our work or a meeting. We use it when we describe an event, explain how to arrive to a certain street, write, tell a story or cook a cake.

Imagination is a creative power that is necessary for inventing an instrument, designing a dress or a building, painting a picture or writing a book. The creative power of imagination has an important role in the achievement of success in any field.

There were two essential ingredients, behind the genius of Churchill's wartime leadership. Imagination and Courage. Great leaders are those who have great imagination and great courage. Imagination is a more encompassing idea than vision.
To be imaginative, however, as a leader, is to cultivate a finely balanced ability to imagine a future possibility and also see with clarity all the possible ways to be able to communicate that vision as realistic and achievable. Churchill cultivated each of these processes of the truly imaginative person. He had a solid grasp of the contemporary world crisis that he faced. This gave him the ability to be a realistic visionary, and he also possessed the gifts of an artist, to articulate and demonstrate a picture of what can be, a picture that all can participate in creating.

Imagination is about creating a new story, a new picture that also is attainable to the everyday person. It's the ability to both see what is not yet, and what can be...

Tim Keel wrote a book called Intuitive Leadership where he says that
Imagination is critical to leadership. The Holy Spirit is the source of our imagination. Instead of imagination, we make decisions using modern epistemology: we are rational and objective to the point we create a culture of reductionism. Truth & Knowledge become universal and generic guides and three-step plans become the norm. A perfect storm has developed that effects the local leader. Leadership becomes the right application of technique and models instead of a desire to be imaginative and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. This creates leaders who follow experts blindly. We do not truly believe with our hearts and minds that God's Spirit is alive and active where we are.

Borrowed from Tash McGill. Go check out the rest of her writings.

08 April 2009

Road Trip

I love going on a road trip!
I've gotten excited about the possibilities since I was a kid and my brother and I crawled in to the back of the station wagon with the dog.
Camping gear in place.
Trailer following along behind.
Going to sleep with the stars tracking us down the road.

We often left at night so as to make the most of the weekend. My dad could set up in the dark and then we'd awake and be ready for fun. I remember it to be a bit disorienting at times, but often only as we were going back out the gate of a big Indiana State Park and I realised I didn't remember going IN that gate. Anyway . . .

Later, in my university years, a road trip often meant heading south to my grandparents' place in Florida. I'd drop off friends along the way and then do the last few hours on my own. I remember the movie soundtracks we sang along to on the way! Many times it was three girls in a big truck, tired from exams but ready to be warm and without deadlines!

Sometimes now all I need to do to raise my energy levels is talk about a potential road trip. Planning such a trip is almost as much fun as going. The planning stage is relatively cheap and the possibilities limitless until you narrow down your focus and choose a route or destination.

In Africa a road trip might mean South Africa, Mozambique or Zambia. Here in New Zealand, strictly speaking, a road trip could include the South Island if you take your car over on the InterIslander Ferry.

I'm planning a trip now. I recently went to Rotorua to show a visiting friend the sights of NZ and it gave me the travel bug. I'm thinking I need to get down to Wellington, at least for a weekend, to see Monet and the Impressionists exhibition at Te Papa.

Air NZ's Grab a Seat deals make such a trip easy, if you can get in early for the cheap seats, but I've always wanted to drive to Wellington and I never have. Maybe it takes me back to that sense of being in the state park and not knowing how I got there! When I drive in from the north I'll have my sense of direction in tact. I also include geocaching in my road trips now, so the GPS helps with directions!

Speaking of directions, one of my favourite road trips here in NZ was when I picked up the last of a group of three friends and then pulled off
the road just before we got on the motorway. I pulled out a coin and said, "Someone flip this. Head's we go north. Kiwi bird and we go south." We headed south toward Hamilton. When we got to another major crossroads, we pulled out the coin again. We took a right and ended up at Raglan and stayed in a funky ivy-covered bach on a hill that had a fireplace and beds for all four of us.

Favourite road trips in Zimbabwe: Probably going north to Victoria Falls and white water rafting on the Zambezi. Or bouncing along dirt roads where I saw no other tracks ahead of me.

Favourite road trips in USA: Chicago, when we'd started out for somewhere else.
Up the PCH from LA to San Francisco. Anywhere really, with my good friends.
North from Anderson to Converse.

How about you? Favourite road trip stories or destinations?

07 April 2009

Mapping, Auckland, North Shore

Technology is fascinating and we can use it to serve us, wherever we are in the world.

While I'm sure there is a gadget that could show me where in the world my readers are, I thought we could start by showing you a slice of where I often am, at least when I'm writing. My travels take me far outside this box. This map does not include the City or West Auckland where I often go to meet with refugees or to find caches or visit galleries. This map shows you much of the North Shore of Auckland and is interactive. Play with it and see how it goes.

What's up with Easter?

Not everyone will put on a white dress and head out for a family Easter service in an ornate building. Some will consider quietly, at home, whether Christ did anything at all for them on the cross.

Easter Sermons from Max Lucado

He Chose The Nails (sermon audio) (3.7MB, 15:01 length)

The Day God Abandoned Christ (6.5MB, 26:00 length)

The Perfect Story (Palm Weekend) (9.4MB, 39:09 length)

Did Jesus do anything at all for
you on the cross?

05 April 2009

Chocolate Humour

Chocolate Chaplain: Eggs

This week I'll be handing out chocolate eggs on a university campus where I am known and part of the scenery now. That's not uncommon. I'm known as the chocolate chaplain and I try to bring humour and chocolate to de-stress hard working people and build bridges that will be mutually beneficial to all.

I've made some really good friends in the process and have ad fun times with some of them away from the university and our roles there. (Notice some geocaching, book club and kayaking posts on Conversations@Intersections.)

But, as Easter approaches, the shape of the chocolate I'll distribute will be in eggs and I'll have opportunities to discuss Easter with people on campus; both New Zealanders and international students or staff.

Many many people around the world do not really care about Easter. They may get a public holiday, have en excuse to eat chocolate and hot crossed buns, but that's about it. The focal point of the holiday being Jesus' resurrection is irrelevant to the enjoyment of a long weekend. Most people will be hoping for good weather for either play or a project outside.

•So, if you were handing someone an egg and a conversation ensued as to why the public holiday and hoopla about Easter, what would you say?

•How you would you explain Easter to someone who doesn't really care about a historical incident 2000 years ago that continues to show up on calendars today?

Comments much appreciated as we consider worldviews and conversations we might have at intersections.

03 April 2009

Suffering & Wisdom

Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen) was a master storyteller and she summarized the human race so beautifully - "To be a person is to have a story to tell."

“Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before, how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever...”

“The cure for anything is salt water -

sweat, tears, or the sea”

“God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road.”

"When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.”

02 April 2009

Alltop: aggregation or "online magazine rack”

Managing the information available to us is a massive challenge. Anyone involved in research or who needs to stay up-to-date on developments is constantly bombarded with more sources for info creation than they can possibly keep up with. That's where a news aggregator comes in.

The purpose of Alltop is to help you answer the question, “What’s happening?” in “all the topics” that interest you. You may wonder how Alltop is different from a search engine. A search engine is good to answer a question like, “How many people live in China?” However, it has a much harder time answering the question, “What’s happening in China?” That’s the kind of question that we answer.

“It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.” – Clay Shirky

We do this by collecting the headlines of the latest stories from the best sites and blogs that cover a topic. We group these collections — “aggregations” — into individual web pages. Then we display the five most recent headlines of the information sources as well as their first paragraph. Our topics run from adoption to zoology with photography, food, science, religion, celebrities, fashion, gaming, sports, politics, automobiles, Macintosh, and hundreds of other subjects along the way.

You can think of Alltop as the “online magazine rack” of the web. We’ve subscribed to thousands of sources to provide “aggregation without aggravation.” To be clear, Alltop pages are starting points—they are not destinations per se. Ultimately, our goal is to enhance your online reading by displaying stories from sources that you’re already visiting plus helping you discover sources that you didn’t know existed.

Here’s how some other people have explained Alltop. First, Dan Roam, author of Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems with Pictures, used these two pictures to explain Alltop vis-à-vis Google. Second, read the review by Sarah Perez in ReadWriteWeb. In a nutshell, Alltop is an information filter to help you find your nuggets of gold.

"online magazine rack”


This is the true story of Alltop. If you hear anything else from us, it’s because we retroactively changed the story for marketing purposes. We are the creators of Truemors, a site that is “NPR (or CBC) for your eyes” in the sense that it contains unusual breaking news, stories, and rumors like what you’d hear on NPR. A bit after the site’s launch, our friend Thomas Marban included Truemors in his single-page aggregation of news and tech sites called popurls.

We noticed that popurls sends Truemors as much traffic as Google. Clearly, he was onto something: Aggregate and display a bunch of sites for people, and they will come. This got us thinking about other topics that (a) have a large readership and (b) hasn’t been aggregated in an elegant and efficient manner, and we came up with idea of a doing a popurls of celebrity gossip sites. Then one thing led to another: Why not other topics like gaming, sports, politics, Macintosh, fashion, etc.?

If we had stopped at just celebrity gossip, we could have stuck with one clever domain, but we had to figure out a way to gather everything together when we kept going. “Sugar” was taken, so we came up with “Alltop” as in “all the top” stories—you get it. Alltop is the main website that hosts all the subtopics like celebrities, fashion, egos, sports, and gaming.

Nononina is the company that owns Alltop. It is “two guys and a gal” in a garage—or more accurately, one guy in home office (Will Mayall), one gal on a kitchen table (Kathryn Henkens), and one Guy in United 2B (Guy Kawasaki). They’ve been working together since the previous century and are still friends.

01 April 2009

Easter: Reframe this event in a meaningful way.

What events are happening in your area that can help you participate in Easter in a meaningful way?

Not all of them will require being seated indoors and listening to someone speak.

Consider art, a shared meal, hot crossed buns and the planting of something that will beautify and bless.

I'll be learning more about the Jewish Seder meal, Pesach or Passover.

I'll also be journeying over an hour to Hamilton to walk through the gardens at night, appreciating the Stations of the Cross the Christian community has placed there.

St Augustine's 95 Calliope Road in Devonport will also have an artistic Stations of the Cross open to the community.

What's going on in your community?

NZ Police launch religious diversity guide

A new edition of the New Zealand Police’s ‘A Practical Reference to Religious Diversity’ was launched (26 March, 2009) by Police Commissioner Howard Broad and Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres at an event to mark Race Relations Day at Police National Headquarters, in Wellington.

The new edition of the guide contains updated material on various faiths and religious practices in New Zealand and is designed to assist police in working with diverse religious communities. It also includes the national Statement on Religious Diversity, which sets out some basic human rights principles about religious diversity.

Mr de Bres said New Zealand participants in the Asia Pacific Interfaith Dialogue in Cambodia last year had specifically commended the police guide and recommended that a similar guide be provided to other government department staff.

“While we live in a secular state in New Zealand, this does not mean public servants should be ignorant about the beliefs of the communities they serve. To deliver public services effectively, public servants need to understand their clients and gain their confidence.”

The guide has been used for police training. Feedback from communities has been favourable, viewing this as part of the police’s commitment to understanding more about religious diversity and its impact on policing.

Mr de Bres noted that the police had, in the past year, made changes to their uniform code to accommodate Sikh headwear for Sikh police officers, and community responses had been positive. He welcomed the police’s sponsorship of this month’s secondary schools race relations speech competitions, in conjunction with the Human Rights Commission and the Baha’i community, as well as the ethnic football tournaments, and the establishment of a Police Equality and Diversity Network at National Headquarters. “The Human Rights Commission is committed to working closely with the police on matters of cultural and religious diversity and particularly on addressing hate crimes against members of cultural and religious minorities, including harassment, assault and damage to property.”

The religious diversity guide will be available as a download from the NZ Police website.