The Present Future

Book cover for The Present Future

While reading around the subject of Jesus saying:

“You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
(Luke 12: 56)

I picked up this book off my bookshelf: The Present Future: Six tough questions for the Church by Reggie McNeal.

Wow! Well there’s an author who doesn’t miss with any of his punches! It’s a book written with courage, insight, humour, honesty, a passion for Jesus Christ and a desire to see the Church move beyond its seeming current obsession with preserving the current status quo and moving towards being a powerful missionary movement: to face the future with imagination and courage.

While his focus is on North America, I’m quite sure that the picture McNeal paints in broad brushstrokes about the “current church culture in North America” can equally be said about the church here in the UK, if I understand correctly what the likes of John Drane have been writing about the situation this side of the Atlantic.

New reality #1: The collapse of the Church culture

Here’s what McNeal says on page one of chapter one:

The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living off the work, money, and energy of previous generations from a previous world order. The plug will be pulled either when the money runs out (80 percent of money given to congregations comes from people aged fifty-five and older) or when the remaining three-fourths of a generation who are institutional loyalists die off or both.

Please don’t hear what I am not saying. The death of the church culture as we know it will not be the death of the church. The church Jesus founded is good; it is right. The church established by Jesus will survive until he returns. The imminent demise under discussion is the collapse of the unique culture in North America that has come to be called “church.” This church culture has become confused with biblical Christianity, both inside the church and out. In reality, the church culture in North America is a vestige of the original movement, an institutional expression of religion that is in part a civil religion and in part a club where religious people can hang out with other people whose politics, worldview, and lifestyle match theirs. As he hung on the cross Jesus probably never thought the impact of his sacrifice be reduced to an invitation for people to join and to support an institution.

Powerful, challenging but also exciting stuff. As fearful as I was about the Luke 12 passage a couple of days ago, I’m now going to look forward to putting this sermon together in the next couple of days.

You can read a little more on the Amazon UK website; you can currently buy the book on Amazon for as little as £6.15.

I think I’m in a Douglas Coupland novel …

JPod - Meet Generation XBox

Last night I began to wonder if I really am an autonomous, free-thinking human-being and not just the creation of a 20th/21st-century literary genius.

Yesterday, late-afternoon, a few minutes before five, I checked my email. There was one from our Acting Director informing us that today (Thursday) Registry would be running progression. This basically means that all our students will be moving on a year in our databases, awaiting matriculation (that’s ‘enrolment’ if you’re a North American reading this).

To celebrate that fact I decided that today I’d listen to only progressive rock. So I cleared my MP3 playlist and started compiling a playlist of only prog artists (both prog rock and prog metal), amongst whom were:

  • A Perfect Circle
  • Amplifier
  • Faith No More
  • Fish
  • Frost
  • Genesis
  • Iron Maiden – A Matter of Life and Death
  • Marillion
  • Meshuggah
  • Opeth
  • Pink Floyd
  • Rush
  • Tool

I saved the list, shut down my computer, switched out the lights and left the office. Which is when I then began to question my ontological status.

It came as violently and unexpectedly as a Blue Screen of Death. I stopped walking and stared vacantly in front of me, deep in thought. Tourists bustled past me.

“I must be a character in a Douglas Coupland novel!” I muttered disappointedly to myself. “Like someone in Microserfs or JPod. That’s exactly the sort of thing they’d do.”

I don’t remember reading about myself in Microserfs, but as I’ve not finished JPod yet there is still time to read about myself there. Maybe I’m part of a new novel. Maybe I’m just part of some back story, or from a discarded JPod chapter.

Maybe it’s not a Douglas Coupland story I’m in. Maybe this story is much, much bigger. Maybe I’m the creation of an evening bigger genius, whose story started way before the 20th century was even thought of.

On that philosophical note, I’m off to work now to be progressive.

Books of choice

Books on my desk at work.

One of my friends, Kenny, always teases me that no matter where I go my desk always looks the same; in other words, it is always laid out the same way. And he’s right, but there’s a good reason for that: it works for me.

One of the parts of that system-that-works-for-me is a small collection of reference books that I always have to hand. At home they are on a shelf next to me, at work they are on my enormous desk.

At the moment these are my reference books of choice:

  • TerminalFour SiteManager userguides (TerminalFour)
  • Web design style guide (Me!)
  • Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide, Meyer (O’Reilly)
  • HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide, Musciano & Kennedy (O’Reilly)
  • JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, Flannagan (O’Reilly)
  • PPK on JavaScript, Koch (New Riders)
  • Pro JavaScript Techniques, Resig (Apress)
  • Practical Thinking, Edward de Bono (University library book)
  • Celebrating Common Prayer, Society of St Francis
  • CSS Pocket Reference, Meyer (O’Reilly)
  • HTML & XHTML Pocket Reference, Niederst Robbins (O’Reilly)
  • JavaScript Pocket Reference, Flanagan (O’Reilly)
  • PHP Pocket Reference, Lerdorf (O’Reilly)
  • SQL Pocket Guide, Gennick (O’Reilly)

At the moment the least used of these are the SQL and PHP Pocket Reference guides, and the most used are the Definitive Guides for XHTML and CSS, and since I’m debugging code for a website launch Celebrating Common Prayer is also getting a look in once or twice!

My close-at-hand collection of books at home is completely different:

A shelf of books at home.

Mostly Scottish Episcopal Church books — Code of Canons, liturgy, and the Red Book (contacts) — a bible (NRSV) and Revised Common Lectionary, an English dictionary and thesaurus, a copy of Getting Things Done and two copies of the Visual Quickstart Guide for WordPress 2.

So now you know! What are your close-at-hand books of choice?

Roy Orbison in cling-film

A roll of cling film.

The telephone conversation began with an apology and ended with news of a new novel, about wrapping Roy Orbison in cling-film.

It was my cousin Alan and he’d called during the Powerpoint Edinburgh band rehearsal yesterday. He was meant to be visiting us in Anstruther today, but he’s has a bad cold for the last two weeks and needed instead to curl up in bed with a good book.

I understood, promised that we’d reschedule and left him to his good book.

That good book, it turned out, was Ulrich Haarburste’s Novel of Roy Orbison in Clingfilm by Ulrich Haarburste (Serapion Books, 2007) ISBN: 978-0-9554602-0-3.

If that sounds like just your cup-of-tea then you’ll be delighted to learn that there’s a website (called, predictably, Ulli’s Roy Orbison in Cling-film site) that contains a few of his early short stories, and that they made me cry with laughter. So much so that Jane had to come through to the study to make sure I was laughing and not weeping my poor heart out.

Here is an excerpt from story #1:

Roy Orbison walks inside my house and sits down on my couch. We talk urbanely of various issues of the day. Presently I say, ‘Perhaps you would like to see my cling-film?’

‘By all means.’ I cannot see his eyes through his trademark dark glasses and I have no idea if he is merely being polite or if he genuinely has an interest in cling-film.

I bring it from the kitchen, all the rolls of it. ‘I have a surprising amount of clingfilm,’ I say with a nervous laugh. Roy merely nods.

‘I estimate I must have nearly a kilometre in the kitchen alone.’

‘As much as that?’ He says in surprise. ‘So.’

‘Mind you, people do not realize how much is on each roll. I bet that with a single roll alone I could wrap you up entirely.’

Roy Orbison sits impassively like a monochrome Buddha. My palms are sweaty.

‘I will take that bet,’ says Roy. ‘If you succeed I will give you tickets to my new concert. If you fail I will take Jetta [Ulli’s terrapin], as a lesson to you not to speak boastfully.’

I nod. ‘So then. If you will please to stand.’

Roy stands. ‘Commence.’

I start at the ankles and work up. I am like a spider binding him in my gossamer web. I do it tight with several layers. Soon Roy Orbison stands before me, completely wrapped in cling-film. The pleasure is unexampled.

‘You are completely wrapped in cling-film,’ I say.

‘You win the bet,’ says Roy, muffled. ‘Now unwrap me.’

‘Not for several hours.’

‘Ah.’

I cannot wait until I get my hands on this book, and allow my eyes to wander freely between the words. You can read the author’s description of the book on his Now you may read a novel of Roy Orbison in Cling-film page. It ends with

PS. Film and video game rights are still available

And as if by good fortune PC Plus magazine this month comes with a full copy of The Games Factory on DVD. Budding game writers commence!

The End of the Question Mark

Cover for The End of the Question Mark

Still looking for that last minute Christmas present? Why not ask Any Question Answered (63336) if they know what you should get!

They might well recommend that you buy their new book called The End of the Question Mark by AQA 63336. Seemingly 3,501,423 question marks died in the making of this book.

The book is a collection of the best of the 3.5 million questions posed to AQA since it started in 2004. Questions such as:

  • would you rather be a sausage or an egg?
  • what’s the longest word in the world?
  • which language is older, english or dutch?
  • how many goals have been scored in every world cup?
  • when will i next have sex?
  • what colour is a turkey egg?
  • what is the worst smell in the world?
  • what year followed 1bc?
  • are there any weasels in ireland?
  • how many dots are in the opening screen of pacman (not including power pills)?

The book is fantastic because it answers the questions that you (the Great British — and abroadian — public) think are important. I love trivia, and I love this book.

Get it for a friend, get it for a family member, get it for yourself! I got it. Actually, I got a complementary copy from AQA — thanks Paul and Shannon! — but I’m definitely going to buy more copies to give away. This is the best book on trivia since … since … oh, I think I’m going to have to call AQA on 63336 to find out.