man vs machine

I would like to talk with a person.

I believe that most people think this and loathe the automated phone systems that pretend to be interested in you but in reality are just a series of choice-generated recorded messages that don’t tell you what you need to know. I really dislike it when I get a call from a machine. I had one yesterday that started off, “Please don’t hang up.” I hung up. And I don’t think I am alone in resenting the complicated menus where we have to press different numbers to navigate our way to find the correct person whose line is busy or join the back of an extensive queue.

Yes I know I am sounding like a grumpy old man, but I dare you to disagree with me!

So, if these are fairly universal loathings and grumbles, why do companies insist on using them? Is there a marketing man somewhere from the companies that install these systems who is doing a fantastic job pulling the wool over the eyes of the customer service departments that use them? Are companies actually under the (false) impression that we love these systems and if we could also spend a long time listening to terrible music we will be even happier when we eventually talk to a human?

But I think I understand what the companies are thinking, especially about the complicated menus. Surely the idea is that if they can direct us first time to a specialist advisor who can help us with our problems we will be happier than if we spend time being bounced from department to department.

I am so glad that God is omniscient, omnicompetent and omnipresent. That way when I pray I get straight through to the one who can help me. First time. Every time. Makes me wonder why I don’t call him more often…

Ring, ring

“Hello, you are through to God. Thank you for calling. Your call is important to me. 
If you are calling with a request to win the lottery, please press 1 fourteen million times as those are the chances of you winning.

If you would like an angelic visitation please press 2. Someone will visit you, but be prepared not to recognise them.

If you would like to complain about something that is going on in your life, please press 3 and leave a message. I will get back to you but you will find that my answer is more profound than you are wanting.

If you would like to ask for forgiveness, please press 4. By the time the tone has sounded you will be forgiven, just try not to do it again, please.
If you would like to know the meaning of life, please press 42 and listen to me giggle.

For all other enquiries, please press 0 and someone will be with you soon.

If you would like to listen to me, please hold and wait. You may find it helpful to have an open Bible in front of you. Please. It would be nice.”

>dabbling in dark arts

>I have been dabbling in the dark arts this week.

No, not those dark arts. I have been trying to understand the vagaries and mysteries of email. I have been setting up the email system on our new computer at church and thought I had won, until I had a phone call from the office this morning to say that some expected emails had not arrived. We tried resending them and still they did not arrive. One of the emails that is currently lost in the ether was from me, so I tried resending it in configurations. Whatever I did I could not get an email through with an attachment which normally would cause no problems. Grrr.

Later I sent another email with an attachment and that went through without a problem.



No way!

I have tried to understand but have decided that email configuration is definitely a dark art and it is not something I will ever fully understand. I expect that next week the emails in question will go flooding into the office email inbox.

The good news is that every prayer we offer gets through to God every time. Nothing we offer him is rejected or undeliverable. We can tell him whatever we want, and my understanding is that he would rather we were honest with him than pretend, No need for fancy words or stock phrases. Just tell it like it is.

“I’m sorry, again.”
“Thank you, I don’t feel like I deserve it.”
“Please help me to understand.”
“Give me your grace, please, because I can’t cope.”
“I’m tired and grumpy.”

And so on…

So what would you say to God right now? What’s on your mind? Say it!

>that came out wrong…

>I am watching my back.

Last week Sally and I went for a walk together. Just us. The children were away. We were walking along a path beside a field. A lady was walking her dog ahead of us.

Out of the blue Sally said, “When I am on my own, I think I will get a dog.”

The chase
I was not upset at the idea of Sally getting a dog. I like the idea that there will be a canine to look after her and to be company if she ends up on her own. I was rather alarmed, though, that she began the sentence with the definite ‘when’ rather than a provisional ‘if’!!!

I think I responded along the lines of, “What have you got planned for me?” 

I wanted to know WHAT it will be that takes me out of the picture. Do I have to be careful walking down dark alleyways? Has she taken a contract out on me? Does she have plans for my life insurance? 

I was also very keen to know WHEN this will take place? Should I be making plans for Christmas this year or is it not worth bothering? Will I reach retirement age?

It was, Sally assures me, a sentence that came out the wrong way. I know that this is true, it was something that made us both laugh quite hard. (But why was Sally’s laugh like a pantomime villain: ‘mwah ha ha ha hah!’?)

One of the things that reassures me about my relationship with God is that he knows me better than I know Sally… better than I know myself. Because his Spirit is an integral part of my life I know that even if (or when) my prayers don’t come out as I intended, or if (or when) I can’t find words to express myself, the Spirit of God interprets my inner emotions as prayers in the presence of my Heavenly Father.

Even before I have articulated a prayer, it has been expressed in God’s presence!

That frees me from having to come up with ‘good’ prayers or prayers that are always theologically perfect. It allows me to be entirely honest with God – after all he knows the truth – so I can express doubt, anger, frustration, anxiety, repentance, a need for help and many other aspects of my faith and life. It also means that I can use words to praise, thank, worship, adore, and reflect how awestruck I am by God without worrying that they are inadequate.

God knows.

Thank God.

The Minister’s prayer:
Minister’s prayer “May the members of my congregation be as free with their money as they are with their advice, and may their minds be open as their mouths”.

The boy’s prayer:
Two boys who lived with their Grandma. They were about to go to bed but before they slept they prayed. The older son started to pray. He prayed about the day he had and about everything he had done. The younger son then started to pray, he prayed much louder than his elder brother, he prayed for bikes and toys, and when he finished the older brother asked him “God knows what you want. Why are you praying so loud? God is not deaf. 

The younger son responded and said ” Yeah but Grandma is” 


Yesterday evening I thought I had broken the internet. We could not get any connection from our house and I wondered if somehow I had pressed the wrong button and deleted the whole of the World Wide Web. Oops!

On reflection, however, it seems that nobody else suffered the same problems and it is likely that our service provider was doing what they periodically do and sending a software upgrade to my router. While it seems to have been successful it did not automatically reboot to finalise the install, it simply stopped working.

There are all sorts of possible analogies I could draw here about us needing spiritual upgrades or reboots but I am going to resist them. Instead I want to reflect on how frustrating and debilitating it was when we could not communicate with the outside world. I had just finished entering yesterday’s blog entry when the system ground to a halt and I had no idea whether it had uploaded successfully. I had sent out some emails and knew that people would be replying, but I could not get the replies. Our children were frustrated that their surfing and gameplaying were curtailed for the evening: “What are we going to do now?”


If I can get that frustrated and upset by loss of internet connection for an evening, how does God feel when I do not communicate with him? When my prayers dry up and my busyness crowds him out, does he feel frustrated? When he has spoken to me in some way and I do not respond does it make him sad?

That challenges me in two ways. One is to renew my resolve to keep the lines of communication open with God through the whole day. The second is to wonder at the possibility that my actions can cause God sadness or frustration. Is that really possible? Is God SO interested in me that my responses to him affect how he feels? 




Is TV better than the internet?

10. It doesn’t take minutes to build the picture when you change TV channels.

9. When was the last time you tuned in to “Have I got news for you?” and got a “Error 404” message?

8. There are fewer hideous colour schemes on TV – even on children’s TV channels.

7. The Web keeps the family apart. The family never argues over which Web site we’re all going visit this evening.

6. A remote control has fewer buttons than a keyboard.

5. Even the worst TV shows never excuse themselves with an “Under Construction” sign.

4. “Outnumbered” never slows down when a lot of people tune in.

3. The Web doesn’t care about you as much as TV – The Web doesn’t constantly worry about whether you have had an injury at work . 

2. TV doesn’t give you viruses.

1. You can’t surf the Web from a sofa with a beer* in one hand and Doritos in the other (YET!).

*To accommodate non-beer drinkers, please replace ‘beer’ with whatever happens to be your favourite beverage!

7 and counting

dom de de de de

dom de de de de

dom de de de de… (continue for about another 24 seconds, pitch gradually getting higher)

ba dum

ba dum

diddly um



That’s a very poor attempt at describing the Countdown clock from the TV show. If you have never seen it (where have you been?) here’s a link to a website that contains far too much information about the show (haven’t they got a life?). Countdown is based on a French show that I remember watching while I was staying with a French family on an exchange visit (trying in vain to improve my French language skills before my ill-fated A-Level (grade ‘E’)). To my surprise I was brilliant at it in French, perhaps because I was studying words in isolation rather than speaking fluently. I’m no good in English.

Actually my French vocabulary was severely hampered by errors. On my final day with the family we went swimming and when we got back to their house I hung my swimming shorts on the washing line to dry, and forgot them. After arriving safely at home I wrote a thank you letter and asked if they could kindly send me my shorts. Now I had always been taught that the French word for ‘shorts’ is ‘culottes’, so that is the word I used. Apparently the word in common usage for ‘shorts’ in French is ‘shorts’. The word I used is generally applied to (hem, hem) ladies undergarments of a French persuasion (cue blushing). My erstwhile hosts apparently found it hilarious that I had innocently used that word for my shorts. It does explain the ‘E’ though!

So, what’s all this about? Well the countdown has started for me. Hopefully in a week’s time I will be travelling into London to a hospital in order to be checked in for an operation the following day. It’s nothing life-threatening and I am very keen to have the operation.

What is so touching is that I am already getting messages of support and assurance of prayers from friends. That is great to have. Perhaps (following on from the blogs of the last two days) people will remember to pray for me when they watch Holby City or Casualty (?!) or if they see a hospital trolley… Prayer support is so encouraging and is something that we can all offer each other. I long for that to be more of an obvious aspect of my life and of the life of our church. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be known as the church that prays a lot?

A man went to his doctor with a pain in his chest. The doctor immediately had him sent to hospital in an ambulance where he was seen by a consultant.

The consultant checked him over and with a serious note in his voice told the man that it was terminal.

“How long have I got?” spluttered the man.


“Ten what?” demanded the patient. “Years, months, weeks??”

“Nine, eight, seven, six….”


circular blogging

There is a risk that I may create some sort of vortex of mutual appreciation that sucks in the whole Universe, but here goes anyway.

I was stunned this morning to see that my ickle blog was mentioned in the Baptist Union’s daily E-news sweep email. If you came here as a result of that, bless you! If you have not heard of it and would like a daily summary of some of the news items and happenings of the day from a Christian-faith perspective then follow the link back to their website to sign up. In the words of Darth Vader – at last the circle is complete.

If you are still reading this it seems that the Universe has not been sucked into a vortex so I think I have got away with it.

I have been considering other ways in which I remember to pray for people (following on from yesterday’s post). One is by linking them with the cars that they drive. When I see a similar car I remember to pray for them. The trick here then is to drive a common car so I pray for you often. Anyone in a Bugatti Veyron is unlikely to be prayed for often using this method. (not that anyone in our church owns a Bugatti Veyron!). Another is when I am in our church on my own I look around and visualise people sitting in their usual seats. That would be scuppered if people moved around a lot, but on the whole we are creatures of habit!

I find that the prayer prompts from Word Live are helpful to me too, as well as providing daily Bible study and reflection.

One final prayer prompt is listening to worship songs as I drive or work in my study. That does not so much prompt me to pray on behalf of others as to pray prayers of praise back to God. I can sometimes be seen in my car singing my lungs out as I drive. If you see me, please relax – the soundproofing is fairly good!

Star Wars joke:
Luke Skywalker goes into a Chinese Restaurant and orders Chicken Chow Mein, Sweet and Sour Pork Balls and Egg Fried Rice. When it arrives he takes out his chopsticks and starts trying to eat. But try as he might he cannot get any food into his mouth. He is exasperated and frustrated until he hears a voice in his head:

“Luke, use the forks!”

Of printers and prayers

Following the Pob speculation yesterday I feel the need to come back to something vaguely representing normality. I have just realised that my printer is almost out of paper and I have none with which to replenish it. You can’t get much more normal and mundane than that! The printer in my study is networked to the different computers at home and so has to cope with demands for printed output from a number of sources. It’s quite clever really (thankfully it set itself up while I followed the instructions) and means we only need one printer for the family.

For any of you still reading and not having given up because of the banality of the previous paragraph, here’s some more. As I put the last few sheets of paper into the printer I thought to myself, “I must go and get some more paper tomorrow.” That was yesterday. So far today I have not remembered to buy paper when I have been anywhere near a paper-selling emporium.

I am aware that I often have good intentions – I must phone so and so, I need to visit X (X representing a person, not where the spot is marked), I ought to do such and such… But translating those intentions into reality is sometimes even less successful than my printer paper replenishment processes. One of my greatest failures to translate good intentions into reality is in the area of praying for people. I say that I will pray for someone and then (to my shame) forget or do not pray as often as I should.

My solution is to associate different places and objects with different people. When I am driving around the town I try to remember who lives where and offer a prayer for them as I drive past their house or near their road. (I don’t close my eyes as I pray at those times!) I try to remember people’s occupations and offer a prayer for them when I see someone in that occupation or a business similar to where they work. Or I might see an object that I associate with someone’s needs and that reminds me to pray for them.

I do have lists on my desk that I use to remind me to pray for people as well, while I am quietly reflecting and praying, but I have found that it is best when God prompts me about people to pray for them there and then rather than wait until a special time later. That has the added benefits of punctuating my day with prayer and keeping my relationship with God more vibrant.

Prayer-related jokes:
They have Dial-a-Prayer for atheists now.
You call up and it rings and rings but nobody answers.

A 4-year-old boy who was asked to say a prayer of thanks before Christmas dinner.
The family members bowed their heads in expectation. He began his prayer, thanking God for all his friends, naming them one by one. Then he thanked God for Mummy, Daddy, brother, sister, Grandma, Grandpa, and all his aunts and uncles. Then he began to thank God for the food.

He gave thanks for the turkey, the dressing, the roast potatoes, the peas, the carrots, the parsnips, the sausages, the bread sauce, the gravy, the cranberry sauce, the stuffing, the Christmas Pudding, the custard and even the cream.

Then he paused, and everyone waited

and waited.

After a long silence, the lad looked up at his mother and asked,
“If I thank God for the brussels sprouts, won’t he know that I’m lying?

A young boy called me recently to ask me to come by to pray for his mother who had been very ill with the flu.

I knew the family and was aware they go to another church in Colchester. I asked him, “Shouldn’t you be asking your own Minister to come by to pray with your mum?”

“I suppose so,” the boy admitted. “But we didn’t want to take the risk that he might catch whatever Mum has got.”