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Remember shopping before the internet?

Good afternoon, Sir. Welcome to A. Mason’s Hardware checkout. Have you shopped with us before?

No, I just popped in because I happe—

That’s no problem. Before you check out I’ll need you tell me your nickname.

Er, most people call me Jeff.

Thanks, Jeff. Now could you think of a secret word and whisper it in my ear?

Sorry?

A secret word. Next time you come into the shop, you can just whisper your secret word to me, and I’ll know it’s you.

I doubt I’ll be coming back.

No, not a sentence. Just one word. And you need to whisper so the other shoppers don’t hear it.

[Whispers]

I’m afraid that secret word is a bit obvious. Could you try for something a little more secret?

[Whispers again]

That’s fine. Now could you whisper it into my other ear?

???

So we’re both sure what it is.

[Whispers again]

I’m sorry. That wasn’t quite the same word.

It was the same word!

I’m afraid it was just a touch different. Could you try again.

[Whispers again]

That’s still different. Did you mean to leave the umlaut off the second O? Try broadening your pronunciation on that syllable.

[Whispers again]

I think we’ve got it now, Jeff! We’re on to Step Two. Could you fill in this form with your full name, address and telephone number.

I’m just trying to buy a pack of wood screws!

I can see that, Jeff. Size 10, Cross-Head, 100 Pack. I’ll get you on you way with those ASAP if I can just have your full name, address and telephone number.

[Sighs. Starts filling in form.]

Thank you, Jeff. While you finish writing those details, I’ll tell you something interesting. Some of our other customers who have purchased Wood Screws, Size 10, Cross-Head, 100 Pack have also purchased Wood Screws, Size 8, Cross-Head, 100 Pack and K-Y Jelly, 200ml tube.

Why?

We’re expanding into software.

I mean why would you tell me this?

We notice that often people have similar buying habits, and so we think making recommendations based on people’s purchases will be really useful and fun.

Why on earth would someone want a pack of screws and a tube of lube?

We’re just a hardware and software shop, Jeff. We’re not here to judge.

Fine. Can I just give you some money now?

Yes. That will be £3.99.

[Pays]

Thank you for shopping at A. Mason’s. Before you go, would you like to take a moment and compose a brief letter to all your friends telling them that you purchased screws with us today?


3 April 2014
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Parable of a tree

A tree flourished and grew very tall. Its branches spread in every direction. But as it grew old some of the branches died and broke off. Eventually the core of the tree rotted away and its roots became feeble. One night a fierce storm toppled the tree. People came from all around to look at the tree, for it was a landmark in that part of the world. Some celebrated its fall because they hated the tree and thought it ugly. ‘Good riddance to this worthless tree. It’s rotten to the core and good for nothing.’ Others mourned its fall, for they had spent their childhood climbing the tree and playing in its shade. Still others shouted, ‘This tree isn’t dead. In fact, it’s thriving! Look at all the bright green leaves on these branches over here.’ Although there were many leaves and the large tree held enough energy to feed them for a long time, the tree had come to its end. The rotting wood was already releasing nutrients into the soil that would nourish the surrounding saplings as they grew.


2 April 2014
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Oh no! More Bill Gothard

For a more comprehensive and funnier description of what Billy G teaches, I recommend you enjoy Laura’s’ overview of The Many Valuable Lessons [She] Learned at ATI


27 February 2014
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Renewing my native religion

This by Richard Beck.


26 February 2014
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In which I apologise for my Bill Gothard-ness

A cartoon about serial sexual harasser Bill Gothard

I spent my teen years as a member of Bill Gothard’s homeschool cult Advanced Training Institute (ATI, formerly ATIA because it used to be ‘of America’). There were some good bits and some bad bits.

The good bits:

The bad bits:

So now it turns out that Bill’s grand cult was rotten to the core from the beginning and that he’s been sexually harassing young women since the late 70s (and allegedly assaulting at least one). He’s misused IBLP finances. He has engaged in longstanding illegal labour practices. He lies all the time. And he’s wrecked so many lives so deeply that my scarring barely deserves a look in. (There’s a lot to read. You could be away for a long time.)

So now the apology.

I taught a lot of Gothard’s garbage (Bill’s bilge) when I was a youth pastor in Tucson. (I was a very young youth pastor. Yay nepotism!). I’ve lost touch with the almost all the kids who used to be in my youth group, but if any of you who were in my youth group before I got married happen to read this -

I’m sorry for teaching you that satan would have access to your life if you didn’t obey your parents in the way I said you should. I’m sorry for teaching you that if you went to bed angry satan would possess a piece of your soul. I’m sorry for ramming my views about music down your throat. I wasn’t afraid of a beat, but I had some really dumb Gothardist ideas. I’m sorry for teaching you about courtship when I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about and my emotions were all messed up because see above. I’m sure there was more, but that’s all I can remember right now. I hope I didn’t do too much damage.

I think I taught you some good stuff too, but I was young and not as wise as I thought. I’m sorry.

Bill says you should never write down an apology. If I remember right, his reason is that the people you offended can use your words against you. Oh well. Here are my words. Use them how you want.


23 February 2014
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If someone asked me for a biblical basis for vegetarianism…

First I would talk about the big story of the bible, the perfect starting point in Eden and the ending when heaven and earth are reunited again and the whole earth is like Eden, except there are cities too. I would talk about how sin has messed up the world but Jesus came and since his life, death and resurrection the reuniting of heaven and earth has begun. Right now it’s not perfect; the kingdom of God is here but still to come; we are experiencing but also anticipating.

Then I would talk about how those of us who follow Jesus have the job of living that kingdom of God life right now even though it often doesn’t fit so well with the kingdoms of this world. Our job is to embody, in some sense the life that God wants for all the world. I would talk about how God’s original design for life and wholeness is best seen in Genesis 1 and 2 – before things got messed up.

Next, I would read Genesis 1:29–30:

Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so. (NIV)

In the beginning, the bible says, people and animals ate plants, not each other. If our job is to live the kingdom of God now, one small – but, I believe, significant – way to do it is by not eating animals.

If I hadn’t totally bored my questioner, I would go on to point out that the first time God explicitly allows the eating of animals it is in the context of God being resigned to the fact ‘every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood’ (Genesis 8:20–9:6)

I would probably throw in the prophecy of Isaiah 11 about the lion laying down with the lamb and the earth being full of the knowledge of the LORD for good measure.

My questioner may respond that there is no chapter and verse of the bible that tells us to be vegetarian. This is true. Neither is there chapter and verse telling us to abolish slavery, but that seems a very kingdom of God thing to do, doesn’t it?

My questioner might bring up Peter’s vision in Acts 10 where God invites him to kill and eat from a blanket filled with all kinds of animals. My response to this would be that God works with people where they are at. For example the appalling violence that is celebrated in Israel’s early history gets a decidedly mixed reception as the Old Testament proceeds and is completely eschewed in the New. Another example: Paul wrote to the Galatians, ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ But by the end of the New Testament the church had only worked through the Gentiles-being-allowed-to-be-Christians thing. Slavery didn’t get sorted until the 1800s. We’re still working on racism and sexism. The kingdom of God is not a quick project. With all these inter-human issues to sort through, it’s not surprising that not-eating-animals doesn’t get much attention.

Finally, my questioner might say something like, Geez, Jeff, you make it sound like you can’t be a Christian without being a vegetarian. I might answer, It’s true. I can’t be a Christian without being a vegetarian. I wasn’t always like that. Most Christians aren’t, and it’s not my job to tell them they should be. But you asked.

That’s what I would say if someone asked for a biblical basis for vegetarianism. There are, of course, other excellent bases for vegetarian, but, as a Christian pastor, the biblical one is what I’m closest to qualified to talk about.


9 February 2014
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Cooking tips 3: blending

You know how blenders take up space on your counter and get dusty and when you actually do decide to blend something the 45 minutes you spend cleaning it afterwards reminds you of why you never use your blender and then something breaks and the replacement part is more expensive than buying a whole new blender?

Immersion blenders solve all these problems. Plus they are fun to use. Christine bought this one for £4.13 (!!!) not long ago. We like it and use it a lot.


30 January 2014
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Cooking tips 2: burgers

Next time you have burgers, fry some thinly sliced carrots with your onions. The extra bit of sweetness and flavour is actually perfect.


27 January 2014
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Cooking tips 1: introduction

Now that I’m halfway through my final year of a culinary arts degree, I would like to spend a few days writing about cooking. I don’t know much about cooking – it’s more a restaurant management degree than a chef’s degree – but I really like to cook and I really like to eat. I think I’ve stumbled across some useful things over the last few years, both at home and in the college kitchens. I think you might like to know what those few things are. I will be offering them daily until I run out as short little posts, similar to my Creativity series. I will write about cooking in general, about equipment and about how to cook some specific things. Maybe some of it will be new to you. There will be at least one technique that I think I invented. Also, you can add tips in the comments. Onwards…

Cooking is like any other creative endeavour, the better you understand your medium the more freely you are able to create. Recipes are really helpful. I use them all the time. But once you start thinking about what’s going on in a recipe and why and how you can adapt it to better suit your tastes and circumstances, then you are properly starting to cook. I learned this from my wife Christine and from Nigel Slater’s Appetite. If you want to get past recipe following and learn how to really think about food, Appetite is an excellent place to start. If you live in the UK, your library probably has a copy.

Appetite by Nigel Slater


26 January 2014
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‘… it’s precisely when a popular belief system starts failing to explain everyday experiences that people get most passionate about treating it as unquestionable fact and shouting down those who challenge it.’

John Michael Greer


11 January 2014
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