James’s Book Challenge

My mate James, challenged me to come up with a list of ten books that had ‘affected me’.

It took me a while to get round to it but here’s the first ten off the top of my head. Not much thought has gone into this, it’s in no particular order, and it’s likely to have changed by the time I get to the bottom of the list.

0) God et al.; The Bible
– tells the first part of a story we’re all invited to be part of the current stages of.

1) Goscinny & Uderzo; The Asterix comics
– mean and grumpy adults (as opposed to kids) could be funny. Both a revelation and an inspiration.

2) James Alison; On Being Liked
– broadened my mind with regards to the cross and theories of The Atonement, and got me thinking.

3) Frank Perretti; This Present Darkness
– I’d seen this book in the local Christian bookshop at a young (and broke) teen age, it looked like the kind of thing that Mum & Dad wouldn’t want around but when I found it on their shelves, Mum said, ‘It’s pretty good, why not give it a go?’ So, I did – and it was pretty good, and gave me permission to like books with odd, supernatural things going, nasty villains, and human protagonists.

4) Tim Hardy; Opalescence
– it’s small, but got some good stuff inside it. I’d highly recommend it if you haven’t got a copy (I have very reasonably-priced spares). It was brilliant to create something concrete and the positive reception was wonderful but has kind of left me with a lack of ambition to write more (which sucks).

5) Rob Bell; Velvet Elvis, Michael Lloyd; Café Theology, Donald Miller; Blue Like Jazz
– I remember all these books helping to shape my theology at the time, particularly the idea of things (including us) being a work in progress, constantly developing, and that that’s all right.

6) CS Lewis; A Grief Observed & The Great Divorce
– these first of these two books helped massively with a sense of normalisation of the depression I was going through at the time – if one of the modern heroes of my faith could experience and describe things as close to what I’d been feeling then maybe there was hope for me. The second provided me with a backing (from a trusted source) for my growing unease with the idea of ‘eternal conscious torment’.

7) Douglas Adams; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (a trilogy in four parts)
– funny science fiction! And a world-view that I found very appealing.

8) Tom Wright; Surprised by Hope (or Simply Christian)
– yet another “it’s all right to be thinking what you’re thinking” books – particularly the idea that received church/Christian/pop-cultural wisdom might not be entirely-based on an accurate understanding of reality/what the Bible really says.

9) Alan Moore; V for Vendetta
– Watchmen was brilliant but V was my first experience of a comic written specifically to discuss the ins and outs of a philosophical/political position (in this case, anarchism). All wrapped up in a terrifying, dystopian vision of the near future.

10) Michael Rosen; Michael Rosen’s Sad Book
– Another ’empathy’ book, all the better for both suggesting that there are ways to help with the SAD and ending with the idea that it will creep up and clobber you at the most unexpected of times…

The more observant of you will have noticed that there are more than ten books here – congratulations, have a picture from the Sad Book:
sad book back cover

Occlure de la Lune

On Saturday, the moon was full and big – warming up for Sunday’s super moon.

I’d just taken ownership of a shiny new camera and been long-term-lent a tripod that fit it, so it seemed like it would be a good idea to attempt to take some pictures of the big round shiny sky thing.

I soon learned that it was possible to take over-exposed pictures of the moon:
bright moon

I spent a couple of minutes working out how to sort it out and by the time the camera was pointing back at the silvery disc, this had happened:

The cloud has remained ever since and the temperature of the earth has dropped a good couple of degrees in the last two days.

New Theme

I’m trying out the Isola theme – it’s a little more minimalist than the previous one – I like it so far. The side bar and menu can all be found by clicking on the three horizontal lines next to the title in the grey bar.

What do you reckon?

Tim’s Days of Gratitudinal Happiocityness

Over on the old Facebookeroony, I’ve been posting something everyday that’s caused me to be grateful or happy during that day. Below, you can see a slide-show (which you can pause, should you wish, by clicking on it) of all the images I used in the order I posted them. Words may be added at some point in the not-too-distant future.

This post comes with added gratitude to my generous web-host who has been making things work over the past couple of days.

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Easter Sunday

This morning, the church was decked out in flowers and light, there was a new Paschal Candle and everything was back in place after the desolation and violence of the past few days.

There was much rejoicing.

All seemed well with the world.

Then I remembered how Mark’s gospel ends:

So they* went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

and I didn’t feel quite so triumphant.

I’m not quite sure what I think any more.

I’m very happy to celebrate a victory that was won on our behalf (that we had no hand in winning, and indeed was won despite our best efforts) and I will be eternally grateful that what Jesus did has set things right between God and us, but the awareness that we are still a work in progress and have been given a job to do that our incompleteness will continue to get in the way of is leaving that celebration feeling a little muted.

*Mary and the other women who had gone to embalm Jesus but encountered mysterious men in white instead of a corpse.

Holy Saturday

Let me preface this entry by saying that only Roy Wood wished it could be Christmas every day.

I’ve heard a lot of discussion about today – usually involving phrases such as “resurrection people”, “Sunday’s coming” and “sure and certain hope”. None of which fills me with the intended joy and reassurance.

I don’t know too much about church traditions concerning Holy Saturday – except concerning the Harrowing of Hell (what Jesus is said to have done whilst he was resting in peace) and that most of the disciples, having slunk off and abandoned him already must have been feeling in a pretty sorry state.

Lent itself is six weeks of reflection and preparation leading up to Passiontide, and jumping straight from Good Friday to Easter Sunday morning seems to me akin to ripping open our Christmas presents before they’ve even been put under the tree.

Our best friend, leader and only hope has been cruelly murdered, we’re in fear for our own lives and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel – we’re lost and utterly without hope. I, for one, am grateful that the church allows one day a year to commemorate the lost, hopeless confusion that many of us find to be the staples of our every day life.

Maundy Thursday

The stripping of the altar (and surrounding area) felt particularly brutal this year. I found myself thinking ‘surely not that?’ as yet another not-nailed-down item of furniture, book, candle stand, or altar cloth was carried out past those of us who remained after the main service. When our statue of Mary was manhandled out of her stand and hauled away down the aisle it seemed alike like a personal, physical attack (and this to somebody with mostly protestant tendencies with regards to Our Lady).

When there was nothing left to remove, they turned out the lights, leaving us sitting at the altar of repose – tiny, lit up with lots of candles in coloured glass bowls, daffodils and a monstrance replete with host – a tiny oasis of light and life in the centre of the desolation occurring before us.

I’m now sitting at the high-altar rail, comfortable in the quiet and dark, and feeling welcomed by God, barely noticing one more extinguished candle and looking at the shrouded cross and the open aumbry (safe where the reserved sacrament is usually kept) – door flung wide, with no body inside, in a bleak foreshadowing of Sunday morning.

Nothing to Report – Saturday – Lent 2014

Today’s been pretty laid back. Got up late, hung around and the flat, did some washing up, went to caretake for a kids’ party at my old church, sorted out some stuff to go in the loft, then had Old Young James round for tea, telly, chat and a game (we ate Chinese, watched Stewart Lee and Still Open All Hours – both were very funny, much to our collective relief – and then played Ankh Morpork, which James won – much to Ros’s and my disgust – all in all a good night).
Now James has gone and it’s time for bed.
Good night.

Possibly my Proudest Achievement – Friday – Lent 2014

Today, at work, I finally got the search on the work website working satisfactorily. It’s something I’ve been struggling with for an age and a half and there were no quick solutions anywhere online, the forums I asked gave no replies, but eventually I cobbled together the bits of php I needed.

None of this will be of any interest to anyone but I’ll carry on regardless (and not post anything too technical), below, bullet-pointed for convenience is the whole sorry story:

The Set Up

  • Our website is WordPress based with some bbPress forums (as part of the Commons In A Box plugin collection) forming a large portion of it.
  • Some of the WordPress side and most of the bbPress side is only available to logged in subscribers (who are all members of the resources centre).
  • The standard WordPress search only includes results from the WordPress side of the site but copes okay with excluding the members-only content.

The Challenge

  • We wanted everything to be searchable to users who were logged in and not to the general public.

The Problem

  • If we expand the standard search to include results from the forums, the members-only exclusion breaks down because bbPress wasn’t marking topics within private forums as ‘private’.
  • These returned search results for topics in private forums, showing the complete contents of the topic.
  • When the link back to the topic was clicked, the site would then go to an error page showing an unresolved ‘loop’ giving the (correct) impression that the site wasn’t working properly.
  • The bbPress search that appears on the top forum page returns results from all forums, logged in or not in a similar way to the WordPress search.

The Solution
This came in stages with snippets of how to do tiny little bits of it coming from all over the web with a lot of false-starts, swearing and imaginary hair-tearing-out along the way.

  • I worked out quite early on that it would be impractical to use the back-end to ensure that all topics inherited their forum privacy settings – especially as our members get to post new topics at will and we don’t have masses of time for moderation.
  • The first step was restricting the forum search to appear on each forum page by itself and only search within that forum (with a placeholder text saying ‘search this forum’). This eliminates the final part of the problem above but currently won’t search within subforums – I’d still like to find a way to do this but am happy to leave it as is given that the next steps have worked out as they have.
  • I redesigned the side bar to include a better layout, in different sections, with a separate forum search that only appears for logged in users. This was an okay work around as far as it went but was still irritating to have to have two separate search forms needed. This can be seen in action on my test version of the site.
  • The bit that has taken most working out was getting the main site search to only include forum results if a user was logged in – I reckon that combined with the new side bar, this should offer a workable solution to the problem as described.

Still to work on

  • It more or less does what I want it to, but is a long way from being ideal:
  • I have no idea why sub-forums and topics don’t inherit privacy settings or what I’d need to do to make the search exclude private forums unless a user was logged in.
  • Search results that are replies to the forum topics are listed as such but no other type of result has a prefix – I’d quite like the forums and forum topics to be identified as such rather than simply appearing as empty posts or posts respectively.
  • I’d like to have excerpts of topics from private forums show in the results with the link taking users to a ‘you must be logged in to view this topic’ message rather than the loop-error.
  • It would be fantastic if I could find a way to make the individual forum searches include the contents of sub-forums – this is the biggest problem that remains to be sorted but can wait – I’ve spent far too long getting this sorted and I have other work that needs catching up on.

So, there you have it – this has given me more relief than even completing the Giant Form of Doom and getting it handed in.

And I told you it would be dull.

PS if anybody’s interested, I can post about the php bits and pieces with credit to the various bits of internet they were learned about from.