Of Boys, Toys, JWs, Anoraks, and St. Augustine (or, The Coffee Maker, Part 2)

I always knew a few people who loved trains. I even knew one or two people who built model rail-ways at home, usually in some deserted far off loft or study.

I’ve suddenly discovered, much to my surprise, that this is not one or two isolated individuals, but in fact apparently a large percentage of the male population of this part of the UK.

I never expected to learn that.

They call themselves Anoraks, and about a third of the people I’m working with belong to this group.

OK, So trains can look quite cool, and I am working with the media and computers team of the company, so it’s no surprise, I suppose, that you find a higher pecentage of people here with high IQ / arcane / obscure hobbies…

But it’s not just little nerdy geeks with glasses wandering around with notebooks and flasks of tea getting all excited about 7.25″ gauge K1 engines and 1937 liveries, it’s a lot of guys, of every background, upbringing, shape, size, character and personality.

We had finished setting up for one of those J.John conferences, and were hanging out round the back waiting for it to be time to start, when this anglican vicar looking bloke wandered up, and they all ended up chatting about trains.

And all the rest of the guys too: those few who don’t have a thing about machines that roll around the place on parallel tracks get excited by all kinds of other things.

There’s a bloke here who gets very excited about trucks, vans, busses, and other large automobiles.

When I say “excited”, I mean in the kind of “eyes light up, bounces up and down and starts talking animatedly and waving his arms around” kind of way.

And he’s not a tiny geek. He’s an (roughly) 8 foot tall construction yard manager from London.

I watched two guys across the room at a pizza evening last week. They were discussing the intricacies of the AT command set, and the fun to be had trying to fix router systems by logging in backwards through a modem to solve networking problems.

Let’s turnout to a diverging track for a few moments, and I’ll see if I can work us back to this rail at the next set of points.

I went out yesterday an bought a whole load of books at charity shops. I finally got a copy of St. Augustine’s confessions.

“Even now I cannot fully understand why the Greek language, which I learned as a child, was so distasteful to me… “

I found this sentence funny, in itself, but lets keep reading for a while, and a few pages later get to this:

“For I understood not a single word and I was constantly subjected to violent threats and cruel punishments to make me learn.

“As a baby, of course, I knew no Latin either, but I learned it without fear and fret, simply by keeping my ears open while my nurses fondled me and everyone laughed and played happily with me.

“I learned it without being forced by threats of punishment, because it was my own wish to be able to give expression to my thoughts. I could never have done this if I had not learnt a few words, not from schoolmasters, but from people who spoke to me and listened when I delivered to their ears whatever thoughts I had conceived. This clearly shows that we learn better in a free spirit of curiosity than under fear and compulsion.”

Here we go! A rallying cry for Home Educators world wide, written over 1600 years ago in 397 AD!

OK.. so it’s a bit longwinded, and in Latin it’s not really the kind of thing you’d stick on a banner and wave at demonstrations.

Unless you’re at very well educated classical demonstrations, or something.

“… in those days ‘one and one are two, two and two are four’ was a loathsome jingle, while the wooden horse and its crew of soldiers, the burning of Troy and even the ghost of Creusa made a most enchanting dream, futile though it was.”

And Augustine is worried by all this. He calls it sin, and says how sad and fruitless it was.

Yet, I can’t help but think it’s not quite so black and white as he does, nor in fact sinful to be enamored by stories and battles and glory, and not by Arithmetic.

If Arithmetic is your thing, hey, go for it. I’ll ask you for help with my accounts. And a certain amount of maths is useful for everyone, sure.

Now let’s take another track again, and yes, we are headed back to the first line.

Yesterday, before I went out book-shopping, two JW’s came and banged on my door and told me they were here to encourage me to read my bible. I had literally just closed my bible to come and answer the door.. So of course I invited them in for tea or coffee or something. Not that I ever got around to making it.

Anyway. They spouted scriptures at me for about half an hour, gave me a couple of “Watchtower” magazines, and then headed off home to make tea for some of their friends they were expecting.

A few things struck me. Firstly, they seemed to put all their faith in their organization. Well, no surprise, I mean, they’re followers of Watchtower. The magazine basically defines who they are.

They asked questions about what I do, and tried to distance me from the rest of the church and the people I work with. Yes, I don’t agree with everything absolutely that the rest of the people I work with believe, but so what? We are different, and although I am not a complete relativist and believe there is no truth, I do believe that our view of the truth will be different from everyone elses. God made me to reflect his light in a way that *no one* else can. We’re all small panes of glass in the magnificent stained glass window that God is building, each one of us reflects and refracts the light differently, each one of us is a different shape.

Take a look at this awesome stained glass window at coventry cathedral.

So yes, some times there are bits of glass which look like they might be part of the window, but in fact are from a totally different light source, and instead of pointing you towards sunlight and freedom, they actually have you shooting for a big ugly wall lamp.

Not all roads do lead to the truth, but the truth is bigger and more beautiful than any one person can fully comprehend.

The JWs didn’t seem to get this, and seemed to want me to join their organisation.

Great! Just what I want to join! A group of people calling themselves Christians who are even more strictly extra-rule-keeping, pharisaical, exclusionist and cultic and anti-everyone-else than the ones I currently hang out with! Whoohoo!

I mean, heck, even if they didn’t totally abuse and twist scripture more than the whole Purpose Driven thing does, and even if they didn’t have a completely messed up un-biblical view of Jesus, the trinity, the church, the bible, and virtually everything else, I think that’s about the last thing I need.

So now, how are we going to get back to the Anoraks, and what was the purpose of quoting Augustine? And why on earth could this possibly be anything to do with coffee makers? Well.

My housemate has been laughing at me because of the coffeemaker. And he hasn’t even read my blog post about it all. He’s laughing, because of the explosions of milk and so on.

I learned very quickly:

“Don’t open the steam valve while holding the nozzle above the top of the milk, unless you like getting milk and steam all over the kitchen”.

Useful thing to learn.

Anyway. He kind of teases me about it being a toy and a mad hobby of mine, and if I like getting clouds of steam all over me, and having milk all over the place to clean up, then he’s fine with that.

I’m glad he’s fine with that.

And the coffee actually is coming out quite well, these days. I’ll post some photos, soon. I’m not really spilling anything anywhere, or exploding anything any more.

The point though, for this post, is how it is kind of a hobby, I suppose. Yes, a good cup of coffee is *really* nice, but also it’s more than that. I really want to learn, and am enjoying the learning/developping thing more than the actual coffee, I think.

And I guess it’s the same with the train-people and the truck enthusiasts.

I don’t think it’s wrong to get all excited and enthusiastic about “stuff”. I think God made us that way. A lot of evangelicals seem to be almost gnostic, and have a kind of misplaced ascetic idea that “if it’s fun, or you enjoy it, then it’s wrong“, kind of like Augustine seems to be leaning towards.

Sure, if it distracts you or pulls you away from more important things, or becomes an idol, or god, then there’s a problem. And I think it almost did become an idol to me. Even before I bought the silly machine. Now how sad is that?!

But God made us to enjoy delving into deep things, seeking out answers, becoming experts and specialists. We’re not all the same, and God’s creative genius made the universe so enormous that there’s plenty of room for all of us to explore and become brighter and brighter, and keep on refracting more of His glory.

It’s about time for me to go home and make some lunch, and have another go at making some really tasty coffee…

Of Coffee Makers and Consciences (part 1?)

One of the things I love about the “Peanuts” cartoons are the tiny little things that I love. If that makes sense. For instance, this one thing I love about the Peanuts cartoon, is Snoopy’s book that he writes occasionally “Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?” as part of the whole debate thing with Lucy. I love those books.


Has it ever occurred to you that you might be mad?

It’s been of late the rather disagreeable experience of mine to have occurring to me with disturbingly increasing regularity the possibility that I myself might be in a somewhat insanitous state.

I challenge anyone to diagram that sentence, and send me the picture…

Insanitous sounds rather unhygienic, but it’s not. I just mean “mad”, in a slightly more complex way of speaking.

To take simpler mode of address, I’ll quote Freddie Mercury:

“It’s finally happened, I’m slightly mad.”

Anyway, the current evidence I have towards this conclusion is The Strange Affair Of The Coffee Maker In The Daytime.

I feel remarkably Adrian Plassish as I type this, in a “this is dead serious to me, but I get the feeling people will laugh at me about it, because it’s so stupid…” sort of way. Like his paper-clip story.

Settle back, gentle reader, and prepare thyself for an epic journey into the mind of one convinced that he is no longer all quite there.

It all began like this…

This house is great. I’m really enjoying living here. right now, I’m sprawled across one of the *three* sofas in the living room, with my laptop, and a pot of Earl Grey tea.

Seriously, how can life get more chilled out than this?

What could there possibly be to complain about?

Well, there’s no internet at home. Is this a bad thing? Well, kind of. But also, it does stop me spending inordinate amounts of time online, which I did over the whole furlough, to my shame. 3 months to rest and do anything, and most of the time I spent online. Silly. So, it’s probably a good thing that I’m not online here, and can just write emails that I need to write, and then send them from the Shed. And spend the rest of my time at home cooking, reading, playing clarinet, and exercising. Oh, and sleeping, of course.

Secondly. And far more seriously. There is no coffee maker here.

I say it again, for emphasis.

There. Is. NO. Coffee. Maker. Here!!!

Shocking! But true!

There is a kettle, and a teapot, and plenty of instant coffee, of the “Fair Trade” and the “Nescafe” varieties – both of which are vile – but a brewed mug of the real stuff? Not a chance.

So, how can I solve this crisis, I wondered, then had the brainwave: I can buy a coffee maker.

In the UK they have this really weird store called Argos, where everything is in this funny HUGE catalogue that you can get, and then you write down the item order numbers, or SKU or something, give it to the clerk, and it gets brought in to you via conveyor belt, or so. No browsing around the store, just the catalogue.

Anyway, we happened to have an Argos Catalogue in the house, so I looked inside for coffee makers. Of course, there are plenty. About 20 types of filter machines, and about 30 types of espresso machines, in various shapes, sizes, colours, etc, etc, and every other type of coffee maker I can think of. And 2 things caught my eye.

Firstly, that there was a filter machine for 6 quid. Woah, now this looks like my kind of budget!

And secondly, an espresso machine for 17 quid. Hm. That’s about 100 pounds cheaper than I’ve ever seen before, and just about within my pricerange… so very tempting.

3-5 bar pressure, not amazing, but probably acceptable, milk steamer/frother too… so would be good for hot choc as well. Mmmm…..

And I’ve wanted to learn how to make espresso for ages.

So. Here it seems is a perfectly normal life situation. Nothing to stress about, nothing to worry about, just a simple domestic “which should I buy? Hm, the espresso machine, OK, lets’ buy it, done.”

10 minutes, all told, and not even really worth blogging about.

Except! This is no ordinary story! Not to be stumped by even the more mundane of situations, I find myself wrestling to gain even the fleetest of footings while hanging on to the horns of a stampeding dilemma!

I have been fretting about this! I have been wandering around the town wondering if I should buy the wretched thing or not. I’ve prayed about it, numerous times, and still have no reached any kind of satisfactory conclusion!

Should I buy it? Should I not buy it? The question is easy enough to state, and the pros and cons can easily be listed.

17 pounds is really not all that expensive, and I checked online the website, and found it had apparently gone to 11 pounds. So, even more reason for this to be a minor and inconsequential affair.

The thought occurred to me “If you had this machine, you wouldn’t need to buy expensive coffee at cafe’s After 9 cups you would have saved money!” See how insiduous advertising is? I don’t need all that coffee, and I might not have bought it anyway, thus I’ve not saved money at all, but in fact spent more! I’ll write about this more some other time.. 
Anyway, I frequently find myself wanting to drink a decent cup, and the only place available is expensive, and so if I did buy this machine, and if I had been buying one coffee a day there, then by the end of a week I would indeed have saved money. But, no.

I just haven’t been able to bring myself to go and buy it. Every time I set out towards the store, I’ve felt an almost compulsion to not buy it, and the weird sensation that I’m doing something wrong.

I was asking God, “Do you want me to buy it? Do you not want me to buy it?” and then asked “If you don’t want me to buy it, don’t let me.”, which is a dangerous sort of prayer, and then after work 2 days ago, while praying this, I went to the store, and low and behold it was shut.

Hm! Is this some kind of sign?! Or is it just that they close at 5pm, and it took me until 5.45 to get to the shop?! Is this divine guidence, or just a coincidence catalysed by lack of time management and me not remembering which road it was on?

Do I even believe in coincidence anyway?

As a good evangelical, I know I should not.

But I’m not a good evangelical. I know that God is in control of everything, but I also know that the world is so sufficiently complex that if we want to see correlations and coincidences, we will, without God going out of His way to make sure certain things coincide.

But, argues the pig headed annoying evangelical so-and-so who lives in my head: If I’m asking God something, couldn’t He also make it so that things don’t coincide, just so that I don’t see the coincidence that I asked about?

Yet that also totally stuffs God into a box, and is very unfair to Him.

Why on earth should God go out of His way to modify something running really quite well (ie, what time a certain store closes) on the earth just so that one of his slightly deranged sons gets an answer to some pointless question he asked in an absurd and arrogant way!? I mean, what if I asked for the moon to turn somersaults and the sun to go back one hour? Even if that did happen way back in the O.T…

I dunno. I mean, before, when God has got me to stop sinning in certain ways, I’ve really not wanted to stop, and so I’ve asked Him for help, but in ways that are really not helpful. The kind of thing being “If you don’t want me to lie to so and so about why I haven’t done what I promised, then please could I not see them today…”.

This kind of thing. I mean, yes, it’s asking God for help. And yes, it’s kind of admitting a problem. But is it really sane to expect God to tweak reality because of my selfishness? I mean, I know He loves me, and I know He can modify reality more easily than I can breath, but, well, isn’t it kind of forcing Him into a box? Trying to exert power over Him, and manipulate Him like a Genie?

And “trying to manipulate God like a Genie” is one of those things that definitely falls into the “Unwise bordering on Stupid, yet Amazingly Typical and very Human” category.

And the thing is, usually, if I start praying things in the form “If you want me to not do… then please do…” it’s usually ended up being something that I really shouldn’t do anyway, and a fairly good hint that I already know what the answer is, and what I should or shouldn’t do.

Imagine the little boy saying “God, if you don’t want me to steal the sweets from the sweetshop, then please would the shop owner be standing next to the box I want to steal from when I come into the shop”, knowing full well that the shop owner is always sitting behind her desk on the opposite side of the shop, and can’t even see that aisle.

Well, duh!

Yet that’s exactly how I behave to God, quite frequently. And then, even if the situation I have asked God about *does* happen to be a “no” thing, then I’ll repeat the experiment again, with more obscure clauses, or else repeat again and again until it’s not so. And this is *so* stupid. I mean, if I really want to sin that much, then I’m gonna find a way to do it, even if it means totally ignoring what God is shouting and jumping up and down with a big sign on a stick telling me about.

Yet, the issue at hand isn’t some kind of sin. This isn’t stuff which is even kind of borderline/dodgey, such as using “bad language” on stage at the theatre (one of the issues I fought long and hard with, and with God about, a few years back).

This is a flippin’ coffee maker!

I mean, for crying out loud!

OK, so I can imagine maybe God has some kind of plan, to teach me a lesson in something, or some life skill or something, and so this coffee maker was part of it, but I can also imagine Him putting his head into his hands and saying “Good grief. Just buy the stupid coffee maker already, Daniel. Look, I’m not going to send you an army of angels just to tell you to do your blinking laundry just because you feel doubts!”

And also, I can kind of imagine maybe that God doesn’t want me to buy the coffee maker. I’ve not been so great with my money, in how careful I am about it all, in remembering to give regularly, or in being generous, or whatever. And there is so much poverty in the world, and the current joke here in the office is about the “rich missionaries” with their iPods and iPhones and iBooks and living at Starbucks and being far too damn comfortable. Jesus never told us life would be comfortable, as His followers. He told us it would suck, majorly.

Yet He also said that workers deserve their wages, and that we shouldn’t worry about what we eat or drink, as if we look first to God’s kingdom, He would provide these things anyway.

And it’s not that I’m worrying about coffee. I’m not addicted, and can quite happily go for a week or two without tasting a sip of coffee without headaches and all that. I just like the stuff!

Yet I am worried. About getting too comfortable. About becoming a sleeping Christian, not really in the world, not really living radically, as a revolutionary of Christ in this world. About picking up the strings and rags of this earth, and becoming attached to them, and not scorning them for the true garments of heaven.

Yet Jesus also spent His time at parties, as J. John said in one of his sermons, if Jesus was a stuffed up christian bore at the parties, why was he invited to so many? He’d have been told to stay at home! We are supposed to live life to the full, to not skimp and be prudes and wusses and all that.

I guess it all boils down to this:

Is it better to wait and not do anything because it’s not what God called us to, or to do something we think is from God, even if it’s not?

If I have a course of action in mind, but no “calling” or direction to it from God, is it still a good/the right action to take, or should I only act on instructions?

Or, is this kind of nagging doubt really from God? Or just my messed up personality? Insecure INFP that I am, and everything.

Is it better to do things only we *know* are from God, or to do things that might be from Him, even if they’re not?

And can we know for sure, most of the time, anyway?


Life is so complicated.

And all this just for a coffeemaker.

The whole “having peace” about something just doesn’t seem to work for me. I don’t really “have peace” about things very often.

Is it better to do something we think might be God’s will, or to not do something we think might be against it?

Action and anti-action! And inaction and anti-inaction.

And this has been going on for about 4 or 5 days now.

Back to Peanuts, apparently I’m fairly similar personalitywise to Charlie Brown.

If ever we (Charlie Brown and I) seem kind of indecisive and wishy-washy, this is why. We’re going through this kind of trauma about every single thing in life. From whether to kick the football or not, whether to write the valentine or not, to whether to buy the coffee maker or not…

A part of me, now, says “Just do it, lah” like one of my Malaysia friends had. I mean, God is so much bigger than I am, and if I screw up, He’ll catch me and help me back on my feet again.

It’s just, well, He also gave me the ability to look at issues and find more deep consequences of them. Shouldn’t I use that?

And if I don’t try to figure things out, because I know it just ends up with inaction and all that crap above, then how do I know what to do? What can I trust?

Instincts? Dangerous. Others? Unwise. Myself? Stupid. A pair of dice? Ridiculous!

A big part of me says “Yeah, I’ll buy the coffee maker. No biggie.”

The other half shrieks and says “You don’t need it! And you MIGHT be going against what God has told you, because you are not sure, and so are acting in doubt, and according to the bible: that is sin! It’s not worth it, just for a coffee maker!”

Either it’s just a normal bit of being human, in which case I am weak and indecisive and a wimp, or else I’m slightly schizophrenic.

Either way, life promises to be – if nothing else – interesting.