Sunday, May 18, 2008

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...


Jeremy Pierce said...

I'm not sure you're being completely fair to Augustine. What he didn't like was being forced to learn stuff he didn't want to learn. He was more interested in learning stuff he was interested in learning. That doesn't mean it's wrong to appreciate the wonders of fun. He stands out as a big contrast to many of the Greco-Roman philosophers of his day, who spent a lot of time reflecting on what it means to have a good life internally but didn't think all that hard about intrinsically good things in the world God created. He offers a corrective to that, talking about intrinsic worth to all God's creation and how marvelous that is. So he may have agreed with you more than this post lets on.

shannonigans said...

my advice: just stick to tea.
It's so much safer.
But can be quite adventerous, too when the fridge starts leaking and you have to navigate a huge lake to get in an out of the kitchen!