Monks in Space

I wrote this piece in 2013, but I’ve had the concept since around 2004/5.  Monks in Space.  A space monastery in the Kuiper Belt.  Excellent.

The First Chapter
It was Brother Isador, returning from a baptism on a nearby asteroid, who found the drifting escape pod.  The spherical capsule had long since burnt out its distress beacon, but the polished reflective surface made a spark in the darkness that caught Isador’s attention.  As he neared it he scanned for transmissions – none.  He would certainly find nothing more than the remains of a lost soul forgotten in space.

But he didn’t.  Matching trajectory and velocity at about thirty metres he saw a movement through a tiny, trapezoid window.  Then a face.  A haggard and desperate face.  Isador offered a brief prayer of thanksgiving for the preserved life within the pod – and a prayer that he might serve his maker in preserving that life further.

He approached, programmed a tiny rocket drone to thread a cable through a projecting rung, fired it, and powered up all his boosters to begin to slow the pod’s flight. Once in the hangar beneath the refectory and with the gentleness of the abbey’s air on his cheeks, Isador and the other monks wrestled with jammed catches and an electronic lock coded in an unfamiliar script.  They opened the hatch and found a man inside, unconscious and breathing shallowly in the remnants of his thin air. He had a wasted and enervated body, lank and dirty hair.  He wore an old-fashioned suit that seemed to have been fitted to a larger, form.  How long had he been drifting in space?  Neither the pod nor he could tell the monks, who carefully carried him up to a cell and laid him on clean sheets. Continue reading

Haven 90|60

I’ll be worshipping at Haven 90|60 in Milton Keynes this Saturday and leading a Workshop called Speak Out in Praise, helping believers learn how their passion for spoken word, rap and poetry can be put to the King’s service.

You can access my workshop handout here.

Holy Spirit, You are Welcome Here

Worshipping God with this song is a life-changer: it’s a challenging song, that must be sung whole-heatedly or not at all.  Here’s Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes leading in 2015, as part of Graham Kendrick’s suggested Pentecost Worship Playlist.

Addressing the Spirit of Jesus by name is a bold move and it should challenge us. How do we acknowledge the Holy Spirit as personal God? Scripture teaches us that the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ own spirit as well as the Spirit of the Father, yet we believe He is a distinct person of the Godhead. Is your theology of the Trinity strong enough that you have the confidence to address the Spirit of God in person?

Now this is the crux of the song: all believers acknowledge the power of God’s Spirit in their lives and in the world. But how many of us welcome him? Or in how much of our lives do we welcome the Holy Spirit to work? Let’s be honest – the Holy Spirit can be terrifying. What if we invited him to change our lives and he brought about a time of being without work? Or what if we follow him in speaking to friends boldly about their need for Jesus and we are made to feel uncomfortable, unhappy or angry? Miracles would be welcome in our lives if they were predictable and would be guaranteed not to arouse the attention of cynics and people wanting to make their own fame from them. Healing would be welcome if it were on our own terms, according to our own understanding.

But the song has a completely different take on the Holy Spirit’s presence in our life: it is an open-ended and unlimited invitation for God in person to invade our lives.

Have you ever visited a place where you know you weren’t welcome? Where your hosts are waiting for you to leave, because they don’t feel they can get on with their real life with you in their front room? They don’t feel safe enough with you to relax themselves?

And have you ever visited a friend who just doesn’t want you to leave? You can eat all their biscuits, drink all their tea, empty their fridge, stay the night, follow them to pick up their kids, and they still don’t want you to go? I have one or two precious friends who treat me like that. Now that is welcome – not just a cold acknowledgement of relationship, but a selfless love that melts the boundaries of who owns what and who should do what.

What do we say to Jesus – to Father God – to the wonderful, life-giving spirit when we address him? Do we give him a limited welcome? Or are we prepared to welcome him without any limits.

I love singing the bridge of this song: we ask, together, to become more aware of God’s presence. We need to notice Him more frequently and have a better understanding of what it means that he dwells in us and in the church. And we ask to experience the glory of God’s goodness: because experiencing is the key to learning and changing. It’s not enough for us to hear about God’s power or God’s presence: we need to experience it in our emotions and our physical experience and in our imagination. And then, instead of fearing what he might do, we know that his power is always good and his will is for us and for all of the lost. And then we need to sing the chorus again to reinforce our welcome – to mean it more and to sing it over the parts of our lives that we are finding really tough to surrender.

Holy Spirit of the living God, you are welcome to ruin my life as I think of it: to derail my plans if you need to, to make me uncomfortable, to change my morality system, to change my habits, my words, my intentions, my hopes, my preferences and my desires. Make me like my Jesus by being in my life, Holy Spirit. Help me to see and believe in the presence of my Father God wherever I am and in every moment of the day. I allow you and welcome you to cause me to experience new things so that I follow my Jesus more closely and have more compassionate heart for those whom you love. Make me Holy as you are Holy.

Age of Access I

We live in the beginning of the post-ownership age. I write ‘we’ because if you are reading this through the medium of the internet, most likely on a smartphone, on a 4G network, then you live in a part of the world that has encountered the Future. The Future, as somebody, maybe William Gibson, once said, is unequally distributed: the Future moves across the world in waves, reaching different communities and nations at different times as different technologies become available to the populace.

Post-ownership – what does that mean? It means that there are cultures in which all material needs of possession have been satisfied: the vast majority of the population (not all, but most) have a roof over their head, clothes on their body, food in their stomach (and their fridge), tools in their closet or cupboard, baking tins in their kitchen cupboard, more clothes in their (walk-in) wardrobe, and the ability to access more of the same at will. They also possess leisure time which they have been trained to spend – at least partly – in seeking and choosing more consumable products.

In fact, this widespread availability of stuff has gone so far as to generate a whole back-lash movement: Marie Kondo’s The Joy of Tidying, youtube videos on doing more with less, like the ones davehakkens produces, the fetishisation of the ‘authentic’ that hipster culture indulges in (at least according to Peter York’s analysis). Businesses like AirB’nB depend upon people’s growing preference for use over ownership.

The irony is that in many other cultures around the world, use and ownership were in a completely different relationship to that accepted as ‘normal’ within Western mainstream culture. Consider the waste and personal isolationism latent within the ownership of ten lawnmowers in a street of ten houses in an English town. On only one of a very few days would more than one of those lawnmowers be used: why are ten ‘necessary’? Because it is socially inappropriate to ask for or to use another person’s possession.

Consider by contrast the very different attitude of the Filipino car: my cousin possesses a car; my cousin is my family member; therefore I have access to a car. This is a “Filipino Syllogism”. My cousin is honour-bound, but also considers it normal, that on those less-than-frequent occasions when I require the use of a car, he should put both his car and his own time at my disposal. Why? Because possession within the Filipino community is not a matter of any single individual person’s ownership, but of the larger family group’s ownership. And so it is in many non-european cultures.

Ironically, the Judeo-Christian ideal of ownership is less influential on Western thought than you might expect: the coveting of your neighbour’s donkey is less of an issue when any particular family’s rights to land and objects are guaranteed by religious law, as in the Levitical pattern, and Jesus Christ’s teaching that should tease the grip of the possessive from their cloak and tunic has never been fully accepted by mainstream Western, English, British or European thinking.

The age of access is an age in which instant, international communication is abrading our current norms of possession, and culture is in the process of undergoing a permanent change. Even if we should experience a Massive Internet Collapse, culture influencers have now had a taste of a post-ownership life and will not let it be forgotten: it comes with the illusion of freedom, typified by wide choice and easy gratification.  I don’t write this bewailing the change, but observing it.  Asimov would do one better: posit a future in which any possession seemed strange and in which a historian, observing our present, would laugh.  Le Guin did one better than that in one of my top-five books, The Dispossessed.

Skelwith Force

The torn polygonal scraps of slate that line

Brathay’s bed above the force

Are dull when plucked, laid out and dry, but shine

Under the crag-stream’s course.

The whole broad dale at Elter Water’s strewn

With spring’s flood-leavings

And the upturned ash and birch-tree ruin

Tell of unseen heavings.

Out of the hill came the water, stripping the stone,

And lushing up the dale,

Around the ice-old mounds, the under-bone

Of the sleeper of a forgotten tale.

The soft and hard are side by side and felt

By every walker strolling down to see

The water turn to steam,

The clear become opaque,

The straight begin to bend,

The sure become unsure,

At Skelwith Force, where glaciations melt

And obstacles sudden slip free.

A Whiff of the Workshop – Steam Highwayman

749

You manage to haul the struggling engineer onto the back of your velosteam and ride off towards West Wycombe. She is not at all impressed when you unload her in front of Lord Dashwood, but despite herself she is fascinated by the steam carriage he is building. He has called it the Wagtail and its sleek aluminium lines are quite captivating.
Lord Dashwood takes you aside. “Good work,” he says, handing you a purse of guineas (1260d). “I knew she’d see sense.”
The three of you get to work on the engine, but after a week’s tinkering and tuning, involving many trial runs, Lalage Harris puts down her tools. “We need a stronger material for the shafts and cylinders. There’s a titanium alloy that people have been using that is what we need, but it’s not easy to get hold of.”
Lord Dashwood claps you on the shoulder. “If anyone can get hold of it, you can! I put prodigious faith in you. Bring me that alloy and you can name your price.”

Leave West Wycombe House…                                                  492

Here’s a single passage from my current Steam Highwayman gamebook.  It’s an open-world steampunk adventure set around Marlow, High Wycombe and Maidenhead.  Rob the wagons of Transport Guilds, intercept the telegrams of the Compact for Worker’s Rights, ride the midnight roads of Berkshire and find lasting fame – through ruthlessness or mercy!

This Morning’s Poem

This mist on the Woolwich reach
And the glowing smoke of the clipper’s exhaust
Lie on the silver-silted wildfowl beach
Where every cold-shanked creature
From the dipper to the gull to the unemployed teacher
Treads in the silence the morning has enforced.

Silence in the world, frosted, stilled
But a spirit cry of sorrow melts inward ice.
I forgot. Meeting needs has filled
My day and been the building
I’ve been both brick-laying and gilding.
A melody makes me think twice.

It was a new song with a very old thought:
How far did they travel to give their treasure?
How many times wondered, how far the rest they sought?
And continued, purposed, refreshed with a water
Convincing star-seekers the way was getting shorter
And at last, in making a present, take pleasure.

You changed the reason that I should live
From managing to celebrating, from ‘enough’
To so much that I must learn to give
More frequently, more deeply, just to deliver
Others’ blessings, then, with a shiver,
Discover a smooth way that was rough.

I don’t yet do justice to the purpose you bring:
The world changed when you showed us real aid.
Guaranteed that all we do in honour should sing
With inner music, joy appear surprise-springing
Difficult days be the ones bells keep ringing
And I grasp it for a moment, weep, then act unafraid.

I was teaching a GCSE English Literature student about different sorts of rhyme yesterday, thinking about Browning and the Victorians – wanted to push myself to something a little more challenging.

The subject wanders from my window to the music I was listening to last night, my typical preoccupations with provision and purpose, and a very poor attempt to capture some of the joy I felt this morning, remembering that it is all new, that the story of Christmas is definitive, powerful, and that Jesus is the the point. It was as though I had forgotten for a while. Sorry, Lord.

Steam Highwayman – Updating Inventory and Selling Possessions

shigh22-11Breakthrough!  I’ve rewritten my inventory system in Steam Highwayman to make something much, much more streamlined.  Discovering that I was able to display a passage named after the nth string in an array, I’ve moved onto creating a passage for each generic object and giving the reader the opportunity to read about it whenever they open their inventory.  The same passage, when displayed within a passage tagged “shop”, gives the option to sell that object.

I always wanted to have variation within the game’s prices, so objects fit into one of six or so categories, and shopkeepers and fences will offer you better prices on some of those categories – eg revolutionaries will give you more for weapons, engineers for tools, hungry people for food.

Now that I’m writing it down, it looks like a minor matter – but I assure you, it’s not!

I’ve also included a photo of a (glitchy) version of what I hope to display in your ‘legend’ section – a list of the deeds of the day and your past deeds.  Simply because I’m pleased that it now registers when you have been attacked by a deer.

Steam Highwayman – Embedding Graphics and New Factions

sepiashmapshrunkenIt’s been a good day astride the velosteam.  I’ve created a 2-part mini quest that introduces you to one of my Factions, the Compact for Workers’ Equality.  You’ll want to watch out for their posters in urban locations and their supporters in pubs everywhere…

And on the technical side, I’ve been using help on the twine forum to embed a map for the first time.  This was one of the first things that I was asked for, so I’ve managed to get the first version embedded as Base64 encoding, whatever that is.  It now sits in your inventory just above your pocket watch…

I’ve moved my demo from a separate demo-map into the top left corner of this ‘real’ bit of my old neck of the woods.  The demo extends up towards Stokenchurch and beyond Christmas Common, which is the entrance point for your story.