The Transmogrifying Trowel

I live in a way that relies entirely on computers, from shopping and communicating, to writing and designing and even reading.

But there are some things about the computer world that drive me crazy and make me wish to go back to pen and paper, print books, and, if not actually horse and carriage, at least mechanical cars that don’t need rebooting when they break down.

The main one of these is the endless and often apparently pointless updating and redesigning of devices post-purchase.

As, recently, when after downloading a new book onto my electronic reader, I forgot to put it back into aeroplane mode.

I went to fetch a glass of water with every intention of continuing to read as soon as I got back.

It took this brief pause as permission to update and render itself unavailable for use.

I was somewhat annoyed.

When it eventually switched itself back on, I found the go-to button had switched itself from the left side of the menu to the right side.

If there are any other changes, I’m thankful to say I haven’t found them yet.

I think of computers as tools which are there to get a job done. I want to be able to use them as efficiently as possible – and at a time of my own convenience. I don’t want them to keep switching off to do things whenever I put them down. I don’t want to have to keep learning yet again where everything is or what the most efficient way to use the altered device is. I do not like change unless it confers some significant advantage.

I don’t know how people who design computers think of them. However, I suspect that most computer designers have minds which adjust quickly and are people who don’t rely heavily on familiarity and habit in their daily routines! The world would be very dull if we all had the same personality type and approach. But perhaps they could move the furniture around in their own houses every fortnight, redesign the code on their own blogs, and leave my poor e-reader and thoroughly absent-minded brain to get used to each other?

Imagine you were digging a hole in the garden for a plant with a trowel. You put the trowel down for a moment to answer the phone. When you come back, your trowel is in an unusable state, transmogrifying itself. Then you find it is actually less efficient at digging small holes, because of the added weight of the new coffee-making equipment, the UFO detection system, and the device for scaring off stray cats. Oh, and it won’t dig unless connected it to the internet, making it useless at the bottom of the garden which is too far away from the router.

Computers are not, to my mind, any different from trowels.

On the other side of the question, I use a prehistoric programme for designing rugs, and then I start appreciating things like the capacity of modern software to, for example, open the “save as” wherever you saved the last file, or press ctrl Z more than once. My home use of my computer is fairly simple, meaning that I have no use at all for all the sharing tools – they represent an inconvenient complexity on menus and in processes that used to be simpler – but I can see how useful they would probably be if that was what I wanted to achieve. And, sadly, no-one is going to remove the need for security updates.

Still, I think if someone set out to design good quality electronic devices, which were user-orientated, with the pledge that there would be no post-purchase changes in the function, other than odd tweaks to sort out bugs, security or add occasional extra features onto existing menus, without reconstruction of the design of said menus, possible lack of commercial viability would probably not have anything to do with lack of a market…


Cherry Foster

The Virtue of Disobedience?

Discerning the religious life in modern times requires a very considerable capacity for disobedience…

469px-Giovanni_Battista_Tiepolo_096 from wikapedia no copyright
Catherine of Siena – a reasonable candidate for the patron of unconventional religious vocations!

Obedience – its nature and its limits – is an important and legitimate concern in our culture, and being in the position of a religious with almost no proper obedience relationship to others feels neither healthy or helpful. It places an unreasonable responsibility on an inexperienced novice to have to make every decision according to their own judgement. But I would say with some exasperation that I think one could make a strong case that disobedience is actually far more important in anyone with a religious vocation at this time and in this place.

I am not talking of legitimate authority, which it does matter to obey on principle*. I am talking of the rather weird phenomenon of the fact that many random people that you meet in the church seem to believe they have the authority to tell you what to do or think, despite the fact that they uncontroversially don’t, and of the clamouring voices and demands of both our church culture and that of the world.

If one is to follow a religious vocation, it is necessary to disobey the voices demanding that we should be ruled by consumer goods and our physical passions. It is often necessary to oppose the wishes (and grief) of family and the perplexity of friends. It is necessary to pay no regard to a church culture that mostly treats prayer and silence as a selfish indulgence, and to endure and persist, often for years, against the disapproval of a parish culture that, in most places, will not want to make any room for the developing spirituality of a religious vocation. It is necessary to ignore the well-meaning attempts of sympathetic clergy to turn your weird and unlikeable spirituality into a copy of their charism. It is necessary to face down, in short, and disobey and oppose pretty much everyone you encounter.

Expecting people of a pleasant, easy-going, biddable temperament, who obey not on principle (when there is no legitimate means of opposition left) by but natural inclination, to follow such a path into the religious life as this is expecting a supernatural miracle on the level of a rabbit being enabled to play the violin! God is perfectly capable of that, but it isn’t going to happen in the normal course of things.

It is not at all surprising that most of those of us who get any distance through the process are both determined (or “stubborn”!) and unconventional (eccentric!) to an extreme degree. This is not to say that we can be of no use to the Church – on the contrary – but the manner of our use is not what seems to be generally envisaged when people are praying for vocations. It requires creativity within the Gospel and the Tradition – not, I fear, the most notable virtue of the Church of England at present!

I think it would be reasonable to suggest, to those who are serious about wanting the religious life, that some attention should be paid both to the coherence of the pre-vow journey, and to the response to those who seem to have authentic vocations, but don’t fit easily into the preformed moulds. As those moulds seem to be designed for temperaments of people who are not likely to survive the early stages of the journey, this is likely to be quite a high percentage of current religious vocations.

Cherry Foster



*Though there can be an interesting question as to which authority is and is not legitimate. All authority is limited, and ambiguity regarding, for example, which decisions a bishop/ordinary is entitled to make, which appertain to the parish clergy, and which appertain to the parishioners or the General Synod, does not make life easier. This is an interesting and difficult question, and I have more than once been in situations where clergy are asserting their authority, obviously sincerely, over things which other respectable sources would deny are rightly their decision.



Not to the limit of my wish, nor my capacity to believe Thee,

Not according to my knowledge, nor ability to receive Thee,

But as all the curse of human grief was utterly laid upon Thee:

To the utmost end of Thy desire, my Lord, have mercy on me.


Cherry Foster