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ATPM 3.08
August 1997



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Segments: Slices From the Macintosh Life

by Tony Harwood-Jones,

A Priest and his PowerBook

“A priest and his PowerBook?” Isn’t that a bit odd? Sort of like “a fish with a pencil?” or “an infantry soldier in ballet slippers?”

It depends on your stereotypes, I guess.

Certainly a priest with a PowerBook would be odd if you held to the stereotype of religious leaders as being otherworldly sorts—head in the clouds, irrelevant, slightly dusty. It can be a likable image of the clergy, actually—a bumbling, but nice, eccentric, more in the next world than in this. But it’s a stereotype all the same, and few living clergy actually model it.

Mind you, there are some religions which demand that their visible leadership have very little to do with anything the modern world admires. No money, few clothes, frequent fasting, and constant reflection and meditation. The great Hindu civil rights leader, Mohandas Gandhi was such a man—indeed he is said to have owned only a watch, his dhoti, and a pair of glasses at the time of his assassination.

Gautama Buddha taught that all human suffering comes from attachment. If we could only learn not to desire—not to feel the need of earthly things—he said, we would achieve enlightenment. Consequently the proficient Buddhist should live in the greatest simplicity—in poverty, actually—without any of the comforts and tools we so commonly desire. A Buddhist monk would not likely have a PowerBook.

St.Paul, in the Christian Bible, says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,” (Colossians 3:2). Thus, there are elements in Christianity, too, which recommend not becoming too hung up on earthly things. In the monastic movement, for example, monks and nuns must take a lifetime vow of “poverty” in which, as individuals, they may not own computers or other material things (although their organization as a whole may do so).

While Christianity emphasizes a danger in getting hung up on earthly things, it never suggests that we despise them or fling them away. The controversial opening passage of the Bible—the story of creation—says “...and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:10). This phrase, which appears in a chapter of Scripture revered by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike, affirms that the earth, fossil fuels, silicon, copper, and the amazing migrations of electrons is created by God, enjoyed by God, and in no way a detriment to holy living.

I am a priest. Week by week I stand at an altar with other Christians and give thanks to God for the wonderful acts of creation and Salvation. I am committed to holy living.

I also own a house, have raised a family, and am in love with my wife and partner-for-life (the worldwide Anglican Communion—my spiritual family—does not forbid its bishops and priests to marry).

And I own a PowerBook.

I have always enjoyed and admired technology. To me, fine engineering is as wonderful a use of God’s creation as is music or painting. I bought a 64K Atari computer when it was a state-of-the-art machine with the best graphics and games in the land. Macs had just come out, but were too expensive for me. But I always wanted one. I encouraged the church where I serve to buy a 512K Mac in 1983 and made sure it was upgraded from time to time. Our parish progressed through a “Plus” to a “Quadra,” through an ImageWriter to a LaserWriter. My own personal computer remained the discontinued and aging Atari while I scrimped and saved for a Macintosh I could one day call my own.

That day came some three years ago. $3,000 of our Canadian dollars flew out of my pocket and I came home with one second-hand PowerBook 180, and one external CD-ROM. I didn’t have enough money for a printer, but figured I could print stuff with the church’s LaserWriter.

There is no need to rhapsodize about what happened next. If you are reading this, you know what owning your first Mac does to your head. The fact that mine was a laptop is an added pleasure, mind you. I was blown away by its monstrous memory, hard drive space and blistering speed, all packaged to fit inside my briefcase. It goes where I go: home or holiday, church office or somebody’s rec room.

It contains my life: a Bible in two translations plus Greek and Hebrew, my appointments, my personal finances, the complete listing of all my parishioners, some of my sermons, my writing, and my web site.

The biggest change that this particular PowerBook wrought came via the modem that is tucked somewhere inside. Having had Macs at the church for so long, I was familiar with WYSIWYG word-processing, spreadsheets, and powerful, multi-layered databases. With the arrival of my PowerBook, I stepped out into the Internet.

Anyone who surfs the web knows that it is teeming with religion. Christians are most active, to be sure, but you can find Muslims aplenty, Jews, and a host of sects and spiritualities.

I also found colleagues. Theologians, philosophers, and church leaders from around the world, were right at my fingertips, willing to correspond! Stimulating debates occurred on one Canadian list server, with contributors that live in every region of our country. Because of these relationships, I was able to organize a national prayer vigil via the Internet when the need arose.

Many members of my congregation were also coming online, and the operation of our parish suddenly became smoother. Where it would have been difficult to get a meeting together because of various church officials’ business trips, now pressing matters could be discussed via e-mail—travelers merely logged on from wherever they happened to be!

I developed a parish newsletter which I e-mail every once in a while to the households in my congregation that have an Internet address. Other clergy in our region are now coming online in some numbers, so meetings and discussions are happening there as well.

Of course, the Wintel-Mac controversy finds its way into all this. I have a parishioner whose adult son works at Microsoft headquarters and he frequently tells me I have bet on the wrong horse. Frankly, the pain of being a Mac enthusiast in a sea of Wintel is multiplied tenfold in the relatively small market of Christian-specific software. Software abounds for Bible study, to be sure, but when I phone the supplier, I have to stop the sales pitch in mid-stream to ask if the product is available for the Mac OS, whereupon the pitch stops with an apology, or some vague promise that “we’re working on it.”

My first Internet membership was with Apple’s own “eWorld,” and early in my ‘net meanderings I downloaded some Bible Software written specifically for Mac. Ken Hamel’s “Online Bible,” is excellent, and, if you only want the King James Version, it’s free. Try or e-mail Ken at

Already my PowerBook is obsolete. It has a greyscale monitor. In the brief time since it came out, color screens for laptops have become things of marvelous beauty. My 60 Mb hard drive once seemed enormous, but now it’s filled to capacity, and I have to keep almost everything “Stuff’d” by Aladdin’s “SpaceSaver” just so I can have a few Mb of free hard drive space.

My oft-used tool looks like it’s been through a few wars. The back door has broken off and the middle row of keys is shiny and pock-marked. To my shame, I once dropped the whole thing on the floor of my office, snapping the shell open. It fit back together and kept on going. Another time, I short-circuited the power supply trying to figure out why the modem sounded like it had static (the modem was defective, and the manufacturer replaced it without complaint). But for all the abuse, this particular PowerBook keeps on going, and it goes everywhere with me.

Would I buy another Mac? Without a doubt. When I see the struggles my PC-loyal colleagues have with installations and compatibility, I realize how much I have benefited from Macintosh quality, durability, and its phenomenal plug’n play ability. Despite the fact that I enjoy the marvel of technology which all computers represent, I know I don’t want to spend my time being focused on the the operation of the tool, but rather on the work the tool can help me produce. I want to do what I do as a priest—study the Scriptures, write sermons and articles, prepare educational resources, and manage a parish. My Mac does this superbly. Like all good tools, it remains almost invisible between me and my work.

And, because I don’t know when I will be able to afford another computer, I appreciate how forward—and backward—compatible my Mac is. When this particular PowerBook finally becomes a total dinosaur, I believe my applications will fundamentally be able to “speak” to whatever is then the state-of-the-art in the Macintosh world.

So here I sit, typing on an intelligent machine no bigger than a large book, and listening to Schubert from a CD controlled by this same extraordinary machine. Soon these ruminations will be flashed—again by this machine—to a computer far away, and read by you in some place I can scarce imagine. In the process, my awareness of God’s creation, and of the brilliant children of God who write such music and invent such machines, is suffused with awe and wonder.

[apple graphic] Copyright 1997 Tony Harwood-Jones, The Segments section is open to anyone. If you have something interesting to say about life with your Mac, write us.

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