Saturday, February 18, 2017

Some people have Netflix, I have old novels

Some people spend Saturday night with TV series on Netflix, I spend them with Wendell Berry novels about a community called Port William. I recently finished Andy Catlett – Early Travels, and now I am reading The Memory of Old Jack. There are some really beautiful portions in this book on the relationships between men, and on the great place and gift of role models. A tear or two might have escaped from under my sun glasses when I read this part on the bus the other morning:
Mat is sixty-nine years old. Since before he remembers, Jack has been there to be depended on. When Mat was born, Jack was already such a man as few men ever become. He has been faithful all those years. It is a faith that Mat has reciprocated in full. But Jack’s faith has been the precedent and model. All his life Mat has had Jack before him, as standard and example, teacher and taskmaster and companion, friend and comforter. When Jack is gone, then Mat will be the oldest of that fellowship of friends and kin of which Old Jack has been for so long the center. He feels the impending exposure of that – nobody standing then between him and the grave. He feels a heavy portent in the imminent breaking of that strand of memory, reaching back into the Civil War, on the end of which Old Jack now keeps so tenuous a hold.
To have someone thus before you, in faithful dependability, would be an invaluable gift (which also holds up what is possible when people actually stay in one place long enough for such relationships to form). And when tragedy came to Mat, Jack literally caught and wrestled with and held him till his rage subsided, and so prevented him destroying his own life by carrying out a terrible revenge.

Then there’s this part, about Ben, who was Mat’s father, and of whom it is written “... Ben was the man Jack watched and listened to and checked his judgment against”:
Jack knew Ben Feltner nearly forty years, and he never saw him in a hurry and he never saw him angry. With Ben that never seemed the result merely of self-control, but rather of an abiding peace that he had made – or maybe a peace that had been born in him – with himself and the world, a willingness to live within the limits of his own fate. Both of them having grown up in his gentle shadow, Jack and Mat respected and stood in awe of the deep peaceableness they knew in Ben, both of them having failed of it, and at great cost, for so long.
That might sound somewhat idyllic, but it was not all tea on the verandah. The rest of this novel that I have read so far goes on to describe the great sadness of Jack’s life in his marriage, which is so sad I am finding it hard to read. But I will press on ...

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Valentine's Day blooper

I ducked out for a latish lunchtime walk and dash to ALDI for lunch supplies today, after finishing a booklet that needed to be printed before tomorrow (I am having a lot of fun with InDesign – I said to the Bishop I was making it for, ‘I didn’t want to overdo it, but I can put more pictures in if you want’, because you can fade them away behind text and all sorts of cool things ...).

On the way in to the shopping centre I all but ignored a person with a bucket of single stem roses that people appeared to be buying. But on the way back he/she (I couldn’t actually tell) bailed me up and asked if I wanted to buy a rose to support sexual health, or something, for a gold coin donation. Without really having time to think about what I was doing or processing what they said I gave this person a gold coin, took my rose and hurried off. Then I realised, to my mortification, that there was a box of something attached to the stem, and that it contained, ahem, err, condoms, and that it was actually ‘National Condom Day’ (aimed at preventing the transmission of STIs and HIV, and unplanned pregnancies, which is not a bad thing really ...) and I might have even said out loud ‘oh, for heaven’s sake’ and shoved the whole thing top down in my shopping bag. Not only had I been walking through the city with a fake red rose, but it had those things hanging off of it! Shame on so many levels.

It made for some amusement when I got back to the office in a state of embarrassment about the whole thing. (But what I am going to do with such things I don't know ...) I then did actually get some good work-related news later in the day, which I’ll share some other time, and so I said ‘Happy Valentine’s Day to me’ in fun after telling a colleague and they respond with ‘that’s better than a condom’. Goodness gracious. Not the sort of conversation one expects to have in my workplace, and might that word never be heard again.

But for something more edifying, I had this little post in my facebook feed on Saturday, Is Their Any Purpose in Our Loneliness, from Lydia Brownbeck, whose writings I have shared here from time to time, though mostly some years ago now. (I'd recommend watching the short video, because it actually comes across better than the transcript below it.)

Monday, January 30, 2017

On regret

Not altogether unrelated to yesterday’s post, I have been reading through The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp (author of One Thousand Gifts), and I appreciated what she had to say about regrets (if there was a rewind button for life, I'd have worn it right out):
... That may be the saddest string of words that’s ever bee strung together “If only ...”

I can taste the words in my mouth. Who doesn’t know “if only ...”?

But there’s no way back. Maybe life always tastes a bit like regret. Whatever you do or don’t do, there is no way to never taste it. And though you may have to taste regret, you don’t have to believe in it, you don’t have to live in it, like rowing a boat that only goes backward, trying to find something that’s been washed out to sea. It’s God’s sea. And that means all is grace.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us ... Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because this is the thing: the prosecutor of your soul can’t ever nail you. Time can’t wreck your life. You can’t wreck your life. Nothing in all this world can separate you from the love of Christ, and His love is your life. You life is unwreckable. Because Christ’s love is unstoppable.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Leaving the pen in God's hands

My attention was snagged by this article from Eternity Magazine that came up in my Facebook feed a week or so ago. I have thought on and off about going online (though definitely not on Tinder) – to see if I couldn’t find a nice Christian man; one who might appreciate getting to know someone and having someone to go places with (and serve God with), who might take the initiative, and allow me to communicate in writing (because that is a part of who I am and how I do things) and engage with that. But I always hesitate. Partly I just don’t want to get sucked into some kind of false hope or spending hours online trolling through profiles. And partly I just wonder if it’s a trust issue. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using such tools, and there are folks at my church who met that way, but this paragraph from the article was interesting:
I think deep down we need to really ask ourselves if we trust God. In an article called, “Is Online Dating for Christians?” popular author and speaker on the topic of singleness, Leslie Ludy said this: “It’s true that you might find a decent partner by reading books on how to get noticed or by joining an Internet dating service. But what amazing heaven-scripted beauty we forgo when we try to write the story ourselves. God is in the business of writing incredible love stories. The problem is that most of us aren’t willing to leave the pen in his hands.”
The times that I have tried to do anything towards such things, or let a man know I was interested, have been a disaster, and clearly a no from God, coming through a very loud no from the man concerned.

I have probably taken things to extremes since, because I don’t even say hello to Christian men anymore, unless they say hello to me first. That’s just something I find personally necessary, given the past, so I'm not giving any man any reason to get me into trouble or be annoyed with me. (And there have been times long ago when I have thought the man was being friendly towards me, so I have said hello, and then received a very sound scolding. So now I think that clearly I can’t predict such things and until a man says hello I will assume he doesn’t want to talk to me and that I’d do well to stay out of his way.)

So, while I am reluctant to go online, I also don’t think such things are ever going to work for me if the only opportunities are Church services and Christian events, because I am not going to walk up in a crowd of people and talk to men, and they rarely talk to me (and I am on the rosters! - just incase someone felt inclined to tell me to get involved with serving). And I flatly refuse ever to call men (because I believe they should be calling, and that is another past disaster).

But I guess that is the trust point. If God wants me to be in a relationship with someone he can bring it about, with no help or initiative from me.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

My new library

I put this picture up on Instagram and shared it to Facebook the other day, and I have been surprised particularly by the Facebook response. It seems there are a lot of people who'd like a library.

The curious thing is the shelves you can mainly see in the picture have always been there. The shelves on the closest wall are what’s changed, but it was very difficult to get it all in the photo given the size of the room.

Those new shelves were a small ordeal. It involved two trips to IKEA, because parts were out of stock (after waiting for about six months to get them I thought they were completely out of stock and not coming back for a few days there, which was mildly devastating, but thankfully only some components were temporarily out of stock), and my brother-in-law having to come out to IKEA to collect them because they wouldn’t fit in my car. Then you are supposed to have two people and a spirit level to hold them upright and screw in the cross braces, so trying to do that myself while the shelves swayed first to one side and then the other was a challenge. Then I had to go to Bunnings to find something to stop the whole thing leaning forward. Then I put them one side of the railing for the blind and had started loading up the shelves, only to discover that because the door is on a diagonal into that room I couldn’t shut the door (and I don’t really need to shut the door, but I figured that if ever I had guests in there they might want to). So I took all the things off, shuffled the shelves along behind the blind railing, and I can now get the door shut with literally about 2mm to spare. You have to turn the knob to tuck the latch in to get it past. But finally they were in. And I am happy.

This room was previously the junk room, loosely called ‘the study’. I had a big old desk in there but it had just become a horizontal surface to dump stuff on and was never used as a desk, so I got sick of it and the pile of papers and paraphenalia on top of and underneath it.

Here is a photo of the room in it’s previous existence on a bad day. I gave up.

But without further ado, here is the best picture I can get of the new shelving. I still have to sort through some of that junk, and organise the books, but at least now I can see what’s there. And it's (almost) neat. And, most importantly, there is room for more books!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

He knows what is in the darkness

Here are some little pieces of encouragement from Paul Tripp’s New Morning Mercies. Lord knows my life has contained some confusing things, and I could torment myself for eternity with “what-ifs” and “if-onlys”, and I have tried till I wore out to explain other things, to no avail, so these were good reminders.

January 4
You see, there is no mystery with God. He is never caught off guard. He never wonders how he is gong to deal with the unexpected thing. I love the words of Daniel 2:22: “He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with him.”

God is with you in your moments of darkness because he will never leave you. But your darkness isn’t dark to him. Your mysteries aren’t mysterious to him. Your surprises don’t surprise him. He understands all the things that confuse you the most. Not only are your mysteries not mysterious to him, but he is in complete charge of all that is mysterious to you and me.

Remember today that there is One who looks at what you see as dark and sees light. And as you remember that, remember, too, that he is the ultimate definition of everything that is wise, good, true, loving, and faithful. He holds both you and your mysteries in his gracious hands, and because he does, you can find rest even when the darkness of mystery has entered your door.
January 14
Even though you’re a person of faith who has acquired some degree of biblical literacy and theological knowledge, there’s one thing you can be sure of – God will confuse you. Your theology will give you only a limited ability to exegete your experiences. The commands, principles, and case studies of Scripture will take you only so far in your quest to figure out your life. There will be moments when you simply don’t understand what is going on. In fact, you will face moments when what the God has declared himself to be good brings into your life won’t seem good. It may even seem bad, very bad.

Now, if your faith is based on your ability to fully understand your past, present, and future, then your moments of confusion will become moments of weakening faith. But the reality is that you are not left with only two options – understand everything and rest in peace or understand little and be tormented by anxiety. There is a third way. It really is the way of true biblical faith. The Bible tells you that real peace is found in resting in the wisdom of the One who holds all of your “what-ifs” and “if-onlys” in his loving hands. Isaiah captures this well with these comforting words: “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3) ...

Friday, January 06, 2017

A sobering beginning

So I started out the week with new year plans and projects and goals, and got stuck into them on Tuesday, then on Wednesday morning a friend died, and suddenly that all didn’t seem so important anymore.

I stayed in a house with this friend and his family five years in a row over the long Easter weekend, while we went to Katoomba Easter Convention, though that was some years back now. He was a RAAF pilot who gave up that high-flying career to study theology and then plant a church in the town where the RAAF training base is located. He was dedicated to sharing the gospel any place and time he could. He had a wife and four young children. Early last year he was diagnosed with a form a leukemia, which was considered quite treatable; the chemotherapy and transplant had gone well and he was talking about going home. Then there was a fever and suddenly he was gone. The shock and the sadness is everywhere.

When someone like this friend dies early and unexpectedly, I sometimes ponder whether, if we are here on earth to become more like Jesus and join his mission of sharing the gospel, then some people go on early because they are ready – in which case I’ll be here till I’m 150 – but I know that formula doesn’t actually apply. Other times I wonder if God just looks down on us and shakes his head and smiles at the way we beg for ourselves and others to stay down here, as though we have no idea what he has in store, but I know he understands what it’s like to be human, how hard it can be for those left behind, and that he experienced grief. And when someone like this friend dies, I can’t help wondering why I am allowed to live (unless the first scenario applies!), but I know our walk with God here is not all about our doings, good and important and right as they are, and we simply have no comprehension of his ways or the plans he is working out.

So, that was a sobering beginning to the new year. Also a timely reminder of how it's worth spending it.

But, I still went to IKEA and bought the things and played around in my house. (I’ve had so many DIY and painting and sorting projects going and half done that the house was an absolute disaster. Today I decided I needed to begin the clean up and just finish what was started or I would be going back to work on Monday in chaos.) They say we should live like each day is our last. But that is hard. I wonder if perhaps it’s hard spiritually because it’s also hard practically – we don’t even grocery shop like it’s our last day. Still, when these things happen you feel like you want them to make a difference, though that can be hard to measure.

I did go out to Koorong this week and buy New Morning Mercies by Paul Tripp. I have benefitted a lot from Paul Tripp’s books in the past, so decided I wanted to read through this book this year. It’s not something I want to substitute for bible reading, but I am looking forward to the soul prompts. In the introduction he writes this:
So this devotional is a call for you and me to remember. It’s a call to remember the horrible disaster of sin. It’s a call to remember Jesus, who stood in our place. It’s a call to remember the righteousness that is his gift. It’s a call to remember the transforming power of the grace you and I couldn’t have earned. It’s a call to remember the destiny that is guaranteed to all of God’s blood-purchased children. It’s a call to remember his sovereignty and his glory. It’s a call to remember that remembering is spiritual war; even for this we need grace.
May that be so this year.