Friday, September 29, 2006

One intellectual lightship

I was reading Adam Bede on the bus this morning, with it's lovely little spiel on the methodists of the time, and Seth and had just declared his love for Dinah so beautifully, and it had all been written so exquisitely (this is the end of it "instead of bursting out into wild accusing apostrophes to God and destiny, he is resolving, as he now walks homeward under the solemn starlight, to repress his sadness, to be less bent on having his own will, and to live more for others ..."), and then I was walking down Market St lost in my reverie when I was stopped by an Irishman, with a voice full of that romantic charm that just is an Irish accent and eyes 'like the sea after a storm', to ask for directions ... and then I get to work and have to edit a case on something so ridiculous as BP trying to register as a trade mark a particular shade of green. Haven't we all got better things to do?! All the world should stop work and read novels I say!

But, speaking of intellectual lightships, I was quite beside myself the other day to happen across an advertisment for "How should we then live?", that seminal work by Francis Schaeffer, available on DVD from America. I have wanted to get a hold of it for many years and it seems to be completely unavailable here and only heard of on VHS. If anybody else is excited about this you can order it here. I had the great privilege of going to L'abri in Switzerland for a month some years ago (too late to meet Francis unfortunately) and it was one of the most rewarding months of my life. It's worth going there simply to look out the window, because the vision of the Alps that meets your eyes is truly awe-inspiring, and then what goes on there makes it an experience rich in every way ... But I am just advertising the DVDs not L'abri in this particular blog (maybe more on that later). If I order them I might organise a little Sydney viewing, and we can have our own L'abri ...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

When the intellectual lightships broke from their moorings ...

Well I have started my journey and begun Adam Bede. In the introduction, describing the life and times of George Eliot, Stephen Gill writes "Writing shortly after her death JA Froude spoke of the earlier part of the Victorian age, in which the spirit of critical inquiry had led the finest minds to question and doubt all established certainties, as a time in which 'all around us, the intellectual lightships had broken from their moorings ... The present generation which has grown up in an open spiritual ocean, which has got used to it and has learned to swim for itself, will never know what it was to find the lights all drifting, the compasses all awry, and nothing left to steer by except the stars'".

Those would certainly have been interesting times. But I wonder if even our generation has yet really learnt to swim for itself in that open spiritual ocean? It seems to me that while a few individuals are well-acquainted with the sea, and swim their steady way to somewhere (or anywhere), many are rather trying to fill up the ocean, with all manner of material things or pseudo-spiritual ideas of little consequence or scientific theories, so there is no need for swimming ...

Monday, September 25, 2006

An unconvicted Christian

You often hear the question, when people are speaking about Christians living a testimonial life "if you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you in court?". Today I found out that I would remain a non convicted Christian. I was editing a case from the Federal Magistrates Court regarding a refugee from China who was claiming religious persecution in China as a reason to be granted a protection visa in Australia (you can read the case here ). As a matter of course the Refugee Review Tribunal needed to establish that the applicant was in fact a Christian. During the subsequent review hearing the judge says this (at paragraph 10):
The approach taken by the presiding member to test the veracity and depth of the applicant's beliefs was in part questionable. For example, on page 88 of the court book the presiding member records that she asked the applicant who or what Christians understand God to be. That is an awfully big question to ask. It is apparent from what follows that the presiding member was looking for a description of the Trinity. The presiding member's own understanding of the Trinity, apparently based upon internet material, is itself questionable. The presiding member records her understanding that Christians believe that God was made up of three persons. A more orthodox description of the Trinity would be that God is a single entity with three natures. These are subtle and difficult questions which have vexed Christians for as long as the Christian faith has existed. There are Unitarian Christians who reject the concept of the Trinity altogether. The applicant was not necessarily wrong in responding that he only believes in one God. My own view is that a Christian is someone who is capable of reciting the Nicene Creed (which sets out the fundamental articles of faith) and who believes it ...
I am sure I believe it, and I am sure there is value in learning it, but how's it go again? (I actually won a share in a giant Toblerone recently for taking up the challenge of learning Romans 3:21-26 - I wonder whether that counts.)

The evidence required was not so much about a life lived after all. This case does raise a lot of questions about how the court goes about establishing a genuine religious belief ...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Today I ...

I promised myself I would never diarise on my blog, but I have just had the most, umm, there-isn’t-a-word to-describe-it sort of weekend. It actually began with hanging out with some friends on Friday night because one of our circle has just returned from five months in Afghanistan with the Army, so that was a special evening, with lots of laughs, and we were all most pleased to celebrate the fact that he’s back home. At one point in the evening he showed us all the Chuck Norris t-shirt the Australians had made up while they were over there. Apparently it’s hilarious, but it was lost on this Chuck Norris ignoramus. Here’s a sample: "Chuck Norris went into Hungry Jacks and asked for a Big Mac ... and he got one" ...

But the reason for this word-less weekend is because Tuesday is new carpet day. It’s about time we got new carpet in our flat, because the existing no-longer-carpet is genuinely threadbare and hazardous. New carpet is nice idea in and of itself, BUT, we were told that the carpet people would move all the furniture if we just shifted all the stuff off it. Think about how much stuff in your house is not actually furniture. It’s like moving house only worse! We are packing and carrying things about, only to have to put them all right back where they came from again.

To fully appreciate this situation you need to know that our flat is on eight different levels, with 64 steps on the inside of it. Most people don’t completely process that information the first time, so it goes like this: level 1 – Suzanne’s room, level 2 – the laundry (thank God for this very large uncarpeted laundry, which now looks something like a library, or actually more like Gould’s bookstore in Newtown – I despair when I go into that bookstore because I know there could be treasures of great value in there somewhere, but I am never going to find them), level 3 – the room I have commandeered as my "study" because I am responsible for all the books just mentioned, level 4 – the loungeroom, level 5 – the kitchen/dining room, level 6 – my room and the bathroom, level 7 – Anna’s room, level 8 – Karyn’s room (the novelty soon wears off). So, I have spent two days shuffling up and down stairs, and almost off this mortal coil, with armloads of stuff - and come Wednesday I get to do it all again. I have even had that most terrible of thoughts and wondered if I have too many books. I do think that’s an impossible scenario, but a few have been singled out for disposal (no-one would grieve over these books though: the text book on benefit-cost analysis; the big, fat, pink book that anyone who studied calculus at university owns ...). It’s actually been a good time to attempt to sort through some stuff. Anna and I are the sentimental bower birds, while Karyn is the great tosser-outerer. I pulled out the baggy green velvet coat my Mum made me years ago, which hasn’t been worn since those years, and wore it into Anna’s room with the question "what about this, do you think I should keep this?" and Anna’s reply was, "It looks like a Lord of the Rings coat! If you were going to a Lord of the Rings party you could wear it – that’s why I keep stuff". So I walk off thinking, yeah, if I go to a Lord of the Rings dress up I might need this, and add it to the "to keep" pile. Sigh ... no wonder I hate new carpet day.

Added to this word-less weekend is the fact that I sat my doctrine exam on Thursday night, which I thought was really quite hard, and I have been waiting and waiting for that to be past to begin reading my new birthday copy of Adam Bede by George Elliot (love George Eliot novels and it’s been years since the last) and that’s been further delayed by new carpet day – I simply can’t start novels when there are other things to do.

In consolation I did go out last night with a group of people I don’t spend lots of time with (after turning down a day in the hunter valley to shift things) to Woolwich Pier hotel, and we had a lovely evening discussing all manner of topics. I was actually feeling quite tired and boring but on the way to the car was told "you’re a very well-rounded and well-read person" who seems "interested in things". That was a really nice surprise, which rendered me quite speechless. But do they know I’ve never heard of Chuck Norris? This person ought to be commended on their complimentary ways actually I think, as I certainly wasn’t the sole recipient of affirmation throughout the evening. Note to self: be more complimentary - it makes people feel nice.

Anyway, I am sitting here in the ghost of my room, thinking that I have a great many treasures on earth, looking at Adam Bede ...

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Gospel "Product"

As an introduction to a lecture on general and special revelation we were asked the question "what kind of product is the gospel?" (all credit to Will Orpwood for the ideas following, who I thought was an excellent lecturer) as in, is it a "demand leading supply product" or a "supply leading demand product"? Discussion ranged from demand, because the gospel was expected by the law, which was meant to drive people to Christ, to supply, because we need some awakening by God to see and understand etc. There were cases put forward for each side, including Ecclesiastes as the story of one man looking through his options for something to meet his need. My initial thought was supply, because God made us, and made us for relationship with him so it's all his work and provision to give us the gospel (that being Jesus) and call us to himself ... but I guess you could then argue for demand, since we now have this massive need for the contents of the gospel (whether we realise it or not). Anyway, it's not a question that needs and answer, and no answer was given. The best strategy is to flood the market with the gospel! (especially in this age of biblical illiteracy).

And we must tell the TRUTH of the gospel. Richard Coekin from the UK spoke at my church on Sunday night on methods for mission (from 2 Corinthians 4:1-12). He stressed the importance of telling the truth, which might sound rather obvious, but it's about not tampering with God's word to make the "product" more popular (so in that sense the PERCEIVED demand doesn't drive the supply - but people's real demand/need is for the gospel as it is supplied). He went on to say that we must never manipulate, be deceitful, take advantage of vulnerable people, promise things the bible doesn't, use the gospel for selfish gain, resist the temptation to (only) evangelise poeple who will benefit us (had to think about that - mission dating comes to mind perhaps?!) ... Everything in life is better for knowing Jesus but it's not as good now as it will be and we need to explain the judgment, the punishment that Jesus took and the future, because there is no point filling the church with people going to hell.

And the extraordinary thing is that, good as the product is, we're to expect blindness/rejection. There will always be people who don't want the gospel, and we're not to be tempted by disappointment to change the product. Richard mentioned the parable of the soils, saying that it won't be any better for us than it was for Jesus (I found that quite a liberating notion!), so we mustn't get frustrated and aim for "success".
(That's verses 1-4. We're also to preach Christ (5-6) and accept our own weakness (7-12) but lunch time draws to a close and does anyone actually read long blogs?)

So, it is a unique "product" we have, but what matters is that we peddle it honestly and flood the market ...

(If you don't know what I mean by the "gospel" see the link to "Two Ways to Live" on the right.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

something this foggy day

You may have noticed that I've changed the title of my blog. I thought I would leave "an omer of manna" for a time, as not being very representative of the contents of this blog (though perhaps, God willing, there will come such a time in the future). "Something this foggy day" comes from one of my favourite Christina Rossetti poems. You can read that particular sonnet here, but it is best in the context of the whole twenty eight sonnets (ends on a very downcast note on it's own).

Those few lines describe to me that moment when something about a particular atmosphere - the scene, the smell, the sounds - reminds you of another time or place, or when something you come across sets your mind to pondering something else ... and that moment for me is what very often turns into a blog.

One Safe Place

Last week I was sitting in front of "House" on TV with my flatmates. I wasn't really watching it but fiddling about on my laptop. In the end I was quite hooked though - my biologist curiousity eager to find out what was wrong with the patient's brains. But, as I sat there, twice I heard fragments of a song that really snagged my attention. It turns out the song is called "One Safe Place" by Marc Cohn. I don't own any of his albums but I think I quite like Marc Cohn.

Anyway, jogging around the park this morning I had it stuck in my head (exasperating when you have a song stuck in your head and you know about two lines of the words - I had to look up the lyrics to preserve my sanity).

It's so true isn't it?! What we're all really looking for is that one safe place - physical, emotional, spiritual ... It brought to mind the words of one of my favourite bible verses, which is Deuteronomy 33:27 "The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms". It's the only truly safe place I know.

And so I do pray that the searching does lift us all higher, into the arms of Love himself.

One Safe Place
by Marc Cohn & Phil Galdston

How many roads you've traveled
How many dreams you've chased
Across sand and sky and gravel
Looking for one safe place

Will you make a smoother landing
When you break your fall from grace
Into the arms of understanding
Looking for one safe place

Life is trial by fire
And love's the sweetest taste
And I pray it lifts us higher
To one safe place

How many roads we've traveled
How many dreams we've chased
Across sand and sky and gravel
Looking for one safe place

copyright © 2004 Marc Cohn
from the album Album No. 4

Monday, September 18, 2006

Outworkings of Zoology

I recently added some links to old research papers I was involved in, which perhaps seems a little pretentious, even to me. But, when my past life leaks out I am often asked "what exactly does a zoologist do?", so I decided to gather some of the products of a zoologist somewhere and, having no other web repository of information, that is here. People may still ask "what exactly does a zoologist do?", but I have tried ...

Everybody needs to spend a wakeful night in the Australian bush at some time in their lives I say. That is when it comes alive and some of our most lovely and gentle creatures reveal themselves. I used to walk along my trap lines with the lines of Robert Frost running through my head "the woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep".

Friday, September 15, 2006

Advertising Vices?

Every working day I get off the bus in front of David Jones in Sydney, renowned for it's window dressing, especially at Christmas. For the last few weeks it has had the most amazing displays of tropical gardens (whole gardens, not even just plants) and fashionably dressed mannequins in each window that you couldn't help but wonder at the expense of it. But this week, each window is just boarded over with Mambo Billboards. The first one I see when I get off the bus says "100% Mambo - experts in youth exploitation", the next one, with a picture of a gorgeous little boy, in his Mambo clothes of course, says "this add bought my Mum a new plasma TV" and the next one, with some cute kids playing, in their Mambo clothes, says "models should be seen and not heard" ...

What, I ask myself, as I head off down Market Street, is Mambo trying to tell us? I know it's all too brazen to be taken quite seriously, but are they trying to satirise their own actions? I am one confused member of the public.

But maybe that's the point. I have now thought about Mambo, and even blogged about Mambo, which I guess is all most advertising is aiming for ...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Blind Spots

Seems to be time to blog something, but am having something of a blind spot at the moment (and a blind spot, as in the idea that there's too much light so you temporarily can't see anything or as in the idea that you are looking but you miss something because it's in the place you can't see - well either analogy fits). I went to a debate between Ravi Zaccharias (Christian apologist), a Moslem scholar and a member of the humanist society on the weekend, which was fascinating, and I have a head full of thoughts, but it's not an easy thing to blog about. I am going to order the CD so I can listen again and glean and distill more from it. The comment was made that what this country, and this world, needs is more open and courteous debate. And indeed we do!

One of the questions asked of the panel was "what does each religion have to offer in response to the life and death of someone like Steve Irwin and to his family?". The Christian answer was by far the most compelling, to me at any rate (Ravi made it clear that the fate of any one individual is God's business, but included CS Lewis' great quote that there are only two groups of people in this world - those who bend their knee to God and say "thy will be done" and those who refuse and so God says to them "thy will be done" ... and the thing to do is make sure you're in the first group), while the humanist said that they believe in celebrating the life lived, so I guess that does indeed make most of this country humanists, wherein funerals have become little more than celebrations of the life now gone ...

Incidentally, my Mum, who I think would have been largely unfamiliar with the pursuits of Steve Irwin, called me last Monday night to see if I had heard about his death, and said "he was just like your father" (from what she'd just seen on the news). No disrespect of the dead intended but I don't think my Dad was QUITE like Steve Irwin. He was a larger than life blonde character who loved the outdoors and wildlife and dreamed of filming a wildlife documentary, and he had a reckless streak (but he also died when he was only twenty-six so is locked in eternal youth for us) and that is about the extent of the similarities I think ... but it was an interesting thought!

I also have a doctrine exam next week, and a head full of all sorts of those interesting things, which I shall endeavour to reduce to bloggable pieces soon ...

Sunday, September 03, 2006


I said in my blurb that now puzzles me, and so it does. And I chaff against the seeming inactivity in some spheres in life. But, I was flicking through an old printed "omer of manna" (actually it's a diary with "the deeply unfortunate doings of an ill-fated life" printed on the front cover - must have appealed to me at the time I bought it) and I found this, which I copied out of "The Path of Loneliness" by Elisabeth Elliot. It is an omer of manna:-

True waiting on God is not "doing nothing". Psalm 37 lists the principle elements of this hidden activity, a perfect formula for peace of mind:
Trust in the Lord and do good.
Dwell in the land (make your home, settle down, be at peace where God puts you).
Delight in the Lord (make the Lord your only joy) and He will give you what your heart desires.
Commit your life to the Lord.
Trust in Him and He will act.
Be quiet before the Lord.
Wait patiently for Him.

Waiting patiently is almost impossible unless we also are learning at the same time to find joy in the Lord, commit everything to Him, trust Him, and be quiet ... If the shepherd leads us beside still waters when we were hoping for "white water" excitement, it is hard to believe anything really vital is taking place. God is silent. The house is silent. The phone doesn’t ring. The mailbox is empty. The stillness is hard to bear – and God knows that. He knows our frame and remembers we are made of dust. He is very patient with us when we are trying to be patient with Him. Of course for most of us the test of waiting does not take place in a silent and empty house, but in the course of regular work and appointments and taxpaying and grocery buying and trying to get the car fixed and the storm windows up; daily decisions have to go on being made, responsibilities fulfilled, families provided for, employers satisfied. How can we speak of waiting on God in the middle of all that? How be still?

... Waiting on God is an act of faith – the greatest thing ever required of humans. Not faith in the outcome we are dictating to God, but faith in His character, faith in Himself. It is resting in the perfect confidence that He will guide in the right way, at the right time. He will supply our need. He will fulfil His word. He will give us the very best if we trust Him.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

An Image of Humanity

Well, my essay wasn’t rubbish after all, which is a relief. It has such things as "beautiful" and "perfect" written on it, which cracks me up – love the enthusiasm of this lecturer. Comments say my references to Augustin and Calvin were a highlight! (reading between the lines does that mean ‘rather than anything you wrote’ – maybe, but well, I must at least have put my references in a suitable place). Anyway, thought it was time to change tack slightly ... and what better way to do it than blog about another movie. A movie that provides a little portrait of humanity, in a setting not unapt to our times, is Birthday Boy. It’s a beautiful animation that was nominated for an Oscar in 2005, and is ten minutes of your life well spent. I went looking for my copy, to enhance the writing of this blog, and discovered a flat mate had borrowed it to use in her high school English classes on "images of humanity".

The film is a true story (made by another friend of mine actually) set in Korea in 1951 and opens with a little boy playing in the wreck of a war plane. He watches a train, laden with tanks and equipment of war, chug past in fascination. He imagines he is fighting in the war with his absent father and has an make believe conversation with him as he plays and throws a stone, come hand grenade, on the unsuspecting postman.

We know from the title of the movie that it is this little boy’s birthday and so when he wanders home and finds a package on the verandah he simply assumes it’s a present for him. He opens the package in great excitement, which isn’t dampened at all by any understanding when he pulls out his Dad’s wallet, complete with picture of himself and his Dad in the front, then his Dad’s medals, which he hangs around his neck in great pride, and then his Dad’s boots, which he joyously puts on and then begins to stomp around the front yard playing soldiers. He’s still just a little boy who thinks war is a great adventure and he's received a fabulous birthday present.

The film ends with the little boy’s mother calling out to him as she comes home. And you know that life for that family will never be the same again.

It’s a tragic little portrayal of the effect of war on individuals.

I don’t think I need to say anything more ...