Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Cruises banning Christmas

Today I stumbled upon this article in the paper that informed me that the Cruises are not celebrating Christmas (and therefore not telling their daughter about Santa or giving her presents) because they "do not hold to the belief that Christ is the son of God". Now, I don't read much about the Cruises, and I don't know how accurate the reporting is (and to say nothing of the fact that Santa has very little to do with Christ being the son of God anyway, or the sadness of their disbelief) but I felt like there was a sense in which you had to give them some credit for that decision. It would appear that they have investigated what Christmas is really about, decided that they don't believe in it, and therefore that they are not just going to capitulate to society and indulge their child in the all the 'seemingly harmless' paraphenalia that comes with its celebration. Whatever you happen to think of Tom Cruise (and I am just going to leave that, and the errors of scientology, alone), that, at least, is conscious and deliberate parenting.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The transformation of sorrow

I discovered today at work that I can no longer post on my own blog or read or post comments on other blogs. Sigh, I think it is the beginning of the end ...

Anyway, it's no secret that I am fan of George Eliot's novels, and her surpassing skill of perception. I ground to a halt trying to read Dickens' Bleak House this year, and have had my opinion somewhat affirmed in a comparison of Dickens and Eliot by Stephen Gill in which he writes: "That Dickens should be able to render 'with the utmost power the external traits of our town population' makes it all the more tragic that he should be so unable to depict 'their psychological character; their conceptions of life, and their emotions - with the same truth as their idiom and manners ...'." I'm not the person to criticise a master such as Dickens (though I did indeed get weary of his wordy descriptions of exteriors) and his art has its place no doubt, but Eliot is, to me, the master of inhabiting her characters and depicting their psychological character.

However, I was flicking through Adam Bede and found the following paragraph, wherein Eliot actually steps back into narrative, that I have decided to post:

For Adam, though you see him quite master of himself, working hard and delighting in his work after his inborn inalienable nature, had not outlived his sorrow - had not felt it slip from him as a temporary burthen, and leave him the same man again. Do any of us? God forbid. It would be a poor result of all our anguish and our wrestling, if we won nothing but our old selves at the end of it - if we could return to the same blind loves, the same self-confident blame, the same light thoughts of human suffering, the same frivolous gossip over blighted human lives, the same feeble sense of that Unknown towards which we have sent forth irrepressible cries in our loneliness. Let us rather be thankful that our sorrow lives in us as an indestructible force, only changing its form, as forces do, and passing from pain into sympathy - the one poor word which includes all our best insight and our best love. Not that this transformation of pain into sympathy had completely taken place in Adam yet: there was still a great remnant of pain, which he felt would subsist as long as her pain was not a memory, but an existing thing, which he must think of as renewed with the light of every new morning. But we get accustomed to mental as well as bodily pain, without, for all that, losing our sensibility to it: it becomes a habit of our lives, and we cease to imagine a condition of perfect ease as possible for us. Desire is chastened into submission; and we are contented with our day when we have been able to bear our grief in silence, and act as if we were not suffering. For it is at such periods that the sense of our lives having visible and invisible relations beyond any of which either our present or prospective self is the centre, grows like a muscle that we are obliged to lean on and exert.
I think that is just beautiful, and it calls to mind 2 Cor 1:3-11. On an essentially rather similar note, I read this post today, for those of us going home alone again this Christmas, which I found through this post.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Christmas Meme

OK, I know I said I was taking a break, but I have been tagged in this Christmas meme by Nicole. So, I am going to tag Mandy and Dave.

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
Wrapping paper.
2. Real tree or artificial? Artificial (would like a real one, would especially like to trudge through the snow to get a real one, but that's just not the way it is).
3. When do you put up your tree? Early December (actually I don't put it up anymore, but that is when it goes up).
4. When do you take the tree down? Usually a few days after Christmas.
5. Do you like eggnog? Not sure I could say with any certainty ...
6. Favourite gift received as a child? The Littles' Doll House. I still have it. All the old-fashioned furniture is made out of cast metal, and it's just exquisite. There's a pot-belly stove with a door that opens, and tiny bed-side lamps and foot stools etc.
7. Do you have a Nativity scene? No. But my sister brought a wooden one for my Mum back from Africa, so we have that at home.
8. Hardest person to buy for? My brothers-in-law, but history books usually work.
9. Easiest person to buy for? My nieces! I just have to rein myself in.
10. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? Can't think of one either.
11. Mail or email Christmas cards? Mail.
12. Favorite Christmas movie? Hmmm, not sure. But I like watching movies like Little Women at Christmas - they take all their precious Christmas food, which was not a lot during the war, to their destitute neighbours, and when Beth gets the piano, well, I come undone at that point.
13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Um, usually in November, when family starts reminding me that Christmas is coming.
14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Yes.
15. Favorite things to eat at Christmas? Cherries! And my Nana's pudding and a special chocolate-caramel slice my family does at Christmas and fruit mince pies. And I like to have some of the foreign food too, like panforte, pannetone and stollen, just for a treat (I usually go to Peter's of Kensington and find a few fine things to take home).
16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Clear - don't like tacky things at Christmas!
17. Favorite Christmas song? "Gloria" as sung on the Michael W. Smith Christmas album. I also love the "Christmas Hymn" on an old Amy Grant Christmas tape. Sounds REALLY corney I know, but Gloria is just euphoric - I love the choir and the drums and the crescendo - and the words of the Hymn are great (see below) - Amy Grant sings out a line, then the choir echoes, and we used to sing it as an item in my old church in Tamworth.
18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Travel these days, as I have no family in Sydney.
19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? NO!
20. Angel on the tree top or a star? Star.
21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Morning.
22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? The hoards of people at the shops, and the consumerism - and the heat in Queensland, which usually means we end up confined to an air-conditioned room.
23. What is the "corniest" family tradition you do, or miss doing? Hmmm, it's all class at our place ;). We usually have those cheap Christmas crackers, which contain the corniest jokes ever so we go around the table and groan over those.
24. Ugliest Christmas Decoration ever invented? Blow-up lawn decorations.
25. Which looks the best, theme trees or homey trees? Homey trees.
26. What does Christmas mean to you? Immanuel, God with us.

Christmas Hymn

Praise to god whose love was shown
Who sent his son to earth
Jesus left his rightful throne
Became a man by birth

The virgin’s baby son
All creation praised him
God incarnate come
Come to bethlehem

Still a higher call had he
Deliverance from our sins
Come to set his people free
From satan’s hold within

For by the sin of man we fell
By the son of god
He crushed the power of hell
Death we fear no more

Now we stand with strength, with power
The sons of God on earth
Faithful to the final hour
Christ’s righteousness our worth

And now all praise is given
For the babe, the son
The savior king is risen
Christ is lord indeed

For the babe, the son
The savior king is risen
Christ is lord indeed

Friday, December 07, 2007

Poetry Friday XVII

Well, today is poetry Friday, but I have actually decided to take a break from blogging for a while - since all I am doing of late is poetry Friday anyway. In a couple of weeks I am going to run the risk of driving Bessie, the little old car I have had since Lancelot was written off, to Brisbane for Christmas. This year it will be just me and Mum, with my sisters and their families heading to their husband's families in other towns, so that is going to be a little quiet and different (it's just so much more fun with the kids, and you get to play with toys all afternoon). Then in January I will be back and looking for a little flat to live in, a new church, and a new job. On that note, I just read this post on the benefits of living in close proximity to your church, and this post on careerism, which is worth keeping in mind (not that I am in too much danger of that of late).

For those of you who liked my toenail story of last Friday (this is for you Em) this morning I was out for my jog and went too close to one of those big spikey plants protuding over someone's front fence and pricked my hand, and just with the way the minutest cuts on your fingers bleed excessively, and the way I was moving, by the time I got home I could have hired my hand out for a horror film (when the reality is that once I washed it you couldn't even find where all the blood was coming from). Today I decorated my new desk at work with festive paraphenalia, just to get into the spirit of it. I don't know what's happened to the 'razor wire' I had last year, and my colleague has put the pink wings on Steve Irwin and brought out her radioactive reindeer again (it's hot pink - everything with her is hot pink - and just looks like it must have been too close to Chernobyl if you ask me). She actually gave me a rustic looking angel, which she thinks is disgusting (each to their own!) and which I think goes perfectly on my feature post (the old wooden beam that runs right through the middle of my desk). I also lost my mouse pad in the move, so she offered me her "crocs rule" one, which I politely declined.

Anyway, I do have a poem. This is one for the lead up to Christmas. I like it because it reminds me of what the Incarnation was actually for. And if anything blog worthy happens any time soon, it'll be here.

The Burning Babe

Robert Southwell (1561(?)–1595)

AS I in hoary winter’s night
Stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat
Which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye
To view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright
Did in the air appear;
Who, scorchèd with excessive heat,
Such floods of tears did shed,
As though His floods should quench His flames,
Which with His tears were bred:
‘Alas!’ quoth He, ‘but newly born
In fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts
Or feel my fire but I!

‘My faultless breast the furnace is;
The fuel, wounding thorns;
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke;
The ashes, shames and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on,
And Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought
Are men’s defilèd souls:
For which, as now on fire I am
To work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath,
To wash them in my blood.’
With this He vanish’d out of sight
And swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I callèd unto mind
That it was Christmas Day.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Horton moves again

Horton is moving again today, down to level four. I like my new desk on level four. Because we work in an old converted wool shed it still has big old wooden beams and one of them goes right through my desk - literally. The have cut a square in my desk around it. So I have a "feature" post. It's quite nice and rustic. I am sure I am going to get annoyed with it at some point in the future, but for now I think my desk has "character". And maybe Horton likes it. Anyway, in the process of moving I ran over my foot with my new drawers and collected my big toenail, then dropped to the ground in a breath-sucking pain as it lifted and the blood came out from around it. Ouch.

Poetry Friday XVI - the thread of life

This blog is turning into a poetry Friday blog! I have recently made the decision to move from where I am living in order to create a little more space, physical and otherwise, for doing certain things (I currently live in a three bedroom apartment, with a total of four people, and give myself a back ache using my laptop on the floor in my rather crowded bedroom, piled with books, crochet projects etc). "Flatting" is a strange concept I find - it's very different to family, in that it generally involves several people living their separate lives from the same base, and not endeavouring or expecting to build a life together in the way that you would in a family. I think I am up to my 29th flatmate since I left home. And while I acknowledge the benefits of living with such a variety of people, in knocking your corners off, there comes a time in life when you just feel like having a little more control over, and freedom in, your environment - and living outside your bedroom. So, while I am not moving so I will have more "space" to blog, it will be interesting to see what becomes of me :). Being a classic introvert, who is quite happy to live vicariously in books, I know I am going to have to work hard on some things - but I am looking forward to reading those books on a couch in a loungeroom (if my budget will allow a loungeroom).

Anyway, here is my poem for today, and I am back to Christina Rossetti:

The Thread of Life
by Christina Georgina Rossetti
(1830-1894)


I
The irresponsive silence of the land,
The irresponsive sounding of the sea,
Speak both one message of one sense to me:--
Aloof, aloof, we stand aloof, so stand
Thou too aloof bound with the flawless band
Of inner solitude; we bind not thee;
But who from thy self-chain shall set thee free?
What heart shall touch thy heart? what hand thy hand?--
And I am sometimes proud and sometimes meek,
And sometimes I remember days of old
When fellowship seemed not so far to seek
And all the world and I seemed much less cold,
And at the rainbow's foot lay surely gold,
And hope felt strong and life itself not weak.


II
Thus am I mine own prison. Everything
Around me free and sunny and at ease:
Or if in shadow, in a shade of trees
Which the sun kisses, where the gay birds sing
And where all winds make various murmuring;
Where bees are found, with honey for the bees;
Where sounds are music, and where silences
Are music of an unlike fashioning.
Then gaze I at the merrymaking crew,
And smile a moment and a moment sigh
Thinking: Why can I not rejoice with you?
But soon I put the foolish fancy by:
I am not what I have nor what I do;
But what I was I am, I am even I.


III
Therefore myself is that one only thing
I hold to use or waste, to keep or give;
My sole possession every day I live,
And still mine own despite Time's winnowing.
Ever mine own, while moons and seasons bring
From crudeness ripeness mellow and sanitive;
Ever mine own, till Death shall ply his sieve;
And still mine own, when saints break grave and sing.
And this myself as king unto my King
I give, to Him Who gave Himself for me;
Who gives Himself to me, and bids me sing
A sweet new song of His redeemed set free;
He bids me sing: O death, where is thy sting?
And sing: O grave, where is thy victory?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Poetry Friday XV - to love a wall

This week I actually wrote a poem myself, for the first time in years, two even (the second being completely silly), but it would be very much an act of "over-sharing" to inflict it on the world (maybe when I'm dead someone can find it in my drawer and analyse me - actually, I have my doubts anyone will bother, but the things said about the dead, particularly about dead poets, and the freedoms taken in speculating on motivations and character, would hardly be possible, and would be most embarrassing to hear said, while one was still alive) and I can't see that it would do anyone else particular good to read it. That got me thinking about the whole idea of wanting to be known, the selective things we want others to know and what sort of things we should even want others to know. At times I have paused, even in updating my facebook status, and thought "why do I want the world to know that particular thing?". And even in wanting to be known, there are some things too deep, too very personal, or too precious even, to indiscriminately share with the world - and I hope it actually stays that way. On the other hand though, I have been reading bits and pieces lately about the nature of true hospitality, and sharing our lives with others, that espouse the value in letting others see some of our messes (the physical messes in our homes and the personal struggles), be encouraged by seeing that we don't live in a state of constant perfection, and be a part of who we really are. Anyway, Karen brought my attention to the poem below after the last post, so I will run with Robert Frost again. The poet clearly wants to question the idea that good neighbours keep good fences, while the neighbour doesn't. Perhaps the reality is that there are just varying degrees of appreciation for varying levels of "sharing".

Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."


Robert Frost

Friday, November 16, 2007

Poetry Friday XIV - the stoic shrug

Today I thought I'd write about the poet Robert Frost. I have a book of his poetry, and in the introduction by Ian Hamilton it says that an "important ingredient of Frost's charm - [is] his use of the aphorism, and in particular the aphorism that speaks of a resigned cheerfulness, or a cheerful resignation. Frost is a master of the stoic shrug, the rugged settling for what there is, however less than perfect. Behind this resignation there are in fact deep areas of fear and despair, but only intermittently are these allowed to show through. Frost uses his social manner, his maintaining of a brave face, as a defence against the real meanings of many of his more popular, calender-bound aphorisms." I like the phrase "a stoic shrug". I think it's a grand thing. Those people capable of the stoic shrug are often perceived to be people of lesser feelings, which is a very great misconception, when the reality is that they are those of the true nobility and understanding to behave so. As a result I think they are perhaps the more readily abused and overlooked, while the more fragile, volatile (egg-shell) people take a greater portion of care and consideration. But, that in itself is just one of those many facts of life that requires a stoic shrug, along with the fact that the world belongs to the confident and assertive, with or without any real merit, and a good many others. And so here is one of those stoic shrugs:

If one by one we counted people out
For the least sin, it wouldn't take us long
To get so we had no one left to live with.
For to be social is to be forgiving.


From The Star-Splitter, Robert Frost

I really like the poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, which makes me think of many evenings spent clearing wildlife traps (I'd trudge through the woodlands loaded with gear, occasionally pausing to admire the night, yet knowing I had to press on as there was far to go and many creatures waiting for me). But here is another, lesser known poem I like:

The Oven Bird

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past,
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that othere fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

Robert Frost

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The "devout dozen"

I hope I'm not the only person who finds this just a little bit crazy (and ever so slightly amusing): Men On A Mission

You can buy yourself the "family values t-shirt" below, together with your lewd calender.

(P.S. And I feel like I should add that's it the hilarity of a work colleague that's drawn my attention to such things ...)

Keep your heart happy in God

I just read this post over at 168 hours in my lunch break. I really like it. It reminds me of another phrase of John Piper's that I often recall: "God is most glorified in me, when I am most satisfied in him."

And I like this post , from Solo Femininity, about loneliness too.

And, while I'm at it, I also like this post and this post, from The Purple Cellar.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

If you want to stay up all night -

I'm just writing a post, because I am not sure if I will ever sleep again! There are two new girls at my church and in my bible study group, which met tonight, and they're just gorgeous. One is of Arabic descent and comes from Germany, where her family fled from Albania, and the other is from Nairobi. They have both recently finished the Simply Christianity course run at my church and it's just wonderful to have them along and read the bible with them and so forth. Anyway, they have this lovely little ritual where one of them gets the bus to others' place and then they walk to our church, stopping off at the Starbucks down the road on the way. They make an interesting looking pair - one being a very dimuitive little person with Arabic colouring and the other one of those tall, vital-looking Africans, but they are fast friends. And there, at Starbucks, they have become "addicted" to the 'Espresso Brownie'. They were raving about this chocolate feat to me on Sunday night at church and finished up telling me they had to bring me some to try. So tonight I was given a little paper bag containing this allegedly amazing slice of chocolate heaven. And I've just tried it, only half of it mind you, but I still think I'm going to bouncing off the walls for hours!!! But it really is good - if you like chocolate, and you like coffee, then this is for you.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days and 113 excruciating minutes

I said I was going to lighten up, and then, THEN, tonight, for reasons I can hardly explain, I decided to go and see 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days. WHAT was I thinking? – is all I can ask myself. It won the Cannes Palme d’Or, but don’t be deceived into thinking that means there will be anything redeeming in the story. As one review says, this is a movie about serious problems, with a serious approach – and there is not ONE bright moment in the entire film, neither in the story nor the bleakness of 1980's Romania. I have never seen a movie of such unrelenting grimness. Having been in the situation in the past of telling a friend that I would help them do almost anything but I wasn’t going to help them have an abortion (because I believe it’s wrong, and I don’t believe in defying God in the name of friendship, and neither do I believe that actually being a good friend means helping your friends do whatever they choose to do) I think one of the greatest tragedies in the story is Otilia, the friend. The closing line of the film is Otilia saying "what we are going to do, is we are never going to talk about this". And that is all I am going to say. It IS powerful, and it certainly does show the awful reality of that situation, and I can appreciate all the things that make it a very good piece of film making, but I don’t recommend that anyone, EVER, go and see it. I covered my face and sunk in my seat and I am just not sure that I’m ever going to get over it.

So, you and I will have to wait for something else to effect a lightening up I'm afraid. But this upcoming movie, Bella, looks like more the thing.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A quote

There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either.
-Robert Graves, poet and novelist (1895-1985)

This blog is all a little melancholy and heavy of late, so I'm going to lighten up sometime soon! But here's a quote for poetry Friday.

Poetry Friday XIII

I have had a somewhat rugged week this week, primarily in my attempts to help someone else extricate themself from a bad situation, which has also made me relive certain agonies of my own at times. I have spent a lot of time talking, counteracting, thinking through the right response. I have thought about what is that one thing that would change the mind, and so change heart, and make changing the situation an easier thing. In the end, cliched as it may seem, you simply have to believe that God is good, no matter what happens and what he requires - doubt that and you'll be assailed by all sorts of horrors. For myself I have been thrashing the hymn, "Come thou Fount of every blessing". I have already mentioned Justin Moffatt's talks at the ENGAGE conference, based on this hymn, and it is just extremely convenient that Sara Groves, my latest music obssession, has recorded it. Here's a verse of it (which I think is perhaps a Sara combination):

Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let your goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to thee
Jesus sought me while a stranger
Wandering from the heart of God
And He to rescue me from danger
Used his own precious blood


Believing in God's goodness, as evidenced in his grace on the cross, really is the fetter that will keep us from wandering. But, this week, that is not my poem. I thought I would post another of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It's about patience. In many situations the difficulty is that the patience is not for a sure end - that is, we have no guarantees that the patience will produce anything in particular. Yet we must let God bend our rebellious wills even so.

Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,
But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks
Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks;
To do without, take tosses, and obey.
Rare patience roots in these, and, these away,
Nowhere. Natural heart's ivy, Patience masks
Our ruins of wrecked past purpose. There she basks
Purple eyes and seas of liquid leaves all day.

We hear our hearts grate on themselves: it kills
To bruise them dearer. Yet the rebellious wills
Of us we do bid God bend to him even so.
And where is he who more and more distils
Delicious kindness?—He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Friday, November 02, 2007

Poetry Friday XII - Strong in the broken places


There is a famous quote by Ernest Hemmingway, which begins "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places". The rest of the quote doesn't quite make sense to me, but that line I like. This year I have had the great blessing of meeting two people, both of whom are strong in the broken places. They stand out in their genuine concern for others and in the time they devote to caring for them, they hang around for the answer when they ask "how are you?" and they really listen. In getting to know them I have become aware of the stories of their own suffering. They have indeed been broken, and in their stories there is much to endure and much to forgive. They do both. And they use their stories as a means of ministry, not as a means of claiming sympathy and leave from blessing and giving to others (though I do say that with caution, because both of them are only too aware that the world breaks people, and are believers in the necessity of the healing life's wounds, and in helping people in that - so that they can go and do likewise).

I am sure we all know people like them - people who are imitators and the fragrance of Christ to others in their personal triumph over suffering and their faithfulness in it, people who make us feel that they are that much further along the road and closer to God than we are. So, it's not really a poem, but there is a new album by Sara Groves coming out soon, and on it is a song called I Saw What I Saw - and here it is, dedicated to all those people who are strong in the broken places (and it is perhaps inseparable from the music, and has perhaps taken my fancy because of the cello, so you can listen to a snippet here).

I Saw What I Saw

by Sara Groves

i saw what i saw and i can't forget it
i heard what i heard and i can't go back
i know what i know and i can't deny it

something on the road, cut me to the soul

your pain has changed me
your dream inspires
your faith a memory
your hope a fire
your courage asks me what i'm made of
and what i know of love

we've done what we've done and we can't erase it
we are what we are and it's more than enough
we have what we have but it's no substitution

something on the road, cut me to the soul

your pain has changed me
your dream inspires
your faith a memory
your hope a fire
your courage asks me what i'm made of
and what i know of love

i say what i say with no hesitation
i have what i have but i'm giving it up
i do what i do with deep conviction

something on the road, cut me to the soul

your pain has changed me
your dream inspires
your faith a memory
your hope a fire
your courage asks me what i'm made of
and what i know of love

your courage asks me what i’m afraid of
your courage asks me what i am made of
your courage asks me what i’m afraid of
and what i know of love
and what i know of God

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Would beauty transcend

I went to the ENGAGE conference on the weekend up at Katoomba. I was particularly encouraged by the talks from Justin Moffatt, which were based on the hymn "Come thou Fount of Every Blessing". There's much I could write about the talks, but today I am just going to blog about one of his illustrations. In the first talk, titled "Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace" he made reference to a newspaper article from the Washington post, in which an experiment was set up to answer the question: "In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?". It's old news in America (from April's paper) and has been blogged to death up there, but for this experiment they had Joshua Bell, one of the world's greatest violinists, play some of the world's greatest classical music on a Stradivari violin, worth 3.5 million dollars, in a metro station in Washington DC. I couldn't resist going away and looking for the article, curiously called "Pearls Before Breakfast" describing what happened. It's long, but it's a good read (touching also on the old epistemological debate of whether beauty needs an audience to be beauty, and the idea that perhaps art needs a frame to be appreciated, and the question of what beauty is - just for interest's sake). Here's an excerpt:

Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he's really bad? What if he's really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn't you? What's the moral mathematics of the moment?

On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities -- as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?
The conference was based on work, and Justin was making the point that Jesus and the gospel is like Joshua Bell playing his Stradivari ... And it's a crying shame to take no notice.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Poetry Friday XI

I have been blogging a little this week about books that give some guidance for living, which varies according to what your goal is. As a Christian I believe that there is one book that comes above all others as an authority on how to live, but that it is not a book of guidelines for life, but the book of life itself. Therefore I though it fitting for poetry Friday to post this poem by an unknown author, which was apparently included in the front of the first bible printed in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1576.

HERE IS THE SPRING WHERE WATERS FLOW
TO QUENCH OUR HEAT OF SIN
HERE IS THE TREE WHERE TRUTH DOTH GROW
TO LEAD OUR LIVES THEREIN

HERE IS THE JUDGE THAT HALTS THE STRIFE
WHEN MEN'S DEVICES FAIL
HERE IS THE BREAD THAT FEEDS THE LIFE
THAT DEATH CANNOT ASSAIL

THE TIDINGS OF SALVATION DEAR
COME TO OUR EARS FROM HENCE
THE FORTRESS OF OUR FAITH IS HERE
AND SHIELD OF OUR DEFENSE

THEN BE NOT LIKE THE SWINE THAT HATH
A PEARL OF HIS DESIRE
AND TAKES MORE PLEASURE FROM THE TROUGH
AND WALLOWING IN THE MIRE

PRAY STILL IN FAITH WITH THIS RESPECT
TO BE FRUITFUL WITHIN
THAT KNOWLEDGE MAY BRING THIS EFFECT
TO MORTIFY THY SIN

THEN HAPPY THOU IN ALL THY LIFE
WHAT SO TO THEE BEFALLS
YEA, DOUBLE HAPPY THOU SHALT BE
WHEN GOD BY DEATH THEE CALLS

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Further musings on wealth and greed

The sin that emerges in all its seriousness in "Luther on Greed" is that of what we put our trust in. We are exhorted that to obey the first commandment is to cling to, rely upon and look only to God for whatever one needs in any circumstance. That serves as a corrective to any anxiety I might feel about my "financial future" (which I could perhaps keep in the balance with wise stewardship – though perhaps we too often use that notion to run into what God considers foolishness).

I couldn’t say it better than Luther and Brian Rosner already have, so I will end with their tips for surviving the deadly sin of greed:

1. Recognise the seriousness of the sin of greed – it is a form of idol worship that arouses God’s jealousy.

2. Resist the urge to immoderate accumulation of wealth that grows out of a lack of trust in God.

3. Seek contentment and be generous and willing to share – in order to deal with greed that consists of both unrestrained grasping and selfish hoarding.

4. Appreciate the natural world – greed arises when we forget that God is our creator and sustainer. Go bird watching, hiking, gaze at the sunset, grow vegetables, keep chickens.

5. Wait expectantly for the resurrection – we put too much stock on material things when we think that they are all that exists. Keep a loose grip on this world, for this world in its present form is passing away.

6. Aim to get really rich – God has many new and marvelous things to engross those who know him and are known by him.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Musings on wealth and greed


Yesterday I bought a new car, which is really quite exciting. I thought I could actually do life without a car for a longer period of time, and the truth is that I could, but it has actually proved more difficult that I thought it would be to get around on public transport – as soon as I want to go somewhere other than the city and back, or do so later in the evening, it all gets complicated, and I have spent lots of time waiting for buses, killing time when I got to places because I was early and so on. So, in the end I bought a little old runabout sort of car, because I don’t really use a car all that often, no longer bother driving long distances like home to Brisbane, I don’t have a garage and because insurance is so outrageously expensive in Sydney.

Anyway, in the process of looking for a new car I got talking to a few people about money. One of them subsequently bought me a book called Rich Dad, Poor Dad (as you can see, they know about making money, yet are also very generous with it) about creating wealth. I have very little interest in anything financial, have never read a book about money in my life and never done anything more creative than put money in a term deposit. So I figured that I should read this book and learn to be more astute with what I am doing with finances etc.

However, at the same time I started reading Still Deadly: Ancient cures for the 7 sins. The first chapter is called Luther on Greed by Brian Rosner and is really very challenging. I won’t even get started on how many sentences in that chapter say the exact opposite of sentences just in the introduction of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Even seemingly harmless sentences like "... the rich teach their children differently. They teach their children at home, around the dinner table" instantly brought to mind the thought that there are much better things to teach your children around the dinner table (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Then there’s the part where he actually writes that poor dad would say "The love of money is the root of all evil", while rich dad would say "The lack of money is the root of all evil" – and you can guess which he thought was right, and hopefully also guess which God thinks is closer to right (1 Timothy 6:10 - though note it's KINDS of evil).

So, I am going to keep reading the book (for the novelty factor if nothing else! – and maybe blog material ;) - though my interest is waning) but read it carefully and prayerfully (hopefully), remembering that God counted as a fool the man who thought he’d build bigger barns to store up wealth for himself in the future (Luke 12:13-21) – something that might look like prudent investment for security if it was done here and now.

This post is already quite long, so I will save for later some of the thoughts from Luther on Greed and the tips for surviving the deadly sin of greed.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Poetry Friday X


I confess that I almost forgot about poetry Friday this week. But a poem is never far away and another of my favourite poets (I think one of hundreds perhaps) is Wordsworth. Once upon a time I did a rather literary tour around the UK and am sorry that I don't have a scanner so I could post some photos of Wordsworth country. I've chosen the poem Daffodils because it's spring, and that is the time for daffodils. The only problem with poetry like this is that it is hard to inhabit it living here in Sydney. Hyde Park looked beautiful as I came by in the bus this morning with the sunlight glancing through it, but it is not a field of daffodils. So, that is why I have included the second poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins (yet another favourite). The world immediately around me at present is indeed seared with trade and wears man's smudge, but nature is never spent (if one could only find a little piece of it!).

Daffodils

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o'er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:-
A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed-and gazed-but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

William Wordsworth



God’s Grandeur

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On moths and pygmy possums - a lesson in ecology

I rarely revert to my past these days, but the recent influx of Bogong moths into Sydney, and the stories being told me of friends' little boys counting how many they can catch and kill, has sent me back there. So, I decided to give you all an ecology lesson. Ecology was one of my favourite parts of biology at school, and the subject I later pursued at University. Ecology is the analysis of distribution and abundance, for those who may not be so sure about that - the exploration of why species live where they do, and what influences their population levels. That sounds simple enough, but ecosystems can be complicated things, and species are often interconnected in ways not readily apparent.

A lot of people I've been chatting to seem unaware that the Bogong moth is only on a migratory path through Sydney, so if you can bear it a little while they will soon be gone. They are on their way to the Southern Highlands for the summer. And waiting for them in the Southern Highlands, or Australian Alps, is a very small marsupial called the Mountain Pygmy Possum. It was thought to be extinct, and known only from fossil records, before it was rediscovered in 1966. There are now estimated to be less than 3000 individuals living in a habitat of only around 10 square kilometres in the Alps. The Mountain Pygmy Possum is one of the only marsupials in the world that hibernates for the winter, and when it emerges in Spring it's energy requirements are understandably high. The Bogong moth is a very important food source for the possum and part of its staple diet through the Summer. So that is one reason why we should let the moths go unharmed on their merry way to the Alps. The moths themselves are also showing alarming levels of arsenic contamination of late, possibly from agricultural chemicals in the soil of their larval pasturelands in the Darling Downs, where they start their migration, and these high arsenic levels have been found in the scats of the pygmy possum.


So, next time you feel tempted to swat or spray a completely harmless, though perhaps a little annoying moth, spare a thought for the moths themselves, for the hungry mountain pygmy possum waiting in the Alps and for the God who made such an amazing and interconnected world.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Poetry Friday IX

I am an appreciator of the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, so thought I'd feature her this poetry Friday. The first poem below is the full sonnet of fragment I have blogged in the past, about the sad perplexity our current experience sometimes is, yet with a reminder that when we know the full story all will be seen as the goodness of God. The second is just a lovely love sonnet, from the Sonnets from the Portugese (though it begs the question of whether humans are capable of such a love - else why should there ever be any discrimination involved in a "romantic" love?).

EXPERIENCE, like a pale musician, holds
A dulcimer of patience in his hand,
Whence harmonies, we cannot understand,
Of God's will in his worlds, the strain unfolds
In sad-perplexed minors: deathly colds
Fall on us while we hear, and countermand
Our sanguine heart back from the fancyland
With nightingales in visionary wolds.
We murmur 'Where is any certain tune
Or measured music in such notes as these?'
But angels, leaning from the golden seat,
Are not so minded their fine ear hath won
The issue of completed cadences,
And, smiling down the stars, they whisper--SWEET.

XIV

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love's sake only. Do not say
"I love her for her smile - her look - her way
Of speaking gently,- for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day" -
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee,- and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheeks dry,-
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love's sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love's eternity.

Elizabeth Barrett-Browning

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I feel ...


Life has gone on too fast since the return of holidays, with four nights out of five being out so far. Where is a person supposed to find the time to blog anything worth saying I ask myself. But, I have noticed hits on my blog site of late from a curious looking website called "We Feel Fine". So, I went to this website and discovered something rather fascinating. We Feel Fine was created by a an artist, whose work involves the exploration of humans through the artifacts they leave behind on the Web, and by the technical lead of personalization at Google and a Consulting Professor of Computational Mathematics at Stanford University. This is their mission:

Since August 2005, We Feel Fine has been harvesting human feelings from a large number of weblogs. Every few minutes, the system searches the world's newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases "I feel" and "I am feeling". When it finds such a phrase, it records the full sentence, up to the period, and identifies the "feeling" expressed in that sentence (e.g. sad, happy, depressed, etc.). Because blogs are structured in largely standard ways, the age, gender, and geographical location of the author can often be extracted and saved along with the sentence, as can the local weather conditions at the time the sentence was written. All of this information is saved.

The result is a database of several million human feelings, increasing by 15,000 - 20,000 new feelings per day. Using a series of playful interfaces, the feelings can be searched and sorted across a number of demographic slices, offering responses to specific questions like: do Europeans feel sad more often than Americans? Do women feel fat more often than men? Does rainy weather affect how we feel? What are the most representative feelings of female New Yorkers in their 20s? What do people feel right now in Baghdad? What were people feeling on Valentine's Day? Which are the happiest cities in the world? The saddest? And so on.
If you go to the Methodology section of their website you can read more fascinating things about how they are going about this and what it all means, and the Movements section is quite intriguing, where you can see what feelings look like. The last paragraph of the Madness movement is quite poignant. So, unbeknownst to me I have been participating in this research (and even in endeavouring not to diarise on my blog this system has found the particular entries where I slipped up and did so). I'm contemplating creating a psuedo-self, who writes a blog littered with "I feel" statements and strangely associated pictures, just to play with the system.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Poetry Friday VIII

It’s never a particularly nice feeling to have reached the end of a holiday, but that is where I find myself. I have just had morning tea (with my Harrogate tea) and lunch with my grandparents after a nice two weeks with the three sweetest little girls in the world (my nieces) and other relatives. And here is my poem for today:


Dear God,
We rejoice and give thanks for earthworms,
bees, ladybirds and broody hens;
for humans tending their gardens,
talking to animals,
cleaning their homes
and singing to themselves;
for the rising of the sap,
the fragrance of growth,
the invention of the wheelbarrow
and the existence of the teapot,
we give thanks.
We celebrate and give thanks.
Amen.

Michael Leunig

Friday, September 28, 2007

Poetry Friday VII

I am on holidays at the moment, and back in the world of dial-up internet, so this blog is going to be more neglected than usual for a couple of weeks. However, I thought I would attempt poetry Friday. So here is a poem, previously mentioned, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If you are unaware of his story, he was Christian German theologian who became involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler, being one of the seeming few who saw the hideous truth of Hitler’s campaign against the Jews. Bonhoeffer was subsequently executed himself. I think it is encouraging for the rest of us to know that these spiritual giants also had their inner worlds where all was not quite so fearless and unshakeable, and yet they acted with great trust and steadfastness regardless.

WHO AM I?

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell's confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell me of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine,
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Eliot time

There are times in my life when what I need to do is read a George Eliot book. She is one of the masters of the English language, and one of the masters of human observation, according to me. So, I gave myself a holiday treat and bought Daniel Deronda. The very first paragraph failed to disappoint. It says this:
Was she beautiful or not beautiful? and what was the secret of form or expression which gave the dynamic quality to her glance? Was the good or the evil genius dominant in those beams? Probably the evil; else why was the effect that of unrest rather than of undisturbed charm? Why was the wish to look again felt as coercion and not as a longing in which the whole being consents?
And a few pages later:
The general conviction that we are admirable does not easily give way before a single negative; rather when any of Vanity’s large family, male or female, find their performance received coldly, they are apt to believe that a little more of it will win over the unaccountable dissident.
I read and nod my internal head and think ‘so true', 'I've felt that’, though I have never before come across so perspicacious and articulate observation of the phenomena.

Anyway, that’s Chapter 1, and there are many more pearls of wisdom to be found there!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Moving Horton

This morning my computer monitor died at work, and so I had to move Horton and get a new one. I blogged about the why of Horton at the end of this post. Another good line from Horton is "A person's a person no matter how small". In the last week I have also written off my car, and had various other small mishaps, including spilling shoe polish on the carpet, smacking my nose into the edge of a door .... Funny how these things always come in runs. Anyway, I am now going on holidays for two weeks, and am meeting Annie Rose for the first time tonight, which is very exciting. I've just been around to the new Harrogate Tea Shop in Pyrmont, to get supplies for a few nice, leasurely cups of good old-fashioned tea and conversations (I lugged, very carefully, a Royal Albert teapot back from England for my Mum once, and I think it's high time we used it). It's a fascinating shop. It's run by a lovely old British couple, who know everything there is to know about tea, and have taught me many things in my three visits. I think the art of tea is finally making it's come-back, after being left behind by the obsession with coffee. That said, I need to keep lunch short and will move on to poetry Friday.

Poetry Friday VI - When I was young

I had a number of poems in mind for today, including WH Auden's 1 September 1939 (because it's September, but it's hard work and contains references to obscure people like Thucydides and Nijinsky), one by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which I will save for a later date, and a few others, but in the end I decided to go with another old favourite from Christina Rossetti. This is a poem for the melancholics amongst us, but this excerpt is where the poem starts to lift, until it arrives at that "settled meek contented quiet" (I wanted to include sonnets 3-5 particularly, but I expect few readers would make it to the end). I particularly like the last six lines, with their "searching bitters" (cf James 1: 2-4, Romans 5:3-5).

6.
We lack, yet cannot fix upon the lack:
Not this, nor that; yet somewhat, certainly.
We see the things we do not yearn to see
Around us: and what see we glancing back?
Lost hopes that leave our hearts upon the rack,
Hopes that were never ours yet seemed to be,
For which we steered on life’s salt stormy sea
Braving the sunstroke and the frozen pack.
If thus to look behind is all in vain,
And all in vain to look to left or right,
Why face we not our future once again,
Launching with hardier hearts across the main,
Straining dim eyes to catch the invisible sight,
And strong to bear ourselves in patient pain?

7.
... Soul dazed by love and sorrow, cheer thy mood;
More blest art thou than mortal tongue can tell:
Ring not thy funeral but thy marriage bell,
And salt with hope thy life’s insipid food.
Love is the goal, love is the way we wend,
Love is our parallel unending line
Whose only perfect Parallel is Christ,
Beginning not begun, End without end:
For He Who hath the Heart of God sufficed,
Can satisfy all hearts, - yea, thine and mine.

11.
Lifelong our stumbles, lifelong our regret,
Lifelong our efforts failing and renewed,
While lifelong is our witness, “God is good:”
Who bore with us till now, bears with us yet,
Who still remembers and will not forget,
Who gives us light and warmth and daily food;
And gracious promises half understood,
And glories half unveiled, whereon to set
Our heart of hearts and eyes of our desire;
Uplifting us to longing and to love,
Luring us upward from this world of mire,
Urging us to press on and mount above
Ourselves and all we have had experience of,
Mounting to Him in love’s perpetual fire.

12.
A dream there is wherein we are fain to scream,
While struggling with ourselves we cannot speak:
And much of all our waking life, as weak
And misconceived, eludes us like the dream.
For half life’s seemings are not what they seem,
And vain the laughs we laugh, the shrieks we shriek;
Yea, all is vain that mars the settled meek
Contented quiet of our daily theme.
When I was young I deemed that sweets are sweet:
But now I deem some searching bitters are
Sweeter than sweets, and more refreshing far,
And to be relished more, and more desired,
And more to be pursued on eager feet,
On feet untired, and still on feet tho’ tired.

Christina Rossetti Later Life: A Double Sonnet of Sonnets

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Gluttony and other things deadly

The Girl Talk blog, authored by four women from one family in Sovereign Grace Ministries in the US, is a blog that I read quite regularly. They have this week asked for suggestions for an upcoming blog series on food and gluttony, which I am going to read with interest. I recently did some thinking on the subject while pre-reading the chapter Clement on Gluttony by Richard Gibson, which is contained in the book, just launched last week at the Moore College School of Theology, and essentially a festschrift to Michael Hill, lecturer in Ethics, called Still Deadly: Ancient Cures for the 7 Sins. I am looking forward to receiving a copy of the book, and thought I would just here post snippets from the forward and afterward written by Andrew Cameron, to tempt you all:

Each of the seven deadly sins represents a malfunction. Some good thing, originally given by God to be enjoyed with thanks, has filled someone’s horizon. Their desire grips them so intensely that it eats away from within like a cancer, wrecking their relationships ...

Our method will be to watch and talk about people’s habits of action and feeling. When these are good, we call them ‘virtues’, but the seven deadly sins are examples of the dark side of virtues, called ‘vices’. We have attended to these seven vices because they offer us a vehicle for examining our desires when they have gone haywire. In 1 John 2:15-17, the apostle John tells of a problem that we all carry behind our eyeballs (in what is elsewhere called ‘the heart’). He notices the way people become lost in ‘the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes’, and ‘pride in possessions’ ...

We hope then that our attention to the seven deadly sins will offer sober opportunity to assess this malfunction in our emotional world, because until our emotional world begins to be changed (with God’s help), we won’t be free to enjoy the goods that God dreams of for us ...

Attention to the seven deadly sins has been a teaching tool to enable people to begin to see what love doesn’t, and hence does, look like in several of the small moments of their lives. By arguing against various vices, we have commended other virtues. But the language of virtue ethics, which is amply attested in the New Testament, is a help to us precisely because it offers brief descriptions of the way an agent and his or her affections intersects with the order of reality that surrounds her, voiced in a supple, varied and creative language. In the heated moment of decision, virtue language offers a statement of aim: I can quickly weigh up who I want to be in the moment ...

I haven't yet read the book in entirety, but I reckon it will be worth it!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Poetry Friday V


Since I have done the unthinkable and blogged about singleness, I thought I would press on and post two poems, by two of my favourite writers, both of whom had a deep and vital faith in God, that speak of a known but unrequited love, its humiliation and hurt, and what is to be done with it. The second is written with the characteristic violent passion of a Bronte (though if you read this article, and others like it, which I found when I was looking for a suitable picture, "lovesickness" should be taken a lot more seriously as a diagnosable illness, which can lead people all the way to suicide) but interestingly portrays how the objects of love can become idols. I'll let the poems speak for themselves, but I particularly like the line "He gave our hearts to love: He will not Love despise". God will never scorn us for having loved (though we'd best guard against trust-less obsessions):

Twice

I took my heart in my hand
(O my love, O my love),
I said: Let me fall or stand,
Let me live or die,
But this once hear me speak-
(O my love, O my love)-
Yet a woman's words are weak;
You should speak, not I.

You took my heart in your hand
With a friendly smile,
With a critical eye you scanned,
Then set it down,
And said: It is still unripe,
Better wait awhile;
Wait while the skylarks pipe,
Till the corn grows brown.

As you set it down it broke-
Broke, but I did not wince;
I smiled at the speech you spoke,
At your judgement that I heard:
But I have not often smiled
Since then, nor questioned since,
Nor cared for corn-flowers wild,
Nor sung with the singing bird.

I take my heart in my hand,
O my God, O my God,
My broken heart in my hand:
Thou hast seen, judge Thou.
My hope was written on sand,
O my God, O my God;
Now let Thy judgement stand-
Yea, judge me now.

This contemned of a man,
This marred one heedless day,
This heart take Thou to scan
Both within and without:
Refine with fire its gold,
Purge Thou its dross away-
Yea hold it in Thy hold,
Whence none can pluck it out.

I take my heart in my hand-
I shall not die, but live-
Before Thy face I stand;
I, for Thou callest such
All that I have I bring,
All that I am I give,
Smile Thou and I shall sing,
But shall not question much.

Christina Rossetti

He saw my heart's woe, discovered my soul's anguish,
How in fever, in thirst, in atrophy it pined;
Knew he could heal, yet looked and let it languish,
To it's moans spirit-deaf, to its pangs spirit-blind.

But once a year he heard a whisper low and dreary
Appealing for aid, entreating some reply;
Only when sick, soul-worn, and torture weary,
Breathed I that prayer, heaved I that sigh.

He was mute as is the grave, he stood stirless as a tower;
At last I looked up, and saw I prayed to stone:
I asked help of that which to help had no power,
I sought love where love was utterly unknown.

Idolater I kneeled to an idol cut in rock!
I might have slashed my flesh and drawn my heart's best blood:
The Granite God had felt no tenderness, no shock;
My Baal had not seen nor heard nor understood.

In dark remorse I rose; I rose in darker shame;
Self-condemned I withdrew to an exile from my kind;
A solitude I sought where mortal never came,
Hoping in its wilds forgetfulness to find.

Now, Heaven, heal the wound which I still deeply feel;
The glorious hosts look not in scorn on our poor race;
Thy King eternal doth no iron judgment deal
On suffering worms who seek forgiveness, comfort, grace.

He gave our hearts to love: He will not Love despise,
E'en if the gift be lost, as mine was long ago;
He will forgive the fault, will bid the offender rise,
Wash out with dews of bliss the fiery brand of woe;

And give a sheltered place beneath the unsullied throne,
Whence the soul redeemed may mark Time's fleeting course round earth;
And know its trials overpast, its sufferings gone,
And feel the peril past of Death's immortal birth.

Charlotte Bronte

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I did once, but I think I got away with it.

(Basil Fawlty, minus the war)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Whatever you do, don't mention ...


Another reason for the state of neglect of my own blog is that I have been off thinking through things on the blogs of other people of late, and this week got into a discussion about that one thing I would probably have never mentioned on my own blog, that being singleness. Nicole, over here, blogged a post based on an article in the latest Briefing by Gordon Cheng, reviewing Christopher Ash's book Marriage: Sex in the Service of God. While I agree entirely with the ideas Nicole presented in her post, that she took away from that article, I had a few other questions about the article itself, which Nicole became the sounding board for. That discussion happened in the comments on Nicole's post.

In summary, the article, or rather Ash's book, reaches the conclusion that the purpose of marriage is "resting instead with our rule and dominion over creation", which he basis on the argument that is set up from Genesis 1:28 onwards, rather than as a cure for the aloneness we encounter in Gen 2:18.

The article then goes on to say "So the answer to loneliness may not be marriage, then, but friendship!". My question was, and still essentially is, that if we say that the suitable helper that was given to Adam was not to deal with the aloneness, then do we have theological grounds for saying that any other human being is? ie, where do we get a biblical basis for concluding that friendship is to be a cure for loneliness, if not from Genesis 2? (Though the argument made in the article is that the problem was that Adam needed someone to help him work the garden, which was the essence of the aloneness, and not a companion - but that being the case, why is anything needed as an answer for loneliness?). I got to thinking about this recently as a result of a sermon on divorce, which referred back to Gen 2:18-25, and made the point that Adam was not here given "fishing buddies" but a woman (when fishing buddies could have been just the thing to help him work - though here again, many argue that he needed a woman in order to fulfill the other command to be "fruitful"). Similarly when sermons are preached on marriage, or on homosexuality, at least in evangelical churches, the point is very often made that it is to be Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. In all of these cases it is made very clear that there is only one option contained within Gen 2:18, that being relationship with a person of the opposite sex. Yet often when it comes to sermons on singleness, if they go anywhere outside of 1 Corinthians 7 at all, they seem to smudge or expand Genesis 2, such that Steve and the fishing buddies are given a lot more value to combat the aloneness. This would actually stand, if you hold the argument that we only need someone to help us "work", but there again, why would anyone long for what is described in the very next Briefing article by Keith Condie - "We long for a deep emotional connection that makes us feel safe and loved, valued and understood" - if that were not a created part of us? And can we realistically find that in friendship? Perhaps you could argue that the making of another of the same "kind" as Adam is what counteracts the aloneness and that marriage is just a subset of that (which one would hope would include friendship), though I have run into difficulties actually building that argument from Genesis 2.

The article/book also states that if marriage is the answer to aloneness, then single people would be incomplete. Yet there are other things contained in the creation mandate of Gen 1:28 discussed in the article, namely to be "fruitful and multiply", which a single person can not fulfill, in any creation sense, either, so is that argument entirely consistent? (Though I acknowledge one or two loopholes in my reasoning here.)

Anyway, Nicole was very gracious and accommodating in being the victim of these thoughts. While I never actually expected an article, or book, on the purpose of marriage to address many aspects of singleness, as I realise they are separate issues, it has come to be an interesting discussion of that. Yesterday Nicole blogged a post on the Song of Songs and Singleness, in which she quoted from Barry Webb's book Five Festal Garments - Christian Reflections on Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther. I have to say that I think this is one of the best things I have read on singleness in a long time, in that, firstly, it refers back to Genesis as the basis of any sort of theology on singleness, which, in my humble opinion, is as it should be (though, perhaps, as Nicole suggests, certain aspects of Genesis 2 may have more to say on this than others), and secondly, simply because it does acknowledge the "limits" (for want of a better word) of singleness, which, as Barry Webb also implies, goes a lot further towards real encouragement for single people than does denial of them. For those two reasons I found it very refreshing.

I've pasted the excerpt from the book in here from Nicole's blog, so thanks to Nicole for typing it up:
Clearly, singleness is not to be seen as inferior to marriage in all respects, and single persons should not be viewed as 'incomplete' in any way that calls into question their integrity and dignity as human beings. Nevertheless, the Song of Songs has something important to say in this area, and it must be allowed to make its contribution to a fully biblical approach to these matters. I have argued in this chapter that the Song must be read against the background of Gen. 1-3. There, the statement "It is not good for the man to be alone (2:18) stands in stark contrast to the long string of pronouncements in Gen. 1, "It was good...good...very good". Here at last is something (aloneness) that is not good. The good condition that answers to this is the 'one flesh' union between the man and the woman that is reached in Gen 2:23-25.

The whole Song of Songs is in effect a celebration of that good condition, and as the Song comes to a close the word used to encapsulate this goodness is 'shalom' (8:10), which I take in this context to mean the full enjoyment of what our created natures naturally desire and long for (the NIV's 'contentment' is not an adequate translation).

The NT teaching about singleness as a state which is preferable in certain circumstances (1 Cor. 7), or which may be embraced voluntarily for the sake of the kingdom of God (Jesus is the supreme example of this), is to be seen against this background. It does not conflict with it or overturn it. In other words, singleness remains a state that is 'not good' in the sense that it is a state of loneliness in which certain natural created desires are not met. There are compensations, of course, and important benefits, but particular needs remain unmet, and the single person has to live with that fact and work through it. It is important to acknowledge this; otherwise there is a danger of moving into a kind of unreality and denial that are not helpful, either to single people themselves, or to those who minister to them.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A neglected blog

This blog has been sadly neglected of late. I never seem to find the time or mental space to distill a thought (or perhaps to have the initial thought) into a post that is more than something rather half-formed. I have spent the last three nights after work attending Oliver O'Donovan's lectures on Moral Wakefulness. I won't attempt any sort of synopsis of those. That has been done very well by Byron Smith over here, with two more posts to follow. You may ask why I went along, when the Moore College Evening Course on Ethics is about the only time I have given to a serious study of ethics, but I did find them very interesting and challenging (to say the least).

I am continuing to read the book Living the Cross Centred Life, which I am enjoying. I have just passed the chapter on Assurance and Joy, focusing on the why of the cross. In all our discussions of atonement theories and so on, it is something marvellous to be reminded of the why - that being because of God's great love for us.

Hopefully I'll be back with more later on.

Poetry Friday IV - The Listeners

Today we have a day off here in Sydney for APEC. It has been mildly inconvenient getting to work this week, and I have hopped off buses in some strange places because I was going to be able to walk a whole lot faster than a bus was ever going to get me to my destination. Yesterday morning I got off a bus, which was supposed to go through the Eastern Distributor, on the Eastern side of Hyde Park, to walk to Pyrmont. I suspect that I then participated in the exploitation of children for political purposes as I walked through Hyde Park in that after I politely declined taking a brochure from an elderly gentleman protesting against the persecution of Falun Gong in China, because I had collected that brochure the day before, I then came across a very gorgeous little Chinese girl, looking very earnest and struggling with her pile of the very same brochures and I couldn't resist taking one, with a big smile on my face what's more. Yesterday morning Bush had also decided to go to the Maritime Museum, which wreaked a little havoc in my neck of the working woods in Pyrmont. However, I am not actually going to moan about any of that, because where would be the point, and today I have the whole day off! So, I thought it a fitting day to post a purely escapist poem. I really like this poem. I couldn't even tell you why, except that it takes me away to somewhere else, and I find myself in a moonlit forest ...

The Listeners

"Is there anybody there?" said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest's ferny floor.
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
" Is there anybody there?" he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf -fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:-
"Tell them I came and no one answered,
That I kept my word," he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Aye, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.


Walter De La Mare 1873-1956

Friday, August 31, 2007

Poetry Friday III - John 11:33-37

The poem of my friend mentioned above is the poem for today, but it won't make any sense in isolation, so I'll share this one, also based on John 11:33-37. Hugh Palmer from All Soul's in London preached at our church last Sunday night on John 11, in which he emphasised all that is contained in that little verse "Jesus wept", and it is just my theme for this week:

Could not the one who opened blind men's eyes
Have kept this man from dying? Did he care
So little he delayed until he dared
Not linger further? Were there futile tries
To heal, quite swallowed by the mourning cries?
The healer must have loved him: he can't bear
This death with stoic unconcern, nor tear
From this man's tomb his weeping eyes.
The one whose primal home is heaven's bliss
Makes dust of Palestine his friend, and weeps
With those who weep. No studied distance, this:
He dons our flesh and into anguish leaps.
Removed from savage death, he could have kept
Aloof; but scripture signals, "Jesus wept".
Don Carson, Holy Sonnets of the Twentieth Century

August 31st


This is one of those pictures that paints a thousand words, or suggests a thousand stories. It's blurry I know, but basically what it says is that my father died on the 31st August when I was four, my older sister was six, and my Mum was six months pregnant with my younger sister. It bothers me sometimes that I suspect I slept through it. That momentous event that charged the course of my life, and all our lives, and irrevocably altered the person I was to become.

Recently at the Faithful Writers Conference we had to do a writing task. One of the options was a reflective piece on human suffering. So I decided to write about the family visits to the cemetery that followed my father's death. What happened there and how the response of each individual has shaped how they still respond to anything that goes near there. That August 31st reverberates through all our lives.

A little while ago told the story of those graveside visits to a new but trusted friend. They found themselves 'singularly moved' and went away and wrote me a poem based on John 11:33-37, which records the weeping of Jesus over the death of Lazarus and the sorrow of his sisters. The poem ended looking up at this Saviour who shed his tears, and then his blood, for us - so we can now cast all our cares on him. And it wasn't in the poem but we can then hope for the time when "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" Rev 21:4.

(I'm not up to sharing the writing piece, or the poem, in entirety, with the anonymous world. The other day, however, I received a link from a friend, with bizarre timing, that gives a rather different insight into what can become of children who experience grief. So, excuse the explicit language and read this short piece instead.)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Looking through a window

I stayed at home yesterday, obeying doctor's orders for this middle-ear infection I got from somewhere, and I was extra pleased as the weather turned miserable right about the time I would need to trek home over Pyrmont bridge and then line up for the bus (one of my least favourite parts of the day is the bus stop on Elizabeth Street around 6pm, with its swarms of people behaving in inhuman fashion). So, while I was home, having quite a lovely time really because I was hardly "sick", I read one of my birthday presents: a book called The Secret River by Kate Grenville. I don't read a lot of modern fiction, or Australian fiction either, so this book is an adventure. So far I have been impressed. She writes with a lot of perception, but does it with a striking simplicity.

Here's one example, written after the family had just built a hut on their piece of forest up the Hawkesbury:

The forest took on a different aspect, too. Outside the eye was confused by so many details, every leaf and grass-stalk different but each one the same. Framed by doorway or window-hole, the forest became something that could be looked at part by part and named. Branch. Leaves. Grass.
It struck me that she could be talking about ethics or worldview with that simple paragraph - how we need a framework to understand things by, to make sense of the world, boundaries so we know where "home" is. I've always been glad that I had a defined window to through at the world, and glad that there's a fence, if you will, a fence built by God - even if I discover I'm on the wrong side of it, at least I know where home is. Anyway, that perhaps is a long shot from Kate Grenville, and perhaps a product of what was going on between my ears, but somehow I got there.

Poetry Friday II - If I had wings

If I had wings as hath a dove,
If I had wings that I might fly,
I yet would seek the land of love
Where fountains run which run not dry ...

Christina Rossetti

Thankfully I've found it.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Poetry Friday - The Darkling Thrush

I have unashamedly stolen the idea of a poetry day off Nicole’s blog, because, as she says, "the more people reading poetry the better" (IOHO) - and while I am there I found her post for today regarding "binary nature of deliberative moral judgements" very interesting.

The poem I am going to begin with is The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy. It’s been a favourite for years and is, to me, something of the picture of what Christian hope and joy in the midst of unlikely circumstances should look like - and is a little something for a foggy/frosty day.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.


Thomas Hardy