Saturday, December 20, 2008

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

It's over and out for me here for 2008 most likely. So I hope you all have a very blessed Christmas and joyful New Year!

I'll leave you with the words of another of my childhood favourite Christmas songs. I like the scope of the lyrics (and we used to sing it as an item in my church, though, being good reformers, we changed one word: "all" to "His"). The words are by Amy Grant and the words by Michael W. Smith (neither of whom I listen to these days, except for their Christmas music, and I was disillusioned with Amy Grant for divorcing Gary Chapman and marrying Vince Gill I have to say - but we all have feet of clay, and that is why we need the Incarnation!) and here is an old video, which is worth watching just for the outfit (my goodness!):



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 all 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 19, 2008

Poetry Friday - Kept yonder

The poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins can take a little getting used to, because he has a style all his own, but here is a small section of the poem The Golden Echo, which speaks of God's sovereign care (and it would seem that Golden Echo, somewhat ironically, is also the name of a variety of Narcissus):

See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then why
When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept.—Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.—
Yonder.—What high as that! We follow, now we follow.—Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,
Yonder.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What tweens are into

Apparently I need to psych myself up for ABBA singstar before I get home for Christmas. That's what it's going to take to hang out with my nieces. Sounds like fun to me!

I can dance indeed! - but strictly only in the loungeroom and only with family.

These are my dancing girls, taken at the local park when I was up in May. I'm not too sure what B is doing with cricket bat. (And nope! - neither of them look anything at all like me).


Christmas and beyond

This is my second last day at work for the year - Hurrah! - and then I may disappear into the fog for a time. I have two weeks off work, which I am very much looking forward to. I'll be heading North, which isn't perhaps the direction I'd choose to go in the height of summer, but that is where the family is, so that is where I shall be going - for the annual lazing about in front of the air-conditioner, where the internet is dial-up and not to be bothered with. I'm looking forward to spending time with my two nieces especially and seeing my grandparents (my Pa, who is 85, has not been well just recently, and so I am thankful that, thus far, he is still here and I can catch up).

In January I'll be posting over on the EQUIP book club, and I will also be finding a new place to live, then packing and moving. Argghh! My current flatmate is leaving to go and work at a church next year, which gives me the option of finding someone to replace her in the current flat, which is a great place to live, or striking out my own. It's looking a little more like the second option. After thirty-something flatmates I think my days of temporary flatting with random people are drawing to a close, and it is time to make home a real home and begin on that lengthening list of things I have been going to do 'one day when I get my own place'. I am hopeful that the rental market has improved, because it was terrible this time last year, but we shall see.

So, it may be quiet here in January. But I'll be back tomorrow with a poem, so, till then ...

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Mommy Wars

Here is an excerpt on the Mommy Wars from Carolyn McCulley's book Radical Womanhood. I got seriously educated on the history of feminism reading this book.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gloria

This is a youtube clip of a some Christmas music I bring out every Christmas, Michael W. Smith’s Gloria, which reminds me of childhood Christmases and turns me into a lounge room charismatic – it’s so euphoric! If you can’t be bothered with all of it, start at around 2:50 and go with the crescendo. I have to make sure no-one sees me conducting my imaginary orchestra. You can watch a snippet of a live recording here.

Love isn’t God

After my posts last week on the enticement of dating non-Christians I went to the wedding of a friend on yesterday. The minister, Andrew Leslie, gave a short sermon based on Psalm 100 and 1 John 4:7-12. Near the beginning of his sermon he said this:
Note that the bible doesn't say Love is God. It says God is Love.
I thought, wow, that’s exactly it! I, unfortunately, think I missed a couple of minutes of what he said next because I was dwelling on that one line and how it fitted in with my recent thoughts (and it was a very hot Saturday afternoon!). But he went on to briefly mention the way that anything becomes justifiable if Love is god (ie, we make Love the god and guiding principle of our life) such as adultery and divorce etc, and he didn’t list this one but I mentally included dating non-Christians. Following on from that he talked about the way we are to build our lives on the certainty of God's love, as it is demonstrated in the passage. I think I am going to be using that line in the future.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Guest post from Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte would have been an interesting blogger. This is what she wrote in the preface to the 3rd edition of Jane Eyre:

Having thus acknowledged what I owe those who have aided and approved me, I turn to another class; a small one, as far as I know, but not, therefore, to be overlooked. I mean the timorous or carping few who doubt the tendency of such books as Jane Eyre; in whose eyes whatever is unusual is wrong; whose ears detect in each protest against bigotry - that parent of crime - an insult to piety, that regent of God on earth. I would suggest to such doubters certain obvious distinctions; I would remind them of certain simple truths.

Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.

These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them; they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is - I repeat it - a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.

The world may not like to see these ideas dissevered, for it has been accustomed to blend them; finding it convenient to make external show pass for sterling worth - to let white-washed walls vouch for clean shrines. It may hate him who dares to scrutinize and expose - to raze the gilding, and show base metal under it - to penetrate the sepulchre, and reveal charnel relics: but hate as it will, it is indebted to him.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Poetry Friday II - God the Most

And next is this one from Christina Rossetti, believed to have been written after she called off an engagement to Charles Cayley, for reason of "religious differences". English online interestingly writes "Rossetti's definition of Christianity was narrower and more evangelical than most people's". This is part of larger sonnet series called Monna Innominata, which is worth reading in it's entirety.

Or puoi la quantitate
Comprender de l'amor che a te mi scalda. (Dante)
Non vo' che da tal nodo mi scioglia. (Petrarca)


Trust me, I have not earn'd your dear rebuke,
I love, as you would have me, God the most;
Would lose not Him, but you, must one be lost,
Nor with Lot's wife cast back a faithless look
Unready to forego what I forsook;
This say I, having counted up the cost,
This, though I be the feeblest of God's host,
The sorriest sheep Christ shepherds with His crook.
Yet while I love my God the most, I deem
That I can never love you overmuch;
I love Him more, so let me love you too;
Yea, as I apprehend it, love is such
I cannot love you if I love not Him,
I cannot love Him if I love not you.

Poetry Friday I - Renouncement

In keeping with this weeks theme, and a smattering of 19th Century romance, I actually have two poems. The first is all romance, by Alice Maynell.

Renouncement
Alice Meynell (1847–1922)

I MUST not think of thee; and, tired yet strong,
I shun the thought that lurks in all delight—
The thought of thee—and in the blue Heaven’s height,
And in the sweetest passage of a song.
Oh, just beyond the fairest thoughts that throng
This breast, the thought of thee waits, hidden yet bright;
But it must never, never come in sight;
I must stop short of thee the whole day long.
But when sleep comes to close each difficult day,
When night gives pause to the long watch I keep,
And all my bonds I needs must loose apart,
Must doff my will as raiment laid away,—
With the first dream that comes with the first sleep
I run, I run, I am gathered to thy heart.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The resolution of Jane

Since we are talking Rochester and ignes fatui (note the plural of this important word), and since a little period drama never goes astray, here is the noteworthy and inspirational scene from Jane Eyre, taken from The Literary Network:

I was experiencing an ordeal: a hand of fiery iron grasped my vitals. Terrible moment: full of struggle, blackness, burning! Not a human being that ever lived could wish to be loved better than I was loved; and him who thus loved me I absolutely worshipped: and I must renounce love and idol. One drear word comprised my intolerable duty--"Depart!"

"Jane, you understand what I want of you? Just this promise--'I will be yours, Mr. Rochester.'"

"Mr. Rochester, I will NOT be yours."

Another long silence.

"Jane!" recommenced he, with a gentleness that broke me down with grief, and turned me stone-cold with ominous terror--for this still voice was the pant of a lion rising--"Jane, do you mean to go one way in the world, and to let me go another?"

"I do."

"Jane" (bending towards and embracing me), "do you mean it now?"

"I do."

"And now?" softly kissing my forehead and cheek.

"I do," extricating myself from restraint rapidly and completely.

"Oh, Jane, this is bitter! This--this is wicked. It would not be wicked to love me."

"It would to obey you."

A wild look raised his brows--crossed his features: he rose; but he forebore yet. I laid my hand on the back of a chair for support: I shook, I feared--but I resolved.

"One instant, Jane. Give one glance to my horrible life when you are gone. All happiness will be torn away with you. What then is left? For a wife I have but the maniac upstairs: as well might you refer me to some corpse in yonder churchyard. What shall I do, Jane? Where turn for a companion and for some hope?"

"Do as I do: trust in God and yourself. Believe in heaven. Hope to meet again there."

"Then you will not yield?"

"No."

"Then you condemn me to live wretched and to die accursed?" His voice rose.

"I advise you to live sinless, and I wish you to die tranquil."

"Then you snatch love and innocence from me? You fling me back on lust for a passion--vice for an occupation?"

"Mr. Rochester, I no more assign this fate to you than I grasp at it for myself. We were born to strive and endure--you as well as I: do so. You will forget me before I forget you."

"You make me a liar by such language: you sully my honour. I declared I could not change: you tell me to my face I shall change soon. And what a distortion in your judgment, what a perversity in your ideas, is proved by your conduct! Is it better to drive a fellow-creature to despair than to transgress a mere human law, no man being injured by the breach? for you have neither relatives nor acquaintances whom you need fear to offend by living with me?"

This was true: and while he spoke my very conscience and reason turned traitors against me, and charged me with crime in resisting him. They spoke almost as loud as Feeling: and that clamoured wildly. "Oh, comply!" it said. "Think of his misery; think of his danger--look at his state when left alone; remember his headlong nature; consider the recklessness following on despair--soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for YOU? or who will be injured by what you do?"

Still indomitable was the reply--"I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad--as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth--so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane--quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot."

The Nonny Enticement Pt 2 - Why Not

Here are a few of the thoughts I gathered over the last year or so. There’s a lot that could be said, but I don’t think exhaustive blogging is really something to aim for, so here goes:

The answer's no

Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, what you have to act on is this: God says not to, that's why. Later you can work through why God says not to, if that is important to you. In the meantime, you have to stick within the guidelines, and trust that God has good reasons for giving them. In my case I never genuinely wanted to go out with Rochester while he wasn’t a Christian, I just badly wanted him to become one. Still, the issue in the moment was this one, and you can only make your decisions and choices based on now (and I know many a disappointed woman who married a fellow hoping he’d turn to God and years later he hasn't).

I've actually met a number of Christians who are not convinced that God actually does say no, with regards dating/marrying non-Christians. I humbly suggest that these people need to spend more time understanding God and how he relates to his people and what he requires of them. I lost count of how many times in the Old Testament God tells Israel not to get tangled up with men/women from other nations. It was the downfall of Solomon, the wisest man living, so we mustn't think it won't be the downfall of us. In the New Testament Paul tells widows, who would have been perhaps the only single women of the time faced with such a choice, to marry "only in the Lord" (I Cor 7:39). It doesn’t make it clear in 2 Cor 6:14, what being unequally yoked means, but I think you could safely say it includes marriage to unbelievers.

To question this is to be like Eve in the garden, listening to the snake whisper "Did God really say ...?", then doing exactly what Eve did in concluding that God is holding out on you with something that really would be for your good, and choosing it anyway. It's basically the original sin.

What is your faith?

Following on from that I was really challenged to ask myself whether I really did believe that God was good, and that he meant good for me - and not just other people. The choice for me was never between some fabulous Christian guy who would be a spiritual leader of a relationship and help me raise kids to follow Jesus etc. It was between Rochester and nobody. It can be really hard to accept that singleness may be God’s good for you, and I have railed against that and messed myself up over the reasons why that might so, but in the end I have to be able to submit to God’s will for my life, whatever that is, and offer myself a living sacrifice (even if I keep wanting to crawl off the altar). There’s much more that could be said here about singleness. I am actually going to work through that in January over at the EQUIP book club, so you can pick that up over there if you like.

What's really your issue?

I had to think: what would dating a non-Christian really be saying about what matters to me? It's hard to get around the conclusion that what it means is that a relationship matters to me more than Christ. Then basically what I’d have for myself is an idol. If you are a Christian, you know that dating a non-Christian is wrong, and you willfully do it, then you really need to be honest with yourself about the fact that you don’t trust in God and something else is more important to you. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:34).

And might I say that this is where "missionary dating" is absolutely farcical. You can't date someone in order to "save" them. That might sound noble, but you have already totally discredited yourself and the gospel. And to toy with that person in your own indecision most certainly doesn't adorn the gospel either. It’s crucial to your gospel witness that you treat them with integrity, mean what you say, live like you believe it and then go away and stay away and pray. That’s what will best serve their salvation. Believing that enabled me to keep my resolve and leave it all with God. Then later last year I read this article on Pyromaniacs, so I will just quote a section of it here. And you simply have to read what he says at the end of the article in response to the defense that "other people have done it, and it worked out OK for them" (if that is one of the tantalising ideas that runs through your head):

“See, if you are in a dating relationship with someone who doesn't love Christ, you've already said the Christ-issue isn't the issue to you. Her looks, his job, the way she treats you, his sense of humor — whatever; these things matter more to you than Christ does.

You want this person to believe that he is a sinner, under God's wrath, and deserving His judgment. You want him to know that his righteous deeds are as filthy rags, that everything he can produce is not enough for God.

But you've already communicated, by your choice, that what he has is enough for you. That you and he share enough values, goals, aspirations, and affections to create (or even consider) an exclusive and intimate relationship.

See? You've already dealt a death-blow to your own credibility. You really might as well stop talking. Your priorities, your choices, have drowned out your words (cf. the principle of Titus 1:16).”

I also discovered how true it is that what the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies. Oh, the mental gymnastics I did in working this through. I thought crazy things! Beware that your mind plays dreadful tricks on you when you want to find a way to have something.

What do you think marriage is for?

I didn’t have all of this sorted out at the time, but I did read Ephesians 5 and wonder how any of that would be possible if I was married to a non-believer. Even one who I thought would be a great husband and potentially father. How could he possibly encourage my sanctification? I had to explore and remind myself what marriage is actually for. If we think all it's for is so we can have some one to go places with, share relational and sexual intimacy, set up a nice home, have some children, then we won't be able to what is really wrong with dating non-Christians. But marriage is about something so much grander than that. As John Piper says in his book, This Momentary Marriage (which is not available yet in Australia, but sounds like necessary reading):

… ultimately, marriage is the display of God. It displays the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his people to the world in a way that no other event or institution does. Marriage, therefore, is not mainly about being in love. It’s mainly about telling the truth with our lives. And staying married is not about staying in love. It is about keeping covenant and putting the glory of Christ’s covenant-keeping love on display.
Similarly, I haven’t read Married for God, by Christopher Ash, and I have a question over that book for another time, but marriage (as well as everything else) is for God’s glory and service. Remember that and see way past the immediate romance and small-scale vision of life with a non-christian. (And as an aside, one of the other things that really scares me about marrying a nonny is the thought of marrying somebody who is relying on me to make them happy. Because what are they going to do when I fail (which I will, as sure as the sun rises and sets)? I need to be able to believe that the fellow is looking to Jesus, and not me, as the source of his worth, identity, joy … And we also mustn't think we can marry a non-Christian and expect them to have a Christian view of marriage. You can't impose your own values on someone who has no reason to hold those values.)

That's all for now. That's really just scratching the surface and I am sure I will think of more salient points in future - and feel free to add some.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Nonny Enticement Pt 1 - A Story

I have a few blog posts that I have been meaning to write for a long time. At times there were reasons not to write them, because the story was still unfolding, because I didn't want to embarass the person concerned, and because God only knows what sort of "stuff" I may have lived to regret I said as I worked it through.

But the time has now come. The story, for the time being, has unfolded, I'll reveal later why the person concerned has no need to be embarassed, and, by the grace of God, I think I have worked it through.

So, for those of you who don't use the kind of lingo one hilarious friend of mine uses, a "nonny" is a non-Christian guy, or equally a girl. Relationships with nonnies is a temptation I thought I was immune too. I'd resisted for years and never given it a serious thought. That's before I met him (haven't you all heard that before). So, I'll tell you my story, so you know that I really do understand this particular enticement, and have had occasion to think it through in the hard places, and then later I'll move onto some more general things I have to say about this business of dating nonnies.

For the purposes of these posts I thought I'd use the code name I gave to him, that being Ignus fatuus. But that's a bit clumsy and a friend who talked me through some of this business, much as he liked my code name, said it sounded like what he used to try with the boys at school, except that perhaps that was ignis flatuus, so we'll make it Rochester (because why not - if you're going to be enticed by somebody who is off-limits then you might as well call him Rochester).

So, early last year (2007) I went along to a certain ordination service, for the purpose of helping my friend Sally (not her real name) with her three kids, while her husband Pete (not his real name either obviously, but some of you are going to work this out) was being ordained, and cheering Pete on of course. Pete's best mate (that being Rochester) from his days in the Navy had also come along to witness this ordination. Sally and I and the kids were running a little late, after gathering up children and supplies, so I said a brief hello as I climbed over Rochester to get further into the pew. Then we sat through two whole hours of this ordination service with four small children between us. Afterwards as we squatted on the floor and gathered up pencils, books and chip packets from the mosaic-tiled floor we exchanged proper hellos, then joined the queue to get out of the Cathedral. Knowing that this was Pete's friend who’d come along I was making an effort to be friendly and by the time we made it down the aisle we had strangely covered a fair amount of ground. Afterwards we milled around over morning tea, during which Rochester was being extremely kind and kept offering to fetch me drinks, passing me food and talking to me as though he liked talking to me. By the time morning tea was over I walked to my car thinking 'he is such a nice guy'. (But note this and the irony of it: I didn't go out looking for a non-Christian, I met one at an Ordination service inside the Cathedral.)

At this time I was actually the co-leader of the military bible study, which operated as one of the bible study groups in my church, which was partly being led by another fellow in the Navy. Having never met Rochester before, in the course of many military-type events, I asked Pete if this guy was someone we should follow up (since Rochester himself had insisted on coming to the ordination service). Pete said yes sure (with a caution in there about the guy/girl thing) and in the process affirmed to me that "he really is a great guy".

I didn't think there was too much further I could do about this, but on a Monday a week later, after I had been thinking and praying about this scenario and the fact that this guy was a little stuck in my head, I was walking up Market St in the rain, later than usual because I was going to meet a friend for dinner and Rochester, who works nowhere near the city, was walking down York St, also on his way to meet a friend visiting from Canberra for dinner, and we basically collided on the corner. So, we say hi, then he steers me off the foothpath out of the rain (yes, this was a Hollywood moment) and we went and stood under an awning and chatted for a while. So, there I was looking up into the light blue eyes of the most physically attractive man I'd ever met, talking in the rain and most importantly, he said he'd come along to church. I hurried off to meet my friend with a smile I couldn't quite wipe off my face.

So, the following Sunday I am hoping and praying he would come to church. He wasn't there when it started and I didn't see him come in anytime after that and was feeling the disappointment when I stand up during the break we had in the middle of the service and there he is sitting in the very back pew. I don't know how he managed it, because security is fairly tight in the building, but he'd snuck in the back somewhere. So, I went and sat with him, because I'd encouraged him to come (and Pete, his ordained friend, was actually preaching this evening, which I had used as leverage :), and couldn't sit with him). Aside from the fact that I needed a telescope to see what was happening in the service that was a good night, and we talked for some time in the pew afterwards.

He came back to church when he could two weeks later. We talked, then he walked me to my car and when we reached the carpark asked me if I would like to catch up for coffee sometime. I said "yes", because we all know that coffee is not being asked "out" don't we, and it was hardly the time or place to tell him why I couldn’t date non-Christians.

So I prayed like crazy for the three days before coffee, and Pete and Sally, who really didn’t like this development, did to. Because he’d been along to church it was fairly easy for me to ask him what he thought of what he’d been hearing and so began a long conversation about Christianity, Catholicism (he is a Catholic) and the like. Rochester is not lacking in intelligence or perception and so eventually he said to me “so does your faith mean that I couldn’t ask you out sometime?”, which was an answer to prayer about when and how I might tell him that, should the need arise. I had to say yes, obviously, but also let him know that it wasn’t because I didn’t want to. That was a sad moment. But being the gentleman that he is he still walked me to the bus, waited with me till it came, then we parted company. I thought that might have been the end of it and spent a good while kneeling by my bed praying my heart out about the whole thing (I am not usually one of those pious people who kneels on the floor to pray, but that night there didn’t seem to be anything else to do). The following week Pete caught up with Rochester, had a long conversation about Christianity (to Pete’s amazement), and Rochester agreed to come along and do the Simply Christianity course at my church. I tried not to let hope soar, but it did.

So Rochester went through the course, came along to church occasionally in the meantime, and on the last night I was especially praying like mad, hoping he’d make some kind of commitment. He didn’t that night, but I continued to hope and pray. It was actually ANZAC day the following day and so I caught a bus in to city at 3:30am to go to the Dawn service and then watch him and my bible study co-leader march with the Navy. Between the service and the march he took me to breakfast, insisted on paying, continued to be devastatingly nice to me, then over a coffee I tried to ask him what he had thought of the course, to which he replied that he liked it, but that it hadn’t really changed anything for him. I feel like I almost shut down the rest of that conversation, because it was just too hard and disappointing to have. Then I knew I just had to get out of there because otherwise I’d want to stay forever, so I saw him off at the start of his march and went off to find the wife and kids of my friend from bible study.

That was essentially the end of it. There are other bits and pieces and we maintain a friendship and he actually came along to Burn Your Plastic Jesus, the Mark Driscoll event in the Sydney Entertainment Centre, with me in August this year, but sadly, his entrenched Catholicism seems to prevent him seeing the clear light of the gospel.

I don’t know why this particular guy got to me. He just did. He was attractive, chivalrous, responsible, caring, sociable and humourous (made me and everybody laugh), a natural leader (he’s a Commander in the Navy, and according to someone I know who was trained by him he “runs a tight ship, but is a very funny guy” – nice) and had a certain something that charmed whoever he met. He came along to watch Pete graduate from Theological College and when I introduced him to people who I thought were going to let me have it instead they said to me “I see the problem Ali, because he is lovely”. The Dean himself, during one of our little “chats” which he began with the question “are you guarding your heart Ali?”, said to me “he's a nice man”. Because he is. (I don’t say that because I think you should have the Dean on a pedestal, but because if you don’t know me or trust my judgment you might trust his). Not to mention the fact that he simply asked me somewhere, and it worked. I was 33 years old at the time, feeling like my hopes and dreams of marriage and family were slipping away, and that this might really be the last opportunity for me. I’d been at my church for four years and never been asked for coffee, I can count on one hand the number of single Christian guys anything like my age that I know, and I haven’t been asked since. (And if Rochester ever reads this then he should know that if it wasn’t that I found him so attractive and thought so highly of him, then the whole scenario would never have been a problem in the first place.)

So, hopefully now you appreciate that I understand this one. I’ll leave this very long post here and come back soon, with the reasons I discovered and worked through about why it is a faithless thing to do to date non-Christians.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The happiness in parenting

You won’t often find anything on parenting here, largely because I think childless people should think twice before offering it, but while waiting for the bus yesterday I picked up the Sydney Child magazine and read a little article called The Parenting Paradox, by Arthur C. Brooks, who is president of an institute that sounds like it has little to do with parenting (the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research), but obviously it does. After discussing the ways in which having children reduces parental "happiness", which, incidentally, it reports is primarily owing to the effect that they have on the marriage, with quality of a marriage found to be critically important for life satisfaction, it says this:

"So why do we keep having kids, apart from the ticking of our biological clocks? Researchers find the reason goes deeper than happiness – to meaning ... Meaning in life is not the same thing as "happiness", and for most of us it is actually more important.

But there is one way in which parenting does raise happiness: parents increase the happiness of their children. A 2007 survey conducted by MTV and the Associated Press asked more than a thousand 13 to 24 year olds what made them happy. The number-one response did not accord with our adult paranoia at all – it was not hanging out at a shopping centre, playing video games or driving too fast. It was spending time with family. Almost three-quarters of the youthful respondents anonymously reported that their relationship with their parents made them happy."

So, be encouraged. Things aren’t always what they seem.

Picture from: www.channel4learning.net

Friday, December 05, 2008

Poetry Friday - Out of time

And indeed, so is this poem. I am endeavouring to venture into more modern poetry of late, some of you may have noticed. So here is a modern poet we studied at school, Kenneth Slessor. For some reason I wasn't overly rapt in him then, perhaps because he just wasn't romantic enough for my teenage fancies, and I have since then had the impression that he was to blame for the poem about the abbatoir, but I think now that was the work of Robert Gray. This one is a little longer, but very easy to read and comprehend (and it's in three parts, so you can quit at any one of them).


Out Of Time
Kenneth Slessor

I
I saw Time flowing like a hundred yachts
That fly behind the daylight, foxed with air;
Or piercing, like the quince-bright, bitter slats
Of sun gone thrusting under Harbour's hair.

So Time, the wave, enfolds me in its bed,
Or Time, the bony knife, it runs me through.
“Skulker, take heart," I thought my own heart said.
"The flood, the blade go by - Time flows, not you!”

Vilely, continuously, stupidly,
Time takes me, drills me, drives through bone and vein,
So water bends the seaweeds in the sea,
The tide goes over, but the weeds remain.

Time, you must cry farewell, take up the track,
And leave this lovely moment at your back!

II
Time leaves the lovely moment at his back,
Eager to quench and ripen, kiss or kill;
To-morrow begs him, breathless for his lack,
Or beauty dead entreats him to be still.

His fate pursues him; he must open doors,
Or close them, for that pale and faceless host
Without a flag, whose agony implores
Birth to be flesh, or funeral, to be ghost.

Out of all reckoning, out of dark and light,
Over the edges of dead Nows and Heres,
Blindly and softly, as a mistress might,
He keeps appointments with a million years.

I and the moment laugh, and let him go,
Leaning against his golden undertow.

III
Leaning against the golden undertow,
Backward, I saw the birds begin to climb
with bodies hailstone-clear, and shadows flow,
Fixed in a sweet meniscus, out of Time,

Out of the torrent, like the fainter land
Lensed in a bubble's ghostly camera,
The lighted beach, the sharp and china sand
Glitters and waters and peninsula -

The moment's world it was; and I was part,
Fleshless and ageless, changeless and made free.
“Fool, would you leave this country?” cried my heart,
But I was taken by the suck of sea.

The gulls go down, the body dies and rots,
And Time flows past them like a hundred yachts.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The town rat and the country rat

I like this story, and I like this idea. Bush rats are cute. More importantly, they belong here. I hope they oust those grotty stowaways. (Introduced species make me mad!)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Amusing myself with small things

On the other side of the partition that divides up the sea of partitions I work amongst sits a pleasant grey-haired German fellow. I love it when he calls his wife or other family and speaks to them in German. I tried to learn German once as an adult (but taking a class one night a week is a pretty hopeless way to learn a language and so I didn't get very far) so I listen sometimes for recognisable words and phrases. Most of the time I can't understand a word of the conversation, but yesterday I had a breakthrough: I heard him say funf, drei, sieben. That's 537!!
Next to this pleasant German sits another grey-haired chap, R, who's worked here forever and has a great sense of humour, which often sets me laughing on my side of the wall. I like it when R calls his wife too because after 28 years of marriage he still calls her "lovey". Across a corrider sits a grey-haired lady B, who has also worked here forever and she occasionally gets a visit from a friend H, who comes downstairs and hangs off her partition to chat for a while. Every time H comes down to visit B, R mysteriously gets a phone call and has a loud conversation with a fellow called Arthur. When I first moved down here I wondered 'who is Arthur' and I hadn't yet worked out that Arthur always called when H is down here. Anyway, Arthur is apparently H's imaginery husband, and he always has some problem with H that he needs to talk through by the sounds of it (and R is just prank calling himself to have these one-sided conversations). This morning H came down, and sure enough then Arthur supposedly called R who went on with the usual "oh that's terrible Arthur" etc. I couldn't resist so a little later I ducked out into the hall with my mobile phone and called R and, in my best man's voice, pretended to be Arthur. The only problem is that I hadn't really thought about the rest of the conversation, so then I just stood in the corrider and dissolved into fits of laughter and that was the end of it. But it was fun while it lasted.

Monday, December 01, 2008

One death in Mumbai

This friend of a friend was taken hostage and then killed in Mumbai last week. If you feel so inclined please pray for her young husband and family, that they might come to know Christ through their grief.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Book lovers alert

My life has just been made all the richer. There is a new Berkelouw bookshop just open in Newtown and I popped in last night with a friend after dinner on King Street. Downstairs are the new books, and upstairs are the second-hand books and a café. Very nice, and they had a lot of second-hand books. I didn’t buy any – I am getting so good at book restraint! – but I made a wish list and I’ll be going back.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Poetry Friday - Depending

Friday has snuck up on me this week, but the poem I wanted to share today is one that I need to link to because I discovered earlier that blogger won't let me format it properly. So, here it is. It's by James Galvin, and modern poet who lives yet, and called Depending on the Wind. We looked at this poem over last weekend (and also at the Faithful Writer conference back in August). Here is the first line:

A score of years ago I felled a hundred pines to build a house.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The witness of poetry

If you want to read something fascinating, about a man who seems to have lived in another time and place, which yet overlapped with ours (he died in 2004), I was engrossed by this article about Czeslaw Milosz, who was the Nobel laureate for poetry in 1980 and edited A Book of Luminous Things. It's sprinkled with insights about World War II, Catholic nationalism, the witness of poetry, and gems like this:
"when ambition counsels us to lift ourselves above simple moral rules guarded by the poor in spirit, rather than to choose them as our compass needle amid the uncertainties of change, we stifle the only thing that can redeem our follies and mistakes: love."

The homily ending

So I went along to the Faithful Writer master class on Friday and Saturday and had a splendid time. Partway through Friday I was wishing that I could spend every Friday like this: sitting and talking about writing, with all the many aspects of life which invariably enter into the discussion, practicing it and exploring it.

We had some very useful general input from Mark, who drips small insights here and there as he talks, went through some "luminous" (luminous has become the new cliché for writing, unfortunately) pieces of writing from various authors (eg Mary Oliver, Leonard Cohen, James Galvin, Cormac McCarthy, Hemmingway) and then spent a good part of the two days work-shopping each others' contributions. I felt like the gut-spiller amongst us, as my pieces were more personal than most (even with the edits!), but I received some genuinely encouraging feedback and have a new project to expand the memoir-like prose piece I had written.


During the first morning tea one of the attendees approached me and said they had really appreciated one poem I submitted and particularly one line within it, and so began a discussion along the lines of how, as Christians, we can skip too fast over the human on the way to God. One of my questions about the concept of faithful writing in general is that of whether everything needs to contain the hope or end with some kind of homily. I didn't make the New College lectures this year, by Trevor Hart, which I believe discussed this, so my next mission is to listen to those (and unfortunately I think I may have missed some informal discussion along these lines on the Friday evening at the master class, because I skipped out of the dinner to go to a friend's party, which was a lovely).


As with all such events, it was refreshing to spend time in the company of others interested in the things I am interested in, to talk about those things and encourage one another in our efforts.


(The one downside of the two days was sleeping in New College. Argghhh! More often than not I am one of those people who can "sleep anywhere", but not that night, during which I doubt I slept at all. The light stayed on outside my window and people scuffed past at all hours. At 4 am five boys - I know, because I stood on the balcony and glowered down at them - sat in the court yard and talked a laughed, loudly. I opened and closed the window several times depending on whether I thought the noise or the stuffiness was worst in that moment. Besides all that, I had a head full of stuff to think about and had eaten mud cake before I left the party that would keep a person awake for days - I know that, too, because I made it, with a kilogram of sugar. I am still recovering.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Poetry Friday - The soul's chariot

As befits the current state of affairs here in the fog:


A Book
by Emily Dickinson

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The big sister

This is my niece Annie Rose, who is now the big sister of Eli David, taken at Darwin. I just had to post this photo, that's all.

Feminism and motherhood

Jennie Baddeley has put up a thought-provoking post this week on Feminism and Motherhood, following her series of posts over at the EQUIP book club on The Feminist Mistake. I found it really interesting and challenging to pause and mull on this one. While most of us would say we definitely don't support abortion, I suspect many of us do live with the notion that when and how many children is our choice (even though there is now some truth in that), which is one of the subtle offsprings of feminism.

A way of stringing words together

Apologies (if anyone actually needs an apology for such a thing) for the silence here of late. I have some posts in my head but have been endeavouring to work on something elsewhere and get through the reading before I go to the Faithful Writer masterclass this weekend, which I am really looking forward to. Add to that the Moore College evening lectures, bible study, a couple of other things and a bit of fiddling about and weeknights seem to be disappearing.

The other night I was reading some of Mark Tredinnicks set readings for this up-coming class and I was hooked on the excerpt from The Blue Plateau. I don't always line up with his assessment of the state of humanity, but the writing is magnetic.

Here is the introductory paragraph to that and another piece of work:

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

-Elizabeth Bishop, One Art

 
I am made of pieces and of the spaces between them where other pieces used to be. I am a landscape of loss. Most of me is the memory of where else and who else and with whom, I have been and no longer am.

And so it is with the plateau; she too, is a landscape of loss.

-A Faster Kind of Sandstone
Mark Tredinnick

And this one made me laugh:

During a lull in the fiercest weather event the south-east of the continent has seen in thirty years - we call them 'events' these days, as though someone's putting them on - I went out on a Sunday morning and bought myself a book.

-A Storm and a Teacup
Mark Tredinnick

I am hoping that I can absorb some of this way of stringing words together.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poetry Friday - The spectre within

Poetry Friday is all about surprises here lately, but today I have another by Emily Dickinson. It doesn't need much explaining, but in about the horrors lurking inside ourselves.


Ghosts
by Emily Dickinson

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.

Far safer, of a midnight meeting
External ghost,
Than an interior confronting
That whiter host.

Far safer through an Abbey gallop,
The stones achase,
Than, moonless, one's own self encounter
In lonesome place.

Ourself, behind ourself concealed,
Should startle most;
Assassin, hid in our apartment,
Be horror's least.

The prudent carries a revolver,
He bolts the door,
O'erlooking a superior spectre
More near.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stories from Mars and Venus

The other day I received the workshopping material for the upcoming Faithful Writer conference, which we need to read before-hand and be prepared to critique. This means that I now have the contributions from the other eleven attenders and have had a quick glance through it. It's an interesting collection of work and some of it has made me smile over the gender differences. I'll let you guess who wrote what if I tell you that I read a story about a girl trying not to cry during the choosing of her formal dress, followed by a story about warriors preparing for battle behind enemy lines in murky trenches. It reminded me of this email I received recently, which I shall post here just for fun:

Here's a prime example of "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" offered by an English professor from the University of Phoenix.

The Professor told his class one day, "Today we will experiment with a new form called the tandem story. The process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting to his or her immediate right. As homework tonight, one of you will write the first paragraph of a short story. You will email your partner that paragraph and send another copy to me.

The partner will read the first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story and send it back, also sending another copy to me. The first person will then add a third paragraph, and so on back-and-forth. Remember to re-read what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent. There is to be absolutely no talking outside of the emails and anything you wish to say must be written in the email. The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached.

The following was actually turned in by two of his students, Rebecca and Gary.

THE STORY

(first paragraph by Rebecca)
At first, Laurie couldn't decide which kind of tea she wanted. The chamomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked chamomile. But she felt she must now, at all costs, keep her mind off Carl. His possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him too much her asthma started acting up again. So chamomile was out of the question.

(second paragraph by Gary)
Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about than the neuroses of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with whom he had spent one sweaty night over a year ago. "A.S. Harris to Geostation 17," he said into his transgalactic communicator. "Polar orbit established. No sign or resistance so far ..." But before he could sign off a bluish particle BEAM FLASHED out of nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship's cargo bay. The jolt from the direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.

(Rebecca)
He bumped his head and died almost immediately, but not before he felt one last pang of regret for physically brutalizing the one woman who had ever had feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4. "Congress Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel," Laurie read in her newspaper one morning. The news simultaneously excited and bored her. She stared out the window, dreaming of her youth, when the days had passed, unhurriedly and carefree, with no newspaper to read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent wonder at all the beautiful things around her. "Why must one lose one's innocence to become a woman?" she wondered wistfully.

(Gary)
Little did she know, but she had less than 10 seconds to live. Thousands of miles above the city, the Anudrian mothership launched the first of its lithium fusion missiles. The dim-witted wimpy peaceniks who pushed the Unilateral Aerospace disarmament Treaty through congress had left Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires who were determined to destroy the human race. Within two hours after the passage of the treaty the Anudrian ships were on course for Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet. With no one to stop them, they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan. The lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President, in his top-secret mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of Guam, felt the inconceivably massive explosion, which vaporized poor, stupid Laurie.

(Rebecca)
This is absurd. I refuse to continue this mockery of literature. My writing partner is a violent, chauvinistic semi-literate adolescent.

(Gary)
Yeah? Well, my writing partner is a self-centered tedious neurotic! whose attempts at writing are the literary equivalent of Valium. "Oh, shall I have a chamomile tea? Or shall I have some other sort of *)@#$ tea???! Oh no, WHAT AM I to do? ...

(And they continue to hurl abuse.)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Hospital by the River

Here is a lovely and moving slide show from today’s online Sydney Morning Herald about the Addis Ababa Fistula hospital, narrated by Dr Catherine Hamlin, author of The Hospital By the River. You can read more of the story in this weekend's Good Weekend magazine.

Poetry Saturday - Uncertain waiting

I discovered today's poem originally at this blog in a series of posts about infertility, which I have already mentioned. It captures the feeling of waiting for something that has no guarantee of coming or no estimated time of arrival.


If You Were Coming In The Fall
By Emily Dickinson

IF you were coming in the fall,
I ’d brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I ’d wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed,
I ’d count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen’s land.

If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I ’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.

But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time’s uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.

Picture from: www.artbywicks.com

Friday, November 07, 2008

Poetry Friday delay

I don't have a poem ready for today. For the last four weeks I have been out for three weeknights in a row (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week, after a full weekend) and it's all starting to stack up on me. So is the mess in my room. And so are the trivial blog posts. I'm not one of those people who thrives on being out nearly every night of the week and writes astounding things at midnight. But, watch this space and there shall be a poem tomorrow.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Eli again

My sister came home from hospital and thought the selection of pictures that my brother-in-law sent of my new nephew were "interesting" - so she sent some more. This one I thought was extremely cute:

The lesser task of protecting decency

I was working through a judgment by Justice Gray in the Supreme Court of South Australia today (I came back and deleted the link, because while what it contained was a court room description of the contents of a prohibited DVD import, it was highly unedifying) and came across an interesting snapshot of the history of the law on public morality and decency:

"The defendant drew attention to the Fullagar Memorial Lecture, delivered by Dr JJ Bray in July 1971, in which Dr Bray traced the juristic basis of the law relating to offences against public morality and decency. Dr Bray referred to the early decision of Hicklin and noted that it had been applied by Fullagar J in Close. At that time Fullagar J observed that there was no obscene libel unless what was published was both offensive according to current standards of decency and calculated or likely to have the effect described in Hicklin - a tendency to deprave and corrupt people whose minds were susceptible to corruption and into whose hands the material may fall. Dr Bray went on to note that the High Court in Crowe had gone further and limited the test of indecency as to whether it was offensive according to current standards of decency. It was Dr Bray's prediction that the law would abandon the attempt to protect morality in the field of words, written or spoken, the graphic arts, the stage and films, and would confine itself to the lesser task of endeavouring to protect decency. The prediction of Dr Bray has proved to be correct."

Dr JJ Bray, “The Juristic Basis of the Law Relating to Offences Against Public Morality and Decency” (Speech delivered at the Third Wilfred Fullagar Memorial Lecture, Monash University, 19 July 1971). Published in (1972) 46 ALJ 100
R v Hicklin (1868) LR 3 QB 360
R v Close [1948] VLR 445
Crowe v Graham (1968) 121 CLR 375.

God's secret and revealed will

Yesterday I read this very interesting post over at Between Two Worlds. I'll snitch this out of the context of the rest of the post (which is American politics and abortion), but I thought this was a great little snippet on God's will

Theologically, we need to make at least two distinctions. One is between God's secret will (everything that will come to pass) and God's revealed will (what he tells us to do in his Word). The second important point is that God not only ordains ends but also commands and ordains means.

Where am I going with this?

(1) The fact that God ordains all things (i.e., his secret will) has a limited effect on our decision making. It can't prescribe how we act, but it can prevent us from having the wrong perspective (e.g., anxiety, fear, despair, misplaced trust, etc.). But in terms of interpreting events, the main way to read providence is backwards (as John Flavel wrote: "Some providences, like Hebrew letters, must be read backward").

(2) The fact that God ordains means ensures that our actions have significance. The ordained outcome can never be seen as an excuse for complacency or fatalism.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

An example of sacrifice

I mentioned earlier that I caught up with some friends who were staying out at Lane Cove River Tourist Park. I thought I'd share a little more about these friends because the story of how they are working for the gospel is encouraging and one that perhaps wouldn't immediately come to mind when you think "gospel work". I'll let these friends stay semi-anonymous at this point and call them J (the guy) and S (the girl). They're married.


I am not even so sure how I came to be such good friends with J and S. We have never lived in the same town. I met them originally when I was involved in a ministry to Christians in the defence forces and went along to a conference called Fighting Words, aimed at encouraging and exhorting Christians in the forces. J was, and still is, in the Airforce and S is very much onboard with defence force happenings. Later that year I went along to Club 5, as it was then called (a conference for people considering ministry) and J and S happened to have travelled to be there. I didn't yet know a whole lot of people from Sydney, so they were familiar faces in the crowd and I stuck with them quite a lot that weekend, we had a really good time, and before too long I was visiting them for the weekend up in Newcastle.


When long service leave came around for J, which it does quite early if you are in the defence forces because your training and university counts toward it, he decided to go to Canberra and do a version of MTS, working with defence cadets. He managed to get the whole year's leave by making a deal with his commanding officer that after that year he would take a posting to Wagga Wagga. Nobody wants to go to Wagga Wagga. J is now at the rank of Squadron Leader and going to Wagga is just not the thing to do - it means something of a slow death of his military "career".


But they have other reasons for going to Wagga. Out there are several training bases (an Airforce training school 10 km out of Wagga, and the Army Recruitment Centre, Kapooka, out of town in the other direction) through which hundreds of young men and women move every year doing training courses of various sorts. And mostly they are "troops", doing trades, not "officers", the people with degrees. J has several awards and scholarships behind him for his academic performance, S has a Ph.D. Wagga and the troops could look like a waste of their combined intelligence. But that depends on how you're looking at it. They also said they'd give it ten years. That is also suicidal for a military career, to take the same posting for ten years.

But they have gone there for the sake of the gospel. There they seek to have a Christian presence on the training base, to get amongst the troops, run bible studies, courses, open their home, generally reach out to this mass of young people sent out to Wagga for a time as they set out in life.


The thing about any sort of evangelistic ministry to the military is that you really do have to be in the military to do it. You can't walk onto a defence base and start a bible study or run a workplace or campus outreach event - you won't get through the gate, and even if you did you probably wouldn't understand the language that they speak on the other side of the gate. They live a life-style that is basically foreign to the rest of us and is a sub-culture all its own. Many of the people doing these courses also live on the bases for that time, behind the security gates, so you won't find them during a neighbourhood door-knock after-hours. They are basically inaccessible to the usual full-time gospel worker. That is why it is so valuable that J has stayed in the Airforce, but has made sacrifices within that to be strategic for the sake of the gospel. It gives him access, provides him with the means to live where these people are, provides him with opportunities, empathy and camaraderie with the people he seeks to reach. He has handed over his career to the cause of the gospel without leaving it. And S is right there with him welcoming young troops into their lives and raising their kids in Wagga Wagga.

Introducing Eli

Monday, November 03, 2008

A nephew is born

This afternoon my nephew, Eli David, was born weighing 7lb 10 ounces. Everybody's well and thankful to God. As I've mentioned before, he's the first nephew after three nieces, so that is novel. Unfortunately he is in Darwin, so I am not entirely sure when I will meet him, but hopefully before too long. Now I have to go and mail Paddington (I think I am going to miss him!). I might post a photo or two when I have some.

Last night I saw ...

A bandicoot! - of the southern brown variety - about half an hour's drive from my house (well, my unit actually - I listened in on an auction, cause the guy was yelling to a crowd on the footpath as I came home, on the weekend for a unit in my block the same as the one we rent and it sold for $528,000 dollars - crazy times!). I went out to catch up with some friends who were staying in Lane Cove River Tourist Park. I was amazed at this place. I never knew that just next to Chatswood, in the middle of suburbia, was a national park, with a nice river, complete with bandicoots. So I was leaving just after ten last night and walking back to my car and I could hear a hopping sort of rustling sound in the bushes, which sounded like a creature of reasonable size, and curiousity got the better of me. Then there it was, and it most obligingly hopped out of the bushes and across the road, at a leisurely pace, right in front of me. I definitely have to go back and explore around that area sometime. It was a little moment of bush nostalgia.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sharing our hearts

The other day I read this on the Desiring God blog, and liked it. Then I read Bec's embellishment, and liked that even more. Then I read this post, at this is reverb, along similar lines, and really liked that too (this fellow is somewhere west of me on the theological spectrum of things, but he takes amazing photos and he believes in real fellowship).

Poetry Friday - Our last anniversary

Today's poem is sobering, but no-one will be able to say that it means nothing to them, because this event will befall us all. More important than the date of its coming, is knowing where you will be after it passes. If that is not something you are sure of, then let me, as the greatest kindness I could ever do you, suggest you read through this. Then enjoy the poem.


FOR THE ANNIVERSARY OF MY DEATH
by W.S. Merwin

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Putting myself in temptation's way

I did a very stupid thing. One of the ladies here at work sells small chocolate bars at her desk for a dollar, as a fundraiser for something or other. I am usually pretty good at limiting myself to one a week maximum of these. But, I was in the local supermarket the other day and they had packets of mini Snickers bars on sale. So, I thought, oh if I buy that I can have it in my drawer for when I just want a little tiny little bit of chocolate, and that will prevent me buying one from the fund-raising box when I NEED chocolate, and it will be cheaper. You can imagine how that turned out ...

Beating the system

Hah! I got the better of google reader. I put something in blogger that was meant to be a draft earlier. However, I accidentally hit the publish button instead of the save button. I raced back and saved it to a draft to take it down, but I knew that this wasn't going to prevent it going out to readers (I have learnt that the hard way). So instead I just copied the contents of the post to create another one later, deleted the content, then hit the publish button again (but leaving the actual post there and not deleting it in entirety, which also doesn't prevent it going to the readers or being updated if it has already made it to them). And it worked. That is why there is that empty post below. As far as I have been able to determine, that is the only way to madly stop something going out to all the readers that you didn't want to (once you have hit that publish button), or to make readers update a post to remove the content if it is already there.

The fog goes to 50,000 readers

The November Issue of Southern Cross is now online (and it's worth looking at the broader website of Sydney Anglicans if you don't already). In this issue there is a supplement for women called "Passion" (I don't, however, think this is available online) and yours truly has an article within that. Those of you who have read this blog for some time will recognise it because it started here. I have to say, I was gob-smacked when asked to adapt it into an article, but I am pleased that it's in there. That's not because I wrote it - and, as you will see, it is hardly an original thought - but because it's a piece of rubber-collides-hard-with-the-road straight talking about something that interacting with women tells me could benefit from a little more straight talking. I am sure I went red when I hit the "publish" button originally on this blog, because I thought it was a little "out there". Now it's even more out there, but hopefully that will be for good. Anyway, that's the teaser. Go get a copy of the magazine :) (you can have a sample of the magazine mailed to you through the website if you can't access it any other way).


P.S. And I promise I won't forget those of you who read along when all it was was a blog and will let you all be famous by association ;).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In a mirror dimly

Yesterday afternoon I had a half-day off work and thought I'd go and peruse the Sculptures by the Sea. I wasn't going to take loads of photos, because my camera is not really up to the "arty" shots, and I thought I'd end up with a lot of fairly uninteresting shots of sculptures, with no people in them, just sculptures lacking depth of field. But I was rather taken with this particular work and out came my camera. For some reason, looking at it my mind dug up 1 Corinthians 13:12. It's a tenuous connection, but from there I also thought, looking at this sculpture of a woman staring into her own tiny mirror, while surrounded by a magnificent display of God's glory in the water-carved cliff faces, in the spanless ocean with the afternoon sun glancing off the waves, in the heavens reflected in rockpools so much larger and clearer than her mirror, with thousands of people passing by, to whom her back was turned, about how we can lose perspective and block out or take no interest in what is happening beyond our own lives and sit, face to the ground, staring at our own small reflection - missing the much grander vista of God's workings in the world and in the cosmos.

Waiting for a star to fall

Our computer system is playing up again this morning. I don't normally go out and buy a coffee at work, as half my building does mid-morning, but this morning I went out and ended up in the super IGA getting the gear to make my own coffees. I was just about to leave when Waiting for a Star to Fall, by Boy Meets Girl, came on the music system. I love that song!! I had to spend another few minutes wandering the aisles just to enjoy it. It would have to be my favourite 80's flashback (although a few weeks ago I drove over the harbour bridge and Flashdance came on the radio and that was good moment too). I can't access youtube at work to actually watch and veto this, but here is a link anyway. What is your favourite 80's song?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The value of choke-cherry jelly and sausage dog magnets

The other night I sat down and read the book A River Runs Through It in one sitting, because it’s only 104 pages. I’ve previously mentioned the movie based on this book and have been keen to read the whole book. In one of the few explicit moments in the book about what is happening in the family, there is this conversation between the father and the older brother, concerning the younger brother (a man now in his early thirties making bad decisions):


“You are too young to help anybody and I am too old,” he said. “By help I don’t mean a courtesy like serving choke-cherry jelly or giving money.
“Help,” he said, “is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly.
“So it is,” he said, using an old homiletic transition, “that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed. It is like the auto-supply shop over town where they always say, ‘Sorry, we are just out of that part.’”
I told him, “You make it too tough. Help doesn’t have to be anything that big.”
He asked me, “Do you think your mother helps him by buttering his rolls?”
“She might,” I told him. “In fact, yes, I think she does.”
“Do you think you help him?” he asked me.
“I try to,” I said. “My trouble is I don’t know him. In fact, one of my troubles is that I don’t even know whether he needs help. I don’t know, that’s my trouble.”
“That should have been my text,” my father said. “We are willing to help, Lord, but what if anything is needed?
“I still know how to fish,” he concluded. “Tomorrow we will go fishing with him.”

To me that really captured something of those times when we feel quite literally helpless, when we want to do something, the best thing, but don't know what that is. The other evening I was dashing off from work a little earlier than usual for a coffee in the city with someone I have been meeting up with for a while, who is coming out the other end of a mess. As I was leaving, one of my work colleagues came up to my desk to tell me that she found out that day that she needs to have her thyroid gland removed because it has a growth that could be cancerous. I delayed my departure a few minutes to talk about this. Then I had the coffee with the other friend and felt like there was more to say but that it couldn’t just be said plainly (or that I wasn’t much good at saying it plainly). On the way home I remembered that my friend at work really liked sausage dogs, and that I had previously mentioned these great sausage dog magnets I had seen to her (they are tiny little moulded sausage dogs, with very strong little magnets on the bottom of their bellies so that they stand off the surface you put them on) so I stopped in at the shop and bought them. As I put them on her desk the next day before she got in I couldn’t help but think ‘it’s brilliant isn’t it - someone tells me they might have cancer so I give them sausage dog magnets’.

Do sausage dog magnets really make a difference? What was I trying to say leaving a packet of magnets on her desk?

I think there is some value in the seemingly small deeds, in the magnetic sausage dogs, the fishing, the buttering of rolls (with some evidence for this coming from Matthew 25:34-40). But it's in making the real connection between the deeds to the most valuable life-changing truths, to the story gospel that I often feel inadequate, as clearly the father in the story above does too.

On my last trip to Koorong, several months ago now, I bought the book “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in need of change helping people in need of change”, which I am yet to read (it's in the pile). I'm hoping to glean something about joining more of the dots and aiming at something resembling what is expressed so beautifully in this song by Sara Groves.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Books here and books there

This week I received in the mail a review copy of Radical Womanhood by Carolyn McCulley. I have to admit, I was chuffed to be receiving a review copy of something (which came about because I am contributing on Carolyn's earlier book for the EQUIP book club) and people sending me free books to read is up there with life's finest things.
On an even more exciting note, a group of women in South Africa have launched the EQUIP book club in their country. You can read an interview with one of them here (which might make you realise how good we have things here in Australia).

Concluding the week with Shakespeare

I seriously lost the blogging inspiration this week. If I’d written posts they’d probably have been about a spooky experience I had walking to work on Monday, which would have made you all decide that I was weird, a couple of weirder still dreams I had the other night (but who actually enjoys hearing people relate stories of their nonsensical dreams?), the tragically bad hair day I had on Wednesday because I walked to work in the rain, which turns curly hair to frizz, the fact that I ate a whole punnet of mulberries almost in one go (actually, I was very chuffed to find mulberries in a shop and it reminded me of a day in my teens when my best friend and I ransacked another friend’s mulberry tree for the afternoon, turning our lips purple with the passage of mulberries, tie-dying our t-shirts by scrunching our juice-stained hands all over them, then baking mulberry pies, which nobody complained about), about the CD I am currently thrashing, which is Jars of Clay Redemption Songs, which I bought at Koorong on Saturday, when I went out there to get a book on church history, because it was only $10 (I do especially like I Need Thee Every Hour) or maybe just about the weather (but the weather has been crazy enough to write home about this week – for those of you not in Sydney we started out Spring with 35 degrees (Celsius) and thought we missed Spring altogether, then yesterday it was 14 degrees and snowed in the mountains and rained here, and is still freezing, and apparently this weekend it will be back in the thirties) … so it’s a good thing I refrained from posting. But since it is Friday tomorrow (perhaps I shall schedule this post for then) and that is poetry day, here is a poem. I thought it was time for my favourite Shakespeare sonnet, which I am amazed to discover hasn't yet featured on this blog. “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds” is a sadly forsaken sentiment.


Sonnet 116
William Shakespeare


Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Monday, October 20, 2008

In the meantime, chatting with John Owen about sin

I am feeling rather uninspired for blogging of late. For the Faithful Writer Masterclass we need to submit some material beforehand for workshopping. So, I spent some of the weekend working on a poem I started ages ago. It's a free form poem. These are easier to write initially, perhaps, than metred and rhymed poems, but it's then harder to work out when it is actually a poem, and when it isn't. I am not sure that one is for public viewing. Maybe after it's been shredded at the class.
In the meantime I have been waiting on the next installment (if there are to be more) from The Blazing Centre on the "Interview with Johnny O". The writer over there has paraphrased Temptation and Sin by John Owen into a conversation. It works for me. Here is Part 1 and here is Part 2.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lessons in the history of the church and the use of words

I am taking an evening lecture course in Twenty Centuries of Church History at the moment, at Moore Theological College, just because I have never specifically studied church history and have long been interested. We've only had one lecture so far, but so far so good. Archie Poulos is the lecturer, which is great. I don't think I have told blog world this yet, but when I first moved to Sydney I lived with Archie and Ainsley Poulos (and kids) for 10 months. Those were good times and I learnt a good many good things from talking to them and observing their lives.

I haven't decided whether I will take the assessments for this course or just audit it yet. Being the over-achiever that I am exams are stressful and it's a long time between doing them and sometimes it's good for me to just learn things and not concern myself with results. And the other very exciting thing is that I have been accepted into the Faithful Writers Masterclass, jointly run by Matthias Media and CASE, over a weekend in November, with Mark Tredinnick providing the teaching. I think this will be a fantastic opportunity to push me to write and to improve my writing - but at the same time I am feeling a little inept and wondering what I have let myself in for, spending two days with this man scrutinising my sentences before a small group of other creative people. So I really want to make the most of the occasion and the input!*

Should I choose to do the assessment for church history, for the essay we have to choose an epoch of history, and within that a person or event that was significant and write about why it was so. So, I have been thinking about who I might choose ...

It's good to have some interesting things going on, even though it ups the level of life activity a little.

*Apologies if I am being insensitive in announcing this. I have no idea who else or how many applied for this class.

Poetry Friday - so much depends

Here's a poem to inspire you all (which I accidentally posted on the wrong blog earlier!):

The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Women

On Monday night I went with a friend to a pre-release screening of the movie The Women that my friend had somehow come by free tickets to. I don't think I have ever been to a pre-release movie screening before. It was sponsored by Wittners shoes, and so I discovered what the microphone down the front of the theatre was for when a manager from Wittners came and gave us a little introductory talk - about shoes. Apparently this summer we are in for feathers and jewels on our shoes, and we haven't seen the end of the platform. Somebody would have had to tell me that for me to be any the wiser because shoes are really not my thing. I am missing that large portion of a woman's brain that is apparently set-aside for shoes, and feel like I can do without feathers and jewels on mine, but we shall see.


Anyway, I had never heard of this movie before my friend's invitation. The cast consists entirely of women (as in, there isn't one male in it at all) and it is quite a good line up of actresses. Without writing a spoiler the story had a rather feminist message (I am seeing feminism everywhere after this month's EQUIP book club posts) but there were seemingly contradictory moments about being there for your children, about succeeding involving compromising your values, and at one point one of the actresses says "I know I can have it all, but I don't know if I want it all - because it's exhausting". Then the film ends with a lovely scene in a hospital ward with the group of friends all cooing over a baby.


In the end I was a little confused about what the movie was trying to tell me (when I bothered to think about it, because it's not exactly the kind of movie that makes one think deep-thinking is required) and I wondered if the movie itself was actually portraying that confusion because women are confused (or whether it was a piece of fluff that didn't bear analysing). In writing this post I just read the blurb I linked to above and it says this movie is a "valentine to today's woman, an appreciation of her efforts to navigate a complex web of choices, roles and responsibilities". So, perhaps that's it. (Interestingly it is a remake of an old 1939 film, so it would be curious to watch the original and see what's changed.)