Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A culinary moment

Last night I had a friend over for dinner and I had remembered that she was gluten free, but then only remembered she was also vegetarian in the nick of time to stop myself adding chicken to all of the risotto (just when I was thinking my recipe was the perfect thing for gluten-free folk!). I also discovered at the last minute that in my supermarket haste I had picked up coriander instead of continental parsley!!! They look so similar, but they certainly don't taste similar (I didn't actually add it - one whiff of it when I pulled it out of the sleeve and I thought 'oh dear'). So it wasn't my finest culinary moment. My hand has also blistered today where I got myself on the oven shelf. But we had a nice catch up all the same. She is currently doing a Masters in Theology on Gender and Identity - interesting stuff.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Reflections on the practical art of crafting

My blog friend Rebecca, who's life appreciations line up with mine quite nicely much of the time, linked last week to this nice blog post called Reflections on the Practical Art of Quilt-making, which looked at the elements of tradition and community, embodiment, usefulness and beauty. I liked it. I don't do quilting, and probably won't any time soon as one handicraft (crochet, and a little knitting) is about all I can manage at the moment, but the principles can be extended, at least in part, to other crafts. It was my grandmother who taught me how to crochet, and she has herself made a rug for all the grandchildren.

There seems to be a resurrection happening of the community aspect of crafting, though perhaps it has always been smouldering, just not so prominently as now. The utility of crafting has perhaps receded, with many of us crafting not so much because we need to, as the only means of obtaining particular goods, but because we want to. However, there also appears to be a revival in the idea of making your own, re-using and saving resources (and thus money).

My friend Ally's knit-ins and craft nights of the past are a community endeavour and they are a great way of bringing people together. I've had a number of coffees now with various friends at A Coffee and a Yarn too, and that's a nice way to do the "coffee" thing, while at the same time working at something at least semi-practical. Not many of the practical activities I need to do outside of work seem all that conducive to actually doing them with others (anyone want to come over and do washing with me? - though I did use to drop in often on a farmer's wife when I lived across the paddock in their old shearer's hut, and hang washing with her or join in with whatever else she was busy doing, which included cool stuff like preserving beetroot and quinces) and most of my catching up with people occurs in what is essentially leisure time (ie, outside of formal work hours), but it's a grand idea to make some of the things you are doing opportunities to share life with others also.

History perhaps defies the notion that 'men like to do things together while women just like to be together'.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I have been tagged in a happiness meme (and I have also won a surprise – yay!). You can read Ally’s definitions of happiness in her post, and I do agree that “happy” suffers from a good deal of overuse, that pursuing “whatever makes you happy” is a faulty and ultimately unsatisfactory way to live and that there’s a difference between circumstantial happiness and joy. But, all that seriousness said, here are ten things that make me happy:

1. I am a child of God ... that I did nothing to deserve it and nothing will ever change it (I just had to steal this one off Ally).

2. The existence of these little people (my niece and nephew), with a yellow balloon.

3. Books arriving in the mail and then time to read them.

4. When I go upstairs at work to get a coffee from the machine (we have these new automatic coffee machines that are pretty good, or good enough for me, but for some reason our floor doesn’t get one) and there is no-one else in the kitchen or wanting to use it, so I can fiddle about and change the milk over to “lite” and then push buttons as many times as I like to fill my cup to the brim, without feeling harassed by people lining up behind me.

5. A poem that says just the thing ... such that I go, ahh, yes, you know how it is.

6. The magnolia trees in blossom (sort of stole that from Ally too) plus the great big fig trees in our street that meet in the middle and the glass wall looking out at them.

7. Those times when you get to sit and have a good one-to-one with someone about the personal and spiritual things that really count.

8. Music with a cello.

9. Saturday mornings, with a sleep in, followed by a run on a slightly overcast and breezy day (I don’t especially like running in still sunshine) - it's better after the run - and then nowhere one needs to be.

10. Being out in the country where I can see hills in the distance.

I'm going to tag Ben, Simone, Soph and Meredith.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

ENGAGE wrap up

So, I’ve struggled to pen a few thoughts into a post on ENGAGE. Mainly because I am tired, but I have lots of good stuff that doesn’t seem all that connected in my notes or my head anymore, yet it was at the time. The Friday evening was along the lines of "introductory" material from both speakers, then the Saturday night was a panel on "work" that was very interesting, so the talks happened on the Saturday and Sunday morning. Here are a few thoughts.

Tim Blencowe spoke to us from Titus 3 primarily. The one big point he was making is that while saved by the goodness and grace of God, the outworking of this is that it makes us into people who do good in the world (Titus 3:8) - with a sideline about how we can be so well taught by the Reformation that we think good works are bad, but these good works are modelled and enabled by God, encouraged and expected (see Titus 3:14). This was teased out in relation to how we do our work. So that was all a good a reminder.

Steve Timmis spoke from 1 Peter, based on the idea that Christianity is allowed to be privately engaging but is publicly dismissed as being socially irrelevant, so how do we then live in a society in which we are viewed with contemptuous indifference? Here he emphasised recognising that we are the “people of God” and taking the doctrine of the church and the trinity seriously, with our corporate identity being an important theme in 1 Peter. He also talked about how the bible is full of imperatives but all of them flow out of gospel indicatives – ie we get on with being who and what we are as the people of God. He then also looked at our good works in Chapter 3 and how they point to Christ and declare his praises. Like Tim he made the point that the good works don’t save us, but they define us – and called it “luminous goodness”.

Steve had a good line about their church life in the UK, which was, “whatever the situation, it’s not about me”. So, for example. he looked at 1 Peter 2:11 and the command to flee evil desire, and how the solution in verse 12 is to ask whether the source desires are for the glory of God and the good of others, or my own gratification (he did a little excurses here into pornography but it applies to all "desires" - and he made the point that desire is a given, and without it we are dead, and everything we do is desire-driven, it's just a matter of whether they are good or bad desires).

So, the big take home message of the weekend was how as an outworking of the gospel we do good in the world and thus bring glory to God.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Get to the point

I don't know whether anyone clicked through to the review of Thad Cockrell's album on Indyweek.com, but I was a little struck by the reviewer (presumably a secular music-critic) saying this:

On the songs of faith, though, Cockrell excels, taking the kind of direct approach that characterizes the best of what hymnbooks offer. When you have Jesus on the main line, get to the point: "There's going to be a great rejoicing," Cockrell proclaims. Or, "I don't want to walk away from Him."
Much of what you read by Christians discussing "art" discourages the necessity/aim of being too "overt" in any sort of presentation of the gospel, but here we are being told to "get to the point" (though that said, the "point" for some might simply, and validly, be glorifying God in the making of art, rather than explicitly sharing the gospel in all things). However, this is possibly yet more proof that it's how you do it, rather than whether or not you do. In this case, the "art" is good, so listeners don't mind taking the message, and taking it directly, with it. And when it comes to books, the fact that Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead won the Pulitzer is proof of what is possible.

Beauty has a name

I have just stumbled upon the most exquisite thing. I googled the lyrics of Beauty Has a Name by Thad Cockrell, just out of curiousity, because I didn't catch what he was saying about God. Anyway, it would seem he co-wrote the song with a fellow called Matthew Ryan, and there are differences in the lyrics on that point (the song contains the line "you're proof there's God", as beauty is) but listen to the Matthew Ryan acoustic version here, sung with only a (mostly plucked) cello. It won't be everyone's kind of music, but I think it's simply and shiveringly beautiful (if you like Tom Waits, give this a go).

Poetry Day - It's dark in here

Well, since I didn't post a poem over the weekend, here is a simple little piece of honesty from Bruce Smith. Truth is, I'm not sure what to make of this one as poetry and it's unlike much of the rest of his writing. It's the sort of thing one might scratch out in some bleak moment and call catharsis or therapy, and it's quite plain and prose-like. Still, he's a brave man for publishing it.

It’s Dark in Here

Oh hell,
it’s dark in here!

I’ve fled here
to escape -
to escape the day,
to escape the family,
to escape the pressure
of people
and responsibilities.

I’m angry,
angry in my solitude,
angry with everybody
and everything,
angry with myself as well
for fleeing
to this rotten cell.

In this place
the past is as hurtful
as the present,
it comes surging back
with its recollections
of betrayals
and failures
beyond reckoning.
All the old scars
throb again.

O God,
it’s dark in here,
unbearably dark!
I cannot stay.
Strong, loving God,
restore me I pray
to a better mind
and help me find
lasting peace.

Bruce Smith

Picture from here.

Monday, August 23, 2010

To Be Loved - Thad Cockrell

So I have just been at the ENGAGE conference for the weekend. I should tell you something informative and edifying about the content of the teaching, which perhaps I shall when I get a bit more sleep and time to distill some of it, but for now, let me just tell you about Thad Cockrell.

All weekend at the conference they had this particular music playing over the speakers in the milling-around time, and I was quite enjoying it. So eventually on the Sunday I asked one of the guys I knew on the sound desk what it was, and he told me it was an album by Thad Cockrell called To Be Loved, suggested by Luke Woodhouse.

I don’t know Luke Woodhouse at all (yes, he’s the son of the principal of Moore Theological College) but I have a little group of friends who have discussed in my presence what a sterling sort of fellow he is on a number of occasions, and they also played music with him and thought he was fine at that too. That’s not especially relevant to the CD, but I know how us Christian folk run on recommendations, because sometimes it’s hard to sort all the good from the bad out there yourself (and you may well be wondering about my opinion on music). The music is actually "country", of sorts (I read somewhere on the internet that his motto is "putting the hurt back into Country"), and I’m not normally much of a country girl, but close your eyes and hear it as the background music in an auditorium full of people (you can listen to a few songs through top right on the website, though some of the others you can hear on iTunes I liked better, and also read a review here, which calls it more "orchestral pop, gospel and countrypolitan"). It was nicely perfect (and I also appreciated hearing something that wasn't U2 mainstream rock).

We also sang a new song that Luke Woodhouse actually wrote over the weekend. Right now, in my shattered state (didn't get a lot of sleep over the weekend, and for some stupid reason was awake for a few hours in the middle of last night too) I can’t even remember the title of it, but the chorus borrows from “O for a thousand tongues to sing”. I really liked that too.

Friday, August 20, 2010


It's been one of those weeks, and this afternoon I am off to a conference up in the mountains for the weekend, so I am hitting the snooze button here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Book spaces

Well it looks like I didn't win my 75 popular penguins. Shame. I know, I said I didn't necessarily want all 75 of them anyway, but who doesn't like winning prizes even so?! (And I later discovered you could choose your own, which was more appealing.) The other thing is, these 75 books came in a custom-made designer, hand-crafted, recycled hardwood bookcase by Mark Tuckey, so I was keen on that.

However, when I saw a picture of said marvellous bookcase, I nearly laughed out loud, because, much as I actually do like this bookcase, I also think I could make it myself (seriously!). But it's a really good idea for squeezing extra books in here and there. So I thought I'd share the photo for you fellow book-gatherer and house-decorator types. With this bookcase idea, perhaps I'm not running out of room for books after all! (One of my brothers-in-law is fond of woodworking, and likes to make us things for gifts, so I am thinking of putting in an order.)

Picture from here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Philosophy for twits

I’ve got nothing original to say, so I’ve just stolen something. I don’t go into twitter very often, but the other day I “followed” Alain de Botton, the pop-philosopher, because two out of about three people I am following do too. He’s got 45,000 followers, so maybe some of you follow yourself, but he’s rather fun. Here are some of his recent tweets. I especially like the last one. (And here is a strange article he wrote on the idea of religion for atheists in the New Statesman.)
We can be sure there is something crucial to address when the idea of being alone has grown truly unbearable.

A devilish relationship exists between the significance of an idea and how nervous the prospect of entertaining it makes us.

To write for a general reader is to ask: how much information does the reader need rather than how much potentially exists.

What is most offensive about militant atheists is their seeming lack of sympathy for desperation. They seem so... un-needy.

Heterosexuality means genuine surprise about whom in one's own gender gets declared attractive by the opposite sex.

A sure sign of having something important to reflect on is a twitchy desire to be manically busy and not alone for a second.

Given the sacrifices they were prepared to endure, writers like Proust or Nietzsche must have understood their greatness quite well.

The Romantic individualism of the modern world where to be 'just like other people' is typically understood as an insult.

In literature, our problem lies squarely with our manner of absorption rather than with the extent of our consumption.

We feel guilty for all that we have not yet read, but overlook how much better read we already are than Augustine or Dante.

Always surprising how many people equate a decline of civilisation with the decline in the correct use of semi colons.

We want two incompatible things of our universities: that they teach us how to make a living - and teach us how to live.

It's always hard to resist the conclusion that those who aren't interested in us are egomaniacs.

It is easiest confidently to seduce those we are least attracted to.

If the food is the most memorable aspect of a dinner party, something has evidently gone wrong.

Ashamed and bemused by our own fragility, we consistently underestimate how anxious everyone else is.

Enough said

"Life is not necessarily easy for the INFJ" (here).

But on the way to work I walk past four flowering magnolia trees, which are very beautiful.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Scarecrow hair day

I need to tell you something very trivial and superficial about myself: today I look like Worzel Gummidge.

I walk in to work every morning, always with my hair still wet. Sometimes I pin it back, sometimes I don't. Today I didn't. Today I'd also run out of my usual control-unruly-curly-hair stuff, so I sprayed in some other stuff. Today it was also windy. The combined effect on my hair is that it looks like something you would feed livestock.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Poetry Day - The Pond

Here's another poem by Bruce Smith.

The Pond

Nothing in that placid world
spoke of that turbulent embrace
when the falling stone fell, splashed
and sank without trace
into its receiving depths.
It was as though
it had never happened.

Yet I'd seen it fall,
felt the spray and watched
the ripples play with ferns
at the water's edge,
it was no dream.

So beneath content
the truth's still there;
wombed in water
it's lying there still
denying denial
all the while waiting
some hint from above -
some fathom-felt movement
of remembered love.

-Bruce Smith
More than One World

Photo by Edward Steichen, The Pond-Moonlight (1904), from here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Consistency can be foolish

Every so often in my current job one of the judges will make my day by writing or quoting something mildly interesting. So here is something I read today, by Justice Fryberg of the Supreme Court of Queensland:
Those passages demonstrate that what gives rise to a sense of injustice is unjustifiable discrepancy, and what is required for justice is reasonable consistency. Consistency for its own sake or to satisfy a bureaucratic desire for national neatness is not a proper objective of sentencing. Ralph Waldo Emersen wrote:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.
Emerson R, "Self-reliance" in Essays: First Series, Fraser, London, 1841, cited in Spigelman J "Consistency and Sentencing" (2008) 82 ALJ 450.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Moses and me

I mentioned my past life in studying wildlife, so here is an old photo I found in a frame under my bed. It was taken for the newspaper in Townsville when I was doing research at James Cook University. What you see pictured is me, in the days of frizzy hair, with Moses the juvenile rufous bettong.

Moses was actually my first casualty to be hand-reared. Initially I was clearing traps starting early in the morning, but marsupials get stressed being handled in daylight and I ended up with so many captures I was out on the trap lines well into the morning - and macropods (ie kangaroos) throw their pouch-young when under stress. I'd tape the pouches over once I was done, but a couple of times a pouch-young was tossed in the flight after I let them go regardless. So I soon switched to night trapping to prevent this happening (and if they did drop them at night they'd come back for them, but not during the day), because I was too stressed myself over pouch-young being left behind. All that to say, you can't usually just hold a rufous bettong like that. They are otherwise known as "furious bettongs", because they have wild little temperaments, and see that one long toe nail? - I have a few punctures from kicking adults with even longer ones.

Rufous bettongs are basically gone from NSW, but they hang on in the far north above the 27 degrees isotherm, beyond which foxes and rabbits don't do well. Before I went to Townsville I actually did some work in Armidale aiming to train captive-reared bettongs to be afraid of foxes before being released into the wild, in an attempt to reintroduce them in NSW. But that is another and rather ridiculous story (it involves a stuffed fox on a skateboard) and as a far as I know they have not been successfully reintroduced down here.

But back to this photo, the actual accompanying newspaper article didn't even mention me, it was mainly about my colleague and friend Karl Vernes and the Ph.D research he was then doing on the relationship between northern bettongs (different species, and they are smaller and nicer), fire, underground truffles, dung beetles and eucalypts (the natural world is a complex system). I just had to pose for the photo with my cute little friend.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Late one evening

Just a photo I took on my phone the other night.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

IN*FJs on the job hunt

Since I've mentioned being and INFJ in that last post: every so often I look at where people come from to get to this blog (is there anyone who has a blog who doesn't?). There are a few odd posts that people seem to arrive at via searches quite often, though I doubt what they find is all that helpful. One of the top searches that brings people here is "in*fj careers" (without the asterix, just so they don't end up here too). Tortured souls that we are, and rare as we're supposed to be, it would seem that every INFJ in the universe is out there trying to work out what to do for a job, and somehow they end up here. I don't know whether it's partly in the nature of the INFJ to be looking for a certain kind of fulfilment.

I've taken a winding and tortuous path through my working life, which wasn't planned. Somewhere along the way I shed my "career", and I actually find it quite a liberating place to be. The truth is, I think when I shot out of university I was quite ambitious in my way. I wanted to do something exciting, meaningful and adventurous (save the world and all of that). And I did, working up in far North Queensland trapping wildlife (well, I contributed to saving a few species). When people asked me what I did with myself, it started a half hour conversation that people seemed to think it was fascinating. But also, and INFJ descriptors will back me up here, I don't know that my initial study choices were really the right ones - either that or my interests have shifted quite dramatically since. Working with words and writing would seem to be closer to where I'm supposed to be - if there is a such a place. And I have always loved books and writing and literature, I just didn't pursue that line (odd when I think about it, because it was the after school classes in 3 Unit English I liked the most in school).

But these days I don't hang so much on my job. It's become something I do more to support myself, and I just assume I'll have to indulge my true interests in my own time. And I talk to a lot of people for whom that would be the case. The flip side of that, however, is that if you're going to get out of bed every morning and do something for about eight hours, you'd like it to be in some ways stimulating, so I am always feeling like I should goad myself into finding something else. It's a conundrum, because I like the flexibility of where I am now (which gives me a bit more time for those other things) and I get nervous about landing a job that's no more satisfying, it just saps up more time. Thus I am probably one of those people who occasionally does one of those searches that mean people hit my blog.

Father of My Children - the aftermath

So I saw Father of My Children last night. Good grief! — that about sums it up. It's very good, but oh so terribly, quietly sad. I don't know that I've been that wrung out by a film in a very long time. I won't say anything about the plot, because I loathe people spoiling movies in advance, and I wasn't quite expecting what happened myself. I was expecting sad, but not that sad.

Yet it's not by any means an effusive film, as all the reviews will tell you — but I found it all the more heartbreaking for being so "undemonstrative" and uncoercive, for the stricken perseverance of the characters. I do often appreciate the way European films portray emotion (maybe just because it's more the INFJ way) — there's no gushing drama, it's more subtle, more restrained, in ways I find far more devastating (eg Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days — most seriously depressing film ever).

But the film isn't all sad, parts of it are full of warmth and genuinely beautiful — it brings true the line from the film Shadowlands "the pain then is part of the happiness now". And the family never crumbles into despair, they rally to keep joy and love alive, which has it's own sadness.

The acting, particularly from the children, was quite superb. I also really liked the music. Usually I am too absorbed in the story and characters the first time around to even consciously notice the music of a film, but it swelled into my consciousness in places during this one. When driving through Sweden you even hear a guitar version of Greensleeves playing, which probably sounds cheesy, but it's lovely (and I have just discovered you can actually listen to it if you click here — go and let it play through!).

I'm considering going to see this film again on general release, to gather up more of the goodness.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Father of My Children

I'm going to a pre-release screening of Father of My Children with a friend tonight, tickets courtesy of another friend who has a theatre subscription. This film screened earlier in the year at the French Film Festival (where I didn't see it) and won the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize at Cannes. I'm really looking forward to it. It sounds just beautifully like my sort of film. Here is one review:

Marked by moments of remarkable beauty and grace amid emotional turmoil, this loving but bittersweet film has tremendous emotional power.
Sounds good don't you think? Must remember tissues.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Poetry Day - Elsewhere

Here's a bonus poem, another from Bruce Smith. Greg Clarke introduces and includes this poem in the Kategoria article I linked previously, but I include it here because I suspect the poetry-link followers are few. I don't think this poem is quite Sehnsucht, because it's not about desire or longing stemming from echoes of beauty here, but I think that is found in his poem I'll Not Be Disappointed.

Being Elsewhere

Today it’s wet
and people complain
as the rain comes down
turning the streets
to a glossy black.
Car tyres make that
distinctive hiss—
a familiar sound
on a day like this.

It’s cold as well,
not fearfully so,
but cold enough
to add to the grief
of those who seek
relief from the rain
by pausing in doorways
before they cross
the street once again.

It’s the contrast
that hurts.
A carpeted room
and a fire brightly burning,
being at home
in a cosy world,
sitting outdoors
on a sunny day
reading a book
while children play.
It’s being elsewhere
where things are different.
These things we miss
on a day like this.

It’s heaven itself—
the absence of fear,
the reign of love
and the prospect of bliss,
that moves our hearts
in a world like this.

Bruce L. Smith
I'll not pretend

Picture from here.

Why blog post frequency no longer matters

Hooray and a hearty hear! hear! to this article. Read it and set yourself free! I've known for some time that it doesn't matter to me how often blogs in my reader are updated, and that I was also getting reader fatigue from those too frequent (such that all I do is scroll and read less of what is written), so it makes sense to me (odd though I might be) for it to be universally true.

H/T: Christian Reflections.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Granny Square

Oh, and I feel like I have failed in one of my duties to the world! - or at least delayed it. I have seen this coming, but now it is open and there is a new yarn store in Newtown. It's called The Granny Square and is at 47 King Street, right where Champion Textiles used to be, only it looks cleaner and more orderly. (I did quite like Chamption Textiles, with it's resident animals and dusty disarray, but it was a wreck of a shop.) I'm not in need of any yarn just now, but I'm going to check it out some time soon all the same.

Poetry Day - Being different

I found myself quoting Bruce Smith this week, not that I walk about with a head full of quotable Bruce Smith, but a line of his was apt. So I thought I'd share with you a poem or two he wrote. Bruce Smith was a lecturer at our local Moore Theological College, among other institutions, who taught mostly in theology and philosophy. He also ran reading groups, taught classics at a local grammar school and published two volumes of poetry. You can read more about the man, his work and his legacy here. Also, Greg Clarke has written an article reviewing his poetry, originally published in Kategoria, that you can read here. This poem below is not unlike, in it's subject, this poem I posted by Auden.

Being Different

Some trees
just drop their leaves
when summer's done
as though the business
of feeding on and fending off
the summer sun
has been hard work.
Exhausted at the season's end
they throw aside their working things
and enjoy the rest
that winter brings.

Other trees
have one last fling
when autumn comes.
They quickly change
their well-worn greens
for all the colours
of a sunset sky
and in a riot
of reds and golds
they celebrate —
and spare no thought
for what winter holds.

In addition to these
there are some trees
that stand apart
from their demonstrative neighbours.
With intense reserve
and foliage intact
(or so it seems)
they show no emotion
at changes of seasons.
For being so different
no doubt they have reasons
— we all do.

Bruce L. Smith
I'll not pretend

Picture from http://espanol.wunderground.com/data/wximagenew/s/Snowfire/94.jpg.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

In thine ocean depths

I had a small meltdown last night. Wednesday is usually the night I have connect group (bible study) then on the first Wednesday of the month I help out at Overcomer's Outreach (which was a prior commitment) but yesterday I felt so seriously knackered all day at work, even after extra coffee, I didn't think I could. So I bailed, went home, still thinking I might pick up in time to make the meeting, but was in bed before 8.00 pm - can't remember the last time I did such a thing! I just somewhere lost my grip on this week. So, I have nothing. But over on Justin Taylor's blog is a post about the writing of one of my all-time favourite hymns  (I've blogged it before, but that was quite some time ago I think - and the original tune is simply awful, but there is a newer one by Christopher Miner I like (hit Demo MP3), which I have on this CD from the Reformed University Fellowship).

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Using big words

I was recently told to get a new job, in preference to being told to get a life, on facebook for using a big word (not in an actual status, just in response to a comment, with no intention of being "pretentious" - but it was all loving jokes and I'm not really offended). However, I am a believer in using more precise language where it is available, even if it involves the use of a longer and less common word (usually to save the use of three or four smaller ones). So, I was rather fortified to re-read this quote in that introduction to The Death of Adam, by Marilynne Robinson:

... In this culture, we do depend heavily on the universities to teach us what we need to know, and also to sustain and advance knowledge for the purposes of society as a whole. Surely it was never intended that the universities should do the thinking, or the knowing, for the rest of us. Yet this seems to be the view that prevails now, inside and outside the academy.

I do not wish to imply that the universities constitute an elite, as they are often said to do. On the contrary. A politician who uses a word that suggests he has been to college or assumes anyone in his audience has read a book is ridiculed in the press not only for pretentiousness but for, in effect, speaking gibberish. Many editors are certain that readers will be alarmed and offended by words that hint at the most ordinary learning, and so they exercise a kind of censorship which is not less relentless or constraining for being mindless. Language which suggests learning is tainted, the way slang and profanity once were. Rather than shocking, it irks, or intimidates, supposedly. It is not the kind of speech anyone would think to free because it is considered a language of pretension or asserted advantage. People writing in this country in the last century used a much larger vocabulary than we do, though many fewer of them and their readers were educated. I think it is the association of a wide vocabulary with education which has, in our recent past, forbidden the use of one. In other words, the universities now occupy the places despised classes held in other times and cultures in that they render language associated with them unfit for general use.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Wisps of fog

OK, so I really don't spend my whole life knitting, a deduction you could be forgiven for from the last week on this blog. Last week I actually went to a funeral for someone I'd never met, which was a first. Then on the weekend I went along to a new Christian Writer's Group, where it was inspiring as always to gather with others who share one's interests. The bent of it was towards fiction however, which is the one thing I don't generally write, so am not sure how that will go in the long term. Those behind it gleaned their ideas from the Arts Fellowship at Redeemer in NYC, and the funny thing is that I'd listened to this talk by Tim Keller (which is worth listening to on creative writing from a Christian worldview) some time ago and thought that what Sydney needs is an Arts Fellowship! Afterwards some of us went for dinner in the city, had great conversation and a girl I'd met that day gave me a lift home. I feel like I have new friends.

Also, mostly over the weekend I read John Piper's A Sweet and Bitter Providence, based on the story of Ruth. It's short and quick to read, but would definitely warrant a slower reading. I liked it, and I really had to pray my way through portions of it. In parts I wasn't totally convinced by his exegesis, for example, he reads, Chapter 2:11-12 and claims that it's because Ruth has taken refuge under the wings of God that the Lord will repay her, it's not a repayment for her service to her mother-in-law. I heartily agree with his conclusions that grace is undeserved, not earnt by our actions, and comes to those who are God's (and thank God for that! - I was quite relieved by his interpretation) but I just wasn't so sure that was the plain way to read what's written. But none of that hindered me from being really encouraged by this book. As the book itself is really a concise series of points you need to read it yourself rather than me trying to be even more concise about it. But do! (You can download it and see the contents here.) Piper always takes a very high view of God's sovereignty, but he demonstrates how and why that is so much more comforting than any alternative. He's also got an interesting spin on the Ruth/Boaz love story and what is really happening there. The previous Saturday we had a women's breakfast at my church, where two women got up to speak on "Ten things I've learned about life" and this book was a a very apt follow on (not deliberately done, as I have had the book for a while now, but it worked very nicely).

At the moment I am trying to read some more of The Death of Adam by Marilynne Robinson, her first collection of essays. If I thought the introduction to The Pilgrim's Regress by CS Lewis was a Pons Asinorum, that's because I'd forgotten about the introduction to this book. One has to adjust the space their brain is in to read it - but that is half the point of me reading it.

That's just a few glancing wisps of fog on something other than knitting. My brain is now too foggy to write any more. One couldn't help but think of Emily Dickinson's poem Wild Nights! last night in that wild, wild sleep-destroying wind, but you'd all be shocked! After dashing through the weather on the way home from the Great Knit-in it took me a while to settle down, unaided by the fact that mother nature never did settle down.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The next Great Knit-In

I am going to the next Great Knit-In tonight, and hoping to finish my beanie! Ally writes about the hilarity of the evening last week here - and I get a special mention. See Ally had already finished a beanie like the one I was about to begin, so I asked if I could see hers. I tried it on for size, after Ally mentioned hers was a little tight, because I have a big head ('large cranial capacity' is what I like to call it), and then, great was my perturbation when having donned this beanie I was about to invest hours of my life in making, Ally couldn't speak for laughing! - and I am sure I heard the word "Helga" in there somewhere. (I was actually laughing myself, though in some confusion.) It turns out I had put the thing on back-to-front (not knowing there was such a thing on a beanie) and had ear flaps hanging down the side of my face. So that evening, amongst other things, I learnt that beanies with side flaps have fronts and backs.

I am looking forward to this evening's entertainment and possibly bringing home a finished product.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Poetry Day - Loneliness

Ah, I have been paralysed by indecision over a poem. Sometimes I just can't choose one. But here is one more from WH Auden.


Gate-crashing ghost, aggressive
invisible visitor,
tactless gooseberry, spoiling
my tete-a-tete with myself,
blackmailing brute, behaving
as if the house were your own,
so viciously pursuing
your victim from room to room,
monotonously nagging,
ungenerous jabberer,
dirty devil, befouling
fair fancies, making the mind
a quagmire of disquiet,
weakening my will to work,
shadow without shape or sex,
excluding consolation,
blotting out Nature's beauties,
grey mist between me and God,
pestilent problem that won't
be put on the back-burner,
hard it is to endure you.

Routine is the one technique
I know of that enables
your host to ignore you now:
while typing business letters,
laying the table for one,
gobbling a thoughtless luncheon,
I briefly forget you're there,
but am safe from your haunting
only when soundly asleep.

History counsels patience:
tyrants come, like plagues, but none
can rule the roost for ever.
Indeed, your totter is near,
your days numbered: to-morrow
Chester, my chum, will return.
Then you'll be through: in no time
he'll throw you out neck-and-crop.
We'll merry-make your cadence
with music, feasting and fun.

August 1971