Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Annunciation - a poem

I heard recently an interesting advent sermon from Andrew Robinson (who once contributed stimulating things over here), about Mary. I won’t blame Andrew for anything I write here, but as protestants we can be hasty to throw Mary out completely, as smelling of Catholicism with a mere mention, and yet she has things to teach us, as an exemplary disciple of the Lord, particularly in her response to what is required of her.

In the course of the sermon, Andrew read a couple of portions of the poem The Annunciation by Denise Levertov (whose father, incidentally, was an Anglican priest, though there might be objections to her notion of choice) in particular the lines “Aren't there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives?”. Love it. So here is an unusual advent poem. (And why is there a book on a lecturn and a lily in most annunciation paintings? Put it in google images and see.)

Annunciation, by Auguste Pichon, from Wikigallery.org.

The Annunciation

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lecturn, a book; always
the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whome she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent. God waited.

She was free
to accept or refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Aren't there annunciations
of one sort or another in most lives?
Some unwillingly undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,

More often those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.

God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

She had been a child who played, ate, spelt
like any other child - but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumpf.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked

a simple, "How can this be?"
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel's reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power -
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love -

but who was God.

~Denise Levertov (poem taken from here).

Monday, December 22, 2014

Advent reading

I did start some advent readings this year, and then bombed, superbly. But I have started to read The Jesus Storybook by Sally Lloyd-Jones again, because I love it, and it is relevant after all. Here is the introduction.

Christmas decorating

Well, once again, despite good intentions, Christmas has rushed up at me for another year, in a flurry of unexpected last-minute freelance editing, extra events, shopping ... and I am heading North tomorrow.

But I managed to put together a rather scrappy Christmas assembly, thanks to my discovery of the Pottery Barn outlet (I love Pottery Barn, and the stores are only Sydney and Melbourne, but for some reason Canberra has an outlet - winning!) selling these nice pine branches and berries for next to nothing.

I think my assembly looked better and less happy before it fell over twice, but here it is.

I bought a couple of new decorations, which mean nothing at all, they just went with my knitted/crocheted granny chic style - cute little Swedish people.

But THEN I went out to my Aunt and Uncle's and my Aunt gave me this amazing gift. I've displayed her craftiness here before, but there is oh so much more.

For starters, she made the box from wrapping paper.

Then I opened it and inside were these wondrous creations.

Crocheted pine cones! Perfect for my pine branch extravaganza.

Then, not one, but three, crochet bells. Love them.

A little red robin, than even has legs!

And then because she knows about my thing for red birds and cardinals in particular, a cardinal.

Very special. My pine branches are now just about filled up with the kind of decorations I like best.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Last time I was in a Lindt cafe

So, it’s a sad and strange day here in Australia. Obviously there are a lot of factors to be considered in the siege situation in Martin Place, but my first thought was that the last time I was in a Lindt cafĂ© was Boxing Day last year in Melbourne CBD for a treat with my two nieces. And to think I could have been sitting there with those two dear girls, taking a break from their merry shopping, relishing their hot chocolates and ice-cream, and suddenly been confronted with such a drama just makes me shudder. So, I feel for and pray for those people caught inside.

(I know it’s got nothing to do with anything, but here’s a recent picture of my two gorgeous nieces. My sister got a new phone, and the first day she had it she found this picture on it. They are so lovely and fun.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

There blooms a rose in Bethlehem

The other day I posted this photo and caption on instagram.
"...and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose" - Isaiah 35:1. St Saviour's Rose, blossoming during advent.

Then last night I decided to listen to the Sovereign Grace Christmas Album Prepare Him Room, and came upon this new song called There blooms a rose in Bethlehem. Excellent. You can see the lyrics below. It borrows much from Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming, and adds to it.

There blooms a rose in Bethlehem

There blooms a rose in Bethlehem
From tender stem hath sprung
Of Jesse’s line this flower grows
As men of old have sung
Isaiah told us long ago
About this rose we’d find
In virgin arms we shall behold
The Savior of mankind

The glories of the heavens
Surrounded shepherds bright
The angels sang, a sign was shown
The Christ was born that night
What mystery they came upon
The sign the heralds laud
In manger slept the Holy One
In flesh, the Son of God

This flow’r in bloom, a scent so sweet
That greets us in the air
It has dispelled with hopefulness
The sting of death’s despair
Foretold, this rose was born to die
But would not see decay
So those who place their faith in Him
Shall blossom from the grave

Words and Music by Neil DeGraide
© 2014 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

You can listen on youtube here. (Though I confess I don't much like that voice or find that recording particularly fabulous - it sounds too strainingly high.)

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Sehnsucht in LM Montgomery

At our last book club meeting we did a summer reading book club. One girl had brought along The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery, calling it her favourite comfort book from childhood. I’d never read this particular L.M. Montgomery, so I grabbed it (not without a promise to pass it on to someone else when I am done). I shouldn’t be reading it yet, because there are things to do and I am technically not summer holidays, but I couldn’t resist starting last night.

On page nine I came across this paragraph, which is the main character describing why she reads certain nature books (with a mother who has banned fiction and spending time alone in her room – what cruelty!). It went straight to the Sehnsucht collection, with "faint, elusive echo of lovely forgotten things".
Valancy didn’t know whether she cared much for bugs either. It was not John Foster’s uncanny knowledge of wild creatures and insect life that enthralled her. She could hardly say what it was—some tantalising lure of a mystery revealed—some hint of a great secret just a little further on—some faint, elusive echo of lovely, forgotten things—John Foster’s magic was indefinable.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Further musings on the mess of relationships

I did finish Relationships a Mess Worth Making, by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp, and decided in conclusion, re the difficult situation that I alluded to, that what I need to do is nothing at all. See my way has well and truly “blown up in my face” many times, and I need to give up on my own attempts and leave it to God. And as they say in the book “the vertical aspect of forgiveness is never optional, but [you] can’t single-handedly bring about reconciliation”. There are only so many ways and times you can ask a person if they are willing to have a conversation, and I have tried them all, repeatedly. The last time I exchanged words with the person in question they said “I don’t want to talk about it”, and they haven’t clearly communicated anything to the contrary to me since, and the situation is now such that unless I get an unambiguous yes that they are willing to have a conversation, I simply can’t do anything, and can’t trust that they want me to. All of my trust has proved ill-founded in the past, and I’d be foolish to put any trust in the same things again (and have removed those things that were giving me false reasons to trust so as not to be fooled again). The sad thing is that sometimes I feel that this person behaves the way they do because they don’t actually trust me (which I have tried and tried to fix, only to make it worse), but ultimately that means that I can’t trust them either – because I don’t know what they are going to do out of their mistrust and their reactions are unpredictable, usually hurtful and often damaging.

It’s one of those relational dynamics that became apparent in Lila, by Marilynne Robinson. Because Lila, at least initially, didn’t trust John Ames, or believe in who he was and that he cared for her, she kept hurting and frightening him. Added to that, her assumption that what she said or did didn’t matter to, or affect, others meant that she often hurt those others. The same was true in Coal Creek by Alex Miller: because Daniel, the sheriff, didn’t trust the stockmen, he literally shot at them and caused a whole world of damage. Of course they couldn’t trust him either, because they didn’t know what sort of ill-judged move he was going to make next, and because he was in the position of authority it was him who was believed, and it was always going to go badly for the stockmen.

And so, unless this person is willing to communicate to me that they will have a conversation, then I need to stay well away. And I think I can rest knowing that I did everything that was humanely possible towards a restoration. As Lane and Tripp write “at some point, every relationship brings you to the end of yourself, and with God there is no healthier place to be”. I might actually be there.

Friday, December 05, 2014

For reasons that are hidden from us

Here's a little more of Lila by Marilynne Robinson. Unlike Gilead, this is really the only place in the book where you get one of John Ames's written musings, in answer to one of Lila's questions. I miss those. There is perhaps nothing all that novel here for a contemplative person who has lived and reflected their way through life's losses, but it's good all the same. I particularly liked the point that experience does not accumulate.
One morning he read to her at breakfast, something he had written during the night. “Very rough,” he said. “Half of it I’ve crossed out. And this was supposed to be the clean copy.” He cleared his throat. “So. ‘Things happen for reasons that are hidden from us, utterly hidden for as long as we think they must proceed from what has come before, our guilt or our deserving, rather than coming to us from a future that God in his freedom offers to us.’ My meaning here is that you really can’t account for what happens by what has happened in the past, as you understand it anyway, which may be very different from the past itself. If there is such a thing. ‘The only true knowledge of God is born of obedience,’ that’s Calvin, ‘and obedience has to be constantly attentive to the demands that are made of it, to a circumstance that is always new and particular to its moment.’ Yes. ‘Then the reasons that things happen are still hidden, but they are hidden in the mystery of God.’ I can’t read my own writing. No matter. ‘Of course misfortunes have opened the way to blessings you would never have thought to hope for, that you would not have been ready to understand as blessings if they had come to you in your youth, when you were uninjured, innocent. The future always finds us changed.’ So then it is part of the providence of God, as I see it, that blessings or happiness can have very different meanings from one time to another. ‘This is not to say that joy is a compensation for loss, but that each of them, joy and loss, exists in its own right and must be recognized for what it is. Sorrow is very real, and loss feels very final to us. Life on earth is difficult and grave, and marvelous. Our experience is fragmentary. Its parts don’t add up. They don’t even belong in the same calculation. Sometimes it is hard to believe they are all parts of one thing. Nothing makes sense until we understand that experience does not accumulate like money, or memory, or like years and frailties. Instead, it is presented to us by a God who is not under any obligation to the past except to His eternal, freely given constancy.’ Because I don’t mean to suggest that experience is random or accidental, you see. ‘When I say that much the greater part of our existence is unknowable by us because it rests with God, who is unknowable, I acknowledge His grace in allowing us to feel that we know any slightest part of it. Therefore we have no way to reconcile its elements, because they are what we are given out of no necessity at all except God’s grace in sustaining us as creatures we can recognize as ourselves.’ That’s always seemed remarkable to me, that we can do that. That we can’t help but do it. ‘So joy can be joy and sorrow can be sorrow, with neither of them casting either light or shadow on the other.’”

Monday, December 01, 2014

Sunday (on Monday)

There is a lot of singing of liturgy involved in my church, but my favourite part has to be the Agnus Dei, sung after the congregation takes their seats, before going forward to communion. The melancholic in me loves this part. I was trying to find a recording or the name of the tune and composer online the other day, and couldn't, so yesterday I ran off with a hymn book.

Also, I was in a majestic Cathedral for an ordination service on Saturday, seated in the beams from lofty stained glass windows, and we sung this. I was moved, I have to say.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Things that make us hang our head

Marilynne Robinson can be just so melancholically beautiful. Here's another couple of sentences from Lila I have flagged:
She saw him standing in the parlour with his beautiful old head bowed down on his beautiful old chest. She thought, He sure better be praying. And then she thought, Praying looks just like grief. Like shame. Like regret.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The strangeness of faces

I started reading Lila, by Marilynne Robinson, on Saturday night (which was bad, as before I knew it it was 11.30 pm, and I had many places to be on Sunday). So much that could be quoted, but I liked this little section, from Lila’s bewildered musing on reading of the likenesses of the faces in Ezekial 1:10.
But it made as much sense as anything else. No sense at all. If you think about a human face, it can be something you don’t want to look at, so sad or so hard or so kind. It can be something you want to hide, because it pretty well shows where you’ve been and what you can expect. And anybody at all can see it, but you can’t. It just floats there in front of you. It might as well be your soul, for all you can do to protect it. What isn’t strange, when you think about it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Coal Creek by Alex Miller

I have to take this book back to the library tomorrow (I am so proud of myself for joining the library and borrowing a book!), but book club isn’t till this weekend, which is a bummer. So I thought I’d write a little post.

I finished reading it on the weekend and oh my did I cry. I actually found it a hard book to keep reading, because from the beginning you know that one day some thing in some way bad is going to happen. The foreboding got so terrible that I had to flick ahead when I couldn’t stand it anymore. Then I just didn’t want to have to read through it.

However, it is an excellent and well-wrought book. I confess to not having heard of, or of having heard of and forgotten about, Alex Miller, but he’s actually won the Miles Franklin Literary Award twice, and by many accounts is one of the best fiction writers this country has. I’d certainly be happy to read more.

This story is set up in the stockman-inhabited ranges of far North Queensland, and perhaps I felt some affinity for that as I actually did wildlife research on a cattle station in the hills north-west of Townville for three years, and I met folks after the fashion of the characters in this novel, peculiar folks whose lives were strange to me, and I sensed that I understood what the author meant by what those folks ‘know’ about the way of things up there that outsiders don’t.

It’s a tragic tale, that is tragic beyond the circumstances, as they usually are. The moral of it is found in what comes of a failure to understand the character and intentions of another, and of a willfulness to misjudge them, and so to react in an ignorant fear and panic that unleashes terrible and altogether unnecessary consequences on them. It’s the misunderstanding that is most awful. I can still hardly bear to think of it.

But for all that it is strangely edifying, and in many ways beautiful, sprinkled with memories of a mother’s love of her bible and to Christ hanging on the cross. There’s a mature self-awareness in it, and the protagonist, who narrates the whole tale, is generous where the characters aren't, voicing thoughts such as “I believe in his heart Ben always resented carrying the cruelness that had been put there” (if I'd owned this book there'd have been some underlining).

The book closes in forgiveness and peace. I’d recommend it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

As through the veil

Time for a poem. This poem reminds me of what CS Lewis says in Pilgrim’s Regress about Sehnsucht, where he writes:
That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan", the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.
These fleeting moments of delight and/or desire sometimes feel as though they have briefly rent the veil, and we see the world as it was meant to be, or maybe even sense heaven itself.

I used to try to hold on to beautiful things, and feel a great sadness at their passing, but these days I feel more like I can appreciate them and let them go by, knowing that one day they will all return.

Image from Backcountry Gallery.

Snow Geese

Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
        What a task
            to ask
of anything, or anyone,

yet it is ours,
    and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.

One fall day I heard
    above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was

a flock of snow geese, winging it
    faster than the ones we usually see,
and, being the color of snow, catching the sun

so they were, in part at least, golden. I

held my breath
as we do
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us

as with a match,
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,

but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.

The geese
flew on,
I have never
seen them again.

Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won't.
It doesn't matter.
What matters
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

Mary Oliver
~Why I Wake Early

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Canberra report

I realised this last week that’s it’s been a whole year since I moved to Canberra.

I am not someone particularly given to or good at such things as assessing the state of things (let’s just run along with intuition shall we – I know when things are good and when they aren’t, I’m just not overly interested in spelling out why a lot of the time), but I tried to make myself evaluate how some things are going. So, here is some of it written down, and this post is probably more for my own benefit, than of interest to anyone else.

Work has been good. While it is not at all what I had in mind when I moved to Canberra it has proved to have some very stimulating elements, and some very stimulating people to talk to along the way I must say, and I’m enjoying it. There many peripheral aspects connected with the work that I like. For example, the part of me that is interested in psychology gets intrigued by some of the professional standards matters, and the trainer who comes up from Melbourne to work with ordination candidates on personality and style and healthy ministry etc has given me all her material to work through and so on. So there is plenty to keep my interest in life alive for the times when I am doing the administrative work.

Church has certainly been interesting, and very different. The situation is more of a mission from within, but there are many aspects of it that I can appreciate. I have also recently been going along to another church in the evenings, to meet people and for some input that is more in line with what I am used to. I know that situation could get problematic, so I need to give it all some more thought.

Home is fine. I love the suburb where I am living in the inner North, cycling along the scenic path to work, and the fabulous trees in the local streets. But I am also looking for something to buy at the moment, which won’t be this close to the city, unfortunately. However, just the fact that I can achieve buying anything anywhere here is an amazement after Sydney, and part of the reason for the move, and I hope to do it soon.

There is one element here that has not gone well at all. I tried to sort this particular point out before I moved here and was unable to, and had I foreseen how badly it would go, I would have gone somewhere else. But we are not given crystal balls, and now that I am here I have to manage with what has happened, and make the most of the other directions that road block has sent me in.

Friendship has been slow and it has been just plain extremely lonely at times, but time is necessary and I have made recent progress.

Romance is non-existent, as per the status quo here in the fog. There is a fellow here who has said to me “if you want to go for a brew or see a movie sometime, just give me a call”, but my internal reaction to that is, no, not if you are another guy who is going to leave it to me to do the asking, because I don’t want to get tangled up in that scenario again.

(I’ve learnt the hard way of the discouragement that comes from investing emotional energy into passive, half-hearted men (or at least men being passive and half-hearted towards me), and I’ve learnt the hard way what will eventuate if I do the hard things so the man doesn’t have to do the hard things, namely, I won’t be respected, or valued, and soon enough anything I do do will be taken for granted and not appreciated for the gesture that it is. And I don’t think being asked out by a man who is genuinely interested in me will involve me having to follow it up and make the phone call. (Particularly if I know that the guy has asked other women out properly in the past, but that all he has for me is “you can call me”, it makes me feel like I am to him a second-rate woman, and I don’t want to be someone’s second-rate option.) The two worst things that have taken place in my personal adult life thus far, in terms of how they played out and the ramifications for me, have begun with the two times I tried asking a guy to coffee. So I don’t want any more interactions with men beginning with me asking.

Besides, say I do ask this fellow to coffee. What is he going to think that is? Just coffee? A date? I don’t know, because it’s partly his construction. And it’s a big deal for me to phone a guy to ask him anywhere, and I don’t want to if it’s not going to be taken seriously. The last time I asked and had coffee with a guy, I made a huge effort, and the guy kept me waiting as a nervous-wreck most of the day for a time, then gave me about 45 minutes notice of where to meet him, and when I arrived he was reading his book and drinking the drink he’d already bought himself. Consequently, I felt so un-encouraged that I didn’t say what I had intended to say. It seemed rather like he had contrived the way he went about it to communicate to me that it all meant nothing to him. I got the message.

But say I do ask the guy to coffee and it actually goes OK, then who is going to ask for the second one? Hopefully that doesn’t have to be me. See, even though I have stretched out my neck in the past and asked a guy to coffee, it has been my understanding of the way these things work that if the guy appreciated/enjoyed it, he would ask me to do it again. But instead it seems rather to have absolved the guy of any responsibility, quenched any initiative he might ever have had, as though he decided that because I did it that one time I could do it ever after, and I have wound up feeling like everything is going to be up to me forever. So, I don’t want to do the asking, because I don’t want to be responsible for everything, and I don’t want to have to ask again and again. Besides, it’s horrid. I’d rather pay money to advertise myself online that have to ring a man I know, who obviously can’t be bothered ringing me, and ask him to coffee. And if I do take all the responsibility for the two great disasters in my life, well then I won’t do those things again, which includes not calling a guy asking him to coffee. And as a result of the more recent disaster, and what has been said about it, I need to do what I can to salvage what is left of my reputation in certain circles (not to mention the repair work I need to do on myself), which means not doing anything towards men.

My conclusion is that the right man for me (if there is one) will be one who, for starters, is actually being a man for me, and taking the initiative. So, no, I won’t be calling. If I am to enter into these things I want to be understood and cared for, and I don’t feel understood or cared for by men who expect me to phone them so they don’t have to do it. So there is some of the internal monologue of an INFJ on dating for you. Like they say, life is never easy for the INFJ.)

So that is about the state of things. Other things I have enjoyed are doing a little bit of gardening, and the outdoors being generally more accessible here, and having my own place to do as I please in.

Now that I am more settled and the upheaval of moving towns and job and church is over, I probably do need to make some plans (those dreaded plans), and make a more concerted effort to build friendships and get involved in a few things next year, so life doesn’t glide on by.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

St Saviour's Rose

This has been the source of perhaps a ridiculous level of anticipation and excitement at my house. I only had one rose bud, as I don't think my bushes were getting quite enough sun, but it came through and opened into a spectacular rose.

It really is the colour of a Bishop's shirt (I took many and varied photos from different angles trying to get the colour represented properly) and it smells fabulous.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The mess worth making - Part 4

I’ve almost finished Relationships – A Mess Worth Making, by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp, but here is one last little piece:
Because our relationships are always lived out in the middle of some kind of difficulty, good relationships demand character. Remember, your relationships have not been designed by God as vehicles for human happiness, but as instruments of redemption. It isn’t enough to ask for the character you need to survive the difficulties of life and the weaknesses of the other person. We have been called to minister to the people that God, in his wisdom, has placed in our lives. He wants to use us as instruments of grace in their lives. To live this way takes character.

It takes humility to live with a sinner in a world of difficulty. It takes gentleness to be part of what God is doing in someone’s life and not get in the way. It takes patience to deal with the sin and weaknesses of those around you. It takes perseverance to be part of change in a relationship because that change is often a process and rarely an event. It takes forgiveness to move beyond the times you have been mistreated by another. It takes forbearance to continue to love a person, even when you are being provoked. It is hard to respond in kindness when you are treated unkindly. It takes remarkable love to serve the good of the other person and not be distracted by daily needs. (Notice that these character qualities are mentioned throughout the New Testament: Galatians 5:22-26; Ephesians 4:1-3; Philippians 2:1-11; Colossians 3:12-14.)

These are the qualities that characterise a healthy relationship, but we all must admit that these often are not the things that rule our hearts. Our hearts are more often ruled by anger, fear, hurt, self-righteousness, bitterness, and a desire for some form of vengeance.

... The hardship of relationships is not just that they can be difficult. The hardship includes what God calls us to be and do in the middle of the difficulty. God calls each of us to be humble, patient, kind, persevering, and forgiving. God calls us to speak with grace and to act with love, even when the relationship lacks grace and we have not been treated with love.

Because of this, your relationships will take you beyond the boundaries of your normal strength. They will take you beyond the range of your natural abilities and beyond the borders of your natural and acquired wisdom. Relationships will push you beyond the limits of your ability to love, serve, and forgive. They will push you beyond you. At times they will beat at the borders of your faith. At times they will exhaust you. In certain situations, your relationships will leave you disappointed and discouraged. They will require what you do not seem to have, but that is exactly as God intended it. That is precisely why he placed these demanding relationships in the middle of the process of sanctification, where God progressively molds us into the likeness of Jesus. When you give up on yourself, you begin to rely on him. When you are willing to abandon your own little dreams, you begin to get excited about his plan. When your way has blown up in your face again, you are ready to see the wisdom of God’s way.

... At some point, every relationship brings you to the end of yourself, and with God there is no healthier place to be.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Melbourne shopping haul

Apparently what you are supposed to do in Melbourne is shop, and what you are supposed to shop for in particular is clothes. I didn’t do a lot of shopping, and I find shopping for clothes while with other people to be one of the unfunnest things there is to do on a holiday. But I did buy the poetry book already shown here, and I also went to The School of Life shop and bought a few things.

I know a lot of folks sneer at Alain de Botton and his pop philosophy, but as the man himself says, “how striking that in a democracy, elites still have a problem with the 'popularisation' of ideas”. It’s like those ridiculous playwrights and theatre goers who sneer at David Williamson’s plays, because they’re a little too accessible to the general public, and people can actually understand them (and perhaps especially because he makes money from them). Supposedly good art and also philosophy is meant to be too obscure for most, even in that democracy.

But all that aside, I like some of the geeky paraphenalia The School of Life sells. I instagrammed some of my purchases, so here are those pictures.

I bought this bag because, as I said on instagram, why pretend you’re not carrying any. The least emotionally healthy people living their lives out there are those in denial, who think they're not lugging any themselves, or those simply unaware. So the aim is to acknowledge yours and learn to carry it well. The only problem I have with this bag is that it's not big enough.

Then I bought this hourglass, because when I first saw it I thought it was a fabulous idea. Apparently many of us don’t even give 15 minutes a day to the things we claim are ostensibly so important to us. As the blurb says, this hourglass “delicately shames us into doing a minimum of what really counts. It is a gauntlet thrown down to our better selves”. And 15 minutes seems so doable. I often put off doing important things in the moment, because I think I need more time than I’ve got, but you can actually achieve quite a lot in 15 minutes of dedicated time. I’ve now proved this.

I also bought the psychoanalysis pencil set, out of my strange idea of what’s fun. I like the little blurbs that come with this pencils. Like this one on “defence mechanism”:

A defence mechanism is a way to save ourselves from mental anguish, by interpreting our own behaviour and that of other people in a way that affirms our self-love. We deny responsibility: ‘It’s not my fault’. We blame others: ‘You have been mean’. Or we tell ourselves consoling lies: ‘I couldn’t help it’. But if the cause of such behaviour is self-protection, then it cannot be changed by argument and stern warnings. For we defend ourselves precisely when we feel in danger. Increasing the level of threat isn’t going to hasten the solution. We learn to be more reasonable, more accepting of responsibility and more accurate about our weaknesses in times of security. The goal of analysis is to make us less ‘defended’. We put our weapons down, and have the courage to let ourselves get hurt.
What I found really quite helpful in that is the idea that you won’t get around people’s defenses with a front-on attack on the them. You’ll do it by first enabling them to feel more secure. 

So now I can sit in a cafe and extract my psychoanalysis pencils from my emotional baggage, to take notes in a moleskine from my graphic guide to psychotherapy. Or not.

And that’s all. I bought a Christmas present for my Mum in the Dandenongs, but I won’t blog that.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The mess worth making - Part 3

I am still reading my way through Relationships: A mess worth making by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp. It's good, and precipitates numerous anagnorises (I secretly love big words). Here is another little snippet from the chapter on obstacles (the chapter on forgiveness is also very good).
Conflict with others is one of God’s mysterious, counterintuitive ways of rescuing us from ourselves. God uses it to get us where he wants to take us before we die. Because we don’t usually think that trials can be used in such a positive way, this truth catches us by surprise. But it shouldn’t. All kinds of suffering, including conflict with others, can be redemptive because of the grace of God. By redemptive, we mean that God can use conflict (as well as everything else in our lives) to defeat sin in us and make us more like Christ, with a love for him and others that reflects his nature.
God uses other people to mysteriously and counter-intuitively rescue us from self-glory and self-love. Why does he do that? Because he loves us more than we love ourselves! ... Who is God using in your life in this way? Do you see that your wise, sovereign, and gracious Redeemer is acting on your behalf when he placed this person in your life? If so, you are growing in your ability to engage in conflict in godly ways. Remember, you can’t avoid conflict, but it can be a place where amazing growth takes place!
James [in James 4:7-10] calls the person in conflict to engage in spiritual warfare. The devil uses parts of creation to entice your still-sinful heart away from God. He wants you to fall prey to self-glory and self-love. James has already said that you are receiving grace so that you can humble yourself. He now commands you to be humble and to cry out to God for help. Through this process your heart is changed, and you begin to see that your allegiance to something other than God is a serious matter. As you repent, you experience the purification of your heart and your behaviour begins to change as well. As you are laid low by God’s grace, he promises to lift you up! You are being turned right-side up. You are placing your life within the bigger circle of God’s glory and renewing your love for him. Conflict can now be godly, and good things begin to happen between you and other people. As C.S. Lewis says, when you put first things first, second things are increased, not decreased.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Logos - a poem


Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don't worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it is all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.

Mary Oliver

I went into the city in Melbourne today with family, and we stumbled upon this bookshop, so I bought a book of poetry, just because I was in Melbourne, in a bookshop, on a holiday, and I could (and if I hadn't ordered it in the mail already I'd have bought Lila by Marilynne Robinson because they had it in stock - drat!). So, here is poem. Mary Oliver is, from what I glean, some kind of mash up of Buddhism, pantheism and the God of the Bible, but I like much of her poetry.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A first birthday!

Today my little nephew turns one. He's such a blessing, not to mention super cute, and we're all very thankful he's to celebrate. He's doing really well and tears around the house behind his walker (doing impressive little three-point turns when he gets stuck), and you'd never know he spent so many months lying in hospital being fed down a tube. Here's a few pics from this morning. I hand-delivered his rug, and discovered it's quite difficult to get photos of active one-year-olds.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A book club

I thought I should make the announcement to readers that I have a new book club.

We recently had two long weekends in Canberra, and dwelling on the fact that I had next to no plans for doing anything or spending time with anyone, I decided that I needed to do something about meeting some people. So, it being a long weekend and all I went along to an evening church service elsewhere. The people were really welcoming and friendly and I enjoyed it a lot. I didn’t get there the next long weekend but went back two weeks later, and in chatting to one of the girls I found myself being asked if I would like to go along to a book club. I was thinking to myself, ‘are you kidding, I would love to be in a book club!’. So, this book club then met on Friday evening just passed. I hadn’t read the book, didn’t know the person who was hosting the evening, didn’t know who was going to be there, but I didn’t care. I was going out on a Friday night. With some other people. And they were going to talk about a book.

I had a great evening. The book for this month sounded rather fascinating, if quite some distance from my usual fare. It was The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, written in 1963 by John le Carre, who actually was a Cold War spy. I can’t even remember the name of the book for next month, but I am looking forward to it (I just googled what I remembered and I think it is Coal Creek by Alex Miller - "a brilliant novel of tragedy, betrayal and the beauty of lasting love", which sounds just fine). If I had been choosing a social network to join, I could hardly have come up with anything more perfect than a book club, so I am rather pleased. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The mess worth making, revisited

Picture from Objekt Stock.

I am currently reading Relationships – A Mess Worth Making, by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp. I saw it on my bookshelf, and thought to myself that I was sure I had read it, but drew a complete blank on the contents. I must have read it, because when I then thought about posting what they had to say on Genesis 2:18, on man being “alone” and the meaning of “helper”, I discovered that I had already posted that here. (The book is not about "relationships" in any romantic sense by the way, but relationships in general.)

I decided to read the book again (though I can’t be sure I ever finished it), because there is a relationship, if I can even call it that it’s been so long since any sort of conversation, in my recent experience that is an epic mess. I don’t rightly understand how it all went wrong, and I don’t actually know what I did that was so hideous as to create the distrust and hostility and the manner of treatment that I have created. But, I must have done something, and all we can do is examine and hope to change our own behaviour, as blaming or trying to change the behaviour of the other person has no future in it. And while I don’t see a way that I can do anything to mend that particular relationship, as conversation doesn't appear to be possible, I’d like to make sure it doesn’t happen again. At least. I also need to restore in myself some belief and hope that relationships are actually worth all that mess.

This book is challenging reading. Much of what I have read so far is about how we damage relationships with our own sin. But then there’s also this part under the heading What about the Bad Things People Do to Me?

The Bible is filled with examples that deal honestly with victimisation, from the murder of Abel in Genesis 4 to the persecution of the church in Revelation. There are countless stories of people sinning against each other. The New Testament is full of exhortations calling us to exercise patience, forbearance, and compassion, to revoke revenge and anger, to forgive others and love our enemies. The Bible mentions these things because God knows we will be sinned against frequently. Here on earth, we will always be sinners relating to other sinners.

Therefore, even when we are sinned against, we are responsible for how we react. This is the only way we can turn back the destructive power of sin in a relationship. Micah 6:8 gives us direction regarding our reactions to sin: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Why would this instruction be necessary if it did not presuppose that we would be sinned against? This is important because we all tend to sin in response to being sinned against. We tend to add trouble to our trouble! Some of the typical ways we do this are as follows:
I confess your sins to myself with bitterness. I can’t believe she did that to me!

I confess your sins to another person in gossip. “Let me tell you what she did to me!”

I confess your sins to God, seeking vengeance. “God when are you going to do something to the person who hurt me?”

I confess your sins to you in anger. “How dare you do such a thing to me?”
When it comes to the sins others commit against us, we tend to communicate about them in destructive ways. This is wrong, and it encourages us to think that our biggest problem is outside ourselves. The Bible reminds us that even when we are sinned against, ultimately, before God our biggest problem is still our own hearts’ propensity to sin. Even when our hearts have been horribly damaged by the sins of another, we are to guard our hearts so that we are not sucked into sin’s destructiveness. Being sinned against tempts us to sin. So our need for Christ is as big when we are sinned against as it is when we sin. The calls to patience, humility, forgiveness and gentleness are not calls to passivity. God is calling you to respond, but as he prescribes it. Holding grudges, becoming bitter, praying for vengeance, and gossiping are not methods that God honours. When you hold the perpetrator “accountable”, but not in a spirit of humility, patience, and compassion, you end up perverting the very justice you seek.