Friday, January 31, 2014

The Philosophers' Mail

And here is something else for your Friday, an alternative to The Daily Mail and all it's trivia, called The Philosophers' Mail. It's a new venture by Alain de Botton and the School of Life people, done with wit and empathy for our facile interests and good humour. Can't say as I ever read The Daily Mail in the first place, but I did read this nice little piece about Cate Blanchett (because I have a thing for Cate Blanchett -- she is my weakness for celebrity gossip) and children.


This little cutie patootie might be able to go home early next week. He has been transferred out of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and they are just sorting out some feeding and medication issues, then it's home (I've snitched these pics off my sister's Facebook today). Many thanks again for your prayers.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Public holiday music - From this Valley

The Civil Wars have won their 4th Grammy for the song From This Valley. It's more "country" than a lot of their music, but hey, a little country is growing on me, and I love it. Jesus gets a mention too, which isn't bad.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saturday - on art and hope and beauty and idealisation

I received Alain de Botton’s book Art as Therapy for Christmas, and I have sat down this afternoon with my feet up to look and read (after applying the second coat of paint to my old steriliser, which I didn’t do last weekend because it was far too hot for painting (40 degrees celcius here), and making another shocking mess with epoxy enamel – it requires solvent and is such a horrid business to clean up). I just read the section on Hope, which has a little poke at some of my attitudes towards sentimental and fluffy art (though I do very much appreciate art that portrays the ordinary, mundane and familiar things in life), but also gives some explanation of an appreciation of beauty. So here is a little piece of it for your Saturday enjoyment. Might you day include a little exaggeration of the good:

The Artist in the Character of Design Listening to the Inspiration of Poetry, 
Angelica Kauffman, 1782, from here.
Consider the difference between a child playing with an adult and an adult playing with a child. The child’s joy is naïve, and such joy is a lovely thing. But the adult’s joy is placed within a recollection of the tribulations of existence, which makes it poignant. That’s what ‘moves’ us, and sometimes makes us cry. It’s a loss if we condemn all art that is gracious and sweet as sentimental and in denial. In fact, such work can only affect us because we know what reality is usually like. The pleasure of pretty art draws on dissatisfaction: if we did not find life difficult, beauty would not have the appeal it does. Were we to consider the project of creating a robot that would love beauty, we would have to something rather cruel, by ensuring that it was able to hate itself, to feel confused and frustrated, to suffer and to hope that it didn’t have to suffer, for it is against this kind of background that beautiful art becomes important to us, rather than merely nice. Not that we should worry. For the next few centuries at least, we have problems enough to ensure that pretty pictures are in no danger of losing their hold over us.
... We may worry that a person who has an idealized conception of some parts of life will be less able to cope with the messiness of actual existence ... It is hardly surprising, then, if being ‘realistic’ — the antidote to idealization— is judged a cornerstone of maturity, which in turn accounts for certain accepted artistic reputations ...

However, it is worth examining why idealization was for long periods of history understood to be a central aspiration of art. When painters present things as better than they are, they do not generally do so because their eyes are closed to imperfections ...

We should be able to enjoy an ideal image without regarding it as a false picture of how things usually are. A beautiful, though partial, vision can be all the more precious to us because we are so aware of how rarely life satisfies our desires ...

The apparent opposite of idealization — caricature — has a lot to teach us about how ideal images can be important to us. We are very much at ease with the idea, exemplified by caricature, that simplification and exaggeration can reveal valuable insights that are lost or watered down in ordinary experience.

We can take this approach and apply it to idealized images, too. Strategic exaggerations of what is good can perform the critical function of distilling and concentrating the hope we need to chart a path through the difficulties of life.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Struggling with Singleness

Here's a little video I got from a CCEF tweet of David Powlison on Struggling with Singleness. It's a good corrective for some of the swamps you can end up in as a single person.

Struggling with Singleness from CCEF on Vimeo.

Friday - A Poem

If any of you are my friend on Facebook (which seems a rather primary-school sort of phrase to come out with) you might have noticed that I participated in a little poetry sharing fun of late. Because Simone knows poetry, I assigned her someone modern and a little obscure, a poet by the name of Norman MacCaig. I have posted some of his poems here before after I came across them and thought today I’d share another today.

I’m not particularly good at maintaining any personal boundaries (and I am not particularly convinced of the Christ-likeness of much of the notion of boundaries either), so this poem amuses me. It’s actually more about controlling your own thoughts, and what becomes of them in "winter snows", but I think you can apply it more broadly also (our external boundaries can topple over then also).

Red Deer in Snow, by Robert Chapman-Firth, from here.


My summer thoughts, meek hinds, keep their own ground.
They graze and drowse and never think to roam
Beyond the pale of what they think is home --

A landscape with one fence, and that for deer.
Yet though it’s seven feet high and so seems fit,
In winter snows they walk right over it.

Norman MacCaig

Monday, January 20, 2014

The nephew, post surgery

For those who've prayed and cared, here is the little patient with his breathing tube (and a good many other lines and wires and drains) out. I think he is going to leave ICU today.

He still has a way to go to recover from some pulmonary hypertension (which will hopefully resolve over time) and an infection, and further improvement is needed with his heart function, but he is doing well.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Steadfast Heart

I am totally hooked on re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia and am currently in The Silver Chair (and they are so very edifying!). However, I have also just finished reading, on bus trips here and there, another book I discovered on my gifted Kindle called A Steadfast Heart – Experiencing God’s Comfort in Life’s Storms, by Elyse Fitzpatrick. It has been very timely to a number of situations, and I have been encouraged and challenged (I hung a question mark over one or two things, though I can’t now remember what they were). The book is based on Psalm 57 and there is much goodness in it, but for today here is a little piece from the final chapter, called Be Exalted, O God!, based on Psalm 57:5:
I don’t know, and I don’t believe that the Bible teaches us that we can command God to glorify Himself by acquiescing to our will. In this, as in all things, we must embrace the superiority of His wisdom and say, “Lord, you alone know best how to glorify yourself. Please do so.

It’s that prayer and the confident knowledge that He will always glorify Himself that can bring to us great courage and consolation. But in praying that God would glorify Himself, we can also be sure that we aren’t praying against our own best interests. We are praying for them. God, we pray, glorify yourself, and we know that in doing so, you’ll also accomplish our greatest good. John Calvin wrote* that it is no “small comfort to consider that God, in appearing for the help of His people, at the same time advances His own glory.”

We can have hope—hope that this trial is for our good, will result in His glory, and will one day end. We can know Him, that He is filled with compassion and mercy for us, and that He will not allow this affliction to continue one second longer than is necessary for our good.

The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism formulated this comforting answer to the question that we all ask, especially during our times of trial: "What is thy only comfort in life and death?" ...
That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.
* John Calvin, Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms (Philliipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 1999), p 141.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The surgery is over

So, my nephew is out (I don't know how cardiac surgeons can stand it, these things go on for so long) and the surgery went well. Great thanks to God and to you all for praying and for your interest in, and concern for, this little fellow. His recovery may be slow, and still requires prayer, but the worst is now over. Apparently his VSD was huge and his aortic arch was tight, so he is not going to know why life is so easy when he recovers.

In thanks, here is a song. It's a dodgy live recording, but I like it. As it says on the youtube "The song, which was featured in the 1995 family film "Babe," adapts the main theme of one of the movements from Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78, by Camille Saint-Saëns". But here it is played very nicely on guitar.

The ballad they will sing in the streets

For something else, a little Marilynne Robinson, taken from Tales of the New Creation over at the Rabbit Room:
“I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can’t believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity, this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.”

–Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

A further update

So things didn't go brilliantly yesterday for my nephew. He was to go in for surgery at 8 am, but they ended up needing to do two emergency procedures (at least one of which was a transplant) that took all day. The problem was that they were fasting my nephew while they waited. He ended up screaming from hunger and so upset that his heart-rate soared enormously and they needed to sedate him. Babies with holes in their heart are easily distressed, as it's hard work just being alive, and the less disturbance the better.

So he woke with a high temperature this morning, but they are going ahead (hopefully) with surgery this afternoon anyway. However, he is last on the list because he has VRE (the superbug he picked up at Monash) and they don't want to spread it, so it's going to be a long day. Furthermore, the cardiac people at this hospital think the coarctation (or narrowing) of the aorta, which they'd stopped mentioning previously, is actually contributing significantly to his problems, not the hole alone. So they are going to fix this also. The issue is that this carries much greater risks (something to do with shutting of the blood supply to the spine while they do it, which can possible cause paralysis and a number of other things). So, any prayers would be very much appreciated - for skill and wise decisions from the surgeons, peace for the parents ...

Monday, January 13, 2014

The nephew update

This little fellow is likely to have open-heart surgery tomorrow. He needs the surgery to thrive, and hopefully once they have repaired the hole that will be the end of it all and he will be on the way up. Still, the surgery itself is rather distressing, and he is not as big as they wanted him to be, so we are praying that all goes well.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Saturday (and more from Narnia)

Right now I am sitting on the couch waiting for rust converter to do what it’s supposed to do (remember that old Fowler's Vacola steriliser I found on the side of the road? I am finally painting it). Yes, I have moved to the country and turned into one of those people who goes to Bunnings on weekends. I’ve even ordered chalk paint powder and wax online and now want to paint everything in sight. But since I haven’t chalk-painted anything at all yet we shall see how that lasts. I actually picked up a small wooden shelf unit in Vinnies that is working perfectly to house the TV and DVD player and stereo and some magazines, but it is that horrid shiny yellowish pine varnish, which doesn’t work with anything else I own, so it is first in line to be painted and I have nothing to lose.

Meanwhile I am totally hooked on re-reading the Narnia Chronicles. Those of you with children have probably read them all to the death, but I haven’t for years and it is a new discovery again. These are perhaps well known, but here are some portions I liked from The Horse and His Boy and Prince Caspian. This one is just amusing (no accusation of an "unrealistic fairy tale" can be levelled at this):
Aravis also had many quarrels (and, I’m afraid even fights) with Cor, but they always made it up again: so that years later, when they were grown up, they were so used to quarreling and making it up again that they got married so as to go on doing it more conveniently.
~The Horse and His Boy, by CS Lewis

And then there is the moment after Lucy has seen Aslan and knows he wants her to follow him, but her siblings don’t want to go that way, and she assumes she can’t follow him alone so she goes with them in a different direction. Later she has a conversation with Aslan:
“Welcome, child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
For a time she was so happy that she did not want to speak. But Aslan spoke.
“Lucy,” he said, “we must not lie here for long. You have work in hand, and much time has been lost to-day.”
“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. “I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so ------”
From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.
“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”
The Lion looked straight into her eyes.
“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I—I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that ... oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”
Aslan said nothing.
“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right—somehow? But how? Please Aslan! Am I not to know?”
“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”
~Prince Caspian, by CS Lewis

Friday, January 03, 2014

A Friday post - revisiting Narnia

I received CS Lewis’s Space Trilogy for Christmas, which I haven’t ever read before (shame on me) and am very much looking forward to reading, but I have decided to re-read all the Narnia books first. So I started on New Year’s Day and have finished The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I could not remember a thing about The Magician’s Nephew in all honesty.

But this Friday I thought I’d post a few quotes I liked:

Said by Digory to Aslan:
“But please, please—won’t you—can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?” Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great front feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despaire, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.

“My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. let us be good to one another ...”.
Then later, when Polly and Digory and Fledge the horse are sent on a little adventure:
Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.

I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.

“Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.

“I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse (still with his mouth full). “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”
And there is then a conversation between Digory and Aslan about the Witch stealing and eating some of the fruit Digory has been sent to fetch to guard Narnia, in which Aslan says this:
"... This is what happens to those who pluck and eat fruits at the wrong time and in the wrong way. The fruit is good, but they loathe it ever after ... Things always work according to their nature. She has won her hearts’ desire ... All get what they want: they do not always like it ... For the fruit always works—it must work—but it does not work happily for any who pluck it at their own will.”