Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Man Who Was Thursday and reading Chesterton

A photo posted by Alison Payne (@thisfoggyday) on
Last night, unbeknownst to us at the time, my bookclub celebrated GK Chesterton’s birthday. It was our monthly get together, which met in my new home, and our book for this month was The Man Who Was Thursday. I am a fan of much of what I have read of Chesterton here and there and of his poetry, and after recently re-reading Surprised by Joy, in which CS Lewis is a great admirer of his work, I had intended to read more, but I came to read this book without having much of a notion of what it was. The subtitle “A nightmare” did not entirely enthrall me, but I was quite transfixed once I began, and almost missed getting off the bus at work yesterday morning so engrossed was I in the later chapters.

I had also meant, over the course of this weekend, to read some articles on this book, as I am still wrapping my thoughts around some of what it contained. Then this morning one of the girls from book club has pointed me to this article in Relevant Magazine, in which The Man Who Was Thursday is described as ultimately reflecting on suffering, with some suggestion that it is a Christological interpretation of the Book of Job. Fascinating – and I quite agree, as a particular portion of the book that I loved and read out in book club is this (Sunday is the Christ/God figure, and I love it that it is the poet among the company who says this :) ):
“Then, and again and always”, went on Syme like a man talking to himself, “that has been for me the mystery of Sunday, and it is also the mystery of the world. When I see the horrible back, I am sure the noble face is but a mask. When I see the face but for an instant, I know the back is only a jest. Bad is so bad, that we cannot but think good an accident; good is so good, that we feel certain that evil could be explained ...

“Listen to me”, cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is a not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—”.
I am definitely going to read this book again, in a paper copy and with a pencil. It's a fabulous little read, with Lewis and Tolkienesque murmurs (though they of course came after Chesterton and the influence flows the other way) and there are a lot truths and gems of insight to be mined from it.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A new gig

I haven’t yet mentioned on here that I have myself a new gig.

Here writes the new ‘youth minister’ at my church. The title feels a little grandiose though, as I have really only gone up a few age groups in helping out in Sunday School, but it was an actual position that they were advertising, and now it is me. I didn’t actually apply for the job, basically because I didn’t think I had it in me to manage teenagers. I have done adult bible studies and kids, but teenagers are that world of their own in between. But then I was asked if I would have a go, so I met with the Rector and Curate (I think that’s what we officially call these people here) and decided to accept the challenge.

The truth is, I was mildly terrified before my first attempt, because teenagers are generally quite terrifying, but then I felt a whole lot better about it afterwards. They are actually a really nice group of kids, and the keenest Christians in the group are probably the two oldest boys in Year 11, who are very helpful and an absolute gift. So, for the last two weeks I have had a sixteen teenagers in the room and done my best. It’s a bit of trial and error while I work it out. I am using some material from Tim Hawkins in Sydney on the Sermon on the Mount, because this all happened quite suddenly and I need to find the pitch of the kids before I even think about making up my own stuff.  They have varying levels of gospel and bible understanding, but for the most part are private school kids of intelligent and accomplished parents, so they have general smarts and don’t need simplistic material. I happened to have Don Carson’s book on the Sermon on the Mount already, so I throw that in where it fits.

I’m quite surprised at the whole arrangement myself, and wonder at times if God knows what he’s doing with this idea, and puzzle over how life plays out, but I felt compelled to step out of my sphere of what’s comfortable and at least try. The curious part of it all is that I threw up as my prayer point in a bible study one week the fact that I was thinking of giving up my freelance editing work, because it is driving me slowly bonkers, and saying that I was thinking through what else I could do with my time etc, then the following week I get the phone call asking me if I’d consider this. So, what could I say? And it’s not like I am doing the youth work for money, but the fact that they are paying me for it enables me to let go of the freelance work without feeling like I might regret it financially. And I feel like it’s a much more meaningful use of my time.

So now suddenly I find myself delving into the mysterious world of how to do youth ministry. The job specification is for four hours a week, which includes the preparation and the Sunday morning, but I would like to do other things with them too – it’s just a matter of figuring out what and how to do it logistically.

Then this weekend I am actually going to a clergy spouse conference. I was asked if I wanted to go anyway and ‘youth workers’ are within the gambit of the event. So, how strange has my life become? I hardly know this person. But I am looking forward to what the future might hold in it all.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A story you haven't chosen

As some of you would know, I am into the idea that our life is a story, within the larger story of God's ways in the world. I heard something yesterday at our annual Bishop's Convention that I am going to drop here in that catalogue of ideas, which was a quote from Stanley Hauerwas:
To be a Christian is to learn to live in a story you haven't chosen.
In a similar vein we also sung a new song, which I went googling for and couldn't find, but I now know it is a new song written by Jonny Robinson (the son of our Diocesan Bishop) and Rich Thompson, who are part of the City Alight folks. I totally love it, and have a demo to listen to, but it is not really released yet, so here is just one verse and keep you eyes and ears peeled for what I think is a fabulous song.

Christ is Mine Forevermore

Mine are tears in times of sorrow
Darkness not yet understood
Through the valley I must travel
Where I see no earthly good
But mine is peace that flows from heaven
Endless strength in times of need
I know my pain will not be wasted
Christ completes his work in me

Jonny Robinson and Rich Thompson

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Resurrection written in every leaf

Maybe there's another reason I enjoy gardening. I love this post Sally Lloyd-Jones wrote on Ann Voskamp's blog. (The part on the end about children seems a little disconnected to the rest of the post, but it's nice.) And I think I am going to get myself some child I know that book about the bunny.

Here's the quote from Martin Luther:
Our Lord has written resurrection not in books alone—but in every leaf in springtime.
Good excuse for books and gardens I say.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Rose surprises and growing things

I promise I will try to exert self-control over the number of gardening posts. But I thought I would build some anticipation for things to come.

My new place has a larger courtyard at the back, facing North and full of glorious sunshine. But it also has a smaller one on the southern side, which is basically walled in, and has in it the two biggest camellias I have ever beheld. They are trees, actually, of at least 4 metres in height. I've never known them to be so tall. Then there are three smaller camellias under them, and I have plans to try to transplant some of those out of there to the back (they are too close and I suspect might have seeded from the others). They are all currently covered in buds but none have opened yet, and I don't know whether they will given the lack of sun.

When I moved in there was also a splindly rose bush in the southern courtyard underneath the camellias, with about three yellow petal-blighted leaves on it, looking like it was barely hanging on in its gloomy place. So I went to dig it out to see if I could revive it elsewhere, and discovered that it was actually two very skinny fragile rose bushes that for some reason had been planted almost on top of each other.

So I lopped them right off and put them in some pots I bought down in the reject shop out the back in the sun, and the first two photos were them a week or so later. The second two are what they look like tonight. Half the appeal of roses is the way you can almost see them growing. The satisfaction!

I have no idea what kind or roses they are or what colour they might be, and I love having little pots of surprise out there.

Gardening is a balance of control and non-control that appeals to me I think. You can google plant species and follow the guidelines for ideal growing conditions, but you still never really know what is going to happen and whether they'll live or flourish or flower or how they will grow. I actually like that. I could turn this into a little Christian homily, but no, I will spare you. They are perhaps not unlike children. And maybe it's the remnants of Eden but I have so far loved getting out there ordering the tangle and rescuing whatever I might find along the way. (I could probably turn a little more attention to some of the remaining chaos inside instead of that outside now.)

I will say though, that my guideline-following has become considerably easier thanks to the most unexpected and generous house-warming present from the ladies in my Good Book Club (aka bible study) at church. I was gobsmacked when they gave me a gift, and then eyes-light-up pleased to discover in it this book.

I can't wait to read and use it. There was also a box filled with beautifully smooth local pottery by Bison, after-gardening hand products and tea. Seriously. I am so spoilt! 

I am going to play in my garden, then pamper myself, then drink tea in the sun.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Just because

And here's some of my camellias, which seem to be enjoying their new home, especially for all the single women who might have wanted to be mothers.

(More have flowered since, and they so exquisite. And I just created a gardening tag — look out folks.)

The hole Jesus doesn't fill, on earth

So here, at last, in the section from Scary Close, by Don Miller, on longing, that I appreciated. What I particularly appreciated is not the idea that we have a God-shaped hole in us that no human being can fill (hopefully I have learned that already, and many of you will know that too), but that he also qualifies that this God-shaped hole is not actually going to be filled here on earth (I added the italics). Yes. Christians will talk like when you have found Jesus, or he has found you rather, that is it. All holes now filled. But I think the experience of any even remotely poetic soul is that there is still plenty of longing left over (anyone who tries to tell you otherwise probably studied engineering - and I probably need to put an emoticon on that). And that’s where the future of being reunited with God, in some way more tangible than here, in a perfect world, comes in. Das ist die Sehnsucht people.
Another paradigm shift that allowed me to finally have a healthy relationship was theological. I realized there was a subconscious longing in my heart that could never be resolved by another human being. Certainly Betsy could resolve my longing for a an intimate companion, but I’m talking about something deeper. Some people think of it as the longing for God, and I think they’re onto something. In my opinion, though, that longing will never be satisfied in our lifetime. In other words, I’m convinced every person has a longing that will never be fulfilled and it’s our job to let it live and breathe and suffer within it as a way of developing our character.

I remember growing up in a church hearing about how there was a hole in our hearts that could be filled by Jesus, but later in life when I became a Jesus guy myself I continued to experience the longing. He simply wasn’t doing it. The experience was so frustrating I almost walked away from my faith.

Later, though, I read in the Bible about how there will be a wedding in heaven and how, someday, we will be reunited with God. The Bible paints a beautiful picture of a lion lying down with a lamb, of all our tears being wiped away, of a mediator creating peace and a King ruling with wisdom and kindness. The language is scattered and often vague, but there’s no question something in the souls of men will be healed and perhaps even made complete once we are united with God and not a second before. What differentiates true Christianity from the pulp many people buy into is that Jesus never offers that completion here on earth. He only asks us to trust him and follow him to the metaphorical wedding we will experience in heaven.

The more I thought about it, the more the Bible made sense. Early followers of Jesus experienced pain and trial and frustration, hardly the romantic life. But they consoled each other and took care of each other and comforted each other in the longing.

In my opinion the misappropriation of the longing for God has caused a lot of people a great deal of pain. In fact, I wondered if some of my early mistakes in relationships weren’t partly because I sought to find resolution for the longing through a woman, a burden no romantic partner should have to bear. How many relationships have been ruined by two people attempting to squeeze the Jesus out of each other?

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Scary close - a book

When you haven’t blogged for a time, you have less of an idea of what to blog about. And it's probably too late to talk about the tragedy that was the death of Gilbert Jonathan Crombie.

So, um, to books.

The most recent book I finished is Donald Miller’s latest work Scary Close. The truth is, I am not even sure why I read this book. I am not holding out any hope of being asked out by a Christian man any time soon, or of having any opportunity to work through any of the substance of the book by being in an actual relationship, and have largely given up on that whole idea (because let’s just be honest, rarely do I meet a Christian man who has a serious enough interest in yours truly to prompt him to the action of asking me out, and anything else is just a game I am no longer interested in playing, because it’s just hard enough without the man not being serious or ever getting beyond ambiguities and subtleties to communicate anything — and I do believe it is the man’s responsibility to sort these things out and do the asking, and the times that I have tried to because the man wasn’t, and I thought I could spare his wounds, or his fears or paranoia, or his lack of chutzpah, or salvage something out of a lukewarm and non-committal interest, or deal with his resentment against women in general or me in particular, or whatever other rationale I invented, it’s been a disaster, and I am not repeating it — and in the end, it's the reality that if the man is truly interested he will take personal and decisive action, not just “vicinitize” at large crowd events (which might be alright if the guy was going to walk across the room and say hello, but isn’t alright if I have to do it) or mess about on social media). So, I just read it to torture myself over the past, basically.

But I do like Don Miller’s style and I enjoyed reading it and appreciated his honesty. Much of it isn’t new if you are someone who has read a few psychological and relationship books, but I just liked the picture he put together, and the stories he told, of what it looks like to be healthy in relationships and how he started to get there. The reality is that I think I have been essentially afraid of relationships for a long time, which has only gotten worse after attempts to make myself vulnerable were met with scorn, or even worse, nothing. And I have been foolish in the past, and shared things about myself with men who were not sharing anything in return or demonstrating any tangible commitment, and if I could take it all back I would. But at the same time the general thrust of the book is about learning to trust that other people are not out to get you (even though sometimes they actually are, or they end up getting you out of their own fear), and how distrust brings out the worst in us, and also that you are a lot healthier in relation to others if you essentially believe you are good for them and can be what that need, and act on that (because you are no good for anybody if you are snivelling around thinking you have nothing to offer and that the other person needs nothing from you). There’re chapters on manipulation and kinds of manipulators, on codependency, on not needing others to heal your own wounds or trying to heal theirs either (I think a lot of my own angst has come from feeling like it was somehow up to me to patch up men’s wounds, but that’s a downward spiral to nowhere and I can’t), on what can help make great parenting and so on.

The book is essentially a story of his own little journey (that is now so cliché, but what else do you call it?), which is easy to read and you and you don’t really finish it with any dot points, and that’s more or less how it wraps up with this:
I suppose that’s the point of this book. There’s truth in the idea we’re never going to be perfect in love but we can get close. And the closer we get, the healthier we will be. Love is not a game any of us can win, it’s just a story we can live and enjoy. It’s a noble ambition, then, to add a chapter to the story of love, and to make our chapter a good one.
Yes. (He said something I appreciated about longing also, but I will save that for a separate post.)