Saturday, May 26, 2007

Breakfast with Bes

Yesterday morning I had coffee with Bes, one of the most fascinating of friends. When I first met Bes she was in the Australian Army in the 51st Battalion in Cairns, which seemed an incongruous place for her to be (though any preconceptions I had of military personnel have long since been shattered). In previous years she had danced for the British Royal Ballet, in subsequent years she went back to London to study spiritual education. She now works in Marketing at Australia’s only privately-owned monastic town, New Norcia, having moved into that role post being the education manager.

Talking to Bes is always stretching, though our beliefs have diverged in more recent years such that an impasse is often reached when the essence of the conversation is the infallibility, authority or inerrancy of Scripture – or at least that is what I perceive as its essence. When I visited New Norcia a couple few years ago, I quite strongly differed with this Benedictine Abbot’s wielding of the bible and a fashioning of God after our own preference. Yesterday we came down to discussing what it looks to be a Christian – which sounds, perhaps, like a bread and butter conversation, but what is to be said of the apparent "fruits of the spirit" in those who don’t acknowledge or haven’t surrendered their life to Christ? What does "spirituality" as an abstract good actually mean? ...

I always walk away from these conversations having to reaffirm my own position at certain battle lines. I also always walk away from these conversations feeling dissatisfied with the state of my own earthly pursuits, that mine is an unstimulating, uninfluencing existence - most particularly in recent years as what I do has drifted far from all passions. This I am not always so sure what to do with. Yesterday it compelled me to take the 3 for 2 Borders voucher and go and purchase (I must do something about his extra bank account I seem to have for books, like that second stomach people have for icecream) The Writing Life and For the Time Being by Annie Dillard, as well as To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (people ought to be shocked because that is modern fiction, and I simply don’t do modern fiction – I put back Romola and Daniel Deronda for these books!). So, I am not sure whether or not I am expecting the course of my life to be altered. While we all wait and see here are some photos from New Norcia, a most intriguing little piece of 19th century Spain in the middle of the West Australian bush.

Friday, May 25, 2007

What if ...

What if the man could see Beauty Itself, pure,
unalloyed, stripped of mortality and all its
pollution, stains, and vanities, unchanging,
divine ... the man becoming, in that communion,
the friend of God, himself immortal; ... would
that be a life to disregard? -Plato

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

One night to remember

This may appear to be a fairly typical dinner party at first glance, but look closely and you might notice a few curiosities.

We are actually dining inside the Wardroom of HMAS Kanimbla, one of Australia’s operating Naval ships. Last night my bible study group and a few extras were treated to dinner onboard courtesy of a group member, Mike, who is the XO of this vessel. He’s about to take the ship to sea next week, so this was a last hurrah and farewell.

It was a fascinating night for those of us who have never been onboard such a ship before, and a good night for those who have. We had a lovely dinner and dessert in the wardroom, with accompanying tales told by those who’ve been to sea, and tales told by those who haven’t. We then took a tour of the ship, climbing up and down narrow staircases, walking along strange metal corridors, stepping out onto decks, peering into rudimentary sleeping quarters, staring in bewilderment at navigation equipment and seeing all manner of interesting things.

We returned to the blue couches visible at the other end of the wardroom for coffee, chocolate, cheese and crackers, a bible reading and prayer. It was a great night.

(I have a new and better phone, despite which my pictures aren't that great, but I have since discovered the flash! Hopefully better pictures will enhance future posts.)

Losing the significant

An interesting paragraph written in a judgment by Justice Stuart Morris, referring to a tale as told in told in Sir Robert Megarry, Miscellany-at-Law (1955), p 345:

I do not suggest for a moment that the council has deliberately attempted to deceive the public by failing to explain the policy shift contained in the proposed new strategic statement. But I am nevertheless reminded of the town clerk in England who wanted a divorce at a time when that remedy could only be provided by Act of Parliament. He achieved the objective by drafting a long Bill about waterworks in his municipal district; and including in a long paragraph about filter beds and stopcocks the phrase "and the marriage of the Town Clerk is hereby dissolved". The Bill was passed into law. No-one noticed the words about the town clerk’s marriage. Even though this is an example of deliberate deception (which I find did not occur here), it illustrates how a significant matter can be easily obscured when included in a mass of detail.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The sorriest sheep

I walked in the door after Equip, followed by a Chinatown dinner, at 9:30pm last night, and was nearly knocked off my feet by the smell of gas. There were four people sitting on the couch, splitting their sides over the Chaser’s War on Everything, who just gave me a brief blank glance at my exclamation that the house smelt terribly like gas. I quickly found the source in a hotplate still running gas in the kitchen, which I turned off and then threw the window open wide. At my further exclamation to the couch foursome that the hotplate was still on, only one seemed mildly alarmed, while the others just wanted to rewind the part they just missed on the DVD. It’s amazing how danger can so insidiously creep up on you, such that when you’re in the middle of it you don’t even realise that it’s happening. And it takes someone to come in from the fresh air outside to warn you that you’ve created the perfect conditions for an explosion, and turn the gas off. And sometimes they won’t be thanked for that, and their rescue efforts will go unacknowledged, while you carry on with your distraction! :) There’s an allusion to something in there somewhere.

Anyway, that doesn’t quite tie in with what I was particularly challenged by at Equip. I first went to the elective on Better than Gossip run by Ainsley Poulos, to assist the chairperson (very important I was :)...), which was very challenging (the talk that is, not my assistant’s job), especially in making us think through the reasons why we gossip (eg exclusive alliance building, power, to avoid exposing ourselves/protect ourselves – so we talk about others instead, or revenge), the ways in which each party in a gossip scenario can put a stop to the gossip and the things we can talk about that are better than gossip. But it was Di Warren’s talk on James 4:1-10 that hit the mark of the particular place where I find myself at present, and made wet things drip off the bottom of my cheeks. She began with telling us how we want the best of both worlds and try to live for God plus this world (vs 1-3) but that there can be no middle ground (vs 4-5) or any such thing as a "decaf Christian". And so we are to live for God alone (vs 7-10) and trust Him. She asked the question ‘How is Satan tempting me?’ and outlined some of his tricks. The first trick is to call us to centre stage, and whisper in our ear that we deserve the best life possible, and that our dreams are good (and what I would like is not all that out-of-the-ordinary) - when life is actually about God being centre stage. The second trick is to make the "world" look so good (and in my case it looks so very good) and the third is undermine God, and cause us to think that he is not really on our side (oh so true, when you feel sometimes like God just wants to keep giving you tests to pass), when he is ALWAYS on our side. And so we need to learn to trust Him and develop and seek a godly sorrow for our sin, and in knowing how it grieves God. And that’s not an easy life, but it’s the best life possible.

Anyway, it’s a fait accompli that there is a Christina Rossetti poem for all phases of my life, and this one is for now, which she wrote after she relinquished something most dear to her for God’s sake (which I can't always affirm with such confident resolve, but it's something to aim for):

I love ... God the most;
Would lose not Him, but you, must one be lost,
Nor with Lot’s wife cast back a faithless look
Unready to forego what I forsook;
This say I, having counted up the cost,
This, tho’ I be the feeblest of God’s host,
The sorriest sheep Christ shepherds with His crook.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

An abundance of possessions

Following my last post would be a good time to write the text of our sermon on Sunday night. It speaks for itself really:

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."

Luke 12: 13-21