Saturday, November 29, 2008

Book lovers alert

My life has just been made all the richer. There is a new Berkelouw bookshop just open in Newtown and I popped in last night with a friend after dinner on King Street. Downstairs are the new books, and upstairs are the second-hand books and a cafĂ©. Very nice, and they had a lot of second-hand books. I didn’t buy any – I am getting so good at book restraint! – but I made a wish list and I’ll be going back.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Poetry Friday - Depending

Friday has snuck up on me this week, but the poem I wanted to share today is one that I need to link to because I discovered earlier that blogger won't let me format it properly. So, here it is. It's by James Galvin, and modern poet who lives yet, and called Depending on the Wind. We looked at this poem over last weekend (and also at the Faithful Writer conference back in August). Here is the first line:

A score of years ago I felled a hundred pines to build a house.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The witness of poetry

If you want to read something fascinating, about a man who seems to have lived in another time and place, which yet overlapped with ours (he died in 2004), I was engrossed by this article about Czeslaw Milosz, who was the Nobel laureate for poetry in 1980 and edited A Book of Luminous Things. It's sprinkled with insights about World War II, Catholic nationalism, the witness of poetry, and gems like this:
"when ambition counsels us to lift ourselves above simple moral rules guarded by the poor in spirit, rather than to choose them as our compass needle amid the uncertainties of change, we stifle the only thing that can redeem our follies and mistakes: love."

The homily ending

So I went along to the Faithful Writer master class on Friday and Saturday and had a splendid time. Partway through Friday I was wishing that I could spend every Friday like this: sitting and talking about writing, with all the many aspects of life which invariably enter into the discussion, practicing it and exploring it.

We had some very useful general input from Mark, who drips small insights here and there as he talks, went through some "luminous" (luminous has become the new cliché for writing, unfortunately) pieces of writing from various authors (eg Mary Oliver, Leonard Cohen, James Galvin, Cormac McCarthy, Hemmingway) and then spent a good part of the two days work-shopping each others' contributions. I felt like the gut-spiller amongst us, as my pieces were more personal than most (even with the edits!), but I received some genuinely encouraging feedback and have a new project to expand the memoir-like prose piece I had written.

During the first morning tea one of the attendees approached me and said they had really appreciated one poem I submitted and particularly one line within it, and so began a discussion along the lines of how, as Christians, we can skip too fast over the human on the way to God. One of my questions about the concept of faithful writing in general is that of whether everything needs to contain the hope or end with some kind of homily. I didn't make the New College lectures this year, by Trevor Hart, which I believe discussed this, so my next mission is to listen to those (and unfortunately I think I may have missed some informal discussion along these lines on the Friday evening at the master class, because I skipped out of the dinner to go to a friend's party, which was a lovely).

As with all such events, it was refreshing to spend time in the company of others interested in the things I am interested in, to talk about those things and encourage one another in our efforts.

(The one downside of the two days was sleeping in New College. Argghhh! More often than not I am one of those people who can "sleep anywhere", but not that night, during which I doubt I slept at all. The light stayed on outside my window and people scuffed past at all hours. At 4 am five boys - I know, because I stood on the balcony and glowered down at them - sat in the court yard and talked a laughed, loudly. I opened and closed the window several times depending on whether I thought the noise or the stuffiness was worst in that moment. Besides all that, I had a head full of stuff to think about and had eaten mud cake before I left the party that would keep a person awake for days - I know that, too, because I made it, with a kilogram of sugar. I am still recovering.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Poetry Friday - The soul's chariot

As befits the current state of affairs here in the fog:

A Book
by Emily Dickinson

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The big sister

This is my niece Annie Rose, who is now the big sister of Eli David, taken at Darwin. I just had to post this photo, that's all.

Feminism and motherhood

Jennie Baddeley has put up a thought-provoking post this week on Feminism and Motherhood, following her series of posts over at the EQUIP book club on The Feminist Mistake. I found it really interesting and challenging to pause and mull on this one. While most of us would say we definitely don't support abortion, I suspect many of us do live with the notion that when and how many children is our choice (even though there is now some truth in that), which is one of the subtle offsprings of feminism.

A way of stringing words together

Apologies (if anyone actually needs an apology for such a thing) for the silence here of late. I have some posts in my head but have been endeavouring to work on something elsewhere and get through the reading before I go to the Faithful Writer masterclass this weekend, which I am really looking forward to. Add to that the Moore College evening lectures, bible study, a couple of other things and a bit of fiddling about and weeknights seem to be disappearing.

The other night I was reading some of Mark Tredinnicks set readings for this up-coming class and I was hooked on the excerpt from The Blue Plateau. I don't always line up with his assessment of the state of humanity, but the writing is magnetic.

Here is the introductory paragraph to that and another piece of work:

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

-Elizabeth Bishop, One Art

I am made of pieces and of the spaces between them where other pieces used to be. I am a landscape of loss. Most of me is the memory of where else and who else and with whom, I have been and no longer am.

And so it is with the plateau; she too, is a landscape of loss.

-A Faster Kind of Sandstone
Mark Tredinnick

And this one made me laugh:

During a lull in the fiercest weather event the south-east of the continent has seen in thirty years - we call them 'events' these days, as though someone's putting them on - I went out on a Sunday morning and bought myself a book.

-A Storm and a Teacup
Mark Tredinnick

I am hoping that I can absorb some of this way of stringing words together.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poetry Friday - The spectre within

Poetry Friday is all about surprises here lately, but today I have another by Emily Dickinson. It doesn't need much explaining, but in about the horrors lurking inside ourselves.

by Emily Dickinson

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.

Far safer, of a midnight meeting
External ghost,
Than an interior confronting
That whiter host.

Far safer through an Abbey gallop,
The stones achase,
Than, moonless, one's own self encounter
In lonesome place.

Ourself, behind ourself concealed,
Should startle most;
Assassin, hid in our apartment,
Be horror's least.

The prudent carries a revolver,
He bolts the door,
O'erlooking a superior spectre
More near.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stories from Mars and Venus

The other day I received the workshopping material for the upcoming Faithful Writer conference, which we need to read before-hand and be prepared to critique. This means that I now have the contributions from the other eleven attenders and have had a quick glance through it. It's an interesting collection of work and some of it has made me smile over the gender differences. I'll let you guess who wrote what if I tell you that I read a story about a girl trying not to cry during the choosing of her formal dress, followed by a story about warriors preparing for battle behind enemy lines in murky trenches. It reminded me of this email I received recently, which I shall post here just for fun:

Here's a prime example of "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" offered by an English professor from the University of Phoenix.

The Professor told his class one day, "Today we will experiment with a new form called the tandem story. The process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting to his or her immediate right. As homework tonight, one of you will write the first paragraph of a short story. You will email your partner that paragraph and send another copy to me.

The partner will read the first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story and send it back, also sending another copy to me. The first person will then add a third paragraph, and so on back-and-forth. Remember to re-read what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent. There is to be absolutely no talking outside of the emails and anything you wish to say must be written in the email. The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached.

The following was actually turned in by two of his students, Rebecca and Gary.


(first paragraph by Rebecca)
At first, Laurie couldn't decide which kind of tea she wanted. The chamomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked chamomile. But she felt she must now, at all costs, keep her mind off Carl. His possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him too much her asthma started acting up again. So chamomile was out of the question.

(second paragraph by Gary)
Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about than the neuroses of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with whom he had spent one sweaty night over a year ago. "A.S. Harris to Geostation 17," he said into his transgalactic communicator. "Polar orbit established. No sign or resistance so far ..." But before he could sign off a bluish particle BEAM FLASHED out of nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship's cargo bay. The jolt from the direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.

He bumped his head and died almost immediately, but not before he felt one last pang of regret for physically brutalizing the one woman who had ever had feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4. "Congress Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel," Laurie read in her newspaper one morning. The news simultaneously excited and bored her. She stared out the window, dreaming of her youth, when the days had passed, unhurriedly and carefree, with no newspaper to read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent wonder at all the beautiful things around her. "Why must one lose one's innocence to become a woman?" she wondered wistfully.

Little did she know, but she had less than 10 seconds to live. Thousands of miles above the city, the Anudrian mothership launched the first of its lithium fusion missiles. The dim-witted wimpy peaceniks who pushed the Unilateral Aerospace disarmament Treaty through congress had left Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires who were determined to destroy the human race. Within two hours after the passage of the treaty the Anudrian ships were on course for Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet. With no one to stop them, they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan. The lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President, in his top-secret mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of Guam, felt the inconceivably massive explosion, which vaporized poor, stupid Laurie.

This is absurd. I refuse to continue this mockery of literature. My writing partner is a violent, chauvinistic semi-literate adolescent.

Yeah? Well, my writing partner is a self-centered tedious neurotic! whose attempts at writing are the literary equivalent of Valium. "Oh, shall I have a chamomile tea? Or shall I have some other sort of *)@#$ tea???! Oh no, WHAT AM I to do? ...

(And they continue to hurl abuse.)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Hospital by the River

Here is a lovely and moving slide show from today’s online Sydney Morning Herald about the Addis Ababa Fistula hospital, narrated by Dr Catherine Hamlin, author of The Hospital By the River. You can read more of the story in this weekend's Good Weekend magazine.

Poetry Saturday - Uncertain waiting

I discovered today's poem originally at this blog in a series of posts about infertility, which I have already mentioned. It captures the feeling of waiting for something that has no guarantee of coming or no estimated time of arrival.

If You Were Coming In The Fall
By Emily Dickinson

IF you were coming in the fall,
I ’d brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I ’d wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed,
I ’d count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen’s land.

If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I ’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.

But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time’s uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.

Picture from:

Friday, November 07, 2008

Poetry Friday delay

I don't have a poem ready for today. For the last four weeks I have been out for three weeknights in a row (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week, after a full weekend) and it's all starting to stack up on me. So is the mess in my room. And so are the trivial blog posts. I'm not one of those people who thrives on being out nearly every night of the week and writes astounding things at midnight. But, watch this space and there shall be a poem tomorrow.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Eli again

My sister came home from hospital and thought the selection of pictures that my brother-in-law sent of my new nephew were "interesting" - so she sent some more. This one I thought was extremely cute:

The lesser task of protecting decency

I was working through a judgment by Justice Gray in the Supreme Court of South Australia today (I came back and deleted the link, because while what it contained was a court room description of the contents of a prohibited DVD import, it was highly unedifying) and came across an interesting snapshot of the history of the law on public morality and decency:

"The defendant drew attention to the Fullagar Memorial Lecture, delivered by Dr JJ Bray in July 1971, in which Dr Bray traced the juristic basis of the law relating to offences against public morality and decency. Dr Bray referred to the early decision of Hicklin and noted that it had been applied by Fullagar J in Close. At that time Fullagar J observed that there was no obscene libel unless what was published was both offensive according to current standards of decency and calculated or likely to have the effect described in Hicklin - a tendency to deprave and corrupt people whose minds were susceptible to corruption and into whose hands the material may fall. Dr Bray went on to note that the High Court in Crowe had gone further and limited the test of indecency as to whether it was offensive according to current standards of decency. It was Dr Bray's prediction that the law would abandon the attempt to protect morality in the field of words, written or spoken, the graphic arts, the stage and films, and would confine itself to the lesser task of endeavouring to protect decency. The prediction of Dr Bray has proved to be correct."

Dr JJ Bray, “The Juristic Basis of the Law Relating to Offences Against Public Morality and Decency” (Speech delivered at the Third Wilfred Fullagar Memorial Lecture, Monash University, 19 July 1971). Published in (1972) 46 ALJ 100
R v Hicklin (1868) LR 3 QB 360
R v Close [1948] VLR 445
Crowe v Graham (1968) 121 CLR 375.

God's secret and revealed will

Yesterday I read this very interesting post over at Between Two Worlds. I'll snitch this out of the context of the rest of the post (which is American politics and abortion), but I thought this was a great little snippet on God's will

Theologically, we need to make at least two distinctions. One is between God's secret will (everything that will come to pass) and God's revealed will (what he tells us to do in his Word). The second important point is that God not only ordains ends but also commands and ordains means.

Where am I going with this?

(1) The fact that God ordains all things (i.e., his secret will) has a limited effect on our decision making. It can't prescribe how we act, but it can prevent us from having the wrong perspective (e.g., anxiety, fear, despair, misplaced trust, etc.). But in terms of interpreting events, the main way to read providence is backwards (as John Flavel wrote: "Some providences, like Hebrew letters, must be read backward").

(2) The fact that God ordains means ensures that our actions have significance. The ordained outcome can never be seen as an excuse for complacency or fatalism.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

An example of sacrifice

I mentioned earlier that I caught up with some friends who were staying out at Lane Cove River Tourist Park. I thought I'd share a little more about these friends because the story of how they are working for the gospel is encouraging and one that perhaps wouldn't immediately come to mind when you think "gospel work". I'll let these friends stay semi-anonymous at this point and call them J (the guy) and S (the girl). They're married.

I am not even so sure how I came to be such good friends with J and S. We have never lived in the same town. I met them originally when I was involved in a ministry to Christians in the defence forces and went along to a conference called Fighting Words, aimed at encouraging and exhorting Christians in the forces. J was, and still is, in the Airforce and S is very much onboard with defence force happenings. Later that year I went along to Club 5, as it was then called (a conference for people considering ministry) and J and S happened to have travelled to be there. I didn't yet know a whole lot of people from Sydney, so they were familiar faces in the crowd and I stuck with them quite a lot that weekend, we had a really good time, and before too long I was visiting them for the weekend up in Newcastle.

When long service leave came around for J, which it does quite early if you are in the defence forces because your training and university counts toward it, he decided to go to Canberra and do a version of MTS, working with defence cadets. He managed to get the whole year's leave by making a deal with his commanding officer that after that year he would take a posting to Wagga Wagga. Nobody wants to go to Wagga Wagga. J is now at the rank of Squadron Leader and going to Wagga is just not the thing to do - it means something of a slow death of his military "career".

But they have other reasons for going to Wagga. Out there are several training bases (an Airforce training school 10 km out of Wagga, and the Army Recruitment Centre, Kapooka, out of town in the other direction) through which hundreds of young men and women move every year doing training courses of various sorts. And mostly they are "troops", doing trades, not "officers", the people with degrees. J has several awards and scholarships behind him for his academic performance, S has a Ph.D. Wagga and the troops could look like a waste of their combined intelligence. But that depends on how you're looking at it. They also said they'd give it ten years. That is also suicidal for a military career, to take the same posting for ten years.

But they have gone there for the sake of the gospel. There they seek to have a Christian presence on the training base, to get amongst the troops, run bible studies, courses, open their home, generally reach out to this mass of young people sent out to Wagga for a time as they set out in life.

The thing about any sort of evangelistic ministry to the military is that you really do have to be in the military to do it. You can't walk onto a defence base and start a bible study or run a workplace or campus outreach event - you won't get through the gate, and even if you did you probably wouldn't understand the language that they speak on the other side of the gate. They live a life-style that is basically foreign to the rest of us and is a sub-culture all its own. Many of the people doing these courses also live on the bases for that time, behind the security gates, so you won't find them during a neighbourhood door-knock after-hours. They are basically inaccessible to the usual full-time gospel worker. That is why it is so valuable that J has stayed in the Airforce, but has made sacrifices within that to be strategic for the sake of the gospel. It gives him access, provides him with the means to live where these people are, provides him with opportunities, empathy and camaraderie with the people he seeks to reach. He has handed over his career to the cause of the gospel without leaving it. And S is right there with him welcoming young troops into their lives and raising their kids in Wagga Wagga.

Introducing Eli

Monday, November 03, 2008

A nephew is born

This afternoon my nephew, Eli David, was born weighing 7lb 10 ounces. Everybody's well and thankful to God. As I've mentioned before, he's the first nephew after three nieces, so that is novel. Unfortunately he is in Darwin, so I am not entirely sure when I will meet him, but hopefully before too long. Now I have to go and mail Paddington (I think I am going to miss him!). I might post a photo or two when I have some.

Last night I saw ...

A bandicoot! - of the southern brown variety - about half an hour's drive from my house (well, my unit actually - I listened in on an auction, cause the guy was yelling to a crowd on the footpath as I came home, on the weekend for a unit in my block the same as the one we rent and it sold for $528,000 dollars - crazy times!). I went out to catch up with some friends who were staying in Lane Cove River Tourist Park. I was amazed at this place. I never knew that just next to Chatswood, in the middle of suburbia, was a national park, with a nice river, complete with bandicoots. So I was leaving just after ten last night and walking back to my car and I could hear a hopping sort of rustling sound in the bushes, which sounded like a creature of reasonable size, and curiousity got the better of me. Then there it was, and it most obligingly hopped out of the bushes and across the road, at a leisurely pace, right in front of me. I definitely have to go back and explore around that area sometime. It was a little moment of bush nostalgia.