Sunday, August 31, 2008

In memory

of David Payne

5th April 1951 - 31st August 1977

(Pardon me posting pictures of scantily-clad men. This is the only existing photo of me and my Dad - looking a little less like Brad Pitt.)

Friday, August 29, 2008

More on BYPJ

Nicole has written a good report of the night with Mark Driscoll over here.

ENGAGE this weekend

I am going to the ENGAGE conference this weekend. Everyone probably knows all about it, but if you don't live way down here the speakers for the weekend are Don Carson and Mark Driscoll. I know that Mark Driscoll is the man of the moment, and I heard him speak the other night and thought he was just great and it's a blessing that there are men like him doing what he does, and I know that we oughtn't to be "fans" of anybody who preaches in the name of Christ, but, if I did happen to be a fan of anybody, it would be Don Carson.

The reasons for that are because I think he is brilliant, and one of the biggest and sharpest theological minds alive, but further because I think his heart is equally as big as his mind, and as genuinely warm as his mind is sharp. For all his dazzling intellect every time I've heard him speak he still leaves me with the impression that what it really is all about for him is a living relationship with his God and Saviour and a love for people. And he speaks with humility and an unassuming and self-effacing graciousness.

So, I know that there will probably be a great contrast between the speakers this weekend (which I think is a grand thing!) and we might have to listen hard to Don Carson (and I am fairly certain he won't mention "budgie smugglers"!) but I am really looking forward to what he has to say (especially in those moments when he takes his glasses off and looks out). Maybe it's the British in me, maybe it's because I am not Gen Y, but I like his style - and if ENGAGE was Don Carson, pipe organs and International Roast I'd still be there.

(I know it's risky business to write such a thing before a conference, but now that I have made him my hero he would have to seriously mess-up for me to give him up anyway! :) - And I am excited about Mark Driscoll, and think he's really likeable, too!)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Two Irish Catholics

So I invited a friend of mine, who happens to be an Irish Catholic, to hear Mark Driscoll on "Burn Your Plastic Jesus" last night (having no idea of that part of Mark's history!). When Mark began telling the story of how he became a Christian it was so appropriate it was spooky.

By about song number three my friend was a little over having to stand up and sing and said, good naturedly, "I hope this guy is going to talk for more than ten minutes", which he certainly then did! Other people have written about the rest of the evening (and a few thousand more probably will :) ) - you can read Craig's run down here. I really enjoyed it, and my friend did too. It continued to be so superbly apt. I continue praying like crazy!

(The one downer is that before the event someone stole my phone and went through my wallet in the cafe we were in. Looking back I know who it was (not personally, just which person in the cafe did it) and how they pulled it off - and I am flabbergasted. But if you are going to get robbed, it's good for it to happen when you are off with a friend to hear the gospel. It keeps it all in perspective. That and I visited Port Arthur the other weekend - now there is something really terrible that happened one day in a cafe.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

An editor's nightmare

One thing I hate about the fact that everyone now reads blogs in rss readers (or whatever I am supposed to call those) is that when I change things, which invariably I do, the version that people have in their readers stays the same (some readers are better at updating than others it seems). And sometimes I accidentally hit the "publish" button instead of the "save" button when I am writing and post something I haven't even finished yet - and then I scramble to save it back as a draft but realise that it is probably already too late for those (faithful few) of you who have me in a reader. Or worse, when you delete a post altogether (which I just tried to do) it stays there. This is very frustrating! It's the point where you lose control of your own blog! Does anybody out there have a strategy? (Perhaps I just need to sleep on things before I hit the post button in the first place.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Snapshot of Tasmania #2 - The Female Factory

One of the places we visited in Tasmania that was not so pleasant was called the – I kid you not – Female Factory. But unlike the Cadbury Factory where they made chocolate, this was not a place where they made women. You could argue that here they attempted to destroy them.

Much of the convict history of Tasmania is fairly grim and this place was no exception. The female factory housed the first female convicts brought to Van Diemen’s land and here they were employed in washing, sewing, carding and spinning. You can read more about the history here.

Today there is very little left of the original site, just the outside wall, an excavation of some of the cells where “turbulent inmates were dosed with ipecacuanha, put on half-rations and locked into darkened cells”. We looked at the wall, surrounded by modern-day suburbia, exclaimed “is this it?” and then went inside the odd little visitor centre. I started to flick through an A4 plastic display folder but soon felt a little too overcome to keep going. In it was a 29 page list of the babies who died there and why.

Below is a photo of a plaque out in the ruin that says “more sinned against than sinning”. Obviously I wouldn’t endorse that as a general theological statement, and such a pronouncement could only ever be for God to give, but many of these women certainly received judicial punishment disproportionate to their crime.

Me by the sign (and interestingly they have tried to paint over some sections relating to the a subsequent fudge factory at the site)

What remains of the wall - once again with snow covered Mt Wellington in the background

An excavation of one of the (very small) cells

The plaque mentioned above

Church preparation confession

At the church I previously attended, reading the bible in church was something to be taken seriously, as well it should be. I did a purpose-designed training course with Kel Richards on how to prepare and then execute it well. So, last week when I received the email telling me that I was on bible reading on Sunday morning I took note and planned on giving it some attention - or I thought I did.

I emailed back to check that I was to read the NIV (because I never usually read the NIV - a few of the significant differences in interpretation I found between it and the ESV, the deal breaker being James 5:15, convinced me to switch to the ESV years ago) and then I thought I filed that piece of information away somewhere as being of some importance. But obviously I didn't. Because then I completely and absolutely forgot!!! My church has also temporarily shifted buildings since last time I went, and I missed a lot of the moving business being in Tasmania last weekend, so I was distracted by that when I turned up on Sunday morning, so much so that when I was asked at the door on my way in if I needed a bible I responded negatively because I had my trusty little ESV in my bag, and still no bells went off.

Then I sat down and chatted to a girl I'd never seen before, all the while being snuggled and kissed by my favourite five-year-old friend, and didn't even glance at the service sheet as I otherwise might have done. So, I am sitting near the back of church, having turned up dressed in the same thing I wore the night before, not having done anything at all with my hair, and the service leader says that coming up Ali is going to read the bible. I had a small moment of absolute panic when I realised that I had totally forgotten, and didn't even have the right version of the bible on me. For some ridiculous reason I turned around and asked the girl behind me if she had one, before I dashed out the back to the church bible supply, grabbed a bible then made my way to the front. I then had to just wing it because I hadn't even read the passage through once.

Thankfully it was 2 Corinthians, so it wasn't full of those OT names loaded with As and Is.

I thought I managed reasonably, with at least some of the right inflections, but then I don't suppose people notice their own mistakes while they are reading out loud anyway. However, after church I was still totally gob-smacked that I had completely forgotten (I just don't usually forget such things, most especially things that involve me standing up in front of a crowd of people!) and wondered how much of a fool I had made of myself up the back of church as I scrambled around looking for a bible. So, I mentioned it to one girl and she says "oh you did well, except you read a different version". What?! Turns out that not ALL the bibles in the church bible stash are actually NIVs, and that the one that I picked up obviously wasn't. I still have no idea what version I actually read

So it was all bad form. Next time, no longer confident of my capacity to remember anything, I will put a reminder in my phone, and on my computer and stick it to the milk bottle and write it in lipstick on the bathroom mirror etc.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Snapshot of Tasmania #1

I mentioned earlier that I had four days in Hobart and surrounds last weekend with my friend M. I had a splendid time and am now quite enraptured with that part of the world. Hobart itself has a lovely unostentatious charm, with stately and quaint old buildings sloping down to peaceful and unmolested waterfront. And it is a city after my own heart: full of bookshops, outdoors gear shops, antique shops and bakeries! What’s more, the bookshops have poetry on their island stands and sections called “Tasmanian Writers” with everywhere a certain loyalty to local products. In my imaginary life I am now a Tasmanian poet.

I was rather taken with the old area of Battery Point, containing a little circle of cottages known as Arthur Circus together with the Jackman and McRoss bakery, which received several well deserved visits. There I sampled the oatmeal with honeyed figs, the quince and mascarpone tart, the rhubarb and raspberry tart (not quite all in one sitting!), and it was all so luscious. Other places we visited were the Lark Whisky distillery, where they make a single malt whisky, which is supposed to be quite something is you can distinguish one whisky from the next - all I can say is that the single malt whisky chocolates were very good. I tasted some Bush Liqueur in there too, which is made from a local pepperberry and comes with a surprise. The Cascade brewery is also just on the edge of Hobart but unfortunately was booked out for tours on the day we went. The building itself, however, is well worth a look. We also had fresh seafood down on Constitution Dock and sat by the open fire in Knopwoods pub. Good times!

On the Saturday morning we went to the Salamanca markets, which sell a fine assortment of goods, including lots of tastefully crafted wood products made from Tasmanian woods like Huon Pine and King Billy Pine and lots of local produce. Tasmania as a whole is all about enjoying food. Combine the local wines, the cheeses, the atlantic salmon and the cold-climate fruits and your taste buds get sensory overload. We sent home a fabulous Riesling from the Coal Valley Vineyard, visited a cheesery where they made extraordinary cheeses from dairy sheep (now I grew up in the country and my grandparents farmed fine wool and I had never heard of these “dairy sheep”, called East Frieslands), went down to Huon where they farm the salmon in the pristine Huon River, sampled the renowned local apples, which leave a lot to be desired about all other apples … And everywhere you can buy these products, together with local fudge, jams and pastes, chocolate (including apple flavoured chocolate) and all things delicious.

Anyway, that shall do for this post. I might post on some of the surrounding highlights (we actually saw quite a lot of the south too, which what was really beautiful) to come, but here are a few snaps from downtown Hobart (the photos aren't great because I was still using a little old digital):

The waterfront (above and below)

Salamanca Place before the markets

The markets (with snow-covered Mt Wellington disappearing in the background)

Some of the local food we ate in the motel :)

Jackman and McRoss bakery is on the right here

A street of battery point (opposite the bakery)

Rainbow over Arthur Circus (we saw rainbows ALL the time)

Blossoming pussy willow, which I just happen to like

Poetry Anyday - Red Bird

I am at home waiting for fire safety inspection people to come and it just so happens to be Friday. So here is a poem by Mary Oliver, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1984, called Red Bird. You can read it online here.

Red Bird

Red bird came all winter
firing up the landscape
as nothing else could.

Of course I love the sparrows,
those dun-colored darlings,
so hungry and so many.

I am a God-fearing feeder of birds.
I know He has many children,
not all of them bold in spirit.

Still, for whatever reason –
perhaps because the winter is so long
and the sky so black-blue,

or perhaps because the heart narrows
as often as it opens –
I am grateful

that red bird comes all winter
firing up the landscape
as nothing else can do.

Mary Oliver

Picture from:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Weary Saints

Yesterday I received the newish Sovereign Grace CD Come Weary Saints in the mail at work. I cried at my desk the first time I played it. The truth is that I was so over-tired I was probably going to cry over just about anything, but some of the lyrics are tear-inducing. They've changed the tune to O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus, which is very risky business as far as I am concerned, because that is one of my all time favourite hymns and I love the original minor key. But, I'm going to let them get away with it because I actually quite like the new tune :) - though I still want the original at my funeral.

Anyway, I was just handing some work to a girl at work and she saw media player open on my computer and asks "what are you listening to?", so I just said "Come Weary Saints" and so she says "what does that mean?". I'm not even going to blog my response it was so inept. In the end I tried to salvage the conversation by asking what she was listening to. Now I get to listen to somebody called Bic Runga.

My daily dilemma

For those of you who love books, this won't need much explanation. For those of you who don't (I don't understand you and seriously doubt the possibility of us ever being kindred spirits :) ) I might need to elaborate. The problem that I have every day is this:

On the way to work I generally walk all the way, which is far enough, but on the way home I usually walk half the way and then join up with a bus for the rest of it. Where it gets totally problematic is that the bus stop is right outside a second-hand bookshop - a really good second-hand bookshop. And second-hand book shops have so many possibilities, more even than new book shops. You just never know what you might find in there.

So, I stand on the footpath in torment - badly wanting to go inside and look through the shelves, on the chances of finding that one great book, but also not wanting to miss my bus, which seems hopelessly unreliable and so comes whenever, sometimes with half an hour between. Some days I must look like a woman crazed with the way I dart repeatedly in and out just as far into the shop as I can easily get out of again.

Yesterday I couldn't resist, so I took a searching look up the street for approaching buses, then went all the way inside, into the next room, around shelves, right to the back. This is dangerous, because it means that you can't see out of this nicely pokey old shop and there is no fast escape. I wanted just a quick scan of the poetry shelf. The problem was that there was a guy standing there, hogging the whole poetry section, and he simply wouldn't acknowledge any of my body language signals and move even just a little out of the way. In frustration I tried to peer at the alphabet section I wanted, getting lost in the titles, but unable to see properly what treasures might be there.

Then I remembered the bus. I darted outside again. A girl carrying a guitar actually asked another girl standing there if she had seen my bus number go past already. That girl said yes, it just did. Unbelievable! The girl carrying the guitar obviously decided it wasn't worth waiting for the next bus and walked off. Then I had another decision: do I just walk the rest of the way home or wait for the bus - OR just go back into the bookshop?!

Twenty minutes later another bus came along, after I'd done some more darting in and out. I must have still been in holiday mode because instead of then going straight home when I alighted in my suburb, to cook dinner and do the undone weekend washing etc, I crossed the street and went into a new book shop, found the poetry section, flicked through A Book of Luminous Things for a while, without the bus angst, before finally heading home.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hold me (for) now

I got back late last night from a lovely little four day jaunt in Van Diemen's land (otherwise known as Tasmania) and went off to work this morning (blah!). As soon as I get myself sorted this week I will post some stories and pictures. (I've been trying for more than half an hour now to try and load up one picture and I have given up!)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Chivalry lives on - here and there

I think I have taken to "micro-blogging" (in those wretched sneer quotes) today. But yesterday afternoon I was walking home and as I walked past a local high school, surrounded by a high wire fence, I could see a fellow on the other side of the fence with a big bag gathering up the rubbish that had accumulated along the fence. As I came along side of him, on my side of the fence, he swept his cap off, with a small bow of his head, and said "have a good afternoon", replacing his cap as I walked on. In my bewilderment I scrambled to gather enough wits together to smile widely and say "you too". (If I could do a retake I'd say "why thank you, kind sir".) I continued walking, wishing I could write a letter of admiration to his parents.

The language nobody knows

I posted a link to the article Lilias Trotter and the Language Nobody Knows, by John Piper, on the EQUIP book club blog today, because of its connections to the missionary Lilias Trotter. It's quite a fascinating article on how words and reality relate and the importance of this in communicating the gospel, particularly across cultures. Here's a snippet of the quote from Lilias Trotter:

When we want a word for humility or hope or holiness, we can only borrow from the classical, dimly to be guessed at by ordinary readers. We write for a people yet unborn spiritually; the words will be understood when the realities for which they stand come to need expression. We have to make a spiritual language against the time it will be wanted. (I. Lilias Trotter, by Blanche A.F. Pigott, [London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott Ltd, n.d.], pp. 129-30)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

MY dad looks like ...

Years ago I watched the video of A River Runs Through It, based on Norman Maclean's book mentioned below. I remember that I was waiting for something, maybe it was a bus, somewhere and staring at the movie poster in a video shop window, deciding that I wanted to see it. So I rented it out, took it home and my Mum, my older sister and I watched it. At some point in the film my Mum remarked that the younger brother in the film looked rather like my Dad. There is one particular scene that I recall, near the end, where he is walking beside a road and a car drives past and he waves. That shot and those movements looked particularly like my Dad, apparently. So we checked the credits at the end of the film – never heard of that actor. Fast forward fifteen years and Mark Tredinnick is reading an excerpt from the book A River Runs Through It at the Faithful Writer's conference and he says as an aside "the movie wasn't bad - probably the best thing Brad Pitt ever did". My head snapped up as I heard and absorbed that – Brad Pitt! Then I grinned to myself over the realisation that all those years ago my family and I had sat around likening my Dad to Brad Pitt.

So, I dug out an old photo, to look at it with fresh and critical eyes (now that we all know and have seen plenty of Brad Pitt) and see if we were dreaming. What do you think?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Eluded - a poetry experiment

I have decided to over-expose myself and post the poem I wrote at the Faithful Writer's conference. We had four options to choose from for this writing time, so I chose the prompt "It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us" from A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. Just bear in mind that I had just had a birthday by myself, birthdays being the time of year for taking stock, and then I was faced with this sentence. So, I just doodled in response to the prompt, which became the first verse and left me stuck with lines of four and two syllables. (I'm a bit of a stickler for counting syllables, perhaps it's the old mathematician in me, perhaps it's because I need to learn a few more things about writing poetry.) I don't think the order of the stanzas is right (perhaps I'll switch the second and third at least) and I need to change the reference to eyes and smile, because that is all too cliche, but here it is as I wrote it on the day, save one word:

Eluded by
someone to live
with and
to love

a thigh to brush
a place that’s mine

to know that there
belongs to me
next to

an expectation
of together
one half

to know two eyes
one smile, our song
more self

need a bigger
teapot, more cake
to talk

about weather
new socks, old wounds
have favourite
things that

I’d like for there
to be someone
that I
should know

ALP 2008

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Building an extra-ordinary flock

Click here to see some amazing and inspiring sheep! - moulded from very ordinary and unpromising raw material. And all it took was a little re-working of a good old-fashioned communication tool ...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Faithful writing Pt 3

Here's something Tony Payne had to say about the Faithful Writer's conference.

As per usual, I was asked a couple of times throughout the day whether we are related. At such a day I almost wanted to say "yes we are" ;). But, despite the fact that I have exactly the same name as his wife, which was the cause of some confusion and a few jokes when I worked at Matthias Media, we aren't related (at least not in the recent past).

Anyway, it is curious how spiritual some writers make the process of writing (see I was tempted to put "spiritual" in quotation marks back then, but Mark Tredinnick told us not to use what he called "sneer quotes" - I liked that: sneer quotes - but to find another way to write it). I have read a couple of Natalie Goldberg's books in which her practice of Buddhism is so intertwined with the task of writing that at times it's hard to separate the two. But, as Tony points out in his third paragraph, the aim is very different. For Goldberg it's all about finding your true and authentic self and writing from there (and at times she went so far as to say that other people could be left to ruin in the process). As Christians I think we'd want to say that writing your authentic self is perhaps not going to be the most helpful thing, or bring about the greatest good.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

On the couch

I haven’t thrown up yet today. This is a good day. I wasn’t too sure what would be the result of eating breakfast, so I stayed home from work. It’s turning out to be a very pleasant. I love it that it’s rained and blowed outside, while I’ve been on the couch with a rug inside. I’ve spent too much time surfing around the internet - so many good and some hilarious blogs out there and a life that is too short to read them all. But I’ve also had more time than usual to read my bible and pray, in that tremulous moment of waiting to see what would happen after the toast. I’ve lolled about watching a DVD. And I have made a start on one of my new books. I had a birthday recently and with some money that came my way I bought three books (well actually, I got some money, then I went on a spending spree, and I don’t know which I will allocate to that money yet):

When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming peer pressure, codependency and the fear of man – by Ed Welch
Relationships: A Mess Worth Making – by Time Lane and Paul Tripp
Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in need of change helping people in need of change – by Paul Tripp

I haven’t read any books by these authors before, and have been wanting to. So I’ve started with the top one. I’m finding it slightly clunky to read, but the content is good. We’re all prone to the fear of man, more or less, so it’s helpful to see the many ways it can manifest itself (and how to counteract that with scripture - though I am not too far into that part of the book yet). Now I might go and try my hand at some writing, or maybe snooze.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A revolting ramble

I have been feeling ever-so-slightly nervous of late, because the reason being that my flatmate ended up at the hospital last week for an injection to treat a rather violent strain of gastro-enteritis (at least I think that’s what they called it), so did some friends' little girl, and various other people I hung around on Sunday had been vomiting rather less violently (and who knows where all the people I saw on Saturday had been!). Normally I am fairly resilient to such bugs, though I didn’t want to be too confident, but given that it’s Tuesday I thought I was all clear. Until about lunch time today.

I was talking to a colleague and between one moment and the next I felt sick.

Earlier in the morning I had been raving on in chatter to my manager about all the people around me who have been sick, because two girls from my team called in sick today, such that when I then did feel sick I thought she’d probably think I was acting up. So I sat at my desk for another two hours, gradually feeling worse, till I was quite sure that I really wasn’t imagining things and really did feel quite tenuously queer, and asked if I could go home.

I walked outside and felt revived by the fresh air and wondered if it was just the stuffy office that made me feel queer, but I was too uneasy to risk a bus ride, stuck inside a moving vehicle with dozens of strangers, so I set off home on foot. I made it to the park just down the road from work before the violence took hold. Then I threw up mid-stride trying to get to the nearest park bench, managing to get my own trousers and shoes. Totally revolting I know! There was a girl walking along behind me who took one sideways glance and kept right on walking. Who could blame her? I must have looked like a filthy drunk, vomiting in the park in the middle of the afternoon.

I had three more of these episodes there in the park, and had to just sit for a while till I thought I could attempt the rest of the walk home, which thankfully was a little less eventful. Tonight I had a friend coming for dinner, following which we were going to go up the road to hear Dr Mike Ovey lecture on Repentance, which I am sure will be brilliant (I'll say "brilliant" cause he's a Brit). So, I thought I’d see how I went, but it is not looking good and I think I need to stay close to my own bathroom for a while yet ...

Monday, August 04, 2008

Faithful writing Pt 2

So my friend at work is giving me a copy of her poem, on one condition - she gets a copy of mine. Arrgghh! Something that I need to work on in poetry is the use of figurative language. It seems that a lot of modern poetry involves taking your idea and then burying, just a little (or sometimes a lot), in allusions and associations. Mine is too plain. But one of the most encouraging things I got out of the day is the way that Mark stressed repeatedly that good writing is hard work. That you have to practice, discipline yourself, work hard at techniques, study form. Only then can you occasionally do guided free-fall. It is inspiring to know that even the great writers slogged away at it. Good literature didn't just fall from the sky.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Faithful writing

Well yesterday was the Faithful Writer conference. I thought it was fantastic! The keynote speaker, Mark Tredinnick, is not actually a Christian, and made a curious effort to incorporate ideas of “faith” into his address, beginning with a reading of Luke chapter 5, which made for quite a fascinating talk, the likes of which most of us, I am sure, have never heard before. But he is a very good teacher of writing well, which is an important aspect of doing our work of writing faithfully, and so from a perspective of creative writing it was brilliant. It was essentially a day for Christians to learn how to become better writers, in order to better communicate the truth that they have to tell - and to receive tuition from Mark at a very inexpensive rate!

My friend from work came along, as I have mentioned earlier, and she had a great time and absorbed a lot of Christian subtext throughout the day. Over lunch we sat down at a table alongside a student from Moore College and I missed the opening but soon discovered that they were deep in conversation to my left and that he was doing an admirable job of meeting her where she was at and essentially sharing the gospel. So, well done to him! That is a conversation that I will endeavour to probe sometime this week. The downside of spending the day primarily with this friend is that I didn't spend as much time catching up with some other writing friends, but hopefully I can find other avenues for that soon.

Before lunch we had an hour an a half of writing time and afterwards could submit our work, with a handful of pieces then being selected for a public (anonymous) workshop. My friend’s poem was selected, and considered to be very good (and I've asked her for a copy). I’d have died a thousand deaths if the poem I wrote had gone up on the screen, because it ended up quite personal, but it was borne out of the thought and feeling that I had at the time, and couldn’t get out of the way, so I figured that that is what ought to be turned to poetry when pressed to write.

I then went to Mark’s poetry seminar elective in the afternoon, and enjoyed that a great deal too. My friend and I later asked Mark to sign our copies of The Little Red Writing Book. I thought that was a bit dorky, but then figured that if I had a book to sign I wouldn’t mind people asking me too, which is just what he said. He wrote in mine “For Alison, Her own woman ...”. Hmmm, what exactly does “her own woman” mean? (He was a very nice guy, so I am just going to let myself assume that he meant something positive!) At the end of the day I came home wanting (if not being talented enough!) to give up my day job.