Saturday, July 31, 2010

Guerilla Knitting #2

Otherwise known as yarnbombing.

Image from here.

Guerilla Knitting

This is one way to paint the town red. When I have a mid-life crisis, you might be able to see where I've been. These pictures were all taken in Inverness, Scotland.

Image from here.

Image from here.

Image from here.

Image from here.

Image from here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Our Father Who Wasn't There

I have now finished the book Our Father Who Wasn't There, by David Carlin. I am a little disappointed, not because it's not a good book, but because it was just not quite what I was expecting. After the paragraph I posted here, much of the rest of the book was not so relevant to anything I've experienced. Carlin was one of four boys for starters, and my family was all girls, and I think that any sort of "issues" involved are quite different when you lose a parent of the same sex, rather than the opposite one. Not that that is really a feature of this book. The big difference is that Carlin's father actually committed suicide, and much of the rest of the book is the story of the author looking for clues as to why. So he digs up old medical files, visits old towns his father lived in, discovers his father was gang-raped in the Navy (not what I was expecting to read!), explores various psychiatric treatments of the time that his father underwent, and so it goes on. What he is mostly trying to do is construct a portrait of his own father. I knew that was going to be the case from the book blurb, but one review on the book jacket also claimed the book "fully illuminates the experience of fatherlessness", which is what I was more interested in - but I didn't find that so much.

I don't know whether I've ever even said as much on this blog, but my own father died after a road accident. He was tall, athletic, from what I can gather quite "masculine", happy-go-lucky and not prone to psychologising about life. Those who knew him said he was the most "undieable" person you could meet. All of which makes him quite different to the father, and so to most of the story, of this book. If I have my own streak of melancholy that comes predominantly from my mother's family, but even in that vast Scottish clan actual depression is mercifully absent (I have connections to the Scottish poet Robert Burns - you can blame it on that, though he was a rogue).

However, this book is actually perhaps quite an interesting exploration of depression, and even its various treatments, because the author has had moments of his own struggle with that black dog and treats the subject well (from what I can observe as an outsider). It's basic cognitive-behaviour therapy these days, but at one point Carlin writes on this idea of "grooves in your brain", which a psychologist pointed out to me once, and has a mock conversation with his father, after wondering if things would have been different if his father was born in a later time. I'll quote a little bit that made me smile:

According to neuroscientists, we all wear neuronal grooves in our brains as familiar thought associations flow from A to B to C. For those in mental trouble, like Brian, the sheep tracks are negative, destructive ones: deep gutters of despair eroding away the healthy topsoil. I am determined to pursue this clumsy agricultural metaphor, because this is the way I would explain it to Brian [Brian, the father, studied agriculture, but also psychology, and it would appear that the studying of psychology was quite destructive for him]: It's like your brain is a paddock, Dad - and, by the way, have you noticed that your name is only a slip of the typing fingers away from being 'Brain', which is kind of ironic, don't you think? Anyway, think of your brain as a paddock with these sheep tracks, and you can actually find new ways to get across the paddock. You can retrain those sheep, which are your thoughts, remember, to climb out of their well-worn paths and walk in different directions, from A to H and back to A again, so then they say 'Aha!' in sheep language. And you would feel happier, that's the point.
That was of some interest because you also, apparently, get grooves in your brain in how you respond to circumstances. And so one of the potential problems of facing significant trauma as a child is that you reacted to it in a "childlike" manner, but that begins a groove, and you might have to retrain yourself to respond differently later.

All up I liked this book as a memoir, and I am interested in memoir writing, it just wasn't one all that close to my own heart. So I'll have to keep looking for that book about a girl who had two sisters whose father died when she was four after a road accident.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hug Me

I love this practice of knitted or crocheted "tagging". Apparently what you call it is "Guerilla knitting".

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Great Knit-In

I am in anticipation! I will soon be off to the Great Knit-In, thanks to the lovely Ally. And I am going to, well I am going to attempt to, make a kiwi-fruit-green beanie, using a kit from here. I am not so sure what I am going to do with a kiwi-fruit-green beanie, but you never know. Should be fun!

Down in Melbourne I actually tried to teach my nieces how to knit. Only problem is I'd forgotten how to knit myself, and the instruction card we picked up for how to cast on was mystifying – even when I did figure out how to do it I couldn’t make sense of the instructions. Anyway, at least now I should be able to do that much tonight.

Hoaxville playground

My old friend the film director has made a new short film. You can read about it here. He was given the most specific brief of finding an "unconventional urban musician, somewhere in the world…” for an energy drink called Burn. Rap, or whatever you call this, is not my kind of music, but it's a nice little doco shot in Philadelphia in any case.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Poetry Day - A private reason

So here is another bonus Auden, incase you don’t appreciate poems about poets. This is number eight of Twelve Songs. It reads a little sinister with its reference to wicked secrets, and the poet would seem to be mocking the urge to share them in places, but I let myself take ‘poetic license’ with poems and how I understand them. I don’t think everyone has ghastly wicked secrets in their closet, though to be sure we’re all sinners with corrupted motivations, but I read this as a reminder that there is always more than meets the eye, and that eventually people do actually like to tell their story (which is a different thing to telling someone else's story).

Twelve Songs


At last the secret is out, as it always must come in the end,
The delicious story is ripe to tell to the intimate friend;
Over the tea-cups and in the square the tongue has its desire;
Still waters run deep, my dear, there’s never smoke without fire.

Behind the corpse in the reservoir, behind the ghost on the links,
Behind the lady who dances and the man who madly drinks,
Under the look of fatigue, the attack of migraine and the sigh
There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye.

For the clear voice suddenly singing, high up on the convent wall,
The scent of the elder bushes, and the sporting prints in the hall,
The croquet matches in summer, the handshake, the cough, the kiss,
There is always a wicked secret, a private reason for this.

W.H. Auden

Poetry Day - A way of happening

I have been enjoying reading my way, in haphazard fashion, through Auden's poetry. The problem with many of his poems, when it comes to blogging, is that they're quite long, and blog police are always telling me posts mustn't be that long. I think Auden would get away with it myself, but today here is a little piece off the end of a poem written for W.B. Yeats. It's a nice little comment on poetry itself.

In Memory of W. B. Yeats

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

W.H. Auden

Friday, July 23, 2010

A nice cup of tea

I bought this tea the other day, because I couldn't find my usual rooibos. It's good. It doesn't say so in the link, but it has pear pieces in it too. So you get the very pleasing combination of rooibos, vanilla and pear. I think I need some more. Rooibos tea is my after-lunch beverage of choice.

And Desmund Tutu is going to retire to sip rooibos tea with his beloved in the afternoon. Nice.

Two ghost stories

Since I have mentioned that monster that is relationships, humour me and allow me to post something pointless, and maybe even daggy: two old songs about the ghosts of old loves. One is male, one is female. One is all high drama and legendary epics, the other all feigning nonchalance and denial (I’ll leave you to work out which is which). For different reasons I like them both.

Ghost, by the Indigo Girls (these girls do good vocal harmonies, and allude to the legend of Troy)

Ghost Story, by Sting (listen for Vinnie Calauita's unusual drumming around the middle)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mutually investitive friendship

So I was going to tell you half my life story and ramble about relationships for a few thousand words, but I’ve thought better of it. However, back to this new word I learnt. At the end of the discussion night on relationships the other evening we were given some practical guidance on acknowledging the different stages of relationship (though these may not always be discrete).

Stage one was “casual friendship”, which is perhaps obvious, but there was some talk about what’s appropriate there and what’s not, with some encouragement to actually have casual friendships and not be so uptight that you don’t talk to people of the opposite sex (so long as absolutely always you’re treating each other as brothers or sisters in Christ).

Stage two is where it got interesting. It was “deeper friendship”, but after that was the curious “(MIF)” in parentheses. And what this stands for folks is “mutually investitive friendship”. I heard it later used as the verb, or was it the gerund, of “miffing”. (Now did I come up the Clyde on a banana boat or do other people talk about “miffing”?) I did appreciate the concept though. And it is a reminder that at this point what you have is friendship and there’s no need to rush on. (But you need to communicate, without over-communicating in relationship.)

Then there is stage three, which is “courtship”, where you’re going to think about marrying each other, so you put each other on trial and see the ugly stuff, but you don’t play at marriage or think you belong to each other yet. But you do ask why you're not engaged eventually.

Stage four is obviously “engagement”, and it’s not wrong to end these if it becomes apparent that you should.

'Twas interesting. And some aspects of the Q and A I found particularly interesting also, but that’s all for now.

Picture from:

Another wisp of fog

Haven't had a lot of time or head space for blogging this week. Back into full-time work, with things on in the evening, and it soon has to slide. We actually had a hot topic night at my church on Monday night on "Dating ... in a sex-crazed world". Our minister recently got married, a good bit later than many church ministers it would seem, so was in a unique position to comment. My church is also unusual in having a higher proportion than most of what would probably be called "older single people", so it went beyond your usual youth-group relationship material. It was deliberately not recorded, so that things could be said and frank discussion had without that being splashed all over the internet. For that reason I haven't posted anything on it, till I can do so without being modern stupid, but one of the unexpected results of the evening for me was that I learnt a new word (well it's possible I just came up the Clyde on a banana boat when it comes to dating, but I don't think so). I liked it and I'll post it some time.

Last evening when I got home I found a curious package in the mailbox which contained a DVD called Making a Killing - The Untold Story of Psychotropic Drugging. I wondered if this had been widely distributed or I was one of the privileged few. It said it was from the Citizens Commission on Human Rights. I've since looked up the website and this commission claims to be "a non-profit, public benefit organization dedicated to investigating and exposing psychiatric violations of human rights". Turns out it's also founded by the Church of Scientology and is basically part of their campaign against psychiatry and psychiatric drugs. I don't think I am going to bother watching it any time soon!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A vacation to twitter

I took a little foray into Twitter over the holidays. It's not so fascinating in there. Has twitter died? I signed up to follow about three things then lost interest. And there's no point following me because I haven't written a thing, and I can't access it during the day even if I did want to tweet my lunch. But I did give myself a pretentious latin username, since nothing else was available. It's ali_unde, which means "from somewhere else" (without the underscore), because, just incase I didn't have enough social media, or ways to share my life with the world, I now have one more.

Modern stupid

Well, it would seem I didn't really lighten things up for long with yesterday's post. So here is some more Leunig (this poem is featured on his official website here). Ah yes. My life's most stupid proceedings have all been nicely facilitated by email.

Modern Stupid

It’s much easier
To be stupid these days
Than in previous times.

Back in the old days
They had to do it all by hand.
It was sheer drudgery.

Now we can do it faster
And with more comfort,
Thanks to modern methods.

You can fit it into a busy life,
It’s available to everyone,
It’s right at your fingertips.

Michael Leunig
Poems 1972 - 2002

Monday, July 19, 2010

If we were careful ...

I don’t think I am unique in this phenomenon. But I find that sometimes when you hear or read of someone else’s account of an experience that is similar to your own, you can almost unconsciously take their experience onboard as though it was true for you also in entirety. And without you even realising it you then slightly adapt your own particulars or emotional interpretations to fit – either because their story is stirring or their explanation of events and effects makes sense or their account provides a nice excuse for consequences or any one of a number of other reasons. Especially so when your own experience is long distant and blurred by the passing of time. So I am little wary of reading others’ stories of fatherlessness that I don’t just absorb whole renditions of life because in parts they accord with me or make some satisfying sense or validate some condition or are just plain moving.

All that said I started Our Father Who Wasn’t There, by David Carlin, the other night and lay on the couch, home alone, reaching for the tissues, as I read this (which I shall post here because it follows from what I wrote here and briefly here – it’s quite similar to the state CS Lewis describes in Surprised by Joy):
We were survivors and needed to band together, bearing our unspeakable loss. This I knew, although not consciously. My mother’s immense strength and practical, capable nature belied a fragility that we must not puncture. Inside her, as in a picture-book melodrama, were rivers of pain that could burst forth and drown us all. Inside her was the apocalypse, storms that would rip off sheets of corrugated iron, tremors that would tear away all solid earth and open the abyss. If we were careful to stay on high ground, where the grass was clipped and neat and the sun smiled, we would be okay. We would survive.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Poetry Day - A lived-in life

Today I thought I'd lighten up the poetry. So here is one from Michael Leunig, with ducks.

A Life

Anyone can get a life,
Anyone can lose it,
But who will dare to inhabit the thing
And use it?

A lived-in life
Will soon get loose and worn
From use and feeling:
Countless tiny scratches,
The shine goes off,
It's very unappealing!

Dirt builds up,
A load of muck and grit;
A part of you gets lost:
A hope, a philosophy,
Or a love that doesn't fit.

Another broken sleep,
A dream collapses;
A quick repair, it's worth a try.
A scrap of string from the soul,
Perhaps a battered grin will fill the hole.
Or just a sigh.

Flakes and cracks!
A major idea buckles badly,
A makeshift support is put up quickly;
A tired old joke could hide the dint,
Or be a wedge or a patch or a splint,
Truly, sweetly, sadly.

And yet it works and lives!
It all still goes. It forgives.
It's a miracle!
Worn in, bashed in, cried in,
And the great thing –
A lived-in life can be happily died in.

Michael Leunig

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In and around Melbourne

So, now for some highlights of Melbourne:

* A day at Phillip Island with my sister and brother-in-law and nieces. We visited a chocolate factory for necessary supplies, strolled around Churchill Island, did a spectacular walk at Nobbies Point, then watched the Little Penguins come ashore for the night. These are so cute and tiny. They look so wrong coming in out of the surf, and then there’s the way they all pile up and jostle about on the water’s edge till everybody’s ready and they all decide to make a run for it up the sand – only it’s not a run, but a clumsy shuffling, and it makes you want to laugh.

* Day spent cruising around Mornington Peninsula and Sorrento. This was very pleasant - wandering in and out of shops, looking at the water, drinking coffee, eating icecream. We had gorgeous weather (don’t know what these people who carry on about Melbourne weather are talking about!) for both this day and Phillip Island, but this day there was more of a cold wind blowing. We wound up the day with a very pleasant walk up over a headland and then back along the beach in Sorrento.

* A day in the city. This was however rather frustrating, because none of us really knew where to go. Also, life is different with a family with kids and my ideas of hanging about in nice cafes sampling local fare didn’t really work out. But I got a feel for the place and I have since gathered up better ideas of where to go next time. (All you Melbourne dwellers feel free to make suggestions here.)

* Catching up with much-missed friends in St Kilda. I loosely and collectively call my family and friends in Melbourne “the academics” because my brother-in-law is a lecturer at Monash University, as is one of these friends (can't find a direct link), and I also had a brunch lined up with Jo but unforeseen circumstances came up against that, so next time. But St Kilda was more like it. We took a little stroll around before dinner and popped into a very cool record shop which has live gigs out the back featuring a chap playing a mandolin this particular evening, so we listened for a brief while (and apparently The Swell Season recorded a show here on their visit), then there was the pub where poetry readings are held, and then we ended up in the local bookshop, before taking some gourmet pizza back to M and N’s place. Nice, very nice.

* Then there's the things I bought. I didn’t actually go to Melbourne with the intention of shopping to any extravagance. I did, however, end up with quite a bit of stuff. But you’ll be pleased to know (or actually, you probably couldn’t care less) that most of it came from op shops. But, since people keep actually asking me this question, I scored: some grey jeans-like Witchery pants; a long grey GAP hoody, since grey hoodies seem to be the thing; a chocolate brown jersey style Portmans dress – this is classy, I think; some Ripcurl jeans – not so sure why I bought these as they are too tight (all the family says they don’t look too tight, but they sure do feel like it, perhaps because they have no elastane in them at all, and it would seem that most jeans these days do – but they are something to aim for); a greenish jacket that’s WestCo. (I am not usually a brand name shopper – but I am at op shops, because I’m not going to pay $10 for something that was only $20 new.) I did also buy some new cardies at various sales and a grey wool cap/hat in Mornington on a whim. The one thing I did go out of my way to buy was a book I mentioned back here called Our Father Who Wasn’t There, by David Carlin. He is a lecturer at RMIT Univeristy, so I figured that Melbourne City was a good and sentimental sort of place to get it. I have decided to read a few biographies about growing up fatherless, just because. This is the first and I am looking forward to beginning.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The imaginary spiritual life

I found this comment on the quote below from CS Lewis, when I happened to google it for the source (The Pilgrim's Regress doesn't provide the source, and I thought it must be from Lilith, but it's been a long time since I read that). Oh so true.
Note: "'You may think you are dead ...'" C.S. Lewis, creator of Narnia and a great admirer of MacDonald, cited this statement with particular acclaim. "This has a terrible meaning, specially for imaginative people," he wrote. "We read of spiritual efforts, and our imagination makes us believe that, because we enjoy the idea of doing them, we have done them. I am appalled to see how much of the change which I thought I had undergone lately was only imaginary. The real work seems still to be done. It is so fatally easy to confuse an aesthetic appreciation of the spiritual life with the life itself – to dream that you have waked, washed, and dressed, and then to find yourself still in bed" (letter to his friend Arthur Greeves dated 15 June 1930)."
From Why C.S. Lewis loved Lilith.

Until you open your hand

You will not sleep, if you lie there a thousand
years, until you have opened your hand and
yielded that which is not yours to give or to 
withhold. You may think you are dead, but
it will be only a dream; you may think you
have come awake, but it will still be only a
dream. Open you hand, and you will sleep
indeed – then wake indeed.

- Lilith, Chapter 40, by George MacDonald
(Quoted in the beginning of Book 9 
of The Pilgrim's Regress by CS Lewis)

Mad about Popular Penguins

I was going to put up a post about Melbourne last night, and then you know what happened? I had an email from Penguin Books about how you could enter a competition to win the 75 new Popular Penguins, so I thought I'd quickly enter, since I have had a run of Penguin Competition wins, and if I believed in luck it would seem to be where mine is (but I don't, just so you know).

Then, over an hour later I was still playing the silly game you had to play to enter the competition! (You have to go through all 75 books, and you can skip some and come back later.) I couldn't believe it when I looked at the clock. I hadn't been in any great hurry, but after that I was. Then I was so annoyed that I had wasted so much time playing a game that only gave me the option of entering and a chance of winning a competition. Because you know what else? – I don't even particularly want all 75 of those books, even if I do win them. (I'd like some of them, but not necessarily all of them, and a person has to be selective about accumulating 75 books!) And then even when I got to the end I had to go through that "in 25 words or less" thing and write something about Popular Penguin Books. It was never ending. My advice is don't do it – unless you truly, madly, deeply want all 75 of those books, or you have absolutely nothing else to do.

So then I was cross about being on the computer that long and I didn't put up the other post. But maybe sometime over the weekend I will.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Success with the Press Gang

So remember here I talked about the quandary of buying DVDs for tweens. Well I did send my niece the Press Gang series on DVD for her birthday, and on my recent visit I discovered that she is obssessed, not to overstate the case. She received it in the middle of May, and she's already on her second round through all five seasons. My sister told me she went into her room one night at 11.00 pm and she was sitting up watching it in bed! She quotes it, she talks about it often, she asked me questions about it (assuming I'd seen it all and remembered everything) like "what is your favourite episode", "do you remember the one where Colin dresses as a bunny?" etc etc etc. She even got on the computer when I was down there looking for the actors and for all the other movies they'd been in. So she then kept asking us random movie questions like "have you seen Star Dust?" and "did you see Chicken Run?" - the one connection being that someone from Press Gang featured in them (we finally worked this out). She has all the makings of a screen junkie that child.

I did feel like a very successful, groovy present-giving Aunty one afternoon when she listed the presents I'd given her for her birthday for the last few years (I think gifts are her love language!), with an accompanying analysis, and concluded "you give me things I've never even heard of, and they're awesome". But now I'm already feeling the pressure for next year's birthday!

Here's a picture of the lovely Lucy halfway up a tree in Sorrento.

Back at work

I'm back at work today, thus lunch time posting (and this little 'between jobs' post). It takes a while to get back into the swing of it and cope with trying to sit in the same place for hours on end. And while I've been living like a "morning person" for years, to the point that I even fool myself I am one, a holiday always reveals that given half a chance I'd really be the "evening person", so then going back to work is a bit of an adjustment. But I've only got two days till the weekend!

More on romantic desire

Since singleness occasionally gets a post around here (ever since writing the posts for the EQUIP book club book on singleness I feel like I somewhat reluctantly became a 'singleness person') I thought the link buried on the bottom of the last post might deserve one of it's own. It's a response by John Piper to the question How can I long to be married without obssessing about it? and then today I read this post by Wendy called Confessions of a (former) romance novel addict, which relates. I must say, I haven't read a book in the "romance" category in a long time, I haven't gone anywhere near Twilight (I'm just seriously disinterested in vampires and all of it) and my poison comes more in the form of "classics", "poetry" or books that bury romance in some other guise, but the last paragraph of that post is worth a read even so.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Siege Perilous in the human soul

Most of yesterday I was in transit coming back from Melbourne. Why it took so long you might ask. I wrote the story then decided it was boring reading, but in short I’d timed my return trip with my sister and family flying out of Melbourne to Brisbane, so I could go to the airport with them, but my sister mistakenly gave me the wrong time initially (and I feel like I can tell you that because she never usually makes those sort of mistakes! - and everyone gets a few) so then I changed my flight when the mistake was discovered such that my flight then left five and a half hours after theirs and I then had time to kill. So for part of the day I was reading The Pilgrim’s Regress by CS Lewis, which is an allegorical story of the elusive experience of Sehnsucht or desire, and the role it played in his journey towards conversion.

You need a classical education just to fully grasp Lewis’s preface to, and thus his foundations for, this book (and he always makes me wish I’d had one), and if you are my friend on facebook and take any notice of facebook feeds you might have seen a reference to the preface a couple of days earlier after I read it one evening. At one point he writes:
When they called Romanticism ‘nostalgia’ I, who had rejected long ago the illusion that the desired object was in the past, felt that they had not even crossed the Pons Asinorum.
I had to look up Pons Asinorum on Wikipedia and then laugh at myself in the amusing irony that it means ‘But the more popular explanation is that it is the first real test ... of the intelligence of the reader and as a bridge to the harder propositions that follow’ and I'd looked it up to read the preface.

Then throughout the book there are sections containing a frustrating amount of Latin, Greek and French, without translation footnotes, assumed knowledge of philosophical ideas, plus reference to philosophers by their first name only to represent their school of thought, which it would be useful to have on hand. This makes it a difficult, but not impossible, book to read yet I found it strangely compelling regardless, such that I am near the end (and haven’t yet picked it up today).

But the idea that I more particularly liked in the preface was that of the Siege Perilous, which I also looked up on wikipedia because I wanted to know more. It comes in this context:

This Desire was, in the soul, as the Siege Perilous in Arthur’s castle – the chair in which only one could sit. And if nature makes nothing in vain, the One who can sit in this chair must exist. I knew only too well how easily the longing accepts false objects and through what dark ways the pursuit of them leads us: but I also saw that the Desire itself contains the corrective to all these errors. The only fatal error was to pretend that you had passed from desire to fruition, when, in reality, you had found either nothing, or desire itself, or the satisfaction of some different desire. The dialectic of Desire, faithfully followed, would retrieve all mistakes, head you off from all false paths, and force you not to propound, but to live through, a sort of ontological proof. This lived dialectic, and the merely argued dialectic of my philosophical progress, seemed to have converged on one goal; accordingly I tried to put them both into my allegory which thus became a defence of Romanticism (in my peculiar sense) as well as of Reason and Christianity.
I have a love of literary allusions and metaphors so I was taken with the Siege Perilous idea, but it really comes back to the ‘God-shaped hole’ notion and on to idolatry and is simply the old idea that there is a place in the human heart that only God is meant to, and can, fill.

This might sound all very abstract, but if so here is an excellently apt post describing one of the false objects of longing (which my church conveniently just linked on their facebook site), titled How can I long to be married without obsessing about it?, which is perhaps more common to women. I don't by any means think anyone who'd like to be married has fallen into "marriolatry" (which, personally, I think is a silly word) or obsession, but it's worth checking every so often. And what I appreciate about that article is that it moves quickly on to talk about desire and obsession in general, because there are a good many other possibilities. The problem for those still longing to be married (or still holding some other specific desire) is that, not yet being married, you don't yet have the ontological proof that it is a false object for Desire with a capital D, so that is to be taken on trust (and it is here that I think many struggle – to believe it's not what will bring them ultimate satisfaction). Meanwhile the challenge for us all is to channel all desires God-wards.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Every blessing

I am back from six days or so in and around Melbourne. My recent memory is filled with southern locales, winter winds, the curious education I've received from my tween nieces, shopping spoils ... but right now my suitcase is spilling all over the floor (hate unpacking!) and there's mail and email and all those things that never go away, so I will leave you with this (which has nothing particularly to do with anything, but everything to do with everything): one of my favourite hymns, with banjo and inexplicable African animals, from Sufjan Stevens (or watch it live here, which is cool, though somebody there hits a few off notes if you ask me).

(I found it on this blog, which I came at somehow, and is now in google reader.)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


I'm about to head south for a few days, so all will be quiet here until into next week. Hope you all enjoy mid-winter.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The longing for home

Well I’ll be. So I was reading some more of The Prodigal God by Tim Keller last night in a section called “Our Longing for Home” and as I am reading I am thinking, I know what this is. And sure enough, I turn the page and there is the word, Sehnsucht, and the quote from Lewis’s The Weight of Glory. Keller writes this:
Home, then, is a powerful but elusive concept. The strong feelings that surround it reveal some deep longing within us for a place that absolutely fits and suits us, where we can be, or perhaps find, our true selves. Yet it seems no real place or actual family ever satisfies these yearnings, though many situations arouse them.
He then goes on the place the parable of the prodigal son in the wider biblical narrative of exile and returning, beginning with the way we have all been spiritual exiles since being set out of the garden of Eden, and how the theme plays out over and over in biblical history.

Some people, no doubt, think “Sehnsucht, Schmehnsucht”, but as I’ve written before, I find it so freeing, because it’s basically an acknowledgment that deep within us is a longing that is never going to be satisfied outside of the Father’s presence. Otherwise it’s all to easy to peg it on whatever it is you perceive your life to be missing, but it won’t be there either.

The chapter that contains this section is actually called “Redefining Hope” and it ends with this paragraph:
Jesus will make the world our perfect home again. We will no longer be living “East of Eden,” always wandering and never arriving. We will come, and the father will meet us and embrace us, and we will be brought into the feast.
Picture from here

Monday, July 05, 2010

Mumford and Sons with Laura Marling

Speaking of Mumford and Sons, here's a new EP out today with Laura Marling (but it looks like you can only get it on iTunes UK and it's difficult to discern Laura in this one). It's a version of To Darkness. I confess to not being the biggest fan of Indian-style music, but it's interesting all the same (I reduced it to take out the picture, but if you click on it you should end up in youtube).

"It's not the long walk home"

"That will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with the restart"

Mumford and Sons, Roll Away Your Stone

I've always thought that that line from Mumford and Sons was a reference to the parable of the prodigal son, and pondered it. Now I pondering whether they've been reading Tim Keller in The Prodigal God (or they could have just made it up themselves).
The first thing we need is God's initiating love. Notice how the father comes out to each son and expresses love to him, in order to bring him in. He does not wait for his younger son on the porch of his home, impatiently tapping his foot, murmuring, "Here comes that son of mine. After all he's done, there had better be some real groveling!" There's not a hint of such an attitude. No, he runs and kisses him before his son can confess. It's not the repentance that causes the father's love, but rather the reverse. The father's lavish affection makes the son's expression of remorse far easier.

The father also goes out to the angry, resentful elder brother, begging him to come into the feast. This picture is like a double-edged sword. It shows that even the most religious and moral people need the initiating grace of God, that they are just as lost; and it shows there is hope, yes, even for Pharisees. This last plea from the father is particularly amazing when we remember Jesus's audience. He is addressing the religious leaders who are going to hand him over to the Roman authorities to be executed. Yet in the story the elder brother gets not the harsh but a loving plea to turn from his anger and self-righteousness. Jesus is pleading in love with his deadliest enemies.
There's much to be said about the manner in which elder brother types welcome returning younger brothers also.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Poetry Day - If I Could Tell You

Today I thought I'd post a villanelle from WH Auden. I do like villanelles - they're a beautiful form.

I actually find this poem a little convicting, because I could tell you, and it's a whole lot more and better than 'I told you so' - it's the story of the gospel of the Jesus.

If I Could Tell You

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

W. H. Auden 
October 1940

Picture from flickr.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The effect of adult misery on children

Last night when I took what might be loosely called a scenic route through the wild and untamed country of childhood psychology, I referred to a notion that I thought I had posted on before. But when I went looking I couldn’t find it. A good many blog posts seem to have been written only in my head. (And I've since remembered it was written in other spheres.) These days more things make it through the “share it with the world” gate, and I’m a little more relaxed about "online therapy" (but fear not, I have retained some scruples!).

If you’ve been reading here a while you may have noticed that I quote CS Lewis just ever so occasionally. I feel like we have an affinity that isn’t just because he knows Sehnsucht and is a votary of the blue flower, but because many years ago as I read Surprised by Joy I was arrested by this sentence (here in a little bit of context):

Children suffer not (I think) less than their elders, but differently ... They say that a shared sorrow draws people closer together; I can hardly believe that it often has that effect when those who share it are of widely different ages. If I may trust to my own experience, the sight of adult misery and adult terror has an effect on children which is merely paralysing and alienating ... With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.
Reading that was one of those moments when a sentence opens up a whole new dimension you've not explored before. None of us ever had a minutes’ counseling after my father died – back then in country towns you just didn’t – but gradually we’ve all had to trot off as things slowly rose to the surface, and that sentence was one prompt for me. Lewis writes later how, as a result, he “learned to fear and hate emotion” (because it comes in excess at an age when you are you are ill-equipped to manage it), which disturbed me enough to send me to the couch.

And now I shall close the gate.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Prodigal God

We’ve had a surprise house inspection come upon us for 8:30 in the morning, which has thrown my evening out a little. (The real estate agent rang late this afternoon to confirm, which was the first either of us had heard of it, so I think they neglected to pass on that important point – and we’re just going to let them come in with the key because otherwise finding a suitable time goes on and on.) Thankfully things aren’t in too much disarray here, and it’s a good motivation for cleaning up my room.

But, another book I am reading at present is Prodigal God by Tim Keller. I really liked (and, more importantly, was challenged by) Counterfeit Gods, so I thought I'd read this one. The earlier chapters are very much like a sermon I heard years ago by Rico Tice on the Parable of the Lost Son, about the lostness of the elder brother and the way in which both brothers are a picture of wanting God not for who he is but for what he gives. I thought that sermon was great and bought copies to give to people (it was preached at St Thomas’s North Sydney, and I stumbled upon it when I went to a music concert there and was ratting through the church book stall up the back, as is my want). But it looks like Keller is going to move beyond what was in that sermon (at least I think so, because I haven’t finished yet).

It's a good book (and was a good sermon) for me, and perhaps others like me, because I certainly think that I am more likely to err on the side of the older brother rather than the younger. If it is generally true that kids go for either good attention or bad attention (I'm not so sure it's that simple, but anyway) I was definitely the good attention kid, who took the path of the conscientious, over-achieving, duty-filling, do-gooder. But one needs to take a look at what’s happening underneath that. And of course life gets complicated by other factors, and people’s innate temperaments are prone to one thing or another. I saw a psychologist briefly once, who concluded that because I was somewhat terrorised by the grief and fragility of my mother as a child (after my father died my older sister would go off to school and I'd be at home with a mother who was in the throes of grief) I developed a kind of "don't upset your mother" habit, and then projected that onto the world and spent my life avoiding upsetting people or getting into trouble (silly given I was not the source of the "upset" in the first place) - and there is some truth in that which I've been mindful of since. That possibly inclined me in the direction of the older brother, and I do feel like I'm constitutionally incapable of outward rebellion.

But that is a rambling tangent, because the issue with whether you’re a younger or older brother is whether or not, according to Keller, you are “putting yourself in the place of God as Saviour, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life”. So he writes chapters on "Redefining Sin" and "Redefining Lostness". Am I relying on being “good” to earn me points or bargaining power with God (or even just to keep me out of "trouble")? Hopefully the rest of the book is going to help me dig into that.

This is probably enough for a rambling post smattered with childhood psychology, and I shall hopefully come back when I have cleaned up the rest of the house and read more of the book.