Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The happiest women in the world

Interesting article here (H/T Challies) on how Dutch women got to be the happiest in the world:
naturally beautiful with a no-fuss sense of style, she rides her bike to fetch the groceries, has ample time with her kids and husband, takes art classes in the middle of the week, and spends leisurely afternoons drinking coffee with her friends. She loves to work part-time and does not earn as much as her husband, but she’s fine with that—he takes care of the bills ...
Sounds sublime to me. I've got the bike to fetch the groceries ...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


In the car on the way home from ENGAGE with some folks the song Forever Young by Youth Group came on the radio (I don't know what station we were listening to, and I take no responsibility for it - I also shared another beautiful moment over the weekend when there were five girls in the car and Richard Marks's Right Here Waiting for You came on, and we sung our soppy hearts out). Anyway, Rory Shiner had been speaking at the conference on Eternity and the bodily resurrection, and I recalled the time the Forever Young clip was played before an evangelistic sermon along those lines at a previous church.

I do love this video - it's so nostalgic, and apparently it features real footage from the "early-1970s Australian youth television program GTK, showing Australia's first skateboarding contest being held at the Coca-Cola factory in Frenchs Forest, New South Wales in 1975" (from Wikipedia). I wasn't a teenager in the 1970s, but skateboarding was still around when I was. The church I was at used to meet in a high school building, and after church all the boys would head off to the outdoor basketball court to do their skateboard thing, and us girls, if we hadn't gathered up as many toddlers as we could to play with, would sometimes go and stand shyly around the edges of the court, in our puffed-sleeved florals, and watch. And sometimes, in a brave and awkward moment, one of the guys would give us a go. It takes me back.

Ode to magnolias

We've been having some glorious days of late in Sydney, the tunings of a prelude to Spring. Last week I was delighted to discover that a nearby magnolia tree was out in all it's splendour, so I trotted back to this position of wonder with my camera. The sunlight wasn't quite working for me, neither was my position of trying to be unobtrusive on the footpath, and avoid the construction zone next door, but they are quite magnificent all the same.

I have recently delved back into some poetry by Bruce Smith (you can read about Bruce Smith here), and so thought I'd share a poem of his, aptly titled 'Magnolias'. I first fell in love with Magnolias on the shores of Lake Geneva, which might sound like I'm being high-faluting, but during one day off when I was at L'Abri, in the Southern Swiss Alps, I went down to Montreux with a friend, primarily to visit the Chateau de Chillon, and around the promenade of the lake were blossoming magnolia trees. It was a sight to behold - and I don't recall that I had ever before beheld it, or put a name to a magnolia tree. In my mind it is the moment that I first became aware of their stunning existence.

So, I don't think there is anything very extraordinary about this particular poem, but it do now think momentarily of prehistoric moths when I spy magnolias.


There is nothing petite
about Magnolias.
Each year
their tightly shrouded buds
bulging and blushing
with the return of Spring
crowd every branch and twig
of the parent trees.
And when they unfold the splendour
of their heavy-petalled whiteness
they dare us to believe
that any tree could support
such a grand display.

In full bloom,
from a distance, they look
for all the world
like a mighty flight
of prehistoric moths
or butterflies,
but up close, they seem
like crafted luxuries in stained marble
from the opulence
of some bygone era.

I remember
one Spring in Oxford
many years ago
when winter simply
refused to leave!
Oh how the Magnolias
flung their challenge
at the cloudy skies
and did what they could
to block the passage
of the winter winds.
I learned to love them then
for the sheer strength
of their beauty.

And I love them still.
If some lack scent
it takes nothing from them.
We must not be greedy.
They are generous
to the eye and touch
and to ask for more
is to ask too much.

Bruce L. Smith

Monday, August 29, 2011

Life is no brief candle

In the meantime, here is something I came across from George Bernard Shaw:
This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
George Bernard Shaw

Another bleep

Well, I had an excellent time at the ENGAGE conference. Right now I’m too shattered to say anything at all about it, but maybe later. (I didn’t sleep very well for the two nights up there, and then thought I would get a good night sleep last night and that would fix it, but that didn’t happen.)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Your Dad did what?

Once upon a time, on the 24th August, my Dad left for work and never came home again. On the 31st August he died in hospital, the result of complications after a road accident. So, I thought I'd repost this poem by Sophie Hannah, which undoes me every time.

Your Dad Did What?

Where they have been, if they have been away,
or what they've done at home, if they have not -
you make them write about the holiday.
One writes My Dad did. What? Your Dad did what?

That's not a sentence. Never mind the bell.
We stay behind until the work is done.
You count their words (you who can count and spell);
all the assignments are complete bar one

and though this boy seems bright, that one is his.
He says he's finished, doesn't want to add
anything, hands it in just as it is.
No change. My Dad did. What? What did his Dad?

You find the 'E' you gave him as you sort
through reams of what this girl did, what that lad did,
and read the line again, just one 'e' short:
This holiday was horrible. My Dad did.

Sophie Hannah

Friday, August 26, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I haven’t much to say this week. Recently a friend made a good guess and gave me a copy of CS Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms as a birthday gift, which is proving very interesting. I am not so naïve that I didn’t predict some problems with certain of his views in these reflections, but the precise nature of these problems has been quite fascinating. I might post more, if I can possibly write some kind of summary of his thoughts from some of the chapters.

This weekend I am going to the ENGAGE conference to hear John Piper and Rory Shiner speak on Passion and Eternity. I’m staying in a motel, because I couldn’t get a place in a house with people from church, which is disappointing, and it’s a motel on the highway, so that has taken some of the charm off the “weekend in the mountains getaway” idea, but the conference itself should be good. I’m looking forward to hearing John Piper live and what he has to say, and Rory was also working at Matthias Media during the time that I was there (must have been a catechist position) and he is a very nice fellow, so I am looking forward to hearing from him also.

So, I doubt I will post anything over the weekend. Hope you all have a nice one.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I hope that I don't fall in love with you

Random iPod flicking gave me Tom Waits’ Closing Time (perhaps it caught my attention because everyone on the interwebs has been linking to this Cookie Monster rendition of God’s Away on Business lately). Closing Time is the only Tom Waits album I own, but I do like it lots. One of my favourites is I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You. This is not the Closing Time version, on which I really like the guitar, but it’s quite beautiful (actually I just found the album version here).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guitar woes

Last night I gave up with the internet freebies and paid for a guitar chord download. You know what’s frustrating me? How many different ways there are to play each chord. I know that is supposed to be an advantage, but at this point in my guitar “career”, I would just like to know one way to do it. I don’t need options.

And I thought I would like to play “Here is Love”, which we have sung recently in church, after the fashion of the Matt Redman version (you know the old hymn, “Here is love, vast as the ocean …”), but I discovered that it has no less than seven different split chords. Horrible. I know better than to ask the internet questions, because rarely are they answered, but my flatmate comes by and tells me I don’t have to play split chords, I can just choose one or the other. Might this be true? I dare not believe it. Otherwise I fail to see why the chord charts given would actually have a different fingering for the split chords. I think my prior guitar teacher would be outraged.

So I am stuck trying to work out what the heck Gma7/B is (because, strangely, that chord diagram is blank), and I have to get from G to D/F# and back to G quickly, which is a finger-tying mess. Then one version gives me C2, which I have discovered is also Cadd9 (I know Cadd9) and one version gives me C/D (is this the same thing?) and even just trying to work out what the right chord actually is is a headache (thus why I thought I'd buy the real thing).

Here is the youtube of what I am trying to play anyway, except we don't go on quite like this at the end in church, and sing a third verse ... (watch the visual if you want to see such things as bible verses superimposed over a statue of Abraham Lincoln).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bob Dylan's poetic borrowings

Recently, when I hosted my 'port and poetry' evening, I told those coming that song lyrics counted as poetry. It seems that sometimes song lyrics actually are poetry. Here's a table showing lyrics written by Bob Dylan, compared to lines of poetry composed by Henry Timrod. From The New York Times, via Austin Kleon.

Delicate things

This is the beginning of a project that will take me a long time, and there will be more colours involved, but these are pretty are they not? I am loving the 'antiqueness' of these colours - old rose, soft lime and shortbread are their names, and they turn out best with a brewed cup of tea.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sara for Sunday

"It is good to come together ... " (Hebrews 10:25). The sound is not so great here, but it will do.

On friendship

I was going to turn this into more of a general post about friendship, but instead, here are some of my notes from Andrew Camerson’s lecture at the Centre for Christian Living on Friendship. I am not so sure about the protocols of such things – if there is a charge to attend a public lecture, should the notes be then posted on the internet for all to read? But, you do miss a lot by not being actually present, even if a word for word transcript was supplied, and there were some useful diagrams and tables and discussion that went with this, that I can't include (because that is to much technical challenge for me!).

So, the subtitle of this lecture was:

What makes friendships good and what goes wrong when they don’t work out?

John 21:15-25. Peter is asked three times if he loves God. There is full reconciliation after his denial (denied God three times). This gives us a clue that perhaps there is a way through the mess of broken relationships.

Jesus has a special friendship/connection with John. Peter is envious, and sometimes we can’t handle it when other people are friends or have a different relationship.

Friendship is an element of our created being. It has some notable elements.

1. Attraction

There is an attraction that is not always explainable. (Great quotes from Montaigne here from Of Friendship, 24-28)

For example,  David and Jonathan 1 Samuel 18-20, 2 Samuel 1:26. (Everything is sexualized in our culture and it can get uncomfortable. But, attractions are not always sexual.)

2. Sharing

Luke 6: 32-35. There is a natural reciprocity in friendships. Because of the last verse in (vs 35) some Christians think it is wrong to have special friends. But it is an observation that things don’t go far if all one-sided. The reciprocity can be quite different in content, but will be there.

So, what’s the exchange part of friendship? (referring to table where we had listed some friends’ names). We can think it’s crass to think this way about friendship, but there is a long history of viewing them this way. This can be warped into “what can I get out of this?” with sin, but frienship doesn’t have to function like that.

We are not comfortable with exchange, because we say we’re in the business of “grace” as a Christian (eg John 15:13). We know how to go beyond exchange to giving with no return. Yet, it’s fair to say that if the giving is all one way, it's not friendship. It’s still an expression of love, but not friendship. Friendship needs both people to be committed to the good of the other.

[I did want to applaud when AC said this, because so often you hear “if you have no friends, be a friend” and if you’re lonely, serve others, which is all very good and worthwhile to do, but it doesn’t equate to or guarantee friendship – and it devalues “friendship” and renders the term meaningless in making it too broad. Those relationships fall more into what CS Lewis calls "Charity" in The Four Loves.]

However, if you are constantly lonely you may need to ask yourself what it is you give.

3. Moral Scaffold

Your friendships rely on some shared agreements about what matters. Friendship is a shared moral community (Ps 119:63).

Some of the friendships that have broken down have done so because someone has changed their mind about what matters most. It can be hard to see for us, but it was obvious to ancient people.

(Great quotes here from Aelred of Riveaulx, who was trying to work out what friendship meant in a monastery.)

Comment here about how we can be too choosy about who we related to, and the shared moral agreements may not be immediately obvious.

4. Breakdown

Modern challenges
  • Mobility – need face-to-face time
  • Family – can be consumed with marriage etc. This is a modern development. Good households used to be communally engaged eg Proverbs.
  • Shallowness – AC has an ambivalent relationship to facebook – need to be there but the problem is it can hoodwink us into thinking they’re friends, and it cheapens the currency.
  • One-way relationships – the way people follow favourite actors/celebrities etc and put relational energy into such things.
The dark side
  • Using – someone contributes nothing and/or our feelings of attraction are tangled up in what they offer us eg social standing etc.
  • Lack of loyalty (and outright betrayal) – Provers 20:6.
  • Breaking the rules – someone shifts on what matters most.
And it could be me being the user and breaking the rules.

5. Repentance

Australians can be shabby about friendship and loyalty. And we haven’t perhaps been good at the Jesus stuff of repairing broken relationships.

Matthew 18:15. Jesus is optimistic. He doesn’t go on about how there’s no point trying … Repenting is the only fuel by which a broken relationship can progress. (Good diagrams here, but I can’t reproduce them.)

Not all relationships can be reconciled, and not all reconciliations result in renewed friendships.

6. Reflection

What do I need to do differently to be a better friend?

What can I learn from past friendships I now grieve over, or am glad are ended?

Jesus doesn’t give away his trust easily – trust is earned and comes with a track record.

Things to read

Hugh Black, Frienships.

Kevin de Young, The gift of friendship and the godliness of good friends

Friday, August 19, 2011

Poetry Day - An extraordinary morning

Meanwhile, here is a poem by the new poet laureate for USA, Philip Levine.

Image from here.

An Extraordinary Morning
By Philip Levine b. 1928 (from here)

Two young men—you just might call them boys—
waiting for the Woodward streetcar to get
them downtown. Yes, they’re tired, they’re also
dirty, and happy. Happy because they’ve
finished a short work week and if they’re not rich
they’re as close to rich as they’ll ever be
in this town. Are they truly brothers?
You could ask the husky one, the one
in the black jacket he fills to bursting;
he seems friendly enough, snapping
his fingers while he shakes his ass and sings
“Sweet Lorraine,” or if you’re put off
by his mocking tone ask the one leaning
against the locked door of Ruby’s Rib Shack,
the one whose eyelids flutter in time
with nothing. Tell him it’s crucial to know
if in truth this is brotherly love. He won’t
get angry, he’s too tired for anger,
too relieved to be here, he won’t even laugh
though he’ll find you silly. It’s Thursday,
maybe a holy day somewhere else, maybe
the Sabbath, but these two, neither devout
nor cynical, have no idea how to worship
except by doing what they’re doing,
singing a song about a woman they love
merely for her name, breathing in and out
the used and soiled air they wouldn’t know
how to live without, and by filling
the twin bodies they’ve disguised as filth.

On the western front

All is quiet. I went along to the next CCL lecture on friendship on Monday night, after another Thai stop with a friend (and I actually had time to swallow this time before leaving the restaurant), which was excellent! I have been intending to write something about it here, but haven't got to it yet. I will.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

She honors what I'm doing

So I believe Phillip Levine is the next poet laureate of the USA. Here is a nice quote from him regarding his wife:
“On my 26th birthday, I met my present wife. And how many women could stay with a guy who has no prospects and wants to write poetry and stay with him now 55 years? Sometimes, she worked, so that I can sit home and scribble. And she honors what I’m doing. And I think that is the most crucial thing, to be honored, as a poet, even if it — not by a nation, because a nation is an abstraction, but just to be honored by this person, or that person, or especially by your wife, or your brothers, or your mother, father, I mean, it’s just fantastic. It keeps you going in a way that nothing else could keep you going.”
Philip Levine (H/T Austin Kleon)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A good marriage

According to this article (no, I don't read The Daily Telegraph, but someone I know does :)), and the latest social research, that is what most Australians really want.

Jane Eyre

I did go and see Jane Eyre on the weekend. (I went by myself on Saturday night and looked a bit tragic. I go and see movies by myself, I just usually avoid doing so on a Saturday night, but I badly wanted to see this one that day, without having to go through the diary consultation thing and wait weeks till someone was available to come along.) I loved it! It was perhaps owing to the mood I was in, and the fact that I was sitting there solitarily, but I found it very moving and cried away.

I’d spoken to a fellow on Friday night at a friend’s gathering (a fellow who went to see Jane Eyre by himself – how extraordinary is that?) who told me that they thought Jane’s character was rather cold. Perhaps because I've read the book and know Jane more deeply I didn’t think so, though there were times when she was oddly silent towards Mrs Fairfax. But as someone who is not so outwardly effusive, and doesn’t relish being considered unfeeling as a result, one of the things I particularly love about Jane Eyre is that it portrays and demonstrates love and passion in someone not given to gushing or hysterics - and what is so appealing, to me, about Rochester and their relationship, is that Rochester can see into and appreciate this in Jane.

Ben has given his two cents worth here (and I stole his picture) and I agree with Simone, that in leaving the elements of Jane’s faith out of the story, it doesn’t make so much sense that she decided to leave. And while I don’t believe that Jane should have married St John, the movie didn’t show much at all of what was grand in his character (qualities no longer valued perhaps), and the idea of his going to India, and of Jane accompanying him, comes completely out of nowhere and is gone in seconds.

Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke is still the best version of Jane Eyre, according to me (Zelah Clarke doesn’t quite suit me as Jane, however, as I couldn't see any of that mysterious elfishness, and I read this curious article on The Forgotten star of Jane Eyre in looking her up), so close to the book it's brilliant, though of course it's not so visually spectacular as more recent adaptations, but this one is quite fine in its way.

I think now it's time to read the book again.

Mountains, horses and a lake

I don’t even understand what this is. Is it an advertisement for a fashion store? I like it though (except for whatever she is shouting at).

LØV from Vanessa Bruno on Vimeo.

If I changed my outfit, perhaps they'd let me be in the next one ...

Monday, August 15, 2011

When Love is not enough

The other Friday evening I was wandering aimlessly around my local shopping street strip with my flatmate and we found ourselves in the video store. I hire a video about once every six months, but she watches a good many more than that, and hired three overnights on this particular occasion because she wasn’t feeling so great. One of these three was a new release called When Love is Not Enough - The Lois Wilson Story. Lois Wilson was the wife of Bill Wilson, who founded Alcoholics Anonymous, and later founded Al-Anon herself.

If you have been reading this blog for a while you’d know that for a time I helped out with Overcomers Outreach. In so doing I became familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous, its workings and history, read the book Pass it On, and so I was naturally instantly interested in this movie. (It didn’t actually screen in cinemas, which explains why I had never heard of it.)

I enjoyed it a lot. Though I cried buckets, because Lois’s story was far from rosy and the movie is not unrealistic, showing the moments when she throws a shoe at her husband in frustration, more or less tells him she wishes he had the decency to die and the time when she did temporarily leave him. Yet her commitment and tenacity ultimately hold on, and it becomes an extraordinary story of how together they made it through alcoholism (as well as their childlessness) and of the ministry to others they built as a result.

As the tagline on the DVD says of Lois, “her love and devotion to one man changed the lives of thousands”, and the movie honours her support and encouragement of her husband, readily acknowledging that he could not have done what he did without her behind him. However, it still makes plain that it wasn’t actually Lois’s love that enabled Bill to give up alcohol (thus “when love is not enough”), but a “spiritual” experience. Hooray to Hollywood for letting this movie convey that truth. The film actually didn’t do as badly as it might have done with all that was Christian in their story, and I was pleasantly surprised by what was left to be as it was.

Winona Ryder was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for her role as Lois, her 1920's outfits alone make this film something to be seen and I thought this DVD was well worth the time.

Picture from here.

Icelandic inspiration

I'd happily go to Iceland (and boost their economy). Someone who's been told me the people in Iceland are "crazy". I don't know what they meant, but watch this. Just cover your eyes for a few seconds around 1:15 ...

Inspired by Iceland Video from Inspired By Iceland on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Poetry day - The love that floweth forth

You could be forgiven for thinking I am reading Phantastes, by George MacDonald, at present, when I am not, I just have some of its poetry in the memory bank. So, for Saturday, here is another, which I think makes it apparent why people should read good fairy tales. Phantastes was instrumental in the conversion of CS Lewis, because in it he caught a glimpse of such enticing goodness, he couldn't leave it be. And I appreciated reading this post this week, on the why of reading fiction, which I shall quote from after the poem.

Better to sit at the waters' birth,
   Than a seas of waves to win;
To live in the love that floweth forth,
   Than the love that cometh in.

Be thy heart a well of love, my child,
   Flowing, and free, and sure;
For a cistern of love, though undefiled,
   Keeps not the spirit pure.

Image from

And here is a quote on why Christians should read fiction (if you're one of those people who happens to need a reason ...).
I think fiction is good, necessary, and God-glorifying. I teach my theology students to read good fiction for the sake of their preaching, if for no other reason. Those without the imagination to read fiction usually lack the imagination to hear the rhythm and contours of Scripture, much less to peer into the mysteries of the human heart. I just think schlocky fiction does just the opposite of all of that. I also think human love is a more than worthy subject of writing, including Christian writing. I just think it should be done with authenticity and honesty, and should look at love, not the hormonal utopia our culture has taught us to long for.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A weeping rain

Alas, how easily things go wrong!
A sigh too much, or a kiss too long,
And there follows a mist and a weeping rain,
And life is never the same again.

George MacDonald, Phantastes

Image from:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

You win some

So, I forgot to tell you that I won something! What I won is the two patterns below, from the talented ladies at knot•sew•cute (see here). They have recently started the knot•sew•cute design shop blog, and I have purchased things from their etsy store before. You should take a look, for crochet patterns with class (I'm liking their felted hats!). I haven’t tried cable crochet before, so I am staring at the cushion and frowning, but I am looking forward to giving it a go.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In the broken bowl

O light of dead and of dying days!
    O Love! in thy glory go,
In a rosy mist and a moony maze,
    O’er the pathless peaks of snow.

But what is left for the cold grey soul,
    That moans like a wounded dove?
One wine is left in the broken bowl—
    ‘Tis—To love, and love, and love.

—George MacDonald, Phantastes

Picture from

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

One day

From dreams of bliss shall men awake
One day, but not to weep:
The dreams remain; they only break
The mirror of the sleep.

- George MacDonald

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

World cuisine samplings ...

Weird day in here at the office. This morning someone shared with me chocolate-coated bilberries from Finland, which were scrumptious, then this afternoon it was Love Cake from Sri Lanka, which was good if you like your cardamom (I'm not a huge fan of that flavour, but it was quite nice, made from cashews, semolina, honey, spices ...).

Motor engine meets crochet

So I thought I'd seen everything on Saturday when I spied a fellow in Newtown with a crocheted cover on his motorbike helmet. Black leathers, black helmet, lacy yellow cover. But now I see that the winner of this year's Lace Works at the Powerhouse Museum, crocheted a car engine - Henry Ford’s first four-cylinder engine housed in the Model N to be exact - out of copper wire.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

About the beauty of the beauty

I've thought of the Sara Groves song Why It Matters again recently, partly to do with "ethics", if you will (I love how she speaks of testifying to the gospel as being our narrating 'about the beauty of the beauty'), and partly to do with friendship (I've stolen her phrase 'ramparts for the soul' many times). I am a Sara Groves fan, and this is one of my all time favourites (I also love the cello!). I posted the lyrics way back here, but they are not too hard to decipher.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Baked cheesecake

I set the start time for my port and poetry evening a little late (at 8pm) and got bored waiting for people to arrive. I'm a baked cheesecake lover, and it was my birthday, so I made baked cheesecake with caramel in the middle and chocolate fudge on top, and blueberry swirl cheesecake (which developed blueberry fault-lines along the swirls), plus a chocolate mudcake (looks comparatively messy and uninteresting). All I can say is, it's just as well I was on supper at church last night to deal with the leftovers!