Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Flick chicks

Hee hee. An article about women in movies who don't exist in real life (curious, because I think we tend to think it's the guys in rom coms who don't exist in real life, when the women are usually equally beyond the real). I'm aiming for 'The Ethereal Weirdo'.
I regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than my regular human world. For me, there is no difference between Ripley from “Alien” and any Katherine Heigl character. They are equally implausible. They’re all participating in a similar level of fakey razzle-dazzle, and I enjoy every second of it.

It makes sense, then, that in the romantic-comedy world there are many specimens of women who—like Vulcans or Mothra—do not exist in real life. Here are some examples ... Read on.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011


So, after my temporary stressing I am now quite sorted. The rain unfortunately brought a premature end to our Made Fair Markets, but this granted me some extra time to make a row of my ducks. I now have food in the house, a shining bathroom, made up beds (what fun it was to pump up a queen-sized airbed!) ... heck, I even went through the pile of whatever it was accumulating on top of the fridge, which was mostly mail for people who haven’t lived here for years, washed the bench-top canister set, after a close look revealed that this might be desirable, scrubbed out the bins, and filed some of the papers into which I was losing things all over my desk, all with time to sit and chill for a moment before their arrival.

But the purpose of this post is because there is a new word I need to share. I’ve started reading Lost in Translation by Eva Hoffman, which I suggested into our book club list, after it was mentioned in a Tim Keller sermon in connection with Unheimlichkeit (you can read all about that in this post). If you’ve been reading here for a time, you’ll know that I make it something of a duty of mine to go looking for and reporting on the Sehnsucht in things, and I also like a good German compounded sort of word, so I added in Unheimlichkeit. There's a similar word, Saudade, in Portugese. And now I have a Polish version. Here it is:
tesknota—a word that adds to nostalgia the tonalities of sadness and longing. It is a feeling whose shades and degrees I’m destined to know intimately, but at this hovering moment, it comes upon me like a visitation from a whole new geography of emotions, an annunciation of how much an absence can hurt. Or a premonition of absence ...
- Lost in Translation
Eva Hoffman

I think I am going to like this book.

Poetry Day - Say over again

Say over again... (Sonnet 21)
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated
Should seem "a cuckoo-song," as thou dost treat it,
Remember, never to the hill or plain,
Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.
Belov├Ęd, I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt’s pain
Cry, "Speak once more—thou lovest!" Who can fear
Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,
Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me—toll
The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The inexorable hand of experience

Alas, Experience! No other mentor has so wasted and frozen a face as yours, none wears a robe so black, none bears a rod so heavy, none with hand so inexorable draws the novice so sternly to his task, and forces him with authority so resistless to its acquirement. It is by your instructions alone that man or woman can ever find a safe track through life's wilds; without it, how they stumble, how they stray! On what forbidden grounds do they intrude, down what dread declivities are they hurled!

many a wilderness, and often the flood of death, or some stream of sorrow as cold and almost as black as death, is to be crossed ere true bliss can be tasted. Every joy that life gives must be earned ere it is secured; and how hardly earned, those only know who have wrestled for great prizes. The heart's blood must gem with red beads the brow of the combatant, before the wreath of victory rustles over it.
by Charlotte Bronte
(one of my all time favourite books)

Friday Funny

H/T Andrew.

A stressing bleep

I’m actually going on holiday next week, but right now it’s all stress. There is a press date soon after I get back, and I’m not ready, which isn’t all my fault as the material hasn’t come in in time for me to get it ready, so I am just going to have to deal with it when I get back.

And I have my sister and brother-in-law and two nieces coming to stay tomorrow (yes, four people in my flat!) and I am not ready for that either. It should be really good, though I don’t know how much of a holiday it is going to be for me, with all the chaos and traipsing around Sydney every day to see things I’ve seen already, and working out what to feed them. (I’d love to have a holiday where I can go away with some good friends to somewhere I can just relax – as opposed to going somewhere where I feel like I need to buzz around catching up with people, which tends to be what happens when I go places Brisbane where there’s people there to see, as well as in Toowoomba, and I don’t usually have my own car and it all takes effort. Anyway, some other time.) For now, before tomorrow evening I need to clean up and go shopping.

We also have the next Made Fair markets at my church tomorrow, to raise money for East Africa, so I’m there all day and I am not ready for that either. I’ve got to finish things off and put labels on things to sell and be there at 8:30 am etc.

Then today I had to drop my car in for registration, because it’s actually due today (don’t how I managed to leave it to the last minute but I did) and this morning I couldn’t find the rego paper anywhere to take, so I was chucking things off my desk and flapping through bits of paper knowing it was supposed to be there (I am not so orderly, and my desk is currently a disaster, but I do usually manage to know where important things are) and eventually, when I was about to go without it, I discovered it had slid off the top down the side of the desk. So I raced out leaving a big mess behind me. And the brakes need fixing on my car.

And I’m feeling personally stressed and discouraged. It will be nice to spend some time next week with people who just love me and understand something of who I am and what things mean to me.

So, don’t be surprised if I go quiet.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How to tell if a girl really likes you

Advice from a fifth grader. :) I think I'm still in fifth grade ...

A little daily Shakespeare

I have this lovely little old book I picked up once called The Illustrated Birthday Text Book - Shakespeare, which features a little snippet of Shakespeare for every day of the year in beautiful old typescript, interspersed with lithographic/etching-type pictures.

It sits on my bookshelf on a little gold book stand, because it suits a little gold book stand, and last night I was waiting for bible study peeps to come, doing a dust scan, and I took it down. I must take some photos of it to show you. The only date I can find in this little old book is 1880.

So, just because, here is a piece of Shakespeare for the 22nd September.

Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows,
Which shows like grief itself, but is not so;
For sorrow’s eye, glazed with blinding tears,
Divides one thing entire to many objects;
Like perspectives, which rightly gazed upon
Shows nothing but confusion, eyed awry
Distinguish form.

King Richard II, Act ii, Sc. 2

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Back there on the borderland

                                 ‘He guesses well enough
That back there on the borderland there’s stuff
Not marked on any map their sermons show
—They keep one eye shut just because they know—
Don’t we all know?
At bottom? —that this World in which we draw
Our salaries, make our bows, and keep the law,
This legible, plain universe we use
For waking business, is a thing men choose
By leaving out … well, much; our editing,
(With expurgations) of some larger thing?
Well, then, it stands to reason; go behind
To the archetypal scrawl, and there’ll you find
… Well … variant readings, eh? And it won’t do
Being over dainty there.’

From Canto II, The Queen of Drum,
- CS Lewis

(Note: For some context, I haven't actually read this poem in entirety, but this is The King speaking to his Chancellor, about the Queen having had some kind of "turn" and subsequently speaking to the Archbishop. So, the reference to "sermons", and those who know, isn't intended as one to sermons as we know them now, or some kind of subtle comment by me on those who preach them. It is interesting in that The King and The Chancellor both seem well aware that the clergy of their time didn't disclose all, in the interests of decorum. But what I found more interesting was the acknowledgment that "we all know", that what we see is only a fraction of the whole, and that everyone is "editing" some larger thing. I should perhaps have dropped the first four lines to keep it simpler.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A morning ride

Well, here’s something that’s of this fog and of today.

I had a rather eventful ride to work this morning. First I got swooped by a magpie. I had a helmet and sunglasses on, so there is not so much a magpie can do to me, and if it keeps up, as no doubt it will as I ride the same route every day, I might have to take to waving my arm about. I don’t like beaked things flapping around my head, but swooping birds amuse me. I mean, I am so much bigger than they are, with limbs I can raise above my head – how do they think that might work out? I do have a healthy respect for wild creatures that pose a real threat to humans, but birds that aren’t raptors aren’t really one of them (that’s what I’m telling myself and the attitude I am working on anyway). Good on them for guarding their nests though.

Then, I was riding down the side of some cars parked at a red light, when suddenly there was a smashed glass bottle on the road, so I swerved, and I clipped a side view mirror of a car with the handle bar of my bike and flipped it back. I stopped in horror and back-peddled and there was a young guy in the driver’s seat, and I fully expected to cop it for banging his car. He wound down his window and I winced and started apologising and then he says “oh that’s OK, so long as you’re alright”, several times, and was sooo nice about it. It restored a little of my lost faith in the tolerance of Sydney drivers to stupidity and accidents.

Being a little distracted by that however, I then went around the corner on the footpath, before ducking back out on the edge of the road at a driveway, and as I did so a car coming along tooted me. I’m allowed to ride along the edge of the road, and there was room for him to drive right on by, and perhaps he expected I was going to do something else and ride down the middle of his lane, but I probably should have waited. Toot guy might like to take a few notes off side-view mirror guy.

Then, I was riding along, nearing my destination, when suddenly I had to swerve around half a rolling tuna. As in the fish. Not kidding. There’s a guy driving a fork lift along near the path, with the biggest dead fish hanging off the sides of it that I’ve seen in a long time, which I presume was a tuna, and just as I was approaching I believe this fish actually broke in half and half of it fell off the fork lift (it's possible they were two separate fish already, but the rolling piece looked all sort of torn at one end, not neatly cut). So a large piece of fish, about a metre long and 30 centimetres in diameter, flops and rolls a little onto the path. The fork lift driver swore and carried on something terrible at the dead fish, at which point I thought this was all rather amusing. I wish I’d stopped to take a picture. But I didn’t especially want a chat with angry fork-lift driver - I was still getting over angry toot guy. It would have been a good story if I had stacked my bike over a tuna.

I was rather relieved to arrive at work today.

Don't give up on me now

I got this from a blog I look at for it’s stunning photos around Idaho and jewellery-crafting artsyness. I don’t know much at all about Ben Harper, except surely he's got to have a nicer t-shirt, but I actually quite like this. Something about how it acknowledges that we all need to change, but sometimes we need others to help us know how, and stick by as we do. "I need to change, I don't know how, don't give up on me now ...".

Monday, September 19, 2011

School of Theology on True Feelings

So, the School of Theology was excellent – perhaps even more excellent that I expected it to be. The talks will be up in audio soon, and are well worth a listen, and I believe there is to be a book. (And if you’re one of those people who likes to make stereotypes about “Sydney Anglicans”, then you especially need to listen.) Kutz, a guy I used to be at church with in Brisbane once upon a time and reconnected with at the conference, has blogged his way through all the lectures if you want some idea (three cheers for him – on the first day the lectures went from 9 am to 8:15 pm, and I was so shattered when I got home I couldn’t think anymore).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go - on Guitar

This is going to be my next guitar song. The strum and arrangement here is a little too "upbeat" for the lyrics in my opinion. George Matheson wrote this hymn when, after learning that he was to go blind, his fiance called off their engagement (he penned it later on the eve of his sister's wedding - read the full story here). This hymn has been scribbled out at some time or another in everything I ever wrote that resembled a journal. The original tune was atrocious, but I do like this one (with a little more suitable feeling).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My (brief) life as a theological student

This week I am pretending I am student of theology. Last night I went to the next Centre for Christian Living lecture on the The Cross and Christian Ethics. Surprisingly there was the smallest group for this one so far, which Andrew Cameron said he expected would be the case because it was more theological and not a topical, which is a shame, because it would seem to be foundational for how we think about all the “hot topics”.

Tomorrow and Thursday I am actually taking a couple of days off to go to the School of Theology at Moore Theological College on True Feelings: Emotions in Christian Life and Ministry. I’m expecting to overheat a few brain cells to the point of melting as this conference really began as a discussion amongst the academics that they have since opened to others. I am quite familiar with some of Richard Gibson’s work on emotions however, as once upon a time we had a little posse that was working through it with him, and he is giving two papers, so if nothing else I should be able to understand those ones. I’m also expecting there’ll be a difference of opinion over impassibility and all of that, but as Andrew Cameron said to me last night, these occasions are more exploratory and the point is to actually have a conversation.

I intend to sit very quietly in a corner somewhere, listen and learn and write down big words to look up later.

Monday, September 12, 2011

As good a place to suffer as any

One thing I liked about The Book Thief is that it painted a certain equatability about suffering (I guess a war will do that!). This paragraph stood out to me:
The mayor’s wife was just one of a worldwide brigade. You have seen her before, I’m certain. In your stories, your poems, the screens you like to watch. They’re everywhere, so why not here? Why not on a shapely hill in a small German town? It’s as good a place to suffer as any.
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Another bleep and another book

So, the weekend – where’d it go? Saturday morning I went to a meeting for our Made Fair Markets at church, which was very pleasant and I always enjoy meeting with and thinking about ideas with those folk, and we ate extremely large croissants, then on the way home I went to the shops and supermarket because we were having Lunches for Eight at church on Sunday and I’d said I’d host one (why not? – it’s a pretty easy way of doing hospitality when you get told who’s coming), so then when I got home I did the usual housework in preparation, washing, went for a walk/run because I’d been too lazy/tired to get out of bed and do it before the meeting, then went to bookclub over dinner (and I was slightly ambitious in deciding that the venue was walking distance from my house). Then Sunday I got up, managed to be unlazy enough to go for a jog, came home and sorted few house things, started cooking lunch (and being one of those people who is always ready too early for everything I thought I had heaps of time, but I seemed to still be flapping about wearing an apron when people arrived), people came and ate lunch and stayed till I had to be at church at 4 pm to do stuff, went to church, then came home to tackle the pile of dishes and mess in the kitchen, and so somehow lunch seemed to take all day. Now it’s Monday.

It was a good weekend though. I think Lunches for Eight/Guess Who’s coming to Dinner/whatever you call these things are a great idea, that aren't so hard to execute. (And incidentally, this post by Andrew Cameron on “communitarianism” is worth a read. I concur that it’s a whole lot easier to be talking and talking about community than it is to actually be doing it.) We had one girl come along who has only been in the country for a month, to learn English, and her English is not yet that great, which was a challenge, but she pulled out her course homework and soon we are all helping her do it (she had a captive audience of English speakers!) and being interviewed (she had to ask people questions like “how often do you go to the hair dresser?), which was funny.

As for The Book Thief, I finished it, and I liked it. Like some others at bookclub, I didn’t find it overly profound in how it treated the content, but what I actually didn’t know is that Marcus Zusak is a children’s writer, and that this book is young adult fiction, so that might be a factor in it. And in the end I was relieved. See, I am sure Death said, somewhere along the way, that in seven months time he came back for Hans Hubermann, and so I was waiting anxiously for that, because, like Liesel, he is the person I loved the most. I assumed he was going to suffer a horrible fate at the hands of the Nazis. But then a whole lot more than seven months went by, he was sent away to war, he came back alive. Finally, when he died in his sleep in a bomb strike with the others, this was OK with me.

Friday, September 09, 2011

The Protestant martyrs of the Third Reich

Lucidus left me this excellent poem in a comment the other day. I'm trying to finish The Book Thief before the next book club get together. I thought I’d get through it a little faster that this, but it’s a good size book (my edition is about 540 pages), and I’m sort of stalling. I’m enjoying it a lot, but I don’t like the foreboding. It’s not that I want to bury my head in the sand – I’ve read a good many books about the plight of the Jews in this period of history (Last Waltz in Vienna by George Clare, for one, is a very good book) – it's just that I know reading on is only to see each of these characters encounter death, on horrible terms, so I am in no hurry.

Die Bibelforscher
For the Protestant martyrs of the Third Reich

By Waldo Williams (as translated from the Welsh by Rowan Williams)

Earth is a hard text to read; but the king
has put his message in our hands, for us to carry
sweating, whether the trumpets of his court
sound near or far. So for these men:
they were the bearers of the royal writ,
clinging to it through spite and hurts and wounding.

The earth's round fullness is not like a parable, where meaning
breaks through, a flash of lightning, in the humid, heavy dusk;
imagination will not conjure into flesh the depths
of fire and crystal sealed under castle walls of wax, but still
they keep their witness pure in Buchenwald,
pure in the crucible of hate penning them in.

They closed their eyes to doors that might have opened
if they had put their names to words of cowardice;
they took their stand, backs to the wall, face to face with savagery,
and died there, with their filth and piss flowing together,
arriving at the gates of heaven,
their fists still clenched on what the king had written.

Earth is a hard text to read. But what we can be certain of
is that screaming mob is insubstantial mist;
in the clear sky, the thundering assertions fade to nothing.
There the Lamb's song is sung, and what it celebrates
is the apocalypse of a glory
pain lays bare.

Need the truth always hurt?

So, I gave you one of Laurel's haikus only yesterday, but I want to put this one here, because I do so like it, and it's so pretty.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Camera Light Action

This groovy lady, who messes about and makes things (some of them crochety), did this with an old camera. So many people went 'wow, I like it!', that she has now posted a how to for us all. I have an old SLR in the cupboard that doesn't work (I knew I was hoarding it for something) and I am tempted!

Aka My Heart

I have nothing to say, but here is another of Laurel's haikus.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

An evening out

Yesterday evening I got in a time machine and went back about 150 years, to somewhere around 1838. I’d been invited to spend an evening at The Australian Club, the most exclusive private club and the oldest gentleman’s club in the country. (I have a friend who is a member, who invites guests along on occasion.)

The Club has various groups within it – the literary group, library group, history group and others and this evening was part of the current affairs group. So, to start the evening we heard a lecture from Malcolm Turnbull on the National Broadband Network. (I won’t write about that, but to say it does appear to be an unnecessary over-investment of tax payer’s money - the biggest determiner of good access to the internet at present is household income, and the NBN isn’t actually going to make it any cheaper, for anybody, and there are more cost-effective means of achieving the same result, not to mention the fact that the way of the future is mobile internet. But Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t expected to say it was a good thing.) Then we went to “supper”, which consisted of veal cutlet about two inches thick, with thyme gnocci, mushroom ragout and steamed vegetables. Very nice.

I’d been prepared to be one of the youngest people in the room, and indeed I was. We shared a table over supper with three elderly gents, who mentioned that they did something until ‘well into their 70s’ leading me to believe they were now in their 80s. In which case I was highly impressed with how lucid and sociable they were. One in particular was very amusing, self-deprecating and friendly and had us laughing the evening away. And I don’t even know what it was any of them used to do for a living, because we didn’t bother discussing that. I had a very pleasant time talking to them.

I’m not at all a fan of upper-class exclusivism, and have no aspirations in that direction, but by the end of the evening I could see that there were some very good things arising from belonging to this club. These came in the form of community and relationship. (You’re not supposed to talk “business” in there, because it’s a social club, and you’re not allowed to use, or even look at, your mobile phone - I like this!) These three chaps went back about 40 years, and appeared to be the best of friends and have a jolly old time together. Amongst their regular activities together were sailing, tennis and playing bridge (which they play amongst themselves and refuse to go and join the bridge clubs with their wives, because they take it all too seriously!). And what I did like about this club was the way it provides this space (amazing space that it is) that people can come to to meet and interact with others, get involved in various activities, eat lunch, or just sit and read a book. And the Club also appears to encourage a long-term investment (fees get substantially cheaper the longer you stay in) and an inter-generational connectedness passing on of the tradition (there were a lot of fathers and sons in the room), which is not, in itself, a bad thing.

I was thinking later at home that if you could create the same scenario, without the elitism, it would be grand. I know a lot of churches aim for just these things, in perhaps a different form, and do create community, but few have a central space that is open all day, every day, providing a space for people to use in quite the same way. And maybe neighbourhood and community centres aim in this direction too, but they don’t seem to achieve the same result. (The reality is that elements of it simply couldn’t be replicated without the money involved to maintain it.) Maybe RSL clubs are the nearest thing - I don’t know much about those either.

It also made me realise that “community” needs to have limits to work, in reality. Many of these fellows are well acquainted with each other. But if the building was open to everyone and anyone who lived in Sydney, that would soon cease to be the case. So, while I don’t like the exclusivism, it was obvious that some limits on inclusion, simply in terms of numbers, was what actually allowed it to work, socially. I don’t know what that means for anything, it’s just an observation. People can only know and relate meaningfully to a certain number of other people well.

Anyway, it was a glimpse of how the other half lives. I went for a little tour to see some of the artworks, walked past a room full of young boys in blazers who came from The King’s School, used the bathroom just to see what was in there, admired all the antiques (everywhere was a glorious old chair!), laughed at the fact that there were seats in the lifts and marvelled that there were places to go to in the lift called "The Buttery" ... It was an evening such as I may never experience again.

Tonight I’m going to an evening to learn about, pray for and give to East Africa, which ought to keep it all in perspective.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


These are my Dad's parents, long gone now. I don't know what they were doing out there in their bush gear and jeep, but weren't they cute?

Monday, September 05, 2011

Giggling in church

Last night church contained one of those moments of comedy that comes along at a very inappropriate time.

I was on welcoming, and when I’d run out of things to do I was helping to get communion ready, which we were to celebrate later in the evening. The person usually in charge of this wasn’t there yet, so some of us were bumbling on through trying to be helpful. We pulled some grape juice out of the fridge, which had a label on it (three cheers for whoever labelled it) that said “opened on 22/8/11”. We decided that was too old, so someone trotted off to buy some new juice. That is the last I took any notice of it, as I then broke up the bread they came back with, while someone else dealt with the juice.

So, after the sermon we had communion in the church (sometimes we do it over in the hall) and the bread and juice came around, as always, and we all held it and waited. Then came the moment to drink the juice. I took a sip and grimaced, then I looked at the girl next to me and she pulled a face and kind of poked her tongue out, and a small giggle got the better of us. Someone in front of her turned around and smiled. Then one of the guys behind us made some murmured comment, that included something about the "expiry date", and at this point we’re all shaking in our seats. Then another fellow, who’s quite the wag, leans forward from behind and says wrily, “oh you guys are so superficial”, and it almost got the better of me. I haven’t had to try so hard not to explode laughing in church for years, during communion of all times!

And a quick glance around behind me revealed that everyone was either grimacing, taking a second look at their communion cup or chuckling. It really was too funny. Thankfully a song was next up, so we could all pull it together, though I had moments of trembling trying to sing.

Afterwards I asked the guy who is usually in charge of communion in passing about the juice, and he said that it was “grape and carrot or something”. I didn’t bother trying to verify this, but GRAPE AND CARROT?! Why would they make such a juice? Whatever it was it was horrible.

Anyway, I guess the moral of the story is that if you want people to focus on remembering Jesus’ blood shed for us, don't surprise them with the juice flavour.

Bonhoeffer and the Psalms

Over the weekend I also pulled out a little book I got some years ago called My Soul Finds Rest – Reflections on the Psalms by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I love Bonhoeffer. It contains some of his reflections on the Psalms (obviously!) as well as historical details about his life and Germany at that time. I was also reading The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. And it seems that now World War II and the Psalms are all intertwined in my head. That would have been a time in history when I’d imagine they’d have “hit the spot” for many, who wore their pages thin.

Much of Bonhoeffer’s prison poetry is considered to be inspired by the Psalms. Here is a snippet from the last poem he wrote before his execution, closely linked to Psalm 47:

Let candles burn, both warm and bright,
Which to our darkness thou has brought,
When we are wrapped in silence most profound,
May we hear that song most fully raised
From all the unseen world that lies around
And thou art by all thy children praised.
Night and morning, God is by us faithfully
And surely at each newborn day.

And here’s a rousing snippet from his “Stages on the Way to Freedom”:

Come now, highest feast on the way to everlasting freedom,
death. Lay waste the burdens of chains and walls
which confine our earthly bodies and blinded souls,
that we see at last what here we could not see.
Freedom, we sought you long in discipline, action
    and suffering.
Dying, we recognize you now in the face of God.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Curses in the Psalms

Since I've raised this point, I thought I'd post this. I have read through most of the Psalms now in my ESV study bible, and the study notes. There is a good section in the introductory notes on the Curses in the Psalms, plus along the way there are many footnotes that deal with the apparent vindictiveness of the Psalmists (this is one of my problems with this chapter in CS Lewis's Reflections in the Psalms).

I first had to deal with this issue when I visited friends who were working at New Norcia, Australia’s only privately-owned monastic town, in WA in 2004 (which was a fascinating and beautiful place to visit – I’ve posted some pictures here). There the monks go to prayer five times a day (or was it seven) and pray/chant the Psalms. Yet, in the entrance to the prayer chapel was a sign basically offering an excuse for some of the Psalms and their content. And I didn’t like it. (I think I wrote it down somewhere, I just don’t know where). I found out that the Abbot was a fan of Charles Dodd (modern Welsh theologian who rejected the wrath of God and propitiation), which explained it to me.

It’s worth reading the ESV Study Bible Introduction to the Psalms for a quick brief on this point. And here is just one of the many footnotes from the ESV dealing with this issue:
35:4-8 Let Them Be Ashamed. The faithful pray that the schemes of the pursuers would fail, and that the pursuers themselves would suffer disappointment and humiliation, and finally destruction. There are many reasons such a prayre is proper for God’s people to pray. First of all, it is realistic; God’s protection of the faithful means that he must thwart the schemes of those who would harm them. Second, it is just, since the pursuers devise evil (v. 4), and without cause they hid their net for me (v. 7). (Observe the repetition of “without cause,” in vv. 7, 19.) Third, it takes God at his word (cf. v. 5 with 1:4). Finally, from all of this it is plain that the prayer is not a vindictive response to personal injury but an appeal based on faith.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

You've never felt more alive

Here's John Piper speaking from up in the mountains, where I was last weekend at the Engage Conference.

You've Never Felt More Insignificant. You've Never Felt More Alive. from John Piper on Vimeo.



Not-leaving: An act of trust and love, often deciphered by 

And now I am reading The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak. I've wanted to read it for a long time, and it's come around in my book club, so I finally am. Oh boy.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Embittering others

I stayed home today. I don’t know that you could call me “sick”, but yesterday I felt so wiped out at work and the back of my throat was starting to fire up, so I thought I’d be wussy today. Before I started the job I now have I’d never taken a sick day, except for two, because I was actually under general anaesthetic having my salivary duct unblocked for one of those. Maybe I am getting slack, but these days I don’t bother soldiering on so much. I also have a hygiene-freaked colleague, who will let you know in no uncertain terms that you shouldn’t come to work and share your germs, so she’s a good excuse to stay home.

Anyway, as I've mentioned already, I started reading CS Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms. As Lewis says in his introduction “Our generation was brought up to eat everything on the plate; and it was the sound principle of nursery gastronomy to polish off the nasty things first and leave the titbits to the end”. So he begins with the chapter on ‘Judgment’, followed by one on ‘The Cursings’. I was with him on judgment till about the last four pages, and as for the cursings, I am still working it out! But, as always, he has these little side observations about people, that have been quite challenging and convicting along the way. I hesitate to call the Psalmists “vindictive” myself, but here’s something that comes up the ‘The Cursings’ chapter:
It seemed to me that, seeing in them hatred undisguised, I saw also the natural result of injuring a human being. The word natural is here important. This result can be obliterated by grace, suppressed by prudence or social convention, and (which is dangerous) wholly disguised by self-deception. But just as the natural result of throwing a lighted match into a pile of shavings is to produce a fire – though damp or the intervention of some more sensible person may prevent it – so the natural result of cheating a man, or “keeping him down” or neglecting him, is to arouse resentment ... He may succeed in resisting the temptation; or he may not. If he fails, if he dies spiritually because of his hatred of me, how do I, who provoked that hatred, stand? For in addition to the original injury I have done him a far worse one. I have introduced into his inner life, at best a new temptation, at worst a new besetting sin. If that sin utterly corrupts him, I have in a sense debauched or seduced him. I was the tempter.

There is no use in talking as if forgiveness were easy. We all know the old joke, “You’ve given up smoking once; I’ve given it up a dozen times.” In the same way I could say of a certain man, “Have I forgiven him for what he did that day? I’ve forgiven him more times than I can count.” For we find that the work of forgiveness has to be done over and over again. We forgive, we mortify our resentment; a week later some chain of thought carries us back to the original offence and we discover the old resentment blazing away as if nothing had ever been done about it at all. We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offences but for one offence. Thus the man I am thinking of has introduced a new and difficult temptation into a soul which had the devil’s plenty of them already. And what he has done to me, doubtless I have done to others; I, who am exceptionally blessed in having been allowed a way of life in which, having little power, I have had little opportunity of oppressing and embittering others ...
I do believe that how you respond to what comes your way is your responsibility, but I did find that challenging and convicting. There are times when we might think someone should just ‘get over something’ without being fully aware of the injury we’ve caused, or taking any responsibility for embittering others. It’s interesting that when I was working with OO, at Step 4 you do your “resentment inventory” (and I reckon there’s something in these steps for all of us, so I had a go myself), and it’s amazing what you can dredge up to write down there. And I remember thinking that I’d totally forgiven someone for something, then I still recall that, one day I was jogging on the other side of the world in Sweden, deciding what to do about a difficult situation, and something snapped in my mind and there it was again, and somehow it had something to do with them ... and I was almost surprised to find that I had to forgive them all over again.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

A ramble on the Engage conference and "One"

The truth is, with apologies, that I can’t quite be bothered trying to write up something from the Engage conference. I have notes, but there’s too much to sort through, and make sense of and explain (and there's still another conference to go this weekend too). But, in essence, I really appreciated John Piper’s talks. He came across as so humble and genuine and truly eager for you to catch a glimpse of his personal discoveries. He was so keen to show us how he got there from the bible, and make sure we only believed it if we found it there too.

Having read several of his books, and followed his blog for a long time, I’m familiar with many of his ideas, but what I loved about his three talks is that they were like a synopsis of his whole system of thought, if you will. He distilled his ideas down into these three discussions, based on the ideas that God is radically God-centred and that is good news for me, God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him and how being satisfied in Jesus results in us loving others. Then he filled them up with bible verses, went through some of the nuances and disclaimers (what he had to say about “sadness” was particularly good), and it was just a great little summary of what John Piper is ‘on about’ really. Not to mention that it was all about God and his glory. I will be ordering the talks so I can listen again, and you should too, if you want a relatively fast way to acquaint yourself with these ideas.

On the Friday evening it was like John Piper had had written his talk just for me, as he quoted from CS Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms (not the chapters on Judgment and Curses though), which I had in my bag, said that if he had to vote on the bible’s most important paragraph it would be Romans 3:20-26 (I have 3:21-26 on the wall at work, and used to be able to recite it) and just kept ticking my boxes. Then we sang “Fairest Lord Jesus” and “Here is Love” and I thought whoever designed this conference read my mind!

Rory Shiner’s talks on Eternity were really good too. He spoke about the resurrection, primarily from 1 Corinthians 15, and explained what it means that Christ is the “firstfruits” of the dead, and what that promises for us. It was a good prompt to think about things we rarely devote much thought to.

I’d roped one girl from church into coming up with me to stay in the motel, and we talked in bed for ages like we were on youth camp, so it was good to get to know her more. Then over the weekend we teamed up with three other girls for a short bushwalk, went to a house full of church folks for afternoon tea in a lovely mountain back yard and some fun on the tennis court, later on went to a pub on Saturday evening with some peeps from the congregation of my church that was planted this year that we ran into, then I got a lift home with some other friends who’d been on the coffee carts who live near me, so it was all good. And I bumped into far more people than I could ever catch up with properly, one of note being the brother of my adolescent best friend (I spent a lot of time at his family’s house throughout high school). We hugged and then just fell into a conversation in which it was as though doors came off their hinges and he shared things and I shared things and ten minutes later I felt all wet behind the eyes. It was just one of those beautiful moments when something inexplicable happens and you go unexpectedly deep with someone, and you know the way you relate is changed forever.

Then last night I went across to the city after work for dinner with my connect group folks and we went to “One” in the Entertainment Centre to hear John Lennox and John Piper speak on not wasting your life. It was moving being in there with 9,999 other brothers and sisters in Christ. John Lennox spoke on reasons why we can know that Christianity and the hereafter is no fairy tale and then John Piper showed us what an unwasted life looks like. Both were great, though you had to work a little harder to follow Lennox’s train of thought, and Piper was more ‘hell, fire and brimstone”-ish than he’d been at Engage, but it was rousing stuff. We were all challenged during the evening to make a resolution (you can see the website here with some suggestions), which is not something we’re so familiar with doing I don’t think, but a good idea.

It didn’t finish till 10 pm last night, and by the time we all made our way to public transport and got out of the city and home, it was a long day. Today I’m feeling the need for a spell to work through all this material and sink it in ...