Monday, January 30, 2012

Simply Christianity continued ...

I am also quite excited because my church has decided to run a different course to Simply Christianity this year, called Christianity Explored. And since some of those who came to Simply Christianity had expressed an interest in doing some more study, and this course is different, I thought I’d let them know it was on. And two of them have since told me they’d love to go. So I am pleased and hopeful.

Books I have been reading ...

I recently finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, our January book for book club (I had received this book as a gift, so I am the one who suggested it for book club – why not?), which you may have noticed from recent quotes. It’s a very pleasant read, though not quite the “summer reading” we had all expected (some of the girls at bookclub commented that never had a book made them feel so stupid). It is rather philosophical and esoteric in places (even while it sneers at intellectually elitism) and liberally scattered with large words. Then two of the main characters heap various amounts of cynicism and scorn throughout on the way other characters in the book live their lives, which I read with some misgivings (one is a teenager venting about her family, which is quite the teenager thing to do), but what is satisfying about the book is that in the end you discover the underlying reasons for their animosity towards certain others, and there are moments of psychological insight and a kind of forgiveness. There are also some marvellous passages on beauty and art, and some very amusing passages on the use of grammar. When Renee the concierge goes on a spiel about the erroneous use of commas, I was shaking in my chair. I saw the film some time back and need to see it again, as it’s quite different to the book and I am not sure I understood the characters in the same way.

I have also just started The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. I like Keller’s books, and while it may seem somewhat incongruous for me to read this particular Keller book, he is pastor of a church that is actually three-quarters full of single people, and the introduction includes a section “A Book for Unmarried People”. Plus it contains a chapter on Singleness, so I thought I could venture forth. Truth is, I think I have the grand view of marriage as God designed it, mostly, have always been open to it, and I don’t much appreciate that slap that keeps coming mainly from southern America to stop chasing my career, squandering my disposable income on shoes, being selfish and take some responsibility. But I am not expecting as much from Keller, and that said, I’m sure I have things to learn. The books tells me it will “help single people stop destructively over-desiring marriage or destructively dismissing marriage altogether” - interesting. And the substance of the book is based mostly on Ephesians 5, which I like.

I also started to read The Peacemaker, by Ken Sande. I was given this as a birthday present last year too. Truth is, I don’t find myself in many outright conflicts with people, but perhaps the reason for that is I am too much down the conflict-avoiding end, and I try to work around things without taking them head on, even though I am often well aware of that proverbial elephant in the room (I actually think I am more a “conflict-absorber” than avoider - I stay in relationship, because I know better than to avoid people, but I just soak up the conflict, try to walk on like it never happened, all the while knowing it did). And perhaps I need to learn better how to actually enter into conflict and work it through well, and equip myself to be braver with people, without leaving things till I am so worked up over them that there is some kind of surprising eruption, or fearing terrible consequences.

The Romantic Movement, by Alain de Botton. I’ve also quoted this one previously and have now finished it. Very entertaining. It is essentially a novel about a relationship, and a fascinating analysis of one and the people concerned (even with its asides about the deleterious effects of over-analysis and introspection). And while there are certainly many philosophical allusions to what I presume is the Romantic Movement along the way, if you asked me to give you some sort of synopsis of what that was, I’d be at something of a loss.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

More music ...

Here is a song from Marketa Irglova's solo album Anar. It's quite beautiful. The sound is not so great here, and this live version is perhaps even better.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Poems for the old and new year

It's high time there was a poem or two here. I have missed the moment well and truly for poems to begin the New Year, but I thought I would post Christina Rossetti's Old and New Year Ditties all the same. It's actually three poems in one, so, read one or read them all. They are perhaps a melancholy little collection, but that is why we love Christina Rossetti, and a little melancholy reflection on the passing of time never did a person any harm.

Old and New Year Ditties
Christina Rossetti (1862)


New Year met me somewhat sad:
Old Year leaves me tired,
Stripped of favourite things I had
Baulked of much desired:
Yet farther on my road to-day
God willing, farther on my way.

New Year coming on apace
What have you to give me?
Bring you scathe, or bring you grace,
Face me with an honest face;
You shall not deceive me:
Be it good or ill, be it what you will,
It needs shall help me on my road,
My rugged way to heaven, please God.


Watch with me, men, women, and children dear,
You whom I love, for whom I hope and fear,
Watch with me this last vigil of the year.
Some hug their business, some their pleasure-scheme;
Some seize the vacant hour to sleep or dream;
Heart locked in heart some kneel and watch apart.

Watch with me blessèd spirits, who delight
All thro' the holy night to walk in white,
Or take your ease after the long-drawn fight.
I know not if they watch with me: I know
They count this eve of resurrection slow,
And cry, “How long?” with urgent utterance strong.

Watch with me, Jesus, in my loneliness:
Tho' others say me nay, yet say Thou yes;
Tho' others pass me by, stop Thou to bless.
Yea, Thou dost stop with me this vigil night;
Tonight of pain, tomorrow of delight:
I, Love, am Thine; Thou, Lord my God, art mine.


Passing away, saith the World, passing away:
Chances, beauty and youth sapped day by day:
Thy life never continueth in one stay.
Is the eye waxen dim, is the dark hair changing to grey
That hath won neither laurel nor bay?
I shall clothe myself in Spring and bud in May:
Thou, root-stricken, shalt not rebuild thy decay
On my bosom for aye.
Then I answered: Yea.

Passing away, saith my Soul, passing away:
With its burden of fear and hope, of labour and play;
Hearken what the past doth witness and say:
Rust in thy gold, a moth is in thine array,
A canker is in thy bud, thy leaf must decay.
At midnight, at cockcrow, at morning, one certain day
Lo, the Bridegroom shall come and shall not delay:
Watch thou and pray.
Then I answered: Yea.

Passing away, saith my God, passing away:
Winter passeth after the long delay:
New grapes on the vine, new figs on the tender spray,
Turtle calleth turtle in Heaven’s May.
Tho' I tarry wait for Me, trust Me, watch and pray:
Arise, come away, night is past and lo it is day,
My love, My sister, My spouse, thou shalt hear Me say.
Then I answered: Yea.

Friday, January 27, 2012

For women only

I bought this book last year, when in a state of some perplexity, and have been dipping into it again lately. I’m not into frothy, sappy, women’s books at all, and might otherwise have been deterred by this one, but was inspired to read it by intelligent, non-nonsensical bloggers like Amy and Wendy recommending it. I figured that I need all the help I can get when it comes to understanding men, as I seem to be completely hopeless at it. And it’s been illuminating!

Obviously there are parts in it that pertain particularly to being in a “relationship”, but other parts that are relevant to men in general. It’s helped me realise the times I have inadvertently communicated the wrong thing, taken the wrong approach, or simply made big mistakes, in interactions with men (and wondered why they seemed to be so extremely difficult to fix). And I actually like that you are forced into reading it so selflessly, because it’s a book that is entirely about men and what they need/want, based on interviews with a thousand men (so it’s written to give you information to help you genuinely understand something of men (stressing that it is based on majority statistics and isn't mean to be sweeping generalisations) even if you might think some of it is a wee bit ridiculous, as I am sure men think some things about women are a wee bit ridiculous (the author states humourously at one point "It's a wonder any relationships work and that the human race didn't die out millennia ago"), and it doesn’t discuss what women might need at all – there is another book for that, for men to read). If you, or any friend you know, has ever been a tad confused about men, this is a helpful book.

Here is a little example, that comes under 'respect in communication':
Hearing attacks

I got an excellent example of how our words can be misinterpreted as an attack when Chuck Cowan and I were discussing a survey question I had drafted: “Do you know how to put together a romantic event that your partner would enjoy?”

Chuck: “That question won’t work because you’re starting off in attack mode.”
Me: “Huh?”
Chuck: “You’re starting off suggesting the man is inept.”
Me (thinking to myself): Suggesting the man is inept? What is he talking about?
Chuck: “Soften it a bit – put it into a context that isn’t so blatant.”

Simply by adding a context sentence to the beginning - “Suppose you had to plan an anniversary event for your partner. Do you know how ...?” - the question was deemed totally appropriate not to step on male toes or question a man’s adequacy”.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

O heart bereaved and lonely

O heart bereaved and lonely,
Whose brightest dreams have fled
Whose hopes like summer roses,
Are withered crushed and dead
Though link by link be broken,
And tears unseen may fall
Look up amid thy sorrow,
To Him who knows it all.

O cling to thy Redeemer,
Thy Savior, Brother, Friend
Believe and trust His promise,
To keep you till the end
O watch and wait with patience,
And question all you will
His arms of love and mercy,
Are round about thee still.

Look up, the clouds are breaking,
The storm will soon be o'er
And thou shall reach the haven,
Where sorrows are no more
Look up, be not discouraged;
Trust on, whate'er befall
Remember, O remember,
Thy Savior knows it all.

- Fanny Crosby
(Completely lifted from Along Addison's Walk. She has returned the favour of the discovery of a rare thing. I can only find one other version of this song online. Pity.)

Reasons not to marry an unbeliever

Here is a good article from the Gospel Coalition on Reasons not to Marry an Unbeliever

(If you’ve been reading here a while you’d have read my little story of my unexpected encounter with this “problem”, but if not, it’s under the label of non-Christian boys down the side and the 'nonny enticement' posts.  In short, I went along to an ordination service for friends – last place on earth you expect you are going to meet unbelievers – and the fellow I called Ignis fatuus (because my life is full of Jane Eyre references), being the sort of fellow he is, was there also in support of the same friend. Following that he came along to church a couple of times, asked me out during one of those visits, so we had a coffee, during which I did end up needing to explain to him why I couldn’t go out with him. Then independently he went and spoke to our mutual newly-ordained friend and decided he was going to come along and do the Simply Christianity course at my church, so he did, and for those six weeks he was around, and I was just waiting to see what the outcome might be. Sadly, he decided it wasn’t for him, and so that was where it ended. (And the truth is, even if he had given his life to Christ there and then, it still would not have been an easy or particularly ideal situation.) There was no real harm done, and I am very thankful for that, but there were times I found it difficult (and I found out what can go through a person's head in that scenario!) and it caused me to have my own little wrestle with this issue.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On reading the Word of God

Each year in January we have a couple of sermons from the Psalms. I love these. The other week Paul Dale did Psalm 119:1-40 and the Word of God. I thought it was so simply good, I am going to write up the basics of it here, for future reference (was it tedious adding all the links and verses! - but I put them all in eventually). You can listen to an audio version of it here.

Psalm 119

Almost every one of its 176 verses refers to the word of God – statutes, commands, ordinances.

The writer is devoted to God and delights in the word of God. It’s a cycle that goes around and around.

Delighting in God’s word

This is how God has claimed to reveal himself to us, so devour it.

Psalm 119:14 - In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.

Psalm 119:16 - I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.

Psalm 119:24 - Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.

Psalm 119:72 - The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Psalm 119:97 - Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.

Psalm 119:103 - How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Why delight in God's word?

a) Sin stopping

In our daily battle, it will help us resist.

Psalm 119:9 - How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.

Psalm 119:11 - I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:133 - Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.

b) Guidance giving

"Lamp" here is not a spotlight, but enough light for the next step.

Psalm 119:66 - Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.

Psalm 119:98 - Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.

Psalm 119:105 - Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

c) Comfort channelling

We don't want pious platitudes in times of difficulty but truth.

Psalm 119:50 - This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.

Psalm 119:52 - When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O Lord.

Psalm 119:76 - Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.

Psalm 119:92 - If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.

d) Soul satisfying

Psalm 119:32 - I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!

Psalm 119:36-37 - Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.

Psalm 119:147 - I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words.

Psalm 119:165 - Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.

So how do we do it? 

Nobody drifts into delighting in God's word. Make sure you receive it regularly and put yourself quietly under the Word.

a) Receive the Word

Psalm 119:94 - I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts.

Psalm 119:33-37 - Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.

With others (at church and bible study) and privately (this requires discipline). Pray that God would make himself known. We need the spirit to illuminate our hearts (119:18).

b) Meditate on the Word

Psalm 119:11 - I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:97 - Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.

It's about knowing and treasuring it. Memorise it!

c) Apply the word of God

Psalm 119:1 - Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!

Psalm 119:14 - In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.

Psalm 119:17 - Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word.

Psalm 119:34 - Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.

Psalm 119:129 - Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them.

Sit with a journal and write down the promises, instructions and rebukes.

The more you read, the more you love God, the more you read ...


I am working from home today. It’s so nice. I’ve been something of a wreck lately and not getting much sleep, and working from home means I can have a little sleep in, go out for a jog at a reasonable hour, and still be sitting down to work about the usual time, since I don’t have to find some clothes and get dressed nicely, sort some lunch, transport myself to the office etc. I might even have a power nap soon.

In other enthralling news, I just received an email to say that Long Tall Sally has opened an Australian website. Woo-ooh. Presumably this means the postage will be cheaper than shipping things from the UK (though from a quick glance looks like that may have added a little on top of the exchange rate, so I am going to investigate how it pans out). It also means that there are enough tall women in this country to make this viable. For some reason I think this is good news.

(I am not overly enthused by their current collection, but I keep my eye on their products.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Tallest Man on Earth and Idiot Wind

I am lately immersing myself in the music of The Tallest Man on Earth (thanks to Alistair for the original pointer in his direction, and youtube which now functions at work). He’s likened to Bob Dylan by most everyone who listens, and was inspired to open guitar tunings by Nick Drake. He has also toured with Bon Iver. Further to that he is married to an exquisitely-voiced Swedish folk musician, who calls herself Idiot Wind after a Bob Dylan song. What I have heard of her quiet piano music so far is just beautiful. Here are some videos for a Monday lunch time.

Why being a Christian gets you crucified

Lots of people have been sharing these two posts lately, by and about Melinda Tankard Reist, on Why Being a Christian gets you crucified and e-hate. All I can say is hear hear!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

So, let us drink a cup of tea

I pour the tea and we sip in silence. We have never had our tea together in the morning, and this break with our usual protocol imbues the ritual with a strange flavour.

Yes, this sudden transmutation in the order of things seems to enhance our pleasure, as if consecrating the unchanging nature of a ritual established over our afternoons together, a ritual that has ripened into a solid and meaningful reality. Today, because our ritual has been transgressed, it suddenly acquires all its power; we are tasting the splendid gift of this unexpected morning as if it were some precious nectar; ordinary gestures have an extraordinary resonance, as we breathe in the fragrance of the tea, savour it, lower our cups, serve more and sip again: every gesture has the bright aura of rebirth. At moments like this the web of life is revealed by the power of ritual, and each time we renew our ceremony, the pleasure will be all the greater for our having violated one of its principles. Moments like this act as magical interludes, placing our hearts at the edge of our souls: fleetingly, yet intensely, a fragment of eternity has come to enrich time. Elsewhere the world may be blustering or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, while others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn – and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, while the world goes on its merry way, bursts into flames, tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb.

So, let us drink a cup of tea.

... I know that tea is no minor beverage. When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?

The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a licence granted to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony. Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, the autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And with each swallow, time is sublimed.
-The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery

Picture from here.


I love pink, I think it's a colour that gets a bad press, it's made out to be a thing for babies or women who wear too much make-up, but pink is really a subtle and delicate colour, and it figures a lot in Japanese poetry.
- The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery

Picture from here.

Monday, January 16, 2012

On male emotion and heartbreak

And just because I now can at work (they have opened our access to 'social media'), I just wandered into Twitter, which doesn't happen all that often, and read this Slate article that Karen had tweeted, on male emotion and heartbreak. It's worth a read.
For all the men in these stories, the stakes of love remained high—which made their disappointments like stakes in the heart—but in their grief they never came across as weird, or naive, or effeminate. Rather, there was a dignity, strength, and honor that surrounded their despair because, to the other characters and now to me, they had gone somewhere only the stout of heart can go.

As it turned out, this was the only medicine that worked in my period of distress: In a world and time that esteemed—nay, championed—romantic risk-taking, male heartbreak was seen not as a defect but as the barometer of valor.

On the patience of Job

There was another article in the paper on Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists over the weekend, which was rather more favourable. But, anyway, back to The Romantic Movement and interpersonal relationships, I thought this passage was also interesting (this chap seems to spend a lot of time studying the Bible for someone who doesn’t buy it):

The unfortunate Biblical anti-hero Job, who no doubt had a far sweeter nature than Alice, was sent the most unbelievable succession of troubles. The Bible tells us he was ‘blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil’. And yet what torments descended on him! He lost his oxen, his sheep, his servants, his camels, his house, his sons and daughters, was covered in painful sores and suffered every imaginable pain – and yet the point of the story was that the man [albeit but for a few despairing moments] stayed faithful in his love of God. He didn’t get angry, bang his fist and scowl, ‘I asked for my escalope with the goddam sauce on the side,’ or exclaim viciously, ‘I didn’t shell out for the synagogue extension to be paid back like this.’

What allowed Job to survive trouble without complaint was his undying faith that God was right, and he was wrong – or rather that whatever troubles God afflicted on him, He knew best, and there was therefore no excuse for a little old man like him to raise his hand and question Him [compare Job to his atheistic counterpart in modern literature, Joseph K, who experiences suffering as equally unquestionable, but simply absurd].

In daily life, we rarely have the patience of Job, because we lack his respect for those who do us wrong ...
Apart from the fact that he has the story slightly wrong - I think it was after God’s appearance that Job really learnt that God was right, God knew best and therefore that he had no right to question him, not before, and the point of the story is rather more about God than it is about Job – he makes an interesting point (perhaps more commonly held/understood among those of us who do believe in God than otherwise) about how you can endure all sorts of inexplicable behaviour, both from God and from others, if you have a fundamental trust in their character.

When it comes to God, those of us who believe, and have worked to know God, trust that He is good and He is working all things for good, no matter what it looks like to us right now. And when it comes to other people, they can sometimes be behaving in ways that seem impossibly difficult, but if you have some faith/trust in, or understanding of, who they are, and that there is an explanation that is not immediately obvious, you accept it. (Sometimes the trust is misplaced, but you find that out soon enough.)

Simple but true.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cosmic Love

Stumbled across this, and I do like it:

A baby crochet project

When I went North over Christmas I took a ball of wool left over from the epic crochet project, and a pattern I had been wanting to try, just incase. I am not so good at sitting around doing nothing for too long, but one can hardly read in company. Crochet, however, solves the problem. So I pulled it out one night and began hooking, and my Mum, who used to knit a lot of little garments, exclaimed over how fast crochet appeared. (Because it is fairly quick working in double crochet - or treble, depending on which country you are in).

If I can get a little technical here for a spell, what I found weird about the plys and hook sizes here is (the pattern is a very simple Cleckheaton Master Crochet book): you are given the pattern in 4 ply, using a 3mm hook, and in 8 ply, using a 4mm hook. But, my wool was 5 ply. You would think 5 ply would be closer to 4 ply than 8 ply, but 5 ply specifies a 3.75mm hook, which, as you may have noticed, is closer to 4mm than it is to 3mm. So, I made this up with 5 ply, following the 8 ply pattern, thinking it would be a little smaller than the size it was supposed to be. But, it basically came out the same size as the 8 ply measurements - and I thought my crochet tension was on the tighter end, not the looser end. Curious. So, it's a bit larger than I had actually intended.

The worst part about it was doing the edging in the side of double crochet, where it's anybody's guess where you are going to put your stitch. I did the cuffs first, and put a few too many stitches in, thus they came out a little flared as you can see, so I had to reduce my stitches around the front.

These are very traditional baby colours (the colours are truest in the bottom photo - the afternoon sun has given the others a strange glow), but I thought the stripey buttons gave it a little bit of modern snap. I reckon I could make it in all sorts of colour combinations and add it to my crochet repertoire. This one is pure wool and going to a baby in Tasmania.

Friday, January 13, 2012

How to make someone a nervous wreck

I’ve been enjoying reading along in Alain de Botton’s The Romantic Movement (I'm not sure I am learning much about The Romantic Movement at all, but it’s an entertaining read, which would seem to be primarily about relationships). There are a few chapters on the dynamics of inter-personal relationships, such as predictability, love permanence, power and so on. I thought this excerpt below was interesting, from the chapter on predictability:
In one of his lesser-known experiments, the great Russian psychologist Pavlov discovered that a dog could be driven to a state of neurosis, trembling, urinating and defecating, if the signals it had been trained to respond to were sufficiently confused. If a bell which had come to be associated with food suddenly became the herald of an empty plate, the dog could, after a few examples of this, be reconditioned to accept a state of food-less affairs. But if the bell sometimes produced food and sometimes did not, if there was total irregularity in the proceedings, the creature would no longer know what to think: confused by the mysterious connection between the food and its non-appearance, between bells that sometimes meant one thing and sometimes another [though always the opposite of what one expected] the dog would slowly slide into a form of canine insanity.
P.S. This is an interesting article from the Guardian on Alain de Botton's latest book on Religion for Atheists. I think some of his incidental observations in other books about religion, and what it gives, are quite interesting. But I agree with this article, that he is usually being patronising in the process, and it's just plain ridiculous to attempt to construct the out-workings of Christianity without their source. I do enjoy his light-hearted rambles through philosophy however.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A night with Ira Glass

Last night I went into the city to hear Ira Glass give a talk as part of the Sydney Festival. You could be forgiven for having never heard of Ira Glass as he broadcasts a program on national public radio in the US called This American Life. The program usually has application far beyond America however. And if you frequent the reformed theological blogs you might have seen Justin Taylor post these links to Ira Glass talking about storytelling. Storytelling is what Ira does. He even studied semiotics at university. I didn’t know what semiotics till I looked up Ira, and now I think I’d quite like to study semiotics myself.

The evening’s talk was called Reinventing Radio, but essentially it was on storytelling. What it is that will keep people listening to even the most banal facts and plot when it comes to the telling of a story. In the end it came down, mostly, to the use of very simple elements – narrative suspense and meaning. He showed us how people do this when they verbally tell you are story: they will give you a run of events, and then pause and add some meaning, then another run of events. And yet, so rarely is information presented this way in the media. Ira even went on quite a spiel about sermons. He told us he was originally inspired to do what he does by the Rabbi in the synagogue he frequented as a child. He’d listen to this Rabbi preaching and think ‘he’s got the job’. And then he said that after years of research and thought and then thinking he’d invented this methodology of story telling, he realised that Jesus used it in the bible :). Fancy that. But then, curiously, he added that there was a satisfaction in knowing that even for the most important message ever told, that could save your life, this means of conveying it was most effective (yet he calls himself an atheist).

Near the end he started talking further about “story” as a way in the back door, to tap into our deepest feelings and thoughts, and to teach us. Using the story of the Arabian Nights he illustrated how story can teach us empathy. And it was powerful the way he was telling the story of a story, to show us the power of story – if that makes any sense.

It was a fascinating evening (and he said he was going to show us how to be ‘fascinatinger’ :) ). It started at 9:30 pm, and he went half an hour overtime till 11:30 pm, and yet you could have kept listening (though I was getting kind of uncomfortable and restless and tired of sitting in my seat, after having sat in my chair for hours at work already, and then caught one of the last buses home). After originally starting to talk in complete darkness, to make a point about the power of radio and of listening, he kept the house lights down all night, so it was pointless attempting notes, and the night was full of moments of music (lots of music - he's all into music) and humour and stories and examples of how to make a story all mixed in together, yet I am sure I learnt more than I realise from all those stories!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book cataloguing software/apps

I mentioned in that last post using an app on my Android phone called ‘Book Catalogue’. This app is pretty good for what it does. You can scan a book’s barcode from your phone, or type in the ISBN, and it talks to Library Thing, Amazon and Google to draw in information about the book.

However, it doesn’t look like I can actually then get my book catalogue off my phone. So I haven’t gone ahead and entered all my books, because having them all on my phone, and my phone only, is not something I see a whole lot of value in. I think Book Catalogue could be good for when I am out and about and want to remember details of a book for later, or for recording my ‘wish list’ of books to read in a way that is more convenient and portable than the wishlist in Book Depository, or for making a note when I loan a book to someone.

But I did then go looking to see if there is any software or app that would let me scan books on my phone and then sync them to my computer. I haven’t found one yet. I was going to ask this question on facebook, and maybe I still will. I know that if you use Delicious on a Mac (which you have to purchase) you can scan books in with the computer’s webcam, and if you have an iPhone it appears it will then sync to that, but it looks like you have to buy a barcode reader to scan books remotely (perhaps it is only a matter of time before you can scan them on your iPhone). I like the sound of this software anyway, as it is no necessity that I can scan books on my phone, I’d just have to buy it, and I was having fun scanning things with my phone.

You can also use Library Thing on the web for free and type in ISBNs and have an online library.

If I am going to bother entering all my books somewhere (I haven't decided if this is a worthwhile endeavour yet), I would rather have a library on either my computer or the internet, and not just on my phone (and let’s face it, I will probably go from an Android to an iPhone one day, so if the app is incompatible I will have wasted hours of time putting books on my phone).

I am wondering whether anyone else uses any of these programs or can recommend another ...

Sunday, January 08, 2012

On being a romantic

The other day the guy who sits across from me at work, who has a photo of a waratah in a forest as his current desktop, was rambling on about how he had this indescribable “thing” for waratahs, perhaps because he had never seen one in the wild. So, I started to ramble back to him about how, in his longing after the waratah, he was perhaps a votary of the blue flower (after the character in Novalis), only it was a red flower. He may or may not have been thinking I was something of a fruit nut, so I had to bring Batman into it to explain.

This reminded me of the Romantic movement, and how I had at home, as yet unread, Alain de Botton’s book called The Romantic Movement, which was going to be like my dummies introduction to it. Then, I was messing about going along a shelf of my books, like a kid with a new toy, holding their barcodes up to my phone so my Book Catalogue app could read them in, when I came across said book. So, I pulled it, freshly catalogued, off the shelf and read the introduction. It was so amusing, and told the story of a girl called Alice, who red-facedly reminded me a little of this girl called Ali that I know (though this reminder diminished after the first few pages), that I found myself flicking through the pages, even though I am already reading a couple of other books right now. Here are are a few snippets from this book. You can hear the echoes of Sehnsucht and Unheimlichkeit running through them. :

From later in the Introduction:
To take D. H. Lawrence’s definition, she was a Romantic in being ‘homesick for somewhere else’, another body, another country, another lover – the echo of the adolescent Rimbaud’s celebrated ‘la vie est ailleurs’*. But from where did this sickness, if one may call such longing for otherness a sickness, arise? She was no fool, she had dipped into the great books and theories, she had learnt that God was dead and Man [that other anachronism] was on his last legs as an embodiment of an answer to Life, she knew one was expected to call stories with happy endings and contented heroines trash fantasy and not literature. Yet, perhaps because she retained an appetite for soap operas and songs whose soaring refrain sang of wanting to,
Hold you, oh yeah, and love you baby,
I said and love you baby,
she was still waiting [by the phone or otherwise] for salvation to make an appearance.
Then later (pg 21):
Sitting alone eating dinner, Alice longed for a day when, because someone cared for her, she too might experience the sense that the small things about her were appreciated, that, without going to the moon or becoming President, elements of her unextraordinary life could take on a certain value, her loneliness could be alleviated by someone who would say, ‘It’s so sweet the way you ...’ and she could respond likewise. It would be a time when a Sunday evening spent reading the papers with a bowl of soup could avoid its lamentable sadness because there would be someone [not Warhol** perhaps, but someone] there to digest the experience with her.
And in further explanation of the problem of Alice (and personally I think God still does solve the matter) (pg 24):
Perhaps in another age, God had solved such matters. His would have been the eye in heaven, the sordidness of the world would have been alleviated by the sense that He was watching, and that the banal was hence connected to the illustrious history of good and evil. Though believers were in the Earthly City, their actions nevertheless had relevance to what would happen in the Heavenly. God saw everything, even a journey across London on a rainy, foggy night could be rendered bearable by its witness.

But Alice had never believed, and for her it was art and love that were being asked to shoulder some of the same functions. Much as film allowed her to escape a sense of isolation through the thought that ‘I’m not the only one to have experienced this emotion, seen this street, sat in this café ...’ love held out the hope of a being to whom she could whisper, ‘You too feel this? How wonderful. It’s exactly what I thought when ...’ - the contents of one soul finding tender analogy with those of another.
Then I particularly liked this sentence (pg 30):
History had forced her into the camp of the nail-biters rather than the screamers, her life an inner not an outer drama.
* This means 'the life is elsewhere'.
** Warhol painted a soup can, and put the aesthetic back in the ordinary.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

You never marry the right person

I quoted, or rather re-quoted, Stanley Hauerwas saying this after Andrew Cameron's ethics lecture last year on singleness and marriage, and here is an article by Tim Keller making the same point. I particularly liked the last couple of paragraphs:
The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the Gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The Gospel is—we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared to believe, and at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.

The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level.
(Excerpt from THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE © 2011 by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller.)

Thursday, January 05, 2012

What literature owes to the bible

I came across an interesting article in the New York Times, The Book of Books: What Literature Owes the Bible by Marilynne Robinson. Greg Clarke was using this premise to argue that the bible should be taught in all schools some time ago. It is good of Marilynne Robinson, with her singularly beautiful Pulitzer-winning novel, to reinforce this.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A bright nothing

Here’s a little something I made last year, out of scraps from the bunting, and never showed the world. Don’t ask me why I made it or what it's for. I just wanted to have a go at a crochet paper chain. I don’t much like these colours – I am not really into things all rainbowy – but I quite like the idea. This year (I say this every year) I want to make some Christmas decorations. I scored a few rejects from my Mum in the holidays: little wooden, knitted and handmadesy looking things. So next time Christmas comes around I shall have to make sure I actually hang them on something. Last year, as in a couple of weeks ago, about five minutes before my sister and her family arrived for the night, I tried to stick the two little knitted decorations I had somewhere, and thus the pathetic little Christmas spot in the picture below. But I am all inspired to be suitably festive next time!

Here's another picture of the crochet chain below. I am thinking I might take this into work and drape it around my desk for some cheer, because at the moment in my room it is just contributing to the STUFF!

What to do with stuff?

I had to come back to work today. Boo hoo. I wasn’t ready.

At home I am still going through my stuff. My goodness! I don’t seem to have made as much progress as I might have liked, but there have been several trips to the recycling bin. Do you know, I think I had kept every single mobile phone bill I ever received? These days I don’t even get paper mobile phone bills. I thought for a few seconds that it might be interesting to look back and see who I was calling ten years ago. Then I thought, ‘no’, and upended that entire file into the bin pile. Same goes for bank statements. I had years of them. I tore them all up. I also had all the raw data sheets from my Honours thesis in the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet. I looked at them and reminisced on all those days I spent walking about the hills at Wallaby Creek recording the behaviour of kangaroos. Then I binned those too.

One of the oldest things I found is a little pink scented autograph book from 1985, stuffed up the back of my desk drawer. I think this has missed several clean outs. Boy is it silly. It’s full of the very silliest little schoolyard autograph-book-type rhymes. They are not even funny, after a childhood silly kind of funny; they are just plain silly. Even my intelligent best friend Pam, who later came first in 3 Unit English, was silly. I don’t think it’s worth keeping.

I also found a whole lot of white cards with a crimped gold edge, on which I had written little verses and quotes to put up on this little gold stand. There’s a whole lot of Elisabeth Elliot in there, and there’s a good sprinkling of Don Carson too.

One thing I haven’t worked out what to do with yet is conference booklets. You know, you go on these Christian conferences and you get this whole booklet in which you take a few notes. So you keep it. But a person, or maybe a conference junkie, can end up with a lot of those booklets. What do other people do with theirs? (I know I could scan them, but the thought of sitting down to do that makes me groan.)

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

From George Eliot

Would you believe, I am still reading Romola by George Eliot? I set it aside a long time ago, after a misprint in my first copy then other books needing to be read for bookclub drew it to a halt. But I picked it up again these holidays. It hasn’t been easy reading, full of lyrical waxing on historical Florence, which, while interesting, is not always easy to grasp entirely. There is also the sense of foreboding in the two protagonist’s relationship, and a part of me has recoiled from having to watch its disintegration.

I have been enjoying it more of late however, as it has begun to be more liberally sprinkled with Eliot’s characteristic insights into human nature. Here’s an example, of a few things I underlined:
There was still one resource open to Tito. He might have turned back ... confessed everything ... But he never thought of that. The repentance which cuts off all moorings to evil, demands something more than selfish fear. He had no sense that there was strength and safety in truth; the only strength he trusted to lay in his ingenuity and his dissimulation.
Romola was labouring, as a loving woman must, to subdue her nature to her husband’s. The great need of her heart compelled her to strangle, with desperate resolution, every rising impulse of suspicion, pride, and resentment; she felt equal to any self-infliction that would save her from ceasing to love. That would have been like the hideous nightmare in which the world had seemed to break away all around her, and leave her feet overhanging the darkness. Romola had never distinctly imagined such a future for herself; she was only beginning to feel the presence of effort in that clinging trust which had once been mere repose.
Love does not aim simply at the conscious good of the beloved object: it is not satisfied without perfect loyalty of heart; it aims at its own completeness.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The epic crochet project

So, here is the epic crochet project, otherwise known as the silliest crochet project ever undertaken, that I completed for my Mum for Christmas. The pictures tell the story.

(I didn't actually get a photo of it in my Mum's house in the end, but if you know my Mum, you know that these are her colours, and it matched so nicely in her bedroom. I made the pattern up myself, through some trial and error, after looking at these pictures, and then discovered that there are similar pattern instructions all over the internet.)

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year one and all!

I had a rather spectacular celebration of this event last night, I must say. This was owing to a friend whose parent's live in Milsons Point, and wow did we have a view. It was truly amazing!

I didn't take my real camera, and have only the few phone snaps below, as I wasn't particularly interested in spending the night trying to get photos of fireworks (when you have a camera to your face ready to snap a firecracker at the right moment, you don't actually see said firecracker) but you will get the idea and the vantage point. The pictures take it wide a little, as in reality we were looking right down into Luna Park.

The downside of all the amazement was queuing for nearly two hours to get out of Milsons Point train station, and the insane hour at which I got him this morning. I shall probably go back to bed shortly. And I have to admit, that while standing there in luxury watching millions of dollars of fireworks explode into the sky and reflect in the waters of the beautiful Harbour, I had a strange yearning to be off in the countryside with some friends setting off a few crackers down the paddock. I heard someone say, 'why would you want to live anywhere else?' and I thought to myself, well, there are places where hills roll in the distance and a person isn't just a spectator among millions. City glitz just isn't really where my heart is.

One of the things I am going to consider in my "personal retreat" are the reasons why I continue to live in Sydney. But now that I have gone all reflective, as a person must do when they've had little sleep on a New Year's morning, I shall go back to my clean out and at least try to throw away some of last year's rubbish.