Wednesday, February 29, 2012

God's good things

When I mentioned the other day the list of God’s good things, as per Charles Spurgeon, mentioned in this short video by Sara Groves about her song Open my Hands, I didn’t realise that that list is based mostly on the Westminster Catechism (though she mentions “the fruition of God’s presence”, which I thought was the interesting one, because I thought she meant now, in this life (and what would that mean?), but I have discovered that this is from Spurgeon’s Treasury of David on Psalm 84 and goes with the phrase “in the next” - see vs 11 at that link, the semi-colon is important).

I would have known this if once upon a time in learning the Westminster Catechism I had made it to Question 35 (or Question 41, depending on which version you are in). A friend and I used to meet early in the morning in our pajamas (we lived in the same building) while I was at university to try to learn and study the catechism, and I memorised about the first seven before it all fell apart (I’m really annoyed too that I seemed to have lost, many years ago, the little book we used, as it was a good one). So, just for interest sake, here is the question and answer from the Catechism, compiled by Charles Spurgeon in 1855:
41. Q. What are the benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?

A. The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification (Romans 5:1, 2, 5), are assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17), increase of grace, perseverance in it to the end (Proverbs 4:18; 1 John 5:13; 1 Peter 1:5).
I like it. I was encouraged by this reminder of what exactly are the good things that God will not withhold from those who walk uprightly. I am a little inspired to renew learning the catechism, having been poking around in it.

Atheism for the incorrigibly religious

It’s no secret that I enjoy reading Alain de Botton, but then, I know it’s pop philosophy and I don’t make any pretense to being all that knowledgeable on real philosophy (does Sophie’s World count for that?). So, I was very interested to read that Dan, the philosopher of large brain, had been to hear him speak at the Opera House on Religion for Atheists. Dan’s blog post called Atheism for the incorrigibly religious is well worth a read.

A guitar update

If you’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned playing the guitar on here for a while, that is because I lapsed. I was really enjoying it and thought it was going to stick, so I don’t quite know why that happened. I came to the end of the community college classes available, but haven’t yet managed to do the last one I could do because even though it’s supposed to rotate it keeps coming round on the same weeknight, which doesn’t suit me. Then I kept playing through the music we were given on the courses I did do till I was sick of it (and I didn’t overly like some of it in the first place - it was boys in garages material), I downloaded a couple of things from the internet and they were too complicated, I tried to access some of the music from church and that didn’t work ... and I was borrowing a classical guitar, when I was learning to play acoustic, so I sort of kept telling myself that soon I’d get my own acoustic and it would all be grand. (I also think I got distracted by crochet.) Then last year for my birthday I was given some money, by request, towards a new guitar, but I was just a bit daunted by the idea of trawling around music shops by myself trying to find a good one (I always feel like guys in those sort of shops see blonde hair coming and try to hoodwink me and sell off some dud, so I wasn’t going to go to buy one till I had done the necessary research). So it all stalled.

But I hadn’t given up altogether. Recently I had this brilliant idea that I could go to visit relatives and ask my Uncle to help me. He is a “muso” of the guitar-playing sort and he’s good at buying things. He cuts deals with people. He’s not rude or aggressive or one of those pushy customers people dread, he just says nicely “what’s the best price you can do on that?”, and it’s amazing how this works. (I tried this once in Harvey Norman, because he says you never pay full price for electrical things, and I got $30 off a heater.) So, on Saturday I headed off to his local music shop with him (I knew he’d enjoy this), where they know him by name and would appear to like him, because when he goes in there he means business and he buys things.

Basically he sat on a stool playing his way through guitars before handing them to me to see what I thought. We tried a lot of guitars (I am using the time “we” loosely here, because I was more or less happy for him to choose) and in the end settled on one nicely less than I was willing to spend. For those who are interested in specifics we mostly started in on Yamaha and Takamine and the odd Ibanez, up to around $500 (a couple were over it) but kept coming back to a Crafter, solid top (that means solid wood, I discovered, rather than some laminated junk), that was marked at only $299. It had a nice action and a nice rich tone to it. Then my Uncle barely had to open his mouth and just said we’d take this one and the guy said he could have it for $200. I was flabbergasted. $200! And that’s not all. I got a deluxe double-thickness gig bag worth $90 for $30, then I got $20 off my strap, a few picks for nothing ... It was amazing to watch. So, I am totally chuffed that for a measly $200 I got what seems a very nice guitar. My Uncle recently bought one worth $1200 (though of course he didn’t pay that for it!) but reckons he’d have been happy with my nice little Crafter. And when I look this guitar up on the American website, the land where I thought everything was meant to be cheaper, it’s listed at $479 (with a hard shell case but they are not worth $179 dollars). I can’t do a direct link, but if you go here, select Dreadnought body type, it’s the HD-100S (I like the spruce wood colour - nicer than that orange colour guitars have when they are cedar top).

So, I am pleased. I can get carried away on these things, but didn’t want to spend a huge amount incase I lapsed again, and so I didn’t. Now I just have to get myself some music I can and like to play (and toughen up my fingers for the steel strings).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The curative power of story

This is a lovely little animated short film, nominated for an Oscar, for anyone with a sympathy towards books and the telling of a story. (Interestingly, I have seen some of Don Miller's 'Storyline' ideas around the interwebs lately - see here and here. I don't blanket endorse all of his material (though I do very much like his writing style), but perhaps there is something in this understanding of your life as a story. The gospel itself is a story, and the bible as salvation history most definitely is.)

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
One of five nominations for the 2012 Academy Awards’ Best Animated Short category, this film inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story. Using a variety of techniques (miniatures, computer animation, 2D animation) award winning author/ illustrator William Joyce and Co-director Brandon Oldenburg present a new narrative experience that harkens back to silent films and M-G-M Technicolor musicals. “Morris Lessmore” is old fashioned and cutting edge at the same time. (From Bookshelf Porn (excuse the title!).)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Open my hands

Sometimes in life you reach a point at which you realise it is time to open your hands and let go. You’ve tried long and hard, yet no matter how hard you try, or what you do or say, it’s not enough, it’s not working, and you’re exhausted in the effort. And maybe, just maybe, that’s because it’s not what God has for you.

I have posted this quote before several years ago, by Paul Tripp (from Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands), but it can come around again.
The objects of most of our desires are not evil. The problem is the way they tend to grow and the control they come to exercise over our hearts. Desires are part of human existence, but they must be held with an open hand ... The problem with desire is that in sinners it very quickly morphs into demands (‘I must’). Demand is the closing of my fists over a desire. Even though I may be unaware that I have done it, I have left my proper position of submission to God. I have decided that I must have what I have set my heart on and nothing can stand in my way. I am no longer comforted by God’s desire for me; I am threatened by it, because God’s will potentially stands in the way of my demand ...
I was actually reminded of that quote in listening to the song Open my Hands, from Sara Groves. I know it is yet another music video, but I have been waiting and waiting for this song to go up on youtube, and last night I went looking and was very pleased to discover an official live video for it. The lyrics are easily discernable, but I shall paste them in below (you can watch the story behind the song here – that is an interesting list of God’s good things from Charles Spurgeon, don’t you think? - I am still thinking on those).

Open My Hands
- by Sara Groves

I believe in a blessing I don't understand
I’ve seen rain fall on the wicked and the just
Rain is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us
No good thing from us

I believe in a peace that flows deeper than pain
That broken find healing in love
Pain is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us
No good thing from us

I will open my hands, will open my heart
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I am nodding my head an emphatic yes
To all that You have for me

I believe in a fountain that will never dry
Though I've thirsted and didn't have enough
Thirst is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us
No good thing from us

I will open my hands, will open my heart
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I am nodding my head an emphatic yes
To all that You have for me

No good thing from us
No good thing from us
He withholds no good thing from us

I will open my hands, will open my heart
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I am nodding my head an emphatic yes
To all that You have for me

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday music

I really like this, what I think is that latest single from The Tallest Man on Earth. I keep hitting replay. He is such a good guitarist, I like the melodies he writes, his lyrics are interesting (I am not sure I have always got the meaning or the sense of them, but he at least is poetic and metaphorical) and he sings with verve. I even like this youtube poster’s simple home video.

In other music news, I also came across some songs from Mumford and Sons, this one Lover of the Light (gets a bit noisy but don’t think I’ve seen anyone be lead singer and play drums at the same time before) and this one Lovers Eyes (do like this, but it ends up noisy also).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

How to poach an egg

I had never tried to poach an egg before today. I'd occasionally heard conversations about how hard it is to poach an egg nicely, and just sort of shrugged my shoulders, because I’d never tried and so never experienced the difficulty. (I rather like a fried egg myself, but figured this could be slightly healthier.)

But, you can learn all sorts of things from reading craft blogs, and I subscribe to this one called Attic 24, because she crochets things and enjoys life's simple pleasures, somewhere beautiful up in the North of England. A while back she wrote a post on how to poach an egg, so today I decided to have a go. They turned out perfectly and I am a complete egg-poaching novice! It didn’t involve any tricksy water-swirling or fancy silicon equipment or half-a-dozen attempts. So, if you want to poach an egg easy-peasy, try this.

Yarn stash storage

I keep telling myself, with regards to blogging, that if you don't have anything much to say, don't say anything; be one of those awesome blogs that every now and then surprises you with a post that was worth waiting for and worth reading. And yet ... Here’s a post you’ve all been waiting for: ways to store yarn. One the yarn-craft readers, home-organisation freaks or interior-design type folks might find mildly interesting.

I have previously mentioned that I have a bit of a yarn stash happening at the moment, mostly as a result of a spell of ebay madness. But I plan on working my way through it before I buy anymore. The problem is of course, when you rent a share flat and most of your personal earthly belongings are in your bedroom, what to do with it. So I did some thinking about this (and other things that need storing), and last year bought a wooden cube bookshelf, with eight cubes (a real wooden one – IKEA lets me down with their particleboard furniture). I had been eyeing it off in a shop near my place, then that shop had a closing down sale, which was good for me in that moment. However, I do think it looks a bit messy just having wool piled in there, unless of course it’s all full balls in beautiful colours, nicely stacked.

Apartment Therapy recently featured a post on yarn storage options, to my delight, but see in this picture, the wool in cube shelving? - messy, that’s what I think. Some of those shelves look like they'd be always dropping things, and in my experience, they do drop things.

I was inspired, however, by the idea of using some magazine holders in some of the cubes to keep some of the smaller messier stuff sorted, and also to store patterns, guitar music etc. Like this idea below. I do have some of these baskets from IKEA on some shelves (they are made in crochet, which I thought was apt, and I didn't want regular baskets to scratch the wood) and I quite like these magazine holders. The Apartment Therapy post has some other cool options too, but they are perhaps not as great for rental properties or smaller spaces.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Music to work to - Last Exit to Brooklyn

Last night I went along to the Centre for Christian Living to hear Andrew Cameron, together with Steve Kryger, speak on social media. This was fascinating as always, and I might write up something if I get to it. One thing Andrew said that made me laugh was “each of us is a funny mix of mask and leakage” on social media. True.

For now, how about some nice music to listen to? Someone at work mentioned Brooklyn recently, and I thought ‘ah, Brooklyn – that reminds me, I need to listen to that music again’ (I have never seen the movie, and believe it’s “gritty”, but the music is wonderful). If you know The Princess Bride soundtrack you will hear moments of similarity, and I find it a little reminiscent, in the emotional space it takes and leaves me, of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana – Intermezzo.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A jeans story and a fashion tip

Last week I split a pair of jeans. I mean, I knew I was feeling like a blob having not been running for a while on back mishap, but I didn’t think I’d quite reached the splitting-my-pants point yet. They were actually jeans I’d bought at Vinnies, and were perhaps more worn than I realised, so last week when I went to sit down with one leg bent under me (and you’d think I would have learnt by now not to sit like this), the jeans sort of got stuck on my knee, there was that ominous tearing sound and they split somewhere up near the backside. Shame. I loved those jeans. They were some American brand, they fit nicely and they were ridiculously long, which is why I bought them. Even I had to roll the cuffs up.

Anyway, since I am walking home from work now I walk right by a Vinnies store, so I popped in on Friday afternoon, just to have a quick squizz for something my sister was after actually, and once in there I did a scan of the jeans rack. How I look for jeans in op shops is just scan along the bottom and see if any are hanging longer than the rest. There are usually so many pairs jammed along a rack that I don’t even begin looking unless I have lots of time I feel like killing, and the owners of pre-loved jeans do wicked things and take the hems up. But I did spy a pair, dangling down below all the others. I pulled them out and they were GAP jeans, 34 inch leg, looking like they’d never been worn. So I tried them on, and thought they actually looked alright, as far as jeans go. Except, here’s the thing: they were called “skinny flare”. I am in the dressing room looking at myself in the mirror thinking ‘what is skinny flare? isn’t that some kind of oxymoron? is that a real jeans category? are these remotely fashionable or will I look like I got lost on the way to the 1970’s?’.

In the end I couldn’t resist the fact that they were long, and they looked new, so I bought them. (I think they might be a size up on my usual, which would explain why they fit, because what I don’t have is “skinny” legs - usually skinny jeans don't get up past my calves, but the flare is working for me here.) Then I had to come home and google “skinny flare”. It turns out I might be right up there on the cusp of fashion people! Apparently, last Spring, in the Northern Hemisphere, where all style comes from, the skinny flares made an appearance. Look at this line up of who is wearing skinny flares! I don’t know who half those people are, but I am pretty sure they are style Queens. It would seem I have Kate Moss (I've heard of her) to thank for the emergence of this style of jean.

So I am feeling alright about these jeans now. When I went to wash them and give them a bit of a scrub in certain places (my Mum, who's one of those hygiene people, thinks it’s a bit disgusting to wear things that have been elsewhere on other people, so I assure her they get the necessary sterilising) I could tell by the way the water was glancing off the fabric that they have never been washed before. Bonus. Hopefully I won’t split them any time soon.

So everybody, now is the time you could help me look trendy, not to mention be uber trendy yourself, and get yourself a pair of skinny flare jeans. (Then if you decide they are really not for you - though why you'd want to when skinny jeans are so last year and flares are the thing - you could make them skinny all over following these instructions. And if you are going to hem jeans, for the sake of tall people in op shops, do it that way please. H/T The Pipers)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

We met on the internet

I had a very pleasant morning this morning, doing something I think I have only done once before, and that is going off to have a coffee with someone I have ‘met’ on the internet. So I caught up with the lovely Cath, who blogs at The Picket Fence, in a café, and over two hours later we were still talking. It’s a rather strange experience, looking out for someone you don't know, followed by those first few minutes where you’re working out if your ideas about this person were remotely true to life (not that I even had a defined set of ideas, but I am sure you know what I mean).

Cath and I have a whole lot of friends in common, from several cities, and worked out we must have been at the same get-together or event several times in Brisbane many years ago, only we didn’t know it then. And now, years later, the paths come around again and we are friends. I am quite amazed at how quickly we fell into sharing lives and I enjoyed myself a lot. Cath is a kindred spirit. She even brought along a copy of CS Lewis's poems to loan me if I didn't have it (but I do).

(Actually, make that three times, as last weekend I caught up with Susannah, who I also met first in person a couple of years ago, after interacting on the internet back when I looked after the EQUIP bookclub website. I was so 'out there' then that I asked Susannah if she wanted to go see a movie, and she said yes.)

Poetry Day - The Hound of Heaven

I am a little aghast that The Hound of Heaven, by Francis Thompson, has never featured on this blog, though I did post a segment of it one year it seems when I took on Valentine's Day. (This is my poem to myself for that wretched day.) I do get a little perturbed by much of the writing directed at women these days, perhaps arising from this 'you are God's Princess' notion and the current obsession with our self-esteem, that you deserve this and deserve that and a guy must be this and that and the other for you or he should be spurned, because you deserve better ... (I mean, don't hear me wrong, there are ways to treat other human beings, as made in the image of God, and if a person can't be decent and respectful then one oughtn't trust oneself to them, but, I don't think I deserve to be treated like the Queen of Sheba.)

So, here is the final stanza of The Hound of Heaven, as something of a corrective to that, and yet about God's hard pursuit of each of us, not because we're inherently worth it, but because he's God, and yet he cares. I have had the portion in italics up on my wall for years, which I take in a slightly different context, as I don't think I have been fleeing from God in the manner of the character in the poem, but to me it is a reminder of where the greatest love is to be found (you can read the entire poem here):

The Hound of Heaven

Now of that long pursuit
    Comes on at hand the bruit;
  That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
    ‘And is thy earth so marred,
    Shattered in shard on shard?
  Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
  Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught’ (He said),
‘And human love needs human meriting:
  How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
  Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
  Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
  Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
  All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
  Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’
  Halts by me that footfall:
  Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
  ‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
  I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’

Francis Thompson

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The secret of a long marriage

Can't say as I have ever taken much notice of Olivia Harrison, but it was refreshing to hear what she has to say here. 53 seconds of internet noise worth listening to.

Olivia Harrison: The Secret Of A Long Marriage from Feeling My Age on Vimeo.

(And since I am talking about marriage, this was a good and somewhat amusing post on Valentine's Day and men and women.)

What is that to thee? follow thou me

I think I mentioned when I was cleaning out some of my stuff that I found some small cards with gold trim on which I had written such little verses as took my fancy. Well, here is one I came across, that has actually been up on my whiteboard for so long I had ceased to see it, featuring a Christina Rossetti poem. Christina Rossetti’s poetry is such a source of true encouragement to me.

This also shows an example of my archaic handwriting, though it is not normally quite so small or neatly constrained as this (and usually I spell “Rossetti” correctly – for shame!). Lest it is completely indecipherable, I have written out what it actually says below.

“What is that to thee? follow thou me.”

Lie still, my restive heart, lie still:
God’s Word to thee saith, “Wait and bear”.
The good which He appoints is good,
The good which He denies were ill:
Yea, subtle comfort is thy care,
Thy hurt a help not understood.
Lord, I had chosen another lot,
But then I had not chosen well;
Thy choice and only Thine is good:
No different lot, search heaven or hell,
Had blessed me fully understood;
None other, which Thou orderest not.

Christina Rossetti

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A giveaway link

So, I am not totally into the whole blogs-as-business-advertising sort of thing, but this is a seriously good giveaway, and I want to be in it, and if I tell you about it, you could be in it too. So, go over to Georgie Love, and you could win books of crafting awesomeness from Meet Me at Mikes, vintage fabrics and other cool stuff. If I won a $50 voucher from Georgie Love, I would buy a brooch, maybe this Call Me one (cause I am not so good at getting on the accessories and I like low-fi things), or a print like this one (cause if I had more money than I knew what to do with I'd probably spend it on artworks).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

And her who was not beloved

Well, I don’t know what anyone else is doing on this particular evening, but I am home alone preparing a bible study on Romans 9. And to make myself totally pathetic, like something out of a Bridget Jones movie, I ate soup and canned tuna for dinner (that was just a coincidence – I can’t remember the last time I ate canned tuna for dinner and that is not standard fare – I just have to work on this study, and clean up a little too as bible study is here tomorrow also, and didn’t feel like fussing).

I wasn’t going to mention Valentine’s Day in a post, because what have I got to say, and I couldn’t be bothered dealing with it in some appropriate manner, to be quite frank. But I am finding Romans 9 quite strangely comforting on this particular evening all the same. Take this quotation from Hosea (in Romans 9:25-26), about God calling the Gentiles into salvation, for one:

Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people’,
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved’.
And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people’,
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God’.

And that is quite a gift to be reminded of on Valentine's Day.

P.S. I went back to the physio yesterday afternoon. I’ve been taking it easy but my back has been quite fine for the last few days, just niggling a little around my left hip. So I asked how long it might be before I could go jogging, and she’s told me to give it at least another week, after commenting “is jogging what you really like to do is it?”. She told me I could go power-walking. Power-walking is a bit underwhelming as exercise when you are used to running, but I am starting to feel like a blob so I shall do it. Today I walked all the way to work and home again (we just won't talk about this morning's walk - it was all a bit sorer than it has been after being pulled around yesterday - what is it with Tuesdays? - but coming home was fine) and I think I am on the mend. Hooray!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Half the vocation of the spiritual guide of men

I thought this was a stirring little passage from Romola, by George Eliot, that gets at something in how one might ‘speak the truth in love’ to another. Fra Girolamo (the book is all Catholic of course, being set in 15th Century Florence) has just come upon and arrested Romola in the midst of her wrongfully taking flight from her life as she knows it (I’ll not give all the story away), and this is the exchange that follows. Personally, I don’t think this is only ‘half the vocation of the priest or spiritual guide of men’, but something we are all, who call ourselves part of the Church, to be engaged in.
‘I will not return. I acknowledge no right of priests and monks to interfere with my actions. You have no power over me.’

‘I know – I know you have been brought up in scorn of obedience. But it is not the poor monk who claims to interfere with you: it is the truth that commands you. And you cannot escape it. Either you must obey it, and it will lead you; or you must disobey it, and it will hang on you with the weight of a chain which you will drag for ever ...’.

She started up with anger in her eyes, and faced the speaker ... She had started up with defiant words ready to burst from her lips, but they fell back again without utterance. She had met Fra Girolamo’s calm glance, and the impression from it was so new to her, that her anger sank ashamed as something irrelevant.

... The source of the impression his glance produced on Romola was the sense it conveyed to her of interest in her and care for her apart from any personal feeling. It was the first time she had encountered a gaze in which simple human fellowship expressed itself as a strongly felt bond. Such a glance is half the vocation of the priest or spiritual guide of men, and Romola felt it impossible again to question his authority to speak to her ...
Perhaps 'a glance' sounds all rather unquantfiable, but it's the in love half of speaking the truth that is here brought into action.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Success and Failure - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I find this quite a strange poem, but I do like the stanza. I don't know what the copyright position is with modern poets, who are yet dead, but here is another by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Picture from here.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Success and failure
suddenly strike and overpower us,
both the same at first,
like the touch of burning heat and freezing cold,
Like meteors
flung from distant heavens,
blazing and threatening,
over our heads.
Those visited stand bemused
amidst the ruins
of their dull, daily lives.

Proud and exalted,
destroying, subduing,
success and failure,
invited or uninvited,
hold festival with
those shattered people.
Dressed and decorated,
the visited
prepare for the sacrificial feast.

Success is full of foreboding,
failure has its sweetness.
Without distinction they appear to come,
the one or the other,
from the unknown.
Both are proud and terrible.

People come from far and wide,
walk by and look,
pausing to stare,
half envious, half afraid,
at the outrage,
where the supernatural,
blessing and cursing at the same time,
entangling and disentangling,
sets forth the drama of human life.
What is success and what is failure?

Time alone distinguishes.
When the incomprehensible, exciting,
sudden event
lapses into wearisome waiting,
when the creeping hours of the day
first reveal the true outlines of failure,
then most give up,
weary of the monotony
of oft-repeated failure,
disappointed and bored with themselves.

That is the hour of steadfast love,
the hour of the mother and the beloved,
the hour of the friend and the brother.
Steadfast love transforms all failure,
and gently cradles it
in the soft
radiance of heavenly light.

Lost arts

Jess, posted this the other day, and I think it must be because she commented on it that I saw it on facebook. It's an example of handwriting, posted on 702 ABC facebook page, from a prison letter, and came with a query as to whether we had lost the art of handwriting. What made me curious is that most people said they couldn't read it, so I had a go and could read it with ease. I do have rather old-fashioned decorative cursive writing myself, that people often comment on. What graphologists would read about my personality from it I don't know. (Curiously, I think my handwriting is quite like my Mum's and my Nanna's and my Mum reckons my younger sister's strange handwriting is like my Dad's, when she never actually met my Dad.)

Anyway, I actually thought the content of the letter was rather beautiful. At first I thought it must be a "romantic" letter, but given it's from Andrew, and it's about Jim, probably not, which makes it an even more unusual expression of affection. I think we have lost this art, of so beautifully articulating our affections, of writing such a letter to the mother of someone who presumably has died, even more so than the art of handwriting. I have copied out below what it actually says, which is not what I expected to read from a prisoner called "Moonlight", though it would seem he might have been a preacher before he decided to rob a bank then ride off into the sunset and become a bushranger.

My dearest Mrs Nesbitt,
To the Mother of Jim no colder
address would be true, My heart to yours
is the same as to my own dearest Mother.
Jim's sisters are my sisters, his friends
my friends, his hopes were my hopes, his
grave will be my resting place and I
trust I may be worthy to be with him
when we shall all meet to part no
more, when an all-seeing God who
can read all hearts will be the Judge.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mythos in relationships and the inconsolable longing after God

Anyone who read my post muddling through Tim Keller's book The Meaning of Marriage on Singleness and searching for your "mythos", must, must now read this post by Lucidus, in which she has done the hard work of disentangling CS Lewis's "inconsolable longing", or Sehnsucht, from the realm of romantic relationships. After writing that post the other day and thinking a little more about Sehnsucht as I had previously understood it, as a piercing desire/longing for something not in this world that points us to God, I have kept shaking my head in some confusion about the appropriate place for this horizontal element of "mythos". Lucidus has articulated why, and it is well worth a read.

The moral tradition of our lives

Our lives make a moral tradition for our individual selves, as the life of mankind at large makes a moral tradition for the race; and to have once acted nobly seems a reason why we should always be noble. But Tito was feeling the effect of an opposite tradition: he had won no memories of self-conquest and perfect faithfulness from which he could have a sense of falling.
George Eliot, Romola

So true. Every small decision we make and step we take is building for us this "moral tradition" of our lives. You could perhaps also call it simply "character" or "integrity". I like the idea that each moment we act rightly fortifies and enables us for the next one (I don’t know that having once been noble is enough reason to always be noble, but it wouldn’t do any harm to put yourself in a position from which it is harder to fall).

And yes, I am still reading Romola. It goes down in my individual history as the longest it has ever taken me to finish a novel. I laid it aside after Book 2 to attend to books I needed to read for book club and others, so I keep coming back to it in between, very slowly. In it you see the way that one lie, made in a moment of shock, snowballs into an ongoing tale of deceit for one character, with the occasional moment in which he wishes he had never made such a path necessary to himself (not that it is necessary to continue in it, but in order to protect his reputation as he sees it it becomes necessary to him). You also come to see what much greater freedom, and safety, there is, ultimately, in living in honesty and integrity.

(Disclaimer: I also know that the life we live before God - and hopefully others also - is about grace, repentance and forgiveness as we continually sin and mess it up and try again (and how I would like a re-run on some things!), and that in Christ is the power to turn lives right around, and I'm not advocating a kind of Victorian legalistic morality, I just thought this was an interesting observation of how the human psyche tends to work.)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The quality of keeping people together

A while back I subscribed to the The Happiness Project blog. Not because I’m into all the hoopla about making your life full of the bluebird of happiness, but out of a sort of curiosity for what is going on in the lives of people who are and how exactly they think you achieve this end. I’ve discovered since that it’s actually quite a sensible site most of the time, with advice like giving yourself a bedtime, getting rid of clutter, building strong relationships ...

I am co-leading a bible study group this year, and part of what I believe this role involves is helping along some of the more relational elements that make a group work well. We had our first meeting last night and I was thinking about this, so I was curious today to read this post about the quality of keeping people together, with a nice little biographical note about the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. It doesn’t really tell you how to go about it, or what it’s made up of specifically, but it got me thinking, and I cruised through some of the comments. The truth is, I don’t think I naturally have this quality in any great abundance. I can be rather fiercely loyal to a few over a long period of time, but I don’t gather crowds around me everywhere I go.

So does anyone out there have any thoughts on the quality of keeping people together and what it involves?

Pain and progress

Even I am bored with posts about my back hurting (I can’t sit around all day reading books now, so I have less blog fuel), but I have learnt a couple of things about being in pain, which might forever (hopefully) increase my sympathies with those suffer from these things chronically.

1) It’s tiring. Really tiring. On a normal day in my life, if I don’t go for a jog or do some form of reasonably rigorous exercise, I don’t often sleep very well. But having injured myself and being forced to lie about all day for a few days, I kept dozing off to sleep and wondering how I could possibly then sleep at night. But I did. I came into this with something of a sleep deficit, so perhaps I had some catching up to do, but all the same. After the exertion of just getting to work on Tuesday, I was so tired when I got home I had to just go off to bed early.

2) It’s amazing how good you are to yourself when you are trying to avoid pain (except when you decide to walk a long way to work, that is). I have been sitting up properly (how I should always sit) and getting down to pick things up properly. Pain serves its purpose. As anyone would know who read Phillip Yancey’s book (is it Where is God when it Hurts?) that details the work of Dr Paul Brand with leprosy patients, being able to feel pain is a great blessing to prevent further injury to yourself. If your body stops feeling pain and giving you that feedback, you are in big trouble.

I came back in to work today, and it was so, so much better than Tuesday, so I am thankful for that. I felt like I’d turned a corner yesterday because getting out of bed was so much better than Tuesday morning. And this morning it was good. While it was my pelvis twisting that was the issue, apparently it’s the injury to the disc in between that will take the time, and up to six weeks to return to normal. On Tuesday morning I was wondering what on earth I had done to myself and if life would ever be normal again. But today I can see myself hopefully pulling out of this in a lot less than six weeks. Then I really am going to keep up with the stretching.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

A less-than-average Tuesday morning

I made it in to work today, which seems like quite an achievement after the last couple of days. But it was a bad idea. I shuffled up the street to get a bus, and had to walk further up the road to the ticket shop and back (because everything is so efficient and prepay only these days). Also in the process I had to go around a big cordoned-off section with police everywhere because there had clearly been an accident, involving a motorcycle, and I don’t think the rider of that bike would be in a very pleasant state.

Then, in order to get anything like door to door transport to my work I need to take two buses, and even that involves a few walks, and I had just missed one, so thought perhaps I could walk the second half. Big mistake. Very big mistake. It became altogether excruciating. Then, while I am shuffling along the path in a world of my own hurt just trying to put one foot in front of the other, I come across a fellow lying unconscious on the footpath with blood pouring out from under his head. I didn’t actually see what happened, but it had only just happened and having my senior first aid certificate I should probably make myself useful at times like this, but I couldn’t even bend over at this point and four other people gathered around and were calling the ambulance, there really was nothing I could do, so I shuffled on.

I made it up the stairs into the corridor outside my work and all went black and I felt terrible and nearly collapsed in a heap outside the door. But I made it to my desk, sank to the floor sweating profusely and just had to lie there for a while. My colleague is standing over me saying ‘dude why are you here?’. This was a very good question. But all is actually quite OK at the moment and my manager has given me a cab charge to get home, which is nice. It’s amazing what a little bit of rest does. I might try to work from home for a couple of days so I can stay off the walking for a while. I’m so annoyed with myself over all this, but that is the way life goes sometimes.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Loss - by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I missed the anniversary of the birth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the 4th of February, but here is a poem to mark the occasion.

Picture from here.


You walk away – love’s happiness and sore pain.
What name shall I give you? Distress, life, bliss,
part of myself, my heart – times past? All gone?
The door slams shut,
I hear your footsteps slowly die away.
What is left when you are gone? Joy, anguish, longing?
I know only this: you go away – and all is gone.

Can you feel now, how I clutch at you,
how I hold you so tight
that it must hurt you?
How I open the wounds,
that your blood may flow,
only to be sure that you keep close to me,
you, so full of real and earthly life?
Can you sense that I have now a terrible longing
for my own suffering?
That I yearn to see my own blood flow,
only that all may not sink
into times that are gone?

Life, what have you done to me?
Why did you come? Why do you pass away?
Times past, if you flee from me,
are you not still my past, mine?

As the sun sets ever more quickly over the ocean,
sucked into the darkness,
so sinks and sinks and sinks,
your image into the seas of forgetfulness,
engulfed in a few waves.
As a puff of warm breath
dissolves in the cool air of morning,
so fades your image,
until your face, your hands, your figure
I no longer know.
A laugh, a glance, a gesture appears to me,
then it fades,
without comfort, without your nearness,
it is destroyed,
an illusion from the past.

I want to breathe the air of your being,
absorb it, lose myself in it,
as on a hot summer’s day, the heavy blossom
invites the bees,
and intoxicates them;
as the mohawk becomes drunk from the privet;
but a rough wind destroys the fragrance and the
and I stand like a fool,
as all vanishes and is gone.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ah for the mythos

In the last chapter and the epilogue of The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller quotes both Jane Eyre and George Herbert's poetry (both of which have featured on this humble blog here and here). Keller is definitely in my "mythos".

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Singleness and searching for your "mythos"

So, I read on till I got up to the chapter on 'Singleness and Marriage' in The Meaning of Marriage, by Tim Keller. I don’t know whether it’s such a great idea to read this book necessarily as a single person. I’ll confess that there were more than a few sighs and tears yesterday, of a perhaps rather self-pitiful nature, over how nice it would be to have someone who was committed to staying and working things through and growing and learning together and helping each other be transformed to be more like Christ (not to mention someone who might help when you’re injured and are finding some things hard and are just lying on the couch by yourself all weekend). But I’ve had some emotional distress lately, and perhaps it was all just seeping out ... with the pain and Nurofen and lying about thinking ... in the cry I had to have.

I did like this part:
To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.
I was having some misgivings in the chapter that went on, a lot, about how marriage “completes” us. Then in the chapter on singleness they actually address what this means for single people. And it would seem to mean being in community and friendship with people of the opposite gender (but we all know that that can get fraught with certain difficulties), because male and female together make up the image of Christ. This is interesting, but I think true. And it is actually one of the things that bothered me when everybody got on that Christopher Ash bandwagon a few years back, in that whatever was the solution to whatever was the “aloneness” problem in Genesis, it involved a person of the opposite gender. It wasn’t just some chums of the same gender, either for friendship or task completion (that and I can’t actually find anywhere in the bible where it says the answer to loneliness is friendship (or indeed that loneliness is a thing that needs an answer, if that's not Genesis 2) – and on a bad day I called Christopher Ash’s book the “single people aren’t lonely, they’re just useless book”, because in it we were told we don’t need a spouse for companionship, rather we need a spouse to do the task we were created to do – and while I don’t necessarily disagree with that and what it means for marriage, it actually puts single people in a worse place than loneliness, if you ask me). But, I digress.

In the chapter on singleness, the Keller’s write about what to look for in a marriage partner. This is where it got surprisingly interesting. Because apparently, women are always looking for men with money (and men for physically attractive women) where we should rather be looking for someone who, after character or virtue, plus mission and "future self", is part of what is called our “mythos”. But here’s the thing, as an NF personality type, I have always, always been looking for someone in my “mythos” (though I’ve never called it that) and never been interested in money. So, I wanted to cheer and shout ‘hooray’ at this point. Only I don’t know that it is so helpful, because I feel that the latter (the "mythos") is the harder thing to find. If all I wanted was a guy with money, well there are plenty of those around, on the lower North Shore of Sydney in particular (not that any of them have asked me out, though, so they are not really options). But I don’t. And I actually think I can detect a guy in my “mythos” fairly quickly. They say that among the temperament types the Ss should stick with other Ss, though all else might be opposite, and the Ns with other Ns. But the Ns are fewer, and often it doesn't take many conversations with someone for me to work out if they’re an N or not (and I have had this same conversation with many Ns), or I come across a blog post that makes me nod my head and say ‘ah, here is someone who is of the race that knows Joseph, or a votary of the blue flower, or a plain old kindred spirit ...’). (And even if you don’t believe in temperament types and all that, as certain temperament types don’t :), you still know when there is a connection with another person or not.)

So, what is this “mythos” they speak of:
Ultimately, your marriage partner should be part of what could be called your “mythos.” [I’ll leave in the ridiculous American punctuation.] C.S. Lewis spoke of a “secret thread” that unites every person’s favourite books, music, places or pastimes. Certain things trigger an “inconsolable longing” that gets you in touch with the Joy that is God. Leonard Bernstein said that listening to Beethoven’s Fifth always made him sure (despite his intellectual agnosticism) that there was a God. Beethoven’s Fifth doesn’t do that for me. But everyone has something that moves them so that they long for heaven or the future kingdom of God (though many nonbelievers know it only as bittersweet longing for “something more”).

Sometimes you will meet a person who so shares the same mythos thread with you that he or she becomes part of the thread itself. This is very hard to describe, obviously.

This is the kind of comprehensive attraction you should be looking for in a future partner.
Well, you can bring that here. I’d be very pleased to have that. (Why it's the Sehnsucht isn't it? – but I can't help questioning whether some people are going to read this section and wonder what on earth he's on about.) The thing is, after reading the first chapter, on how we can be unrealistic about what sort of compatibility we’re after and so on, I thought perhaps I would need to abandon all this “soul mate” stuff if I wanted to get married (the NFs are the soul mate people – it just goes with the poetry). But what Keller describes above is, to me, exactly the stuff soul mates are made of. So now I am confused. I need to think more about how this all fits together.

(Note: I have since gone back to the "soul mate" section in chapter one, where I found that Tim does say that when he met Kathy he sensed very quickly a "kindred spirit", over books and ways of thinking and experiences that brought them joy (these are my people!), but that what most people mean by "soul mate" is actually physical attractiveness and sexual chemistry. I'm definitely in the "kindred spirit" definition of soul mate camp. So, I'm rather relieved I have been given permission to keep that, in some form.)

POSTSCRIPT: Lucidus has written an excellent post redrawing the distinction between Keller's use of "Mythos" and what CS Lewis intended in his use of Sehnsucht, or the "inconsolable longing". I recommend you read it!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Why thou must stretch

There’s some kind of greater moral to this story about stretching and doing your warm-up exercises if you are going to do more rigorous exercise, I am sure.

I had a surprisingly good night’s sleep last night and thought I would be fine today, actually. I turned my alarm off, thought I’d let myself sleep in and have the day off and I could laze about and watch DVDs and read books and it would all be quite grand.

That was before I got out of bed. Oh boy! I was seriously locked up, and nothing I could do was making moving any easier. At one point I tried something and thought I was going to throw up with the pain and pressure, so I literally crawled into the bathroom with tears in my eyes and hung around the toilet bowl for a while in a strange sweat. Not one of my life’s finest moments. And you know, never take putting on your underpants for granted, because there might come a day when you actually wonder if it is going to be impossible.

But I managed to get into the physio, giving myself about half an hour for the short walk, and as I expected one side of my pelvis had rotated and locked up (I had a “big upslip” on one side) and so apparently that makes all the muscles grip and then all the nerves aflame. So it had to be unlocked. But praise the Lord for physios. She pulled me about, taped my back and sent me home to “rest” for the rest of today at least and probably all weekend to let the “flare up” subside (I am not allowed to “sit” or lift anything, so this is going to be interesting – how do you do life without sitting?). Anyway, the walk home from the physio, via the chemist, was quite seriously excruciating and I wondered if anything was achieved. But sure enough, I have come home, taken Neurofen, got out the heat pack, lay in the “rest position” for a while, and I feel like a million dollars. I just got up and made some toast and was amazed.

Now I just have to find something I can do while I lie here (I’m sort of sitting for this and must put the computer away).

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The self-centredness in woundedness

I came home from work early today in some kind of screaming agony. I don’t know what I did to myself this morning, but I went for a jog, then vaguely felt something pull while getting ready for work, then by the time I had then walked in to work (it’s been raining, so I don’t cycle when it’s raining – and someone took to the work bike rack with a bolt cutter the other day, so it is just as well I have a rubbish bike) it was all hurting.

But I think I have been here before. It’s when my pelvis gets somehow out of line (probably pulled out of line by muscles or hamstrings that don’t get enough stretching in my case) and it puts pressure on the sciatic nerves. Then, land sakes, the pain! There is this kind of pinched nerve fire that runs down the front of both legs and radiates out everywhere. I only stayed at work in my torturous chair as long as I did because I had a free 15 minute massage booked in, and I was living in hope that somehow this would fix me. Alas, no.

Then I came home and pulled out the sheet of exercises I got from the physio once upon a time and have been stretching about trying to fix myself ever since, only it’s not working. I am also cursing myself for not being more diligent and preventative in doing them. Sitting is not proving comfortable no matter how hard I try and I jammed up against a hot wheat bag just now, but I have been trying to do some reading, when I am not rolling around on the floor.

Anyway, the fact that I have just rambled on for so long about how I am hurting is a nice segue into the real point of this post. What I have been trying to read this afternoon is the second chapter of The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. Recently I have actually been ruminating, all by myself, in reflection on how I have been behaving in certain situations, about how wounds or fears or insecurities can make us selfish in relationships. That is, if you want or need the other person to do certain things in interactions, either because they, or someone else, has hurt you before, you are more or less being self-centred. And when self-protection becomes totally inhibiting (even when it’s understandable), it is much the same thing.

Then, lo and behold, I just came to this section in the book called The Wounds We Carry. For starters there is the definition: ‘”Woundedness’ is compounded self-doubt and guilt, resentment and disillusionment.” Keller writes about marriage and how people often come to it with a history of mistreatment, and how in conflict those memories can sabotage them. Then comes this (the last paragraph is what I found particularly compelling (and challenging) and I added the emphasis, but I shall give you some lead up):
This [the self-absorption] is not hard to see in others, of course. When you begin to talk to wounded people, it is not long before they begin talking about themselves. They’re so engrossed in their own pain and problems that they don’t realise what they look like to others. They are not sensitive to the needs of others ... We are always, always the last to see our self-absorption. Our hurts and wounds can make our self-centredness even more intractable.

[Then he talks about how in one common way of dealing with wounded people] ... we give wounded people almost nothing but support, encouraging them to stop letting others run their lives, urging them to find their dreams and take steps to fulfil them. That, we think, is the way to healing. But this approach assumes that self-centredness isn’t natural, that it is only the product of some kind of mistreatment.

The Christian approach begins with a different analysis of the situation. We believe that, as badly wounded as persons may be, the resulting self-absorption of the human heart was not caused by the mistreatment. It was only magnified and shaped by it. Their mistreatment poured gasoline on the fire, and the flame and smoke now choke them, but their self-centredness already existed prior to their woundedness ... This is not to say that wounded people don’t need great gentleness, tender treatment, affirmation and patience. It is just that that is not the whole story ...
The rest of the chapter is worth reading also. It’s a different, yet related, issue, but sometimes I get so annoyed with myself. I say to myself to put my security in Christ so I can do something like walk on up to someone for a conversation, without being afraid of them, essentially because I’ve given them too much power to cause me pain (or I am crippled by those sabotaging memories of past pain), and time and time again I fail at it. So then the rest of the chapter went on to talk about the ‘Fear of Christ’ and being controlled by the reality of God’s love for you, that was talking to me from two angles.

In closing, Andrew Cameron has written a nice post on being married for twenty-five years too.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

A rap for crochet

I thought it was worth noting that Apartment Therapy gives my epic crochet project a rap. (Well, not my actual rug, but the design I used.)

(I'm not so sure I like crochet becoming so hipsterish actually. But I suppose I should rejoice in the revival of a good thing. Just let it be known that I was doing it years ago when it was totally uncool.)

This is one seriously labour-intensive bed spread. I know so.