Thursday, January 31, 2013

Shakespeare, 31st January

Cowards die many times before their deaths:
The valiant never taste of death but once.
             Julius Caesar, Act ii., Sc. 2.

But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,
Make gallant show and promise of their mettle:
But when they should endure the bloody spur,
They fall their crests, and, like deceitful jades,
Sink in the trial.
            Julius Caesar, Act iv., Sc. 2.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Shakespeare, 30th January

The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Tempest, Act iv., Sc. I.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Shakespeare, 29th January

                       I hold it ever,
Virtue and cunning were endowments greater
Than nobleness and riches: careless heirs
May the two latter darken and expend;
But immortality attends the former,
Making a man a god.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Act iii., Sc. 2.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Summer that we did not prize

Photo by Joy St Clair.

The Summer that we did not prize,
Her treasures were so easy
Instructs us by departing now
And recognition lazy --

Bestirs itself -- puts on its Coat,
And scans with fatal promptness
For Trains that moment out of sight,
Unconscious of his smartness.

Emily Dickinson

Poetry Day - There comes an hour

I had a moment with Emily Dickinson the other evening. I have her Complete Poems, all 1775 of them, and there are treasures unplumbed within it.

From what I can ascertain of the poems I have read she had a fraught relationship with God. Poems in which He is the subject veer from submission to defiance and everything in between.

But I did appreciate this one:

There comes an hour when the begging stops,
When the long interceding lips
Perceive their prayer is vain.
"Thou shalt not" is a kinder sword
Than from a disappointing God
"Disciple, call again."

Emily Dickinson

Just for the record, I don't read this as God himself being disappointing, but God disappointing her prayer. It was interesting to ponder this poem in view of last week's sermon on Hannah and her persistent prayers. For sure, there are things to be learnt in the waiting and persistence. Still, uncertainty is difficult, and sometimes even a definite negative gives relief (see also this poem of Dickinson's If You Were Coming in the Fall, that I have blogged previously).

Shakespeare, 28th January

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.
                    Macbeth, Act v., Sc. 5.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A surprise package

I came home from work on Thursday and found a little surprise package in the mail. Once again I came to the conclusion that I had won this through the Frankie Magazine newsletter. Woot!

It's a necklace from Monster Threads. Cute isn't it?

Shakespeare, 27th January

                        Honours thrive
When rather from our acts we them derive
Than our fore-goers.

All's Well that Ends Well, Act ii., Sc. 3.

In nature there's no blemish but the mind;
None can be called deformed but the unkind.

Twelfth Night, Act iii., Sc. 4.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Shakespeare, 26th January

Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends.

First Part of King Henry VI., Act iii., Sc. 2.

We thought there was no more behind,
But such a day to-morrow as to-day,
And to be boy eternal.

Winter's Tale, Act i., Sc. 2.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Shakespeare, 25th January

Heaven doth with us, as we with torches do;
Not light them for themselves: for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, 'twere all alike
As if we had them not. Spirits are not finely touched
But to fine issues; nor Nature never lends
The smallest scruple of her excellence,
But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines
Herself the glory of a creditor.
               Measure for Measure, Act i., Sc. 1.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

An old friend comes to dinner

I had a friend I haven’t seen in years over for dinner last night. We grew up going to the same church, but she was three years behind me in school so I didn’t have a whole lot to do with her there, but then when I was in fourth year at university, and she was in first year, we shared a house in Armidale. Well it was not a house so much as the top of the old Catholic seminary, which was bought by the Free Presbyterians. It was a queer place, with a round room we turned into the lounge-room in the top of the steeple, though we didn’t really use that room because it had no window that you could actually see out and weird acoustics, but it was ideal for students. There were four large rooms down a long corridor, which each had off-peak heating, a big cork board on the wall, a whole wall of cupboards, a sink in the corner (amazing the bathroom hassles that can be solved by everyone having their own sink and mirror) and a great big dormer window you could sit in to read or study and look over the paddocks beyond. And sometimes we’d act like we were in a Manhattan movie and hang out on the fire escape (till we were told that’s against fire regulations or some other thing).

This friend was in the room next to mine and we used to clown around some. Yet I have scarcely seen her since. I finished university, while she stayed on, then I went off to Queensland while she moved south and our lives went separate ways. She has been married and had three children (sadly she is now separated, and has been so for years because she’s tried hard to reconcile the relationship and not get divorced, but the risk of relationships is that you are in them with other people, and we don’t get to control the actions of other people) and I’ve stayed single …

We’ve been commenting on facebook for a few years now that we should “catch up”, so I decided to bite the bullet and see if she wanted to come for dinner, even though she lives way out in the North-West and I live in the Inner-West of Sydney. And to my surprise and delight, she was happy to trek in to my place on a 'school night'.

We had a really nice evening just picking up where we left off all those years ago, catching up on life since and discussing how unpredictable it all is, but also how we can trust that God is working in and through what comes. I’m hoping we don’t leave it so long till next time.

Shakespeare, 24th January

Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates;
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Julius Caesar, Act i., Sc. 2.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Father fiction finished

I finished Father Fiction, by Don Miller on the weekend, and have been wondering what and how to write about it since. I enjoyed it. I laughed and cried and learnt a thing or two. It’s quite simple in some ways, and I realised as I read on that it really is geared to teenagers/young adults, whereas I would perhaps have liked something that delved into a bit more complexity. Also, while it’s a Christian book, and I appreciated the section on how God “fathers” us and other particularly Christian insights, it’s also something I think could work for someone who is not a Christian and Miller seems to have taken a more open approach here. I discovered that Challies actually reviewed the earlier version, To Own and Dragon, so I won't repeat that, and his criticism was that it was not so rooted in Scripture (but Don Miller’s audience is usually something other than the usual evangelical one), and that is true and more of this might have been good, but I think it’s an easily accessible book.

One staggering thing I learnt from the book is that 85% of people in prison grew up without fathers. 85% of them! It’s interesting to explore why that is. The book has within it some very practical chapters on making decisions, work ethic, integrity, education, dating ... things that kids are in danger of not being guided through well without fathers. These chapters made me more aware of the fact that as we develop we don’t just know things, and that you can take for granted, or rather just not notice, the way you learn basic life functions (thankfully I think I gleaned a few of these somewhere along the way – and I’ve stayed out of prison!).

There are a few things underlying concepts scattered through the book that resonated with me. Like this one:
Walking through the park one night I realised I was operating out of feeling of inferiority. Deep inside, I believed life was for other people—that joy was for others, and responsibility was for others, and so on and so on. In life there were people who were meant to live and people who were accidentally born, elected to plod the globe as the despised.
That might sound all a bit woeful. But I understand something of what he means. I’ve realised that I feel like some things are reserved for other people. Perhaps that feeling comes to anyone who has grown up with any kind of “difference”. I think this is as much a function of my father dying as my mother’s outlook as well. She was often talking like she wasn’t much good at anything (which is not true in any case), and saying families wouldn’t want to come over to our house because it was boring for the husband and for boys ... and I absorbed something of an idea that our family wasn’t very interesting and maybe didn’t have a whole lot to contribute to the world.

But the way Don Miller overcame all of this is admirable, and he later writes a chapter on Self-Pity – How to annoy people and be downwardly mobile, because he’s not into just feeling sorry for yourself and it’s oh so true that self-pity is very unattractive. The purpose is rather to acknowledge and work through your luggage, towards better things. To that end his concluding chapter is called Empathy - Wounded Healers. I liked this:
Even though I’ve highlighted the battles of the fatherless, I don’t want you to believe that because you grew up fatherless you are alone in a world of well-adjusted people; nothing like this is true. If you sit down with your friends to scratch the skin, you’ll find they have the same blood as you, the same decaying bone, the same issues, the girl issues, the athlete issues, the spoiled-brat issues, there’s a whole catalog of issues available to us.
The book ends with an encouragement to use your own wounds to reach out to others, which is a good one.

It’s not hard to find a kid whose father has left these days, and I feel like I am now more aware of potential issues, and if I knew one who I thought might benefit, I’d consider giving them this book. There's also something to be learned from John MacMurray, the man who came along and mentored Don Miller, who features extensively in the book and actually co-authored the earlier version. You can't not appreciate this fellow and his approach to helping others.

Shakespeare, 23rd January

Let's take the instant by the forward top;
For we are old, and on our quick'st decrees
The inaudible and noiseless foot of Time
Steals ere we can effect them.

All's Well that Ends Well, Act v., Sc. 3.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Romance for Calvinists

Well, sort of, because there'd be no "re" about it would there. But we have a little "love as an ongoing choice" happening here ... I like it.

(A newspaper blackout by Austin Kleon, from his instagram.)

Shakespeare, 22nd January

                         Fling away ambition:
By that sin fell the angels; how can man then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?
Love thyself last; cherish those hearts that hate thee;
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,
To silence envious tongues. Be just, and fear not:
Let all the ends thou aim'st at be thy country's
Thy God's, and truth's.            
King Henry VIII., Act iii., Sc. 2.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Shakespeare, 21st January

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.

As You Like It, Act ii., Sc. 7.

(P.S. I decided I didn't like that drab Shakespeare book cover either, so here is January, in all it's foxed glory.)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A new look

People I just got a little, but only a little, closer to a design for the 21st century. I quite like to pretend I write poetic and whimsical things on a type writer, ensconced in a cabin in the mountains (and the geographic Confederation of Helvetica would do nicely, though I am not a devotee of their font).

I might keep fiddling, but for now I feel a little less archaic. I was going to download a fancy template, but then heard a rumour they can interfere with posts, decided I was ill-equipped to deal with that sort of fall-out, either in technical skill or patience, so fiddled with a blogger one, and something I've been putting off for about three years took about 15 minutes.

Shakespeare, 20th January

Ah how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour which doth in it live.

Sonnet LIV

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Poetry Day - Hannah's prayer

Today's poem is actually a hymn. We are having a series of sermons for January on characters from the bible, and what we can learn from them (with the qualifier that it's not an "exegetical" series). Last Sunday night was Hannah: the great woman of prayer from 1 Sam 1:1-2:10. You can listen to it here. At the close of the sermon Paul Dale read us this hymn, written by John Newton, which I had never heard before. I liked it, and so here it is (taken from here).

When Hannah pressed with grief,
Poured forth her soul in prayer;
She quickly found relief,
And left her burden there:
Like her in every trying case,
Let us approach the throne of grace.

When she began to pray
Here heart was pained and sad;
But ere she went away,
Was comforted, and glad:
In trouble, what a resting place
Have they who know the throne of grace.

Though men, and devils rage,
And threaten to devour;
The saints from age to age,
Are safe from all their pow'r:
Fresh strength they gain to run their race,
By waiting at the throne of grace.

Eli her case mistook,
How was her spirit moved
By his unkind rebuke?
But God her cause approv'd,
We need not fear a creature's face,
While welcome at the throne of grace.

She was not fill'd with wine,
(As Eli rashly thought)
But with a faith divine,
And found the help she sought:
Though men despise and call us base,
Still let us ply the throne of grace.

Men have not power or skill,
With troubled souls to bear,
Though they express good-will,
Poor comforters they are:
But swelling sorrows sink apace,
When we approach the throne of grace.

Numbers before have tried,
And found the promise true;
Nor one been yet denied,
Then why should I or you?
Let us by faith their footsteps trace,
And hasten to the throne of grace.

As fogs obscure the light,
And taint the morning air,
But soon are put to flight,
If the bright sun appear;
Thus Jesus will our sorrows chase,
By shining from the throne of grace.

John Newton

Shakespeare, 19th January

In the corrupted currents of this world,
Offence's gilded hand may shove by justice;
And oft 'tis seen, the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law: but 'tis not so above:
There is no shuffling, there the action lies
In his true nature; and we ourselves compelled,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence.
                                                     Hamlet, Act iii., Sc. 3.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Shakespeare, 18th January

To mourn a mischief that is past and gone
Is the next way to draw new mischief on.
What cannot be preserved when Fortune takes,
Patience her injury a mockery makes.
The robb'd, that smiles, steals something from the thief;
He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.

Othello, Act i., Sc. 3.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Growing up fatherless revisited

The Brothers Karamazov has been pushed aside already. Yesterday I received Father Fiction, by Don Miller, a memoir of sorts about growing up without a father, in the mail. Tim Challies actually suggested I read this years ago, when it was called To Own a Dragon (yes, I sent an email to Tim Challies and he wrote back to me — isn’t that nice? — though as I recall he said he hadn't read the book, it was just an idea).

I keep trying to explore the fatherless idea, on and off in my life. Sometimes I forget about it, and other times I feel like there is some big piece of me missing, or rather a piece of understanding of the way things are supposed to be that is missing, and of knowing how to do things, and that the clue lies in growing up fatherless. The clue to things like why I can never seem to work anything out with guys, for one. I keep wondering if there is something I will read one day that will suddenly make sense of everything. But I doubt that.

So I started to read Father Fiction while I walked home. I was interrupted for a time by the first aid officer from work catching up with me, meaning I had to put my book away and make small talk till they went there own way, but soon I could get back to it. Then I was killing myself laughing — which means shaking and quietly spluttering, because I was out in public you know — when another woman came up behind me and must have thought I was crazy. Then last night on the couch a few tears made their way slowly down my face.

Flicking back I can’t find any particular, short passage to quote. But in chapter two I was well and truly sucked in by Don writing this:
It makes you wonder if by having a dad around—just his being there reading the morning paper and smoking cigars at poker with his friends and having him read you a story at night—you were supposed to understand something. Lately, I have been curious about what that something is, and whether or not a person could understand it even if his father took off.
Yes. Then later he writes:
It’s odd to be talking about this as an adult. But as I’ve processed the ramifications of growing up without a father, I’ve realised the incredible hole in my heart this absence has left.
I understand. It’s why a few years ago I wrote a poem called The Hole. (I posted it here, but I am not going to link it – I am scarcely game enough to go back and look at it myself, lest I cringe.)

I might post some pertinent bits as I go along. So far I am liking this book.

Shakespeare, 17th January

From lowest place when virtuous things proceed,
The place is dignified by the doer's deed:
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .
The property by what it is should go,
Not by the title.

All's Well that Ends Well, Act ii., Sc. 3.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Me and John Calvin

So, apparently, John Calvin was a Myers-Briggs INFJ. That makes Calvin and Jesus. I think I need to go and do something different with my life.

(During a lunch time perusal I discovered Jo posted a link to a personality test, so I did it yet again, quickly and with reckless abandon, deliberately wondering if I might be something else, but no, once more an INFJ, with my weakest preference being J over P. I'm doomed. Then I randomly clicked a button about career choices and famous people see the bottom of the screen there.)

Shakespeare, 16th January

The chariest maid is prodigal enough,
If she unmask her beauty to the moon:
Virtue itself 'scapes not calumnious strokes:
The canker galls the infants of the spring,
Too oft before their buttons be disclosed,
And in the morn and liquid dew of youth
Contagious blastments are most imminent.
Be wary then: best safety lies in fear.
                                                   Hamlet, Act i., Sc. 3.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Shakespeare, 15th January

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise;
This fortress, built by Nature for herself,
Against infection and the hand of war.

King Richard II., Act ii., Sc. I.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Last Time for Everything

I’m just going to copy this here, because I've found it and I like it, and because someday, as I go to a funeral somewhere in the world, I might have need to remember it. From The Cymbal Crashing Clouds, by Ben Shive (H/T The Rabbit Room):

Once more to the Russians

I might be at this a long time, but I have decided to wade into The Brothers Karamazov. I've owned it for years, but not yet taken it up. Up until now Dostoevsky and I have not been very good friends. I read A Gentle Spirit, in which “a man lays bare his tortured soul” (oh yes, he does), which ends with the most dismal paragraph in all of literature. Then I read Crime and Punishment, which you also do well to read and keep your sanity, and as I have said here before: there aren’t enough despicable adjectives in the English language to describe what I think of Raskolnikov and his repulsive delusions of superiority.

But apparently, apparently, The Brothers Karamazov is different.

When the first chapter described a woman who created imaginary obstacles in her romantic life, so she could imitate Ophelia, jump off a cliff and die as a tragedy, it wasn’t looking good (though that was actually somewhat humorous, as it is narrated seemingly to make a point about how absurd some folks can be), then a few chapters later is the wife who dies of nervous hysteria, but it is actually not too bad so far. What’s more, a character has made an appearance whom I quite like for now, which I have come not to expect readily from the Russians.

So, I am telling you all this in the hope that it might motivate and shame me into finishing it ...

Shakespeare, 14th January

His words are bonds, his oaths are oracles;
His love sincere, his thoughts immaculate,
His tears pure messengers sent from his heart,
His heart as far from fraud as heaven from earth.

The Gentlemen of Verona, Act ii., Sc. 7.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Poetry day - If any one is thirsty

I am still chugging my way through the ESV Study Bible, reading all the notes and introductions as I go. I am now in the New Testament, which is a small relief. I’ve slowed down a little here, and stopped trying to get through anything close to four chapters a day.

Late last year I read through the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, so I was well placed for Christmas. I am now in John’s gospel. You could be forgiven for finding some of the things Jesus says in the book of John, or the way they are recorded there, a little peculiar, I say. I have heard the stories and the metaphors so many times they are familiar, but every now and then they strike me as really strange ways of communicating to people (though perhaps that is because the way we communicate ideas has changed also). Like near the end of chapter six when he starts talking about being the living bread that comes from heaven, and how anyone who feeds on his flesh has eternal life. And then in chapter seven, from vs 37, where he stands up at a feast and begins to tell everyone that if they thirst they can come to him and drink, and out of their hearts will flow rivers of living water.

Oh course, it all makes sense after the crucifixion and resurrection, and it's all good news, but then it must have been puzzling.

I have recently re-read this sonnet by Don Carson, from Holy Sonnets of the Twentieth Century. I like the way these sonnets make you see the old and familiar truths through new eyes. This one is based on John 7: 37, and also John 19: 28, 29.


“If any one is thirsty, let him come
To me and drink”—this drink that can’t be sold
Or bought, thirst-quenching nectar, spirit gold,
This fountain out of heaven, given, not won.
Beyond all praise, beyond all princely sum,
The heavenly draught bestows a wealth untold,
The life of God. The thirsty may be bold
To claim the gift held out by God’s own Son.
A drink so rich could not be wholly free:
Fulfilling Scripture, Jesus speaks again:
He gives the draught—transcendent irony—
Who whispers, “I am thirsty,” through his pain.
A human thing, this agony of thirst
By which the arid chains of death were burst.

D. A. Carson

Shakespeare, 13th January

                       Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hooks of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade.
                                                    Hamlet, Act i., Sc. 3.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

It's time for a slow conversation

I meant to put this link, from the Harvard Business Review (H/T Duncan), about what is needed to 'optimise connectivity, in that last post, and then forgot.

The author gives an interesting hierarchy of communication from the least to the most personal, of: email, social-network messaging (e.g. Facebook or Twitter), text, handwritten note, phone/Skype conversation, and live in-person meeting. I find that interesting, and wouldn't necessarily have put social-network messages and texts before email.

Here is one thing he writes:
Of course, not all interactions require the richness afforded by a meeting, but a handwritten note, phone call, or coffee, will always carry greater fidelity, signal and weight than bits and bytes.

From a poet to a clergyman

Since I am singing the praises of letters, is not this one beautiful? It is a letter from the poet Thomas Gray (1716-71) to William Mason. This is quoted from A Literature Collection, compiled by Mary Batchelor.
William Mason (1725-97),  English clergyman and poet, was a friend of the poet Gray. Mason published this letter because, he said, 'it then breathed, and still seems to breathe, the very voice of friends ...'

I break in upon you at a moment, when we least of all are permitted to disturb our friends, only to say, that you are daily and hourly present to my thoughts. If the worst be not yet past, you will neglect and pardon me; but if the last struggle be over, if the poor object of your long anxieties be no longer sensible of your kindness, or to her own sufferings, allow me (at least in idea, for what could I do more, were I present, more than this?) to sit by you in silence, and pity from my heart not her, who is at rest, but you, who lost her. May He, who made us, the master of our pleasures and of our pains, preserve and support you! Adieu.

Shakespeare, 12th January

There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
Would men observingly distil it out;
For our bad neighbour makes us early stirrers,
Which is both healthful, and good husbandry;
Besides, they are our outward consciences,
And preachers to us all; admonishing
That we should dress us fairly for our end.
                                                King Henry V., Act iv., Sc. I.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Shakespeare, 11th January

Beauty is but a vain and doubtful good,
A shining gloss that vadeth suddenly;
A flower that dies when first it 'gins to bud,
A brittle glass that's broken presently:
A doutbful good, a gloss, a glass, a flower,
Lost, vaded, broken, dead within an hour.
                                                      Passionate Pilgrim

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A few blinks from around the web

Is honesty always true? A very helpful post from Barnabas Piper about the difference between truth and honesty. Turth is the reality of a matter, but people can speak differently about that truth honestly, due to different emotional and intellectual filters.

Resurrecting the pleasure of the well-written letter I like to write letters, and I like to receive them (hint, hint, you know who you are someone I have written a letter and you didn’t write back, should you ever happen to read this blog). The last paragraph:
Regain the habit of long-form letter-writing and you slow the world down – with all the therapeutic benefits you’d expect. Besides which, letters have a glorious materiality. They are complex packets of visual and tactile stimuli: ink, paper, handwriting, drawings, marmalade splodges, lipstick… As John Donne observed: ‘Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls/For thus friends absent speak.’
Near-death experiences for cowards Ways people's lives were changed by near death experiences, from Austin Kleon, who read the obituaries every morning.

Do you believe you are good at relationships? This is an interesting one. Without being all Disney and saying “believe in yourself” I think you do have to acknowledge that you can contribute something, in order to contribute it. I used to look at people who did what seemed like self-appointed ministry and quietly think ‘they must have a lot of self-assurance to think they can do that, and people need/want them to do that’ (you can be humble and say it’s all about God working through you, but then you might have to acknowledge that some people are better equipped for God working through them - and the reality is that most people in formal ministries are there because someone took them aside and said they should be, because they were good at it), but I don't think that way anymore. And I’ve long thought I wasn’t any good at romantic relationships, in particular, but that turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy, because if you don’t like to assume someone might be interested, you don’t respond very well to their efforts to show an interest, and that just makes it difficult for everyone (and then if they get discouraged and give up, you have reinforced your idea).

Finding God. Another sermon from Tim Keller, on Psalms 42 and 43. Here he talks about spiritual dryness, and how it will come upon us all, even if we keep up our daily Christian to-do list, and it isn't a result of sin.
That said, he discusses some causal factors:
1) Disruption of community
2) Disillusionment at the events of life
3) Physical deprivation – not eating or sleeping

And then some of the cures from the Psalmist:
1) Pours out his soul
2) Analyses his hopes (spiritual dryness is not necessarily because of sin, but you can still do some self-analysis, and there are some interesting points here about how spiritual dryness can reveal false hopes or inordinate loves – I know I definitely get discouraged, in all spheres, when things I had hoped for fall flat, and sometimes I'd just put too much hope in the wrong thing)
3) Remembers the grace and loving kindness of God
4) Preaches sermons to his heart

Arise Aunty Army An opinion piece from the Sydney Morning Herald about the ways Aunties can be a force for good, particularly in the lives of girls.

Story of survival from the Tasmania Bushfires Amazing story of how some grandparents saved themselves and their five grandchildren by taking refuge under a jetty

Shakespeare, 10th January

The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest:    .     .     .
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
When mercy seasons justice.
                                           Merchant of Venice, Act iv., Sc. I.              

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The strange power of encouragement

On Monday afternoon I had my annual performance review at work. I actually came away basking in a rosy glow, not just because I received a good rating overall, but because of some of the specific things my manager mentioned. I was thanked for making a positive and helpful contribution to team meetings, rather than going straight to whinging about anything new, as some do, and also commended for continuing to work well with someone who is renowned for being difficult to work with.

But the thing is, I also felt a little bit convicted. I have done my share of whinging about aspects of how the company I work for does things, and I have done plenty of moaning about the disordered psychology of that difficult person.

And from feeling convicted, I also felt challenged to do better. Back at my desk later in the afternoon I was thinking about how it was a case of that psychological phenomenon where, when you encourage people for showing signs of something, even if it could be improved, it inspires them to do better.

Then Alain de Botton tweeted this the next day:
As parents know, flattering someone ('you're such a good brother') has its role in enhancing the trait that's as yet only half there.
I need to remember this. Encouragement of what’s there can do a whole lot more for motivating improvement (not to mention maintaining good will) than criticism of what isn’t.

Shakespeare, 9th January

Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name,
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

Othello, Act iii., Sc. 3.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Still talking about the weather

Well folks, I did it. I remembered I had sunscreen at work, so I could at least prevent my skin from incinerating, applied it liberally and set off from work. My phone actually told me it was 42 degrees, so that is what I am saying. See:

(This is my proof that at 5.57 pm it was 42 degrees. I took the picture at 6.22 pm when I got home before updating the weather, to keep the proof. It's now dropped back to 40 degrees.)

The sun was actually mostly behind some clouds, there was a slight breeze blowing, and the humidity was only about 16%, so it really was not as bad as I thought it might have been. You could hardly tell you were sweating because the sweat evaporated from your skin and vanished so quickly.

It reminded me strangely of the years of my youth. I grew up in an inland country town, where temperatures were regularly high in the summer (and frosty in the winter), but it was a dry heat, and I still prefer 42 in a dry heat to 32 swamped in humidity.

Talking about the weather

I know it’s superficial and predictable to discuss the weather, but today is an exception. For those of you who don’t live in my vicinity, today it is expected to reach 43 degrees Celsius in Sydney (that's 109 in fahrenheit). Currently it is apparently 39.3 degrees outside and rising. I'm in no hurry to go out and verify that. The entire state of New South Wales is covered in fire danger ratings ranging from “very high” to “catastrophic” (which hopefully won’t be realised). For the Sydney region it is “extreme”. I would have worked from home today except I had to come in for a meeting. What is not good about this is that the walk home is about 4.5 kms, and it is supposed to still be 40 degrees at 6 pm, and THEN still be 35 degrees at midnight. Argh! I also completely ridiculously forgot to bring a hat, and the UV index is “extreme”. I might have to think about alternatives for getting home.

Oh well, if it doesn’t kill me, somehow it will make me stronger. And tomorrow we are expecting 25 degrees and drizzle. Nice.

Shakespeare, 8th January

Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth,
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow;
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow.

Sonnet LX

Monday, January 07, 2013

Meditation - Tim Keller

I listened to this leadership training seminar on Meditation by Tim Keller today at work. It’s rather, well, novel actually. This talk is based on Psalm 1, and the reasons why it is the first book of the 'bible’s prayer book', when it is not actually a prayer itself. Keller says this is because it describes the gateway to prayer, that being meditation, on the ‘law of God’, which is a step between bible study and prayer. Then he talks about ways to go 'higher up and deeper in' and calls in some interesting sources, including George Müller, to describe exactly what meditation is. (I should add that as I listen to it it runs to 26.20, then starts again, so you can just begin at 26.20 and listen to the end.)

I’m thinking of purchasing the rest of the series, called Gospel Spirituality, because he has whet my appetite and curiosity with this one.

On a related note, before Christmas I was ordering some children’s books (also reviewed by Dave MacDonald here) for my nieces and nephews from Matthias Media, and I got them to add in a sale copy of God Is Enough by Ray Galea. This book is a meditation on several Psalms, if you will. I’ve only read Psalm 139 so far, but that has been good. He begins with describing the hunger of a human soul; to be known, to share their life with someone, someone who understands and accepts them. Then he delves into the Psalm to show how God meets this longing.

Other Psalms covered in the book are 8, 2, 22, 51, 90, 19, 15, 73 and 78. I was really encouraged by Paul Tripp’s books meditating on Psalms 27 and 51 last year, and this looks like a similarly encouraging book.

Shakespeare, 7th January

       'Tis the mind that makes the body rich;
And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,
So honour peereth in the meanest habit.
What, is the jay more precious than the lark,
Because his feathers are more beautiful?
Or is the adder better than the eel,
Because his painted skin contents the eye?
                                         Taming of the Shrew, Act iv., Sc. 3.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Violet's rug finale

I realised I never did post the end of Violet's rug. So here it is. She had a little play with it and dolly on Christmas day, though I think it wasn't quite working for her and what she had in mind.

Shakespeare, 6th January

                                   Love all, trust a few,
Do wrong to none: be able for thine enemy
Rather in power, than use; and keep thy friend
Under thy own life's key: be checked for silence,
But never taxed for speech. What heaven more will,
That thee may furnish, and my prayers pluck down,
Fall on thy head.
                                     All's Well That Ends Well, Act i., Sc. I.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Poetry Day - The Love Poem

I thought I would bring back the poetry in 2013, with a poem of poems. If you know a few of the classic love poems, you will recognise some phrases in this one.

Picture of the Pride and Prejudice Cozy Classics.

The Love Poem

Till love exhausts itself, longs
for the sleep of words ⎯
                                    my mistress' eyes
to lie on a white sheet, at rest
in the language ⎯
            let me count the ways ⎯
or shrink to a phrase like an epitaph ⎯
                                                         come live
with me ⎯
or fall from its own high cloud as syllables
in a pool of verse ⎯
                                one hour with thee.

Till love gives in and speaks
in the whisper of art ⎯
                                    dear heart,
how like you this? ⎯
love's lips pursed to quotation marks
kissing a line ⎯
                         look in thy heart

and write ⎯
love's light fading, darkening,
black as ink on a page ⎯
                                     there is a garden
in her face.

Till love is all in the mind ⎯
                                           O my America

my new-found land ⎯
or all in the pen
in the writer's hand ⎯
                                 behold, thou art fair ⎯
not there, except in a poem,
known by heart like a prayer,
both near and far,
near and far ⎯
                       the desire of the moth
for the star.

Carol Ann Duffy

Shakespeare, 5th January

Then, England's ground, farewell: sweet soil, adieu,
My mother, and my nurse, that bears me yet!
Where'er I wander, boast of this I can --
Though banish'd, yet a true-born Englishman.

King Richard II., Act i., Sc. 3.

Friday, January 04, 2013

A bibliophile wedding

I'm tempted to say that this is cool too, but maybe it's more nerd-like. But I like it. If you fell for someone over their book collection, this is one way to celebrate it. (From here.)

Shakespeare, 4th January

Sweet are the uses of adversity;
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

As You Like It, Act ii., Sc. I.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The family cool

Wanna see something cool? I hesitate to use the word cool these days, lest doing so makes me very uncool, but I reckon this is actually truly cool. It's my cousin, doing his cool thing, in a rad t-shirt, filmed by his brother on another skateboard.

(He has a collection of videos here, if skateboarding is your thing.)

Shakespeare, 3rd January

The purest treasure mortal times afford
Is spotless reputation; that away,
Men are but gilded loam or painted clay.
A jewel in a ten-times-barred-up chest,
Is a bold spirit in a loyal breast.
Mine honour is my life; both grow in one;
Take honour from me, and my life is done.
                                      King Richard II., Act i., Sc. I.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Some of my holiday reading

While I was in Brisbane at my Mum’s place my older sister, brother-in-law and two nieces from Melbourne were there as well, and then my younger sister, brother-in-law and two little nieces and nephews came and stayed a few days also. This was loads of fun, and it was great to spend time with each of these people, but as you can imagine the house was groaning at the seams from the sheer physical presence all these people. My younger brother-in-law actually had to leave on Boxing Day for six months in Afghanistan, which was rather sad. We hope and pray God protects him while he’s there, and his family while he’s gone.

Despite all of that, I did actually manage to do little bits of reading. I finished The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, with the help of airport waits and the plane ride to Brisbane. This was definitely enlightening. I am sure I will need to go back to it in the future, as it’s not something to be read for hours non-stop (we circled around for an extra hour waiting to land in Brisbane, so I kept stuffing my head with it, till it was hurting, then I reviewed some parts of it on the plane ride back), but I particularly enjoyed the fourth, fifth and sixth habits, which deal more with relating to people. However, I have tried to learn from the first three foundational habits and have even written a personal mission statement of sorts in the last two days back home. Lookout for a more effective me. I’ve also cracked open an unused Moleskine, with the aim of going back to journaling more this year. I haven’t been so regular at that for years, but I think it helps me live a more conscious and evaluated life.

For Christmas I was given Naomi Reeds latest book Heading Home: My Search for Purpose in a Temporary World. Once again I have been spared the work of reviewing it properly by Dave MacDonald having already done so (I gained much from her first two books My Seventh Monsoon and No Ordinary View, but clearly not having read those didn’t stop this one from being of benefit to Dave). I managed to sneak into my room in small interludes to read chapters of it and finish it in the few days after Christmas, as the chapters are short and easy to read and it’s not a long book. This was so encouraging, particularly as I head into a new year. I want to read it more slowly again also as I really just whizzed through, but every chapter had something pertinent to say to me. Chapter Eight is called Sitting Still, and had within it echoes of what I was trying to say in that last post last year about the nature of God's love. I highly recommend this one.

I was also give Tim Keller’s new book Every Good Endeavour, so that is next on my reading list. I have to return to work tomorrow, boo hoo, but will hopefully manage to carry some of this planned and missioned (I know, I just made that verb/word up – add it to missional, which is also made-up) me along through the year. I hope you have all had a good beginning to the new year.

Shakespeare, 2nd January

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.

Sonnet LX

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Shakespeare, 1st January

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries,
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
                                  Julius Caesar, Act iv., Sc. 3.