Monday, October 27, 2014

The mess worth making - Part 3

I am still reading my way through Relationships: A mess worth making by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp. It's good, and precipitates numerous anagnorises (I secretly love big words). Here is another little snippet from the chapter on obstacles (the chapter on forgiveness is also very good).
Conflict with others is one of God’s mysterious, counterintuitive ways of rescuing us from ourselves. God uses it to get us where he wants to take us before we die. Because we don’t usually think that trials can be used in such a positive way, this truth catches us by surprise. But it shouldn’t. All kinds of suffering, including conflict with others, can be redemptive because of the grace of God. By redemptive, we mean that God can use conflict (as well as everything else in our lives) to defeat sin in us and make us more like Christ, with a love for him and others that reflects his nature.
God uses other people to mysteriously and counter-intuitively rescue us from self-glory and self-love. Why does he do that? Because he loves us more than we love ourselves! ... Who is God using in your life in this way? Do you see that your wise, sovereign, and gracious Redeemer is acting on your behalf when he placed this person in your life? If so, you are growing in your ability to engage in conflict in godly ways. Remember, you can’t avoid conflict, but it can be a place where amazing growth takes place!
James [in James 4:7-10] calls the person in conflict to engage in spiritual warfare. The devil uses parts of creation to entice your still-sinful heart away from God. He wants you to fall prey to self-glory and self-love. James has already said that you are receiving grace so that you can humble yourself. He now commands you to be humble and to cry out to God for help. Through this process your heart is changed, and you begin to see that your allegiance to something other than God is a serious matter. As you repent, you experience the purification of your heart and your behaviour begins to change as well. As you are laid low by God’s grace, he promises to lift you up! You are being turned right-side up. You are placing your life within the bigger circle of God’s glory and renewing your love for him. Conflict can now be godly, and good things begin to happen between you and other people. As C.S. Lewis says, when you put first things first, second things are increased, not decreased.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Logos - a poem


Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don't worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it is all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.

Mary Oliver

I went into the city in Melbourne today with family, and we stumbled upon this bookshop, so I bought a book of poetry, just because I was in Melbourne, in a bookshop, on a holiday, and I could (and if I hadn't ordered it in the mail already I'd have bought Lila by Marilynne Robinson because they had it in stock - drat!). So, here is poem. Mary Oliver is, from what I glean, some kind of mash up of Buddhism, pantheism and the God of the Bible, but I like much of her poetry.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A first birthday!

Today my little nephew turns one. He's such a blessing, not to mention super cute, and we're all very thankful he's to celebrate. He's doing really well and tears around the house behind his walker (doing impressive little three-point turns when he gets stuck), and you'd never know he spent so many months lying in hospital being fed down a tube. Here's a few pics from this morning. I hand-delivered his rug, and discovered it's quite difficult to get photos of active one-year-olds.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A book club

I thought I should make the announcement to readers that I have a new book club.

We recently had two long weekends in Canberra, and dwelling on the fact that I had next to no plans for doing anything or spending time with anyone, I decided that I needed to do something about meeting some people. So, it being a long weekend and all I went along to an evening church service elsewhere. The people were really welcoming and friendly and I enjoyed it a lot. I didn’t get there the next long weekend but went back two weeks later, and in chatting to one of the girls I found myself being asked if I would like to go along to a book club. I was thinking to myself, ‘are you kidding, I would love to be in a book club!’. So, this book club then met on Friday evening just passed. I hadn’t read the book, didn’t know the person who was hosting the evening, didn’t know who was going to be there, but I didn’t care. I was going out on a Friday night. With some other people. And they were going to talk about a book.

I had a great evening. The book for this month sounded rather fascinating, if quite some distance from my usual fare. It was The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, written in 1963 by John le Carre, who actually was a Cold War spy. I can’t even remember the name of the book for next month, but I am looking forward to it (I just googled what I remembered and I think it is Coal Creek by Alex Miller - "a brilliant novel of tragedy, betrayal and the beauty of lasting love", which sounds just fine). If I had been choosing a social network to join, I could hardly have come up with anything more perfect than a book club, so I am rather pleased. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The mess worth making, revisited

Picture from Objekt Stock.

I am currently reading Relationships – A Mess Worth Making, by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp. I saw it on my bookshelf, and thought to myself that I was sure I had read it, but drew a complete blank on the contents. I must have read it, because when I then thought about posting what they had to say on Genesis 2:18, on man being “alone” and the meaning of “helper”, I discovered that I had already posted that here. (The book is not about "relationships" in any romantic sense by the way, but relationships in general.)

I decided to read the book again (though I can’t be sure I ever finished it), because there is a relationship, if I can even call it that it’s been so long since any sort of conversation, in my recent experience that is an epic mess. I don’t rightly understand how it all went wrong, and I don’t actually know what I did that was so hideous as to create the distrust and hostility and the manner of treatment that I have created. But, I must have done something, and all we can do is examine and hope to change our own behaviour, as blaming or trying to change the behaviour of the other person has no future in it. And while I don’t see a way that I can do anything to mend that particular relationship, as conversation doesn't appear to be possible, I’d like to make sure it doesn’t happen again. At least. I also need to restore in myself some belief and hope that relationships are actually worth all that mess.

This book is challenging reading. Much of what I have read so far is about how we damage relationships with our own sin. But then there’s also this part under the heading What about the Bad Things People Do to Me?

The Bible is filled with examples that deal honestly with victimisation, from the murder of Abel in Genesis 4 to the persecution of the church in Revelation. There are countless stories of people sinning against each other. The New Testament is full of exhortations calling us to exercise patience, forbearance, and compassion, to revoke revenge and anger, to forgive others and love our enemies. The Bible mentions these things because God knows we will be sinned against frequently. Here on earth, we will always be sinners relating to other sinners.

Therefore, even when we are sinned against, we are responsible for how we react. This is the only way we can turn back the destructive power of sin in a relationship. Micah 6:8 gives us direction regarding our reactions to sin: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Why would this instruction be necessary if it did not presuppose that we would be sinned against? This is important because we all tend to sin in response to being sinned against. We tend to add trouble to our trouble! Some of the typical ways we do this are as follows:
I confess your sins to myself with bitterness. I can’t believe she did that to me!

I confess your sins to another person in gossip. “Let me tell you what she did to me!”

I confess your sins to God, seeking vengeance. “God when are you going to do something to the person who hurt me?”

I confess your sins to you in anger. “How dare you do such a thing to me?”
When it comes to the sins others commit against us, we tend to communicate about them in destructive ways. This is wrong, and it encourages us to think that our biggest problem is outside ourselves. The Bible reminds us that even when we are sinned against, ultimately, before God our biggest problem is still our own hearts’ propensity to sin. Even when our hearts have been horribly damaged by the sins of another, we are to guard our hearts so that we are not sucked into sin’s destructiveness. Being sinned against tempts us to sin. So our need for Christ is as big when we are sinned against as it is when we sin. The calls to patience, humility, forgiveness and gentleness are not calls to passivity. God is calling you to respond, but as he prescribes it. Holding grudges, becoming bitter, praying for vengeance, and gossiping are not methods that God honours. When you hold the perpetrator “accountable”, but not in a spirit of humility, patience, and compassion, you end up perverting the very justice you seek.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Davey's rug and other crochet projects

If you have been around this blog for a while, you will know that it is a tradition, if you will, that I created for myself, to make a crochet rug for each of my nieces and nephews, inspired by the way my grandmother made one for each of her grandchildren. So, this last one was a little unexpected, but I have finished the rug for the precious little heart-surgery-surviving nephew, just in time for his first birthday in a few weeks.

It was a little dark for the inside shots, which is why the aperture is a little too wide, so I went outside. (Note my rose bushes growing like rainforest saplings in the background - that is one of them rising above the rug on the chair.)

I should acknowledge the inspiration of this person for this rug. I'd decided to make it in blues and browns, in large squares all the same size (no more of those jigsaw-piece rugs!) in a style that was suitable for a boy, and so I googled some such thing, and saw that rug, and thought it was a perfect idea (and was already flipping through Jan Eaton's 200 Crochet Blocks book, which I own and is where this criss cross block pattern comes from). What I thought was interesting was the way the brownish coloured centres and the third colour out in each square were alternated, and I wondered whether that gave a kind of internal harmony to the layout, while keeping the blues random. So I had a go. Perhaps it does.

And here're my strange rose bushes. I'm in awe of these bushes. They are literally growing before my eyes. Every time I look out the window I am amazed. (This was them as bare stems on the 6th August.) On each of the bushes one of the stems has gone bezerk, presumably after a little more sunlight.

And finally, I am working on a little contribution for the craft stall at our church fair this coming Saturday. They have brooch pins on the back.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

A flower show

After carrying on like George Costanza last night, I thought I would post some flowers.

Every year there is a flower show of sorts here in Canberra called Floriade. There are a lot of flower beds laid out around a portion of the lake, a ferris wheel to see the patterns in the flowers from above and that sort of caper. A few weeks ago a dear friend, Margaret, who I described discovering as a kindred spirit here, came down from Sydney on the train for the day and we dawdled about in the sunshine, which was a real blessing. She almost missed the return train that evening because we were then too busy talking in the National Library CafĂ©, so I drove like a hoodlum and came to a rapid stop in front of the train station with about one minute to spare. The day was a treat.

I think we were a fraction early for the flower beds to be at their most spectacular, but here are a few pictures. I'm so shattered by the weekend switch to daylight saving and subsequent nights of messed up sleep just now that I think I'm going to go to bed soon.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Karen refugees

Well over a month ago now I went along a Christian Women’s Convention here in Canberra. The conference itself was quite fine, and well done, but that was actually one of those days I didn’t enjoy so much. The reason is that I went on my own. And I don’t know quite why I do that to myself. I go along to these events in enthusiasm and tell myself I’m a grown woman and it will all be fine, and then I get there, and it’s actually a little bit awful. I sat down by myself near the back of the hall in an unobtrusive spot and then watched hundreds of women come in talking and laughing with their friends and waving and saving seats for each other, and felt rather abysmally lonely, and sad about how my life might have been different, if things had been, well, different. At morning tea I lined up for the coffee and muffin, then split outside and around the corner of a building and up a path and around the back to somewhere I could sit by myself without looking like a complete loser. Because women go to these things to “bond” with the group they’re going with, not to meet random strangers, and I wasn’t about to walk up to a group of people and ask if I could join them. See, the thing about going by yourself to these things, is that by the very act of turning up by yourself, you signal that you are possibly a little bit weird, or maybe psycho, or desperate ... I think folks are wary of the person who turns up to large group events by themselves, and wonder why. So it’s best to look like you don’t care that you’re by yourself.

At lunch I grabbed the food and had nearly made it out of the building when someone said hello to me, and I turned and a lady asked if I came on my own, and said she was sitting up behind me with her friends, and then she asked me if I’d like to join them. It turns out she was from a Presbyterian church in Wagga Wagga. Thank the Lord for friendly country Presbyterians! So, I sat on a bench outside with two ladies from Wagga and ate my lunch and had a chat. After a time we all wandered off to look at the bookstall and other paraphenalia. I spied someone I knew from Sydney, who I would really have liked to talk to, but she was deep in conversation with one other person up against a wall and it looked sort of intense, so I stood around for a while a little distance away waiting for it to finish, and it didn’t finish for long enough that I felt like an fool standing around waiting, so I wandered off. I am not a walk-up-and-interrupt-other-conversations kind of person. And while I am at it I really dislike this whole crowd-walk-up scenario you have to go through every single Sunday after church and at all these large events. You know, you want to talk to someone, but they’re talking to someone else, so you start talking to someone else, then they’re free, but you’re not free and are stuck in the middle of the other conversation, and then you see them walking out the door, and months can go by and you don’t get to talk to someone you might fancy talking to. Or sometimes you make a big effort and do the strategic-crowd-and-conversation-escapist manoeuvring, and then you finally get to have a conversation, and it’s a big fizzer, or someone else walks up and interrupts you when you were just getting started and you feel like launching into a spiel about how long it has taken you to get to have this conversation and can they just go away for a few minutes.

 But I digress, and I sound like George from Seinfeld.

One of the reasons I went to this conference is that a girl I work with was getting up to share about her life, a feat she was quite nervous about. When I went to the interview for the job I now have they said something about opportunities for peer leadership, or something similar, and after the interview I wondered what that meant. It turned out that one of the things they had done in the office was to create a sort of apprenticeship/training position, and that the girl who had started in that position about a month before I started was a Karen refugee. I knew nothing about the Karen refugee people, and since refugees are the hot topic at the moment, I thought I’d share something about them.

You could just use Google (or poke around here), but the Karen people are a composition of a number of ethnic groups from Southern Burma. The political situation has a long and complicated history, but over the last few decades many Karen people have been driven out of Burma by the military dictatorship that rules what they have now called Myanmar. Many of these displaced people live in refugee camps on the Thai side of the Thai-Burmese border, and my colleague comes from Mae La camp, which is the largest. The conditions are basic, with food delivered once a month, and the camps are subject to attacks by soldiers from Myanmar (who raid the camps and do unmentionable things to the women etc). The refugees are not allowed to work, but many of the men do go outside the camps to find work, and suffer the consequences if they are caught (many of them just “disappear” and it is not known what becomes of them). The refugee camps are administered by the UN, and those refugees that are registered can apply to the Australian Embassy in Bangkok to be resettled in Australia (they are not generally amongst those arriving on boats). There is a Karen community in the south of Canberra, and an Anglican church there that is involved with them. So that is how I come to working with one of them. It has taken me a while to work out what my colleague does and doesn’t understand and can and can’t do, given her background, which has been interesting in itself. And I have pulled my CELTA notes out from under my bed to see if I could resurrect some capacity to help with English, but haven’t actually done much properly with that yet, other than answer the daily questions about what things mean and so on.

So, back to the conference. They had a mission spot on the Karen refugees and my colleague shared her story. They also interviewed a lady who has been, with her husband, in ministry in Bangkok for many years, and when they first arrived there and found out they had oversight of this refugee camp (even though it’s about seven hours drive from Bangkok) they thought they’d better go to see it, and so began for them an ongoing outreach to these people (and you can read more about that here).

That's probably enough for one post, but this might be something I come back to.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Self portrait

Only the rare few who don’t use blog readers will even notice, but I updated my blog photo. I mean, I haven’t changed much over the years of course, but it’s been a while.

The reality is that I don’t have so many photos of myself for the last decade or so. I don’t take selfies, which are jolly hard to do on my android phone, so I tend to just have shots from when I have holidays with family, which I have no control over (so I at least turned-on tag review on Facebook), and that’s about it. Anyway, one of the marketing fellows at work took a photo of me for a website, and after telling him it looked OK on the camera screen, when he emailed it to me, I thought ‘no, I don’t like it’. So, I tried to take a better one myself yesterday using the timer on my camera.

What I got was a series of dumb looking shots of myself staring at the person-less camera. I was putting this cushion on a chair in my courtyard to try to get the focus plane, then whisking the cushion out of the way to get in the chair with the timer beeping, but I had to slouch as the cushion wasn’t high enough so I couldn’t tip the camera up too far, so in a lot of them look a bit slouchy. It was all a bit stupid really. Then there’s this one where I am not so slouchy but I cut my head off. It wasn’t till I was getting into bed last night that I had the sudden random thought that I could have used manual focus. Doh!

I really should take more photos. I have this lovely portrait lens and could use it more and experiment. Maybe this will be the start of something ...

 This was the blurry runner-up (I think - in the end you think they're all equally stupid).

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Revelations of Marilynne Robinson

I read this NY Times interview with Marilynne Robinson, in the lead up to Lila arriving in the best sort of bookstores. Oh, how I love Marilynne. Here are some snippets that I want to keep here, for ease of my future self finding it’s way back to them. They are simply marvellous.
“People,” Robinson said, pausing before she defined that familiar word in original terms: “Brilliant creatures, who at a very high rate, predictably, are incomprehensible to each other. If what people want is to be formally in society, to have status, to have loving relationships, houseplants that don’t die, the failure rate is phenomenal. . . . Excellent people, well-meaning people, their lives do not yield what they hoped. You know? This doesn’t diminish, at all, the fact that their dignity is intact. But their grief . . .”

“. . . is enormous,” I said.

Outside, the Iowa summer afternoon was gathering itself into a storm. Large bursts of thunder began to detonate around us.

“It is,” she said, continuing her previous thought. “ ‘O, Absalom! Absalom! My son, my son.’ The idea that there is an intrinsic worth in a human being. Abuse or neglect of a human being is not the destruction of worth but certainly the denial of it. Worth. We’re always trying to anchor meaning in experience. But without the concept of worth, there’s no concept of meaning. I cannot make a dollar worth a dollar; I have to trust that it is worth a dollar. I can’t make a human being worthy of my respect; I have to assume that he is worthy of my respect. Which I think is so much of the importance of the Genesis narrative. We are given each other in trust. I think people are much too wonderful to be alive briefly and gone. . . .


“I have always been — always from childhood’s hour, as Poe would say — in the habit of feeling quite a stark difference between myself and the world I navigated. Which was any world I navigated. And then, at a certain point, I found out that that was a) very formative and b) probably an error, although it was that discomfort that made me feel like writing, the feeling of difference.

“To the extent that I was ever an unhappy person, I was happy with my unhappiness.” Robinson laughed, big and deep.

“It suited you?

“People do things very differently,” she said. “And it probably has to do with genes and child rearing and all sorts of things. But you can feel a distance as regrettable and at the same time take a kind of pride in it. The stalwartness of the self. That it can endure. And that even though you can kind of theoretically see how you could be more like the world that excludes you, you know that you can rely on yourself not to be. You know?” She paused. “Somebody who had read ‘Lila’ asked me, ‘Why do you write about the problem of loneliness?’ I said: ‘It’s not a problem. It’s a condition. It’s a passion of a kind. It’s not a problem. I think that people make it a problem by interpreting it that way.”