Monday, February 27, 2017

When he knows that he lives by a bounty not his own

The life updates are perhaps of limited interest, but in-between jobs I finished reading The Memory of Old Jack, by Wendell Berry. Old Jack's life was a tragedy, but this is an excellent book. Here is a fine and lovely example:
He lost his life – fifteen years that he had thought would be, and ought to have been, the best and the most abundant; those are gone from the earth, lost in disappointment and grief and darkness and work without hope, and now he is only where he was when he began. But that is enough, and more. He is returning home – not only to the place but to the possibility and the promise that he once saw in it, and now, as not before, to the understanding that that is enough. After such grievous spending, enough, more than enough, remains. There is more. He lost his life, and now he has found it again.

Words come to him: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death ... Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” – the words of the old Psalm that Nancy made him repeat when he was a boy until he would remember it all his life. He had always been able to see through those words to what they were about. He could see the green pastures and the still waters and the shepherd bringing the sheep down out of the hills in the evening to drink. It comes to him that he never understood them before, but that he does now. The man who first spoke the psalm had been driven to the limit, he had seen his ruin, he had felt in the weight of his own flesh the substantiality of his death and the measure of his despair. He knew that his origin was in nothing that he or any man had done, and that he could do nothing sufficient to his needs. And he looked finally beyond those limits and saw the world still there, potent and abounding, as it would be whether he lived or died, worthy of his life and work and faith. He saw that he would be distinguished not by what he was or anything that he might become but by what he served. Beyond him was the peace and rest and joy that he desired. Beyond the limits of a man’s strength or intelligence or desire or hope of faith, there is more. The cup runs over. While a man lies asleep in exhaustion and despair, helpless as a child, the soft rain falls, the tree leaf, the seed sprouts in a planted field. And when he knows that he lives by a bounty not his own, though his ruin lies behind him and again ahead of him, he will be at peace, for he has seen what is worthy.

A new job and other updates

So, I mentioned on Valentine’s day that I received good news from work. Finally I can speak of it. A few weeks ago the Registrar of the Diocese met me in the hall and asked if he could have a chat sometime that afternoon. So, I go down to his corner office at the end of the corridor, he sits me down, then unfolds an organisational chart in front of me and starts using words like ‘service level agreements’. I sat there wondering initially whether I might be in trouble for spending too much time on the internet. But, it turns out that he was explaining to me some restructures and leading to a new position that was being created, finishing by asking whether I’d be interested in filling it.

All this was a complete surprise, but as I pondered it didn’t take long for me to realise I’d be crazy to say no, particularly when the new role would be incorporating some elements of the job I was already doing that I was enjoying the most, eg the Anglican News.

So, today was my first day as the ‘Communications and Client Services Manager’ for the Diocese. On Valentine’s day I was given my new contract, which was another nice surprise and is a help to my debt reduction and new car efforts (as a first home buyer in ACT you receive no assistance from the government if you buy an established property, but you can defer the stamp duty with ten years to pay it and nothing to pay anything for five years, so that is what I did, but I have realised that I am being charged interest, so I need to start chipping away at that for one thing).

I have been given the list of hopes and dreams of the Registrar, and some examples he is fond of, for the production of various documents (among other things) and had a mild freak out at the timelines involved today and the fact that I am not a graphic designer, but I downloaded a free InDesign template off the web, downloaded some free replacement fonts for it, asked the IT people if I could have Photoshop, and how hard can this be? ...

It’s going to be challenging but I think I am going to enjoy it and am very grateful to be given the opportunity. I will miss things from my old position as I enjoyed being involved in the ordination and professional standards/safe communities processes as concepts and working closely with the Assistant Bishops and our Director of Safe Communities, who are kind and encouraging and supportive good people, but the reality is that my role involved a lot of paper gathering and organising, and I actually feel strangely more competent about my ability to produce reports than I do about my ability to keep track of other people’s ordination paperwork, which always seemed to fail me at some point. And I have just moved around the corner so I can go back for chats.

In other news, I have a new back fence. A few months ago I got new neighbours over the back, in the place that has been empty since I moved in, and they are these fabulous retirees named Joe and Francesca from ‘Italia’. Joe pretty soon bailed my up over the fence in his singlet and asked if I was interested in replacing the fence. I was kinda fond of the weathered, dilapidated old paling fence, but it really was falling down and sliding off down the slope, and he was happy to arrange for it to be replaced, so all I had to do was go along with it. A few weeks passed before he came around with some quotes one Saturday, and by Thursday I had a new fence (I had to hastily remove my jasmine and fairy lights) – and in discussions about the fence I was sent home with spaghetti and meatballs. I love it. I now have colorbond, which is not my favourite thing, but I have since attached some lattice to get the jasmine back on it and a creeping fig, and I am hoping it is soon disguised. My pavers had started separating and sliding off down the slope also, so they had to remove some to restore the fence to its rightful place, thus on the weekend I was out trying to scrape away the extra dirt that had accumulated between them and move my pavers back to where they should be and put the last row back in. Good times. I used some spare halves to make a little edge around a garden to stop the plants and weeds running off between the pavers. It’s now looking very neat and tidy out there, but I hope it goes back to a little bit ramshackly soon.

The weekend after the new fence I had to get a plumber out as my drain blocked and no amount of plunging would set it free. Sometimes weekends feel like jobs, jobs, jobs, but I am nearing the end of things I need to deal with – for now anyway. The weekend before the one just gone, which involved the paving, I went to Church Missionary Society Canberra Mission focus weekend, which was a good day of expanding horizons beyond my back courtyard and learning of gospel work the world over.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Some people have Netflix, I have old novels


Some people spend Saturday night with TV series on Netflix, I spend them with Wendell Berry novels about a community called Port William. I recently finished Andy Catlett – Early Travels, and now I am reading The Memory of Old Jack. There are some really beautiful portions in this book on the relationships between men, and on the great place and gift of role models. A tear or two might have escaped from under my sun glasses when I read this part on the bus the other morning:
Mat is sixty-nine years old. Since before he remembers, Jack has been there to be depended on. When Mat was born, Jack was already such a man as few men ever become. He has been faithful all those years. It is a faith that Mat has reciprocated in full. But Jack’s faith has been the precedent and model. All his life Mat has had Jack before him, as standard and example, teacher and taskmaster and companion, friend and comforter. When Jack is gone, then Mat will be the oldest of that fellowship of friends and kin of which Old Jack has been for so long the center. He feels the impending exposure of that – nobody standing then between him and the grave. He feels a heavy portent in the imminent breaking of that strand of memory, reaching back into the Civil War, on the end of which Old Jack now keeps so tenuous a hold.
To have someone thus before you, in faithful dependability, would be an invaluable gift (which also holds up what is possible when people actually stay in one place long enough for such relationships to form). And when tragedy came to Mat, Jack literally caught and wrestled with and held him till his rage subsided, and so prevented him destroying his own life by carrying out a terrible revenge.

Then there’s this part, about Ben, who was Mat’s father, and of whom it is written “... Ben was the man Jack watched and listened to and checked his judgment against”:
Jack knew Ben Feltner nearly forty years, and he never saw him in a hurry and he never saw him angry. With Ben that never seemed the result merely of self-control, but rather of an abiding peace that he had made – or maybe a peace that had been born in him – with himself and the world, a willingness to live within the limits of his own fate. Both of them having grown up in his gentle shadow, Jack and Mat respected and stood in awe of the deep peaceableness they knew in Ben, both of them having failed of it, and at great cost, for so long.
That might sound somewhat idyllic, but it was not all tea on the verandah. The rest of this novel that I have read so far goes on to describe the great sadness of Jack’s life in his marriage, which is so sad I am finding it hard to read. But I will press on ...

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Valentine's Day blooper

I ducked out for a latish lunchtime walk and dash to ALDI for lunch supplies today, after finishing a booklet that needed to be printed before tomorrow (I am having a lot of fun with InDesign – I said to the Bishop I was making it for, ‘I didn’t want to overdo it, but I can put more pictures in if you want’, because you can fade them away behind text and all sorts of cool things ...).

On the way in to the shopping centre I all but ignored a person with a bucket of single stem roses that people appeared to be buying. But on the way back he/she (I couldn’t actually tell) bailed me up and asked if I wanted to buy a rose to support sexual health, or something, for a gold coin donation. Without really having time to think about what I was doing or processing what they said I gave this person a gold coin, took my rose and hurried off. Then I realised, to my mortification, that there was a box of something attached to the stem, and that it contained, ahem, err, condoms, and that it was actually ‘National Condom Day’ (aimed at preventing the transmission of STIs and HIV, and unplanned pregnancies, which is not a bad thing really ...) and I might have even said out loud ‘oh, for heaven’s sake’ and shoved the whole thing top down in my shopping bag. Not only had I been walking through the city with a fake red rose, but it had those things hanging off of it! Shame on so many levels.

It made for some amusement when I got back to the office in a state of embarrassment about the whole thing. (But what I am going to do with such things I don't know ...) I then did actually get some good work-related news later in the day, which I’ll share some other time, and so I said ‘Happy Valentine’s Day to me’ in fun after telling a colleague and they respond with ‘that’s better than a condom’. Goodness gracious. Not the sort of conversation one expects to have in my workplace, and might that word never be heard again.

But for something more edifying, I had this little post in my facebook feed on Saturday, Is Their Any Purpose in Our Loneliness, from Lydia Brownbeck, whose writings I have shared here from time to time, though mostly some years ago now. (I'd recommend watching the short video, because it actually comes across better than the transcript below it.)