Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Rich beyond all splendour

Christmas eve we went to a nearby church for their 10 pm service, since it was logistically impossible to get our own church on Christmas day (I had one side of the extended family all turning up for lunch, and the other side for tea, and my back still has its limitations). We sang a song I had never heard of before, though the tune was familiar, i had learned it in school choir as an old French carol "Whence is that goodly fargrance .." While I love the traditional carols (at least the D & M ones)it was special to have the story retold from a fresh angle, with different images. The modernised words we sang are copyright, but dear old Google found me the original online ...

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becomes poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man.

Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.

-- Frank Houghton (1894-1972)

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Next Morning

Softly, quietly, treading slowly,
In the cold, grey early morning,
While the town is barely stirring,
After such a night as this.

Fading stars still glint like carols,
Where, before, a few scant hours,
Music shimmered through the night sky.
Was there such a night as this?

Angel songs of alien beauty
Breaking through, to break our senses
Where the veil twixt earth and heaven
Tore, on such a night as this.

Now with trembling steps we falter
To the beast-cave, cold, forgotten ..
What remains? What changed forever,
After such a night as this?

Just a baby, and His mother
Sleep, exhausted in the shadows
Can this be what changed the whole world
Causing such a night as this?

Ponder, then, how strange God’s way is
Through the tiniest chink to enter
While the heedless world was sleeping
Missing such a night as this.

Through this channel, this small baby
Weary, human, helpless, broken,
God transcendent, mercy’s promise
Born on such a night as this.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What Christmas means to me ..

I feel I ought to be saying something profound about Christmas, but I find it difficult. The really important things have all been said already. To me the overwhelming thing is always the enormous disjunction between the baby in the manger, and all the warm, sentimental human feelings that surround our feelings about babies, and His absolute Deity. This child, carried in a woman’s womb for nine months, born, presumably, with all the agony, and messiness, and annihilation of all dignity that human birth involves (Is there a ladylike way to give birth? A saintly, sanitised way? In a stable? Hmm .. get real!), needing to be fed, and changed and cleaned and loved, is the transcendent Lord of all, whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts. And this child, whose imagined image is made over-familiar through thousands of thousands of artists depictions, all showing Him angelically fair, and irresistibly cute, has come into this world deliberately, for no other purpose than to be that other familiar religious image – the tortured saviour, Who, if the image veers even slightly towards realism, is suffering a pain from which we turn our eyes away, our courage quailing, not just from the obscenity of innocent suffering stripped from the trailing clouds of glory that often obscure it, but also from the guilty knowledge that we are responsible for His pain.

This is why I have a special fondness for the later less familiar verses of the great Christmas songs. In The Bleak midwinter, for example, soppy with Victorian sentiment, and seasonally inaccurate, has one verse whose grasp of the transcendent awes me every time:

Our God, heaven cannot hold him
nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away
when he comes to reign:
in the bleak midwinter
a stable place sufficed
the Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.

(Thankyou Christina Rossetti, all is forgiven).

Likewise that magnificent verse of What child is this?:
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

And, after all these years, Hark the Herald Angels sing still moves me deeply with such lines as:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

To me Christmas is all about the incarnation of my God, breaking into the darkness of this world, enduring all that it means to be human, suffering, dying, loving me, and rising again in triumph to change the world forever ..
The only possible right response to Christmas is worship, with everything I am, to the One who is everything, and became nothing, so that through Him I might have all things ..

Christmas card mythology

Child for all times remade into our own,
By some divine benevolence brought forth
To pat us on the back the while we choose
Inflated price tags for our Christmas worth?

Mangers are sanitised. The gentle beasts
Smile down benignly on the pristine straw,
Where bloodless childbirth brought no dirt or pain
And all is very seemly – nothing more!

This seemly? This – that full divinity
Mind-shattering majesty, all holiness,
Weight beyond worlds should, in our form confined,
Embrace deliberately our wretchedness?

The absolute is here made mutable.
Perfected joy puts on our misery.
The infinite is bound, the maker made:
And we hide truth with our cheap artistry!

He became man ..

Ten million angels bow to your command
Yet here you lie diminished in the straw
The tongue that spoke the universe to be
Is silent, and our tongues are stilled with awe.

We clutch and grasp to magnify ourselves
Yet you let go of all your being’s might
Our smallness to endure, becoming less
Than we would bear, to bring our darkness light.

This is the mystery the ages hid
Nor men nor angels could suppose or scan
But now its wonder is revealed to us
The miracle of God becoming man.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Mary Speaks

What must it have been like, for 9 months, trying to reconcile the ordinary discomforts of pregnancy with her extraordinary situation? How do you actually LIVE through something like that?

Each day I must struggle to stand
In the balance between mundane and miraculous:
The glory of the angel and my swollen, lumbering body.

How do I reconcile
The mysteries I walk in?
The conception that could not be,
And the pregnancy that is ..

In the moment of exaltation
It is easy to forget
It is not the sharp fear that undoes us:
The whispers, the withdrawals,
And the tentacles of doubt
Ensnaring till I near-believe it shame ..

Walking between the scorn of man
And the sure word of God
(spoken into my body that I may not doubt)
I flounder to find a place:
The stillness of the mystery,
The dull ache in my back,
The Life that moves within me
And the life that I must live ..

A gospel for failure

Wrote this as a comment elsewhere, and wanted to copy it over here

To me this is less about moral failure, we already have a gospel that's supposed to cover that, but about being one of the "also-rans" in life. Our Aussie culture is traditionally less success-oriented than American culture, but I have seen a marked change in the last 20 years or so, and it has definitely affected the church. So if you're not thin enough. young enough, articulate enough, earning good money, well-educated, happliy married, etc etc, you fly under the radar. Likewise if you're shy, have significant health problems, are an abuse victim or any other significant personal problems, the church simply doesn't know what to do with you. You don't fit the image, you're not one of "us". Yet i wonder if, to some of those who have it all in this world, Jesus wouldn't say "they have their reward already"
Blessed are the poor, the broken, the confused, the rejected, the struggling and the needy. God is very near to those of a contrite and lowly heart. Sometimes we forget that the Jesus we are called to follow never founded a mega-church or won a popularity contest. He had no beauty that we should desire Him, and was despised and rejected of men. I don't think we can have a gospel for the failed and the needy and the broken until we come back to the foot of the cross and see how the death of jesus brings to nothing all the successes we would claim for ourselves, even our successes in His service. only there, where we are forced to admit that we really have nothing except Him, will we learn how to open our arms and embrace those who embarrass us by openly displaying the reality of failure and neediness

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

6 ways I'm weird

Suzanne R has this meme up, and I thought I'd have a go. It's hard though, since my daughter's not around to inform me. I mean, I think I'm totally normal, of course! It's the rest of the world that's weird!

These will just be in the order I think of them:

1) I answer to the name Pickle (or even Naughty Pickle) and have a long running joke with some e-friends about how unethical it is for them to eat pickles!

2) I hate wearing shoes and will go barefoot whenever temperature and social situation permit (which means, in mild Sydney, I'm barefoot at home for about 8 months of the year. Women who have a *thing* on shoes mystify me (I'd rather buy books)and I haven't owned a pair of heels since i was a teenager. Ditto for pantyhose .. I only wear them when absolutely necessary; the last time was at my son's wedding, almost 5 years ago.

3)I have a purple kitchen. Why not? Purple is my favourite colour. The cupboards are limed wood, the benchtops neutral and the splashback tiles off white, but the painted areas on the walls is a glorious deep violet!

4) I don't like the radio, and never listen to it. I just hate being randomly talked at or having music played at me that isn't my choice (so I have never heard most current music) I am really comfortable with silence, and when I'm cooking, driving or other such activities I generally play cds. Likewise I never turn on the tv unless there's something secific I want to watch. And I rarely watch tv if another family member isn't watching it with me. To me (ok, weirdly) watching is a social activity, on my own I'd rather read a book or play on the computer.

5) I make up rhymes for fun as well as try my hand at serious poetry. When my kids were little we had all kinds of funny little songs (set to familiar tunes, I'm no muso)about their toys etc. I have also been known to sit in church listening to a sermon and write my sermon notes as rhymed verse (on the spot) what can i say? it helped me pay attention!

6) when I was a kid i had imaginary friends: Dulcie Duckling, Doctor Castle, the sydney da-das (don't remember much about them)and the Boys and girls of National Park.

and a bonus 7th:
7) I believed in fairies till I was nearly 8. I wasn't really sure that they existed, but I'd heard the bit in Peter pan about how every time a child says they don't believe in fairies a fairy drops dead, and I didn't want to murder any fairies, so I stuck to my guns even though I was teased at school for it. In the same vein of childhood innocence/ignorance I didn't know the basic difference between the genders till i was 11, and was given a book on the subject. I thought the difference between boys and girls was that boys' hair didn't grow! (proof that I had no brothers I guess)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Prestige

Saw this movie on Friday night and loved it. Complex plot, interesting setting (the rivalry between two stage magicians in Victorian London), great photography, mostly great acting, no sex scenes or bad language (an unusual bonus) and only a little violence (but very nasty, I had to turn my eyes away a couple of times, but then I have a VERY low threshold for coping with on screen violence – I mean, I’m the girl who can’t bear to watch a football match (rugby, this is Australia) because it’s too violent!!

It raised some issues worth pondering though. (I don’t want to give away any of the plot, it would spoil it) but the nature of identity is one of them. What makes me “me”? What are the boundaries of this thing I call my “self”? How much of “me” can be taken away before I cease to exist? How do I define what is “me” from what is not me? How far can I truly enter into another’s experience? At what point does the vicarious become a real experience? How much personal “dying” can I do without becoming impersonal? What is the delineation between sacrifice and suicide?

And that’s for starters. I don’t know the answers, I’m not a philosopher, just a pickle. But I do know that some of the answers the characters came up with were the wrong ones, and very disturbing. To me, part of being a Christian is knowing that, having surrendered my identity to Jesus, it is safe in His hands. Even though I keep trying to take parts of it back, He will be true to the fundamental transaction and hold my “soul” (whatever exactly that is) in His eternal keeping. I once, long ago read a line of a poem,(I have no idea by whom) that said:
“As long as the self can say ‘I’, it is impossible not to rebel”
And that is part of our human dilemma. But there is a deeper and greater truth:
“It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me”
I suspect it takes a lifetime to understand that experientially. Meanwhile there is another truth we can cling to, in the vicissitudes and confusions of daily living, a transcendent truth which protects us, even in our brokenness, from some of the follies of the characters in this movie:

“There is nothing in all creation that can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Of the increase of His government...


Now Alleluias shall be sung
Across the portals of the dawn,
For unto us a child has come:
The king of Heaven has been born.

The government of all that is
He carries as a little thing;
The reaches of the skies are His,
And, for His praise, the angels sing.

He lies within the manger's straw,
And 'Wonderful' shall be His name.
He Whom the seraphim adore
Has come to make Himself our shame.

He is, still is, the Mighty God
Whose hands hold all eternity.
His first steps have not yet been trod,
But they shall lead to Calvary.

He is the Father, He Whose heart
Yearns for the stricken and defiled:
Thus, from His glory to depart,
And take our place, the given child.

And peace shall be His Kingdom's fruit,
Dear blessed peace 'twixt God and man;
For He shall stretch to bridge that gulf
Which nothing but a cross can span.

And though, for now, His world is held
Within a stable poor and small,
His kingdom's increase shall not end
Until He is the Lord of all.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


In my heart is such mutability,
That all the fine words I so quickly say
Are rendered null by my futility;
Upon the heights of praise I cannot stay.

Rooted I would be, but, a withered leaf,
Made sapless by my own inconstancy,
Tossed in the fickle breezes of mischance,
I stand revealed in my hypocrisy.

Into Your truth, then, graft me very fast.
Blow, Holy Breath, return me to that vine
Where, into mergence, all my self is cast,
Then You will lift to heights I may call mine.

Then You will hold me, driftless, unto You,
Whence is all being, all stability.
Here is a root to hold all that I do,
You, Who are life, must be my constancy.

Fallen world?

I love this cartoon I found this morning. Wrong application of right theology? aren't we all guilty of that?
The pharisees were.
Every christian who uses morality to judge a brother or sister is.
Every christian who uses the doctrine of New Creation as an excuse to ignore their responsibility to this one is.
Every christian who being born again makes them superior is
Every christian who turns godly authority into authoritarianism is.
And the list goes on ..

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Not staying ..

I guess those who have been there will understand. I wrote this one in a very hard time:

Hell shall not be the place to hang my hat.
In the looming darkness, when the stars seem washed away
I shall make no habitation, and refuse all visiting.

What must be is passed through.

I have another city, though I have not seen its lineaments.
Mapless, I persevere, hand-held and reliefless.
Rejecting all alternatives – I know their dark true name
And, knowing, will have none of them,
Despite their siren songs.

Beyond light, my city
Stands, with solidity beyond my fleeting flesh
Welcoming her sons and daughters
Summoning them home.
I, mazed and broken, scarce can hear the call;
But follow anyway
The pitiless call of truth half-heard, half-known
But wholly, blindly, absolutely loved!


Well, after 5 days of no internet access, (entirely the ISP's problem)I am back online. There are several things I want to blog on in the next few days, but, for now, I want to put up this quote of Spurgeon's on depression (spotted over at cerulean Sanctum). I have never suffered clinical depression myself, but I know how it feels to have a shredded soul, and one of the things that upsets me in Christendom is the way we shoot our wounded instead of being a safe place where the grace and mercy of God is demonstrated. I was personally told, when i was in the throes of dealing with abuse issues, that my distress, doubts, questions, fears etc were sins. Oddly enough, that didn't solve anything!!
Spurgeon is well known, not only for his preaching, but for his heavy bouts of depression. This is what he said:

I know that wise brethren say, ‘You should not give way to feelings of depression.’ … If those who blame quite so furiously could once know what depression is, they would think it cruel to scatter blame where comfort is needed. There are experiences of the children of God which are full of spiritual darkness; and I am almost persuaded that those of God’s servants who have been most highly favoured have, nevertheless, suffered more times of darkness than others

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Take me ..

Take me today ..

My restless heart
Stilled on Your illimitable peace

My tired hands
Held fast and close by Yours

My hidden anger
Resting on Your everlasting justice

Blanketed by mercy

My defensive tongue
Made vulnerable in praise

My downcast eyes
Raised up to look in Yours

Love ...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Heavenly rewards?

Was discussing with a friend today the issue of rewards in heaven, or as he put it, will there be different classes of people there?

I told him my (very hypothetical) theory.

I believe that the real "reward" God has to give us is Himself -- true relationship, true fellowship. isn't that the best "thing" there is in the universe? I believe that heaven is a place where our deepest needs are satisfied, that each of us is filled to overflowing with Him. what is there left to vary? Surely only how big a capacity we have to fill? So perhaps the variance is on how much, in this present world, we have emptied us of ourselves, and put on christ instead? this would determine our capacity for Him in the world to come. Does that make sense? As someone, somewhere said, "if not this, something better will be."

Of course, the poet Robert Southwell, in his poem "the Nativity of Christ" expressed part of this idea much better than I ever will:

Gift better than himself God doth not know;
Gift better than his God no man can see.
This gift doth here the giver given bestow;
Gift to this gift let each receiver be.
God is my gift, himself he freely gave me;
God's gift am I, and none but God shall have me.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Feast

When I was dealing with the worst of my abuse issues, I had a recurrent mental image of a room, warm and bright, where Jesus sat at the head of the table, feasting His friends. I stood outside in the dark and the rain. Over time I came to see myself entering the room, but standing like a wallflower, not having a place at the table. I will never forget the first time i ever heard Michael card's "Come to the Table". At the words

come to the table and sit down beside Him
The saviour who wants you to join in the feast

I had a vision of Iesus Himself getting up from the table, and coming over to me and drawing me to sit right next to Him!!

Anyway, at some time during all of that I wrote this poem:

Love is their feast, they drink its deep delight
From the jewelled goblets filled by Christ’s own hand,
And they rejoice before my longing sight,
While my own hunger seeks to understand.

Theirs is the open trust that takes a seat
At Jesus’ table, where He bids them be.
And, at His bidding, they shall taste and eat.
Are there no crumbs He has assigned for me?

All of my longing rises in my breast:
Oh that He would receive me, take me in!
Let me be server there, that would be best.
I must have been excluded for my sin.

Blinded by tears, I turn my head away,
And, in my eyeless folly, fail to see
The miracle my God has wrought today:
There is a seat, a place set there for me!

Prayer points

# for the bushfires in the Blue mountains
#for my daughter in London -- for safety and a time of wonder
# for a friend with a suicidal son who refuses help
# for another friend, just diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy
# for my sermon, Sunday week, on Habakkuk

Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy

Monday, November 20, 2006

Timeless prayer

I have joined another blog, called Timeless prayer http://timelessprayer.blogspot.com/
Codepoke initiated it, and it is to be a group blog, rewriting the Psalms as prayers in the light of Jesus.
Worth a visit, these guys write great stuff!

Response to an abuser

I will not wear this pain, this guilt
That you would thrust on me
I will not clothe myself in it’s stinking tatters
Or wrap myself in shame.
I have taken off my sin, shall I put on another’s?

I cannot make up an offering, even for love’s sake
It must be the acceptable sacrifice, or none.

I may be my brother’s keeper
But none may redeem the life of another
And my tears will never wash you clean
Will never wash me clean
Will never be clean.

Blood shed before the foundation of the world
Is my only garment
Self-righteousness will never fit under it or over it
Yet the stream itself fits all
It is easy clothing
Chafing nothing but detachable pride

Friday, November 17, 2006


“…the Christmas story is death to every heroic culture, every form of machismo, which depends on the belief that man can save himself, often without women, or that man’s role is to shake his fist at the heavens. As (Karl) Barth makes clear, Christmas, and hence the gospel, stand utterly opposed to every hint of male bravado and pride. Had the church thoroughly grasped, taught, and lived this, would feminism have ever been necessary?”

--- Leithart

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Prayer of the Koala

I have been reading de Gasztold's "Prayers from the Ark" and have been very moved by them. There is no way I could emulate what she has done, but I thought from time to time I might attempt to write prayers for a few other animals. today, the koala:

Lord I must cling
Here is life
here is food
the only food I can stomach.

It is too much
to do any more than this
I am tired,
so tired,
and I sleep more than I wake
and life passes like a dream ..

I hardly know thirst
it is enough to feed
in the place where I have wedged
this uncertain self
treed here
to willingly cling
day by day
to Your mercy
Forever renewed.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The danger of causes ..

I am reading the novel Gilead at the moment, and there is a scene where an otherwise fine and humane man does something very inhumane for the sake of a just cause (talking of the Abolitionist cause in the South before the American civil war). it made me think about the danger of causes, and how easily even a good cause can consume us to the point where it leads us into evil. For example, anti-abortionists who commit murder, or, on a lesser scale, feminists who disparage men. One that springs to mind, because one encounters it so often in the blog world (as if real life wasn't enough)is that of people who are so eager to defend a particular theological truth that they become rude rude and disparaging to their opponents. now, of course there are causes worth fighting for -- but how are we to fight? What "weapons" can we legitimately use? dare we forget, in our zeal, that the ends do not justify the means? They never have, and they never will. We must walk with humility and painstaking care in the tension between standing up for what is right and maintaining grace towards opponents. We dare never forget that the greatest command is to love God with everything we have, and our neighbours as ourselves, and, conversely, the deepest sin is pride.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Botticelli's venus

I've always loved art, and a cheap print of Botticelli's venus used to hang in one of our classrooms way back in High School. (Thank heavens I grew up in a world where no one ever suggested such pictures were inappropriate) It has always stood, in my mind, for some male ideal of the female loveliness, and otherness that captures, not just their sexuality, but their hearts:

Thinking about her one day, I wrote this poem, bearing with the myth long enough to wonder what would have happened if she had never landed somewhere so welcoming:


What if another wind had sung your waves
To bear you to a far more alien shore,
And the soft foam had lashed to hurricane --
Would you bear the same beauty as before?

If the seas lapped to silk that kissed your limbs
And lifted you towards the waiting sand
Had scorned your spell in saline disbelief
And, cold, abducted to another land;

What if, upon some cruel volcanic lump
Pungent with seabirds, crowned with bitter grass
The careless waves had cast your flailing flesh
Far from men’s eyes in some blaspheming farce?

How would you fare? No, rather, how would we,
Robbed of that tenderness that makes men mad,
Lust’s formalwear of flowing poesy
Which veils the brain and leaves desire unclad?

Saturday, November 04, 2006


This says it all:

The nails pounded through the paper into the wood of the church door at Wittenberg were important, but not as important as the nails driven through the flesh of Jesus into the wood of the Cross at Calvary. -Rev. James Douthwaite

Thursday, October 26, 2006


It's a common human experience, to feel close to someone and then suddenly find a chasm of misunderstanding between you. This is something I wrote about it years ago .. I can't even remember the occasion now (which is probably a good thing)


I did not know my joy was gossamer-fragile,
Until the words were said.
Like a rock-plummet through the tissue layers,
My joy was shred.
That, which in me was all alive, upspringing,
Is now stone-dead.

Through that great, gaping wound, the world's pain
And flings me wide
To nuances I did not know of anguish;
Nor place to hide,
Nor citadel of sureness, but a hard grief,
Which sinks inside.

Our inward tears mark channels out before us,
With stinging brine;
While we trudge on to where these bitter waters
Are changed to wine;
In that sure place where love shall knit our meanings,
And you are mine.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Dumbledore pickle?

You scored as Albus Dumbledore. You are very wise, observant, and analyctical. You have a very "well-organized" mind, which makes you function in a calm and fair manner. Though you get angered easily, its rare of you to ever act our of temper. You are constantly seeing the good in people and are naturally forgiving because of it. You're easy to please and a great person to learn from.

Albus Dumbledore


Sirius Black


Luna Lovegood


Ron Weasley


Remus Lupin


Bellatrix Lestrange


Neville Longbottom


Hermione Granger


Harry Potter


Oliver Wood


Percy Weasley


Severus Snape


Lord Voldemort


Draco Malfoy


Harry Potter Character Combatibility Test
created with QuizFarm.com

I still exist ..

yes, truly! Just being snowed under with end of semester assignments (and sermons, and life) doesn't leave me in the mind-frame for thinking up things I want to blog about. Just 2 more weeks to go, then I will be bouncing out of my pickle jar again!
Meanwhile, just a quote to ponder:

Come to the edge. We might fall. Come to the edge.
It's too high! Come to the edge! And they came,
and he pushed...... and they flew.
-- Christopher Logue

Friday, October 13, 2006

left-handed power

Came across this quote out there in the cyber-verse. it says something so well that I really don't think I can add anything except a fervent amen:
There is one effect that cannot be the result of a direct application of force, and that is the maintenance of a relationship between free persons. If my child chooses not to cooperate with me, if my wife chooses not to live with me, there is no right-handed power on earth that can make them toe the line of relationship I have chosen to draw in the sand. I can dock my son’s allowance, for example, or chain him to a radiator; or in anger at my wife, I can punch holes in the Sheetrock or beat her senseless with a shovel. In short, I can use any force that comes to hand or mind, and yet I cannot cause either of them, at the core of their being, to stop their wrongs and conform to my right. The only power I have by which to do that is left-handed power – which for all practical purposes will be indistinguishable from weakness on my part. It is the power of my patience with them, of my letting their wrong be – even if that costs me my rightness or my life – so that they, for whose reconciliation I long, may live for a better day of their own choosing.

My point here is twofold. The power of God that saves the world was revealed in Jesus as left-handed power; and therefore any power that the church may use in its God-given role as the sacrament of Jesus must also be left-handed. Despite the fact that God’s Old Testament forays into the thicket of fallen human nature were decidedly right-handed (plagues, might acts, stretched-out-arm exercises, and thunderous threats) – and despite Jesus’ occasional use of similar tactics in the Gospels – the final act by which God reconciles the world to himself consists of his simply dropping dead on the cross and shutting up on the subject of sin. He declares the whole power game won by losing, and he invites the world just to believe that absurd proposition.

- Robert Farrar Capon, The Astonished Heart, pp. 62-63

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

limited sovereignty?

The question, over on codepoke's blog (yeah, memo to self, Christmas holiday project is to learn how to do links) as part of a series on predestination, was whether God sovereignly limits His sovereignty. This was my take on the subject ..

... I think this is the crux issue (to me, where I'm at in my thinking) God is absolutely sovereign, has all power, dominion etc etc -- yes of course He does, those things go with the definition of being God. But what does He do with them withing creation? Or, to put it another way, of course He is God, but what sort of God is He? Is He most concerned with proving His power (what does he have to prove?) or with revealing his character (which is what is really under attack)

Yeah sure, when the godness of God is at issue He will demonstrate it (classic example: Elijah and the prophets of Baal on top of Mt Carmel) Yet even then, He gives the smallest needful demonstration to prove His point. he could have uncreated them all, done incredible, terrifying things, yet all he did was burn up the sacrifice. He was (if I can use such language of God) fighting for the soul of Israel, putting forth just enough proof of His reality over Baal to rekindle their confused and broken faith ..

To put this back on topic, what i am saying is yes, i believe God restrains the full exercise of His sovereignty in this present world .. not because He doesn't totally know what will happen (He is omniscient) but because he genuinely leaves some wriggle room for the free exercise of human faith and love. He so set up this world not just to be a puppet master pulling the strings (if that's what God is really up to salvation history was a very strange way of going about it) but to woo something from us, which for some incomprehensible reason (called love, i think) He really wants from us ..

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Random thoughts on Spring

Just because it's been a beautiful day ..

# Some things you never get tired of, even though they're repeated every year

# I'm glad I don't live in an age or place where Spring demands an insane orgy of housework. Then again, we get plenty of fresh air and sunshine, even in mid-winter

# My northern hemisphere friends might find this hard to believe, but even in a climate where we have green grass all year round, Spring is still magic.

# Why do all 4 seasons have 6 letter names?

# there is nothing like the first feel of warm sunshine on bare arms, or the smell of jasmine, or the delicate glory of azaleas

# Spring is the promise, woven into the very fabric of this creation, that one day there will be a new creation, perfect and lovely beyond anything we can imagine

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Lest all the world ..

Lest all the world You hold within Your hands
Should not suffice the hunger of my heart;
The fields and forests, and the distant strands
Where You have worked, Your beauty to impart.
Lest I, blind in intemperance, should fail
To hear Your voice in every whispered breeze,
And find my very love of life grown stale,
And my ears blocked to Your sublime decrees.

Take then this self (by self impoverished),
Make me the captive of Your large delight.
In You my broken cisterns are refreshed;
Your glory burns the scales that cloaked my sight.
Show me Yourself. My heart, stretched wide to meet,
Is satisfied. I conquer in defeat.

The incarnate Jesus

Heavy theology warning:
Suddenly it seems, in the big wide world of on-line theological debate, the identity of Jesus is up for grabs. An American guy named Driscoll, at a major conference, has declared that one of the problems with emergents is they have concentrated too much on the incarnate Jesus of the gospels, at the expense of the transcendent Lord of the epistles. Talk about creating a false dichotomy!!

Internet Monk, at http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/riffs-driscoll-on-the-incarnation-slices-perfect-phariseeism has answered this silliness well, and for once I feel like chiming in on a hot topic. Normally I leave such things alone, there is far too much heat and far too little warmth between Christians on these issues already. But I can’t overlook a misrepresentation of Jesus – whatever else may be debatable, this is not. The Jesus of the gospels is fully God and fully Lord. When we look at Him, we are meant to say “this is who God is” – I don’t mean that in a silly way, referencing the physical or socio-cultural characteristics which inevitably come as a package deal with incarnation, that is setting up a straw man a five year old could knock down, but the reality of what He said and did, and how He functioned in relationship was God made visible. The man Jesus was, in very fact, the image of the invisible God. God is, in very truth, someone who is angry with Pharisees and religious hypocrites, who is infinitely tender with the needy, the victimised and the broken, who shatters our theological idols, who restrains His power in order to empower mere human beings, who has authority over storms and a heart that delights in flowers, who leaves us no wriggle-room in our excuses, but then lavishly forgives us, who does not disparage either the masculine or the feminine, who has a sense of humour, whose wisdom overwhelms our deepest profundity. Is there a different Jesus in the epistles? Only if you read them through the distorting glasses of a fixed (human) theological system.

A house divided against itself cannot stand, a bible divided against itself has lost its authority. Certainly one part of scripture illuminates another, but we must never pit them against each other. Perhaps Driscoll has come the closest to saying outright what I have long suspected some Calvinists of believing, that the gospels are inferior, that all our “real” theology must come from Paul. There is an inarticulate feeling that the incarnate Jesus was somehow incomplete, perhaps dangerous to build theology on because, after all, liberals seem to like him too! Propositional theology is somehow exalted above what Jesus actually said and did. I don’t want to make accusations against people who are sincerely seeking to exalt my Lord, but I do wonder why they feel they have to chop away part of His essential nature to do it ..

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Painted puppets

anyone who really knows me knows that one of the things I really dislike is empty social ritual. I certainly don't mean we should be serious and earnest all the time, but we should always be sincere and real. Christ does not dwell in untruth. Yet it is the very place where many people hide to escape from the unbearable ...

Like painted puppets on a string,
The people dance, the people sing,
They do not mean a single thing.

Security rests in display:
They make their motions every day,
To keep all random chance at bay.

They trample you beneath their feet
If you don’t match their seamless beat,
And loneliness is long defeat.

Dressed in the moment’s proper styles,
They wear their calculated smiles
Like painted, polished crocodiles.

The rituals of social drugs,
Precision of their robot hugs --
Real flesh and blood might mess their rugs.

And underneath the clothes they wear
Lie broken hearts beyond repair
But they must never be laid bare.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Bonhoeffer again

When a man really gives up trying to make something out of
himself-a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman, a
righteous or unrighteous man, ... when in the fullness of
tasks, questions, success or ill-hap, experiences and
perplexities, a man throws himself into the arms of God...
then he wakes with Christ in Gethsemane. That is faith, and it
is thus that he becomes a man and Christian.
... Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

Yep. I cannot make myself into anything (except as a sham cardboard cut out). The only reality I ultimately have is how much of my me is connected to God. The rest is mere formalism, and building houses of cards that one real breath will send flying. Me in God's arms, being carried through whatever I have to be carried through to bring me to Him .. that is reality!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


The mysteries of our Faith are unknown and not understandable to those who are not repenting.
-- Nicholas Deputatov

At first glance this sounds a bit like legalism, or a severe exclusivism, but that is probably because we have a false understanding of what repentance actually is. It is not necessarily sackcloth and ashes, and it is not the same thing as regret, though regret may be its precursor. To me, repentance is an attitude of heart, not focused on beating up the self (will God love me any more if I hate myself?) but on denying the self; not in the sense in which we commonly understand self-denial (which is easily a form of self-righteousness), but in the sense of continually turning aside from our inner focus on "me" to try to see ourselves, our world and one another as God sees them. Repentance is the daily struggle to replace doubt with faith, impatience with compassion, pride with an awareness of God. it is the willingness to acknowledge, at one and the same time, that the world does not revolve around me, and yet my Father's love is for me. It is choosing to put more weight on what the word of God says than on what people say. It is facing daily disappointments with a heart that says "love anyway!" not because of obligation or guilt trips, but because the love of God Himself is being poured (or maybe trickled)into our hearts ..

Monday, September 18, 2006

Lullaby for my inner child

Dedicated to everyone whose soul has ever been torn and hurt ..


Drinking truth and not delusion,
Know their lies are the illusion;
Sleep, and rest you from confusion,
Sleep, my dear one, sleep.

Sleep, their power now is broken,
Sleep, the healing words are spoken,
(Sleep, of coming peace the token,)
Sleep, my dear one, sleep.

Let there be a rest from weeping,
From the fears so quickly leaping,
Now you lie in safer keeping,
Sleep, my dear one, sleep.

Once your worthlessness they told you,
Now may angels’ wings enfold you,
Perfect love forever hold you,
Sleep my dear one, sleep.

Sleep and do not fear the waking,
Night is ending, dawn is breaking,
Life shall be yours for the taking,
Sleep my dear one, sleep.

The ethnic angle!

Just for fun, and because of my own Anglo-Celtic ancestry, this anonymous quote that my daughter sent me:

The English love the gospel because it gives them something to think about.
The Welsh love the gospel because it gives them something to sing about.
The Irish love the gospel because it gives them something to fight about.
And the Scots love the gospel because it's free.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.

Dorothy Sayers

I have often wondered why people make such a virtue out of tolerance. It is an attitude almost prescribed in modern Western society, we are to show "tolerance" to other opinions, lifestyles, kinds of human beings (eg race, gender abilities), moral choices etc. It doesn't make sense. What minorities want isn't "tolerance", but justice for their wrongs, and a fair go. I have yet to meet somebody (though doubtless such a person exists) who actually wants to be tolerated. We don't want to be tolerated, we want to be loved. Indifference is spiritual and emotional laziness, it also devalues both the giver and the receiver. What most of us really want isn't to be tolerated, but to be wanted, admired and cherished. we don't want to be accepted with an indifferent shrug (except by those to whom we are, ourselves, indifferent), we want our value restored to us. Indifference belittles what we are, just as powerfully, in its own way, as hatred. We all need to know that we matter, somewhere to someone; and to have enduring value, we need to know that we matter to God.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

More flowers

Because it's a glorious Spring day here, I just wanted to add some more photos of flowers. These are from our trip to NZ we made at the beginning of last year..

Friday, September 15, 2006

A challenge ...

I am no longer my own but yours.

Put me to what you will; rank me with whom you will.

Put me to doing; put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you; exalted for you, or brought low for you.

Let me be full; let me be empty.

Let me have all things; let me have nothing.

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

-- John Wesley, modern adaptation

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Horatio Hedgehog

Horatio hedgehog’s asleep on his bed
A pillow of cactus tucked under his head
Kept warm by a blanket of raspberries and bark
And, over the top, a bright bedspread of shark
His great big alarm clock he just calls the sun
And he goes tickling termites when he needs some fun
He washes his dishes in concrete and oil
And pickles his eyelids so they’ll never spoil
One day he’s hoping to marry a wife
But he hasn’t found one yet who’ll share such a life
Except for a wild goose who’s made out of snow
But she’s scared she might melt when hot winds start to blow
And there once was a squirrel carved from margarine
But the same thing applied and she slipped from the scene
So he sips on his milkshake and lives all alone
In an igloo he made from an old ice cream cone
Or he sits on a toadstool and slowly grows old
And dreams he’ll migrate to a country that’s cold.

In which world?

As a man whose head is under water cannot inhale pure air, so a man whose thoughts are plunged into the cares of this world cannot absorb the sensation of the world to come.

St. Isaac the Syrian

I think this is largely true, and the Bible seems to support this, eg the seeds in the parable of the sower which were choked by the cares and worries of the world, or the command (Psalm 46) to "Be still and know that I am God". We are specifically told not to spend all our energy on mere earthly survival, but to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and these things shall be added unto us. It is like being tuned to the wrong channel, so that the message doesn't get through. But I want to modify the statement a little. as it stands, it is dangerously close to saying that our own steadfast concentration (pity help the one with ADD)can keep us in the presence of God, as if that were a work we could accomplish on our own. As if there was no sin of spiritual pride to catch us out, more deadly than any distraction of the flesh. As if part of our journey did not have to lie through the dark places where we learn our need of God by experiencing His seeming absence. I am thankful that God's reality in my life is not only dependent on my own efforts, but on the grace that breaks through, that interrupts my downward spiral and calls me back to His embrace.

Of course, as the mysterious St Isaac must have known, to keep your head under water for too long is actually to die ...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Chinese gardens

Taken on the Central Coast last year, when we had a weekend's break while my back was bad. Images of serenity, for moments unserene


Here, in the doldrums of the heart,
I, patient, wait with unshipped oar
And count the stars and drink the rain
For I have been this place before.

Long I could labour in the waves
And move my boat a little space
But hidden currents mock my pains.
I wait the rising wind of grace.

My sails hang slack, but I am taut
With expectation; You are real
I know, with simple certainty,
Your breeze, Your breath, I soon shall feel.

I know, and I delight to know,
Your hour shall come, Your wind shall rise
I shall behold Your glory’s dawn
Through tears of joy that blur my eyes.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Quirk

Just for fun, because i don't seem to see things quite the same way as other people do ..


At the centre
of my perceptions
the Quirk
my wry-eyed acrobat;

with gloating glee,
to see the unexpected
in the ordinary;

with too-swift humour,
the endless perversity of the human condition.

With gentle brutality,
x-raying convention,
shattering the platitudes;
impartially independent.

Oh my quirk!
Let me hold you by the hands of your legerdemain;
learning together
binocular vision,
and a deeper focus;
the proper perspective
of Truth

Because it's Spring..

Some Photos of flowers:

More quotes

"We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God...Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God." --Tozer

What is being taught in Christendom today is this; that since we have got the New Testament canon, since we have got the Word now, we do not need these direct interventions, we do not need God to speak to us directly, as He spoke to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob and these patriarchs. We have got the Word now! Is this superior to the direct speech of God? I think we are mad! There is no other word for this. We are mad. We are meant to be in a superior position to every Old Testament saint because of what has happened in our blessed Lord and Saviour! But this teaching would have us believe that we do not need this direct contact with God now, and that all that has come to an end since the formation of the New Testament canon . . . remember that the great point of the whole teaching of the Bible, of all you can deduce from it, is to tell you that God is a God who acts. And our only hope this afternoon is that this is still true. He has not finished acting. He is going on . . . There is only one hope. That is that He is still the living and the acting God. Christ is at His right hand, and He is seated and waiting until His enemies should be made His footstool . . . ."
Martin Lloyd Jones

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Found this quote buried in some old notes --powerful!

O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you:
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you patience;
I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me...

Restore me to liberty,
And enable me so to live now
That I may answer before you and before humanity.
Lord, whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Friday, September 01, 2006

What is a pickle?

As those who have read the beginning of my blog know, I call myself 'blestpickle' and this blog 'Out of the Pickle jar' because of an old family joke about being a naughty pickle. I had actually been thinking of changing the name of my blog because i wondered if people might mistake it for a recipe blog or household hints or something like that. .. (Yes, I do cook, but I neither cook nor eat pickles - that would be cannibalism, and a great perversity!) but then I just read something written by codepoke over on http://familyhoodchurch.blogspot.com/ that gave a whole new dimension to what it means to be a pickle!

We talked about sin and repentance and how baptism is likened to pickling cucumbers. I thought that was so cool. ... A certain ancient Greek explained how to baptize a cucumber in vinegar to turn it into a pickle. We are preserved in Christ.

Think of it! I am a pickle because I am preserved in Christ!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

No Other Gods


Speak not too gently, lest I miss
The nuances of what You say.
Seal me to You with burning kiss
That banishes false gods away.

Be fire to my complacent soul,
Lest I should sleep the sleep of death.
With ruthless fingers make me whole,
To vibrate to Your Spirit's breath.

To be one word, to be Your word,
Your utterance to earth's desperate plight;
Your love declared by flesh and blood,.
My soul smoothed to reflect Your light.

Good night and Good luck

Finally caught up with this movie last night, and loved it. Ok, as an Aussie I'll never understand the finer points of American politics, some of it makes no sense to me at all, and I don't want to go down the path of bashing someone else's system. That doesn't help anyone. But it was very educational. I learned about McCarthyism at school, as a backdrop for studying the Crucible -- it was another thing to see inside the actual period. It jumps off the screen that, just as Miller used the witch hunts to critique McCarthyism, so Clooney is using McCarthyism to critique the present political climate (which is just as true of Australia as America, I fear). The politics of terror, of using the rhetoric of fear to take away people's freedom and autonomy, are ugly and evil in any era. I was deeply stirred by Murrow's words:

We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility."

Oddly enough, the thing that came to mind, when I read this was from years ago (17? 18?)when we were burgled. It was inconvenient, we needed to replace things that were stolen, get the broken door jamb mended, consider improving our security ... but, we were fully insuured, and in the end the greatest worry was our (then) young son's concern that they were going to come back and steal his lego. The thing thatamazed me, and still does, was other people's reactions. So many people spoke sympathetically about how terrifying it is to have been robbed, how you walk in fear afterwards and live a lot more defensively. Huh? It was an annoying inconvenience, not a sentence of fear. if we had had a personal encounter with the burglars or been personally threatened in any way, yes, it would have been much more traumatic. Yes, we reviewed our security and took sensible measures, but we didnot turn our home into a fortress or choose to live in fear.i said then, and continue to say, that if we capitulate to a fear-based lifestyle, the evil have already won -- they have taken away our freedom. Exactly the same is true, for me, of international politics today...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Madeleine L'Engle quotes

I never read "A swiftly Tilting planet" until I was an adult, but it stirred me in the deep places, even those bits I couldn't quite figure the sense of. so, because they inspire, delight or challenge me, here are some quotes from her various writings:

"Darkness was and darkness was good. As with light. Light and Darkness dancing together, born together, born of each other, neither preceding, neither following, both fully being, in joyful rhythm."

"An infinite question is often destroyed by finite answers. To define everything is to annihilate much that gives us laughter and joy.

"There's the rub; an icon can far too easily become an idol. Idols always bring disaster to the idolater. An icon is an open door to the Creator; when it becomes an idol, the door slams in your face."
(Penguins and Golden Calves, 39)

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There'd have been no room for the child.
("After Annunciation", WEATHER OF THE HEART)

"Only Christ can free us from the prison of legalism, and then only if we are willing to be freed." (Penguins and Golden Calves, 85)

Not the large thunders

Not the large thunders, for I cannot hear
Your word to me within the shouted phrase.
Whisper with gentleness, for I am small,
Cramped to the fragile limit of my days.

Show me no maps of heaven, eye’s not seen
Grandeur so vast, nor can I count its gauge.
Dazzled by dewdrops, mesmerised by mice,
My sight cannot encompass such a stage.

Not the vast eons, flaming through the sky --
Limit Your love to now, this second’s span.
I, not eternal, but poor child of time,
Would hold Your finger in my finger’s scan.

I would hold and be held, and I would know,
To the small limits of my littleness,
Love, not as the transcendent spirits know,
But, in this breath, this heart, Your soft caress.

Therefore withhold the music of the spheres,
Until I grow to meet You face to face.
Now, showing mercy to my finitude,
Grant me my this-day’s-portion of Your grace.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

a thought on the gospels

God has four people recount the life of his incarnate Son, in each case differently and with inconsistencies. Is this not just in order that the literal word is not taken too seriously, and that the spirit may be given its due? In other words a mediocre account is to be preferred…’Wittgenstein, 1937

Not quite sure about the "mediocre" bit, perhaps that depends on what we measure excellence by... I would prefer to put it in terms that our modern post-enlightenment ultra-rationalistic definitions of excellence might be out of synch with God's value system. God seems to delight in loose ends, incomplete explanations, untidy miracles, revelations of wonder that mess up our neat theology. Perhaps we have settled for honouring a lesser excellence when God is calling us to a higher. The foolishness of God is still wiser than the wisdom of men, we who have made idols of our own intellectual systems, who think that we understand something when we have stuck a label on it (and oh, how we argue over those labels!) must repent of our arrogance and return to the manger and the cross where we see again, astounded by His grace, that the perfection of Divine order is imperfectly expressed within our understanding, not because the order is incomplete, but because our understanding is, and to try to bend it to be complete within our understanding is to warp it out of shape. It is we who need to be remade (or unmade) to become like him, and the first step into glory is to learn humility.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

In The Morning

I wrote this several years ago, in response to a situation where I felt betrayed, abused and falsely accused by a group of people. it was beyond the point of trying to argue or justify myself; I decided to leave it in the hands of the One who will one day sort it all out for us:


I will meet you in the morning when the joy lights in our eyes
And the shadows of our night have fled away
When this hard, dead seed within becomes a flower in full bloom ..
I will meet you at the dawning of the day!

I will meet you in the morning when misunderstandings cease
When clear truth in all her frankness is revealed
When the heart is washed from all the muck she has to swim in now
And integrity no longer is concealed.

I will meet you in the morning when our laughter learns to skip
Like a lamb across the hills of our desire
When we clap our hands in wonder at the simple, perfect things
And delight is not a fragment, but entire.

I shall meet you in the morning when our wings are given out
And we soar like eagles up into the sun
When our feathers stretch to feel the wind which we were made to sail
And our crawling over broken glass is done.

I will meet you in the morning at the feet of Love and Truth
Where the Arms that always held shall hold us fast
In that place of all fulfillment where our tears are wiped away
And we fully know as we are known at last.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Great quote

“If I could have said it, I wouldn’t have needed to dance it.”
Wright, N.T. The Challenge of Jesus – Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is

yes, our minds must be fully exercised towards rightly understanding the truth of God, but to imagine our set of propositions is the Christ life is like mistaking an analysis of the map for actually taking the journey. At the end of all our arguments we are silenced by one glimpse His reality, we no longer analyse but fall in worship, and then, wonder of wonders, God Himself bends down to us, lifts us up into His embrace and starts teaching us His steps!

Me? a leader?

LOL! I think this proves pretty conclusively that these tests are very idealised ..

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Let the broken fountains flow

Let the broken fountains flow
With salt tears where else was dry
Let the heart abandoned know
There are many ways to die
Let the grief that cannot show
In its hidden cistern lie.

Here the arms that hang like stone
Yet are yearning for embrace
Here the soul that walks alone
Wary of pretended grace
Here the laugh that hides a groan
Only empathy could trace.

Let the living waters flow
Through the streambed gaunt and dry
Let the broken hearted know
There is life for those who die
Wounds of Christ, in mercy show
There is love which cannot lie.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Core Principles

In one of my first college courses, I had to write a paper on five core principles that i based my life on. That was 3 years ago, it's equally true of me now:

Principle one -- WORSHIP

I was created to worship God. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30), which to me means worship as a total lifestyle. To live in relationship with the One who loves me more than His own life is the fulfilment (ultimately the only real fulfilment) of my deepest needs. And worship is not only the aspiration and praise that springs from the deepest places of my heart, for Jesus said “worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), and also, “if you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15), so worship is also obedience and action. I think of it as ‘God-centred living’, seeking to learn to keep in step with the Spirit in everything I’m doing, to seek His will in all I do, and constantly “keep the channel open” for prayer and praise and listening to Him.

Principle two --INTEGRITY

By integrity I do not just mean honesty in my dealings with others (though that is a crucial expression of it) but honesty with myself, and a submissive attitude to the convicting revelations that come from the Holy Spirit. I want to have the same attitude as David, who said “Search me O God and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23), for he says of the Lord “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts” (Psalm 51:6). It is all too easy to live in self-deception and hypocrisy. Somebody once suggested to me that deer can stay sure-footed on the heights because their back feet track exactly where their front feet went – to me this makes Habakkuk 3:19 “he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the high places” -- a perfect image of the integrity I long to run in, discarding, like old coats no longer needed, the fears and falsehoods that hamper me.

Integrity, to me, also means keeping my word, whether I mean the absolute, binding nature of my marriage vows, or a casual “promise” made to an acquaintance, seeking to live as one who “keeps his oath even when it hurts”. (Psalm 15:4)

Principle three -- GRACE

I can live in freedom and joy because I have been “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24) – “this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:2) Therefore, I have an absolute responsibility to show to others the same grace and forgiveness that God, through Christ, has shown me. Jesus said “if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14), and, in James 2:13 we are told, “judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful”. I have learned it as a living truth that we cannot stand at the foot of the cross and immerse ourselves in “the incomparable riches of His grace” (Ephesians 2:7) and have contempt and unforgiveness for our brother or sister at the same time, no matter how badly we have been wronged. For instance, until I fully forgave those who had abused me, I was still chained to them, and could not fully experience God’s love myself. All human beings desperately need to receive grace, if Jesus’ words “let your light so shine before men” (Matthew 5:16) are to become a reality in our lives, in my life, surely it must begin by being channels of His grace and mercy to one another?

Principle four -- FAITH

“Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6), and pleasing God is my deepest desire. But, to me, living by faith goes further even than trusting in Jesus’ work rather than my own for my salvation; it means choosing to view life from the perspective of God’s Word, even when that conflicts with the way that things feel and appear to me. It means acknowledging that “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18), and re-setting the parameters of my will so that I might walk in step with God, rather the world, the flesh or the Spirit of the Age. Therefore faith is something that requires courage, demanding that I leave the “comfort zone” of self-pity and powerlessness, and learn to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) and “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16), even when I have every human reason to be negative and discouraged.

Principle five -- COMMUNITY

As a person who has been hurt, and whose tendency is towards introversion, I have an innate preference for withdrawing from people rather than risking further hurt, but my commitment to community compels me back into connection. As a new Christian I had the privilege of hearing a speaker share deeply about his experience of real fellowship, and it planted a dream in my heart of “how it ought to be”, which has only strengthened since. I long deeply to see the Body of Christ really being what God has called it to be (eg John 13:35; Romans 13:8; John 13:14; 15:12: Galatians 6:2), but I have learned the hard way that our dreams do not become reality by wishful thinking, but by deliberately choosing to sow what we desire to reap (2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7); therefore I, myself, must learn how to model appropriate vulnerability and be willing to reach out and get humanly involved rather than sitting on the sidelines in my comfort zone protecting myself.

DISCLAIMER (or conclusion)

In the words of Paul: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12)


River or ocea, the loveliness of water ..

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Risking relationship

Someone on another forum was talking about their struggle to venture back into church after bad experiences, and I felt prompted to share some of my own experiences, including a glimpse of what I went through when I ventured into a home church looking for the loving community I longed for. After a bit of autobiography, I continued with this:

It’s over 7 years since I left, and the healing is still happening. I now know that God loves me and that, however flawed I might be, I can still be a channel of His grace simply because I am in Him. There are a couple of friends that are real grace-givers to my life, and who, amazingly, actually seem to want MY friendship. I am still cautious in relationships, because of my past history of falling for abusive people, but one of the things that’s convinced me that real change has happened is that those patterns seem to be finally broken. It has taken me 50 years (slow learner) but I finally have a monster radar that blips internally when someone is being manipulative, dishonest etc. Or maybe I’ve finally begun to believe more in my own heart than in what other people with their own agendas tell me.
I can’t see that anything I’ve said is even relevant to your pain, except that I can personally say to you that my experience says that God is still there with us as we struggle with all the junk and that dipping back into relationships again can be a little like the story of the disciples who’d been out there fishing all night and caught nothing. Not only do we keep coming up empty, but we’re getting snagged and snarled and broken in the process, and we know a painful session of net-mending is in order. And then Jesus tells us to dip in one more time, and everything inside us shrieks out that this is wasted effort. But, hey, this is Jesus, so, in spite of ourselves we say, “nevertheless at Your word” and do it, with every muscle screaming out in protest.And this time the result is very different ..

The handmaid

I always struggle with the discrepancy between the church as presented in the bible(the mystical Body of Christ, the glorious bride) with the struggling, frustrating often besmirched reality we often see. It is not a tension that I think can be resolved this side of eternity, but, then again, it is exactly the same tension as I find in my own life, between sinner and saint! (and that shouldn't want or need an exclamation mark!) This poem is simply descriptive, one day ugliness, sin and failure will be stripped away and the beauty of Jesus will be seen in His people


Behold, the handmaid of the Lord!
Behold her tatters, rags and dirt;
Besmirched by sin, bowed down by fear,
Disfigured, wounded, sorely hurt!
Out of her mouth come ugly things;
Greed in her eyes, grasping her touch.
Her feet have walked in filthy ways.
She sins, and she has hungered much!
Behold the handmaid of the Lord,
More like a beggar, reeking, foul!
Can any fountain make her clean?
Can any healing make her whole?

Behold the handmaid of the Lord;
Blood on her brow, her hands, her feet!
Dressed in white linen, wondrous, fair;
Ransomed, renewed, and whole and sweet!
Behold the handmaid of the Lord,
Joy in her heart, her arms stretched wide;
One precious name upon her lips,
Behold the handmaid, now a bride!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Isn't it?

But isn't life full of strange tricks and surprises,
And pain and uncertainty, anguished surmises;
And joy breaking through the dull ache of despair,
And love shining bright with the sun on her hair;

And hope turned to ashes, and laughter to grieving,
Our deepest securities rising and leaving;
The song of the wind and the catch in the heart,
And flood-tides of worship that drown every part?

Thomas a Kempis

What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone.
-- Thomas a Kempis

Is there a greater danger for the Christian than mistaking our learning about God for knowing Him better? I know I must be prayerful, not only that I should not imagine that my little knowledge equals wisdom (that is quickly dispelled, I only have to remember how much more my teachers know than I do) but even more that I should never mistake my little learning for increased godliness. knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Though I learn my smattering of Greek and Hebrew, and can write essays on the intricacies of justification or argue my beliefs on the Trinity so what? It is all worthless vanity, dust and ashes, so long as there remains in my heart any pride in my own self-righteousness or any disdain towards a fellow human being. Increasing my theological vocabulary is a waste of time if it does not make me more eager to get down on my knees to serve and pray. Grace not works is not a formula, but the only real life there is ..

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Head and heart

Another great quote, fitting straight into the thoughts on the limitations of propositional theology:

It has pleased God that divine verities should not enter the heart through the understanding, but the understanding through the heart. ... Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

Your Word in me

Let Your word be in me
Through me
Embracing and surrounding
Touching every atom of my being
With the grace that heals, transforms;
Giving sight and insight
And the love that gives and gives.

You are my Rock
The only solidity
The words of truth that stand against the storm
And he who clings to You will not be swept away
And he who stands on You can never fall
Out of the hands that hold.

Let me hear You with my heart,
Drinking Living Water with my desperate thirst
Re-hydrating my dreadful desiccation.
Let me bathe, swim, splash
In its sweet invigoration
Laughing as it washes clean
The old encrusted sores.

Let my frail mind find a dwelling place
In the habitation of Your truth
Let me find a stronghold
In the fullness of Your furnishings.

Let me never be afraid
Your word takes nothing from me
Except the dead wood
And the branch that bears no fruit
Leaving room to engraft abundance.
Let it be a part of me
Flesh of my flesh, Your Spirit
Like the raising yeast,
Lifting ... lifting ...

Write Yourself upon me
Etched on my being in light
The word of truth flowing
Till everyone can read
The strange script of Your never-failing love
Giving lilt to the lips that falter
Making stumbling feet dance out
The music of Your praise
And Your song is sung through me!!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Living with uncertainty

There is a human preference for certainty, to want to have life neatly delineated, the boundaries safely drawn, so we can huddle safely within. We want the rules and the answers carefully set out. most of all, we want tangible proof that we are basically right, or, if wrong, a simple system by which a little effort can put us in the right. We want to know that our kind of people (whatever dimension we define ourselves by) have basically got it together and the world belongs to us (or if not, then it's because of some conspiracy, and one day the tables will be turned. This is the essence of fundamentalism, a system that provides security for the insecure. But this is not the life that Jesus calls us to. the life of faith is not the life of knowledge, though knowledge must be its foundation stone. But we are not called to cling to the ground but to fly like eagles. We are not called to justify the known, but embrace the unknown. we are not called to manufacture our own goodness, but rest in His. We are not called to save our lives, but to lose them. We do not have all the answers; to claim we do is to make them up ourselves. yes, there are absolute truths, precious beyond our comprehension because they will stand every test, and be our refuge in the earthquake storm and flood. but there are spaces, tensions even, between those truths, and it is in that place where, so often, we must live and move and have our being. cling to one aspect of truth, ignoring the rest; one verse of scripture at the expense of its complement, and you can no longer move forward and grow. but, in the inbetween places, we must step forward with faith, trusting that the Holy Spirit will lead us into truth, as was promised, from one degree of glory to another. the command, I seem to recall, was to love, not to pontificate. It is as much a part of Truth to honestly admit what we do not know, as well as to staunchly proclaim what we do know.

String Theory

I have no idea how accurate the physics in the following article is, or how much "spin" it's been given (hey, the last time I studied physics was in 1972 for my HSC -- hard to believe I was ever good at it!) but I find the idea fascinating. As someone who loves the imagery of God singing the world into being, as per the Creation scene in C S Lewis' The Magician's Nephew or the first part of Tolkien's Silmarillion, or, to change the image slightly, the great dance at the end of C S Lewis' Voyage to Venus: I can't help it that my imagination is captured by the ideas in this article:

Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity are both accepted as scientific fact even though they're mutually exclusive. Albert Einstein spent the second half of his life searching for a unifying truth that would reconcile the two.
Einstein was searching for String Theory. It not only reconciles General Relativity to Quantum Mechanics, but it reconciles Science and the Bible as well.
Listen to a group of physicists talk about String Theory and it will slowly dawn on you that they're explaining the entire universe as nothing but the quivering, dancing echo of the voice of God. "Let there be light."String Theory describes energy and matter as being composed of tiny, wiggling strands of energy that look like strings. And the pitch of a string's vibration determines the nature of its effect.In essence, String Theory describes space and time, matter and energy, gravity and light, indeed all of God's creation. as music.Strings of gravity vibrate at a different frequency than strings of light. The strings that make up protons vibrate at a different pitch than the strings that make up electrons. Strings composing the strong nuclear force vibrate differently than the strings composing the weak nuclear force. And electromagnetism vibrates at its own unique frequency as well.We've known for a while that matter is made of protons, neutrons and electrons - which are themselves made of quarks. Now String Theory comes along to whisper in our ear that quarks are made of vibrating, wiggling strings of energy that are unimaginably small.
According to Brian Greene, a Columbia University physicist educated at Harvard and Oxford, "If an atom were enlarged to the size of the solar system, a string would only be as large as a tree."Greene goes on to say, "Just as different vibrational patterns or frequencies of a single cello string create what we hear as different musical notes, the different way that strings vibrate give particles their unique properties, such as mass and charge. For example, the only difference between the particles making up you and me - and the particles that transmit gravity and the other forces - is the way these tiny strings vibrate. Composed of an enormous number of these oscillating strings, the universe can be thought of as a grand, cosmic symphony."
According to String Theory, what appears to be empty space is actually a tumultuous ocean of strings vibrating at the precise frequencies that create the 4 dimensions you and I call height, width, depth and time. We live in these 4 dimensions and know them well. But String Theory describes an additional 7 dimensions beyond our ability to perceive.Suddenly the idea of an invisible world isn't quite so hard to believe.Physicist David Gross of the University of California in Santa Barbara says, "It's as if we've stumbled in the dark into a house which we thought was a 2-bedroom apartment and now we're discovering there's a 19-room mansion at least, and maybe it's got a thousand rooms and we're just beginning our journey." WizardAcademy.org.Roy H. Williams

Monday, July 31, 2006

More photos

A deer (well, obviusly!)
The motel we stayed at in Armidale had its own deer park. It was tricky to get a good photo because of the position of the fences and gate, but one came close enough!

A wayside flower found while on a walk
(No, we were walking, NOT the flower)

a little country church in the middle of nowhere

A sheep. I actually took the photo from the car window. The scene was so quintessentially outback

Inclusion or Exclusion?

More and more (at least in the circles I move in) people seem to be intent onmaking the faith EXclusive: "unles you believe/practise X,Y,Z you are probably a heretic, or at best a very weak christian who hasn't fully submitted themselves to what the scriptures say" Who exalted us to set the boundary markers according to the limits of our own understanding? Yes, there are absolutes: truth is truth, right is right and sin is sin -- but within the boundaries which God has set up (which we all step across every day and need to come back inside them again-- it's called repentance) there is plenty of room to move. there is room for you to dance in that corner and you to kneel silently silently in that one, there is room for many different kinds of music which genuinely inspire different people to worship in spirit and in truth, there is room for the evangelist and the social worker and the preacher and the contemplative, there is room for many different perspectives and approaches to key doctrinal issues (eg justification, baptism, theology of the church etc etc). On some of those things I will have strong views, on some of them you will have strong views, and we must each do what we believe is right according to the grace given us, for "whatever is not of faith is sin". But even where our understandings divide us, surely we can see that it is Jesus Himself who unites us, that just because hands do things one way, and livers another and eyes a third etc etc does not stop us from all being parts of one body. Unity was never meant to be based on uniformity; unity is based on love, and the absolute wonder that the Holy Spirit is at work in someone so different from myself, turning dross into gold and making beauty from ashes, just as He is doing in my life! We pilgrims come from many different directions, but as we continue to move towards Jesus, inevitably we are brought closer to one another. but some people, tragically, prefer intellectual arrogance to inclusive love.

He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!"

Outwitted" by Edwin Markham

Saturday, July 29, 2006

How do we know?

Ok, this is heavier stuff than I normally post, so if theological argument is not your thing, feel free to skip it. But here in Sydney this is an important issue, because of a significant group (referred to as the mjs in this -- they are the dominant group at the moment in my own denomination, the same group who do not believe in the ordination of women or the charismatic activity of the Spirit) who believe that God only reveals Himself propositionally (through specific, dare I say formulaic, verbal statements in the Bible) and not in any other way. This description may not do justice to the nuances of their theology, unfortunately (from my perspective) it is an accurate reflection of their practice. This issue came up a while ago in some correspondence a friend was having with one of that party, and he asked for my take. These are my "thoughts in process":

++Their assumption is that knowing God intellectually is the primary requisite. Ok, this is a straw man in a sense, since no one (at least that I’ve known personally) would actually say that was their goal, but I am looking at the fruit here (since Jesus said that was how we are to discern our teachers) and what I see amongst mj’s in practice is the exaltation of intellectual understanding of the scriptures at the expense of other things which were long held to be central to Christian growth and obedience. I am not discounting the importance of intellectual knowledge or the value of scriptural study. We are commanded to love God with all of our minds (as well as heart and soul and strength), and I would assume that stretching our understanding to engage with truth as God defines it in His word is an essential part of that. How else are we to rightly divide the word of truth, or be renewed by the transforming of our minds? To assume, however, that that is our only knowledge, or that intellectual apprehension of theological truth is equivalent to godliness (or even some sort of brownie point), or that intellectual truth is the only truth of value, is much more shaky.

++The elevation of propositional theology. Yes, we do need propositional theology, or we end up floating around in a kind of lukewarm new age soup, where anything goes. But I would suggest that the principal function of propositional theology is negative – it defines what God is not. By propositional theology I know that God is Creator, not a pantheistic part of His own creation. By propositional theology I know that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit , He is therefore neither exclusively God or exclusively man. By propositional theology I know that I cannot be justified by my own works or find salvation outside of Christ. And so on … But propositional theology on its own will not save me, or produce in me the fruit of the Spirit, or move my heart in wonder, love and awe as I catch a glimpse of my awesome God. It sets the boundaries (and they are important boundaries) beyond which is not-God and untruth, but it does not reveal the truth of God to my inner person, because it only shows me truth in one dimension, like a black and white photo of a rainbow.

++Further, I would suggest that the Bible is not, except for a few particular verses, a book of propositional theology. To extract propositional theology from it is a valid exercise of human logic and reasoning, but let us be quite honest that that is what we are doing – presenting an interpretation, a “best fit” of Biblical revelation to the logical framework that is our cultural preference. We are one step (or maybe more?) removed from the actual Word of God. And, inevitably, I think, (though no one else seems to be asking it!) this also raises the question of why God chose to communicate this way. Why didn’t He give us a neat manual of propositional theology instead of this curious, messy, inspiring, frustrating amalgam of narrative and poetry and even people’s personal correspondence that has become our Bible? Could it possibly be that He wants to communicate something more to us than can be contained in propositional logic? Could the faith to which we are called be more than intellectual consent to a set of theological constructs, coupled with appropriately moral and correct behaviour? What is God up to and what response are we to give to this?

++Perhaps side by side with the question “how do we know?” we need to be asking “how much do we know?” One of the frightening trends I see among mj s is the assumption that when we have dealt with Truth propositionally and tied up the loose ends of our system of systematic theology, we have achieved all the knowledge of God that we humanly can or need to. Only an irrational level of conceit of course, could induce a person to believe that they then have total revelation, so the usual response is to assume that other forms of knowing God (which, after all, even at their uttermost, are still partial, and painfully inadequate, and shall be until we see Him face to face) are unnecessary, irrelevant or simply too unreliable to count. The assumption is that all our experience of God is a negligible source of truth compared to an intellectual abstraction. This is the point where I must part company with the mjs. I simply do not agree. Certainly all my experience, in it’s many forms must be subjected to and interpreted by scriptural truth – this is what the authority of scripture means, but it is, let us be really honest with ourselves, a bit of a two way process. Where my experience and the scripture do not line up, I certainly do not discard the bible, but neither do I discard my experience. I take a fresh look at both to work out which one I have misunderstood. Sometimes I must reinterpret my experience to fit in with objective revelation, sometimes (oh dear!) I find that the bible doesn’t necessarily say what I had thought it said. For instance, to give a concrete personal example, having been born and bred in the evangelical fold, I had always been taught cessationism. But when my experience demonstrated that God still speaks personally and directly to the believer today, I had to re-evaluate. Either my theology or my experience was wrong. In this case, careful re-reading of the scripture convinced me that the bible did not actually teach cessationism at all!

++At the heart of it all is mystery. God is eternal, infinite and holy. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. We are summoned to love Him, trust Him and obey Him, to surrender our whole being to Him as the only possible right and sane response to both His kingship and His grace. Yet we can only know Him so far as He reveals Himself to us. Dare we assume any limits or restrictions on how He may choose to do this? He is God, He will impart Himself to us in as many ways as he chooses. It is we who so often have eyes but see not, and ears, but hear not, because we have presupposed that the God of the Universe will only meet with us in predetermined ways.