I’m not sure I believe in new year’s resolutions (I’ve tried and failed too often). But it’s probably worth taking stock and setting some priorities for the blog as the year ticks over — if only in an attempt to force myself to be a little more deliberate (in fact, ‘more deliberate’ is kind of a theme):
- Slow down. I want to carve out some space to compose things that are more considered and less reactive — e.g., less tied to whatever book I’ve been reading or pastoral issue I’ve been bumping up against. (This will probably see a reduction in my frenetic pace of posting.)
- Get published. This is simply the most tangible expression of my growing sense of a need to push beyond the unfinished, first-drafty stage of most of what I post. I still hope to keep the conversation going, but I’d also love to invest in developing some more substantial resources.
- Prize relationships. I’d like to do more of the kind of things they tell bloggers to do — telecast where I’m going (before I get there), build relational capital by posting links more frequently, etc.
- Have a real world adventure. I guess this is fairly self-explanatory and will probably involve some travel — but I thought it was worth including amongst all this more or less cerebral and intangible stuff.
From Gregory Nazianzen, Oration XXXVIII (‘On the Theophany, or Birthday of Christ’ — Section II):
O clap your hands together all ye people, because unto us a Child is born, and a Son given unto us, Whose Government is upon His shoulder (for with the Cross it is raised up), and His Name is called The Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father. Let John cry, Prepare ye the way of the Lord: I too will cry the power of this Day. He Who is not carnal is Incarnate; the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, Jesus Christ the Same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. Let the Jews be offended, let the Greeks deride; let heretics talk till their tongues ache. Then shall they believe, when they see Him ascending up into heaven; and if not then, yet when they see Him coming out of heaven and sitting as Judge.
Andrew certainly thinks it is. But, whether he’s right or wrong, it looks like there’s a pretty good chance that it’s our immediate future!
We’re still waiting to hear the final word on Natalie’s scholarship application to study in the UK. But she has secured a place to start a PhD at the University of Melbourne next year (in the school of Philosophy, Anthropology and Social Inquiry). And I’m currently investigating some possibilities to get stuck into pastoral work.
We’re very thankful to God for all the choices he provided us with in the last couple of weeks — please join us in thanking him for answering many of our prayers in providing a secure place for Natalie next year.
And we’re launching a mailing list for those who’d like to pray with and for us, and keep up to date with our personal news. We’d love to keep in touch with you no matter what the future brings.
Just fill out the short form HERE.
I’m trying to resist the temptation to blog every second page of The Philosopher’s Dog (truly!). But I just have to share this:
Many mountaineers speak of their relation to the mountains in words normally used in speaking of relations to persons — they speak of respect for the mountain, of gratitude that though they were reckless in their climbing, the mountain had let them off lightly. Sometimes they speak obsessively of it as a foe to be vanquished. But of course no mountaineer believes that mountains are persons. Mountaineers speak in metaphors that enable them, sometimes in powerful ways, to express the fact that their will is limited by necessities that are nothing like the rules of a game and seem like nothing that a group could impose, and that they are driven by necessities whose nature is to be explained by things external to themselves. (pp 151-152)
This account of the givenness of mountains riffs on the familiar theme of the compulsion many climbers experience — ‘because it’s there’.
It made me think of Rowan William’s musings on art and love in Grace and Necessity. Williams insists that everything can exert the pressure of such necessity and givenness upon us. Even when we are creating, the products of our imagination are not simply obedient clay; they also possess a kind of necessity to which we must answer.
Williams suggests that the world exerts such pressure because it’s a gift not a given. It’s something to which we’re entitled. Or that we can expect to yield itself automatically to our mastery.
I think this emphasis on the gift-character of the world does a better job explaining the sorts of necessities we encounter as we move about in it: the many ways it goes beyond us, constrains our wills, denies us mastery and contests our sense of entitlement…
In Mr and Mrs Smith, during that scene at the end when they’re shooting up the department store, there’s an awkward moment when they’re in an elevator with muzak playing. The first time I watched the movie the pause seemed to go on forever. A couple of years, and a few episodes of Arrested Development later, and when we watched it again it didn’t feel like the pause was nearly as long or awkward as I remembered…
I’ve been reflecting on the prevalence of the awkward pause as a comedic device in contemporary drama. I realised the other day, that this is unique to performance — you can’t force an awkward pause in writing. You can describe one, but you can’t actually effect one. When it comes to the written word the author has no control over timing — the reader reads as fast or slow, with as few or as many pauses as they like.
The written word really struggles to produce absence*. It has feeble control over timing. I’m not sure what to do with these thoughts just yet, but I find them intriguing.
*With the notable exception of Dave Eggers’ short story “There are some things he should keep to himself”, which consists of five blank pages (from How We Are Hungry). Get it?
I’ve been reading The Philosopher’s Dog by home-grown Australian philosopher, Raimond Gaita (he’s at least as ‘home-grown’ as all those New Zealand bands we’ve claimed as our own).
It’s so gentle and winsome. Take this for example (p 17):
Because of the ways in which need can distort and poison relationships we tend to be suspicious of it. To attempt to rid ourselves of need in order to prevent those distortions, or more desperately, in pursuit of an ideal of self-sufficiency, would be disastrous, however, were we to succeed. The need we have — often unfathomable — of other human beings is partly what conditions and yields to us our sense of their preciousness.
We’re such a bundle of contradictions. The same need that can choke and stifle, also animates what is truest and best about us.
How glorious, then, that God — the Maker of everything — counts us precious not even partly because he needs to. And yet neither is he locked away in the endless silence of a proud self-sufficiency. Rather, he is love. A love that dances and spills over the rim of the perfect fulness of life and fellowship between Father, Son and Spirit. And showers down on us, satisfying our deepest need. Whispering, ‘I will be your God and you will be my people’.
O come, O come, Emmanuel!
This leapt off the page at me yesterday:
[N]either circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! (Galatians 6.15)
You can almost taste the exultation in this fist-pumping shout of triumph. More, its consequences are massive. And as disorienting as a painting by Hieronymus Bosch. Nothing can ever be the same again.
Whatever we might previously have thought was everything is now brought to nothing. In particular, it consigns to the dustbin both religion — in this case the Jewish ritual requirement of circumcision — and irreligion — the ‘uncircumcision’ was a common Jewish way to refer to the unwashed, non-Jews outside of the promises God made to the nation he’d chosen and claimed as his own.
I wonder how different my life would be if it consistently displayed the sheer intoxicating joy of this exclamation?
I like drama. I really do. But, on a Friday night after a week at work, I love action movies. Actually, I like them all the time. Here’s some reasons why:
- They don’t require much higher order thought.
- I like the one-liner humour.
- The hero is generally a good guy/girl. You like the hero. This makes it emotionally less exhausting.
- While they may not involve talented actors, I do appreciate the beauty of talented people doing martial arts.
- They (usually) still care about plot; they have beginnings, middles and ends.
- Usually, the ending provides satisfying resolution.
- They invoke physical reactions — revulsion, shock, laughter, even cheering…
- I like that they use technology (on both sides of the camera).
- They spend a lot of money making things look good.
I’m guessing that I’m not alone in not having started my Christmas shopping yet. So as I turn to the Herculean task, it’s time for my current philosophy of gift giving to ‘go active’.
I say my current philosophy because I’ve moved around on this one quite a lot during my life:
- As a kid I aspired to the ideal of a perfect exchange — as in You Give Me Exactly What I Want And I’ll Give You Exactly What You Want. I remember one particular Christmas where I arranged with the eldest son from the family we regularly celebrated the day with for us to get each other the one Lego kit that we both wanted. This (almost unfailingly) delivered a gift that the recipient regarded as precious. But with hindsight I can see that this hardly counted as giving at all!
- Later I embraced the idea that it was best to give people not necessarily what they were on record as wanting, but something I loved that I wanted them to enjoy too. Of course, this philosophy pretty much allowed me not to go to the effort of thinking about what other people might actually appreciate. But it did preserve an element of surprise (and, in practice, wasn’t always as thoughtless as it could have been).
- These days I aspire to get the best of both worlds by hunting down gifts that express attentiveness. Paying attention to the intended recipient of your gifts is kind of like a meta-gift. It’s a lot more demanding because it directs you to look for something they’d be delighted to receive — striving to draw out the confession, ‘That’s exactly what I need!’ — without caving in to the predictable quid pro quo of ‘Tell me what you want and I’ll get it for you’.
This philosophy of giving reflects — however dimly and imperfectly — the kind of gift Christmas is all about: God’s gift of his own Son so that ‘whoever believes in him might have eternal life’ (John 3.16).
God didn’t owe it to humanity to send his Son as our rescuer and life-giver. We weren’t entitled to it. He wasn’t on our Ultimate Wish List (even if he should have been). But this gift was exactly what we needed. Totally appropriate. Perfectly designed to secure our flourishing. Expressive of that profound attentiveness we call love.
I want to give gifts like that…