Rust.

I took out my classical guitar tonight, for the first time in many months.  I then spent over an hour trying to locate my classical music from the joyful days when I used to be able to afford the time for guitar lessons.  One of my favourite pieces to play was Suit no 1 for Cello by Bach.  To my dismay I could not even complete the first page.  I have always been fascinated by how my fingers remember what to play more quickly than my brain does.  A neurological phenomenon of course.  However, even this knowing failed me.  I am truly rusty.  Out of practice(p): impaired in skill by neglect, according to wordnetweb.

U2 sing about love turning to rust (Where the streets have no name).  Love impaired in skill by neglect.  Perhaps skill is the wrong word.  But love, faith, and classical guitar can all be impaired by neglect.  I am in what I have defined as a “quiet place” within my faith.  I think of it as not lost or dead, but quietly ruminating.  Perhaps to be honest, it is in hibernation.   The U2 song comes from the album “The Joshua Tree” – a long time favorite.  A rare album that has remained loved from my angst ridden teens to now.   The album art features a Joshua tree, apparently named by the Mormons because it’s form reminded them of Joshua reaching his hands up to the sky in prayer.  A tree of prayer, of life, in a barren desert.  The sort of place where love could turn to rust.   Where life can be found.  And faith.

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Leave me alone

I am not one for following celebrities. I find the scene irritating and shallow. Not to mention fickle. Today’s darlings are tomorrow’s sources of mockery. Elevated or torn to shreds by tabloid one-liners. Airbrush or not to airbrush? Depends on whether people love to love them or love to hate them. And somehow, we think we know them, and have the right to pass judgment on them.

This morning I caught some of a video history of Michael Jackson on Rage. It was a walk through his catapult to fame. The collection of clips marked the sad transition from a charming energetic little boy to reedy slick-moving teen, to eighties pop icon, culminating with a slow diminishing of the man himself. One of the clips stood out to me – “Leave me alone“. An old song, but I have never heard it or seen it before. The clip is startling because it features all the nasty headlines, innuendos, aspects of him that have been regularly mocked. Throughout the clip it seems he pleads “leave me alone”. It saddened me.

He is now dead. And still not left alone, as jokes, media etc pick over the bones to see what will sell another magazine. He certainly had issues. But how can we separate that from falling into the hands of the cult of celebrity, our need to create and elevate others to superhuman proportions. When they can’t handle it, we tear them down.  The results can be catastrophic.

I would not have liked to walk in his shoes.

It must be love…

For a long time I have been pondering what it means to love God.  Contrary to some obscure what kind of “defective personality test are you” test I took randomly on Facebook (why take such things you may well ask? At least I didn’t publish it!), I am not wooden, but nor am I given to gushing emotion.  I am not one to splash the “I love you”  words around liberally.  And so I have come to wonder about God and love.  What and how do I love him?  We often sing songs at church about loving God.  “Jesus I am so in love with you” one song-writer croons.  But are we?   For me the “in love” phrase conjours up the domain of romantic lovers, exciting and passionate for sure.  But this love, for all its fire and energy, lacks depth, commitment, the burnished resilience that only the gritty journey of life together can forge.  It passes, is readily kindled and extinguished.  I don’t love Jesus in this romantic way.  However, I am not decrying intimacy with God.

I am reading Michael Frost’s book “Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post Christian Culture” at the moment.  He takes an interesting meander through the old testament’s language of God and love, and while the analogy is often used of the relationship between a man and a woman, it is always unflattering.  A relentlessly tragic story of unfaithfulness, the language often sordid and emotive.  A sad story of God remaining faithful to a people who continue to betray.  (Song of Solomon is a notable exception and probably an unecessary digression for the discussion here).

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  And the second is like it.  Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Frost asserts that this passage “underscores the fact that for Jesus, it is impossible to love God apart from expressing that love physically and practically into the lives of our neighbours.”(p308).

Now this is something that resonates more for me, it is loving as a verb rather than some feel good sensation in my heart, stomach or whatever is the culturally acceptable seat of emotions.

Frost goes on to list nine different ways we can “love God”, beginning with a piercing quote from Rowland Croucher – “You love God just as much, and no more, than the person you love least.”  Here are the nine headings:

Love God by loving others

Love God by obeying Jesus

Love God by lingering in God’s company

Love God by speaking about the things of God

Love God by longing for the return of Christ

Love God by forsaking all other gods and idols

Love God by laying down our life

Love God by loving what he has created.

Love God by forgiving others.

I think Frost is onto something here.  There is much to unpack in nine sentences that holds a light to  the ways in which I love God, and the ways in which I fail to.

So then, of what shall we sing?

Ho Ho Ho Hum….

Hope you all like the snow traipsing across my screen – I thought I had better do something a little festive here to mark the season!  Please don’t misinterpret my title for any scrooge like disdain for Christmas.  On the contrary, I think it is a wonderful time of the year.  I love the holidays, choosing presents, and yeah, I am not so holy as to deny the fact that I like receiving them too.  My title is more a reflection on what is left about Christmas when the spending, giving, receiving and returning frenzy is over?  (Lets face it, a lot of unwanted presents are given and received every year.  I am sure that ebay went wild by about midmorning on December 25th).  Most gifts lose their gleam quickly enough.  No matter how much they were or are desirable.  I found this clip on youtube that sums it up nicely.  Except it tries unhappily to blend the story of Jesus with Christmas present disatisfaction.  There is something disturbing about Jesus, who during his time on earth had very little in the way of possessions, being portrayed as an infant bemoaning the fact that he received frankinsense instead of an iphone (ok, I am reading my own wants into this one!).  I think it is symptomatic of our culture that is far more focussed on receiving rather than giving.  I know there are exceptions to this everywhere, and those stories, individuals and communities should be celebrated.  But our obsession with “stuff” irks me.  Not the least because I am guilty too, even though I know better.   I haven’t had many people wish me “happy Christmas this year”.  No, it is not because I have no friends, but because people seem to be wishing each other “happy holidays”, “enjoy the festivities”, and other such greetings.  Nothing much to do with “Christ”mas at all.  And maybe this is appropriate.  Or at least honest.  If celebrating God coming to live amongst us is at best shoved off to one side at Christmas, then lets not pretend.   For those of us who follow Jesus, the challenge is loud and clear during this time we call “Christmas”, and beyond it.  For the consumerist scourge that raises its head at Christmas is alive and well all year round.  

Poetry in motion

Tonight we enjoyed a sumptuous Japanese meal in Brunswick street Fitzroy (and no, for those of you who read my blog as regularly as I get around to posting on it, this is not going to be another post on the delights of Japanese cuisine).  Afterwards we watched  contemporary dance companies Idle Hands and Random Takeaway perform at Gertrude’s Brown Couch, a bar in Fitzroy.  The performance was part of the Melbourne’s Fringe Festival.  One of my friends, Jesse Mitchell, played guitar and sang as part of the final performance.  The choreography was achingly beautiful and sensual.  I don’t think I have ever seen a dance performance before (I have an aversion to musicals, and don’t feel old enough for operas or the ballet).  I was really impacted by the marriage of song and powerfully intimate movement.  It was like being privy to a deep moment between lovers in a way that is normally reserved to the far less adequate two-dimensional Hollywood screen scene.  It was a real treat, and if you are in Melbourne, there will be performances next week – check out the above links for dates.

Wide brown expanse

I am away on holidays at the moment, and have travelled slowly across north west Victoria, the heart of the mallee country. Dry, salty land, treed by emaciated gums with twisted forms.  A sun-drenched land with gleaming blue skies that meet a rust red horizon, a palette occasionally broken by carpets of almost fluorescent yellow flowers, and fields of fresh young wheat.  A couple of days ago we stayed at Pink Lakes. This photo captures part of the view from our alfresco dinner table.

pink-lakes-sunset.jpg

A tired ramble

I have had a frantic day today spent madly packing.  Tomorrow we are leaving for a family holiday – a road trip  to Adelaide, followed by a flight to Alice Springs.  We will be camping along the way in a teeny tiny hiking tent.  Murray-Sunset National Park is sure to be a highlight, and I hope to get some great desert photos there.  Getting ready to go away is always painful.

I have been a bit quiet here, partially because I have started another blog (related to my job, which, I am excited to say, had 145 hits on one day after being up less than a month).  I guess I have also posted less because I er, haven’t had much to say.  As is abundantly clear from this post thus far.  I hate writing without a bit of fire in my belly about something.

However, there is one thing bugging me at the moment.  I have put off writing waiting to see how it pans out. For those of you who read my blog and live outside Australia, I apologise for the ‘localized’ flavour of my next few thoughts.

I feel stirred up about the recent legislation passed concerning the Northern Territory.  I spoke to an Aboriginal friend of mine tonight, and her grief runs deeply.  After all these years, countless stories of sorrow and horror, ‘white’ Australia is again enacting to ‘protect’ the aboriginals by taking control of their land, their children, and their right to administer their own communities.  And it is all packaged neatly in an emotional box labeled ‘abuse’.  I do not doubt there is abuse of children in Aboriginal communities.  Just  as children are abused in Melbourne. In Canberra.  Where-ever there are people, there are children being abused.  And I do not question the need for our country to protect its most vulnerable citizens.  But I can’t imagine children in suburbs like Kew or Croydon being forcibly checked for abuse under threat of taking control of resources of the family.  It wouldn’t .happen.  But it is happening to those counted among “the least of these” in our country.  Those with the smallest voice, the least economic and social power.  For how long will we repeat the mistakes of our past?  When will the plundering cease?