Archive for February, 2010

Dear Kristine Elizabeth Hoffman

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Dear Kristine Elizabeth Hoffman

I love the occasional and unintended glimpses of other people’s lives that I find in the second hand books I read.  I have been idly wondering about how many degrees, in this internet-connected global village of ours, separate two complete strangers whose only connection is a paperback book.  For instance, take the book above, Anne Lamott’s Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith.  It was one of three I received as a birthday gift a few weeks back, purchased by my wife in New Zealand over the internet from a secondhand bookseller in the US via the Amazon website and shipped via a friend’s address in the UK.

Why am I telling you this?  Because earlier today, halfway through chapter twelve, I came across a Delta boarding pass with your name on it. This, together with the window sticker that dropped from between the last few pages when I first opened the book a week or so ago, is the just sort of happenstance that intrigues me.  Are you a die-hard Lamott fan or a first time reader?  Are you strong in your faith or working through years of stuff like me? Do you ever wonder who else reads the books you read?

I’m no Sherlock Holmes but from the boarding pass it would seem that in late June. last year or the year before – the boarding pass is not yellowed or overly faded – you flew Delta between Salt Lake City and Atlanta.  Did you fly as a crew member on standby?  The pass is marked ‘NRSA’ which, Google tells me, stands for Non Revenue Space Available and means free seating for airline personnel and their family members. As for the ‘Montana Native’ sticker, who knows?  Maybe you’re a native Montanan flight attendant who deadheaded out of Helena down to the Atlanta hub via Utah after an early summer family reunion.

Oh, I almost forgot to ask – do you wear Vera Wang perfume?  I only ask because, when I checked the other two books, I found a ‘Bouquet’ perfume tester card wedged a third of the way through Grace (Eventually).  There again, there is every chance that book is part of an entirely different person’s story.

Blessings and happy reading!


Messiah in the mall!

Thursday, February 18th, 2010
Most days, my early morning prayers include the hope that I might see Jesus during the day to come. Most days, I either don’t look hard enough or I look in the wrong place. Yesterday, I found Him in the mall – albeit not quite in the manner or place I expected -yet He was undeniably there.

Jesus? A choking hazard?

Messianic medicials, Batman!

Next time I’m there, I think I’m going to get me a Jesus for my dashboard and a Jesus for my glovebox.

Dad & Daughter Camp

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

Motu Moana Camp 2010Motu Moana Camp 2010_2

I have just returned from an absolutely fantastic 48 hours attending the Kotare Brownie’s ‘Dad & Daughter’ Camp with my youngest daughter.  We joined fourteen other dads and girls for a weekend of adventure, campfires, tall stories and hot chocolate at the marvelous Motu Moana Scout Camp & Outdoor Activity Centre which set in native bush overlooking Green Bay and Manukau Harbour beyond.

To say that we had a good time would be an understatement.  In teams comprised of three daughters and three dads, we managed to pack in kayaking, archery, Burma trails, abseiling, challenge courses, bush tracking, quizzes, craft sessions and badge work in between the all important kitchen duties, tent inspections and ablutions block cleaning.

Over the last two days, I have seen a whole new side to my daughter which I never knew existed – the dedicated and responsible leader.  As a newly promoted sixer, she stepped up and took her role as leader of our group seriously.  Following her Mum’s advice to listen to others as well as talk, she played the diplomat and did a great job in shepherding the group and reporting back to Hoa, the pack leader.  For reasons best known to her, my daughter is an energetic and thorough toilet cleaner at home so I had to smile when I overheard her trying to inject her pals with the same enthusiasm while cleaning the men’s toilets yesterday!

I was also impressed by the selfless dedication of the three female leaders, Hoa, Kea and Ruru who give up their time to run the pack each week and do so much at these camps to provide the girls with a truly memorable time.  At campfire, Hoa wore a cloak that had badges awarded to her and her Mum, who was a leader before her, dating back 80 years.  The oldest badge on Hoa’s cloak was just a badge, hand made by Hoa’s mother in 1939.  During the Second World War, Guides and Brownies in New Zealand and Australia had to embroider their own camp, jamboree and merit award badges as they were unable to obtain them from England as they had done previously.

When I asked Hoa if the popularity of Guides and Brownies was dwindling in the face of competing attractions like iPods, computers and the Wii, her answer surprised me.  ‘No’ she said, ‘Brownies are as popular as ever and we have a waiting list three times bigger than we could handle as a pack – sadly, the thing we lack is leaders and helpers’. She went on to say that she thought the increase in mums working (or the need for mum to work) and adults increasingly looking for more ‘me’ time in their leisure hours meant less people were willing or able to volunteer.  Clearly, there are plenty of parents who want their girls and boys to get out of the house, mix with others, acquire new skills and learn about the wider world.  It is just a pity that so few of of us are willing or able to help them do so.

Monet refuses the operation

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Monet Thames

I know absolutely nothing of Lisel Mueller or her poetry.  I came across this poem yesterday and immediately loved it for its premise, certainty of tone and wonderfully rich imagery.

Monet refuses the operation

Doctor, you say there are no halos
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end

Lisel Mueller was born in 1924 in Hamburg and moved to the US in her teens.  She is the author of eight collections of poetry, including Alive Together: New & Selected Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1996. Other awards include the Lamont Poetry Prize (1975), the National Book Award (1981), and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (2002).


Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Another year on the planet, another cake but there’s a twist this year.

In previous years, She Who Must Be Obeyed has been the architect and builder of many a fine birthday cake for each member of the family.  However, this year, my birthday cake was created and decorated by my eight year old daughter.  The photo above shows the end result; the iCake™ is a fine representation of an Apple iBook – with innovative iDigestive™ mouse – detailed right down to the digital clock in the upper right corner and the Apple space image screen saver.

I love my family and am thankful everyday for the blessings and joy I know through them

A work in progress

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

As mentioned elsewhere, I have been reading Matthew Paul Turner’s blog and enjoying his tweets for a while but I have never got around to checking out his books. That all changed yesterday, when we went shopping for soccer kit for our resident goalkeeper and then dropped into a bookstore nearby.  There, I found the very last copy of Turner’s Churched on the shelf.

Taking this as a nudge and having read a great sample chapter online, I bought the book and returned home to enjoy an afternoon siesta with a cup of bush tea in one hand and the book in another.  The first few chapters of the book explore the impressions of a young Turner as his parents leave the Methodist church of his early years to help plant a fundamentalist Baptist church.  Whether he’s describing the pastor’s wife – a piano-playing, hymn-singing Farrah Fawcett double – or getting his first ‘Jesus’ haircut from the unbeliever Mr Harry, Turner neatly sketches the claustrophobic world of church, law and eternal damnation through the eyes of a boy looking for straight answers to his questions.

The similarity of his descriptions of early church attendance – right down to the clip-on tie and Sunday-best shoes – made me think back to my Sunday school days at the Quaker meeting for worship I attended.  I have the utmost respect for Quakers and their theology but for those with excitable butterfly minds and single-digit ages, the traditional hour-long silent meetings for worship seems like an eternity.  With a whole world of fun, adventure and Sunday morning television cartoons just beyond the walls, it was impossible for me to understand why we were all sitting in silence, looking for God and the Spirit inside each of us.

Turner’s early religious experiences and teaching left him with distinct impressions of a hellfire and brimstone God of dos and don’ts whose return was to be eagerly but fearfully anticipated.  Mine simply left me bemused and adrift, unable to join the dots between the Jesus of the Sunday school stories and the quiet inner journey of the Quakers sitting silently in meeting.

Each meeting I attended as a youngster seemed like some alternative reality where time stood still.  Not matter my good intentions at the start of meeting, all too soon I would be scuffing my sandals on the pew in front and looking around for distractions.  The slow ticking of the old wall clock, drifting dust motes in the sunlight and the radiant calm of the worshipping faces all provided momentary interest but inevitably I would end up staring at the clock, incredulous that we had only been seated for barely 10 minutes and not the 59 I had carefully judged to have passed.

This realisation would mean that there was at least another 35 minutes to go before one or more of the Friends might (though only might, mind you) feel moved by the Spirit to speak to those present about some matter of import.  Such sharing would often be concerned with issues of peace or social justice, both of which are central in the beliefs of Friends.  With some embarrassment now, I can almost see myself innocently rolling my eyes and mouthing the word ‘Bo-o-ring!’ whilst concerned Friends spoke to the acts of despots, the dispossession of indigenous peoples and any number of bloody sectarian wars.

The alternative to sitting through meeting was to trot across the small courtyard to the Sunday school class in the adjacent hall.  To the best of my recollection, these would invariably be presided over by well-meaning women in tweed suits and sensible shoes.  I can almost taste the musty tang of that hall, feel the splintery roughness of the tables and smell the industrial-grade disinfectant all over again.

The hall was so cold in winter that no amount of frantic scribbling on the colouring templates of Jesus healing the sick could make the wax crayons to give up any colour to the butcher’s paper.  During the short British summers, we’d occasionally play a game in the courtyard, doing so very quietly so as not to disturb those in meeting.  More often than not though, we’d simply sit and listen to the deadpan delivery of another parable or Bible story, read from a book as old as Gutenberg.  While the faithful listened intently, I would conduct clandestine raids into the steamy fug of the the adjoining kitchen in search of biscuits, keen to locate and consume any chocolate ones lurking amongst the plain ones on the chipped plates along the counter. Soon enough, I’d be found out, given a disappointed look and shooed back to the parting of the Red Sea or recounting of how our missionaries were doing in Africa.

That said, I am truly grateful for my Quaker upbringing and experience of meeting for they have worked on and in me for years, helping to form my values, mould my opinions and prick my conscience along the way.  Indeed, amid the flurry of the last week of the summer holidays and the frenetic back-to-school preparations of four daughters, I can at last begin to appreciate the wonder and wisdom of spending an hour in silent contemplation and communion in the company of like-minded folk.  As I have just discussed with a good friend over lunch, it often hard to see the learning close up and so it is only with the passage of time and the accumulation of experience that we begin to understand and start to develop wisdom.  I remain very much a work in progress.