Archive for category Family

The Joy of (sub)Creation

I’ve started writing again. Not just here (after a four-year hiatus!) but also I’ve picked up a little fantasy story I wrote some years ago, reread it, and loved it so much I decided to expand it. I want to know more about these people. More about how their relationships developed and the world in which they live. I want to know what happens next!

This has been a great start to 2019. Last year wasn’t actually that great. It certainly had some highlights (mostly family events) but it also had some of the severest challenges I’ve ever faced. But today… well, my kids noticed the difference. Their grumpy and mostly morose dad was outgoing again. I enjoyed myself at a party with friends. When it was time to sit down and write again, I actually had to stand up first and jump up and down with excitement. Literally. Jump. Up. And. Down. Repeatedly.

I’m teasing myself right now, by writing this before I return to my unfolding cast of characters. Oh, the anticipation! Not only do I get to find out more about them, not only do I get to see them responding to new challenges and situations, not only do I see them grow and change and develop in all sorts of ways, but I get to make it all happen!!!!

Besides being an occasional writer, I’m a bit of a computer game player. I like games with a ‘world creation’ aspect to them, or a strong element of story-telling. I can spend hours playing in Minecraft, or journeying in Skyrim. But you know what? I get all those thrills and more when I tell the story myself. When I build the story out of my very own words.

439813-the-elder-scrolls-v-skyrim-special-edition-for-pc

JRR Tolkien has always fascinated me, because of his talent for world creation, but it wasn’t until a little over a decade ago, when I wrote my masters thesis on his theological thought, that I was able to listen to what he had to say about the business of fantasy writing. He believed firmly that the writing of fantasy stories was a deeply Godly endeavor and that it provided for the human soul in several different ways; read his essay “On Fairy Stories” for all the detail. But one point I want to make here; he believed that we are creators of alternate worlds because we are made in the image of the maker.  We can’t help but want to create worlds since the world-creator made us to be like Himself – and in fact calls us to join with him in the business of creating, sustaining, and redeeming the world in every possible way.

And you know what? Picking up a pen (or opening a word-processor document) might just be one way of doing that.

Good news for the creative soul!

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On Being Sensory and why I don’t ‘hug’ online.

So I was walking home for lunch, and had to slow my stride to a dawdle in order to take in the luminous magenta paintwork on a car, standing out from all the whites and greys and dark greens around it like a red rose in a blue sky.  And as I drifted closer to this intense colour experience, the Roast Station in the food-court called out to me with all the richness of it’s many-flavoured meaty menus.  I paused to drink it in.  Then on I went around the corner where a fresh, sharp wind slapped my office-heating-flushed face alive and made me blink away tears.  It was a concatenation of arresting experiences, one after the other.

I love being alive to these unsophisticated, everyday pleasures.  I love the thrill such simple things give me.  They aren’t particularly meaningful, but they are immediate, unexpected, delights.

But when I was trying to write the title to this post, I struggled for words.  ‘Sensuous’?  ‘Sensual’?  Both words mean what I want to say, but they have become entangled – mostly, I think, due to advertising – with the erotic.  And there’s nothing wrong with eros.  The sensory pleasure of an erotic moment is right up there with the whiff of Richie’s Roasts.  But there’s so much more to being sensuous than sex.  Sex must, inevitably, have some societal sanctions attached to it.  Those sanctions, in our changing society, have become a battleground for competing world-views, and so much truth about sex is forgotten as we wage our ‘culture wars’ that other concepts, like sensuousness, are dragged down with it.  Now it seems like sex is the only sort of sensuous pleasure we still talk about.  And maybe chocolate.

What a pity.

Sensory pleasures, like the ones I described above, are so rich, so free, so easy to access and share, that they should be celebrated much more often.  But we lack the language.  Not just the words, but the very concept.  We need to relearn how to immerse ourselves into the goodness of creation around us.  We need to come alive again to the value of what we hear away from the jangle and clatter of industrial life, and what we feel beyond our protective fabrics, and what we smell and see and taste.  We are bodily beings and that’s something to celebrate!

And that’s why I refuse to ‘hug’ over the internet.  Internet interactions are great for the cerebral, but pathetic for what is fully human.   This morning on social media one of my acquaintance reposted a banner that said she needed a hug, and I could ‘hug’ her by reposting the banner.  I get that she’s lonely.  I get that being single she’s not getting anywhere near the physical affirmation I enjoy myself, immersed as I am in an affectionate family.  But I also get that reposting that banner will do practically nothing about that.  The initial author of the banner might be gratified by multitudinous repostings, and my acquaintance might (did) get some positive written responses, but did she get hugged?  No.  A hug is wonderful.  When my son or daughter wraps their arms around me and squeezes and holds me, I know I’m being loved.  It’s a bodily thing.

I don’t want us to stop expressing our regard for one another in non-physical forums, but nor do I want us to delude ourselves into thinking we can be human if we cut ourselves off from our bodily experiences.  In an increasingly touch-phobic/techno-centred society (see http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/20/young-people-japan-stopped-having-sex) we need more touching, not less.  We need to be more sensory, not less.  And we need to listen to and understand what our own senses tell us about what is good, what is enough, what is too much, and what is not enough.

'Far Away' XKCD comic by Randal Munroe

This isn’t saying that we should be dominated or controlled by our senses.  We can – and sometimes must – consciously endure sensory unpleasantness for greater goals; I need to defer my sexual desires out of respect for others.  I need to pass by the sweet-smelling fruit on the grocers stall and not just help myself.  I need to suffer the physical pain of a needle prick in order to give blood.  These are not pleasant sensations – but they are easily bearable given the vast range of pleasant sensory experiences I enjoy elsewhere.  Yes, we are far more than sensory, but we are certainly no less than, and enjoying sensory experiences in no way means that we lose control of our actions.  Let’s not expect ourselves, or those around us, to live in a state of sensory deprivation.  Let’s touch one another, and shower sensory blessings upon each other; give gifts of fragrant flowers, soft cloths, rich foods, and luminous colour.

Maybe then, when we acknowledge and enjoy the full range of positive sensory experience that is available to us every day, we will be less overwhelmed by the porn/violence/gluttony industries.

Go on, be a world-changer.  Really hug someone you love today.

 

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The Value of Encouragement

New Zealanders are feeling the cold at the moment.  Winter has well and truly begun with a cold southerly wind bringing beautiful clear skies, occasional squalls, and frost – even to our warm, sub-tropical climate.  So I spent a couple of hours in the weekend chopping firewood.  Actually, I got the good end of the stick; my wife spent a couple of hours on the sideline of a soccer field.  At least I was moving vigorously and keeping warm. 

Mind you, there can be a fair bit of vigorous movement on the sidelines, too, as parents and coaches race up and down with their players, bawling encouragement and instructions.  Son no. 2 is in a team which has a fantastic coach; the first time I watched them play, I was blown away by how positive he was towards the kids.  He was constantly telling them, individually and specifically, what they were doing right and how well they were doing it.  Not surprisingly, they continually brought home wins. 

As I was chopping firewood on Saturday morning, I didn’t get to hear the coach; but I did, in fact, get a bit of encouragement all my own.  Our three year-old son wondered out to find me.  “What you doing, Dad?”

“Chopping the fire-wood.” (swing, Grunt, *Thwack*).

“Why?”

“To make it small enough to go in the fireplace.” (swing, *ka-chunk*)

“Wow, Daddy!  You did it!”

“Yeah. (swing)”

“And you did it again!  Yay, Daddy!”

And on he went, for the next five minutes, marvelling at every log split for the fire.  And I reckon I’ve never chopped so much, so effectively, so fast.

 

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Being a father

I’m a little ambivilent about publishing this here; it was an article in our local newspaper for father’s day 2006, and comes across as rather gushy.  I really did say these things, but I wouldn’t have edited it quite like this! 

 

For R being a father is a fantastic adventure.

A fantastic adventure, also a steep learning curve. The father of six said he’s made mistakes learning to be a father.   “I used to think I was a really nice person – and then I had children.

“The demands of caring for children require enormous sacrifice and it’s very easy to resent that. It’s easy to hit out at the little monsters that don’t behave like the perfect dolls we’d like them to be, that don’t make us feel good about ourselves, that demand we care for them when it’s not convenient for us, that cry and won’t be consoled. 

“I remember an incident when I was holding my first baby, a few months old (now 15 years old). She was screaming and I could do nothing about it. I just wanted to throw her away from me; her crying was an accusation of my inadequacy. Instead I held her and did the best I could, even though I felt that it wasn’t good enough. 

“That was the day I began to grow up as a father.”

For R the most important thing he can do, as a father, is to love his children’s mother; “and that has to be practical.”

“It takes time and effort and a willingness to learn to do things I don’t feel confident about doing or that don’t match my self-image.”

Self image in the reflection of his eldest son, C, was another  learning curve.

“No one could wind me up like C.  From the time he was six, I noticed how angry I could become about silly little things he did and said.  It took me a couple of years, but I learned that I was seeing in him so much that reminded me of myself as a child, and I didn’t like what I saw. I had to learn to love and accept myself, to stop judging and condemning my six-year old self, so that I could learn to love and accept this child who was so like me.

“Having a son has brought healing into my life and I thank God for him. Of course, his brothers get an easier time of it now that he’s taught me what’s going on,” he said.

“Each of the children are so different and each responds in a different way. I have to show my love for them in the way that best suits them. There is no one size fits all.

“Of all the different things I try to achieve, most can be done by somebody else.  But only I can be my children’s father. They get priority because no one else can do that job like I can.” 

For R the rewards of father-hood increase with time.

“Every year, my children grow and develop into more complex and wonderful people, and my relationship with them becomes more exciting and rich.” 

R said they have grown with their family and their expectations are far more realistic.

“We try not to expect them to be any more – or less – than themselves.” 

He knows that being a father doesn’t come naturally.  “There is a learning process, and with families becoming smaller, many people don’t get much of a chance to do that learning. It’s a lot more to do with closeness. Many want to get their children off their hands so they can get on with their own lives.

“I learnt a lot about being a father from being a son.  My father taught me how to be a family man – he loved our mother and he spent time with us as children.  All my best childhood memories revolve around him.  Today, I love to do with my children the things my father did with us.

“Everybody knows the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” – for us that village has been the Baptist church.  They have loved us since the day we first came in the door with a pre-schooler and a baby, and their support continues today in thousands of ways.” R is now co-pastor.

“This town is a fantastic place  to bring up children. It has a strong community spirit.”

“If I am a good father, it’s 90% because my children have a great mother.  And I have a great wife who shares this adventure with me.”

Last year this adventure included 13 months in China. During that time R’s wife taught English as a second language while R took care of the children. The children are home schooled and for them the trip was like an extended  field trip.

“It was a huge amount of fun and learning for us. In China we were our own little community. It consolidated something we already knew; that being together as family is a fantastic adventure.”

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