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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.

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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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Santa, Social Signals, and Expectations

So last weekend we took one of our classes to the park for a final lesson, including family and friends. We taught some now vocab, played games that reinforced the lesson (and were a lot of fun), picnicked and gave out Christmas gifts. Oh, yes, the gifts. I got to dress up as Santa for the second time in two days and pass out presents from a big red sack. Cool!

Only, the last time I’d done this it was in a classroom with everyone on seats, and the kids called forwards one at a time to get their certificates and gifts. This time I slipped off to a nearby garden, got into the jolly red suit (complete with fake beard), picked up the bag bulging with gifts brought by the parents and labelled with each child’s name, and headed back to the lawn by the lake where my fellow teachers were just wrapping up the games. Along the way I worked on the rolling gait and the ‘Ho Ho Ho’ obligatory to the role.  And of course, the families I passed along the path were very happy to pause and give seasonal greetings (in the local language) to the man of the hour. In fact, by the time I got back to the lawn where we had set up our picnic, I had quite a little gathering…

This posed something of a challenge – more so for me because my fluency in the local language lets me say “Merry Christmas”, but not, “I’ll bring you your gifts later on this week – these ones are only for this English Language Class.”  So, quite unlike our nice little closely contained classroom setting, I had the task of handing out gifts only to the kids from our group amidst an ever-increasing mob of avaricious kids. I’d call out the name on the gift, and hand it over to the appropriate parent over the increasingly frantic fingers of the small children dancing around my knees, and hope I’d got the right parent, and not an imposter. The task was made trickier because a few families had seen our class enjoying their games and joined in, so they were a little uncertain of whether or not they were going to get gifts.

But by and large, there was no uncertainty. The man in the red suit was right there in front of them, he had a huge sack of stuff, and he was handing the contents out. Of course they were going to get a gift! The day was rescued by a box of beautifully decorated and individually wrapped Christmas Cookies we’d prepared the day before. As the bag emptied of the pre-named gifts, it was thrust into my hands and I passed them out merrily, until it became clear to all that there was nothing more to be gained here but crumbs, and the crowds slowly dissipated back to their pre-Santa fun.Santa in the Park

For which I was immensely grateful. There was one very persistent little girl who had been eyeing my enormously fluffy white beard and muttering ‘fake’ (in the local lingo) to herself for some minutes so I was more than a little concerned that I would be set upon as an imposter.

This is what troubles me about my identification with the real ‘reason for the season’. Everybody, even here, knows a little about that baby, born into poverty and laid in a manger, and who he grew up to be. They know that he embodied love, kindness, generosity, and integrity. And for those of us who are called by His name… well, actually, we often don’t embody those things. Not as often as we’d like to, anyway. Certainly not as often or as consistently as those around us would wish. I can get away with the ‘Santa’ sobriquet for a little while – so long as no-one actually tugs on that false face. But to call me a ‘saint’ – as the scripture writers do? Surely that’s stretching it.

From the perspective of heaven I am a saint – I am seen as belonging to the One who has adopted me into His family, and therefore as sharing all His goodness and grace. And because I really am part of that family, because I live in that atmosphere of love and acceptance and creativity and joy, I do manage to be a lot better than I might otherwise be. But I’m also still me. I am yet a long way away from perfection.

Adopting the name of someone so well-known is a challenge that I want to duck. I don’t want to have to deal with the disappointment and even anger of those who find I am not yet very much like the one whose name I bear. The signal it sends is that I am ‘like’ Him. And I wish it were true.

CS Lewis once wrote about someone in the trenches alongside him during WWI who saw him as better than he really was. Someone who expected far more of him than he expected of himself. He surprised himself by trying hard to live up to that expectation, even though within himself he felt it to be false – as though he were wearing a mask. He realised that over time, by acting up to those expectations, he was actually becoming a better person. He was growing to fit the mask. As AA puts it, sometimes you gotta ‘fake it till you make it’.

I guess that’s the privilege as well as the peril of identifying myself with my Lord. I get to be called by his name, and so I have to deal with not just the odd disappointment in those around me, but also the reality that I really do behave better when I try to conform to others expectations. And when my bag of goodness is all empty…

Well, those are the times when someone tucks ‘Christmas cookies’ under your arm and keeps you going just long enough. If there’s only a few crumbs left at the end of the day, remember, you got to the end of the day, and tomorrow will look after itself. We got a promise on that.

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Blood Moons and Remote Control.

I was watching the moon being hidden from sight last night during the eclipse – when it was suddenly hidden from sight! By clouds. I had been expecting a smooth transition that I could photograph bit by bit and then a gradual re-emergence (you can see the little I did get here) but instead, I only saw half the show, and then it was curtains. No more eclipse for the rest of the night, no photos of a ‘blood moon’ and nothing to do about it but go to bed.

It was a great reminder that we don’t actually have a remote control for life. I may be able to browse dozens of TV channels, hundreds of DVDs, and millions of web pages, but I only have one life. And it isn’t entirely in my control. Events that I think are going to go one way may well go differently! I may think that I can see everything in order, only to discover that the curtains are pulled on life half-way through. I’m glad I got the photos I did. But real life is about so much more than a photographic record.
When we have taken teams to India, I’ve insisted (especially on our second trip) that most people keep their cameras away most of the time; we had one photographer (Lynette) and her photos would be our official record and everyone could have them – and great photos they are, too. The reason for this insistence is that it is too easy to put a screen between ourselves and life – check out this commentary: – if you’ll excuse the irony that, once again, it’s on a screen. We have become so tied into our media that we frequently cease to be present in the real world around us. We are… remote, and that helps us to feel that we are in control. But we are meant to be present. And when we are, we discover that we are not in control; we are dependent. Dependent upon the weather, upon the world around us, upon our upbringing and inheritance, upon the treasures that have been stored in our hearts, and upon the generosity of others. Most especially, dependent upon God. As the song says, “Be still and Know that I am God…”
Many commentators have said that the prime sin – the one from which all others spring – is our refusal to let God be God, and the way in which we wilfully put ourselves, other people, and myriads of ‘things’ into that gap. In a word, Idolatry. In the modern world, we have an idolatry of self. We expect to be God in our own lives. To have complete control, and to be able to do it …remotely. But in Jesus Christ, God confounds our mistaken view of Godliness. Jesus is not distant and controlling; he relinquished control, became subject to all that troubles humanity – even death – so that he could be present to us. That’s Godliness. Present. NOT in control. But trusting. Even unto death.
Dare we put aside our remote controls, be they cameras or cars, cash, or cocaine, careers or caring for others, and be truly present to one another so that we can also be present to God? And perhaps we will find (again, as the old song says) that if we ‘draw near to him, he’ll draw near to us…’ and we will see by his light exactly how silly our little idolatries really are – and

how awesome and extravagant is his Grace.

how awesome and extravagant is his Grace.

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Going from automatic to manual

So I do digital photography. And when I started it was with a ‘point-and-click’ fujifilm. Which was cool, and it had a lot of scene-settings (snow, beach, landscape, portrait, etc) that I used, and I loved it. I learned to compose my subject in the frame, and how to use the light in the scene. Then I got my first DSLR (actually my only DSLR, but I’m scheming an upgrade) and once again, it had all the same settings – and then some. I learned about shutter priority mode, and aperture priority mode (which meant learning what apertures and shutters do) and programmed modes aaaand …manual.
That was a big, scary step. Going from pre-set modes to manual, and having to take responsibility for exposure, and depth of field, and focus. But it also (after some photographic fumbles) marked the transition to much better and more interesting images. The old automatic presets worked in some situations – but not in many others. But by first noticing that my camera had more settings on it than I was using, and by reading the manual, and by asking experienced photographers who were further along the track than me, and by joining a community of photographers who could encourage me and give me feedback, and by getting out there and doing it I have got so much more out of my camera!
It’s like that with God, too. When I was first introduced to the possibility of knowing God, it was through religion. Religion provided me with the automatic settings I needed to be able to focus on the point of it all – God! Through religion I learned the basic disciplines of focusing and framing my life in the light of Jesus Christ.
But religion is limited. It’s a series of presets. It’s all automatic, and it doesn’t actually work in every situation. God calls us to more. The apostle Paul said that the Jewish Law was like the servant whose job it was to take the child to lessons and bring him (it was only boys who had lessons back then) safely back home again. The job of the old religion is to get us to where we can learn what we need to know, so we can grow up into our responsibilities and privileges as citizens of God’s kingdom – and as children of God (Galatians 3:23-26).
Jesus coming changed everything. He said very clearly that nothing of the old law would pass away as long as earth endured. But he was also very clear that the role of the law had changed. The servant who used to take the child to lessons still has a role to play in the family even after the child has grown. When the child has grown, the servant is subject to the child, not vice versa. And it’s the same with the Law. Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for people, people weren’t made for the sabbath.” Sabbath-keeping, circumcision and a kosher diet were the essential markers of law-abiding religious people in Jesus’ day. All these were explicitly set aside by Jesus himself and his apostles after him. Not because they were wrong or bad, but because God’s children were learning to live in a new way; not according to the automatic presets of the old religion, but according to the more nuanced, person-focused way of Jesus; the way of Love.
As followers of Jesus we must move beyond religion and into relationships. It’s not enough to stick with the presets. There is more. It’s not about making great photographic images; it’s about being conformed to His image – the person of God’s own son, Jesus Christ. This isn’t something that is achieved through the cookie-cutter processes of religion, but by the manual settings – the ‘made-by-hand’ individualised attention of someone who loves us and calls us to live within and live out of that love.
It’s harder work, taking photographs in manual. I need more people in my life to help me do it well, and I have to work much more carefully with the people around me to get the images I want. I have to give each situation more thought, and it takes a lot more practice than the old preset automatic mode. But it’s infinitely more satisfying. Come and try it.

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Vespers

Something gentle and true…

the beautiful due

When I was a child I was afraid of being
lost in this world that is passing away.
So I prayed the sinner’s prayer and then
I was found, an experience I do not hold
lightly as I believe it suckled the hope
that is now within me as a man.
But when I became that man the hope said
Don’t be afraid. So I unprayed the sinner’s
prayer, trusting the truest salvation lies in
losing oneself to this world that is too much,

filled with the laughter of summer children
backlit by our gorgeous dying sun.
 

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The Parrot and the Fisherman

Colossians 1:11- 14

 

I saw the old fisherman again as I sped to my first appointment of the day.

He was standing as always, dressed in a battered green jumper and grey shorts, bushy eyebrows peering from beneath a terry towelling hat, and rod pointing to some place between the horizon and the heights of heaven.

“Keep your eyes on the road!” squawked the parrot beside me.

“Lucky beggar,” I grumped to myself as I negotiated the next curve of the coastal highway.  “Nice for some.” And then carried on to do business as best I could in the more isolated settlements of the north.  It wasn’t a bad day, and it wasn’t good.  I probably paid my way.  But not much more than that.  Maybe a little less.  “Awk! Loser!” squawked the parrot.

Driving home at the end of the day, I saw the fisherman again – in a different spot now.  Read the rest of this entry »

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C & R Driver-Burgess’ photostream

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Rangitikei Roads 555Rangitikei Roads 554Ngauruhoe SunsetNgauruhoe SunsetNgauruhoeNgauruhoe

My latest set of photos from our drive up from WEllington last weekend.

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