Friday, December 30, 2011

No More Resolutions

Today we say goodbye to 2011 and hello to 2012. It's the last day of the year but apart from being an excuse for another party does it really mean anything to anyone? When the clock strikes midnight does anything magical or mysterious happen? Does anything change? It's like birthdays: one day you're a certain age and the next day you're older but you are still the same person as you were the day before. Nothing has changed.

The beginning of a new year is a time for making resolutions as we look forward with hope that life will get better, that we will become better people. Tradition holds that on New Year's Eve,we resolve to change things in our life with which we are unhappy or dissatisfied. Lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more, look for a new job, spend more time with the family etcetera.

Naturally, people make these kinds of decisions about their lives all through the year but there is feeling, a mystical belief that a New Year's Resolution will provide the extra will power needed to achieve that particular goal.

The last time I made a New Year's Resolution was in 1989 when I stated before my friends as we sat on the beach in Molokai, that I wanted to be more consistent in the practical application of my faith in Christ. Even though I achieved that desire with God's help, I don't make resolutions anymore. I just pray that God will continue to make me more like Jesus as he deals with the things in my life which hurt me and sadden him.

The problem with new year's resolutions is that they rely on will power, and will power is notoriously fickle. Some possess it in spades while others are bereft. Will power may be available, and useful, to tackle over eating but it may go AWOL or simply fail in the battle against nicotine addiction. Is will power as dependable as some make it out to be? Ask yourself the question. Think about it. Romans 7:15-20 is an explicit indictment of will power. The fact is, will power is overrated, and all the best intended new year's resolutions in the world won't be strong enough to change our hearts, or our minds. New Year's Resolutions are simply another one of society's band-aids. We need more help than we can possibly give ourselves.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Deliciously Ugly

Many years ago. there was an ad for Cadbury Picnic, a chocolate, caramel and peanut bar. The unusual but effective epithet was "deliciously ugly". Picnics do look a bit rough and lumpy when you take off the wrapper but after the first bite, you forget what the thing looks like, and only remember the great taste.

The ad played with the well known adage "you can't judge a book by its cover". This saying warns that very little of what can be known about a person can be ascertained from observing their cover, that is their outward appearance. Most of what a person is lies hidden from others, beneath the surface, behind the physical curtain of flesh. To judge a person solely on what you see, in other words, what they look like or what they do, is foolish and unfair to the person.

Obviously people make superficial judgments about other people all the time. We can't help ourselves. Perhaps the maxim should be changed to say, "Don't judge a book by its cover". You can judge a book by its cover but you shouldn't because you might be wrong. Just as God told Samuel when he went to see the sons of Jesse to anoint from among them a successor for Saul to the throne of Israel. (1 Samuel 17:7)Jesus said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement." (John 7:24)

It's Christmas, and I'm reminded of how the baby Jesus was wrongly judged by some, and again later as he grew to boyhood and then into a man. God incarnate, deity in human flesh. He was subjected to the folly, the bigotry and the cruelty of men who did not know, who could not see, who he really was. Those who saw just another man, were very much mistaken. Some still are.

Returning to the deliciously ugly Picnic. One day, I grabbed one for morning tea and was of course keenly anticipating the joy of eating it. I'm not put off by appearance, and I know they taste great. However, when I opened the brightly coloured wrapper there was nothing inside. True story. The message is clear. Looks can be deceiving so it's wise to take time to get to know the real person inside the mortal wrapper. Look inside, because that's where God is always looking... into the heart.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Don't Tell me What to do

The flight attendant made the announcement as the plane touched down at the airport and began its taxi to the terminal. "Please remain in your seats with your safety belts fastened until the plane comes to a complete stop," she said. As soon as she had finished speaking, half a dozen people unclicked their seatbelts, stood up and began to gather their belongings from the overhead storage compartments.

The lifeguard blew his whistle three times, pointing and gesturing to a group of people, children and adults, who were swimming outside the flags at the beach. Because they ignored him, he was forced to move closer to the water and repeat his warnings. Shortly after, this group finally heeded the lifeguard and left the water. At the same time, another smaller group entered the ocean and began swimming outside the flags.

People still get booked for speeding, not wearing seatbelts and drink driving. These rules are designed for our protection, but some people apparently don't want to be protected. Some people think that only they know what is best for them. "Don't tell me what to do, " they say. "Don't tell me what's best for me. I'll be the judge of that."

God's "rules" are for our protection and benefit but most of us think that we know better than God. Pride is a huge obstacle to salvation, and rebellion is seated deep in the hearts of us all.

Monday, December 12, 2011

How Low Can We Go?

I discovered an unknown direct debit coming out of my wife's bank account so I called the bank to check it out but they wouldn't talk to me because I am not the account holder. I explained the problem knowing full well that the person to whom I was speaking would probably not help me. I was right. Even on a hypothetical question, this guy stuck to the company line. I called a second time and spoke to someone else who was more helpful although likewise unwilling to actually do anything. Customer service person number one even threatened me by mentioning the law and the fact that if he knew the account number and password, he would put a stop on the account to prevent me accessing my wife's information.

I understand the rationale behind this policy. Stringent privacy provisions are needed to protect people. I might be trying to steal from my wife, or gain some advantage over her by accessing her financial details. I could be doing something wrong and potentially harmful to her. The person on the phone doesn't know me from a bar of soap. Just because I say that I have my wife's permission to access her account, doesn't mean, from their point of view, that I do.

Because some people lie, everyone is a potential liar. This is the world we live in. The default position is mistrust. My word counts for nothing with strangers because of all the people who can't be believed. Honesty surprises us because dishonesty has become so acceptable. We all say tsk tsk, what a shame, most people are good but the few rotten apples spoil the basket. The problem is that we are all living under the rules and regulations foisted upon us by those trying to protect us from the rotten apples. A worse problem is that we are all rotten apples but we keep pretending we are not. We tell ourselves we are the good guys and we sit around lamenting the tragic decline of standards in our communities but we have contributed to that degeneration, either by our actions or our inaction.

Imagine a world where people could trust each other. No need to lock the car or the house. People would be respectful and polite. No one would be self serving. Our teenagers wouldn't be having sex and getting drunk, and killing themselves by driving their cars too fast. No one would be trying to rip anybody off. Money wouldn't dictate what can be done and what can't be done.

If you think all this sounds too fanciful, too utopian, if you want to call me an idealist then go ahead but know this: such criticism implies that you have given up and accepted the new norm, the new low standards. If you are willing to keep on lowering the bar just to keep people happy, consider the end result of such thinking. Consider the future we are heading for if this slide continues. Everyone else is doing it, is not a statement of tolerance, it's an admission of weakness and defeat. We should keep fighting.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

If You can't Stand the Heat

I have a massive beef with cookbooks. I've been cooking a lot more over the last couple of months and whilst I am more than competent with the basics, I feel the need to try new things and attempt to improve my craft. I like variety and I don't mind having a go at something a bit different: exotic even. However, I have no natural flair for culinary pursuits. The limit of my gastronomic innovation is the addition of chopped mushrooms to the mince and jar pasta sauce. And so I turn to cookbooks.

There are several problems with many cookbooks: they are written in chefinese, they use ingredients which you can only buy in Bolovian street markets, and the instructions are so vague that the novice may as well be trying to prove Pythagoras' theorem on the back of a beer coaster.

If your kitchen pantry is not stocked as well as the shelves of Woolworths or Coles then it soon will be if you try to follow the recipes found in their respective advertorial cookbooks and brochures. And I haven't mentioned the fact that the portions which you end up with aren't sufficient to feed the family of pet mice in your office, let alone the human stomachs you are trying to fill.

Somebody has probably already written it but I am still waiting for the perfect cookbook. You know the one with chicken instead of spatchcock or quail. Mushrooms don't have to be fresh shittake which you have to travel to Japan to buy. There's no mention of Jerusalem artichokes, tagliatelle, witlof, pancetta or pimento stuffed green olives. Four maryland chickens won't feed a single teenage boy so the fair dinkum cookbook doesn't pretend that the whole family will be satisfied. The cookbook I am looking for tells me whether to use Riesling, Chardonnay, Semillon or Sauvignon. It doesn't just say white wine. It doesn't say season to taste, or cook the meat to your liking. It doesn't say process the flour and polenta briefly. It warns you about soggy bottomed pies, and tells you how to avoid them because even though your children like soggy bottoms, you still feel like you've failed.

The bottom line is that, as a slave to recipes, I am at the mercy of chefs who speak a foreign language, chefinese, and who don't overcook or undercook anything. Cooks who evenly multiply ingredients, cut things up just right, and don't murder roast pumpkin salads with lethal doses of parsley.

My success rate is running at about 50%. Everything is edible but sometimes it's only possible to eat after including a prayer for protection with my prayer of thanks.