Friday, April 27, 2012

Ugly Ducklings and Devils

The Ugly Duckling was written in 1844 by Hans Christian Anderson. He may have been describing himself when he wrote about a bird which did not quite fit in, and was therefore rejected because he was different. Like Anderson, the Ugly Duckling survived an awkward and painful "childhood" by virtue of sheer determination. The message of this classic children's tale is clear, or is it?

The Ugly Duckling was not physically beautiful enough  to be accepted into the community of ducks. He was too big, and his feathers too gray. He was too awkward. The Ugly Duckling was not only rejected by his mother and his siblings but also by members of the wider farm community. They pecked, mocked and jostled him. They bullied him. The Ugly Duckling then survived the isolation which followed his decision to flee the cruelty and terror of the duckyard. He lived through the annual duck shoot, a face to face encounter with a dog, and a period of captivity during which he was expected to lay eggs and was abused by the cat and chicken with whom he shared the house, because he could not. The Ugly Duckling endured a freezing winter and would have frozen to death had he not been rescued by a farmer. The safe haven he thought he had found turned into a living nightmare because he was so traumatized that he mistook the playful affection of children for intended harm. He spent the rest of the winter alone, miserable and cold, but we all now how the story ends.

In Anderson's story, the Ugly Duckling is only accepted when his appearance changes: when he exchanges the gray down of a gosling for the beautiful white feathers of a swan. People who are different in some way from what society regards as "normal" have always been, and still are, ostracized. Bullied.Some people decide that the only way to be accepted is to conform, so they change themselves. Shouldn't people be accepted for who they are? Shouldn't the Ugly Duckling  have been accepted despite his appearance and clumsiness? Of course, I hear you say and yet we find ourselves, as a society, once again caught in the 'in between". Stuck in the middle of  "what should be" and "what actually is." This is the tension with which we struggle all of our days here on earth.

Over one hundred and fifty years after The Ugly Duckling was written its themes still resonate with readers but that should not surprise us. Human nature has not changed, nor will it. Millions of dollars have been spent by the government and various other organizations to wage war against bullying. The federal government recently launched a new internet based initiative called Bullying.No Way! All our schools have anti bullying programs. Much time and effort and money has been poured into the attempt to educate the little devils who bully the Ugly Ducklings but it goes on. It continues because there is a huge difference between knowing that something is wrong, and actually not doing it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Painful Epiphany

I must have known this fact. It must have been a part of the knowledge I have collected during my visit to Earth. I must have realized at some point, somewhere along the way that pain is tiring: exhausting as a matter of fact, but only recently have I experienced true revelation. My broken ribs have taught me how hard my body has to work to repair itself. Ribs can't be immobilized in plaster. You can sit motionless but it still hurts when you get up, lying down is very uncomfortable, and you can't avoid coughing or even worse, sneezing. God forbid anyone, or anything, should make you laugh because the pain won't be funny at all. There's no pill you can take. No healing balm to rub on. Although Codeine perhaps takes the edge off a little, who wants to be constipated. I cherish my regularity.

Ever since the point of a large human's shoulder collided with my chest, I have been tired, unenergetic and in some degree of pain. I haven't been able to exercise for two weeks now and I feel physically flat. Yet, at night, when I fall into bed - actually I don't fall because that would hurt - I sleep just as though I had run ten kilometres that morning, or dug trenches all day or whatever. I'm just as tired as I was before the injury, even though I am doing less. My body is still working hard. It doesn't like the situation any more than I do so its metaphorically killing itself to heal. I am amazed by this. I know fighting infection wears you out but apparently I assumed pain was different.

"Stop complaining you big cry baby," I hear you say. So what if you've got a couple of broken ribs? So, now I get it. I understand. Some people battle chronic pain. Many have had much more severe injuries than what I have.I actually feel afraid as I contemplate the intense suffering that some people must endure. I feel terribly sad that for many sufferers there is no relief, no remedy. I wonder where they find the will and the strength to keep going, and can only conclude that it must be supernatural. The human body, including the mind, is more than just a natural wonder, more than a complex and efficient machine, it is a masterpiece of design and engineering: the pinnacle of all creation. Broken prayers are with you.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Monopoly on Luck

I was around when the arcade game, Space Invaders, revolutionized entertainment in 1978. For only twenty cents you could sit and destroy marauding aliens on a desk top sized screen as you waited for your hot chips to cook at the milk bar. Pacman (1980) and Frogger (1981)soon joined the party, and a generation of children became addicted to video gaming. Today's innumerable computer games have evolved to an unbelievable level of sophistication. 21st century children are glued to their TV screens engrossed for countless hours playing games on various platforms while providing fodder for the endless complaints of parents about their lazy and obese children.

Before we had games which rely on technology we played card and board games, and I am still a big fan of three of these traditional games: Chess, (invented some 1500 years ago), Monopoly (1933)and Scrabble (1948). In fact, I have very recently been thrashed over consecutive days in Monopoly, by my daughter.

The chief purpose of games is entertainment, but many games require a good deal of thought and that obviously has great benefits for brain training as well. An often exercised mind is usually a more athletic mind.

Life may be considered a game of sorts, and no matter how we regard it, we all have to play: beginning at our births and terminating, at least physically, at our deaths. Many parallels can be drawn between games and life. I imagine a whole book could be written on the subject but I want to concentrate on the issue of luck. Chess is a game of pure skill and concentration. The only time luck may get involved is when your opponent makes a mistake and either provides you with an opportunity, or a reprieve. Scrabble requires skill and a good vocabulary but there is a strong element of luck involved in the blind selection of letters and the fact that other players have access to the same opportunities on the board as you do.Monopoly is 98% fortune. Any game where you roll a dice, is a game where the outcome is entirely a question of chance. In Monopoly winners tell themselves they used good strategies and losers blame bad luck, but everyone knows the truth.

There are two ways of looking at chess. If like is like chess then we have no control at all over what happens to us. We are pawns, and God or Fate move us around. Alternatively, we are in complete control, manipulating the circumstances and people in our lives to our greatest advantage. If like is more like Scrabble then it would be best summed up by the philosophy, "I do the best with what life gives me". The letters you pick may not be what you want but you still have to try and make a word with them. Atheists must prefer Monopoly because according to them we are all products of chance:the beginning of life was a still unexplained cosmic accident and humans are bags of chemicals blindly bouncing around having accidents: accidental relationships, children, careers. This is an over simplification but you take my point.In Monopoly you make decisions and pretend you are in control but everything is merely a matter of chance.

What you believe about the game, determines how you play it. How much control do you have? How much do you want? Are you lucky or unlucky, or does luck play no part in it at all? Is life a game of Chess, Monopoly or Scrabble?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Worst Band in the UniverseThe Worst Band in the Universe by Graeme Base

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very different and clever book aimed at year 5/6 children but obviously able to be enjoyed by adults like me.

The book is amazingly illustrated and tells the tale of a young alien musician who lives on a planet where musical innovation is illegal. It is written in rhyming prose and it isn't short so to maintain the rhyming couplets and make them interesting and funny was impressive.

This book is quite hard to read because of the unusual sentence structure, quite sophisticated vocabulary and the use of numerous made up words, but once you get into the groove, it's a fascinating story. Very entertaining.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

It Makes Sense to Me

Infomercials can be compelling, almost addictive viewing. Even when all you want as a result of your channel surfing, is to find something interesting to watch for an hour while you exercise on the cross trainer.

The movie I was watching finished, after my hour long run, and on came this advertorial about the Omni DualSaw. This product was so good, boasted the voiceover guy, that it required two top TV salesman to sing its praises. Ignoring the somewhat counter intuitive nature of this opening statement, I looked on as two friendly neigbourhood, tradesman like, salesmen walked on to the set in the middle of a very clean workshop-so clean in fact you could have been forgiven for thinking it was built especially for the ad-and began to spruik the unbelievable benefits of this revolutionary saw.

After three minutes I had decided I wanted one. After fifteen minutes I was still watching in wonder, dreaming of how I could use this awesome tool, and waiting anxiously to learn the price.

The infomercial tapped into a desire that I have, and have had for many many years. It spoke to me as though I was the only person to whom the company hoped to sell it. It talked my language. It presented expert witnesses, professional and amateur users. It performed almost magical demonstrations right before my eyes. I saw, and I believed.

I don't have any money to spend on a fancy saw, but it was easy to imagine hundreds, even thousands of people around the country, or around the world, dialing the number on the screen and giving over their personal details including credit card numbers in order to own one of these amazing saws.

If I told you what Jesus could do to change your life. If I brought forward expert eyewitnesses to testify, and if I demonstrated the power of God in front of your eyes, would you be convinced that you had to have Jesus in your life? Would you dial the number on the screen and pay whatever it cost to have the life transforming, sin forgiving, broken heart healing power of the resurrected Son of God? It makes sense to me. It always makes sense to me, but it is especially poignant at Easter.

I needed to be saved and forgiven, and Jesus has done that for me by dying on the cross. I needed hope, and power to life a right life, and Jesus gave them to me through his Resurrection. At Easter, I say thank you because it makes sense to me.