Sunday, December 30, 2018

A Dog's Eye: Wherever I may Roam

Six hours and fifty five minutes remain of 2018 as I write this. Time for a bit of reflection: my year in a nutshell, with healthy doses of gratitude.

This time last year, I had just arrived back in Darwin, hopeful, as many are on the eve of new year, that 2018 would be a good year. In particular, I prayed for an angel to come into my life. About a month later, she did. I met Bich on eHarmony, and we got married in August. God answered my prayer by bringing this awesome lady to me. She's here now in Wollongong with me, and we are enjoying quality time together before we face another long separation. It's been great to have her here celebrating Christmas with family, and hitting tourist hot spots around Sydney, Wollongong and Canberra.

After Easter I began my house sitting adventure, and also commenced my busiest ever period of travelling. My nana died, as did one of my best friends, I got married, and in October I was made redundant which ushered in a period of five weeks of unemployment before I got a great new job. We also had a second wedding celebration in Bich's home town.

So after three trips to Vietnam, three to Sydney/Wollongong, one to Brisbane and 19 house sits, I've racked up 20 individual plane flights and slept in 34 different beds, including 13 hotels, in eight months. 

It's been a tremendous year of personal growth as I have been "forced" to do a lot of letting go. The cultivation of thankfulness for what I have, and the practice of holding these things lightly. Letting go of the past, treasuring the present and trusting my faithful God for the future. 

I don't know what 2019 has in store for me, but I don't need to know. All I know is that God is good, and whatever comes my way, I'll make it through and I will be happy and thankful. Wherever I lay my head, however long I have to wait for my wife to be granted a permanent visa, regardless of my circumstances, I will give glory to God, and as Father Calvin suggested...I will live the Spirit of Christmas each day.

Peace and blessings to you for 2019. Happy New Year.

Friday, December 14, 2018

A Dog's Eye: the ant and the sluggard

Twenty nine years ago I shared a room with a bloke named Taz. The room was one of three in a house full of young Christian men from around the world. Taz and I hit upon a way of encouraging one another not to sleep in. As befit our circumstances we chose a bible verse to recite to one another should laziness attempt to chain us to our respective beds.

"Go to the ant you sluggard. Consider it's way and be wise..." - Proverbs 6:6-10

I started a new job four weeks ago, following five weeks of unemployment courtesy of being made redundant. I'm working harder now, for slightly less pay, but that is okay. I start work later, and finish later, but I have a little more flexibility. I've gone from a small, poorly run organisation to a large well run one, and I've left the classroom to become a teacher manager. And I love it.

Work is satisfying, stimulating and challenging. Hard work is its own reward: a cliche but nonetheless true. Rest is important. Balance between work and rest can be tricky. My new colleagues have welcomed me, and I sense a friendly, cooperative and supportive environment. They also work hard, and I find all this very encouraging.

We ended the year with a staff Christmas party yesterday, and while most of my workmates were breathing a large collective sigh of relief at having made it through a stressful, difficult year, I was, and am, simply feeling grateful to have been given this job. It has been a testing year for me too, professionally speaking, so I will enjoy the break. Three weeks to spend with my wife and family. Three weeks to reflect on what has been a remarkable year. Three weeks to not think about work. Three weeks to rest, and yet I will not forget the ant: its diligence, its organisation and provision.

Although working hard, being organised and budgeting wisely are admirable, I know that God is Jehovah Jireh, my ultimate provider. This is the main thing I have learned in 2018, but not the only thing.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

relationDips: condiments

Using the broadest definition of the word, a condiment is a substance, sauce or herb, (I'm going to include spreads as well) added to food to enhance its flavour. There is an unbelievable number of different condiments available. Take a look in your pantry and your fridge and you'll probably find numerous may also want to check the use by dates on them while you're there.

There are really obvious and popular examples like salt and pepper, tomato sauce, mayonnaise and peanut butter. There are also less well known condiments such as caramelized balsamic vinegar, sesame spread, sambal oeleck and mango, lime and chili dressing.

The knowledge and or use of these various condiments depends on individual taste and culinary daring. I tend to steer away from the exotic ones and purposefully avoid such unpleasantries as Vegemite and worcestershire sauce. But each to their own right?

Most people add something to their food to improve the flavour because they want good taste: an enjoyable food experience, not just another boring meal. Usually, it's not the case that the food is bad, but more that it is better with a condiment: more exciting even.

His mates were thrilled when he announced that he was getting married. There was an explosion of handshaking and backslapping as he made the announcement over a round of beer at the local pub. They offered hearty congratulations and well wishes to him, except for one of his friends who asked, with zero tact, why the hell he would do that. Why would he tie himself to one woman for the rest of his life?

The mood at the table soured immediately as the man's joy was challenged by this one dissenting voice. The man sipped his beer, gathering his thoughts, before he replied to his friend's question, "Because women are not condiments."

Disgruntled, the friend who loved women in the same way he loved food, walked away. The celebrations resumed in the wake of his departure.

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Dog's Eye: Vietnam part 3 (faith in elephants)

Every now and then the elephant driver would appear to get a little frustrated with the beast beneath him. He was sitting on the elephant's neck, one leg on each side with his knees cocked behind the pachyderm's huge ears. When it slowed down or stopped, the driver would bounce on its neck and nudge it behind the ears while repeating some words of "encouragement".

I was with my mother and my daughter on the elephant. We sat in a relatively comfortable howdah with an umbrella to protect us from the sun. I was not worried about this journey even though I didn't know where we were going and how long exactly we would be gone. The other two passengers were far less sanguine. We traveled down a road through a lakeside village, in Vietnam's central highlands, and then entered the lake down a steep "ramp". Occasionally, the water was up to the elephant's shoulders which left our feet just above the water line.

We wore life jackets in case of an accident, and I'll admit there were a couple of times when I thought we might be having an unplanned swim. After roughly half an hour we finished our ride and climbed down on to solid ground, connected to it by the security of our own feet.

It required an element of faith for us to ride this mighty creature. We had to believe that it would behave itself, and if it didn't, that the driver would be able to control it. Being a visitor in an overseas nation, and being able to enjoy that experience also requires some faith. Control ebbs away under the direction of locals who, despite some language obstacles, we trust. In our case, my wife was in complete control and what a champion she was. She did an amazing job of organizing things for us and protecting us from being ripped off. It was relatively easy to trust her. I mean I married her, so...

Nevertheless, there is a sense in which having to trust others makes us feel uncomfortable. Allowing others to make decisions for us, takes away our power, it violates our independence. For some people, the land of interdependence is a foreign country they have never visited- nor do they wish to. Taking risks with their safety based solely on the assurances of others is anathema to them.

How much is lost to a person who allows fear and/or a desire to stay in control rule their lives?

Sunday, November 4, 2018

relationDips: Vietnam part 2

My experience of Vietnamese people, both in Australia and in Vietnam, is that they are extraordinarily hospitable. As it is across Asia, it's all about the food. There's always a fine selection of food when you sit to eat at someone's home. Pho (beef noodle soup) may be a quintessential Vietnamese food, but we only had it outside of the home, in any number of ubiquitous little restaurants. Home meals, family meals, comprise a table full of plates and bowls filled with salads, meats, sauces and noodles. 

It's wonderful to look at, and participate in, such a amazing spread, even if many of the food items are unidentifiable, and some even unpleasant looking. Exotic? Nailed it.

One night, at the home of my father-in-law, I had another one of these great meals, and finished it well satisfied. I was relaxing with a cigarette after dinner when I was summoned next door to my new uncle's home...for dinner. I groaned a little inwardly.

I joined my father and law and uncle, and a hard rock loving friend of my uncle's whom I had met earlier that day. I joined them on the floor where another no less impressive array of food lay awaiting our enjoyment. Also, on this "table" was a large bottle of home made whiskey which was mounted on a little stand so as to make pouring easy.

And so began more culinary exploration, interspersed with drinking whiskey from small glasses ( a little larger than a shot glass). Before we drank we toasted, each time. Evidently if you take a sip, you must invite everyone else to drink with you. When we had finished eating, and of course I only picked at the food because I was not hungry at all, I stood to go outside for a smoke. My father in law insisted I stay, and so we smoked together on the floor of my uncle's living room, then stubbed out our butts in the food scraps.

Following the meal, we began to watch music videos and the aformentioned hard rock loving friend of my uncle and I worked our way through a fine collection of hair metal bands, mostly Bon Jovi. There was, quite naturally, singing and air guitars. Communication was very limited due to the language barrier, but we connected.

I don't drink whiskey. I never smoke inside. I prefer to sit at a table to eat, and I only ever have dinner once a night. Nevertheless, I had a really great time. When in Rome...right?

What is the appeal of this kind of activity? I think it's about building relationships. My wife was somewhat disproving of my involvement, but that was mainly due to the cigarettes. I was with her father and some other men in a family home. It was safe place, and I guess we were bonding. I wondered about the things we do to fit in, to gain acceptance, to not cause offence to others, to simply satisfy curiousity.

I've had some unsafe experiences in my life when my motives for involvement were far less pure than on this occasion, where my desire was simply to bond with the man whose daughter is now my wife. I've rarely encountered a better example of the intrinsic connection between food and relationships.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Dog's Eye: Vietnam part 1

Towards the end of our Cu Chi (pronounced goo jee) Tunnel tour, as we headed back to the bus, I stopped to sign the visitor's book. Bich had pointed it out and asked me if I wanted to write something. I said yes- would a writer ever say no to an invitation to write something? As I kept writing, Bich asked me to hurry up because our fellow tourists were probably waiting for us. When I explained to her the danger of offering a pen and a blank page to a writer, she smiled and nodded.

That little event neatly highlights two things about my recent trip to Vietnam. Firstly, the continued blossoming of our new marriage relationship, and secondly, the difficulty of nutshellizing my holiday. It was so great - undoubtedly the best holiday I've ever had -that it's hard to know where to begin recounting all the wonderful experiences I had. Therefore, I am not going to do that. Instead, I will offer just a few snapshots.

Fifteen million people live in Ho Chi Minh City which most locals still refer to as Saigon. It's a crazy, crazy town with so much to see and do. It struck me one morning late in my second week, as we were en route to meet my mum and sister at the Ducati dealership, that I had never experienced a traffic jam in Saigon. Despite the huge volume of vehicles, mostly motorcycles, and their chaotic movement, it flows. Regardless of the near misses, swerving, and the use of handheld devices by many drivers and riders, I never saw an accident. 

I know they happen - Bich had two minor accidents in one week prior to my arrival - but I was on the road for many hours, and I never saw any collisions. Even when observing from the footpaths, which are not at all people friendly (motorbikes use them, as do ubiquitous street vendors), or from the safety of one of Saigon's countless cafes and restaurants, I never saw anything go wrong on the roads.

It looks for all the world like a road system destined to perpetual choking, frequent accidents and road rage. But it works. With cars and motorbikes moving in all directions, not driving in lanes (because there usually aren't any) and right of way always taken, not given, Saigon's traffic should be a basket case...but it isn't.

This is only one amazing aspect of Vietnam: a country to which I am now perpetually bound courtesy of God giving me an angel from Saigon as my wife.

Friday, October 5, 2018

RelationDips: like father

Image result for like father movie imagesThe film Like Father, which stars Kelsey Grammar as Harry and Kristen Bell as Rachel, is a reconciliation story, and that's primarily why I loved it. There is so much brokenness in this world, so many loved ones estranged from one another, so much pain and regret. Unity and peace are relationship ideals, which we all desire, but we have to work so hard to achieve them that many people find it easier to cut people out of their lives instead.

Burning bridges is a simpler process than mending fences. Building walls is a less complicated option than tearing them down. Wait a minute! Look at those metaphors literally. The opposite is in fact true. The truth is, it requires more time, effort and care to build a wall than it does to destroy it. Logic is turned on its head when it comes to relationships.

Harry is a workaholic father who walks out on his wife and daughter, Rachel, because it is too hard. Rachel hates what her father did, but her remedy for the pain is to become a workaholic herself. (Hence the title of the film). On her wedding day, she does business on the phone outside the church while the music plays, and the congregation waits expectantly for her to walk down the aisle. The groom wonders about the delay as familiar feelings torment him. Finally she enters, but during the ceremony, her phone, which she hid inside the bouquet before entering the church, falls on to the floor. The groom pulls her aside and says he cannot marry her. She loves her job more than him.

Unbeknownst to Rachel, Harry is at the wedding.They see each other for the first time since Rachel was a child, but she runs away, upset by being jilted, and shocked to see Harry. Later he comes and knocks on the door of her apartment, thus beginning the reconciliation which initially takes place courtesy of copious amounts of alcohol at a bar, before continuing on the pre-booked honeymoon cruise.

Like Father is a very funny film with heart, and a poignant message about relationships and the choices people make.

The emotions experienced by Harry, which ultimately caused him to abandon Rachel, are not uncommon. Many men become husbands and fathers before they are emotionally mature enough. Some survive. They fight against the selfishness and learn to excel and flourish in these important relationships. Many others, flee. I doubt any of those who run from responsibility, escape the guilt and shame associated with their selfishness.

Most of us acknowledge that people are more important than things. Why then, do we live as though the reverse is true? The man who works so much that he has no time to invest in his marriage says he is providing for his family. He is doing what he has to do. Challenge! I met a man like this once. He said he had thought he was doing the right thing in making sure his wife and children had everything they needed and more, but when his marriage fell apart and his children stopped talking to him, he realized that his family wanted him, not his money.

Relationships are hard, but we are built for them. We are designed to prioritize each other. We were created to love and be loved. You don't have to look far to see evidence of how wrong we have got it. Invest in people and relationships above all else. Forgive others, forgive reconciled to one another, and find peace. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Mirror: Risen

"Because you have seen me, you believe: blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

Image result for risen film
In the immediate aftermath of the disappearance of Jesus Christ's corpse which had been placed in a sealed tomb following his death by crucifixion, a rumour began to circulate that the disciples of Jesus had stolen his body in order to perpetuate the myth of his resurrection.

Fear of this malevolent gossip about a risen saviour prompted the Jewish leaders to request the tomb be sealed and guarded by centurions. Three days later, the seal had been broken, the stone had been rolled away from the entrance and the tomb was empty.

So far we are in accord with the Biblical narrative. However in the film Risen, Joseph Fiennes stars as a tribune named Clavius who is assigned to find the body of the so called Messiah. Clavius witnessed the death of Jesus, and was certain the rumour of theft was true...until he began to investigate the alleged crime.

He meets and interviews a number of Jesus' followers and is troubled by how they present themselves and defend Jesus. One day, following a lead from a spy, Clavius locates the home of one of the apostles. He bursts in and finds Jesus' inner circle there. He also sees Jesus. This moment in the film is pure gold, The man Clavius saw die and be interred, who set his own Roman seal across the entrance to the tomb, sees Jesus alive and well. To say he is surprised would be the biggest understatement in history.

Flavius then travels to Galilee with the disciples where Jesus appears to them again. Aside from the presence of tribune Clavius which is mere speculation, the film goes back to the story as presented in the Bible. One evening, Clavius has some time alone with Jesus who asks him what he is searching for. Jesus offers some suggestions: certainty? peace? And then he drops another bombshell by repeating Clavius very own words about what his hopes for the future were. A day without death. Hearing his own words from Jesus' mouth almost brings the battle hardened tribune to tears.

At times I felt the film was a little pedestrian, (the odd collection of accents was off putting, and there were some very ordinary acting performances) but in the two aformentioned moments I was really moved, emotionally. These were very powerful scenes, and I thought Fiennes did a great job of portraying a man who didn't know what he was looking for until he found it.

Everyone is looking for something. Countless people throughout the centuries have found their search ended when they met Jesus. The day I met Jesus, for example, my search for meaning in life was terminated. I know exactly who I am, why I am here and where I am going. I know this because Christ is Risen.

Risen is now available on Netflix.

Friday, September 7, 2018

A Dog's Eye: the rort and the blind eye

Image result for teaching englishShout out to the evening class ELICOS* students at another college, whom I had the pleasure of teaching this week while filling in for their regular teacher. I don't know how long I could have sustained teaching a morning class and an evening class, but I have to say it was fun. So stimulated was I by working with a new group of students (and a much higher level than my class), that each night I struggled to unwind and go to sleep.

Although it wasn't an easy gig, I am grateful for the opportunity for two reasons. Firstly, it reinvigorated me as a teacher. For some time, I have been feeling a little stale at my usual place of employment, and have become increasingly frustrated with my students. The challenge this week presented reminded me why I love teaching. Secondly, of course, is the money. Every little bit helps.

I expected a different kind of student this week in the evening class. I had anticipated much higher proficiency, but I also expected better attendance. I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that the evening class students also rock up to class whenever they can, or whenever they feel like it. They also extend the break to suit themselves, and they leave when they are tired or have something better to do.

The attendance policy at this college is clear and matches the national guidelines for the ELICOS program. At my regular place of employment, we also have such an attendance policy. However, we report on progress, not attendance which means that poor attendance only becomes an issue when it results in poor assessment results. Naturally the two are inextricably linked, but if a student only attends half the classes, yet still achieves the minimum pass mark, then there is no problem.

All our students are in Australia on working holiday visas (visa subclass 500). The conditions of this visa state the student is allowed to work for 20 hours each week, but they must attend 20 hours of English classes a week. Would it shock you to learn that none of them do. That's right. Zero percent full attendance.

At the other college where I taught this week, I discovered, despite my hopes and expectation, that they also do nothing about poor attendance. I asked about the roll and if partial attendances were recorded. The answer was no.

Image result for turning a blind eyeSo here we have two colleges who turn a blind eye to students rorting visa subclass 500. Why? Isn't it obvious? They don't want to lose students. I'm told that ELICOS colleges in Sydney and Melbourne are very strict on attendance. Elsewhere it is not the same. Many students change cities, not just for a different experience, but to find more lenient attendance policies. 

Let me be clear: students who consistently fail to attend the required number of hours in class are breaching their visa conditions. Not clear enough? They are breaking the law. What do the colleges who extract exorbitant tuition fees from the students do about this situation? Nothing. Why would they?

If one college were to crackdown on this problem, the students would simply contact their agents and transfer to another college. If all colleges enforced their attendance policy, instead of just writing them and "informing" the students about them in order to satisfy regulators...the entire industry would shrink significantly.

Image result for turning a blind eye

Self interest? Can I hear an "amen"?

*ELICOS = English Language Intensive Course for Overseas Students

Friday, August 10, 2018

A Dog's eye: the measure of a good man part 3

It's easy to be good to your friends, and by being good to them, it's easy for them to reciprocate.

Strangers are a slightly more difficult proposition, because although a bare minimum of courtesy and politeness can be managed by most people, we are generally less tolerant with, and certainly less trusting of people we do not know. Our own insecurities cause us to be wary of strangers and disinclined to get too involved with them.

Some people will help strangers; others will not, as we see in the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan. The Bible says in Galatians that we should "not grow weary while doing good for in due season we will reap a reward if we do not lose heart. Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially those who are of the household of faith." This is what I believe God expects of us and although it won't make us good, it will make us better.

The third group of people by whom our treatment of them will demonstrate our "goodness" is our enemies. Most of us would deny having any enemies, but let us say that anytime somebody does you wrong, or does somebody you know wrong, they become your enemy. It is in how we deal with this group of people that the rubber meets the road. In group one, there will be Christians and non-Christians. In group two you might expect to find more Christians than non-Christians, but in reality there will be a mix. In group three, you will be struggling to find anybody at all who relates well to their enemies.

Let's remember Jesus' words: "If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even tax collectors and sinners do the same? And if your greet the brethren only, what more do you do than others?"

The 12th chapter of Romans is arguably the best snapshot of Godly
behaviour in the Bible. It should be mandatory reading for everyone. Paul writes, "Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good." (v. 21) "If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him drink." (v.18) "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." (v.18) Measure yourself against this criteria and you will quickly be forced to agree that you, and everyone else, falls short of the glory of God. There are no "good" men. Even Jesus, when addressed as Good Teacher, rejected this appellation by saying that only God is good.

If this sounds too hard, that's because it is. It's too hard for you, for me, for anyone. It's really not possible for men to live this way except they be filled with the Holy Spirit. Finally, remember this, even if you pass this test and can be good to not only your friends, but also to strangers and enemies, you still won't be anywhere near as good as God.

Friday, August 3, 2018

A Dog's Eye: the measure of a good man part 2

Bill and Fred have different opinions of George: one good, the other bad. Which is true? The Bible says that George is a bad man, but no worse than Bill or Fred. The truth is, compared to God, we are all bad. Romans 3:23 says that "All men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." There's no shame in that. God is perfectly good. We are not.

Men are judged by their deeds, so eye surgeon and humanitarian Fred Hollows, for example, was a good man whereas Port Arthur mass murderer, Martin Bryant is not. The average person would perhaps consider themselves not as "good" as Hollows, but much better than Bryant. Compared to each other, our goodness or badness is relative, but compared to God we are bad, because God alone is absolutely good. He is perfect. Jesus himself, during his incarnation, even rejected the appellation "good teacher", by saying that God alone is good. We are born in sin, and we die in sin unless we get saved.

If we reject the Bible's teaching on the subject of sin, how can we possibly determine who is good and who is not with any degree of objectivity and fairness? Many people, in this post modern age of relative truth and morality, say that we don't need to make such judgments. That is why you may hear a thousand different answers to the question: 'what is the measure of a good man?"

Let me clear here. When I speak of judging the goodness and badness of people, I am in fact saying that we should not do that because we are not qualified. On the basis that we are all bad, we are not equipped to judge people. We can however make honest assessments of ourselves which should allow us to be more forgiving of others and gracious to them. 

I suggest there is one answer. The Biblical measure of a man's goodness, remembering that when compared with God our own righteousness is like filthy rags, can be assessed by how he relates to three distinct groups of people; friends, strangers and enemies.

As for the first group, friends are friends because, among other things, they treat each other well, have common interests, help each other and show loyalty. It's easy to be "good" to your friends, and by being "good" to them, it is easy for them to reciprocate. It's easy to love your friends, but as Jesus said, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?" (Luke 6:32)

Strangers and enemies are different kettles of fish, and I will deal with them in more detail in part 3 of the measure of a good man.

Friday, July 27, 2018

A Dog's Eye: The measure of a good man part 1

Death seems to make saints of so many sinners. When somebody dies, there is very rarely a bad word spoken about them because it is generally accepted that one should not speak ill of the dead, particularly the recently departed.

Does that mean it is okay to criticize and belittle people, to speak hateful, spiteful words, and to highlight someone's faults while they are alive, but when they die they become untouchable? It seems sometimes only death allows a person to be fully forgiven for the wrongs they have committed in life. People are judged much more harshly during their lifetime than at their death. Although the deceased's enemies would no doubt say what a bad person they were, and happily point out their failings and "sins", no one wants to hear that. It makes us all feel much better if the goodness of the person is emphasized.

Friends say it is bad that a good person has died, while enemies say it is good that a bad person has died, and they could be talking about the same person. Both are expressing opinions. Everybody can be good or bad because it depends on a personal point of view. A person's goodness or badness is entirely relative. When you listen to people talk about others, their comments are usually based on what that person has done for them, or for someone they know.

Here's an example: Bill is talking to Fred about George who is a mechanic at a local garage. Bill says that George is a good bloke because he helped Bill's sister when her car broke down and he didn't charge her anything. Fred does not like George because George gave him an outrageously high quote for some repair work, and then became angry when Fred wanted to get another quote. Bill says George is a good man, but Fred says he is a bad man. Both are making judgments solely on their experience of George. If the two men were talking to you about George, how would you judge him? Regardless of what you think, what is the true ,objective measure of a good man?

I will attempt to answer that question in the next installment. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

A Dog's Eye: to say goodbye

My Nana died on June 11 aged 96. Last Wednesday, July 4, the funeral was held at Woronora Cemetery, followed by a wake at The Bridge restaurant on Woronora River. The funeral was delayed to allow for family members who were overseas, like myself, to be there to say goodbye to a woman who lived a life few of us who remain could imagine.

I belong to a wonderful extended family and for this I am truly grateful to God who holds all of our lives in his mighty hand.

Here is the speech I delivered at the service* on behalf of my cousins. It was bookended by a terrific eulogy by my mum, and a speech by my son on behalf of the great grandchildren.

How do you encapsulate a life in a few moments. And such a long life as Nana had. The bible says we are given three score and ten years, but he granted Nana nearly five score. Wow. 96 years. How do you summarise such a long and amazing life. Well, I think Mum did a great job in her eulogy.

Think of your own life, the highs and the lows but in between so much of the mundane. What can I say about Nana? I can really only speak about the impact she had on my life, and to a lesser, more general extent, about the impact she had on the lives of my cousins. Imagine living to see your grandchildren grow up and have their own children. Think about what Nana saw, what she experienced in her 96 years. I remember speaking at her 70th birthday party about historical events which occurred in the year she was born: 1922. Think of how she saw the world change so dramatically.

For most of the major moments in our lives, she was there. She lived, she loved and she reveled in the achievements of her grandchildren. I remember the sparkle in her eyes, and her undivided attention when I spoke with her and told her all about what was going on in my life from time time to time. I remember how she filled me in on details from the rest of the family. How she remembered stuff, and how proud she was of all of us. I remember how baffled she sometimes was as well, not because there was anything wrong with her mind, but simply from astonishment I guess. Amazed at what we were doing and what we achieved. How we travelled the world, for example, as though it were nothing more than a family camping trip down to Cudmirrah. How great were those family holidays!

I felt especially close to Nana and Grandad particularly during and as a result of the time I lived with them in Oatley when I started high school. During a tumultuous time for me, I remember Oatley as being a safe place. I remember the peace and the quiet. I remember developing a love for dark chocolate which we ate after dinner while watching TV together. For those six months Nana and Grandad were my parents. When I think of Nana, I think of intelligent and wide ranging conversations about books and politics and life in general. I think about playing Scrabble and cups of tea and bikkies.

We'll all treasure our memories of Nana. What a blessed life we have had and how wonderful that we got to share so much of it with her. Sure, we're sad, but i think most of all we feel grateful. We honour the dead by how we continue to live and live well. There is a saying that while there is life there is hope. Nana is dead, but I think hope is eternal. It goes beyond the grave. Jesus Christ is our eternal hope, and I'm looking forward to seeing Nana again one day.

Rest in peace, Eileen Rayner. We love you and we'll miss you Nana.

*I wrote out the speech, but left it in my pocket as I spoke. Consequently I added and deleted some things. The words above are the best my memory can do to recall what I actually said. It was such an emotional day, but so great. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

A Dog's Eye: pushing the envelope

A video came up in my news feed on Facebook this morning of a guy reviewing some spectacular football 'dives'. Overlooking the liberal use of expletives, it was quite funny so I shared it. I had already been thinking about this issue for a few days, since Australia lost to France in their World Cup 2018 opener.

Image result for the beautiful gameFootball, or soccer as we call it here and in the United States, is truly the world game. The FIFA World Cup is a larger event than the Olympic Games.With an estimated global television audience of nearly half the population of the whole world, and ticket sales of nearly 1.7 million, it is impossible to deny the popularity of what many call 'the beautiful game'.

I don't watch a lot of soccer. I watch Australia's World Cup qualifiers when they are on at a sensible time, and I check out as much of the World Cup action as I can. There is a blight on the beautiful game. An embarrassment which even casual viewers like myself cannot help but notice and shake our heads at. The dive.

Image result for soccer divesPlayers often take dramatic falls and have exaggerated reactions to minor injuries. This is particularly laughable for fans of rugby league which is perhaps the most physically violent of all sports. The collisions between players in rugby league make mortals shudder and wonder how they can keep playing. The thing is even in rugby league, players 'dive'. It does not happen as often as it does in soccer but it happens.

The purpose of diving is to win a penalty or free kick for your team. In league it is known as 'milking', and you will occasionally hear the referee refuse to give a penalty by actually calling out 'milking'. 

I don't like this at all. To me, it is not in the spirit of the game, but the laws of the game-both soccer and rugby league- are such that decisions about foul play or illegal tackles are in the hands of the referees who must exercise their judgement as to the severity and genuineness of the offence. With such subjective assessments and enforcement of the rules, mistakes are bound to occur.

Players push the envelope to gain every possible advantage for their team. If they can get away with it, if they can dupe the referee into awarding a penalty or free kick, then why not? Why not? Because it's poor sportsmanship. I would say that the majority of players don't do it. I wish no one did it, but sport, particularly professional sport which involves such ridiculous amounts of money, is a microcosm of life.

Nearly everyone drives above the speed limits. Normally just a little bit over: pushing the envelope. That's just one example. In every arena of life, people try to bend and stretch the rules to suit themselves, to gain every possible advantage. It's normal right?

It is normal, but it speaks clearly of the rebellious heart within us all. A resistance to authority and to rules. We just don't like being told what to do. In sport, and in life in general the stakes are high, so we feel it is necessary to push the envelope regardless of how we may embarrass or injure ourselves or other people in the process.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

relationDips: crabs

Image result for crabs
Fortunately I had a caring tablemate- two of them in fact- who served me by doing the hard yakka of cracking the crab shells and extracting what little meat was contained therein. Had I been left to my own devices, I might not have bothered. In fact, I seldom do trouble myself with crabs or lobsters because I simply don't feel it is worth the effort.

I can be bothered with prawns though, but prawns are easy to peel or shell - whatever the correct term is. Crabs are not. The thing is the meat tastes nice. The problem is there is very little of it. Having been fed for about twenty minutes on tiny little pieces of the sweet white meat, I felt as though I had eaten nothing. As more courses arrived, including tiny shells containing even tinier portions of flesh, I decided I had to contribute to the work. I cracked some shells and picked away, helping my dinner companion finish all the crabs.

Looking at the impressive pile of shells left behind only made me smile, as I fought the desire to cross the road and order a big steak.

My dinner partner loves seafood. It is her first choice and she delights in the labour intensive consumption of crabs. I'm a little bit of a lazy eater. Although I referred to steak, I rarely eat it, preferring rice and pasta dishes instead which are very easy to consume. Had my stomach been big enough I could have easily wolfed down a couple of plates of stir fry ostrich with rice in the same time it took to eat maybe 50g of crab.

As I do, I reflected on this event. Good relationships, like eating crabs, require a lot of work: patient toil to reap sometimes only a small reward. The cumulative effect of these small rewards is invariably quite satisfying. There is no rush to finish the crabs. Crab lovers understand the process takes time and they enjoy it. It's not about eating, it's about enjoying a meal.

Perhaps this is why so many relationships struggle. Firstly, a lack of patience. Secondly, a lack of understanding of the process. Thirdly, an over emphasis on the result, and finally a lack of commitment to the necessary work.

I may never be a crab lover, but I believe I can learn to be better at relationships. Even if I never fully appreciate crabs, I am thankful for this experience of eating them, and I do appreciate the importance of good relationships.

Image result for crabsTo finish I must honour the servant heart of the beautiful lady who served me that night. Both she and her daughter literally had me eating out of the palm of their hands, because they thought nothing of helping me to enjoy a meal with them. Crack! One incy wincey piece of crab for you...crack! One incy wincey piece of crab meat for me.

Wow! There's a radical idea. What if the husband and wife served each other in humility. Now there's a marriage made in heaven.