Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Mirror: Shelf-righteousness

I imagine it came with a book which was gifted to me; most likely from my mum. She often buys interesting books for me and they occasionally come with a bookmark from the store where the purchase was made. This particular bookmark has a list of words on it; book related words. Shelf-righteous* is one of them. Perhaps you thought I was either inventing a word or had accidentally added an 'h'. Not so.

I don't want to boast, especially as I just read Jeremiah 9:23, 24, but I do feel like I have a pretty special collection of books. I suppose many readers feel the same way, so why, I hear you say, do I claim to have a better collection than others? Why am I making such a shelf righteous declaration? And how is my feeling of superiority about my personal library a mirror?

I'll deal with the latter first. What a person reads is a reflection of the person. We normally chose to read books which are 'our cup of tea', so our literary tastes say something about us. I'm being shelf righteousness because I reckon my collection is pretty impressive even though it's small...very small, in fact. I don't usually keep books as I haven't had anywhere to keep them for some time now. Books come and go.

What's so good about my small collection? It's eclectic. At the moment, I'm reading a futuristic action thriller, a Discworld fantasy, and book about a neurosurgeon who was in a coma for a week and now believes in the existence of the 'soul.' Prior to that I read Enid Blyton's Secret Seven, Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss and a time travel, body jumping mystery called The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Also in my library are many classics. Books by unknowns and books by very well-knowns. Books about all sorts of subjects, set in all sorts of places with all sorts of genres, styles, and themes. Truth be told though, it's not better or worse than other one else's library.

I was recently ask why I read books. It's a good question which I think boils down to three things: education, entertainment and inspiration. For example when I saw Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander sitting on shelf and I read the subtitle: "a neurosurgeon's journey into the afterlife," I had to grab it. And the following quote from page 9 sealed it: "My experience showed me that the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness, that human experience continues beyond the grave. More important, it continues under the gaze of a God who cares..." Clearly, this book will educate, entertain and inspire me.

I'm going to finish with one of my favourite quotes about reading, but before that I want to share a snippet from a book I recently read...for the second time. The subtitle of Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss is "the grumpiest man on the planet goes in search of the happiest place in the world." Here is a tiny sample of Weiner's philosophical conclusion. "Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude."

I'm not well at the time of writing this blog. I have the dreaded man flu of which I have previously written. (Exactly four years ago as it turns out) Energy and inspiration are low, but books are helping me through by assisting the passage of time while I rest (I'm not a fan of too much rest) and by providing the topic and many of the words for this post.

"The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read." (Anon)

*Shelf-righteous: the feeling of superiority about one's bookshelf

Saturday, May 16, 2020

A Dog's Eye: Opportunity and Choice

Today we were back in the House; God's House. For the first time in six weeks we were able to meet together at church for a gathering which perhaps some of us had begun to take for granted prior to COVID-19. The atmosphere was one of great celebration and excitement.

In keeping with COVID-19 safety advice, the auditorium and the adjoining cafe had been re arranged. Less seats, and not more than two together, in the former, and none at all in the latter. We queued for coffee (not me personally because I don't drink coffee) on crosses marked on the floor and took our caffeinated refreshments outside where we could maintain social distancing.

During the period of 'church by video' we also continued to meet in our small groups which we call Connect groups. We did this via Zoom. If you had shares in Zoom before COVID-19 you are among the winners in the world's worst pandemic in a hundred years. 

Interestingly, when we moved outside, regular Zoom participants didn't come, and those who had either completely or pretty much completely avoided the Zoom sessions were back with a bang. COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for people to evaluate what is important in their lives. The choices we made in response to the restrictions placed upon us by government fiat may have lasting consequences in the 'new normal'. Or not.

Will the lock down period, and what we had to do because some choices had been removed, be seen as an aberration which we should build a bridge over? Or will it be seen as a course correction for lives which had become unbalanced and devoid of gratitude?

I was initially upset by the closure of gymnasiums. My thrice or four times a week visit to the gym had become a staple of my routine. I saw it as necessary and would only drop a planned session if absolutely necessary. In the first week of no gym, I worked out in the stairwell of our apartment block. My wife and I then decided to go for a walk together in the evenings. This walk turned in to a workout which included interval training and body weight workouts.

What these evening exercise sessions also gave us was invaluable time together to talk. Now we're not just working on our fitness together, we're working on our relationship. However, this is maintenance, not surgery because we are already remarkably in sync. This time of talking and discussing issues keeps us on the same page. It is making us healthier and happier.

We chose this. I chose to do this with her, not alone and it was a great decision. I enjoy this time we have so much , I've decided not to not return to the gym.

This is just one example of a course correction brought about by COVID-19. I think almost everyone will have done this to some extent because life is all about opportunities and choices. Wisdom is required both to recognize opportunity and to make good choices in response. I believe many people have done, are doing exactly that. The rest will carry on, blind and ignorant to the things which really matter; to those eternal treasures which characterize the kingdom of Heaven.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Mirror: Failure

Saturday night in our home is family movie night. We take turns selecting a film, which we agreed beforehand we would either like, love or hate without criticizing the person who chose it. For my wife and daughter, I provide a selection to help them choose. (Yes, I know this means that I am in effect choosing the movie, but you're missing the point.)

Last week we watched Evan Almighty which we all enjoyed for the laughs as well as the positive message about obeying God and trusting him even when you don't feel like, when people around you don't get it or when the circumstances seem to dictate that your trust has been misplaced.

This week we watched All Saints starring John Corbett of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame. Also based on a true story, although much more closely aligned to the actual characters and events than Evan Almighty, All Saints is the name of a church which is about to be closed because it isn't financially viable. It only has a handful of members, so the decision has been made to sell it. John Corbett plays Michael Spurlock, the Anglican minister sent to All Saints to oversee its closure.

A large number of Kareni refugees turn up at the church, needing help and declaring themselves Anglicans. Spurlock feels he has to do all he can to help them. One night, he hears God telling him to save the church by turning it into a farm.

The film has a happy ending, but perhaps not what you would expect. I found myself again reflecting on how the world measures success compared with how God measures it. The truth is that what looks like a failure can actually be a great success. What looks and feels like suffering and hardship can be achieving a positive work of renewal. What feels like a waste of time for you can bear great fruit for someone else, and perhaps not until much further down the track.

All Saints church wasn't making money, but God wasn't even remotely concerned with that. His goal was to break down prejudice, build a community and do some healing work on individual hearts. God told Evan to build an ark, but it wasn't about the ark; it was about shaping Evan's character, transforming him through an extraordinary experience into a better man. However, sometimes the experiences don't need to be extraordinary. To the teachable soul, even mundane occurrences contain revelation.

We humans are rebellious by nature, but even our recalcitrance, our resistance, our lack of humility, can be used by God for our good and his glory. God's plans don't get thwarted by our stubbornness. He doesn't get surprise or shocked by what we do or don't do. He never says "I didn't see that one coming."

Our safe place is complete dependence on him. The words of the old hymn are ringing in my head "Trust and obey, for there's no other way..." When we do this, it does not matter what the situation looks like or how we feel about it, it's okay because God is good. Everything happens the way it is supposed to, when it is supposed to because God is sovereign.

Evan Baxter and Michael Spurlock both discovered this truth, and you can too. Just listen.