Friday, January 29, 2010

Millennium Trilogy

As you know, we were recently on holidays, which are my designated fiction reading time of the year. I was very happy to have lots to read - and it was all good.

The first books I read were the Millennium Trilogy, by Stieg Larsson.

Starting obviously with book 1 - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:
Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomqvist is hired by Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance of Vanger’s great-niece Harriet. Henrik suspects that someone in his family, the powerful Vanger clan, murdered Harriet over forty years ago.

Starting his investigation, Mikael realizes that Harriet’s disappearance is not a single event, but rather linked to series of gruesome murders in the past. He now crosses paths with Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker, an asocial punk and most importantly, a young woman driven by her vindictiveness.

Together they form an unlikely couple as they dive deeper into the violent past of the secretive Vanger family. (from the Steig Larsson website)

This first book is relatively self-contained, you could easily stop after reading it. However, if you are hooked like I was, you will quickly want to move on to book 2 (The Girl who Played with Fire) & 3 (The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest). However, a warning - if you read #2, you will want to immediately pick up #3 to see what happens, so make sure you have enough time to read both!

All three are gripping mystery/thrillers, with clever and original story lines that draw you right in. All three have been very well-received by reviewers and I agree with them - they are great reading. They do have some very unpleasant and violent scenes, but more often the violence is hinted at, rather than actually expressed.

It is very sad that the author died suddenly of a heart attack just after giving them to a publisher - he never got to see the success that they have become, and we will not get any more of his writing.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Calvin Club

Introduction and Letter to King Francis

Following Cathy's plan, I have read all the introductory material and the Letter to the King.

Cathy has given an excellent explanation of why we would even want to read the Institutes and some of the history surrounding them.

As for me, I will include some of the quotes that struck me. The first few are from the Introduction, which I am assuming is written by the editor (John T. McNeill). He opens:
The celebrated treatise here presented in a new English translation holds a place in the short list of books that have notably affected the course of history, molding the beliefs and behavior of generations of mankind. Perhaps no other theological work has so consistently retained for four centuries a place on the reading list of studious Christians... It has been assailed as preventing a harsh, austere, intolerant Christianity and so perverting the gospel of Christ, and it has been admired and defended as an incomparable exposition of Scriptural truth and a bulwark of evangelical faith. (p. xxix)*

As for a comment about Calvin the man, he says:
He was not ...a theologian by profession, but a deeply religious man who possessed a genius for orderly thinking and obeyed the impulse to write out the implications of his faith. (p. li)

Calvin, in his own words to the reader in 1559, says this:
it has been my purpose in this labor to prepare and instruct candidates in sacred theology for the reading of the divine Word, in order that they may be able both to have easy access to it and embrace it without stumbling. For I believe I have arranged the sum of religion in all its parts, and have arranged it in such an order, that if anyone rightly grasps it, it will not be difficult for him to determine what he ought especially to seek in Scripture, and to what end he ought to relate is contents. (p4)
Cathy has helpfully posted about why we would want to read such a summary of Christian doctrine, as well as reading our bibles ourselves.

If you want to join us, there is still time. You could skip the whole introduction if you wanted and even the letter to the king and start at book 1, chapter 1. Each chapter is only a few pages long - easy to tackle in one sitting! Join us as we think more about what we believe...

* It is quite possible my page numbers will not line up with Cathy's, while I think we are using the same translation with the same editor, I suspect mine might be an older print, published in MCMLX (1960)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Back to school

This is an edited re-post from this time last year. I have included comments on how we did in 2009!

My son starts school again today, in Year 2, which has prompted me to think about how we will be involved this year. As with all things we need to make wise decisions about the amount of time we can give to the school. If we stay in this area, we will be a part of this school for 12 years, so I feel it is the main thing in the community that we can be involved in for the long term.

Here are some of my thoughts:

1. Try to get to know his teacher well.

This was a wonderful blessing in the last few years - his teachers have been lovely and I felt we were 'on the same page' when dealing with Mr 6 and any issues that arose. I knew she cared about him and how he was going, and (I presume) she knew that I was on her side and supportive of what she was doing in the classroom. I also tried to get to know her as a person, about her family, etc, so that not every conversation we had was about my child. This could obviously be harder with another teacher with a different outlook or personality, but that is my goal.

Another good teacher in 2009, so it worked well. All bodes well for this year too!

2. Figure out how to be involved in the school community

This is a tricky one, considering we still have 2 littler ones at home. Reading in class is not easy, and I would have to give up precious time on my free Thursdays to do this without the girls with me. I will have to think about this one.

A friend of mine (with 3 children at school this year and 3 at home) had a great idea on this one. She approached the school and said that she wanted to be involved, but could not be at the school while she did so - she ended up covering new books for the library at home.

We are also considering whether it is possible for Husband to go on school council or something like that.

Husband did go on school council, which was great. We are still considering whether he will do it again this year. He did struggle to get to all the meetings, as his calendar is as fixed and rigid as the school's is!

3. Get to know the children in his class

This was the main benefit of going into the class for reading for a term last year -I met almost all the children and they all knew I was Mr 6's mum. I knew the children who M would speak of and I was able to understand some of the class dynamics a little more. I could encourage certain friendships and also see which children might be a good idea for us to get to know better.

Thankfully after 2 years at school, I know most of the kids that Mr 6 has already been in a class with, so this gets easier each year.

4. Get to know the parents and families of the children in his class

It took me until halfway through last year to realise that I probably only saw the parents of about half the children in the class - some came from and went to Out of Hours care, some were dropped off by parents never entering the school, and some probably walked on their own.

I am also started to realise just how many mothers also work, at least part-time, so even organising something during the day is difficult.

In 2008, we hosted a coffee and dessert evening for the parents of the children in his class, and while not many came, it was a good time of chatting and getting to know a few people better. We will certainly hope to do that again this year.

A group of parents organised a class picnic in 2009, which was poorly attended. I am planning to invite parents over for morning tea this Friday - a early attempt to form relationships!
Our school has a lot of immigrant families, who do not seem to be openly welcomed by the Australian parents. I think this is an area where we could try to be different and seek to get to know those families. It was only towards the end of the year that I realised how lonely some of these women are, they are here for their husband's study or work, they do not have work visas and they are looking after children in a foreign country all on their own.

There were no immigrant families attached to his class last year, I will wait and see for this year.

5. Continue the prayer group that we started last year

I am hoping that the 4 of us (school mothers) who started a prayer group last year will continue meeting to pray specifically for the principal, council, teachers, students and parents.

We did keep meeting, but I struggled to organise it and people struggled to get there. Thankfully at the end of last year, another mum was willing to organise it, so I hope we will continue again this year.


Those are my thoughts so far, I will have to come back and review again in 2011 to see how the year worked out in the end! By then Miss 4 will also be at school, so life will look different again.

Photo from stockxchng.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Calvin Club

Have you ever read Calvin's Institutes?

Maybe you are like me and had them as required reading through bible college. However, if you are also like me, at the time you felt that the definition of reading constituted your eyes scanning each word on the page (whether or not they made sense in your brain!) Or you are also like me, and 7 years and 3 children later, you have no recollection of anything, except perhaps some of the more colourful language that Calvin used which made reading him that little bit more fun!

Or you may be more like Meredith, who wants to give Calvin a go, even though she is thinking she might find the doctrine a little hard-going (I think you'll love it Meredith!)

Whoever, you are, if you are a Christian, thinking about the core beliefs of our faith should be something we all strive to do.

To that end, why not join Cathy and her Calvin club. She is planning to co-ordinate a slow reading (over a few years) of Calvin's Institutes. I am thrilled. I have been toying with reading them again for some years, knowing I never really got that much out of them at college and had pretty much decided that this year was the year. Then, other bloggers alerted me to Cathy and her Club and I have joined in with excitement.

She is planning to get through Book 1 (of 4) this year, starting with just the introductory comments and the letter to the king in January. You have heaps of time to get on board. Go over to her explanation of which preferred version/translation to get, and consider joining the Calvin club!

I will be commenting on Cathy's site as well as doing some of my own posts of things that strike me as I read along. You can always link to Cathy's HQ by clicking on the Calvin club graphic over on the right column -->

Going the Distance - Chapter 10 & 11

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives. 

Chapter 10 - Principles and strategies of self-care, and
Chapter 11 - Where the rubber hits the road - a maintenance plan

Now, Brain gets down to the planning stages of self-care.

In Chapter 10, he looks both at the example of Jesus and other clergy in thinking through some elements of self-care. These include:
  • taking a day of rest
  • partnering with others in ministry - sharing both the joys and the burdens
  • being realistic about people - some will reject the message of the gospel
  • rejoicing that your names are written in heaven - comparison with others is neither helpful nor necessary
  • remembering it is God's work - he is in control
  • taking time for study and reflection
  • taking time for prayer
  • having hobbies and other interests
  • taking time with wife and family
  • doing physical exercise
  • taking regular holidays
  • managing careful use of the diary

Then in chapter 11, he puts forward some ideas to actually put a maintenance plan in place:
  1. Plan to work. That is what a pastor does, he works. Plan how you work, when you work and what you are working on.
  2. Plan to plan. Take time to plan all that you do. Plan the year's sermon topics in advance, plan the month's meetings, plan the week's times of preparation and pastoring, etc. Time spent in planning, both for the short-term (the day) and the longer term (the year/s) will reap great benefits and save time, in the end.
  3. Plan to rest. Plan rest time into the year, month, week and day. Account for sleep and exercise. Allow time for family and spouse which they can trust will be uninterrupted.
  4. Plan to study. This will include personal study (to meet own spiritual needs), preparation study (for teaching and leadership responsibilities), and professional study (eg. conferences)
  5. Plan to be a spouse and parent. If needed, schedule time for these relationships.
  6. Plan to remain humble. Helpfully expressed as "don't whine, don't shine, don't recline" (p178)
  7. Plan to be accountable. With spouse and church leadership.
Brain then includes an actual sample maintenance contract to plan, including things to consider in each of these 7 areas.

I think these chapters are helpful at drawing together all of the threads that Brain has discussed up to this point. I suspect many pastors would benefit from planning more aspects of their work, study, rest, etc. I also suspect many pastor's wives would appreciate time given to planning these things, so that expectations are more often met by reality.

Some things to think about:
  1. Which of the principles and strategies of self-care from chapter 10 do you find easy to do? Which do you find harder? Which need your attention at the moment?
  2. In terms of the maintenance plan on chapter 11 - are you (or your husband) this organised? Are you willing to try to be?
  3. How much of the plan do you already do? Which areas do you neglect?

Next Monday: Chapter 12- words for local church members

Monday, January 18, 2010

Going the Distance - Chapter 9

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives. 

Chapter 9: Friendship
Since we are made in the image of the triune God, it is little wonder that we long for and thrive on committed friendships. Relationships matter to all people, pastors are no exception. Whether we are married or single, we grow through our friendships. As we give and receive in friendships, we find growth. (p144)
Pastors, while needing friends, often find themselves without them. This can be for many reasons: a perception on behalf on others that pastors do not need friends, or instead having put them on a pedestal; sometimes pastors themselves see themselves as separate from the congregations and view special friendships within a congregation as unwise or unhealthy.

Brain notes that:
  • pastors need friends
  • the pastor cannot be a friend to everyone
  • those who form friendships to the pastor are exercising a ministry to him on behalf on the congregation; and
  • there are different levels of friendship, and all members of a congregations can engage in friendship at one level or another.
Brain (using MacDonald) presents 6 kinds of friends the pastor needs:
  • the sponsor (or mentor/discipler)
  • the affirmer - the person who can quietly express genuine appreciation for what the pastor has done
  • the rebuker - "we all need truth-tellers, even if we don't really want them" (p149)
  • the intercessor - any congregation member can be a support to their pastor through prayer. As pastors and their families, perhaps some of us need to be better as communicating prayer points to our congregations?
  • the partner - fellow workers. These will be harder to find in parishes where the pastor is the only minister, "the one-man band".
  • the pastor - the one who will come along side us when times are hard, to pray, support and encourage.
Brain then spends more time thinking about mentoring. There are some very helpful points in these pages. He talks about how mentoring relationships will: affirm, be available, be open, pray, be confidential, be sensitive and be accountable. He also lists some helpful questions to ask one another.

I suspect many pastors find themselves being mentors for a number of people in different ways, but are rarely mentored to. It takes humility and a willingness to be honest and open in order to seek out a mentor. In some denominations, the structure itself (eg. the diocese) can provide the opportunities for such a mentoring relationship (eg. with bishops, elders, etc). However, all to often this does not happen in reality. Pastors and their wives should be willing to search for appropriate mentors for all stages of their life and ministry. At the same time, they should also be willing to take on a mentoring role for those who are younger and less experienced than them.

Brain finishes the chapter with these words:
I thank God for my friends. I'm sad that I've not always made time to build friendships. But I am convinced that they are essential to my growth as a person, as a Christian and especially in my work as a pastor. (p158)

Some things to think about:

  1. Do you struggle to have friendships in ministry? Why?
  2. Thinking about the roles of friends listed above (affirmer, rebuker, etc) - do you have anyone who fills these roles for you?
  3. Are you being mentored be anyone? Can you seek out someone to be a mentor to you? Can you think of anyone who you might like to mentor?

Next Monday: Chapter 10 - Principles and strategies of self-care &;
Chapter 11 - Where the rubber hits the road - a maintenance plan

Monday, January 11, 2010

Going the Distance - Chapter 8

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives. 

Chapter 8: Sexual temptation in the ministry
"The two greatest dangers for a missionary and pastor are sex and money" (p124)

There are great dangers when the pastor sins sexually. They will almost certainly lose their job or at least their credibility, they have failed to live up to their ordination vow, they leave the faithful disillusioned and can confirm scepticism of critics.

It can be helpful for many to realise that they are not alone in facing sexual temptation. We must be realistic about our own vulnerability in this area, not assuming we are beyond being tempted ourselves. At the same time, only a right view of God and his word can help us to not act on the temptations we face.

Some points that Brain makes are:
  • God understands the problem and addresses it (eg 1 Thess 4:1-10)
  • Those pastors who are arrogant, alone or addicted to their work are more likely to succumb to temptation. The arrogant pastor thinks they cannot fall, needs affirmation and can seek intimacy elsewhere. The pastor who is alone may need help to develop friendships. Those pastors who are addicted to work often have a poor home life, because of the lack of attention given at home, so they may invest energy in people who respond emotionally.
  • We need to be realistic about the temptations:
It is important for pastors to consider the possibility that there may be one or two occasions during their ministry when a person may come along for who they would surrender all; even their faith, family and work. This is a hard concept, but I suspect it has real validity. It really says more about the nature of our humanity, and the peculiar temptations of pastoral ministry, than about the sexual make-up of pastors. (p132)
  • As wives we can be helpful in this area. We can pick up signals that our husbands may not be seeing clearly. We can also be helping in setting boundaries and being willing to talk about this with our husbands.
  • Pastors need to realise that often the attraction of others is to their role, not to them as a person. Pastors can be idealized, they listen and are available to talk - but it's because of the job, not the person.
  • There are also risks in counselling relationships, as one can become attracted to their kind, attentive counselor. As many churches now employ both men and women in pastoral roles, one would hope that these risks are diminished as women counsel women and men counsel men.
  • For those who are single, close, caring & trusted friends can have a special role, both in accountability but also for companionship.
I suspect that for those reading this chapter, we can fall into a number of categories:
  1. Those who have not really thought much about sexual temptation yet, because it has not been an issue.
  2. Those for whom this is a painful reminder of our husband's or our own struggles in this area.
  3. Those for whom this is a sad reminder of others in ministry who have fallen to sexual temptation.
It will be hard for many of us to read this chapter without having specific people or incidents in mind.

Thinking particularly as wives, what are some things we can be thinking about?
  • Do we talk with our husbands about issues of sexual temptation - either for them or us? Thay are hard conversations to have, but in striving to keep honesty and openness in marriage, it is worth doing so.
  • Do we help our husbands to keep all things pure, including perception? Does your husband ever meet with women on his own in private spaces? Could you change things so that he meets with women in your home while you are there? Or in more public places?
  • Are we also striving to be pure in all things? Are we ensuring that we are not thinking about other men unhelpfully, comparing them to our husbands?

Some more things to think about:

  1. How did you feel reading this chapter? Is it hard for you to imagine, or alternatively, too easy to picture?
  2. Have you and your husband talked about how you would share if you have feelings for someone else?
  3. Do you feel able to bring up concerns you have about the level of contact between him and someone else?

Next Monday: Chapter 9 - Friendship