Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Events

Joseph and his conscience
Our church for several years now has held a huge Christmas event for families called Christmas Steps.  I wrote about it 3 years ago. It is a great event with a huge effort put in by many volunteers. It is based around a tour of the Christmas story in scenes, this year had: Mary travelling, Joseph relating Mary’s pregnancy news, the shepherds hearing from the angels, the baby and his parents in the stable and then the wise men travelling along. It is performed with acting skits and popular music changed to fit the purpose. It is very well done, always entertaining for both children and adults and tells the first Christmas while also explaining the significance of it.
The angel Gabriel & the heavenly host

To complement it there are various activities to do around the church grounds – crafts, face painting, petting zoo and food stalls etc. The entire event is free (with the exception of food purchased), and as you can probably imagine a huge team is need to put it on, around 80 people. God is indeed very kind, and this year 472 people registered for a tour, of whom 281 were visitors (not church members). The people we have invited over the years have always been amazed at the scale of the event, the quality of the tour and and the fact it is all free.

The yard full of activities
Fun face painting

That was last weekend’s major church event.

This weekend was carols – four services over two days held in the church, with wonderful singing and a clear presentation of the gospel.

Great singing led by marvellous voices

The church was dark and lit with fairy lights, it looked great.
Praise God for the creativity and energy of many of his faithful saints.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Down Under

Feeling like some light relief on holidays recently, we took along Bill Bryson’s Down Under. We read it years ago and both enjoyed it, and it did not disappoint the second time around.  In fact, because on our recent long service leave we travelled to many of the areas he also travelled to, we could more easily understand and appreciate his observations and anecdotes.

Bryson’s travel books are funny.  Generally laugh out loud funny. When reading a book that assesses your own country and culture you can get offended or suspect the author hasn’t really done their research.  However, I found Bryson’s assessment of many Australian attributes were accurate, if generalised. From the ‘we don’t care what you think of us’ attitude of NT hotel staff, to the bemused way people in Canberra drive in circles, to the unwillingness of most Australians to face problems in our indigenous population, Bryson hits the nail on the head again and again.

Both my husband and I would be laughing aloud reading, and when we let our 11 year old son read it too, he was the same. He didn’t get all of it, but he appreciated most of the humour.  Perhaps I’ll pick up some others of his for some summer reading.

(I also really enjoyed his Short History of Nearly Everything a few years ago as well as At Home.)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Far from the Tree

Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon

It has taken me a few months to get through this massive book, but boy was it worth it. This is a long review, but considering the length of the book, necessary.

Andrew Solomon has taken 10 years to write this study of parents, children and identity. Based around the idea that most parents have and expect to have children who are like them; those for whom the saying applies - “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. Solomon has researched families where the children are different from their parents, and as such their identity does not always come through the vertical lines of genetics and family but through horizontal lines of similar experience.

Solomon takes 10 identities, illnesses or life conditions and thoroughly investigates each.  The ten he has chosen are: deafness, dwarfs, Down’s Syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, disability (predominantly multiple severe disability), prodigies, children of rape, crime, and transgender.  He makes it clear in the introduction there are others he could have chosen, but these were the ten he went with.  He is also open about the fact that not all members of each group were happy about the inclusion of other groups alongside their own.

Each chapter has is a clear discussion of science, genetics and medicine about the condition where appropriate. Woven throughout is the real power of the book - personal stories. He spent hours and hours of time with people living lives with illness and challenging conditions. Throughout too is included his own personal experience of being both dyslexic and gay. He has experienced being different from his parents and while being completed loved and cared for, felt the reality that he was not always was they would have wished for.

The book achieves a number of goals:
  • It opens our eyes to the varying life situations around us, without which society would be much less compassionate, aware and understanding.
  • It investigates the relationship between parent and child and the bond that can form through both joys and struggles; and that most parents will rise to any challenge thrown at them.
  • It looks at the differences between a condition being classified as an illness or an identity, and shows how both impact our perspective of someone’s quality of life.
  • It looks at disability mostly positively and challenges the current medical view that all such disabilities should be screened out.
It is an incredibly powerful book and anyone who reads it will gain great benefit. For those for whom these life experiences resonate, you will find a voice of compassion, understanding and many others who also live similarly. For those who do not, it opens our eyes to the lives of those around us, for whom life is often harder, yet at the same time can be richer and produce more love and compassion than we think possible.

Some of the comments that resonated with me:
“Though many of us take pride in how different we are from our parents, we are endlessly sad at how different our children are from us.” (p2)

“All kinds of attributes make one less able. Illiteracy and poverty and disabilities, and so are stupidity, obesity and boringness. Extreme age and extreme youth are both disabilities. Faith is a disability insofar as it shields you from self-interest; atheism is a disability, too, for it shields you from hope.” (p33)

“Family inflicts the deepest wounds, then salves them the most tenderly” (p46)

“This book’s conundrum is that most of the families have ended up grateful for the experiences they would have done anything to avoid” (p47)

Looking at a book this large (955 pages), it is a solid read which takes some commitment and my paperback version has suffered under the weight! However, ignoring notes and references you are down to 700 pages. If you are unsure even about that - read the first chapter “Son”. I took down more quotes on this chapter alone that the rest of the book. Or you could also see if you can find an online interview with Solomon, I heard him on an ABC conversation.

It is written from an atheistic perspective. There will be large amounts of it you will disagree with from a Christian point of view. Not surprisingly in a book dealing with such issues, the question of abortion comes up throughout. He is clearly pro the right to choose - that is the right to choose to not keep a baby and the right to choose to keep a baby, whatever the diagnosis. Again and again, interviewed parents say that they were glad they never had the choice, for they would have aborted and now realise what their lives would have lacked had they done so. There is an increased poignancy to this repeated statement.

However, the call to love our neighbour as ourselves has never been presented more strongly for me in a non-Christian work, whether it is our co-worker who struggles with schizophrenia or the parent caring for a child with disability or the friend who struggles with transgender issues.

Even more than that for those of us in pastoral ministry, there are parents and children living with these issues or variants of them all around us. This book will help us to be a voice of compassion and grace with a willingness to understand and walk beside; as at the same time we use other resources to encourage one another to godly living.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Facing up to the Candy Crush Addiction

I would have loved to title this post “Beating the Candy Crush Addiction”, but that would be a lie. Facing up to it is much more realistic, managing it is a skill that is getting there but it is real and it has been a problem.

I have always known I have an addictive personality. My desire to always be in control of myself physically and emotionally probably meant I was unlikely to be drawn to some things like smoking, drinking or drugs. However, I have also always been thankful I never liked them much and so the attraction was not there.

However I know I struggle with what some might term ‘less obviously damaging’ addictions. My body and mind stay healthy - but boy can I waste time! I can play iPhone games for hours, I can read fiction for hours, I can get obsessed by home projects for hours and I can look at Facebook multiple times a day.

Realising this tendency and being willing to acknowledge it has taken years. But it’s probably taken having children that are at an age to notice what I do that has really made me pay attention.

When they would walk out and check what level I was up to on Candy Crush or my progress on Plants vs. Zombies, or wonder why I was spending hours of the weekend sanding windows, I had to analyse my own behaviour and what I was modelling.
  • Do I want my children to learn self-control? Yes
  • Do I want my children to know when to stop? Yes
  • Do I want my children to know they are more important than a game? Yes
  • Do I want my children to think that as a stay-at-home mum I had endless time that I wasted? No
  • Do I want my children to learn that leisure activities and hobbies are fine, but in moderation and generally only when essential things are completed? Yes
  • Do I often feel that I should spend more time with my kids playing games and reading books, but don’t? Yes
This issue has been drifting around for me for ages. I have managed it with reading only in holidays, downloading certain games only on holidays and I shut down Facebook for 9 months. But it really came to a head with Candy Crush this year. (For those who don’t know what it is, be thankful, but it’s an app that you move things around to get groups of three and need to solve challenges in doing so. When described like that, one wonders what the attraction is!)

I listened to an ABC conversation on gambling, and the speaker had written a book on casinos and gambling and how they destroy lives. The interviewer asked if she had ever had a gambling problem. She said, no, but while writing the book she developed an addiction to Candy Crush and started to realise the attraction of gambling and poker machines. It is called something like “Positive Feedback Reinforcement” where nice colours and flashing symbols make you feel good. It rang very true for me.

So cue decision time. First was acknowledging it was a problem, this took much longer than it should have. Second was deleting it off most devices. Third was telling the kids what I had done and why (& my husband and some friends).

It’s still in management phase. It has crept back onto most devices, because the kids also like to play it and their screen time is very monitored.  I seem to have it pretty well under control at the moment. I generally only let myself play during tea/coffee breaks and only for as long as it take me to drink the tea/coffee - and seeing I like it hot, that’s not too long.

So, there you go - my issues for you all to read about.

Do you struggle with similar things? How have you managed it?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas time

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

We put the tree up over the weekend, which has already greatly added to the general festive mood.

The advent boxes are out (under the tree) and ready to start this afternoon.  I have included a fair number of presents and gifts among them this year, meaning there will not be many presents on Christmas Day, but we will have had lots to play with and have fun with for the whole month.   We will have some new music, some new craft, some new ornaments and some things to do together. 

The Christmas music has been released from it's 11 month ban and is on regular playlists.  Our favourites include Colin's Buchanan's  King of Christmas, Third Day's Christmas Offerings, Nathan Tasker's A Star, A Stable, A Saviour and I still like Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas.   If anyone can recommend a version of Handel's Messiah in which the words are clearly distinguishable, I would much appreciate it!

I have recently started reading Matthew's gospel again and will combine it now with Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.   Oh, and I'd better get the kid's Christmas books out too...

Good times.