Saturday, August 30, 2008

Praying for us: the August Edition

Thank you to the lovely people who've asked how we were going and said that they have prayed for us. We greatly appreciate your concern and interest.

Here are some things to give thanks for and to pray for us as we head into September, if you are so inclined.
August has been a tricky month. Mark is trying to write a dissertation for submission in 14 days time. He has been hard at work for nearly two months, but has been battling illness for most of August. This has made the process really frustrating for him and far more intense than we had expected. Thankfully he is a lot better now, but even quite simple things continue to exhaust him and he will have to work very hard to get it done on time.
Please pray that God will enable Mark to finish the dissertation on time and without further difficulty, and thank God for answering our prayers and restoring Mark to health.

We tried to have a holiday in August, going up to St Andrews to see a potential supervisor for Mark and staying a week in Stirling. As Mark got sick and couldn't do much work it didn't quite work out the way we had planned, but we had a great few days before then in St Andrews, Edinburgh and we went for a great drive one day around one of the Lochs north of Stirling at the foot of the Highlands. Scotland is absolutely gorgeous, so just driving through the country was a marvellous thing.
Thank God for his care of us in providing a holiday for us and in keeping us safe as we travelled around the place.

Unexpectedly we received an offer of a place at Edinburgh University. Mark now has two places as well as the possibility of study at Oxford for the next academic year. As far as we can tell, we can make a decision as to which one to take up after the results come in early in October.
Thank God for his kindness in providing good places for Mark to complete his PhD and ask him for wisdom as we go about making a decision about where to go if we can't stay in Oxford.

Finally, we have arranged for Jonathan to be baptised on 21st September. It's been a long road to come to the point that we think that this is a good and right way to declare that he too lives in the sphere that the cross of Christ has carved out, because he is the child of disciples of Jesus. But we're here now, and so Jonathan's status as someone who will have every privilege to grow up into faith in Christ and the confidence that God will be faithful to those opportunities will be declared through baptism. We are glad that this can be organised before we might need to move. We are grateful that our son is growing and developing so well: he is cruising around furniture now and seems to enjoy life a great deal. He has been a blessing to us in this rather difficult year.
Thank God for Jonathan's life and pray for his salvation. Pray also that we will be faithful to the promises we make in September.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

One for the Covenanter Fans

As you know, we've been to Scotland recently, and while we were there we spent a blissful, cold day in Edinburgh. It was an unexpectedly rich day because we found two things: the Covenant and the place where it was signed.

So this is one for all you Covenanter fans out there.

I know there must be a few.

Or at least someone?


You've never even heard of them?


OK. Well, humour me anyway people. If you want to find out about them, you can read my longer post here.

And if you want to become a fan, you can check this site out, and for the low, low price of five pounds per year, receive their newsletter and become an official fan. Or you can just get excited about the Covenanters and become a fan for free.

We wandered down to St Giles Cathedral, because we had read somewhere that Knox (no, not him, the other Knox, the slightly less well known one who was involved in Scottish Reformation), had pastored a church there for a while. We found a statue of him in a corner. He looked out of place, among all the fancy stained glass windows and such. It seemed poignant somehow, having him stand, holding his Bible, poised as a preacher. He looks unimpressive amongst the trappings of the cathedral and no attention is drawn to him.

Yet so many people know God because of him. So many people are safe from God's anger forever because he preached the message of Jesus faithfully.

On the opposite side of the cathedral, they engage in activities that would have made him very cross indeed. Lighting candles instead of praying to God. Ostentatious organ playing (and I like organ music, but this was way over the top). Large, audacious stained glass windows. I suspect he would smash his own statue, and then set to work getting rid of all these other distractions to hearing God's word and taking it seriously.

On we went, to the Thistle chapel, carved impressively from what looked like wood. There we stood in the tiny space where the Queen comes every so often to do something official. The heraldry around the place represents the famous houses. I'm not sure what house was represented by this deer, but I suspect their motto would go something like: "We run very fast from the people with guns". Sometimes wisdom is in speed not bravery.

We saw memorials to Mrs Oliphant (something for another post), and to Thomas Chalmers (I'm a big fan; one of the most impressive Evangelicals who ever lived: Scotland's equivalent of Wilberforce). It was exciting.

And then there it was.

The National Covenant.

It's a bad photo. It was behind glass. And it was faded.

But there it was.

I won't explain why it is important, because the Covenanting fans will already know. And that is what this post is all about. Giving something to the Covenanting fans or fan, as the case may be. (And anyway, as I've said, you can read all about it here or here).

Shortly afterward, we came upon the church in which the Covenant was signed: Greyfriars. There is also a prison near the church, where some Covenanters were held (many died in prison), before being punished. And an official memorial, which although I looked for it, I couldn't find it.

But I did ask the nice man at the door if I could please look at the very place where the Covenant had been signed, and he ushered me in to see it.

It was signed under the pulpit, and although the pulpit was replaced in the 1950's, it was replaced in the same place as it was in the 1600's. And so there it is: the place of the signing.

Time has moved on. Scotland is not what it once was. The Covenant is an old, faded document, and the church it was signed in hardly seems sensible to all that their Covenanter heritage represents.

But the testimony of these faithful Covenanters lives on, bearing witness to their great and faithful Lord and Saviour. JMB

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Best of British #2: Little Boxes of Colour

One of the UK's great accomplishments is the window box or hanging basket. It may be duplicated throughout Europe for all I know, but here in England and up in Scotland (my only places of research) I can report that they are in fine form. They are all about brightening up things after the grey, dark winter. You prevent winter seeping into your soul by planting bulbs and plants to shatter the gloom with their giddy colour when Spring comes. It's a cold climate survival thing, I'm sure.

There are the basic ones, with the same flower sometimes in a differently shaped pot. These are for beginners like me, if I were to do one of these. (For me the basic skills of finding the flower, the pot and marrying the two before the end of Summer would be accomplishment enough. Then actually keeping the thing alive would be the daily struggle. If I were forced to grow what I eat I would quickly starve to death as the only plant I can successfully keep alive is Rosemary, which does not have sufficient nutrients to sustain life. But it tastes great with roast potatoes and lamb and that is important).

Then there are the more complex designs.

And some people can't choose just one, so they have... lots. And who are we to argue?

Then there are those which have evolved in the mind of a true gardener, who with acres of land and as much time and money at his or her disposal, would create a garden too magnificent for even Monet to paint. These displays are exceptional. They blend colour and shape. They draw the eye for a second glance, not for the sake of any one flower but for the total effect. If 'Art' hadn't moved on and become something quite odd and inaccessible, one would even be tempted to call them works of art.

My favourite is the one on the window near where we live. I don't even know how they got it up to where it is positioned, which is itself worthy of admiration. But it has evolved over the summer so that as flowers died away new flowers (still perfectly colour co-ordinated) have taken their place.

Actually constructing one of these in the first place is impressive. Constructing one which evolves as the seasons change is mind boggling.

This is the kind of thing which probably involves several people and they sit down and discuss during the long cold dark days of winter, while drinking hot cocoa. Probably there are debates about the best contrast of this flower with that, and when exactly a flower will reach its used-by date, and even which scent of which flower may overpower the scent of another. And all this in the spirit of civic mindedness, because window boxes are for public display. They are not closeted away in seclusion but are out there for all to see and enjoy. Aussies have their BBQ enabled back yards, the English and the Scots have planter boxers out the front. As we have commented before, this is an excellent feature of British life, and says more about its values than just the high price of land.

The window box. I commend it to you, good people. You don't need a garden. You just need a box, some earth, some seeds and a moment of inspiration. You can even grow Rosemary in it if you are completely incompetent. These boxes of colour are good for the soul. Other's souls. JMB

Friday, August 8, 2008

In the NORTH

That's where we are this week. The roadsigns all have 'NORTH' in capital letters as you leave the south.

And here in the NORTH, we are enjoying amazing scenery, friendly people and nice, gloomy weather with rain every other day. Just the way we like it.

We'll be back next week.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Weathering a War

We travelled north this week, so that Mark could look into another possible option for doctoral study in October up in Scotland. On our way, we stopped off at a second hand bookshop which boasts that it is one of the biggest and best. We didn't think it was as good as Goulds. But then it really would be hard to beat Goulds. Gould's is a very impressive, rambling bookshop with piles of unsorted books all over the place. Barters, by contrast was neat and well presented, but (we thought) rather sparse. It probably is only possible to do one or the other well.

However, this bookshop had various curious features which made our half hour stop there mildly enjoyable. It was built in an old railway station, and played up that aspect of its history. There were waiting lounges, paintings of railway stationmasters, a model railway running around near the ceiling through the shop and so forth. Cute.

But what really caught our eye was the poster on the way out:

Yes, you read it right: Keep calm and carry on. And the crown gives it away: this is not just some friendly advice from one citizen to another, but this is a directive from the (then) King of England. Apparently it was almost issued to the public (by the Ministry of Information) at the outbreak of World War II, but never quite made it.

It's rather like the Australian ad campaign to us all to: "be alert but not alarmed" with a number to ring in case we should become very alert to the possibility of terrorism (without ever moving into the 'alarmed' category, mind). Or the American version - superbly captured by Kramer on Seinfield with his mantra 'Serenity Now' designed to ward off the slings and arrows of outrageous (mis)fortune by the simple application of making something true just by saying it. And which requires ever more manic renditions to create this impassible oasis of unperturbness.

'Keep Calm and Carry On' is that strange thing, the official war propoganda that John West rejects. But of a special English flavoured sort. It captures something of the ideal English citizen.

We've gotten this impression from the impact of the credit crunch. In Australia it is of course, entirely the government's fault (previous or present, pick one), and they should fix it. Here, people talk about going back to WWII rationing, or asking why the government didn't 'put money away' for this kind of thing, and there is serious attempts made to cushion the blow particularly for the most vulnerable (by the government and other groups). I'm not arguing that there are no disconnected, angry people, but there is a lot more interest in everyone doing there part, or getting other people to do their part. The government is not the only actor in national affairs.

We like it.

As for the poster, well, it has captured the imagination of the good folk at who will sell you various items of apparel and such helpfully inscribed with the message to keep calm and carry on. I imagine it is of great benefit to be reminded of this in times of crises, less intense but none the less as real as the crisis of World War II.

There you are driving down the road with an impatient driver travelling too close behind you. What do you do? Keep calm, carry on.

Too much to do in a day, not enough time? Keep calm, carry on.

Can't work out whether you are alert or alarmed or making other people alarmed by your alertness? Keep calm, carry on.

Throat hoarse from an excessive need to call down 'Serenity Now' on your current situation? Keep calm, carry on. Maybe a little less fervently or drink some lemon tea for your throat. But feel free to carry on by all means. (Maybe you could get out of earshot of innocent people around you too...)

Frustrated by hostile forces bombing your city and threatening to invade? Scream, run for your life... Oh. Wait. No. Keep calm, carry on.

Not advice for the faint-hearted.