Sunday, 30 September 2007
Sometimes we are tempted to confuse “good times” with a “good life”. Many a life may be regarded – and experienced by the subject as good, yet may comprise a relatively scant measure of what is commonly called fun and enjoyment. Among those who hold an examined view of the subject, few would deny that a fair share of goodness of life befell to such persons as Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer. Hardly anyone, however, would say that these person’s lives were marked by lots of fun. Such contamination of the notion of the good life with that of a good time obscures and distorts the issue.” (Michael Novak in Harpers magazine)
Wednesday, 26 September 2007
I once read that you never know when you’re making a memory and I came across this which I can kind of relate to on so many levels – it was written by a high-school boy:“Probably one of the nicest feelings I ever experienced was just last Monday. The day before, Sunday, about 10 of us went up to my family’s cottage on Lake Michigan. It was a cool day, so we all went to the beach fairly well clothed. Toward the end of the afternoon, we built a fire and watched the sun set.The next day I learned that one of my friends left some of his clothes up at the cottage. So I took off for it, by myself. I enjoyed the ride because of the peacefulness and because of the beautiful autumn colours. When I got to the cottage, I ate lunch. I stopped by the beach where we had been. I walked for about a mile just looking at the water and thinking about yesterday. I could almost hear the voices, like spirits whistling through the air.I stopped where our fire had been the day before. There I found a piece of driftwood, on which one of the girls had carved all of our names. The feeling of yesterday filled me like an echo. I picked it up and brought it home and gave it to her to keep for all of us as a remembrance of a beautiful Sunday.” (Barry Burdiak)
Thursday, 20 September 2007
One of the things that struck me a little while ago was the Concert for Diana at Wembley – and the parallel of how Mother Theresa’s death and the importance of her legacy has been completely overshadowed in the short term media by Diana mania, that still sweeps the world and sells merchandise. The difference being, of course, that 20 years from now, St Theresa – if I may be so presumptuous - will still be evangelizing through her life-giving legacy and edifying those that come after her. Diana will be a mere footnote in history like Marilyn Monroe – a beautiful and tragic story of a princess - not much more than that.
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
I never know whether anybody ever reads this blog or not, cos no one comments, so I have been happily indulging my penchant for melancholy over the past few weeks. A friend mailed me and not too subtly criticised my lack of cheerfulness. I said I would forthwith post a cheerful one, but before I do, one last parting shot at the happy police: Do not judge men by mere appearances; for the light laughter that bubbles on the lip often mantles over the depths of sadness, and the serious look may be the sober veil that covers a divine peace and joy. Edward Chapin.
Monday, 17 September 2007
Where would you choose to go to, to die? What would be the circumstances? Sometimes I wonder if there is an appropriate way to ‘go’. There is a legend that elephants when they sense their own impending death go off on their own away from the herd to die. No matter how much time you have to prepare and say goodbye, the end is always sudden – because it is so final. There are faith perspectives which I, as a Christian, hold to, but from a purely earthly perspective, it is the finality of it all that makes it such a shock. Everything in our physical bodies resists and fights it. Perhaps it is the feeling of helplessness and forced surrender that scares us. Current pop-psych says we can control our lives etc. but this illusion evaporates in the crucible of that moment when we come face to face with our own demise. There is no more bullshit, no more arrogance; without faith - only despair. It is profoundly, heartbreakingly sad that the created physical body which is made so good, has such an ignominious end as death. No wonder those of no faith try and dull this reality with all sorts of distractions like drugs, alcohol, etc. Talk to the dying. They will teach you how to live. (Source Unknown)
Thursday, 13 September 2007
My wife had been going through a particularly tough time at work and in her studies lately. When I was thinking about how the best way to approach the difficulties and curve-balls that life sometimes throws at us, I realised that the things that often frustrate me are those that I can’t do anything about. I suppose you could call it endurance or perserverance or whatever and some would say that just enduring is no way to live a life – or even part of it, that we should always take up the challenge and engage with whatever challenges face us, ra ra ra! I think that sometimes people underestimate just how much it can cost someone to even just hold on. It is too easy to sit above it all and criticise from the outside when we think we could have managed something so much better than perhaps somebody who fails to cope with a challenge in their life. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow(1807 - 1882) said: “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.”
Wednesday, 12 September 2007
I have always wanted to be a writer and fantasized about writing on various subjects – fiction and non-fiction. I always thought that one day, when I had saved up enough to sell my shares in my business, then I would be able to start and write – breaking new ground, changing lives by my words of encouragement and just bringing faith to people at a new level. But it’s a fantasy I guess that I need to grow out of. It never magically happens. Like anything, one has to produce and practice, practice, practice until one day the light goes on, the words hang together a little better than before and the “whole” clicks together. To see that in somebody – when they have become really expert – not just good – is something always to appreciate and wonder at. I read somewhere once that there comes a level when we are jealous of somebody who is better at something than us, but then there are those who do that something so much better than us that jealousy disappears and we merely retire and marvel in awe at their skill and thrill at such proficiency. I feel that way with Henri Nouwen, and H. D. Thoreaux and so many countless others! So if there are any people who ever read this, you are witnessing me at the very beginning of the beginning of somebody who is learning to write. And like any novice, it is seldom very pretty – more often than not, clumsy, but hopefully, like one who is learning to walk, I may endear myself to you long enough that you may still be with me when I am able to walk more confidently and with greater skill and when I may be of more use to you.
"If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what you will never read, you have done rare things." Henry David Thoreau
"If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what you will never read, you have done rare things." Henry David Thoreau
Tuesday, 11 September 2007
It always irritates me when I hear armchair critics ‘consoling’ those that have been hurt by life with trite sayings, like: ‘It’s not that bad’ or ‘Don’t let that get you down’, etc. as though their suffering could have been worse and negative thoughts or feelings are not as valid and as valuable as positive ones. It reminds me of a line in William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet: Romeo response to those who mock him: ‘He jests at scars that never felt a wound.’
I know that some people think that – even for a Christian – I am over-invested in my commitment to agitate for protection of the life of the unborn. Maybe I am. Tell me though, if I keep silent, how do I explain one day to those I called my little brothers and sisters that I didn’t even try to defend them when they were tiny and at their most vulnerable. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. (Martin Luther King Jr.1929 - 1968)
Sunday, 9 September 2007
I guess in some ways a blog is like a speech bubble. You say or write stuff off the cuff which you later reflect on and then think “what the heck was I thinking?” My one previous post - Of Love, Loss and Brutal Beauty - below is perhaps such an example. When I was reflecting on what I had written, I was reminded of Michael Novak in “Harpers” magazine: “The quantity of sheer impenetrable selfishness in the human heart is a never-failing source of wonderment. I do not want to be disturbed, challenged, troubled.” My intention was not to minimize the reality of the often tragic lives that have befallen those that find themselves on the street. To be honest, I wasn’t really thinking about them. I was merely indulging in self-pity – so typical I guess of those of us who are focused on achieving or fulfilling our own destiny or goals – whatever it happens to be, or however earnestly we believe it will contribute to the greater good of humanity. It’s a kind of strange contradiction that we live as modern day Christians – the selfish art of self-fulfillment or self-actualization, which conflicts with our Christian faith that challenges to something far deeper. I am often reminded of Erich Fromm who wrote that his problem with Freud was not that Freud failed to understand human sexuality, but that he failed to understand it deeply enough. For me the whole self-actualization industry and its parent, secular humanism, is precisely the same – it fails to understand the dignity of the human person deeply enough. There I was, full of my own self-importance and carrying on about the meaning of my life or lack thereof, where a fellow human being stood in need of healing – on whatever level, and who for whatever reason, found himself ill-equipped - to cope with life and had opted out onto the streets. I believe that Christ’s first concern is not with pandering to my self-pity but to demonstrate to me that the very thing that I disregarded, which was the plight of my fellow human being, is the path to both his and my own emancipation from meaninglessness. This is the paradox of Christianity and demonstrates how little I have traveled on the path to putting on the mind of Christ as I am supposed to. The thing that should worry me the most is not that I was and still am so self-centred. It is that I was and remain so indifferent – and indifference as we all know, is the opposite of Love and opposes the work in my life of the One who is Love.
Saturday, 8 September 2007
They say that the difficult part of keeping a secret is not the actual keeping of the secret, but once the secret is revealed, not to let it be known that you knew all along. When somebody fails while they are trying to do something courageous, we can admire and say, Good effort. But when somebody fails at a relationship or a venture that we told them was bound to fail from the start, and they persisted in spite of our – perhaps wise advice, the temptation to ‘I told you so’ is, even if only internally, almost irresistible. However ‘objectively’ stupid or shortsighted the act, it was that person’s own and as long as the person takes responsibility for the consequences - alone, as they took the chance - alone, maybe we should cut them some slack. Life doesn’t mean we need to always make the correct or even sensible choices: Life only demands from you the strength you possess. Only one feat is possible - not to have run away. Dag Hammarskjold (1905 - 1961)
Thursday, 6 September 2007
I have a really soft spot for the movie Lost In Translation - I have posted a few times on the IMDB message board. I have had a couple of those moments in my life. The first I remember - quite a few years back: I must have been about 21 and got onto a bus in Pretoria. A total stranger - a girl, I even remember her name: Sophaie, sat next to me. She was, I remember, attractive, but not overly so, but had a really great way about her. She said to me - we were just talking about life - "All the stars are beautiful when I look up at the sky. God has made it all and I think of how insignificant we are. We are all like little stars". It was nothing profound, I admit, but I have never forgotten that simple bus ride 15 years ago - it lasted perhaps 20 minutes. I feel similarly as Hemingway did in Paris: I hope she met and married a man who has been good to her.
Wednesday, 5 September 2007
Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost. (Isak Dineson, 'Babette's Feast').In Cape Town, there is a suburb called Kenilworth. It is a suburb with a mixture of office parks and residential homes. At the entrance to the suburb – as you exit the highway, you have to stop at traffic lights. There are always 2-3 beggars at these traffic lights that with their professional downcast eyes, ply their trade of pity seeking. In the midst of a dark Cape winter, with the biting North Westerly wind knifing through their meagre thin clothes and soaked through by the cold miserable rain, they look in on me ensconced in my cosy executive German saloon with heated leather seats and climate control, Vivaldi wafting through the 8 speaker hi-fi system. I never give to them, not because they irritate me or because I think that they will buy alcohol with any money I give them, but because I envy them and their freedom. All I want to do is write, yet I am forced to make a living in the business world - what a mind-numbing fruitless waste of a human life! that money may one day be my only legacy. I wonder idly as I wait at the robots, what the consequences would be if I just pulled up the handbrake and stepped out of the car and walked out of my life to the soft wet green grass on the verge. Would people come looking for me? Would my family disown me or have me committed? Would they say I had had a breakdown? Would I lose my job? Would people nod wisely as though they had known all along that there was something not quite right with me. Or perhaps I would just disappear into that unseen mass of beggars that look in on me now – people too embarrassed or unsure of what went wrong. I only know that none of what they think will be true. Only Thoreaux would understand. The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Henry David Thoreau, "Walden", 1854