Monday, January 31, 2005

Sunday thoughts

Our minister R2 has been to the beach:

"On Australia Day" he reports, "my wife and I joined many others and braved the heat to attend the citizenship ceremony at Sandy Bay for Mary [one of the Sudanese among our congregation]. It was my first such ceremony and I would recommend the experience to help in appreciating what it means to be a citizen of our nation. As Christians our allegiance is higher than a national one, but it is good to learn to be grateful for what we have.

Considering the political and moral threats to our society, we realize the importance of preserving our Christian heritage. It was an encouragement to hear their oath of allegiance “being under God”!

If you ask Mary and her family what it meant to them, I’m sure you will hear a very deep gratitude. New citizens know what it means not to have what many of us have lived with all our lives. It was a great day!

It made me think of the passage in Phil.3:20 where Paul says that 'our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus'.

The Lord mayor reminded us all that being a citizen of Australia brought responsibility as well as privilege. It is the same being a citizen of heaven. We look forward to the privilege of our salvation in Jesus. Some of that we experience now, along with the responsibility to serve God in this life on Earth. How are you doing?"

In church this morning, R2 began a new series from the book of Samuel in the Old Testament. "Hannah: Woman of God" looks at chapter 1 and the plight of Hannah who was infertile at a time of history when that was what defined a woman's identity.
Instead of railing against God and his injustice towards her, she prayed that she would be allowed to have a son – and that she would dedicate this son to serving the Lord.

God is always waiting to hear our prayers – they may not always be granted but they are always heard.

Well, the rest is history (literally). Hannah did conceive. She had acted in true faith, recognizing God's hand is in everything in life.

Nobody could have seen in this commonplace domestic drama a historic moment – that this child would grow up to anoint Israel's greatest King, a significant step towards the arrival of Jesus Christ.

News from Rome at the weekend – the Shroud of Turin actually might date from Jesus' time after all.

FRANCES D'EMILIO of Associated Press reported that a chemist who worked on testing of the Shroud of Turin says new analysis of the fiber indicates the cloth that some say was the burial linen of Jesus could be up to 3,000 years old.

The analysis, by a scientist who was on the original 1978 team that was allowed to study tiny pieces of the cloth, indicates the shroud is far older than the initial findings suggesting it was probably from medieval times, and will likely be seized on by those who believe it wrapped the body of Jesus after his crucifixion.

"I cannot disprove that this cloth was the burial shroud that was used on Jesus," Raymond N. Rogers, a retired chemist from the University of California-operated Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said in a telephone interview Friday from his home.

"The chemistry says it was a real shroud, the blood spots on it are real blood, and the technology that was used to make that piece of cloth was exactly what Pliny the Elder reported fort his time," about 70 A.D., Rogers said, referring to the naturalist of ancient Roman times.

"It's a shroud from the right time, but you're never going to find out (through science) if it was used on a person named Jesus," said Rogers, whose findings were published recently in the scientific journal Thermochimica Acta.

Rogers wrote that in 2003, the scientist advising the cardinal of Turin, where the shroud is kept, provided him with pieces of thread taken from the radiocarbon sample before it was distributed for dating.

The American chemist said he decided to analyze the amount of vanillin, a chemical compound that is present in linen from the flax fibers used to weave it. Vanillin slowly disappears from the fiber over time at a calculated rate, he said.

Judging by those calculations, a medieval-age cloth should have had some 37 percent of its vanillin left by 1978, the year the threads were taken from the shroud, Rogers said. But there was virtually no vanillin left in the shroud, leading the chemist to calculate it could be far older than the radiocarbon testing indicated, possibly some 3,000 years old.

Asked why carbon-dating might have been off, Rogers contended that "the people who cut the sample didn't do a very good job of characterizing the samples," that is, taking samples from many areas of the cloth.

Rogers said he sent the results of his vanillin testing to the offices of the Turin cardinal and his scientific advisers but hasn't received a response.
The Vatican, which does not claim that the shroud is authentic, said Saturday it had not comment on the new testing. Officials at the Turin archdiocese could not be reached for comment.

The chemist said he doubted the shroud could be reliably tested any more, contending that a top-secret restoration in 2002 likely would influence chemical results.
In the restoration, centuries' old patches were removed and a backing sewn on centuries ago was replaced. At the time, Shroud experts around the world were angered by the project, which they said should have had more outside collaboration.

The Shroud is a strip of linen more than four meters (about 14 feet) long and one-meter (3 1/2-feet) wide that is marked by an image of Jesus. Believers say the image was left by Jesus' body after being taken down from the cross.

Disputes have flourished over the 1988 declaration by the scientific team that carbon-dating indicated the cloth came from medieval times. Researchers at The Hebrew University has said that pollen and plant images on it put its origins in Jerusalem sometime before the eighth century.

I don't have much truck with the whole "relics" business myself, but this is certainly an intriguing development for those of us who remember the whole Shroud controversy in the '70s.

A letter published in my local paper is annoyed by a column in the Sunday paper that supports Christian concepts. "Every man of science knows there is no God," grumbles the letter-writer.
How does he know for sure? Well, I guess he just has to take it on faith....


I have been thinking about my mother a lot this month. Her birthday is in a fortnight – the second one since she died. It stirs up emotions that I thought had died down.

I guess the feelings will never go away. Like a chronic pain, the best one can hope for is that it will recede into the background for most of the time.

The weather continues to be too warm for comfort. Anything over 27° - about 80° in the old scale – is getting too hot for me. On these warm sunny afternoons the back of the house heats up steadily and only the sea breeze makes it habitable.

The cat thinks this is fine. If we have all the windows open, he's free to go outside, curl up under one of the rose bushes and return when it suits him.

Conditions in the kitchen mean a few changes. To keep the ants at bay, for example, I have to put the cat's food in one of those dishes-with-a-moat and at breakfast I have to use diet marmalade (the ants are drawn to the sugar in normal marmalade and jam).

Had breakfast this morning while listening to the David Jacobs show on the BBC Radio website. To my surprise he dredged up from the archives three Cole Porter songs that I've never heard before: "I'm In Love Again", "Use Your Imagination" and "Ev'rything I Love".

It just goes to show that even the most famous artist has some lesser-known stuff tucked away.

Julie has been having a bit of a spending spree on Ebay, buying shoes. At least she's confined herself to Australian vendors, so the shipping charges are moderate.

For some reason the people involved only want Paypal transactions from international customers. This means that Julie has been traipsing around all the banks sending money to various accounts.

Personally I don't think I'd buy shoes by mail order. I like to be able to try them on before deciding to take them or not.

One pair of shoes that arrived today would have been perfect yesterday, she moaned. They matched perfectly the outfit she wore to the Ladies Day race meeting.

"Next year I'm going to enter the 'Fashions In The Field' contest," she said. "First prize was a brand new Mini Cooper worth $35,000!"

Wow. For a prize like that I think I'd be tempted to enter (and I look bloody awful in a dress!).

They're digging up the streets wherever I go lately. It's all to do with the introduction of gas to Tasmanian consumers.

When they announced a few years ago that gas was coming back after a generation, I was puzzled how it would be delivered. "They can hardly dig up every street in the city and lay new pipelines," I mused.

Apparently they can.

This week marks the start of the year for the television networks. After the "silly season" months of summer, we are now suddenly being offered a raft of new programmes.

  • Cold Case returned with new episodes. This has been one of the most popular American cop shows, perhaps because its strong female perspective gives it a slightly different feel to most of the police dramas.
  • She Spies is a tongue-in-cheek thriller about three beautiful girls paroled to act as undercover agents – sort of Charlie's Angels crossed with the Dirty Dozen. The writers are trying for VIP-style "quirky" and it could be fun.
  • Desperate Housewives Teri Hatcher in a comeback role. Sort of like Knot's Landing crossed with Twin Peaks

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

hot time today

Today, January 26th, is Australia Day.

To all Australian readers, God bless the lands of the Southern Cross!

But the problem with having our national day in the middle of summer is that sometimes it can be darned hot.

Yesterday was warm enough, but today it simply got hotter by the hour till it peaked at 37º – about 98º in the old scale.

My sister lay down in her room and checked her e-mail messages. I slumped down in my armchair in front of the electric fan and drowsed for an hour. The temperature was around 35º and the humidity was about 50% according to the thermometer on my desk.

About 6 o'clock thunder started to roll in across the northern suburbs. There was a roar as the rain came down on the roof, almost deafening us for a few minutes. It didn't last long and I walked out into the driveway; the temperature had dropped nearly ten degrees, to my relief.

The house was still hot inside and I opened the kitchen windows to let the breeze in. Everything promptly blew off the kitchen table, but I guess you can't have everything.

Julie finally got round to taking her car in to the garage. The last few weeks it's been using enough oil to keep a unit of bren-gun carriers operating in the western desert. She's been carrying a drum of oil around with her so she can fill it up before she drives anywhere.

We hoped they could fix it up quickly but, nope, more serious than they thought, come back next week.

Stopped in to try a new place in the North Hobart restaurant belt, the Raincheck Lounge. An odd name, but the food seems good. I had the spinach-pear-walnut salad with blue cheese dressing.

Julie had the Thai Beef salad and quite liked it. Even though with one of her last bites she bit into something extra spicy that made her eyes widen. "Wow!" she choked. I gave her a piece of my pear to help her mouth settle down.

Star Trek: Enterprise returns for the year with “Exile” - the reason I found this a bit difficult to follow at first is that Australian television broke for the summer in the middle of season #3. So the American audience would have seen the previous episode a week before this one, rather than three months. Plot resembles a 22nd century Beauty and the Beast.

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Sunday, January 23, 2005


In church this morning, Sam concluded his look at the book of Joel with a sermon entitled “Justice for Christians.”

He looked at chapter 3 of Joel, which heavily features God’s judgement on the nations of the world for dispersing and enslaving God’s people.

  • ~Christians over the centuries have suffered oppression; in the 20th century we saw many atheistic tyrants persecuting believers. In the West today we see many Christians drifting away from their faith, discouraged by the negative image of religion in the media and the prominence given to false prophets. The toll on God’s people is heavy.

  • ~Multi-culturalism and political correctness can be a menace. At one local school, there were complaints about holding of the Religious Instruction class. A survey showed that 95% of parents were in favour of the classes, but the 5% managed to get the system changed.

  • ~The university pushes its status as a secular institution and makes sure that any Christian proselytizing is low-key. But asked “What about all the Buddhists on your staff?” they fall silent.

  • ~The old text about peace is reversed here, where we’re told to beat our ploughshares into swords! [verses 7-8] This is a cry for warriors. Rejecting God means a battle and it’s one that we would lose.

  • ~Verses 16-21 end on a high note, with the return of the Lord and the freeing of God’s people. The blessings of God will be on his people, but God’s enemies who shed innocent blood will be devastated.

  • ~It is only with the return of the Lord that we can finally expect perfect justice in the imperfect world we live in.

God is good, we come before Him
so that we may sing His praise;
giving thanks for all His goodness,
as we learn His wondrous ways.

God is great, we come before Him
so that we may bow in prayer,
seeking strength to fight our battles,
knowing He is everywhere.

God is wise, we come before Him
so that we may know His law,
learning from the men of old time
how to serve Him more and more.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

a roo!

"Stop the car!" said my sister suddenly out of the darkness. "Back up a bit." I stood on the brake and then put the car into reverse. Julie was peering out the window looking at something under one of the streetlights.

"It's a kangaroo," she declared. And indeed, standing under one of the streetlights around the corner was the unmistakable silhouette of a roo or more likely a wallaby.

I killed the headlights and just left the parking lights on; it was around midnight so there wasn't a lot of traffic in Lenah Valley. I didn't really expect the roo to stay there while we were sitting in the middle of the street with the car idling, but he didn't seem that bothered.

While we watched, he bent down to graze on the nature strip outside one of the houses. Apparently the grass was greener further up the street, since he moved uphill after a couple of minutes. It became increasingly difficult to distinguish his silhouette against the telephone pole behind him.

Another moment and we decided to drive off since "the seeing" (as astronomers call it) was getting worse. This is the fourth time we've seen kangaroos in Julie's street, possibly the same one, possibly not.

Today's New International Version of the Bible will arrive in stores in mid-February. But when the TNIV New Testament was released in 2002, it was attacked by some scholars who said it didn't just update language; it tampered with theology. And 118 critics signed a letter listing their complaints.

Zondervan publishers say the TNIV was essential for accuracy, clarity and accessibility, the same reasons it created the 1978 New International Version, translated by the International Bible Society.

Changes are not willy-nilly. Exodus still says, "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife." Jesus still speaks of the prodigal son in Luke.

But more archaic terms are ousted, and new usage is recognized. After all, Webster added 10,000 words and made 100,000 changes in dictionary definitions in a decade, says Ben Irwin, head of Zondervan's publishing division aimed at the under 35-crowd.

This happens every time there's a new edition of the Bible. I remember how dismissive many people were of the popular Good News Bible back when I was at school. They said it lacked all the majesty of the King James translation.

But if you want people to read the Bible, it has to be accessible. It doesn't help if you have to read with the Bible in one hand and a dictionary in the other.

On the late night radio programme Nightlife we have a new compere for two weeks.

Richard Fidler had been standing in for the regular host Tony Delroy over the Christmas season (as he often does), but he's now off to Queensland so we have a novice in the chair, Jennifer Fleming.

It's always interesting to see how they handle the midnight quiz The Challenge for the first time. Jen wasn't too bad, but the contestants phoning in were definitely B-team.

It didn't help that the questions were a bit dubious as well. "What's the largest island in the United States, leaving out Hawaii and Alaska?" Eh? The answer, in the end was Long Island.

Jen will get her act together, I'm sure, but I probably won't be phoning in.

You see, at the New Year the ABC changed most of the numbers for their phone-in segments. The Challenge used to be an 1800 number, now it's a 1300 prefix. That means if I'm not at home, to phone in with my mobile now costs $5 for 10 minutes instead of $2.

If you have to wait 20 minutes that's $10 just to get on and maybe bomb out. That's a bit more than I'm prepared to pay.

Meat And Livestock Australia has enlisted the comedic talents of the very politically incorrect Sam Kekovich as part of its traditional marketing push around Australia Day.

In the TV ad launched this weekend, Kekovich urges people to avoid being un-Australian and serve lamb on the national day.

Kekovich—an ex-VFL football player and a regular on ABC TV’s program The Fat—delivers one of his trademark monotone speeches explaining how he is sickened by the creeping tide of un-Australianism “eroding our great traditions, like serving Lamb on Australia Day”.

The ad has already drawn criticisms from vegetarians who get a serve from Kekovich in the ad. ("Long-haired pot-smoking tofu-eaters!") The Advertising Standards Board said it had only received ten complaints about the satirical commercial.

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) has a five year history of targeting the occasion of Australia Day to position Lamb as our national meat.

Personally Julie and I thought it was hilarious the first time we saw it. I'd love a poster of the text with Sam staring belligerently out at you.

Here's a very 21st century sort of anecdote:

I have Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine e-mailed to me by Fictionwise since it's not available in this country.

Like a lot of people I like to read in bed, and I was reading the cover story in the March issue – "The Case of Jesse James' Missing Loot", a new Sheriff Huck story by Joe Helgerson.

Unfortunately I didn't find out who-did-it because the battery died in my laptop!

On the idiot box this week:

  • A Place in France From sleepy Hampshire in the UK to even sleepier L'Archeche, southern France, we follow Nigel Farrell and Nippi Singh as they set out to buy a house for family holidays and, in Nigel's case, a place to start a new life. Has a certain naïve charm about it that keeps me watching.
  • Missing a new 4-parter that reveals alarmingly someone is reported missing in Australia every 18 minutes. Shows the problem from the viewpoint of both the police and the families. Gripping in a car-accident sort of way.
  • Firefly I've given up watching this on television and have bought the DVD containing all 14 episodes. The atrocious late-night scheduling makes it almost impossible to watch – I've only seen episodes #1 and #4 and can hardly follow it at all.
  • Star Trek: Voyager concludes this week – it's only taken Australian television five years to get round to showing the final season.

Sunday, January 16, 2005


R1 is out of hospital and recuperating at home. In the meantime, Sam was in the pulpit and continued with his series on Joel on Sunday morning.

Under the title "Before the Day of the Lord", he looked at Joel 2:25-32.

  • Are you prepared to meet God, he asked. Last week we saw Joel stressing the need to repent. Here we see the signs and wonders preceding the coming of the Lord -- commonly called Judgement Day in the vernacular.
  • There will be many prophets, not just the elite clique we see in the Old Testament. Acts 2 tells us how the Holy Spirit gave the disciples the gift of speaking all tongues, fulfilling Joel's prophecies.
  • Some people think that "being good" is the Christian message. That's not what the Bible says. Nobody is good enough ; only through the death on the cross of Jesus are we made ready to meet God. The Gospel is both a final warning and a guarantee of our place in heaven.
  • Signs and wonders are promised, with a darkened sun and a shaken earth. Luke 23 describes similar events at the day of the crucifixion.
  • The cross is not an emblem of God's anger and judgement. Rather it is a message of his love and forgiveness.
  • We all like to receive invitations (it's nice to be asked!). The gospel is God's invitation to the world to join him.

I'm not ashamed to own my Lord,
or to defend His cause,
maintain the glory of His Cross,
and honour all His laws.

Jesus, my Lord! I know His Name,
His Name is all my boast;
He will not put my soul to shame,
nor let my hope be lost.

I know that safe with Him remains,

protected by His power,
what I've committed to His trust,
till the decisive hour.

Then will He own His servant's name
before His Father's face,
and in the New Jerusalem
appoint my soul a place.

And the weekly message from R2 read as follows:

"Today has been set aside by the Prime Minister as a National Day of Mourning and Reflection for the victims of the Tsunami on December 26th.

Around the nation there will be different expressions of mourning; for the Christian church we turn to the word of God to understand what an appropriate response should be¡K or rather responses. I say that because the Bible gives us different courses of action that all need to be expressed at such times.

The first response is to seek to alleviate the immediate suffering of those in need. Jesus underscores this in The Parable of The Good Samaritan in Luke 10 - faith is always evident in deeds [James 2]. We have chosen to do this as a church through the work of the TEAR Fund; the leaflet today outlines their work.

As we ponder the immensity of this tragedy we mourn in some way along with those affected throughout the region, indeed the world. It is right for us to pray (for those living) for the alleviation of their suffering, for their future peace, and that the God of all the earth will bring good out of this natural evil. Another response will include the consistency of our giving; are our regular gifts to God's work reflecting our values as Christ's followers? We've all been reminded of the transitoriness of material things -- do our lives show that?

We can also pray for governments and our leaders: for wisdom in their actions, and that oppression and war may be overcome, especially in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, because of the goodwill that now exists.

Lastly we should also reflect on Jesus' words in Luke 13 on learning of a massacre. In his reply, Jesus included a natural disaster, saying that the victims were no more sinful than the rest of society. His point was that unless everyone repented they would perish in a spiritual sense, not a physical one. He was calling people to a personal relationship to his Father. It is a call for us all to heed"

We also had a Senator taking part in the morning service -- in fact he did the Bible readings today -- and it was interesting to compare his delivery with the usual manner of those we hear at the lectern.

Our church is running an appeal for the Tsunami victims and so far we've raised $1600 this Sunday morning and last Sunday morning. The money will go to TEAR.

* The Evangelical Alliance Response Australia is a movement of Australian Christians responding to the needs of poor communities around the world.
* Rather than establish their own relief and development projects, TEAR Australia supports the initiatives of other Christian groups, including churches, relief & development agencies and community-based organisations, which are working with the poor in their communities. They seek to build effective relationships with these partners, grounded in mutual respect, trust and accountability.
* Priority is given to those programs that strive to involve the most marginalised, exploited and needy members of each community, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.
* TEAR Australia is the unhesitating recommendation of Rev. Robert Benn, 10 years a missionary in Indonesia.

Friday, January 14, 2005

a hot time

The weather has been up and down so much that we don't know what to expect. Two weeks ago, the Rex cat was happy to bask in front of the radiator. Then this week we had a couple of days up around 30º – around 86º in the old scale – and I really found it hard to take.

It's one thing if the climate gets warmer and warmer over a few weeks, but a sudden blast of searing heat can be difficult to stand.

A deadly firestorm killed several people in South Australia last week. Negligible by the standards of the tsunami disaster I guess, but like most Australians I become a little uneasy as the bushfire season approaches. One's eyes absent-mindedly sweep the horizon looking for smoke in the distance.

You can imagine how chilling it was to come out my front door at midnight, look down the street and see one of the hills across the river crowned with flames in the darkness.

Thursday was busy as usual. Things were delayed a while by an unexpected phone call from a member of Federal Parliament who wanted to take part in the Sunday service that's part of the National Day Of Mourning And Reflection.

This took a bit of organizing, changing some of the arrangements and clearing it with those who were preaching that day. It was one of the times when it was a decided advantage to be a fast touch-typist, rattling away at maximum speed on the keyboard.

Less pleased with my performance when I managed to get through to the midnight quiz The Challenge the other night.

Richard Fidler (who's standing in for Tony Delroy this month) was almost to the last question when my turn came round. "Which company manufactured the first jet airliner?" I went totally blank.

I knew it wasn't an American company. It might have been British. What were some of the British aviation companies. What were any of the British ones?

I couldn't think of a thing. Nothing!

Feebly I blurted out an apology and they went on to the next contestant.

"De Havilland" – the makers of the infamous De Havilland Comet! - of course.


Probably my worst performance in the ten years I've been phoning in to the programme.

I haven't been watching the Doctor Who repeats lately, because this series with Tom Baker was repeated over and over again during the 1980s. But I did happen to tune in for "The Mask of Mandragora" last week. I'd forgotten how elaborate the staging was in this one.

Mentioned this to Kay while I was giving her a lift to the city. Her eyes narrowed – yes, she muttered, they still had a few good stories at that time before they succeeded with their evil plan.

I'd forgotten Kay's belief that the BBC wanted to cancel the show but were afraid of the public outcry that would result. Therefore they'd deliberately run it into the ground, turning out the worst possible show for years on end.

(And spending millions in the process of course.)

"There's a lot more stupidity and incompetence in the world than malice and scheming" I said. "Given a choice between the two, I know which one I'd blame."

Kay made a face. Her ideas aren't easily changed.

What makes a gentleman? Well, according to George W. Carver, writing in 1922, it is being someone .....
1st. Who is clean both inside and outside.
2nd. Who neither looks up to the rich or down on the poor.
3rd. Who loses, if needs be, without squealing.
4th. Who wins without bragging.
5th. Who is always considerate of women, children and old people.
6th. Who is too brave to lie.
7th. Who is too generous to cheat.
8th. Who takes his share of the world and lets other people have theirs.
May God help you to carry out these eight cardinal virtues and peace and prosperity be yours through life. Lovingly yours, G.W. Carver

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

no pics here

Beware of Spam and Spyware

The things you see when you don't have a camera...

Before going in to the office on Thursday, I was at my sister's house walking the dog while Julie fed the animals and grappled with the horse (who doesn't want to have his sore leg sprayed with ointment).

I paused at the top of the street and was about to cross over and walk downhill when before my astonished eyes there came bounding down the street a small kangaroo or a large wallaby.

While I stared, it came to a stop and looked over at me calmly. The dog didn't make a move, but the roo obviously decided that she was close enough. Turning, it hopped into a neighbour's garden and disappeared from view, making quite good speed uphill as it headed for the bushy slopes.

That was unexpected. I know the Americans often think we have kangaroos hopping down the main streets of our cities, but I've never seen one in the suburbs at midday before.

Some of Julie's neighbours report having their vegetable gardens raided overnight, but they don't usually come far enough down from the hills to venture onto Julie's property.

Quite a surprise.

Likewise, I regretted not having my camera with me when I called in to visit Keith, the book maven. Keith is a one-of-a-kind expert in the very specialised field of book collecting, and he does a lot of what you might call consulting work.

For example, he spends at least a couple of days a week at the local headquarters of the St Vincent de Paul Society, and that’s where I found him when I dropped in.

Catching his eye, I was ushered past the “Staff Only” sign and into a large but cluttered room at the end of the building. It was taken up with boxes, tables and shelves full of books, roughly arranged by topic.

Outside there were two pallets of printed matter. One was new stuff arriving to be sorted, the other contained items judged unsalable and condemned to the recycling bin.

Keith believes there is nothing worse than those Op Shops where the same books sit on the shelves year after year because nobody has the courage to throw them out.

Keith fluttered around like a moth in a room full of flames, pointing at this and that while nattering about their worth (or lack of it). His beard and the excitement that shines from his eyes have led more than one person to observe that he looks rather like Rasputin. This is exemplified by the steely look that comes into his eyes at the mention of an author he disapproves of. “I read his first book. It was rubbish!”

The first time I ever met him, it was at a science fiction convention. Surrounded by hundreds of people interested in books, Keith was absorbed not by bibliographic pursuits but in holding a tea tasting. He had a dozen varieties of tea, a kettle of hot water and a small group of acolytes who were sampling each in turn. It was somehow very typical of the man.

Our conversation concluded, he sends me off with a box of books (total cost $8); a satisfied smile plays around his lips for a moment, then he plunges back into his spartan quarters. Several dozen books remain to be sorted through, and tomorrow there will be more.

Before starting work at the church office, all of us joined in prayer for a fellow member of the congregation who was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer last month. We had just been told that he'd been admitted to hospital and was in isolation because his white cell count was so low.

It is disturbing when someone you know as a vital healthy person about your own age is suddenly struck down.

I find it troubling. I suppose it happens when you reach a certain age, but so many friends and acquaintances in the last couple of years have gone this route.

At least there's good news from our minister (R1); his hip operation seems to have been successful.

Mills &Boon, producers of romance novels for generations of housewives, are branching out into something a little more hard-edged. Aware that today's readers are probably closer to Buffy the Vampire Slayer than Jane Austen, they're launching a new imprint Bombshell this week.

"Role models are different from those of women 15 years ago," said publishing manager Lisa Myles from Harlequin Mills & Boon. "We're vying for a share of the audience that enjoys watching shows such as Alias and admires heroines such as Lara Croft."

Not the first time that M&B have tried to widen their market. A couple of decades ago they launched their "Intrigue" line where romance was mixed with crime and mystery. Now the Bombshell heroines ("smart and self-reliant career people who can handle dangerous situations") will be tackling drug lords, spies and who-knows-what.

A word from Garrison Keillor, on being asked what he thought about the Internet and whether e-mail was making the world a smaller place:

“It used to be a smaller world back when I was living in Lake Wobegon and I thought I had a good grasp of how things worked. A small world of helpful friendly people and if you ever needed anything you only had to ask, and if you did the work and played by the rules, you'd be okay. We grew up in a quiet little pond, protected from treachery, and that was a long time ago.

My view of the world was changed by Vietnam and by the realization that reputable and intelligent men were quite willing to permit the slaughter of innocents in distant lands rather than speak the truth and endanger their own careers. This happens again and again.

The knowledge of evil makes the world seem vast and incomprehensible, and so, ever since November, I've given up reading newspapers or surfing the Net, preferring to live for awhile in a small world circumscribed by St. Paul, the radio show, poetry, my own family and friends, my writing, and a little music now and then.

The country is momentarily in the hands of vandals and there isn't anything I can do about it.

E-mail does enormous good in combating loneliness and gloom, and so one is grateful for it, but at the moment, we're stuck in a period of drift and squalor and the Internet isn't going to change that. “

Picked up in the supermarket a DVD of the 1961 movie Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. It’s a long time since I’ve seen this one, though I grew up watching the spin-off television series (as well as other Irwin Allen programmes like Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants etc, though I was never a fan of Lost in Space).

The special effects are good for the time, though the plot makes The Day After Tomorrow look quite plausible - the Van Allen belt catching fire gives a new meaning to global warming. There are (to put it kindly) some surprising twists.

Good cast: Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine and Peter Lorre for prestige, and Frankie Avalon and Barbara Eden for the younger set.
Not a classic of science-fiction, but an entertaining enough 100 minutes.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


Our Associate Minister (R2) has been away at the Tasmanian Christian Convention. He writes:

“Our week away was refreshing. It was good to sit under the teaching of two excellent speakers – Philip Oliver, former head of the Bible Society in Australia, and Ray Galea, an Anglican minister in Sydney. We were blessed with their messages on the Parables and Romans – look out this year!

I’ll take the chance to encourage you to consider going next year – the Tasmanian Christian Convention [formerly Keswick] is held every year for six nights after Christmas. It isn’t cheap, but when it doubles as a holiday and is fully catered it is good value. The camp is right on the beach near Ulverstone and is terrific for kids; there was a children’s and youth program as well. Plan now.

We also caught up with Greg & Rosemary, returning to India for 12 months on the 15th with two of their girls. They expressed gratitude for financial support but really emphasised their need for prayer in their Bible translation work. (They are currently living in a half-converted shearing shed and are riding in the Bike For Bibles trip across northern Tasmania just before they leave!)

Getting away was good and getting home was also. One thing I noticed was a few green shoots sprouting up where we had a giant burn-off just a week before Christmas. Quite amazing, since the heat was so intense. But new life comes after fiery trials in the world of nature and in our own lives.

May God’s grace enable you to see “green shoots” in 2005, whatever fiery trials you may have experienced in 2004.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face
the trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing
of your faith develops perseverance
– James 1:2-3.

R1 is in hospital following a hip operation, so Sam is preaching at the morning services this month. This morning he continued his look at the book of Joel.

He broke the text into three sections (as many preachers do).

Joel 2:1-11 paints a powerful picture of a day of judgement. After talking about locust plagues in the previous chapter, he now describes an army attacking – but rather than a literal military force it is the army of the Lord. This is a vision of the punishment that falls on those who anger God.

“This is not a happy book,” said Sam. “Not happy at all.”

In modern society the idea of somebody punishing or rebuking another causes unease in many. It’s not politically correct. (I guess the Old Testament isn’t politically correct either.)

Joel 2:12-17 calls on us to return to God as a matter of urgency – don’t put it off until later. The call to repentance isn’t something you can postpone answering.

Joel 2:18-27 shows the Lord will relent if people repent – they will receive the blessings of God. Obedience is the way to forgiveness – but can we obey perfectly and stop sinning? Probably not.

Even in the time of John the Baptist this was still a bone of contention. The only person who didn’t need to repent was Jesus Christ, the perfectly obedient man and heir to the Kingdom of God.

So how do we evade the picture of judgement that begins this passage? Repentance, obedience and following Jesus Christ seem like the only ways out of the maze that we human beings find ourselves in.

All praise to You my God this night
for all the blessings of the light;
keep me, O keep me, King of kings,
beneath Your own almighty wings.

Forgive me Lord, through Your dear Son,
the wrong that I this day have done,
that peace with God and man may be,
before I sleep, restored to me.

Teach me to live, that I may dread
the grave as little as the bed;
teach me to die so that I may
rise glorious at the awesome day.

O may my soul on You repose
and restful sleep my eyelids close;
sleep that shall me more vigorous make
to serve my God when I awake.

If in the night I sleepless lie,
my mind with heavenly thoughts supply;
let no dark dreams disturb my rest,
no powers of evil me molest.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
in heaven above and earth below;

One God, Three Persons, we adore --
to Him be praise forevermore!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

fine food and errant cats

Monday we visited the Taste Of Tasmania for its final day. The Hobart Summer Festival goes on but this is the end of the food and wine segment.

It was a wonderful afternoon – the sky was that incredible blue it gets in the middle of an Australian summer, and the river looked really spectacular.

We didn't make it around all 70 of the stalls at the Taste, but we gave it a good try. Julie would probably have liked to visit them all if they'd stayed open long enough.

I had a couple plates of food and tried one or two sorts of wine. I don't think drinking in the middle of the afternoon really agrees with me – it seems to have a depressive rather than a stimulating effect on me. That isn't so bad if the evening is drawing to a close, but if it's 3 o'clock in the afternoon that's probably not so good.

The organizers report that about 200,000 people partook this year. Not a record – which I think stands at about 210,000 – but quite a respectable total for a city the size of Hobart.

Of course public holidays don't always bring out the best in people. We were crossing Salamanca Place on foot and a car suddenly decided to reverse and began rolling back towards us. One wheel passed over Julie's foot – fortunately she'd pulled her foot out of it in time.

"What are you doing?" she shouted. "You almost ran over my foot! Can't you see us? Am I invisible?" The driver just sat there and stared at her like we were speaking some foreign language. She made absolutely no response.

That's the scariest piece of inner-city driving I've seen for a long time. She really seemed to be off on some other planet.

The vet came round on Tuesday afternoon and took another look at Julie's horse.

He gave it the all-clear, meaning at last Julie could let him out of the lower paddock in which he's been confined since injuring his leg.

She sent me a text message from her mobile phone afterwards: What a happy horse – pounding around in the paddock kicking & snorting!

Certainly we were glad to see it raining this afternoon. The warm dry weather after Christmas had begun to make itself felt, with lawns browning off and cracks opening up in paddocks.

It's not much use letting the goose out to graze in my backyard at the moment, since there's practically nothing on the lawn. Maybe next week will be different.

Julie came home from shopping and unpacked some stuff she'd bought at the discount table in Priceline. "Got you a present," she said, and handed me a bottle of extra-strength vitamins for men.


I think.

Wednesday Julie was out to lunch at Jan's in the mountains. While she was there she did some maintenance on her computer, removing spyware and adware galore.

I was at home alone and had let the cats out while I prepared lunch. Just as I was about to sit down to eat I heard a muffled "thump!" as though a parcel had fallen off a shelf.

Looked out the window and couldn't see anything. One of the cats, Paco, was sitting out on the lawn. Where was Jezebel? Oh-oh.

I hurried outside, past the goose and round to the window. "Jezebel? Jezebel?" Any other cat would have meowed but the Rex breed are different. I fossicked around in the bushes under the window.

Then I heard a faint squeak and looked down between two bushes. There, sitting in a small clear space, was a surprised-looking black cat.

"You tried to jump up to the window and missed, didn't you?" I said. It would have taken her a moment to work out how to get out of there unaided, so I leaned down and scooped her up.

I sat her on my knee and put a blanket over her while I ate my sandwich. From my St John's First Aid course in school I remembered you were supposed to keep the victim warm if they might be in shock. They also said to give them hot sweet tea but I wasn't sure she'd go for that.

She seemed fine later, so I guess she didn't hurt herself.

Here in Australia it's midsummer and the middle of television's Silly Season. This means we get the return of programmes that didn't rate sufficiently well during the year (Stargate, Dead Zone, Tru Calling, The Amazing Race etc) but we also got some new programmes of varying quality.

  • The Airships from the makers of Battleships and Ocean Liners here's a fascinating 3-part doco that traces the history of the giants of the sky. Did you know that out of the 97 passengers on The Hindenburg, 62 actually survived?
  • Joe Millionaire the makers of the second series have wisely carried over the Australian butler Paul Hogan [no relation] for this bizarre dating programme. One of the Swedish girls has so many bad habits she's virtually a compendium of the Seven Deadly Sins.
  • Joan of Arcadia has its points, but obviously the offbeat concept made the network nervous so it's airing during the summer months. The makers obviously hedged their bets by combining three plot threads – a cop show (Joan's father is a police chief), a family drama (Joan's brother is in a wheelchair) and a fantasy (Joan is sent on missions, often puzzling ones, by God himself).
  • Rosemary & Thyme is a delightful surprise, a comedy drama with a dash of Agatha Christie, featuring Pam Ferris and Felicity Kendal as crime-solving horticulturists. Great fun for those who enjoy Midsomer Murders
  • Mary Tyler Moore Reunion looks back 25 years at one of the most loved sitcoms. I remember watching it every week and this brought back so many great memories.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

1st January 2005:

New Year's Eve has never been a big item on my calendar, but this year my sister persuaded me to come out with some friends on a river cruise to watch the fireworks.

There were fireworks of a different sort when she discovered that because it was a smaller group than originally planned, the cruise company had taken it on themselves to cancel the table we'd booked and put us in airline-style seats. She made her displeasure unmistakably clear to all and sundry.

The weather was good and we sailed down the Derwent for a few miles then turned back and went upriver as far as the Bowen Bridge. We passed the Zinc Works complex after dark, half-illuminated and looking like a industrial dystopia straight out of the movie Metropolis.

Arriving back in Hobart, we took up a position in mid-river and waited for the last moment before midnight. A lot of us crowded up on deck and waited in the darkness. Finally somebody said "Ten seconds!" and everybody stirred with anticipation.

A flash of light, something whooshing upwards and a stunning shock to the eyeballs as the first piece of pyrotechnics erupted into multi-coloured flashes. More and more followed, amply bearing out the promises that all sorts of new technology would be put to use tonight.

There were several sequences that were new to me. Linked ellipses of colour, explosions that released a horde of sparks that burned brightly almost to the ground... every few minutes there would be a spontaneous gasp of wonder from the people around me.

Probably the best firework display I've seen.

Coming back into the dock, there was a seething mass of revellers on the quayside. I thought at first we might have trouble getting through the crowd but everyone was so happy and good-natured we had no problems getting back to the car.

Julie nodded at the crowd and said "It's a lot better these days than it used to be on New Year's Eve. There are more policemen and fewer drunks."

How can it be 2005 already, I wondered. It's only a little while since we were marvelling at making the change from 1999 to 2000.

Now we've reached 2005, a year that previously I'd seen only in science-fiction novels – it seemed like so far in the future, didn't it?

When they introduced a superannuation scheme at my workplace, in the small print they said I couldn't access any of the money till I turned 55. That seemed such a long time away it hardly mattered.

Well, it won't be from this year. [Sigh!]

I haven't yet mentioned the Tsunami disaster. If anything I've tried to stay at arm's length from the massive media coverage; at a time like this one can be simply overwhelmed by the sheer amount of bad news.

At times like this we are reminded of the foolishness of the human race: we spend so much of our time and resources on devising new ways of killing each other that we often forget how fragile a thing life truly is.

We expect technology to be able to resolve any problem that arises, never realising the power of the elements remains undiminished from century to century.

The steeds of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are always saddled and ready to ride. We forget this at our peril.

Chatting with Chris this afternoon. We've both been spending a lot of our on-line time at the BBC website and the first couple of episodes of their new serial Ghost Zone have been quite impressive.

The first episode was practically a carbon copy of John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos but after that it seems to be veering off more into Stephen King territory.

What episodes 3, 4 and 5 will bring I shudder to think!