Over the last 5 or so years, I’ve organised my daily bible reading a bunch of different ways:
The Bible in one year, suggested by Sam Chan, was good fun. You get to read multiple passages (or have them read by the author Nicky Gumbel) and you get a little commentary on them. I didn’t always agree with everything I heard in the commentary, but all in all it was fun and insightful. The only downside was the “Pippa adds” bits. She’s Nicky’s wife and sometimes she had some really helpful insights, but often her comments sounded a little trite. I remember my wife cringing at a number of them. The app was well done & it was achievable.
Youversion has a whole range of different reading plans. I’ve done two different plans with this app. The first was “For the Love of God”, which follows the McCheynne reading plan (you read the OT once, NT & Psalms twice in a year) with a page worth of commentary each day, based on one of the readings. Last year I did the “Bible Project” reading plan. This went through the bible from beginning to end, a couple of chapters a day, as well as a Psalm a day. It also included each of the Bible Project videos as the book or theme came up. I appreciated being able to spend more time in each individual book (good for my brain), but I have to admit that, as much as I love the BP videos, sometimes watching multiple a week became a bit much!
This year it was time to mix things up a little! I had been thinking that I would pick an individual book then spend between a week and a month just reading it slowly and repeatedly. I had been thinking about starting with Romans, but when I saw an “Illuminated Scripture Journal” for the book of Hebrews, I couldn’t help myself. I don’t always like to mark up my bibles, so this was a good compromise. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to make more marks each time I read it, jot down some notes & maybe even think about some poems or illustrations that really resonate with the passages.
The challenge for me is finding a way that ensures that my reading doesn’t become mechanical. It can be easy to feel like you have to “keep up the stats” when it comes to days missed and sometimes this has meant that I’ve found my eyes gazing over the words in some chapters, but not really engaging with the text. Finding creative ways to keep your mind engaged & really soak in the scriptures is super-helpful.
It’s good to spend time in God’s word.
It’s good to think about different ways that we can engage with the bible.
I’ll let you know whether this method proves good for me…
I got through 84 books in 2022. Partly this was because I read some very short books (and I’ll be honest, I had a few moments where I said to myself “I could finally read Anna Karenina, but that would really mess up my “Goodreads” numbers, so I might read a shorter book instead“), but a lot of my “reading” also happens by way of audiobook. I asked my Librarian sister if that still counted as “reading” and she said it does, so that’s good enough for me.
One of the great benefits of the audiobook thing has been that I’ve borrowed lots of free books from the Library apps, “Borrowbox”, “Libby” and “IndyReads”. Restricted by their limited collections and the books that aren’t on loan, it’s meant that I read a lot of books that I might not have otherwise touched! Always good to broaden your horizons. This is what put me onto Australian murder mysteries, but it’s also what convinced me that there are a whole bunch of tropes that come with those mysteries!
Anyway, I thought I’d put together a little collection of my 5 favourite books different genres. The fact that this will hopefully kick off my blogging again is just a corollary benefit. So here we go!
Best History Book–
Bullies and Saints by John Dickson
One of the challenges with Church history books is that Christians tend to write them as hagiographies. One would be excused for thinking that butter has never melted in the mouths of history’s great characters. John Dickson’s book tackles Christian history warts and all. It’s important to acknowledge that Christians have done some spectacularly stupid things throughout history, but that said, on the balance, Christianity has been a net positive and many of the evils enacted by the church are very much condemned by Jesus himself.
John Dickson is very easy to read & if you know someone who is a little skeptical, this is a great “conversation starter” book.
Tough by Terry Crews
I” be honest. I read this book because I love Terry in “Brooklyn 99” and I thought I had heard somewhere that he was a Christian. I really was not anticipating that I would love this book as much as I did. Terry is raw in his honesty, confronting the abuse he experienced as a child as well as the toxic nature of his behaviour for much of his life. For a guy who is one of the most impressive physical specimens in the world, it is heart-warming to hear him speak about the importance of emotional vulnerability and the vital importance of people in positions of power/influence using the power for the advancement of those around them.
Terry is a multi-talented guy. He was an athlete, he’s an actor, fine-art painter, dancer, and he can definitely add “author” to the resume. Of all my books this year, this one was most definitely the “surprisingly awesome” winner!
Lead by Paul David Tripp
We worked through this book as a staff team at my work. I figured it would be just another book on leadership with a bunch of encouraging quotes, but not much else.
Tripp does an amazing job at calling out and speaking into many of the toxic behaviours that leaders can display. I particularly enjoyed his calling out the dangers that come with success in leadership and the constant need for people in positions of authority to humble themselves before God as well as before those people they serve (as all good leaders are supposed to serve those under them!).
Trip also looks at things like acknowledging our limits & building a culture of honesty. A great book for any Christian in leadership.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
I read and enjoyed “No Country for Old Men” and “The Road”, so figured that I ought to give his Magnum Opus a try. It was long…. it had lots of words that I needed to look up in a dictionary (to the point where sometimes I was happy to just go with understanding via context) and it was one of the most violent books I have ever read (one professional reviewer said that it took him five attempts to read the book, because they found it’s violence too confronting), but McCarthy’s language is beautiful, and even though his picture of the Wild South West is horrifying, he also captures some of the beauty of this vast and terrifying landscape.
Most definitely not a book for everyone.
Favourite Work of Fiction
11/22/’63 by Stephen King
It’s the second time I have read this book (which you can also watch as a TV series on “Stan”), and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time. In the first instance, this is a time-travel story, where the main character Jake Epping finds out a way to go back in time to the late 50’s. He decides that the best way to make use of this awesome opportunity it to save JFK’s life and through this, hopefully stop the cascading tragedies that are the Vietnam war, MLK Jr.’s assassination and other things.
At the heart of this story, however, is Stephen King’s fascination with the whole Lee Harvey Oswald story. This page-turner of a novel looks closer of the history of the 20th Century’s most famous assassin & the likelihood of whether or not he had any help. King, who is the easiest to read author I know, also manages to weave a love story, a thriller and a teeny bit of paranormal into this story. Such a great book!
In the first week of the New Year, both my boss & I take a sabbatical week. We head up to the Blue Mountains & spend the week at CMS Summer School.
Up we went on Saturday the 7th of Jan. Shona, the family & I were staying at a new place in Blackheath & were a little nervous about what the new pad would be like. In the end, we couldn’t have been any happier with a wonderful house being rented to us at a really decent rate!
The conference itself was grand. William Taylor was speaking, looking at “the account of Terah” which is basically the story of Abraham & his life (Terah was his dad). With the kids all off at their programmes, we found ourselves free all morning this time, which meant we got to go to the missionary sessions too! For the first time I got to chose, listening to an African Bishop, hearing about the fears that come with going on the mission field, as well as the struggles that come with speaking to a “post-truth” audience, plus more!
The afternoons were our own and we made the most of our time, going on bush walks, playing games, reading, catching up with great friends and also a little R&R. In the evenings, Shona went off to the evening sessions & I stayed at home with the kids.
It really was a wonderful time & we count ourselves lucky to be able to attend such great Bible teaching, meet so many encouraging missionaries, and spend some time in God’s good creation.
Here’s some more pics! (Do you get the feeling that I’m trying to get more use out of my cameras again?)
Pumpkin was lucky enough to get an invite to go & see Aladdin, so we decided that we’d head into town as a family & see what kind of trouble we could get up to.
Of course, as I looked at my blog, I realised that the kind of trouble we could get up to was the same kind of trouble that we got up to last time we headed into town!
We started off by heading to Haymarket for lunch. There were time constraints, but we managed to find a “sizzle plate” place that offered some legitimate GF options. Pumpkin got dropped off at the Capitol, and the rest of us went for a walk to visit “Daisao” which is basically a massive shop (a cross between a $2 shop & a small grocery store) full of Japanese things! Nippon candy, cool chopsticks & a couple of other bits & pieces, then we were off to the Powerhouse Museum!
We didn’t pay for the Egyptian mummy section, but we did get to play in an area that was full of “dirt” ( I think it was made out of rubber) and the kids got to dig for different “artefacts” that were hidden within it.
After that, there was a great section where the kids got to touch everything. Lots of fun light up stuff, energy ball & even the opportunity to try & power a siren using pedal power!
Throw in a massive train that is inside the building, and the kids were stoked!
After that it was simply a matter of poseing with some static props on the wall, then we were done!
Pick up the girl, eat a little ice cream & then head back home! A wonderful day & a great opportunity to make some memories for the kids!
OK, let me start by saying that I have a monster sized head. I’m on the very last button of adjustable hats and those supposedly “one size fits all” caps? You’re kidding me!
So, knowing that I had a week off while Shona was at a conference, I figured I’d dash down to “The Strand Hatters” in the city & see if a proper hat shop couldn’t help me out with one of my daydreams of owning a “driving hat”. Then…. each time I had remembered my plan, I also remembered that two of the kids would be at school for the week, which means I’d have to be back home by 2:30. The only chance? Take all four down on Saturday.
Sounds great! I’d started working on ideas like Driving to the Zoo, taking the cable car down to the ferry, riding across to Circular Quay, then taking a train into the City (my kids love public transport), but when I heard about the weather the other day, it looked like it would all fall apart. Still, the kids sounded interested and there was a DC Comics Lego exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum, so we decided to give it a go.
So on one rainy day, we enjoyed two tram rides and three train trips, helped the four kids enjoy 5 different things that day.
Trains: Easy entertainment for the kids. Not only a means of getting to stuff, they enjoyed chatting to people (four kids with only a small age gap seems to be a great conversation starter). Travelling over the Harbour Bridge is always great too.
Trams: They were pretty excited about “trains that drive on the roads”, but they’re pretty crowded in town. Handy, but not too exciting.
Just being in the city: We caught a train into town hall, walked through eh QVB & up through the Pitt St. Mall. For kids who’ve spent almost all of their life on the Central Coast, all the big buildings were a blast. I had figured that being in the city, finding gluten free options would have been easier, but with the rain bucketing down at different times, we were stuck in one food court. Muffin Break came to the rescue with a GF choc-chip muffin!
The Strand Hatters: (OK, this was my highlight, not theirs). Is it hipster central? Yep. Does it really matter? Nope! They were really really nice guys working there. The bloke who spent 10 minutes helping me find a hat had all kinds of opportunities to show me more expensive stuff, but in the end he said that a couple of the hats on sale were closest to what I was looking for & I ended up buying two hats for less than I thought I’d pay for one (he even gave me an extra 10% off on the two 50% off hats he sold me!). I’d go there again in a heart beat!
The Powerhouse: The DC comics thing was pretty awesome and the powerhouse itself has all kinds of different things to look at. Were I to do it again, I’d consider driving in and/or going there first so the kids weren’t quite so tired. That said, it was still pretty awesome & the kids loved it.
Best of all, with the wise use of awning & tunnels, we managed to time things so we basically never got rained on the whole time we were there!
So I did it! New hat(s) and a great day out with the kids.
A long time between posts (surprise, surprise), but I’m still thinking about it.
It’s a glorious thing that we live in a world where we have such easy access to so much information. Facebook, Twitter etc. has democratised information dissemination to the point where anyone, anywhere can share their thoughts with the world, and if you happen to get picked up by someone with enough followers, a thought that germinated in a quiet Central Coast suburb can burst into full flower around the globe!
It’s lovely that it is so easy to share my thoughts with the world, but there are costs to this convenience. It’s far easier to share ill-informed arguments and it’s just as easy to critique solid arguments in an ill-informed way. Let me explain.
2.1 Dodgy ideas
We’ve all had that brilliant idea at midnight, which, when dissected in the cold light of day, turns out to be a manifestly silly prospect.
let’s face it, sometimes we NEED a little time to let those thoughts ruminate, solidify and show their true selves. Sometimes we’ll find a solution, making it a better, clearer & more helpful idea, while other times we realise it was a silly idea to begin with and not worth broader discussion.
Put a keyboard (or mobile phone, or tablet etc. etc.) in front of everyone and all of a sudden we have the opportunity to share every idea straight away. The cost of this convenience is that we remove that wonderful break that causes us to consider more deeply. Sometimes people just make mistakes. Idris Elba shared on Graham Norton, the occasion when he went to text one girl and accidentally sent a suggestive pic to the whole of the internet. Google created a feature that allows you to recall an email that you just sent, this to amend that moment when you find yourself accidentally having hit “reply all”, or maybe sent an email about your boss to your boss.
The bigger danger is every crazy, ill informed idea we have gets spewed out onto our social media feeds, creating all kinds of excitement that we might not be prepared for. You never know who will read your posts, and it’s quite possible that someone a lot smarter than you will come across it.
2.2 Dodgy arguments
But here is where we hit the other great cost of convenience. Living in a sound-bite world, with reams of information flicking past our eyes every time we sit down in front of a computer, it’s much easier to make assumptions about what we read, then critique it without every really engaging with what we’re reading.
NPR had the ultimate example of this about a year ago, when they posted the question “Why doesn’t America read any more?” with a link to an article about. Literally thousands of people left comments berating NPR for making such sweeping generalisations and castigating them for making a verbal attack on the American people. The problem was, if you clicked on the link, this is what you found:
People were so quick to have an opinion on the headline that they read, that they didn’t bother to listen to the argument put forward.
I see it all the time (and I engage in it more often than I’d like to). You read a headline, you already have an opinion about a subject, so you jump in without actually engaging fully with what the interlocutor had to say. The upside of our connected world is that we can share much more information (and I need to be clear, it can also be good when we share unformed information and use online platforms to nut things out & discuss them), but the downside is that we appear to read much more, but we think much less about what we’re reading.
The answer? I don’t know. I guess for me, I’ve been trying to slow down my responses. I still bite sometimes, but I find myself asking far more often, “is what I am saying helpful? Have I thought through all the angles, or am I just jumping in with my own thoughts & ideas before engaging with the question?”
Maybe a good start is to say, “I won’t critique an article that I haven’t read all of”?
I certainly don’t think that computers or the so called ‘new media’ or evil or anything like that. They have opened up all kinds of new avenues when it comes to connectedness and access to information. That said, recently I’ve been thinking about the cost of convenience. What happens when it is so easy to communicate with each other? For every opportunity, there is a cost that comes with convenience. I thought I might spend a couple of posts thinking about how this affects our lives. So without further ado:
I took a scripture lesson for a parishioner this morning because they had to go away. While I was signing back out, the local Catholic co-ordinator bailed me up to ask if I knew who Mr.X was. I had no idea, other than he certainly wasn’t a member of our parish. In the end, it turns out that he is a Catholic bloke from a neighbouring parish who had sent out a group email to scripture teachers across the whole of the Central Coast informing them of some instructions for upcoming Easter services.
It’s wonderful that email makes it so easy to communicate with so many people at one time, but the cost of communication is that people will just send blanket messages rather than making sure that they are tailoring what they have to say for specific needs. When I mentioned this to our parish administrator, she put it perfectly: “He just wanted to move something out of his in tray and he didn’t stop to think how many other in trays he was clogging up when he did it!”
I remember listening to a podcast, (I am pretty sure it was “Reply all” but I couldn’t find it in their listing, so it must have been a sub story) about a tech reporter who has given up his personal email and only ever uses work email for really important things. His view was that we just fill ours and others’ inboxes with questions that we could probably answer if only we thought about things for a couple of seconds (or maybe we could show ingenuity), or we actually decrease productivity by going through a thousand different emails to sort something out, where one phone call would allow much more efficient back and forth to iron out problems.
Let me be clear and say that I think email, text messages, FB etc. add a lot of value to life, and I do think they add certain efficiencies. Even as I type this post, my boss just send back a draft for a new Baptism syllabus that I’d flicked him in email. But I also think it kills a little critical thought and some efficiency, when we go the easy route rather than making a phone call. I guess I could have titled this section “the easy route” rather than “efficiency” because that is one of the big factors too. I wonder whether there are more tensions both in work places and relationships because speaking to someone live is more of a hassle, so you can just ask something via email when it really deserved the personal touch.
The lost art
One of the final factors is that we are so over connected through phones & computers, that we end up undervaluing sincere personal communications. When I was in Bible College, I committed myself to writing handwritten letters to people, just letting them know that I appreciate them and what they do. I started after I heard someone say what it meant for them to have gotten a 3 line letter in the post from the senior minister just saying he appreciated them being on a reading roster.
When someone thanks you, particularly when they do it in a personal way, that can be a powerful thing! It would be a great start if people declared appreciation for things more often over the net, but even then, the act of doing so is an effortless one, it requires 3 seconds of typing & one second to send. These days, to write someone a note and let them you that you appreciate them costs $1 postage to start. If you like a nice piece of stationary & other such things it might rise to a couple of dollars, but what it says to the person that you’re writing to is that they are truly valued! You are willing to spend a little money, and the time to go to the post office, to let them know it too!
Professionally, it comes to “data spray”, I’ve found it helpful to ask myself the questions “could I deal with this issue more effectively if I spoke to the person”, and “am I just avoiding a conversation by writing this?” before I write emails. I’ve also found that, working with a lot of volunteers, people really respond well to a note of thanks. A word can be nice, and email is a little more memorable, but if you take the time to write to people, it makes a real difference (I still have letters like this written to me almost 20 years ago!) Personally, too, I’ve appreciated the process of thinking regularly “who and what am I thankful for?”, “Do the people who I am thankful for know that I appreciate them?”
You certainly don’t want to go overboard on something like this. Like emails themselves, letters can lose a little of the efficacy if you send them too often (and you’ll look like a stalker too!), but getting into the habit of writing to one or two people a week, though not as convenient as communicating online, will certainly prove to be worth your while!
I almost made it for a surf in the morning, but with some of the waves double head-height, I took a rain check & enjoyed a coffee & a chat with Aaron instead.
After a morning of cleaning the house & a little yard work, it was time for an afternoon in the city!
Shona had some errands to run, so the kids & I dropped her off & then drove to park near Mrs Macquarie’s chair. Here’s a couple of observations.
$7 per hour on the weekend? I guess they charge what they can get, but that’s a bit steep!
The Botanical gardens is a wonderful place to walk through with young kids. All the plants have little info tags, so I could answer some of the endless questions, and in the short period we were there we got to observe two weddings, watch a big party in the harbour, meet some Americans and get a fair bit of exercise in too! I had to keep reminding myself, however, that I didn’t need to rush from one thing to another, but I could stop & really appreciate what we were looking at with the kids. Answer all of the questions, ask some of my own, just stop & spend quality time!
The view is pretty hard to beat! Half a dozen times we just stopped & looked out over the harbour. Magical on a sunny day.
The Art Gallery of NSW is pretty awesome: Granted, we only had 15 mins, but it was a great 15 mins. The sculptures out the front are accessible & fun (and a 30cm high curve-topped wall was a highlight for the kids who enjoyed walking from one end to the other). The outside of the gallery has 1000 different things to look at.
Being free of charge, it was also great to hop in, have a cruise down a couple of the aisles & chat about painting, sculpture etc. with the kids. We could have spent a lot longer there, but were happy to get a taste & then head back out to meet mum.
Having picked up Shona again, it was off to the Rugby! Rugby is a very affordable special occasion with the kids: The ARU might not do much right in my eyes (why they don’t battle to have free-to-air I will just never understand!!!), but one thing they do great is make going to games an affordable option. Shona & I got 4 game memberships this year, and they only cost $70. Considering you get a hat, key ring, stickers & a lanyard, that’s not too bad! What’s even better, however, is that all four of our kids get FREE memberships!!!!! That means all SIX of us get to go to a game for a $35 a game! It’s a great atmosphere, really family friendly, and it was an added bonus that we got to enjoy the night with heaps of friends with passes too!
(would you believe this is the only pic we took at the Rugby!? having too much fun!)
Getting home at midnight isn’t easy when you have a big Sunday ahead of you. But it’s well worth it. With a 4 game membership, we can spread the games out & go about once a month over the season.
What a bonus to have a wonderful passage to preach on for Sunday morning (Matthew 7:1-12. Listen to the sermon here), to meet a lovely family who were looking for a new Church (so keen they came twice in the one day) and to top things off with a really encouraging Centre AGM! Weekends like this put a pep back in your step!
I do a fair few Baptisms, 6 already this year, and most of the people attend are not church goers. It’s lead to all kinds of interesting conversations before or after a service, but there is one thing that I seem to hear quite regularly and it makes me wonder.
(I should note that, having a little heritage listed church in our parish, too small to hold our normal church services in on Sunday, most of the baptisms we get are “private baptisms”, where the family are keen to have it held in that building and therefore the congregation is just made up of the friends & family. It’s a battle for me in some regards, because I think it sort of defeats the purpose (or at least one purpose) of baptism to have one that doesn’t have the Church family there for it!)
So I’m there after the service, standing at the entrance/exit, saying G’day to people as they head out, and on, gosh, 30 or more occasions over the last couple of years, I’ve had people say to me:
“That was really nice. You made it all relevant.”
But what does that mean? I think they could mean one of one things?
The day-dream possibility is that they have heard the gospel, and as we gather together to celebrate a baptism, it all makes a little more sense than it has before. They’ve come to see that Baptism into the church isn’t an anachronistic habit that we can’t quite let go of, but it is a powerful statement about relating to the God of the Universe!
One middling possibility is that it’s possible that they are being complimentary. Maybe they liked the sermon and could see that I tried to make it meaningful. Maybe they liked the fact that I usually exegete why we do different things in the service and what they actually mean when we do them. Maybe they are just saying that it was thoughtfully connected to what we’re doing.
Part of me wonders whether, when people say that, what they are really saying is “I thought I was going to come to a dull, slow, painful service, led by an out of touch relic in language that I don’t understand. Instead, I actually understood what you were saying and I didn’t mind the service that much at all.”
Then the pessimist in me says that if people found it really enjoyable and “relevant”, then maybe it means I didn’t preach the gospel clearly enough, and what I should be aiming for is statements about it being “unsettling”, or “challenging.”
Whatever people mean, I’m glad for the opportunity to be able to share the gospel regularly with people, I’m comforted by the fact that any family that comes to bring their child for baptism hears what being in a relationship with Jesus is about, what being a part of the Church is about, and they look me in the eye and tell me that they can make baptism promises confidently. Finally, I enjoy the challenging of crafting what I do a little more each time. Can I be clearer, can I be more engaging, and can I go about everything in a winsome way that shows that being a friend of Jesus is the most relevant thing there is!