Thursday, August 31, 2006

Today I resigned from my job

That's not actually as dramatic a thing as it may sound.

When I moved to Melbourne to commence my training as a ministerial candidate, I took 12 months leave without pay from my job in Hobart, with the undertaking that I would indicate to my boss in December whether I would be returning or resigning at the end of the 12 months' leave.

Some people may say this indicates a lack of faith in my calling (after all, if I was so definite, why didn't I just resign outright, rather than keeping this 'safety net'?) I guess it was part of my cautious upbringing to want to keep my options open (or more to the point, demonstrate to my parents that I was doing this), but also a recognition that even after the rigorous discernment process I had been through to get to the point of being accepted as a candidate, we still might have gotten it wrong, and theological college in Melbourne might not be the right thing for me.

However you want to look at it, my status (as far as my workplace has been concerned) this year has been that of an employee, on extended leave. However, I received a call from my boss the other day, saying that the person who had been employed for the 12mth period of my leave had resigned, and so she was keen to suss out where I was at regarding my plans for next year, in the hope that if I wasn't planning to return to work, she could advertise the position as a more long-term option than just 5 months.

Despite the very logical and understandable circumstances, it was still a bit weird to get a phone call from my boss, effectively asking me to resign.

However, because after my time here so far, I am certain that I will be here in Melbourne for the duration, and won't be going back to work in Hobart, I was happy to be flexible and offer my resignation -of course, after negotiating a 'no disadvantage' clause relating to my payouts and entitlements upon resignation (BB, my union official mate, would be proud! :-)

So, after nearly 8 years working for that organisation, I am now officially no longer employed there. Another milestone in my life....

I'm an aunty! (well, kind of)

What a way to start the day!

When I woke up this morning, there was a text message on my phone from Craig (a dear friend from my early days in Hobart, who now lives in Poatina, and shall henceforth be known as "Grampa") to say that his daughter Amy delivered her first child last night at 10:50pm (this is also Craig and Janet's first grandchild, although number 2, courtesy of Matt and Nat, is due to arrive in Dec).

Baby Ezra came into the world after a hard 18hr labour, and is apparently a big boy (although Grampa was not forthcoming with any further detail about weight, length, head circumference etc- what is it with men who don't realise that such statistics are of VITAL IMPORTANCE!!!??? :-) He did say that all parties are well and happy, though :-)

When I first moved to Hobart I lived in community with the family, and at that time Amy was a gorgeous little 4-year-old … she is still gorgeous, but no longer 4 (funnily enough). I was privileged to help lead her and Troy's wedding service earlier this year… and now I will have to wait until I get to Tas in December before I can get clucky over young Ezra in person.

Praise God for the gift of this new life! :-)

Postscript: I received a text message from Amy herself on Friday, with more detail- Baby Ezra (middle name yet to be confirmed) weighed in at a hefty 9lb 5oz. (Ouchie! Just thinking about it makes me want to cross my legs!)
Congratulations Amy and Troy (and well done Amy! :-)

Monday, August 21, 2006

... of Boxes and Black Holes

Today, in a fit of, well something, I decided to attack the last few boxes in my study yet to be unpacked since my move to Brunswick from Kew.

I actually had a couple of ulterior motives:

1. Some friends who are about to move to Canberra are calling in tonight, and I promised to give them some of my empty boxes. I also have another friend moving to the UK in a few weeks, and in a stroke of sheer genius also offered him some boxes, which he is coming to collect on Wednesday.

so hopefully soon my home will be a completely BOX-FREE ZONE! Yay!

2. I ran out of staples in my larger stapler the other day, and was sure I had a box of large staples from which to refill it, but couldn't find these in my desk drawer... hmmm... maybe they are in a box still to be unpacked?

3. In a similar vein, recently I was seeking my larger capacity USB drive (which just happens to contain a backup of my computer's entire hard drive- as opposed to the smaller capacity USB drive that I have on my keyring, which only contains the backup of my uni work), so that I could update the back-up and have a general sense of security in knowing where it is. (Yes, I know... call me a Geek Grrrl, but I do like to back things up!) I know when I packed up to move, I put it in a SAFE PLACE where I would be sure to find it later... Hah!

Well, after unpacking all of the boxes upstairs (I think there is still one box downstairs that needs a little attention) I have not been able to find the staples or the USB drive (the staples, I don't mind so much, as I do have a smaller stapler, and Millions of staples that fit that... and anyway, any excuse for a trip to Officeworks! :-), but the USB drive is a different matter altogether.

I can see that I will need to very carefully retrace my steps and repeat previous searches... even more thoroughly this time... Oh well, at least the unpacking and searching did unearth my church offering envelopes which I hadn't been able to find since moving...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Spring has sprung...

... or so it feels. Today, for the first time in quite a while I ventured forth from home wearing a pair of cropped jeans and a polo shirt with only a cardigan over the top (yes ma... no coat!!) A beautiful sunny day, and a perfect day for the Melbourne Uni open day (which was probably called something else officially, but that's effectively what it was).

After being very virtuous, by doing the World Vision 40 Hour Famine this weekend (and suffering a crashing headache last night- I suspect as a result of caffeine withdrawal) I ventured out to 'wave the flag' for the good old MCD (Melbourne College of Divinity) to help out for a while on the MCD's display at the Melbourne Uni open day. In the brief time I was there, I had the chance to chat with a number of potential students about the values of studying theology, especially in a fantastically ecumenical place like the United Faculty of Theology (which is one of the affiliated teaching institutes of the MCD).

One conversation was with a girl who asked if it was ok for atheists to study theology. I pointed out to her that one of my fellow students in a class last semester would have called himself a 'secular communist', and whilst that may or may not equate to 'atheist', it meant that you certainly could study theology without necessarily identifying as 'Christian'. She said that she often gets into debates about religion with her friends, and we both agreed that on such occasions, it can be a good thing to argue from a position of knowledge rather than ignorance. Because of the relationship between Melbourne Uni and the MCD,it means that students doing an Arts degree can select up to 4 theology subjects from the MCD as part of their Arts degree, so I suggested that she might want to think about doing a theology subject just to dip her toe in the water and see what she thought.

After my time there, I ran up the campus (after getting slightly lost amongst the ditherati... do you ever have that experience, when you exit a building from a different door, and then wonder where on earth you are? and of course, with my world famous geographical challengedness, it took me a little while to figure out which way was 'up'- ie towards Queen's college- from the back door of the Old Arts building), and eventually got to Queen's chapel in time for choir practice.

This was my second week singing with the Queen's choir, and I am enjoying the style of music, and no-nonsense preparation... and I may even start to get used to reading the harmony line in the hymn book, where the music is so far away from the words of the verses (if you've ever tried to sight-read the music of a hymn and sing the words at the same time, you'll understand what I mean when I talk about going cross-eyed in the process!)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Conflict resolution

Today the Theological College organised a conflict resolution and mediation worshop for candidates and faculty, after a request for assistance from some past candidates for some training or assistance in dealing with difficult people and situations that they have encountered in the big bad world of 'real life parish ministry'.

The workshop was quite helpful, offering some processes for getting to the bottom of conflicts and finding ways to resolution (surprisingly enough).

When I got home, there was an email from my friend Simon (who is a fellow junk TV tragic), with a link to a site containing a collection of Star Trek Inspirational Posters. He said he is planning to put some of them up around his office. He is truly a sick puppy (which is why I think I like him so much :-).

Hmm.. I tried to post a pic of one in particular that caught my attention as being relevant (in a perverse kind of way), but the blog won't let me post it for some bizarre reason... so, go here to see the whole collection of posters, and the one to specially look at is called Diplomacy on the third page.
(grrr... gee I hate technology sometimes!)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Life's too short ...

... to drink instant coffee

This is my philosophy, and I'm sticking to it. Call me a coffee snob if you will, but when you drink as much coffee as I do (who? me? an addict? I can give it up any time!!) you really don't want to waste your time or tastebuds on the floor sweepings that are usually passed off as instant coffee.

For quite a long time I have consumed only plunger coffee at home, and the only instant coffee I have in the house is the jar of Nescafe I bought when my parents came to visit about 3 years ago, because my Dad prefers the pretend stuff to the real stuff. (I think it is all solidified and even more disgusting now than when I bought it).

I have a friend in Tassie who is quite earnest in his quest for a good cup of coffee. He can't drink a lot of coffee, because too much gives him migraines, so he is determined that what he DOES drink will be good. He has been singing the praises of his little stove-top espresso machine (picked up for a bargain price). And of course, he has to grind his own (with a hand grinder... none of this electric business!).

He has been suggesting to me for quite some time (actually, ever since he stayed at my place on a visit to Melb a few months ago) that I should lash out and get a stove top device... "the coffee is so much better than with a plunger" he says.

Well, yesterday, I was tempted. I suspect that my capacity for critical appraisal was minimised due to the high I was on after my session with my Spiritual Director. I had a coffee in my favourite Kew cafe, and en route to the rather nice gourmet supermarket (just for a browse, mind you!) I happened to wander, absent-mindedly, into the little homewares shop between the two.

And there I saw it:
A gleaming metal stove-top espresso machine... going cheap... virtually screaming at me to buy it! (ooh! shiny!)
Of course, I did the responsible thing, and (considering that I already have 3 plungers and a dripolator) told the sales woman that I needed to think seriously about whether I really needed it... knowing full well that after my excursion to the supermarket, I would be back there like a shot to buy the gizmo. (sigh... I am so predictable!)

After getting it home and putting it though its paces (just a few times since yesterday afternoon), I think I agree with Mike, that the coffee does in fact taste better. One consolation is that it certainly makes the coffee stronger, so that means to get my desired strength, I don't need to use as much coffee as I do in the plunger...

Can I use that as justification? The stove top machine will really save me money, because I don't use as much coffee- it will pay for itself in no time!

Oh well, perhaps if I repeat that mantra often enough, I'll start to believe it :-)

This now creates a bit of a dilemma. I have another friend who is quite a tea buff, and has embarked upon a project to attempt to educate me in the art of tea appreciation. I think he suspected from the start that he would have his work cut out for him with such a hardcore coffee head as myself... but now the degree of difficulty of his task has just increased. I hope he's up to the challenge! :-)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Spiritual Direction... ya gotta love it!

When I was accepted as a candidate for ministry in the Uniting Church, the Selection Committee made a recommendation that, as part of my formation for ministry and personal growth, I engage with a Spiritual Director to work through some issues.

One of the unexpected fringe benefits of being a ministry candidate, is that when such a recommendation is made, and the theological college faculty agree that such a step is in the best interests of my development, the college actually pays any costs associated with the Spiritual Director (a bit like the professional development and training budget that many workplaces have for staff).

I accessed my Spiritual Director through Campion Ignatian Spirituality Centre, at Kew (there are a number of places around that offer spiritual direction, Campion was one I picked from a list of suggestions made by the college faculty). The application for spiritual direction was an interesting process. I had to complete a form, outlining a bit about myself, my spiritual journey and why I was seeking spiritual direction at this time. This form then went to the Director of Campion, who used the information on the form, to prayerfully match me with one of the centre's Spiritual Directors.

I've now had about 3 or 4 sessions with my SD and am just loving it. He has helped me to work on some practical ways to deepen my prayer life and general relationship with God, and especially to recognise and celebrate the "God moments" that present themselves in the course of the everyday.

There have been times when our conversation has led to tears, and sometimes to laughter. One memorable occasion occurred when I was lamenting something that had happened, and I made the comment:

"Sometimes is seems like everything in my life is motivated by guilt ... and I'm not even Catholic!"

I suddenly remembered where I was, and, horrified, said:
"oops... sorry.. umm... no offence intended"
at which he just burst out laughing uproariously.

It is certainly a gift of God's grace to be able to spend time with my SD exploring the nitty gritty of my relationship with God, my calling to ministry and the joy I feel at all the new things I have been discovering and experiencing since commencing my studies.

I would certainly recommend spiritual direction to anyone seeking to draw closer to God in a more deliberate way.

Census night

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Howardus that all the world should be taxed.

(with apologies to St. Luke)

Last night was Census Night 2006 for all of Australia. Being currently laid slightly low with a dreaded lurgi (which is why I am currently here at home on my computer, rather than at my usual Wed morning Hebrew class) the occasion passed without any great hooplah for me.

When the ABS person delivered my census form last week, I had grandiose ideas of working hard to skew statistics by inviting the whole Sydney Swans football team to come and spend the night (just for the pure pleasure of having to ask for 15 more census forms to fit in all their details, you understand! :-)

Alas, no such perverse skewing of statistics eventuated. I spent the evening at home, alone, knitting (because my brain has been leaking out of my nostrils to such an extent that I just can't take in anything I read) before going to bed with a hot toddy* (as opposed the the black hottie I mentioned in an earlier blog entry)

* my current preferred recipe for said toddy involved:
1 sachet Lemsip, made up with boiling water
1 generous slug of Johnnie Walker
1 dollop of honey

It worked for me, I slept like a..... well, like a well-sedated sleeping person.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ooops... where did that soapbox come from?


I kind of got a bit carried away in that last post... I should warn you to make a cuppa and put your feet up before tackling it as it's a tad on the lengthy side.

Why can't we just sing real music?

I was reading a rather feisty entry in a friend's blog about his distaste for modern christian music (read it here- yo! preach it BB!). I started to write a comment about it in his blog, and got a bit carried away, so thought that I would instead write my own diatribe about music here.

As a throwback to my early faith formation in a somewhat conservative church, some of the good old hymns do get my spirit stirring much more than the more modern stuff (if only the old hymn writers had been thoughtful enough to write in a vocal range that suits those of us who are not sopranos- have you ever tried to tackle "O For a Thousand Tongues" and "Guide me o Thou Great Jehovah" first thing on a Sunday morning without a proper vocal warmup?! but I digress...)

I have to also admit that my ire has been raised on more than one occasion by the propensity of Together in Song (volume/version 2 of the Australian Hymn Book) to fiddle around with the words of some of the old hymns, to make the language more 'inclusive' and less ancient. But maybe that's just laziness on my part, of wanting to be able to cruise along without looking at the hymnbook for the words, and the discomfort of suddenly being startled by the fact that I seem to be singing something completely different to the rest of the congregation. (My friend Avril is glad that they didn't remove the hobgoblins from John Bunyan's text in #561 :-).

However the main reason why I tend to abhor the more modern 'worship' music is twofold, relating to both content and form. Firstly, much modern worship music (not mentioning any names but Koorong tends to promote quite a lot of CDs by one particular group that seems to do this) tends to focus on the "I love you Jesus, because you have done this for ME" kind of sentiment, which focuses solely on the individual's relationship with God, rather than acknowledging the corporateness of worship (ie we are all part of the body of Christ, and our worship of God is corporate- even when physically alone, there is a sense in prayer and worship that we are joining in with the never ending worship in heaven, and the concurrent worship of other Christians who are physically in other places at the time).

Secondly, this style of music also has a 'what's in it for me?" kind of attitude to faith, rather than a "what can I give to my Lord?" focus. I find both the individuality and self-interest of this approach hard to stomach. However, I am quite happy to accept an 'all things in moderation' kind of approach, but in some places where I have worshipped, there doesn't seem to be much of a balance between this and more corporate/servanthood oriented worship music).

A non christian friend of mine (who happens to sing in the choir of an Anglican Cathedral in a place other than Melbourne) once expressed his distaste for contemporary christian music thusly:
After Vatican II it all went downhill...
they introduced soppy "Jesus is my boyfriend" music.

However, even more than the content of modern worship songs (and I have to say I am with BB 100% here in noting the lameness of many of the lyrics), what bugs me is that the fine line between 'worship' and 'performance' is often crossed. Of course, here I am referring not so much to the Christian 'rock music' genre that BB was castigating in his article, (which is allowed to be more performance oriented) but rather the contemporary music that is played in our churches as 'worship', but that so often seems to generate a not-so subliminal cry of 'look at meeeee!' from the musos.

Now it's true confession time. I worship in a congregation which utilises a mixture of traditional and modern music (including a substanial amount of music written by members of our congregation). We are blessed to have a music team consisting of around 20-30 people, with a mix of instruments such as piano, guitar, bass, drums, violin, recorder, trumpet, french horn, organ, and singers- and probably others I have missed out. Each week, music is led by a group of half a dozen or so people, on a rostered basis. (I am one of the singers who participates in the roster).

I have often struggled with the fact that at times, the offerings of the music team can border on 'performance' and can be so loud as to be unhelpful and distracting to people in the pews (particularly at times when the musos have been asked to play some 'background' music to accompany the offering, or when communion is being taken etc).

This brings to mind a comment made by a fellow theological student only this last week (it was in the context of using technology in worship, but I think it also applies to music). She said: "In deciding whether to use this, you always have to have the question in the back of your mind:

Will this enhance the worship experience?

If the answer is yes, then go for it, but if you can't answer yes, then don't do it."

Amen to that, sister!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

and a good time was had by all

I just realised that I hadn't posted any comments on my preaching experience last Sunday at Queen's College chapel.

firstly I need to point out that the Dean of Chapel (who invited me to preach there) is in fact my faculty adviser from Theological College, and part of my assessment for formation for ministry is to preach two sermons during the year which are assessed by my faculty adviser.. So this occasion was one of these.

The sermon itself went rather well, I thought. I preached on the account of the Feeding of the 5000 in John's gospel, and started by thumping the ambo*, and shouting "It's a miracle!!" (and received a number of comments afterwards about how startling that was... to which I replied "Well, noone sleeps when I preach!" :-)

But the most significant thing for me was realising how much I enjoy that style of worship (formal, ordered) in the environment of a gorgeous chapel such as Queens. I also enjoyed the music, largely provided by the Queen's College Choir (which is not surprising, as the choir made up the bulk of the congregation at chapel, which adds a whole new meaning to the term "preaching to the choir"!)

I've been thinking that I might like to worship there in the evenings more often (and there has also been a little pressure from some quarters, to encourage me to join the choir, which is also a somewhat attractive prospect)

*an ambo is like a double-sided lectern (a word which I had never encountered before this year, but now I know the difference between a lectern, pulpit and ambo! Gotta love theological training :-)

*sigh* looxury!

After a week with far too many late nights (no attempt to seek sympathy here, as these were mostly self-inflicted, and could have been avoided), I have a sense that this weekend will be a nice little relaxing oasis.

Although I was thinking about getting up early today and toddling down to the Vic Markets to take in some latte there, and do some nice produce shopping... when my alarm went off this morning, I simply rolled over and went back to sleep. It wasn't a deep sleep, however, but rather that delicious mix of half-awake-half-asleep-ness, broken by periods of wide-awakeness where my mind drifted to consider, relive (and in most cases, celebrate) the various things that had happened during the week, and in particular the people with whom I have interacted, and the web of relationships that surround me.

One of the Ignatian prayer exercises that my spiritual director has given me to use involves a similar process to this... of looking back over the past day, and looking for the "God moments", where I have been conscious of the presence or touch of God (sometimes I don't realise it at the time, but only when I reflect back on the day afterwards).

One of the things that this morning's looxurious time of snoozy reflection emphasised to me is the specialness of the wide variety of people God has brought into my life. I am relishing the opportunity to develop new relationships with a number of people from the theological college community, and discovering the precious riches below the surface in these people (and just generally enjoying hanging out with them). And at the same time, I am thankful for the many other people who have shared various parts of my journey over the years (a couple of them for around 20 years or more!), and I feel very blessed.

Well enough reflection and snoozing... time to have brunch- alas not at Vic Markets today, but the local shopping centre has a nice food court, which will be great to sit and do some relaxing reading for class :-)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

One for Ange

I love cooking, and living alone, I enjoy having people round, as an excuse to cook proper meals, and also to savour the delights of my "food porn" (subscription to the ABC's delicious magazine. I call it "food porn" because it comes in the mail, is glossy with lots of pictures, and makes me drool :-)

Tonight I had two fellow theological students round for dinner. They are both vegetarians, and so I pored over the last two editions of my food porn for something suitable, and came up with a menu of 'aromatic pumpkin and chick pea hot pot' and a very rich bread and butter pudding for dessert. It was all rather scrumptious (even though it didn't contain any meat :-)

However,as I poured what seemed to be an enormous number of chick peas into the pot, I couldn't help but be reminded of my friend and former work colleague, Ange, who has a particular loathing of chick peas... so much so that everyone at work would invent new ways of trying to get her to eat them...there were some very interesting suggestions of 'wonderful ways with chick peas', some of which seemed to rival the creations of that mad woman in the Vicar of Dibley who had a penchant for disgusting culinary combinations.

I think it is my duty to send a copy of the chick pea recipe to Ange (or better still, to one of the other people at work, so they can make a big deal of giving it to her :-)

(can you tell I have a report to finish, and am procrastinating? :-)