Wednesday, May 30, 2007

getting one's hands dirty ... err... wet...

As part of the specific training to be a Uniting Church minister, on Fridays all ministerial candidates participate in classes as part of a Diploma of Ministry. This semester we second-years are doing a subject called "Worship and Preaching B".

The worship stream of this class involves training in the liturgy and practice of particular pastoral services, such as weddings, funerals, baptisms and eucharist. The highlight of these classes was definitely the week we had the baptismal practicum.

Our teacher for this class, Robert Gribben, is not only the guru of Uniting Church Liturgy (he was on the committee that compiled both editions of Uniting in Worship, and was also the author of many of the prayers and liturgies contained therein), he is also the proudest and cluckiest grandfather on the face of the earth.

For our baptism practicum he pulled some strings (or maybe just pulled filial rank with his daughter :-) and arranged for his grandson to be present, which
gave us a chance to get our hands dirty (or, rather, wet) as we each practised the different sections of the baptismal rite. I found that holding a squirming baby whilst attempting to perform the ritual actions and words of baptism was rather more realistic than working with an inanimate doll! The action was captured for posterity, as you can see. (Photo by Kim Cain, UCA Synod Media Liaison guru)

I came away with a renewed respect for ministers who manage to baptise babies without dropping them, and to actually hit such a moving target with the baptismal waters!

NB- I should also point out that just because we may have said the words of the baptismal service, and splashed water about, around and on the child, this does not mean that he is now baptised. This is because: a) it was not done in the context of a faith community, and b) (most importantly) it was not the intention of the child, or his mother, for him to actually be baptised on this occasion... in the same way that an engaged couple having a rehearsal of their marriage vows etc, does not mean that they are officially married prior to the actual wedding.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Preaching or teaching?

Yesterday, I was privileged to have a 'return gig' leading worship at Hastings Uniting Church. The people there are lovely and very welcoming, and it was great to see them all again.

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, and so the Bible readings included the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. The Old Testament reading was Genesis 11:1-9- the story of the Tower of Babel. I made the point about how in both cases, diversity of language was used by God: to spread humanity out across the world in Genesis, and to enable the gospel to be spread across the world in Acts (because people from foreign places heard the message in their native languages in Jerusalem, and presumably would be able to take the message back home when they returned).

I also commented that I personally have some struggles with the Tower of Babel story. It has always struck me as a bit counter to my picture of God, for God to be worried about the people building this big tower. Even if the intention was to go so high as to reach God, common sense tells us (and presumably God would have known this too :-) that they would never be able to do that. So what was the problem? Did God, the almighty creator of the universe really feel threatened by this building project? I wouldn't have thought so... so then why did God feel the need to go down and put a stop to it?

I commented in my sermon that one of the benefits of being at Theological College is that we have seemingly unlimited access to 'Professors on Tap', and so I asked our Prof of Old Testament about this over morning tea one day. His response to me was that it was partly a tactic by God to get the people to obey the commandto spread out and populate the earth (because up until this time, they had stayed together in a single group in one place).

In addition to this, I had also read in a commentary on the passage, that the writing in this particular part of Genesis contains vestiges of pre-Israelite theology:gods were jealous of humans (v. 6), and “us” (v. 7) refers to the royal court of the gods; and the recognition that many of the stories in the book of Genesis were based on other ancient myths and stories that were around at the time (eg the Genesis flood story, based on the Babylonian story of Gilgamesh),
and were included in the canon of scripture to illustrate theological points, rather than as literal historical accounts.

As I pondered this, and considered whether to mention this point in the sermon, I decided not to, as it could cause confusion if I just made a brief passing reference, with no further explanation, and it would have taken too much time to explain the background of the literature (which could have distracted attention away from the main points I was wanting to make in the sermon).

After the service, a
member of the congregation who is a retired minister, raised this with me... and gently suggested that it might have been helpful if I had been able to find a way to include this particular insight about the book of Genesis. He said that for many people in the pews who don't have the opportunity to do any in-depth theological study, the only way they will ever hear about the different approaches to scripture, or theological insights, is through the teaching that comes from the pulpit; and that when he was in a parish, he always tried to ensure he included some elements of 'teaching' in his sermons.

This has really given me something to think about, when it comes to preparing my sermons... whilst at one level, I don't want to inundate the congregation with minute details of the latest academic and
scholarly insights that might excite me personally (because, Gentle Readers, I'm sure you have already worked out that there are lots of things which cause me great excitement, but wouldn't' necessarily have the same effect on others)- and I have been told that trying to dazzle with too much academic brilliance has been a pitfall for many theological students in the past- there is obviously a need to give them some of this kind of meaty material.

Hmm... it's a good thing I am only half-way through my training, so I still have plenty of time to think on this (and still plenty of time with the luxury of "Professors on Tap" to discuss and argue the pros and cons of it all).

Can you tell that I am still really enjoying being in this place of learning? :-) ... I'm also very grateful for the generosity of people (like the dear retired Rev at Hastings) who are willing to give me the benefit of their experience and wisdom through such well-timed feedback.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

post script

Well dinner was a hit (as usual) and the CGP was very appreciative (as usual), and my flat is almost sparkling, because I vaccuumed the downstairs area and even mopped the kitchen and laundry floors. Having dinner guests certainly has its spin offs :-)

One thing that tonight's effort did reinforce though, is how inadequate my kitchen is for cooking- nowhere near enough bench space, and trying to wrangle three separate dishes tonight was just a tad tricky.

I think that when I compose my ministry profile to go to Placements Committee around this time next year (gosh- yes, it is only a year away that I will be thinking about exiting and facing Placements Committee!), I will have to include a stipulation that the manse has a functional and spacious kitchen!

(It certainly makes me appreciate my Hobart flat even more- the kitchen there is lovely, with lots of useful bench space... I miss my flat so much sometimes!)

Friday, May 25, 2007

It's all about food

#1 "Eating out"
Tonight I did a radical thing and deliberately took a night off from working (as opposed to just feeling guilty that I should be working but not actually getting much done- you know how it is when you're a student? :-).

A friend from Hobart is in town, for meetings yesterday and today, and then some retail therapy tomorrow, so we took the opportunity to catch up over dinner in Lygon St. After eating, we did a lap of Lygon St, up one side of the street to the city end of the restaurant strip, and then back down the other side of the street, skilfully dodging the many street spruikers who were keen to get us into their establishments.

We ended up at Brunetti's for coffee and cakey things (and Jenny's eyes widened in disbelief as we walked in the door and she saw rows of glass-doored industrial freezers chock full of a wide variety of specialty cakes, most of them topped with huge curls or jagged shards of chocolate... very droolworthy!) So I think Jenny will go home with a new name on her hit-list of places to visit on her next trip to Melbourne. Gosh! I feel like such a local, giving the good oil on local eateries to tourists!

#2 "Eating in"
The other day I received my latest Food Porn* magazine in the mail. I have recently begun to suspect that one reason I have been so stressed and restless over my study load lately might have something to do with the fact that I haven't done any serious cooking for far too long. That will be fixed tomorrow, as I have my local 'culinary guinea pig' coming round for dinner. I have selected a few choice recipes from the Food Porn which I am looking forward to producing (including a reprise of the amazingly droolworthy chocolate and macadamia nut brownies I made just before Easter, but wasn't able to share with the CGP at the time due to his observance of a Lenten fast).

I enjoy cooking for friends, and will have to ensure that next semester I don't allow myself to go as long between dinner parties as I have in recent times. (it's also great having people round for meals, as it gives me serious incentive to do some extra tidying of my flat! :-)

*sigh* I think I really am in foodie heaven here in Melbourne! :-)

* NB "Food Porn" refers to my subscription to delicious. magazine. I call it this because, like the other kind of porn, it is a glossy mag, containing lots of pictures and makes me drool.

Monday, May 21, 2007

What's in a name?

Quite a lot, it seems (well for some people at least)

Today I had the interesting experience of trying to bank a couple of cheques which had my first name listed as "Caro", rather than "Carolyn" (which is my actual name, and the name in which I have my bank account).

The bank teller seemed quite confused at the truncation of my first name, and queried it. I explained that it was a shortening of my name, by which I was generally known to most of my friends and colleagues. She then asked me if I had any ID in this name (which, of course, I don't, because all of my ID is in my full name- derr!). She then got a bit flustered, and made me sign the backs of the two cheques (not sure what that would do), and fortunately she stopped short of demanding a retinal scan or DNA sample to confirm my identity, but I was getting a bit nervous there for a minute!

Interestingly she had no problems at all with a third cheque which just listed my two initials and surname, rather than full firstname... (go figure!)

It made me wonder- if my full name was "Catherine", and the cheque was made out to "Cathy", would the teller have been thrown into such a quandary?

I suppose I should be glad that a teller was paying attention to what was actually written on the cheque, (in the same way that I get excited whenever a shop assistant actually checks the signature on the back of my credit card- it happens so infrequently)

This kind of reminds me of the time when I first started working at the GP Division way back 9 or so years ago. I had decided that since this was my first ever "grown up" job that paid a proper wage, then perhaps I should try to act grown up, and so took advantage of the opportunity to reinvent myself, back to my original identity as "Carolyn", after being known as Caro to all my friends for a number of years.

One of my friends told me of an instance when he rang me at work, asking to speak to Caro... and after a brief moment of confused silence got the reply, "oh you mean Carolyn?" Unfortunately my attempt to be grown up didn't last, and after only about 6mths, everyone at work, including my various bosses (and key contacts from other organisations!) all called me Caro... so I decided to give up and not fight it any more (I was siding with the Daleks on this one: "Resistance is futile" :-)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Just had to share this

This picture came via my mate Blair, a ministry intern in Bacchus Marsh.

It made me giggle.

Kind of makes you want to think twice about driving too fast to that next church meeting! :-)

(Maybe I need to get one of these for my car- my friend Matthew has been complaining that I don't have enough "Catholic kitsch" in my life- I'm sure he would approve!)


Yesterday in class we had a session with John Bell from the Iona community who is currently in Australia as Artist in Residence at the Centre for Theology and Ministry.

John led a session with the Theological College community on the topic of Reclaiming the Bible as the People's Book, which was quite stimulating, with various practical ideas on how to bring the Bible to life for members of our congregations.

One exercise he did with us was to name 4 different characters from the gospel narratives and allocated each one of us to one of these characters (my character was Matthew the tax collector). He invited us to reflect, using our imaginations, on what we thought this character would be like- all the kinds of things that we aren't told in the gospel accounts. He then gave each of us a picture postcard (face down to start with) and invited us when we looked at our picture to imagine that this was a picture of our character... and how did this picture change the image we had of our character?

He then invited us to turn our cards over and spend a few minutes in silence, considering these implications. When I turned my card over, I nearly had a fit. My "Matthew" was the torso of a very built man, (who had probably overdone it a bit on the steroids)- HYOOOOGE muscles, and gnarly veins all along his arms and pecs... wearing a brief g-string and a torn singlet which exposed a very well defined set of abs... and there was obviously a woman standing behind him, reaching around with her hands all over his chest (and I think one hand was tweaking one of his nipples through the singlet).

Our Professor of Old Testament was sitting next to me, and started giggling like a schoolboy when he saw my picture... and when we were invited to discuss our reactions with the person next to us, my comment to my discussion partner (a female on my other side, not my giggling professor) was: "hmm... I would certainly pay my tax if he were the tax collector!"

John later asked the group "did anyone have a picture that was radically different to what you originally imagined?".. and when I shared my picture, everyone in the room collapsed in hysterical laughter, and made comments such as: "make sure you get that card back from her, John".

One of my other professors commented to me later about how amusing the situation was, and how well my 'performance' suited the moment (as everyone was laughing as I gave my card to John to show around the room, I fanned myself with my hands to stave off an apparent 'hot flush').

Overall, the exercise was an interesting one in overturning our preconceptions (which are often mis-conceptions) about characters in the Bible; and some of the other cards associated with different characters stimulated some very deep thought and discussion. I think I will have to start collecting some pictures like those to create a similar resource to use in my future teaching ministry.

...and as I said in conversation to a friend afterwards, I don't think I need to point out that although beefcake may be fun to look at some of the time, as a general rule I tend to find brains (even up to the point of being nerdy) far sexier than brawn. See my earlier post on this subject.

Is there a smoker in the house?

I never thought I would be asking this question!

After growing up as the only non-smoker in a house full of smokers (both my parents, and my grandfather, who lived with us, all smoked throughout my childhood), I have never regretted moving out of home to a smoke free environment.

However, the other night I attended a formal dinner at Queen's College, and on every table there was a candelabra, complete with candles... but the candles were not lit. My companions and I thought this a little absurd, and even moreso when we asked one of the waiting staff whether they were going to be lit, and she responded by saying that they were not allowed to light the candles, because it would create too much heat in the dining hall. Yeah... right...

So, being the anarchists that we are, we decided to hang the consequences, and light our candles ourselves... being members of the chapel choir, who all have a healthy respect for our voices, of course none of us smokes, and so didn't have any matches, so we asked the students around the rest of our table if any of them were smokers who could give us a light.

I'm not sure whether I was annoyed or impressed that in a group of ten or so first year engineering students, not a single one of them smoked. Obviously the health messages, and those grisly ads on TV depicting gruesome tumours and amputations must be working! The Health Minister will be pleased! :-)

However, this meant that we were stuck with our unlit candles all evening. In the course of my studies, and regular leading of morning prayers in the college chapel, I have occasionally found it hard to find a match to light the candles in the chapel, and so had decided that I should always carry a box of matches with me in my bag, just in case... so I cursed the fact that I had not gotten around to acting on this decision yet!

(of course there wouldn't have been an issue if a certain Jesuit Scholastic of my acquaintance had been present at this dinner... I have decided that I need to go a bit Utilitarian* on him, and make his life miserable until he gives up the fags)

* Utilitarianism is a type of ethical framework that makes judgements on the basis of what will produce the greatest good/pleasure and least pain, and I figure in this case, the negative of my nagging will be well and truly outweighed by the overwhelming good of smoking cessation, both for his own health, and the health and wellbeing of those around him)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

RIP Jean

Today I heard news that one of the "Old Girls" from my church in Hobart died on Sunday.

Jean was 87, and one of the infamous "Sandy Bay Ladies who do Lunch" after church (affectionately known to me as my "Old Girls"). For a number of years these ladies went to a local cafe for lunch after church each Sunday, and I remember when they first asked me to join them, I quipped that they only wanted me because my presence would lower the average age of the group by about 30 years!

Jean was a core member and organiser of this group, and a tough old bird: a single lady who, even in the later years when her health was dodgy to say the least, was fiercely independent, and insistent on staying in her own flat, living alone and looking after herself.

She eventually had one too many visits to hospital, and her family and doctor managed to convince her to move into a nursing home a few months ago. No matter how frail her physical health, she was still sharp as a tack, and you could always tell there was plenty going on behind those piercing blue eyes.

Now Jean is with her Lord, and that has to be a good thing, no matter how much we might miss her.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

it's raining again

As the news tonight bemoaned the fact that Melbourne has just completed its driest year on record, I sit here listening to the rain falling steadily and reasonably heavily on my roof.

What a sweet sound!

And no points for guessing why it is raining today- yes, you're right, I put a load of washing out on my line this morning. I know I have commented on this in my blog before... but I really think this might be a special gift... and I should offer to keep a line full of washing permanently- at least until the Victorian reservoirs are filled to a more healthy level than they are now.

Ohhhhh... for... tuna!

(and no, I don't actually prefer salmon! :-)

(start gratuitous plug mode)

This Sunday the Melbourne Chorale will be performing Carl Orff's Carmina Burana at Hamer Hall.

The concert starts at 5pm, and includes the Bartok Sonata for two pianos and percussion (the arrangement of Carmina is the newer, 2 pianos and percussion version, which will be an interesting change from the full orchestral version which is more common)

It should be great! :-)

(end gratuitous plug mode)

I have really enjoyed preparing for this concert... it's quite a few years since the last time I sang Carmina Burana (it was actually a performance in Melbourne in 1999 to celebrate the 60th birthday of MUCS- Melb Uni Choral Society. Some of us inter-staters were invited to come along and sing with MUCS for the fun of it). It's a great yell in places, and a lot of fun. :-)

Yes Phillip...

I have been blogging recently!

Shame on you for not keeping up!
(be assured, there will be a test when I see you on Friday! :-)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

another new life!

I'm a tad excited, as yesterday I heard from friends in Launceston that they are pregnant and expecting the arrival of their first child in November.

I've known Daniel since he was a little boy (he was 8 when I moved to Hobart to work with his parents and live in community with their family), and it has been delightful to see him grow into a mature and creative man* of God.

Daniel and Janelle have been married now for about 4 years. They are amazing people and will make awesome parents. I'm going to be an Aunty again (or, as Daniel put it "the perpetual God-mother"). I'm so excited for both of them and the new life they are working with God to bring into the world :-)

He turns 26 on the weekend, and so he lamented to me that he will no longer be officially classed as a "youth"

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The importance of being a tourist in one's own town

This morning I discovered the gastronomic delight that is a "breakfast burrito". This was part of a farewell breakfast with my friend Jo, who has been staying with me for the past few days, en route to her Big Overseas Adventure.

During the past few weeks, I have learnt many things from both Jo and other friends who stayed with me before her, about the gastronomic delights available in this neck of the woods. I know... many of you will be thinking, "you're in Melbourne, close to Sydney Road and Lygon St... of course you are surrounded by amazing cafes and eating places", and you would be right. However, I have found that when I live in a place, I tend to become a bit of a hermit, and only go places that I need to go to, and do things I need to do, and rarely take time out to explore the local environs in the same way that a tourist would.

So this morning's breakfast was in a small cafe, just across the road from my local shopping centre. I have never even noticed this cafe before (and I still have no idea what it is called... except it has a large "Illy" sign out the front because they serve Illy coffee).

The coffee was great, and the burrito was rather yum (scrambled egg, mushroom, onion, tomato, ham and cheese rolled into a soft tortilla wrap, with sliced avocado on the side). I think I need to go back, and gradually work my way through their entire menu. I notice that they serve eggs benedict, so will definitely have to try those out (I am on a quest to find an Eggs Benedict in Melbourne that comes even close to the scrumptiousness of that served at the Machine Cafe in Salamanca Square in Hobart. So far, I have found no serious contenders.)

But all this foodie talk aside, the experience this morning reminded me of how many things we can tend to miss out on because we are so busy just focussing on the things immediately in front of us, and always doing things the same way, and going to the same places, that there is often little time or inclination to explore and find the hidden treasures that might be right under our noses.

I think I might have to make time to take walks up and down Sydney Road, to deliberately look for such places, and suss out what all the shops actually are, to really get to know my neighbourhood.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A gentle de-flowering

As of yesterday, I am no longer an Opera Virgin.

Thanks to the recommendation of some friends in Hobart, I was encouraged to see the Australian Opera's production of Rusalka, (a Czech opera by Dvorak) which is part of their current Melbourne season. This is the first fully staged opera performance I have ever experienced, having only seen either concert versions or semi-staged versions (ie pretty much concert versions, with some vague costuming) in the past.

I think I'm hooked.

This was a lush production, with amazingly creative use of colour, light and texture in the set and costumes, and I especially loved the fact that they characterised the witch, Jezibaba, as a sleek, foxy, scientist, complete with scary looking equipment, lab coat, high-heeled boots and a dominatrix-like attitude. She was so cool (as I think I have said before, you can take the girl out of Science, but you can't take the science nerd out of the girl! :-).

Rusalka, the main character, was also amazing... a stunning soprano voice, and beautiful, emotive portrayal.. just magic.

I am very glad that among my friends here at theological college, one of my
fellow candidates is a music graduate who loves opera. We have been to some MSO concerts together, and hopefully will get to some other operas and similar performances in the future (such as a local production of Masgagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, that I am keen to see later in the year).

And of course, being a student again means the ability to access the incredible bargains of "student rush" tickets for such events (yesterday we had seats in the "Premium Reserve" section of the theatre, which usually sell for $200, for only $44... what a bonus! :-).

It's also nice to have someone to go to concerts with. In the past, I subscribed to the TSO on my own, and had no qualms about attending concerts alone, since there would always be people I knew in the audience who I could chat with during interval or afterwards. Attending MSO concerts is a different kettle of fish. It feels a bit weird, actually, to look around Hamer Hall and not see familiar faces in the audience around me. So it's nice to have a companion to sit with and chat to about the music.