Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Do Presbyterian churches have campaniles?

I had never considered that important question until today.

I was at lunch with Anne and her two sisters.  And we all are culturally Presbyterian.

Anne and her sisters customarily have a Christmas get-together in between Xmas and New Year.  The day itself is reserved for other family committments.  Anne, for instance, went to TWO different occasions organized by two of her sons.  And I of course had a nice nap at Suz & Russell's place on the big day.

So we were gathered around the table at Anne's place eating some excellent coq au vin that Anne had prepared as a Xmas lunch.  Because Presbyterianism is hostile to alcohol, however, Anne had subsituted for the "Vin".  Instead she used stock, onions etc and the result was first class.  It actually had umami in my view. Which is high praise.  I haunt Japanese restaurants because of their mastery of umami.  And I did in fact that very night visit the "Sunny Doll" for my fix of Chicken Teriyaki Don.

But anyway Merle noted that they do have a bell-tower at the Presbo church she goes to at Wynnum -- but she also remarked that they just play recorded stuff from it.  Shameful!  A bell tower should have bells in it!   But then Anne remarked that our Ann St church has no campanile at all and hence no bells.

So my conclusion is that the old "Wee free" tradition (as at Ann St) is hostile to bells but maybe Church of Scotland is more flexible.  Old questions of theology and exegesis still have some influence.  I am delighted to know about that stuff.

I really like Wee Free (Free Church of Scotland) ways so I guess I am a born Puritan.  And in some ways I still live a Puritan life.  I live simply and give most of my money away, for instance. I have long ago given up teetotalling, however.

And when I used to go to the Ann St Church regularly (back in the 60s) I noted that there was a substantial British Israel sentiment in the congregation.  So when I hear Parry's magnificent setting of Blake's incomparable "Jerusalem". I know what that's all about.

Has the human imagination ever produced more magnificent and more memorable words than these?

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land

And yet those wonderful words stem from a now-obscure and always way-out religious doctrine.  There can be no doubt that religion can create great art -- arguably the greatest art of all.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Job lives

The book of Job (pronounced "Jobe") in the Bible tells us about a Godly man who enjoys great prosperity until the Lord strikes him down with various plagues.  Why did the Lord do that?  To test Job's faith.  Job survives the test, never cursing God but remaining devout through all his trials and tribulations.  As a reward the Lord restores Job's health and prosperity and makes him more prosperous than ever.  It's an important story for Christians with many lessons in it.  It tells them not to question God even when misfortune strikes,  It assures us that good times will come again.

I think of Job when I think of Von.  Von was born wise and has made a string of good decisions that has given her an idyllic life in NZ.  So what has happened?  The Lord has struck her down with a minor but disabling ailment that she has not been able to throw off yet. No doubt she will throw it off in time but, like the story of Job, it tells us not to envy anyone because no-one knows what the future holds.  And Job tells Von not to despair and that good times will return.  I hope that is of some comfort to her.

Von was brought up with no religion in her life but there are some important truths in religion.  Although I have been an unbeliever for all of my adult life, I still get a lot out of reading my Bible.  Everybody should read at least the Gospels.  They are simple stories of great events that have resounded down the ages.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A banner weekend

Except that it was not a weekend.  But the festive season is like that. On Christmas Eve, Anne cooked me lamb cutlets with salad. A favourite meal. Then on Boxing Day night she cooked me T-bone steaks with Diane sauce  -- which is the best BBQ sauce you have ever tasted.  It's a bottled sauce made by Beerenberg in South Australia so you might be able to get it from Woolworths.  It's a definite gastronomic discovery.

The next day (Saturday 27th) we had big traditional breakfasts at  the Phams in Buranda, followed by very rich Punjabi Doda Burfis  from a local Indian grocer for lunch.  The grocery is a big one so we had a walk around looking with wonder  at their multitudinous but totally unfamiliar products.  I bought some chutney and some South Indian pickles to try out.

We then went to the local Aldi to pick up a few things that I needed but we of course ended up coming away with a lot more than that.  Aldi is like that. That evening we visited the New Sing Sing -- a nearby high quality Chinese/Vietnamese  restaurant -- for supper.  It was good, as usual.  I had lemongrass chicken, as I usually do, and Anne had Chicken Chow Mein with added cashews

I had the pickles on my lunchtime ham sandwich today.  It was not my idea of pickles so I will keep it as an accompaniment to curry.  It definitely has the taste of India

Doda Burfi slices

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas day

Today Christians celebrate something very implausible -- the incarnation -- when the great God over all poured himself into the body of a baby and subsequently lived a life as a normal human being.  It takes a lot to believe that and the whole thing was a matter of great dispute among the early Christians. Jesus himself did after all say: "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28).

But along came Athanasius' Egyptian doctrine of the Trinity to quell disputes and to make some  sense of it all:  The doctrine of three persons in the one God. It's not a doctrine mentioned anywhere in Christian scripture  -- as I often point out -- but perhaps it is needed to make sense of the implausible.  That we cannot hope to understand Godhead is after all a reasonable claim.

Partly at urging from Anne, I attended a service at my local branch of the Church of England yesterday evening: Holy Trinity Anglican Church Woolloongabba.  It's a nice-looking church, and well-maintained

To my amazement, the church was full with a good cross-section of people . I rather liked that as I see Christianity as a civilizing influence.  I thought initially that most came simply for the Xmas carols  -- which were promised and delivered -- but it seems I was wrong.  It was a Communion service and almost all of the congregation went forward to get the biscuit.

Rev. Paschke's  sermon was pedestrian, with God "rolling up his sleeves" rather a lot  -- an image I could not get with at all.  But one expects an Anglican sermon to be inoffensive junk.  I just went there for the carols.

Given my very fundamentalist early life, there was a lot more Popery in the service than I liked but I guess that I am a bit of a dinosaur there.  "Popery" is probably condemned only in Northern Ireland these days

Anyway, after the service, which finished about 8pm, Anne made me a dinner of grilled lamb cutlets and salad, one of my favourite foods.

And for lunch today I went out to the family gathering at Suz & Russell's place.  Because so many of us were interstate or abroad, there were only 9 adults and 2 littlies present but it was still a pleasant occasion. The littlies certainly made up in volume for what they lacked in numbers, with Dusty in particular giving an exhibition of  perpetual motion.

I woke up earlier than usual (for me) so went straight out to the house.  I was the first to arrive at around 8am.  Suz had declared it an open house so that was OK, though.  I was the first  to arrive. It gave me the chance of a few chats with Russ.  My early rising did catch up with me, however,  I napped on a verandah couch for most of the time between morning tea and lunch.

We had lots of morning-tea food followed at lunchtime by a big leg of ham which was well cooked by Russell, with potato salad.  For the morning-tea finger food, Davey brought along some "piggies in blankets" -- small sausages wrapped in puff pastry -- which I particularly liked.  I think I had at least 6 of them.  Puff pastry and sausages are both definite weaknesses of mine.  And for dessert we had one of Maureen's excellent pavlovas.   I talked mainly with Russell and Jenny.

Secret Santa got me 7 bottles of Clayton's, which must have involved a bit of scouting around.  I drink a lot of it so it will soon go down.

 It's a surprisingly satisfying drink, though now very much out of fashion. Davey helped by carrying it downstairs for me.  Suz & Russell's house is built on very sloping ground and that seems to have required a rather long and steep entry staircase.  The position of the house is very good, however.  It has native bush on one side so we ate our food looking out at a native Australian forest of gum trees.  Like most Australians, I like our gum trees.

I was the Secret Santa for Jenny but in my usual way I forgot to bring the present with me.  Everyone is used to me being "Mr Forgetful", however, so no-one was surprised.  Jenny will drop in  to my place to pick it up when she is next over my way.

We also played our usual present-grabbing game -- out of which I got a bottle of red wine that looks good.

Some amusing bits:

We had all recently seen two very widely circulated videos which show you how to fold a shirt and how to fold a Japanese present.

Maureen  is a folder from way back so said that her method was very similar to the Japanese method -- which Ken, being Ken, immediately disagreed with.  Maureen was not oppressed, though.  She promptly handed Ken some paper and told him to show how it should be done.  Ken had a short attempt and them gave up.  He declared  that you can know when a thing is wrong even if you yourself do not know the right way.  That produced some hilarity, though it is of course correct.

Then Davey put his foot in it.  He is inclined to large claims so  he claimed that he could do the shirt folding.  Again Maureen put him on the  spot.  She found a kiddy shirt and told him to fold it.  Dave did not do well initially but eventually got a result that we passed. We had a lot of laughs

A restorative nap after early rising

And there was a Christmas across the water in NZ too.  And lots of us sent presents in acknowledgement.  Von has a big pictorial recollection of it on her blog but I thought I might put up a pic of the presents I sent over.  They arrived in a parcel on Christmas Eve so that was good timing. Jenny packed and posted it for me.  There is a colourful trowel for Hannah's garden activities, plus a moneybox in the form of an old pillarbox plus a kiddy-size dustpan and brush.  Hannah likes to have her own things.

The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner

In the wake of the two black deaths above, relations between American police and African-Americans have plummeted to a new low -- in part because of anti-police rhetoric from the likes of far-Leftist Bill de Blasio.  De Blasio has since tried to pull his horns in but the damage has been done.

Conservatives have cautiously exonerated the police involved in the deaths above but blacks have become fired up by the Leftist pot-stirring and two NYC police have now died as a result.  So I feel moved to say what little I can that might help the situation.

What I want to do here is to offer a couple of anecdotes in support of the view that civility towards the police will generally engender civility from the police.  When the Ferguson and NYC police were both confronted by two huge and un-co-operative blacks, the result was always going to be perilous but could have been much ameliorated by a more civil response from the blacks concerned.

My contact with American law enforcement is very minor but I do think my contact with the California Highway Patrol -- not exactly a much praised body of men  -- is instructive.  My contact occurred in the 1970s, when Jimmy Carter's reviled 55 mph speed limit still applied on American highways.  I was bowling along a Los Angeles freeway in my hired Ford Pinto at about the speed I would have used in Australia  -- 65 mph.  And I had with me my then-wife, a very fine Scottish woman aptly named "Joy"

A CHP patrol detected me and pulled me over.  The trooper approached me very cautiously, sticking close to the side of the Pinto and standing behind me instead of beside me.  He was obviously very tense.  But when he found that I was unaggressive and perfectly civil to him, he untensed rapidly.  The fact that I speak with an accent that Americans usually perceive as British may also have helped.  It helped explain my unawareness of California rules.  (For the phoneticans, my accent is Educated Australian).  We had a perfectly genial conversation at the end of which he waved me on my way without even giving me a ticket.

White privilege?  Not exactly.  Because something similar happened recently to me where I live in Brisbane, Australia -- a place where blacks are too few to influence policy.

I was approached by a Queensland cop when I had unwittingly made an illegal turn.  And Queensland cops are not exactly fragrant.  There are many bad apples among them.  Even the police Commissioner was sent to jail for corruption not long ago.

So the cop was initially brusque and supercilious with me.  When I showed that I was listening to him carefully by asking him to repeat something I had not understood, however, he became much more relaxed and we had a fairly genial conversation.  He saw it as his duty to give me a ticket but we ended up with him wishing me a Merry Christmas and pausing other traffic to facilitate my driving off.  Once again a civil and co-operative approach from me got exactly the same back.

These are only anecdotes but I think they feed into a general perception of what might have saved the lives of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.  There is an old saying that people are a mirror of ourselves.  There is a lot of truth in it.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Another visit to Sunny Doll

I thought it would be a good idea to introduce Suz, Russ and kids to Sunny Doll so I shouted them a dinner there tonight.  Suz, Joe and I had Teriyaki chicken Don but it is a smallish meal so I recommended the Japanese curry to Russ:  A big meal for a big man. For the kids I ordered Karaage (fried) chicken.  Everybody was of course impressed with the food, Russ particularly, I think.  Suz told me that she mostly cooks "meat and 3 veg" for dinner so the Japanese food would be a big contrast for Russ.  He tried a bit of the dinners that Suz and the kids had and liked them all.

The kids were wound up to have Joe present as he always plays with them.  I even played "get that tongue" with Sahara, which I also used to play with her mother long ago.

After the dinner Russ shouted us some Italian hot chocolate that the restaurant have recently added to their menu.  It was VERY thick.  Von would have loved it.  While we were drinking, the kids ran all around the restaurant in typical kiddy style.  Lucky there were no other diners present at that stage.

Dusty looked cute in his brown overalls

Monday, December 1, 2014

A rare birthday success

I am a brilliant buyer of birthday and Christmas presents -- if I get Jenny to select and buy the presents on my behalf.  I just give her a vague budget and she makes excellent choices.  All I do is pay the resultant credit card bill.  As Jenny enjoys shopping, that arrangement has continued for many years -- to the satisfaction of both of us -- and to the satisfaction of those who get the presents.  Jenny's recent selection of a kiddy cosmetics set for Sahara is a case in point.  It was a hit with Sahara.

On rare occasions, however, I do get a present idea that works well.  The time I gave Ken and the kids half a ream of A4 paper for Christmas was memorable, as was the time I gave Nanna a particular computer joystick she wanted as a 70th birthday prersent.  And I think a glass frog that I once  gave Anne went down well.  She likes frogs but doesn't like things to hop or scuttle.  A glass frog therefore seems just right.

And I think that one of my recent ideas has to be in the "rare success" category.  About 6 months ago I was walking through Woolworths and saw a bachelor's frypan -- a one-egg frypan -- for sale.  It looked rather cute so I bought it and later gave it to Von to be kept for Hannah's birthday.  The pictures below tell a graphic story, I think.

Von emailed me as follows:  "Hannah loved her little frypan you gave her for her birthday.  I have attached photos of her unwrapping her gift. Thanks again, it was very thoughtful as she really loves cooking"

A girl who loves cooking will go far.

I see that Hannah got a train set too. Both she and Sahara are very keen on trains -- largely because of Thomas the Tank Engine, I suspect