Archive for June, 2010

I’m amazed by what camera modes can bring to paintings and pictures.  This truly looks to me like a sunset and, if you look at it at different angles, the light seems to change – thanks camera!

The image and message I was trying to portray in this picture was one that Dallas Willard described in his book, ‘The Divine Conspiracy’.  It made a real impression on me then and has stuck with me ever since.  Hopefully you can work it out from piecing the pictures together.

‘pear juice’

‘apple juice’

‘The keeping of the law turns out to be an inherently self-refuting aim; rather, the inner self must be changed.  Trying merely to keep the law is not wholly unlike trying to make a pear tree bear apples by tying apples to its branches.’

Does it make any sense yet?!

Well, the idea is that if we simply decide to change our outward behaviour/appearance to make it ‘good’ (because God, society/parents/religion/the preacher etc tell us so) but continue on with the same old insides and heart, then we are like a pear tree trying to be an apple tree by simply pulling off the pears and tying apples onto its branches.

The only way for an apple tree to truly be an apple tree, is for it to be one on the inside, in its depths.   Then apples will naturally grow instead of pears.

If we are rooted and anchored firmly in God’s love (his Spirit?), then this love will flow up into us, will transform our insides and our hearts so that ‘good fruits’ can begin to blossom as a natural result of the person we really are (with our collaboration of course – the Spirit does not turn us into robots)!  And love fulfils the whole law.

So seemingly simple.  So true.

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Most of my life I’ve just believed I’m not a very ‘arty’ person.  Actually, that idea started properly at secondary school when I just could not seem to produce anything worth looking at.  I remember having to draw the corner of my living room for homework to learn perspective.  All I learned was how to use a ruler to draw something that looked totally unrealistic, and then use a rubber to within an inch of its life.  For those of you who have a gift for drawing, I can not tell you how annoying and frustrating it is to have an image in your head and not be able to translate it to the outside world.  At 14 my art teacher laughed at the idea of me doing art GCSE.  She gave me an awkward smile and passed by my desk.  Fair enough, I hadn’t displayed much talent in my lessons that’s for sure.

But recently I’ve been thinking.  At primary school I loved art and making things.  Besides, creativity is not just about drawing and painting.  I love to write, even down to the feel of a smooth pen in my hand as the ink sweeps out, so I faithfully went to school calligraphy club on Friday lunchtimes.  Cooking and baking are so much fun partly because of how beautifully you can decorate and present a dish (see cupcake post!).  I can’t for the life of me stop doodling extravagantly, and when I used to run a little group for teenage girls we were constantly creating some kind of mess with beads, paints, pottery and wot not and I loved it.  I even found out recently while watching ‘Child of our Time/ The Nation’s Personality Quiz’ that Scientists and researchers score highly in the characteristic of ‘openness’ because you have to think out of the box, be open to new ideas and be creative to do these careers.  Well, that put a little smile on my face (and a bit of encouragement in my soul!)

And anyway, most famous artists’ work doesn’t look anything like the thing it’s supposed to be but rather totally out of proportion, skewed and freakish.  Well, I can do that!  Maybe it’s not always so much about what it looks like but what the sentiments and ideas behind it are, what it’s trying to put across.

Whatever, I’ve been inspired to give myself a bit more time to do what can easily seem a frivolous pass time and so far I’ve really enjoyed it (’cause I’m in charge – no more living room corners!).  Nothing I’ve done is jaw-droppingly brilliant, I’m well aware of that, but that’s not the main point.  To kick off I thought ‘well, I love doodling, Hundertwasser’s colours and shapes and the universe, so let’s put them together’.  Here’s my first project………

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Over the last few years, my beliefs about God, Jesus, Christianity etc have changed a huge amount, so much so that it sometimes feels like a complete re-conversion.  The experience has made me wonder what other important perspectives and wisdom I am currently oblivious to but might one day ‘see’.  It’s really hard having all your ideas thrown in the air and then trying to put them together again somehow.  What you based your life on gets pulled out from under your feet and things become very insecure.  But a lot of good has come from it so far.

It all started with a niggle.  That niggle had probably been there all my life but a few years ago it suddenly erupted into my consciousness.  I couldn’t hide it anymore.  I think what it all boiled down to was my anger at God for being boss.  For being the one not only who gets to call the shots and demand all the honour, but who also enjoys the fact that he is supreme and dislikes anyone who tries to muscle in on that.  Obviously, deep down I knew it wasn’t this crude (and the God I knew more personally wasn’t like that really), but basically that was the nub of my frustration taken to its extreme.  You might think my thoughts were immature and dumb but I think that the underlying sentiment is what gets taught/implied in church a lot of the time, even if not in so many words.  I was sick of it.

But, I had this strong sense that Jesus kind of knew what he was talking about and had the key to life the way it was designed to be lived, as if he was in on a secret.  I felt compelled to read the story of Jesus from start to finish without stopping to try and understand him better.  So often bits of passages in the bible get picked out and read totally out of any context and if this doesn’t lead to outright errors, it often just isn’t helpful for understanding what was really going on.  So I picked Luke (seeing as he was a Dr and therefore somehow I trusted him more!), sat cross-legged on my bed after work and started plowing through.

What struck me undeniably was that Jesus constantly talked about his ‘Kingdom’ coming.  That seemed to be his message, which is quite different to the one that tends to get pushed in Christian circles, ie, that you are bad/do bad things and thus need to receive forgiveness from God, which you thankfully now can because Jesus has taken the punishment on the cross for you – eek!)  To be honest, that second message never made much sense to me.  When I was 14 I helped at a Christian holiday kids club at easter and we watched a cartoon of the easter story-Jesus’ crucifixion.  Afterwards the leader said to me that he could tell I was deeply moved by what God had done for me because of the look on my face during the cartoon.  Inside I was thinking ‘heck, I was distraught for poor Jesus but pretty mad at God for doing it to him.  And for thinking it should have been me.  But I’m glad you don’t know that!’

Anyway, back to Jesus constantly talking about his kingdom arriving….  I began to realise so many things more clearly and hope to explore these more in future blogs:

1,  When Jesus talked about a ‘kingdom’ coming, what he meant was that God’s rule was for once actually becoming established.  Where Jesus was speaking and acting things were getting done the way God always wanted them to, such as in healings and caring for the poor.

2,  This kingdom was not a ‘pie in the sky when you die’ one but a real physical one on this earth.  Therefore what you do here on earth is not just getting you ready to ‘go to heaven’ but is actually helping (or hindering) heaven (ie, God’s rule) coming to earth.  In a very real sense, God isn’t concerned about whether you have prayed a prayer to ask forgiveness and then gone on your merry way, but whether you are ‘giving a drink to the thirsty, visiting those in prison, caring for the sick’ as Jesus himself says.  What you do here really matters and will last on to eternity if it is in keeping with Jesus’ Kingdom.  NT Wright has written some fantastic stuff about this, a good starting point being his book, ‘Surprised by Hope’.

3,  The essence or ‘rule’ of this new kingdom all comes down to love.  However basic (and dull?) it sounds, I really started to have scales fall from my eyes on this and it excited me!  I mean, Jesus even says (later repeated much by Paul) that all the law and the prophets boil down to love.  In other words, you can read the entire Old Testament inside out and keep to all the big and little laws but it’s all only there in the first place to help us to love.  If you love, you have fulfilled the whole law – that’s mind blowing and totally liberating!  It also started to release me slowly from the fear that God is self-centred and interested in his own glory.

4,  To carry this point on a bit further, while Jesus is teaching people up on a mountainside, he says ‘you have heard it said “love your neighbour and hate your enemy.”  But I tell you:  Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your father in heaven.  He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax-collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect then as your heavenly father is perfect.’  Again, is this not mind-blowing?  I mean, firstly, the whole ‘eye for an eye’ thing and ‘love your neighbour, hate your enemy’ mentality comes from the Old Testament, from God.  So how come Jesus is suddenly overriding that?  More than that, he is actually saying that God loves and blesses unconditionally, regardless of whether someone deserves it or not, and if you don’t do that then you can not call yourself a child of God.  There is no family likeness!  But aren’t we used to assuming that God is ‘fair’ and ‘just’ so he repays according to how we act and what we deserve?  That if we do evil he will repay us with some kind of negativity?  Isn’t that what we think should happen?  Tit for tat.  It seems Jesus is equating God the Father’s perfection not with moral perfection and lack of any moral blemish, but with loving perfectly, unconditionally.

And don’t forget, Jesus knew full well about enemies, he wasn’t being naive and unrealistic.  He was talking to Jews who were at the time being ruled over (often barbarically) by the Romans, who were an occupying force.  Imagine Hitler winning WW2 and occupying Britain, it’s the same sort of scenario.  Jesus knew about real life enemies and was still saying ‘love them’.

5,  The reason I think God is able to act this way is because he realises firstly that trying to overcome darkness with darkness is just ridiculous and counter-productive.  But secondly, that fear and coersion may be able to curb and improve someone’s behaviour but they can not change someone on the inside.  Only love can do that.  Laws, coersion and punishment can stop you beating someone up but can’t stop you hating them and wanting to hurt them.  Fear of what others might think could stop you having an affair but wouldn’t stop you wanting to or day dreaming about it.  Jesus’ words focus so much on the importance of inner motivation and the type of character you have as opposed to how you’re seen to be behaving.  The unconditional love of God is the only thing that can affect inner change and free us to be able to love unconditionally as well.

6,  Therefore, laws become virtually obsolete.  If you really are filled up and perfused with love, you won’t need the law to tell you how to act because it will come much more naturally.  Laws are good in so far as they point you to how you should be acting, but they have no power to help you act this way.  This is a great example of this idea I heard from Greg Boyd (www.whchurch.org).  Imagine a man who is told that if he can convince a woman that he is a fantastic husband and to stay married to him for 5 years then he wins a million pounds.  This man then sets about finding out all about ways to act romantically, behave lovingly and generally convince a woman he is a great husband.  She marries him.  But eventually this woman of course begins to realise that this relationship is not real.  It’s too scripted and perfect.  There is no real love.  In actual fact, although her husband looks like a perfect husband, he really is only acting this way to gain money for himself.  He doesn’t really love her at all, it’s all about him.  This is sort of what it’s like when we behave morally but only so we can gain good things for ourselves such as a place in heaven or escape from punishment.  There is no real love or concern either for God or for others and it’s selfishly motivated.

7,  This difference between law and love is the difference between having a contract with someone and having a covenant with them.  God always makes covenants with us, not contracts.  But more on that later…………

These are some of the things that started to jump out at me as I read Luke and they’ve become almost like precious stones to me.  But they were only the beginning – man, it took me long enough to get there!  There’s lots more to talk about, some things that have brought clarity and others that have made things muddier again.  As my blogging goes on I want to explore these things, if only for my own sake, but I hope you find it helpful too!

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Over the last couple of weeks I feel like I’ve been pretending to be a bit of a ‘foodie’.  I say pretending because, although I love messing about with food and trying to cook, and I do get quite hooked on masterchef programmes, I don’t really know anything about the whole subject.  I’m an impatient cook and my attitude is usually ‘meh, I’ll just guesstimate this, it’ll be alright’.  And then it’s not.  I always put the icing on before the cake’s cooled down enough and it took me 4 attempts to realise putting water with chocolate in the microwave does the opposite of helping the chocolate to melt nicely.  I’ve also been known to put ryvita in the toaster to see what would happen.  What happened was 2 neat little flames leaping out the top of the toaster.

My foodie fortnight started with baking a chocolate cake for a colleague who was leaving work.  Great tip – if you want to cut a cake into layers but it’s not a very tall cake, make a shallow groove around the edge of the cake with a knife and then pull a piece of sewing thread through the cake – works a treat.

I had an impatient moment and whipped the cream too early.  Later I thought I’d just give it another whip to freshen it up and ended up over-beating it, leaving a mixture of butter and liquid (yes, I’m really not a food genius).  There’s not much you can do about that, but I learned that to stop it happening in the future I could add a couple of tablespoons of milk before whipping the cream (or just whip it once).

Anyway, the final thing looked and tasted great!

Then on bank holiday weekend I got cheap tickets to the Hampton Court food festival in London.  It was so much more fun than expected, there were hundreds of different products made by small companies and all of them were there to be tasted – ice cream, fudge, teas, energy drinks, sauces, curries, cheeses, olives…….. I watched Paul Merrett (‘The Allotment Chef’) in the cookery theatre, went to a gin tasting with a lady who was clearly bonkers about the stuff (?!!) (www.gintime.com) and a champagne tasting.  Feeling a bit light-headed I tried to focus while a Kitchen Queen took me through 4 meals in 10 minutes.  By the way, if you fancy having one on one cookery lessons at your own home tailored to your needs and wants, check out their website at www.kitchenqueen.co.uk

I bought a beautiful little plate with small ceramic spikes on it, which grates down garlic, ginger root, nuts and a lot more really easily, almost creating a paste in seconds – amazing!  And no cut fingers!

To top it off I found a stall selling all manner of cake baking stuff and got hooked on the idea of recreating the beautiful cupcakes they had on display.  So I bought a pot of rainbow dust glitter, coloured silicone cupcake cases and a few different rice paper decorations, and got to work at home.

It was hard going, especially piping that darn butter icing.  It was either too buttery and gooey, just oozing everywhere and keeping no shape, or it was too stiff and gave me pins and needles in my thumb trying to squeeze it out.  Still, I’m so pleased with the results.  Look at these gorgeous, colourful, sunny beauties!!

They just remind me of tea parties and happy childhood moments!

But, if you really want to see someone who knows what they’re doing when it comes to food, then check out my friend Rachel Khoo’s websites at http://www.rachelkhoo.com and http://www.rkhooks.net

Rachel studied art at St Martin’s in London and then went to study patisserie in Paris.  She now puts art and food together and creates amazing and visually stunning meals, which are more like events.  More recent ventures include ‘Edible Tales’ where Rachel tells a story, often to do with a location’s history, through the food she is serving.  At a retelling of the fall of the Berlin wall Rachel cooked 2 meals typical of East and West Germany and, part way through the meal, a wall went up to divide the guests in to 2 groups.  If they liked the look of the other side’s food, they could barter for it.  Now she’s a real foodie!

Or, if you’re like me, you can just go along to the Regent’s Park food festival (see www.tastefestivals.com/london ) and taste everything you can lay your hands on!

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Today was one of those days where I actually got the time to sit and eat my lunch while not working, AND it was sunny and hot – double bonus.  I went and sat on a bench in the small public garden outside the local priory church (one of the 2 only nice spots in the town where I work, but the other one has been relegated to second favourite since I got pooped on by the ridiculous numbers of pigeons there – put me right off my Subway).

As I was basking in the sun and taking care not to lose olives, sweetcorn and lettuce out of the bottom of my Subway with each bite, the church bells started ringing in the way they do after a wedding ceremony.  Everyone on the other benches looked up with some sudden interest too.  After about 5 minutes of the bells pealing, I started to think what a happy, celebratory sound it was.  But more than that, what really struck me was that this sound was ringing out across the whole of the town.  You don’t get bells at weddings very often anymore but the tradition must have started as a way of letting everyone in the town know, regardless of whether they were friends or family, that a couple had got hitched and were starting a new life together.  It’s as if everyone should be involved and that this is good news for the whole community.  This couple finding love adds some more love to the universe.  This couple building a solid base together is putting another piece into the foundation of the community.  At the risk of being over-spiritual, this couple is in some way participating in the point of everything!

The bible talks lots about Jesus being our ‘bridegroom’, about us ultimately being joined with him, about God adopting us into his family so his family-spirit becomes our family-spirit, and there being a wedding celebration.  More than this, it promises that one day God’s space (‘heaven’) will be fully united with our space (‘earth’) and that that will be when love and wholeness and joy permeate and illuminate and flow through everything – a  real marriage.  For now we just sometimes get glimpses of the overlap between the 2 worlds and true love in marriages is part of that.  The bells express the excitement so well, as if they can’t contain it!

The bells today also reminded me of Switzerland, the country my mum is from and I love so much.  The church bells ring there each hour!  The bells in my grandparents’ village of Gelterkinden toll for every funeral too as a sign of respect for the deceased.  Again, the clanging resounds across the whole town, as if every person is involved even if they didn’t know the person who has died, as if everyone should know about what has happened, should pause and grieve for a moment because the loss is a loss to all.  The bells speak of community, how we’re each connected to the other and affected by what befalls him or her.  I feel a rendition of the famous ‘no man is an island’ poem by John Donne coming on!

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

The bells also brought to mind a plaque I read recently in the pigeon-pooping area of the town.  It was explaining the history of the park there and noted that in Victorian times the local factories closed down once or twice a year for a day of games and fun in the park for the entire work-force.  Food and entertainment was provided for free by the factory owners.  Now, I’m definitely not imaging those factories were the nicest and most caring places to work, but the idea of closing them all down and ceasing production for a day of random fun does conjure a real sense of community, even at the financial cost of a couple of days’ work lost.  I could just picture it going ahead on the grass before me.  Man, I really hope I hear those bells again soon.

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