Saturday, September 30, 2006

Diamonds and Oranges

After the ship the Titanic sank, one of the survivors told about a woman who had been allotted a place in a lifeboat. She said, “Can I go back to my room?” The sailor said, “Yes, you have got three minutes.”

The woman hurried along the corridors of the sinking ship. She saw people snatching at their jewelry as they ran. When she got to her room she took no notice of the jewelry and other treasures. Instead she snatched at three oranges and she took them back to the lifeboat. An hour before it would have been incredible to that woman that she would have preferred even a whole crate of oranges to one small diamond but destruction had boarded the Titanic and with one awful blast all her values where transformed.

Precious things became worthless, worthless things became precious, oranges were more important that diamonds.

Geoff Pound

Image: Precious oranges

Friday, September 29, 2006

Newness From The Rubbish

Maria Sherwood was born in Sussex England in 1799. At the age of 19 she married Thomas Smith and in 1838 they both migrated to Australia.

In 1855 and 1856, Thomas and Maria Smith bought a farm around Eastwood, New South Wales where they became orchardists. They specialized in raising different types of fruit one of which became known as the Granny Smith.

The earliest account of the origin of the Granny Smith appeared in the Farmer and Settler of 25 June 1924, in an article by Herbert Rumsey, a Dundas orchardist and local historian. He interviewed local fruit-grower Edwin Small who recalled that in 1868 he and his father had been invited by Maria to examine a seedling apple growing by a creek on her farm. She explained that the seedling had developed from the remains of some French crab apples grown in Tasmania.

It is amazing how such a firm and fresh variety of apple emerged from the discarded crab apples thrown onto the rubbish heap.

In Eastwood Australia they still celebrate this new fruit and tell this story about worthwhile things emerging from that which others think is refuse.

Image: Granny Smith

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Right Diagnosis

One of the most interesting writers of childrens’ stories in recent times is Roald Dahl.

In his book about his own life, entitled “Boy”, he tells how his father, as a young man, slipped and fell off the roof and broke his left arm just below the elbow. Someone called the doctor and when the doctor showed up he didn’t realize the arm was broken and he decided Mr. Dahl had a dislocated shoulder. He said, “Don’t worry, we’ll soon put this back into place.” So he called two neighbors and they held the patient around the waist and the doctor grabbed him by the wrist of the broken arm and shouted, “Pull! Pull as hard as you can!”

It sounds rather painful! The victim screamed but by this time the damage had been done and a splinter of bone was sticking out through the skin.

This happened back in 1877 and because orthopedics then wasn’t what it was cracked up to be, they simply amputated the arm at the elbow.

It is a good thing to have the correct diagnosis before we start into the treatment.

Source: Boy.

Image: Cover of Boy.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I Want Real Human Moments

One of the many great monologues in the contemplative, existential, experimental film Waking Life is Soap Opera Woman's (Tiana Hux) response to bumping into The Dreamer (Wiley Wiggins) and explaining her need for human interaction:

"Hey, could we do that again? I know we haven't met, but, I don't wanna be an ant, ya know? I mean, it's like we go through life with our antennas bouncing off one another continuously on 'ant autopilot' with nothing really human required of us. 'Stop,' 'Go,' 'Walk here,' 'Drive there.' All action basically for survival. All communication simply to keep this ant colony buzzing along in an efficient, polite manner. 'Here's your change,' 'Paper or plastic?', 'Credit or debit?', 'Do you want ketchup with that?'

“I don't want a straw. I want real human moments. I want to see you. I want you to see me. I don't want to give that up. I don't want to be an ant. Ya know?”

Source: Film- Waking Life, 2001.

Image: "I don't wanna be an ant."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Fighting For Rights

There is a powerful speech of defiance in the 2001 film Ali.

In this film on the life of the famous boxer Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali (played by Will Smith) gives his reason for refusing to serve in Vietnam:

"I ain't draft dodging. I ain't burning no flag. I ain't running to Canada. I'm staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I've been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but I ain't going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people.”

“If I want to die, I'll die right here, right now, fightin' you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality.”

“Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won't even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won't even stand up for my right here at home."

Source: Ali.

Image: The boxer.

Monday, September 25, 2006

New Boreham Books in the Pipeline

Press Release: New Books By F W Boreham

New Boreham Publishing Initiative
Michael Dalton (USA) and Geoff Pound (UAE) have teamed up to establish John Broadbanks Publishing. Both enthusiasts of the writings of Boreham their dismay at the general unavailability of these writings due to their being out of print has led to this exciting decision.

Despite a resurgence of interest in the life and books of Dr F W Boreham no contemporary publisher has yet been willing to risk republishing the books of a preacher and essayist who has been in his grave for almost 50 years.

Prolific Writer
F W Boreham lived in England, New Zealand and Australia between 1871 and 1959. He authored 55 books, wrote 3,000 editorials in major papers and was a premiere preacher. Epworth Press, which published and reprinted most of the Boreham books said his book sales went into the millions and that “Boreham was the biggest catch since John Wesley.” He was introduced at an international conference of pastors in 1936 as “the man whose name is on all our lips, whose books are on all our shelves and whose illustrations are in all our sermons.”

First Book
This new vision is to republish some of the Boreham books that are not only out of print but are exceedingly scarce in the second hand market. The first reprint will be Boreham’s tribute to his mentor. It was first printed in 1948 with the title The Man Who saved Gandhi and will be given the new title Lover of Life: F W Boreham’s Tribute to His Mentor.

It is hope this book will be available by the end of 2006. Further information has been posted and will be added at the following site F W Boreham On Mentoring.

Further Books Planned
The plan also involves repackaging some of the Boreham essays and sermons into two new books, The Best Essays of F W Boreham and The Best Stories of F W Boreham.

It is hoped these books will emerge in 2007. Further information has been posted and some of the stories will be added to the following site The Best Stories of F W Boreham.

Michael and Geoff are grateful to have the permission of Whitley College which has held the copyright to Boreham books since this was passed over by the Boreham family in 1996. A proportion of any profits arising from this new publishing venture will continue to be donated to Whitley College for the training of pastors and missionaries, two ministries that were dear to the heart of F W Boreham.

As this is a ‘self-publishing’ activity donations are being sought to assist in the seeding of this venture.

If you would like to invest in this exciting project you can donate money by writing your check, payable to ‘Michael Dalton’ and send to:

Michael Dalton
2163 Fern Street
Eureka, CA 95503

The selection process of the best essays and stories is happening now. If you would like to put in a recommendation for a favorite essay or a story to be included in the new books do write to Geoff Pound

If you desire more information or if you would like to register your interest in purchasing these books do write to
Michael Dalton at or
Geoff Pound at

Geoff Pound
Michael Dalton

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Handles and Humans

The Japanese author, Kosuke Koyama, once addressed a gathering in New Zealand.

He remarked that most things—car doors, coffee mugs and lunch boxes—all have handles.

Koyama then got a child to come to the front and he asked the child, “Where’s your handle?” Taking the child’s arm he asked, “Is this your handle?” Pointing to the child’s nose he said, “Is this your handle?”

After a humorous examination with the child they both arrived at the conclusion that “Children don’t have handles. Human beings are not made with handles.”

Only things have handles. Handles are there so we can use things. Children are not things. Humans are not things. Human beings are not to be used like things.

Geoff Pound

Source: Thanks June!

Image: Child without a handle

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Most Memorable Graduation Speech

John Claypool tells the following story about one of Sir Winston Churchill’s famous speeches:

“Back in 1965 something happened that has never happened, I'm told, before or since.
There was a commencement address given at a university in the central [part] of England that is remembered by everybody there verbatim. Can you imagine? Most commencement addresses are easily forgotten. Most of them are platitudinous, and you just sit there hoping to get through as quickly as possible."

"But at one moment in history, a graduation address was given that everybody there remembers word for word. The speaker was Winston Churchill. By this time he was a very old man, very feeble of body. He'd been asked to give this address, and they had to help him up on the stand because he was so weak. In fact it was the last time he ever appeared in public. When he was introduced, they had to help him to the podium, and those there said that he stood there for a long time gripping the podium. They weren't even sure he had strength enough to speak."

"But then, they said, he lifted that great head of his and that voice that had called England back from the very brink of despair during World War II, that great voice said the last public words that he'd ever utter. And do you know what they were? 'Never, never give up. Never give up.' And with that, he just turned around and took his seat."

"They said he was absolutely electric. If you know Churchill's career, time and again he'd been knocked to the ground by failure. Time and time again when it would have been easy to give up. Time and time again when he could have become complacent. But he continued to press toward the mark for the prize.”

Source: John Claypool

Image: Winston Churchill

Friday, September 22, 2006

Pace of Life

A father once found this note pinned to the bulletin board by the telephone:

"Dad, I'm going to wash my hair.

If Tom calls, tell him to call back at 8.

If Brian calls and Tom doesn't, tell Brian to call back at 8.

But if they both call, tell Brian to ring at 8.15 or 8.30.

If Tim calls and Tom and Brian don't, tell Tim to call at 8, but if they both call i.e. Tom or Brian or one calls, tell Tim to call at 8.30 or 8.45,

Signed Tina!”

Know any teenagers who travel thru life at that sort of pace?

Geoff Pound

Image: Pace of Life

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Invaluable in Small Parts

Several years ago there was a spate of premature obituaries.

A Republican, [Bob Stump], stood up in the American Congress and announced that Bob Hope had died. A hush fell on Capitol Hill followed by several solemn tributes. The trouble was, or the pleasant truth was, that Hope was at home in Los Angeles, munching his breakfast.

When the fact became known mourning gave way to mirth. His daughter said he was fine and people began quoting Jesse Jackson's famous line: "Keep Hope alive!" "Keep Hope alive!"

Then a week or two later, the news rippled across the stock exchange that Australia’s Kerry Packer had died. But, Kerry was in London doing business between polo matches. A spokesperson said, "The rumours are totally unfounded and that Packer was annoyed—how would you feel if somebody thought you were dead?"

Sometimes such mistakes have evoked humour as when Mark Twain said, "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

Sometimes they've led to a change of lifestyle. When an obituary was mistakenly inserted for Alfred Nobel instead of his relative, Alfred was shocked to see himself described as the explosives baron.

He didn't want to be remembered for inventing dynamite or sparking international warfare! So he set about investing his fortune in the most highly regarded award so that his name would always be associated first and foremost with the Nobel peace prize.

One other occasion, the American actor Charles Brookfield opened up the paper to read his own obituary. Again someone hadn't checked the facts. It was a salutary experience for there was one line he never forgot. His obituary read: "Charles Brookfield was never a great actor, but he was invaluable in small parts!"

I don't know whether Brookfield was flattered or flawed by this tribute but sometimes it seems that effective living is exclusively and wrongfully portrayed by the Hamlets and the Lears—in terms of the great actors playing out on some grand stage.

Geoff Pound

Image: Premature Obituary

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

People of the Commas

The United Church of Christ in the USA has the interesting (and for some people controversial) motto, 'God is still speaking.' Some people take umbrage with this statement feeling that God has spoken in the Bible, full stop.

Ron Buford, of the national office of the UCC , was wondering, “How could we state simply the gist of who we are, our uniqueness on the religious scene?” One night it came to Ron, the phrase, “God is still speaking,” capturing the idea that our faith is dynamic, growing, open to new truths, not settled on one orthodoxy.

Ron soon uncovered an old quote from Gracie Allen, the comedian married to George Burns. As she was dying, she wrote her husband a letter in which she said, “George, never place a period where God has placed a comma.” In other words, it’s not over. My death will not be the end of things, not for you, not for me, not for us. It’s only a comma, not a period. The perfect text for a church that believes that 'God is still speaking.'

It is a good thing to reflect on what it means to be a people of the comma!

Geoff Pound

Source: Rich Smith, ‘Good News From the Still Speaking God.’

Image: Comma

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

No Full Stop

"When is an ending not an end? When a dead man rises from the tomb, and when a Gospel ends in the middle of a sentence." So writes Lamar Williamson about the end of Mark’s Gospel. "The women went out from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; they said nothing to anyone, they were afraid for..."

In her address about this never ending Biblical story Dr Cynthia Campbell writes: “That’s how it reads in Greek, ending the sentence and the Gospel with a preposition. The most important story of the Christian faith just stops and the end just hangs out there. And we are left waiting, unresolved.”

“The English translation solves that problem by moving the preposition: ‘They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’ That solves the problem with the sentence, but not with the Gospel. Several ancient versions of the Gospel attempted to solve this problem by adding another ending. You will see those printed in your Bibles. But the style of writing is so different that you can tell, even in English, that these were added by another hand, by someone who wanted to make Mark’s Gospel sound like the others, by someone who wanted an end. Even back then, there was some editor who was saying: ‘We can’t have this. We need a conclusion! We need to wrap this up so that, to mix the media metaphor, we can bring up the background music, roll the credits and let people leave with a good feeling about this.’ We can’t have: ‘they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid!’”

“But obviously, they did. They told someone, who told someone, who told someone else, who told a lot of people, because 40 years later Mark is writing this Gospel. And nearly 2,000 years later here we are believing and sharing it.”

“But maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe this story has no end, at least not yet. Perhaps this awkward sentence with its preposition at the end is Mark’s way of saying: ‘This story isn’t over because now it’s your story and mine.’ This is something like one of those plays where the audience gets to vote on how the play ends after a break in the action. Only in this case, it’s the audience that gets to live the end.”

“When is an ending not an end? When the end is just the beginning of a story about eternal and abundant life. Amen.”

Source: Dr Cynthia Campbell on Thirty Good Minutes

Image: St Mark

Monday, September 18, 2006

Never Ending Story

Story tellers like Agatha Christie, O’Henry, Jeffrey Archer, Dan Brown and J K Rowling have been popular because they keep you turning the pages and they are experts at writing conclusions.

Italian folk tales, like good parables, often end in the most unexpected ways. Sometimes writers use red herrings (that lead readers to guess an incorrect outcome), other times there are cliff hangers (leading us to ask, ‘Whatever is going to happen?’) and often there is the deus ex machina technique in which there is an unexpected resolution to an unsolvable situation.

In James Joyce’s last novel Finnegan Wake he ends in mid-sentence. There’s no punctuation. There’s no full stop. It just ends with the sentence incomplete. There’s not even an explanation. When asked about the oddities in his books like this one he said, “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing out what I meant and that’s the only way of ensuring one’s immortality.”

What does it mean for a book to have no ending? It may be the novelist’s way of indicating the unending cycle of life or the novel’s plot. It may be a way of saying it keeps on happening. Or, it is his way of saying, “You’ve got to draw your own conclusions.”

The book is not incomplete for it simply reconnects us to the beginning just as the Bible doesn’t drop us at the end but its vision of a garden makes a continuous circle.

T S Eliot put it this way: “In the end is my beginning.” (Four Quartets)

Geoff Pound

Image: James Joyce ‘ensuring his immortality

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Asking Questions

A young girl was going for a drive in the countryside with her father and as they went she was asking him questions.

Looking out her side of the car she said, "Daddy what do you think they're growing in those fields out there?" And he looked across and noticing the green shoots he said, "I don't exactly know."

A few kilometres on they drove through some hill country and she asked, "How high is that mountain over there? And Dad peered through the windscreen and said, "Awww I couldn't be sure."

Further down the road they passed a lake and the daughter piped up again and she said, "How deep is that water?" He glanced down and with a look of hesitation he said, "It's hard to say."

Then the little girl said, "Daddy, you don't mind me asking these questions do you?"
He said, "Of course not. How else will you ever learn!?"

Geoff Pound

Image: Asking questions.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Forgetting The Point

A young couple had just got married and to celebrate they bought a large ham.

They were a liberated couple who did the cooking together but the husband was rather shocked to see his new wife cutting off both ends of good meat before they started cooking it.

He said: “Why are you doing that?”
She said: “I don’t know, this is the way my mother always prepares a ham.”

The man was intrigued and next time they were around at the in-laws place, he said to his mother-in-law:

“Tell me, why do you cut off both ends of a ham before cooking it?”

She said: “I don't know, that’s the way my mother always cooked a ham.”

By this time the young man was really curious and the next time they were at grandma’s place, he asked her the same question:

“Grandma, why do you cut off both ends of a ham before cooking it?”

And she said, “Oh, the answer to that is very simple.....
That’s the only way it will fit in my pan!”

Many things starts out with a specific purpose, but over the years they become routine until we are just going through the motions without the slightest idea of what we are doing and why we are doing them.

Geoff Pound

Image: Ham fitting in the pan.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Answer Is In Our Hands

An old man was often sought out for advice and he was greatly admired for his wisdom.

One day a young man thought he would be smart and outwit the sage. He found a small bird that had fallen out of its nest and grasping it in his hand he decided he would say to the man, "Is this bird dead or alive?"

His trick was that if he said, “Its alive,” he would give it a quick squeeze and show him the dead bird. But if he said it was dead, he would open his hand and let the bird fly away. Either way he would be right.

He approached the man with the bird and asked:
“Mr Wise Man, is this bird dead or alive?”

Without looking at his hand the old man replied:
“It is whatever you want it to be.”

On so many issues of life and death, growth and decline it is a matter of whatever we want them to be.

Geoff Pound

Image: Bird in the hand

Thursday, September 14, 2006

If I Had My Life Over Again

In his book The Shoes of The Fishermen, Morris West relays a conversation between two cardinals who had gathered to elect a new Pope.

Cardinal Rinaldi said, "What would you do if you had to begin again?"

"I've thought about it often," said Leone heavily.

"If I didn't marry—and I'm not sure but that's what I needed to make me half human—I'd be a country priest with just enough theology to hear confession and just enough Latin to get through Mass and the sacramental formulae. But with heart enough to know what griped in the guts of other men and made them cry into their pillows at night.

I'd sit in front of my church on a summer evening and read my office and talk about the weather and the crops and learn to be gentle with the poor and humble with the unhappy ones.... You know what I am know? A walking encyclopaedia of dogma and theological controversy. I can smell out an error faster than a Dominican. And what does it mean?
Nothing. Who cares about theology except the theologians? We are necessary but less important than we think. The church is Christ—Christ and people. And all the people want to know is whether or no there is a God and what is His relationship with them and how they can get back to Him when they stray."

"Large questions," said Rinaldi gently, "not to be answered by small minds or gross ones."

Leone shook his lion's mane stubbornly.
"For the people, they come down to simplicities!
Why shouldn't I covet my neighbour's wife?
Who takes the revenge that is forbidden to me?
And who cares when I am sick and tired and dying in an upstairs room?
I can give them a theologian's answer. But whom do they believe but the man who feels the answers in his heart and bears the scars of their consequences in his own flesh?
Where are the men like that?
Is there one among all of us who can wear the red hat?

Source: Morris West, The Shoes of The Fisherman, Heinemann, London 1963, pp6-7

Image: The red hat.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What You Don't Know Won't Hurt You?

Some people think that ignorance is bliss, if we don't know then, ‘No worries.’

I wonder if you heard about that famous Mexican bank robber, Jorge Rodrigiez? He operated along the Mexican border and was so successful that the Texan rangers assigned an extra guard to stop him.

Late one afternoon, one of these rangers saw Jorge slipping stealthily across the Rio Grande and he followed him to his home village. The ranger watched Jorge mingle with the people in the square and then relax in his favorite cantina.

The ranger slipped into the cantina and managed to get the drop on Jorge and with a pistol to his head he said:
"I know who you are, Jorge Rodriguez, and I have come to get back all the money you have stole from the banks in Texas. Give it to me or I will pull the trigger and blow your head off!"

Now, there was one problem. Jorge didn't speak English and the ranger didn't speak Spanish, but fortunately another chap piped up and he said:
"I'm bilingual. Shall I translate?"

The ranger happily agreed and the interpreter put his ultimatum in terms that Jorge could understand.

Nervously, Jorge answered: "Tell the big Texan ranger that I haven't spent a cent of the money and if he'll go to the town well, face north, count down five stones, he'll find a loose one. If he pulls it out, he'll find all the money. Please tell him quickly."

The interpreter thought for a while then, with a solemn look he turned to the ranger and said: "Jorge Rodriguez is a very brave man. He says he is ready to die!!"

Source: John Claypool, The Preaching Event.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Give It Away

Sheila Cassidy says,

“If we are foolish enough to attempt to feed the 5000 we will learn the truth of the saying, ‘Love is like a basket of loaves and fishes – you never have enough until you start to give it away’.”

Image: Loaves and fish

Monday, September 11, 2006

When In Doubt...

I walked by a shop in Venice and was lured by this sign that read: “When in doubt, take a bath.”

The statement was attributed to the American actor, Mae West.

I thought that’s a deep reflection in a shop called Lush that sells cosmetics supposedly to “transfer the bath from a merely functional occupation into an art form.”

I have heard the prescription to ‘take a cold shower’ given to douse certain ailments but to take a bath is a novel suggestion for dealing with one’s doubts.

I haven’t been able to track down the context of Mae West’s quotation but I suspect her original reference didn’t have the depth that I might be attributing to it.

I was brought up to regard doubting as bad and there were many hymns and sermons that reinforced this viewpoint. Over the years I have been helped to see doubt as something positive and normal, by such authors as Os Guinness Doubt: Faith in Two Minds and now republished as God in the Dark, my friend Frank Rees in Wrestling with Doubt and Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking.

Doubt is not the same as unbelief. It is a midway point between belief/faith and unbelief. Doubt is like a coin flicked in the air—heads or tails? It is a state of unknowing in which we think, brood, cogitate and pray in the hope that we will come to some resolution.

I love Buechner's discussion of faith and doubt: “If you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it alive and moving.”

Mae West may have been trying to dissolve her doubts. Doubts are best addressed by viewing them honestly, accepting them gratefully and wrestling with them patiently.

Doubts are good. Don’t try to drown your doubts. Save water. Doubts are a sign that we are alive and growing.

Geoff Pound

Image: ‘When in doubt, take a bath.’

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Learning To Listen

The author Max Lucado writes:

"A friend of mine married an opera soprano. She loves concerts. Her college years were spent in the music department, and her earliest memories were of keyboards and choir risers. "

"He, on the other hand, leans more toward Monday Night Football and country music. He also loves his wife, so on occasion he attends an opera. The two sit side by side in the same auditorium, listening to the same music, with two completely different responses. He sleeps and she weeps."

"I believe the difference is more than taste. It’s training. She has spent hours learning to appreciate the art of music. He has spent none. Her ears are Geiger-counter sensitive. He can’t differentiate between staccato and legato. But he is trying. Last time we talked about the concerts, he told me he is managing to stay awake. He may never have the same ear as his wife, but with time he is learning to listen and appreciate the music."

"… equipped with the right tools, we can learn to listen…”

Source: Max Lucado, Just Like Jesus (Nashville: Word, 1998).

Image: Concert Music

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Things Caught Rather Than Taught

Entire TV commercials - perhaps you've seen them - have been based on the premise that some people and their pet dogs share a resemblance. Hmmm, well, maybe.

But what to make of the claim coming now from some farmers in England that the more time they spend with their cows, the more the cows mimic their regional accent?”

Take Lloyd Green, for example. A member in good standing of the West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers Group, he told journalists:

“My Friesians ... definitely moo with a Somerset drawl. I've spoken to the other farmers in the group and they have noticed a similar development in their own herds.”

Describing the local dialect a year ago for the BBC, Somerset author Roger Evans wrote that "vowel sounds gain an 'r.'" Thus, "moo" would be heard there as "moo-rr." Good journalists normally appeal to experts for their opinions on such theories, and this case is no exception. So?

Apparently, they tend to agree. Said John Wells, a professor of phonetics at University College, London: “This phenomenon is well attested in birds. You find distinct chirping accents in the same species around the country. This could also be true of cows.

Source: This posting is from the Christian Science Monitor
Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Image: Moo-rr

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

"How I Got To Be A Success!"

The author and contemplative, Thomas Merton once told this story:

“A few years ago a man who was compiling a book on Success wrote and asked me to contribute a statement on how I got to be a success. I replied indignantly that I was not able to consider myself a success in any terms that had a meaning to me. I swore I had spent my life strenuously avoiding success. If it happened that I had once written a best-seller that was a pure accident, due to inattention and naiveté, and I would take very good care never to do the same again.”

“If I had a message to my contemporaries, I said, it was surely this: be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success.”

“I heard no more from him, and I am not aware that my reply was published with the other testimonials.”

Image: Thomas Merton

Source: James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God Through Awareness of the True Self (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1978) 54. he draws the quote from Thomas Merton, “Learning to Live”, in University on the Heights, ed. W First (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1969) text used for private circulation, 7.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

An Aussie Icon? Crikey!

Icons used to be the preserve of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Those who ‘write’ icons and admire them say that not every icon has significance for them and even in the iconic tradition there are people for whom icons leave them cold. For others, ‘reading’ icons helps them to see and know more.

If Google is anything to go by the biggest trade these days is not in the religious representations of Jesus or Madonna but in the downloadable icons available on our computer screens. These digital images that first appeared in 1982 on the Star computers symbolize and call to mind familiar objects such as magnifying glasses, printers and recycling bins.

In the 1950s the term icon came to mean a person or a thing regarded as being a symbol of a culture or a movement. Like the religious icon, a ‘cultural icon’ might be a person considered worthy of admiration and respect.

Steve Irwin, who died tragically on Monday 4 September, is being hailed as ‘an Australian icon’. Many Aussies cringed when Irwin, was used by the media to serve as a representative, or as Prime Minister called him ‘a face of Australia’ but as with all icons, Irwin offered a glimpse into the Australian love of the larrikin and the bush.

The Brits this year have had an icon contest that they called ‘the Great Britain Design Quest’. The public was asked to vote for their favorite British design icon since 1900. People relished the opportunity to contribute and they voted in their thousands. The icon that came out on top was the Concorde and others in the top 25 list included the Mini, the Phone kiosk, the E Type Jag and the Dr Martens Boot. The good icons are those ‘pictures’ that stir pride and give people a sense of ownership—‘Yes, that’s us!’

It’s good to reflect on the things and the people where we live who are icons for they give us a glimpse into our identity, our values and what glues us together.

Geoff Pound

Image: Steve Irwin, ‘lovable larrikin’

Monday, September 04, 2006

Agassi's Tribute to the Crowds

“The scoreboard said I lost today,” Andre Agassi told the crowd. “But what the scoreboard doesn’t say is what it is I have found. Over the last 21 years, I have found loyalty. You have pulled for me on the court and also in life.

“I found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed, sometimes even in my lowest moments. And I’ve found generosity. You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I could never have reached without you. Over the last 21 years, I have found you, and I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life.”

Andre Agassi to the crowd on 3 September 2006, US Open, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Queens.

Photo: Thanks to Robert Caplin

Possessing or Possessed?

A. S. Byatt’s Booker Prize winning book, Possession, is a fascinating novel published in 1990 and was transformed in 2002 into a film.

The story is about two scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. From the discovery of letters they work like literary Sherlock Holmes, unearthing details about the love that developed between the Victorians and becoming entwined with each other in the process.

In an insightful article on the book’s origins and title Byatt said the idea came to her in the sixties. She writes, “I thought of it in the British Library, watching that great Coleridge scholar, Kathleen Coburn, circumambulating the catalogue. I thought: she has given all her life to his thoughts, and then I thought: she has mediated his thoughts to me. And then I thought ‘Does he possess her, or does she possess him? There could be a novel called Possession about the relations between living and dead minds.’"

‘Does he possess her, or does she possess him?’ This is a good question to be asked not only by scholars, historians and writers but by worshippers seeking to track down God, passionate believers and (re)searchers of faith.

Geoff Pound

Image: Possession, the book.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Endless Quiz

Everlasting Explorers
At an auction in Hobart F W Boreham observed the titles of six bundles of books and asked the auctioneer whether he could take one book from each pile. His request for these six classics was declined.

From this experience of intitially feeling saddled with thirty books that he did not want but in which he later found many to be “charmers of the soul”, he warned against settling into ruts, sticking with pet themes and spurning new interests.[1]

He urged communicators “to be always forcing your minds along unfamiliar tracks, to be constantly breaking fresh ground, to be everlastingly exploring new worlds”.[2]

Like a Dog on a Country Road
Boreham believed that one’s sense of adventure was closely related to the development of curiosity. Describing life as “the endless quiz”, it is interesting to note that his editorial that appeared in the Mercury on the Saturday immediately following his death bore this title and commenced with his words, “From the cradle to the grave man is an animated note of interrogation, the growth of his questions corresponding in impressiveness with the growth of his stature”.[3]

Boreham throughout his life called for people to take “adventures of the mind” in order to “keep the mind fresh and vigorous and healthy” and said, “Like a dog on a country road, the mind must poke into as many holes as it can”.[4]

Geoff Pound

Image: “Life… the ‘endless quiz.’”

Note: An adaptation of this article also appears on The Official F W Boreham Blogsite

[1] F W Boreham, Mushrooms on the moor (London: The Epworth Press, 1915), 17-18.
[2] F W Boreham, The blue flame (London: The Epworth Press, 1930), 248.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 23 May 1959.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 16 August 1941.

Engaging Life Fully

Eugene Peterson in his foreword to one of Philip Yancey’s books[1] recounts this story from his family’s memory bank:

“A favorite story in our home as our children were growing up was of John Muir at the top of the Douglas fir in the storm.[2] Whenever we were assaulted by thunder and lightning, rain sluicing out of the sky, and the five of us, parents and three children, huddled together on the porch enjoying the dangerous fireworks from our safe ringside seat, one of the kids would say, ‘Tell us the John Muir story, Daddy.’ And I’ll tell it again.”

“In the last half of the nineteenth century, John Muir was our most intrepid and worshipful explorer of the western extremities of our North American continent. For decades he tramped up and down through our God-created wonders, from the Californian Sierras to the Alaskan glaciers, observing, reporting, praising, and experiencing—entering into whatever he found with childlike delight and mature reverence.”

“At one period during this time (the year was 1874) Muir visited a friend who had a cabin, snug in a valley of one of the tributaries of the Yuba River in the Sierra Mountains—a place from which to venture into the wilderness and then return for a comforting cup of tea.”

“One December day a storm moved in from the Pacific—a fierce storm that bent the junipers and pines, the madronas and fir trees as if they were so many blades of grass. It was for such times this cabin had been built: cozy protection from the harsh elements. We easily imagine Muir and his host safe and secure in his tightly caulked cabin, a fire blazing against the cruel assault of the elements, wrapped in sheepskins, Muir meditatively rendering the wilderness into his elegant prose. But our imaginations, not trained to cope with Muir, betray us. For Muir, instead of retreating to the coziness of the cabin, pulling the door tight, and throwing another stick of wood on the fire, strode out of the cabin into the storm, climbed a high ridge, picked a giant Douglas fir as the best perch for experiencing the kaleidoscope of color and sound, scent and motion, scrambled his way to the top, and rode out the storm, lashed by the wind, holding on to dear life, relishing weather; taking it all in—its rich sensuality, its primal energy.”

I am not surprised that this episode became a treasure in the Peterson family’s memory bank. I wonder what the story meant for Eugene’s children and what it inspired them to be and do. Like all good stories this one has many applications.

Here is Eugene’s application as he commends a book on Philip Yancey’s pilgrimage with the church:

“…this [story] became a kind of icon of Christian spirituality for our family…. A standing rebuke against becoming a mere spectator to life, preferring creature comforts to Creator confrontations.”

Geoff Pound

Image: John Muir among the pines

[1] Philip Yancey, Church: Why Bother? My Personal Pilgrimage Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998. This story by Peterson appears in the Foreword, 7-11.
[2] Edwin Way Teale, (ed.) The Wilderness of John Muir Boston: Houghton & Mufflin, 1954, 181-90.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Keep Your Hands Open

Philip Yancey offers these words about church in describing his personal pilgrimage:

“I identified with one of Flannery O’Connor’s in-laws, who started attending church because the service was ‘so horrible, he knew there must be something else there to make the people come.’”

“O’Connor also said that she took care to be at her writing desk each morning so that, if an idea came, she would be there to receive it.”

“A lapsed Catholic named Nancy Mairs writes in her memoirs Ordinary Time that she returned to church in somewhat the same way. Even while uncertain about belief in God, she began attending Mass again to prepare ‘a space into which belief could flood.’ She learned that one does not always go to church with belief in hand. Rather, one goes with open hands, and sometimes church fills them.”

Source: Philip Yancey, Church: Why Bother? My Personal Pilgrimage Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998, 21.

Image: With Open Hands

Friday, September 01, 2006

What Can You See In This?

Some time back I attended a training day where we had all been asked to come along with an object that might help to introduce ourselves.

One colleague came along with a large picture that he had received for his recent birthday. It was one of those Magic, 3D pictures (like the one in this posting).

When it came to his time to share he propped his picture up against the arms of a chair and he said to us, “What can you see in this?”

All of us took a long look and said, “It’s a lovely greeny pattern ... a sort of modern art.”

Then he said, “Keep on looking and see if you can see something else.” We kept on looking and we couldn't see anything different and the guy said “Can’t you see it? It’s fantastic!”

At morning tea time we were looking at the picture again when another person exclaimed: “Oh, yes!! I can see it! Isn’t that amazing?”

The others of us looked but we felt so dumb. I said, “I can’t see anything different.” And the two who now could see were getting rather cocky. One of them said smugly, “You’ve got to stand back, let your eyes settle on something outside the window and then without changing your focus, bring your eyes back onto the picture.”

We did that that. We really tried. We wanted to see it. Maybe we tried too hard.

After lunch and over another cuppa, we were having another look at this jolly picture when someone else said, “Oh, yeah! It’s so obvious!! Why didn’t I see it before! Can’t you see it? There’s the Statue of Liberty! There is the New York skyline up there? Isn’t it marvellous?"

By the end of the day half of our number had had this ‘Aha’ experience when they saw the picture in a new way, but the rest of us, me included, left feeling as blind as a bat, unable to see anything different and with a sense of being denied what appeared to be a wonderful experience.

So much of life and finding our part in it comes from being able to see. It is not a once and for all affair but an ongoing experience. It is usually not something that comes through a casual glance, but as we wait (often together) and pray (it is a gift) it will dawn upon us.

We will see what we are to be on about in a whole new light and we'll say “Ohhhh!.” “It is so wonderful.” “It’s so strategic.” And we will wonder why it took so long to see it and then it will be impossible to see our life and our task entirely as we did before.

When we come to see the world in all its varied dimensions it changes the entire way we think about our life, our values and our work.

Geoff Pound

Image: An example of a magic puzzle picture.

Get The Picture?

Here’s a picture to ponder on your own or with a group. Let me give instructions as if you are viewing it as a group.

I want to invite you to enjoy a very relaxed, non-threatening experience.

I’ve got a picture I’d like you to look at.

Some of you will have seen it before. For others, it will be completely new. When I shine it up on the screen I want you to consider it in complete silence.

Here it is………..

Don’t discuss it with anyone. No comments yet. Simply concentrate on it and think about what you can see…..

OK, could someone tell me one thing they see? Maybe the first thing you saw.

The interaction could go like this:
A woman.
How old would you say she is?
About 25.
What does she look like?
Lovely. Demure. Stylish. Stunning eye lashes.
What is she wearing?
She is fashionable. Wearing a necklace?

Can anyone see anything different? What can you see?

Another woman.
How old would you say she is?
A woman in her 60s or 70s.
What does she look like?
Sad, pensive.
Any distinguishing characteristics?
A large nose. A scarf over her head.

I wonder whether you have got to the point of seeing two women in this one picture? Don’t kick yourself if you can’t.
If you have, do you notice the different attitudes they evoke within you?
If you were to meet them down the street would you feel one is more needy than the other? Would be more inclined to help one than the other?

Sometimes we find it hard to really see the people who live in our community.
Our eyes and our attention are more inclined towards some than to others.

It’s amazing how what we see and don’t see, so powerfully affects what we think and how we act.

Geoff Pound

Source: One of Stephen Covey’s books, possibly Seven Habits.

Image: Picture of two women.

Holy Earthiness

My wife and I are relishing the recent memories of over five weeks traveling around Italy. We learned a lot and enjoyed walking in the footsteps of people such as Ambrose, Augustine, Catherine, Francis, Clare and Anthony.

We loved much of the art we saw in churches and galleries. However, we became disenchanted by the way many artists depicted the saints as other-worldly beings with cherubs and seraphs at their shoulders and framed by haloes. The worst of these pictures abounded in the souvenir shops adjacent to holy sites. Why is it that we put these people on pedestals way beyond our reach?

In contrast to this tendency I love the way Henri Nouwen wrote about his encounter with Thomas Merton, one of the best known Christians of the twentieth century:

“The only time I met Thomas Merton, I was struck by his utter earthiness. While on a retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemane, two students from the University of Notre Dame who had made an appointment to meet Merton at the lakeside asked me to join them. It was a very chatty encounter. We talked a little about abbots, a little about writing. We drank beer, stared into the water and let some time pass in silence – nothing very special, profound or “spiritual”. In fact, it was a little disappointing. Maybe I had expected something unusual, something to talk about with others or to write home about. But Thomas Merton proved to be a very down-to-earth, healthy human being who was not going to perform to satisfy our curiosity. He was one of us.”

“Later, when I studied Merton’s books, taught a course about his life and works and wrote a short introduction to his thought, I became very grateful for that one unspectacular encounter. I found that whenever I was tempted to let myself be carried away by lofty ideas or cloudy aspirations, I had only to remind myself of that one afternoon to bring myself back to earth. When my mind’s eye saw him again as that earthy man, dressed in sloppy blue jeans, loud, laughing, friendly and unpretentious, I would realize that Merton was and is no more than a window through whom we may catch a glimpse of the One who had called him to a life of prayer and solitude. Every attempt to put Merton on a pedestal would not only horrify Merton himself, but would also be in direct contrast to everything for which he stood.”[1]

Geoff Pound

Image: Thomas Merton
[1] In the foreword of James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God Through Awareness of the True Self, Ave Maria Press: Notre Dame, Indiana, 1978, 7-9.