The Magnificent Outdoors

We arrived back yesterday from a lovely camping trip to a place called Boncath in West Wales. It’s near Cardigan. Camping is a lovely form of holiday that I have been introduced to largely by my wife. We stayed in caravans when I was younger and of course camped Christian style for week stints in army tents, but the past few years have been a real eye-opener. There is much joy to be found in going back to basics and sleeping under canvass.

Screens disappear which is a great incentive to read, chat and make fire. Being outdoors is definitely good for you, and I like now having curlier hair from the sea and a browner/redder face from the sun.

A lovely thing more recently is my Mother in-law’s acquiring of a dog. He is a Black Labrador called Helo. He makes me want to own a dog. I think dogs are great for company, to keep you fit, to get you outside more, to have a simpler being with you who is loyal and instinctive. I found that a few months ago, when we looked after Helo for a week that being forced to walk for long periods of time really helped me creatively. I was writing a sermon at the time on the first three verses of Psalm 40. I was able to plan it out in my head with much more ease because I had the space to think.

Another enjoyable talking point – leading on from the previous post – I started to ask my niece and nephew to try and think of ways that humans and animals are different. My younger nephew took a long time to think of one but eventually managed to realise that talking was a major distinction. With a little help from his older sister they eventually came up with a long list of things such as clothes, art, reading and handbags. The latter was my favourite, and an extremely valid one!

Common Grace in the Aurora Shooting

Simon Stephens is saying it all the time, and he’s said it again: ‘playwrights should always ask the question: what is the difference between humans and other animals?’ (via). I heard today on Radio 4 that sheep flock together for selfish reasons – every man for himself – in essence a sheep will get in front of another sheep to defend itself. That made me think of the Denver shootings and the boys who threw themselves in front of their girlfriends. God’s common grace sets us apart from the animals in that we are often selfless.

Romans 2:14 –

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.

Hey, farmer, farmer, put away that D.D.T.

I mentioned that I’d been to Devil’s Bridge the other day. This is a place where they charge you to see a waterfall! Paying for nature. Shocking. It made me want to go there and sing Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi in front of the ticket booth. That reminded me of a rant I’ve been meaning to have for a while, it’s about The Counting Crows’ cover of the abovementioned song. In this cover, they are doing exactly what the original song (IMHO) is protesting against – commercialising something beautiful. Essentially, The Counting Crows are paving Mitchell’s beautifully crafted musical paradise and charging all the people a dollar and a half just to see it. Big Yellow Taxi is a folk song, organic, unplugged – she could play it in your front room and it would sound the same, but the medium which best fits The Crows’ version is an illegal, low bitrate file on an a cheap site like Bee MP3.

Kate Rusby has done the same in her version of The Village Green Preservation Society. She flies in the face of the manifesto that the song is propagating. The Kinks are making fun of conservatism, they laugh at people who preserve, people who refuse to change, and Kate has gone and made a song which is all those things – she sounds contrived and phony.

The problem is – there is no denying – both songs are nice to listen to. My ears like them. But they’re not right. They’re good for the same reason that that Carrie Ray Jetson [LOL- misspelling] single is so infectious, they are bastardising beautiful music. I hear she has also murdered (I assume it’s bad, I haven’t bothered listening) another beautiful Joni track: Both Sides Now.

Incidentally The Counting Crows are present in a personal list of mine: bands I love to hate. Joining them are The Pet Shop Boys and Barenaked Ladies. Of course each of these bands have anomalies, Counting Crows have that brilliant song from Shrek 2 and The Pet Shop Boys wrote Girls Aloud’s stunning The Loving Kind; and Barenaked Ladies have… errm… there must be… errm… anyone?

Magic Star Tax

I love the idea of using all the ingredients in the fridge and not letting food go to waste, this worked well last night as Sibyl made a brilliant pasta sauce. Everything went in… pork and leak sausage, bacon, mushrooms, pine nuts, cherry tomatoes, onions, cheese. It tasted very good.

We were going to watch a film but we ended up being good Aberystwyth citizens and making the most of the glorious sunset which we were given. We sat promside on a bench and ate Magic Stars. I tried to resist consumption for a time but Sibyl said that that wasn’t the Rhodri she married, it made her feel uncomfortable for me to refuse anything sweet, “but it’s my teef!” I said, but eventually obliged after not too much persuading. Although they were swiftly taken away from me once Sibyl worked out the actual amount of hours she’d had to work to pay my dentist bills.

Then we got to talking about tax. I had it in my mind that the government take 40% tax (am I right here?). And that if someone earns say 500 thousand a year they actually earn 300 thousand. But Sibyl disagreed. She thinks that the amount you earn a year is based on how much you have left after tax. Who is right?

The evening ended with the promised (see yesterday’s post) reading of some Psalms. We read 1 and 2 (very good place to start Julie Andrews etc.). We discussed what it is to ‘rejoice with trembling’. Is that sort of praise present in our private and corporate worship these days? Do we sometimes have one without the other? Too much trembling and not enough rejoicing, or too much rejoicing and not enough trembling?

How can I have better quiet times with my God?

Some mornings I’m in a good mood and some mornings I’m in a bad mood. We shouldn’t be so inconsistent should we? I recall a preacher saying, you can decide not to be in a bad mood, it’s in a film as well I think… ah yes, I just looked it up, it’s in the beloved film Say Anything. I often link mood to whether I’ve done my devotions or not. I’m sure there’s something in it, but we are more complicated creatures than that perhaps.

I was on Justin Taylor’s blog yesterday and he posted up a helpful video of John Piper chatting to Tim Keller. I was really challenged to think of my quiet times once more, it stuck in my head when Tim Keller said “ten minutes, three times a week, just isn’t gonna cut it.” It’s frightening that on some weeks if I’ve had three ten minute quiet times I feel very proud of myself.

Over these early twenties years I’ve been living recently, I have talked and heard a lot about Grace. And that’s always the clincher. I know that if I never ever have a ‘QT’ never ever again, God still loves me as much as he loves his son (see end of John 17) my behaviour has no effect on that (see start of 1 John 1). Having said that, why would I not want to read Bible or pray to the Creator of the universe, a Father that I have direct access too, 24/7, through Christ Jesus!?

This is what Sibyl and I were chatting about last night before we went to sleep, which always seems to be when all the worries come out. Not always the most convenient time for either of us, but still great to think these things through.

So what will we do about it? How can we spend more time with our heavenly Father? How can we get to a position where we’re able to properly enjoy him? A classic preacher thing to say comes to mind, I think it might be attributed to Sinclair Ferguson, but I might have made that up, anyway, the story is that a preacher wanted to have ‘Nike’ sponsor his clerical robes, so that every Sunday, he could turn around and show the congregation his back which read:

    JUST DO IT.

How can I have better quiet times with my God?

    JUST DO IT.

P.S.
Mr. Keller also made a practical point about singing/praying the Psalms more. Calvin and countless others sung Psalms all the time, many of us don’t do that anymore (although I know many of us do), that’s no good. Let’s get through those Psalms!

The gospel according to root canals

Just got back from the dentist. I went very very very nervous, nervouser than I was telling my body to be. I was going to have a root canal. My helpful Wrexham friend had told me that his root canal was “the worst pain he’d felt in his entire life”, so I was really scared.

Are there mean dentists? It seems that the probability is there should be mean dentists, but I’ve never had one. Doctors are mean, GPs are rarely nice, but dentists… The guy could have persuaded me to have a anesthetic free root canal and I would have thanked him for it. BUT I DIDN’T NEED ONE. Yeah, that’s the surprise. I thought I would need a root canal but I didn’t. In your face Dairy Milk.

I did however find out that I need seven fillings. Ouch (more ouch for my pocket than my mouth). I also found out that my middle class pink toothpaste is useless. It tastes healthy, it tastes like TCP. The packaging is attractive but it is a wolf in retro cardboard clothing. It’s called Euthymol… avoid it.

Anyway. I’m chewing lots of gum now. I don’t have sugar in my tea or coffee. But I still love the chocs.

Everye white will have its blacke
And everye sweete its soure.

I had a thought that if I could be as passionate about the good news of Jesus as I was about not having to have a root canal, a lot more people would hear. I actually rung my second year buddy’s doorbell, that’s how much I wanted to share my good news. I pray that the gospel would make me feel the same way (see Acts 4).

Cricket

My best man came to visit us this weekend. He was coming up this way to set up a Christian campsite and took the scenic route. We had lots of fun. Our friendship works well as it is based on a number of elements – we both grew up in the same part of the world, same church, same school (for a year). This means that much of our conversation can be taken up with reminiscences of the past, I often thought I had a better memory, but I think it is more the fact that we both remember different strands of childhood. We are also both musical and have a similar sense of humour. We both graduated this year and both have an interest in Christian work. Another reason the friendship works is that we are very different. He is logical, outdoorzee and attentive. I am impulsive, lazy and a bit thick.

The past four days have been enjoyable. Since the floods in Aberystwyth the beach is covered with driftwood. We have gone down together for the past three nights and had a bonfire. Our friends wonder if this is what Aberystwyth is like every night, we tell them yes.

We also went to Devil’s Bridge (Pontarfynach) yesterday. We took the extortionately priced steam train and sat with a boy whose parents suffered from having to listen to his incessant pleading. “Can we play cricket today?” “Today, can we go down to the beach… and play cricket?” “You know when we went to that hotel? Can we go there again and play cricket?” etc. It made me think of my writing and something that I have learned this year about action. In a good play a character has to really want something, nothing will stop them. But the stakes have to be high. It’s much more difficult to write something which isn’t life or death…

The serpent that did sting thy father’s life
Now wears his crown.
But I think you’d rather play cricket.