Monday, September 19, 2011

We've sold our birthright

There is so much choice in life. You can be what ever you want to be. Dream and you can do anything.

It's so close to the truth that we can get distracted by it. In fact our hearts get cluttered with all the possibilities and the responsibility of making sure we don't waste an opportunity. The message to absorb is that `I am the master of my own future' and that `I decide what will happen'.

But what do we abandon to follow this pursuit of success and opportunity?

What are we born with? What do we overlook when we have stars in our eyes, when we are absorbed by the image of our own possibility?

There's a story of twin brothers who fought for their parents' favour. The elder was in the line of a promise - given to his grandfather - that they would be a chosen nation. That they would bring blessing. He underestimated the power of the promise and sold his right to receive it. He sold the right of first birth - the right to live the promise - to eat a lentil stew, one day, when he was famished.

How could someone give up being chosen to live in God's blessing, just to have a feed?

What is my birthright*?

What do I sell to pursue my own possiblity? What do I give up to feed my appetite?

I am made for relationship, to be a cherished child of the creator of the universe. I am made to be traced in God's nature and his action in the world. To bask in the illumination of his truth. To feast at his laden table. To call the God-man Jesus, my brother. To be an articulation, a sinew, a participant in God's living, active body. I was born for this.

I undervalue this purpose. I am blind to how fitting and right it is, and the wild possibility of it eludes me. I sell it without a moment's regret, for some immediate, transient pleasure.

Foolish and short-sighted, I seek my own fulfilment. I miss the gift inherent in my own existence. I sold my right to live in communion with the one who knows me best and loves me best.

The grace of God is him restoring me to that birthright, without asking me to buy it back. He gives it to me. Again ( and again...)

* Philip Jensen preached about selling our birthright, and that started these thoughts.

linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Here's my plan. I'm carving out a new artform in blogdom...


Here are the features that make an unblog:

  • Pitiful stats - I still look at them, just not very often (my ego cannot bear much)
  • Undersharing - a beast rarely seen in social media and blogging
  • Reluctance to give advice
  • Allergy to lists
  • No posts about blogging - except the odd ironic one
  • Inability to stick to a blog genre
  • Erratic comments - my policy is, comment if you have something to say
  • Refusal to post about topical issues or important dates
  • Failure to find an audience
  • Images only barely related to the text
  • No bloggy friends, a complete reliance on real life ones
  • Random, unplanned posts at irregular intervals
  • Half-baked series ideas that rarely get completed

Now all I need is a thingy (you know, a button) that says "I'm an unblogger" and you could all join the revolution.

OK it's not really a button, it's just a picture. But go on, steal it anyway, just make sure you point the way back here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It goes without saying...

The important stuff is hardest to form into sentences. For introverts. Probably for all of us.

My regard and warmth can be so comfortable, so integral, that I forget you are unaware of its presence. I neglect to say it aloud.

I'm pretty sure I didn't tell you that the possibility of talking to you is enough. That your very existence, and the repeated intersections of our lives are with me every day. That the times we laughed, or sorrowed or shared have worn grooves in me. The good kind of grooves, like smile lines etched around my eyes, or the hollow made by my elbow tucked around a child.

I'm doubly sure you've no idea that you are in my thoughts regularly. That for every time I speak to you, there's been a dozen when I pictured you and blessed you. My cards don't get written, or if they do, they don't always get sent. And I'm not excusing my disorganisation. Just letting you know I haven't forgotten.

I examine myself and know that the here and now absorbs me. I struggle to think in more than one dimension. And I'm sad that I don't respect and serve long-standing friendship faithfully enough. Because I don't want to leave important things unsaid.

I have wanted to trust in the economy of friendship. Being a faithful friend earns me good friends in return. I realise that this is another way to measure myself and strive for good enough.

It's that feeling at a party. When the celebration is for you and you worry that you're not enough reason for all the fuss. It creeps up at my fortieth when precious friends bring good wishes, presents and smiles. They while time with me. I fear you're wasting it but actually you've wrapped it and proudly given it to me. Because you love me.

There is no economy in friendship. I cannot buy it, or earn it, or store it up for later. Friendship is an extravagant, generous gift. You bring grace to the table, my friend. Thank you. A big loud thank you.

Sharing with Emily,

A shadow of the truth

"One of the things that the local journalists had to do was cover the coroner's courts and it seemed to me that we never ever got to the truth. So there was this kid and he'd beaten up some bloke and stolen his money and there was the kid standing there wearing the first new suit he's ever had and there's his mum and you think where did this story start? It made me restless about journalism because whatever you got was only a shadow of the truth. Perhaps the greatest crime may have taken place long before the boy had been born but you could never track [it] down the universe." (Terry Pratchett on All In The Mind)

Where does the story begin? And will we ever really know?

I see a facet but there are so many other angles to look from. It's so easy to judge what I see, forgetting there's more to it. I only see a "shadow of the truth". I'm interested that it turned Terry Pratchett from journalism to writing fantasy books. He explained that he used the fictional world to illuminate our experience of human nature and truth.

I suspect he realised that stories are much more complicated than good guy vs. bad guy and that people who are in the wrong can be deeply wounded, too. Despair is not knowing if anyone really knows the truth. That it is all, deep in the centre, relative. Or worse still, that there is no centre.

Courts may not find the central truth of a story, but that doesn't mean it isn't there. Truth is not bound by the perspectives of those who look at it. There is an objective truth in existence. Sometimes it is hard to see clearly, but it is still there.

It's a real challenge to see beyond the first impression and look for the kernel of truth, the more complicated story.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Stories and Illness

I have borrowed a book from my mother-in-law, and I need to give it back. I'm finishing it as fast as I can. It has got me thinking about the experience of illness and how it grows fascinating stories. Stories that give us a glimpse into unique struggles and amazing perseverence.

Jill Bolte Taylor wrote (and spoke) about her experience of having a brain haemorrhage, and what she learnt about life as a result. She trained at Harvard in Neuroscience and worked to promote the American Brain Bank. Her brother had developed schizophrenia and this fact inspired her to learn more about the brain.

She explores the idea that her left (dominant hemisphere) brain was the centre of her language and the source of order and sequencing in her experience. She had a big bleed into her left hemisphere and describes what happened when her right brain became the primary source of her cognition. At one point, she equates her perception and sense of deep peace and timelessness with nirvana.

Interestingly, there was a recent BMJ editorial which commented on Taylor's book and highlights its basis in personal experience rather than scientific truth. Although there is evidence for complementarity and difference in the cerebral hemispheres, Taylor describes a deeply personal, subjective experience.

That said, her story is powerful. She relates the experience of being unable to think logically or retrieve memory intricately. The description was vivid and drew me in.

I couldn't help wondering how she was able to recall it so clearly and neatly. Was she able to form this memory in that period of acute stress, or is she creatively imagining it? Was the trauma of the experience enough to indelibly carve it in her neuronal circuits, despite their distress? Taylor's conclusion is that inner peace is contained in the circuitry of the right brain. That peace is located within ourselves, if we know ourselves (or our brains) better.

Other stories have come via All In The Mind, a Radio National podcastable show which explore all sorts of ideas in psychology and neuroscience.

I recently hear (Sir) Terry Pratchett talk about his experience of a type of dementia, called Posterior Cortical Atrophy, which has resulted in the degeneration of his visual memory. He cannot type his books any more, but uses voice recognition hardware to write. He made an interesting comment about truth and perspective - which will make this post too long, but will turn up another day.

The dementia theme continues in this novel, recently written by another neuroscientist, turned writer, Lisa Genova. She has also been interviewed on All In The Mind. Her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Diseaase, and as she researched the disorder, she wanted to know more of the experience of a person with Alzheimer's. When she couldn't find first person accounts, she wrote this book - creating her central character, a fifty year old Harvard Psychology professor who gets early onset Alzheimer's. I haven't read the book, but heard the extract below, in the podcast, and the loss and bewilderment became tangible.

"She sat in a big white chair and the man who owned the house sat in the other one. The man who owned the house was reading a book and drinking a drink, the book was thick and the drink was yellowish brown with ice in it. She picked up an even thicker book than the one the man was reading from the coffee table and thumbed through it. Her eyes paused on diagrams of words and letters connected to other words and letters by arrows, dashes and little lollipops. She landed on individual words: disinhibition, phosphorylation, genes, acetylcholine, demons, morphines, phonological.

'I think I've read this before,' said Alice. The man looked over at the book she held and then at her.
'You've done more than that. You wrote it. You and I wrote that book together.'

Hesitant to take him at his word she closed the book and read the shiny blue cover From Molecules to Mind by John Howland PhD and Alice Howland PhD. She looked up at the man in the chair. He's John, the words she read seemed to push past the choking weeds and sludge in her mind to a place that was still pristine and still intact, hanging on.

'John,' she said, 'Yes, I wrote this book with you,' she said. 'Yes, I remember, I remember you, I remember I used to be very smart.'
'Yes, you were, you were the smartest person I've ever known.'
This thick book with the shiny blue cover represented so much of what she used to be. She wanted to tell him everything she remembered and thought but she couldn't send all those memories and thoughts composed of so many words, phrases and sentences past the choking weeds and sludge into audible sound. She boiled it down and put all of her effort into what was most essential, the rest would have to remain in the pristine place, hanging on.

'I miss myself.'
'I miss you too, Ally, so much.'
'I never planned to get like this.'
'I know.' "
From Still Alice, by Lisa Genova.

The fodder of textbooks and newspapers becomes immediate and personal through life stories. When I hear your story, I can enter it alongside you. I can start to understand your experience a little more, and understanding someone else's struggle, even just a little, is a doorway to compassion and empathy.