Friday, 29 August 2008

Burn your plastic Jesus

So Wednesday night was Burn Your Plastic Jesus at the Entertainment Centre with Mark Driscoll from Seattle's Mars Hill Church. This won't mean much to the non-Christians among you, but take it from me, Driscoll is the hot ticket amongst the uni-age set in terms of speakers you have to go and hear preach. He's been in Australia for almost a month holidaying with his family, who have now returned home to the US to leave Driscoll to work. And he works hard! Seems he's speaking just about every day/night at various places in Sydney, the Central Coast and Brisbane until he goes home next week.

Anyway, back to Wednesday. I hadn't planned to go to this event because I'm going to the Engage conference this weekend and a Ministry Intensive next week that both Driscoll and Don Carson are speaking at, and I didn't know that I needed another dose. But Mark and Lu had a spare ticket and I thought 'why not?'

I'm glad I went!

As Mark and I bussed into town, went to King's Comics and wandered down to Dixon St to meet the other Wild St Church people for dinner, we played Spot the Church Group. They just stand out so much from everyone else! We couldn't really work out why, but you just knew which ones were Christians. By the time we left the food court and the place had filled up, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a non-Christian (and the food court staff seemed a little bemused by it). But it's not surprising, as there were reportedly 10,000 people converging on the Entertainment Centre for this event. I enjoyed the chance to hang out with church people (especially the nutty youth groupers), and at dinner I had a whole plate of dumplings to myself, which was great.
As for the event itself, the staging was slick as a rock concert with the difference being that the house lights stayed up the whole time. The Engage band was full of familiar faces, and they did a great job - there is nothing quite like singing to God with 10,000 people! Though I was surprised at the amount of singing we did; I'm sure the non-Christians in the audience wouldn't have been too comfortable about it, and perhaps this could have been offset by someone from the front saying something like "One of the things we do when we gather together is sing praise to God - we'd love you to join in, but if you don't feel comfortable you don't have to". Anyway that's a minor gripe - from my point of view, the music was excellent. Nathan Tasker played a couple of songs with his band, but I didn't think that added a great deal to the night.
There was the obligatory screening of videoed vox pops, people saying what they thought of Jesus - if they thought of him at all. I was especially saddened by the young mother who was quite defensive about it and said basically her world was her children and family and she'd never thought about Jesus before so why should she bother now? He didn't have anything to do with her.

Then Mark Driscoll came out and spoke for about an hour and a half. As a speaker, he is a friendly, funny man with a relaxed style and an easy-to-listen-to voice. He dissects and critiques culture especially well, and he is not at all ashamed or timid about what he believes. He spent the first chunk of his talk tearing down seven versions of Jesus he thinks people hold up that have nothing much to do with the actual Jesus (though he never referred to the passage from Revelation 19 that had been read beforehand, which I thought was a little odd). In the process he challenged and rebuked us, but also made us laugh a lot. The pitch was a little hard to work out initially, but he had something to say to the committed Christians, the fringe Christians and the non-Christians, and I thought he covered his bases well. He then took questions (via SMS!), and answered them gently but forthrightly. Then in the last section he talked about the real Jesus that we see in the Bible and why we should have relationship with him. If you're interested, you can download the talk for $2 at KCC - it's funny, engaging, challenging and well worth a listen. You can watch the clip below from Sydney Anglicans for a taste:

At the end of the night, he invited people to stand if they had decided to become Christians, or if they wanted prayer for something, and he asked the Christians sitting around them to pray. I had expected something like this to happen, as it's a fairly common end to a big event like this (they used to do 'altar calls' where they'd get people to go up the front, which is even more confronting), but it did take a while for people to start moving. It would have taken a lot of courage for people to stand up in full view of the entire Entertainment Centre, but gradually, as he spoke and kept encouraging people to stand, people started getting up. I don't know how many there were altogether, it wasn't a huge number, but there were a fair few. And then as the musos played quietly, we were asked to pray. I found it incredibly moving, looking around the room at this sea of people sitting, and here and there clumps of people standing together, praying. Gaz said it reminded him of white blood cells grouping together. I was so struck by the face of this one girl standing near us, her eyes closed, tears on her face, and a look of utter conviction.

It's a hard thing if you've made such a life-changing decision to go from a context like that back into the hard, gritty world. I really hope and pray that those people who decided to become Christians on Wednesday keep exploring God's word, that they are supported and loved by the friends who took them along to the event, and that God would continue to grow them in the knowledge and love of him.

And now I have to finish packing to go off to the mountains for Engage. Should be a great weekend!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008


So as I said, the latest Salt Magazine is out. We've gotten heaps of really positive feedback about it, which is always encouraging!

One thing that I find curious, though, is how people deliver criticisms. We had one letter from a supporter who largely praised the magazine, had a couple of quibbles about certain points in some of the articles, but was particularly annoyed by the "stupid use of colour" on one of the pages where the text was over the top of a grey background. I do take her point, if you are in your 80s (as she is) and your eyesight isn't perfect it might not be that easy to read. But:

a) it's not designed for 80 year olds, it's designed for uni students who presumably don't have as much difficulty reading over that kind of design (and personally, in the article she referred to, I had no trouble reading it);
b) how is it helpful to use the word 'stupid'?

I've read (and been on the receiving end) of some really nasty criticism/feedback in the secular world, and of course by comparison this is exceedingly mild. I know that people are generally fairly careless in their giving of feedback, especially when it's done via letter or email or on a forum where they don't actually have to speak to the person face to face. But something in me is disappointed that this Christian, who wasn't backward in telling us what she thought about theological points we had raised, wasn't a little more gracious in her word choice. Not to say that she shouldn't have written the letter, but maybe she should have considered whether the person who made that "stupid use of colour" was actually going to read the letter herself.

I'm not really upset about it, especially as she said some other lovely things about the magazine. I just thought it was a chance to raise (yet again), how important words are, and how careful we need to be with them.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Comic Book Tattoo

This morning Jess sent me an IM message from upstairs: "A package for Bec!" I knew what it was before I even read the Better World Books tag. It was so large (about 30 x 30 cm) it had to be shipped in a box, which I tore open excitedly. Inside lay one of the most beautiful books I now own.

I can't wait to actually sit down and read it. It's sitting here on my desk and I have to keep resisting the urge to get lost in its glossy pages. Think it's time to put on some Tori.

Saturday, 23 August 2008


Also, I bought a simple navy polar fleece jacket at Coles, of all places, for $6.00! I don't normally buy my clothes at the supermarket, but this is seriously snuggly, warm and it even looks reasonably good.


I'm a little early to get mooncakes for the Autumn Moon Festival (apparently falling on 14 September this year) but I'm happy I didn't miss them entirely like I usually do. My family never celebrated this festival, which is why I always forget when mooncakes are 'in season'.
I remember dad giving me a mooncake when I was in my early teens and being stunned by these wonderful morsels, and loving the whimsical name. Mooncakes are sweet and slightly salty at the same time, velvety smooth and meltingly delicious. They're about the size of a fist, but you only eat a little bit at a time (about a quarter), as they are incredibly rich - and not cheap! They can be made with all sorts of fillings, but most common are lotus seed paste or red bean paste. Sometimes they have whole egg yolks in the middle to symbolise the full moon.
You're supposed to have them at celebrations with family and friends (much like celebrating Chinese New Year), but I don't see why you shouldn't have them just because. A lot of Chinese traditions have a vague memory or sense of recognition for me, but I don't really know what they're really all about. Hooray for the internet...
The story I like most about this festival is the legend about the Chinese people organising an uprising against the Mongols in the 14th century by hiding messages inside their mooncakes. Subversive desserts!
I went into the Asian grocery at Maroubra Junction today and saw a table full of red tins and boxes that just triggered a childish delight in me. Some were as expensive as $11 a cake, but I went for a cheaper brand. Even so, as you can see, the packaging is lavish and pretty (and just a bit kitschy!). I just had a taste of one filled with red bean and an egg yolk, and it didn't disappoint.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008


I don't know how to ration my energy. When I have a good day like today and I feel reasonably well, I am so excited about feeling good that I end up doing too much and conking out again.

a break

I've been getting those warning signs - the fraying temper, the easily bursting into tears, the sore back and head - so today I decided to Be Kind To Myself (and everyone else) and had the day off.

I tested out my new Laidback Laptop stand, which arrived this morning and is great (although I'm still trying to find the best angle for typing). Then I wandered down to return a library book and bought a couple of books for $1 each at the library sale. Then on to a challenging but fantastic yoga class at the gym.

I decided to go to Edith and Rose in South Coogee for lunch. I'd been here a couple of weeks ago with a few people from church, and it's a delightful little place, inconspicuous and simple, with delicious cakes and pies and coffee. There were only a couple of people there, so I thought I'd just sit in a corner and write. But as I placed my order I heard a voice call my name, and sitting at the window was M from church! So we sat and chatted for a bit while she finished her tea, then she left for another engagement and I had a little time to write.

I also had a little time to eat the most delicious chocolate ganache tart with a raspberry base:

(The other thing I like about this shop is that the retro chairs remind me of Neenish tarts, my favourite of all tarts.)

Then I went to the plant nursery and bought some violas, petunias and poppies to put in the garden so it will be all colourful and cheerful in spring.

A very good day in the middle of the week! I'm so glad I was able to take it off; I think it's just what I needed.

Monday, 18 August 2008


After a nightmare of a day, where I cried twice at work and came home with a very sore back and head, I:
  • had a hot bath
  • cooked a chicken pie
  • put on my snuggly warm hoodie
  • delighted in the sudden downpour, brilliant lightning and rumbles of thunder
  • am about to eat a bowl of ice cream
Simple pleasures make things so much better.

Sunday, 17 August 2008


It's been a busy, up-and-down kind of week. One where I struggled with fluctuating emotion and energy levels but thankfully got through to the end and a really refreshing weekend. Some highlights of the week:
  • Salt came back from the printer's this week, and we did a major mailout to over 4000 supporters. I was going to take a photo of all the boxes of envelopes, but really it isn't anything that needs to be immortalised. If you're an AFES supporter you should receive a copy of Salt and a 2009 wallplanner soon (designed by me!). If you're not a supporter and want a copy of either, let me know and I'll hook you up.
  • I managed to get up at 6am on Wednesday for the second week in a row to go to pilates. Although it is counter-intuitive to my night-owl ways, I actually find it easier to make time for exercise in the morning than the afternoon. And it gives me a good energy/endorphin boost for the rest of the day. This coming week I'm going to try adding another class (pump, which I've never done before and is apparently all about weights) in the effort to trick myself into developing an exercise routine.
  • On Thursday Karen and I went to Carriageworks to see the Sydney Dance Company. It's a fantastic space - I think in an earlier incarnation it was where I saw an excellent ATYP production of Henry V complete with live horses and mud filled battlefield - and set me to dreaming of hosting a steampunk ball there. If only I knew more than two other people who thought steampunk was cool, it might actually be a possibility...

    Anyway, K had managed to get $20 tickets to 360°. I knew nothing about it, and after seeing it I think I'd still have trouble describing it to you. It was dark, fluid, a little disturbing at times and made great use of two gigantic mirrored panels running at angles across the stage. It was fascinating, sure, and the dancers are incredibly talented. But I spent most of it fighting the urge to scream at two of the female dancers "EAT SOMETHING!" Talented, but way too thin. So that kind of distracted me too much throughout.

    I actually much preferred the 20 minute show that played in the lobby beforehand, called Love Instalment. It's part of what the SDC is calling its 'overture series', giving up and coming choreographers a chance to display their talents. There were five boxing rings set up throughout the foyer, each with a couple of dancers inside. They all danced independent sequences simultaneously to the sparse but driving musical accompaniment of violinist Nick Wales and drummer Bree van Reykand, and then occasionally the choreography would come together and all five stages would be working together to create a whole. I also liked standing on the ground and looking up at the performance, and thought the whole thing worked really well.

    It was also just great to hang out with K, eat a delicious dinner at Urban Bites and to do something out of the ordinary.

  • Yesterday mum gave me back the study. I've been experimenting with different spaces through the house to work in but haven't been comfortable in any of them. Mum said I could use the study and she was happy to have her computer in her room. So I spent yesterday moving things around, tidying up and making a comfortable space. I love doing that, it makes me feel like I have a bit of control when things are hard to cope with in other spheres of my life.

  • Today has been one of those wonderful gifts of a Sunday, quiet and sunny, with time to do my washing and sit in the sun and play the piano. And now I'm off to a music meeting at church where we're going to talk about why we do music ministry, and we'll also play through some new songs.
Hope you're enjoying your Sunday too!

Thursday, 14 August 2008

determined contentment

Scout doesn't really understand how the sun works. She knows that a sunbeam is warm and good to lie in, but she doesn't understand why it isn't where she wants it all the time. She will reach up and claw at it on the wall, as if she could bring it down to her level. Or she will sit and stare determinedly at the sunbeam until it moves across the room to where she normally sleeps, and then curl up in it, satisfied with her good hour's work.

I think, sometimes, that's how I view contentment. I get frustrated and try and Make It Happen by doing things or forcing things or buying things or whatever. But if I believe (and I do) that true contentment comes from God, then it isn't something to be forced or bought. It kind of creeps up and infuses you when you aren't expecting it. The only thing you can do to bring it on (and it's actually kind of an absence of doing really) is be still and know that God is God. He does the rest.

I wish I could remember that when things are darkest.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

people living with people living with black dogs

Today I got Matthew and Ainsley Johnstone's excellent book, Living with a black dog. I mentioned Matthew's earlier book, I had a black dog a couple of years ago, but this newer book is brilliant because it specifically addresses the carers of people with depression. I guess this could extend to people working with / ministering to depressed people.

It's in a similar style to the first book, a picture book style with very simple text. It has some wonderful insights and advice - and humour too! I reckon it should be mandatory reading for everyone. More info at Matthew's site.

Sunday, 10 August 2008


Went to see the Dark Knight with Guan and Mary this morning at Eastgardens. A very good movie, but not one I could say I enjoyed. For sheer entertainment value, I'd probably rate Iron Man over it - probably because there are more moments of levity, and in their respective roles Robert Downey Jnr is more fun than Christian Bale. But the Dark Knight had a much more terrifying villain in the form of Heath Ledger's Joker, and a much more absorbing subplot in the form of Harvey Dent's downfall. You can read a more detailed comparison of the two movies here, though note that the reviewer was intent on drinking a bottle of wine during each screening, so his assessment might not be the clearest.

There was a bunch of teenagers in the audience - I guess they must have been 14-15, though they looked about 10 to my ageing eyes. I know that I had a much greater capacity for gore and violence when I was that age, but the fact that they giggled and mocked during some pretty awful scenes made me think they probably weren't old enough to handle a movie like that.

I think that rather than becoming desensitised to graphic stuff in movies, as time goes on I am even more affected by it. I remember absolutely loving Interview with the Vampire when I was a teenager, and watching it again a couple of years ago and thinking "Whoa. I don't remember it being quite this gory." I mean, it's a movie about vampires for goodness' sake. Or Silence of the Lambs, which I found fascinating when it first came out, but which terrifies me now. It's a movie about a serial killer, it's supposed to be terrifying. It's much like mum rewatching Dirty Dancing and saying "I don't remember them sleeping together!", even though that's basically what the movie was about.

Perhaps as I get older, get a better understanding of the brokenness of our world, and see the awful things people do to one another reported on the evening news, fictionalised terror no longer serves as entertainment. As a teenager, it's all just a joke, it's not real, you get a bit of a thrill and a buzz out of being scared and then you shake it off and walk out into the sunshine. But when you start to understand something of man's inhumanity to man, it ceases to become something you can just shake off that easily.

I don't think I'd want to live in Gotham, even if Batman was the perfect saviour.

Friday, 8 August 2008

falling down the tumblr

Oh - if you're not reading this blog in an RSS reader, you might notice a new box on the right hand side marked falling down. This is a new tumblelog that Guan and I have started as somewhere to stick all those quotes, interesting links and totally random things we stumble across as we trawl the internets, that might not warrant an actual post on either of our main blogs. For those interested in procrastination (Ms Gill, I'm looking at you), it might prove handy!

daytime TV

I'm at home today, not too well. Turned on the TV and have become transfixed by the stupidity of the tech segment on 9am with David and Kim on Channel 10. The two hosts present a gormless, 'I have no idea about anything' front - "I want to talk about VOIP...what is it?" "Google Maps Street View...why...what is it? Why would I want to use it?" It's a disingenuous way of conducting an interview to make it sound like a casual chat, but it's just irritating. The thing that bothers me is there are people out there who would tune into this show every day, who would be going "If David and Kim are talking about it, I must investigate this VOIP calls on the internet! Gosh!"

I'm sorry, I'm sick, so I can't disguise my snobbery.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Faithful Writer

It seems odd that a writer would have trouble writing about a writers' conference, but I don't think I've actually managed to digest/process the Faithful Writer yet. Maybe I never will. That's part of the problem when you're on an organising committee of any sort, even if most of the running around is being done by someone like Karen The Dynamo. You are just aware of tiny things that have the potential to become problems, you don't get a chance to just soak up the atmosphere or just hang around with the other delegates.

I arrived at 8.15am, as Karen and I had arranged, with the booklets I'd designed. I was barely through the door when I was already being hassled (the hassler was obviously just worried because people had turned up early, but since the registration desk didn't open until 8.30 I don't know why he was so frantic). I had to tell people to just leave me alone for one minute, allow me to put my bag down and work out what I was doing. Guan had kindly bought me a coffee, and once I was organised, we registered about 120 people and welcomed them to the conference.

Trevor interviewed the keynote speaker, Mark Tredinnick, and then did a short devotion. Mark then gave a fairly rambly talk about writing as an act of faith. He talked about how you needed to do the important work of 'mending the nets in the hope that a fish may rise', continuing to work away at your writing even when it seems mundane, so that you're ready when the moments of inspiration hit. I can relate to that.

He encouraged us to aim for the Hemingway school of thought and try to say things in a way they had never been said before. He said "a way of finding your voice is in refusing the clichés that are most precious to you." And the final thing I wrote down was "write the poem, the sentence, the essay, the story, the book that only you can write - the one told in your own original voice."

Good advice.

After a donutty morning tea, Guan and I wandered to a local cafe so he could work on the writing exercise that had been set. I didn't even attempt it; my brain was so scattered and my thoughts so unfocused I don't think I could have managed much. But towards the end of the hour I scribbled a few things down about the whole writing shebang:
Words are ordinary things that fall from our lips every day, but they can also be extraordinary and dangerous when put together a certain way. When they are put together well. But as Mark said this morning, that can take discipline and practice.

Kate Grenville works by a couple of principles. One is 'never have a blank page'. Another is 'you can come back and fix it later'. It was very freeing to realise that, to be released from the idea that something had to be perfect the first time around, or that you had to keep nutting out a phrase before you could move onto the next. Sometimes you just have to step over that roadblock and move on. You can come back and clean it up later.
Just before lunch everyone handed in their writing exercises for us to look through. Karen, Trevor, Tony, Mark and I read them all and pulled out ones we thought would be good for workshopping after lunch. It's kind of hard to do that; just as hard as it would have been for the writers to feel confident submitting something for public scrutiny after only an hour, it was hard to read them all and feel like we'd done them justice. But we weren't looking for the best or worst, just ones that had something interesting to talk about in the workshop.

Karen and I grabbed a quick lunch. After letting Mark read through the pieces more thoroughly, culling them down to a final six, we typed up the pieces so they could be projected onto the screen for all to see. Mark led the workshop and was tough but fair and reasonably gracious. I think everyone learned a lot through the process, about avoiding cliche, about when and how to use certain types of punctuation, about what makes a piece flow better, about how to structure something.

Then it was time for the seminars. Karen and I ran a seminar on Writers and Editors, which oddly enough had the highest number of attendees of all the seminars. We did a kind of tag-team effort, with interview, role play, brainstorming and general discussion all thrown into the mix. I had a minor disagreement with one of the delegates who kept saying, "I've had two books published and my experience with editors has been nothing like that". I never quite know how to respond to things like that without getting prickly and defensive. But apparently I handled it well, and we were on friendly terms by the end. George was very encouraging and said we had done a good job at running training (drawing lots of inspiration from her seminar at Word by Word a while back).

I don't think I had afternoon tea. I seem to recall chatting to Dave and telling him I needed a holiday, but I'm not sure if that was at afternoon tea or lunch. Then we tried to call everyone together for the readings, though we were running a bit late by this stage. Greg read an excellent piece about getting his car (or himself?) serviced at a prestige garage, and some entertaining poems he had written for his children. I read the pineapple tarts section from Undragon Stories - and a brief listen to the audio tells me that I still need to work on slowing down my delivery. And to close, Mark read a selection of his poetry.

After the conference I sat, guarding the bookstall cashbox, while the packing up went on. I was impressed that Karen was still able to rush around, but she just kept going until everything was done. People came up to me and told me how much they loved the story, which still amazes me because I am so familiar with it I can't see any of its merits anymore. But several people said they really really wanted to taste a pineapple tart, and others commented that they felt they were right there in that humid kitchen. One lovely woman said after last year's conference she had scanned the Sydney Writers' Festival programme for my name, and hopes to see it there next year.

Maybe one day!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

with a buzz in our ears

Yesterday was the Faithful Writer conference (which I'll write about later). I helped out with regos, gave a seminar with Karen and read some of my fiction to an appreciative crowd. But it was an exhausting nine and a half hours! Guan and I decided to chill out for a couple of hours before heading in to the Hordern to see Sigur Rós with Duncan.

M had made a delicious vegetable curry and welcomed me with a glass of wine. I lay on the couch trying to do my best impression of someone who cares about sport while Guan and M watched the Bledisloe Cup (I didn't do a very good job). We ate, drank some coffee, then Duncan joined us and we headed off.

The bus was full of carousers heading into the city. It was noisy and bright and I felt like I just wanted to curl up on the seat and go to sleep. But by the time we got into the Hordern and found our seats, I had revived somewhat (we had made the judgement call early on that after being at a conference all day we probably wouldn't be up to standing in a crowd for three hours...I'm glad we opted for the seats!). We caught the end of a set by Pivot, which I enjoyed mainly for the incredibly meaty drum sound and the excitement of just being there.

The music between acts was sort of floaty and ethereal, which was fine in some ways and in keeping with the music we were going to hear, but unfortunately for three very tired people it just made us feel a bit sleepy. "I wish we had some gummi bears," I said, and Guan dutifully produced half a bag of gummy dinosaurs. Perfect wish fulfilment!

The lights dimmed and the crowd roared as the four members of Sigur Rós walked onstage, dressed variously in frock coats, tails, and what looked like a boiler suit. I had had the strains of Svefn-g-englar running through my head all afternoon, so I grinned when the band came out and started with that song. I don't know the whole of their back catalogue - actually, I only really know Ágætis Byrjun and their latest, Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust - so much of the set wasn't hugely familiar to me, but that didn't seem to matter in terms of enjoying the music.

They painted amazing soundscapes with rollicking drums, cello-bowed guitar, drumstick-beaten bass, glockenspiel, vibraphone, piano, brass...a constant swirl and propulsion of sound with Jónsi Birgisson’s otherworldly voice floating and screeching and hovering over the top of it all.

"We'll need your help for this one," he said in his thick Icelandic accent towards the end of the show. "Can you clap along with us?" Then they launched into Gobbledigook, from their new album. The song has a childlike quality to it, with fast clapping and a 'la-la-la-la' refrain, but the most incredble energy in the relentless drumming. It has an almost yearning, impossible-joy feeling to it. The entire room seemed to be riding a wave of delight, as the lighting, which had been in sombre blues and greenish yellows up until that point, exploded into colour, and the brass players let off confetti cannons from either side of the stage. The crowd squealed like children. It reminded me so much of what happened at Bjork's concert that I wonder if it's something in their cultural makeup, this propensity for creating simple pleasures, for the joy of pure sound and shimmering light and fluttering bits of glittery paper falling through the air.

Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust translates as 'with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly'. At times, despite my tiredness, I wished it would just keep going and going. I wasn't the only one, judging by the way the 6000-strong audience screamed and stamped on the floor for more. The band did two encores, and ended with an almost humble bow, as at the end of a theatre show.

PS. Also, if you've ever wanted to know how to pronounce Icelandic words check this out.
PPS. If you want to be superior and pronounce the band's name correctly, it's "si-ur rose (the i is like the i in "hit". "rose" is said very quickly)". Roll those Rs!