David’s 2014 Christmas Letter

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!…  For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.   Charles Dickens

I hope you journeyed well in 2014.
May the light of Christ bring you new blessings
this Christmas and in the coming year.

A Culinary Reflection

In February, 40 friends and family lunched at our neighbour’s Thai restaurant for my 40th birthday.  I garnished tables with tasty quotes and told my life story through 40 books that have carved my character and made me rich.  My first memory at three, then violin to the Vatican, Middle-earth to Malaysia, science and spirituality, bushcraft and art.  I’ve treasured their pages and shared my glee in nearly 50 reviews.  All quotes and subheadings here are from writers I’ve blogged on – find them here.  See the big 40 and other highlights of my reading year at titheridgetalk.wordpress.com/books/top-2014.

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost.  Dante

The prospect of death is a magnificent stimulus for psychological and spiritual growth…  This is the central message of all the great religions: Learn how to die.  M Scott Peck

The Old Gang

After summer swimming and autumn feijoas, my sister Joy returned to Berlin in May.  She translates German texts to English, misses practising Russian in Odessa, and will pop back here for two months of balmy sea air on Waiheke Island from late January.

My mother Pat survived bronchitis and physio for a painful pinched nerve.  She’s trialling hearing aids and now catches instructions at weekly tai chi gyrations.  She is part of pastoral care and global mission teams at Greyfriars Presbyterian (recent laws condemn the lovely old church where I grew up), and assembles Lego and letters with her sister’s two grandsons, while their parents teach drums and singing.  I also enjoy Where’s Wally? and bedtime books with them.

One summer day the little Red Hen found a grain of wheat…

Good News Translation

Before Easter I spoke twice at the Baptist Tabernacle’s Global group on the cross, suffering and reconciliation – with Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu and Banksy graffiti on the Palestine wall.  Then I dived into books on the Fourth Gospel: John as court case, courtship or mystical path.  These fertilised six sermons, from “The Eagle has Landed” to “John’s Two-Storey Story of Death and Glory”, via living bread and water, shepherding the flock, and pruning the vine – with hedge clippers from our garage.

I am the Good Shepherd.  I lay down my life for the sheep.  My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  No one can snatch them out of my hand.  John 10

The Shepherd laughed, “I love doing preposterous things, turning weakness into strength, and fear into faith… turning a jellyfish into a mountain goat.”  Hannah Hurnard

November brought a weekend camp with three talks on “Metamorphoses: Meeting the Risen Jesus”.  Mary’s grief – and my dad’s death; Thomas’s doubt – and his Indian grave; Peter’s shame – and bbq reboot on the beach.  Annotated scripts are at titheridgetalk.wordpress.com/sermons.

Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, 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 awake and moving.  Frederick Buechner

A Language History of the World

Apart from paintings in Florence, Venice and Bruges for “Art in the City”, I attended uni papers that indulged in words.  Medieval recipes, morality plays, dialects and Chaucer in Middle English linguistics, and a handwritten tale from 1480 of the doughty knight Sir Beves.  Poetry, parody, Shakespeare and slang in “Writing as Critical Discourse”.  Best of all was a grand tour of comparative literature: plays from ancient Greece to Communist Argentina; verse from Moorish wars to Russia; short stories from Nigeria, Italy, Paris and Auschwitz; and old novel friends like dashing Don Quixote and poor Père Goriot.

There are two ways of painting the world.  One is the way of Greece and Africa, which sees the world as a geometric design.  The other is the way of Persia and India and China, which sees the world as a flower.  Chaim Potok

The consolation of fairy stories is a sudden and miraculous grace giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.  J R R Tolkien

BASIC Computer Games

I’m still playing with code, queries and chemistry quizzes for Auckland University’s e-learning website bestchoice.net.nz, never bored of dancing with data and jiving with JavaScript.  User comments applaud bugs – “including ants, stick insects and beetles. But i don’t like mosquito”; express disgust – “chemistry is stupid physics is better”, “delete this website you sloppy freaks”; request features – “needs more dragons” or “some hardcore porno”; and warm our hearts – “da was wiked m8, i luvd it was elpfull”, “I’m going to get an A* now! Thank you ever so much I am forever in debt to you!!! This has completely changed my life and I now do chemistry just for fun.”

Stuff your eyes with wonder.  Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.  Ask no guarantees, ask for no security…  Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.  Ray Bradbury

Mountain Solitudes

My year began at Nelson Lakes with the Auckland Baptist Tramping Club, sorting stoves, tents and tucker beneath trophy stag heads in Red Deer Lodge.  We crossed a geologist’s paradise of diverse rocks in the Red Hills, then over Mole Saddle to an idyllic biv amid crimson-flowered, bellbird-filled flax by a cheerful creek.  I admired Christchurch post-quake creativity: painting and poetry on abandoned walls, road-cone chess and fire-hydrant xylophones in flattened sections.

I went to the woods because I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.  Henry David Thoreau

Preaching has killed long weekends, but I gave a club talk on hiking spirituality, “Tramping the Path of Disciplined Grace”. I run thrice a week to spot urban wonders – eyes sharpened by new glasses and the book On Looking­ – and had a mid-winter week of mining museums, weathered jetties and coastal solitude in small-town Thames, once NZ’s biggest gold rush city.

Our strings have to be tuned for a deeper and a more complex music…  We are like a stray line of a poem, which ever feels that it rhymes with another line and must find it, or miss its own fulfilment.  Rabindranath Tagore

Journey to the East

I kept my tongue in touch with Southeast Asia at Chinese New Year and Malay end-of-Ramadan feasts, and I half-digest Indonesian sermons at St Andrew’s Presbyterian.  Their Easter camp by the beach was fun, though the speaker’s Javanese anecdotes streamed overhead.  My Hindi has gone west, but I savoured its cadences at celebrations of Diwali and India’s Ramayana epic: a monkey army rescued fair Sita from villainous Ravan, before his ten-headed effigy blazed like Guy Fawkes.

He sailed off through the night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are.  Maurice Sendak

I’ve renewed my passport and in 2015 I’m on the road again, back to the wild east.  April-May teaching English to postgrad theology students in Bangalore (as in 2012), then likely a month of Hindi study in sub-Himalayan hills before a year in Malaysia and Indonesia, programming for Auckland Uni online, relishing cultures and cuisines, and ratcheting up my language skills.  I’m blogging my travels at titheridgetrip.wordpress.com.

The news is that
God’s wind is blowing.
It may be a breeze that
cools and comforts.
It may be a gust that
summons you to notice.
It may be a storm that
blows you where you have
never been before.
Whatever the wind is
in your life,
pay attention to it.
Walter Brueggemann

Top Books of 2014

When a reader falls in love with a book, it leaves its essence inside him, like radioactive fallout in an arable field, and after that there are certain crops that will no longer grow in him, while other, stranger, more fantastic growths may occasionally be produced.  Salman Rushdie

See my top reading this year at titheridgetalk.wordpress.com/books/top-2014.

You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread.  You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that.  C S Lewis