Stories

Oldthings

I just bought myself a typewriter.

“Seriously? Aren’t you the gadget guy?” you might ask. “Is this replacing your iPad?” (Ha ha. Very funny.)

When I recently visited my parents, I got into a conversation with my mum about her computer. She seems to have never-ending struggles with technology and it so happens I am her resident IT guy.

“I wish I had kept my old typewriter,” she told me, after another troubleshooting session on her seemingly-invalid PC.

I asked her why, with all the features of her new computer, she would want to go back to an old, cumbersome, temperamental beast like a typewriter.

So begun the litany of reasons.

In the end, it wasn’t so much about the computer, nor about its tech-unfriendly operator. It was about what the typewriter represented: a simpler, more straightforward time when no new operating system needed to be learned, no ‘shortcuts’ had to be memorised, and to ‘save’ something you typed it with carbon paper and filed the copy away in the beat-up steel filing cabinet next to your desk.

And the stories!

SctypeHer Smith Corona (similar to the one pictured) had years of history. She had bought it in the States in 1971 and it had travelled with us to Australia. On it she had recorded years of conversations to and from grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and extended family. No doubt every milestone in the life of our growing family had found its way through the keys to be clunk-clunked on to ‘onionskin’ paper (This translucent paper was apparently lighter in weight than standard bond paper and so she could include many more pages in the letter and still pay standard postage.)

Dad used it to type out his sermons and the occasional letter to his brother. I never asked him why he used a typewriter because it was obvious: nobody–not even himself, I think–could read his handwritten scrawl!

The familiar ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ of the typewriter, the ‘ding’ from the little bell that signified the end of a line and the ‘z-i-i-i-p’ sound the carriage made as you flicked the carriage return lever to start a new line echoed through our house every day, providing a semi-rhythmical soundtrack to our family’s life.

When the Smith Corona’s keys had become so misaligned and its carriage started being cantankerous in its desire to let go of the paper at inopportune times, mum invested in an electric typewriter. Later, that was replaced with a Brother ‘Word Processor,’ and, finally, with a computer and printer.

The old things were thrown out, sold, or given to Goodwill to make way for the new, high-tech machines and the accompanying angst in learning new ways of doing stuff.

I reckon it’s amusing to see how we don’t seem to attach the same value to the new things as we did the old things.

They don’t seem to invoke in us the same feelings of nostalgia, the yearning for the days when life was simpler and when things were manufactured to do one job and to last for years. They don’t seem to tell the same stories we hear recited from the memory of things like manual typewriters, inky ribbons and rows of life stamped out on see-through paper.

Typewriters, books, LP records, mum’s ‘special’ china, keepsakes and even fragrances bring back to us a myriad of tales–myths and legends, epics and anecdotes alike–cascading through our minds about who we were and, ultimately, who we became who we are now.

I think about this as I type on my eBay trophy short, thought-provoking sayings–the kind of which can be found on the Instagram pages of most hipsters these days. I recall with fondness a life that was less complicated (I say this as I figure out–ironically using a YouTube video–how to insert a new $10 ribbon, which I had to source from the UK and get ink all over everything.)

And I think I’ve found the answer why older folks tend to hang on to the stuff from their life a lot longer than the next generation believes to be practical: It’s the stories they hold. And I’m finding, as I get older, my memory needs all the help it can get.

 

Laying it on

christmas loveIt’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

As we approach this holiday, preparations are being made for huge family get-togethers, massive roast turkeys, bottomless bowls of salad, and copious amounts of drink (alcoholic or otherwise).

With this celebrations, the pressure is on to do what we colloquially term ‘laying it on’–putting on your best face, wearing your trendiest clothes, saying things that could pass as highly intelligent or bring the family to tears of laughter.

Sometimes we simply lose sight of what it is all about, as we are reminded in this fourth week of Advent, love.

Love doesn’t require airs, shows, obligatory pleasantries, or even artfully-painted faces. Love is.

With love–and I am speaking here of both being loving and accepting love from others and from God–there is freedom to be who we are. Richard Rohr uses the example of his favourite saint, Francis of Assisi, to illustrate that my true identity and my deepest freedom comes from God’s infinite love for me. When I know that I am loved unconditionally (without obligations or requirements on my part) I have a certain kind of freedom where not only do I not care what others think of me, but I, occasionally, intentionally play the fool in order that they don’t get too high a view of my self.

St. Francis illustrates this stage in many memorable ways. When he hears one day that the people of Assisi are calling him a saint, he invites Brother Juniper to join him in a walk through his old home town. Brother Juniper was the first simpleton (that is a compliment!), the holy fool of the original friars. Francis knew he could always trust him to understand what he was saying. Francis once said, “I wish I had a whole forest of such Junipers!”

Francis told Brother Juniper, “Let’s take off these robes, get down to our underwear, and just walk back and forth through Assisi. Then all these people who are thinking we are saints will know who we really are!” Now that’s a saint: someone who doesn’t need to be considered a saint, who can walk foolishly in his underwear the full length of Assisi.

A few years later, when people were again calling Francis a saint, he said, “Juniper, we’ve got to do it again.” This time they carried a plank into the piazza. They put it over some kind of a stone or maybe the fountain, and there they seesawed all day. They had no need to promote or protect any reputation or pious self-image.

That’s a rather constant spiritual tradition in the Eastern Church and in the Desert Fathers and Mothers, but it pretty much got lost after the 13th century Franciscans. We became more and more serious about this intense salvation thing, or you might say we took ourselves far too seriously. Moralism replaced mysticism. And this only increased after the in-house fighting of the 16th century reformations. We all needed to prove we were right. Have you noticed that people who need to prove they are right cannot laugh or smile?

When you are a “holy fool” you’ve stopped trying to look like something more than you really are. That’s when you know, as you eventually have to know, that we are all naked underneath our clothes, and we don’t need to pretend to be better than we are. I am who I am, who I am, who I am; and that creation, for some unbelievable reason, is who God loves, precisely in its uniqueness. My true identity and my deepest freedom comes from God’s infinite love for me, not from what people think of me or say about me. Both the people who praise me and those who hate me are usually doing it for the wrong reasons. – Richard Rohr, adapted from Franciscan Mysticism (an unpublished talk)

May you know this kind of love this Christmas, a love that frees, a love that releases from expectations, a love that doesn’t need to ‘lay it on’ for others to see, and a love that values others simply because they are loved by God rather than because of what they can bring to the table.

God first: The best excuse since ‘The woman you gave me made me do it’

J-O-Y, J-O-Y this shall surely be:
Jesus first
Yourself last
And Others in between.

I remember singing this song in Sunday School at a very young age and thinking that it was only natural for me to put Jesus first since he had given everything for me. Remember, this was all done from within the context of belief that my life was worthless and in me was no good to be found. Even with the redeeming power of Jesus, a human being was still said to be a worthless wretch, a ‘worm,’ nothing.

So this was the path to Joy: learn your priorities.

*  *  *  *  *

I recall when one of my College mates got married, he had the intention (and believed he had a calling from God) to be a pastor and thought he had found the ideal pastor’s wife. On his wedding day he told his bride that God was first in his life and that meant she would always take second place to his ministry.

That marriage lasted less than a year.

*  *  *  *  *

A few months ago I had a short chat with the head of a global missionary organisation. I appreciated his commitment to the work and what he and his mission had done through planting self-perpetuating and self-funding local churches around the world.

But when he spoke of the cost of mission work, it seemed the family made little difference. If a child died overseas because of lack of proper medical care while the parents were doing ‘God’s work,’ that was something to be proud of–a badge of honour to prove how God was first in everything. It was an example for the local ministers and congregations to follow.

*  *  *  *  *

Another story caught my attention the other day of a young man, the son of a prominent Evangelist, who was now writing a book about his journey into atheism. One major theme encompasses his story: in his family, God was always first (‘God’ being his father’s evangelistic ministry). Dad was never home. Dad spent more time ‘winning souls’ than nurturing those in his own house.

*  *  *  *  *

Isn’t it interesting to hear pastors, evangelists, Christian writers, leaders speak about putting God first and then equating this to giving to their particular ministry, mission or cause. In a local church this takes the form of showing up for every church activity 3 or 4 nights a week plus Sunday morning. To a televangelist, this could mean sacrificing that holiday, present or bill money to further their ‘outreach.’

My aunt was a dedicated follower of Jerry Falwell. As I recall, Falwell had a fundraising campaign sometime around 1980 in which he would send everyone who made a donation to his ministry a ‘Jesus First’ pin. My aunt sent in a donation for each of us so we would all have a ‘Jerry Jesus First’ pin to wear with pride.

*  *  *  *  *

‘Put God first and your family will never suffer need.’

I familyam believing with more and more conviction every day that when you put your family first, you are putting God first. Your family has been entrusted to you by God. God does not desire to be worshiped or served at their expense.

Your family is your first ministry.

St Paul writes about this when he calls those who do not provide for their own family ‘worse than an unbeliever’ and says of these, ‘They have denied the faith.’

I believe this is more than simply a roof over their heads, food on the table, and clothes on their backs.

If you neglect your family, you are neglecting God.

I would go so far as to say that if you do not consider your own family as your first and foremost service to God, you are simply making excuses for your choice to be an absent father or mother.

I would be even bolder to declare that many in Christian ministry truly believe that, if they were not to ‘forsake all and follow Christ,’ they would find themselves in great judgement. Because of fear, they serve God to the detriment of their own household, believing the end justifies–requires–this. After all, saving someone’s soul for eternity is far more important than playing basketball with my son.

Perhaps, they have the mistaken notion that God will one day demand of them: ‘What have you done for me?’

And they, like Adam, hanging their head in shame, will reply, ‘The family you gave me, Lord–they kept me from pursuing whole-hearted service for you.’

And God will say to them: ‘The family I gave you–service to them was serving me.’

‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.‘ (Matthew 25:40, NRSV)