Reflections on our travels

We are getting close to the end of another trip around one of our favourite places – Spain. We have traveled over 6000 kms in 5 weeks. In our journey we have visited new places, like Ronda and Cartagena, and further explored some favourite haunts such as Granada, Cordoba and Valencia.

Once again we have been amazed and mesmerised by spectacular scenery, as well as being infatuated by its history and downright quirkiness. The coast around the north west corner is rugged and spectacular. From Gijon through to Fisterra the coastline is dramatic and rugged. But personally, I love the arid landscape of Extremadura, wondering how these people make a living off the land and remembering that many of the conquistadors came from this part of the world – probably already hardened by their environment.

In the south, steering clear of the tourist Meccas, there are amazing beaches stuck in tiny coves – and then there is the hinterland- a curse for truck drivers, but the mountains and canyons are spectacular.

The people understand very little English and our Spanish is equally poor, but apart from the odd deli assistant, they are always welcoming and friendly. A “hola” always gets a reply.

We visit many churches as we walk though towns and cities. Some are simple in their expression of Catholicism and some very ornate with square metres of gold leaf covering the ornaments. With every church we visit I sit and spend some time in prayer, praying for the congregation and its leaders.

Yet we are not uncritical. The omnipresent graffiti, even in some of the most dramatic and ancient settings, is deeply offensive and belittling of this amazing country and its history. And then there are moments walking around the cities when the smell of dog poo is overwhelming. There is the human contribution with the pools of urine against buildings every morning after a evening of drinking. Rubbish by the roadside and around towns is hard to ignore and the many decaying buildings left to rot in towns and cities is quite confronting. The lottery ticket hawkers are also tiresome. One thing that confronts me personally is the number of homeless people and beggars which makes me feel helpless and guilty. I have tried to engage with some of these struggling people on a number of occasions. In one situation the girl was clearly pregnant and simple, and I got the clear impression that someone had put her in the church doorway to use her to make money. On another occasion I engaged with a young man who was on the Camino without support. He spoke some English and it was clear there were other struggles going on. All I could give was some human contact, but on the whole, left feeling helpless.

We can become blind to the failures of our own culture and I am sure many Spaniards no longer see many of these eyesores.

At best, it is a reminder to me to look at my own country and society with a fresh and critical eye.

Categories: Reflections, Travel | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Traditions

Tonight we were wandering past a 400 year old church in the town of Zafra in southern Spain. The church is a massive stone edifice with a large bell tower. It hovers over the town like a silent sentinel – well, not always silent as it rings the hours. The only other building that has stood so long is the Ducal palace. As we walked past on this chilly evening I wondered out loud to my wife what the church had witnessed in its time: the people simply going by on their mules, horses, carts or just by foot, the funerals, weddings and sacred celebrations, the battles like the civil war, the changes in society – it’s attitudes, values and priorities. All the while it has been there – largely unchanged.

We have come to live in a such a quick change throwaway society it is hard to imagine a time when values and traditions were held firmly and changed little over millennia. I am not arguing simply for tradition for traditions sake, and yet, there is a stability missing in our manic society that sorely needs pillars of truth, faith and solid traditions to underpin, or more correctly, replace our modern fragile facade. A facade, that seems to me at least, to be crumbling and unravelling.

Categories: Life | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Camping Overseas

Recently someone asked us how we go camping overseas. All our camping gear fits into a suitcase. Tent, camping stove, mats, sleeping bags – all come in at 10 kgs. Plates and batteries for our headlights we pick up when we arrive.

Our philosophy is that we go overseas to see the sights, not to luxuriate in hotels. The cost of three nights camping is roughly equivalent to one night in moderately priced accommodation. We have done this from the Arctic Circle in Norway to the southern extremities of Tasmania.

The downside is that the weather can sometimes overwhelm us, or, as occurred recently, our trusty tent failed us and we were swamped in our tent on our first night in Spain. But Decathlon had a good range of tents and the new tent has already paid for itself.

The upside is priceless. We have camped in some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable. The list is long, here are some of the highlights: the Grand Canyon, the Lorelei rock overlooking the Rhine River, Hells Gates in Tasmania (Tassie has many), Gudvangen in Norway (again, like Tassie, many more), the Murray river, Torla in Spain, on the lakes or coast of Sweden …

There are times when we pike out, like the time when it rained for a week straight during a European Summer. When we got to Heidelberg, still raining, we opted for a cabin. Then there was the time in Cuenca when the campsite let us down and a local hotel offered us a special rate. Another time we just wanted to experience living in a Ducal palace so we did that in Zafra. Those two nights could have paid for 12 or more nights camping. But it was a special treat.

How long can we do this for? My wife has no problem sitting on the ground for long periods of time, whereas my back is starting to complain. A cheap chair from Decathlon might be the answer. But we both know that we will continue to do this as long as our bodies allow us too. Most friends, and certainly fellow campers, think we are as mad as cut snakes, but my wife doesn’t care what other people think and every year I am growing to be more like her.

Categories: Camping, Travel | Tags: , | Leave a comment

People Watching

Currently we are on the return journey back to Bergen after having made it all the way to Kirkenes. The boat we are on is essentially a fancy ferry that transports locals up and down the coast as well as tourists. We stop at a number of ports each day for people to embark and disembark and to allow other passengers to go on tours or meander through the local town.

The ship is small by cruise liner standards but has some of the same facilities. My wife describes the decor as “Upmarket Medical Centre”.

The main attraction for me is the amazing scenery we travel through but there is also time to observe my fellow passengers – at meals, in conversation, on tours and in the general activity of the ship. There are groups, couples, families and singles. There are Norwegians, Germans, French, Americans and a smattering of other nationalities. There are extreme introverts, and the far more annoying, extreme extroverts and every personality in between – and you are all stuck together for hours on end. Then you have drinkers for whom the bar is the focus of the ship, and the knitters who look for a quiet spot to click the needles and observe the amazing scenery. Crossword doodlers, shutterbugs, readers, board game players and jigsaw puzzlers round out the menagerie.

Vardo

A game I play is to listen for the accents to guess where people are from and when an opportune moment arises I will ask them, to see how close I got.

On this particular trip we have had two very special encounters. The first was with a pastor and his wife who had been in a church in Melbourne for a few years and are now back in Sweden. Even more amazing, we knew the town they came from and I actually had a photo of a friend of his which I had taken when he gave us a tour of a museum. The second encounter was with an elderly retired German academic who shared with us some of his amazing life. This was a special privilege.

I shouldn’t forget the crew. They need to keep good order on the ship as well as keeping the passengers happy. Most are friendly and some officious. They all do their respective jobs well but don’t get back to the ship late! Then you see their dark side. After a week you become familiar with the waiting and cleaning staff. On our trip the real test came when there was a bomb scare. Suddenly the crew had to take on different roles in an unfamiliar environment. The threat happened just as people were returning to the ship in port. Shelter, water and food had to be found, frail people supported and information transmitted. This was a moment when some of the crew really stood up and showed leadership and others stood back and waited for orders – a microcosm of everyday life.

Anyway, people are coming back from their excursions so it is time to swatch again.

Categories: Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

War, what is it good for?

As an Australian, it is confronting to discover the impact that World War 2 has had on the myriad of communities throughout Norway. Although horrific, the attacks on Australian soil were minor in comparison to the relentless impact on civilians in this area during WW2.

Nearly every town has a memorial or museum recalling the trauma of the war. Each recounts the destruction of homes, businesses and individual lives.

An Ilyushin plane

The Borderland Museum in Kirkenes, just one example, recalls the impact of being caught between the Soviets and the Germans. Hitler wanted to cut off sea access to Murmansk, an all weather northern port, which meant that this area of Norway became the scene of heavy fortification and of intense battles. No person and no place was spared. Communities and lives were destroyed, and if not totally destroyed forced into a huge upheaval.

This makes the Russian encroachments on Ukraine all the more puzzling. Haven’t we seen enough mass graves and destroyed towns? Haven’t we learned the lessons of manic ideology and rampant nationalism? For countries like Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Baltic states, current events in Ukraine are not hypothetical. There is a tangible history of what happens when tyrants are allowed to run loose.

An Enigma machine found in the Solvaer Police Station
Categories: society | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Status of Preaching

While reading Second Timothy as Paul instructs Timothy from prison to be a staunch and steadfast promoter of the gospel and to “correctly handle the word of truth”, it struck me that many of the examples of preaching that I encounter stand in stark contrast to that injunction. Pop psychology, platitudes, personal views and alternate readings, replace what should be at the heart of preaching – God’s infallible Word.

Even worse, some preachers encourage their hearers to find “their own truth” in the text. This is a very postmodernist approach where we all have our own “truths”. All we need to do is discover it. God’s truth, is secondary to our “truth”.

I found an alternative view in a church in Porvoo, Finland, a number of years ago. As the preacher approached the pulpit, above the door to the pulpit the cleric would have read: 1 Cor 1:21 “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” And as the preacher left, on the other side, 1 Cor 4:20 “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” For me, it highlights the fact of God’s truth is proclaimed through the foolish mouths of humans. However, this Word, as it comes from God, is empowered to change lives and destinies. It doesn’t give us an excuse to replace God’s Word with some fantasy of our own.

Our foolishness, however, does not give us liberty to stray from God’s word. This must always be at the heart of all preaching.

Categories: Bible, Christianity, preaching, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Medieval parenting

My wife and I were discussing parenting for faith last night as we often do. We reflected on the perilous social conditions that confront Christian parents today.

I cast my mind back to my own parents who were foundational in their influence on my life, especially with regard to faith. My parents were two very different people. My mother believed and knew what she believed and nothing would dissuade her. My dad, on the other hand, had a more tumultuous relationship with his Creator. He struggled with understanding God’s actions, His revelation of himself, His fairness and many other aspects of the God revealed in Scripture. But there was one absolute truth that both my parents abided by – God was real! And that is what I mean by Medieval Parenting – there is no question around the existence of God. It is a given. In Medieval times there were no atheists. In my family, growing up, the reality of God’s existence was always at the heart of our family life. This truth guided our decision making, priorities and also guided us through life, which, at the time, being a migrant family with few resources, was an amazing comfort. We were in God’s hands no matter what happened or whether or not we understood Him..

What I particularly appreciated about my father’s relationship with God was that God was a constant presence in the conversations. In prayer, in family devotions and at Christian gatherings God was always in the middle the conversation. Never on the periphery.

Looking back, I treasure my father’s open struggles in understanding God. It gave me a living example of what we often see in the Psalms – the psalmist questioning God, angry at God, confused by God but always conversing with God.

“Medieval parenting” starts with a living and real relationship with God and the question of His existence is never part of the conversation.

Categories: Children, christian, Family | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Pornification of our Culture

Currently I am reading Carl R. Trueman’s brilliant unpacking of our contemporary social morass in his book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. This mind-bending unravelling of the nature of modern identity in the West is a “must read”. However, I just want to reflect on one chapter: Chapter 8 – The Triumph of the Erotic. In this chapter Trueman explores how Surrealism, inspired by the likes of Marx but particularly Freud, made a concerted attempt to destroy Christianity via the means of a sexual revolution.

The author traces how this process has worked in what he describes as the “pornification of mainstream culture.” We see this in more recent times through the rise of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine in the 1960s through to explicit sexual acts in mainstream television and films in the 2000s. There has been an increasingly overt wearing down of the old sexual morals. What was once hidden  in dark places is now celebrated out in the open. As he points out, in today’s context Hefner looks conservative. Now porn in every aspect our culture is the norm.

The author then goes on to look at the implications for violence particularly towards women, and the impact of this revolution on the feminist movement as a whole.

My precis is brief and insufficient, however, the question this chapter raises for me is, how do we protect our children from this inescapable onslaught? In some ways contemporary society must resemble the situation of the early church in a pagan environment in which the culture was etched into every aspect of daily life. How do you grow up faithful to the gospel in such an environment?

Here are some thoughts, but I would love readers to add their contributions as well. For the church, this is a communal issue in which community must play a crucial role in the response:

  1. Nurturing faith must be a parent and church’s highest priority. Faith is both the foundation for protection but also the restorer when failures occur.
  2. Modelling within the family and church is key: what we say, what we watch, how we respond to the inappropriate must always be consistent with our faith. Children watch our every move and are expert at detecting hypocrisy.
  3. Nurturing responsibility is also important. Age-appropriate steps in trust and responsibility are essential. Teaching strategies in reading and watching and choosing what to read and watch is essential.
  4. Many of the practical parenting ideas given (by a variety of programs) with regard to the internet are helpful, but ultimately children need to be responsible for their own choices and action.

These are just a few broad ideas. But Carl Trueman is right when describes this as an assault. The “pornification of our society” is an attack on faith, the family and the church. There are many who see these as outdated institutions. Therefore, we must be prepared to defend these institutions vigorously and passionately with the welfare of the most vulnerable foremost in our mind.

Categories: Children, christian education, Christianity, Faith | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

To Be Near Unto God

I have used this brilliant quote before but it is worth highlighting again. It comes from the introduction to Abraham Kuyper’s delightful collection of devotions: To Be Near Unto God.

Love for God may be fine sentiment. It may be sincere and capable of inspiring holy enthusiasm, while the soul is still a stranger to fellowship with the eternal, and ignorant of the secret walk with God. The great God may still not be your God. Your heart may still not be attuned to the passionate outburst of delight: I love the Lord. For love of God in general is so largely love for the idea of God, love for the Fountain of life, the Source of all good, the Watcher of Israel who never slumbers; in brief, love for him who, whatever else changes, abides the same eternally.

But when the heart can say: I love the Lord, the idea of the Eternal becomes personified. Then God becomes the Shepherd who leads us, the Father who spiritually begat us, the covenant-God to whom we sustain the covenant relation, the Friend who offers us friendship, the Lord whom we serve, the God of our trust, who is no longer merely God, but our God.

Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God,  Kindle Edition.

Categories: Devotional, Faith | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Robe – A Gem

I have travelled quite extensively around my area of the world but every now and then one finds a gem that has been missed in the past. In our recent trip to South Australia we went to Robe, in the South East corner not far from Mt Gambier. It is situated on an attractive bay. A stone obelisk on Cape Dombey which guided ships to the harbour, is still extant.

In the mid-1800s it was South Australia’s second busiest port. At this time Chinese migrants wishing to avoid Victoria’s arrival tax landed here and walked the 400 kilometres to Ballarat. It is estimated that 16000 travelled this path! The port became redundant with the advent of the railways and the wool and sheepskins which had previously been exported from here found another way of reaching their destinations.

What remains however is an attractive village which, by Australian standards, contains a collection of fine historical buildings – houses, churches and pubs. It is quite a treat to wander around the village with the aid of a pamphlet produced by the local council.

Today it is a holiday retreat with a protected marina for the keen fishermen. The fine old buildings are interspersed with modern units and houses. The town is alive and active but its C21st life is a far cry from the square riggers finding safe harbour here over 150 years ago.

Categories: Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.