Reflections

The Power of Literature

“What fictional book has challenged your thinking and touched your life in some way?” That was one of the questions we explored recently in a Literature class. Other questions included, “What character in literature do you identify with and why?”

Literature or story and the characters and ideas that it portrays is very powerful.  Powerful literature works its way into our hearts and minds. Characters and situations become so real to us that it is hard to put the book down because we still want to be involved in this person’s life. Sometimes the novel ends so abruptly that we are confronted with a sense of loss. I am still waiting in frustration for Jasper Fforde’s  second book in his series “Shades of Grey” (No! Not 50 shades!). Eddie Russet has been left in limbo for many years.

Scout in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” has forever made me more alert to the ways in which young people perceive the world. One student commented that Holden Caulfield’s struggle to accept adulthood is one with which he identifies. Steinbeck was a master at portraying the outcast and misfit. Once introduced to Lennie and George in “Of Mice and Men” we can never look at the people on the fringes of our society the same way again. Good literature confronts us and makes us sit up. We may agree or disagree with the author but at least he or she has made us take notice.

Arthur Miller’s exploration of the ‘American dream’ in his play “Death of a Salesman” discomforts us all as we reconsider our hopes, ambitions, failures and successes, and causes us to reflect on the stories we tell ourselves to justify our existence and legacy. Franz Kafka’s stories written nearly 100 years ago are an ominous omen of the confusion and lack of focus and direction our societies find themselves in today.  I certainly feel like a confused “K” at times as I try to understand the world around me.

Is there a work of literature that will forever be with you? It may be one that you return to time and again. I’d love to hear about it.

Categories: literature, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 6 Comments

I Have a Violin

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Dad’s Violin

I have a violin, which may seem strange, as I can’t play a note.  Next month I will have had it for 20 years and I still don’t play a note.

It is my father’s violin. I say “is” because even though he died 20 years ago it will never be mine.  It will always remind me of him – playing in the evening, in a group or even doing a duet with one of his granddaughters on keyboard or recorder.

The violin goes back as far as I can remember in my distant recollections – back to Holland. My dad had many musical instruments over the years: pianos, harmoniums, keyboards, recorders, pan pipes …   He tried all sorts, even a guitar but his fingers were too short for the neck which made the violin ideal.  He played by ear so it was not always enjoyable when he first got hold of a new instrument.

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Dad and his violin

But the violin is the oldest.  It is the one instrument that is always part of my memories of my father.  Yes there are many other memories like dad packing my mother’s vacuum cleaner into a soundproof box so it could push air into the harmonium with the result that he didn’t have to pedal – and mum didn’t have a vacuum cleaner.  Yet over all these moments the image of my father and his violin remains the most enduring.

It will be 20 years next month when my dad was promoted from being an earthly fiddler to a player in heaven’s orchestra with some of his favourite composers and musicians. I can imagine dad under the musical direction of J. S. Bach.

But even after 20 years I still miss his playing – the good and the bad.

Categories: Family, my dad, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: | Leave a comment

Good Books

Good booksDSC_0006
open worlds
reveal unexplored vistas
introduce wonder
delight
and … questions

 

Good books
unsettle
dig deep
and make us think
of others
the world
and possibilities

 

Good booksDSC_0811
grow us …
our minds and hearts
hopes and passions
and sense of now and eternity

 

Good books
are never the same
when you turn to
the same page
or chapter
but always morphing
and growing
as we
morph and grow

 

Good books IMG_1071
are friends
faithful companions
who are always
with us
even when the shelf
is empty

 

 

Categories: Poem, poetry, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

40 Years Today

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The two of us in front of the autumn vine (mentioned in the poem the other day) May 11 1974

In the last two posts my wife and I have reflected, in poetry, on our 40 years together. I wondered at how quickly the time had passed but she thought more about the significant events enclosed by our marriage.

It made me ponder more deeply. In this time I have seen friends divorce and others tragically lose a partner. So I must praise God for keeping these two unique and stubborn individuals together and safe throughout those 40 years. Then I dug a little deeper and thought about the person that I was 40 years ago. To be painfully honest Pieter Stok, 40 years ago, was a naive, self centred and arrogant person. I can hear some of my friends say, “What’s changed?”

wedding002

Signing our lives away.

I believe that I have mellowed and grown over those 40 years and this has all been due to a mystical combination of God using His Word, my wife, children, wider family and friends to grow me more like the person He wants me to be … and there is still a long, long way to go.

Now I know I wont get another 40 years of marriage this side of heaven but I am looking forward to what God still has in store for us. The journey to this point with its highs and lows, pains and joys has been amazing. I cannot imagine having gotten to this point with anyone else and I cannot express enough how thankful I am for the life partner He has given me.

 

So today we celebrate 40 years and anticipate a future.

Praise God!

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With parents …

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and siblings

Categories: Family, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: | 4 Comments

40 Years

ph9Where have they gone,
those forty years?
Yesterday we were so young
and naïve.

I can hardly remember
the blur that was
our  wedding day when
nerves froze my memory
that afternoon
all those speedy years ago.

The multi coloured autumn vines
behind the church
are the backdrop to my
photo black and white memories.

My hair was darker then
and yours longer and curlier.
But because the years have gone so fast
we can’t be as old as the years
crossed off the calendar.

Let us continue in our
mature youth
and live each day with fresh visions
so next year again we can ask,
“Where have they gone,
those forty one years?”

Categories: Family, Poem, poetry, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Our Inner Child

When our inner child is not nurtured and nourished, our minds gradually close to new ideas, unprofitable commitments, and the surprises of the Spirit. Evangelical faith is bartered for cozy, comfortable piety. A failure of nerve and an unwillingness to risk distorts God into a Bookkeeper, and the gospel of grace is swapped for the security of religious bondage.
“Unless you become like little children …” Heaven will be filled with five-year-olds.

Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Categories: Child Theology, Children, Reflections | Tags: , | 3 Comments

The Tsunami of Narcissism

I wonder if the Psychologists and Psychiatrists would agree with me but I believe we are engulfed in tsunami of self obsession – “narcissism”. Our blogging and Facebook posts are only the tip of the iceberg.  I find I am encountering “Hitler” and “Assad” styled self belief, in otherwise ordinary people, daily.

The symptoms include the idea that they are beyond advice and criticism. An issue is always, without fail, the other person’s problem. They will defend to the death, preferably the other person’s, their right not to be criticised. They are strident in interpreting all events and actions in relation to themselves and fail to see the perspectives of others.

If I am right, and my own narcissistic tendencies tend to suggest I am, where does self obsession come from?

I would like to suggest three reasons. You may wish to add more intelligent ideas.

  1. As I have written previously, parents are  giving children, starting at a very young age, too much choice: when they eat, what they eat, what they wear, what they do … the daily list is endless. Children are becoming wise in their own eyes.  They are attributed maturity well beyond their years. In other words, some parents are setting a treacherous groundwork.
  2. The advertising industry lives off narcissism. It is their bread and butter. We encounter the subtle and not so subtle messages to make ourselves “No.1” hourly. Their feeding of our narcissism is relentless.  Consciously or unconsciously we absorb the seductive message.
  3. Our hearts are wired to set our selves up as God. Our rebellious natures love the idea that we are the supreme being of our lives: we are the Captains of our destinies. We are ultimately only responsible to self. Incidentally, when for whatever reason this perspective is destroyed, one way out is, too often, suicide.

What is the antidote?

The solution is remarkably simple:  Essentially “Christ”.  In one fell swoop he is both the mirror that reveals the brokenness of our humanity and he also becomes our release from that brokenness and its impacts. He gives us perspective and promise.

A friend once said that we need to go to the cross, climb up and push the blood matted hair away from our Savior’s face and stare into his tortured eyes to understand the immense brokenness of our own heart, our motives, our actions, our words – our very being. The reason he was dying was for all of that and much more.  Then, no longer, can we put ourselves on a pedestal of immaculate self belief. We are awoken to an amazing and confronting awareness of the depth and seeming unwashability our own corruption.

And yet, that very awareness leads us back to the same cross so that we can say in all helplessness. “Lord, Save me! Cover my brokenness with your own pure righteousness.”

To get a glimpse of that truth is a powerful antidote to the darker side of our heart as it whispers, “It is all about me”.

Categories: christian, Christianity, Devotional, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

My Unwanted Constant Companion

I reflected the other day that all through my life I have had a constant companion. My parents were there for a long time but they have both died. There have been friends and relatives but they too, came or left at particular times. My wife and I have been together for nearly 4o years but even that doesn’t cover my whole life. Some of you may be thinking, ok he is thinking about God and the Holy Spirit. It is true that God has been constantly with me from before my birth, but on this occasion I am thinking of another presence: Satan.

Satan, the Devil the ‘evil one’, however you refer to him has also never been far away.

St Michael defeating the devil on the front of Coventry Cathedral

St Michael defeating the devil on the front of Coventry Cathedral

We can all recall the cartoons where the angel and devil sit on each shoulder of the character, pulling and enticing backwards and forwards. This caricature is in fact a good image of the reality that each of us face. We do live in this tension between living a good life and being tempted; doing right and wrong. For a long time I thought that as I became older it would easier; I would be in greater control.

However, I have found that not to be the case. In fact, the temptations and influence of my constant companion become more subtle and tenacious. I find that those conversations that I have in my mind can easily become ‘justifications’ for an attitude or a decision. The prophet Jeremiah declares to Judah on God’s behalf, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

To put it simply, the older I have become the more I have come to realise how deeply ingrained sinfulness is. It is beyond mere actions, or thoughts and permeates our very character. It’s roots drive down into the core of our being. No human effort will eradicate this.

So what is the solution? An awareness of the both the depth of sin and our our own inability is a start. That points us to our two part remedy. First, in the words of Paul, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Christian has been objectively justified in Christ. Through faith we are delivered from eternal death. But that still leaves us with a daily reality.

The second part of the remedy is the daily tough medicine. In the words of Paul again, in the power of the Holy Spirit,  “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

20130118-175507.jpgDaily, we need to be vulnerable  and open to God so that we don’t become victims of the other. There is a discipline and intentionality required to grow in Christlikeness much like the way we train for a sport. When reading Philippians I am struck by how much Paul’s discipline to live the Christian life stems from “knowing Christ Jesus Lord.” Christ is both his means and motivation as well as his goal.

So, as far as my unwanted companion is concerned, he will be there daily, but the more I look to Christ the less his influence will be.

Categories: christian, Christianity, Devotional, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

House Painting and Memories

I was painting the side of the house yesterday. This was a much delayed job but finally I took a deep breath and did it. Painting is at the top of my “most hated jobs” list. Working with silicon sealer and anything mechanical are two more detestable practices. However, painting has one good aspect, it allows the mind to wander. The greatest sermons since Pentecost and the most brilliant poetry since Shakespeare and Donne have been composed in my mind while whisking a brush back and forth or plying a roller. The downside being that I can’t write them down because the hands are otherwise occupied. That is why the world has missed out on these precious gems. They never seem to come when sitting behind a desk with pen or keyboard. Funny that!

DSC_0006Yesterday the mind went on one of those “one thought leads to another” meanderings as I was painting white on white. It started when I reflected on the time I first painted a house. I was a poor theological student (is there ever a rich one?) and being desperate for money I agreed to paint someone’s home. These wonderful people were bookish. Housework and tidiness came a distant last to reading and discussing fascinating topics. Looking back I now realise that the lady of the house was one before her time.

Years before Howard Gardiner’s theory of multiple intelligences became popular she was already teaching with this understanding. They were concerned about stewardship and “green” issues before most of us woke up to the havoc we are wreaking on the environment. This family went camping in national parks only using their wits while the rest of us went to proper camping places.

The most powerful facet of this family’s influence was that they lived this way as Christians while most of us lived a stereotypical middle class, materialistic church attending life style.

As I was slopping paint about I reflected that these people had influenced my life. They were one of the many “tug boats” that God sent over time to nudge, steer and challenge the direction my life has taken. They had broadened my mind and forced me to modify my thinking.

So yesterday as I was painting I was also able to send up a prayer of thanks for these people who, many years ago, affected my life. My hands kept on painting but my heart was giving thanks to God. I didn’t need a keyboard or a pen.

Categories: Christianity, Church, people i admire, Reflections | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Finishing Well

Lately, as the end of the school year approaches, I have been urging my students, particularly the older ones, to finish the year well. “Give it all you have got!” “Do your best.” “Show your mettle.”

astro clock

Astronomical Clock – Prague

Then I reflected that I should be directing this message to myself as well. I am getting to an age when, traditionally, people retired. According to some European countries I am well past that age. They would have pensioned me off some time ago! But, I too, need to finish well. There are are times when I remember saying in the past, “There is no retirement in the Kingdom of God.” The time has come where I need to believe that for myself!

In recent year years I have heard a negative inner voice urge me to quit, stand back, take it easy and to pass the buck. “It is all to much.” Excuses wheedle their way in. It is the arthritis or the stamina or whatever excuse seems “usable” at the time. This surprises me because it goes against everything I have ever believed in.

It doesn’t help that we live in a culture that idolises youth and appearance. There is a, not too subtle, hint in western society that if you are over 50 or 60 you “over the hill.” Yet this gives us the very reason to “finish well”. We live in a society that needs wisdom, experience and stability. Our world needs firm but humble voices that hearken to values, beliefs and standards that deserve to be remembered and retained. All the more reason for older people not to “pull their heads in” but to speak with care and compassion into the modern world.

To put it simply, we need the passion, verve and energy of the young but also  the wisdom, experience and stories of those who are older. Isn’t that one of the remarkable attributes that make us human?

Categories: christian, Reflections | Tags: , | 3 Comments

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