Friday, October 30, 2009

my role models of Christian womanhood

This is an extract from my interview for EQUIP book club today. I thought you'd enjoy this bit!

Who have been your role models of Christian womanhood?

- my Mum, who loves Jesus and who has a very different personality to me, bless her, and thus, by God's grace, taught me to balance my weaknesses (perfectionism, pessimism) with her strengths (a willingness to make mistakes and a great ability to laugh at herself)

- my dear friends Jenny and Emma, who never stop encouraging me to live for Jesus

- godly older women whose example has encouraged me to be a Titus 2 woman to younger women - Deb, Rosie and Heather are some names which spring to mind (you know who you are!)

- women I know who struggle with depression, severe anxiety or ongoing grief and keep loving God and serving others through their pain

- women who write and teach about biblical womanhood like Sharon James, Elyse Fitzpatrick and Carolyn Mahaney

You can read the rest of the interview - which is mainly about books I've read and enjoyed this year - at EQUIP book club today.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

animism, alive and well

I worked with a group of southern Sudanese pastors to help them to develop a discipleship training program for their churches. Remembering my own experience, I suggested that the starting point be a study explaining the nature of grace. “Yes”, they agreed, “after we have taught about witchcraft”. It seemed extraordinary that ‘Discipleship 101’ in Sudan should begin with a study on witchcraft. But as I talked with my Sudanese friends, I came to appreciate that to understand grace, we must first realize that God is sovereign over all creation and that our world is not controlled through curses and spells. True grace cannot be understood properly by those trapped in an animistic worldview.1

What the Sudanese church is learning, we are unlearning. We walk around towns and claim them for God; we seek deliverance from family curses; we release Christians from spirits of anger; we refuse to live in places where bad things have happened. Many Australian Christians share the belief of our non-Christian neighbours that evil clings to places and has to be cleansed or it will threaten the future occupants.

My husband and I came face-to-face with this attitude when we moved into our home eight years ago. As we met the neighbours, it became clear that our house had a chequered past. One by one, they hesitantly asked, “Did you know that the people who lived in your house last grew marijuana?” The purpose of the enclosed room under our house with metal brackets welded to the ceiling and an abundance of black plastic tubs on the shelves—the room that the real estate agent pretended ignorance of—became all too clear. ...

You can read the rest at Sola Panel.

1 David Williams, ‘One to one: The essential ingredient of pastoral care’ in The Briefing #372, September 2009, p. 23.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

CS Lewis on love, feelings and the will

On Monday I mentioned that it's not just our beliefs that change our behaviour, but also our behaviour that changes our beliefs.

Actually, it's not so much that our behaviour changes our beliefs (change is from the heart) but that our behaviour strengthens our beliefs when it comes from a changed heart.

If a small, weak, faltering faith acts in love and obedience, this love and obedience will rebound and grow that faith. Faith and repentance grow stronger as they express themselves in love.

Here CS Lewis says something similar: that the choice to love grows the feeling or attitude of love.

Love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will ...

Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. ...

This same spiritual law works terribly in the opposite direction. ... The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become — and so on in a vicious circle for ever.

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible. ...

On the whole, God's love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God'. He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

from CS Lewis Mere Christianity chapter 9

images are from Divine Harvester and ' B a r c a at flickr

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

hear ye! hear ye! the When I Don't Desire God series is about to commence!

I'm going to ask you a question. When I ask it, close your eyes and see what pops into your head. Are you ready? Here's my question:

What brings you joy?

What did you think of? Was it a relationship, a walk along the beach, or a favourite hobby? When I asked the women in my Bible study this question, the answers were as varied as "words", "God's creation", "watching my daughter learn something new". You might like to share your responses in the comments.

My guess is that most of us long to feel this same kind of joy in God. We know we should rejoice in God, but we're not sure how that feels, or how to go about it. Which is where John Piper comes in. When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy doesn't just tell us that joy in God is good, it tells us how to fight for joy, and gives us weapons for the fight. ...

There's still time: why not grab a copy of When I Don't Desire God and read along with us during November as we learn how to fight for joy.

You can read the rest of this post at EQUIP book club today. If you click on the book cover in the right hand column of EQUIP book club, you can order a copy of When I Don't Desire God; or Koorong has plenty of copies at most of its stores, including the Melbourne ones.

Monday, October 26, 2009

how we change (9) what will you choose?

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22-24)
I've turned navel-gazing into an art form. A questionnaire about my idols? A thought-chart to identify my false beliefs? A journal, a pen, and an anxious heart? Give them to me, and I'm your woman.

I'll think, read, write, examine my heart, repent, analyse, pray, list, reflect, dissect, introspect, with the best of them.

In some ways, then, books like Tim Chester's You Can Change feed right into my tendency to self-absorption and my drive to perfect myself (although this isn't Chester's fault: he takes care to guard against these things).* He issues a gold-edged invitation to identify the lies and idols of my heart, and I'm the first on the RSVP list.

Don't get me wrong: every day I'm grateful for books like Chester's as I argue with my thoughts, battle my emotions and fight my besetting sins. It's important to deal with sin not just at the surface level, but at the deeper level of what I believe and what I worship.

But I've come to see that sometimes I need to stop praying and thinking and start acting. It's not just about "attitudes", it's also about "putting off" and "putting on" (Eph 4:22-24). Every day - every moment! - I stare sin in the face and have to choose to behave differently. That, I'm not so good at.

Which is why, in case you're like me, and in imitation of Elyse Fitzpatrick's Idols of the Heart, I've added a third step to Chester's two main steps for change:

1. thoughts- turning from lies to trust God's truth (faith)
2. desires - turning from idols to worship God alone (repentance)
3. will - choosing to act in love and obedience (repentance)

You'll notice that 3. is actually an extension of 2, which is why Chester deals with them together. As Elyse Fitzpatrick points out, our wills don't work independently - they follow our thoughts and desires. You can't abandon idols in your heart and not in your life. But I need help with changing my behaviour, so I like the way Elyse Fitzpatrick takes several chapters to talk about the nitty-gritty of practical change.

Perhaps it's a woman's thing. I've noticed we're much keener than the guys on thought-diaries and questionnaires and the details of daily life. This is both a disadvantage (navel-gazing, anyone?) and an advantage (we don't leave things at the level of theory).

Change begins in the heart, but it doesn't end there. Let me give you some examples:

  • the woman who's been praying for years that God will improve a difficult relationship and transform her emotions. One day she realises it's time not just to pray, but to love. As she does, her attitudes and feelings begin to change.
  • the woman who's terrified of crowded rooms. She avoids church and prays for God to take away her fear. But she knows she has to do the hard thing. She starts small - with a Bible study group - and works up to bigger church meetings. It's not easy, but her fears lessen with time.
  • the woman who knows she should offer hospitality to her neighbours, but who's ashamed of her shabby house. She prays about her her idolatry - her need to impress people. She repents of her lovelessness. But she has to take another step: to pick up the phone and ask the neighbours over. When she does, her fears are shown to be the small things they always were.

I don't change my behaviour through a set of disciplines (though it will take self-discipline!) or in the strength of my will-power (though I do need to make a choice). God's Spirit is the great heart-changer. When I "put off" the old self and "put on" the new, I'm only doing what God has already done in me. I "work out" my salvation because God is powerfully "working in" me to "will and to act". I obey because I'm confident God has given me everything I need to be godly. **

But changing my behaviour isn't easy or automatic. It's violent, energetic and purposeful. I can play with sin, feed it, cuddle up to it. Or I can put off sin - kill it, gouge it out, throw it off - and put on obedience.**

Every moment, I can choose to resist the first intrusion of sin: the impure look, the self-pitying thought, the unkind word, the selfish act. This isn't legalism: it's a response to grace, which teaches me to say "no" (Tit 2:11-12).

Faith gets stronger as it expresses itself in love. As I stop giving in to my fears, I learn to trust God more. As I refuse to serve my idols, they become less important to me. Every time I say "no", "no" gets a little easier. I call this the faith that comes from obedience.***

If you want some help making practical changes in your behaviour, why not read Elyse Fitzpatrick's Idols of the Heart? Her practical exercises gave me a blueprint to use with any and every issue, especially when I get stuck. Because sometimes it's time not just to think, but to act.

For reflection:
What attitudes and actions do you need to "put off"? What attitudes and actions do you need to "put on"? Are there small steps that would help you with the bigger ones? Or is it time just to say "no" - or "yes"! - in confidence that God is powerfully at work in you?

* And Nicole's too, apparently!

** see Ezek 36:24-27; Eph 4:22-24, Rom 6; Phil 2:12-13;2 Pet 1:3, Eph 1:18-21, 3:20-21, Col 1:28-29). See Mt 5:29, Rom 8:13, Col 3:5, Rom 13:12, Eph 4:22, 25, Heb 12:1, Col 3:8-9, Jam 1:21, 1 Pet 2:1, Eph 4:24, Col 3:10, 1 Thess 5:8, Rom 13:14, Col 3:12, Rev 19:8.

*** If you want to explore this further, have a look at Stuart's series on this topic, where you'll find useful insights from someone working within The Crowded House church, founded by Tim Chester:
The chicken of belief and the egg of behaviour, It's a heart issue, Hypercardiodynia: taking the 'heart issue' too far (Part 1), Hypercardiodynia: taking the heart issue too far (Part 2), and Back to the heart. HT Nicole

images are by gaspi your guide and kingary and TheAlieness and brioso at flickr

Friday, October 23, 2009

it's a bird! it's a plane! no, it's Super Froggy!

We call him "Froggy". He calls himself "Super Froggy".

We say, "Hey Andy, you're cute!" He says, "No I'm not. I'm Super Froggy!"

Super Froggy can jump "vewy, vewy high".

Don't worry: despite appearances, Super Froggy never hurts himself. He's been jumping since he could walk.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

a woman who loves to teach

I wrote this a while ago, and in the way of things, it's not something I'm feeling at the moment - just something I struggle with occasionally! But in case it's something you struggle with too, here it is:

It's not always easy being a woman who loves teaching. It's not always easy being a woman who loves theological argument. It's not always easy being a woman who loves reading, reflecting and writing.

I'm not complaining. I am glad, so glad, that my body carried our 4 children for 9 months (impossibly draining and difficult as it was) and that I had the incredible experience of giving birth to them and smelling their yeasty soft damp heads as they nestled against me. I'd never give up the joys of female conversations and female crafts and female caring.

I rejoice in the role that God has given me. I rejoice in the gentle strength of submission and the beauty of a marriage which, in its own imperfect way, is a stumbling yet increasingly joy-filled picture of the marriage of Christ and the church. I rejoice in the blessing of teaching and encouraging women, and watching them blossom into the women God wants them to be, strong and free in the grace of Christ.

But there's part of me that longs for the quiet life of a scholar. There's part of me that watches men teaching mixed gatherings of Christians and longs to teach all the wonders I've discovered in God's word to my brothers and sisters. There's part of me which struggles with the impulse to butt into conversations about theology and stun listeners with my insights.

At this point, some of you are probably thinking, "Well, why not? Does God give us gifts and desires for no reason?" It's not so simple when you're convinced that the Bible teaches different roles for men and women. The post that sparked these ramblings - Spirit-Gifting and Ministry in the Church - reminds us that none of us, whatever our views, are free to use our gifts without qualifications, and that God doesn't make mistakes.

God has made me the way he has for a reason. He makes women who write and women who love to spend hours with their noses in a book and women who enjoy teaching for a reason. He makes you, with your gifts, for me; and he makes me, with my gifts, for you.

Not for my glory. Not so that I can be recognised and respected. But for his glory. So that within the confines of this small life, with its boundless opportunities to teach and train our children and to teach and encourage my Christian sisters and to encourage my Christian brothers, his name may be glorified.

So that you and I, my Christian sisters, may build one another up in the faith. So that we, with our Christian brothers, may be transformed into the likeness of Christ. So that together we may honour and glorify our Lord.

images are from stock.xchng

Monday, October 19, 2009

psalm for the downcast (2)

Last term, when I was immersed in almost constant despondency, I went for a memorable walk. Every step had to be forced against what felt like a resisting invisible barrier. I tried to pray, to think, to get some kind of handle on what I was feeling, but my thoughts were scattered and sluggish.

Into my troubled thoughts broke Psalm 103, plucked from my memory by God's Spirit. I found myself saying it out loud: "Praise the LORD, O my soul ... who forgives all your sins ... who redeems your life from the pit...". My mood was unchanged, but the words fed my tiny spark of faith until it burned a little brighter.

At that moment, I realised how suitable psalms of praise are for the discouraged. I've always encouraged those who are depressed to learn and pray psalms of lament, like Psalm 130. But I've never thought of suggesting psalms of praise. I guess I assumed such psalms would seem flippant, insensitive or irrelevant.

But words - especially God's words! - are powerful things. As you say them out loud, they make their way into your insides. You might not feel like praising God, but it's good to speak words of praise even when you don't feel like it. It's good to exhort your soul to praise God. It's good to encourage others to praise God. As you do, you're helped to stop dwelling on yourself and your emotions and to start looking at God and acting in love.

Psalm 103 packs a punch for the desolate, for it reminds us of 6 truths we often forget and need to preach to our souls when we're tempted to despair:

  • God's character is unchanging
    (however I feel)
  • God's blessings are unfailing
    (though they may seem to have failed me)
  • God's salvation is a historical fact
    (even when I'm tempted to doubt it)
  • I am small, frail and finite
    (it's not all about me and how I'm feeling)
  • God's compassion and grace are infinite and unending
    (far bigger than this mood)
  • God rules sovereignly over all things
    (including my life right now)

Here it is.

Psalm 103

Of David.

Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD's love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children's children-
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

Praise the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
Praise the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.

image is from withrow at flickr

Friday, October 16, 2009

happy 2nd bloggy birthday!

Two years ago, I wrote my first post on in all honesty. When I re-read those early posts, I'm astounded by the joy and enthusiasm I brought to blogging way back in the days of innocence! I'm a lot more aware of the downside now, but I still love blogging.

One of the best things about blogging is meeting so many wonderful, godly women. Many of you have become friends, and I thank God for the encouragement and wisdom you've given me, and each other, over the years, and for the way he's used you to clarify my thinking on so many topics I never thought I'd be writing about!

Today's your chance to drop in and say "hi". If you've never commented before, or even if you comment regularly, why not post a quick comment here today? I'd love to hear from you!

image is by landhere at flickr

Thursday, October 15, 2009

home-made lolly bags and more for Lizzy's birthday

Lizzy turned 11 last Friday. It's hard to believe our beautiful little girl is getting so big!

She enjoyed making and decorating her own cake, and swapping around the letter candles so that they said things like "hippy barthday" - she thought this would be particularly appropriate for her dad, who loves baths!

She spent many hours during her school holidays sewing felt lolly bags for her friends.

Aren't they gorgeous?!

I took her and 3 of her friends to Luna Park

where she went on all the scariest rides without a trace of jelly belly

even if it meant going alone and completely upside down! (That's her on the left.)

Happy birthday, dear Lizzy ...

... until next year.

The patterns for the felt lolly bags were from The Usborne Big Book of Fairy Things to Make and Do.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

John Piper When I Don't Desire God

I go to Piper for his breathtakingly enormous view of God and the gospel, his encouragement to a passionate and joy-filled Christian life, and because I think his strengths are often our weaknesses in Australian reformed evangelicalism.*

Here's a book which meets me right where I'm at.

I don't know about you, but I'm all too familiar with days - with months! - when the whole world feels flat and dreary. I know what it is to wake up so exhausted that praying and reading the Bible is the last thing on my "preferred things to do" list. I often feel anxious. I feel irritable. I feel like God is in a galaxy far, far away.

During November, I'll be reading and writing through a book written for times like these: John Piper's When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. I've read and dipped into a lot of Piper books, but this is one of my favourites (the other, if you're curious, is The Pleasures of God).

I especially love the second half of When I Don't Desire God. Here, Piper tells us how to turn to the cross when guilt won't go away (something I really struggle with!), gives some wonderful practical suggestions for praying and reading the Bible, addresses the mind-bending topic of how to use creation and our bodies in the fight for joy (my favourite chapter), and (most significantly for many!) talks about the issue of depression.

So why not grab a copy of John Piper's When I Don't Desire God and read it with me when I write on it for EQUIP book club this November? As usual, I'm hoping you'll enjoy my posts even if you don't read the book, but it will be lots more fun if we read it together!

* Or so I said in a comment on this post.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

is there value in developing a theology of motherhood?

I wrote this in response to Simone's reflections on my posts on childcare: attitudes and childcare: implications, in which I tried to develop a theology of motherhood and apply it to childcare. I thought you might be interested to see it.

It's been said that there is little value in developing a theology of motherhood. This is because:

1. the Bible is reasonably silent on the subject of motherhood
2. we’re free to run our households as we see best for us and our children
3. motherhood isn’t an especially sacred task - it’s one of the many spheres of life in which we work out our salvation

I’m not so sure. Here’s why:

1. I think there’s value in developing a theology of anything at all, let alone something as significant as motherhood. As the gospel shapes our minds (Rev 12:1-2) it will shape the way we see everything. Our theology - our beliefs about God, the gospel, ourselves and the world - will shape all our thoughts and decisions, whether unconsciously or consciously. So let’s make sure our theology is a good one – about motherhood or anything else!

2. We all have a theology of God, the world and everything, including motherhood, even if we don't admit or examine it. People will sometimes say "I don't have a philosophy of life" or "I'm not into theology" but we all constantly interpret the world and our circumstances. It's better to have an examined theology than an unexamined theology.

3. The Bible doesn't have to mention something – not even once! - to give us a theology of it. For example, the Bible doesn't mention chocolate cake. But it does tell us lots about creation and this will shape the way we view and eat chocolate cake (with self-control and thanksgiving). So the fact that the Bible may be “relatively silent” on the topic of motherhood (although I’m not sure this is true!) doesn’t mean it doesn’t give us a theology of motherhood.

4. Yes, there are issues of freedom, and we shouldn’t lay down rules about them. The individual decisions you and I make as a result of our theology of, say, motherhood, will differ depending on personality, culture and circumstances. But our unique, individual decisions still flow from our theology. If we think God calls mothers to love our children, as you say, then this will shape our decisions on issues like bedtimes and childcare, although our individual decisions will differ. We can talk about our theology, and then discuss how to apply it.

5. Yes, motherhood is no more and no less sacred than anything else – in fact, everything is sacred if it’s made holy by the word and prayer (1 Tim 4:4-5). But Paul does make it clear that motherhood is one of the primary spheres for women with children in which we work out our salvation, and that it will also be a sphere which we will often be tempted to shirk for apparently more significant ministries (1 Tim 2:11-15, 5:9-15, Tit 2:3-5). This has practical implications which will affect our choices about the decisions of everyday life, including childcare.

What do you think?

image is by Nic Temby at flickr

Monday, October 12, 2009

psalm for the downcast (1)

A couple of psalms came to mean a lot to me when I was feeling discouraged last term. I'd like to share one with you this week, and one with you next week. Interestingly, they're from opposite ends of the psalm spectrum: lament and praise.

Today's psalm is a little gem I've always liked but only memorised recently. I think of it as the "vitamin pill" of the psalms, because it's got everything you need in miniature to feed your faith during times of discouragement:

  • cry out to God
  • pray for God's help
  • remember God's character and salvation
  • wait for God to restore your joy
  • trust in God's certain word
  • tell yourself to hope in God
  • encourage others to hope in God

Here it is.

Psalm 130

A song of ascents.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

image is from Frederic Poirot at flickr

Friday, October 9, 2009

a dental adventure

The other day, Thomas went to the dentist to have a tooth filled.

To hear him talk, you'd think it was an exciting adventure. Which maybe it was, along the lines of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, since he had laughing gas to help him keep still.

Here's Thomas' story of what happened.

The dentist gave me happy, tickly gas (laughing gas).

She put sleepy juice on my tooth (numbing cream).

She gave me a mosquito bite (a needle).

She had a vacuum cleaner which blew out all the plug monsters (plaque monsters).

I met Mr. Whistler and Mr. Tickle (drill bits).

She painted my tooth blue and white (the filling).

She gave me a special prize for being so good! (sugar-free chewing gum)

When can I go back and have another filling?

The dentist told Thomas that the sugar-free chewing gum she gave him came all the way from Japan and was "the best thing in the world". Thomas was completely convinced. He took it to school for share time and told his class it was "the best thing in the world", so they probably all want to go and see the dentist now.

If only I found going to the dentist this much fun!

image is from jelene at flickr

Thursday, October 8, 2009

my husband's talks on the Song of Songs

All marriages go through happy years and difficult years; times of struggle, and times of growth.

Late last year, my husband Steve spent time reading and preparing talks on the Song of Songs. I can't remember a time when our marriage grew more quickly and wonderfully than during those few months. This has been a great year for our marriage.

If you'd like to listen to Steve's talks on the Song of Songs, and as you listen, get to know the irreverent, funny, engaging (extra)ordinary man who is my husband, here's the link: Song of Songs talks 1, 2 & 3.

The talks were originally given to uni students, so you don't have to be married to benefit from them. But if you're married, you might like to listen to them together with your spouse.

p.s. ... just don't believe everything you hear, especially any jokes about hollywood actors ... :D

image is from jcoterhals at flickr

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

John Piper on Jesus

Jesus Christ is not merely the means of our rescue from damnation; he is the goal of our salvation. If he is not satisfying to be with, there is no salvation.

He is not merely the rope that pulls us from the threatening waves; he is the solid beach under our feet, the air in our lungs, and the beat of our heart, and the warm sun on our skin, and the song in our ears, and the arms of our beloved.

John Piper Taste and See 406 HT Of First Importance 24 Sep 2009

image is from mikebaird at flickr

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

a question of childcare (4a) research - Peter Cook 's Mothering Denied and the ideology of childcare

You won't find a stronger opponent to childcare* than Dr Peter Cook! My friend sent me a link to his free online book Mothering Denied, and I read it with astonished fascination from first page to last.

He brings together five lines of evidence for what he calls a "natural, biologically-based, best-fit pattern of human mothering" (p.10):

1. the kind of mothering produced through natural selection

2. the benefits of breastfeeding for physical and emotional development

3. early 20th century studies on the importance of attachment

4. how mothers' and infants' brains are affected by the mother-child bond

5. studies comparing the effects of mother-care and daycare

You can see that he covers a lot more than childcare! He's really defending a particular approach to mothering - attachment parenting - where the mother carries and sleeps with her infant, feeds on demand, doesn't follow a routine, breastfeeds (when possible), and (more importantly!) forms a strong, affectionate, joyful relationship with her children, within the context of a supportive extended family.

I have some major issues with this book. Peter Cook's arguments often seem more speculative than scientific: his view of motherhood is based largely on theories about the evolutionary development of humans, the structure of hunter-gatherer societies, and comparisons with other mammals and how they care for their infants. But he also makes many valuable observations.

There are two main ideologies he sees as contributing to the undermining of natural mothering: Christianity (and restraint parenting) and feminism (and cultural determinism).

His view of Christianity is interesting, to say the least! He argues that the doctrine of original sin is responsible for harsh discipline and for treating babies' needs as impositions to be ignored. But his alternative - that if we satisfy infants' needs and gently encourage them to respect others, they will grow into self-regulating children who rarely (if ever!) need punishment - is naive (p.93). There has to be a place for a combination of loving attention and sensible discipline!

But he has some fantastic observations about feminism and its impact on how we think about motherhood. Equality feminists saw the differences between men and women as culturally determined, replaced the words 'mothering' and 'fathering' with words like 'parenting' and 'caregiver', and "engineered social policies that pressured women back into the 'workforce,' mostly against their real wishes, and as if rearing infants only involved 'work' when you are not the mother" (p.5).

It's scary to read Simone de Beauvoir's words about motherhood:

No, we don't believe that any women should have that choice. No woman should be authorized to stay home to raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one. (p.66 my emphasis)

And this is the philosophy our society's views about motherhood are based on! The leaders of the feminist movement - Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir and Germaine Greer - all had second thoughts when they were older. Yet the "entrenched orthodoxy of equality feminism" (p. 67) has had an enormous impact on our society's policies on work and childcare.

Women feel strong internal and external pressure to return to work and put their children into childcare. As Peter Cook observes, it doesn't help that housing prices often require two incomes, or that the joy of motherhood is undermined by the isolation of modern urban life and the breakdown of the extended family.

As Christians, we'll take our view of motherhood from the Bible, not biology. We'll try to lovingly meet the needs of our babies, although not all of us will practise "attachment parenting" as Peter Cook recommends. But his observations about feminism and its impact on our view of motherhood are sobering. I guess it shows how important it is to be aware of the ideologies underlying our choices about childcare.

This post is already too long, so I'll save Peter Cook's observations about studies of childcare for another day!

* I'm using "childcare" to mean the care of children in a professional childcare centre.

image is from Playgroup Australia

Monday, October 5, 2009

some changes on in all honesty

Today is the first day of the last school term in Victoria. As the new term begins, so do some changes on in all honesty. I've been blogging for nearly 2 years now, and it's time for a rethink.

As you know, I've been feeling pretty overwhelmed by all the extra ministries in my life. Some of the joy has gone out of writing and teaching for me. One of my dear friends summed it up: "Things have been moving pretty fast for you over the past 18 months - maybe it is time to slow things down and take a breather."

These school holidays have been a peaceful opportunity to stop, pray, reflect, and ask some wise friends for advice. I've tried to keep nothing back from God as I've gone through this process. I seriously considered stopping blogging altogether.

But because writing is refreshing for me and (I hope!) encouraging for you, I've decided to keep blogging, but to blog more flexibly and less frequently.

I'm hoping this will free me up to give more undivided attention to my family, and to teach the occasional seminar. I don't want to come close to burnout again, but I also don't want to give up teaching women in person because of the relentless pace of blogging! Above all, I don't want to neglect my family, especially during Andy's last precious 2 years at home.

Here's what it means for in all honesty:

1. I may post a little less often. Don't worry about me (as some of you do!) when I miss a weekday. I'm just taking a mental health day or some time to spend with friends and family. I want to allow freedom to go with the natural ebb and flow of life.

2. I'll attempt less series at a time! :) Keeping up with the relentless pace of a series is one of the hardest things on a blog. Instead of chasing lots of topics at once, I'll try to stick to 1 or, at the most, 2! We'll see how I go.

3. I won't try to post weekly on a series. Instead, I'll throw up a topic, and post when I'm ready to write something new. So don't expect a post on the same topic every Monday, for example. You might be waiting a week, or even a month!

4. I may not post during school holidays. At the moment, I take 2 annual breaks from blogging in winter and summer, but I may extend this to include the other 2 school holidays, when I may post archives and a few holiday pics. I'm not sure about this yet! Feel free to tell me what you think.

5. I'll keep the current balance of serious and light, theological and topical. Lots of you have told me you enjoy the variety. So that won't change.

I'll try out these changes until the end of the year, then I'll stop and reassess how blogging is going for my family and me.

Thank so much for your support and encouragement. It's such a privilege to have such faithful and loving readers on in all honesty. I'm truly blessed to be able to encourage others and be encouraged by them while doing something I love!

image is from Will Lion at flickr

Saturday, October 3, 2009


And yes, we did make an oobleck during the school holidays - at least, Lizzy and her friend did!


Friday, October 2, 2009

our school holidays

It's nearly the end of school holidays here in Victoria (*sob*). I feel very refreshed and invigorated, and unusually ready for another busy term - less busy than it was going to be, thankfully!

Here's some photos of our holiday adventures in lovely Melbourne. We made some fascinating discoveries at the Melbourne Museum,

intrepidly explored the Children's Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens,

and played in the adventure playground near the Yarra River.

We also continued our annual family tradition of going to the Royal Melbourne Show. Here we got up close and personal with animals,

went on some rides,

tried out a sideshow,

looked at the art and crafts (especially the decorated cakes!),

and rotted our teeth with lollipops

and over-large showbags.