Author Archives: Alison

Musical Highlights of 2017

Halfway into 2017, here are my two musical highlights of the year so far:

They recorded and released an album version of the Planetarium!!! Thanks Bryce Dessner, Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, James McAlister and your string quartet and seven trombones. Five years ago I saw you perform this live and I cried about hearing something so beautiful and then never getting to hear it again. Now I can hear it again. It’s amazing.

I am quite taken with Saturn. It doesn’t rally feature the strings or the trombones much. But it takes my 2017 prize for ‘best song exploring sin and evil’, which is a legitimate category of song appreciation for me. As you might know, Saturn was a Roman God famous as the god of plenty, who made things awesome for rich people. He was also infamous for eating his own children, so not really a great guy.

This contemporary interpretation of Saturn is fascinating. And the video clip is even more fascinating. Do yourself a favour and watch it, read Sufjan’s lyrics as you do.

And you know, I can’t stop with one song. My other musical highlight is technically from 2016, but this year it has a cool video clip… it’s Immigrants from the Hamilton mixtape!! I love that there are so many different voices in it.

Like Saturn, it’s a great song explaining what is wrong in the world. Well, at least it explains a specific social problem. Which is a drop in the bucket compared to explaining the all-reaching, pervasive, cosmic nature of evil, but still very interesting! 10 points to all the artists who contributed to this one.

(See, I’m not joking about choosing my favourite songs because of their ability to articulate the problems of the world!)

Lady Preacher

In less than a month I begin maternity leave and hit the pause button on my (paid) ministry career. I am expecting lots of things to be different, so I am taking some time to thank God for what this last season has looked like.

I’m especially thankful that I have been given so many opportunities to teach people from the bible, especially as a preacher. There is a broad spectrum of evangelical opinions on women teaching, but I’m thankful that so far, my story of training as a teacher has been filled with very supportive people – even among the institutions and personalities that I least expected, and even among people who may disagree with what I do.

So, a month and bit out from having a kid, with no more scheduled sermons or SRE classes to give, hardly any kids church lessons left to run and only a handful of bible studies left to lead, here is a collection of thoughts on what it has been like to train as a lady preacher.

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Just breathe for a second

There have been lots of highs and lows. Lots of intensity and exhaustion, just few moments to stop and rest.

Here are some of the fleeting moments so far in 2017, when there was peace and I took a photo. I am both excited and anxious about my prospects for peace in the immediate future.


Bushwalking and sketching at Mokoroa Falls.


Friday mornings at Cafe Ella.


That 40 degree day when we jumped in the car, drove to Wombara and spent the whole day on the beach.


Taking time out to read Ali Smith.


Discovering Quarrantine Reserve – just up the road from our home.


Chasing the sunrise on Easter Monday.

Return to suburbia

This afternoon I ran errands around our church building. As I walked across the property towards the main street I heard an excited voice shouting out my name: ‘HEY ALISON!’ A couple of 12 year old boys tumbled out the tree in the front of the church, laughing, then a dozen more started running around up and down the street playing tips, suddenly ignoring me again, wrapped up in their own game.

I got to witness a moment of suburban perfection – young boys, not quite men, still entertained with the place they’ve grown up in, owning the streets and the public places, not anxious or afraid to run around in the open, genuinely enjoying childhood games that they’ll grow out of in about 18 months.

And I only got to witness it because of the perfect timing of three things:

  1. A year ago I moved back to the suburbs.
  2. I have been volunteering at the local youth drop in where I’ve met all these kids.
  3. Our minister’s oldest son is one of these kids – it’s him and his friends running up and down the street and climbing the church trees.

And December is just around the corner, that sweet time for year 6 kids, when school is ending and everything is parties and Christmas is coming and you are on top of the world. This afternoon I was flooded with waves of nostalgia. I am feeling OK about living in suburbia again.

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David Malouf: Remembering Babylon

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I read this a while ago, but I am still haunted by this fictional journal entry, from a fictional Anglican minister, in a fictional white settlement in 1840s’s Queensland:

We have been wrong to see this continent as hostile and infelicitous, so that only by the fiercest stoicism, a supreme resolution and force of will, and by felling, clearing, sowing with the seeds we have bought with us and by importing sheep, cattle, rabbits, even the very birds of the air, can it be shaped and made habitable. It is habitable already. I think of our early settlers, starving on those shores in the midst of  plenty they did not recognise, in a blessed mature of flesh, fowl, fruit that was all around them and which they could not, with their English eyes, perceive, since the very habit and faculty that makes apprehensible to us what is known and expected dulls out sensitivity to other forms, even the most obvious.

We must run our eyes and look again, clear our minds of what we are looking for to see what is there. Is it not strange, this history of ours, in which explorers, men on the track of the unknown, fall dry mouthed and exhausted in country where natives, moving just ahead of them, or behind, or a mile to one side, are living, as they have done of centuries, off the land? Is there not a kind of refractory pride in it, an insistence that if the land will not present itself to us in terms that we know, we would rather die than take it as it is?

For there is a truth here and it is this: that no continent lies outside God’s bounty and his intention to provide for his children. He is a gardener and everything he makes is a garden. This place too will one day, I believe, yield its fruits to us and to the great banquet at which we are the guests, the common feast; as the Americas brought corn and tomatoes and sweet peppers, and rhubarb and the potato, that bitter root of the high Andes that women, over long years, by experiment and crossbreeding, have leached of its poison and made palatable, to be the food of millions. (There is a lily-root here that the women know how to boil and make edible.)

The children of this land were made for it, as it was for them, and is to them a rich habitation, teeming with milk and honey – even if much of its richness is still hidden; but then so was the milk and honey of the Promised Land, which was neither milk, in fact, nor honey, and the land itself to all appearance parched and without promise. We must humble ourselves and learn from them. The time will come when we too will be sustained not only by wheat and lamb and bottled cucumbers, but by what the land itself produces, tasting at last the earthy sweetness of it, allowing it to feed our flesh with its minerals and underground secrets so that what spreads in us is an intimate understanding of what it truly is, with all that is unknowable in it made familiar within…

…The theodolite offers only one way of moving into the continent and apprehending the scope and contours of it. Did we not, long ago, did not our distant ancestors, bring in out of the great plains where they wandered, out of mere wilderness, the old coarse grasses that lapped the bellies of their horses, and, separating the grains and nursing them to plumpness, learning how to mill and grind and make daily bread, and how to tend the wild vine till its fruit yielded wine, create settled places where men and women sit at tables among neighbours, in a daily sacrament which is the image of the Lord’s greater one? All this can be done again. This is what is intended by our coming here: to make this place too part of the world’s garden, but by changing ourselves rather than it and adding thus to the richness and variety of things.

How I wish that this character were true, and that his hopes for his new home had come true.

 

Jackie French: Nanberry

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The sky grew grey, then pink, and a too-bright blue. Yagali had vanished. He struggled to sit up. Why did his body feel like a jellyfish? He peered around frantically, looking for her. Had she run into the bush to find the others, or tried to swim out to cool her body? But even her footprints had been eaten by the waves.

‘Gumna?’ he cried to his grandfather. ‘Wianga?’ he called to his mother. But they only muttered, their eyes blank, their minds lost in the land of fever.

An 8 year old Cadigal boy, Nanberry, is on the brink of death by small pox, when he is discovered by Surgeon White in 1789. In an unprecedented move for his time, Surgeon White adopts Nanberry – not as a servant – but as his son.

Nanberry: Black Brother White is the story of this family during the early years of the colony. After Surgeon White adopts Nanberry he takes a convict mistress, Rachel Turner, who bears him a second son, Andrew White. The two brothers grow up in limbo. Nanberry hovers between his Cadigal and settler families, uncertain whether he will ever be initiated as a Cadigal man. Andrew must be separated from his mother and his convict connections when he is sent to England for a civilised education.

Like many of Jackie French’s other young adult novels, this one is based heavily on historical records: Nanberry, Surgeon White, Rachel, Andrew and (spoilers!) Rachel’s husband Thomas Moore – were all real people. They lived in incredibly difficult times, yet they have all left real and lasting legacies in Australian society. Rachel was one of the earliest women in English legal history to be defended in court against a charge. In Australia, Rachel helped found orphanages, schools and the Bank of NSW (currently Westpac); and her husband helped construct some of the earliest church buildings and founded Moore Theological College(!).

However, despite all these happy outcomes, Nanberry is a tragic read in the light of over 200 years of colonised history. This book is written for young people but Jackie French does not hide the violence of the colony, particularly for indigneous people and for female convicts. Nanberry himself faces terrible trauma and dislocation. And although he negotiates these circumstances with incredible courage and poise, although his story ends nobly, it is hard to take pleasure in it knowing the suffering of countless indigenous people in the generations to follow him. Similarly Rachel’s story turns out for the  better, but it opens up a window into the suffering and abuse of hundreds of other women who were sent to Australia the early days of the colony.

An educational read, a gripping read, but a sobering one. It sounds like it was a sobering book to write for Jackie French too.