Travel light

Sherpas-Everest-Nepal

About a year ago I wrote about decluttering my life of old stuff, dreams and ambitions. This task has become an iterative one – after clearing out one layer of clutter I find more underneath that has yet to be dealt with. It also takes time to examine my desires, motivations, dreams, anxieties, worries, priorities, fears, and insecurities and see them for what they are – excess baggage.

So many people I have met over the years walk around carrying a heap of emotional hang-ups that weigh them down. (Bear Grylls, A Survival Guide for Life)

I’m no Bear Grylls, but I have spent enough time carrying a heavy pack through New Zealand’s wilderness to know the folly of carrying stuff that is not essential. I’ve also occasionally forgotten to take something necessary and seriously regretted my lack of warm/dry clothes!

Jesus also encourages us to travel light, while acknowledging that many of us are in fact loaded down with cares, fears, anxiety and worries:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:31-33 ESV)

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

Obviously he is not talking about carrying a heavy backpack. Jesus promises rest for our souls rather than rest for out shoulders. And realistically it is our souls, our hearts, our minds that become burdened by the cares and worries of life. This soul burden becomes heavier as we move through adulthood and take on the responsibilities of spouse, children and jobs.


Image: iStock

Just an old garden rake

I was mowing our lawns today, and because the catcher doesn’t work very well on our lawn mower, was using an old bamboo leaf rake inherited from my grandfather to gather up the grass clippings. The irony is that this old rake, with many tines broken off, is still more effective than a newer metal one that I have in the shed. The thing is probably older than I am, yet still it gets the job done.

But effectiveness is only part of the reason I like using the old rake. I don’t recall actually seeing my grandfather use that particular tool, but when I use it I’m reminded of him. He could be a cantankerous old sod, but it is still good to remember him. He certainly took care of his tools and implements better than I do, his workshop was always orderly and he took great pains to mend things and keep them in good order. To the extent that his wheelbarrow had an improvised tyre made from an old bicycle tyre wrapped around the wheel several times and held in place with bits of wire.

Using his old rake also got me thinking of their house, with it’s funny outside toilet that had a golf ball on a chain to flush it with. There was always a box of neatly split kindling by the back door, and the old wooden building blocks that my father had as a child. The way Nana and Granddad always used cloth napkins and had the table properly set for every meal. Sunday roast dinners that my grandmother managed to cook in a tiny little kitchen which became swelteringly hot when the oven was on.

Which got me thinking of the tragedy of my grandmother ending her days in the confusion of Alzheimer’s disease, forgetting and forgotten. I now wish I had put more effort into visiting her in the nursing home during her final few years. It was hard to visit someone who had no idea who I was, and those were the years when my own children were babies and toddlers so life was already very full.

Recently I read an article about caring for elderly parents as they slowly died. Something which stood out to me was the following:

Around holidays and birthdays, rejection and abandonment surfaced, especially when the “family expectations balloon” popped because distance and responsibilities prevented other family members from gathering. (H. Curtis McDaniel How Long Till I Can Die? A 5-Year Journey in Hospice Caregiving)

There will always be conflicting responsibilities and demands on my time and resources, but this article reminded me that to someone who is facing the loss of everything, what they value most is being loved by those they have spent their own lives loving.

As lives are lived and years tick by, families generate their share of issues, disappointments and disagreements. Things are said or not said, done and not done. Choices are made by people we thought we knew that show how much we have grown apart. Our own lives and families are an immediate demand upon us. Yet I suspect that my parents and siblings still long for a phone call, letter or visit to reassure them that I’m still thinking of them and want to remain part of their lives.

In the end all we are left with is memories, regrets and odd items that remind us of those who went before us and in their own way loved and nurtured us as part of their family. So maybe it is just a beaten up old garden rake, but to me it means much more than being just a rake.

Decluttering

It is not spring yet, but I am having a clear out of stuff that is no longer useful to have in my life. Some of this is physical clutter such as old lecture notes that I haven’t looked at in over a decade, some is digital stuff like the 2,000 web clippings in Evernote about blogging that I’ve deleted. Books I’ve kept but obviously will never read again, clothes no longer fitting, hobbies not pursued.

Then there are the old dreams and ambitions that have lain mouldering for decades, a few more recently shelved and now accumulating dust. These are taking longer to sift through, many need to be reckoned with before tossing them into the fire:

Why did I ever think that was a possibility?

How did I forget about this one?

Can I not keep a few, just in case?

Just in case of what? In case I get younger? In case I can undo the wasted years? In case these weaknesses, this personality, this life I’ve lived, is not really all I’ve got?

No. They have to go, despite what has been spent on some of those dreams in the past. Time and events cannot be undone, I am not a redeemer – these illusions need to be put to rest and space made to live and breathe in the life I currently have.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
(Ecclesiastes 3:6 ESV, emphasis mine)

It may sound overly dramatic, but what I’m doing is looking at my inner life of desires, motivations, dreams, anxieties, worries, priorities, fears, insecurities and assessing whether they fit who I really am. Are these the things I want to define me or am I wearing a life that is a few sizes too small (or too big)?

Childhood is many years ago for me now, yet plenty of childish things continue to influence how I think and act. I have been a Christian for 27 years but in some ways still think as an unbeliever. I lived single and without responsibilities for a long time, now I consider my wife and children first when faced with choices.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11 ESV)

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. (1 Corinthians 14:20 ESV)

At a superficial level, social expectations enforce a certain level of maturity in adults. Yet many childish ways can endure and I think God expects us to do the work of identifying these to replace them with maturity and wisdom based on His revelation in Christ.

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. (Titus 2:2 ESV)


The significance of the featured image is that one of my childhood dreams was to become a scientist. In reality I partially fulfilled that dream but not quite as I had expected.

Forgiveness

Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son-James_Tissot

On Wednesday I wrote about repentance, today I’m looking at forgiveness.

Repenting from sin and turning to God holds the promise of forgiveness of sin as Peter preached in Acts 3:19. Being restored to a place of unhindered fellowship with God is more than worth any humbling, grief or sorrow that repentance entails.

There is also an interpersonal aspect to repentance and forgiveness.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
(Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)

I think this incident was recorded especially for people like me. I not only sin and disrupt my relationship with God, but am also distressingly consistent at damaging my relationships with other people.

But I cannot expect forgiveness from people I have let down in the same way I can from God. People have smaller capacities to cope with such selfishness and failings than God does. There is also a need to earn trust again after letting people down. God knows us too well to trust us not to let Him down.

When I have put my selfish wants over consideration for someone I claim to love, they are rightfully skeptical if I say it won’t happen again. In this situation the roles of Peter’s question are reversed: ‘How often can I presume upon another’s forgiveness?’ Don’t try to tell me the response would be, “seventy times seven”!

From Matthew 5:23-24 it seems the answer would be more like, “Less than one time.” God is not happy to receive my worship until I have gone out of my way to be reconciled with the person I have offended. Also, I must take the initiative, as soon as possible (see Matthew 5:25). As much as it depends upon me, I must seek peace and reconciliation in all my relationships (Romans 12:18).

Finally, because my selfishness has most affected my wife, I am keeping in mind Peter’s word to husbands:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 ESV)

I’m not sure about the ‘weaker vessel’ bit, I’m pretty weak myself. The point is that a disrupted marriage relationship leads to problems with prayer (a topic for another day).


About the image: The Return of the Prodigal Son (Le retour de l’enfant prodigue) by James Tissot. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. I chose this image because the story of the prodigal son is the classic story of unconditional forgiveness and I particularly like this artist’s depiction of the father embracing his son.

Acts 3:19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, (ESV)

Matthew 5:23-24 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (ESV)

Matthew 5:25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser… (ESV)

Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (ESV)

Shaving with a straight razor

I first encountered the art of shaving with a straight razor on a blog called The Art of Manliness (which ‘real kiwi blokes’ probably don’t read) in a post called Shave Like Your Great Grandpa: The Ultimate Straight Razor Shaving Guide. I was particularly attracted by the idea of not having to keep buying disposable razor cartridges at $5 each and the inherent waste disposable stuff:

Today’s modern shaving racket creates needless waste. When you’re done with a cartridge, you have to throw it out. When you buy new cartridges, you’re left with a ton of packaging material.

Then there were the promised benefits of a better shave and “You’ll feel like more of a bad ass“.

I ditched the shaving foam in a can many years ago as it is stupidly expensive and results in empty aerosol cans heading to the landfill. So in some ways it made sense to take another step towards reducing cost and waste by using a razor that simply requires re-sharpening rather than throwing plastic cartridges away every week.

Then there is the appeal of using such an ‘old school’ shaving method, a sort of re-establishing of links back how men have shaved for many hundreds of years before the invention of disposable razor blades. In opposition to the hurried, unthinking approach to personal grooming fostered by electric shavers and blister-packed blades with instant foam from a can, everything about using a straight razor forces me to take my time. With a blade sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel placed across your throat comes undivided focus on the task!

Believe or not, there is actually an entire web forum dedicated to straight razor shaving (Straight Razor Place). This is an excellent resource for learning what to look for in a razor, how to strop the razor to fine-tune the cutting edge and tips on how to shave without removing ears, nose or otherwise slicing your face to bits. The folks posting on this site extoll the virtues of straight razor shaving, claiming it to be the closest shave you will ever achieve.

Learning what gear is needed was one thing, getting it in New Zealand meant yet more scouring the internet to find retailers to buy from. Thankfully ordering online enables us to get stuff that would otherwise be difficult to obtain here.

So in mid-March my honed and stropped ‘shave-ready’ razor arrived and I opened it eager to venture into the world of an extraordinarily close shave with no razor burn… and on seeing the blade thought, “this is insane!” The idea of putting anything that sharp near my face freaked me out.

However, money talks – I had already paid for the razor and bought a strop so was committed. I needed learn how to use this gear in order to recoup my costs.

I began with baby steps, shaving my cheeks, the only flattish part of my face, finishing the rest with a regular razor. Over the next week I progressed to being able to shave my whole face without too many cuts. Shaving under the nose is particularly awkward, I can now see why Lord Voldemort got rid of his nose – it must make shaving much easier!

After four months using a straight razor most days, I am usually able to do the job without drawing blood. At least when a razor like this does cut it is fine and clean so heals easily. However, a puncture repair kit consisting of an alum block and styptic pencil does come in handy for moments when I’m not concentrating.

Is it a brilliantly close shave? It can be. With care and multiple passes, I can get a very smooth shave, though this carries a risk of nicks by trying too hard to get an ultra smooth shave. To be fair though, if I do the same preparation and take my time with a regular cartridge razor I can also get an equally close shave. Overall though, I like having to take my time and be careful – shaving has become one of life’s little pleasures rather than the chore I previously viewed it as.

Pros & cons of straight razor shaving:

Pros:
  • Overall cost savings
  • Minimal waste
  • ‘Meditative’ shaving experience
  • Nostalgia
Cons:
  • Time required for each shave and care of razors
  • Upfront cost
  • Learning curve

For a lighthearted but not overly useful video, see How to Shave With a Straight Razor. For a more useful video, check out one of the recognised experts: Straight Razor Shaving for Beginners

Some NZ retailers for shaving gear:

A useful way to save on razor blades without going to the extreme of a straight razor is to get blades by mail order from Razor Blades NZ for around $12 per month. Another worthwhile approach is to use the old style double-edged ‘safety razor’ which was the predecessor of today’s cartridge blades. By sourcing the double-edged (DE) blades online the cost becomes very reasonable.

Straight razor shaving

straight razors

Adventures learning to use a straight razor

I first encountered the art of shaving with a straight razor on a blog called The Art of Manliness (which ‘real kiwi blokes’ probably don’t read) in a post called Shave Like Your Great Grandpa: The Ultimate Straight Razor Shaving Guide. I was particularly attracted by the idea of not having to keep buying disposable razor cartridges at $5 each and the inherent waste disposable stuff:

Today’s modern shaving racket creates needless waste. When you’re done with a cartridge, you have to throw it out. When you buy new cartridges, you’re left with a ton of packaging material.

Then there were the promised benefits of a better shave and “You’ll feel like more of a bad ass”.

I ditched the shaving foam in a can many years ago as it is stupidly expensive and results in empty aerosol cans heading to the landfill. So in some ways it made sense to take another step towards reducing cost and waste by using a razor that simply requires re-sharpening rather than throwing plastic cartridges away every week.

Then there is the appeal of using such an ‘old school’ shaving method, a sort of re-establishing of links back how men have shaved for many hundreds of years before the invention of disposable razor blades. In opposition to the hurried, unthinking approach to personal grooming fostered by electric shavers and blister-packed blades with instant foam from a can, everything about using a straight razor forces me to take my time. With a blade sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel placed across your throat comes undivided focus on the task!

Believe or not, there is actually an entire web forum dedicated to straight razor shaving (Straight Razor Place). This is an excellent resource for learning what to look for in a razor, how to strop the razor to fine-tune the cutting edge and tips on how to shave without removing ears, nose or otherwise slicing your face to bits. The folks posting on this site extoll the virtues of straight razor shaving, claiming it to be the closest shave you will ever achieve.

Learning what gear is needed was one thing, getting it in New Zealand meant yet more scouring the internet to find retailers to buy from. Thankfully ordering online enables us to get stuff that would otherwise be difficult to obtain here.

So in mid-March my honed and stropped ‘shave-ready’ razor arrived and I opened it eager to venture into the world of an extraordinarily close shave with no razor burn… and on seeing the blade thought, “this is insane!” The idea of putting anything that sharp near my face freaked me out.

However, money talks – I had already paid for the razor and bought a strop so was committed. I needed learn how to use this gear in order to recoup my costs.

I began with baby steps, shaving my cheeks, the only flattish part of my face, finishing the rest with a regular razor. Over the next week I progressed to being able to shave my whole face without too many cuts. Shaving under the nose is particularly awkward, I can now see why Lord Voldemort got rid of his nose – it must make shaving much easier!

photo of a styptic pencil and small block of alum

After four months using a straight razor most days, I am usually able to do the job without drawing blood. At least when a razor like this does cut it is fine and clean so heals easily. However, a puncture repair kit consisting of an alum block and styptic pencil does come in handy for moments when I’m not concentrating.

Is it a brilliantly close shave? It can be. With care and multiple passes, I can get a very smooth shave, though this carries a risk of nicks by trying too hard to get an ultra smooth shave. To be fair though, if I do the same preparation and take my time with a regular cartridge razor I can also get an equally close shave. Overall though, I like having to take my time and be careful – shaving has become one of life’s little pleasures rather than the chore I previously viewed it as.

Pros & cons of straight razor shaving:

Pros:
  • Overall cost savings
  • Minimal waste
  • ‘Meditative’ shaving experience
  • Nostalgia
Cons:
  • Time required for each shave and care of razors
  • Upfront cost
  • Learning curve

For a lighthearted but not overly useful video, see How to Shave With a Straight Razor. For a more useful video, check out one of the recognised experts: Straight Razor Shaving for Beginners

Some NZ retailers for shaving gear:

A useful way to save on razor blades without going to the extreme of a straight razor is to get blades by mail order from Razor Blades NZ for around $12 per month. Another worthwhile approach is to use the old style double-edged ‘safety razor’ which was the predecessor of today’s cartridge blades. By sourcing the double-edged (DE) blades online the cost becomes very reasonable.

photo of a white ceramic shaving bowl with gold rim and a black synthetic badger hair shaving brush in the bowl

A theory of relativity

 

Ancient Roman Bronze Coins - The Widow's Mite

Once upon a time there was a golden land of equal opportunity, universal free education and profound egalitarianism. A level playing field ensured that everyone could be fully productive and reap the fair reward for their labours.

(Oh, and nobody got sick so they all remained equal.)
(Also, everyone had the same IQ.)
(Furthermore, the government and leaders were impeccably fair to all.)
(And nobody had social disadvantages stemming from inept parenting.)
(There were no inherited diseases.)
(Accidents never disabled anyone.)

You probably get my drift – “Life isn’t fair. We tell our children that it is, but it’s a terrible thing to do. It’s not only a lie, it’s a cruel lie. Life is not fair, and it never has been, and it’s never going to be.”1 This applies not only in good books and movies but also in real life. Some folks are bigger, stronger, more intelligent, better looking, luckier, and wealthier. Regardless of where you are at in life, there will be somebody who is better off than you according to whatever standard you choose to measure such things by.

Fortunately, in God’s economy the ideals of fairness and justice are based on better foundations than the incomplete measures we generally use2. Jesus describes God’s assessment of how well we have done in both absolute (see John 5:30) and relative terms:

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)

God will certainly hold us each accountable, but it will be in accordance with the gifts, abilities and opportunities we have been given rather than in comparison to what others might achieve. In this sense, God uses relative standards to measure our achievements.

In these days of Facebook and Pinterest comparisons, this is a huge comfort and corrective for those of us who perceive ourselves to be somehow disadvantaged in the popularity and ‘success’ contest. God will judge me, not according to what I achieve in comparison to others, but according to what I do with what He has given me. Will I be a faithful servant to Him or will I slack off and waste His gifts?

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required (Luke 12:48)

Who would want to stand before God in judgment fumbling for excuses to justify wasting the life He gave? When I consider this it opens my eyes to understand how much I have been blessed with, in contrast to wallowing in self pity as happens when I look at my weaknesses compared to the apparent strengths of others. In fact, even weakness may be given by God for purposes only He knows:

…I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

What I must keep in mind is that the strength God gives in my weakness could be a ‘just enough’ strength; enough to get through but not so much that I begin to boast in having strength to cope with anything life throws at me.3


1. Quote from The Princess Bride by William Goldman 
2. Romans 2:16 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 illustrate this.
3. As with the widow of Zarephath; God blessed her with enough to feed herself, her son and Elijah but the provision was only ever just enough and by our standards quite meager (see 1 Kings 17:8-16).

Current status

Done

 

  • Lab Technician
  • Biochemist
  • Administrator
  • Technical writer

 

Doing

 

  • Poison Information Officer
  • Working rostered shifts​
  • Fathering 3 kids
  • Loving one wonderful wife

 

To Do

 

  • Visit Shan State in Burma
  • Work regular hours