Dress-Up Servants

There’s a house in Ireland, on the grounds of Cahir Castle, that is known as The Swiss Cottage. It has nothing at all to do with Switzerland, but the name sounds exotic and foreign and I’m pretty sure Switzerland doesn’t mind. It was actually designed by a famous English architect (who also designed parts of Buckingham Palace) for a powerful Irish Earl in the early 1800’s. It was made as a cottage orné, a style that imitated and idealised the homes of the poor, while still retaining the comforts of the wealthly. The Earl and his family and friends could escape from their large castle to the fanciful cottage for a picnic or party, and for a while pretend that they were like simple peasants, like the peasants who worked their large estates. They even went so far as to dress up for the part sometimes, or perhaps it’s more proper to say that they dressed down, into the clothes of the common people. Nearby, an underground tunnel meant that actual peasants could come and go from a hidden basement kitchen without being seen, until they were called upon to serve their masters, who were pretending to be like their own servants in the garden. Can you imagine being one of those servants, watching powerful lords and ladies playing dress-up in servant’s clothes, while still making you do all the actual work? If the walls of that underground kitchen could talk, I’d imagine they could repeat a few choice words. The Earl and his family may have dressed the same way as the servants, but there was still a big difference: the real servants served. The pretend servants didn’t.

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The Song of Streams

This poem is an old one, which I posted here on my blog three years ago (it’s hard to believe the blog has been going that long). I am re-posting it today because most of you wouldn’t have seen it back then, and also because I’ve been thinking about these ideas a lot recently as I’ve worked on the manuscript for “Dream Small.” When the book comes out, you’ll see that one of the chapter titles uses a phrase from this poem—I’ve called it, “The Upside-Down Ladder.” I have to say, though, that the original inspiration for this poem came from a scene in “Hind’s Feet on High Places,” by Hannah Hunard, a book I highly recommend. 

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Focusing On What I Can Measure

I got a watch recently that counts my footsteps. For my whole life I’ve never had a clue about the number of steps I take each day, but now I know, and all of a sudden I care. If I reach my goal number, I feel good. If I don’t, I feel less good. I do think my watch is good for me. It’s helping me be more aware of my level of activity, which helps me be more active, which I’m sure helps me be more healthy.

Walking is good, but there’s a lot more to my health than the amount of steps I get day by day. My watch can only measure certain things, and the most important aspects of how my body is working are beyond its ability to tell me about. I could have a severe underlying condition and still meet my step goal, and still get a little celebration on my wrist telling me how healthy I am. It’s even possible that an underlying condition could be made worse by more steps, not better. Thankfully that’s not true (as far as I know), but if it was true, I wouldn’t know it from the metrics on my watch.

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What If We Honoured Integrity?

It can be hard to find good role models these days. Often the people who are famous and the first to promote themselves as the ones we should be following are the last people on Earth we should be following. The world has no shortage of role models and leaders who are leading us astray. 

Unfortunately, this is not only true of leaders in politics and entertainment, it is far too often true of Christian leaders as well. Celebrity culture has made itself at home in the church, and some of the people who rise to the top of Christian organisations and mega churches and TV ministries and yes, even regular local churches, get there for all the wrong reasons. They have charisma, but lack character, they have business savvy, but lack integrity. Maybe that’s why so many Christian leaders fall in scandal and shame—they never should have been there in the first place. They were good at building organisations and personal fame, but they were bad at living like a Christian. In their ministries they made disciples, but not disciples of Christ—they made disciples of themselves, teaching others to look at them and compromise for them instead of looking to Christ in trust and obedience. We need better role models for the church, but how do we find them? 

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The Song Of Streams

Now everybody’s looking up, the sky is in their dreams,
All climbing ladders, stairs and walls – a little more, it seems,
And we will satisfy our thirst among the mountain streams

But mountain streams flow opposite to all we think we know
Their joy is not to climb the heights – they hurry to be low
Through rocks and mud and tangled roots, and laughing as they go

Their Maker, pleased to do the same, came down from dizzy height
To deepest valley far below to save us in our plight
To lift us up, the King went down, and it was His delight!

Oh, let me learn the song of streams, that joyful, laughing sound,
The pathway of my Maker on a ladder upside-down,
And so to lift up others – wherever they are found