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Friday, 31 January 2014

Fear and trembling.

I just got back from my first intensive as a part of my Impart course this year. Much more information, I'm sure, will be going up here at some point, but there's something in particular that happened during the week that I knew I needed to write about. I mean, I wrote about it in my journal/diary/thing, but more than that.


It was Thursday. That's yesterday. Wow. OK.
They'd said that the morning was a 'Mystery Morning'. All we knew was that we'd need clothes that could get dirty, stuff for going outside, and we were going offsite. Then on the morning, we were also told we should bring wallets and ID. Needless to say, people were starting to spread rumours about what it was. A couple of people were mentioning skydiving. Which was somewhat ludicrous, considering how much that would cost for all of us. The talk before we got on the bus was about conquering fears, though.
Well, it was a car that I got into, but you know what I mean. The car started driving, and it wasn't long before we pulled into a place that said Paintball.
Why, oh why, did it have to be paintball?

Now, I love laser tag. Have heaps of fun with it, really enjoy it. But paintball - I had never done it before, and I had never even had a little bit of wanting to do it. I didn't enjoy getting hurt, and I didn't enjoy hurting others. I'm an absolute wuss when it comes to pain. You say it's nothing, I'm already crying like a baby on the ground. OK, not quite. But I don't handle it well. I had gotten better over time, though, so I thought it might be OK.

We were only in the first round. I'd gotten a couple of ricochets, splash backs and near misses, but no real hits. Then I got one in the thigh, from not too far away. It wasn't close, but it was mid range rather than far.
The pain felt intense, excruciating. I felt like someone had just done the Cruciatus curse on me. I pretty much just stayed in that one spot the rest of the round. I shot a couple of times, but I could barely move without exposing myself. That wasn't going to happen. I got one guy who was coming around the back, because I was completely open to him. Then, finally, the whistle blew and the round ended. I had probably been killed, but I couldn't have moved while it was all going.

As soon as we were told we could sit down and relax, I just collapsed. I was sobbing, shaking. One of the leaders took me into the bunker area, and we sat there alone for a while. She tried to talk to me, calm me. For a bit, I just got worse. I was shaking really badly; breathing in short gasps; and sobbing uncontrollably. And that was the thing. I couldn't control it. Not in the slightest. Not at all. I was helpless to it. I was just absolutely terrified. The leader was using the word trauma. I guess that's probably as good a word as any.

Eventually, the leader was able to calm me down, bit by bit, and get me to try and talk to her about what had happened. Thing was, I really didn't understand it myself. I mean, sure, it had hurt, but it had stopped hurting before I'd even finished the game. The only thing that made sense to me was what I called a fear of pain. And it mainly related to one particular experience I had a bit earlier.

Right at the end of year 12, I got an ingrown toenail. But I thought it would be fine. I just left it. Washed it out when I went in the shower, tried to squeeze the pus out regularly and all that. Then my mum saw it, and she was like, "Your toe's twice as big as it was!" It wasn't quite, but it had been a couple of months. The doctor said pretty quickly that it needed to be operated on.

So we came back after a day or two for that. They said they were going to use a local anaesthetic, and it would completely numb the area. I wouldn't feel a thing. I would feel the injection, though; my goodness, that hurt.

But the anaesthetic didn't work. It just made it feel like what it does when you've been sitting on your hand for half an hour or so. You can still feel, but it's a weird sort of feeling.

But it hurt. My goodness, it hurt. Thankfully, my mum was there the whole time, and she helped me through it. But that was like torture, pretty much. And just a toe. Yep.

So that's what I told the leader, and the other one as well a bit afterwards. They talked to me a bit about fear, and pain - it's not really something I can give justice to in recounting. Suffice it to say, me and God have some work to do. Or rather, I do, and God's saying I do. Or something. I dunno. I don't always understand. But as long as I understand what it is that I don't understand, I figure I'm getting somewhere....

It was an intense and scary experience. But I also know that it happened for a reason. That this isn't something that God wants for me; he doesn't want me to be trapped by this fear. And I can say pretty comfortably that that's definitely not my only fear.

Going into Impart, I thought that it would help me find direction; clarity. I think, however, that God's saying we've got a bit of work to do on me before I worry about that stuff too much. It's going to be interesting, that's for sure. An experience.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Saving Mr. Disney.

"Walt, now, you've gotta call me Walt!"

Part biography, part reliving of Mary Poppins, part Disney-propaganda, Saving Mr. Banks is the most recent title from Walt Disney to gras the cinemas, being released a week and a day ago here in Australia.

It tells the story of P.L. Travers' battles to stay true to her original idea of her books of Mary Poppins, against the seemingly unbeatable figure of Walt Disney himself, trying to turn it into a movie. But it also tells the story of her own childhood, and throws in a dash of nostalgia about the film into the bargain.

Now, of course, being a Walt Disney movie featuring Walt Disney, there's going to be some bias. And you do get some of that; the general positive spin is fairly obvious - the film very much tries to put it as Walt doing the best he can to accommodate Travers, despite her best efforts to the contrary (for example, declaring that there should be no red in the movie). It shows him empathising with her, particularly in two scenes - one where he shares with his music man his battle to keep Mickey Mouse from a big Hollywood producer when he was younger; and the other where he relates to Travers his own traumatic/developmental/life-changing childhood experience. And while these, no doubt, have their elements of truth to them, there still seems to be an extra spoonful of sugar here.

But, to be fair, they have the medicine as well. Walt is shown as a smoker, though never shown smoking (the closest we get is seeing him tap one out as Travers enters); and his self-belief (or rather, Disney-belief, particularly in the Disneyland scene) is quite overblown, it seems. All in all, however, the portrayal of Disney in the movie seems to have gone fairly well; it avoids both extremes, and lands somewhere around the middle.

What is more interesting, however, is the story of Travers' past. In bits and pieces during the film, we are given glimpses into her childhood; glimpses at her family, the family that gave inspiration to the Banks', and eventually, Mary Poppins herself. And, because of these peeks we get into her life, we begin to understand where she is at, on an emotional level; we start to realise that these people in her books are, in fact, family - that they are a lot more than words on a page; that it does, really, matter.

Of course, being a movie about Mary Poppins, the references to the movie are rife and frequent, both obvious ones (particularly songs in the movie; but also, notably, the appearance of Poppins' umbrella, and the emergence of the pineapple from the case) and not-so-obvious (for instance, the frequent references to the east wind). One scene in particular, where they are demonstrating the song of the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank to Travers, has constant flashes in between present and past, with her father giving the same exact words as a (quite drunken) speech to a crowd at a fair, being the manager of a bank. While needing a slight suspension of belief here, the connection between the worlds of past and present are highlighted and strengthened by the scene, helping along the audience's understanding.

Two other things in particular are also worth noting; firstly, a significant part is given to the limousine driver assigned to Travers, who relates to her (eventually) on her level, and who has some very good scenes with her. Also, a definite emphasis in the script approval process (because that is, after all, what Travers is doing) is actually the songs of the movie,and how they are developed and worked in, as well as how Travers reacts to these.

Not just a family movie full of feel-good emotions to stop the kids yapping for a good two hours, Saving Mr. Banks actually takes a good, hard look at some difficult issues that children face. It looks at depression; alcohol addiction; and maybe most of all, wanting to do justice to a memory - or perhaps, rather, wanting to make a father proud. It doesn't offer particular answers to these - or, at least, none concrete; perhaps it suggests that there are no true "answers" as such. The younger ones will love this one as well, but don't go in just expecting fairy floss and candy canes; this Disney has some punch to it.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Real Stories, Real Faith - My Testimony, 5/1/14

This is audio of the testimony that I gave at the PM service of Campbelltown Church of Christ (my church!) for their January series of 2014, "Real Stories, Real Faith" yesterday. It was received really well, and I was very fortunate to have this opportunity. 
Don't take this as a word-for-word of what I said; there's a couple of moments where I'd add a note here or there, but this is basically what I said.

Tonight, I've been given the opportunity to talk about a great subject - myself. But I think you'll find that when I take you over the aspects of my life that I'll be talking about, you'll discover that there's actually not that much of stuff I've done - it's more what other people have done, and mainly, what God has done. 
I'm going to be taking you through some ups and downs of my life, of my journey with God. I can't really point to one spot where I became a Christian; but I think as we go through these points in my life, you might see how God has been shaping and changing me to become the person he wants me to be.  But that's something that we'll get to in a little while. First, let's pray.  
*insert prayer here* 
Now, it's possible that some of you don't know me, or don't know me very well. So I'll give you a quick introduction into who I am, before we get into the meat of it. My name is Brendan James Raymond, and I was born on the 27th of November 1992, which makes me 21 years, five weeks and four days old. My parents are Samantha and Peter Raymond, both Christian, and raised in Christian families, which has been a real blessing.  
I was the first child my parents had, but certainly not the last. One year, six months and three weeks later, Rosie was born; another three years, five months and two weeks and it was Kieran's turn; then Bethany came along one year, two months and three weeks later. We had a pretty busy house sometimes.  
As for me; I've got a bit of a variety of hobbies, skills and interests. I'm into a lot of creative things - drama, writing, composing, making clever things on the computer; I'm quite into music, which is what most of you probably know me for, seeing me up here playing the keyboard and singing. I did also do a Bachelor of Music that I finished the year before last. And then promptly followed it up by getting a job this past year in outdoor education.  
One thing my friends learn about me quite quickly is that I'm pretty unpredictable. When I was in high school, people would have called me more the science guy than the music guy. A lot of people were very surprised when I did the Bachelor of Music, and others even more so when I got the job I've been doing this past year. But I guess that's part of who I am.  

I'd like to start our journey tonight by taking you back a fair way, to when I was quite young. As I mentioned before, I came from a Christian family - I can't remember a time that I didn't know about God. For that, I have my Mum and Dad to thank. And even back then, I probably would have called myself a Christian. I believed that God was real, that Jesus lived and died and lived again - that's what being a Christian meant, didn't it? 
But there was one thing I knew that I didn't have. And that was a passion for God. I saw it in other people - I saw people that were on fire for God, that were passionate about him, and I wanted that fire; I wanted that passion. I had a will, a desire for that passion. So the first thing I thought of was praying the prayer, where you ask Jesus to come into your life, and I thought everything would change then. It didn't. I must have prayed a dozen different versions of that prayer, hundreds of times, but I never got anywhere. I read the Bible, I went to Oasis - here, and at school - I tried devotion books; there was one in particular I remember, where there was a section each day for you to come back and write down how you heard God answering your prayers. Those sections were always empty. I never heard God.  
Eventually, I pretty much gave up. I still had a will for that passion, but I realised that that must just not be something God had planned for me. So I kept living out my life, as best as I could - all the way up through high school.  
But even then, when I thought I had nothing more than a knowledge of God (and not much of one, at that); God had actually given me much more. He had given me the desire, a will, to know more about him, to have a passion for him. And even if all you have is that will, that can still take you incredible places.  

We'll come back to that story in a little while, but before that, I want to tell you about something that happened to me near the end of high school. 
At first, there was Oasis and Pulse. Then Oasis diversified a bit more, and Pulse eventually became Dynamite. At that point, Wendy was leading the group. Eventually, though, the McMenamins left, and Michael took over the group. And things changed a little bit; the group gradually became SWORD - the Spiritual Warfare Organised Response Division - and Michael's style of leading the group was a little different to Wendy's.  
Now, I had thought beforehand that I knew Bible stuff pretty well. I was a smart kid; I'd read a fair bit of the Bible, and I'd heard most of the stories - or at least enough that I was already feeling like people were repeating the same thing most of the time, and I knew pretty much all of it.  
Now, I probably knew more than some of the other guys in the group. But, needless to say, Michael did a pretty good job of making me question pretty much everything I knew. He was really good at asking the questions that made you suddenly realise that you really had no idea what you were talking about - in a good way! He helped us to not just believe in God, and Jesus, and the Bible because that's what other people had said, but because we'd actually taken the time to look at it for ourselves. To really question why we thought the way we did; why we believed what we did, and challenging that if we couldn't find a good reason.  
Like 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, "Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don't drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular check-ups. You need first-hand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it." 
It was a great experience, and one that I still look back to, and still try to emulate - I still do my best to look at why I believe what I do, and challenge those beliefs. Because the thing is, if we don't challenge our own beliefs - then we won't be ready when our friends do; when the world does; if our family does - and that's what this series is about, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have," - when the devil does; or when God does. And if you think that God can't or won't challenge your ideas or beliefs - maybe you need to be more open to God changing you, changing your ideas and preconceptions. Because he can, and he probably will. 
That time of challenging my faith, testing my belief - that really strengthened both my faith, and my knowledge of God and who he was. For that, I have a lot to thank Michael and the whole SWORD group for. And a lot to thank God for. 

Now, I'll take you back over to what I was talking about before; trying to find that passion and fire for God. At this stage, I was at uni. It was one of the better times of my life - I felt like I was in the right place for me, doing what I loved to do. And at some point during my first year of uni, I realised that I had started talking with God, rather than just to him - I wasn't so much hearing direct words and messages from him, but there was a definite interaction there, that wasn't before. They were good times. But I still didn't have that fire, that passion that I longed for.  
It was a bit strange when it happened. I still don't really understand it. It was a pretty regular day. I can't remember exactly what was on that day; it was a week day, but I was driving to Campbelltown for some reason. I'm not quite sure why. But I was driving, and I even remember that I was right near the turnoff to the Hume Highway. I was in my old metallic green Volvo - the Tank, as we used to call it - and that's when it happened. 
I suddenly realised that I had that passion; I had that fire that I had been longing for. Not through anything that I had done, but through what God had done. And as well as that, I had a desire for leading others in Christ, and helping them to learn more about God, and a desire to get baptised. And I had this strange feeling - that I don't think I'd ever had before - that I can only describe as the peace of God. I've only really felt that again once since then, at my baptism - which was a couple of months later - but that passion, and those desires, haven't left me since. 
But here's where it gets a bit more complex. Because that's not all there was to that - that's just what I understood at the time. Recently, I've had a few instances where God has only fully revealed to me the true implication and meaning of things some time later. 

Now, one thing that may have struck you as weird was how suddenly it happened. And it was quite sudden - but the thing that was sudden was the realisation, not the transformation. God had been working on me for quite a while now.  
Just under two years ago, God threw me a bit of a curveball. It was suggested to me that I might have something called Asperger's Syndrome. Before the end of that year, it was confirmed that I either did have or had had some form of Asperger's.  
Now, chances are, the majority of you have never heard of Asperger's before. It's sometimes called high-functioning autism, and is what is called an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Now, chances are you already have an image of what autism is. I want you to throw that image out the window for now, because it's not going to help you here. Your image is most likely of low-functioning autism, which is quite different to high-functioning autism.  
Now, Asperger's is quite complex, and I don't have time to give everyone a psychology lesson. I also don't really understand it quite well enough to truly explain it properly. If you do want to know more about it afterwards, you can come talk to me, or probably better, talk to my mum. She knows a fair bit more about it than I do, because she's actually done the research.  
But the crux of it is this; imagine that you're in a game, and you're creating your character. When you get up to the stats that the character has (like strength, speed, stamina and so on), there's generally a set range that each point can lie between, and then each one is randomly chosen somewhere in that range. In better games, you'll have different percentage chances as you get lower or higher, and so on. It's generally a bell curve.  
Now, imagine that you have the stats for intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence. Typically, you have a bell curve for both. In Asperger's, however, you're much more likely to get a reasonably high IQ, while quite a low EQ. Again, there are other things it affects - everything from social ability to physical ability - but that's the core of it.  
When I was wanting that passion - that was Asperger's (at least to some degree) that was being a wall to that. And it's taken me a long time to realise, but God has been helping me to overcome that for quite a while now. Slowly, surely, he put me near people and around people that helped to teach me just what being a good friend was. What caring for someone meant. What being passionate about something looked like. And they helped me to find that for myself, whether they realised it or not.  
So when we go back to that point when I had that sudden realisation as I was driving - the path to that point, the transformative process, actually took quite a while. Years, in fact. Maybe most of my life, for all I know.  
We can often complain that God doesn't answer prayer; or that he doesn't work fast enough. There's a verse in the Bible that I found, Isaiah 60:22, recently that I quite like, that addresses this. It says: "I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly." I can't think of a better verse to sum up my experience there. It may have seemed like a long time to me at first - but when it did happen, it was so sudden! 
God often works on a much bigger scale than we ever realise. 

There's a lot more that I could talk about, particularly on things that have happened in this past year. But I don't think enough time has elapsed since then for me to truly understand the significance of what God was doing with me in that time; and I think that that would almost be a whole speech in itself. Besides which, I only have so much time with you.  
My journey with God, however, doesn't stop there. Indeed, our journeys never stop until we die. Our testimony is never truly complete until then.  
This coming year, I already know, is posing many new challenges for me. At present, my income is basically an unknown - I have only one casual job, and I don't know how frequently or regularly I will be getting work there. I do potentially have opportunities to earn some money through busking or gigging, but I have no idea how reliable that will be. I get the feeling that God will be teaching me a lot about trusting in him to provide, and trusting that he knows what's happening, even when I don't. I'm sure that if I did this series again next year, I'd have some very different things to talk about, and some very different lessons to share.  

But for now, I'll stick to three.  
Even if you have nothing else, a will and desire to be closer to God and learn more about him can take you so far. Hold on to that.  
Question and challenge your faith, your ideas, your beliefs. Because if you don't, other people will. "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." 
And God doesn't always work on the time frame that we want, expect, or would like. But he is working, and in it's time, it will happen.  

Now, some of you, after all of this, may be asking why. Why it is that I believe in God, or follow Jesus, or think that the Bible has some truth in it.  
Well, it's because of these things. It's because of these experiences that I have had, because of how God has effected my life. Because of these experiences, I feel that he is true; I know that he is true; and I believe that he is true.  
And I know that that isn't something concrete; it isn't something you can measure, or test, or prove. It's a very personal and unique reason. 
But what I encourage you to do, if you're searching for answers, is to talk to people here. Troy and Edwina, I'm sure, will be available after the service; there's lots of other people here that you can talk to; or just talk to God. I know he wants to talk to you. 

If you're interested, the actual audio from the talk is available here:; and the video is available here: The audio is available for download; if you want a copy of the video, please get in touch with me.
Edit: I've recently learned a bit more, and gotten (what I think) is a more complete picture. Look here to read about it:

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Just Quickly.

Shared my testimony tonight at the PM service at my church. There was a couple of dozen people there. I was pretty nervous. Had practiced about half a dozen times just that day, but was still nervous.

But it went really, really well. I even went under time! (That's good, because I was afraid I'd go over time.) Our pastors were both really impressed/complimentary/that sort of thing, which was really nice. And I got some great feedback from a few other people as well, particularly my family. (Of course, but it was still good. They meant it.)

Like I said before (I don't know if I did here or not), I'll be putting up the text, audio and video from the talk. Going to try and get that done tomorrow.

But yeah. Didn't want to do a lengthy one, just a quick post about that. Cool!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Expanding on an Original.

Many creative workers, in various sectors, face many challenges when they try to adapt something from the original. Book to movie; TV series to movie; even game to movie we've seen. Then you have people trying to redo songs; remixes, new arrangements and the like.

You have the battle between maintaining the spirit of the original, and putting in your own new ideas. And it's enough of a struggle for the person trying to do it; but then, if you put it out for public viewing - particularly among people who know and love the original - you're always going to have a healthy portion of them who say that you've butchered the original.

It's a very hard balance to maintain. Particularly if you're going across mediums, you have to take in the differing audiences and such, the different limitations and possibilities that you have.

I've recently been working on a project that I've been wanting to do for a long time. A while ago now, I started to do an a cappella arrangement of Time (one of the main themes from the movie Inception). If you're not familiar with the piece, look it up. It's quite fantastic - lots of strings, piano, timpani; it's very layered, adding one more, one more, one more, all the time.
Anyway, I did the arrangement, and it was pretty good (even if I do say so myself), but it was quite beyond me at the time to do anything with it. I didn't have any good things to record voice with, and it was really quite annoying. And there are some points where there are thirty layers - it's quite ridiculous.

But now, I have Ableton Live 9 Standard, and a new Mac laptop. It's pretty cool, and it's meant that I can start recording it! So that's what I've started to do. And having the Ableton is quite handy, because it means that I can just loop what I've got.
The one thing that is going to be tricky, though, is the vocal range. It goes all the way down to D1, and all the way up to B4. That's not in my range, if you were wondering. D1 is my absolute low limit,  and G4 basically my high limit. I'm very out of practice vocally, I've realised; my voice really is not sounding that great in the higher end.

But this balance, between original and mine, is something I've found a little tricky to work with as well. It's a bit of a different instrumental variety, and timbre, and such, going from orchestral strings, and grand pianos, and timpanist, to - just voice. And the dynamics is quite tricky - it's a very gradual, slow fade in, that gets very grand and big near the end. At the moment, mine is transitioning a bit quickly, so I'll need to work on that.

But I'm having fun, it's quite good. Will be interesting to see what else I can do with this Ableton.

Friday, 3 January 2014


As humans, we seem to like ignoring the problem. It's certainly something I've been guilty of, and am guilty of. We think that if we just don't worry about it, it'll go away, or it'll sort itself out, or someone else will do it or something.

Because it's easier than facing up to it. It's easier to just act like it's all fine and dandy than saying, "no, actually, something's wrong," particularly when everyone else actually thinks it's fine and dandy. And as people, we like it when things are going smoothly. When we can just relax. When we're comfortable.

But the problem is still there. And all too often, if you don't do something about it, it's just going to get worse. And one day, it's going to come back, banging on your door like a prodigal son you were quite happy to never see again. And you won't have a clue what to do.

You might like your life of comfortability. Who am I kidding? Of course you do. You're human.
But the thing is - as long as you're living that life, it's not real.
It's a fake. A fraud. A phony. A thin veneer, stretched over your problems, hoping that they won't resurface. A stained-glass masquerade. It looks all nice and purty, but it shatters as soon as you start to apply any pressure.

Don't be a comfortable person. Be a courageous person. Otherwise, life, love - it's just an echo of what it could be.
You might not even know what courage is. Well, the first step is to own up; to recognise that you've got a problem. And that you need to do something about it. Yes, that's hard. That's why it's called being courageous.

Yes, this is a little bit more in your face than my typical post. It's late at night, I'm quite tired, And when I'm tired I tend to not bother beating around the bush. I also get somewhat depressive.
But, just so you know, this post is just as much for me - if not more - than it is for anyone else.

Oh, and it's actually 2014 now. So this is my first post of the year. It's also tomorrow now, which means I need some sleep. Night all.

Taking a leaf from a friend's book. Song for this post is "Drowned", by Tim Minchin. Illustrates a non-comfortable, realness. It's not always happy and fun, but it's real. It's true. And it cares.