Saturday, 31 January 2015

Font

Recently I deconsecrated the church of the Holy Trinity in Lawrence. This small brick church is very pretty and contains some remarkable objects. A small pipe organ for example, and a beautiful brass altar cross given by the second bishop of Dunedin, Isaac Richards, in memory of his two sons killed in the first world war. But most interesting is the font.

This is a plain piece of worked limestone about a metre high. Around the base is an inscription in Latin, the translation of which is "Jesus is the name which is above all names". It has a wooden lid and the bowl is lined with a light metal, perhaps zinc. It is quite unremarkable except for one thing: its age. This font is about a thousand years old. It is Norman, and would have been made in England or France at about the time of the  conquest in 1066, when the new regime in England had a flurry of church building as part of their colonising strategy. The bowl and base are made from Caen stone, a French limestone in common use in England at the time, but the central column is of something else: my guess, local Otago limestone. It is all in very good condition indeed,  considering how old it is.

This wonderful object sat in the doorway of  a parish church and was used, for about 600 years to baptise goodness knows how many hundreds or thousands of infants: the children of serfs, freemen, squires and knights and merchants and priests and nobles and townspeople. Then at the reformation it was thrown into a field in one of those acts of vandalistic piety for which the reformers were infamous. At the restoration a new font was installed in the church and the old one was brought inside where it languished in the crypt for another 200 years or so until it was bought by Bishop Samuel Tarrant Neville who intended it for Dunedin Cathedral. It was shipped across the globe but when the new cathedral was built in the early 1920s the little Norman font was not deemed to be big enough or fancy enough, so a newer bigger brighter better one was donated by the old girls of St. Hilda's school, and the English one found a home in Holy Trinity Lawrence. Now with the closure of the Lawrence church the font is again homeless.

It is only a piece of limestone, but it is also a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings. It has survived through much of the history of the Anglican Communion, and now it waits to find out how it will carry that history forward. I'm not sure quite what to do with it, though a couple of suggestions have been made to me. But it seems to me that this is a symbol of our diocese; of the faith we have inherited and which is needing a new home and a new expression. We will talk together about what we are to do with the Norman font and our discussion and our final decision will have, I am sure,  a powerful catalytic and symbolic depth.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Co-operative loopholes.

I was intrigued to read Bosco Peter's Liturgy website this morning and see this post. Basically Bosco is saying that Anglican Priests serving in Co-operating Parishes (those in which several denominations join together as one congregation) give precedent for people who wish to circumvent the constitution of the Anglican church by, for example, performing a blessing service for a same sex couple.

As bishop my heart sinks a little when Bosco opens this can of worms - or more exactly draws attention to a can of worms that has been open since the early 1970s - but as a priest and a Christian and a human being I loudly applaud him.

My first two parishes (Waihao and St. Francis', Hillcrest) were both Cooperating Parishes combining Presbyterian, Anglican and Methodist elements in one church. At a congregational, everyday level these worked pretty well. At an administrative level they were a nightmare, and my failure to live with the difficulties imposed on us by our parent denominations was the main reason I left ecumenical ministry after about 9 years of largely successful and happy life within them. Let me give you two small examples of the nonsense we had to try and negotiate.

1. The Anglican Diocese required me to send in quite exacting statistic returns. I was told not to include Presbyterian or Methodist figures in these, but only the "Anglican Element". Ok. Right. So, is a Eucharist conducted by an Anglican Priest in a Methodist Church,  using a Presbyterian order of service, and attended by a largely Presbyterian congregation Anglican? What about an Anglican liturgy conducted by a Presbyterian? How do I count the children of Anglicans baptised by a Methodist, and now growing up with no sense of denominational loyalty whatsoever? Letters to Church House asking for clarity were generally ignored.

2. At a confirmation in Hamilton, the bishop turned up to do the task, as is required by the Anglican system. Except half the 20 or so confirmees were Presbyterian and the appropriate confirmer in the Presbyterian system was the moderator of the session; in our case this was the lay chair of the parish council, whose performance of that task would have run seriously counter to Anglican doctrine. Further, this lay person was required by his own tradition, in the circumstances, to preside at the Eucharist, which was absolutely forbidden by Anglicans. In fact,  because he didn't hold a bishop's license as lay Eucharistic minister, with the bishop present he couldn't even distribute the elements of holy communion. Trying to work our way through this nonsense was not helpful as I simultaneously counselled the young confirmees, some of whom, an hour before the service,  did not know which denomination they wanted to belong to, didn't particularly care, and were upset at having to make a choice.

By and large the confusion between denominations was a license for me to do as I pleased. What was forbidden under one set of church polity was often permitted under another, so I became adept at changing hats to suit pastoral circumstances. (A wedding in the park? Sorry, but as Anglican Vicar I cannot do that. However my colleague the Methodist minister would be only too happy to oblige. And who is he? Why, me, of course. ) This license caused me to question the whole rationale for having rules and systems in the first place. Further, I found it corroded my relationship with my own denomination and imbued in me a deep disrespect, which persisted for years, for the procedures of my own church. I am more respectful now, but I do note that we persist in heartfelt allegiance to our constitution and the simultaneous, systematised breaching of it on a weekly basis.

For year after year I would sit in synod listening to earnest debates on the legality of forms of worship knowing that whatever was decided I (and, in fact, about a third of the clergy of the Diocese of Waikato at that time)  was going to ignore it next Sunday, not out of any sense of rebelliousness but because the role to which my bishop had licensed me required me to do so.The earnest discussions on the necessity of episcopal ordination seemed  bizarre to me when my Presbyterian and Methodist colleagues publicly received their episcopal licenses to pastor, to preach and to preside at the Eucharist. Sunday by Sunday we in the parish worshipped together and generally ignored the ambiguities our denominations dumped on us. The parish functioned very well indeed, grew and prospered and the passionate discussions on liturgical and constitutional matters which I encountered at synod seemed to me to me more bizarre and empty with each year that passed.

For decades we Anglicans have participated in cooperating parishes. For decades the mere existence of these units has removed any credibility we might pretend to with regards to arguments over the inviolability of our constitution. Yes Bosco, you are right. There is a loophole. It's big enough to drive a truck through - several trucks abreast, in fact - and it's been there for at least 40 years.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Consciousness

I don't like giving photos twee titles. In fact I hate that practice with a passion. But, against all my instincts I call this Birds with Truck, because although the truck is obvious the birds aren't and I want people to see them. This is a crop from a bigger picture. When I took it with a long lens I was  interested in the sky and I didn't notice the birds. Turns out they are the best bit. And none of this has anything in the slightest to do with what follows

Sunday. I was up at dawn and got my duty to God and his church finished early. Other people in our house, having just come back from Christchurch late last night rose later They were wandering round in dressing gowns and making coffee so I took Noah outside. I let him go where he wanted and do whatever he wished while I played guardian angel. He kicked a ball, pushed his car around for a bit and then made a beeline for the gate while I hovered. "Door, door," he said, rattling the gate. His intentions were clear. I let him out into the reserve beside our house and floated along behind him as he tottered off. We were joined by Frank, the world's most intelligent cat, and the three of us, led by Noah, took a slow downhill walk along a cracked concrete path, through the piled up leaves, across the tiny stream and under the dark trees until about 15 minutes later we reached the playground.

Noah and I talked about all we encountered. His vocabulary consists almost entirely of nouns and a few adjectives but this limited auditory palette still allows for quite a bit of conceptual interchange. Frank is largely constrained to body language, but he too is eloquent. He was quite chipper about being part of the adventure until we got to the school boundary, and therefore the edge of the known world, when he strongly advised  against continuing this foolhardy quest. His worst fears were realised when we got to the playground and there was a dog and there was an endless expanse of mown grass stretching to the horizon in every direction with nowhere a sentient being could secrete himself. Don't say he didn't try to warn us. Noah had had this end in mind all along of course. He wanted to sit on a swing, and have me push him, standing in front of him and pushing him by his gumboot clad feet so that as he swung we could discuss the environment; Birdies, flowers, dog, Frank! Frank? Wet..... And to protest our eventual departure in the strongest possible terms.

Three of us. All conscious. All, to some degree or other,  in communion each with the others. All of us communicating, more or less. Frank is currently more aware of the world, more rational, more intelligent than Noah, but there will very shortly come a time when Noah will surpass him, and then, later, I hope a time when he will surpass me also, in knowledge and wisdom and self awareness and achievement. Each of the three of our intrepid band of explorers has our view of the world shaped by the perceptual software hardwired into our brains and by the instincts and drives implanted in us by the countless generations of our ancestors' struggles. Each of us has a certain level of intelligence decided by and measured by the physical configuration of our brains and their stages of growth. But each of  our individual consciousnesses; those windows in each of us through which the universe perceives itself is equivalent and of the same sort. I have a room full of books in my house. I've read at least bits of all of them. But increasingly it is this common possession of consciousness, and not possession of all those countless words, which tells me why I am here, and what and who I am.

We walked back up the hill. Noah's rage at the injustice of being denied his swinging rights was soon ameliorated through distraction. I can see two cars. Look. A red one and a green one. And there is the water. Can you see flowers? Frank advised against the dangerous practice of walking along Highcliff Road as there was, again, no adequate cover and he was proven right when yet another dog and a couple of completely unknown humans appeared, but he accepted my reassurances and followed, albeit reluctantly. Sometimes, says Martin Buber, the I-It relationship we have with the objects we encounter in the universe is supplanted by something deeper; we recognise that the thing we encounter is also a point of consciousness and is looking back at us in an I -Thou relationship. Such awareness comes sometimes in the course of a pilgrimage to the swings; to the end of the world and beyond; to the tiny piece of reserve about a half kilometre from my back door. Especially when such a pilgrimage is made in the company of known and trusted friends.


Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Shorts

Remember going to the movies in the old days? Before the feature they had the shorts: little cartoons or documentary films or trailers for the next feature or an episode of a Hopalong Cassidy serial. Well here's the blog equivalent: a few little items which don't really deserve a whole post to themselves

The Hobbit. 
I went to see the third Hobbit movie the other night. Well, I'd seen the other two, so I  had to, really.  Martin Freeman is an excellent actor and the visual effects were pretty good, but as I was expecting, this was one of the most forgettable movies I've ever seen, so 6 lines is about as much of a review as it deserves. In brief: 144 minutes. No memorable characters. No plot.  Basically the 2 hours and 24 minutes went like this: A dragon sets fire to a town. A bloke shoots it. There's this humungous pile of gold. A whole lot of people fight over it. The good guys win. The end.
(c) Somebody other than me

Music.
My daughter Catherine left for the UK this morning. While she was here she took my musical education in hand. Amongst others, she introduced me to (appropriately enough)European Indie band,  Daughter.
Retreats
I will be leading two retreats this year. In October I will lead a taught Centering Prayer retreat - an opportunity to learn and to practice this form of silent prayer - but more of that later. From February 21 to February 26 I will be leading, with John Franklin and Sr. Judith-Anne O'Sullivan a directed silent retreat at En Hakkore, the retreat centre in the old sanatorium  in the hills above Ranfurly. Cost is $390. Further details or registration contact  our office.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

East West...


On any pilgrimage, the return journey is as important as the long soulful slog to the holy destination. To reach the goal and savour it is all we focus on as we march imperceptibly onwards. But once there, we turn and retrace our steps, hurriedly and practically. We return to our ordinary lives and the journey back is a transition, a moving back from one reality to another; we move from the holy to the mundane in a little anti pilgrimage.  

So on boxing day we headed South, past Kawakawa with its famous toilets.  When I first met Clemency she sang in a folk group with Paula Feather. Paula's sister lived with Friedensreich Hundertwasser , the Austrian artist who once lived in Kawakawa and built the town's loos. With a close personal link like that (I'm astounded I wasn't mentioned in his will), of course we had to stop and take a look. I felt a little odd walking into a public toilet with a large and obvious camera, but the place was crowded and everyone was taking pictures with a variety of equipment, so I wasn't arrested. The toilets are wonderful, an object lesson in how public buildings could be if they weren't all built by people whose primary goal is usually to make them as ugly as they might possibly be. And it's interesting to see how Hudertwasser themes are permeating many other buildings in town. And how many people are going out of their way to stop and see them.
We drove on to Thames and stopped with Bev and David, friends from our days in Hamilton. Bev's daughters have known us and our kids forever and her youngest, Sarah, is a sort of de facto niece. (as Nick texted from Australia, "it's a real holiday now that Bev and Sarah are involved") Bev, David, Clemency and I walked into the Coromandel ranges for long enough to give Clemency, an inveterate tree hugger, some soul time with a kauri.

From there it was Tauranga, to meet a new/old friend. Katherine Steeds is a painter, a greenie, a fellow blogger and a long time correspondent. She has turned her lovely old Greerton home into  a gallery. She lives there, amongst her beautiful, finely detailed, witty, clever, poignant paintings and from time to time has exhibitions where lucky people endowed with enough good taste and enough cash can walk off with one of her exquisite works. We camped beside the house and spent a lovely evening with simple but delicious food and complex but delicious conversation.
Hierarchy by Katherine Steeds. Acrylic on paper.
From there, we drove to my niece's place just outside of trendy little Greytown in the Wairarapa. We took the scenic route through Napier. Toni has a small but quite beautiful house on 3.5 acres on which she keeps 2.5 horses and a couple of dogs. The weather was hot. Catherine fulfilled one of her holiday aims of having a little equine time. My sister Val was there with her husband Mike and we had gentle, happy couple of days. Toni's place is on the market, and I couldn't help thinking it would make a very good The Good Life sort of property if someone added a big vege garden and an orchard and a few chooks. Just right for someone like... oh, I don't know... a retired bishop for instance.

On New Year's Eve we left early, dragged the caravan over the Rimutakas and took the ferry to Picton. Then in the pouring rain, trapped behind a terrified tourist in a tiny car driving at about 70 kph we drove to Nelson. There were a few days of gentle rest in Val's house on a hillside above Richmond, looking out across farmland and sea towards Golden Bay. It rained a bit. We had Noah with us. So we abandoned the original plan to take a water taxi into the Abel Tasman national park, and instead let Catherine tick the box beside golden sand - pohutakawa trees - crystal waters -now this is a real beach not like those dreadful stony things in the UK with a nuclear power station at one end and a Tescos at the other and ten thousand poms in deck chairs in between by taking a day trip to Boulder Bay.
Note. Neither of these is Boulder Bay. These are the Abel Tasman. But they look sort of similar. 

So then it was home. Through the Lewis. Across the plains. Over the Waitaki bridge and into Otago. The sun set, spectacularly, just as we left Canterbury. I was home in  my own diocese. A promising year stretches ahead.

Red at night.
Shepherd's delight.


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas Day

Called South contingent at Oihi, Christmas day. Nothing if not colourful.
On Christmas day our family goes to church. Then we retire home for a lunch of everybody's favourites; a sort of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Kiwi antipasto. Then we open presents before cooking an evening Christmas Dinner. So the routine today went exactly according to schedule except the context was a little unusual.

To go to church we returned to Oihi, travelling across the hills of Northland to arrive around 10 for the 11 am service. We walked down the now familiar path to join the few hundred people who had already gathered. The forecast for the day was rain but the day was mercifully overcast and dry. Behind us a long queue of people walked in a snaking line down the hillside, carrying camp chairs and umbrellas and picnics in bags and boxes and baskets. I joined the other bishops, changed into the convocation robes which had been lent to me by Ross Bay (Mine being the one thing I had forgotten to pack when I left Dunedin)and waited for worship to begin. In the water 20 or so small craft sat at anchor with one or two still arriving.

The service was broadcast on TV One, so timing was exact. On the dot of 11:00 Te Kitohi Pikaahu and Ross Bay welcomed the crowd, by now about 2000 or so strong, in Maori and English. Then followed a simple but powerful service. There were readings from Marsden's journals describing the original event of 200 years ago. The Bible passages  used by Marsden were read and Philip Richardson preached a very good sermon. Samuel Marsden, the great - great - great - eponymous grandson of the original missionary, addressed us briefly. We prayed and sang Christmas carols. I've never much liked the New Zealand carol, Te Harinui (not least for the fact that when most people sing it they mispronounce harinui [great rejoicing] as haranui [great blasphemy]) but today to be singing of the bay and the grassy ground and the summers day as we stood in the very bay, on the very grassy ground on a summer's day, albeit a different one, was quite moving. We finished exactly on schedule at 12:30, a pretty remarkable achievement on behalf of the planners and Jayson Rhodes who was producing.

I was so glad to be there. The hillside was filled with people, most of them Christian of various denominations but a few were not. There were flags flying: tino rangatiratanga, the Yorkshire flag flown by the large contingent of the Marsden family who were there, and, oddly, the Israeli flag. And in it all Jesus was proclaimed.  The mood was gentle, positive, glad, friendly, as you might expect from people who had all travelled to be there, some a very long way indeed, and who were looking forward to the service and a picnic on the grass and maybe a swim in the bay. But there was something else as well.

Everyone at Oihi bay this morning was a pilgrim. All had sacrificed to be there. All had made a difficult journey of some sort. And there was a strong sense of the enormity, of the importance of the occasion. I felt like we were on holy ground. Holy places are sometimes chosen because they are naturally numinous. They are places where the curtain between this world and eternity is somehow thinner than elsewhere. Sometimes though, holy places become holy because they are the sites of repeated hopes and prayers and expectations of many people. Oihi Bay is a spot originally chosen as the site for the first mission for political and practical reasons. But now its significance to the social and spiritual history of our nation is increasingly causing it to be a place of pilgrimage and thus to be the goal of hopeful and prayerful journeys. It is rapidly becoming a very holy place indeed. For me it is an evocative, welcoming, challenging, healing place that sits alongside other more popular sites - Waitangi, Turangawaewae, our cathedrals, for example -and, though long forgotten,  perhaps now is beginning to surpass them.

We didn't stay for a picnic. Clemency, Catherine and I walked up the track to our car. We drove back to Waitangi for hummus and pickles and olives and cheese and delicious bread. We opened presents from each other. We skyped our family. We cooked Christmas dinner, pretty darned successfully if I may say so myself, in the caravan stove. We walked a kilometer or two along the golden sand beach under the pohutakawa trees then watched an episode of Outlander. A Christmas day just like any other, and yet, totally unlike any we had ever experienced before.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Intentions

Lately, as I wander round the birthplace of our nation, and look at the sites once inhabited by those who first bought the Christian Gospel to these shores I have been reading a book by a Buddhist nun. Tenzin Palmo is an Englishwoman, one of the first Western women to be ordained as a Buddhist nun, who spent 12 years in seclusion, living in a cave in the Himalayas. She has authored many books, and Reflections on a Mountain Lake is a collection of her retreat addresses. It is a wise and profound book aimed at giving practical advice on living a Buddhist life in the circumstances in which one might find oneself. As long term readers of this blog know, I have a longstanding interest in Buddhism, fostered by the various members of my family who have chosen that particular spiritual path; but the value of Reflections on a Mountain Lake has been the light it casts on my own Christian walk.

I was greatly helped by Tenzin Palmo's explanation of the doctrine of karma. I hope I'm not putting words in her mouth, but how I now understand it is this:

Every action we take has consequences for our life which extend for years, even decades into the future. So I sit in the library of the University of Canterbury in October 1972. I am meant to be studying but I am distracted by the very beautiful girl from my English class who keeps looking my way and then glancing quickly away when I catch her eye. There is growing between us that sort of tentative, hesitant, exciting knowing which signals that if I was to approach her she might not necessarily reject me. So, late one afternoon while she was away at dinner, and before I left for home, I placed a note on her desk. As a direct consequence of that small action she is seated, 42 years later, eight feet away from me in the caravan in which I am writing this, and one of our three children is seated even closer. Or years after this, I am offered a job by the bishop of another diocese. Neither I nor Clemency want the role. But it is an important position in the church, and I am told that only I (Me! Wow!) can do it. Then, just before Christmas, without properly consulting Clemency I ring the bishop and accept it. The next few years turn out to be a time of difficulty for several members of our little family, with painful consequences which have continued, even to the present day. So these small choices made have led to pathways which we are still following, decades later.

Our whole life, the situation we are living right now, is a direct result of the myriad actions we have taken in our past. Our future as it develops will be a factor of the actions we are taking now. This is karma. There is no way of knowing the effect our actions are going to have on us down the line. Some of our actions will do us good; that is they will move us closer to that great goal which is the intended end of our presence here on this planet. Some of our actions will do us harm; that is they will hinder our growth into the being we are intended to be. At first glance, it might seem that whether our actions will harm or help is all rather arbitrary and just comes down to the luck of the draw. But actually this is not so. What will ultimately decide how our actions play out in our lives is the intentions with which we make the choice to do them.

We can have wholesome or unwholesome intentions. The difference between these can be discerned according to three broad parameters:
1. Is our intention loving or hateful? That is, do we intend benefit or harm to ourselves or others?
2. Is our intention generous or greedy? That is, are we wishing to give to others and enrich them or are we adding to the stockpile of things (pleasures, experiences, objects, power, security, relationships) which we imagine (almost certainly erroneously) will lead to our happiness?
3. Are we acting in wisdom or delusion? Do we really understand ourselves, the world, and our relationship to both these things?

I know I have greatly simplified this, but when our intentions are wholesome - that is, loving, generous and/or wise - they will tend to enhance us and move us further towards our destiny. When our actions are unwholesome -that is, hateful, greedy and/or deluded - they will restrict and damage us and hinder our deep progress. The wages of sin is death, says St. Paul. Yes, precisely. Of course our intentions can be largely unconscious to us, which is why wisdom is perhaps the most important parameter of these three. And of course our lives will be shaped by the intentions of others and by many other factors outside of our own control; but whether the various catastrophes, inevitable as a consequence of having sentience, build us up or destroy us will depend on our attitude to them. And our attitude will be defined, by and large, by our intentions. In the Eastern paradigm the playing out of our intentions extends far beyond our present life, having an influence on the way we will live our next life and the many lives which will follow it. In the Judaeo Christian paradigm, while we might not necessarily subscribe to the idea that we will live more than one life, we agree that our choices and the actions which flow from them will have eternal consequences.

I have found the idea of wholesome and unwholesome intention a useful tool for thinking about my own actions down over the years and about the consequences of those actions. I have also been thinking about tomorrow, Christmas day. I think of the intentions of Mary saying "yes" to the angel Gabriel. I think about the intentions of Jesus to resolutely and fearlessly proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. I think about the intentions of those he faced, and how, despite the great evil inflicted by the powers that be, Jesus' wholesome intentions, and Mary's, prevailed and forwarded the purposes of God.

And as I go back to Oihi tomorrow morning, I will reflect on Marsden's intentions. And Ruatara's. And those of Kendal and Hall and King. And of how mixed they all were, but of how the presence of a thousand diverse people on the beach tomorrow is a sign, to me at least, that they were predominantly wholesome. Good karma. Good news.