Saturday, 31 May 2014

Why I Hold the Views I Do


St. Hilda's Collegiate School, taken with my phone after a recent meeting. This picture has nothing whatsoever to do with what follows, but I like the interplay of shapes and particularly the shadow on the wall.

My mother is a Methodist, liberal in her theological and social opinions. My father was a socialist, just slightly to the left, in his politics, of Karl Marx. My siblings -there are 5 of us- are all bright, eloquent and omnivorous in their consumption of books and other intellectual fodder.  One of my most cherished childhood memories is of mealtimes in our little state house. The food was ingested with copious amounts of spirited, opinionated, clever and sometimes informed debate on whatever subject happened to catch the attention of one of the family that day. Or whatever one of us thought might get a rise out of someone else. So, sex, politics and religion it was then - oh and motorbikes, economics, international relations, demographics, cricket, company ownership, the utter iniquity of the National Party... you know, the usual run of family conversations.

We sometimes got heated but never came to blows, and there were some basic family ground rules, originating with our parents, about acceptable opinions. In politics we were left (naturally) and we were, I now realise, fairly progressive on things like race relations and women's rights. And on matters of sexual orientation. I can't remember as a family actually having any gay friends and acquaintances but we accepted "that's the way some people are" and we had a family abhorrence of disadvantaging anyone for something outside of their control. Actually, the question of whether or not it was outside of their control probably occupied us for a few hours when roast mutton and boiled spuds were being passed around.

When I was old enough to be under the sway of the testosterone washing round my body, I knew which way my own orientation lay; I didn't make any choices about that, any more I suspect than anyone else does. I knew that I was a raging heterosexual. I cannot remember even once being even remotely attracted to a man, so it was all quite simple for me; homosexuality was something other people did, so what business was it of mine to ever get steamed up - in any way - about it?

After my conversion to Christianity in 1973 I attended churches where social and theological views were decidedly conservative, but on this matter I simply couldn't find the energy to muster the required amount of indignation. I've had the Biblical case for regarding homosexual behaviour as sinful presented to me many times, but somehow it just doesn't wash, any more than the Biblical case for the sinfulness of eating pork or that for preventing women from speaking in church.

So why do I hold the views I do? I would have thought that by now the answer to that question would be pretty obvious. Because that's the way I was raised, that's why. It's not just that for all the formative years of my life I had a pretty thorough apprenticeship in liberal humanism, but also that my personality type, my life experience, my ways of ingesting and processing information all predispose me to think the things I think and believe the things I believe.

It is my opinion that this is true for what most of us think, about most things, most of the time. Of course we pretend this isn't the case. We, all of us, talk and think as though we are blank slates and that out of all the various options on any subject we have chosen (how wise of us!) the stance that is most obviously right and correct. Of course we have some free will as to our opinions, but I think it operates in fairly constrained limits.

I am a convinced Christian but if I had been born in Saudi Arabia instead of New Zealand I would doubtlessly be a mullah instead of a priest, or a Buddhist monk if I had been born in Tibet or Thailand. And if I had been born into a different family or had a brain wired in a marginally different way or for reasons far outside of my control had a different experience of life I would in all likelihood be a theological and social conservative. And of course in each of these conditions I would believe in the rightness of my position and argue vigorously for it, backing my opinions with sound arguments and irrefutable scriptural authority.

My opinions are largely not chosen, they are circumstantial. But then again, so are everyone else's. So here we go in the church ripping ourselves apart over an issue in which we all are more or less predisposed to hold the views we do. Which is not what the Holy Spirit calls us to. Christ calls me into discipleship; that is, into closer and closer union with God. This does NOT mean that I must conform myself more and more closely to the one righteous Godly position on any given subject (even if I fondly like to believe that the righteous position is the one I already hold). It means rather, that God leads me, everyday, to understand more and more fully what I think and how I react. But more importantly, God painstakingly and patiently leads me to understand why I think and react the way I do. This place of understanding is the place of real freedom. It's only here that I have real choices about how I believe and how I act on those beliefs.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Way to Love

Every couple of years or so I re read this little book. There are 196 pages, but they are small - the book fits easily into a pocket. There are 31 short chapters so what with the diminutive size and all, you'd think it would be a pretty quick read but it's not. At least, not for me.  The minimum time it takes me to read it is 31 days, but usually it is more like 62 or 93. That's because although it only takes 5 minutes to read a chapter I have to sit with each one for a long time afterwards.

When Anthony De Mello died in his mid fifties in 1987 he was very widely known and read. For many of us, his numerous books of enigmatic little stories have been rich seams to be mined for sermon illustrations. For a lot of people Sadhana (1978) has been a resource enabling the start of a contemplative spiritual practice. Until Thomas Keating's Contemplative Outreach and Laurence Freeman's World Community for Christian Meditation became firmly established, Anthony De Mello was about the only show in town when it came to popularising Christian contemplative spirituality. Sadhana is still a good place to start, but now there are many others and I'm often surprised by the number of serious Christian pray-ers who have never heard of it.

The Way to Love was published posthumously and consists of a number of retreat addresses tidied up for publication. The tidying has been less than thorough in places and I am very glad of that; written and spoken English are two quite different things, each with their own idiosyncrasies and even to some extent their own grammars, and The Way to Love often betrays its origin as a piece of oracy rather than a piece of literacy. Sometimes reading I can just about catch the lilting rhythms of De Mello's Indian accent.

The central idea of the book is the one that lies behind my little conversation with Jesus post of a couple of days ago. Jesus began his ministry proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is here. Note: not that it is coming , or will come if we all work very hard, or will be presented to us at the end of time if we just believe the right things and stop being naughty. Jesus said it is here. Now. So why don't we see it then? Well, Jesus is a little less than forthcoming on this point. All he tells us is to have metanoia (μετάνοια) which we translate "repentance" and conjure around it pictures of preachers in black cloaks tut tutting at our peccadilloes. But Jesus meant something other than that. He meant what the word says: to think again; to have a new way of understanding. This is the point Anthony De Mello expands on.

Happiness is here, says De Mello. You don't have to go doing anything fancy or expensive like acquiring a new house/car/spouse to get it. You don't have to go on a diet or reach enlightenment. You don't have to be successful at work or love or religion. You don't have to be married or single or have your life sorted out. You don't have to wait until next year or next life. It's already here. The Kingdom (that is, all that you are looking for in the deepest parts of yourself) is as far away as your hand. The reason you don't see it is because of the way you think. As Jesus says,  
The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.
By which I think he means that if the way you see the world is stuffed, then the whole world will seem (to you) to be stuffed. And De Mello says that all of us have bad eyes. We are programmed - by our genetics, our upbringing, our culture, our experiences - to see the world in certain ways and to believe all manner of preposterous nonsense, for example that we require [ please fill in your fondest wish here ] in order to be happy. Because our way of seeing the world is more or less blighted our experience of the world is more or less blighted and almost none of us are happy. But, says De Mello, everything we need to be happy we already have. Now. Here. Open your eyes and see it.

Simple but not easy. Most of the book is a primer on how we might do that, partly through awareness of the world and of others,  but mostly through awareness of ourselves; and particularly through awareness of our own programming.

So over the next couple of months, while I am reading other things I'll read a chapter every day or so and let it percolate further in. The copy I am reading is brand new, as I keep giving them away. I notice, also, that it is the last one I have. Better nip out to my favourite bookstore and pick up a few more.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Home Again

I took this photo on my phone.Can't remember when or where. Just found it now, and I quite like it.

I spent all day Friday on planes and in airports. Saturday I slept in. Sunday I went to Balclutha to preside at the induction of Griff Moses as the new vicar, and I was grateful that the service was late in the day as I felt so tired. Today, my day off I went for a long walk and began to renovate our bathroom. Pulling wallpaper off walls is a good thing to do when there is inner stuff to process.

I took part in a couple of the synod debates, other than the one on the Ma Whea report, of course. I was, for instance, quite shocked when Carole Hughes presented a table showing the low number of women in leadership in our church at a national level. We have few women members of our key committees and almost no women chairs of those committees.I think there is more to this than just telling the boys to step aside and let the girls have a go; I think there are issues of structure and culture which are very difficult to identify and address, but of course they need to be i & a.

Late on the last day we had a debate which went nowhere and yet was perhaps the most important matter that came before us. Bishop Api Qilio spoke at length about the effect of global warming on his diocese, Polynesia. People's homes, and in fact the very land those homes are built on are under threat. And the threat isn't in 10 or 20 years time, it is happening now. The way we deal with important social issues in synods is to leave them all til the last day, have a hurried discussion and pass a meaningless resolution or two, which is pretty much what we did with this one. There has simply got to be a better way.

The personal effect on me of being with Ngapuhi for a week, and of visiting Oihi and Waitangi have been far more profound than I expected. Living in the South I sometimes forget the power and beauty of Maoritanga, but I couldn't do that in Tai Tokerau. Neither could I ignore the basis of our nation in partnership. I am glad that our pre General Synod  IDC meeting is going to be replaced next time by a meeting between tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pakeha. Very glad indeed.

The Ma Whea discussion still sits with me. Few people, judging by the comments on here and other places, recognise the enormity of the task the church has set for itself or the potentially radical nature of the changes we have committed ourselves to. Having been part of the decision I feel committed to doing all in my power to bring them about, but it's not the decision which sits with me most. It is the way the decision was made. Sometimes in a very good liturgy there is a time when the church seems especially united; especially open to and flowing with the Spirit of God. In Church this happens for a period of minutes, or even maybe an hour or so. At General Synod /Te Hinot Whanui 2014 it happened for 8, 10 or 12 hours a day and for three days straight. General Synod was, and I can scarcely believe that I am saying this, one of the highlights of my Christian walk so far. In large part I think the special flow of the synod was about being at Waitangi. In part it was about being continually under-girded by prayer: the unselfconscious movement into karanga and himene, which was the particular gift of Ngapuhi to us all, formed a sort of basket which held us all. Mostly though it was because we stumbled into, or maybe were led into, a better way of dealing with difference. Instead of slugging it out to try and prove ourselves right we agreed on the imperative of a unity which doesn't require uniformity and we set about seeking a way to remain together while recognising the integrity of each others differences. We've mapped out a way in which this can happen. All we have to do now is make it happen.

I came home realising how deeply Anglican ways of doing things run in me, and how glad I am of that. There are other things happening for me right now, which I won't bore you with, but I am grateful to have been in Waitangi, I'm grateful to be in Dunedin and I'm happily anticipating all that lies ahead.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Think Again!

From that time Jesus began to preach saying, "repent, [i.e. think again ]for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand."
απο τοτε ηρξατο ο ιησους κηρυσσειν και λεγειν μετανοειτε ηγγικεν γαρ η βασιλεια των ουρανων
-Matthew 4:17

Jesus: Kelvin! Mate! Have I got news for you!

Kelvin: Oh. Really? Listen Jesus, always nice to see you. But can you tell me quickly? I'm kind of busy here, being holy.

Jesus: Oohh! Important!  I'll be brief then. The Kingdom of  Heaven is very very close.

Kelvin: How close?

Jesus: What's that thing on the end of your arm?

Kelvin: My hand.

Jesus: That close.

Kelvin: Ok.

Jesus: Great news,eh!

Kelvin. Ah yeah. Terrific. So where is it then?

Jesus: What?

Kelvin: The Kingdom.

Jesus: So what are you using to type this post?

Kelvin: My computer.

Jesus: and....?

Kelvin: my fingers?

Jesus: Exactly!

Kelvin: Right. Look, don't want to be rude or anything, but I'm actually pretty busy.

Jesus: But can you see it?

Kelvin: What?

Jesus: The Kingdom. It's here!

Kelvin: Well, I hold a fairly well researched position on the existential tension between realised and non realised eschatology; the now and not yet if you will. I put a lot of thought into this back in the 80s. I've still got the books to prove it.

Jesus: Wow! Brainy! But can you see it?

Kelvin: As a concept the term "Kingdom" has, of course, metaphorical loading deriving from the first century milieu in which it was coined which needs considerable exegetical work it is to be contextualised in 21st Century Aotearoa/New Zealand

Jesus: Yeah sure... But can you see it?

Kelvin: There are several passages referring to the Kingdom, and one question is whether the Kingdom of God (την βασιλειαν του θεου ) and the Kingdom of heaven ( η βασιλεια των ουρανων) are the same ontological reality. On this point the redaction critics are somewhat divided.

Jesus: You can see it can't you?

Kelvin: ...

Jesus: You can't see it can you?

Kelvin: No.

Jesus: Think again.

           Think again, my love. Think again.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

General Synod, Day Three. The Way Ahead.

I took this photo years ago with my first serious digital camera. I like it. It was the photograph I used for the first ever post on this blog, when I was still the Ven. Dr. and was calling the blog Re Vision and wondering whether to make it a photography blog or a Life, The Universe and Everything blog. So, I post it again today to honour a new start.

The last few days have been amongst the best I have experienced in the church. There was sense of community and a deep sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit as we discussed and reached unanimity on issues which threatened to destroy our church as they had done to several others. When Bishop Helen Ann Hartley began to read the statement that we had all  worked so hard to produce, I couldn't hold back the tears. We had done what I considered to be impossible, and there is, at last, a way ahead for us.

That wise old man Robert Johnson talks about the way almost all problems are framed as paradoxes; they are presented to us as a choice between two irreconcilable opposites; as being caught on the two horns of a dilemma. As we consider the opposites our tendency is to gravitate towards one of the two horns of the dilemma and label it "Good" and to distance ourselves from the other horn which we label "Bad". Then we expend considerable energy trying to diminish or even get rid of the "bad" horn and accentuate the "good" horn. This is a futile operation, says Robert Johnson because actually the two are inextricably linked and all we do is make ourselves guilty and wretched because of our inability to banish the one and embrace the other. The way of wisdom, the old man says, is to give due honour to both; to allow both to speak and then the wise way ahead will present itself as the ground in creative tension between the two opposites.

This dynamic has worked its way out in the life of our church. We have lived with two views on human sexuality which are mutually contradictory. Proponents of both views have tended to look at the other and label it in various derogatory ways, while claiming intellectual, Biblical and moral superiority for their own, favoured, position. Attempts to find the "correct" horn of the dilemma by way of exegesis, theology, and reason have failed. How could they do otherwise? So, for the last year or two our church has tried a different tack. We have sought, not a resolution to our intractable differences, but a way of living with difference. And today we succeeded. Or at least, we have a path which, if followed, will lead us to success.

As I told you yesterday, we talked in various combinations for two days. Last night we selected some of our number, known for their intelligence and representative of the divergent views on this matter, and asked them to prepare a statement which summarised the essence of our long conversation and articulated the way forward we could all see emerging. The resulting document was, with only a few minor typographical tweaks, passed unanimously by the synod. In the hours since it was made public, of course it has generated some disappointment. For some it doesn't go nearly far enough or fast enough. For some, it goes far too far and far too quickly. These reactions were inevitable as long as some people were (and , let's be frank, this is most of us) hoping that their own particular horn of the dilemma (the good horn) was going to win over the other one (the bad horn).

There's a few things that it's necessary to understand when assessing the statement. One is that because of the way our church has been set up we require a very prescribed process to make a change to our fundamental doctrines. This process involves referral to all diocesan synods and to two General Synods and might even require an act of parliament. It was always going to take at least four years. Another is that we in the General Synod have proceeded from the assumption that all members of our church are children of God and are worthy of respect. We have assumed, I think accurately, that people have acted faithfully, intelligently and Biblically no matter where their opinion on this matter might lie. We have taken it as axiomatic that Jesus' prayer recorded in John 17 that his church be one, even as he and the Father are one is an imperative that we simply cannot disregard.

I am not going to paraphrase the statement here. It is better to read it and sit with it for a while, although I realise that only those who were at General Synod will know the depth of communion that went into its crafting. What I will say is that it seeks to give honour to both sides of our dilemma. It commits us to finding a way of reshaping our church so that both sides can live with personal integrity, and with us still participating in our fundamental oneness in Christ. It does this as fast as our processes allow. It recognises the pain of LGBT people and apologises for that, and suggests a way in which a pastoral response can be made to our LGBT people immediately.

Of course there is a lot of work ahead. We take this issue seriously enough to make deep changes to our way of ordering ourselves. The statement necessitates a re-examination of our doctrines of ordination and of marriage and the re-ordering of our church life will require careful thought and listening over the next few years. The result will be, I am utterly sure, a church more fitted for mission than it is today, and one in which all our members will be able to answer the call of  bringing to the world the Gospel of God's unconditional love revealed in the life death and resurrection Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

General Synod 2014 Day Two

We've had a lot of spectators in General Synod. Some dozens of people have come to see the debate on the Ma Whea commission, and see what our church decides with regard to the ordination and blessing of people in same gender relationships. We are a church of the middle: most of us take the broad and open spaces of acceptance and tolerance, and I think that on this issue most of our people, quite used to taking on the one hand this and on the other that, are not quite sure what to think. The spectators by and large aren't drawn from the mainstream of Anglicanism. They seem to come, rather, from the encapsulating views at either end of the spectrum. So we have a group with rainbow scarves hoping for change and a smaller group hoping that we will all stand with our toes firmly on the traditionally held line. Both groups have had to be patient. They have been excluded from the gallery for much of the day as we have discussed matters in committee, and they have arrived at the end of yet another day when we have not been able to arrive at a decision. I am confident though that we aren't far away. (See here )

I must say the spectators have behaved extremely well. They haven't politicked or barracked. They have quietly prayed for us as we go about our work. In this, they have matched the mood of the synod. Our church holds together a wide range of opinions. We have people from the well educated avenues of Remuera and St. Albans and people from Pacific nations where homosexual practice is still a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment. We have some who sit with the pain of long rejection, who see themselves or their friends excluded from full participation in our church life. We have some others who have given their whole adult lives to the service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ within the Anglican church and now see our church denying that Gospel and moving away from its core tenets. All these and a hundred and sixty shades of opinion in between have been sitting in the same room, trying to find a way in which we can meet the needs of all parties, and trying to do it in a way which preserves the integrity and structure of our church.

We have talked for hours and we haven't yet reached a decision. We have talked as one large group and as part of smaller sub groups: clergy, laity, bishops, Pasifika, Maori, Pakeha. We talk as women and men, as straight and (a few of us) gay. For some the discussion is not going to affect us much, one way or the other. For some it is going to cost them their futures, their reputations, the life of their churches. Some are risking prosecution under church law or social opprobrium or even legal problems in their own countries because of what they may do as the result of these debates. For everyone here the issues matter. They really, really matter.

We have been deeply engaged. I have seen no acrimony, no condemnation, no judgement, no manipulation or bullying. I have seen cautious, prayerful engagement with each other. I have seen respect and trust. I have heard considered, reasonable argument and intelligent exegesis. I know what I want to happen tomorrow and in the months and years ahead. Whether I get my way or not, I guess I'll find out tomorrow, but over the last couple of days something has become very clear to me. It has dawned on me with greater and greater clarity why I choose to be an Anglican and why, no matter what happens tomorrow,  I can belong in no other church.

Monday, 12 May 2014

General Synod 2014 Day One

I woke early this morning and re read the first 5 chapters of Matthew's Gospel, particularly chapter 4 which details the beginning of Jesus ministry and the Beatitudes in Chapter 5. I did this because last night at dinner Archbishop Brown Turei based his synod address on the beatitudes. His korero was humble, wise, holy, gently humorous, strongly rooted in the Kingdom and deeply considered - a bit like Archbishop Brown himself. I was very moved by it, as I was by Phillip Richardson whose address this morning used the same passage.

The day began with a Eucharist at 7 am, which was followed by a meeting over breakfast which lasted until synod met for its first business session at 8:15 am. After the usual necessary procedural motions we were addressed by Archbishop Phillip and then by the members of the Ma Whea Commission. For an hour the commissioners presented their report and explained its various sections. We then met to discuss it. Early in the discussion we divided into houses, that is, lay clergy and bishops met separately. That discussion continued all day and will continue tomorrow, when perhaps I will have something to tell you about what was decided.

Talking has, of course, continued during meal breaks. All day I have been hugely impressed by the quality of the conversations I have been part of. People have engaged deeply and honestly, all of them seeking to further God's Kingdom, albeit in sometimes very different ways. Kaz Yung of Wellington has organised an all night prayer vigil in which I will take part.  I hope that the quietness of tonight will enable some of those deep conversations to bear fruit in wisdom, and that we will truly follow Jesus into the new day tomorrow



Sunday, 11 May 2014

Oihi

It's been quite a day.

After breakfast we walked a couple of hundred metres to a conference centre where the morning Eucharist was being held. The day was warm and still and crisp and clear and the yachts lay in the mirror calm water within touching distance of the windows. We waited while the people gathered and then Tikanga Maori led us in a celebration of Jesus' presence amongst us. Bishop Kito Pikaahu preached, a bunch of teenagers taught us a  action song in about half a dozen languages and the singing reechoed around the rafters. It was by turns raucous, funny, reverent, casual, ordered, loud and prayerful. It lasted around two hours and i loved every minute of it.

Following church there was time (just) to nip back to my room and change out of my purple shirt before grabbing a packed lunch from the foyer and heading down to the wharf. All members of the synod along with the members of the Ma Whea Commission boarded a couple of boats and headed out for a leisurely cruise across the Bay of Islands. We were accompanied for a while by a pod of dolphins who had obviously just had a good Sunday lunch because they weren't in a jumping out of the water mood, but preferred to causally surf the wake of the boat instead. An hour of cruising on the clear flat blue water, oohing and ahhing over the scenery continually opening up new and fresh on every side brought us to Oihi Bay. We disembarked at the Jetty of a very stylish indeed development a couple of bays around and were transported by coach to the hill overlooking Oihi.

At the top of the hill, looking down the valley is the new interpretive centre. This is a great hi-tech winged roof set on metal poles above rammed earth walls. It is entered through a passage, curved like a koru, and opens up to a view down to the spot where 200 yeas ago, Samuel Marsden and Ruatara first proclaimed the Christian Gospel on New Zealand soil. Alan Davidson presented his new book on the early mission station to the archbishops, speeches were made and a short service was held, and then we walked the kilometre or so down the brand new path to the bay.

I first learned of the doings in Oihi Bay when, back in 1976 as a student at St. John's College, I wrote an essay on the first CMS mission. Since then I have been fascinated by the story of Hall, King and Kendall and their fraught, flawed and ultimately failed missionary endeavour. It is such a human story, full of weakness and temptation and ignorance and pride; but also of courage and faith, passion and intelligence, perseverance and diligence. It was the first time that the two cultures, Maori and Pakeha had been brought into sustained cohabiting contact, and it is thus the very cradle not just of the Anglican church, but of modern Aotearoa/ New Zealand. The bush has been largely cleared, the formidable pa is now just a few terraces and the mission buildings have vanished but the bay and Rangihoua, the district surrounding it have changed little in the intervening 200 years. I walked down the track to this place which had figured so large in my imagination, but which, until today, I had never laid eyes on. It was much as I had pictured it. But standing there, and looking at the impossible swampland and the steep thinly soiled hillsides under the shadow of the mighty pa,  the mission and its failure all made sense. I walked up the track thinking of those who had made this journey before me and of all that has grown out of this beautiful, lonely place.

We arrived back at the hotel with enough time, just, to change and walk, briskly, across the river bridge to Te Tii marae. For the second time in two days I participated in the casual formality of a powhiri. We heard the speeches and the waiata, greeted and were greeted and then moved into the whare kai for a hangi meal that astonished for its variety, size and quality. I sat with friends, ate and talked. There were, of course, more speeches and more songs before I walked in the dark back across the river. I have spent the day on the edge between the two cultures whose treaty partnership was the foundation of our nation. It is a challenging and empowering and beautiful place to dwell.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Waitangi

It's been 16 year, I think, since I was last at Waitangi. We Pakeha walked the short distance to the hotel to the Treaty House and waited in the sunshine while the Anglican Maori gathered from around New Zealand were welcomed onto the marae and into the meeting house by the kaitiaki of the house. We stood on the vast lawn and looked past the flagpole flying the three flags (New Zealand, The Union Jack and The United Tribes) Then in due course we were called on.

The young people of our church had been meeting over the last few days and, augmented by a large number of young locals, they lined up on either side of the meeting house and sang a waiata as we approached. From the porch of Te Whare Runanga three warriors approached in challenge, each carrying a taiaha. There were two young men and one young woman. A woman wielding a taiaha and participating in such a challenge is an almost unheard of departure from tradition, especially in a context where Maori from every region of Aotearoa were present. We took off our shoes and entered the  house. We seated ourselves in the customary manner, facing the Tangata Whenua with men at the front and women behind, but I couldn't quite shake the message that someone had been giving us at the door.

The mood in the house was cordial and relaxed. The speeches lacked nothing but they were brief. The singing, from three traditions, echoing round amongst the tupuna figures and the carved rafters was enthusiastic and rich. Then we exchanged hongi and walked back down the hill.

Today's session in IDC was better than yesterday's. In fact it was good to be there. On the agenda was the Ma Whea commission's report on same gender relationships. To begin the discussion Bishop Jim White and Rev Andrew Burgess, representing different views on the possibility of same gender Anglican marriage gave position statements and answered questions. Both men are theologically literate, erudite and very capable public speakers. It was a foregone conclusion that neither could say anything that would change the minds of the proponents of opposing views, but as they spoke something else happened. They treated each other with such mutual respect and friendship, and listened and engaged with each other so honestly and deeply that many from opposing ends of the theological spectrum began to glimpse the possibility that we might -just might -be able to hold very different opinions and still live together in one church.

Discussion continued through the afternoon and into the evening. We talked also about the three tikanga structure of our church and of a new constitution for St. John's Theological College in Auckland. We talked within our diocese, and in small groups, across diocesan boundaries. My own views were challenged, deepened and broadened. By the time we finished a little after 8 pm there was a developing sense of community which was pretty novel for IDC. I'm actually starting to look forward to General Synod on Monday.

Friday, 9 May 2014

IDC

Our church will gather tomorrow at the Waitangi Treaty house and be welcomed to the Bay of Islands by the Tangata Whenua. We will be from three tikanga: Pasifika, Maori and Pakeha and we will all meet on Sunday for prayer and then on Monday to discuss our common business. Before that happens though, we Pakeha have been meeting to sort out the stuff that pertains only to us.

There is a story told about a native American chief in the 18th Century who was prodigiously talented at languages. In the space of a year he became proficient in English, Spanish, French and Italian. He was taken to England  and at a dinner at Oxford University he was asked, "so tell us chief, what is the grammar of your own language?" He thought deeply for a few moments and then said, "my language does not have any grammar." Just as our own grammar is invisible to us and the grammar of other languages blatantly obvious, so is our own culture invisible to us while that of others is plainly apparent.This is why, before the constitution of our church was revised in 1992 so that it more accurately reflected the partnership between the three parts of our church, us Pakeha used to pretty much run things. Everything was done according to our tikanga - that is, our customs and usages -with some inclusion of Maori or Pasifika elements from time to time, and we Pakeha didn't actually notice what we were doing.

And when our church reorganised itself we Pakeha suddenly found ourselves lumped together as a group based on a culture that we had to struggle to identify to ourselves. The new constitution required that we, like the other tikanga, meet together regularly on our own, and the instruments for doing this were to be Common Life Conferences and the Inter Diocesan Council. Common Life Conferences meet around particular topics on a more or less regular basis. They are a sort of committee I suppose; or at least, I think so- I have never actually been to one. The Inter Diocesan Conference (IDC) has become the way in which the 7 Pakeha Dioceses meet. Early in the piece it was recognised that if we made the members of the IDC the same people as go to General Synod, and we met at the same time as General Synod we could save ourselves a whole lot of money. So IDC became a sort of adjunct of General Synod and, although in fact nobody quite knew what it was supposed to do, by default it became a sort of governance body. I was once elected onto General Synod, and thus onto IDC but attending once was enough for me, and I made darned sure that next time elections came around I wasn't nominated. Now of course, I don't have the luxury of non attendance.

So we met today under the legacy of all that uncertainty. We began well enough. Sarah Stevens, one of the Ministry Enablers from this part of the world conducted an assured and well crafted Eucharist. Ian Render, the other Enabler preached superbly. He talked about buildings and mission, a topic I am wrestling with myself as we contemplate the closure of several of the churches in Otago and Southland. Ian was illuminating, well researched, inspired and inspiring.  Most of the rest of today was spent on trying to sort ourselves out. We listened as the dioceses gave brief reports and we bishops gave mini state of the nation addresses about the challenges and strengths of our regions. We met in small groups to discuss the themes of these addresses and all of that was fairly energised and positive. We, all of us, feel the call to a deeper level of community and to a renewed practice of discipleship. Then in the afternoon we sort of lost our way.

After lunch we spent a long time revamping the rules under which IDC meets. There was a report which not many people had read, and there were motions and revisions and amendments and we were making a good deal of it up as we went along, and I doubt if more than half of us there knew what on earth was going on for a good deal of it. It dragged on until dinner time and the one positive thing that happened out of it all was a hastily convened bishop's meeting where, at the instigation of Justin Duckworth and Victoria Matthews we resolved to do things better and sketched out a plan for doing so.

We, from the Diocese of Dunedin, met afterwards for dinner. We had a very nice bottle of Pinot Noir and the food was good. We ended the day in community: talking over matters of faith around a shared meal. See, we can do church pretty well; at least we can when we're not actually trying to.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Kerikeri

I had an early start. The plane for Auckland left at 6:50 am so it was a drive to the airport in the dark and the steady, cold, Dunedin rain. I sat near the back of the Airbus A320 and sipped my coffee from a paper cup and managed to meditate for a bit. The sun rose just as the Seaward Kaikouras broke through the morning cloud and we landed in Auckland at 10 after a brief stop in Wellington. The plane to Kerikeri was one of those little Beechcraft where you get to have a window seat and an aisle seat simultaneously, and the only people on board who weren't Anglicans were the two guys at the front twiddling the knobs. We were met by some of the locals and there was a drafting gate - bishops to the left, all others to the right, and us in the purple shirts were driven off to Waimate and the old mission house.

We met, eight of us from six dioceses, in the little newly restored Sunday School hall. We celebrated the Eucharist in St. John's church, and we wandered around the old mission house where, in the 1830s,  Sarah Selwyn waited patiently for her husband to return from one of his six month perambulations around his diocese. The Department of Conservation people had removed the little ropes from the doors for us and so I went from room to room, looking at the household effects that had been there, some of them, for almost as long as the house. In one of the rooms I saw this:
It's a little chaise longue or daybed that is pretty unremarkable except for one fact: it is the first piece of furniture ever to be built in New Zealand. Some missionary or other cut down a tree about 200 years ago, sawed the lumber into boards and knocked together a little something to sit on. And a jolly fine job he made of it too, for it's still here and still looking pretty robust. I looked at those few bits of  shaped wood and somehow it seemed to me to encapsulate the spirit of those remarkable people; those early ones who came out here, thousands of miles from all that was famiar to them, and comfortable and safe. They gave up everything to share what they knew with people whom they didn't know.

The old mission house is spacious and intriguingly unpredictable in its architecture. It is sparsely furnished and the bare wooden walls aren't painted or papered. It is simple, strong, functional and enduring. Like the chaise longue. Like the faith of the missionaries.

We went back to our meeting room and were fed a delicious lunch of soup and bread. We sat in the little hall with its tall board and batten walls and discussed some of the issues which have brought us all to this end of the country: gay marriage, constitutional reform, episcopal electoral processes. These are important things to consider, but I couldn't help thinking as we talked that perhaps we were missing something. And that perhaps it was the strong faith which was somehow evinced by an old daybed and a quirkily designed old house; the faith which built a church that has survived 200 years in Aotearoa, and which the church needs to find at its core if it is to survive another 200.


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Back to Normal

The common wisdom is that once you have settled on a particular spiritual practice you shouldn't go chopping and changing it. By all means add to it from time to time, or experiment with other practices occasionally, but your main discipline should remain constant and regular. Think of spiritual practice in the same way you might think of music practice: it might be fun to have a whole range of instruments to become proficient at but, for true mastery, at some stage you will have to settle on one of them and devote yourself to it. True, from time to time you might pick up another instrument, and even become quite good at playing it, but your main musical discipline remains and the more often you practice it the better.

Spiritual practice is ultimately about dethroning the self. If I have a range of things that I am choosing between as the mood takes me, the self is firmly in charge of my spirituality and my whole regime will be limited. The aim is to conform the self to the shape of my practice, not my practice to the shape of my self.

During the hikoi I didn't follow this advice. I abandoned my practice of Centering Prayer and used instead a type of walking meditation which was fine as far as it went, but once the last of the helium balloons had drifted over the Octagon and the walking was over, I made the switch back to my prayer stool. Physically, it hasn't been easy. With only a month away from my daily discipline I found that my knees and ankles didn't take kindly to kneeling for long periods and I am having to gradually accustom myself to the required posture once again. But in every other way the shift back has been a homecoming and I am surprised at how much I look forward to my morning time of silence.

The main benefits of meditation don't come when you are actually doing it. Sure, there is often a sense of restful stillness and there are the physical rewards that accrue from having at least a short time in the day with no stress and all the systems of my body able to go about their jobs unhindered by my usual ceaseless mental preoccupations. But it's later that the real advantages appear: when my mind seems clearer and my reactions seem less fractured. My Holy Spirit time is 3 in the morning: the time when I lie awake and my best ideas pop out of the ether into consciousness. When I am meditating regularly those lovely sessions at the darkest point of the night are clearer, deeper, stronger, and give me far more practicable ideas. 

Meditation requires effort. At the moment, when I am pleased to be once again reaping the benefits of Centering Prayer, it is easy to start each day in the dark and stillness, but I know that sooner or later the day will come when sitting in my study early in the morning will seem a chore; or that one day soon, after ten minutes on my knees a cup of coffee will seem like a more urgent priority than another half hour of keeping still. It's on those days that my practice will seem to be pure hard work, but paradoxically, it is on those days that it will be effecting the greatest change in me. It will take a little time to be completely back to normal, and a little more time yet for me to be able to catch up with and continue on from where I left off in the middle of March. In the meantime, this is the one area of my life where I am most pleased to be back.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

How To Walk 800 km

John is just walking the 80 metres back to his bike here, but you get the general drift. 
The question I get asked more than any other at the end of the Hikoi is "how are your feet?" It's nice that people care, but my feet have never been an issue on long walks. Good shoes and socks prevent blisters and cushion the effects of long distances on hard surfaces, but I have had other issues. When walking the Camino Santiago knees, Achilles tendons and shin splints have all at one time or another given me trouble. This time round, these have all been fine and I finished feeling as though I could just keep on going indefinitely; to Cape Reinga if needs be. Over the last couple of years I have learned 6 things that have made all the difference. Namely:

1. Footwear. On the Camino I wore walking shoes - Salomon in 2009 and Asics in 2012. A year ago I changed to full walking boots - Salomon Cosmic 2 - and the difference was instant and major. When walking more than 15 minutes in my Asics Gel Arata walking shoes I needed supports on both knees, but after 800 km in the boots I have had not the slightest suggestion of problems. I carried the knee supports in my Hikoi pack but didn't use them once. I use Smartwool socks. Blisters are caused by uneven pressures on skin surfaces, which in turn are caused by bunching or ridging in socks, rough patches in shoes, and/or by accumulated sweat. Smartwool socks deal with perspiration fairly effectively. They also fit snugly on the feet and hold their shape no matter how often they are washed.

2. Preparation. My lovely lime green Salomon boots wore out two weeks into the hikoi which annoyed me intensely until I checked my records and found that in the previous year I had walked 800+ km in them. Most of this had been on asphalt, for which the boots weren't really designed, hence the rather low mileage, but it did reassure me that I had put in enough preparatory kilometres.   In the months before heading off to Stewart Island I was walking or cycling at least an hour a day, and going for a lengthy walk (25 km or so)at least once a week. I found that cycling, by building up thigh muscles, is a very good preparation for walking up hills.

3. Nutrition. I actually put on weight on the Hikoi. This is a testament to the hospitality of the people of Southland and Otago, but also a sign that I had my input and output gauged pretty well. A man of my weight burns around 450 calories an hour walking, or about 2,250 calories for a 25 km walk. Add that to the energy required just to keep my vital systems functioning, and my body needs nearly 5,000 calories of energy to stay upright and move itself at 5 kph for 5 or 6 hours. If it doesn't get this amount it will start to look for energy from within its own reserves. It will try to use fat first, but if the difference between input and output is too great the fat won't be able to be metabolised fast enough so the body will use soft tissue and muscle instead - and my joints will suffer.

4. Pace. My natural walking pace is about 6 kph, and Clemency's a bit faster. This time around I aimed at more leisurely 5 kph and made sure we had a break every couple of hours. 

5. Stretching. A simple routine of stretching: first thing in the morning, before setting out and immediately after finishing is a good preventative discipline.

6. Attitude. This last is perhaps the most significant. When Clemency and I first started walking around Dunedin, we hatched a plan to walk from our house in Highgate to St. Clair and back. This seemed to us to be an insurmountably immense distance.... until we actually did it. We found that it was, in reality, a pleasant stroll of about 90 mins (about 8 km) each way, with an even more pleasant half time interlude of coffee and muffin in one of the several beachside cafes. It became something we did often. We found that the tyranny of distance was contained largely between our ears. Most of the ability to walk long distances is in the continual revision upwards of what we think we are capable of and what we think of as a "normal" walk. I guess this psychological training is at least half of the reason for doing the preparation I mentioned above.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Hikoi Photos


I carried a camera with me for most of Te Harinui - our Hikoi of Joyful News - but I seldom used it. Nevertheless, here is a selection of my few Hikoi pictures.

Day one began with this sunrise over Invercargill

After breakfast we took the plane to Stewart Island. The aircraft for this route are  Britten Norman Islanders, "The Landrovers of the Skies" robust little machines that rattle and leak but are virtually indestructable. They are piloted by young people who are usually in hot demand by other airlines for the large experience they pack into relatively few years.

On Stewart Island Wynston Cooper led us on a preliminary guided tour of the Ulva wildlife sanctuary

The following days took us through a progression of Southland and Otago landscapes

Every week there was a regional event. This one, in Wanaka

The peculiar landscape of Bannockburn reminded me of the American West

Part of journey was on the Otago Central Rail Trail

We also used the Taieri Gorge Railway

...and a helicopter (by a generous donation from Heli Tours)

In North Otago I was fascinated by the soldier trees: oaks planted on sites associated with deceased soldiers from World War 1. There are scores of them all over North Otago, each of them with its little memorial cross: the largest war memorial in the country.
Mostly, I didn't use the camera when there were people around, as a camera has a distancing effect and the whole aim of the Hikoi was connection. But I did manage a few snaps. 

Everyone who walked needed to wear one of these attractive yellow vests:

We walked in urban areas, as well as rural, of course

And sometimes, the tables were turned on the photographer

Friday, 2 May 2014

The Undivided נֶפֶש

Last night I attended the induction service for the new minister of Knox Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Dr. Kerry Enright. I have known Kerry for quite a while. I have had a few peripheral roles in the Presbyterian Church over the years, and our paths have meandered together from time to time. This is a very good appointment indeed, and will be of benefit to Knox, the Presbyterians, and to the whole city. The induction was a great service held in one of Dunedin's architectural treasures, but that's not what I want to talk about today. The sermon was preached by my chaplain, John Franklin, an old friend of Kerry's, and a very good sermon it was too. John preached about the healing at the pool of Bethzatha, and about Jesus' searching question to the bloke who had carved out quite a nice wee niche for himself as a professional invalid and victim: "do you want to be healed?" But that isn't what I want to talk about either. In the middle of his sermon John spoke of the undivided Nephesh (נֶפֶש) which lay at the centre of the beggar by the pool; and which in fact lies at the centre of us all. That's what I want to talk about.

The undivided Nephesh. This evocative phrase caused me to scurry home and dust off my long neglected Hebrew Bible.  נֶפֶש (Nephesh) is translated in various ways in the First Testament, but most commonly as "soul". The first use of the word in the Bible is in Genesis 2:7:   
 וַיִּיצֶר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן
 הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים וַיְהִי הָאָדָם
 לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה:  

then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Now of course this very small  passage contains several rich (to use one of John Franklin's favourite words) and evocative phrases, and I don't want to gloss over the myriad of subtle and multilayered meanings. But...actually... I will, so if you want to avoid my bumbling wrestling with concepts that are at the very edge of human ability to explain them - or this human's abilities anyway - skip down now to the last paragraph of this post. God breathed into the creature God had just made from dust and the result was a nephesh, a soul. To put it another way,  the Spirit of the one from whom all things derive was placed into a being formed within the time/space continuum and the result of this was the existence of nephesh. So nephesh is, according to this one verse,  that which arises when pure consciousness is manifested in the world of form and substance.Aha!

Now this was a helpful idea to me, because right there in the middle of  that big old church with the dignitaries of the Presbytry of Otago and Southland all around me I suddenly had a visual image of something which I have been struggling to explain to myself for a long time, namely the shape of my own fractured interior and what it is I am doing when I rise early in the morning and try as hard as I can to be still. I have (or, more accurately, I am ) a nephesh. This nephesh, because of the way I have been shaped and because of the way I have interacted with the world over 60 something years is fractured and scattered and the variously divided; seemingly unrelated bits and pieces of it are what interact with the world around me, and with other people. But the divided up parts aren't ultimately fragmented. They have a point of union, in the same way that the branches of a tree have a point of union in the trunk of the tree: the undivided nephesh. When I wrap my old black cloak around myself and sit on my little prayer stool and say my holy word, I am intending to move from the divided branches inwards and downwards to their meeting point in the trunk. I am seeking to dwell, for a short time anyway, in the undivided nephesh which lies at the centre of my being. And I am wishing to dwell there not so much because that is some sort of final destination, but because it is the path, actually the only path, to what lies within and below it, deeper still, and one with it: that ground which is, says Meister Eckhart, my ground and God's ground. In silence I intend to locate myself in pure awareness which is, like God, no-thing.

Following the induction there was the usual cup of tea  and a chance to talk to a few of the many people I knew. I drove home glad to have been there: glad for Knox, for Kerry and for the hearing of John's lovely phrase. I woke early this morning and took my seat all the more easily for having heard it.