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Showing posts from May, 2008

Just On The Spur Of The Moment

The wonderful thing about being a Myer's Briggs P type personality is being able to make decisions without any planning. It's a long weekend. My niece is being married tomorrow in the Anatoki Valley, behind Takaka . With about 2 minutes thought and 10 minutes planning we are going to go. We'll leave in an hour to drive the 10 hours or so to my sister's house at Kaiteriteri. On Monday Clemency will fly home via our daughter Bridget's place in Wellington. Sometime next week I'll wend my leisurely way southward taking pictures all the way down the length of the South Island. I mightn't add much to this blog between now and then, but who knows? They have the power on in Nelson now, and even, so I am told, internet.

Who Am I?

I've had two pieces of news in the past 24 hours. One is a date for my operation: Saturday June 21. The odds are that they'll whip out the prostate and, apart from the possibility of some embarrassing and, I hope, temporary side effects, I should be good to go for another couple of decades at least. The other news is that I am sick. I have a piece of paper, signed by an actual doctor, which tells me so. Of course I already knew this but now, it's official and I am on sick leave not study leave. I'm an invalid, not a scholar. I marked my new found decrepitude by getting over -well, almost - the hacking cough which I've had for almost 3 weeks and by going for a long vigorous walk and taking some photographs. It's odd how different I felt walking out of the doctor's office with my envelope in my hand. I was free not to sit with my tricky books. I was free to think about this illness, and what the rest of my life might bring, and how I might reshape my lifes


Thrice holy God, come as the morning dew hold us in your love which draws all lesser loves to you -Celtic prayer

Form and Reflection

I set out, some weeks ago to read the French philosopher Levinas. I got sidetracked because, a couple of pages into the book, somebody mentioned in passing that they had seen a video called Monte Grande and that I might be interested in it. I got the video. I watched it. It was a documentary on the Chilean cognitive scientist Francisco Varela. I bought one of Varela's books and began to read it. Levinas went back onto the shelf for the time being. As those who have been reading this blog know, Varela is a Buddhist, and this dimension of his thought raised questions for me, who has struggled with the interface of Buddhism and Christianity for many years now. There are enough Buddhists in my family to stock a reasonable sized monastery, although I haven't spoken to any of them on the subject of faith much at all in the past year or two. At the very time I was reading the Buddhist bits of Varela, however, most of them made contact, for the good reason that I was sick and they we

Now We See The Real Similarities

So now we see the REAL similarities between Buddhism and Christianity. I could of course write a Christian equivalent to Murray's reply, but it would seem like a competition and we couldn't have that now could we. Especially as he's wittier than me, and I wouldn't want that to be publicly known. But really, the real reason I refrain from writing the equivalent is that we Christians do so little rowing. We write about rowing. We have rowing schools and training courses for rowers. We run workshops on rowing and have rowing discussion groups. We have rules and standing orders and canons and statutes and bills and memorandums of understanding and accepted precedents about rowing. We all agree on the vital importance of rowing. But as for actually sitting in a boat and putting an oar in the water..... well..... We have an excuse of course. We're too busy holding meetings and workshops and discussions where we fret about why people are leaving us and going to the rowin

Rowing Lessons

Kelvin, I very much enjoyed reading 'Brother are you saved?' and concur with your second metaphor, which is pretty much the Buddhist position. The problem for the Buddhist of course is that before being able to row he would have to arrive at a deep and thorough understanding as to the true nature of an oar taking particular care not to reify the oar into a 'thing'. In addition he would have to have a complete understanding of the elemental make up of the oar in addition to understanding it's symbolic place in relation to visualization and mantra recitation meditation pratice. The Theravadin would only be able to use the oar if it was ochre yellow on all surfaces and that the procedure for rowing was in complete and minute accordance with the rowing techniques laid down by his remote ancestors who were fisherman before Christ was born, and who rowed fishing boats in accordance with the customs of a pre global, pre industrial revolution, village agrarian society. The

Brother Are You Saved?

P.S. Murray - one more thing..... Jesus began his ministry proclaiming "think again! The Kingdom of God is as far away as your own hand!" For many Christians the ground has got to shift before they could even begin to talk to a Buddhist. I started in the Evangelical/Pentecostal tradition as you know - you were there at the time, though you didn't stick around for as long as I did. So, here's a metaphor for the faith we once shared, you and I, though both of us have moved, in our own way, beyond it: God gave the people of the world a beautiful luxury ship, but unfortunately they sank it. So now the people are adrift and alone in a vast ocean, treading water, and beyond any possibility of rescuing themselves or others. They are waiting for certain death. Fortunately God, being loving, has sent a lifeboat, paid for in some mysterious way, by his son. The way into the boat is simple. You just have to ask. There's a set way of asking. You've got to acknowledge tha

OK, You've Got Me Thinking.

Guhyavajra; It's not courage to look at what cannot be avoided and decide not to waste time and energy fretting about it - it's just common or garden variety laziness. In a discussion on Being, we Christians are at a decided disadvantage because of what we believe about our Lord, as compared to the Buddha. Jesus had pretty much nothing to say (at least, directly) about the self, and about Being, and all the things in which I am so interested right at the moment. The teachings he left are slender, fragmentary and concerned more with behaviour than with metaphysics. Furthermore, his sayings were not recorded by himself, but by his followers who may or may not have fully understood what he was on about and who set them down in writing some decades after his death. Some of the most influential commentary on his life and work came from Paul who probably never met him - at least not in the everyday sense. For Christians our faith is about Jesus - it is CHRISTianity after all, and

A Letter From My Brother

My brother Guhyavajra (Murray) is two years younger than me. He owns a building company in Norwich and is an order member of the Western Buddhist Order. Below is an email he sent me today, as part of the continuing dialogue between Buddhist and Christian thought. I found it illuminating and helpful, and there's one or two points I will respond to later when I gather my thoughts properly. Come to think of it, I haven't asked his permission to reproduce this, so Murray, if you're reading, sue me why don't you? But remember I'm the one who's got a lawyer for a daughter. "Kelvin, I've read your blog and let me say that I hope I have as much courage as you when I discover that my intestines are dropping out my backside as they inevitably must. To cut to the chase you raise a couple of interesting questions in relation to Christianity and Buddhism which to my mind can be resolved with reference to the first verse of the bible. Good old Genesis. This is th


Yesterday I had a bone scan. It involved being injected with something that was mildly radioactive, going home and returning a couple of hours later to lie on an extremely narrow bed while an immense machine gesticulated around and above me. I was trussed up like a chook for dinner, albeit really quite comfortably, and asked to keep still for about half an hour. I couldn't quite manage it. I had a cold you see, one of the sort that behaves itself when you are standing up but not when you are lying down. I managed to control the urge to cough reasonably well except for, I think, three times where there might now be a little blurry line on the picture. I came home with a blocked nose, red eyes, sore throat and went to bed for the afternoon feeling miserable. Odd really. The disease which is potentially lethal causes me no trouble whatsoever - I wouldn't even know it was there if they hadn't told me - but a common cold causes me a great deal of inconvenience and distress. Jes

The Last Step

Today I made a phone call I had been procrastinating about for days, the one to the travel agent. There's no question that it had to be made, but to pick up the phone and ask for her to cancel our tickets was a final and complete admission that no, after all this planning and all this anticipation we were not going after all. Another little step. Another little loss. I know about operations. I know what to expect: the kind people who will put me on one of those odd, movable beds, put a mask on my face and wake me 15 seconds later with a furnace burning in my belly and tubes sticking into my arms. I know about this and I'm apprehensive but not frightened. The real grief of illness is over an accumulation of small losses and some not so small: Travel of course; privacy; dignity;freedom of movement; physical fitness; the belief in the indestructibility of my body; My sense of infallibility. Some losses loom threateningly just over the horizon, too bewildering to contemplate in t

The Shape We're In

I found this little fossil pipi in a crumbling cliff face near Raglan. I am told it is from the Jurassic period. To think about that, imagine a time line with a space of 1mm for every year; OK? Now, the width of your computer screen would be about 1/2 a metre - that is, it would represent the time from Christopher Columbus until the present. Now imagine the line shooting off the side of your monitor, and continuing on for another 140 kilometres and you'd get an idea of the span of time since this little guy was filtering yummy tidbits out of the sludge on some Jurassic seabed. It was once a living thing, like the hand that holds it. Now it's not a live thing anymore but a stone; yet something of it remains: the pattern of it, the shape of it. Or at least a faint semblance of the shape of it has persisted across that vast, almost unimaginable chasm of time. The shape has outlived the transformation of every atom that once made it up. The hand too is just a pattern or a shape. I

The View From The Other Side

Back in 2001 I had a burst appendix which required a week in hospital and some recuperation time. The experience was a far better learning for pastoral care than anything I was ever given in my theological college. I learned, for example that a 40 minute hospital chapel service was way too long, and that 20 or even 10 would have suited me far better. The best pastoral visit I received, also for example, was from my colleague David Crooke. David arrived at my bedside in his clerical blacks. He didn't ask me to talk - at that stage I was more or less incapable of it anyway - and he didn't give me any pre-packaged words of advice. He expressed his sympathy, held my hand, said a prayer and left, all within 5 minutes. Perfect. He didn't need to fix me. He didn't need to appear useful. He didn't have any of his own issues about illness or death to work through by ministering to me. He respected where I was and he was present, which was enough. And his lack of drama


Why is a bit of me corroding away? "When a man's folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord." - Proverbs 19:3. This verse was part of my daily readings this morning. Now I'm a theologically sophisticated man but still, with my guard down, this verse did surface a naive question that's always there, bubbling away under the just under the surface, out of sight. Why me, God? Is all this my fault? Has my folly brought my way to ruin? Well, naive or not, the short answer is, I guess, "yes" although the long answer is a bit more complicated. Prostate cancer is a very common affliction, but the rates at which men acquire it and the rates they die from it differ significantly from country to country. The percentage of men diagnosed with the disease in Britain has trebled over the past 30 years, and this is typical of developed, Western countries. The increased rates are partly because men are living longer and thus giving dormant cancers mor

To Be Or Not To Be

It's been a long day. I'm on study leave but I didn't get much study done today. At 9 I was invited by the Urologist to come to his office at 4:30 and have a chat. The receptionist who made the call was pleasant and matter of fact and didn't give away any information but there's no way of disguising the intent of a call like that. Something is wrong.It's been a long day, which, as an introvert, I was pleased to spend on my own. Clemency came home a little early and we went to see Mr. Samalia together. He's a tall man, white haired, dark skinned. Large gentle brown eyes. He spoke with great kindness but with absolute candour. I have cancer, in my prostate. Cancers have a rating system - a number assigned to them from 1 to 5 to mark how much they have disrupted the cells around them. I have a patch of 4 cells, and some, who have been trying particularly hard, have made it all the way to number 5. None of your namby pamby little 1s or 2s or 3s for me, thank y


Over the road from Maori Hill Presbyterian Church is the old Coronation Hall, a place where little girls learn ballet or drawing and where the local people gather to hear school concerts or protest about sewage. Four years ago, responding to a dream to 'let down their nets on the other side' a group of about ten people from the church began an 8:30 service there called B@tCH - Breakfast at Coronation Hall. The idea was to provide an informal place where people who had become alienated from the usual sorts of services, or perhaps those who had never been at home in any kind of church could find a place to express themselves spiritually. By all accounts it seems to have worked. I've always been curious about it, but yesterday, having no obligations of my own to fulfill, was the first time I have been able to attend. Coronation Hall is large, and although it is airy it is also somewhat dark. It has a sort of lived in shabbiness, with childrens pictures all over the walls and o

Is Something Amiss Down Below?

It snowed yesterday. The spell of warm settled weather we have enjoyed since early December finally ended and Dunedin reverted to form. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I love the cold weather. In celebration of the weather I spent the afternoon having a biopsy taken of my prostate and recovering from the same. I'm not usually much aware of the prostate, although it is a part of me which has a pivotal role in some bodily functions of which I am very much aware when they happen. My GP told me, after a routine annual blood test, that what I should be aware of is that it may not be behaving itself, so there's been a string of other tests and examinations culminating in yesterday. They wanted to take some core samples. The prostate is an organ that's about as hidden away as it's possible for an organ to be, so the process of taking the samples is tricky. I'll spare you the details, but when it was being done, a song came to mind which will be familiar to boys wh

Aramoana and Dr. Phil

I woke very early today and before dawn drove out to Aramoana with my camera. Yeah, I know, what the world desperately needs right now is another photo of a sunrise... ...but really, I was just wanting to think on this first day of my sabbatical and to be present in the world and a camera is something that helps me do that. Try as I might I couldn't think of any profound or holy thoughts even though the morning was a beautiful one. Instead I kept thinking about Dr. Phil. Catherine watches him sometimes and yesterday I wandered into the room when the mustachioed one was dispensing advice. A young girl had apparently developed a hopeless crush on some pop star or other. Her infatuation had taken over her life to the extent that there was room for nothing else and Dr Phil was pretty blunt with her. "You're emotionally lazy" he told her. By being infatuated with her idol she had made for herself an attachment without any of the difficulties or hard work of a real relat