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Showing posts from July, 2008


We are born into community. We grow inside another human being and spend the first few years of our lives in absolute dependence on that person and on the others who closely surround us. The ones near to us provide us with more than our bodily needs. Our very self - our sense of who we are - is primarily built as we see ourselves reflected back in the words and behaviour of others. Before we can talk, this reflection is, obviously, non verbal. It is kinesthetic. In the way we are held, in the regularity with which we are fed and cleaned, in the warmth -physical and emotional - of our surroundings, we find the earliest information about the world and how we relate to it. Later, we listen to the words said to us and about us. Later still we observe, and with a growing theory of mind, are able to perceive other people as separate personalities with their own points of view, and we are able to build ourselves by comparison, identification and imitation. As our perception broadens we t

Welcome Back Old Friend

When I was growing up we had plenty books in our house but not a lot of poetry. In fact, I doubt if we had any. At school, poetry was the rhyming stuff you had to learn off by heart about the boy standing on the burning deck when all around had fled and the highwayman who came riding, riding, riding. I have the sort of memory which could get the poem pretty much off perfectly with one or two readings on the day before the teacher asked for a recital, but which let the RAM get overwritten by next Tuesday, so none stuck around for long. This meant poetry never meant much to me through all my childhood and teen years. One man changed all that. Roger McGough, the first poet I ever read for the sheer pleasure of it. In my late teens I discovered him. He was (is), one of the Liverpool poets . He was a little older than me, but definitely of my generation. He was in a band called The Scaffold, whose other members counted among themselves Paul McCartney's brother. He wrote about family lif

Assembling ourselves II

Theres a game I play with my two daughters, which doesn't have a name, but involves one or two or all three of us competing in who can tell the most preposterous lie. A session might start soon after watching a "Lord Of The Rings" video, for instance and go something like this: "You know those Lord of the Rings films? You might have seen them mentioned in the news? Well, I made those. Wrote, produced, directed. I starred in them too. All the major parts are actually me. It's a triumph of make up and special effects. I did that too. And all the sets and costumes." "Oh really? Well, I was having lunch with Peter Jackson just the day before yesterday, and he had quite a different story about who made them." "Well of course he would. Pete and I had a wee chat some time ago about what he should say to you if you ever asked. How's Fran and the kids by the way? I haven't seen them in weeks...." I guess for a lawyer, an actress and a cler

Assembling Ourselves

I tell stories. I like doing it, and sometimes I do it well. I know what a story is; stories always have the same structure and pattern. Every story begins with a tension - usually the dis-ease caused by two seemingly irreconcilable opposites - and moves through time until the tension is resolved. Stories can be based in actual events or not as the case may be but all stories are fabrications. Think about it. Of all the hundreds of incidents that occur in the course of any given day, why do you tell some as stories of the day, and let the rest slip into oblivion? The fact that you are telling a story at all means that you have made a choice of one incident over a range of other possible ones. And then, as you tell the incident you won't tell every detail. You will select and choose, highlight some details and downplay others. Your story will be told in such a way as to bring about some purpose: to arouse interest, get a laugh, illustrate a point, evoke sympathy... whatever. In ot

East Meets West

I'm grateful to Janice for sending me this clip of the Guangzhou acrobatic troupe performing Swan Lake . The clip is roughly 7 minutes long and I advise you to watch to the end (or at least until the annoying German MC comes onstage): the real magic is in the second act. The ballet has been performed extensively in China and in many other countries. Everywhere it is greeted with rapturous critical and popular acclaim. Watch the video and you'll get an idea of why. When I saw it, the question immediately rose, "Is this circus or is it ballet?" The answer is "yes". I know I'm simplifying this, but ballet is an art form where movement is used with music and story to present a unified and aesthetically pleasing whole. In ballet the extreme skill and athleticism of the dancer is a tool used to present the artform. In many ways the talent of the dancers and the sheer grind required to prepare for the performance are hidden: all appears effortless and

Progress report

I'm glad to say everything is excruciatingly, boringly ordinary. Like a lumberjack I sleep all night and I wake all day, which is a welcome return to normal service. I'm walking most days, except for ones like today when the forecast high is 6 degrees. I have a very neat but nevertheless impressive scar which is rapidly learning an invisibility charm. I know which muscles to flex before I sneeze and mostly I remember. I'm on sick leave for another ten days: that looks about right. I expect to be back at work on Monday 4 August.

Who's Calling?

I was ordained in my late twenties and became an assistant in a large city parish. When I had served the customary three years I had the expected interview with my Bishop. Alan Pyatt, walking out of church with me one morning put his immense arm around my shoulders and said, "My boy, I'd like you to consider the Parish of Waihao Downs." That was it. There wasn't much to consider. The real meaning of his words, as anyone serving in the church in the late 1970s would have known, was, "My boy you're going to Waihao Downs. Pack your bags." So I followed the only course open to me. I went home and got out an atlas to find out where Waihao Downs was, and I packed my bags. What followed, for Clemency and me, for infant Nick and for Bridget, who was born there, was the most wonderful few years, spent in 1000 square miles of the sort of country I have photographed above, and amongst gracious, spiritual, practical, alive people: the sort of people a city boy like

God Is Not Dead: Book Review

In this book the quantum physicist Amit Goswami promises much, but delivers little. Or to be more accurate, delivers quite a bit but not nearly as much as he tells you he is going to. He tells us that he is going to prove the existence of God and establish a new spiritual paradigm. Well..... Amit Goswami has, in the past, written a very conventional textbook on Quantum Physics and has several other titles to his credit, mostly dealing with his somewhat innovative cosmology. He's the Indian guy featuring in the movie What The Bleep Do We Know!? The subtitle, What Quantum Physics Tells Us About Our Origins And How We Should Live , is what sold the book to me, and the first section of the book is all about Quantum Physics or at least Goswami's version of it. This first section was, to me, worth the purchase price of the book, as Goswami makes comprehensible the down the rabbit hole reality which underlies the Newtonian physics we are used to encountering in daily life. Start lo

The Great Evolution Debate

Some years ago I had some well meaning friends who, greatly concerned for my theological failings, used to give me creationist magazines in an attempt to convert me. The magazines were very well produced: large and glossy, with good photos. Each issue contained 20 or so stories each proving without a shadow of doubt the shortcomings and imminent demise of the theory of evolution. Each of the stories was quite convincing. Each of the stories was complete and utter bollocks. A typical story might involve a rock that had been sent to a laboratory for age testing. The age given by the laboratory would be completely at odds with the age calculated by some geologist or other, thus proving, once and for all, the fallacy of the dating process and thus the fallacy of the whole theory of evolution. Of course if the good people at 6 Days R Us want a cover story and send enough samples away to enough different laboratories, they will sooner or later get an aberrant reading, especially if they c

Which Evolution?

There is no doubt that the earth is very old, about 4.6 billion years old by most calculations and that life appeared on it a very long time ago although no-one is sure when. It is certain also that all the multifarious forms of life we know evolved from a common ancestry. What is not so certain is how. How did life begin and what was the mechanism by which species divided off, and prospered or not as the case may be? For 150 years the dominant answer to these questions has been "Darwinism." Darwinism is not a synonym for evolution; rather, it is a particular theory about how evolution occurs. Darwinism posits that random variation and natural selection are the two mechanisms which gave rise to all the various species that have ever lived and by which life itself began. There have been other theories over the last century and a half and a determined rearguard battle on behalf of those who are incapable of thinking metaphorically and thus need to accept the literal truth of t

A Thought Experiment

Let's imagine for a moment that reincarnation is true (and, no, all of those concerned for my orthodoxy, please don't send me the scripture references proving that it's not. This is a thought experiment. A fantasy, OK?) Now assume something else: that when your soul departs for the great waiting room in the sky where you hang about until you get your next posting, you are beyond space and time. That is, the waiting room doesn't follow our linear timescale and it is quite possible for your next life to be historically before the one you have just exited from. Or, it might be that you are reincarnated contemporaneously with your current existence. With me so far? Now let's say, purely as a fantasy that the second scenario holds: that you come back again, in a different body and live a different life, but you live it at the same time as your current life. You could run into yourself in the street, and of course you would never know it. Now lets take an even greater an

Here's What You Do With This Stuff

My readings for this morning continue: Joshua 18-19, Psalms 149-150, Jeremiah 9 and Matthew 23. In terms of living the day, I shall probably get more sustenance from the two psalms than from the continuing story of Joshua's division of the booty with his fellow Hebrews, and Jesus' warnings about various spiritual traps will certainly give me pause for thought. But there is something edifying about today's complete set of writings: it's like a core sample down through the layers of scripture. In these four passages is seen the development of spiritual insight down through the centuries. In this progression of understanding and revelation is the beginning of the trajectory which leads from Joshua in the second millennium bc through to me at the start of the third millennium AD. All things evolve: it seems to be one of the fundamental properties of the universe. Things change, grow develop: individual things, and groups of things such as solar systems and galaxies and sp

What Do You Do With This Stuff?

For a long time now I have been in the habit of reading through the Old Testament once and through the New Testament and Psalms twice a year. Usually it's a pleasure. Sometimes it's a discipline. Occasionally it's a burden. Today was occasionally. One of the four chapters I read today was Joshua 11, which carries on the story of Joshua's genocidal progress through the land of Canaan. Joshua, like most mass murderers, has a ritualistic pattern to his butchery. He takes a city. He butchers every person in the city - men, women and children. He makes off with those things - sheep cattle and basic equipment, for example - which his limited imagination can make use of and those things which are too sophisticated for his taste- houses and chariots, for example - he burns. Lastly, if he has captured him, he ritualistically tortures and murders the king of the city, mutilates the corpse and erects a stone cairn as a sort of trophy. Of course it's wrong to apply the moral s

Catching Up

I'm still catching up on Sunday. I went to church for the first time in ages: the 1662 service at 8:00 am suited me just fine even thought here was snow on the ground and the heaters in the church had not quite yet achieved the upper hand. In the afternoon I took part in a prayer service for a greatly respected friend, and afterward Clemency and I hosted those present to afternoon tea. Or at least Clemency hosted and I sat regally on the couch looking pale and interesting. There was a large open fire in our drawing room while the wind and rain grimaced angrily through the windows at the warmth inside. All of the 9 people present were intelligent, well read, accomplished and interested in each other. Some were part of an interdisciplinary group which gathers at the University of Otago to research the interface of spirituality, consciousness and science. There was good coffee and a rather delicious tea cake with ginger and raisins.I couldn't have designed a more congenial, sti

Thats it!

That's it. I had the last bit done at 8:00 this morning. It took 5 minutes: short and sharp. Eye wateringly sharp. But now, 4 hours later all is described by Spike Milligan's answer to the question, "is anything worn under the kilt?" There are blood tests in August, but here's hoping. The odds are, this thing is gone for good, never to return and plague me again. And for today, it is wonderful to be well.

The Road Winds Ever On and On

There's some things you don't want to hear: "This is your captain speaking. There's no need to panic," for instance or "Sir, these tickets are for the flight that left last Saturday," or the one I heard on Tuesday, "Hello Mr. Wright, this is Mr. Samalia. We have your lab results back. I know we have an appointment for Friday, but could you please come and see me at 4:30 tomorrow? Oh... and you'd better bring your wife." Bugger. Bridget, who was with me when the phone call came, burst into tears, and, for the first time in this whole process, so did I. Yesterday was another of those extremely long days but in the end it was not so bad. I have, apparently had cancer for as long as 10-12 years. It is aggressive, meaning not so much that it is speedy, but that it shows no scruples about invading organs other than its host. It had moved outside of the prostate and into surrounding tissues, but not extensively and the surgeon is confident tha

Gafcon? The long night of the soul for the Anglican Church

On August 5 1973, when I was 21 years old, I gave my life to the Lord Jesus Christ and became a Christian. I was led through the sinners prayer by a glittery eyed young man in the back room of the Assembly of God in Lower Hutt despite my great intellectual doubts about the whole exercise. My intellectual doubts have, in some senses, continued unabated ever since, but one thing I can't deny. Whatever happened on that Sunday night worked. I was ushered into a personal relationship with God which has also continued unabated ever since. The persistent lived, felt experience of another - not a something but a someone - began at that moment. We Christians proclaim and live a paradox. We claim that Almighty God has lived amongst us in the person of Jesus and that through his life, death and resurrection we can enter a knowing, experiential relationship with God. Yet, even the briefest reflection on who and what God is should convince us that God is unknowable.This paradox accounts for muc