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Showing posts from August, 2008

Persona and Shadow

Over the past day or two I have been reading John Fowles' documentary book The Enigma of Stonehenge . I got it because I was interested in John Fowles and not because I was particularly interested in Stonehenge, but it is a fascinating story. The familiar ring of giant stones was built by my ancestors in several phases over about 1300 years from 2800bc onwards. No one is quite sure what it was used for, but its construction was made possible when one neolithic group conquered and enslaved another, and stole their technologies and some of the big boulders they had put centuries of work into assembling at Avebury. It seems likely that amongst the uses to which Stonehenge was put was human sacrifice, a practice my relatives were apparently quite keen on back when they were painting themselves blue. So there in my ancestry is murder and warfare, enslavement, and the sacrifice of children. I've got to assume that the people who did this were not too dissimilar from me in their genet

Mama Mia! What's Wrong?

This picture must be (c) to somebody. Don't know who though. Just don't go selling it. There are some things I just don't get. Pedigree dog shows for instance, or those big fluffy dice in cars. The inimitable John Clark, speaking about synchronised swimming, (another thing I just don't get) said, "It's like farting Annie Laurie through a keyhole. You've got to admit it's an accomplishment, but you've got to ask "Why?'" Exactly. I went to see the film Mama Mia last night. It's another of those things I just don't get. The movie starts with a series of little establishing shots. One is of a girl in a boat on a picturesque moonlit sea. She's holding the tiller, but she's not rowing. There's no sail and there's no motor, but the boat is making quite good headway as it pulls out from the shore. It sort of sets up what we are to expect. There are three histrionic girls. Three histrionic middle aged women. A diary. Th


Apart from a persistent hacking cough I'm more or less back to normal. Our Bishop is away, which leaves me in charge around here - well technically, anyway; my colleague Helen Wilderspin has been doing all the work and a jolly fine job she's been making of it too, let me tell you. This week though, even with Helen covering the rear, it's been wall to wall appointments. You simply would not believe how many things need to be done, even in a small organisation like the Diocese of Dunedin, and it all has to be fitted in around the requirements of St. John's parish, and the hospital and rest home which our parish owns. No more sitting around reading arcane French philosophers and pretending to think profound thoughts for me! Instead, I sit around reading minutes and pretending to know what to do. Is this what Jesus came to establish? All this busyness? Earlier today I was reading something by a man who was, by all accounts, busier than I am: the apostle Paul. In Romans

An Invitation To Walk the Way

I am indebted to Brian McLaren for the reminder that the way of Jesus is not a thing that is to be possessed, or a state to be entered, or an institution to be maintained, so much as it is a path to be walked.In my last entry, I briefly reviewed his book Finding Our Way Again . I would like to talk about the book, perhaps on here, but not only on here. I would like to discuss it, but I don't want to teach it. I would not like to trade and refine ideas about the book, or acquire more knowledge, I would like to use the book to help me walk further on the Way of Jesus. So here's the deal: Anybody who would like to talk about the things in Finding Our Way Again is welcome to come to my place on Thursday September 11 at 7:30 pm, and for subsequent Thursdays for as long as it seems good to continue. I will advertise this in my parish, but to come you don't need to be a member of St. Johns, or an Anglican, or even, I suppose, a Christian, although seeing as I want to talk about

Finding Our Way Again - Review

Brian McLaren is the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church. He is a prolific author and one of the most listened to voices in the Emerging Church movement. The Emerging Church aims to forge a Christianity that is consistent with the post-modern society of the West, and is sometimes at loggerheads with the essentially modern Evangelicalism out of which it grew. He is thus, sometimes controversial, but usually compelling in what he says and writes. This book is the first of a series of eight books under the overall editorship of Phyllis Tickle. Finding Our Way Again acts as an introduction to the series, and the other seven, to be produced by various authors during 2009-2010, will each deal with one of the ancient practices of the church which the series is seeking to encourage: Regular daily prayer, sabbath keeping, fasting, the sacred meal, pilgrimage, observing the liturgical year and tithing. This introductory volume is 214 pages divided into 20 brief chapters, each

Departed Grandeur

Back in the days when Dunedin was the wealthiest city in the country we built ourselves a Railway station in a style befitting a city of our importance. This grand, heavily ornamented, expensive building in bluestone with limestone accents was similar in construction and style to many other buildings of the time: the law courts, the banks and commercial buildings. The exterior boasted a tall clock tower, and the interior was resplendent with mosaic floors and stained glass windows. As a small boy in Dunedin, I often queued with my family to purchase passage on steam trains to Christchurch or Timaru at the ticket booths that looked like shrines. For about a hundred years the Railway Station was a temple to progress as it was expressed in the greatest and most powerful technologies known: steam, and then oil. Today technologies have moved elsewhere: out to the airport and into people's garages and onto people's desktops. The trains have stopped running, but the station remains.


A few years ago I stopped by a field of sunflowers to take some pictures, and filled a CF card with some fairly predictable, cliched pics of big gaudy yellow things that look like daisies on steroids. The best things are usually not the ones we were looking for, so, even after fiddling with them in Photoshop, I wasn't really pleased with any of the sunflower shots except this one; : which the more observant amongst you will have spotted is probably not a sunflower. The colour's wrong somehow. The shape is odd. So what do you call it? A thistle? A nodding thistle? A musk thistle? Carduus nutans? A weed? A noxious plant? A reminder of the Highlands? A thing of beauty? A nasty nest of prickles? Now you need to be careful with your answer because what you call something doesn't define the thing named. It defines you. The little ball of purple spines is completely unaffected by the name I give it - it lives on, soaking up sunshine, seducing bees, photosynthesising, nodding. Th

The Cave Of The Tiger

photograph (c) Madcleric . Used with permission In his classic book on prayer, Beginning To Pray Anthony Bloom says, ...the Gospel must reach not only the intellect but the whole being. English people often say, 'That's interesting, let's talk about it, let's explore it as an idea,' but actually do nothing about it. To meet God means to enter into 'the cave of the tiger' -it is not a pussycat you meet - it's a tiger. The realm of God is dangerous. You must enter into it and not just seek information about it. This paragraph (and the book as a whole) informed a retreat I made in 2005. I was revisiting it lately because I was aware of myself intellectualising more than I needed to; I was turning the faith into an exercise in thought. Thinking about things is no great crime of course, except when it becomes a pretext for not doing anything. It is easy to fall for the delusion that because I have nutted something out to my own satisfaction (by which I mean

A Reasonable Balance

Having talked about the limits of reason the other day, an anonymous commentator made the valid point that abandoning reason entirely was not a very clever thing to do, and asked a good question: Nothing in the human experience should be elevated to the position of a god including 'reason' but with what, and how do we find our way among those ideas that could very quickly produce a world full of magic potions and snake oil? I've been thinking about it for a day or two, and want to answer it out here on the verandah rather than away in the back room. Historically there was an attempt to abandon the dominance of reason very soon after The Enlightenment: this was the Romantic movement. This attempt to find truth and meaning in nature and natural processes unfettered by sterile reason gave rise to some of the world's great artistic and literary treasures . Like anything pursued in isolation and without counterbalancing emphases Romanticism became turgid and even dangerous

Who Knows?

In a couple of weeks the bar tailed Godwits will leave Alaska to make a journey lasting about 9 days, across the Pacific to New Zealand. Some will be adult birds who have made the trip before; they will return to precisely the same beaches they left from some time in March. Some will be juveniles who will, for the first time, find their way here across 12,000 km of empty ocean. This is astonishing enough, but a recent study by the University of Groningen, which involved implanting tiny transmitters into the abdominal cavities of some birds found something almost beyond comprehension. Last year the overwhelming majority of birds set off, from their various departure points, so that their flight paths would take advantage of a weather system 1500km to the south, and which the birds would not encounter for several days. How does something with a brain the size of a thimble do that? The cop out answer, "by instinct" just won't do. (So what, exactly is instinct, and how,

Be Reasonable

Photo: a drop of water on a CD A recent edition of New Scientist (26 July 2008) carried a feature entitled What's Wrong With Reason? in which 7 commentators outlined the limits of reason as a tool for finding truth. There is a trap with this sort of article, that people may use the fact that some learned people point out the limits of reason as an excuse for believing all manner of quite unreasonable things. That being said, the article does ask important questions - questions which seem almost blasphemous to many in our science and reason besotted culture. The two commentators who most interested me were the great linguist Noam Chomsky, and Chris Frith, a neuroscientist, who point out that neurologically, no-one understands reason anyway. Some interesting experiments (such as this one ) show that far from making "reasoned" decisions about even such simple matters as what car we are to buy or what we are to eat for breakfast, the overwhelming bulk of our thinking occ


I started back at work today, although it never seems like work to me. It was a very cold day. The water left from yesterday's rain was frozen and Dunedin streets were treacherous. Given that going out this morning meant that bones were guaranteed to be chilled and risked being broken, many opted to stay home and watch the Olympics instead. We had 8 people in church at 8am and about 90 at 10 am, well down on our usual muster. I was a bit zonked by the time 11am rolled around, not helped by having a cold, but it was great to just be there, to see the familiar faces and to feel part of it all again.


Today I drove through the Pig Root to Naseby and back home again through Middlemarch and Outram. Skies were grey and there was crusting of light snow over most of the Maniatoto. On the high ridge between Middlemarch and Outram I ran into a blizzard; snow traveling horizontally, blown by winds strongly enough that it was not settling on the windscreen but packing up tightly on the windward side of trees, sheep huddling and putting their backs to it all. The storm had not been going long enough to have built up much depth of snow on the road, so driving was safe enough. Sitting inside a heated steel cocoon, it all raged around me, except when I simply had to stop and dash outside to photograph some snow encrusted tree or other. Out into the swirling cold, like Peter leaving the small wooden safety of his boat, I suppose, to venture out into the stuff that could quite conceivably kill you if you were in it long enough. And in the frothing white, where all the action is, far from the

Still Waiting

I had a chat with the surgeon today. It wasn't the all clear I was hoping for, but it's not necessarily bad news either. There is a protein they measure, called a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA), an elevated level of which is an indicator of cancer. Now I've been dealt to, my level should be zero or pretty close to it, but apparently it's not. It might mean nothing. It might mean some residual PSA left from before the operation or it might be more sinister. The surgeon advised against rushing into any treatment right now. I'll have more blood taken over the next couple of months, he'll see me again in November and we'll make the call then. I felt a bit flat coming out of his office and went for a walk on the beach to think about things. It was a beautiful day and St. Clair was dotted with people walking dogs. I took some photos and admired the view. I remembered that I'm now at a stage where this thing isn't going to kill me. At worst, my life could

Simple Faith

I've finished reading Roger McGough's Collected Poems and I'm now part way through his Autobiography, Said and Done . He handles prose as well as he does verse. It's lively, funny, witty, wise stuff covering a particularly interesting period: the Mersey scene of the 60s and beyond of which he was an integral part. Before he gets to that bit though, near the beginning, speaking of his boyhood Catholicism he has this to say: " The unimaginable force that governs us, the benevolent energy behind all we see and do, has been oversimplified in the excitement of evangelism, and in their attempts to personalise God, artists have anthropomorphised a concept that is beyond human comprehension, so many of us have come to reject religion. Except on those evenings as the light drains away into the horizon, and the old questions rise up again and we lift up our eyes from the ground and search for answers beyond the stars. " (Said and Done p41) I had my Christian beginnings

Another Amazing Dance

If you liked the Chinese Swan Lake,here is another example of just how far dance can be pushed. This time there is another dimension: all the dancers are deaf. More information can be found here , but take a look first.

Wood Pigeon

On the front lawn There is a bundle of green and white feathers. A woodpigeon. A dead one. We have a lot of trees in our neighbourhood and a very busy road, which is not a good combination for wood pigeons. They are great big ungainly birds and before they have acquired a sense of self preservation the young ones are inclined to accidental jousts with cars. The cars seldom lose. This bird has just won the silver medal in a bout with a Toyota Camry and has retired as far as our front lawn before becoming considerably short of breath. I go out with a shovel and dig a hole in the flower garden, and go a pick up the carcase. I love these birds. Their feathers have a rich metallic sheen, and the green and white of their plumage reflects back every shade of red - but just in suggestion, depending on how the sunlight catches them. They are preposterous in their clumsiness. They fly overhead with no pretense at stealth, making a sound like a pair of old fashioned manual hedge cutters with eac