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Showing posts from November, 2008

Bird on a Wire

What is it with this sudden Cohen revival going on in our household? I went to bed last night and Clemency was sitting up under the covers with 40 year old sheet music scattered all around her, going over the tablature for Suzanne and The Stranger . I only have to play a few bars of Hallelujah ( any version will do, but Jeff Buckley works best ) and she's speechless - drifting around the room with a dreamy look on her face. It's very handy, but also puzzling in a woman whose usual taste runs to Teleman Beethoven and Rachmaninov. Why is it that I woke this morning with a burning desire to listen to Rufus Wainwright singing Chelsea Hotel ? Why is it that since about 5 I have been awake with the song - well, actually, not the song, but one line from the song - running through my brain? It happens doesn't it? A catchy phrase or a haunting bit of melody gets stuck in the gray matter like a piece of gristle between the teeth and no amount of mental licking and pushing can dislo

The Traitor

A couple of people have questioned me privately about the Leonard Cohen song The Traitor , and about Cohen's comments on the song, "[The Traitor is about] the feeling we have of betraying some mission we were mandated to fulfill and being unable to fulfill it; then coming to understand that the real mandate was not to fulfill it; and the real courage is to stand guiltless in the predicament in which you find yourself". What on earth does he mean, and why am I so excited about it? For the latter, check with my psychiatrist. For the former, my take on the song is this: The Traitor is another of those instances, as in The Partisan , where Leonard Cohen uses a military metaphor to speak of life in general and human love in particular. Many of us hold high ideals: some great quest or other that we pursue. These are often laudable things: finding true love, finding the absolute love of God, becoming enlightened, spreading the Gospel, writing the great novel or some such

I'm Your Man

AAhhh.. the early seventies. Bell bottomed cords and paisley. Going to the Victoria Coffee lounge where they served Nescafe in earthenware cups and lit the place with candles jammed into the necks of old wine bottles. Sitting around til dawn having D&Ms. And the soundtrack to it all was Leonard Cohen . His dark eyes glowered soulfully out from the cover of Songs Of Leonard Cohen propped against the side of the sofa as the needle cracked and popped its way across the LP: Suzanne takes you down to her place by the river, you can hear the boats go by you can spend the night beside her ... I wish. I haven't listened to him in years. He caught absolutely the angst and self absorption of early adulthood; he gave it all meaning and set it in a bigger context. The last album I bought was Death Of A Ladies' Man , and then I sort of lost track of him. I'd found another even bigger context. But a couple of weeks ago I was given a DVD called I'm Your Man , a film ce

Meditation Anyone?

It's not easy to establish a meditation practice if you are a Christian because there is no easily visible meditative tradition in most of the Church and even if someone becomes interested in meditation, where do they go to learn about it? You won't find a notice for Thursday's meditation class on many parish noticeboards. You won't find many teachers of meditation listed in the Diocesan phonebook. Books like Anthony De Mello's  Sadhana  or Morton Kelsey's  The Other Side Of Silence  can give pretty reliable information and instruction but does your local Christian bookshop stock them? Don't count on it. Sure, we know there are monks and nuns somewhere who probably meditate but mostly we hardly even know what the word means.  Sometimes we use the word to denote deep thought, particularly if that thought consists of pondering the meaning of tricky Bible verses. Sometimes we use it as a synonym for a short sermon. Sometimes we refer to it by kinder, more accep


For two weeks now I've been trying to stick to Ian Gawler's Healing Diet, and, I have got to say, more or less succeeding. It's a lot of bother. There are six glasses of juice to be made and swallowed daily, and apart from the one made of fruit, they aren't the sorts of things you'd swallow for the fun of it. There are three vegetarian - well vegan, really - meals to be made in a day, which has meant a radical revamp of the fridge freezer and pantry. Because the whole day's menu has a carefully planned balance, I've been sticking to the recipes, which is not the way I normally cook. I'm more of a lets get the vibe of this dish and amend it as we go sort of cook, but this way has taught me a lot of new ways of combining food which would be worth repeating even if you didn't have a bigger agenda for the meal. It's been easy doing without meat - I haven't missed it for a second. It's been easy doing without the processed flour and sugar and

Can't Get No....

A rough, unscientific rule of thumb I have used in running churches over the past 30 years has been the distinction between sources of satisfaction and sources of dissatisfaction. That is, the things that make people happy and pleased to be here and the things that tick them off. Fairly early, the penny dropped for me that they are not usually that same thing. If you remove the sources of dissatisfaction you won't make people any more satisfied. In a church, the things that make people dissatisfied are things like heaters that don't work or a buzz in the sound system; or the Vicar's annoyingly drony voice or the fact that whoever chooses the hymns around here has the taste of a blowfly maggot. Sources of dissatisfaction are easily identified - people let you know about them early and often. Sources of satisfaction are harder to idenify. They are more subtle, deeper and often unconscious. People don't talk about them much and tend to take them for granted. They are

Follow The Leader

Copyright 2008 New Zealand National Party Our new prime minister will be sworn in next week, so I am told, and despite myself I find I am beginning to respect the guy. He's moved a lot faster than politicians normally do in setting up his government. He's shrewdly got the Maori Party on board, hitting three birds with one stone: extending his somewhat slim majority; alleviating some of the public apprehension about the ACT party having their rabid fangs in the treasury's leg; and setting himself up nicely for a broad electoral appeal in 2011. Very neatly done. I respect that. But do I trust him? I don't know yet. I am dreading a return of the new right policies of the 1980s and 1990s which did such damage to so many layers of our social fabric and suspect that under his neatly brushed pate he has only three basic ideas: privatisation, privatisation and privatisation. We had the lowest voter turnout for years. Perhaps the election was such a foregone conclusion that peop

Repent, The End Is Near

We went and saw the urologist again on Friday. He discussed options for further treatment. He outlined the probable side effects of radiotherapy and then said, "Most of these side effects will happen in about ten years, so, of course, they aren't going to be an issue for you. " It was double take, knock me down with a feather, go back a sentence or two if you don't mind time. He's a very frank, matter of fact sort of guy. He spends his days from morning til night dealing almost exclusively with men who have prostate cancer. He knows my profile. He knows the odds. He was telling me the truth as he saw it. This was 8:30 in the morning, and I spent the rest of the day in a sobre sort of way. I did some internet research and was even more sobred. I emailed and texted my family and friends. And I got on, as best I could, with preparations for our parish fair and with the other things that would normally have happened on a Friday. Life was suddenly very rich and real an

Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear

The most popular page on our website by far is Alan Firth's The Beginner's Guide To The Anglican Church . This brief informative little piece is linked to by 35 other parish websites in a number of countries. For the last couple of years it has been read about a thousand times a month. The feedback we receive about it is generally very positive, but last week we had an email from a reader who called us confidence tricksters for publishing such a thing. What struck me about the email wasn't the content of what was said but the tone. It was filled with fear and anger. Fear and anger are of course closely related. Anger is a threat response. We get angry when we are threatened with a loss of some sort. The loss might be real or imaginary. It might derive from something in the world around us or the inner world of our conscious or unconscious psyche. The loss might be to us personally, or to something or someone we care deeply about. An angry response may or may not be an appro