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Showing posts from July, 2010

A 30 Day Retreat: Book Review

Over the next couple of days I want to share a couple of books I have been reading lately, and  found useful. Firstly, there is this gentle but  engaging spiritual manual, A 30 Day Retreat by William C Mills. Wiliam C Mills is an Eastern Orthodox priest, a university teacher and a pastor. This book of spiritual exercises reflects all of these aspects of his life, but particularly the last. While it draws from the depths of Orthodox theology and reflects an impressive depth of scholarship, it is aimed squarely at ordinary, everyday Christians seeking to deepen their spirituality. The format is one which is common enough: there are 30 chapters, each beginning with a brief passage from scripture. The heart of each chapter  is a commentary on the passage, usually running to 3 or 4 pages, which is followed by a few questions, aimed at leading the reader into  deeper reflection on the passage and on the points raised by the commentary. Each chapter ends with  some suggestions for further

A Tale Of Three Cities

I have been driving around Doha for the last couple of days, which was initially daunting because they drive on the wrong side of the road and almost every intersection is controlled by a roundabout. Roundabouts I generally regard as one of the more enlightened forms of traffic control: as long as everyone keeps cool and keeps moving the traffic slips on through with no problems at all. But add in the factors of having to remember to look the other way, and the standard of Qatari driving they can be a bit nerve wracking. We're all still alive, though, and I've gone a long way through the heat and dust with large 4X4s looming in the rear view mirror with the driver mouthing in Arabic unkind things about my parents . Doha is about the size of Auckland, both in geographical and demographic terms. It is criss crossed by a network of new roads, often up to 8 lanes wide, which feed traffic into a maze of smaller and often older streets. Yesterday the wide roads took us to the Vil

Wadi Rum

Friday was our last full day in Jordan. We left Wadi Musa at Midday and headed for Lawrence of Arabia country. Wadi Rum, where we arrived in mid afternoon is a thousand square kilometres or so of sand, basalt and sandstone. It is the place where T.E. Lawrence did his bit for the Arab revolt and where the 1962 film about him was shot. We were taken for a hair raising ride through some of it in a beat up Nissan Patrol driven with consumate skill by a Bedouin driver who could not get his tongue around any of our names, except Scott's. "Ah," he said," like Saddam Hussein! Scud!"  We spent the night in tents, albeit ones equipped with beds and mattresses, but sleep was scarce on account of the heat and of the Lebanese girls dancing to very loud Arab pop music. Wadi Rum is a place of  quiet and power and beauty. You know what they say about the relative worth of pictures and words so:

The Rose Red City

  It seems no work of Man's creative hand, By labor wrought as wavering fancy planned; But from the rock as if by magic grown, Eternal, silent, beautiful, alone! Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine, Where erst Athena held her rites divine; Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane, That crowns the hill and consecrates the plain; But rose-red as if the blush of dawn, That first beheld them were not yet withdrawn; The hues of youth upon a brow of woe, Which Man deemed old two thousand years ago. Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime, A rose-red city half as old as time.   -John William Burgon We woke early and left for Petra at 8 am. It was not quite early enough as the gates open at 6 am and by the time we had got tickets and linked up with Mahmoud, our guide, there were already people walking back and we weren't quite early enough to dodge the folks on bus tours. Not that there's anything wrong with people on bus tours, of course, but they do see

Arabian Evenings

We drove a long way yesterday through the gray gritty Jordanian countryside. Every so often there would be a small business like town with its collection of shops and mosques, a bazaar and a church, and people for whom we were objects of mild curiosity. Near the towns were sometimes ragged Bedouin encampments: tents of brown camel hair or orange plastic; sheep; a few cows; camels; children; a mess of plastic litter. There was mile after mile of gently rolling hills, some of it well tended cropland baking in the post harvest sun, some of it bare gray desert. At one stage we crested the brow of a hill and the Wadi Mujib opened out before us, about 1300 metres deep, a small version of the Grand Canyon. There was a slow winding descent and a winding slow slimb through its grandeur. We stopped at Madaba to see the ancient mosaic map on the floor of St George's (what else?) Orthodox church. We had a look at the magnificent Crusader castle at Kerak and arrived here, at Wadi Mussa (the


The Jordan River, looking towards the Orthodox Church of St. John The Baptist Humanity had its beginnings in Africa, which means that in order for there to be people in the bits of the world that are not Africa, at some stage they had to pass through the narrow corridor we now call the Middle East. Unsurprisingly there are artefacts from every epoch of human history buried beneath Jordanian soil. We saw some of them this morning. There is a hill above Amman called the Citadel of Amman which has been inhabited for at least 10,000 years. There are very visible Roman and Ottoman ruins there, lots of archaeological diggings and the Jordanian Archaeological Museum. As far as exhibition space and facilities go, the JAM might best be described as basic, but it houses some amazing bits of kit. There are some Dead Sea Scrolls, for instance; real ones, not copies. There is the oldest statue ever discovered; and again, the actual statue is sitting there, not a copy of something out the back in a

Middle East Day 6: Amman

It's about 45 minutes as the Boeing flies from Beirut to Amman, but a bit further than that in terms of culture and politics. Jordan has no oil, so unlike other gulf countries the citizenry can't go importing folk from other lands to sneer at and make do all the work. Unlike Lebanon, Jordan has also enjoyed a long period of peaceful, benificent and generally level headed government.Just like Pepsodent you can feel the difference. Everything is brighter, whiter and cleaner. Whiter, certainly. The place is built on limestone. It shows in the soil and it is quarried for the buildings. All the houses, most of the shops and some of the public buildings are glistening white, straight edged and regular. There are 2 million people in Amman and the little white cubes stretch off to the horizon in every direction. The cars are newer and shinier than Beirut, and the traffic behaves itself. Not that it used to. Jordan was once reknowned for the most reckless traffic in the Middle East, but


In the older parts of town, ie most of it, you will see sights to quake the knees of even the most hardened New Zealand building inspector. Wires are draped everywhere. They run from lamposts in great thick braids, descending to head height or lower in places. They are attached, roughly, to the sides of buildings where they run off to flats and houses and workshops. Electricity, telephone and data cabling are randomly clumped into great rats nests which are nailed or taped to walls. Look closely and there is a logic to it all: the circuits are properly albeit untidily constructed; wiring seems appropriate to the load it needs to bear. Everything is properly insulated, although the methods are "ingenious. " They tell their own story. From 1975 until 1990 this place tore itself apart. Groups of Christians and Muslims fought each other in alliances which shifted and changed with the month. Through it all was the rattle of kalashnikovs and the crump, crump, crump of rocket prope

Strolling the Corniche

We've had enough of long taxi trips for the meantime, so this morning we walked downtown. It's no big deal. The CBD is maybe 2 or 3 km away and the walk through narrow streets past tiny shops was intriguing. As we neared downtown, the evidence of the destruction of the civil war became more apparent in the buildings, until we arrived at the area near the docks which had been the frontline between opposing factions, and where all the buildings were gone. In their place a new Downtown Beirut is nearing completion. The buildings are of brown sandstone, and about 3 or 4 storeys high. They are seaparated by wide tiled walkways dotted here and there with refined, understated statuary. All has been designed to evoke the Beirut that was once called the Paris of the Middle East; not a copy but a 21st Century evocation of what once was. It's working. Winding through the stores selling big name European goods we arrive at the waterfront, where the enormous glass towers of hotels rise

Our Lady of Lebanon

Last night Bridget, Clemency and I walked through the old, strangely leafy, bustling, wonderful Ashrafiyeh district to a restaurant recommended to Bridget by a Lebanese friend. We found Abdal Wahab after a 15 minute walk and once the staff got their head around the idea that we didn't want to eat meat (You are vegetarian? Try this one it only has lamb....) were served what was, up to this point, the most delicious vegetarian meal of my life, no doubt about it, by a country mile. Just before 7 Bridget's phone rang. It was Scott from Doha airport. There had been a mix up in his bookings for the flight he had to board NOW and he desperately needed some information or he would be walking from Doha. The info was a mile away, and it was panic time. The waiters asked what was wrong, and in seconds, without question, gave us username and password to the restaurant's in house network so Bridget could access the net on her phone and get the info to Scott. Now think about this for a m

Middle East, Day 3: Beirut

It was a 3 hour flight from Dubai to Beirut on a Fly Dubai 737, the contemporary equivalent, I guess of the common transport of earlier decades: the Bedford truck with people on the roof and the chickens. The seats were dirt cheap, but check in luggage was charged at an exhorbitant rate, so folks piled on board with the allowed maximum in hand luggage: one cabin bag and a laptop. You wouldn't believe the size of a cabin bag these days. And it's amazing what you can fit in a laptop bag if it's sufficiently large and you don't clutter it up with unnecessary extras like laptops. And it's surprising how every member of a family of 6 still needs the requisite two bags. The seats were filled with bearded men, and women in burkas, and tiny children, and Lebanese women looking energetic and colourful, and Lebanese men with dark eyes and moustaches and giggling, skylarking young people. Once the plane was airborne people left their seats to go and do a bit of socialising, b

Middle East: Day 2: Dubai and Doha

I’m not really a business class sort of person. The thought of paying the price of a pretty reasonable second hand car for a couple of glasses of champagne, a meal or two and the rental on a chair for 12 hours sticks in my craw a bit. But here we were, for reasons I won’t bore you with, taking the right hand gangplank and heading uphill to the top story of the world’s largest airliner. And here we were being shown to our seats, and by seats I mean cubicles, by an astonishingly pretty young woman in that particularly elegant uniform worn by Emirates cabin staff. There was a sort of bedside cabinet thing containing a minibar, yes really, and spaces to stash your stuff. There was a TV screen not much smaller than the one we have at home, and if the effort of reaching across to work it was too much, two, yes two different remote controls to fiddle with. There was an armchair with lots of Homer Simpson seat goes up seat goes down doohickery going on. If you got bored with more TV channels

Middle East. Day 1: Auckland

It was pouring with rain in Napier this morning and cold with it. I slept well in the guest flat beneath the Bishop's house where I was ensconced because my lack of a sleeping bag precluded my staying in the more spartan boarders' quarters at Napier Boys' High. It was good to sit up into the evening comparing episcopal experiences with David Rice, and then, this morning, to attend a workshop at the National Youth Forum The workshop I opted for was run by Justin Duckworth of Urban Vision . Justin delivered one of those addresses where you have an uneasy feeling that no matter what process of selection and choosing I may have thought I went through to be there, the real reason was that the Holy Spirit had grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, dumped me into the little plastic seat and said to me "Now my lad, just keep your trap shut, and your eyes and ears open. This is for you. Understand?" He talked about the non negotiables of Christianity: obedience to Jesus, a
Tomorrow I am flying to Napier to attend the national Youth Forum. I will be there for only a day, and on Tuesday will fly to Auckland to join Clemency on a flight to Doha to visit Bridget and Scott. We'll be away about a fortnight. My bag is nearly packed and I have got everything I need except for the folder containing all my Youth Forum papers, which is sitting in the back room of the Cathedral. Never mind. I'll wing it. The last 24 hours has been quite inspiring. On Saturday evening I was at St. Mary's Mornington for a midwinter dinner. Of the 50 or so people present, the overwhelming majority were young families with children. There were games and an amazing magician with an even more amazing patter. His best trick was to mark a $20 note, then pull it out of the middle of a fresh walnut, which he pulled out of the middle of a fresh, unbroken egg, which he extracted from the middle of a lemon. It was astonishing; almost as astonishing as the sense of vitality and new