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Showing posts from January, 2016

So who's in charge around here?

Photo (c) Jo Fielding. My badges of office just before I wore them for the first time. We have a fairly well developed authority structure in the Anglican Church in which people are given odd sounding titles and even odder articles of clothing so that people will know exactly who is boss. We all quickly learn whether a cathedral dean outranks a regional dean and the difference between a transitional deacon and an archdeacon. I could let you know the answers to these earth shatteringly important questions but then I'd have to shoot you, so I won't. And anyway, as anyone  who has spent time in our church knows, despite the airs and graces to which the holders of our various offices are sometimes tempted, the real power in the church actually lies elsewhere. Power is the ability to get people to do what you want them to do.People in power can do this with more ease than the rest of us because there is a whole system which enables them to make decisions with which others

Siempre Siga Las Flechas Amarillas

In the albergue at San Salvadore the hospitalera (the woman in charge of hospitality in that hostel) gave us both a gift: a small badge in the shape of a yellow arrow. She had made them herself and gave away maybe a dozen of them a day to pilgrims. We pinned them to our hats and have worn them since, for they are fraught with symbolic value. The various routes of the Camino Santiago are marked with a few easily recognised symbols. Sometimes there are scallop shells set into the ground or painted on buildings or perhaps incorporated into railings. Sometimes these are realistic but are more often stylised into a symbol recognised from one side of Europe to the other. There is a small trap for young players in that on most of the camino the tip of the shell points the way, but in Asturias the base points the way. It does cause a few problems when borders are crossed, but none that aren't easily rectified. But the most ubiquitous sign is la flecha amarilla , the yel


Many years ago I wrote about the distinction between sources of satisfaction and sources of dissatisfaction in churches. That is, the things that make people happy and pleased to be here and the things that tick them off. Fairly early in my ministry the penny dropped for me that they are not usually the same things. By which I mean, 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 identify. They are more subtle, deeper and often unconscious. People don't talk about them much and tend to take them for granted. They are things that

Purity and Danger

The anthropologist and cultural theorist Mary Douglas' 1966 book Purity and Danger is a classic, and has been hugely influential on the thinking of many people, me included. In it she examines concepts of dirt and cleanness, and how these are expressed in dealt with in differing cultures. Her subject matter is pretty fascinating all by itself, but what is even more interesting, and what has been  has been seminally influential for many people is the theory of language she brings to her observations. She says, quite accurately, that all languages divide things up into groups or categories or classes. In fact, even to name something is to divide it off from the rest of creation, so I see Frank walking past and think "cat". But naming him so, I am simultaneously naming everything else "not cat", so immediately we have two groups. Our groups become large, variable and complex. Sometimes they overlap. So I have groups labelled human, woman, family, friends, pil


(c) unknown. 1916 Cadillac Type 53.  its not my photo which I regret; not my car either which I regret even more. Dunedin is full of interesting cars at the moment. There is an international festival of historic motoring here this week and I've nearly come to grief a couple of times rubbernecking some lovely old bits of automotive kit. Driving back from Christchurch a few days ago, the traffic was slowed considerably by old cars puttering along the road on their way to Dunedin and several times I had to join a long a procession behind somebody's well polished obsession. On the Kilmog the queue was probably 40 cars long and moving at less than 70 kph, but who could possibly be impatient or angry, when at the front was a 1938 Morris 8 Sports exactly like the one I owned when I was 17? (c) unknown. Morris 8 Sports. See the comment under the other car. Only more so. And this is a 1935 model - OBVIOUSLY - as you undoubtedly deduced from the grille and the wheels.  Bu

Which Way?

El Camino de Santiago isn't one route but a network of routes stretching across every part of Europe. When the paths converge in Spain they make their way to Santiago de Compostela in a variety of ways: I have walked all of the Camino Frances, all of the Camino Primitivo and part of The Camino del Norte. As well, I have driven parts of the Camino Ingles and the Camino Portugues. All of the routes are well maintained, clearly marked and have an infrastructure for pilgrimage that will sustain pilgrims on a daily basis: there are pilgrim hostels or other accommodation options at regular intervals, fountains providing drinkable water, shops and cafes and bars. All have a plentiful supply of interesting things to see and do and on each of the routes there are fellow travellers who will provide congenial company. No matter which route is chosen, the experience of pilgrimage will be constant: you will walk a long way and find yourself profoundly changed by the daily encounter with a


Scott and Brids katajija Noah My grandson Noah began to speak, like most children I guess, at about 10 months old, and one of his earliest words was one he made up for himself. It is katajija ( the spelling here is an approximation but it will do). It is a verb. It means to hold one end of something while someone else holds the other end. He has used this word consistently and contextually through his life and a very useful word it is too. For instance: when he and I were in the botanical gardens recently, walking back to the car, I had both hands full. I was carrying the bag of food and nappies (he's still only two), the bike he had got sick of riding and his bike helmet. When we got to the car park and I needed him to be attached to me in some way I said, "Noah katajija the helmet please." And he did. It really is a splendid and useful word, for which there is no equivalent in the English language. You katajija a Christmas cracker before you pull it. You get som


About 60 years ago, when my family lived in Halfway Bush, my father took me to the Taieri Aerodrome to see a plane. I guess I was 3 or 4 years old, and the plane was a Douglas DC 3. I can remember standing on the tarmac with Dad, goodness knows why we were allowed to be there, and looking up at its vastness and grandeur. By today's standards the old Dakota is fairly crude and fairly small but to the 1955 iteration of me it was huge and modern and wonderful. The nose towered high above me and the great engines, with their three bladed propellers, were vast and powerful. I went home suitably awestruck.A few days later I was alone in the back yard of our house when a plane flew over. I recognised it as the same DC 3 that I had so recently stood underneath, only now it was very, very small. In a flash of insight I realised it was small because it was a long way away, and the thought entered my little head that for it to be that tiny it must be a very long way away indeed. And I