• The Regular Wonders

    The Regular Wonders

    I once entertained a guest from North Queensland on his first visit to New Zealand. He drove a rental car through the North Island and arrived at my place ecstatic about what he’d seen. I found him early the first morning looking at my back lawn and the neighbour’s hedge. “This is fabulous,” he said.

    Well, I thought the lawn looked OK, but — fabulous? Even at its very best, this would be a bit over the top. “Thanks Mac,” I said. “But it’s not a wonderland. It’s just the back lawn.”

    He looked at me and shook his head, and I knew he was seeing a Philistine. It had been the same the previous evening when he had arrived, agog about his trip. “We saw snow!” he said, and I’d said, “Oh, yeah. Ruapehu?” “You don’t understand,” he said. “Snow! I’m from Cairns!” I’ve been to Cairns. Suddenly, he’d made his point.

    I thought about him this week, when it snowed in Wellington. Actual snow, settling on the ground. The girls I teach were approaching frenzy. “Can we go out in it?” they asked.

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  • Corporate Responsibility

    Someone once said that when a butterfly flutters its wings the whole world is affected. I guess that’s true, in an academic sort of way. Less academic if a tactical bomber flutters its wings. No man is an island.

    I went to a school production a week or two ago, called 90 Years of Broadway. It consisted of extracts from various Broadway musicals, and it covered the range — from the spiritual to the sentimental to the social to the trivial. It was a good night, full of songs I’ve whistled for years and some I scarcely know at all.

    One of the “scarcely know at all” items came from Miss Saigon. I’ve never seen Miss Saigon, and I’m only vaguely familiar with the story and a couple of the songs. I’m a little more familiar with the setting — I did my national military service at the height of the Viet Nam war, and I lived in anxiety for three or four years until it became clear that the New Zealand government was not about to send its national servicemen over there. Some years later, Forrest Gump gave me a visual picture of what I had been spared, and I was grateful all over again.

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  • 40 Years On

    Queen’s Birthday weekend must be a special provision for people celebrating jubilees. This year’s marked the 50th anniversary of the school where I began my teaching career, Tawa College.

    There were the usual events — sports fixtures, photos through the decades, various dinners — and on Sunday morning, a church service in the college hall. I was especially interested in the church service, because the organisers had asked me to run it.

    My first act was to enlist the assistance of my old friend and former colleague, Bruce Murray, to preach the sermon. Bruce was the principal of Tawa College for a dozen years or so from 1989, and he would suit the service on a number of counts. Most important, I knew he would preach a thoughtful and challenging, and appropriate, sermon for the occasion.

    There were no prizes for guessing where he would start his thinking. The college motto, chosen by the foundation principal, is “Do justly,” from Micah 6 verse 8 — “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Alan Mackie, the man who chose the motto, said he had selected it because he wanted something Biblical but not too evangelistic, something well grounded in the highest authority and beyond the sectarian, intrinsically admirable enough so no one could object to it without being churlish.  So the school has “Do justly.”

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  • Who are these guys, anyway?

    So, I’m one of two billion people and I watched the royal wedding on television. Like everybody else, I found something to cheer about and something to cringe over, and among it all I marvelled that the marriage of a man and a woman should occupy international television coverage for an entire evening. It wasn’t a nail-biting mystery story, after all: whenever we go to a wedding we know how it’s going to turn out at the end. That’s why we usually go only when it concerns people we actually care about.

    I guess that’s the point. A lot of people cared about this royal wedding, at least on the day. Admittedly, they cared about a whole variety of angles on it, as could be gauged by all those witless interviews with bystanders wearing hats distorting the Union Jack. Some people loved royalty; some came to watch the horses; some couldn’t resist the crowd. No doubt there were a few who managed some kind of self-projection into a glamorous scene; some of them love pomp and parades — and don’t the English do those well! — and some were just curious to see what was happening next.

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  • What about the pain?

    Recent weeks have been coloured by tragedy. With all New Zealand still grappling with the immediacy of the Christchurch earthquake, we were shocked and horrified by the cataclysm in Japan, on a scale that reached beyond our ability to imagine it. And then for me, and for my school community, we were saddened by the sudden death by illness of a healthy, active and admirable 19-year-old former pupil. Tragedy at national, international and personal levels.

    They are, of course, all the same thing. When a person dies, we have sadness and loss. When a lot of people die we have it again, many times. Death numbered by hundreds, or by thousands, is not a worse kind of death. It is still sadness and loss. The arresting feature is being simultaneous, not a change of nature. Nor should we be surprised. We know that people die, and that all of them die. The question is when, not whether.

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  • One more step

    1994 was the year of genocide in Rwanda. I was working with Scripture Union, and we heard of a Rwandan Scripture Union staff member who was among the many thousands of refugees who fled into the border city of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On arrival, he continued preparing SU Bible reading notes. My first reaction to this news was to think how extraordinarily ordinary such behaviour seemed, and indeed to wonder if he might not have done something a little more helpful for the suffering.

    Yesterday, Christchurch was hit by the earthquake. I came home from work and watched numbly as the news unfolded. When I left the television, anything else I was doing seemed trivial, and to prepare an evening meal felt positively indulgent. There is a sense almost of guilt about normal tasks that persists this morning, even into writing this editorial.

    It is, of course, not a “normal” editorial. It is the last to appear in this printed version of The Treasury magazine. There will be others to come, on the web, but this issue of the magazine is something of a milestone. Shouldn’t I be writing about that?

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  • Truth is beauty

    I came back from holiday in time to attend a wedding. All weddings have staple expectations with individualities. The bridegroom’s mother gave us an individuality when she said in her speech, “He has an eye for beauty and honesty.”

    If that is true, and he maintains it, he will be well equipped for this marriage. More than that, he will be well equipped for life. And any of us who develop an eye for beauty and for honesty will be similarly well equipped. Consider: beauty has to do with appeal, in more than the visual. A man’s love for his wife; a woman’s love for her husband; a parent’s love for a child; a true response to the fatherhood of God: all beautiful. Keats’ line that “beauty is truth” may not be sufficient at first glance — we’ve all met corruption disguised in attractive packaging — but there’s enough in it to warrant some reflection, and that reflection quickly leads us to the fields of genuinely true things that are beautiful indeed.

    And if the groom’s mother’s second identified quality, an eye for honesty, is real in her son, then this is a lucky bride indeed. Honesty demands appreciation, for love given by wife and world, and by God. It allows no easy answers, no glossing over with convenient or apparent, a struggle to turn the good into better and the better into ideal. Honesty is surely the very basis of the universe, for God is truth. “I am who I am.” An eye for honesty and beauty will take us where we all want to be, and where many don’t know how to approach.

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  • The Son comes up


    It was dawn.

    People sleep at dawn.

    Except for those performing service tasks —

    Deliveries, street cleaning, preparing for the day —

    Or maybe those who have a lot to do,

    Or, sometimes, those who seek surprise,

    Who want to upset normal men

    And take them by surprise.

    It was dawn.

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