• “Who do you thank when you have such luck?”

    A boy in Florida watched an old man on an evening in the 1970s. He was sitting by a pier, just before sundown. The old man came strolling along the beach and walked out to the end of the pier, holding a bucket and looking out across the water. The sun was a huge orange, low down on the sea and ready to disappear, casting a golden bronze glow across the water. There was nobody much about, apart from the boy and a few joggers on the beach. The old man looked up.

    Far above him, up in the sky, a thousand white dots, screeching and squawking, winged toward the end of the pier. Before long he was surrounded by seagulls, fluttering and flapping wildly. The old man wasn’t just unfazed by it all. He called out to them, and he smiled, and reached into his bucket. And for the next few minutes, he threw shrimp to the seagulls, who flapped and squawked and beat each other to the food.

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  • Trusting Whom?


    I read two articles the other day that seemed to speak to each other. The first was in the Dominion Post: “The use and misuse of religious freedom”. The second was in the book of Joshua, in the Old Testament of the Bible.

    The DomPost writer was a professor of Bioethics, and his theme — crudely summarised — was that you can’t have it both ways. If a person chooses to follow a religious principle and a given code of conduct, there will be prices to pay that will not be paid by other people. You may choose to accept the religion and the price, or not; but not the religion without the price.

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  • On Being Unique

    I was involved recently in a church service that was a little outside my normal range. It was to be run by a minister with whom I don’t have a lot in common, and I had a minor task to perform near the end. A few days before the event I received an order of service, and was alarmed to note that it included an item listed as “Multi-faith hymn”.

    I should make a few things specific at this point. One is that I understand that our age regards tolerance more highly than conviction, and I have no real wish to be intolerant.  Another is that I have been a member of various inter-faith dialogues, and I have always observed the preparedness of Muslims to be visible Muslims and of Jews to remain unapologetic Jews. I have applauded them for that, and sought to remain specifically Christian alongside them. But if I regard inter-faith dialogue as civilized, I regard inter-faith worship as oxymoron. All of Jesus’ teaching points unequivocally to singularity. So does the thrust of the Old Testament law. And even if none of it did so, I would have to wonder why Jesus gave his life for the redemption of sins if there existed another, less agonising way of addressing it.

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  • Transitional Church


    I guess there is hardly anyone in New Zealand who has not heard some part of the debate about the future of Christchurch Cathedral, and probably most of them have an opinion. It’s good that all of Christchurch regards the building well, but it’s clearly been a double-edged sword for decision-makers. Most churches just have to serve the needs of the people who worship there, and the rest of the population are happy to ignore them, scoff at them, leave them alone or otherwise treat them as they choose.

    And I guess that the people of Christchurch too, have generally been happy to ignore the spiritual function of their landmark while it got on with adding to the church of God. But it was visible, and indicative of history, and when its owners had to decide what they should do, the people had an opinion. Or several.

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  • Whose World?

    This month marked the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, lost along with 1517 lives in April 1912. I was reminded of it by a piece of classroom work a girl was doing about it.

    It’s remarkable how the Titanic has stayed in the public mind. It’s not history’s greatest maritime disaster — it’s actually number 5, with the greatest single loss of life just on three times the Titanic’s. So, why the fascination still?

    The girl’s teacher had an interesting insight. “Gripping story,” she said. “It’s a whole combination of tragedy, romance, remoteness and I don’t know what else. Hubris, heroism — you name it.”

    I guess that’s equally true of most disasters. But among her quick-fire snapshots, I especially noticed hubris. It’s not a word you hear every day. It means pride; specifically, the sort of pride that makes you act as if you were God.

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  • A Very Gallant Gentleman

    When I was a fourth former at Hawera High School, we used to have a weekly library period. The idea was to expose books to kids who might not otherwise notice them: an exercise largely wasted on me because I was not in the habit of noticing very much else. But I went to the library with the rest of my class, and I have to say that I mostly enjoyed it.

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  • More in Sorrow than in Anger

    I had dinner recently with a couple whose first child is just short of six months old. Naturally, he dominated a lot of the conversation. As a matter of fact, he dominates a lot of other aspects of their lives as well. Infants tend to.

    He is a sociable little boy, within the confines of his abilities to communicate. Like most babies in well adjusted circles, he comes in for a lot of attention: his standard means of dealing with it seems to be a fairly lengthy scrutiny of whoever is angling for his attention, followed by a grin. Sometimes the grin is accompanied by a vocal gurgle. He seems to want to be involved.

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  • Any Good Thing in Harry Potter?

    I read a recent article that drew a parallel between Harry Potter and Jesus on the grounds that, like Jesus, Harry Potter was born to redeem at the cost of his own sacrifice. I mentioned it to one of my sons who said, “That’s drawing a long bow, isn’t it?”

    It might be. But I could see where the writer was coming from. With documented references throughout, both to the Potter books and to the Bible, she talked of symbolism and allusion and drew a convincing case. Mention was made of CS Lewis’ Narnia series, in which the characters throw light on the work of Jesus. It remains my personal conviction that Lewis is a writer so superior to Rowling as to brook no comparison, but no one was really making that case. They were arguing for intentional allegory.

    In a way, you could say that pretty well any story echoes the world’s biggest themes. Samuel Goldwyn, of MGM studios fame, once said there was only one story. But I wonder if there aren’t actually two.

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  • Keeping Balance

    I entertained the other day a young New Zealander who had never heard of Dan Carter’s groin and had no interest in the Rugby World Cup. There are, of course, a few New Zealanders who will tell you they have no interest in the Rugby World Cup, but the fact that they need to tell you betrays their insincerity (and have you ever noticed how people who affect no interest in the things that others are excited by always do so with a nauseating air of moral superiority?) But this guy, quite genuinely and simply, was not interested.

    I know this, not because he told me so in condescending tones, but because he is only four weeks old. He is very interested in his mother, who is my daughter-in-law, and in various other things that stop him from crying, but so far Dan Carter remains a non sequitur in his life.

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  • Irreducible Minimum

    This month was always going to include a deal of looking back. Although we might wonder why a tenth anniversary causes us to reflect more than a ninth anniversary does, or an eleventh, the fact is that it just does. So we reflected on September 11, in various ways.

    For me, the most notable reflection came from a member of my church on the Sunday morning. “On September 11,” he said, “I watched what happened in the USA and I asked ‘Is God really in charge here?’ And as a result of that morning, the foundations of the faith as I had known it came tumbling down with the World Trade Center.” He went on to describe a youthful experience of faith remarkably similar to my own, one in which a premise followed a given and led to an outcome, and all that Christians believed and stood for became a package to cover the whole of life and living, in this world and the next. And the attack on the World Trade Center did not fit the package, and with the removal of a plank there came another, until the whole 110-storey edifice crumbled.

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