News that the Texan oil and gas exploration company Anadarko Petroleum Corporation is to undertake a test drilling program in the Canterbury Basin just off the Otago Peninsula is causing stir here in Dunedin among a good number of residents deeply concerned about the significant environmental and economic risks that such drilling poses to the region. Shell too have plans to explore the Great South Basin for additional oil and gas reserves.
Such highly-charged ventures rarely display politics in its most attractive, reasoned, transparent and democratic guise. One example of this occurred just a few weeks ago (on 10 January) when the intelligent and responsible folk who make up the St Martin Island Community were ordered, by the Otago Regional Council, to take down a ‘No Drill’ sign (erected in late October 2013) because, according to the ORC, the community were in breach of resource consent which states that ‘no advertising signage shall be erected on the jetty’. Now it’s not at all clear to me, or to the SMIC, just how such a sign is an example of ‘advertising’. (It is difficult to imagine such an order being issued for a sign encouraging the All Blacks to thrash their opponents at a game at the ORC’s beloved stadium (once described, in what sounds like a joke, as ‘pivotal to Dunedin and Otago’s future’; similar rhetoric was being used to sell the drilling program: ‘A key to Dunedin’s future prosperity could lie buried beneath the seabed just 60km off the coast’, we are told), or a sign welcoming cash-carrying Chinese tourists to Dunedin, or a sign championing the importance of brushing one’s teeth without the use of rat poisons, for example. And yet a ‘No Drill’ sign appears to me to be of much the same order.)
At the most recent meeting of the SMIC Council, it was decided that an appeal of the ORC’s decision would be made to the Environment Court asking for a stay on the grounds that the ‘No Drill’ sign is not advertising but ‘a prudent safety message’. Such an appeal has since been lodged and we now await the court’s decision, hoping that common sense and the rule of law (these are not always at odds!) will prevail over all other interests. Certainly any democracy that seeks to legislate against legitimate (i.e., non-violent) forms of protest has failed tragically to understand its own virtue.
Last night, the Knox Centre hosted the launch of four books:
- The Church in Post-Sixties New Zealand: decline, growth and change, and Losing Our Religion? Changing Patterns of Believing and Belonging in Secular Western Societies, both by my colleague Kevin Ward. And,
- Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth, and Hallowed be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All Things in the Soteriology of P.T. Forsyth, by yours truly.
John Stenhouse and John Roxborogh spoke to Kevin’s books, and Mike Crowl and Murray Rae spoke to mine. All did a super job. It was a great night. Post-launch, the two authors (and a few others) then partied on with Chinese food and whiskey. The gastronomical combo seemed to work well.
Mike has since posted what he really would have liked to have said, some reflections on his experience of reading P T Forsyth.
Applications are now invited for the position of Director of the Presbyterian Church Schools’ Resource Office. In 2011, an office was established to strengthen and support the Christian character of the thirteen schools and colleges around the country that are affiliated to, or associated with, the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. This role consists largely of supporting chaplains and religious education teachers in their work, and the compilation and development of curriculum resources.
The office is run by the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership on behalf of the church schools. It is currently located in Auckland, but can be relocated if necessary.
This is a half-to-two-thirds-time position.
The successful candidate will have a theological qualification, a teaching Diploma, and proven experience in chaplaincy and/or teaching. Knowledge of, and/or ministry within, the Presbyterian Church and the Reformed tradition will be an advantage.
Enquiries about the position (including requests for a job description) should be directed to the Principal of the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, the Very Rev Dr Graham Redding (phone: 03 473 0784; email).
Applications should be submitted to the Principal of the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, either in hard copy (address: Knox College, Arden St., Opoho, Dunedin 9010) or electronically (email) by 15 November 2013.
John Pilger‘s film The War You Don’t See is, above all else, a call to responsible journalism, especially by those ‘journalists’ who have en masse lost their nerve, or who have temporarily (one hopes) mislaid the purpose of their craft. (Of course, Pilger himself has attracted no shortage of detractors over the years who would accuse him of irresponsible journalism. The onus on proof is clearly on the side of the detractors. And then there are those who find themselves in broad agreement with Pilger’s interpretation of things but struggle with a style that is perceived to be arrogant or hyped. I have some sympathy with these critics, although I’ve tried to never let his style get in the way of the content. This interview with the queen of ego herself, Kim Hill, is a case in point.)
There’s challenge here too, it seems to me, for those of us charged with the responsibility of rightly dividing the word of truth, especially for those who have lost our nerve to boldly address the powers or to do the demanding work it takes to simply tell the truth rather than spout the party line.
Anyway, for those who are yet to see the film, I thought I’d commend and post it for viewing here:
Recently, I posted a video of David Clough’s lecture ‘Rethinking Animality: Towards a New Animal Ethics’. One of the reasons that I drew attention to that lecture was because I consider the work that David (and others too) is engaged in around this issue to be incontrovertibly ‘vital’ [from the late fourteenth century Latin vitalis, meaning ‘of or belonging to life’]. Any society that takes lightly the killing of animals (those creatures whom Dietrich Bonhoeffer refers to as the brothers whom Adam loves), as do those societies with which I am most familiar, has grossly misjudged the sheer giftedness of life itself and is, it seems to me, already well on the way to responding lightly to and of justifying various forms of homicide and deathliness in its midst, blinded by the lie that the life of any creature belongs to something or someone other than God. This is why Karl Barth, for example, argued with due passion that ‘the slaying of animals is really possible only as an appeal to God’s reconciling grace’, and that we ought to have very good reasons for why we might claim the life of another creature for ours. Human beings can only kill an animal, Barth avers, knowing that it does not belong to us but to God alone, and that in killing it – an act which itself is incredibly traumatic, as I can testify – one surrenders it to God in order to receive it back from God as something one needs and desires. ‘The killing of animals in obedience is possible’, Barth contends, ‘only as a deeply reverential act of repentance, gratitude and praise on the part of the forgiven sinner in face of the One who is the Creator and Lord of humanity and beast’. Here Barth’s words compliment the Jewish tradition which champions the need to avoid tzar baalei chayim – causing pain to any living creature – and insists that where animals are killed that they are done so ‘with respect and compassion’, most properly by way of shechita.
With that, I come to the subject of this post; namely, live animal exports. Animals Australia reports that
every year millions of Australian animals are exported live for slaughter. Those who survive the journey often endure brutal treatment and conscious slaughter. Cattle, sheep and goats are sent throughout the Middle East and South East Asia — to countries with no laws to protect them from cruelty. Tens of thousands of animals don’t survive the sea journey and those that do disembark into countries where they are transported, handled and then slaughtered in appalling ways. Most animals slaughtered overseas have their throats cut while they are fully conscious, leading to an incredibly painful and prolonged death. Since 2003, Animals Australia has conducted numerous investigations into the treatment of animals exported from Australia. The evidence from investigations in the Middle East and South East Asia has consistently revealed the willingness of Australia’s live export industry, and consecutive Federal Governments, to export live animals despite appalling cruelty in importing markets.
While Australia remains by far the world’s largest exporter of sheep and cattle, this is not, of course, only an Australian issue. Earlier this year, the New Zealand Herald, for example, reported a ‘Boom in live cattle exports to China’, although thanks to the Customs Exports Prohibition (Livestock for Slaughter) Order these are mostly for breeding purposes, and recent protests at the Port of Dover in the UK are evidence that exporting of live cattle remains a practice in the UK and the EU, with exports going mainly to Italy and France.
This video, produced by Animals Australia, testifies to the cruel and godless practices that attend the live export of animals:
Clearly, this is a political as well as a moral issue (not that the two can ever be separated); and as the Australian Federal election draws near, I wish to publicise my support for the campaign by Animals Australia and Ban Live Export against the sickening and anti-vital practice of live animal exports. I learned recently that one of the Coalition’s priorities, should it win the election, is to ‘apologise’ to Indonesia (a country that receives some 45% of Australia’s live animals) for the Labour Government’s five week trade suspension in 2011, a suspension put in place in direct response to an ABC Four Corner’s program, ‘A Bloody Business’, which exposed the practices that attend live animal exports. In Australia, with the exception of Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, it has been The Greens who have consistently spoken out against this practice and who have sort to (re)introduce the Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill (2012) into the Senate. And in New Zealand, from which there has been no live animal exports for slaughter since 2003, it is again The Green Party who have tried to maintain pressure to restrict the export of live animals. (I don’t mention this in order to propagandise for The Greens, but simply to report a fact.)
Here is the campaign video produced by Animals Australia:
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, and the other Coalition party leaders, seem to have forgotten – or, just couldn’t give a rats about – the outrage that Australians felt after that program aired, the facts therein being also corroborated by the live export industry’s own reports. Certainly, it is difficult to see how any formal apology to the Indonesian government or business groups could do anything other than serve to send a message that animal abuse is condoned. To my mind, this ought to be an important election issue. It is certainly an important theological issue. So if you are a fellow Australian citizen, or have your name on the electoral role, then please consider joining me in supporting this campaign.
Apparently, lots of interesting things happened on 27 January: in 447, the Walls of Constantinople were severely damaged by an earthquake; in 1142, Yue Fei was executed; in 1186, Henry VI got hitched to Constance of Sicily; in 1343, Pope Clement VI issued some Bull called Unigenitus; in 1936, the BBC began its first public broadcasts; in 1974, the Brisbane River breached its banks in what was the largest flood to affect the city; in 1980, Robert Mugabe returned to Rhodesia; in 1984, Michael Jackson’s head caught fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial; in 2010, Barack Obama made his first State of the Union address and Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad tablet. It’s also the date upon which the following people died – Rita Angus, Mahalia Jackson, John Updike, J.D. Salinger, and Howard Zinn.
Some cool stuff happened too: The trial of Guy Fawkes began; the National Geographic Society was founded; the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp; the Paris Peace Accords officially ended the Vietnam War; and Lewis Carroll, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling and David Strauss celebrated their birthdays.
But by far the most interesting and cool thing was the birth of Ambrie Jordyn Goroncy. Her birth last Friday (when God ceased knitting and became a midwife), during respectable hours, was anticipated in this poem, and follows fairly swiftly on the heels of that of her awesome brother Samuel Jamieson, and some five years after that of her theologian-sister Sinéad Chloe (regulars here to PCaL will be familiar with Sinéad’s developing and prayerful theology). All occupants at our house are tired and well, including the sheep, one of whom recently gave birth too. So far, Ambrie seems perfect. That will change when she becomes a Christian at her baptism on 4 March.
‘At a conference of Presbyterian Sunday school workers, held in First Church Hall yesterday morning, the Rev. J. McCaw, of Lower Hutt, brought forward the following motion: – “That this conference of Sunday school superintendents and workers calls attention to the fact that, owing to increasing desecration of the Sabbath, the work of the Sunday school teacher is being increasingly hampered. In view of the importance of this work in the development of national character, the conference appeals to golf and other clubs to refrain from employing boys in occupations on Sunday that interfere with attendance at church and Sunday school.”
The mover said he had previously complained of golfers in his district waylaying the children on their way to Sunday school and seeking to entice them to the golf links. The evil was very widespread. Mr W. A. Patterson, of Khandalla, seconded the motion, which was carried unanimously’.
– Otago Daily Times, 9 November, 1911.
The focus of the next meeting of the NZ Presbyterian Research Network will be a lecture by my dear friend Janet Sim Elder on ‘The Challenge of Changing the Justice Landscape: How do we do justice honourably with victims, reduce recidivism and change public attitudes?’
Join us at the Knox Centre Seminar Room (Hewitson Wing, Knox College, Arden Street, off Opoho Road) on Thursday 10 November, 2011. We kick off with wine and nibbles at 5pm, and then Janet jumps into the hot seat from 5.30 until around 7.00. All are welcome.
Time away typically allows me the chance to catch up on some of my favourite podcasts and vodcasts, and to clear some room in my iTunes library. Two of my favourite vodcasts are Insight and 101 East. I just wanted to give a wee shout out about some interesting recent episodes from both. From Insight:
and from 101 East:
- ‘True believers’ – on the church in China
- ‘The world’s longest ongoing war’ – on the Karen’s ongoing battle for self-rule in Burma
- ‘Australia’s boomtown curse’ – on the cost of Australia’s mining boom
- ‘The Lady on the Lake’ – on the future role of Aung San Suu Kyi, the artist Zayer Thaw and Burmese ex-pats living in Thailand
Many of my earliest memories seem to have grandparents in the frame, and many owe their origin to Babcia’s photo album – that collection of somewhat faded, browning and out-of-focus snapshots, many with heads carelessly decapitated, photos whose value as art is radically juxtaposed in comparison to their value as icons of sentiment and as a record of a story of her life; or, more accurately, the narrative of all our lives. For Babcia was the kind of person whose life was intricately and inseparably woven into our own. Indeed, in Babcia we have been graced with one whose identity is wrapped up in ours, whose identity as a sister, wife, mother, grandmother, matriarch, friend and neighbour was more voluminous than any identity that society might wish to allocate to her, but in whom blood was always thicker than water, even when conventional wisdom might desire otherwise.
And what story does that family photo album bear witness to? It gives us only hints of what Babcia’s life was like before she arrived at Cowra and then at Bonegilla migrant centre on these shores. From only a handful of photos, and a scattering of various stories have we been able to cut and paste together some image of what her life was like before her two sons arrived on the scene. I shall not dwell on that here, but only mention her birth on 16 April 1926 in Woronez, Russia, where she was also baptised, and her years as a farm worker in Selkentrop (a village still as tiny as it is rural) in the early 1940s in a Europe in the grip of fear, and of her falling in love with the gentle human being – Janek Goronze – who would be her husband until 1982. Birthing children and the turn Down Under created the opportunity for Babcia and Dziadek, together with many who would become their friends, to begin, as it were, again. One way that this beginning was celebrated was through countless parties and an abundance of food rarely known in a past life they all seemed intent on forgetting.
The photos bear witness to the fact that in those earlier days, when her strength was greater and her zest for life more uninhibited than it was in recent years, she enjoyed outings to roadside picnic grounds and rydzed-forests well-trodden by members of the Polish community, and even more adventurous expeditions to far-flung and exotic places like Rotorua in New Zealand. But Babcia was no woman of the world! Indeed, the photos tell of a woman who loved the simple and nearer things of life – family, flowers, and friends with whom she would gossip and laugh for hours so very excitedly (and loudly) on the phone, or over a seemingly-bottomless banquet of ham, gurki, cottage cheese and semi-stale rye bread, not to mention the kapusniak or borsch swimming in sour cream, and the pierogi, golabki, and babka. So deceived was she by the seduction of food that she seemed to believe that if the item bore the label ‘Weighwatchers’ it meant that you could actually eat three times as much and still lose weight. Those new to the Goroncy dining experience learnt quickly not to pile their plates too early in the drama, for it would not be long before they heard the words from one who grazed more than feasted, and from whose mouth would come the command, ‘Take more, you too skinny. Look – ham, potatoes … you want something else?’. Convinced by the conspiracy that ‘restaurants make you stomach poison’, Babcia was devoted to home cooking. But it was a passion not primarily birthed by a paranoia of restaurants, or by economic rationalism, though, no doubt, the latter was a factor for a generation formed in a landscape where scarcity was the norm. Her passion for cooking, rather, was birthed by the fact that this was a primary and joyful means by which she could serve her friends and family. Indeed, one could turn up at all hours of the night – and I frequently did – and she would jump out of bed and spring into action – ‘you want something to eat Jay’ – so concerned as she was that I was fading away. Indeed, she was nothing if not hospitable to people – whether to those known to her, or to strangers.
The photos also bear witness to her love of gardening, and particularly to her flowers; her love for shopping – the perpetual hunt for a bargain, a trait that her eldest son has inherited; her devotion to her favourite TV programs, among which was ‘The Young and Wrestles’; and, in more recent years, the fascinating friendship that she enjoyed with Bobby, the only dog I’ve ever met who has become increasingly-less housetrained over the years, reverting, it would seem, to something like the life he had before he was rescued by the RSPCA, and before he met Babcia. And that reminds me of a story. I remember when Judy and I bought Bobby as a gift for Babcia. She was so adamant that she didn’t want a dog and that we should take him back to North Melbourne straight away. But we were stubborn too – hey, it’s in the blood! – and eventually, we convinced her to keep Bobby on a two-week trial. If, after that time she still felt the same, we’d take him away. Within a week, we asked her how she was doing with Bobby and whether she wanted us to take him back. And she said, ‘I not give you for thousand dollar!’ And so their friendship began. It was really special, and actually quite funny at times, to see how she and Unc and Bobby related, and how quickly Bobby learnt to understand Polish.
And there are things that the photos tell less about, if at all. They tell little of the way in which Babcia was a model of multicultural hospitality and friendship, happy as she was to share her life with her Macedonian and Italian and Chinese neighbours. They don’t tell of the time that she bowled up to Highpoint to see a movie on her own for the first time in her life – it was the Jesus film. Nor of the time that two of us took her to see Shakespeare in Love – an experience much more interesting, it must be said, than the movie was.
By far the most common subject in her albums, however, were her children, and their children, and their children. She loved us. And as much as her heart broke for each of us when things were going haywire, she rejoiced to hear every bit of news of our comings and goings, especially, I think, of us grandchildren, seeing in us, perhaps, a way of healing for fractures that had opened up in our family.
Much like she welcomed Unc, Babcia also welcomed a frightened teenaged-version of me into her home and daily life, and she was for me a safe and stable lifeboat around which I learnt to find my feet again. And so she was for many years thereafter – a fun and caring person to be around, even if sometimes very impatient, and one with whom I could truly be myself. I felt safe with her, even when she would harp on about things that I thought were significantly less than vital. And no matter how critical she might have been at times towards others – and, yes, she did, it must be said, possess quite a judgemental streak – to those foibles of her own family she was almost blind – or at least she tried to be so. And her unflinching and stubborn blindness extended also to herself. So, for example, this one who claimed to be a ‘very good driver … never make me accident’, did not think twice about going anti-clockwise around a busy car park roundabout in order to secure a spot closer to her shop of choice.
One of the great things that that great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky has taught me is that earthly life cannot flourish without the conviction that the narratives of growth and conflict and attention that characterise our life here are not fated to come to an end. But this is not to say that some things will not come to an end. With the writer of the final book of the Bible, Dostoevsky too believed in the coming of the day of shalom. The day of shalom, the day of peace, will not be characterised by a peace with death. With death, there can be no such peace. Rather the day of shalom means a time when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away. Though I am uncertain of the precise form that such an event will take, my faith in one for whom death is neither foreign nor the end of all things gives me reason to look forward to meeting Babcia again, to believing that life triumphs even over death. But until then, do widzenia Bubcia, do widzenia.
When the signs of age begin to mark my body,
and still more when they touch my mind;
when the ill that is to diminish me or
carry me off strikes from without
or is born within me;
When the painful moment comes in which I suddenly
awaken to the fact that I am ill or growing old;
when I realise that I must soon relinquish all whom
I hold dear and all in life that I have loved;
and above all at that last moment when I feel
I am losing hold of myself and am absolutely
passive within the hands of the great unknown
forces that have formed me;
In all those dark moments, O God, grant
that I may understand that it is you
who are painfully parting the fibres
of my being in order to penetrate
to the very marrow of my substance
and bear me away within yourself.
It’s so good to hear stories birthed by, and which witness to, the kingdom of God in our midst. For many months now, Martin Stewart, a friend of mine and fellow Presbyterian minister who, with his partner Anne, is nothing less than obsessed with the crazy and wreckless and completely-irresponsible nature of divine grace, has been spearheading what is an inspiring (in every sense of that word) project. Some of that journey has been documented on Martin’s blog, and yesterday, the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand posted the following media clip. I’m sharing the love:
On Sunday 14 August 2011 Presbyterian church-goers gave more than $70,000 – 365 $200 New World Supermarket vouchers – to homes in part of the red zone on the east side of Christchurch.
“The vouchers were given out to homes with no strings attached”, says the Rev Martin Stewart. “The homes are all in an area perceived as not needing help, so they hadn’t received much.”
After their regular Sunday church service, 130 people from St Stephen’s Presbyterian in Bryndwr, St Giles in Papanui and St Mark’s in Avonhead, went door-to-door to share the vouchers with people whose resources have been stretched more thinly than their own.
Martin says that “going over to that side of the city was sobering. There were many sad stories of struggle and wondering what is next. Without exception those who handed out the vouchers were touched by the welcomes they received”.
The Rev Martin Stewart, the driving force behind the project and minister of St Stephen’s and moderator of the Presbyterian Church’s Presbytery of Christchurch, says, “$70,000 was raised, some donated by people from here but most from far off places like Scotland … and Auckland! Foodstuffs offered a discount enabling us to purchase even more vouchers”.
The idea for the vouchers came in April, Martin says, when Highgate Presbyterian Church in Dunedin, (Martin was formerly the minister there) gave him and his wife Anne money to distribute in Christchurch “as we saw fit. The next day we gave the first $1000 of that money to a young family we did not know, and that we had heard life was tough for, in the damaged Avon loop area. I wrote about it on my blog and then someone from Wellington sent $15,000 – it soon ballooned to $70,000. It has been like witnessing the miracle of the loaves and the fishes right before our eyes”.
Martin says in many ways 365 vouchers to 365 homes is barely touching the need out east in Christchurch city. “It really is like we have only got a little bit of play-lunch to share and there are 5000 people hungry. But we sense that we are not alone in this enterprise. We believe that Jesus’ ‘kingdom of God’ is in this and we simply don’t know what kind of ripple of hope the vouchers will generate in the lives of the people we share them with. We are sure something good will come of it and that in a multitude of ways people who receive vouchers will pay it forward in some way.”
‘There are indeed, as we’ve been reminded, no quick answers here. And I believe one of the most significant questions that we ought to be addressing in the wake of these deplorable events, is what kind of education we are interested in, for what kind of a society. Are we prepared to think not only about discipline in classrooms, but also about the content and ethos of our educational institutions – asking can we once again build a society which takes seriously the task of educating citizens, not consumers, not cogs in an economic system, but citizens’.
The full speech can be read here.
Regardless of whether one counts the day’s beginning at midnight, or as sometime in the early hours of the previous morning, it’s been a long day and that principally for one reason. At around 0222 this morning, my partner and I welcomed into the world our beautiful son and Sinéad’s brother, Samuel Jamieson.
At various times throughout the day – i.e., when I wasn’t feeling totally freaked out by the fact that the girl’s names that we had spent so long debating were now literally immaterial, and, relatedly, that this wee one so tightly cocooned in soft blankets and a stylish teddy-bear jumpsuit has bits underneath that I simply wasn’t expecting to see – I meditated on the words from Lamentations 3.22: ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end’, and I silently recalled Walter de la Mare’s wee poem written for his daughter Florence. The poem is titled ‘The Birthnight: To F.’, and reads:
Dearest, it was a night
That in its darkness racked Orion’s stars;
A sighing wind ran faintly white
Along the willows, and the cedar boughs
Laid their wide hands in stealthy peace across
The starry silence of their antique moss:
No sound save rushing air
Cold, yet all sweet with Spring,
And in thy mother’s arms, couched weeping there,
Thou, lovely thing.
Samuel, this seven pound two ounce wonder, represents, no less than other children, what Jürgen Moltmann once named ‘metaphors of God’s hope for us’, that with every child, a new life – original, unique, incomparable – begins. And that while we typically ask, who does this or that child look like (apparently because we seem to think we can only understand the new in the comparison with what is already known or similar), we also encounter the entirely different, the entirely dissimilar and unique in each child. It is, Moltmann suggests, precisely these differences that we need to respect if we want to love life and allow an open future. Moltmann also recalls that with every beginning of a new life, the hope for the reign of peace and justice is given a new chance. It is important – and I feel the weight of the challenge here – to see Samuel in his own transcendent perspective and so to resist forming him according to the stale images of our world. Every new life is also a new beginning of hope for a homeland in this world which is-and-is-being redeemed. If it were not, we would have no reason to expect anything new from a beginning. Samuel will be baptised on 14 November at Highgate Presbyterian Church in Dunedin.
A final thing: Mother and Samuel are both doing very well. Dad and sister are glowing. Even the dog seems unusually excited. It is yet to be seen if our adorable chickens start laying eggs again, inspired by the events of recent days.
“Nine tenths of the news, as printed in the papers, is pseudo-news, manufactured events. Some days ten tenths. The ritual morning trance, in which one scans columns of newsprint, creates a peculiar form of generalized pseudo-attention to a pseudo-reality. This experience is taken seriously. It is one’s daily immersion in ‘reality.’ One’s orientation to the rest of the world. One’s way of reassuring himself that he has not fallen behind. That he is still there. That he still counts! My own experience has been that renunciation of this self-hypnosis, of this participation in the unquiet universal trance, is no sacrifice to reality at all. To ‘fall behind’ in this sense is to get out of the big cloud of dust that everybody is kicking up, to breathe and to see a little more clearly.”
– Thomas Merton. Faith and Violence (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968), 151.
[HT: Kim Fabricius]
Some considerable time has passed since I completed writing my PhD thesis. Friday night saw me formally defend it in an oral exam known as a viva voce. In its most hoped for form, ‘the viva’ is a kind of friendly inquisition which involves a richly-rewarding conversation with two (or more) very qualified examiners, both of whom are encouraging and constructive in their comments, deeply perceptive in their questions, who assess a solid piece of work fairly and without unduly pushing personal agendas, and who pass the thesis without qualification or any further editing required. Mine was just such an experience with Tom Smail and Ivor Davidson.
For those who may be interested, here’s an abstract of my essay:
‘This essay explores whether the notion of “hallowing” provides a profitable lens through which to read and evaluate the soteriology of British theologian P.T. Forsyth, and it suggests that the hallowing of God’s name is, for Forsyth, the way whereby God both justifies himself and claims creation for divine service. It proposes that reading Forsyth’s corpus as essentially an exposition of the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is an invitation to better comprehend not only his soteriology but also, by extension, his broader theological vision and interests. Chapters One and Two are concerned with questions of methodology, and with placing Forsyth in the social context of his day, with introducing the theological landscape and grammar from which he expounds his notion of reality as fundamentally moral, and with identifying some of the key but neglected voices that inform such a vision. Chapter Three explores the principal locale wherein the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is answered: in Jesus Christ, whose confession of holiness ‘from sin’s side’ justifies God, destroys sin and creates a new humanity. Chapter Four examines Forsyth’s moral anthropology – specifically, the self-recovery of holiness in the human conscience – and considers holiness’ shape in the life of faith. Chapter Five inquires whether Forsyth’s theology of hallowing finally requires him to embrace dogmatic universalism, and identifies what problems might attend his failure to so do and consequently threaten to undermine his soteriological program’.
So I’m wondering if God’s doing a bit of a post-suffering Job thing on me. You know, the bit where ‘the LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys’ (Job 42:12). I say this because I’m kicking on to middle age now (seriously, how many people do you know who live past 100!) and I get this email today from a Mrs. Mellisa Lewis, a 59 year old sister who was two years ago diagnosed with cancer. She writes:
‘I will be going in for an operation later today. I decided to WILL/donate the sum of (Fourteen Millions Two Hundred Fifty Eight Thousand United States Dollars) to you for the good work of the lord. Contact my lawyer with this email: Name: Mr Jay Mchenry Email:(firstname.lastname@example.org) (+44 792 435 0212) Tell him that I have WILLED 14.258M to you by quoting my personal reference number JJ/MMS/953/5015/GwrI/316us/uk’. As soon as you contact him with this details quoted above, he should be able to recognize you and help in claiming this amount from my Bank. Be informed also that i have paid for the state tax on this money to be transferred to you. Meanwhile you are advised to keep this mail and it contents confidential as i really want my wish accomplish at the end of the day. Please do pray to God for my recovery. God Bless Regards, Mrs. Mellisa Lewis’.
Now here’s where I need your help faithful readers: While I’m a little gutted that I’m not the only recipient of Mrs Lewis’ generosity, and while it’s somewhat refreshing to get an email (in my spam box) from someone who’s not convinced that Viagra is the answer to all my problems, and while straight moola is (I assume) considerably more easy for me to bank than is six thousand camels, and while I’m not one to break such sincere confidences (especially when so much greenback is at stake for the Lord’s work), I’m not sure yet what ‘good work of the lord’ might be birthed or encouraged with this gift. I mean, ‘Fourteen Millions Two Hundred Fifty Eight Thousand United States Dollars’ can buy a lot of love.
So, all suggestions considered.
And yeah, don’t forget to join me in praying for Mrs. Lewis’ recovery.
Blogging here at Per Crucem ad Lucem may be a little light on for the next few weeks. I’m off to Auckland tomorrow to do some teaching on theology and the arts, and on pastoral theology on issues pertaining to marriage. When I return, I’ll be thinking (and so probably blogging) about Calvin for a few weeks as I prepare a paper for the upcoming Calvin Rediscovered conference. At this stage, I’m thinking of a paper on Calvin as servant of the Word. But, on that, more to come.
- Trinitarian Theology after Barth: An International Symposium (Auckland, 14-15 May)
- South Island Ministry Conference (Dunedin, 19-21 May)
- International Conference on Baptist Studies V, and the Australian Baptist Research Forum III (Melbourne, 15-18 July)
- Calvin Rediscovered (Dunedin, 24-25 August)
- Australian Association of Mission Studies (Canberra, 2-5 October)