Wednesday, 25 November 2009


Bishops Tea Party: oil by Garth Tapper, Gillman Collection

I have received a lot of letters and cards and emails over the past few weeks. Most of them are warm and pleasant and measured but there are a few that are not. On the one hand there are those -admittedly very few - which gush over-enthusiastically and on the other there are those -admittedly very few - which sneer and chide and snipe. I'm told that this is a feature of episcopal life, and I had better get used to it. I'm not talking here about those who have realistic and well founded hopes for the next few years nor of those who, based on knowledge of me, have realistic and well founded misgivings about my capabilities. I'm talking rather about people with whom I have never shared three connected words of conversation but who nevertheless take it upon themselves to upbraid me for the inner workings of my psyche and my motivations; or those who seem to mistake me for some sort of saviour.

As in every case where the emotional loading is far in excess of the appropriate level for the circumstance, it's all about projection. That is, feelings which have been generated in someone's life by an experience at some other time and in some other place, and which for various reasons have not been adequately expressed, and which lie dormant and unacknowledged in the person's psyche, have somehow found a focus in me. This is to be expected because it is part and parcel of ordination. In being ordained, we become living symbols. Just as a church building, though it is just another ordinary structure of wood and glass and mortar becomes a focus for people's deepest joys and longings, so the ordained person, just an ordinary woman or man, becomes a focus for people's deep feelings. Urban T Holmes III spells out this process in some detail in his wonderful little book, The Priest In Community. It may all sound like a lot of esoteric mumbo jumbo until you experience it, from the inside. I remember soon after I was ordained in 1979 walking through Christchurch's Cathedral Square. Dressed in clerical black shirt and trousers, I walked past a group of about a dozen members of the Mongrel Mob. As I passed close by them they stopped their animated conversation and all cast their eyes to the ground. They were big tough guys but what was represented in the black clothing and the collar was stronger than they were. Over the last 30 years that experience, or ones like it have been repeated many, many times. It would be a bit hard to bear if I allowed myself to believe that it was about me and my personal power to charm or calm, persuade or inspire, provoke or endanger. It is all about projection. As a priest I am a coathook on which people hang their feelings. Theirs, not mine.

And it seems that a bishop is a bigger coathook which can accomodate more and bigger.

I'm not complaining about this. Projection is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact it is absolutely unavoidable in ordinary human interactions and the instrument of priesthood can only perform its work in the human soul by way of projection. Where the danger is for me is in allowing these unrealistic views of me - good or bad - to inform my own opinion of myself. As soon as I believe (as some would seem to have it) that I truly am the worst Idea since Mr Hitler said to Mrs Hitler come upstairs Helga, I'm feeling a little frisky then I have lost my humanity and I am in trouble. And my humanity is in equal danger if I start to believe (as some would seem to have it) that the salvation of the human race is somehow down to me.

Other people's projections can carry a fairly heavy spiritual weight. If I don't prevent them from landing on me, I need to shuck them off as quickly as possible. To do this, I need to do two things. One is to try and stay as close to God as I possibly can (as Marcus Ardern used to tell me, if you don't feel humble in the presence of God there's not much of it there) . The other is to find people who are comfortable enough with their own humanity that they can reflect mine back to me. These things have been happening for me lately. Remind me to tell you about it sometime.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Red at Morning

Although it's all still three months away, slowly, my timetable is filling with episcopal type things; little traces in the lightening sky, harbingers of what is ahead. I meet weekly with Bronwyn, our Diocesan Manager, and with Debbie who will be my PA. At the moment both have forgotten more about being a bishop than I know and both are extremely useful sources of data. There are some huge issues to find my way into the centre of, and I am starting from the outside and working my way in. I have begun to consider the peripheral bits of the office. Such as apparel, for example. I will have to wear some fairly strange clothes. Today my friend Carl popped over for a while to explain them all to me and to show me websites where you can buy Rochets and Chimeres and little red things that tie around your wrists. I'll need a mitre and a cope, which are available off the peg or I could ask someone to make them. Off the peg is expensive. Making is slow, and soon New Zealand will lose itself in the spending carnival we have replaced Christmas with, and then take a month off to recover; so time is slipping away, but I can't yet work up the required enthusiasm to act urgently on the matter. More interestingly, I have people already booking my time for next year, and I am pleased about that, as the folk with that sort of initiative have generally got something innovative in mind. And of course, there's also a parish to run.

I escape from all this by thinking about another peripheral detail. What will I drive? A big Australian six? A grunty little 4X4? A Korean wannabe? I'll need to be able to sit in it for very long periods. It'll need to be able to get past a milk tanker with the smallest of opportunities. It'll need to be able to tow a caravan. These are trappings, but they all have a bearing on the question which lies just over the horizon in the gathering dawn: what sort of bishop do I want to be? And that question is the really tiring one because I've starting lying awake in the wee small hours trying to answer it. Not worrying, but imagining. I'm thinking of what can be done and how. I'm thinking of what I have to offer the Anglicans of Southland and Otago and how it could all be most useful. I'm thinking of people we have and people I know and the talents they have to share. And I'm starting to feel a little stomach churning, heart fluttering, knee weakening excitement, like a kid before Christmas. This might be really, really fun.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Creation by subtraction

Imagine a slide projector with no slide in the carrier shining its light onto a blank white screen. You would see on the screen pure white light. Then you put a slide into the carrier, and a picture appears. What you have done by shining the light through the slide is filter out most of the light. White light coming from the bulb contains every visible colour, but where the slide is blue, all the light is filtered out except the blue bits, where it is red, everything is excluded except the red light, and so forth. So a picture is created not by adding light but by taking light away. The pure white light when there is no slide in the projector shows no picture; but in another sense, it shows every possible picture: the light required to make any conceivable photograph is there in that pure white light. As Bernard Haisch says, in The God Theory,
"the white light is thus the source of infinite possibility, and you create the desired image by intelligent subtraction, causing the real to emerge from the possible. By limiting the infinitely possible, you create the finitely real."

This is, says Bernard Haisch, a metaphor for creation. At any given point of finite reality, infinite possibility has limited itself. The same infinite possibility is there in every finite thing, in the same way that the same projected light is there in every individual picture on the slide screen.

I find this idea quite exciting, not least because it connects with the narrative perspective that has been obsessing me for a couple of decades now. Months ago I talked of the role of polarity in stories, and of how the story is created in the tension between two related but irreconcileable binary opposites. Haisch echoes my conviction that polarity is one of the fundamental parameters of existence.

"The process of intelligent subtraction can also be interpreted as the creation of polarity. By polarity I mean simply a dualistic this versus that relationship.... in the optical example above, the light filtering process effectively creates a polarity: white and not white, red and not red... out of a pervasive formless white light of the projector, a whole, perceptible reality based on polarity thus emerges."

Haisch is a quantum physicist and the cosmology he has arrived at in his old age is not specifically Christian, but I cannot read his ideas without thinking of the great prolegomena to the Gospel of John, and to the first chapter of Genesis. The one, undivided, formless God has given rise to a creation, every part of which is a manifestation of God's infinite love and wisdom, and therefore every part of which is one, but every part of which can only be consciously experienced because it is perceived as an opposition to some other part of creation. Paradox is thus fundamental to our existence. Our lives are the meeting points of the tensions between a thousand, thousand polarities. To develop our consciousness means growing in our ability, not to resolve paradoxes, but to accept them and live with them.

Windows 7

I upgraded to Windows 7 this week. Easy really. That nice Mr. Acer sent me a personal letter with a couple of disks in it; he promised these to me in August when I bought one of his PCs loaded with (shudder) Windows Vista. I popped the disks into the computer and followed the instructions. An hour later, all was accomplished. Not that you'd know it. Apart from a new start up screen, a revamped taskbar and a couple of little changes in the systems accessories, it all looks and works exactly like Windows Vista. With one big difference. Vista fell over at least every other day but I've had W7 running for about 36 hours now and not one single Blue Screen of Death! Wow! Amazing!

Sunday, 8 November 2009


On October 11 I was elected as the 9th Bishop of Dunedin. This was not something I had planned on or looked for. I went to the electoral synod as nominator of another, strong candidate, and argued vigorously on his behalf for all of the Saturday of the synod. On Sunday I was nominated from the floor and elected.

Our church's processes are slow and thorough. It has taken about four weeks to have my nomination approved by the bishops and the general synod. This has now happened and I will be consecrated bishop on Saturday February 27 2010 at 1:00 pm. On the weekend of the synod three people told me of specific dreams and premonitions they had concerning my election. Since then there have been other similar experiences reported to me, one from someone who was several thousand kilometres away from Dunedin at the time. These serve to reassure me that God is calling me to this. I am somewhat apprehensive about what lies ahead, but also excited and eager. If God is calling, it can only mean that there is a task to be done and the resources available to do it. I am grateful for the support given me over the past few weeks by those who have known. I look forward to working with the many, many deep, spiritually aware people I will be privileged to lead into new and exciting ways of making God's Kingdom more manifest in this astonishing part of the world.

Saturday, 7 November 2009


What, with one thing and another the phone has been running a bit hot lately, so I used my day off to do a small job for the parish which would take me out of cell phone range: I towed a trailer up to Alexandra to collect a sliding door. The sun shone, the hills were golden brown and the air was diamond sharp. My little car performed approximately well and I listened to a CD of Robert Johnson, the Jungian analyst, talking about paradox, the shadow and creative imagination. I have been reading Robert Johnson's books for a long time now; his little trilogy He, She and We are revelatory and his insights on the inner life have been sure guides. Now, 87, he has produced a CD set called The Golden World which condenses much of his great insight into 6 or so hours of conversation.

Yesterday I listened for an hour as he spoke of paradox, the shadow and creative imagination. We live, he says, for most of our lives with paradox. We fall in love with people we can't form relationships with. We raise children with the sole purpose of making them strong enough for them to leave us. We become enamoured of dreams and visions we cannot possibly hope to fulfill. This concept of paradox is not new to me, as it is the basis of the narrative theory I have been living with for about 20 years. What was new was his way of exploring paradox. Caught in a dilemma between two irreconcilable opposites, he says that our tendency is to label one of the horns of our dilemma "good" and the other "bad". We have one of the options in front of us we would greatly prefer and which on we spend much energy and imagination trying to realise; and the other which we spend a lot of energy denying, suppressing or railing against. He says that most of our prayers are structured this way. His insight is that both horns arise from parts of us that are integral and undeniable. That is, we cannot escape our paradox because it represents, externally, a duality which resides within us. Instead of trying to reduce our paradox to an achievable single focus, we need to honour it. He says we must find a symbolic way of getting the two sides of our particular dilemma into relationship. Both aspects need to be honoured and both need to be given equal weight. Neither needs to be judged or condemned. Robert Johnson's experience is that most of the time, when the two sides of our situation are put into a proper mutually informing relationship they cancel each other out and free us from the tension that exists between the two poles. Allowing both sides of the dilemma to have equal worth and dignity often allows us to fashion a way ahead that enriches the whole of us.

The tool he recommends for doing all this is creative imagination. This can be used in a number of ways but for him the most successful way is to allow each side of the dilemma to speak in an imaginary conversation, which he writes down, taking as much time as the issue demands. It is a difficult process to commit oneself to, but even more difficult is not committing oneself. As he says in owning Your Own Shadow,

" To transfer our energy from opposition to pardox is a very large leap in evolution. To engage in opposition [ie fighting the situation we find ourselves in ] is to be ground to bits by the insolubility of life's problems and events. Most people spend their life's energy supporting this warfare within themselves... a huge amount of energy is spent by modern people in opposing their own situation. Opposition is something like a short circuit; it also drains our energy away like a hemorrhage."

For example. When my free time gets filled with work stuff what should I do? Give both sides equal worth. let them speak to each other. Find a way which honours both work and freedom, such as making a work related trip to somewhere pleasant and out of cell phone range.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

So it begins

Next door to us is a piece of land that used to be empty. When our city was founded, it was set aside for educational purposes: to build a boarding hostel for Otago Girls' High School, to be precise. The hostel never got built but two other schools, Kaikorai Primary and Columba College used the land anyway. During the day it was occupied continually by children and in the evenings people would walk on it or play touch rugby on it or fly model aeroplanes or golf balls over it. It was one of those many open spaces which are dotted around our city and which give it much of its character. No-one ever imagined it would pass from public ownership, but in the 1980s we New Zealanders elected one of those governments with tunnel vision. This one's particular tunnel reduced everything - schools, hospitals, utility supplies, postal services, you name it , to the status of a business. And seeing as Otago Girls High School was suddenly, by dint of bureaucratic fiat, a business, this little piece of land could not possibly be thought of as a community asset, but rather as excess stock in trade to be sold off for as big a profit as possible. And so, five years ago, it was. To Ryman Healthcare, a company in the business of building and running facilities for the elderly.

The site is not very big, and the purchase price was high, even by the standards of the then inflated property market. To allow the ledger to be written in black ink, there had to be as many beds on the site as possible, and, accordingly, Rymans unveiled their proposal for a huge new facility which, in one of those ingenious pieces of corporatese they called a "boutique retirement village". It was hideously ugly. It covered almost all of the site with a three storied building which would have cast shadows over the adjacent play centre and our church and neighbouring houses. It was in breach of the city plan, and the neighbourhood was outraged. We mounted a protest which went through two hearings at considerable cost to us and to Rymans, and the neighbourhood won.


Rymans fenced off the land; the children stopped playing and the weeds started growing and a community playground became an eyesore. They unveiled a new plan. It contained even more beds than the first but disguised the fact by digging an enormous hole into which the building would be sunk to lower the apparent roofline and reduce shading. Never mind the fact that the proposed gardens surrounding the building would now be sited in a sun free zone at the bottom of an enormous ditch. I wrote to Rymans telling them that not a kilometre away there was another piece of land, bigger than the one next door, and without issues of shading and traffic and noise. Rymans never replied. They did however, visit the play centre and talk about helping with improvements to the children's porch area. A pleasant young man from Rymans paid me a visit and asked if I would be protesting this time and why. Another hearing was held with guys in expensive suits flying down from Auckland for the day to comment on the aesthetics of our neighbourhood and tell us how the new plan would greatly improve them. The councillors were mightily impressed. The community lost.

Two days ago the pile drivers moved in. For the next year or so there will be the sound of big diesel engines where there used to be children. Then, where we used to see trees we will have walls and windows and shadows on our vegetable garden. You can't stop progress is the mantra we chant to smooth the way for things that make our cities less beautiful and our living spaces less human. Progress to what, for goodness sake? Progress to what?

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Fair's fair

Every year we have a parish fair, usually on the first Saturday in November, but this year for reasons I can no longer remember we had it a week early.Not that the timing seemed to make much difference, as it all went off as smoothly as ever. There is a long history of holding parish fairs and a lot of people who know how it all works. People have their alloted jobs to do, and they know the steps in the process of making that bit of the process happen. I have my own particular contribution to make. There is a circuit of local schools and churches who all borrow trestle tables off each other, and, on the day before the fair, they have to be visited in turn by cars towing trailers, one of which is mine. There is a barbecue of formidable weight to be collected from the naval training base - why the Royal New Zealand Navy would own such a thing and why they would lend it to us are mysteries now lost in the fogs of history. There is a marquee to be erected and this involves a lot blokes in late middle age hammering large bits of metal into the ground using a mallet of prodigious size. We take turns and sweat a lot. Tables are erected and stacked with stuff. Old electrical appliances are tested to make sure they work. Cakes and sweets are baked and packaged. Local businesses are canvassed for contributions to a raffle table and to a silent auction. Signs and balloons and streamers are hung up about the place. A crowd gathers and a bell is rung and then it's all on. In about three hours the parish makes $17,000 and then we pack everything up, traverse the circuit of table suppliers again - only this time in delivery mode - and discuss how we can make next year's fair better than this one.

On the face of it, running a fair doesn't seem like a Gospel activity, but on the face of it is wrong. Pretty much everyone in the church community is involved in some way or another and at the end of the day, there is the expected deepening of bonds that come from performing any absorbing activity together. The general public seems to like coming to our fair. It is a cheap, safe outing for families and there's always the chance of picking up a bargain. Our parish is filled with interesting people with interesting and, sometimes, well paid jobs so the contents of the basements, garages, wardrobes and bookcases which fill our stalls are well worth picking over. We are providing a greatly loved and eagerly anticipated social service to the neighbourhood.

But wait, there's more...

This year the proceeds of the fair will be divided between some as yet to be decided charity outside the parish - some group who needs the cash - and the restoration of our hall . We can come up with all manner of erudite expositions of the faith, and make all the plans we like for imaginative ministry, but for any of them to be more than just a happy thought requires money and, usually, a place for them to happen. There is a lot going on at St. John's Roslyn: people are taught and grow; ministry happens; God is encountered. And, the people who on Saturday quietly got on with the business of making the fair happen were participating in that. Extraordinary happenings of lifesaving and sometimes cosmic significance finding a focus in small, everyday deeds. It's called incarnation.