Monday, 28 December 2009


Someone gave me a book of poems for Christmas. Apparently, a survey was done asking New Zealanders about their favourite poems and this book contains the top 100. It's an eclectic mix. Lots of James K Baxter, and all the stuff we learned by rote at school, and some nice little whimsies by people like Margaret Mahy; all of The Lady of Shallot and and bits of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; Fern Hill and Ode to a Grecian Urn and The Tyger and all the usual suspects, including this one from dear old racist, sexist, imperialist Rudyard Kipling. I know it's not very PC but out of all of them, it spoke to my present circumstances the most.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Costume Dramas

image (c) to, I suppose the BBC. Don't nick it.

Like most families, we have inviolable rituals for the spending of Christmas Day. There's a couple of church services, of course. There are particular foods to be eaten at their apportioned times, and the contents of crackers to be guffawed at; and once the food and the red wine and the effects of the past week have taken effect, there is, for me, a couple of hours asleep. There is a particular time for parcels to be unwrapped and a time honoured way of going about it. There is the ritual phoning and texting and skyping to be done, and then, finally there is the one thing that happens on the evening of every Christmas Day: the watching of something long and absorbing on an LCD screen. There are some rules about suitable content, of course. It must be British (or at a pinch, something directed by Peter Jackson or something Canadian). It must involve people dressed in costumes from another time and/or place. It must have believable characters, lots of clever dialogue, great production values and at some stage it must make all of us cry, if only just a little. Last night it was the BBC's 2007 production of Persuasion, which ticked all the boxes very nicely indeed, and if I find the time in the next day or two I will review it. Like all satisfying works of art, it sent me to bed thinking, and allowed me to wake up with an idea.

I took a degree in English literature in the early 1970s which meant reading lots of books and lots of poems from the 19th Century. I did papers on Romanticism and on the development of the English novel, but it occurred to me this morning, that most of what I studied was books and poems by and about and for blokes. In three years, I think I studied two novels by women: Middlemarch and Mansfield Park. The great women writers: The Bronte sisters; Jane Austen; Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot were of course acknowledged, but they were at best, placed in the second rank of writers behind the true greats: Shakespeare, of course and Milton, Dickens, Shaw, Byron, Wordsworth and all those other guys with whiskers and quill pens. The women swam in the middling waters of the literary pool with people like Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy. Which is odd. Very odd, when you think that any list of the greatest English novels of all time must contain Middlemarch and Pride and Prejudice amongst the top 5 placings, and probably amongst the top 2.

Which leads me to this morning's thought. A mini revelation, of sorts. The tide has turned, and it is shown in the huge revival of interest in Jane Austen: not just in the many film and television productions of her work, but in the renewed printings of all her novels and in the dramatic knock offs and speculations about her life: Lost in Austen and Miss Austen Regrets, for example. This is surely a mark of our progress in gender relationships: More women readers; more women academics; more women making production decisions at the BBC; more women buying the stuff that is flogged off in the ad breaks; more people of both genders making a truer assessment of our literary heritage and what was and what was not important in its development.

There is the germ of an idea also about the world which gave rise to 19th Century women's literature and that which gave rise to the stuff that blokes wrote, but that's probably a decent PhD thesis, and I'd get myself into trouble trying to develop it in a blog post.

And if I wanted to get myself into real trouble I would speculate about why ardent, convinced, articulate, educated third wave feminists such as my daughters and their friends are so emotionally and intellectually enamoured of the formalised and mannered sexual politics of the early 19th Century. But I'm not that silly.

In the meantime, I will bow to the household's resident Jane Austen authority and agree to watch the definitive Pride and Prejudice yet again tonight, or, if I can get my own way,perhaps negotiate a compromise, and watch Silas Marner.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Where The Heart Is

When we first saw the St. John's Vicarage it was 4 degrees celsius outside the house and 4.5 degrees inside. We went home to the green, wet, warm Waikato with a memory of a large dark scruffy house with gray walls and a bizarrely patterned carpet. The opportunity to live at 373 Highgate wasn't high on the list of motivations for becoming the Vicar of Roslyn, but after 11 years of living here, we are very loathe to leave.

The house was built in 1925 and its first occupant described it as "well designed and well built, providing what is desirable without showiness or unnecessary luxury." It has 5 bedrooms, 4 living rooms and a couple of sunrooms. All the walls, interior and exterior are double brick and sit on immense concrete foundations, so that both stories and the basement all have the same floorplan. You can feel the solidity of the place as soon as you walk over the threshold. Doors and stairs are of thick, simply fashioned cedar which hasn't warped or cracked in the 80 years it has been sitting here. Ours is the 7th family to have lived here and our predecessors have all been good, prayerful people and somewhow that has soaked into the substance of the house. Modern houses, newly made of chipboard and aluminium are habitated appliances, often with no more soul than a toaster. This place feels somehow alive. It holds you; enfolds and guards and keeps you.

For a while now, I have thought that it was not a good use of parish resources to have the two of us living in such a large building, and I had been toying with the idea of developing a spirituality or teaching centre from the vicarage. When I tested response to these ideas by casually dropping them into conversation, they were greeted with lukewarm enthusiasm by parishioners and frosty indignation by family. After all, his house is not an institution, it's a place to live: the site of sleepovers and Christmas dinners and conversations. It is a place where there is always a quiet corner to read. It is a place which swallows up guests - even whole families full of them at a time - and allows plenty of space still for privacy. In short, it is home.

And now we are going and we are not quite sure where. There is a pleasant bishop's house in Mosgiel and there is our own smallish house in Anderson's Bay and sometime in the next month or so we will move into one of them. I guess once the requisite number of conversations and dinners and prayers have happened either one could feel like home, but not yet. One of the insights of Anglicanism is that spirituality is deepened when it has a geographic location. The spirituality of this parish finds a focus in the acre or so of land on the corner of Wright St. and Highgate and in the buildings set amongst the beeches which grow on it. In other words, the heart is where the home is. Our home is here, but soon it will be a more amorphous place: the stretch of the South Island between the Waitaki River and Stewart island. It will, of course, be a wrench but it will also be an opening of horizons: a stretching out of tent pegs. The new journey opens before us and we are almost ready to make it.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Windows 7 again

It's now ben a month since I got rid of Windows Vista. I haven't had a single BSOD since then, but I have had a run of smaller crashes: programs freezing up; Windows Explorer not answering to the switch and refusing to shut down; my screen resolution changing to 640x480 all by itself and not wanting to change back. A couple of days ago I updated my video driver and so far, that seems to have fixed things. I have a fairly ordinary NVidia video card, and assumed that the Win 7 installation would have sorted out any driver problems but apparently not. So. A resounding two cheers for Windows 7! I am almost impressed.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Waiting and Knowing

Here we are, 3 days into December and still with an extra duvet on the bed and the heat pump running. Autumn is passing but the Summer is not quite here. I'm in an odd limbo time between the known and the unkown and it seems the weather has come out in sympathy. I have been down to Invercargill a couple of times, meeting people I already know quite well, letting them and me work out the beginnings of a new relationship. A couple of days ago I sat with a group of them, bouncing ideas around, trying to think about what might happen. Some of the ideas were great, and one or two of them will probably happen, but it wasn't really a time for plans and actions. It was the meeting and the talking that mattered. I drove home through the Southland Plains feeling energised and excited about what lies ahead.

Richard and Hilary Ellena dropped by on Wednesday. Richard is a friend from a long way back, although I haven't talked to him much since he was made Bishop of Nelson about 3 years ago. We had dinner and a bottle of wine and caught up about old and new times. I've talked on the phone to David Moxon, and had an hour with George Connor just before he left, but this was the first time I've had a chance to sit down and really talk with someone in the same line of work. It was affirming and a relief.

And yesterday I talked with Murray, a sort of a parishioner, though more of a friend. He lent me a paper he has written on bibliodrama, which begins,
By nature we all want to be seen and heard and valued for who we are. We hunger for this, this is our human condition, we are wired for this from birth. To love the other is a central axiom of the Christian faith... by authentic encounter we mean those moments when I recognise and value you and you recognise and value me and we actually see one another...

Yes. Exactly.

In this Wood Between the Worlds I'm trying to listen carefully to find out how to proceed when I emerge into a different life at the end of February. I think Murray has nailed it. The Gospel is about God's seeing us and knowing us and accepting us with an absoluteness that is nothing short of reckless. To know we are so loved is to be melted and remade so profoundly it is like a new birth. In this new life seeded in our encounter with the Thou who is always seeking us we are called, in our turn, to see and to know and to accept. The community of those who are attempting to grow into this is the Kingdom of God. I caught a glimpse of it a few times this week: in a little industrial cafe in the bowels of some glass university building, in my dining room and in the parish lounge of Holy Trinity Church, North Invercargill. And it is this, rather than any amount of plans and actions and designs and schemes that I know I am called to promote.