Thursday, 28 January 2010

Cops and Robbers

Copyright Ashburton Guardian

Yesterday Clemency and I drove up to Christchurch to meet and talk with Bishop Victoria Matthews. It was a pleasant conversation: Victoria and I seemed to agree on pretty much everything, so she is obviously a person of discernment, intelligence and taste. The weather was clear and still so the 4 hour drive was pleasant, though not without incident.

Two hours up the road, just north of Timaru we were passed by a couple of police cars with sirens blaring and lights flashing. Relieved that it wasn't me they were after, we pulled into Temuka to see if we could get a cup of coffee. Temuka is a three horse town, minus about two and a half of the horses, and usually, parking is not a problem. Not yesterday. The streets....sorry....street was filled with cars most of which had a zipper pattern on the side and flashing blue lights on the roof. There were burly guys in blue serge and bullet proof vests wandering around with little high tech boxes sewn onto their shirts and guns - yes, GUNS cradled in their arms. It seemed that 10 minutes before we arrived the local branch of the ANZ Bank had been robbed. The entire town was standing around, gaping. We found a cafe and the waitress told us that a young guy had held up the bank with a gun, and stolen a car to escape. The cafe was at the other end of the street, but news travels fast in Temuka. The coffee wasn't great. We left soon after, and another mile or two up the road we were passed by an elderly Mazda doing, maybe, 140 kph. A respectable distance behind was a lone zipper car, headlights on, blue lights flashing, keeping tabs on but not trying to stop the Mazda. Another 40km on and we went through Ashburton where there was a traffic jam. At the roundabout at the Southern entrance to the town there was a pile up: three very munted cars including the old Mazda, and, in pristine condition, some ambulances, more police cars and in not such great condition, a young woman with a bloodied face and handcuffs.

All these incidents were part of the same story. Some criminals are fiendishly clever, some are not. From all appearances, this seems to have been one of the latter. It's easy enough, I suppose, to walk into a bank with an imitation pistol, point it at the teller and say "give me some money." That bit requires not much thought at all. The tricky bit is knowing what to do next: when you are standing outside the bank with a bag of money in one hand, a toy gun in the other, and converging on the town are 30 highly trained, very fit, heavily armed young men and women for whom this sort of malarkey is exactly why they joined the force in the first place. The robber yesterday, apparently stole his getaway car after he performed the robbery and didn't seem to have thought strategically about his escape except to drive towards Christchurch where there would be more police, more cars, more helicopters, more dogs and more trouble waiting for him.

And so today, as the result of his lack of thinking, there are a couple of thousand citizens of Temuka all feeling slightly violated that the stuff that you read about in the newspapers has found its way into their safe little town. There is a person - and from the look of the car, a person without a lot of spare cash - wondering how to get to work or pick up the kids now that their wheels have been destroyed. There is a young man who woke today in hospital with the injuries he sustained when the robber drove at some speed into the rear of his parked car. There are two other people with fewer injuries but with similarly wrecked vehicles. There are a dozen or so bank employees still in slight shock after looking the wrong way down the barrel of a gun. And of course there is a young man, and maybe a young woman who are only my daughter Catherine's age, and who may not be free again for many long years to come. They are someone's children. Someone's grandchildren.

All this pain and destruction and cost. I read about it all this morning in the papers and on the internet with a morbid fascination; and, somehow, it doesn't seem to me to be evil so much as stupid; mind numbingly, knuckle headedly, brown stuff for brains, colossally stupid; and desperately sad.

As are most of our sins, I suppose. On a smaller scale, perhaps but maybe not all that much smaller.

Monday, 25 January 2010


There's no particular reason for this picture. It just happens to be one I have taken lately on this holiday which has not been a holiday. There has been a lull in work related activities, as Dunedin clears out for the summer leaving a sleepy little provincial town to mind the fort while our bustling, urbane little city heads off to Central for the summer. While everybody has been gone, I have been clearing out stuff. Clearing out junk from cupboards and the cellar, and I'm not finished yet, no sirree, not by a long chalk. Clearing out self sown natives and convolvulus and jasmine from the garden at Anderson's Bay and I'm not finished yet, no sirree, not by a long chalk. And sitting with people who have old issues that need to be resolved and listening and praying and crying with them and I'm not finished there yet either. But it all gets done. Skis, bikes, sleds, books and chairs pile onto the beat up old red trailer en route to the landfill or the op shop; greenery gets fed into the city council's compost maker; people smile and acknowledge the goodness of God and get ready to move on; and in each place the pile of festering crud gets smaller, and more manageable, and in a shorter time than anyone ever imagined, will disappear entirely.

Not that the process is trouble free. On Saturday I took a tangled mass of vines to the landfill. It weighed, probably, more than I do and it was a struggle to get it loaded and a struggle to get it unloaded. About five minutes down the road on the way home with a light and empty trailer, I noticed that I wasn't wearing my glasses. They are rimless ones with titanium frames, very light, and I knew what had happened. Somewhere in the process of pruning, dragging, tying, driving, untying, heaving and dumping, a stray vine had flicked my specs and knocked them off. Now they were a) deep in the recesses of the garden, or b) in the process of being scrunched up by the mulching machine, probably b). A U-turn and a quick inspection of the place I had parked was fruitless. So, it was a fast and illegal (without my license required spectacles) trip home and a ferret amongst the junk I had not thrown out for some old glasses which would at least let me drive if not read. Then, on Sunday afternoon, crawling around the nether regions of the garden looking for more viney miscreants in the distance though not close up, I noticed I was again spectacle free. As Oscar Wilde might have told me, "To lose one set of glasses, Mr. Wright, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness."

The good people at Stewart and Caithness have today made me up a pair of glasses that let me drive. They are, arguably, not the last word in fashionable eyewear, but they are steel framed and strong and dark coloured, so they stand a good chance of being found in the undergrowth, and they're cheap enough not to bother the insurance company if they are not. On Friday S & C will measure me up for a zippy new pair that should allow me to drive and read and look my usual dashing self, any two at the same time, take your pick.


You run the risk of losing it, temporarily, when you immerse yourself in the murky stuff, but

New vision.

That's what comes, eventually, from dealing with long neglected rubbish.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Holy Communion

Yesterday, to escape the rain and cold, we drove into Central. It was wet and cold , although it was a lovely day back home in Dunedin by all accounts; at least, it was until we arrived back just in time for the southerly change. It was a pleasant day, all the same, and , ended graciously, gracefully, meaningfully with dinner. There were five of us: two men and three women, two of us ordained, although in different denominations. There was a most delicious vegetarian casserole, a bottle of excellent pinot noir, a comfortable room and of course, conversation. All of us had undergone profound and challenging experiences in the past few months; we were all very aware of each of the others present, and of our dead and of the one who had guided all of us through this past year. We sat and talked as the food was passed around, and for a long time after. The darkness seeped into the room ; it truly was a holy time, and no one wanted to break the warmth of the communion by getting up to turn on the light. Late in the evening, in the soft grey darkness we held hands and sought God's blessing on each other and then left for our homes knowing that we, all of us, had unfinished business and that we were some how bound to help each other continue. Each one of us had met four others: truly met them.

To encounter the consciousness of another human being is one of the things - no, it is THE thing which helps me define my own consciousness. Martin Buber, in I and Thou, speaks of this encounter as one of the two great primal shapers of our lives: one being the encounter with objectivity: that is the knowledge of things as an IT apart from myself; the other being the subjective encounter with another consciousness as THOU. Encountering another consciousness is a rare thing, and is temporary; almost as soon as we have done it we destroy the encounter by turning it into an experience: by objectifying it and thinking about it; by classifying and analysing and remembering the other, Thou becomes It. Thus, the I - Thou encounter becomes a "relationship" to be "worked at" and thus devalued.

Buber was a Jew and he recognised the I -Thou encounter as the heart of Judaism; the true, depth meeting of people is what the Torah encourages and pushes for. And more, the mystical tradition of Judaism is that which teaches and encourages an encounter with the Nameless One as "Thou". In my encounter with Thou, either human or divine, I become known to the other and to myself. And Jesus deepened and refined this tradition, so that the faith we proclaim is an I Thou encounter with the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Shaped and transformed by the great consciousness we are freed to encounter those around us with new openess and vulnerbility and depth.

True encounter. True communion with God and with other conscious beings. If we are not doing this, we have lost our way. And by and large we are not. And by and large we have. But as I relearned last night, it is not a difficult thing to do, and when it happens the results are astonishing; life forming and life changing.

As human beings; as parishes; as a diocese we can and must and will find our way again.

Saturday, 9 January 2010


Over the years, the Diocese of Dunedin has changed the Episcopal residence a few times, and at every trade and exchange, the house has got a bit smaller. We will be carrying on this proud tradition by moving into our own house sometime in the next month or two. The official episcopal palace in Mosgiel is a nice enough place but we'd prefer the novelty of paying our own mortgage and of planting a garden that isn't going to be handed over to a non gardening successor and a committee of blokes with chainsaws in a decade's time.

We bought our little house in Glenfinnan Place, Anderson's Bay about 3 years ago with the intention of retiring there some day. Who knows? We may still. But in the meantime, it will serve us very nicely and the fact that it is really just a three bedroom town house is part of its appeal. Anglican bishops have long since ceased to be princes of the Church and it's time to remove any vestige of pretence that they are still. Time, perhaps, to remove some of the detritus of church, and allow the Gospel beneath to emerge into the light. Anyway, it's a modest house, but a comfortable one, with unpredictable architecture, lots of leaves around it and a view. What more could anyone want?

And moving into a house which is perhaps a third of the size of our present one does force us to think through our attitude to possessions. For the last few days we have been going from room to room making piles of stuff to get rid of. Today I made what will probably be the first of many trips to the landfill. The trailer was piled with stuff. Stuff that someone had once desired and chosen and paid for. Stuff that had been shown off and displayed and delighted in. Glass and metal and plastic and wood, all shaped by someone paid to shape it and carried to my house by an ingenious system of transport and supply. Stuff that no-one ever really needed and no-one was ever going to miss. Soon, some will go to an op shop, but today it was the real crud: I took a kleensack full of broken cameras and lenses, several banana boxes of pottery and a plastic bag full of the little bits and pieces that come with cell phones. There was also thirty years of old diaries, bad poetry from my 20s and the first chapters of half a dozen unwritten novels. It felt good to be rid of it; so good that tonight I went through my bookshelves and removed a couple of hundred volumes... well... I know, percentage wise it's not a very impressive cull but, hey! it's a start!

Identifying what is really needed and ditching the rest. It's a lesson I learned with some force on the Camino, and one that I think will serve me well in the coming years.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Music Hath Charms

Last night I participated in a symphony. Clemency's extended family (and therefore, of course, mine) gathered at Helen and Alan Edward's place to see the new year in by performing Haydn's Toy Symphony aka Cassation in G major for toys,2 oboes, horns, string and continuo. We didn't have a lot of oboes or horns but there was a piano and a clavier and for the rest we made do with recorders, electric guitar, bass, a violin, a bird whistle and a lot of rattles, drums and other things that could be whacked or shaken by musical illiterates such as myself when someone who knew what they were doing gave the nod. I sat with 7 year old Emmie, and drank red wine and ate quince jelly and contributed my part to the wonderfully structured mayhem.

Gilbert giving a virtuoso performance
on the nightingale decoy
We have always been a close family but an hour of making music together means we are somehow even closer. Such is the miracle working power of noise.

Earlier in the week I witnessed another example of this magic watching a Mongolian documentary called The Weeping Camel. You can view the entire 90 minute documentary here, and the Dunedin Public library has a copy of the DVD for rent and no doubt you could pick one up from, and maybe you should, because it's a powerful piece of film. It records the life of a multi generational Mongolian nomad family. The insight into their warm and mutually respectful community life is engrossing enough, but the incident which gives the film its name is nothing short of astonishing.

In the camel breeding season, one of the family's camels is late to give birth and undergoes a distressing 2 day labour before her colt is delivered. In light of the trauma of the birth, mother camel rejects the colt, refusing to let it suckle or even come near her. The family try all they know to ensure the young camel's survival and finally arrange a hoos ceremony. The sons of the family, aged about 14 and 6 set off on camel back across a vast distance of the Gobi desert to find and fetch back a violinist. The musician arrives, and the reluctant mother camel is dragged spitting and snarling to him. The musician ties his violin to the camel's hump and the wind blows across it, making soft ethereal sounds which the camel instantly reacts to. He then takes the violin and plays it while one of the the women of the nomad household sings and strokes the distressed camel. And the camel begins to weep. Yes, seriously. Tears roll from her eyes and she snuffles and moans softly. The colt is led to her and she nuzzles it and allows it to suckle. The restraining ropes are removed from the camel and her child and they move off together, bonded at last.

I have no idea what was going on, but I am pleased with a documentary which leaves me with no answers but, rather, some important and intriguing questions. The camel obviously had issues surrounding birthing and mothering, and somehow the music resolved them. What does this say about consciousness and the extent that animals share in it? What is music and why does it have this effect on camels and families?

The last scene of the film does nothing to answer these, and everything to restate them. The violinist goes back to the family yurt, and after dinner everyone has a sing song - I can recognise this bit. Then the film closes with a distant shot of the tent glowing with lamplight in the darkness of the vast Gobi. The sound of the music drifts out and into the air, where it is joined to the sound of the camel, braying in tune with the family's singing. The film ended, in other words, by reminding me of how little I know, about anything at all.