Monday, December 19, 2011

The Innocent Man - and the Small Church

I’ve been somewhat absorbed in John Grisham’s The Innocent Man in my spare moments during the last few days.
A true story, it records the astonishing series of seriously unjust events in the investigation, arrest and trials of Ron Williamson of the small town of Ada, Oklahoma, between 1987 and 1999. The catalogue of errors of omission and comission by Police and the justice system has to be studied to be believed. Williamson was reprieved only five days before his execution was to be carried out. I find myself boiling with indignation that so many one-sided processes were applied to this man.

But I’m not sure we’ve always done a lot better in the church. When things go awry in the small congregation and outside help is sought, there can also be problems of blinkered vision. Even the wider church can make mistakes of judgment and lose its grip on natural justice. I can think of at least three conflicts in small churches with which I’ve been connected, when those who were asked to investigate allegations of improper behaviour listened with compassion and sensitivity only to the complainants. In both cases, the other side was not invited to make any response. Rather, those whose stories were never told were advised that the matter was now “all in the past” and they should “move on”.
Forty years ago our denomination conducted excellent “Lay-Clergy Dialogues” a few months after the arrival of a new minister. Sometimes, a crucial function of those events was “exorcising the ghosts” of the previous ministry. It was a conscientious attempt to air and lay to rest any resentments or grievances arising from the former ministry or the discomforts resulting from its winding up. There was at least an attempt to recognise the effect of lingering issues of the past upon the present and the future.
I guess the church doesn’t offer this excellent programme these days. Certainly, the way in which the national jurisdiction sometimes relates to local problems doesn’t seem to suggest that kind of understanding.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Happy Beneficiary Christmas!

I'm one of those dinosaurs who was in Christian Social Services at the time of the Woodhouse Report and the Social Welfare reforms that followed it in the early 1970s.
Hearing of the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots this morning reminded me of the innovative principle behind those reforms. It was that people on benefits and their children should be able to enjoy a "reasonable quality of life" not just a meagre existence.
One of the "reforms" was the institution of an extra two weeks' benefit, paid in mid-December, to provide a contribution towards the cost of Christmas celebrations and holidays. It wasn't a fortune but it was an imaginative and compassionate way of emphasising that the little extras that most of us take for granted should be available to people who have to be supported by the State.
Alas, all that compassion went out in later "reforms" and now the word is taking on a quite different meaning that suggests further savaging of the standard of living of people and their children at the bottom of the heap.
It's really gratifying to hear that the OECD has drawn attention to the widening gap in Godzone. But will those newly installed in power hear the message, never mind understand the issues and do something about them...?

Last Past the Post

My two bits’ worth in the Mixed Member Proportional debate would have been that it MMP isn’t perfect and needs some adjusting in obvious areas. But I am gratified that there is no strong support for the suggestion of returning to First Past the Post.
Up until MMP came in, I never cast a meaningful vote in my life. I was always in electorates where there was no way that my vote was going to change anything. In rural electorates my vote would never have got my candidate past the post and in urban electorates my vote would have contributed only to the overweening sense of importance that some high-majority partliamentarians displayed.
It was on such a nominal event that I took Paul, aged ten, into the booth with me, and let him vote; he’d studied the issues at school and his vote didn’t change anything more than mine would have.
In those days it only mattered to vote if you were in a marginal electorate. Those were the voters who swept governments in and out. Sometimes a swing of a handful of percentage points in key electorates across the country made a huge change in the balance of parliament. Often we lost skilled and experienced politicians in the carnage.
In the 1970s I proposed on radio a reform which turned out to be almost exactly what we got in MMP a good few years later. I still think mine was better, but then - and now - anything would be better than going back to FFP.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Over the Tasman

I’m all out of blog at the moment. We had a great three weeks in Australia and our three Murder Mystery Evenings were a great hit and raised nearly $5000 for various charities, thanks to a huge amount of effort by the locals in Canberra and Sydney As well, we had an interesting and relaxing time doing some very different things from home. It was good to spend time with the Aussie rellies and to see some new parts of the countryside in NSW.

Coming home was bound to return us to the problems with our old No 1 computer. Its replacement was almost ready for duty. But Windows 7 was not happy with the most important programs I use and getting printers to run with them has been a nightmare. Lots of my most commonly used applications and systems have died. Not surprisingly, it will be some time before everything is running reasonably well. So things are a bit stressful around here at present. However, as the fellow said after accidentally swallowing a peach stone, This, too, will pass. It’s just an uncomfortable process.
And by the way, if anyone still hankers after getting NZ wages up to Aussie levels, they had better price a few local commodities and look at basic wages in that country before making a commitment. We expected things to be dearer but, in some supermarket areas, costs were well above what we might have expected. And the price of prosperity in tearing resources out of the ground has yet to be calculated. The grass, or what is left of it after droughts and floods and fires, is not all that greener on the other side of the Tasman fence.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Flying the Flag

In the last few weeks of seeing flags of twenty nations all over the place – even permanently painted onto the pavement in our town! – I have been reflecting again on our country’s aspirations about a national flag.

The fact that Australia blatantly copied ours a century ago doesn’t mean that both nations should hang onto a dated design forever. It’s time for a change, and this 2005 competition winner by Kyle Lockwood still seems to me to be one that we could have proudly waved alongside the others. It has just the right balance of the traditional and the imaginative.

There were two embarrassing moments at a Jetboat Sprint competition in Idaho a few years ago. The Australians won and had to do a winners' circuit with their big flag and there was quite a lot of discussion between Kiwis and Aussies as to which flag was which. The selection was eventually agreed and off went the winners for the victory lap. However, halfway round, the flag caught on their hot exhaust and burst into flame. As if this weren’t embarrassment enough in USA, where burning the flag is a real no-no, it was later discovered that everyone was wrong. The Australians had flown – and set alight – the New Zealand flag.

I know it's not the most important issue in the country today. But let’s at least keep the discussion going.

Monday, October 31, 2011

MMP and all that...

In thirty years of “Fixed Past the Post” parliamentary elections I never failed to vote. But none of my votes ever had the slightest chance of making any difference. It just happened that I always voted in an overwhelmed minority or an outright majority. Indeed, I felt that my contribution could make so little difference that one time when Paul was studying the election at Intermediate School I took him into the booth and he did it.

Only people who lived in marginal electorates could change anything. And the Electoral Commission, which set the electorate boundaries, sometimes had more to do with the outcome of subsequent elections than the voters. Tiny swings in voting made for enormous changes in the parliament and some outstanding leaders on both major sides lost their seats to much less competent aspirants. I hope that we don’t ever go back to “First Past the Post”.

My two bits’ worth is that we don’t need to abandon the Mixed Member Proportional system. It obviously needs some fine tuning. But basically it ensures that every voter can cast a vote that counts for something.

Any voting process which requires people to sort the candidates in order of preference asks a great deal more than some voters can hande. Indeed, about .5% of those who vote in Australia, where voting is compulsory, just go for the “donkey” vote, numbering the candidate list down from the top in numerical order.

Let’s tidy up MMP and give it a few more parliaments before we tinker with the whole system all over again. If you want to confuse yourself with all five options, they’re well laid out in

The Margin of Error?

I’ve just had my fourth phone call for a political poll. All of them in the dinner hour. One I just refused to handle and two I put on hold while I answered the door and when I got back they’d gone. Funny, that.

This last call I answered as well as I could about how I’d voted last time and various things. Then I found myself saying No to a series of questions about voting in Taranaki. I asked why was I expected to know about Taranaki and, after a lengthy pause—oh, dear, I’m sorry, we’ve made a mistake.

I was more than slightly concerned about this kind of “mistake” so I asked for a chat with the duty supervisor. Again, an apology was forthcoming and then I was assured that my responses would be discarded. That didn’t impress me too much, either.

What reliance can we place on results when the interviewers pick up the wrong question sheet or don’t know where their respondents live and then discard certain results on a cavalier basis?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

You saw it here first!

The short news piece on the Chapel of our Lady of Rugby the other night was no great surprise to members of our congregation.

Our parish’s last monthly newsletter featured the chapel in an editorial that asked whether God has favourites in the Rugby World Cup. Helen, who wrote it and found the lovely photos of the stained glass windows, did some more research by last Sunday when she was rostered to lead worship.

So we learned that the chapel was established in 1964 as a memorial to team members who died in an accident. It has become a shrine for visitors and has attracted gifts of mementoes of the game.

For those players whose Christian faith is a serious part of their life there must be some sense of satisfaction about their sport being honoured in this little building. It’s pleasing that it has not been overlooked in the current celebrations.

Go the ABs!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Go the ABs!

Yes, by all means. It’s about time we had our turn with the Rugby World Thingie.

But let’s not go overboard if we do manage to grab it. Let’s be sure that our celebrations do not detract from the achievement by resulting in discourtesy, damage, injury, or death.  

And if the unthinkable happens and our team goes slightly down at the end, let’s remember that winning and losing are facts of life. For every winner, there’s at least one loser. If that happens to us, the national psyche doesn’t need to be permanently racked.

We are already winners, just living in this great little country. We excel at all kinds of human endeavours. If this particular trophy isn’t ours just at this moment, let’s get on with doing those things which we do so well.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rena and the beach

It's been heartening to see the response of local people and officialdom to the disaster being strewn on the Bay of Plenty beaches.

I was disappointed to hear that, at first, volunteers were banned from the beaches, and then not called up after they registered their offers to help. So I'm really chuffed to hear that there's a big turnout of locals being actually used in the wretched task of scraping oil off their pristine coastline.

I think there's no end to the capacity of people to volunteer to meet a need. And, most of the time, I think we do pretty well in taking up their availability. Well done, everyone.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A load of rubbish

The news that the Auditor General is not too happy with the way Regional Councils are carrying out their anti-pollution duties doesn’t surprise me.
But adding Government representatives and a whole lot more bureaucracy isn’t the answer. Just do away with the Regional Councils. And the District Councils. And all the regulatory bodies that we have to put in place to keep them on some sort of common track. The whole system is an out of date hangover from the mid-19th century when communication was a little more difficult than it is today.
Let the national government manage water and sewage and pollution and all those things that affect everyone wherever they live in the country. Clean water is clean water, and sewage is sewage: there isn’t one version for Northland another for Wellington. Well, actually sometimes there is, but my point is there shouldn’t be - a national administration would be more consistent.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

To Dunedin again

In a month crammed with trips away from home we fitted in another week in Dunedin.

Of course it was great to be there for the 70th birthday of our friend Shirley. But the timing of this visit was around another show by the passionate Really Authentic Gilbert and Sullivan Performance Trust. Year by year they are working through the complete suite of G&S operas and this year is Utopia Limited.

We didn’t know much about this one, but we knew it would be well done As Gilbert’s sharp satire introduced controversial issues of the 1880s through the medium of Sullivan’s great music, we laughed and hummed along. But Gilbert’s swipes at big business, insolvency, the legal system and so on had an all too familiar ring about them.

My own particular interest was that one of his “Flowers of Progress” that were eventually found to be wanting was the introduction of County Councils - I couldn’t agree more! And the way that party politics can frustrate progress of every kind is a subtle 1880s joke that is illustrated daily in our nation’s life.

The opera was born of an uneasy relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan after the “carpet affair”. But its presentation last week demonstrated excellent cooperation between all involved. The Southern Sinfonia was rounded and robust but beautifully restrained when required by the totally competent and wonderfully costumed characters on stage. The result was a satisfying, amusing and thoughtful evening.

Thanks, everyone.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Thank you, Michael Dymond

Congratulations, Michael, on winning Letter of the Week in the NZ Herald last Saturday. I don't often repeat others' stuff but, with others, I have been so impressed with your carefully thought out and well presented statement I'm doing that this time:

New Zealand has been likened to Norway in areas of tolerance, human rights, near absence of corruption and so on. There is, however, one glaring difference, and that is income equality. Comparing the income of the richest 20 per cent with the poorest 20 per cent, the ratio is 3.9 in Norway and 4 in Sweden. In New Zealand it is 6.8, in Australia 7, and in the United States 8.5.

Inequality of incomes has a major influence on rates of social disease such as infant mortality, imprisonment rates, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and so on. Norway has a low index of health and social problems, while New Zealand is among the highest. Now, we are focusing on our embarrassing child abuse record.

New Zealand has failed for too many years to live up to the ideal of a good place to bring up children. We only try to tinker with the symptoms. It is time to address the underlying factor, inequality of income. Everything else flows from there.

Michael is a member of the NZ Methodist Liberal Society and is

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Ca Pros Report

Some friends who have been following my adventures with prostate cancer will know that I haven't had a measurable PSA test for three years. That is, until three months ago, when it re-appeared at 0.2, the lowest measurable reading you can get.

We didn't broadcast that a whole lot at the time. We thought it best to wait and see for another three months. But. given my two previous lively resurgences, we had some reason to expect that this might be the beginning of another steady rise.

However, this week's reading is exactly the same: 0.2. It seems that the combined therapy of Zoladex inplants and daily Casodex tabs are continuing to starve the cancer. When you're ticking off your life by three-monthly tests, this is pretty encouraging.

But, of course, we actually should be ticking off our lives day by day, not quarter by quarter. We should be making the most of every day, every moment, For we never know what lies around the corner.

Today we will live for today. Well, perhaps we had better live for next Sunday, since I have one of my infrequent appearances as worship leader... And there is the parish newsletter... And Bev keeps reminding me about the shabby state of the garden... And...  oh, heck, let's get out in the sunshine with a book...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thinking Ahead

Bev and I have been using the Thinking Ahead workbook.
We were prompted by the excellent article "Going Gentle into that Good Night" in the LISTENER a few weeks ago. That put us in touch with the publishers of Thinking Ahead.
We found it really stimulating and helpful.

So far, we have completed a three page statement about questions that may come up after I have gone. With my history of prostate cancer we think that perhaps I am a bit more temporary than Bev. But who knows? So we will do a statement for her, too. And these statements will be handed to family members and professional carers and anyone else involved or interested in our end of life issues.
Over the years I have seen many bereaved families arguing about "What X would have wanted" when they were arranging X's funeral. My view is that the funeral is for the mourners, not the person who has died. So I like the fact that Thinking Ahead does not produce a binding, legal document that must be obeyed. But I found it very helpful to think on issues such as :-
  • Do I want life support just for the sake of extending life?
  • In my last days would I prefer to be at home or in professional care?
  • Do I have issues of faith and spirituality which I would like taken into account?
  • What would I prefer to happen to my body?
  • Who do I want to be my end-of-life advocate, to speak for me after I have gone?
    Of couse, we have given each other Enduring Power of Attorney over the legal matters of health and welfare and property. But these will operate only while we are alive. Thinking Ahead went further and prompted us on a range of more personal issues. And it helped us have good conversations on what will be life and death issues for us both.

    We recommend it warmly, if only for that reason.
  • Saturday, August 13, 2011


    We’ve been all over the place the last few weeks. The reappearance of my PSA a couple of months ago has not greatly influenced our priorities but this last month we have done some things we’ve been talking about for years.
    We have –
    -presented our Murder Mystery “Death by Cooperation” at St Austell’s Cooperating Parish in New Lynn…
    - attended grand-daughter Lauren’s 21st - she just back from six weeks in Scotland and Europe…
    - travelled on the Overlander train to Wellington – absolutely loved it…
    - relocated a Wellington rental motorhome back up to Auckland via Taranaki. Only $5 a day plus fuel but the diesel cost more than the train tickets!
    - flown to Christchurch and entered into a little of that lovely city’s earthquake tragedy – stayed with grandson Tim and grand-daughter-in –law-elect Casey in their cosy flat…
    - travelled on the Tranzscenic train to Greymouth and back to Christchurch – fantastic golden-blue day with snow on the ground at Arthur’s Pass…
    - been out on the glass-bottomed boat at Goat Island – fascinating, and a great advertisement for marine sanctuaries…

    The problem with all of these trips is that each one involves four hours’ driving each way to Auckland before we actually start anything else. It’s the price of living in such a stunning part of the world, I guess… We won’t be able to stay forever. But, then, nothing is forever, is it?

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Free Trade and the Small Church

    I was astonished to hear last week that within a few years NZ could have a free trade relationship with half the world’s markets– in terms of Gross Domestic Product. We are already signed up to more than a quarter. No other nation enjoys such wide access to other countries’ markets.

    The superficial reason wasn’t spelled out but it is pretty obvious: we are such a small part of the international market that free trade with us is unlikely to do great damage to any larger partner. When Australia entered into Closer Economic Relations with NZ 25 years ago they thought they had not much to lose. The same is no doubt the case with China, with whom we have signed, and India, with whom we seem to be about to do a deal. Trade with us will always be an unbalanced affair.

    But hearing the complaints of the US beef barons and the Queensland apple growers reminds us that even our modest market carries some weight. Happily, the evident threat is matched by the skills of our negotiators and our economy will benefit greatly from increasing free trade around the world.

    I think there’s some encouragement here for the small church. Again and again I find that the small church punches above its weight. I believe we should encourage more of them to develop structures that meet their unique situations instead of conforming to traditional expectations of church.

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    Hullo to our Canterbury Friends

    You may know that I am not a slave to the latest craze but "chipping in for Christchurch on 15th" seems a good idea, so here I am in red shirt and black trousers (No, Bev insists they are dark navy - I'm sorry if that means I've failed a basic criterion) saying hello to our friends in Christchurch.
    Our Bay of Islands Parish membership of a couple of dozen has now contributed nearly $6000 to Earthquake Appeals - mainly to the church social service missions. We received two or three large gifts from individuals and a lot of smaller ones. Some of you know that last year we had a benefit show of Dave's murder mystery dinner DEATH IN THE BAY. This raised about $1500 with free dessert and coffee provided by Paihia Pacific Resort Hotel, our friendly church neighbours.

    There is much ongoing concern in our little community. We think our people will have more to send yet. But we know that, although most of our personal friends have not been greatly affected themselves, the ongoing stress for the whole of Canterbury is huge. We don't have words that will make it easier for you who are closer to it and may have to carry some of the heat of others' discomfort. But we do think of you and your friends and neighbours and the enormous challenges ahead of you. And we send you all our very best love.

    Bev and Dave

    Heart of the small church

    Bev and I attended an unaccustomed presentation from a chief economic advisor to a major bank yesterday.

    As he listed the half dozen shocks that the NZ economy has taken in recent years he said that what was needed was not some tinkering with the bits and pieces of the economy. What was required, he said, was a completely new DNA.

    The rest of his talk was full of statistics and details, some of them frightening, some encouraging, but the gist of it was that recovery for this country will be a long, slow haul and will need some serious commitment from people at every level.

    Throughout his recounting of our wayward financial affairs the elephant in the room was the word greed. He didn't use it once, but it was there.

    We are still thinking about the implications of his talk for our personal financial affairs. But those three insights come back to me when I think about our small congregation.

    • The small church needs a different kind of DNA from any other church; it has to be wired differently, to develop a distinctive character. It is not a small church pretending to be a big church. It is what it is, with the people is has.

    • The small church needs to be in it for the long haul; there is not quick fix that will change its situation or suddenly grow its membership.

    • The small church member needs to remember that the church is not there to fill one's own needs, but to serve the needs of others both inside and outside the membership.

    Usually, we in the church like to tell society how it should be. Today, I learned something from the secular world of economics that told me something about how the small church might be.

    Tobacco Advertising

    Well, it’s great to see that we are now taking tobacco issues seriously. No visible retail displays is a good step. Increased taxes make sense. Encouraging people to quit is creative. Denying smoking in prison will be a challenge. But, with these steps, we will all be better off in the long run.

    But when will Government take a similar stance on the most costly and damaging recreational drug of all? When will we raise the taxes on alcohol to begin to cover some of its unbelievable costs? When will we package alcohol to make people think before buying it? When will we limit the sales of alcohol to times and places and purchasers that are more appropriate than at present?

    The time will come when the community will say “We’ve had enough”. Apparently, that time is not yet. But who knows when “the tipping point” will be reached?

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Tai Tokerau - or?

    It's the Tai Tokerau by-election this weekend so the name comes up quite a bit. In a few minutes of TV this morning I heard the Maori name of the region where I live seriously mis-pronounced on every occasion it was spoken by five different people.
    I guess I don't want to join a protest march over it, and I realise we don't pronounce Paris the way the French do. And Tai Tokerau isn't in the list of 100 Maori words every Kiwi should know.
    But we live in the land of Te Reo. Is it too much trouble for broadcasters and Parliamentarians to get to grips with the very simple rules of pronunciation of an important Maori noun in the context of a Maori election?
    Language is part of what makes a people what they are. Language can be a way of respecting what other people are. That didn't happen this morning...

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    A day in the rain forest

    A few days ago we rode the Rainforest Express through part of the Waitakere Ranges. Fenton was our guide, shoulder-length dreadlocks and all, and he and the driver gave us an amazing experience.

    This 24 inch guage track was a remnant of 19th Century logging tramways and was re-established about 1923 to build the Upper Nihotupu dam for Auckland’s water supply. In 1998 it was rebuilt a second time to provide a small tourist trip into the ranges. There are ten tunnels, nine bridges and the very impressive Quinn’s viaduct. We saw cave wetas at arm’s length and a great display of glow-worms. At the 7km terminus we had a picnic under the shelter and climbed 160 steps up the face of the dam, returning back down the much easier footpath.

    The Rainforest Express is a greatly under-rated half-day excursion, probably bested in this country only by the unique Driving Creek railway near Coromandel. We support the Bay of Islands Vintage rail because that, too, is a great visitor trip, imbued with history.

    In these days when the great steam trains are no longer common, these tiny trains give us the opportunity of experiencing a different kind of mobility, different views of the environment, and more intimate relationships with our fellow travelers.

    In a way they’re a kind of metaphor for the small church. It runs on a different scale, it has a different style, and its people develop close relationships in their common journey.

    Tuesday, May 31, 2011

    Charitable Churches?

    When I saw Nick Smith’s piece in the Business Herald last Friday my immediate thought was to dash off my own answer to the question Should Churches be Charities? I’d have said, No they shouldn’t. Nor should they get relief from property rates and charges.

    Then I read the rest of his intemperate, prejudiced and ill-informed article and I posted a reply saying he’d lost my sympathy for his cause. Perhaps I was a bit intemperate myself, as my post hasn’t appeared.

    But Nick has put his finger on an issue: if only he had separated charitable works from worship. If churches are active in charitable works they might well earn tax and rates privileges from a grateful State for their contribution to society. The Charities Commission still thinks so. But, should these privileges extend also to the facilities for public worship for a very small minority of the community? As a general rule, I think not. I can’t see why the State should support the religious choices of individuals.

    Of course, rebuilding Christchurch cathedral will command wide public support. It is a public facility and should again become a focus for tourism and local sentiment as well as a place of worship for a few dozen. But perhaps our little congregation in Paihia should one day have to learn to live without subsidies from the public purse...

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011


    This morning’s Business News on Breakfast reported significant falls in share market indices all over the world. Economic collapses in various European countries were noted as factors in the sudden lack of confidence.

    The report went on to talk of falling prices for commodities and ended with the words “even New Zealand is coming under attack”.

    Ever-smiling Petra immediately responded from the anchor armchair: “Fantastic!”

    Yeah, well, we probably know what she meant - but we heard what she said...

    Earthquake Tax?

    Thank you, Brian Easton, for spelling out so clearly that the government intends that the cost of the Christchurch rebuild be carried more by the “poor, weak and vulnerable” than the more fortunate. (NZ LISTENER May 14 2011)

    I’m no economist, but even I can understand that paying for the Christchurch rebuild out of a specially raised tax would come hardest upon those who pay most tax. And paying for it out of the consolidated fund while at the same time reducing “Working for Families, benefit entitlements, support for students and the Kiwisaver subsidy will eventually reduce the incomes” of the most vulnerable in our communities.

    Brian Easton says: “I leave it to you to decide whether that is a good thing.”

    Thanks, Brian; I have decided and I am not happy with the Government's decision.

    Meet Brian Easton

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    What price our carbon footprint?

    This week we have had four trees taken down. One was a wildling that had gone mad on our fragile terrace, one was encroaching on our driveway and the other two had got far too big for the places they’d been planted. Two absolutely dominated the street as you drove down towards our place.

    I had it done with a heavy heart. I had supposed that they absorbed enough C02 to compensate for some part of our human lifestyle. But I went to the internet to check on the facts. One calculator suggests that our home creates about 25 tonnes of C02 a year and that would need 120 trees. Taking out four didn’t make our situation a whole lot better.

    But down the bank we have got another few dozen which we regard with a new respect.

    All soft and furry…

    We’ve been enjoying watching some of our 1997 trip video while transferring it to DVD.

    Yesterday we recalled captivating sequence of a squirrel building a stash of winter food in Canada. He was bounding backwards and forwards about eight metres from a small source of good stuff to a hole in the ground. He seemed to carry just one item at a time and carefully nibbled at each one to check it was OK. He then spread leaves over the cache and tamped them down. It was irresistible viewing for Kiwis who never see a squirrel at home, especially as the action was just outside Doug’s window.

    The same day I opened our compost bin and right on top was another soft, furry creature about the same size but lacking the bold bushy tail. Bright eyes. Twitchy nose, I think, but I hardly noticed I slammed the lid down again so quickly.

    I’ve heard squirrels described as vermin in their home countries but they seemed really cute to us. Perhaps someone can see beauty in the large swamp rat that has taken up residence in our compost bin. But we will set a trap…

    Saturday, April 30, 2011

    Singing a new song? Oh, dear, no...

    I’m taking a service tomorrow and we are going to read a hymn. The words are just right but the tune will be completely unknown and too difficult even for the music readers among us. The sense of the words will be lost in the struggle with the music.

    It's a shame. Hymns are to be sung. Singing is one of the distinctive things about worship. If I made the decision to read this one tomorrow with a heavy heart, my frustration has been somewhat lifted by the memory of a service I attended in a sister church in Australia recently. There was not one thing I could sing in the entire 75 minutes. Everything was quite foreign to me.

    I remember our Principal at Trinity College, in reflecting on the possibility that heaven and hell are what you make them yourself, once told us whimsically, “An angel would take something of heaven if she were sent to hell. And the worst reprobate would hate being transferred to heaven – he wouldn’t know the tunes!”

    I think I can sympathise. I hope our worship tomorrow will match up some vigorous and tuneful singing with some thoughtful and inspiring words. We may not be quite good enough for heaven – or bad enough for hell, perhaps – but we will try to uplift each other in our singing.

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    Head and Hands in the LSM congregation

    Recent tensions in our small parish have highlighted for me the issue of the relationship between the Parish Council and the Local Shared Ministry Team. I've always argued for separation. It has seemed to me that the Council (the head) discusses policy and makes a decision; the Team (the hands) take the lead in carrying it out. Of course, one or two team members might be on the Council but, generally, the roles of the two bodies are separate and distinct. It's a good distinction. Our own difficulties were made worse some time ago when one Team passed a "resolution" opposing a management decision that was being made. They were seen by some to be intruding on others’ business. However, when the parish membership is very small, it is simply not practicable to have two or three separate bodies making decisions around the same mission and ministry. Perhaps the very small congregation could have a Calling for a team which would also exercise the powers of the Council. I wonder if this has been tried and found effective anywhere else in the LSM setting?

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Misdirected enthusiasm

    In Orewa recently we saw at least a thousand godwits flying south along the beach, presumably to assemble at Miranda prior to their autumn migration to the northern hemisphere. I am always filled with wonder that they know how to do it.
    In the Australian National Botanic Garden last week I encountered some other birds who knew what they had to do and were diligently doing it. There was a galah industriously hollowing out a nest site in a tree; a red-browed firetail finch carrying a feather as big as himself; and an immature male bower bird dancing among blue bottle tops and little bunches of twigs in the makings of a bower.

    They were all quite magical encounters.
    All three birdswere doing what their instincts told them to do for courtship and mating, nesting and raising young. But they were all doing it at the wrong time. Somehow, their internal clocks told them that after long heavy rains, the bright sunshine must mean it was that time of the year when all thoughts turn to love. However, Spring is months away and there will be a hard Canberra winter to endure before it comes.
    It’s just as well that the godwits have a more reliable sense of the day when they must head out on their long ocean migration. I suppose the lesson for me is that, for some things, there is a season that is right. It is important for me to be living in that moment and not in some other time, no matter how much I am enjoying what I’m doing.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011


    Three really enthusiastic people offered impressive testimony at the Select Committee Hearing on the Alcohol Reform Bill I attended recently. They spoke with passion about a high-morale new company they are responsible for. It employs 200 keen workers in South Auckland – may of them Maori or Pasifika – and is marketing a whole range of new products that are commending themselves in the market. It all sounded like great news.
    But, ah! These people are turning out the new RTDs (Ready to Drink) products which are designed to make alcoholic products more palatable (“No, they don’t have more sugar than other drinks” – Yeah, right!) and sold in all kinds of brightly coloured packaging. From “alco-pops” such as Cola mixed with quite substantial amounts of alcohol to sophisticated ready-mixed cocktails, these drinks are designed to make alcohol more interesting, more varied and more “more”. Indeed, the cynical among their critics are convinced that these products are deliberately targeted at people too young to be permitted to purchase them.
    The proud manufacturers noted that many critics felt that such drinks should be banned, or at least more clearly marked, or sold in less persuasive packaging, or more heavily taxed to raise funds for the damage they caused. But, “Don’t pick on our niche in the market,” they protested, “Apply the same limitations to all alcohol products.”
    Well, I hope that the government does that much at least. And I’m sad that such a live-wire group of executives are finding new ways of promoting sales of what, if it were just invented, would be a Class B drug.

    Time for Lunch in the Select Committee Hearing

    Over recent years I have attended a number of local sessions of the Environment Court or the Liquor Licensing Authority. These events usually convened at about 10am and sometimes adjourned for a half hour tea break and later took lunch around the middle of the day, even if a late schedule meant that some of us had to wait around during the lunch hour which once or twice extended to more than two hours.
    The Hearing on the Alcohol Reform Bill worked in a different style. It convened at 9am and worked through without a stop until well into the afternoon. Every fifteen minutes or so a different individual or group had the full attention of the five Members of Parliament.
    Continuous tea and coffee were provided and people helped themselves. But the schedule ran over an hour late and after my contribution the lunch break was taken around 2pm. I wondered if they were finished for the day. It seemed late to be taking a major lunch break.
    But lunch break it was, though not like anything I’d experienced before. “Can everyone be back here in fifteen minutes?” asked the Chair. Some opened packed lunches on the desks where they sat.
    I have heard about our “hard-working” Members of Parliament. It was instructive to see the level of discipline which people from various parties put themselves under yesterday so that people like myself could have our say.
    They may not accept my earnest suggestions but I am grateful that the “System” put in so much effort to listen.

    Thursday, March 3, 2011

    The "Paihia Migration"

    In the middle of our national tragedy, life goes on. For me, tomorrow, it’s a rushed trip to Auckland to speak to my submission on the government's proposed Alcohol Reform Bill. From memory I think I ended my lengthy document with the comment that what needed to be reformed was the Bill itself. I think it is woefully inadequate to meet its own declared objectives.

    My spoken submission will be just about the Paihia Migration of four years ago. At one end of town we have over 1000 visitor beds in one block, 450 of them in just one short street of backpacker accommodation. In that street there are no less than six licensed drinking establishments, presumably targeting the backpacker community. Not a bad idea, you might think, to keep them all together in one place.

    However, in the CBD, some 750 metres away was a large party bar in which over 200 were known to have crowded at once. It enjoyed extended hours to 3am. But the Kings Rd bars all had to close at 1am. So about 12.45am in the high season we might see as many as 350 people, straggling along the beachfront road to another two hours of licensed alcoholic enjoyment. And then after 3am most of them stumbled back again to their beds. More slowly. That’s what I dubbed the Paihia Migration.

    The noise, the fights, the accidents, a death or two, the rubbish – including human wastes of three different kinds – eventually so sickened the locals that 55 of them turned up unexpectedly at the Hearing to renew the 3am extension for the party bar. They didn’t say a thing; they just sat and watched – after the Hearing was shifted to another venue to make room for the extended public gallery. Months later, the extension was withdrawn.

    The point of my submission tomorrow is that local neighbourhoods should have more say in the numbers and kinds of licences that are issued for their communities. No two communities are exactly alike and some have very special, almost unique, circumstances which require special provisions. Also, thought it may surprise some of the lawmakers, quite a few local people have some ideas about how to manage their local situations. Let’s give them more room to contribute.

    Saturday, February 26, 2011

    Our small church and the big disaster

    Of all the terrible images that have been appearing on TV while I have been trying to put together our parish newsletter this week, this one has made a huge impression on me. I know this Christchurch city landscape well, both viewed like this from the Port Hills and from the many times I flew myself over it in the 1970s.
    The rising cloud of dust almost completely obscures the business centre of our country's second largest city, with its fascinating blend of buildings Victorian and modern, utilitarian and graceful, sacred and secular. All kinds of structures have suffered indiscriminate damage in the moments before this photo was taken.
    And while this awful cloud was rising over the dying CBD, all kinds of people died: young and old, white collar and blue collar, wonderful and ordinary. Some were snuffed out in a moment; others lingered for hours and perhaps even days before rescue or merciful death relieved them.
    In view of the immense losses of life and property it seems obscene to be preoccupied with news about the bits and pieces of life in our little parish. But the people of Christchurch know they have to pick themselves up out of the rubble and move on. And we in the Bay, who are more vulnerable to tsunami, landslips and fire than we care to admit, also have to get on with the everyday stuff.

    So the newsletter went out last night. Even in appalling death and disaster, life goes on.
    Live yours well, friends.

    Friday, February 25, 2011

    Earthquake in Christchurch

    The disaster in Christchurch beggars belief.

    All New Zealand has known that there would be a Big One one day. If we were trying to predict which major city in NZ would get it we wouldn’t have put Christchurch far up on the list. Until last September.

    Then, we told ourselves, well, it was a once in a hundred years event so perhaps that was the one we have waiting for since Napier in 1931. And we gave thanks that the losses in Christchurch were almost only of property and possessions. A devastating blow to the city, but at least no major loss of life.

    Now, Christchurch has been hit again. At the worst possible time of day and with a ferocity out of all proportion to the technical size of the shake. And it will probably be weeks before around 200 worldwide families hear the worst possible news.

    Such are the ways of inscrutable Nature. We all live under the shadow of the end. Right now I am rejoicing in a report indicating my prostate cancer has been unmeasurable for another three months. That’s very encouraging - but it's kind of temporary. Another three months it may be different.

    However, my life could also be changed in an instant by a tsunami, a hillside slip or a bushfire on our lovely hills. After this week, I am again reminded that I am a temporary citizen on this fragile planet.

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    Ah, Nostalgia!

    After church on Sunday we celebrated Tui’s 80th birthday and viewed a set of slides she’d put together on her life.

    One shot was of her and two of her family on their favourite rock at a remote waterfall. She told us that she went back after 50 years to re-live that moment. The access was much more difficult than she remembered and, while the waterfall was still there, it wasn’t as impressive as it had seemed in memory. Worst of all, the sunny slope where three teens used to meet and share their intimacies was completely covered by a huge overgrown log that had jammed itself in the rocks.

    People in small congregations know well that once the decision is made for Local Shared Ministry instead of the luxury of a paid minister, nothing will be exactly the same again. To try to revisit or recapture the past can be a discouraging and pointless exercise.

    Saturday, February 19, 2011

    Variety Bash 2011

    Variety – the fun way to help Kiwi kids – is coming to Northland. A whole bunch of madcap crews will drive an assortment of old vehicles from Bay of Plenty to Bay of Islands in seven days. There will be competitive driving – of a sort!, a lot of waterfighting, and plenty of shaking of cans for donations. Along their uproarious route, Bashers will present cheques to children and children’s organisations.

    For their dinner/overnight stop at Omapere on 9th March, 160 Bashers are going to participate in our new Murder Mystery Death in the Bay. This will be the largest show we’ve ever managed. And they’ll probably sit down to dinner in a different mood than most of the rather sedate church groups who’ve enjoyed Death by Cooperation.

    Some Bash “characters” are lined up as suspects and the show promises to be a riotous event for all concerned. After half a century leading public worship and other rather formal affairs, I’m finding there’s a totally different feel about taking up the role of entertainer as Det Chief Supt Holmes and making people cudgel their brains or laugh their heads off.

    It’s going to be a fun way for Bev and me to say Thank You to the Bashers who do so much to help Kiwi kids.

    NOTE: Since 1989 Variety Club has distributed $12 million to children’s charities in New Zealand.

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    Goodbye, Iris Gray

    We've just heard that Iris has died in Melbourne in her 90th year. Respected and loved by our Paihia congregation for ten years, she was recently persuaded that she should return to Australia to be closer to her family. It wasn't an easy move, but she settled in quickly and didn't look back.

    A private person, she neverthless held very firm views on many matters but never gave offence in offering them. She played a full role in our church's life, as she had in other congregations. She left at least one church because she disagreed strongly with their beliefs but, somehow, our diverse viewpoints were not as powerful as the warmth of our fellowship and she just stayed.

    She declined to play our organ or to sing a solo but she loved our congregational singing. Some of us discovered that, while having three small children in the mid-1950s, she was professional organist and soloist with Auckland's Civic Theatre and later head-hunted to go to the State Theatre in Melbourne. Here she performed for the movies eighteen times a week until TV brought about the end of that cinema. She was one of only two women in the world who performed in this way. The family remained in Australia and she came back to NZ only for her last years.
    Iris gave pleasure to countless thousands during her professional life at the great Wurlitzers. And in her later years among us she brought charm and inspiration to our little congregation in an insignificant corner of the world. Under the spotlight or in the pew, you were true to yourself and to your faith. We salute you.
    Iris's own interesting account of her professional life is on

    Sunday, January 30, 2011

    We were blessed indeed...

    When we were thinking about our last worship roster, we found that one of our regulars had obtained work involving weekends and another was taking a few months’ “time out”, There was some panic for a moment. Then Heather held up her hand.
    Heather is one of our “godwits” – a retiree who visits us for about half of each year from Scotland where she’s a long-time member and elder in her local church but never led worship. Today she took her first service. She shared a little of her distinctive church tradition with us, she gave us some strong hymns of worship – and, of course, a metrical psalm – and she confided her delight that the lectionary for today led her into some meditation on three of the Beatitudes.
    These were, she said, not so much challenges for our future life as expressions of our present life in Christ. We were invited to relate them to our experience and simply embrace them. Trusting in God, sorrowing over the world’s shortcomings and producing right relationships were all relevant themes for us.
    It was a thoughtful and worshipful service. Of course, Heather brings a lifetime of experience of worship under other leaders. She has a sense of what is or is not appropriate. But more than that, her relaxed and confident style was a comfort to those of us who were having butterflies on her behalf - we didn’t need to bother. A good congregation of locals and a couple of visitors lingered for an hour after she left for Russell. All commented favourably on what her first service had left us.
    This is what Local Shared Ministry is all about. Members of the congregation take responsibility for the work. It’s not a matter of “helping the minister” as one of our UK visitors seemed to describe it to me this morning. The issue is that if there is to be a congregation here it will be because we who turn up on Sundays will see to it. Nobody owes us a service; nobody has to create theology for us; nobody needs to daily check that we haven’t gone off the rails; certainly nobody has to send us some funds to keep the show going.
    The mission is ours, and we will do it.

    He mahi na Uetahi, e hokia - The work is Uetahi's and he will do it (he can be relied on to complete it).

    Saturday, January 29, 2011

    The Yellow Sea and the Mangroves

    There was a sea of yellow mud between us and Russell yesterday. Flash floods in the hills always bring down some mud but in twenty hours we had 250mm of rain and the run-off fouled the whole of the inner Bay. I have never seen it as extensive as that.

    Even if it weren’t for all the discharge from septic tanks and farmland around the Bay there would always be some colouring of the sea after such a deluge. In time past, the mangroves would have filtered and greatly reduced the run-off and gently separated the contending forces of sea and land. These days, the mangroves are overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the problem.

    I have suggested that the church in the north is rather like the mangroves – standing between two different spheres and trying to moderate their interaction. Sometimes, it, too, gets overwhelmed by circumstances or the sheer size of the task.

    Well, I know that the view outside my window will turn from yellow-brown to blue over the coming hours and days. The winds will bring brighter days and the tides will eventually flush the suspended mud from the sea. I have to believe that the same cleansing actions of the Spirit will be active in regularly refreshing the life of the church.

    "Freedom" Camping?

    I’m on both sides of the mobile home park debate.

    As an on and of
    f caravanner of half a century I have many times wanted to find a cheap, secure overnight site for a few hours. It is expensive and frustrating to have to pay $40 for a parking place for an overnight sleep-stop of just a few hours. But as a ratepayer in a tourist centre, I am well aware of the problem for local communities and businesses when choice public land on our beaches and forests is turned into private campgrounds.

    Given the horrific mess created by some “freedom” campers I am now deciding that it should be banned. I suggest that the Department of Conservation, in cooperation with District Councils and the camping industry should be given a mandate to devise a complete chain of minimal facilities on enclosed sites involving -
    • Overnight stops available from not before 8pm and to be vacated by 10am
    • Cold water showers, toilets and dump stations but no other facilities.
    • Security camera coverage, where possible.
    • A country-wide standard fee of about $8 for two people, only available by self-booking.
    • A consistent marketing image throughout the country.

    Such sites could be adjacent to existing holiday parks and camp sites or created on completely separate premises. There should be no requirement for residential supervision. Some existing operators might find this concept a useful extension to their present service. Access to fully equipped facilities, where available, should be only by way of additional entry fees.

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    On Teamwork

    I am just about the shut down the computer. In ten minutes we leave for Whangarei Base Hospital where am to have a “half-knee” replacement.

    Last time I was impressed by the sense of teamwork in the theatre block, from receptionist through to the last nurse who counted the bits and pieces afterwards. Each person had a specific job to do yet they worked together to complement and support each other.

    Apparently, though, there has been an exception. A survey last year reported that one in ten operations in this country hosts some kind of mistake, many involving the wrong operation or the wrong part of the body.

    The solution, it was suggested, was for more of the theatre team members to take responsibility for the whole drama and to challenge the surgeons if a mistake seemed to be likely to be made.

    Since I’ve already had one knee done, I guess I run no risk of coming out with the wrong knee operation today: “Hullo, the saw has jammed on a piece of titanium; what’s that doing in here?”

    But it gives me confidence that my overall welfare in the next three or so days is in many hands and, generally, they are taking responsibility to work together towards a common goal.

    That’s how Local Shared Ministry works in the small church.

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    More on leaders

    Some time ago I reported the loss, in a storm, of the central stem in our young kauri tree. I made the point that the tree’s chances of growing normally were greatly reduced.

    I also wondered if the tree would compensate by allowing one or more of the adjacent stems to take the central place. So it might have been a metaphor for Local Shared Ministry, where a small team of lay volunteers give a lead instead of an ordained and stipended minister.

    Today I checked the tree again and found that a bright green single stem is reclaiming the central position. The surrounding stems from the season before last are still in position but the new stem is already sprouting new sub stems.

    All of which may be great news for our little Kauri which seems likely to resume its normal shape. But is not a good metaphor for Local Shared Ministry. It is a reminder that there are always some members of a Local Shared Ministry congregation who would like the single central paid expert to return and prevail over the efforts of a team of volunteers.

    It’s not easy being a young Kauri in a challenging storm. Nor a Lay Ministry Team.

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    The Dining Room and the Small Church

    We stopped at a small country hotel for our meal a few weeks ago. The meal wasn’t bad but the service was. We waited half an hour for the only waitress, who was also managing the bar and attending to a few other dinner orders. Then we waited rather more than another hour for our meal although the place was not exceptionally busy.

    Raised voices from the vicinity of the kitchen hinted at some kind of communication problem. Then some shouting was followed by the dramatic departure of the person who was apparently in charge. With warm apologies the waitress confirmed that there were some relationships difficulties. But our meal still took some time to turn up.

    In a small establishment where only three or four people are doing everything there’s not much room for the luxury of storming off into the night if you get upset. Sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and hang in there.

    It’s the same in the small church, especially where leadership is diffused among a team of equals instead of residing in a paid professional. We all have people we warm to instinctively and others about whom we feel less comfortable. But in the team setting of the Local Shared Ministry congregation, personal feelings and even antagonisms are a luxury that we cannot afford to indulge in if the work is to be done.

    That’s how it is in the real world. That’s how it has to be in the small church.


    This morning, before anything else, I uploaded my submission on the so-called Alcohol Reform Bill.

    But not before the parliamentary website told me that the document I was trying up upload was entitled Hon Simon Power and authored by Doug Sellman, the ultimate protagonist for serious reform of our liquor legislation.

    I went off-line smartly and prospected around in the “properties” for my document. Sure enough, those details were there. So my submission would have had written all over it that I had borrowed something from Doug – or even been led by the nose to state his particular views. As if the 202 minutes I spent writing it weren’t enough evidence of my own efforts.

    Well, we learn something new every day. You can write and edit a document, but it apparently isn’t yours until you have dug around in Properties and written in your own name as its author.

    Or, perhaps, you could put in someone else’s. Is there a moral there, someplace?

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    Reform the Reform Bill!

    One of the last-minute priorities before I go into surgery in a couple of weeks is finalising a submission to the Parlimentary Select Committee on the Alcohol Reform Bill.

    I think they should change the name. This Bill will reform nothing, certainly not the unreformed drinking habits of our people. I am urging ten or so changes that are urgently needed if the Bill is to make much difference. You can see my submission on my home pages. But the important thing is, write your own. The government will have to listen to the voice of the people if it is loud enough. At the end of the day it is people who elect Parliament.

    Here’s how you can make your contribution. Send a letter or postcard with wording something like this:

    I support an end to -
     Ultra cheap alcohol, beginning with a standard price for a standard drink
     Highly visible alcohol, by restoring supermarkets to alcohol-free
     All alcohol advertising and sponsorship except objective product information
     Legal drunk driving, by reducing the adult blood alcohol level to at least .05

    Send your submission post-free to:
    Select Committee on Alcohol Reform,
    Private Bag 18888, Parliament Buildings, Wellington