Davids Blog

This blog covers matters of faith, or personal journey, of ministry and challenges. Feel free to send me comments where it resonates with you.

A time of remembering

09 Jun 2015

The Revd David Guthrie, writer, minister, and recorder of scripture and prayers, died in the early hours of this morning in the company of his family after a short illness with cancer.

His passing will leave a gap in the lives of many, yet the effect of his life and ministry lives on in the lives of his family, and the people he ministered to. There is much to be remembered, much to be celebrated, and the hope of a glorious reunion to come in the presence of our Lord Jesus.

The family would like to thank all who have sent messages of love and support over the recent weeks. While we may not be able to respond to you all, please know that hearing your stories has encouraged us.

hoping to get the services functioning soon.

05 Jun 2015



Update June 3rd 2015

03 Jun 2015

My apologies for not keeping the Daily Prayer files up to date but I have been unable physically to do anything this last week.

I continue to be in Auckland Hospital but hope to recover some strength soon.



30 May 2015

Although I am exeriencing exreme weakness, having to be fed like a baby, I am in fact feeling srtronger in myself. The medical issues are now such that the registrar this aferrnoon said the doctors and now considering the situation as a one in a million case "that will taked about inconfeences for years". It seems that all the specialist teams have become involved, with two preimlinary diogoses being quote scary. My family is at my bedside 24/7 to help me in the little tasks I can't do. I will be trying to keep up these blogs and perhaps meditaions not only teep you informed but the act of typing is helping to keep my fingers working. My voice has become so distorded that the dictate is no longer accurate enough.

Although my condition is no longer considerd a primary diagnosis, I am being treaed in the dermatogy ward, with wonderful baths and being wrapped up in hot towels - the sort of thing people people pay heaps for at a spa.The morning and evening office are my mainstys time without them, and I literally do not know how I could get through without them.


Facing reality

27 May 2015

I suspect that this may be the most difficult blog I may have to write. In the early hours of this morning I had to face the reality that the steady deterioration of my condition may lead to death. When things first started this way, I did ask the doctor where the bottom was and he was frank enough to say, death. At that time is not take it seriously, but now I must. I still think that the most likely outcome is recovery, but with every day marking a further downhill deterioration, it is time to face the real possibility of death.

This afternoon, I talked about this with my family and found they had already come the same place. We agreed together that there will be no pretence, no false assurances, no wishful thinking; that we would meet reality as it came, together and in faith. My wife's concern was that I had given up, but this is far from reality for me. With all my heart I want to live and recover. There is so much to live for, so much ministry that I want to do, so much love I want to go on living. To say, Your will not mine be done, is not a fatalistic acceptance of a path that leads to death but a complete trust in God's path, wherever that may lead.

In the middle of last night, I wrote the following notes in my journal.

1. Right up to death itself, I will continue to receive all the strength and grace that I need to meet each hour. I Lack nothing now nor will in the future.

2. That grace transforms everything, so that even if I die, my ministry will bloom and grow. It may even be that the work for God from me has finished and is now to be completed in my death.

3. Whilst I do not believe in any form of continuance of conscious life after death (remembering that time and space itself is part of physics and therefore is meaningless when taken out of the context of physics), I do have a sense of the reality of the universe as grace, where life transcends the limitations of space and time. My vision is that of absorbtion into the universe as grace and this vision fills me with a sense of wonder and glory. Death holds out no anxiety about judgement or exclusion. There is nothing to fear in death itself.

4. Death is necessary for life. To try to hold onto life at all costs is utter selfishness and all our longing for immortality for ourselves has lead to a self-centred and unconstructive religion. The self-pursuit of salvation is a denial not a fulfilment of the gospel. This is a the ultimate message ofJesus’ death, the very reverse of the way the church has portrayed it through the ages.

5. Of course I have my regrets, if in fact I am dying. I so want to see my grandchildren grow up. I want to do so much living with my wife.I want to finish my book. Then I remember that I have had more that 10 years longer than I should by rights have had, and much has happened in those 10 years that I celebrate. Back then, I could identify a set of goals I wanted to achieve in the time I had left. This time I am past that point, for every action now takes such effort and the deterioration is almost daily. And of course,I still wish for a complete recovery, leaving these dark days of pain and weakness behind me. But if that does not happen, it is not a defeat. Grace always triumphs.

So tomorrow, finally, I have been transferred to Auckland City Hospital for specialist treatment in the dermatology unit. There I will get the best medical treatment the country has to offer. It will be a new beginning.

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An interesting clinical experience

26 May 2015

Today I have been having a very interesting experience. Because my pain levels have risen, the amount of pain relief has been raised accordingly, and one of the effects of this is that, when I close my eyes (which I need to do a lot), I enter into a world of dementia unless I keep my mind focused on music. All reality becomes distorted yet it feels completely real, but scary, both within the experience and as I have in my eyes to see that the world is not as I thought it was. This afternoon for example, I lived in a world in which I fired off hundred gobbledygook emails, knowing they were completed and anxious and stressed out. Then my open my eyes and I didn't even have the computer on my lap.

In my years as a psychiatric chaplain, I worked constantly on the demented, this was the first time that I could see through the eyes, and feel the anxiety, almost bordering on terror at times, but it certainly eyes and the behaviour of those suffering dementia. When my heart rate was measured after this afternoon's episode, it was skyhigh. The dementing person feel so helpless, aware that everything is out of kilter yet unable to do anything about it. I began to the afraid even to shut my house that was my wife who called me tand I found I could shut my eyes and listen to the notes in the of music and the dementing did not occur.

It is certainly an interesting clinical experience, and that is the way I view it. I know this is not dementia but simply at the side-effect of pain relief. Seen as such, it becomes yet another grace-gift then enriches ministry.

Tomorrow I am being transferred to the Auckland City Hospital for more specialist treatment. My son has gone up in Canada, arriving in the morning, to add his support, particularly for my wife. For all the pain and the decline, nothing is shaking me from my deep conviction that this is a road God is was me, the road I must walk in faithfulness. I never cease to give thanks for the abundance of grace that I am receiving daily, even to this experience of seeing through the eyes of dementia.



25 May 2015

I have made changes to the offices, starting this morning. The first change is the introduction of the variation that omits the Old Testament. Behind this change lies the fact that very many people switch off the offices at this point, revolted by the genocidal and cruel God portrayed in the narrative from Joshua onwards. The book of Joshua was modelled on, word for word in places, the terror propaganda of the Assyrian Empire. The writing was designed to make populations terrified prior to the invasion and so meekly submit to the brutal Assyrians. The book of Joshua served the same purpose as the videos of beheadings serve ISIS today. Remembering that none of the story ever happened in history, and as there is little or no relationship with our understanding of faith through Jesus, little is served by including it in the liturgical readings. However, I do continue to provide the option.

The second change introduced today occurred spontaneously as I listened to the Romans reading. For some time, I've had in the back of my mind that I should publish the text of the reading, then this morning, I was gripped so powerfully by the opening chapter of Romans that I wanted to grab my Bible and see the text in front of me. So I have introduced the change whereby the text of the New Testament will be available alongside the lectionary references.

Next week there will be another change, this one forced on me. I have been unable to sustain the process of new recordings, the process taking me up to 20 hours a week, and I no longer have the energy or the voice to sustain that. I may be able to record special days and Sundays, but for the rest I have to resort to the old recordings. The major difference listeners may note is that the old recordings are a compilation of the various recordings I have made from Genesis label. These recordings have served well over a number of years and I'm sure will carry us through to the point when I can resume new recordings.

The upside of not spending so much time recording and processing is that I am able to give more time to writing my new book, which is coming along well but constantly expanding and scope.

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Through the cross

23 May 2015

My mind has turned on the Gethsemane scene. “Take this cup from me, but not my will but yours be done.”

I have a strong sense that what I am going through is a path God is leading me, even as the condition worsens and becomes more painful and debilitating. Part of me wants to cry out, ‘Lord, take this cup away from me’. I want to be healed; I want to be able run up stairs again, do all that I used to do.

But I also know with all my heart and soul that this is a creative place, a place of grace. So much of what it is happening in my life that would not be happening if I was in full health. I'm having discussions with visitors at unusual depth, online exchanges are likewise deep, and a time to meditate and to develop my book, listen to music and read. For all the outward condition, I was still affirm that life is good.

As for what lies ahead, there may be further stripping down of my life, for I don't know how much worse things will get, but what I do know is that, whatever the situation, it will remain creative, a place of grace. The central proclamation of the gospel is that salvation lies through the cross, which was for Jesus the ultimate stripping down and loss of everything. The crucifixion was for the disciples, the loss of everything. We call the day of the crucifixion ‘Good Friday’, the day of our salvation. Authentic spirituality lives through the path of the cross, the willingly embrace of losing everything. It is this that makes so much modern religion false and shallow.

When the place the two bodies of scripture, Old and New Testaments, in an order of composition, what emerges clearly is that the Old Testament revolves around the destruction of Jerusalem in the beginning of the six century BC, an event that caused the Hebrew people to lose everything, their god defeated, the nation lost, their identity about to be wiped and the culture gone. Everything written in the Old Testament ultimately revolves around this catastrophic event and how the people made sense of that. The witness of that Testament is that God created a new people, new community, and a radically new faith with a radically new understanding of God from out of this destruction of every value.

When we turn to the New Testament, we see the same pattern emerging. The crucifixion was the stripping down to nothing of all hope, all faith, the destruction of the community of the disciples. It was the end. The witness of the Testament is that from this destruction God created a new people, new community, and a radically new faith with a radically new understanding of God.

To me, this is what the scriptures witness to fundamentally. In the witness, they speak to my life now, but more importantly they speak to the growing crisis of humanity and in speaking, say that whatever the path that lies ahead, even if it appears catastrophic, that God's creative power is at work to bring new life, new community, a radically new faith and understanding of God.

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Low spirits

22 May 2015

I am in very low spirits. For the first time in this whole saga, I feel overwhelmed. The plan had me going home today, but now everything has got worse. The internal organs are coming under attack, I am developing cellulitis on my elbows and neck and can’t eat solids, so my hospital food, not the tastiest at any time, now comes with the consistency of baby food and is ghastly. Two teams of specialists have seen me today, together with the nutritionist, and I am here until at least Tuesday, and if there is further deterioration I will be transferred to the Auckland City Hospital and the full range of expertise available there.

Thank God for my music, which I have listened to all afternoon between drifting in and out of doze. I am listening now to trumpet concertos by Haydn, Telemann, Albinoni and Marcello. Earlier, Beethoven Violin sonatas and before that, a Bernstein symphony. Having my entire music collection at my touch is fantastic. Then, I can go to the internet radio and connect with any of hundreds of radio stations and just let them play. Thank God, too, I am back in a single room.

Just writing this blog has uplifted me. To know that I am not alone is tremendous.

I have posted my week’s sermon that is now available, hoarse voice, echoing room and internal mic all giving new colour. Whether I can manage a Pentecost address will have to wait and see what tomorrow brings. I hope to get a good night’s sleep in, and that tomorrow will bring a more positive outlook. I know I do not have to ask for your prayers.


What happens when we go public

21 May 2015

Something I have observed over the years is that the moment you go public about something, almost immediately the opposite occurs. You testify to the power of God in your life and the next moment you are spiritually dead in the water. Anyway, having written yesterday about the fundamental importance of sleep, 7 hours, and how I work to manage that, I had an almost sleepless night last night, one that included being moved into another ward room around 3am, and then not getting a wink from there on (one of the roommates talked incessantly on the phone until daylight and another called out repeatedly a prayer to die.) So today I am feeling completely wasted (though I am now back in a single room).

I am likely to be discharged today, and I’m almost desperate to get home.

The condition has now gone to my throat, making swallowing difficult, so this morning’s breakfast was porridge and puree. I am seeing the nutritionist today to address the whole diet and weight loss thing. I still give thanks, but it is becoming something of a shout into the darkness and I am deeply aware of the supportive prayer that surrounds me.

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Discplined life

21 May 2015

I have always striven to live a disciplined life, the importance of that has come home to me here in hospital. It would be so easy to just drift along. When I return home tomorrow with the strict injunction to rest, that also may lead to just drifting along. So I have practised a discipline in the hospital and it has worked for me.

The first stage of that discipline is to get at least seven hours sleep, for without adequate sleep nothing else works. Since I wake up early (between 4 and 5 AM), this means preparing for sleep in time. An important part of that discipline is allowing time for the Night Prayer, which I find tremendously important in moving into the time of sleep.

The day is structured around the two offices of morning and evening prayer, together with personal prayer and meditation. In the hospital, where one is woken in the early hours of morning to take blood pressure and other vital signs, I usually take my morning office at that time and sleep in a little later. What I have always found is that the offices roots me in being rather than doing, and also creates the connectedness with the wider church and the call to ministry. Whatever else happens, time in personal prayer, thanksgiving, intercession and opening self to grace takes priority over everything else.

The basic structure of the rest of the day is determined by planned periods of exercise, relaxation and rest. For everything else, the tasks stripped down to what is appropriate in this situation, I then carefully prioritise, and attend to them in the order of priority (unless circumstances override), which means that I always know what to do next. I rarely get far down my list of priorities, but knowing what the priorities are takes the anxiety and frustration out of the situation. In the Night Prayer, the word that always comfort me is that which says, "What has been done, has been done: what has not been done, has not been done. Let it go. “

Although there is no Rule of Life that shapes a disciplined life, applicable in all circumstances, I firmly believe that the fundamentals of adequate sleep, according the utmost priority to spirituality (and I firmly think that the offices form a critical part of that spirituality), and structured exercise and rest, with tasks carefully prioritised, has something universal to commend it. What this is saying, overall, is that being is more important than doing, and this is a reversal of our Western priorities. I think it represents a fundamental change in lifestyle that will need to happen as we move into global culture and find a way of sustaining human life on the planet.

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20 May 2015

I have spent this afternoon mostly listening to music and resting. Included in the music has been a number of hymns, and this turned my mind to an observation and I wonder whether others also have this experience. It has become common in so many other churches, particularly those that are appealing to young people, that the music for the liturgy is led by an upfront band, with microphones, drums and lead singers. My observation from a number of these churches is that all the energy lies in the band and the majority of the congregation are in fact passive. If the band's amplification is cut off, it really expose this passivity. The reality, in my experience, is that congregations sing much better given traditional hymns and a good organ backing. The best option for either choir or music group is not in the front but at the rear of the congregation, giving body to the singing and supporting the congregation, not entertaining it, as is the primary reality behind the upfront music group, however sincerely they think they are approaching their worship.

My other beef with the contemporary music scene is that all the music sounds the same. At a recent service that I was at, every song was sung with the same pace, to roughly the same rhythm, to words that were an endless variation on 'I love you Lord’, and we could have repeated the same song every time and not known any difference. In the last place I lived, when I went down for the Sunday bread, I will pass the hall where a service was being held, and once again I swear that every time I passed, Sunday after Sunday, they were always sing the same hymn. And people criticise liturgy as being boring! The treasury of music has been impoverished,not enriched by the outpouring of contemporary gospel music.

I'd love to know what others think.


From Kevin

I am inagreement with your observations of "contemporary" worship music.  I once heard some of these songs referred to as 7-11 songs:  the same seven words, sung 11 times.  I am in my church choir because I want to sing, not to be amused or distracted or annoyed by insipid pop tunes with religious sounding words.  That said, I acknowledge that this supposedly contemporary music speaks to some; and I would not deny them that.  

From David

I do agree that some contemporary music speaks to me, too, but then so does a host of other things, innocuous TV programmes , for example. And In certain modes I listening to rock gospel and enjoy. Every wave of generations produces a considerable quantity of music, only some of which it outlasts them. I was very much part of the wave of music generated at the height of the charismatic movement in the 1970s and still have huge affection for that music, but would use little of it today in the liturgy. I think that what distresses me most is that those who are choosing music for the liturgy show little understanding of the liturgical context and what part the music plays in the structure of the liturgy. Over a previous year, I had a responsibility for choosing the parish music, a task I loved doing that would take me a full day to sort out a month’s music.

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Confusion resolved

19 May 2015

This afternoon I saw the specialist and the diagnosis of a medicinal reaction was confirmed, which means that the condition will pass. Good news indeed! It will take some months and I am instructed to rest totally, but there will be an end to this.

I want to reflect upon the nature of miracle. I do not believe that there is any form of miracle that overrides the natural order. If something is impossible in nature (given are provisional and limited understanding of nature), then God does not override nature. Yet life is full of miracles in every sphere and in every way. Everything is both miraculous and natural at the same time, not super nature imposed upon nature but nature seen through the eyes of grace becomes one single ongoing miracle. When I look at what has happened to me this afternoon, I can interpret it as a system of medicine working as it should, doing a and doing it well. This is viewing the nature of things within the physical sphere and this is appropriate and right, and is within this  sphere of God. Then I can take the same set of circumstances and see it through the eyes of grace and everything becomes an act of God, creative loving and caring, a miracle. We cannot combine these two ways of seeing but simply move from one to the other, each illuminating the other.

For me, the fundamental task of Christian living is this ability to move between these two ways of seeing, not trying to combine them in a single dogmatic stance but content to see each and every circumstance through asking different questions: the one question, physical: the other question, grace. Trust then becomes the key. In the physical realm, I place my trust in the medical team, even if at times they get things wrong. And so it is now for me. In the realm of grace, I put my trust in the care and love of God, knowing that whatever outcome arises from this event it will be a miracle of grace. It is from this trust that peace follows.


Confusion reigns

18 May 2015

There is now the agreement between the medical teams as to my diagnosis, so I don't know where I stand. There is a stark contrast between the two diagnoses: one says I will get better, the other says I have lifelong disease. All I can do at hold do at this moment is live in the present with how I am and let the medical people sort out what's going on.

I received communion from the chaplain this afternoon and felt powerfully both the sense of Jesus within me and the connection and communion with the wider church. It brought home to me once again the central importance of the sacrament. If it is true that we are what we eat, then taking the sacramental elements becomes who we are.

Despite the confusion over the diagnosis, I feel deeply and genuinely at peace.

The Gospel reading that the chaplain used in communion, from John 16, spoke of the disciples scattering as Jesus was arrested. As I listened, I tuned into the way in which so many people, local and from all around the world, have gathered around me, highlighting the difference that the cross has made.

This evening's (Monday) Old Testament reading is my favourite for all the year. It takes me back to my place in theological college, when this ruling dissolved the whole chapel in giggles. The whole Old Testament is worth it just for this one passage. Enjoy!

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More gifts of grace

17 May 2015

In prayer and the morning office (which I engaged in around 2 AM this morning), I experienced something that was quite new. I am struggling to process the implications of my new diagnosis, which naturally brings a focus on self. My prayer structure is a simple threefold one: thanksgiving, intercession, and opening my day to flow of grace.

 it is my rule that I do not make specific requests of God in intercession, for that always leads into the trap of wishful thinking and expectations that are rarely met. Always my intercession is one of opening the person or situation to the flow of grace. What was so different about last night was the experience of having the focus shift from myself to the needs of others.

This was strongly reinforced when then I turned to listen to the Sunday morning prayer and it’s opening Canticle, The Spirit of the Lord.

“The Spirit  of the Lord is upon me.
He has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted,
to bind up the broken hearted….”

These words cut deep, reinforcing what I had experienced in prayer.

After engaging in prayer and the morning office, I tried to get back to sleep. One of the side-effects of the condition is the disruption of sleep patterns, leading to sleep deprivation with all the problems that follow. So I made the determination to sleep until at least 5 AM, but getting off to sleep had become a problem. I put on music from my collection, but this didn’t work. Then I went to Internet radio, found the station the broadcasts baroque. I went straight to sleep and did not wake up until 6 AM, radio still playing gently. Yet another gift of grace.

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Music for the soul

16 May 2015

Today I received the last news I was expecting, that my diagnosis is not an allergy from which I will recover, but a condition for which there is no current cure, only management of symptoms. So I'm facing a major life change, not just a passing phase. I meditated on this after this evening's office, and the way the collects spoke to me and you will find facilitation either under today's page (/saturday) or in the meditation archive.(/meditation-archive)

In a sense I have been here before. 12 years ago I was diagnosed with cancer from which I was not expected to live. Over the months and years that lay ahead, I drew my strength from listening to music, not just as a pastime, but listening to what the music was saying to me about life and death. I wrote all that music into the novel that I wrote during that time, Walk the Edge. Now I'm finding much the same strength in music. This evening I was playing Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no 6 and at first it just flowed over me until halfway through the adagio the sheer beauty struck me and I was filled with a sense of that beauty and drew solace. Then when the final Allegro burst into life I felt the dance of joy. It was sheer wonder. A gift of grace. So I can see myself once again drawing on the treasure house of music to see me through this time. In effect, the gift of music is a fulfilment of the assurance in the collect that I quote in my meditation.

When I had my cancer, even with its likely outcome, I never once prayed to be healed. Used against all the physical odds, I was healed. Today it is the same. I know I am in God's hands and that even the way I am is a gift of grace. Whatever you do, do not pity me, rather rejoice with me for whatever happens, this is a creative road that I am walking.

When, 12 years ago, I faced the likelihood of my death, I took a look at my life and identified four priorities that I wanted to address in the time I had left. This afternoon, I went through something of the same exercise. Aside from family issues, my priorities are 2: to maintain this online ministry as long as I am able and to complete the writing of a new book that I'm working on that is seeking to see the way forward for Christianity. it is yet another gift of God that I can dictate the words: yet another fulfilment of the collect prayer.

It is yet another gift of grace that over the past few months a wonderful community, worldwide, has gathered around these online offices and though I know a few of you in person I feel the strength of his community and its love. I know myself to be richly blessed (even as I hobble to the bathroom).

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Back in hospital

15 May 2015

I am back in hospital. Please keep me in your prayers.


Changes to the Offices

14 May 2015

I have come to two conclusions about how I am going to present the offices. My current recordings take me out to Trinity Sunday, but at least the time being, the process of recording is difficult for my voice is losing its timbre and everything is very slow. So from Trinity onwards, at least for a time, I will return to using the old recordings, with fresh introduction and collects. Apart from the fact that the new recordings have been able to be made with higher quality equipment, the major difference is that the old recordings were a patchwork of the recordings that I have made for the Genesis Label, The Spoken Word, whereas the new recordings have all been done in a single session.

The other decision I have made is to offer two versions of the offices each day, one with and the other without the Old Testament reading. This will start after Pentecost. The Old Testament has from ancient times been problematic for the Christian community, but what is very different today is that we now realise that almost nothing in the Old Testament story has any root in any actual historic event. The first time that history and the Old Testament narrative come together is in the life of Jeremiah and the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Everything before that is just pious fiction. These stories were important at the time they were told: they were very literally salvation stories that enabled the Hebrew people to survive when their very existence was threatened. Their value to us today is highly questionable, and in so many respects counter-productive. The God of the book of Joshua is a genocidal monster. This is not surprising because the origin of the book was as a terror document produced by the Assyrian Empire to frighten populations into submission before they were invaded. Large parts of Joshua are word for word quotation from these terror documents. They served the Assyrians in the same way as ISIS videos beheadings do today.

The problem for the Christian community is that we simply cannot reject the Old Testament because we cannot understand the New Testament without knowing the Old Testament background. That is why I will continue to offer the option of the Old Testament reading as one version of the office. Then, of course, there are times in which the Old Testament is genuinely inspirational.

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Sermon reaction

10 May 2015

There may not be a sermon from me this week. My mind is dulled with both the pain and the cocktail of steroid, painkillers and anti-histamine I am taking. Every time I have turned to address myself to the sermon, nothing materialises and since stress is a major issue in my condition, it is best that I lay the effort aside.

I wanted to develop the theme of love as central to the value that we need to bring to global culture. In part, that theme appears in the morning meditation for Monday 11 May and I may leave it at that.

One of my correspondents has written a comment to last week's sermon, that I should not be allowed to put my ideas and concepts forward as, in her understanding, they contradict the Word of God. I understand where she is coming from and that she is disturbed by what I have to say, as I am sure that many are, but it is worrying to find the kind of philosophy that drives Islamic extremism beginning to be voiced in the Christian community. It is important to me that I am in good standing with my church, and have the support and encouragement of my bishop. I recognise myself as a priest and under discipline. If my Bishop instructed me to write no further and never to express these concepts, I would accept that direction.

This to me is the fundamental difference between being in the church and being an independent pastor, subject to no authority outside of him or herself. This is why sectarian religion can be so dangerous, especially when allied to dogmas of biblical infallibility that then confer upon the pastor the mantle of infallibility as interpreter.

In the end, whether what I am saying is pointing in the right direction or the wrong direction will be resolved by whether it registers or does not register widely in the Christian community. I speak from spirit to spirit and ultimately I trust the spirit of discernment in the community to know whether I speak God's truth or not. One of the reasons why I feel confident that I am speaking in truth is that over the 30 years in which I have lived with all of this, I have seen the church and the world go in the direction I first perceived it to be, confirming for me that I have seen clearly. The ever-flowing gifts of grace that I experience every day I take as further confirmation that God is with me, in me, through me, in my thoughts and words. But these are only subjective judgements: the confirmation lies with the Christian community.

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Is it time to revise the offices?

08 May 2015

I dearly love and value the offices, but at the same time experience considerable ambivalence around them. This ambivalence intensified yesterday when, in hospital, I shared the office with the chaplain, who happened to be a woman. As we listened together, I became increasingly conscious of the remoteness and irrelevancy of so much of the material. Both of us laughed, as the Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy contained the prohibition about women wearing men's clothing, then the New Testament reading contained the injunctions about women submission to men.

Maybe the time has come for a major rethink about the content of the offices. The concept that is emerging in my mind is one I would like to share to see whether others may feel the same way and think in a similar direction. Perhaps we could work together as an online community to explore new ways of expressing the office that we can offer to the wider church.

First, we should draw on the poetic expressions that have arisen down the ages from the faith community to be the content of the canticles and psalms. In fact, some of the canticles are already drawn from post-apostolic era material, so this will be an extension.

The first lection: the telling of the faith narrative, with one office telling the scriptural version of that faith narrative, and the other office telling the story that we identify with today, which is a very different story from that told in the scriptural tradition.

The second lection: the ethical and visionary directions that arise out of the telling of the narrative, again with one office drawing on Scripture and the other office from our own material, both from the past and contemporary.

The Affirmation of Faith and the Lord's Prayer would remain as a matter of course, but the prayer section needs strengthening.

We open the office with the words, “Open our lips Lord”, and I take these words very seriously. The offices are an act of grace done in grace, and it is only in the Spirit that we may legitimately go forward with such an enterprise. We have to remember that the offices are the voice of the church, not one of our individual devotions, so that if we are to look at a new way of expressing the office, we do so as exploring new paths that we can offer to the church, which it may choose to accept or reject.

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Religionless Christianity

06 May 2015

Since the 1960s I have been fascinated by Bonhoeffer’s descriptive phrase, Religionless Christianity, and I’ve not been alone in that. Mediating on the office readings this morning, however, pointed me in that direction. I saw that what constitutes the heart of religion, whatever its form and manifestation, or the faith narrative it tells, it is all about behaviour. This accords with the recognition that religion has a functional relationship with culture, and the insight also carried forward my thinking in that regard. This is why the faith narrative not only differs from religion to religion and within the various forms that a religion takes in society, but why the narrative even within the religion is constantly changing. The faith narrative is in fact secondary to the behavioural injunctions and is created to support and reinforce the behavioural injunctions.

The book of Deuteronomy, together with the other books of the Decalogue excluding Genesis, are filled with behavioural injunctions. The creators of the office lections mercifully filter out the vast bulk of them as they are, to our ears, tedious and irrelevant. However, these laws were the real reason for the original writing. The vast scope of the narrative found in Genesis, Exodus and Numbers, summarised in Deuteronomy, was created to give validity to the injunctions, which are the primary focus. Dare I suggest that the same perspective applies to much of the New Testament so far as it is, too, all about religion. The reading from I Peter today is about injunctions how to live, supported by a faith narrative that gives credibility to the directions.

As we look at the religious conflicts and tensions in today’s world, it is all about ways of behaving, the faith narratives being secondary as justifications for the behavioural prescription being advocated. The narratives are used to shut off discussion and challenge from others advocating a different way of living and behaving. In this context, we see secularism as another form that religion is taking in the modern era, and it is supported by a narrative that has evolution and the Darwinian theory of natural selection as its supportive faith story. That is why so many Christians vehemently reject evolution because it undermines the credibility of their injunctions. This is why there is so much passion around issues like abortion and homosexuality. It is because these and other behaviours are what religion is all about. A shift in behaviour is a shift in religion. When a shift in religion takes place, then the faith narrative has to adjust accordingly. But when the faith narrative has been made an unchangeable absolute, in a word, idolatrized, as in strict Catholicism or Biblical literalism, then the change in narrative that is consequent on a change in behaviour becomes a challenge to the idolatrous narrative and evokes intense passion.

But what of ‘religionless Christianity’? It is a long time since I read Bonhoeffer, but even at that time, I could not grasp essentially what he was getting at. Now maybe I am beginning to see. Religion is a necessary manifestation for life in the world because living is all about behaviour and all behaviour that is not irrational is supported by a narrative that gives credibility to the behaviour. We can look at all religion with an objective eye (apart from the distortion created by our own inevitable engagement with religion). It is legitimate to study religion as a cultural phenomenon. We can stand back and look at our own religion and assess it critically (unless we have idolatrized it). In the same way we can review our faith narrative (unless we have idolatrized it). We then see that religion is always ambiguous and always changing: hat it is functional, but in that function lies salvation for humanity. That it is functional and ever changing is not a reason for despising it or rejecting it, but, quite the opposite, embracing it. Those who claim to despise and reject all forms of religion, especialluy ‘organised ‘ religion, do so in the power of the secular form of religion (which they in turn have idolatrized).

What I saw as I meditated on this was that there is a clear distinction between religion and a state of grace. To be ‘in Christ’ is something utterly different from being in religion. Let me put it this way. Say I live the life of the mythical patriarchs of old, living, say, 900 years. The form that religion takes at my death would be unimaginable different from religion today, with radically different behavioural prescriptions and a faith narrative supporting them such that we today may not recognise or even understand. But of this I am sure: that the knowledge of grace, the walk with the Lord, will be identical then as now. This is quite distinct from the form religion takes. This is why we find communion even across religious divides. I may vigorously disagree with a host of other Christians, even within my own home community, but we have communion together because it is the grace that binds us. Only when religion is idolatrized is the grace communion broken and even then, only in the perception of those possessed by the idolatry. To them, religion has become the absolute – their form of religion.

This is why Christianity at its best and highest expression, reduces its ‘religion’ component to just two actions: baptism and eucharist. The power of infant baptism is that it proclaims that salvation is form pure grace, not from anything we have done nor any belief we have attained. It is saying that our being with the Lord, a child of God, is God’s free gift to humanity. We are not baptised into religion, even less so baptised into a passing form of religion. We are not baptised as Anglican, Catholic or whatever. We are brought into the state of grace that transcends all and every manifestation of religion. We come into our relationship with God, in all its intimacy, not through the purity of our religion but through the grace of our baptism.

The only other expression of religion that Christianity embodies is eucharist. Here is focused communion with God, but communion that is expressed in communion with all the baptised. Salvation is always into community, and community actualizes itself not in religious activity, however zealous, but in sharing the eucharistic sacrament. In eucharist, all our religious divides are overcome and eliminated: we pass from religion to the state of grace. Eucharist may be expressed in religious form, in liturgy, but itself transcends these forms.

Yes, I think I can see something of what Bonheoffer was getting at.

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God the Slayer of Values

06 May 2015

A few weeks ago I drew attention to Thomas Oden’s description of God as the ‘Slayer of every value’, a description that generated some comment at the time. The concept is that God strips from us everything until all that is left is God, even when those values are things we categorise as sacred.

In a small way, I see what is happening to me at this moment as just such an encounter with God, stripping me of whole elements of my life, each of which is of value, but the stripping is an act of grace, setting me free to be.

One of my email correspondents suggested I am entering the ‘crone stage of life’. What an image! It resonates with me, powerfully. A time in which life is focused on wisdom, not on activity.

This is a crucial insight for the Christian community as we go into a future in which, of a certainty, the whole world will experience being stripped. For most of the world it will be experienced as a series of catastrophes, threatening out existence and creating suffering on a scale never known before. This is no Revelation-type apocalyptic prediction but what we know is happening to our planet and to the exhaustion of the resources we have consumed, destroyed or polluted in our desire for the good life. Now the whole system is on the brink of collapse.

What the world sees as disaster, the life of faith sees as the way in which God brings us to new life. The testament of the scriptures is to this. The whole of the Old Testament revolves around the catastrophe of the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile into Babylon. What the Old Testament witnesses to is that the grace of God brings a new community equipped with a radically new faith out of what has appeared to destroy both the community and the faith. The New Testament, taken as a whole, has the same witness. Everything revolves around the catastrophe of Jesus’ death, experienced by the nascent community he had gathered around him as the destruction of everything and the end of hope. Yet out of that catastrophe came a new community and a radically new faith.

The power of the scriptures to our age lies in this twin witness. They are saying to us, faced with the probability of the destruction of everything we value, everything we have put our hopes in, that the power of God raises a new community and a radically transformed community of faith from out of the catastrophe.

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05 May 2015

I hav posted this blog as a meditation and it fits both approaches as it is as much a reflection (which is my understanding of blogging) as it is meditation.


I always respond positively to the canticle, Great and wonderful.  New every morning… Wait for the salvation of the Lord. Yet this morning I sensed a disconnect as I haven’t before, and it has to do with what I had to say in this week’s address about the strategies for the church as we move into the era of global culture. One of the three fundamental strategies is that we move from living for the future to living in the present, and for all its power and beauty, the canticle is still future orientated. It is saying to us that we should hold on to our hope that salvation will come, as surely as morning after night. We are called to wait for a salvation that is sure, but not yet realised. In the classical form of Christianity, this meant salvation after death (or at the expected return of Jesus).

This no longer connects with the world of global culture: it is not just meaningless, it is seen and experienced as illusion, as wishful thinking. This is not just a philosophical stance of an intellectual elite: it is the default position, at least in New Zealand society and increasingly is becoming the global norm.

So I sat in my hospital bed (which has a spectacular million-dollar view of the city and harbour) and let my mind dwell on salvation.

I did look to the future, something that is unavoidable when one is sick and the prospect of the future is uncertain. Salvation is not to be found in the future; but is found as I look at the future, because the power of grace strips the future of fear and anxiety, and enables us to know that whatever the future holds, it will be full of grace, and whatever the circumstances, the ability to minister, to serve, will never be taken away. Salvation is experienced now in this freedom from fear.

I looked back at the past: to so many wrong turns, opportunities squandered, sins committed: and I see both forgiveness for all, but more than forgiveness, transformation of everything into he resources that I now possess for service and ministry. I am saved from the burdens of my past. Even more potent, the past lived in God is one in which I carry no burden of anger, recrimination or desire for revenge against anyone, however great their wrong against me. Salvation is found in not only being forgiven but in forgiveness.

I look at the present and find salvation in being free of the emptiness that comes of feeling that I do not have now that which I most desire. Paradoxically, salvation is the experience of being free from traditional religion that stripped the present of value and relocated all important value in the future. It is freedom from the religion that made the attainment of spiritual perfection dependent upon obeying rules in the present. The wonder of salvation is that it is now, fully now: in this now and in every future now, even to a universe pentatrillion years from this now.

And I looked out at this world, this city I could see so incredibly from my window. It is a wonderful city, among the top half-dozen in the world: and it is full of problems, as is every city. It is, as the sermon for this week describes, messy and ambiguous, like every other city on earth. As a city close to the water, t probably won’t even survive the rising seas of the century. But salvation is found in embracing the city in all its messiness and ambiguity. God is in our midst, celebrated and served.

I looked out on global humanity, messy and ambiguous but consecrated by the Incarnation, all humanity. Salvation is found in looking at our society and seeing the wonder of the gospel manifest in its midst in so many ways, rejoicing and celebrating God with us, and knowing that this will not change as we go into our global time of trouble.

I look at myself and I know salvation. Messy and ambiguous, I am whole. Then the Lord granted me an extraordinary vision. I was sitting side by side with God as together we gazed at salvation, celebrating and rejoicing in it in total intimacy, the intimacy of a child of God. This was not a vision of a glory yet to be attained and in another world. This was now. This was as I sat on my hospital bed.

I thought that this was the end of the vision, and of the exploration of salvation, but it was not.

I looked at myself in that intimate communion with God and wondered what I was looking at. It was not just that this figure of me was whole and unmessy: it was me yet not me. Like one of those images that change in an instant so that we see something in the pattern that was is utterly different from what we thought we had been looking at, so I looked and what I saw was Jesus sitting there in that intimate communion. Flick: me. Flick, Jesus. That intimate communion with God, through the eyes of which we see salvation, is only found in this flick-flick relationship. The way to salvation lies in Jesus, by baptism into the life of Jesus. The gospel message of salvation in Jesus is as real and powerful now as ever it was. If there is another path o communion, I know nothing of it. It certainly cannot be attained by effort and law-keeping.

But wait…there is more! For when I look on the figure of Jesus in that embrace of communion with God, I see yet another layer of flick-flick. Jesus-flick; church. Not ‘church’ in abstract. My local parish, messy and ambiguous: flick-Jesus. The message of the vision is clear: salvation is into the messy, ambiguous world of the faith community. No community: no Jesus.

Salvation is always to community.

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Please keep me in your prayers

04 May 2015

My celebration of a change for the better in my health that I blogged at the beginning of last week has proved premature and everything has been downhill since. I am just about to be re-admitted to hospital, and this time I doubt whether it will be an overnight stay as last time. The situation has become quite serious.

One of my frieds inquired of me yesterday whether I was getting depressed by it all. The answer is surprisingly the very opposite. For all the pain and discomfort, I am seeing the hand of grace in it all, and my prayer begins by thanking God, even for what is happening to me, and whatever the outcome. For all its problems, this whole experience is proving deeply enriching.

Please pray for me.


Prayer and Meditation time

02 May 2015

Among the legion of people (ha ha) in my own time zone who listen to the daily office, there will be some who tune in around the time I am writing this blog (just after 5am) and find, this morning, that I have already posted a meditation on the morning office. The natural conclusion is that I have pre-loaded, but not so.

Over the years, my sleeping habit included a period of wakefulness in the early hours of the morning, with my mind kicking into gear and having to resort to all kinds of strategies to switch off and get back to sleep.

These days, I keep my phone, iPad or laptop next to me when I go to sleep (usually having listened to Night Prayer as the best preparation for sleep that there is), with the morning office loaded and ready to go and the headphones plugged in. Then, when I wake at around 1.30, I listen to the morning office and most often go straight back to sleep, with meditation taking place the next morning (a wonderful excuse to soak in the bath). At other times, like this morning, the meditation so breaks onto me, that I engage with it there and then.

The evening office is also fitted to the rhythm of my day. In theory, the office is designed for the end of the daylight hours, or late afternoon. However, my life rhythm, as it is for many people, delivers a dead time in the hour or so after lunch, and I have found this the perfect time to tune into the evening office. (One of my cats knows the drill and is ready for lap treatment each day at that time). It is perfect because the late afternoon is usually a time of intense activity (I am the household cook) and listening to the office can become perfunctory. By pitching it to a low time gives the office space and allows space for meditation.

[At a mundane level, listening to the offices ahead of the’crowd’ also enables me to pick up errors. Sometimes the office recording itself is incorrect or doesn’t work because of a loading problem and I can get the correction done before others tune in. Sometimes it is a little error, like this morning I had misspelled Daniel in the text.]

An addendum to this morning’s meditation: I went back to sleep and had another dream, one which again was about a sad subject, but this time very personal. Yet I woke at a point where the dream was filled with joy and laughter. Grace touches everything. Now I must get up as another of my cats is all over me, demanding breakfast. Life is full of such trials.

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Creeds and the Affirmation of Faith

29 Apr 2015

In all respects but one, the office recordings follow the directions of the New Zealand Prayer Book. The one exception is the saying of the Apostles Creed, for which I replace the Affirmation of Faith, taken from one of the versions of the Eucharistic Liturgy. When I attend the Eucharist on Sundays, in those versions that retain either the Nicene or Apostles Creed, that is always the point at which my spiritual and emotional engagement becomes unstuck. I suspect that this is so for probably the majority of churchgoers, and, if the truth were known, the liturgical recitation of the creeds is probably the single most turn-off over the years hat has switched people from attending the liturgy.

Liturgy is poetry, divine poetry: it reigns in the realm of metaphor and imagery. I can revel in the Song of the Church, with its host of heaven singing, “Holy, holy, holy..” without for a moment being required to affirm that this is literally true. There are all kinds of other assertions sprinkled through the liturgy, both office and eucharistic, that I embrace in their ambiguity, cutting through whatever my mind is saying about them theologically or factually. They don’t matter, one way or the other. This is poetry.

But the traditional creeds are of a very different order. Here I am required to do something more than give my intellectual assent to a range of statements and propositions that are problematic. I am required, by the real meaning of “I believe in…, to say that I trust my life to the truth of these statements: and that is something I cannot do. I often think that the church today is being as abusive in its requirement to have the community say the historic creeds as it has been in its attitude to sexual abuse, and the damage the abuse has and is inflicting is much deeper and more wounding. In essence, every Sunday, congregations rise to their feet, solemnly face the altar, and lie through their teeth. If that is not abuse, I don’t know what is.

All this was prompted by my meditation this morning that focused on the Affirmation of Faith, and I was gripped by the recognition of what is different about this statement. The historic creeds are not just as succession of dogmatic statements but are the condensed telling of a narrative of faith that is no longer our narrative. It does not tell our story as we actually believe it. That is the point of the “I/We believe in..”. To tell the faith story is to tell the story that we are part of, our lives are caught up in and tells us where we are going. The creeds no longer do that, which is why we lie when we recite them.

What is fundamentally different about the Affirmation of Faith is that it is about the present. It is about our living experience of God. It does reference the past in its affirmation about Jesus, and rightly so, because however we tell the faith story in our time and at any time in the future, the rock that roots us in being Christian lies in the historical story of Jesus. Its vision embraces the sense of faith story in its affirmation such as ,”You are always with us”, “You came to us before we came to you”, but in a way that leaves room for however we may tell that story in more concrete and specific forms. It refrains from delineating the future of the story except in the affirmation that what we affirm as our present reality in God will never change. We are set free to re-envisage the future of our faith narrative in ways that we can genuinely relate to. The Affirmation of Faith serves to orientate us to seeing life through the eyes of grace. We can affirm it without lying.

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New writing venture

28 Apr 2015

For thirty years I have been slowly developing and maturing – and testing – the vision and concepts of global culture, and the other side of global culture, global spirituality. This has not been an academic exercise, for I am not an academic, but I have always been aware of the dangers of shallow assumptions, selective evidence gathering and poor theorising. Above all, especially over the last ten years, the critical question has always been as to where God is leading the world. As I see more and more clearly the direction spirituality is taking, the question has always been, what does it mean to be faithful to Christ? Given that Christianity is in a process of radical reshaping of itself, what is the danger of passing from being Christian to being something other than Christian?

Over most of those years, my thinking has happened alone and in isolation, for I found few who shared my vision, not at least in New Zealand. Whenever I tried to share it, the vision ran up against misunderstanding. For a whole generation from the 1980s, the church turned inward and strongly counter-culture, an environment hostile to any thinking outside the square.

I shaped two book-length expositions, Faith Story and Global God but initially these were not widely read, and not, to my knowledge, commented on.

But over the last few months, I sense a sea change in what is happening, at least as it affects me. As I have begun my online sermons, blogs and now the meditations, I am receiving  steady stream of feedback, of clear responsiveness, even when people are finding what I say disturbing. I think that the rapid and scary growth of religious extremism has produced at last a climate in which people are recognising that something radical has to change.

Over these past few months, I have contemplated where I might develop my next book-length exposition, and regularly drew a blank. Now, however, in the last few days, I think that I see where now this must go, and that is towards a systematic development of the whole of the thinking about global culture and global spirituality. I share this, because I see that what I call this online office-based community has a role in participating in this enterprise, offering me both support and challenge, critique and questioning.

The daily offices provide the bedrock that grounds everything in the life of the church, the world-wide church: in prayer, and in reflection on what the Spirit is saying to the church. I am more and more convinced that the only safe place to move in radical directions is to be anchored into the tradition that we have received and into the community formed by that tradition.  It is exactly the same as the importance of ventures into the unknown of the world is most safely done from rootedness in a quality home life and family.

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The moutains skip like rams - Psalm 77

27 Apr 2015

I have been saying the psalms for over fifty years, yet some psalms never really register while others, like 77 for me, are a fresh delight every time I come to them. I so enjoy the imagery of the mountains skipping. But it also raises the question that so fraughts our modern world, of the relationship of the physical and the divine. The physical world does not dance to the tune of anything God does; that is our mantra. It is also one of the deepest of all the ambiguities with which we live.

I am experiencing a sudden and unexpected recovery of health, literally from one day to the next. It is fully explicable in physical terms as the medicinal measures finally kicking in. Yet is also corresponded to my request for prayer. Did my mountains skip like rams at the coming of the Lord?

Herein lies the constant ambiguity of all life. When we look to the world as physical, everything is physics. There is nothing miraculous in my healing. It can be explained fully, even if, in practice, we do not know the actual process. Cause and effect are king and cannot be dethroned.

But I look at my healing as grace and cause and effect in the sense of physics is indeed dethroned. My body skipped like a ram at the presence of the Lord. The power of prayer was manifest. The rock yielded water at the stroke. And this is as true as the physics, but a truth only seen when we ask the grace question and see the world through the eyes of grace. When we see through the eyes of physics, we cannot see grace. It is hidden from our eyes, though in faith we know it is there. When we see through the eyes of grace, we cannot see physics. It is hidden from our eyes, though we know it is there. Despite the imagery of the psalm, grace action never violates the integrity of the physical world; nor the physical world violate the integrity of grace.

The central art of Christian living lies in being able to move seamlessly between seeing the world as physics and seeing the world as grace. We can never hold them together in one integrated sight. We can only look at one and then turn to look at the other. Everything, both animate and inanimate, every thing and every action, carries this double signification.

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Getting old

24 Apr 2015

A few weeks ago, I caught myself bounding up a staircase, taking them two or three steps at a time and thinking “not bad for someone of 73”. Then I worked with a group of old men, slow and on sticks and walkers, and I thought how impossible it was for my imagination to grasp that one day I could be like them. I remember looking at one man in particular, shambling along and thinking how once he would have run up a staircase. Ad in fact he said to me, “I never thought I would come to this.”

But God has a way with us. The last few weeks have been for me one of being caught up in a major allergic reaction to a medication. It landed me briefly in hospital last week and things have got worse. Last Saturday, as a marker, I mowed my grass. Today I couldn’t even contemplate such an action. Throughout my middle years, I have always felt (and looked) 20 years younger than my actual age. Now I feel much older. It is only temporary, I am assured, though it may take weeks or months to recover, but the old self will return in time.

But as I sat and thought about it this morning, I realised that I no longer could say that I can’t imagine myself old and frail.

And in that, I believe, lies a grace-gift. As I have shared on occasions past, my most vibrant model of living is that we see reality according to the question we ask of it: to ask the physical question is to see physics; to ask the grace question is to see grace: both questions are asked of the same ‘reality’. To see what has happening and is happening to me as a physical reaction is authentic and real and necessary. This dictates both the physical counter-measures and the expectations about physical outcome.

But to ask the grace question of the same set of facts is to see the whole very differently. Grace always enriches, never depreciates life, so seen in grace, what is happening to me is enrichment, and I testify that it is so. Grace always equips, and I am confident that I am equipped to meet whatever the outcome and wherever the process takes me. Grace always builds ministry and the body of Christ, and I know that this is so, for next time I work with a group of frail elderly, I know my ministry will be different. So grace always leads to thanksgiving, even into the face of trouble.

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Offices alive

23 Apr 2015

I receive so many emails from people saying how the manner in which I broadcast the offices have brought both the liturgy and the scriptures to life for them. I find these emails so very encouraging. I would like to reflect a little on what it is that I do that I think serves to bring these texts to life.

The most basic thing, of course, is that they are integral to my own personal spirituality. My whole being is tied up in them and expressed through them. This reflects my fundamental approach to theology and spirituality. It is not what we think we believe or what we say that expresses our theology, but who we are. We convey the gospel though who we are. It wouldn’t matter if I had the voice of the most superb speaker on the planet, and the knowledge of a Doctor of Divinity with a swag of erudite books to my credit, these things count for nothing if they are not embodied, in all ambiguity for sure, in my person. What I say is what I am or it means nothing at all.

Within this fundamental perspective, the first thing that I do to bring the reading to life is that I endeavour to reach into the character of the author of the text, in the case of the psalms and lections. Even here, there is a complication, for the author is often himself characterising another. The readings from Deuteronomy have this dual quality. The author, writing late in the Hebrew period, has created a character in Moses, who is a fictional figure, and the book is cast primarily as Moses speaking in person on the brink of the entry into Canaan. So the author is envisaging is character standing in front of the assembled Israelites and speaking forcibly to them. Apart from the passages of cultic instructions, when I record these readings, I endeavour to imagine myself as the Moses speaker, haranguing the crowd. In contrast, when I read Paul’s letters, I imagine Paul not as dictating a letter, but as speaking directly to his audience as on the radio.

Mark’s gospel has always fascinated me. I have a version of the gospel that is condensed by about a third, which I have memorized word for word. I have a ‘performance’ called ‘Tight Mark’ of this text in which I come before a live audience, introduce myself as Mark and that I’d like to tell them about Jesus, then endeavour to reproduce the text as if it was coming spontaneously from the mouth of Mark as he simply told the story.

But whatever approach I use, the essential secret lies in envisaging every word as an image in the mind. Sometimes this is easy because the words themselves are describing something pictorial. But every word has a mental image of some kind lying behind it and when read, the word only takes life if it has connected with that image in the mind of the speaker. When I listen to scripture being read in church, for the greater part (and I am fortunate to belong to a parish in which this is not the greater part), the readers are just pronouncing a set of words on the page, even when they strive to read ‘well’. It is even worse when people are conscious that they are reading ‘sacred scripture’.

What is true of the lections is just as true of liturgy, whether it is the Eucharistic or office liturgy. What I mostly hear, especially from the professional clergy, is a pattern of words. One priest I recall in particular always laid exactly the same stress on specific words every time he celebrated, displaying that he was imaging the content at all, even though he genuinely thought he was giving his best. For what emerges as we engage with liturgy and lections, is that the range of imagery and meaning is endless. Week in and week out, the same canticles are read in the office, yet not one week is the same as any other week. Even the twice daily recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is a ‘different’ prayer every time.

The other dimension I seek to bring to many of the psalms and lections is my capacity as storyteller. Some of you may have already listed to a few of the children’s stories I have posted on the site. I used to do professional storytelling and love telling stories (the ‘Snail Tales’ are all made up spontaneously as I tell the story). So I have enjoyed the readings in Exodus of recent days, even if I would want to distance myself spiritually and theologically from much of their content (which gets horrifically worse once we get into Joshua). In making the readings, I am not ‘endorsing’ the scriptures as either real to historical life or true to what I know of God. If I took this line, I would not read them at all, but then, where would one stop? So by taking the storyteller approach, I am distancing myself from judgement, as the liturgist, about the content. That is the inherent power of the injunction that follows the readings, “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.” It is you, individually, and collectively as church, that makes the judgement call on what these stories mean.

In that lies the compelling power and importance of these offices. As I have noted in an earlier blog, they have the capacity to bring together all the disparate elements in the makeup of the community of faith, a place of gathering that transcends our theological and ecclesiastical divides.


On a more transitory note, the lections this morning had me saying wow. For the most part, the Old Testament and New Testament streams follow independent streams and rarely connect in meaningful ways. But this morning! First, the Deuteronomy reading proclaiming the absolute separation of Jew and gentile: the reading from Ephesians proclaiming the two have become one through the blood of Christ.

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19 Apr 2015

As I noted in my blog on being hospitalized, the experience has led me into the rediscovery of meditation but I am having to explore again the nature of meditation. I have begun posting some meditations on the site, but these won’t necessarily be every day. I am sure that there will be days when mediation doesn’t happen for any number of reasons, and some meditations would not be appropriate for public release.

I spend a good deal of time in reflection and thinking theologically, but mediation is something utterly different. Reflection calls for engagement, meditation for disengagement. I should really be interested to hear from others about their experience of mediation.

Here is how I approaching it. I am using the office as my starting point, allowing myself, at the conclusion of the office, to register intuitively what can be the focus for meditative contemplation. Then I slow my breathing down, letting my breath expel but taking no deliberate indrawing but allowing the body to take a breath as to needs to. I have long practiced this, as it has an extraordinary effect of emptying the mind and creating the deepest relaxation. Then I just allow the mind to float, holding on only to the intuited focus that arose from the office.

It is a journey not into the logic of reflection but into the realm of the imagination.

There are some very important things to bear in mind. The first is ambiguity. There is the fundamental ambiguity of the experience itself, which is simultaneously an exercise in the physical mind, penetrating the depths of the physical imagination, and we should never lose touch with recognising this: and at the same time, it is a walk in the universe as grace, where everything is different and the rules of logic do not apply. Then there is the ambiguity of the revelatory experience that arises in meditation. If you have read my Saturday meditation on a walk though the office for the day as if it was an exhibition of paintings, the experience and the judgements made are startling in their ambiguity, as, for example, the dismissal of Deuteronomy as portraying a false path.

The second is closely related to the ambiguity, and that is to recognise that to meditate is not without danger. Simply to empty one’s mind is to lay ourselves open to forces that can be as destructive as creative, whether at a physical or spiritual level. That is why I think that the offices provide such a powerful platform from which to begin mediation, if only because it anchors the whole process into the community of the church. But more that this: the meditation journey itself is not to be taken alone but with the accompaniment of Jesus, the crucified one. This, too, is an exercise in imagination and as subject to ambiguity as any other part of the process. But I think it has danger to venture into the realm of mediation without being in the Spirit.


To more mundane matters: I have moved my recording ‘studio’ into a room that is quieter and should cut out the noise of birds singing, and many other of the various household and external noises that intrude on the recordings from time to time. It also avoids, hopefully, the need for other members of the household to creep around and try to suppress their noise. My cats will still insist on sharing the room with me and from time to time they think they should be part of the recording. The number of times I have had to go over a passage because, in the middle, there comes a loud meow or they decide to chase each other around the room! But then they are God’s gift, so I guess they have a right to register their presence.


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17 Apr 2015

Yesterday, I was unexpectedly hospitalised and kept overnight. It was a fascinating experience being on the other side of the process (I am locum chaplain at the hospital). Not expecting to be admitted, I arrived armed only with my iphone and a book taken at random from my shelf, thinking only of something to read while I waited in the emergency department to be seen. Both proved to be (literally) God-sends. The iphone enabled me to connect with the offices and they struck me with such power, especially the Night Prayer. What I think was so special, however, was that I had time, lots of it, to meditate on the psalms and readings. I have come back resolving to spend a good deal more time in meditation. I would like, in some way, to find a way of sharing the meditations on the site.

What also impressed upon me was the concept of expanding the online ministry to provide a wealth of pastoral and spiritual support to people in hospital, through the medium of the web. I have long held that idea, but as I lay in bed, after finishing the offices, I wished that I could connect with so much more. (Except that I hadn't thought to bring my phone charger, so I couldn't have connected even if it was available. (Note to myself: if I am ever headed to hospital again, pack the phone charger!)

The book I had lifted from my shelf happened to be Virgil's Aeneid, which I had not read in years. The power of the book overwhelmed me. My problem with reading anything sustained is always that I am carving out reading time from so many other claims on time, but here I was able to absorb, enjoy and be awed without any sense of competing claim. The wonder of Virgil's poetry stunned me anew and I grasped as I had never done before just how significant this book is. Outside of the Bible, the Aeneid stands alone at the head of the influence on all Western literature and culture. But I also found that it illuminated so much of scripture, being written just as the Christian story was beginning.

Just taking the streams of the office lections at the moment. There is a striking parrallel between the Aeneid and Luke's gospel and Acts in that both were written with a clear agenda and shaped the story to that agenda. As  a well-educated man, Luke would have been familiar with Virgil's writing. Although Deuteronomy and Exodus were composed a couple of centuries before the Aeneid, and in a different cultural environment, they breathed the same air. They illuminate each other. But what made me think most was to recognise afresh how high were the moral standards of the Romans, reflected particularly in the sequence in the underworld where Aeneas sees into the hall of hell and who inhabit it. We too readily embrace the conventional idea that the pagan world to which Paul brought the gospel was rife with immorality, and this may well have been true of Corinth. But when we read, this week and over the next two weeks in Colossians and Ephesians, of Paul's ethical injunctions, realise that the best of Roman society would have said Amen, and Paul was in very large measure echoing not a new ethical vision but the highest standards of his time (together with its ethical limitations also). The New Testament descriptions of the torments of hell reflect directly the concepts of the pagan world as described by Virgil.

The Aeneid contrasted in one sense quite dramatically with my Easter novel, a Clive Cussler potboiler, yet Cussler, too, stands firmly in the Aeneid tradition, not in peotry or imagery but in the excitement of the story and the vigorous action. Yet although Cussler deals with the contemporary world, I found Virgil's world much easer to imagine - in a strange way, more real, even more believable. It is certainly more thought-provoking and memorable.

So I am now home from home from hospital and given time I'll be OK again. But I look back on the last 24 hours as being an extraordinarily blessed time, giving me much, a grace-time for which I am profoundly thankful to God

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A world-wide communion of prayer

15 Apr 2015

The extension of the offices to radio stations (and hopefully soon I can sort out getting them to podcast) has necessitated adding introduction and closure words identifying for listeners who are not accessing the offices through the website just what the offices are, who I am and where they originate. One requirement has been laid down by the church, that I acknowledge verbally the source in the NZPB (including its name in Maori).

Listeners will have noted that my closure has the words, “Thank you for joining in this world-wide communion of prayer.” This is not a claim on behalf of the offices in the recordings, although they are indeed listened to widely across at least the English-speaking world. But these offices are not productions of mine, except only in voice. They are the prayer of the whole church community. The particular variation is that of the New Zealand Anglican Church (and the NZPB is the most widely used prayer book outside of its own province), but the origin of all the Anglican variations is, of course, the Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer drew on the ancient tradition of offices, the church at daily (and multiple times daily) prayer as a community, a global community. So when we join in listening to these offices (and though I am the one recording, still I turn to them as prayerful listener as you do), we are connected to the global church, whatever the tradition or the language. We are expressing the church at prayer.

One of the most powerful symbols of this is the lectionary. The psalms and readings and major saints days and observances, with some minor provincial variations, is held in common across all parts of the Anglican church.

The offices are not ‘private devotions’ or meditations, although they can lead into these and are very effective in doing so. They are the corporate engagement of the church with God. That is one reason why they have to be formal in structure and content. The instant we try to be casual or ‘personal’, we intrude ourselves and take it out from being a shared experience. I am well aware that I tread a fine line in this regard in the manner in which I read both the lections and the canticles and prayers. One old school of thought was that the liturgy should be read with as little inflection as possible so the officiant did not impose his (sic) own interpretation on the material, overriding what other worshippers may see in the words.

I truly see the internet as a grace-gift from God to the church. It is a highly ambiguous medium, as we all know, a classic illustration of the point of last Sunday’s sermon. But what it enables to happen is that the whole community of the church today can potentially live a corporate rhythm of prayer, joining together several times daily, or even once a day, transcending wherever we happen to be. The extension of data networks has immeasurably enhanced this possibility. Over the past couple of generations, the trend has been, in Anglican / Episcopalian churches, towards the dissolution of the sense of the wider church communion into the form of congregationalism, breaking down further into individualism. This has been a catastrophic development, as I see it. But I am sure the tide has turned and we are rediscovering the nature of the church. Part of the dissolution into congregationalism was the widespread abandonment of the offices, even at an official level (speaking at least of the New Zealand church). In making the offices once again accessible by these recordings on the internet, I see myself as making a small contribution to this rediscovery of church.

I do think that the church community has to look again at its office tradition. In the first place, it is the recognition of the primary vision, that of the church at prayer. In the second place, maybe it is time to address this as a global communion and develop a global expression of the office that, across all the provinces, captures our unity as church. In the third place, we should be going a step further and seeking to draw in the wider Christian community. I know already that many of the listeners through the website come from other traditions than Anglican. One of the powers of these offices is that they transcend all our theological barriers. Listeners come from catholic and evangelical traditions and find common ground. I know from the emails that listeners in the United States come from both sides of the break in the Episcopal community. Is there any other place and form where this happens? I doubt it. There are times when I think that these offices are the most powerful tool the church possesses in it arsenal. I pray that one day the church authorities might wake up and realise what they have.

Incidentally, the New Zealand church has developed a set of new offices (which you will find on its website). I have never used them, especially for the internet broadcasts, because they presume a gathering of people and are interactive. They don’t work if you are on your own, or for broadcast. I may be quite wrong in this, but I see them as arising out of the congregationalism mentality. The church is only church when people are gathered.

I am excited about the breakout of these offices into the medium of radio. It doesn’t look as if anything is going to come out of the Holy Week excursion in Christian commercial radio here in New Zealand, at least in the immediate future, but that may change. But that the initiative was picked by in Kenya, extending to three and possibly four stations, broadcasting morning and evening and Night Prayer in full, is, I believe, just the tip of the iceberg of potential for radio. If you know of any Christian radio stations in your area who might be interested, please either let me know or alert them to the contact.

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I wish....

12 Apr 2015

Why did God only create 24 hours in a day, and then ordain we should spend a third of those asleep? Surely God must have known that the demands on my time far exceed the limits of a mere 16 hours? It is the same with football, though at least we can’t blame God for our stupidity in limiting the number of players to 11 or 15 or 13 depending on the code. There is far too much to do on the field for such a limited number of players.

Come to think of it, God must have a limited imagination himself. Why only two arms? Why aren’t my eyes in the back as well as the front of my head? Why can’t I run like a cheetah? And why, O why am I getting old when there is so much living to do? Why do I have to make choices at all when I could have everything?

I wish…..

And there’s the rub. If I had eyes in the back as well as the font, I’d wish they had X-ray vision. If I could run like a cheetah I’d wish I could be as strong as a lion. If I had the money for a hundred metre superyacht, I’d wish I could afford an ocean liner. If I was pope, I’d wish I could go out and buy a pizza.

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From Lent to Easter

07 Apr 2015

Tow things have intensified my sense of the transition from Lent to Easter this year. The first has been the intensity of the recording schedule and experiencing the transition to the joy and energy of Easter after the seemly endless weeks of Lenten psalms and readings, with their unrelenting message of sin and judgement and disaster, emerging now into the hope and joy and confidence of the Easter psalms and readings. In wonder if the offices are now the only place where this transformation is experienced. It is no longer there in any great measure in the practice of the churches on Sunday.

The other impact on me has come from the consciousness of the radio broadcasts of the offices in Kenya against the background of their national distress. As I both record and listen to the offices, I experience them as cries of hope into the face of blackness, fear and despair. In a week or so, I understand that two and possibly three more Kenyan radio stations are taking up the office broadcasts. The Lord does amazing things, and never what we expect. The radio broadcasts of the abbreviated offices that were made here in New Zealand do not look like coming to anything so far as the future is concerned, yet are bearing most extraordinary fruit in Africa, where the full offices are being broadcast. In my wildest imaginings, I could not have foreseen such an outcome.

Listeners to morning and evening prayer will notice that from Thursday of this week, the offices are preceded and followed with attribution and a reference to the website. This is a response to the extension of the recordings to the radio, with the copyright holder of the NZPB requiring the attribution.

I wonder how many other radio stations there might be out there who would value these offices as part of their schedule?

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Sermon and Liturgy

05 Apr 2015

Some will have noticed that I have not completed the Lenten addresses on the challenge of the future church. The final address was due on Palm Sunday, and here it is Easter Sunday and still there is nothing. In fact, the address was completed well before Palm Sunday, and has sat with me the whole of Holy Week. So why hasn’t it appeared? I could cite a number of excuses, but none of them stack up. What I have been experiencing is that sense of the invisible hand restraining. Every time over the past week that I have resolved to publish, there was that sense of being stopped. One thing I have learned over the years is to trust both the opening of doors – and the closing, or at least the restraining. If I ask myself why am I experiencing a restraint, the answer is that I haven’t a clue. It will emerge, if at all, when it emerges. Maybe I am being called to make changes. Maybe it is simply a matter of timing. I can only walk with the spirit on this one.

Last evening I attended the cathedral for their “Great Easter Vigil and first Eucharist of Easter Day”. Since my early years as a parish priest, I have always seen the Easter Vigil as the most wondrous and profound of the entire spectrum of liturgy, far exceeding Midnight Mass at Christmas. The cathedral always does liturgy exceptionally well, so it was with considerable anticipation that I attended, though the warning bells did sound at the 8pm start time rather than the traditional 11pm. On it sown terms, the liturgy was brilliantly executed, faultless in every detail – except that it failed completely as an Easter Vigil. My instinct is that there was no understanding of what the liturgy of the Vigil was all about and so, splendid as it was, it lacked both the meaning and the dramatic impact of the Vigil liturgy.

I find myself reflecting on a clutch of inner tensions, within myself and within the church community, and in many respects it relates to the issue of my sermon that I wrote about above. The first tension is between tradition and adaptation. My sermon speaks about the challenge to the church to adapt to the culture that is emerging in our time, and adaptation means change. It means loss of precious values. Yet I, for one, am deeply steeped in the tradition of the church, have a love for it and a respect for it. The argument for what the cathedral did last night would probably be cast as adaptation to the modern world, while I experienced it as a tradition lost, and experienced sadness. The experience for me was more Good Friday than Easter Day.

Yet simultaneously, I experienced a completely contrary set of tensions, highlighted by the fact that the young man sitting next to me clearly didn’t have a clue about what was happening, from beginning to end. This was the tension between loving what I did experience of the tradition and at the same time finding it archaic and irrelevant. The irrelevance may have had something to do with the way in which the liturgy had been stripped of its ancient power. But it was deeper than that: it was a cry within me that said that we have to be more creative, not just in adapting ancient tradition but in thinking from the ground up how to express and symbolise in liturgy the gospel vision and encounter. Perhaps the emasculation of the tradition is an act of the Spirit, bringing us to spiritual bankruptcy where we can finally see a way forward.

The one point in the liturgy that I have intense difficulty with is the emphasis on the exodus and the exultation over the slaughter of the Egyptian army. In this day and age, we have to ask what separates us from the ideology of Islam extremism that glories in the massacre of university students. It seems to me that we cannot have it both ways. If it is OK to extol the brutal violence perpetuated by God at the Red Sea, then we cannot condemn the Islamists for their glorification of slaughter.

That I have this reaction to the Easter liturgy raises for me yet another set of tensions, and these relate to the office readings which, currently, are all about the escape from Egypt, telling the very same narrative that I find so objectionable in the liturgy. Yet I read them into the office. Is the issue the same? Although I am conflicted on this, I don’t think the issue is the same. The office lections are a systematic reading of the scriptures as a whole and, let’s face it, there is a great deal in scripture, not just in the Old Testament, that is obnoxious and frankly wrong. The raw power of the office is that, broadly speaking, it makes no judgement and simply presents the stories in their sequence. (Incidentally, I would be interested to hear from people their response to the Easter Week readings from the Song of Solomon! What were the canonists thinking when they included these poems? [I love them, by the way]).

The Eucharistic liturgy, on the other hand, and especially on festivals, is all about the message to the church and so is selective from the scriptures. Certainly, we can spiritualise the story and it helps to recognise that it is just that, a story, not something that ever happened historically. Now I don’t know what the young man next to me thought when he heard that reading, but I think my reaction in his shoes would be to say, “I want nothing to do with such a God and his religion.”

I guess this complex set of contrary tensions does have something to do with why I have been experiencing difficulty in presenting my sermon. The subject of this final address in the series is the challenge of how the church relates creatively to the possibility that global humanity will overcome the threats to our life and society and develop a new way of living. At both the emotional and intellectual level, let alone the spiritual, all these tensions come into play.

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Night Prayer for Kenya

03 Apr 2015

As we stand appalled and distressed by the news of the university massacre in Kenya, I found myself listening to Night Prayer this Good Friday evening, thinking of it as would be broadcast in a few hours in Kenya over the radio in Nairobi.

Then the service reached this prayer:

Be present, Spirit of God,
within us, your dwelling place and home,
that this house may be one where
all darkness is penetrated by your light,
all troubles calmed by your peace,
all evil redeemed by your love,
all pain transformed in your suffering,
and all dying glorified in your risen life. Amen

The power of this prayer almost overwhelmed me as I think of it being heard in the midst of the agony the whole Kenyan nation, but particularly the Christian community, is going though at this moment.

Let us, every one of us, pray this for the Kenyan people and for so many of its families.

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The office is coming, harrah, harrah.

02 Apr 2015

One of the outcomes of the radio service development has been the strengthening of the sense of a global community, communion. This was further reinforced when a radio station in Kenya took up the broadcasting of the offices, the full version, not the abbreviated edition. There are listeners all around the world. Not all this online community are Anglican/Episcopalian, but what has come home to me is that the Anglican Communion world-wide has over looked one of its most powerful ‘instruments of unity’, and that is the daily office and the lectionary of readings we hold in common. It is true that as the various provinces of the communion have developed separate version of the prayer book, the form of the offices has come to vary from region to region, yet the commonness is still there. When listeners in Australia, the US, UK and Africa connect with the offices from the New Zealand Prayer Book, they are on the same wavelength. They know exactly where they are and what is happening.

But even more powerful is the bond created by the lectionary of readings. This, I believe, is the central key why the online office ministry has become so widespread and popular. The readings prescribed by the New Zealand church are the same as that in the United States, Canada or the Philippines. They are an instrument of unity. I think the Communion should value this more highly and recognise it as one of the most powerful bonds we have. After all, the other bonds do not touch our lives daily as do the offices.

In particular, in these days when we are experiencing such a sense of divide between factions within the church – catholic and evangelical, liberal and conservative – what the offices achieve is truly remarkable. The emails I receive daily come from the whole spectrum of these traditions. The offices are the one place where all stands of Anglican ecclesiology comes together. The connections are even wider, of course. I am aware of a swathe of denominations listening, from Roman Catholic to Baptist.

From the very first day I commenced to broadcast these offices, over ten years ago now, I felt strongly that the internet had created the condition for the fulfilment of Cranmer’s dream for the daily offices. The origin of the concept was, of course, the monastic tradition of seven offices throughout the day. They were therefore the preserve of the monasteries, of the spiritual ‘elite’. The boldness of Cranmer’s vision was to simplify these down to two offices, morning and evening, refocused on systematic reading of the psalms and the New and Old Testament, and make them the act of the whole people, not just the elite. His vision was that the parish would gather morning and evening to pray the offices; the whole community, not just the clergy. It did not work out that way in practice, for simple logistical reasons, so it became incumbent on the parish clergy to maintain the offices in church as public services even if it was only the parish priest in attendance.

When I was ordained, that was still the expectation and the commitment made at ordination. My theological training was built around the chapel services. Morning prayer, followed by eucharist: sext at midday: evening prayer, then Compline (Night prayer) before bed. When I look back at my training years, tis is the most cherished of my memories and the most powerful formative influence on my ministry. During my curacy, in particular, my parish priest and I gathered morning and evening, robed in our cassocks, to pray the offices. Apart from anything else, the discipline of the lectionary, reading through all the New Testament and most of the Old Testament every year, gave the most effective foundation to ministry.

By and large, speaking for my own country and province, that whole spirituality has vanished. Theological training today has only a cursory connection with the chapel, the offices have gone: the sense of community has disappeared. The church no longer requires its clergy to engage with the offices, and few do so. Even of Sundays, morning and evening prayer have almost completely disappeared from the worship. Canmer’s vision appears to have gone.

Yet my sense is that it is the opposite that may be happening. A major reason behind the decline in the daily office discipline has been the amount of energy it takes. Unlike the Roman Catholic practice, where the whole office can be found in a single volume, the Anglican offices require a Prayer Book, a bible and a lectionary, and saying the office is one of continually looking up the references. While I value immensely the New Zealand Prayer Book’s practice of having a different set of offices for each day, it has added to the burden. In the old days, I knew Mattins and Evensong off by heart, so one set of looking up was avoided.

At the same time, the pressures on life, and in particular on the clergy, have risen exponentially. It is not just the pressures of parish and ministry: married clergy today are expected to play a much more active role in their family lives, and these times more often than not, coincide with the natural times for morning and evening offices, if they were to be conducted in church.

What the internet has done is changed the game. In the first place, the burden of energy is taken from the act of worship, and I think this is highly significant. Second, the offices, if no longer public worship in the church building, are being experienced as the world-wide ‘parish’ at worship, and this has become a new and powerful dimension of spirituality that only the offices can deliver. Third, the whole office spirituality has been broken out of its imprisonment as a clergy activity and brought genuinely into the realm of the whole people. Finally, and this is not to be discounted, it has made the practice accessible in all kinds of situations. I know of at least one person who listens to the office in his bath. For many, it is while travelling to and from work. For me, the last thing I do at night before going to sleep is listen to Night Prayer on my iPad, the light out. I think that if Cranmer could see what is happening today with the internet, he would leap with joy.

What would I like to see happen from here?

First, I would like to see the church, at provisional and Communion levels, embrace the potential of the internet offices, resource them and promote them. If I have a dream for my church, is that every Anglican in the country tunes in at least once a day, a powerful connection into the community of prayer.

Second, I would like to see our liturgical commission genuinely asking the question of the form of the office that is most appropriate for broadcast, both in the form that works best on the internet and that works via radio.

Third (and this has long been my vision), I should like to see the whole Communion develop a common version of the office and see this as an expression, touching the daily lives of all the people, of the unity of the church across all the globe and transcending all our theological divides.

One last comment: some people think we should no longer use the word ‘office’ because of its confusion with secular commercial usage. But the secular world borrowed it from the church. It arose from the practice of the clergy going to their ‘office’ in church – which had nothing to do with administration. What a revolution there would be in our parishes today if our clergy started to change their concept of what constitutes the ‘parish office’!

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It's all happening

30 Mar 2015

After a few hiccups, the radio broadcasts of the daily offices have begun here in New Zealand, for Holy Week to Easter Day. They are only on one station, and being played early in the morning and late at night, but the fact that this is happening at all is a real breakthrough. What was most astonishing of all is that I immediately received a request from a Kenyan station to rebroadcast!

One of the challenges that I faced was that of ‘sound’. The stations considering the broadcasts are commercial stations, with a rapid-fire commercial sound, heavily American in content and approach. The offices had to be recast to fit this sound, which is so very different to the ‘sound’ I strive to achieve, with a lot of space around the words and readings, space to reflect and absorb. I listened in to this morning’s broadcast and was surprised at the fit it did achieve, but also wondered whether the breathlessness of the pace creates any real spiritual impact. The services themselves had to be radically abbreviated to fit a seven-minute timeslot.

Is there anything beyond the end of Holy Week so far as this broadcasting initiative is concerned? Of that I am not sure. At one level, that lies in the hands of the stations, where there is unsureness about whether a liturgical approach to broadcasting prayer is acceptable to their listeners. My own take on that question is a sureness that a liturgical approach is probably the only path that will work for radio if they want prayer as part of their content.

At another level, there is the question of resourcing. Preparing these broadcasts is very time-consuming, apart from the logistics of equipment, but the stations do not pay for ‘God-material’, and I don’t sense any interest of support from the church to fund this initiative. My whole online ministry is self-funded but I’ve had to draw the line at the extra involved in producing for radio. So I suspect it’s not going to happen. But then, of course, God is full of surprises!    

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Yell Halleluiah!

23 Mar 2015

I am not one given to yelling ‘Halleluiah’, yet I feel like doing just that today. Two  New Zealand Christian radio stations, Rhema and Star, are to take versions of the morning and evening offices from Palm Sunday through to Easter. They are broadcasting them very early in the morning and very late at night, which will cut out many listeners, but they will make them available as podcasts on their website and I may also be contributing 60 second slots during the day. This is a tremendous breakthrough, and I am immensely excited by it.

The services have to be radically shortened to fit a seven minute timeslot, so for the most part they will consist of the opening sentence, New Testament reading, canticle and collects, but listeners will be directed to my website if they are looking for more. The big question now is whether the station’s audience will react positively to something that for them is probably out of left field. The ‘sound’ is very different from the upbeat nature of commercial radio, let alone the formality of the office structure. Yet I am convinced that the daily offices are just made for radio. What I am hoping is that those people who do react positively to what they hear will let the stations know.

In my discussions with them, the possibility is out there for this ministry to continue. However, there is a funding issue and that may be a deal-breaker. The stations do not pay for this kind of contribution. That’s a hurdle to be faced if and when the time arises where we might genuinely be looking to extend this ministry  to a permanent slot. My own vision, which may be just wishful thinking, is that, if we could arrange this long-term with these stations, then there are a host of Christian radio stations in other parts of the world who might be keen to take up this material.

So pray for this initiative, please. And give thanks for a door that has opened.

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A wonderful opening

21 Mar 2015

I want to acknowledge the many people who send me emails of support and encouragement, and say to them that every email is treasured and does indeed encourage me. I never cease to be amazed at the realisation that there are folk all around the world who spend time every day listening to the offices. Someone I met recently said, “I spend every morning and evening with you”, and I felt moved almost to tears. Yet there are times when that nasty little voice in the head says, it’s all a waste of time. Nobody cares. Then an email arrives, and what constantly awes me is that, without fail, whenever the little voice starts to get to me, an email arrives that answers it! One would almost think that God had a hand in things.

Right now, can I ask for your prayers. A wonderful and extraordinary door is opening for this ministry. I am excited, but also find it scary because I will be entering a realm I have never gone into before, one that will present major challenges and great possibilities. I need your prayer as never before. I expect to be able to tell you more about it within a few days.

The New Testament reading this Passion Sunday morning ends with the words, “Our God is a consuming fire”. The words burned deep into me this morning; so deep I could almost feel the fire within me. The image captures perfectly the double-sided nature of our encounter with God. We cannot live without fire: but fire is the most scary thing on earth. Fire is our life: fire can be our death. Put it another way. Life may seem outwardly more comfortable if we stay clear of fire (God), but just imagine if we eliminated fire from our lives. No more cooking or heating, no more motorized transport, no more mental objects of any kind, just for starters. No more fireworks! Perhaps here is captured the essence of our spiritual life: learning how to live with fire.

Pray for me.

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Unedited Office files

18 Mar 2015

To my considerable embarrassment, unedited office recording files were uploaded twice this week, the latest snafu being today. In both cases, I realised the mistake in time to take them down for most listeners, but for any who tuned in to be presented with them, my apologies. I’ve instituted a system to ensure that this does not happen again.

It would be nice to think that I could record something perfectly straight off, but of course that is impossible. It is not just a matter of polish, or even of correcting mistakes. The editing cuts out the long pauses while I find the place to read in the Bible, or locate the collects, and there are the many slips, mispronunciations and other passages that are re-recorded. Most of all, however, is the fact that my ‘studio’ is the family living room, so, in the midst of recording, I deal with the occasional interruption and conversation, and invariably at some point one or other of the cats decides to get into the act and contribute vocally (very prayerfully, I am certain). So editing is a fact of life (and takes far longer than the recording itself).

Interestingly, I see what happened this morning as yet another example of grace. At 4.30 am, the neighbour’s cat decided to have an extended conversation with my cat that was sitting at my bedroom window. Fully awake, I decided to listen to the morning office and so was instantly made aware of the unedited state of the file. I was able to pull it off the site before the vast majority of people would have listened to it. (and because I am at the beginning of the global time zone, well before the bulk of my global community had even begun the day). Even the neighbour’s tabby becomes a channel of grace!

So, once again, to anyone who found themselves subjected to unedited files this week, my apologies, and my determination that this will not happen again.

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Lent and Repentance

17 Mar 2015

When I entered theological training, a freind gave me a book designed for the private spiritual life of a priest. I confess never to have used it, but one thing I remember so vividly about it was the list of sins that each day required to be searchingly examined within oneself. Thinking about it, I do recall trying to engage with it while a student and it is the list of sins that sticks in my mind. I guess it was the same mentality that must have laid behind the pratice of weekly confession in the Roman Church: searching the mind to identify what wrong had been done, for any and every instance of pride or avarice, moral lapse however minor and even if only in the mind. That always produced an endless supply of sins in the mind of a young man. Even apart from the sin-lists in the book, it was always a central element in the structure of private prayer that one searched for anything that required repentance. Lent, of course, was the time for this self-examination par excellence.

So even today, in our Lenten office, the prayer of the season focuses on confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness. Now I know very powerfully both the reality and depth of 'sin' and the extraordinary wonder of knowing forgiveness. There are certainly moments when I am uncomfortably aware of my need to acknowledge before God my failure, and recceive the assurance of being forgiven. But what I can no longer do with any semblance of reality is make confession a regular structural element in my prayer: and I have to make a considerable intellectual effort to make any reality (on a regular basis) of the general confession and absolution in the Sunday liturgy. I know that this can be challenged on all sorts of theological grounds and many a conventional spiritual director would say, 'Tut! Tut!' But there it is: I don't, as a systemic thing, practice self-examination and repentance in my private prayer, even during Lent. And I would question seriously whether the confession and absolution has any meaningful role in liturgy any more.

Why is this? Centrally, I am sure, it has to do with the collapse of the theistic model of God, for that model served as a cosmic super-ego, always condemning any infraction of the moral rules, even if only in thought. It has to do with the way we understand the psychology of our minds, recognising that we all have our dark side, and that is being human, not 'original sin'. Perhaps most of all, though, it has to do with what is the dominant note of contemporary spirituality, the recognition of ambiguity: that everything, including every moral choice and principle, has two or more sides. There is never, in anything, an absolute right. Everything we do, every moral choice we make, involves a destruction of some other value or does harm to someone. 'Pureness'is an ever-unattainable goal and even the pursuit of it is destructive. Very religious people are so often the most loveless and cruelest of humans, the antithesis of the gospel life. I remember making a comment to a collegue not so very long ago that, in my hospital ministry, I related to the happy pagans much more than the soul-searching Christians and the former made a far better fist of living.

Having said all that, I also think that there is a dramatic reality to our sinfulness, and as much as the readings in Jeremiah may have often repelled us though the Lenten offices, yet his words should be cutting deep into our consciousness today. The fact that the whole of humanity is now under immanent threat is a direct consequence of human sinfulness: our greed and selfishness, our lust for power, our callous disregard of justice: all the catalogue of cultural behaviour that has brought us to the brink of destruction. The words and the warning of Jeremiah speak to our world, and they should convict us of sin. It is easy to say, what a sinful place the world is that has brought us to such a state: but each and every one of us is complicit in that state. So how do we genuinely confess it and repent?

There are challenges here to both thought and action that we are not even beginning to address with any effect.

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Archived Offices

15 Mar 2015

I am aware that sometimes people want to go back and listen to offices before the cuurent week, so I've created a new page  called 'Archived Offices' that I'll put the offices from the past into. I'll probably confine it to the cuurent season, or, in ordinary time, to the previous month.


09 Mar 2015

Yesterday I conducted a funeral. I don’t take many funerals these days, partly because I am out of the frame for pastoral contact at a parish level, but principally because in New Zealand at least, the conduct of funerals has become almost entirely the arena of secular celebrants, for whom it is a business. One recent funeral I attended was in church, for a life-long Christian who was active in ministry: conducted by a secular celebrant, the vicar in the congregation, and the entire religious content in a two-hour service, other than a mumbled bible reading, was a 10-second prayer. The rest of the time was one endless tribute after another.

As I prepared for the service yesterday, I reflected on this state of affairs that has developed. It is not all negative from the church’s point of view. In the ‘old days’, the church and the clergy were used as cultic functionaries in situations where families had not connection to the church and were clearly uncomfortable with the religious content, but society did not offer them an option. Secular celebrants are appropriate in these situations, and, sadly, today that does go for the vast majority of the populations, at least in this country. But this development has meant that, first, the conduct of funerals has become divorced from pastoral care of the bereaved families. What struck me most, however, is that there has become an absence of reflection on the meaning of life and death. Funerals have become exercises in sentiment, pure and simple. Insofar as religion is allowed to intrude, it is of the folk variety, governed by sentimentality and wishful thinking.

The problem is that the church itself, in our day, avoids such reflection, and this has driven, in some measure, the complicity of the church in handing over its pastoral role in death to the secular celebrants.

For the record, I ensured that I gave such a reflection at yesterday’s service.

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Sermn background (Lent 3)

06 Mar 2015

Today's sermon address is lifted from my 2003 novel, Walk the Edge (available as an eBook). In the novel, it is delivered in Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, by a visiting American bishop.

Walk the Edge was written during a year in which I faced likely death from cancer (I was given only a slim chance of survival), It began life, in fact, as an intended non-fiction exploration of the meaning of life and death but immediately turned into a novel. At the outset of the writing, I was still in a place where I had been for 15 years, of rejecting faith in God. Everything was physics, though I strove to find a place for religion in this physical world. The treatment I received for the cancer reacted on me so strongly that I was pitched into an almost catatonic depression from which it took me several years to emerge. (and, as is obvious, I survived the cancer). In the extremity of mental, physical and emotional weakness that I experienced at that time, faith was rediscovered as I found, with awe, that I was given grace-gifts every day to meet the needs of that day. I reached a crucial moment when I stood on my balcony, looked out over the land, and said, "What kind of universe do I live in that this grace is possible?"

Throughout this whole process, I was writing the novel. As weak as I was, I could write. I listened to a great deal of music, using the music to reflect into the meaning of life and death. The novel has the form of being dated day by day, and although the calendar of the novel did not match the calendar of the day I was writing, each "day" in the novel was the product of a day of writing. What happened, then, is that the protagonists (one of whom is facing immanent death) begin the novel as having no faith, and as the novel progresses, discover faith: so the novel charted what was happening within me as I wrote.

This sermon, which I delivered today, became for me an expression of the faith that had been reborn in me over the months of writing. When I wrote it, I still faced the probability that I would die in the not-too-distant future. In a sense, it was my testament, and when I turned back to it for today's address, there is little I would want to alter from that statement.

The novel, incidentally, came very close to being commercially published by a major publisher. It was seriously considered but finally, by a casting vote in the editorial committee, rejected, and the ground given was that it was "too rich for a New Zealand readership". It languished because I did not have the energy, because of my depression, to pursue other publishers. Now it's available as an eBook.

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Service Texts

06 Mar 2015

In what I think will be a significant development for the site, I have attached the New Zealand Prayer Book text pages to the daily offices and Night Prayer. The Night Prayer office in particular has responsive passages, and you may want to make those responses.

The one major departure from the daily office text is that I replace the recommended Apostles Creed with the Affirmation of Faith that comes from the Eucharistic Liturgy, Thanksgiving and Praise, found on page 481 of the NZPB.

I have considered, also, placing the text of the lections. I'd be interested to hear from people whether this might be useful.

The other change that you will have noted is that I have now separated the material for each day onto separate pages. The gradual accumulation of offices, bogs, sermons and various bits and pieces was making the master page cumbersome and tiresome to scroll. In addition, I thought it was time to add the lection references. All in all, the logic pointed to a separate page for each day.

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Bible readings, especially Hebrews

05 Mar 2015

The way I read the Bible in the online offices is probably quite different from most people's experience of reading or hearing  the scriptures, and this perhaps comes to the fore in the way I am reading the passages from Hebrews. What I strive to achieve, across all readings, is a sense that the writer is speaking directly and vocally to us. When I reccord Paul's letters, I imagine Paul speaking these words, perhaps standing in front of the Corinthians, not reading a text but speaking from the heart. When I read Mark's gospel, I likewise imagine Mark standing in front of an audience and telling them, in his own words, the story of Jesus. John's gospel presents a very different challenge, for this cannot be told in the way of Mark's gospel, and the passages that the NJB produce as poetry need to be read with a quite different voice, one that makes no attempt at 'realism'.

With Jeremiah, as with all the prophetic books, I again try to enter in imagination into the context in which the prophet spoke the words. With my voice, I try to capture the huge range of feelings that lie behind the words. These can be very uncomfortable at times, especailly when Jeremiah demands terrible vengeance upon his opponents. The same issue of range of emotions arises with the psalms. Once again, I endeavour to enter the psalmist's mind and world and speak them in the personae of the various poets.

This blog was prompted by thinking about the way I present the Letter to the Hebrews. This writing is not, in fact a letter (and certainly not by Paul). It is a sermon, probably written by an early bishop of Rome. It is a incredibly difficult peice of argumentation for modern hearers as it relies on models and manner of thinking that is alien to us. I can do nothing about the alien thought and models but what I endeavour to convey is the sense that we are hearing a preacher delivering a powerful sermon. The preacher is an authoritative figure, a weighty presence, making an important address to his church. All this I try to capture with my voice.

To be honest, I frequently disagree vigorously with the ideas being presented. Sometimes this is because, in our contemporary mind, the models and the theology derived from the models are meaningless to us. I am often aware that the statements are factually incorrect or at very least, suspect. And then there are the expressions of violence and hatred that would not sound out of place in an ISIS video. It is not my role, in presenting the offices and the lections, to pass judgement but to express the words as they stand. As we listen, though, it is imperative that we exercise discernment and judgement, in the Lord. Just because it is written in the Bible does not mean that it is truth, factual or theological. Yet of this I am equally sure: that the words, 'Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church', are not empty words but that every lection, whether we might want to challenge its 'truth' or not, becomes, when heard in the context of worship, a channel of the Spirit's word to us.

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03 Mar 2015

Last night I listened to Night Prayer, lying on my bed in the dark. The night was still. It came to the last prayer, my favourite, "Lord, it is night..." The prayer came to the point: " The night is quiet.." - and instantly the air was filled with the sound of two cats fighting right outside my window! (Not my cats, fortunately). The timing was extraordinary - pure theatre.

The timing was funny and I laughed (hope the cats weren't hurt). In itself such a trivial incident, yet I couldn't help thinking of our constant experience of the timing of grace. I work to a model  of living in which the entire universe reveals itself to us according to the question we ask of it, and we move between the questions. When we ask the physical question, the entire universe and everything that is and happens reveals itself as purely and wholly physical, and therefore operating to the laws of physics and pure chance. There is a physical explanation for everything, including everything we might call 'spiritual'. Physics and chance put the cats outside my window at that specific moment, and it has no meaning other than accidental coincidence.

Ask the grace question of the universe, however, and everything in all reality, everything that is and everything that happens, is governed by grace. Nothing happens by chance or accident and nothing is without meaning. There was no accident in the cat event. Everything comes to us as grace, as gift of God - and I mean, everything, including suffering and what seems to us to be disaster. Everything is grace and therefore everything generates thanksgiving. This is not wishful thinking: this is lived experience.

We can never reconcile the two radically different answers. God does not manipulate the laws of physics to bring about a moment of grace that suspends natural law. The art of living in the Spirit is the art of moving between the two questions, making no attempt to reconcile them but recognising that as we see all reality through the asking of one question, it is illuminated by what we know if we asked the other question. So it is that when we ask the physical question, the answer contains no values, no meaning, no dimension of love, no ethical imperatives. Everything just is. That is a completely legitimate view of the world and a necessary one. But even as we see the physics, the answer is illuminated by what we see when we ask the grace question: we know that there is love, there is values, there are ethical imperatives. When, in turn, we move to asking the grace question, seeing the entireity of all that is as grace, so we know, even if we do not see it, that everything we account as grace has a physical cause. Grace never violates physics even though we cannot see that as we embrace the wrold as grace.

All this from two cats fighting!

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Prioritising spirituality

02 Mar 2015

I live life in a persistent conflict of intent, and in this I am probably no different from most people. My intent is for a life with space for reflection, a life that is about being rather than doing, a life more characterised by quietness than noise. What I live is something very different, and it seems to get busier and more crowded day by day. My decision to re-record all the offices is a major part, of course, consuming around three hours of every day: one day a week is currently taken by chaplaincy at the hospital; I set up my garden is simpler times, a garden that demands daily attention; I am part of a team working to launch a nation-wide magazine: and there is the daily running ofthe household, cooking the meals (and planning for them), and support for the wider family, which at the moment is requiring a lot of input. Right at this moment I have to stop and cuddle one of my cats  which is on the desk butting my hands and saying, Love me.

I enjoy every part of what I do (another stop to cuddle the cat which is now licking my fingers as I type. I have two birmans - totally besotted by them. Now at last she's satisfied and stretched out on the desk beside me, purring like mad). I am profoundly thankful to God that I am able to live such a full and rich life, remembering that ten years ago I was facing death from cancer and was in the grip of a totally debiliating depression.

Yet busyness is not what I want my life to be all about. That is the tension. The key lies in spirituality but this demands a complete prioirty that overrides everything else. The reason why I began to record the daily offices was that I discovered afresh, in the depths of my illness and depression, that the offices were the anchor that kept my life focused, an anchor that worked though all the emotional ups and downs. They frame the day and make it clear what the day, and all its busyness, is all about. Having now recorded the Night Prayer (Compline), and so listening to it as the last thing before settling to sleep, I find extraordinary power in the words, "What has been done has been done. What has not been done has not been done. Let it be." However busy I might have been through the day, only a fraction of what I would like to have achieved has been achieved and in those words is the permission to say, that's OK.

I always sit down at the beginning of each day (usually somewhere between 4 and 5am - the alarm signalling the need to get the household breakfast goes at 5.30), and prioritise what needs to be attended to during the day and the order of attending. Always, first and foremost, is prayer and office. Start the day in any other way and, in my experience, nothing works out properly. Frame it with prayer, and grace flows, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Personal and private prayer is, of course, crucial. What the offices do is to put our spirituality into the context of the whole church, creating the awareness that we are members of a body, a global body, a spiritual body, a part of a story that stretches though history and will continue to the end of time. The offices lift us out of the 'how can I possibly cope?' state of mind to see the divine significance in everything we do and the power of grace in everything we do, wherever we are. Prayer and office enable us to hold onto 'being' even in the midst of 'doing': and I think that that is a core secret of living.

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Sunday's sermon

25 Feb 2015

It's taken me several days this week to get the recording of last Sunday's sermon up on the site, but it's there now. It is the start of a sereis I plan to run through at least Lent and possibly extending into Easter, exploring how the changing cultural environment we are experiencing is impacting upon our Christian understanding in ways that will reshape the future church in radical ways, even if we cannot predict those ways. It would be really good if people would give comment and feedback because we are all entering largely unexplored territory.

It appears that I am back in harness for at least some part of each week for the coming months, ministering as hospital chaplain. One of the developments in the modern hospital, just introduced to the one where I will be working, is wifi access for patients, and this opens up the whole arena of online ministry. I recognise that the offices, while they will be helpful to some, are not geared for this kind of ministry in a larger way, and this is something that I have been planning to address as part of the website development. I have a sense that these next months are going to open up this development.

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Night Prayer

24 Feb 2015

For some time, ever since developing the plans to extend the scope of the website, it has been my intention to record and introduce the offices of Midday and Night Prayer (what used to be called Sext and Compline) from the New Zealand Prayer Book. Then a couple of nights ago, I had difficulty in getting to sleep, my mind would not shut down. Finally, around 2am, I picked up my iPad, plugged in the earpods, and listened to the next morning's office - after which I promptly slept.

This brought home to me how important and powerful the Night Office in particular can be, and especially in this age where we can log into it on phone, iPads and laptops at a point of composing ourselves for the night.

So, as you can see from the site, today I have taken the step and recorded the Night Prayer. I will take a further step shortly and put the office into a print form because it is more interactive than the daily morning and evening office and people may want to make the responses.

The office cycles weekly so it is not a major for me to extend in this way. After completing the cycle, it would seem logical to continue on to record and load the middday office.

On another note: last week I described what could be interpreted as a spiritual attack on this ministry, in that technical problems plagued the whole development and seemed without end. First the mic packed in, then the software gave endless problems and so on, and each time I said that at last the technical problems were sorted and I could get on with the ministry, a fresh 'attack' happened. Last week, however, I finally had a replacement mic and updated software and we seemed to be going OK: then the whole computer corrupted! My consultant worked until the early hours of the morning to get it operational involving completely reformatting the hard drive and tracking down what had caused the corruption. All was well. Then last night...... ! Now the computer, less than a month old,  has to have a new motherboard (fortunately under warrant), and I'm working with a loan computer. Tell me I'm not under attack! Someone even told me that it was God telling me that he doesn't want this ministry, but that I flatly reject.

What this brings home to me is the reality of the spiritual battle. With my dominant focus on grace and the power of the Spirit working in life, I tend to discount the ambiguity of 'evil' and the dimension of struggle with spiritual power. So here is the conundrum: grace is at work even in the 'attack' (if that is what it is) because grace transforms it into an insight into spiritual reality that I need to be more aware of. So grace still reigns supreme. This, after all, is the message of the cross: evil did its worst and all that was accomplished by evil was the glory of the cross, the victory of grace.

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David, for what it's worth, I agree completely with you that God wanted you to add the night prayer to your site. I'm glad u didn't listen to the naysayer. I haven't been on your site in a long time & really like doing Compline, but had never done it on hour site because it wasn't there. But I got on your site & found it. It was such a help for me then, u will never know. Thank you! I realized later that because of the time difference, I was doing it a day in the future. Amazing! So I really thank u for doing it when u did it. God is wonderful. I especially like the Night Prayer & say it on my pillow at night. Such a good prayer for me. It seems to put the events of the whole day in perspective & sends out peace for all in the world. Obviously, our world is in dire need of God's peace. Thanks again. Keep up the good work. God bless you,

Terror and the Psalms

18 Feb 2015

The world watches with horror the carnage, the sheer brutality, of what is being played out in the Middle East, Pakistan, North and Central Africa and now in Europe. The Christian world watches with increasing anxiety the persecution of thier fellow Christians and fear that Christian faith may be wiped out in much of the Middle East. The slaugher of the 21 Coptic men this week is just the latest such event.

The dynamic driving the current situation is complex and is more socio-political than religious, for all its fanatical zeal. It is a deep challenge to our own faith.

The Lenten pslams for the offices are very much focused on the feelings and faith issues surrounding persecution. We may in fact find them difficult to identify with, and this has always been an issue for Christians in every age. The expressions of hate and revenge seem a long way from the gospel of love. Some psalms, indeed, could be  recited with enthusiasm by the ISIS fighters. The worst of the expressions have been fortunately eliminated from the prayer book pslams.

As I have been recording them, though, over these last few days, I have found that I imagine saying them as from the mouth of Christians being driven from their homes and villages, sometimes slaughtered or raped, even sold into slavery. How many of us could maintain faith in such situations? As you know, I have at the very heart of my faith and my theology that God meets us with grace sufficient for every challenge. Yet I ask myself if I could sustain that if I lived in Syria or Iraq under ISIS control. The answer, of course, is that if that were to be impossible then the entire fabric of this faith is a fraud. I am living an illusion even in my present.

As those following the office recordings will have noted, I have begun, as part of the new recording project, to include the saints days. I am working from the calendar of the New Zealand church (though I will drop out some of the specific observances rleating just to New Zealand). One thing this achieves, in the context of our present global anxieties, is a perpsective. The recent commemoration of the Archbishop of Uganda murdered on Idi Amin's order, reminds us of the brutalities of past regimes - and how they are finally brought to ruin. One day, ISIS will be just the kind of grim but fading memory that is the Amin dictatorship today. Then there was the coommemoration of the martyrs of Japan and the extraordinary survival of the church there for 200 years without contact with the church outside Japan. Finally, as we commemorate saints and martyrs, we remember that the blood of the martyrs has always been the seed of the gospel. It will so prove in the Middle East.

Finally, the readings from Jeremiah that form the heart of the Old Testament morning readings can also be experienced as heavy going, almost outrageous from a Christian perspective. Yet they, too, take on a powerful new dimension of meaning if we read them in the context of  what is happenning in that very region today. In fact, they are powerful if we put them into the perspective of the global threats hanging over all humanity at this time. My personal view is that Jeremiah has more to say of great relevance to our world than any other book in the entire Bible, both Testaments.

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Lent Reflections

17 Feb 2015

Those following the John in Lent daily reflections will have noticed that the reflections and the office readings (except Sundays) now coincide.(There will be a few days, especially during Holy Week, when they don't coincide). It may also have stuck as odd that the first three weeks were from the 'Last Supper' monologue, whereas we are now at the opening chapters. The reason for this does relate to the lectionary. When Lent is late, the lectionary  commences the readings in John on the fourth week before Lent, with these monologue chapters. So in a year with a late Lent and Easter, the John in Lent readings would coincide with the office throughout.

The four books I have published of reflections and photographs currently cover only Lent (John in Lent and Lent Challenge (Jeremiah)) and Advent (Advent Revelation (Book of Revelation) and Advent Calls (Isaiah)). The conept with the publisher was to create a series that covered the whole year outside these seasons, but the project never got beyond the four. I am considering whether to develop the concept as eBooks, that will relate to each day's office readings. The potential, of course, is for four books for each day, obviously over time, plus the psalms. The biggest creative challenge lies in the photography; trying to find or create the images that compliment the text, either or both the scripture or the note. I try to avoid obvious images. I want people to puzzle over the images and to have them spark things in the mind.

I would really appreciate feedback about people are relating to the John in Lent reflections. Is this a concept people would like to see a feature extending into the rest of the year?


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Spiritual attack?

14 Feb 2015

I find myself wondering whether this ministry is under spiritual attack. How many times over the last couple of months have I said that at last the technical issues are resolved and I can focus on what is important. Only for everything to turn to custard. I revelled in the new mic - and it failed. The last few weeks have been making do with the old equipment but finally, last Thursday, the replacement mic arrived and I acquired new software. The resulting recordings that I made were gobsmacking. I compared them to the difference between scratchy 78s and CD sound. I was all set to celebrate with you with the new files coming on stream on Tuesday. Last night I opened the files to download them to the web - and they were all corrupted with a noise that made them unlistenable! The problem is in the software, a program called Sound Studio, which is superb for recording and editing voice, the best of all the options I have found. When I finish recording and editing, the result is magnificent, but the moment I close the file and reopen it, the corruption is there. I tried importing immediately into iTunes, but the file is corrupt there too. In addition to the frustation was the fact that I lost a whole week's recording. So I am still battling with technical issues - and wonder whether the battle is deeper than that. I'd yet another challlenge to give thanks for!

I do have something to celebrate, however. I wrote of the pain I was in with gout. On Thursday night I could barely walk, so intense was the pain. By Friday night it had disappeared! Maybe someone was praying for me. I am now completely free from pain. Lord, do you think you could do the same for my technical problems? I am sure they are much less of a challenge than gout.

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From Pam

I want to add all needs of your ministry to our DOK prayer list if that is ok with you.  You'll have a faraway group from the NC mountains of wonderful but largely tech-illiterate women praying for your ministry.  I am physically far from them here in Mexico but we are managing thanks to the internet.

I'm so glad you are feeling better and hope you can spend some time in your garden and away from technical problems!  Thank you again for your ministry!

I also wanted to tell you that for some reason the last couple of blogs are linked to a Sunday morning prayer.  I was able to read recent blogs by going back and opening your gout blog posting.

From Thomas

I will be praying for your technical issues. I appreciate your daily office so much. I will listen to it regardless of the quality. God bless.


Office recording

14 Feb 2015

Recording conditions have not been ideal over these last couple of weeks (hopefully now resolved), reflected in this morning's (Friday) office which sounds like I was running a race! Bear with me. At least now I think that the technical problems I've been having are sorted out and I can get back to focusing on the spirituality.

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11 Feb 2015

I am glad to say that the pain in my leg is receding rapidly and there is even a question now as to whether it is gout at all, though that raises the question of what it is. Anyway, it appears to be returning to normal and I am beginning to be able to function again.

I wrote earlier about giving thanks for the gout, or at least for the pain, whatever the cause. In the middle of the experience, such thanksgiving is cried into the darkness because the pain drowns out everything else. As the darkness retreats, the redemptive power becomes clearer. It is the principle of the Incarnation, the Jesus who became one of us in all things, a principle that continues in his Body, the church. Ministry is built upon the foundations of this incarnate life. The empathy and identification we bring to ministry arises out of the depths of our life experience. Without falling into the trap of saying to people, "I know how you feel because I.....", it is out of the depths of our own negative experiences, whether of pain, grief, depression or whatever, that we are able to make those essential human connections with others that are the foundations of effective ministry. So it is that this pain becomes redemption, becomes positive and creative grace. For which I give thanks.

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Thanks for gout!

10 Feb 2015

I am sharply reminded of the uncertainty of life. As I commented in a recent blog, I spent a hard physical day on Friday and it felt good to do so. Infact, it was followed up with another physically strenuous day on Saturday. At the end of that time, I reflected to  myself how good it was, at my age, to be able to engage so actively and work so hard. Today! I can barely move with the incredible pain of an attack of gout. I can't even get aroundto water my garden.

One of my favourite spalsm is Psalm 30 and it so captures the reality of life. Everything can be going along so well that,even as we do give thanks to God for the wonder of life, we start to think that we are unshakeable in our strength. then wham! I am not sure I identify with the psalmist's plea that follows, but I do identify with his assertion that God turns his mourning into joy. God takes everything - even the agony of gout! - and transforms it into positive grace.

We spend so much energy in life kicking against the limits that constrain us. What we could do if we had morre money. What we could do if we had better health. What we could do if we were not saddled with...... . I am neither a fatalist nor do I believe that God 'punishes'us with physical restraints. Yet my whole spiritual experience is that the constraints of life, however extreme and however painful and limiting, are in themselves gifts of grace, to be embraced with thanksgiving. And yes, in prayer this morning, I really did offer thanks for my gout!

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From Pam

I loved the blog this morning and will remember it the next time this kind of thing happens to me!  I hope you feel better quickly!

From David

Thanks Pam

Times like this, though, I can understand how people cry, “Why, god? Why me? I’ve got so much to do.”

The response, of course, echoes Habakuk: if you  can’t take this, how will you manage when the going really gets tough?


A day in the garden

06 Feb 2015

Yesterday was a day inthe garden, from early morning to the evening meal. It is not a large garen by area (the whole plot of land is something around 500 square metres) but it is intensively gardened and has been neglected for much of the last month through pressure of other things. So it was a lot of work yesterday to restore it to order, but deeply satisfying - and good for me to get in some solid physical work. The monastic vision of a balance between physical labour and spiritual engagement was very insightful.

One of the issues I need to have sorted out with my website is how to get photographic images onto the site. They system that is supposed to work, doesn't. When I get that corrected, I'll post some images of my garden. We are very fortunate. I wrote a day of so ago about the general climate of Auckland that is so kind to growing. Our home in the Waitakere Ranges, west of the city, is especially blessed with a microclimate of its own, sheltered from the prevailing wind but open to the sun. There are two paved courtyards, front and back, and these are filled with container flowers and shrubs. The balance of the planted area is elevated from the level of the house, so that from every room the windows have vistas of the garden at eye level. Wherever the eye travels there are flowers, shrubs, trees and ferns. It takes some looking after, but it is endlessly soul-restoring.

Followers of my blog will have noticed how I tend to reflect theologically on everything, and the garden is no exception, especially as I spend significant time in it. I see the garden in many lights. Yesterday, as I pulled out plants that had been magnificent but now faded, I thought how closely a garden mirrors the essence of living: that life, both macro and micro, is just like that. Even as I pulled out the plants, my thoughts we going to what I would put in their place, something that would bring joy in the future.

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Quality issues

06 Feb 2015

My new mic has packed up! Until the replacement arrives, I am using my old equipment. Even in that there is grace. I had put the old mic and sound mixer up for sale and it did not sell. I procrastinated relisting - and now I need it for backup.

City between two oceans

05 Feb 2015

I live in a city that lies between two oceans, with two harbours, each coming off a different ocean. It is just a shorrt walk from one ocean to the other. Not far from where I live is the home of a friend, perched on a ridge. From her front deck she overlooks one ocean, the Pacific, and from the back deck, the Tasman. It is one of the features that makes Auckland unique (and also gives it its climate, commonly described as going through all four seasons daily). Another unique feature: the city sits on fifty volcanoes, the last and largest of which erupted a scant 600 years ago. The city also happens to rank regularly in the top five most liveable cities in the world. It is blessed with a mild subtropical climate, abundant rainfall and extremely fertile soil that makes its gardens and parks so lush.

As in everything, there is spiritual insight to be found in all of this. The two ocean scenario speaks to me of the most fundamental model on which my spirituality is founded, that there are two realities, physical and spiritual, and we move from one to the other constantly, never seeing both together in the one vista, but always knowing that as we look at the one, we have only to turn around to see the other. The difference, and this is important, between the symbol of the city between two oceans and the physical/spiritual reality is that, in the city, the outlook shifts between two different oceans, whereas the basic physical/spiritual perspective is that the reality being viewed is exactly the same, revealing itself in the guise of physical or spiritual reality depending on what we are asking to see. It could be that we can press the two-ocean image a step further and recognise that, while it may appear that we are looking at two separate oceans, it is in deeper reality one single body of water.

Then there are the volcanoes. This wonderful city lives always on the edge of uncertainty. With little warning, it could all come to an explosive end, paradise changing to hell in an instant. Such a scenario lends itself to many parabolic interpretations, but the one I see is of the essential ambiguity of life. That which threatens us is also the source of the region's soil fertility. Indeed, without volcanoes, our whole planet would be dead to all life, let alone humanity. If we identify the single significant charateristic of spirituality in our time, it would be with the word, ambiguity.

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Monarch Joy

04 Feb 2015

It's the season here for Monarch butterflies, but predators, particulary wasps, have been creating havoc with the butterfly population. So last season I acquired a 'butterfly castle' and so far this season I've hatched 30 Monarchs, with around 70 to come. The catapillars ate me out of house and home for swan plants, casting a small fortune, but I am planting a whole grove of them for next year, so hopefully I won't run out of food.

What point is there in this? Monarchs have no economic value or contribute in any significant way to the environment. They are not even a native species to this country. It is their beauty and joy, the sheer delight they bring in seeing them fly around the garden. We plant a considerable section of the garden with the deliberate aim of providing food for the Monarchs, and I don't know how many hours are passed just watching them.

I am not a person who gets sentimental about 'God's creatures'. My wife sees inthem a wonderful work of God, but I see only a wonder of nature, but a wonder that I can do something to preserve. To me, the monarchs symbolise the value of sheer joy in life. If they convey a theological meaning, it is the abundance of grace, an abundance that doesn't have to be 'serious' or 'productive' but is just about joy.

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From Pam

Thanks so sharing about the monarchs.  My husband and I witnessed our first monarch butterfly migration here in Mexico last fall.  Our other home is in the North Carolina mountains so this was a first for me.  I spent hours watching seemingly endless flocks fly past our home for many weeks.  Such energy and purpose!


Revise the canon?

03 Feb 2015

Last week, when recording this morning's office, I experienced an intense revulsion about the text from Hosea, contrasting so dramatically with the I Corinthians 13 reading. It was partly that revulsion that motivated my comment in a recent blog about the issue of revising the canon. Listening to those same readings this morning, however, I found myself engaging with a different perspective, which illustrates the difficulty of attempting any revision of the canon. We engage with the scriptures from out of the particular circumstances and cultural framework of our immediate situation. This means that some passages leap out at us as highly relevant while others are experienced as meaningless or even repulsive. Then circumstances change, and our experience of those same passages may be totally reversed.

As I listened to the Hosea reading, I found myself imagining these words as being read in a world of the future, a world where, as is possible, the entire fabric of society has been torn apart and collapsed. The people of that time look back and see how the path humanity has taken, a path we are on today, led directly to the disasters that overtook humanity. The book of Hosea, though cast in the form of predictions about a judgement to come, was in fact written long after these disasters and reflect the anger of later generations at the ignorance and stupidity, the spiritual failure, of their forebears. As I listened to these words this morning, I heard them as someone decades from now might experience them and read in them a judgement upon our generation and those who have gone before us.

I find myself doing this kind of re-imagining when reading many of the psalms. Living in New Zealand is probably the closest this planet offers to paradise and it is hard to engage with psalms that speak of being persecuted, oppressed and terrorised. Sometimes I have to imagine myself reading these psalms as being in Syria or Egypt or Sudan and how I would experience the words in that context.

I remember one older priest regretting the decision of the church to cut out from the office recitation of the psalms the worst excesses of violent expression. His experience was that these horrific words gave expression to deep human emotion that needed to be acknowledged. I didn't agree with him, and still don't, but he had a point. Western liberals, especially when living in a relatively benign society, don't like any kind of edge to spirituality. They want everything to reflect their benign existence. Given control of a process of revision of the canon, they would remove anything and everything that offended their 'nice' view of the world. Words such as were read this morning from Hosea would be given the blue pencil treatment (if that's an appropriate image in this digital age). The next generation may completely reverse their judgement. Perhaps we are best to leave well alone.

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31 Jan 2015

I am not one for shouting Amen in the middle of hearing a sermon and find it distracting when I do encounter it. However, when I am listening to the office, particularly the psalms and canticles, I do find it helps concentrate my attention when I can say it ­ and sometimes, of course, I can’t. The Amen doesn’t have to be to the literal or obvious meaning of the words but to layers of meaning that can underly the words. Sometimes it pushes me to think of how I can say Amen when perhaps the immediate reaction is negative.

I think the biggest struggle I have in this regard is with saying Amen to liturgical statements that no longer resonate with me as being theologically true. My resolution of this is as part of the wider body of the church. The daily office or Eucharistic liturgy is not my personal statement but the voice of the church. My participation in these liturgies is as a member of a much wider community and, for the moment at least, these words are the voice of that community. If I start playing around, not only does that raise the question of where does one stop, but also that whatever I might arrive at is my voice and not necessarily your voice. There is a place for this in personal prayer but not in public liturgy. The path of change is through the processes of the community. The church today, for example, no longer reads in public some of the more horrific passages from the Psalms.

Over the coming generation, I suspect the issue of the validity of much, if not most, of the Old Testament as legitimately part of the Christian canon will come to the fore. After Easter, it is my intention to offer the offices in alternative forms, one inclusive of the OT reading and one without. Even now, recording some of the more ghastly passages from Hosea, I find them stomach-turning and ask myself how we can possibly justify affirming this as suitable for reading in Christian liturgy. It gets worse, of course, as the ‘history’ moves into the story of the conquest as recorded in the book of Joshua, and that is the point where the alternative without the OT readings will be offered.

“Here what the Spirit is saying to the church” does not mean that the Spirit is affirming the words of the lection. I frequently experience the thought that the Spirit is saying, “This is no word of God” to a particular lection. On one day, after listening to a passage from Joshua, the cry rose within me, “Dump it!” and I still don’t know whether this was simply my human revulsion or a genuine word of the Lord. There is great deal in scripture, particularly in the Old Testament, but passages and books of the New Testament as well, where I cannot say Amen. Nor, I suspect, can the church community as a whole any longer. Has the time come for a major revision of the canon of scripture?

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Is Virtual Church a community?

28 Jan 2015

I think sometimes of the strangeness of the relationship created by the online community. I do think of the many people who connect with the offices, blogs, sermons and reflections on the site as comprising a community, and pray daily for its members, yet I struggle with its strangeness. I have no idea of its size and apart from the emails I receive, no idea of the circumstances of individuals. I am aware that for some, for reasons of circumstance, the website has become a primary connection to the church community, but for most, the primary connection remains their parish or religious community, and that is the way this is envisaged. There is also a huge range of theological and ecclesiastical traditions embraced by this community.

What, then, is it all about? This has become an acute question for me as I find this ministry consuming more and more of my time, and as I look to developing the site further. The concept of ‘virtual church’ floats around, but I am uncertain not only of what that means but how legitimate it is. Recognising that in some circumstances, the virtual world can provide an important link that becomes, for people, their ‘church’, I hate to think of a more widespread development where virtual reality replaced direct and immediate personal relationships as being the heart of ‘church’.

So what is my vision as I proceed? My primary vision is that, in providing the recorded offices, I am facilitating a link with a much wider worldwide church community. The offices are not personal devotion but the church at prayer. The immediate form of the office that I use may be that provided by the Anglican Church in New Zealand, but its elements are common to the global church, and the psalm and lections shared globally. So the hundreds or thousands that may participate in the office today online are linked will a global company sharing the offices that day. The offices take us out of ourselves and signify our part in the universal church.

The other developments on the site, current and projected, are about providing additional resource that may or may not be useful to people.  I receive feedback that these blogs and sermons are being appreciated, but I am sure that for some they are superfluous, and that’s OK. It will be the same for what I envisage being able to provide in the future. This is very much the nature of the online world. I read the newspapers daily online, but read only a small fraction of what is provided. Some Christians are in churches that are able to provide great resources, but many are not, and if what I can provide can supplement the local resources, that is what it’s about.

If you have any suggestions (including criticism) and comments, I would like to hear from you.

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Can you help?

26 Jan 2015

From tme to time, I receive donations towards this online ministry and these have always been welcome. I have, however, been reluctant to make any direct appeal for financial assistance. It is purely conincidental that I should write this today when the New Testament reading this morning was Paul's statement about providing the gospel free of charge, but I can identify with what he says. I am conscious that most of the people in the online community that engage with me daily are already deeply commited in their ministry, which means, for most, that their available resources are commited elsewhere. It has been and remains my joy and privilege to offer this ministry .

The bulk of the input required from me is just time and energy. However, currently I am facing significant expense and I do ask that if any of the community can assist in some measure, however small, this would be deeply appreciated. Recently I invested in a new condenser microphone, that is making such a difference to the quality that I have decided to re-record all the offices. I also needed to purchase new storage media. However, the major challenge is that my eight-year-old computer system is no longer up to the task and I have to invest in a new system.

In addition, from next month, I am engaging the professional services of my webmaster to undertake an upgrade of the whole website and provide for an extension of the ministry the online facility can provide. He has provided me with his services, including hosting my site and storing files, without charge for many years and offered his services for the upgrade, but I am also aware of his finanacial posiiton and have insisted that I pay his time.

All this will happen whatever the support I receive from the community. But if any of you can help, it would be a wonderful gift of grace. Donations go to the Genesis Foundation, which is a charitable trust set up to undertake this work. Unfortunately, it does not qualify through the IRD to give tax relief receipts.

Donations can be made though PayPal, using the email address - david@genesis.net.nz.

Even if you are not able to support me financially, please pray for this ministry.



Generational change

20 Jan 2015

My first period of chaplaincy began at the end of 1978 and lasted a little over a decade. Then I spent much of last year, and again at the present, back in chaplaincy. Much has changed in the intervening years. The health system has changed, and vastly for the better. When I was chaplain to a large general hospital from 1978, I used to say that the major role the chaplain played was as the one who earthed patient anger at the manner they were treated. Those were the days when the doctor’s morning visit treated the patient as a thing to be talked about in front of them as if discussing a lump of meat.  Informed consent was not even on the horizon of thought. The system was efficient but not at all person-friendly. The contrast to today is marked and dramatic in that, as in many other respects.

There have been marked changes, too, on the ethnic and religious front. In part, this is arises from immigration, which has changed the whole ethnic composition of the population. But in that first period, the whole system was monocultural, with scant recognition of the indigenous Maori people. That started to change during the 1980s but our efforts were not matched by any resources, whereas today the Maori element is highly significant and resourced.

What I find of deepest interest, however, is the change in religious attitude, and not in the direction that might be expected. The nearly forty years between the present and when I started in chaplaincy have been marked by a precipitous decline in Christian engagement outside the sectarian arena. The church today is a shadow of its strength as it was in 1978. Yet the spiritual openness of the staff and embrace of the role of the chaplain is equally dramatic in its improvement. In part, I am sure that this is related to the change in person-orientation noted above. But I think it is also a reverse side of the decline in the church, for the present generation doesn’t come with all the hang-ups and negative baggage that so many of the older generation carried over from the rigid and formalistic religion of their upbringing. The younger generation may not have the ties to the church but I experience from them a warmth and acceptance of ministry that is encouraging, and very different from what I experienced a generation ago.

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19 Jan 2015

For me, at any rate, the hardest battle of life is around knowing what is the most important thing to do at any particular moment of time and place. It seems as if every moment has at last ten claims upon time and energy, and all are important. I am experiencing this particularly acutely at the present. As a ‘retired’ person, my life is always full to the brim, then suddenly I am called in to work full-time, carving out the greater number of waking hours, but most of what used to be important remains important and claims my time. The more you try to meet the claims by rising early and working late, the stronger becomes the claim for the importance of rest.

Then there is the issue of where we cannot know what is most important. This, too, I experience intensely in the hospital. It is not a large hospital by national standards, but I am the sole chaplain and everyone, of every faith and denomination, patients and staff, are my pastoral responsibility. Furthermore, the patient population is constantly changing. There is no way for me to know each day or at any point in the day where I am most needed. Yes, on a day like today I can identify a few patients from last week that I know I must follow up, but even then, I cannot know if they are the most needy. (And half the time I find they are discharged). Few, in fact, of the people I visit at their bedside, at the first contact, would even identify that they have a need of my care, yet so very often, by the time I leave, both of us are aware that something of high significance has taken place. So even if I could sit down at the beginning of each day and survey every patent notes, still I would not know what was the priority for pastoral care.

So in everything, the way I live is that God puts in front of me what it is that I am to address at that moment. In the hospital, I work in the trust that God places me where I am needed most at any moment. In all the complexities of choices between priorities, I trust that the Spirit guides me to the wisest choice at every moment. What cannot be attended to, God takes care of in other ways. After all, I am but a small member in Christ’s body.

There is one priority, however, that takes precedence over everything else, because that entire understanding of how to function rests upon it, and that is the priority of spirituality. Prayer, the daily offices and the Sunday Eucharist are the overriding priorities of life. The moment we allow other priorities to override them, life goes to pieces. It is like the routine of daily meals. If we neglect to eat because we are so busy, in no time we can’t do anything. It is so with our spirituality.

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Religious violence

16 Jan 2015

As I move around the patients in the hospital, a common concern is being expressed, echoing millions around the world, at the growing religious extremism and violence. What is also common is the way in which people are thinking that things have never been so bad. What is the world coming to? Without taking anything away from the horror of what is happening in France, the Middle East, Pakistan and parts of Africa, it is important to have a perspective that puts what is happening in the context of horrors of the past, from the world wars to Pol Pot, to Northern Ireland, to the South and Central American dictatorships. Then there is the distortion of perspective arising from the news media. If the world was at peace and only a single murder happened worldwide on a day, it would be blazoned across the media as a catastrophe. Remember, too, that infinitely worse things are happening in Pakistan and African than has happened in Paris. The media distort our vision – or maybe its our vision that distorts the media. Either way, we get things out of perspective, which is never helpful.
Nevertheless, it is imperative that we read the signs of the times, and the religiously inspired violence that we are witnessing worldwide is such a sign of the times. It is telling us that something very deep is happening across the world, in all societies. Everything everywhere is changing and there is a strong resistance to the change. Islam is especially subject to and vulnerable to the change and is struggling to adapt. Beneath the surface of conservatism and violent reaction there is happening a transformation of that religion just as is happening within Christianity more openly. As troubled and horrified as we may be today at the violence, I am sure that in a generation we will look back and see that the horror becomes the catalyst for fundamental change that breaks open the old ways and the old institutions. In a decade from now, I think that Islam will be almost unrecognisable from the religion as we know it today.
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15 Jan 2015

I wrote yesterday that the core role of the chaplain was to be the one person in the hospital system who does nothing. I would take that a stage further. The chaplain is the one person in the system who knows nothing, and that, too, is a core role. Everyone else is supposed to ‘know’ within his or her sphere of competency. The doctors are supposed to know what is wrong with you or at least to know how to find out what is wrong. The nurses are supposed to know how to care for you physically, the physio how to enable you to walk, etc.

As chaplain, I don’t have any of that knowing. Yes, I know how to prayer, anoint, bring communion and so on: but as much as it may be thought that this is what chaplain’s ‘do’, it is in fact the least part of the role. As I move through the wards, in most instance I know nothing about the patient who I approach, beyond their name (from the name board at the entrance to the room) and what is obvious from observation, about gender, etc. I could look up people’s notes, and sometimes have background information from team meetings, but these knowings are rarely helpful and can sometimes be counter-productive. (There are exceptions, of course, like when I need to know about issues of infectious isolation or areas of particular sensitivity where I should tread cautiously). Furthermore, it forms no part of my being there to ‘find out’ anything about the patient byond what the patient choses to tell me.   The creativity in the relationship arises out of the space created by this ‘not knowing’ and the relief people experience in hospital in an encounter that is not about information gathering.
All this is on the surface, however. The really important sphere of not knowing occurs when people start to explore the deeper issues:  the questions of God, of the meaning of their experience, of what the future holds, and so on. This is where the real revolution has taken place in our religious thinking. Traditionally, the priest/pastor was the one who ‘knows’, who has the answers to these questions. The church knows all about God, salvation, meaning, moral choice, eternal destiny, the lot. Today we recognise that we know nothing: nothing absolutely. I have no neat answers to all the deep questions people ask. It is in the space created by that not knowing that spiritual miracles occur and the power of God is manifest.

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All clear (and the radio interview)

14 Jan 2015

Had to go through the unpleasant routine of a colonoscopy today, a routine follow up on an earlier result that showed cause for concern. All was well. It did mean, though, being up till the early hours of this morning ( I am tempted to make the pun, 'going thought the motions'), then lots of waiting around before and not able to do anything active after. Yet the time was not wasted. I am thinking ahead to next Sunday's address, where I am being challenged by the 6th chapter of I Corinthians and the whole issue of moral guidance and direction today. As I waited in surgical gown, I foound myself slicing through (Lord, save me from these awful puns) to some bedrock concepts. Whether I can capture them with sufficent clarity to express in the coming week is an open question, but I am glad of the space to think.

Some weeks ago I posted a file to a radio interview that I had done with Radio New Zealand. the file didn't function properly. Now, however, I have obtained the link to the RNZ archive of the interview, and that is now posted on both the Home Page and the Mornign and Evening Prayer page.

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The chaplaincy and its role

13 Jan 2015

Today and until the end of the month I am working as chaplain to Waitakere Hospital in west Auckland, where I served for seven months last year. The role of chaplain is a strange one. In an environment in which every staff member is constantly busy with the thousand and one demands of a hospital, the chaplain is the one person with ‘nothing to do’. That is the core role: to be the person who has nothing to do. I simply am; am here for people, with the people defining what role they want me to play for them. In a deeper sense, the ‘I am’ is as symbol of God, the God who is ‘I AM’. It is as symbol that, in fact, most of the chaplain’s work is done, which is why I always dress in the traditional black shirt and clerical collar. I know from the feedback I receive that seeing me can be enough to help a patient reconnect with their spiritual roots. The classic expression of this occurred a few years ago. A patient came to me on discharge to thank me, to which I responded that I had never talked to her. She said, “You walked into the ward and I knew God was with me. That was enough.”

The symbol is important, too, in the cross-faith environment that is the hospital. I see the chaplain as symbolising God to people whatever their faith understanding of God, so I connect with the spirituality of Hindu, Muslim, Jew and others, and this is borne out in practice. What is perhaps most interesting is that the symbol rarely fails to elicit a response – and more often than not a positive response – from people who profess atheism.

So the role of the chaplain is one of being, not doing. I am there, but never busy. If a patient needs me for hours – and this sometimes happens – I don’t have to think of all the other things I ‘have to do’. Yes, there are hundreds of patients and staff within my pastoral orbit, and among all those is an ocean of need that if I even started to think that I should ‘do’ something about, I would be crushed by the load. I work on the basis that God places me where the need is to be met at any one time. Even when face to face with that need, my role is not to ‘help’: that is a doing role. I am simply there. Sometimes, of course, that ‘being there’ backfires, when patients or family expect you to ‘do’ something and become frustrated when their expectation is not met. More often, though, the experience is one of genuinely creative and positive ‘happening’ that can sometimes be quite dramatic.
All of this is for me deeply rooted in a theology of God. In fact, I think it is only really possible to sustain being in the context of a theology of being. It is never the ‘not doing’ of helplessness, but always in the awareness of the power of the presence of God, a presence that transforms everything.
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Going into the garden

10 Jan 2015

I find myself pulled in many directions at the moment, compounded by the heat and humidity that saps energy. From the one direction comes the pull of the multitude of mundane tasks of which life seems to be over-full. From another direction is the desire to pursue the re-recording of the offices that, if I give this a priority, consumes nearly half the working hours of every week. Then there is the call to focus on deep reflection. The attention of the world is focused on the atrocity in Paris (though this is minor compared to the atrocities being committed daily in other parts of the world). My sense is that this event is going to prove a major turning point in the development of global spirituality and I want to reflect on it and try to see what it means. All these competing claims are intensified by the approaching period, commencing in a few days, of full-time chaplaincy at the hospital.
My resolution of these claims? I'm going out into the garden to potter and enjoy.


Is religion going out of existence?

07 Jan 2015

An article on the BBC asks the queston whether religion is going out of existence. Although its answer is, probably not, the rationale for religion and its continuing existence in humankind is given wholly in sociological and psychologicl terms. There is not even a shadow of a thought given to whether there is some existential reality to which religion points. It is seen simply and wholly as a way of coping with the world, and especially with the negative aspects of living.

I have written a book, Global God, available as an ebook, in which I argue that the world of humanity is moving towards a single global culture and that this will, in time, generate a single global spirituality, even though that spirituality will manifest great diversity. There is a profound truth in the perspective that culture generates religion, a truth that is far deeper than the writer for the BBC is willing to recognise. It is not just a way of coping with negativity, though it is that. Religion is a critical part of any culture if it is to survve in the long term.

The dominant quesiton is, however, what is the nature of authentic religion as we move into the era of global culture? For us as Christians, how do we relate to this search for authenticity? We are coming to the recognition that the Christianity we have known is one that has been long embedded in the way of thinking and acting associated with Western culture. Can Christianity adapt itself to the new mental environment of global culture? What does that mean for being Christian in the world? These are the quesitons of our age.

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Daily reflections

06 Jan 2015

The daily reflections from the book "Advent Calls" completed yesterday. Starting on Sunday January 23, I will post a new series, his time from the gospel of John and will tie into the office readings through Lent from that gospel. The reflections are from my book, "John in Lent".

A further note on yesterday's blog on prayer, it is a central part of my daily intercessions that I pray for all those who, from all around the world, share the office with me. So if you are reading this blog, know that you have been in my prayer this morning. I have no idea how many there are of you, nor from how many countries. Some I do know by name from your emails. But wherever you are and whoever you are, greetings on the Epiphanytide.

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05 Jan 2015

For me, the overriding priority of every day in prayer. I like to wake before anyone else in the household so that time for prayer comes unimpeded by other pressures. It is not just the pressures of other people. The model on which I live my life is that we move freely and constantly between living in the universe as physical and living in the universe as grace. Each is a different reality but they run parallel to each other, each necessary to the other, each illuminating the other, but cannot be held together in our minds at  any one time. We can only move between them. Time dedicated to prayer is sustained time when we live in the universe as grace, illuminating every aspect of our physical life with the light of grace.

So it is that I commence every morning's prayer with thanksgiving that looks back over the previous 24 hours and sees everything in the light of grace, and therefore give thanks for everything. Sometimes that means giving thanks into a darkness in which I can see no sign of grace. There are times when I am awed by the overwhelming abundance of God's gifts of grace.

Then I move on to intercession. My perception is that God has given me a number of people and situations for which it is my responsibility to hold in prayer every day. It is a responsibility, but part of the grace is that it is limited, and I see this as important. I am not asked to carry the whole world on my shoulders, just this limited range. Furthermore, I don't see intercession as asking God for anything specific, even when I am aware of specific need. My rule of thumb is this: if my petition could be stated as, "God, I wish you would....."' then I do not utter that as my prayer. When I pray for someone or some situation, it is with confidence that the power of grace flows into that person or situation, and that is sufficient. What never ceases to awe and amaze me is the way in which I see that power constantly and consistently at work, almost always in ways I could never have anticipated or planned for.

Finally, in my daily prayer, I open the coming day in my own life to the flow of grace. Once agin, I avoid anything that can be expressed as wish.  It is an act of grounding the coming day in the sure and certain confidence that grace will fill and transform everything and that every need will be met. Nothing more is needed.

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04 Jan 2015

Here in New Zealand, the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated today, the Sunday before the 6th January. It's our holiday season here, high summer, and days for beach and BBQ, not midweek liturgical festivals. This brings to the fore, however, the issue of the Eurocentric nature of the liturgical calendar and how it is constantly out of phase in the southern hemisphere because it was built around northern seasonal rhythms. There is much wider issue regarding the festivals and observances, however. Has the time come for a complete review of the entire tradition? There is, after all, nothing fixed or sacred about any of it. I say this as one deeply steeped in tradition. Yet if we were to start from scratch today, we would not create anything resembling what we have.

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The offices they are a'changing

03 Jan 2015

The offices now being posted are from the new recordings. They are still too fast-paced, something I will address. The sensitivity and dynamic range of the new mic is a delight, though it also picks up all kinds of extraneous noises, only some of which I can deal with in editing. I'd like to hear what others think and are experiencing of them, but my current reaction, as I listen to them myself as liturgy (not just as recorder/editor) is that they take the office ministry to a new level, and it is important to continue. There may be times when I cannot sustain the recordings, and for a period revert to the old recordings. From the middle of this month, I have a period of full-time hospital chaplaincy, for example. But I will do what I can manage.

What I plan to add to the offices is reference to the calendar of saints. There is a problem here, though. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, Anglicans do not have a universal calendar of saints but each province determines its own observances. Furthermore, I recognise that many who join in these offices belong to traditions outside Anglicanism. Not very province observes the same day, even, for some observances. My baseline will be the calendar of the Anglican Church in New Zealand, but with selectivity in consciousness of the global 'congregation'. Again, I would value feedback from time to time as to how people experience this.

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Finding the Christian story

02 Jan 2015

New Year's Day is a moment that encapsulates the ambiguity that characterises our entire life as Christians. For the church, it is not New Year's Day at all: that happens on Advent Sunday. Symbolised in this dissonance is the way we live two parallel lives, two parallel universes, and each has its rhythms and each has its integrity. For all practical purposes, including the functioning of our church life, we live in the universe symbolised by January 1st as the start of the year. That is saying that we belong within the physical world, and the global world, and this is our home. At the same time, and in parallel, we live a life that has a different dimension, the life of the universe as grace, symbolised by a rhythm of time that begins on Advent Sunday. This, too, is our home.

It is not that one is home, true home, and the other is not, or at least only a passing residence. Or, as some would have it, that only one home is real, the other an illusion. We live simultaneously and fully in both the world of January 1 and the world of Advent Sunday. We need both worlds. We cannot live without both worlds.

I am shaping my sermon for the coming Sunday, and this is emerging as its theme for exploration.

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29 Dec 2014

How do we discern what God wants? The problem is age-old. It is not just an abstract issue: it confronts us every day as we seek to live faithfully as disciples. Life is an often confusing interaction between the conflicting priorities of physical life, our wishes and desires, and our intent to be faithful to God. Even when we think we are clear what God is calling us to do, the reality is that it is always ambiguous. My customary resolution is to see that what God asks of me is to make a decision responsibly, and that decision is affirmed. My trust is always that, if the course of action is not the right way, it will be blocked. When I am on the right track, everything needful is given. It's a simple way to live, and it works.


Progress at last

29 Dec 2014

The issue of recording quality now really does seem to be resolved, even if some adjustments still to be made. And the answer was sitting on mys system all along, meaning I haven't had to lay out more funds for new software. It's not a highly sophisticated peice of software, whihc is why I overlooked it in the first place. I tialed other options then decided to give this a try and it seems just right. I've recorded today's sermon using it. there is a monor proplem with 'pops' but that is easily overcome.

What has becme clear, however, from the frustration of the poast couple of days, is a coming to terms with the reality of the logistics of what I was setting out to do. I wnat to re-record all the offices, to a higher and more consistent quality. The present offices were recorded about eight years ago. But the sheer logistical commitment has come home. Each week's fourteen offices takes around 20 hours to record and edit, half a working week. The whole cycle of two years, therefore is a full year's work. There is no financial return for me in this apart from some donations made from time to time (and gratefully received). The original round of recordings were made during a eriod I was recovering from a long illness and the time was largely empty, nor could I work at any paid employment. The quesiton I have to ask myself at this moment is whether I can commit effectively to a year's work. This, too, is before I engage in the extensions about which I wote in an earlier blog.

Into the consideration is another thought. the time will come, wthout  doubt, when I can no longer physically post these offices, whether alive or dead. It would be my wish that someone may pick up the minsitry and continue to post them, and this could potentially go on for a long time. I would like to think that such posting will be with the best I can offer. I have some thinking - and praying - to do. If others have an input on this, I'd like to hear.


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From Michael and Tess, San Diego CA

From the Reflection for the Fifth Day of Christmas: "Christian peace is not about the absence of conflict, or of achieving harmony and gentle communality. We only know the real meaning of peace when we find it in the midst of turmoil, disturbance, disharmony and dis-ease. Yet even in this midst, Christians find an inner quietness, a quality of relationship that transcends division and conflict. Here they find salvation."

Well said and well concluded:

Turmoil, disturbance, and disease is a part of life and the test is how we handle it to the end.  The real question is, are they going to make others suffer just because they are suffering?  All too often this is the case.   The inner quietness we find is the reward, knowing that I can deal with life's down fall when it comes around again.

Since I have started to listen to your podcasts form the Daily Office, I have found myself more complete in the whole day.  My Priest once asked me how was my prayer life, I answered him, what do you mean?  This was a sure sign that I had no real prayer life, but now I do.

Thanks for your hard work of the years putting together the podcasts, and I will keep on listening.

From Barbara Harris, California

I read today your blog about your work and the time it takes to complete just one week. I know it is a difficult thing to continue but I wanted you to know how much your audio prayer means to me.

I am in California and the offices are not offered at our local Episcopal churches. I teach at an Episcopal school so when it is in session we have an abbreviated version only and Taize has replaced the once a month Evening Prayer we did have. Your audio recordings are my lifeline and they keep me faithful to one of my Rule of Life vows. Each morning and evening I look to your recordings to be my companion and partner in prayer. I want you to know that you are touching lives with the work you are doing and I hope that you will find time to continue.

From David Guthrie

Thank you so very much for your email. As with most things we undertake, there are times when you wonder if the effort is worth it and you get discouraged. Then a response like you have sent me arrives and you know that it is.

I have been maintaining these online offices fro a number of years, but in the pat they have been an adjunct to the rest of my life and ministry, especially after the initial round of recordings were completed. What has changed for me recently is the recognition that there has built up a substantial and world-wide community of people sharing the offices, many of whom echo your ‘lifeline’ perception. I have resolved that the ministry with this online community should move from being an adjunct to being the principal focus of my ministry. Hence the blogs and sermons and I see many potential developments that could open up. This creates, of course, many issues, not least of which is the question, is the Lord building this house? At a practical level are all the usual issues of adjustment of other priorities, and the resourcing needed to make it all work. If the Lord is building the house, then I know that I will have what I need when I need - though sometimes I wish God wouldn’t keep me on such a tight leash! Actually, that’s not true - I am constantly awed at the abundance, even super-abundance, of God’s gifts. The trick is, as with everything, to live in the present. Right now, I have everything I need and have it in abundance. The nature of living by faith is that I know that I will have what I need tomorrow when tomorrow comes, and the day after that I will have what I need then. The problems always begin when I think ahead and lose sight of grace, worrying about whether I will have what I need at some point in that future.

Wen your email arrived, it came to me as just such an act of grace for which I give thanks to both you and to God. It is my joy that the offices are a gift of grace to you. Every blessing this Christmas season.


28 Dec 2014

I am struggling with frustration. The last week has been focussed on making new office recordings, the beginning of a project to update the whole body of the recordings, using new and higher quality equipment. Technical problems plagued the first few days, as I noted in my blog, then I noted that these had been overcome. So for the last few days, apart from Christmas Day, all the energy has gone into recording. This has involved not only time and effort, but, because the 'studio' is the household living room, everyone else has had to work around the times of recording. I was pleased with the outcome and hoped that the online community would be as well. Today and the coming week was to be this first of the new recordings.

Not so. When I opened the files to upload them for use, they were unlistenable. It turns out that the technical problem I thought I had overcome did not lie in the equipment but in the software, and only become apparent when files are reopened. It appears that the software doesn't work properly with the new operating system. 

So it's back to the drawing board. Find new software that will do the job and find the energy to start again. Besides the emotions and the physical investment, there are the spiritual questions.  What is happening here at a spiritual level? Is God saying something to me? Is this a spiritual attack? Or am I making too much out of just plain old mundane circumstance? Right now, I don't know. All I can do is offer it to God and trust that grace will be evident.


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Christmas as a secular festival

27 Dec 2014

The CNN website is carrying an interesting account of the history of the modern Christmas, and I found it highly revealing. For years, along with many others, I bewailed the way in which the season had been taken over by sentimentality and commercialism, obscuring the religious message. The 'story' we assumed was that Christmas was originally and primarily a religious festival which was purloined by commerce.

It is true that the festival of Christmas is an ancient religious observance in the Catholic and Anglican tradition. However, it was not observed as such by the Protestant tradition, at least in Calvinism and Puritanism, both of which dominated in early America. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Christmas in the US was a time of extreme drunkenness. Then, in New York, a group of people decided to combat the drunkenness tradition by reinventing the day as one that focussed on children. They invented a personage called 'Santaclaus', based around an old Dutch story, and a decade later a poem was written about Santaclaus flying over New York on a sleigh and distributing presents. The poem captured the popular imagination - and the commercial sector immediately grasped its potential. So the modern Christmas was born, and it had nothing to do with Jesus and religion except that it filled a vacuum created by the absence of religious observance. In contrast to the assumed story of commercial takeover of a religious event, the opposite is true: it was religion that climbed on the back of a secular event. 

On that theme, when I was a youth, Christmas as a religious festival was still something only observed by Catholic and Anglicans (Episcopalians). No Protestant church that I was aware of held any service or observance of Christmas ( nor Easter).

Two celebrations of Christmas

26 Dec 2014

Christmas this year brought two very different experiences. Midnight mass in the cathedral was a magnificent liturgy, the choir singing a Haydn mass accompanied by a small string orchestra. During the Gloria, and again during the Sanctus, I closed my eyes and heard the singing as the celestial choir of angels filling the heavens. It felt extraordinarily real. 

Then, in the morning, local churches gathered on the beach for a Eucharist that celebrated not just this Christmas but the bicentenary of the first ever Christian service on New Zealand soil, held on a beach in the Bay of Islands, and the arrival of the first three European families to settle in this land. It marks the beginning of our nation as a bicultural community because the invitation to come and to hold the service was made by the Indigenous Maori people, and Maori made up the bulk of the congregation at that first service. The sermon preached by the Rev Samuel Marsden: "Behold, I bring you this day tidings of great joy", was translated into Maori by the chief, who had been to England and become a friend of Marsden. From that beginning, within twenty years, half the Maori population of the country had become Christian, mainly though the work of indigenous missionaries. Until the arrival of the main flow of European settlement in the 1840s, the church in New Zealand was overwhelmingly Maori. So that first Christmas, 200 years ago, was an event of immense significance for this land.


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24 Dec 2014

At last, I seem to have sorted out the technical recording problems though it will be Sunday before the "hiss-free" recordings come on stream. In the end it was a very simple thing and fortunately I didn't get around to calling in the consultant. 

So now at last I can turn my focus from technical to creative. In the new year, I plan to continue recording the offices afresh, but after Epiphany I plan to offer the alternative, at least outside of Lent, Holy Week and Easter, of the offices with and without the Old Testament reading. In addition, my intention is to add Midday and Night (Compline) Prayer, and Family Prayer. Together with these daily blogs and the weekly address, that will be a challenge.

Tomorrow is Christmas Day so there may be no blog. To all the 'community' of those who join me in the offices, may you have a blessed Christmas.

Technical and spiritual quality

22 Dec 2014


At the moment, I set out to make entirely new recordings of the daily office. Listening to the office this morning, it is clear I still have some way to go getting the technical side of the new equipment to function optimally. 

Quality is a strange thing. There is technical quality and there is spiritual quality. Both are important, and important to each other. These days, I am more a worshipper in the pew than a celebrant or preacher, and what pains me so often is the technical amateurism of so much that the church does and I cringe, even when I know that it comes from a deep spiritual sincerity. So it is that I am equally pained when I cannot produce the offices to a high technical standard. My issue is, however, a parallel with the parish experience: the resources to produce something that is technically perfect are not available. I have no option, If I am to produce the offices, but to be an amateur broadcaster, sound technician, audio editor, web manager and the lot. 

But then there is spiritual quality, and this is real but indefinable. I frequently attend the cathedral where the liturgy is superb and the music out of this world. Technically, the preaching is of the highest standard. Then I attend my parish church where the preaching is provided by a team of lay people. The technical quality may be lacking but the theology and message is more grounded and real from the lay preachers. The one situation exudes professional standards in everything - and I do not question the depth of spirituality that lies behind that: the other frequently frustrates me with its amateurism. Yet spiritual quality comes though both. 

So with the offices. It is important that the technical quality is good, because technical failings can get in the way of engaging spiritually. The ideal, as I see it, is to reach a point where any awareness of technical quality disappears from our consciousness. The really crucial issue is spiritual quality: the sense that this is genuinely of God and is transparent to the gospel values. If that is deficient, it matters nothing that the technical quality is of the highest.

However, I am frustrated at net being able to achieve what I think is a satisfactory recording quality at this point, and I am going to have to have expert assistance. So from tomorrow it's back with the old and we'll see where we go from here.


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22 Dec 2014

Every day is a battle with priorities. I'm a 'list' person. It's the only way I can keep track of all the various claims on my time. There is always so much I want to do, and always things that demand attention. There are never enough hours in the day, never enough money, never enough energy and skills and know-how to accomplish what I would like.

The primary question is the spiritual one. What is it that God calls to be done?  That is both a life-span perception and a question of each immediate present. Despite what we might like, and in spite of some theologies affirming differently, the spiritual answer is always ambiguous, even when we think we know what it is that God wants. After all, the fighters of ISIS and those people who spout hate in the name of religion are acting out of conviction that this is what God wants. The street preachers who assault my ears when I venture into the city centre on an evening are acting from the conviction that God calls them to do this, though everything in me says this is not of God. So although the primary question is spiritual, the answer rarely gives any certainty about the priorities for the day.

The 'physical' answer is time management and goal setting, and this, too, I practice daily, but again the answers are always ambiguous. What is really, at this moment, the most important claim upon my time? Whatever decision I am arrive at, whatever the time or the day, it involves deciding against other claims that may be just as valid.

Then there is the constant tension between doing and being. For all that I have a life packed with 'doing', I refuse to define my life by what I do. Or by what I may accomplish. The fundamental of life lies not in doing but in being. That means a priority of prayer and reflection that overrides everything else. It also means that priorities of relationships and self-care override other claims. This morning, for example, I looked at a veritable mountain of tasks - and went out into the garden to potter. As I pottered, the shape of next Sunday's sermon formed, arising out of being, not doing. That I think is the key. Inspiration and wisdom are products or being, not doing.

It is the key, too, to living by grace. When we focus on doing, everything is about time and resource, skill and knowledge. When we live as being, everything is about being given in grace.


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20 Dec 2014

The new microphone for recording has arrived and much of the day today was spent getting the hang of it and what I can achieve with it. Tomorrow (Sunday) will new the first time the offices will broadcast with the new mic, so it's going to be very interesting to see if the difference is significant. I would appreciate feedback. It's a whole new approach needed, and I'm only at the beginning of the learning curve. One thing we will all have to live with and that is that I record in my living room and the sensitivity of the mic picks up sounds around the house, some of which I can't control, like the background noise of the fridge and the birds singing outside. It's school holidays so from time to time there'll be the sounds of children playing from over the fence. But that is life and that is spirituality. Let all the extraneous notices be a word from God that whew pray in the midst of God's world. 

I don't know whether I'll continue like this, but for the moment I'll record the scriptures as the office unfolds. In the past, the readings have been pasted from my Genesis label recordings. In fact, I am now asking myself whether or not the time has come to rerecord as I know now I can achieve a might higher quality than I was able to produce six or seven years ago. The question is, where do I stop? 


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God in my garden

19 Dec 2014

For those of you reading this in the northern hemisphere winter, I spare a thought as I write this sitting under an umbrella in my garden. The sun is shining, the breeze is warm and the birds are singing. I have spent the morning doing the garden chores -such a burden!

In the course of leaning over a garden to cut a spent head of a dahlia, I supported myself by holding onto a small tree, only to shake it slightly and disturb a nesting pair of blackbirds who flew out of the tree in panic. I could here the flapping of wings inside the foliage. For the rest of the morning, one of the birds chirped angrily at me but that was all, until I was joined by my wife. Suddenly we were being dive-bombed and fast flights right in front of our eyes. Time to beat a retreat. Hitchcock's 'Birds' came to mind.

Bird attacks aside, there is a lot of truth in the old adage that we are closest to God in our garden. It's the place where I formulate many, if not most, of my sermons. 

And speaking of sermons, starting this Sunday I am posting a sermon for the week. Now I have my new mic, I plan to audio record them as well as text, and I may video as well, though probably not this week. That is, of course, if I finish my garden chores!


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The challenge for Christianity today

18 Dec 2014

It is the thesis of my book, Global God, available as an ebook, that the world is moving inexorably towards a global culture and, alongside of that, towards a single global spirituality that will underlie the global culture. That this is happening is the key to human survival because the challenges we face are global and can only be met by a global culture. The long term sustainability of any culture rests on the communality of the religion that underpins it.

The exponential growth in religious violence and sectarianism that the world is experiencing might seem to deny that thesis but in my view confirms it. What we are seeing is the last-ditch resistance of religious ideas that are crumbling from within, and that resistance is being expressed in dogmatic certainty that in some instances turns to violence. The extremism is in fact proclaiming the end, and, of course, hastening that end.

For Christianity, the shift to global culture both threatens its existence and opens vast new possibilities. The open question at this point of time is the character of the coming global spirituality.  Can Christianity make the tremendous adaptation to the new cultural environment or will it remain locked in the old culture and become as irrelevant to the global world as Druidism is to the modern world? The history of the faith says it can make the shift. It did so from its Semitic cultural origins into the Hellenistic world. It made the cultural transition from Hellenism to both the Western European and Byzantium cultural worlds. The genius of Christianity, its great grace-gift, may lie in its capacity for cultural adaptation.  In that gift may lie, literally, the saving of humanity, for without a powerful communal faith, the human species is unlikely to survive the global threats of this century, let alone what the longer term future may hold.

Grace almost overwhelms me

16 Dec 2014

A little over a year ago, I made a diary note that I thought that God had put me on the scrap heap. Nothing seemed to be happening for me of any consequence for ministry and what had been happening had run its course and there seemed nothing of any significance on the horizon. I was to fill in as a locum chaplain at the hospital for a few weeks, but that didn't excite me : I was quite reluctant, in fact. Little did I realise that God had got me by the tail, opening up the most incredible year of ministry that has emerged over the last twelve months. The 'few weeks' of chaplaincy grew into seven months and I loved every day of it. Other dimensions of ministry opened up that have been rich. Now the doors have opened on developing this online ministry that has immense possibilities. Every day is experienced anew as a river of grace-gifts of such abundance as to be almost overwhelming - yet by their very nature I know will never overwhelm but will always be only what I can cope with.

So every day begins with thanksgiving. Often I cannot even detail what I have to give thanks for, because of the abundance. I can only pause in awe and wonder at the grace and love of God.


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Excited but apprehensive

15 Dec 2014

I've become excited about the prospect of developing the website ministry, and at the same time apprehensive. Even if I never get much beyond the first stage, there is a good deal of time and work involved, and it is going to stretch my technical knowledge and equipment. Two questions, then, dominate at this moment. The first is the issue of sustaining the initiative once begun. The others is whether it genuinely meets a need and justifies the exercise.

On the first question, I am confident  that I can sustain the development as long as I take it slowly. Spiritually, the answer is in walking in grace, not running ahead of what I am given in the present. If the resource is not available, then the time is not right, or perhaps even the direction is not right. But when the resource is given, then the call is to go forward.

The second question also resolves for me spiritually. If the call is to go forward, the need is there. I never envisage my ministry as reaching a mass audience. This is no mega-church initiative. Yet I know from the many emails I receive that this ministry is important to a lot of people all around the world. If it was only important to a few dozen, it would be worth while.

On the subject of resource, yesterday I took the plunge and bought a new mic for recording. I haven't recorded for a long time because my equipment was no longer up to the task. Now I am looking forward to rebuilding that side, hopefully with better technical results than in the past. The first fruits of that may be a regular address built around the Sunday lections. I may even video the address. We'll see. One step at a time.


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James Dainty, UK

I thank you so much for your wonderful ministry to us all through your morning and evening prayers. It is a lifeline for people like myself who can no longer see to read a prayer book or bible.

Your Daily Offices have been a blessing for several years and I have commended you to clergy in many parts of the world. Those who have no one to share with especially find encouragement through sharing fellowship with you.

In the last six weeks my wife has had a stroke and we now listen to your Daily Office together. The familiar prayers and readings are becoming part of her healing. This is because they were part of her experience before and also because of the way you read and give the meaning - making the word come to life. 

The inclusion of familiar hymns is a powerful addition to our experience.

Thank you so much.


Molly, USA

I am so grateful for your broadcasts of morning prayer. It's such a good way tostart the day!

Wishing yu much success in your new endeavur. Merry Christmas from snowy Vermont.

More on the website development

14 Dec 2014

The more deeply I explore the potential for the website development, the more I recognise both the almost limitless nature of that potential and, at the same time, my own limitations both personal and resource. So my thinking at this point is to build in stages and just see where each stage takes us. The first stage as I envisage it, is to further develop the communal offices, by adding in daily midday and night prayer, providing an alternative stream that omits the Old Testament readings outside the special seasons, and recording morning and evening family prayer. I also wonder whether there would be an appreciation for posting the text that could be read while listening, both for the offices and the scriptures.

I am also thinking of adding a longer 'address' on Sundays that builds upon the lections for the eucharist and which I wish that these would provoke lively comment and discussion. 

It would be great to hear from people as to whether developments such as these would be helpful. Please post your comments because without some feedback I cannot know whether or not the time and effort involved would be justified. 


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Christmas concert

13 Dec 2014

I attended the Christmas concert by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra yesterday in Auckland Cathedral. Generally, 'Christmassy' things leave me uninspired, even church events, but especially in secular contexts. The APO, however, suffused their concert with a real and genuine sense of joy and spirituality that I found deeply moving. The recent renovations in the cathedral have dramatically improved both the visual impact of the building and the quality of the acoustics, and both came together in this concert. The sound was almost magically crystal clear but with just enough resonance to add richness to the tone of both orchestra and singers. So I found myself  enjoying the concert at every level - spiritually, musically and technically. It stuck me how rare it is to have such a sense of completion.


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Developing the website

12 Dec 2014

Over the past two weeks, I have taken up the challenge to develop the website ministry, initially adding this blog and the pages of reflections. I have been wrestling with both the technical aspects of making something more of the site, and the concept, the vision, of what it might be. Then suddenly and unexpectedly, the door of opportunity has opened that resolves all the technical aspects, creating almost limitless possibilities, leaving me to face the issues of concept and vision.

I have no idea of the numbers of people who come to the site daily for morning and evening prayer, but I have always thought of this as a global community gathering in prayer. Now the question arises as to whether this 'community' needs or wants something more that can be provided as ministry through the site. Initially, then, I ask four questions - ABCD.

A  -  Axiomatic. What is axiomatic about any development? 

B -  What are the basic needs that can be addressed via the web?

C -  What is the community being addressed? Is there a community at all, or just a fantasy?

D -  What does that community (assuming it exists) desire that the website could provide?

There are many other questions, of course, but these are basic. Over subsequent blogs I will explore my thoughts but these are not questions I can answer on my own. I need to hear from the 'commuity'.


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How funerals have changed

11 Dec 2014

If the way we celebrate Advent has changed, how much more the way we conduct funerals. Looking back 50 years, funerals were always conducted by clergy, usually in church, and we're a rite of transition to the "next world". The clergy gave an address that might or might not contain reference to the life of the deceased. In fact, the funeral service in the Book of CommonPrayer did not even allow for a sermon at all.The theory had been that a funeral service was identical for everyone, without any personalization, on the basis that before God in death all were equal and no one, king or commoner, was accorded anything different. The idea behind there being no address is that we did not act as judges on anyone's life or character. If we did not want to say anyting negative about a person, neither should we say anything positive. 

How all that has changed! Funerals today have been taken over by the commercial world and are now almost completely secular. Recently, I attended at funeral that was in church but was conducted by a secular celebrant, the vicar sitting int he congregation. Funerals have become talk-fests about the person's life  but alwas only hw good he or she was. The elephants in the room are always ignored, leading to a sense of unreality, even hypocracy, to the proceedings. Funerals used to be short: 20 minutes generally, kept short in respect for the emotional state of mourners. Today they can last for hours, speech after speech, always extolling the virtues of the deceased, always ignoring the ambiguities of his or her life. Judgement is king. 

The focus of the traditional funeral service was on the hope of resurrection to eternal life. This has almost completely disappeared. Folk religion makes its appearance in the form of "meeting up in heaven", "looking down on us" and the like, but there is rarely anything genuinely Christian to be found in any traditional sense.

Frankly, I find most contemporary funeral services boring and almost unendurable in their length, suffocating in their hypocracy. They have become exercises in sentimentality and governed by the commercial interests of the funeral industry, which today include the celebrants from whom this is the business.. If religion is even mentioned, it is as a patina, a sop.

Having said all that, I have just come from a funeral that did not fit that patterns at all. There are exceptions to every rule.


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Living in the present

11 Dec 2014

Living in the present is a little like being a gardener. I love my garden. Right now, here in New Zealand, it is early summer and my garden is full of flowers at every turn. Roses, dahlias, gladioli, begonias, pansies, verbena, fuchsia, ringaringa, hydrangea, diatetes, nasturtium, impatiens, petunia, boganvilia, star jasmine, clematis, snap dragons - in profusion everywhere. The house is filled with the fragrance of sweat peas picked every day. Peas, tomatoes, lettuce, beans, celery, parsley, rhubarb, and various herbs in the vegetable garden. The fernery is throwing out new fronds and the tui sings loudly in the flowering trees. Yes, it is the best of times in the garden and I love it. But I love it too in the winter and at every other time. The present, whatever the present, is always the best time in the garden. 

Everything comes to an end. The pansies are coming to an end. Yesterday I pulled out a massed display of calendula that had been spectacular for weeks. It was a death, but today I revel in the mass of bedding dahlias that I have planted in their place. Joy is always in the present.

The worst possible thought would be a garden that never changed, nothing ever died, lawns didn't grow, weeds never appeared, everything was always perfect and I never had to dig drains. That would be my definition of garden hell. Nor do I live for a time in which my garden will be complete and finished. In fact, I can't even imagine a complete and finished garden. What a bore that would be!  

Of course I think about the future and plan for it. I am already thinking about the autumn flowers. But the enjoyment and meaning of the garden is always to be found in the present. 

And then there is the dimension of wonder and awe: grace. Yes, hard work and much thought has gone into the creation of this garden, but it's beauty ultimately is sheer gift. It evokes thanksgiving, wonder and joy. In the present. That is where life is lived. That is where God is found. That is where salvation is known.


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Our changed understanding of hope

09 Dec 2014

The retreat from eschatology that I referred to in yesterday's blog has many causes but chief among them is the fundamental shift in our spiritual focus from the future to the present. This has changed our whole understanding of the nature of hope.The classical understanding of hope was that the future would be radically different from the present and the past. The future would hold an entirely new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, an era in which all the ambiguity and suffering, loss and death of this present world would be no more. It was variously conceived as being a messianic age on earth or a glorious new existence in heaven. However it was imagined, the basis of hope was that the world of the future would be different in essence from the world of the present.

 The shift in spiritual focus from the future to the present has changed our understanding of hope. In the present, we know we have the fullness of God and grace, sufficient to meet every challenge. Our confidence in faith is that this will never end, never be any different, whatever the outward circumstances of life, even into death. In contrast to the classical understanding, hope is "sure and certain" that the world of the future will, in essence, be exactly the same as the world of the past and present. It will change outwardly, but inwardly the grace we know now will be the same, and for ever, world without end. Amen.
This does not mean that there is no heaven or no future messianic age. It means that these concepts are not the focus of our spirituality as they have been in the past. The focus in in the present, not on what is to come. This is the fundamental change that has affected the way we observe Advent.

The changed season of Advent

08 Dec 2014

A half-century of ministry gives a perspective on change. Every Advent, I am struck by how different the season is today from the early years of my ministry. Then, Advent was a sombre time - no flowers or sung Gloria, no weddings in church: the focus was on the prospect of Jesus' return and the judgement that would follow. There was a sharp focus on social justice in the light of that judgement.

It is very different in the modern Advent. The eschatological theme has retreated into the background even when it still forms part of the lectionary cycle. In its place, we now have the ubiquitous candle lighting and the four themes of peace, joy, etc.

The most dramatic change has been the invasion of Christmas into Advent, driven for the most part by the imperatives of the commercial world and popular culture, allied to the dominance of 'feel-good' religion that avoids anything with overtones of challenge. Sentimentality has overtaken the Advent season, as it has with Christmas.

At the heart of the issue, however, is the retreat from eschatology, creating the vacuum that the sentimentality has filled. On Advent Sunday, the preacher in the church I attended said, "We Christians believe that Jesus will return". It hit me that probably there was hardly anyone in that quite large congregation who would have said, ‘Amen’ to that statement with any real conviction that it meant anything. It has become a 'theological' truth that has no actual bearing in any way on how we live our lives. Not one thing would change, except in the words if we were to openly say we don't believe it.

This has become perhaps the most sensitive issue for us as Christians. We have this gap between what we profess to believe and what we actually believe, in that our belief makes any difference to our lives. The way we observe Advent today has become an annual statement of that issue.


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Monday 8 December

The death of an elderly relative prompts some thoughts about death. Of all the issues that have impacted upon the church over the last couple of generations, the change in attitude to death has had the greatest impact. It is not just that the majority of funerals now occur outside the framework of the church. It is the way people think about death that has changed.

This is not a new phenomenon. Prior to the medieval era, the church played little role in death.  The immense power and wealth of the medieval church came from the change in which people believed that the rites of the church were crucial to life after death. People were terrified of hell. Essentially, all that died out in the eighteenth century. Then, in the nineteenth century, came the invention of the concept that after death we are reunited with lost loved ones, and that life would go on but free of all the suffering and ambiguity of the present existence. This idea captured the popular imagination and completely reshaped our religious ideas and practices. It remained strong until the 1960s when it died out, surviving today as folk religion but only as a salve on the wounds of grief, salve that doesn't truly heal.

This has become the most critical of all the crises affecting the church today. It is not so much that people don't believe anything about what happens after death: it is that they don't care. It is no longer important. Which raises the question: why be a Christian at all? What does salvation mean if it has no reference to what happens after death? Until we have an answer to these questions the church will continue to decline.


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Sunday 7 December  Advent 2

The virtual church is a concept I find difficult to embrace yet it is a reality that is changing the face of religion. In this, it Is doing no more that what has happened at regular intervals in he past. When Jeremiah dictated his prophecies to be written down by Baruch, he commenced a whole tradition of religious writing eventually emerged as written scripture and changed the face of religions, and not just in the Hebrew/Christian tradition. The spread of the Christian message into Europe and Asia came about through the 'technology' of a common language, while the Protestant Reformation of the16th century was only possible because of the development in printing technology.  It is clear that the internet is having a parallel impact today upon the way we practice religion and there is no escaping is implications.

The daily offices, recorded on this and other sites, is part of this change, and though it doesn't have the mass engagement of so much else on the Internet, particularly in social media, I think it is of very considerable significance for the nature of virtual church. The key problem with virtual church lies in the fragmentation of real community and the isolation of individuals, however many their connections online. It leads to the creation of a wholly self-centered religion. The daily offices connect us with the church, transcending our individualism, even the boundaries of our beliefs as we may hold at any particular time. When we engage with the offices, we are joining not only all those who use this website daily, but with the multitude across almost every country in the world, and many languages, who are sharing in the office, online or from their own payer book and Bible. These are not daily devotions. They are liturgical acts, and a liturgy that breaks all the boundaries of language and geography.


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Saturday 6 December

I ask myself, what is my vision for this blog? If I am going to lodge a blog daily, this is a significant commitment of time and thought. To what end?  Here is my thinking. There is a worldwide community of people who engage daily with the offices on this website. I know, from the many emails I receive, that this is a community that is diverse in every respect, but that it has in common a deep commitment to Christ and the church. It is a thoughtful community.

Up to this point, the website has been one of simply publishing the offices, with email exchanges between myself and others being individual and private communications. Now I sense that the time has come to take that a step further and create a context in which thoughts can be exchanged in a way that can engage the wider community. My hope in creating these blog entries is that those who are part of this online community will not only read these blogs but will pick up the conversation.

The risk for me in taking this step lies in laying myself open. As I noted in yesterday's blog, the story of my life is one that both straddles the cultural divide created by WWII, but also that I never 'fit' on either side and so experience being judged too traditional by some and too radical by others. I would take that a step further. Although I never identified fully with the youth revolution of the 1960s, I was much influenced by the vast change in theological thought that took place in that era and therefore became completely out of kilter with the conservative reaction that occurred from 1980 to the beginning of this century.

I think what excites me about the present is that I see the openness returning to the church. I write this blog in that spirit of openness. 


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Friday 5 December

I was born in 1942 in the middle of the world war. That puts me in a cultural no-man's-land. The war marked a fundamental cultural watershed. Those born before the war, now in their mid-to-late 0s and over, live in a different mental and cultural landscape from the post war generation. I am talking in broad terms, of course. There are many exceptions, but the distinction is broadly true. Those of us born in the midst of the war don't truly belong in either of the cultural divides. I am conscious of how differently I think from even my close but slightly older contemporaries, while, though I am close in many ways to the pot-war generation, yet I don't truly share their world either. I never identified, for example, with the explosion of youth culture that took place in the 1960s.

So it has always been a quite strange environment to inhabit. Statistically, there were much fewer of my generation than earlier or later. In the religious context, I find myself with feet in both the traditionalist pre-war mentality and the radical post-war revision, but the problem I have lived with and never resolved is that I am both comfortable and alien in both camps. It goes the other way. Traditionalists tend to be upset by my radicalism and radicals upset because I am such a traditionalist.

The daily offices I record and engage with daily almost perfectly capture that division. The younger generation of clergy have almost if not completely abandoned the offices. When I was ordained, it was an undertaking made at ordination to engage with the offices every morning and evening. That is no longer required of modern ordinands. In my training, the entire community joined for the offices every day. Now, theological training, at least here in New Zealand, doesn't put any weight at all on community spirituality. So my engagement with the offices marks me as belonging to the old culture. Yet my understanding of scripture stands firmly within the culture of contemporary thinking and can scandalize the traditionalists as being unacceptably radical. I stand unreservedly in the camp of those who say we have to completely rework the entire Christian narrative, from creation to consummation.

And it all comes of  being born in the midst of a war!


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Thursday 4 December 2014

I am taking up the challenge to write a daily blog (at least, that's the intention!!)

Who, what, where am I?

I'm David Guthrie, an Anglican priest in Auckland, New Zealand, ordained deacon 48 years ago last week, priested 47 years ago. Married 47 years to Barbara (whose birthday was yesterday), with two married offspring, Jonathan, who now lives in Newmarket, Canada, and Ruth, living here in Auckland. We have five grandchildren, the eldest two appraching 18, the youngest at 13 and about to enter high school.

Officially, I am retired (meaning that I work seven, not six, days a week). I am involved in chaplancy (currently locum at Waitakere Hospital in Henderson, Auckland), publishing a magazine that may eventually become one of the largest distributed magazines in the country), writing (daily reflections (see my Books page), a 'Radical Sermons' series and theological writing available as ebooks), maintaining the daily office onthe website, gardening and being the house-husband / grandfather. There are never enough hours in the day.

This issue of never enough hours is, in fact, the central one of my life. For all the 'doing' pressures, I do not define my life by doing, but by being. It is not just that prayer and the daily offices are the pivots of my existence, it is that I live on the basis of the gifts of grace. Everything is given as and when and how it is needed and the time is right. If I achieve anything, it is not by diligence and hard work but by the gift of grace that opens doors and makes everything possible - and at the right time. I define my life by "I am", not "I do".

Comments 2

From Rosemarie Linday, Ontario, Canada:

I have been part of the Community participating in Morning and Evening prayers through your input on the Internet, for about a year. Thank you, David for making this form of worship available.  
Would you please expand on your blog Dec. 4, last paragraph "It is that I live on the basis of the gifts of grace etc.etc......"? I thought I understood the common definition of grace but am beginning to see it somewhat differently in the light of God's dealings with us.  This has come about partly from many of the Old Testament readings and I think is also related to your thoughts on Friday, Advent 1, para.1.  
From David Guthrie:
"It is that I live on the basis of the gifts of grace….” In my radio interview, I spoke about how I arrived at a model of both understanding God and for practical living that embraces the natural world. The essence of the model, drawn from the world of quantum physics, is that reality presents to us according to this question we ask for it. If I the physical question of what I am doing at this moment, the answer is that I am typing on my iPad and my brain is processing a flow of mental image and concepts. Everything is physical and purely physical, adhering to natural processes of cause and effect. If, on the other hand, I ask the grace question of the reality I am living at this moment, the answer is that I am given all the resources, the insight and the understanding I need for the moment. Everything is grace and pure grace. Everything is given.There is nothing in the universe that is not grace or exists outside of grace.  This is the theological framework and it translates every day into practical living.
At that practical level, what this means is that I live the opening verse of the 23rd Psalm: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. This does not mean I have everything I would like to have, or think even that I need. In fact, the test of living by grace is when everything is lost. The cross of Christ is the ultimate paradigm for living by grace. It is the trust into the face of every challenge, even death, that we are given al that is needed to meet the challenge.
Does this help to answer your question?