Metaphor and Mystery

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A lecture by visiting theologian Paul Fiddes,

We are juggling semiotics.  Whatever semiotics means.  Ah, semiotics means signs.  The meaning of signs is hidden.  We are venturing into territory where my understanding is weak.  Nothing transcends a world of signs.  “The heavens are telling the glory of God” disagrees with semiotics.  Signs cannot point to the beyond-sign. 

Is “the way of a man with a girl” relational or sexual.

Of course, nobody has told nature that and nature is more flexible over it.  The world is measured in height, breadth and depth, the x, y, z axes, and god knows the position and spin of the atom.  Nature, the book of the world, is encyclopediac because it contains the whole.  The observer is not separate from the whole.  We are part of the order.  The hidden order of the world should stimulate us.  How does x relate to y? you decide.

Undertones . . . overtones . . . (wombling free!)

Is the author hidden in the text, does the creator indwell the creation as presence.  “No appearance of god is more over-whelming than this non-appearance”.  This talk sounds to me that we are back at the school of thought that our god-shaped emptiness places us on a journey to recognise the absense of god, and we journey together as a community that recognises this brokenness within us.  It’s a funny old world.

fahrenheit451In Fahrenheit 451 for books to survive the firemen secret communities have memorised them.  They have become living books.  If Mr Simpson has memorised Marcus Aurelius, then which one is he? an man with a book in his head, or the sign of the memoirs of a Roman emperor?

Let us go then, you and I

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherised upon a table

The dying of the light?  The evening fading like a patient’s consciousness…  So that is how that line can be read.

Mystery engages us to empathy.  See through the world to the purpose of god.  The father gives godself to the son through the spirit.  Each are vanishing for the sake of the other.  The signal is empty.  God is in the movement, the dance, the flow, opening up the relationship, moving to the end-goal of god’s purpose.  God draws us into the dance of life.  Everything is open to inexhaustible meaning, engaging in the life of god, shaped in the story of Jesus.  How can we know the dancer from the dance indeed!

The sense of the text is not behind the text, but in front of the text (in the reader? in the author?)  The true world is ahead of the text.


Rethinking ACC

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This was a lecture held by Acclaim Otago at the University of Otago Moot Court.  Acclaim Otago is a new group to me.  I went along to support new friends who are involved in it.

Acclaim Otago is a Disability Organisation for people of disability and by people of disability.  It was established in 2003.  Around 2008 it got an injection of a couple of interested people who were connected Accident Compensation Commission (ACC) claimants.  They were interested in what Acclaim Otago was doing and they had law degrees.  What they were doing kicked up a notch.

In 2010 the New Zealand Government submitted a draft state report and consultation to the U. N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disability.  The convention does not cover people of disability by accident or the role of ACC.  Funding from the Law Foundation gave Acclaim Otago the opportunity to submit a shadow report to the convention and shape the process.

According to census there are 320 000 New Zealanders living with long-term disability from accidental injury.  There are 8 000 New Zealanders on ACC’s books.  This is down from 11 000 people a couple of years ago.  While we as a nation spend more on ACC than civil justice that money is being saved to go somewhere.  Three percent of Gross Domestic Product  is profit from ACC.  There is a human cost as ACC is being used to get into surplus.  This service costs.  While we are being told the system is streamlined ACC claimants don’t know the process or the cost of medical review.  They are put at a disadvantage.  ACC has the resources.  There is a human right at play here: nothing about us without us.

The report is completed.  We heard a summarised version.  Now it goes to Geneva with people who will speak on its behalf.


The Marriage Amendment Act: One Year On

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A forum hosted by the Centre for Theology and Public Issues, and the University of Otago Queer Support office.  One year after New Zealand amended the marriage act to allow gay marriage, well, what has happened in the response of the churches in New Zealand, and what’s changed?

How many Anglicans does it take to change a light-bulb?  Answer: Change?! CHANGE?!

The Anglican sect is united as a community of shared doctrine which they can mostly agree on, the enduring legacy of one of the earliest Supreme Governors of the church, Queen Elizabeth I of England.  Until recently the policy towards gay priests has been to pretend that they don’t exist while recognising that they are present.  The church cannot lead while maintaining its broad base.  It recognises that the differences over sexuality are irreconcilable while still seeking a way to stay together.  The next project is to work out how to co-exist.

The Methodist sect has worked through opposing opinions that has led the most conservative members to withdraw from the church to form the Wesleyan Methodist Church which affirms that opposition to homosexuality is the biblical standard.  In 2003 the Methodist Church signed a Memorandum of Understanding  that those who hold opposing opinions will stand together with integrity.  It allows gay marriage.  The blog Yes to Love lists churches, ministers and religious groups who will perform gay marriages.

The Roman Catholic sect have a mind for Christ.  Each human being is created in god’s image.  Sexuality is an expression of human tenderness, affection and love, a gift.  Catholic tradition remains that marriage is between a man and a woman.  The Church in the world must be immersed in the world and culture while offering another perspective.  It can’t be guided by culture and public opinion.  Marriage has something to say to culture.

Thank you for bringing theology out of the closet…

The Presbyterian sect (my own) through the General Assembly reaffirmed the traditional definition in opposition to the Marriage Amendment Act.  The next prediction is that the next General Assembly will reject conscientious objection.  The Christ story still influences culture, but the church doesn’t take moral leadership on culture.  So who is going in the right direction?  What are the limits of the traditional definition of marriage on a reforming church.

The speaker, Rev. Bruce Hamil, put out four points in support of re-thinking a reformed position.  I leave them outside this summary while noting they are well worth considering.  I asked if I could have a copy of his paper.

[Update: you can read the transcript of Bruce’s response on Jason Goroncy’s blog here]

The queer Christian is silenced by the church.  Conservative leaders were sought out to address the forum.  They were reluctant, fearful of getting a fair hearing.  Society has become more tolerant than the church.  There is still a way to go.  Gay people are five times more likely to attempt suicide.  Society is schooling the church in morality.  The church should be leading in the inclusive kingdom of god, instead it has become pharisaical gatekeepers making converts who are ten times worse than they are.  In a society we are currently living the church needs to become more inclusive to survive.

Final thoughts from the floor: watching a 6 foot tall cross-dressed Catholic with waist-length hair test Father Mark on whether the Catholic church can change its position.  Considering that in my life-time the Roman Catholic church has reformed the sacrament of reconciliation, seen the decline of monastic orders for both men and women in New Zealand, and reformed the dispensation of eucharist and baptism for practical reasons, including the limited involvement of woman, I felt that there is an argument there to answer.

The New Testament writes about homosexuality from a position that it is immoral.  The Letter to the Romans Chapter One describes heterosexuals practicing depraved acts.  It does not speak of a homosexual orientation.  We live in a society where inclusivity is considered moral.

The church has a way to go.  The end is still uncertain.  It is not the only hetero-normative homophobic institution in our society.


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I saw two books in the children / young adults section of the book shop.  They caught my eye and I noted the titles to read later.  Surprising enough they were available at the library when I went to find new books.

17696021The Wizards Guide to Wellington.  This one wasn’t on the shelf so I put it on reserve.  I was the first reader when it went into circulation.  I was interested to read it to see if this was New Zealand’s answer to Harry Potter.  Sort of.  It’s a book for children about witches and wizards and mythical monsters in Wellington than a deliberate pastiche of the Hogwarts series.  Non-magic users co-exist with the broom-stick riders and the fairy boats just out of the corner of the eye.  It repeats Wellington’s reputation as the bureaucratic capital of New Zealand, a high magic city with high magic citizens.  The writing fizzes and moves along quickly with child-like imagination for new adventures.  It wasn’t what I was looking for.  It’s aimed at younger readers than what I usually enjoy.  I didn’t find the depth of writing I was looking for.  The description of Wellington was lightly handled.  A gift for a child who wants a rollicking bouncy story that feeds her imagination, perhaps a local.

11351172Department 19.  A book out of the prosthetic vampire tradition.  The writing is older.  Again it is action-driven and it is very dark.  The prologue starts with a violent death.  Jamie Carpenter, the protagonist starts off as an alienated cipher as a result of his broken family, fairly typical for YA dark fantasy.  In the shadows his destiny is a secret agency who defends Britain from the classic monsters: Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman.  Jamie turns out to be natural, a descendent of the vampire hunters.  Now he has his family honour to restore.  There’s a high body count, both mooks and characters.  Many of them have names and at least some sketched out background.  Their deaths do count.  It’s hard-wired, violent and action-orientated.  It ends with enough hooks for the second title in the series.  Just don’t breathe through your nose.

The Modern House in Dunedin

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I went to hear Michael Findlay talk on this subject.  I remember him from my time when I was unemployed and on a scheme working in the old back rooms of the Settlers’ Museum.  I learnt that there is a difference between the modern home and the modernist home.  This architecture gig started when architects started moving from being trade to being professional, towards the beginning of the last century.  Design became pared back, and the curve of the wall met the angle of the corner.  Architecture became a morality.  The space for women to inhabit and work became the work of imagination.

There’s a lot of it around the lower South Island.  People don’t get around to knocking buildings down around here.  Too much was lost in the Christchurch earthquakes.  More value for what we can preserve.  I came home to my high-ceilinged Edwardian studio flat and considered the flats on the other side of the driveway: brick and wooden interiors.

I wonder about those split-level houses, and how they can stay warm.  That image of the Stahl House of Los Angeles, did its perspective over the city inspire the urban landscape of Blade Runner?

Southern Ocean Eco-systems

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The inaugural lecture for Professor Steve Wing from the Department of Marine Science.

Reefs have waves in the sea itself.  Where the water from the ocean hits the continental shelf it causes turbulence which rushes onto the edge of a reef.  This introduces organic matter to the reef.  Organic matter matters a lot in marine eco-systems.  This starts to get interesting right about now.

Populations can be “closed”, like a herd of cattle in a paddock; or “open”, like an eco-system.  An eco-system can appear to be closed and expansion of the population in the environment can spread it out into an open system.

Human exploitation affects marine population.  We tend to eat them out.  Open populations are more robust against human exploitation.  A refuge for the stock can replenish the population and benefit the fishing industry.

At this point I find myself thinking that this is a great argument for the Maui’s Dolphin Marine Reserve: Save a threatened species and quarantine fishing grounds as a reserve that can become supply for the fishing industry.

Then there’s Fiordland.  The fiords vary in salt water levels and physical arrangement.  The fertile  mouths of the fiords open to the sea re-populate the inner fiords.  Exploitation can destroy populations.  So the responsible government minister, Pete Hodgson at the time, pushed through legislation that only recreational fishing is allowed on inner-fiord populations.  They have become areas of refuge.  The exploited species have bounced back creating more, mature populations.  The marine reserves now show 8 times the level of fecundity, restoring a stable predator population in the kelp environments.

What does the bear do in the wood?  Nitrogen from its seasonal salmon-rich diet replenishes the British Columbian forests.  If fish is good for the brain then that is a lot of intelligent trees after thousands of years of salmon migration!  Penguins do the same in the sub-antarctic islands.  New Zealand lies in the zone where sub-tropical waters meet the iron-rich waters of the sub-antarctic ocean.  The predators have the greatest concentration of iron from the meeting of these waters.  It would benefit the environment of the ocean if pigs could be removed from the Auckland Islands and these could be reclaimed as nesting colonies for sea birds.

That zone where the sub-tropical waters and the sub-antarctic waters meet could shift due to climate change.  The New Zealand economic zone covers 9% of the earth’s surface.  We are responsible for that.  We need to pay attention to the state of the Southern Ocean Eco-system, including the Ross Sea, the last intact eco-system.  It’s part of our household.

The Hagfish, just one of the many interesting things you can find in a fiord!

The Hagfish, just one of the many interesting things you can find in a fiord!

Erik Olssen at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery

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A talk by Emeritus Professor Erik Olssen on the effects of World War I on Dunedin

One quote of the age is “War is the health of the state”, another by John A. Lee was “The Army can do anything to a man — except make him pregnant”.

The capital for the war project came from the people.  It led to the introduction of income tax in New Zealand.  The true patriot is the one who regrets he has only one life to tax for his country.  It also introduced a new idea into the history of New Zealand: inflation, suddenly the cost of living began to rise.

New Zealand provided one Division to the allied imperial forces.  The majority of the New Zealand Division were New Zealand-born.  This was unusual.  The majority of the divisions from other British Empire dominions were British-born.  During this period colonials could have multiple identities: British, New Zealander, English, Scottish, Irish.  There was no contradiction.

Conscription was imposed on young men under the age of forty-five.  There was no one on hand in Dunedin to do the historic statistics that showed that was 16% of the population of Dunedin which was about half the number of other main centres.  Dunedin paid the sacrifice in its young people, including the living who chose not to return to the city.  Dunedin has always been an exporter of young people.  Because of its cost on its people conscription became opposed by labour interests in the city.

It was the interest of the Australian and New Zealand governments to secure the imperial hegemony over the South Pacific.  They managed this by expanding into New Guinea and Samoa, German-held territories.  After the war they held onto these mandates.

Our ancestors fought in life’s great adventure.  They fought for England, the Empire, the freedom to be citizens, or just to travel the world.  We can’t say they should have chosen the path of peace.  That would be ahistorical.  It was the age they lived in.  The age we live in has seen a revival of the ANZAC spirit.  A generation of people who embraced peace protests and anti-nuclear policy are the same people who see themselves as the inheritors of the ANZAC tradition.