Prayers for 24 April 2016

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A harvest thanksgiving service, a day before ANZAC Day, and thinking about the arrival of the first Syrian refugees to Dunedin, I wrote these prayers:

Hello god, here is our prayers. Listen to us I pray. Bend down from heaven and bend your ear.

Hear us when we pray to you. Are you ready for us? We are coming to you.

You see before us the harvest offering, tokens of your generosity towards us.

After ten thousand years of civilised history and architecture we are still dependent on the layers of soil beneath our feet, and the promise of rain from the vaults of heaven.

Provide us for our daily needs, for what we produce and what grow, and what we need, from earth and sky and encircling ocean.

For all our pride in being educated first world citizens we still live from day to day.

Our nations, our cities, our communities, even our families – all may be lost and swept aside if the meals stop coming, and we are left as broken stones and foundations in the waste land.

Lord, you know our needs. You know them before they come to mind.

When we call on you we know you will meet us halfway because you know and you are coming to get us.

We do not walk home alone for you are with us and you guide us – share our playlunch with us, we will sit and eat sandwiches together.

In making this gesture of our gifts returned to you we are reminded that renew our citizenship in your kingdom.

We are the wandering people, from the first garden to the promise of the new Jerusalem.

We are highly mobile. We settle for a generation and then we move on.

We have the vision of the city, a city which has the God which gives righteousness and peace at its heart.

We would wish our city to be the welcoming place, to settlers, refugees, visitors and tourists.

Lord, save our land from the violence, from the bombs and missiles that have fallen on others.

Instead let the rain, the wind, the snow, and brief intervals of sun fall on us.

If ours is a safe city, then let us share it with others, let us be hospitible, let us be diverse.

Lord, within these hills, you have set us on a broad place, may it be home to all your people.

We live in our islands on the edge of the world, and the world seems full of danger, keep that danger far from our shores, Lord God, protect our islands, and nurture all who live here.

We remember those who have died to keep our islands at peace in past wars.

If we go from these islands again, then let our men and women go as peace keepers, and not as soldiers and warriors, when they go on that great adventure.

We remember those in our families who have gone, now and in previous generations.

We honour their sacrifice.

Lord, you are the Lord of the Harvest, even if it is the harvest of lost souls.

We do not get out of life alive, and our hope is our children, our grand-children, and our new-born will be our inheritors in a civilisation of peace.

May we be witnesses to your kingdom at this time, and in our life-time, and share our vision for our community with others who walk with us.

Give us good leadership – in our elected leaders in local government and in parliament.

We pray for our moderator, the Right Rev. Andrew Norton, that he would be a man who speaks for your Church.

Make us a generous people, abundant in our celebration, catering for friend and critic alike.

May we see Christ in the eye of the person opposite to us, teach us to see the stranger.


…we say together


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.


Peace and War

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I participated in a series of Wednesday Worship at Opoho Church last week.  I chose the above title as my theme.  My reflection is included below:

2014 is a year of two anniversaries. It is 200 years since Christianity arrived in New Zealand. It is 100 years since the beginning of the Great War. It is the second anniversary that I want to talk about tonight. Working at the Presbyterian Archives I have been researching into what the Presbyterian Church was writing about on the eve of the conflict a hundred years ago.

It surprised me to think that back then ANZAC would have been an unfamiliar term to most Australians and New Zealanders. This year is the centenary of the last year ANZAC Day was not observed, either in the act of landing on the coast of Gallipoli and invading which happened in 1915, or its commemoration after that year.

In January the editor of the Outlook, the weekly publication of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand wrote: The main menace of the times in which we live is the decay of authority, and the added fact that in the endeavour to prop up a decaying authority by force the force-authority has bred a force-resistance which in its turn is breeding a spirit of anarchy. The thing was inevitable; and has been foreseen by the thoughtful from afar off. It is the outcome of a vain attempt to rule the world and so organise society without the vital influence of religion at its back; and the hope of the Church consists in the dawning realisation on the part of social reformers everywhere that a real religion is, and must be, the main spring in all permanent reform. The root reason of our existing social problems and religious difficulties is unbelief leading to suspicion and distrust.

The editorial was most likely written by Arthur Grinling who was editor after the social-reforming minister Rutherford Waddell and shared his interests. The article continues with extensive quotes from British speakers about disarmament and Irish Home Rule.

In an edition in February the Outlook talked about the great impression that Mr Alfred Noyes was making in America. The reading of his poem ‘The Wine Press’, that we used in part in the beginning of worship was reported to have aroused a great wave of feeling against the horrors of war in a New York club. This was among the New York set. The poem was not reprinted for local readers. I suspect that it had not accompanied the press release that would have been used for the news source. There is no guess of what local readers would have thought of it.

I don’t think that the Outlook’s readers were great pacificists or advocates for disarmament no matter the progressive policy of the editor. They were British citizens living in New Zealand. The Empire was bringing peace, civilization and religion to the far corners of the world. Looking through the following months of the magazine the topics that engaged them were Bible and Religion in State Schools, the Church Schools, Missionary Work, the Chapman Alexander Mission in Edinburgh, the Kikuyu Controversy and Chaplains for Trentham Camp. Their attention was focused on the work of the Church, not on the world.

And so it could have gone on, to the outbreak of war. I haven’t looked through to see if it did. One of the amazing articles I have found on the outbreak of the war was in the Break of Day, the children’s missionary magazine in September 1914. It was written by Rev. James Aitken of Mosgiel Church. Unlike adults in the church you can’t talk down to children, the issues of the day must be addressed, which probably why we listen with attention to children’s talks. He begins, “My Dear Boys and Girls, – I hardly know how to write to you this month; my heart is heavy over this awful war. Isn’t it a terrible thing that has happened? To think that the two strongest nations in the world, the most civilised and Christian nations in the world, are fighting each other just like so many savages! I am sure you are all grieved about it, too, and are hoping and praying that it will not last long.”

And what about our enemies? Yes, we must pray for them too. It is a dreadful business that the German people have forced us to fight them. You know that the Germans are our cousins. If you went into a German school you would see boys and girls just like yourselves, only there would be more fair-haired, blue-eyed ones among them, that would be all the difference. They would have the same names, William and John and Mary and Margaret, pronounced ever so little differently. You would find that they read the same Bible, and loved the same Jesus, and prayed to the same God and sang lots of the same hymns as you. We shall do our very best to win in this great struggle; but we shall look forward to being good friends with our cousins again when it is all over.”

I think we see history after it has happened. It becomes set into history books, cut and dried and inevitable. As we live through moments of history, as we are doing now, then there are always other options available to us. Some of them overwhelm us and we can find ourselves living in the Days of Noah, or the Coming of the Son of Man. We can be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, proclaiming the gospel or working for justice, until the flood sweeps us and our world away. We are given a choice each moment, and we can work and pray for a better world.