Hope to Wrath – Doing Public Theology in a Time of Public Anger – William Storrer

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From Barrack Obama to Saffiyah Khan, from a moment of hope to someone unafraid in the face of anger.  It’s not just alt-right anger.  There’s liberal anger out there now.

William Storrer took a different approach in his lecture at the University of Otago on Tuesday, May the 9th.  His movement across the world: From the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to Cape Wrath in northern Scotland.  Cape Wrath comes from Norse Hvarf, where the ships from Norway turn to follow down the seaboard of Scotland.  Maybe a pivot or a gyre.  A way of seeing differently.

A place where his people came from, who told him two stories by which to live:  The Gospel “an idle tale told by women”, and “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage”.

The people who voted for Trump are white working class people whose life expectancy is in decline. Their theology and pastoral care has become invisible.  The anglophone world is drifting toward authoritarian democracies.

It’s time to take civic democracy from the grassroots – organise the parish as people of good faith, non-violent faith bases.  The best leaders are those where the people say “we did it ourselves”.  What we do is better than what we don’t do.

“Always leave open the possibility of entering a rightful condition”

– Kant

Living before the messianic age the best we can hope for are provisional goals, our politics is justified by grace.

Bearing the Unbearable: Trauma, Gospel and Pastoral Care

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Hunsinger_van_D_DeboE75689(1)A lecture from visiting professor Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger.  She was visiting Australia and was hosted by the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Otago for a week.  She proved to be an excellent speaker and gave a rewarding lecture.

Christians are called to participate in God’s care for the world through Jesus Christ, through prayer.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an inescapable stressful event that overwhelms our stress mechanisms.  The nature of the event does not guarantee a traumatic response.  None of us have the exact same experience.  Each of us is individual and our mental structure that enables the response is individual.  Each one is a valid experience.  “Get over it” is not going to work.

Any kind of emotional or physical shock has the chance of psychological consequence.  We have a high alert to threat.  When flight or fight are not options we enter the altered reality of freeze mode: time slows down, we become immune to pain, detached; quite literally an out-of-body experience.  It interferes with our narrative and memory.  The intrusive memory is split off from our consciousness.  It comes back in obcessive ruminations, in nightmares or flashbacks.  The memory is triggered by a smell or a sound.  We are left on permanent alert.

To keep the trauma at bay we constrict our worlds to avoid encountering its triggers, take up addictive habits.

What do I get from replaying the injury?  All violence is an effort to do justice or undo injustice.  Traumatic behaviour is cyclic.  The victim relives the trauma by recreating new victims.  How do we break free from the cycle?  Whatever we are afraid of requires our attention.  We need the company of another to piece together a coherent narrative to bear healing or mourning; to create a web of meaning while remaining fully connected to the listener; to connect to feelings without being overwhelmed.  We don’t know who or how we will come out.  Talking about trauma can make matters worse without being in a safe domain, anchored in the present. The slower you go the faster you get there.

Creating a spiritual framework to post-traumatic growth takes time, choosing life over death many times: understanding the self, facing pain, reaching the next level.

Christianity wrenches us inside out.  God is in hell — the victim and the risen lord of redemption who suffers on our behalf and for our sakes.  Trauma no longer separates us from God.  Healing is set in the context of God’s salvation — both for perpetrators and for victims.  One who died for all who do harm, love stronger than death or hate.  Overcoming the world Christ saves us.  We do want to forgive, to lay aside rational payment for pardon, but we don’t know to forgive.  Go down into the pain, the wounded Christ is our healer.

Our grief will be in community, restoring hope and trust, our worship the lament.  God bears what cannot be bourne.  While the churches appear as people who have got it all together, we still have to come back each week.

From Hypatia to Victor Hugo to Larry and Sergey

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imagesA lecture by visiting professor Jane Ginsburg.  Hypatia is the Librarian’s utopia, the Library of Alexandria with every text freely accessible.  Victor Hugo is the Author’s utopia: the author is renumerated for his or her work.  And the Google Brothers are the current personification of the clash of two Utopias, Google Books: Universal Library or Bookstore?

The Library of Alexandria has become our idea of the comprehensive library that embraces all knowledge.  Probably because it is lost in time and now irrecoverable.  Since the Sixteenth Century we have been trying to create the themetic catalogue, the universal book of all books: all knowledge, all information, accessed on a desk, an exodermic appendage of the mind.  Have we heard this before: the Internet, or the Matrix?

On the way we passed through the index card, and the micro-filme.  Seeing the plans for a Memex brought to mind the character Angleton from Charles Stross’s Laundry Files.  That helps to imagine that character.

As the metaphor of the memory supplement sits on our desks, and equally as often nowadays, carried in our pockets between two glass slides, the Library of Alexandria is superceded by the Digital Public Library.

The author wants to get paid for her work.  In the Nineteenth Century authors and other luminaries worked together to create multi-territorial privilege to publish.  The right of authorship extended to one territory and outside of that territory a publication’s protection was fair game.  This led to the first production of the Pirates of Penzance being performed in New York so its publication would not be pirated in America.  After 1878 the Berne Convention agreed on copyright protection in all but a handful of states around the world.

So is Google Books fair use or public benefit.  It can be an enhanced card catalogue of the world’s books.  Google is not a charitable institution.  No digital lending library yet.  We are still waiting for the balance between a universal free public library and authorial dissemination and renumeration.

Standing in this Place

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A report of the the Quaker lecture for 2014.  The Quaker lecture can be found here.  This was a smaller lecture than last year’s lecture from Jeannette Fitzsimons and was perhaps more in house.

All stories teach, whether it is the intention of the story teller, or not.  They teach about the world that we create, how it is meant to be, how we perceive it.  Story telling teaches more effectively than instruction on moral precepts, or challenges.

We have yet to give recognition to Papatuanuku, the bountiful earth, in our constitution.  It’s probably not necessary to personify her as Mother Earth.  However there has to be advantage in recognising our environment and ecology, in how it nurtures us, as a legal citizen.  It’s prefectly acceptable for corporations to be legal citizens, why not our environment?

The long one hundred year sleep of the Treaty is over, between its declaration as a legal nullity in 1877 and its re-awakening in 1975.  It has a place in the political and legal life of this country.

I wondered if there is any understanding between the regional bodies of the Presbyterians: the Synod of Otago and Southland, and the Southern Presbytery; and the local iwi, Ngai Tahu?  Both groups exist in locality.  I doubt if it is a relation that has been considered.  How to begin?


Murder as a fine art

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Professor Ruth MorseA lecture by visiting Professor Ruth Morse.  The Morse reference was noted in the introduction, Come on, Lewis!

Crime fiction is not my genre.  I’m reading more of it nowadays as after 40 years of reading speculative fiction those genres are beginning to pall for me now.  This means I’m new to the motifs.

Crime fiction is escapist.  It’s fantasy fiction set in a just universe.  The first successful crime fiction may be younger than Genesis chapter IV, the plotting is insufficiently advanced, the antagonist still bears the mark of Cain.

The protagonist is the wonder-kid.  With the exception of Inspector Clouseau the protagonist cleverly out-thinks the antagonist.  The great detective needs his, or her, counter-balance, the master-mind of crime.  They exist for each other.

The detective story looks backward, the motive is in the past.  Given half a dozen characters the detective will find out whodunnit.

The thriller is the older form of the crime novel, the cinematic boy’s own adventure, the combination of crime and melodrama.  The story unfolds around the central character, a languid chap who is unaware that he is slowly starting out on a dangerous adventure.  Nothing is straight forward in black or white, or neutral in nature.  Gray lies await to trap him.  Fortunately he is the right sort of chap for this struggle of light against darkness.  With wit and courage a single man can make a difference for what he believes in.  In English language literature quite often it is the combination of the stolid Anglo-Saxon and the imaginative and indisciplined Celt.  Together they are up against the unimaginative Germans and their cunning masters.

For the thrill we snap the suspenders of disbelief and hope the plot does not catch around our ankles and trip us up.  Nobody makes you read it, and nobody makes you put it down.

What’s Happening to Universities

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Stefan ColliniI’m starting on my catch-up after a week of going to public lectures.  The first was an address by Stefan Collini.

Was there ever a time when universities were an alternative to business, dedicated to pure learning and art, apart from the Albertian Order of Saint Leibowitz?  Universities have always served the practical preparation of  students for a working life.

Market economies have become market societies.  Market societies demand that public services, like universities, are accountable.  How satisfied are you with your experience of the University: Satisfied?  Very satisfied?  Not satisfied? B -.

In a society that is results-driven you are more likely to be satisfied with a cure for cancer than a thesis on tonality in sixteenth century poetry.

We attempt to measure quality and if a twelve year old thinks the museum captions are ‘ace’ that counts as a pass-mark.

The top universities are rank 1 to 100.  The reputations of those at the top are assured.  What happens to the rest.  They fumble around according to their yearly reputation, an status that only exists in relation to the other universities on the list.  Some rise as others are de-valued.  Those at the top become reserves of social class.

A strong department maintains a good academic reputation.  Good administration cannot compel academic research.  Accountability produces a show of accountability, a verisimilitude.  Academic staff are distinctive of a university, a place to cultivate collegiality, form character, make citizens.  We are dependent on academic discipline to attract students.

So there is reason to be optimistic.  It is always going to the dogs.  It’s not inevitable.  Universities remain custodians of a narrative.

Reintroduction Biology

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Another inaugural professorial lecture, this time for Philip Seddon.  I arrived in time for the lecture after visiting my flat to get my washing in before dusk, and ominous clouds.  The lecture theatre filled up, with the overflow watching in another of Archway theatres on live-streaming.  This was a popular lecture.  The benefits of becoming a professor is that you end up on a lot more committees.

We are becoming alienated from the natural world.  More people live in urban areas, over 50% of the world’s population.  The example was sighted that in a survey of school children done while Seddon was in Saudi Arabia 50% of the pupils described the desert fox as ‘dangerous’.  Yes, really!

This puts pressure on wildlife populations.  September 2014 is the centennial of the death of the last passenger pigeon.  She was called ‘Martha’.  It is dangerous to be named as the last of a species.  Ask Lonesome George who was last of an island of Galapagos Tortoises.  The last of mainland Kakapo, died 1987, was Richard Henry Kakapo, named for Richard Treacy Henry.  The human Henry unsuccessfully established Resolution Island as a sanctuary for native birds.  It was too close to the mainland and the stoats got in, a fatal winter.

This was not the first attempt at conservation translocation.  At the same time Edward McIlhenny, famous for his ubiquitous tabasco sauce, founded the sanctuary Bird City in Lousiana.  In 1907 the American Bison Society began the restoration of bison on the great plains, having previously shot as many as possible to break the hold on land by the Plains Indians.

A little over quarter of the translocations happen in New Zealand.  Species cannot be restored to the state that they were previously.  It is a dynamic state.  Species cannot be restored to environments where preditors now exist.  Climate change will also make a difference, like to what a tuatara’s gender will be.  Species are introduced to non-historical habitats to allow them to survive and flourish.  There has to be a balance between the wolves and the elks.

Sometimes we need to make ecological substitutes.  After goats and pests were removed from Galapagos Islands giant tortoises were reintroduced to graze on weeds and allow indigenous plants to flower.  They were not the same sub-species there before, now extinct.  The ecology was put back together again.  Good to have all the pieces.

Can we resurrect species? Through breeding, cloning and splicing?  Technically yes.  They won’t be the same species.  Do we need new giant rattites in New Zealand?  How about we save the kiwi!

Like in industrial fishing the baselines are shifting as the ecologies become poorer.  We are dealing with limited resources.

Gone: by Isabella Kirkland, a still life of extinct species

Gone: by Isabella Kirkland, a still life of extinct species

Why Listening Matters for Mission and Ministry

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An open lecture from Lynne Baab for the launch of her new book, The Power of Listening.

As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

John 17:18

Go into the community, see where the work is, and join in.

For her study on Listening Lynne Baab conducted interviews in 31 churches in America and Britain, and two New Zealand Methodists who happened to be on hand during her interviews.  In the majority of cases church people were not practising intentional listening.

She cited the case of a foodbank in Seattle where a church foodbank put on a meal to provide a space to sit down with their clients.  After five years of doing this the providers became aware the major need of Seattle’s poor and homeless was work and housing.  When they began to listen in this social space the thrust of their mission changed.

Spire, First Church of Otago, Dunedin, by Dave Baab, 2008

Spire, First Church of Otago, Dunedin, by Dave Baab, 2008

Congregations vary widely in their commitment to listening to the wider community.  They listen to themselves and provide support.  There is a lot of work going on there.  Intentional listening to the wider community may be thin on the ground; and we need to identify and recognise our wider communities.

Most of the interviews were not working on debriefing after listening to the wider community.  What was happening was a lot of reflection and the use of contemplative prayer, usually at an individual level.  This was not related to listening for mission.  The decision on communal mission is not rushed.

Lynne raised the confusion between consensus and discernment.  Consensus means a situation in which there is general agreement; and any number of motives behind that proposal.  Discernment is the prayerful reflection leading to understanding of direction.  Discernment should have a high level of agreement.  It doesn’t have to be 100%.

Many obstacles keep Christians from listening well: we don’t want to hear because of institutional fear; we don’t have the resources available to respond to voiced needs.  The obstacles need to be addressed.

Pastoral care listening is integral to mission.  It shows up in the life of Jesus in the gospels.  In a diverse society we don’t share the same language of faith, so we need to listen harder.  We cannot assume that we know what motivates other people or what their needs or desires are.  Our leaders need to be listeners.

The Growth Delusion: Why we don’t want to believe Peak Oil & Climate Change


The above title was an open lecture given by a professor. I was glad I saw a notice for it. By the time I arrived, five minutes before the start of the lecture, the lecture theatre was already packed. I got a seat on the edge of an aisle. People who arrived after me sat on the stairs and on the floor around the doors. The rules for fire hazard were disregarded, which made it comparable with the lecture I attended when Lord Professor Robert Winston spoke.

I started taking notes and filled a page before my pen informed me that I had passed Peak Ink and it needed a new cartridge. (Note to self: buy new cartridge for pen, signed, Andrew.)

Essentially the best estimates make this the year of peak oil. From now on there will only be less oil. For civilisation’s sake we need to start moving to renewable energy sources now. We need a 20 year period to make the transfer. New Zealand is pretty lucky that we do have alternative forms of energy that are easily accessible. We are looking into wind and tidal production already.

The bad news is that we won’t make the transfer. It involves a complete change in thinking. The market won’t let us because it lies awake at night thinking about all the lovely money it can drain out of us as we pay more and more through the nose for fuel. Economists have deliberately forgotten to think that there are alternatives to growth. In a finite world ‘sustainable development’ is as big a contradiction as ‘military intelligence’ or ‘Microsoft works’. To allow the developing world nations to survive and stabilise population growth the first world must surrender its own production.

Otherwise it will not be those who plan ahead who survive the collapse of our technologies and population, it will be the strong.