John Swinton – Practical Theology

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I think that this is my first lecture report for 2016, John Swinton’s inaugural address to the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership.

I guess Practical Theology is something like practical witchcraft.  It has moved on from the days of “When you throw a clump of earth on the coffin make sure it doesn’t contain stones.  The sound will offend the family and other mourners.”

It’s a contrast of academic and faith-based theology.  Academic theology is knowledge of god; systematic, observed knowledge, scientia. Faith-based theology is knowledge about god, wisdom based on loving god and the people who love god, sapientia.  (Is this knowledge subjective?)

What is love? Whoever does not love does not know god, for god is love, 1 John 4:8. Love is god.  An action.

Doctrine shapes our imagination. Take every thought captive to Christ.

What happens when personality changes?  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in god, Colossians 3:3. We are who we are in Christ — and that is hidden from us. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we shall face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known, 1 Corinthians 13:12.  Self is always a mystery. We tend to create our identity in self-sovereignty, what we know about ourselves.  Jesus Christ is died and risen again for us. Christ has done it all. Life is hidden for now.  Uncle Karl’s new orthodoxy speaks again.

We move from what was to what is, the bridge is Jesus.

The river washes downstream — the riverbed remains.


John Swinton, University of Aberdeen, at Knox College, Dunedin, Photo: Steve Taylor


Migration in a context of colonisation

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Some thoughts from the recent Presbyterian Research Network lecture with Tony Ballantyne.

A larger than average attendance, I think I saw a good representation from the Friends of Toitu Settlers Museum.

The leadership of the settlement in the first generation was atypical.  As pastoral leader of the colony for the Free Church of Scotland Rev. Thomas Burns was sounded out by a delegation of workmen before landing in support of their request for a eight hour working day.  He was in favour.  The secular leader of the expendition, Captain Cargill, was a traditional classist in favour of the Good Auld Scotch Rule — a ten hour working day.  His leadership was muddled, perhaps it’s no surprise that the other ship’s captain, Captain Elles, settled further south in Invercargill.  The union question in first-generation Dunedin was decided to the workers’ advantage.  So much for the good auld Scotch rule!

Originally supporters of the new colony and benefactors, local indigenous Maori were quickly sidelined as further ships arrived bringing new settlers on whom it was easy to capitalise.

The colony was defined by its identifying boundaries.  Two thirds were Presbyterians, the minority were the Little Enemy, mostly Anglicans and Methodists.  It was not homogenous.  The discovery of gold expanded the size of the colony, the old identities labelled the influx of the miners as the new iniquity.  That did not stop them by profiting on stocking the new chums.

Even so when the Early Settlers Museum was established its identity of the Early Settlers took the cut-off date as 1861, late enough to cover six months of the arrivals of the New Iniquities.

Surprisingly while there is a surfeit of original documentation for the settlement of colonial settlement of Southern New Zealand the study of its history is overlooked, taking New Zealand’s history to the North Island.  There is a new history waiting to be written here, as well as a historical identity to discover.

The John Wickliffe and the Philip Laing in Otago Harbour, see for information.

The John Wickliffe and the Philip Laing in Otago Harbour, see for information.

Hocken Lecture 2015: Archives, Public Memory and the Work of History

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Professor Tony Ballantyne, Department of History and Art History, University of Otago, New Zealand

Professor Tony Ballantyne, Department of History and Art History, University of Otago, New Zealand

This lecture was given by Tony Ballantyne, Professor of History and Head of Department of History and Art History, before an audience of nearly two hundred people on Thursday the 6th of August.

How do archives shape the past?  Historians rarely share their stories of archives in public.  Nor do they list the archives they have worked in.  Archive stories shape a historian’s story of the past.  Primary source research takes a historian into the gossip, controversy and arguments of the archive records.  Ballentyne has discovered the violence that occurred among first generation missionaries with limited resources and their own personal politics; and the transnational history in the exchange of letters, books and notes that occurred in an empire that crossed the globe, the rule of paper in communication.  The life-blood of empire was the networks of exchange connecting collectors in a global system.  The rise of national processes obscures global colonisation.

New history must emerge as the archives of colonial collectors are investigated.  Our history under the Waitangi Tribunal has been an investigation of the enquiry whether the Crown breached the Treaty of Waitangi in the colonisation of New Zealand.  As this question is resolved for this generation, at least, a new singularity emerges.  The opportunity arises to research the role of colonials hidden in the nation-building story.

Historians can only find what is in the archives.  There will be complexities and silences that affect the historic writing, the things the collectors never mentioned, who is included, and who is marginalised.  The reading of a cursive style of writing, ‘joined-up writing’, most of us no longer practice or read.  Marsden Online gives the historian access.  They also have to remember to see and handle the original document.  Electronic retrieval is not enough.  Historic figures in archival collections must capture historians.

Questions remain.  Is it inevitable that the archive stories and research become biographical?  How much more can historians do to encourage their students to come to the archives, to see and handle the original documents?

Changing our mind on the LGBT Issue

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David Gushee, from

David Gushee, from

A lecture with David Gushee in Dunedin, July 30 2015.  As his positioning himself as an advocate for LGBT inclusion was recent, within the last year I understand, it was interesting to have and hear him on a tour of New Zealand.

LGBT inclusion is dominating political life in USA and New Zealand, among other countries.  It is personal politics.  Gushee is the first Evangelical New Testament Ethicist to break ranks and move into advocacy for acceptance.  He was formerly a subscribed member of the Southern Baptist Church. Gushee uses the LGBT label.

I’m sorry he didn’t dwell on a description of the Southern Baptist Church, both an enormously popular national church, with over 10 million members; and perceived as conservative to the point of being fundamentalist.  Outside of America this can only be a mythical beast, both the paradigm of true Evangelical Christianity that others aspire to emulate, and the paradigm of Christianity’s toxicity to others.

Gushee has been teaching Christian Ethics for 22 years.  Over half that teaching career has been without contact with LGBT people.  This changed when a career move brought him in contact with the First Baptist Church of Mercator, a non-rejecting Baptist Church both accepting of LGBT members and providing them with pastoral care.

The classic paradigm of LGBT within the church is: grow up within the church – discover LGBT identity – face struggle and rejection – go into exile from the church – find ways of safe return.  I find myself reminded that any marginalised and rejected people who choose to remain in a church culture is an act of grace by the rejected.  Mild rejection alienates sexual identify, including relationship and eroticism.  To remain a bystander is to endorse the harm done by alienation.  Even in cultures of toleration degrees of bullying, criminalisation and discrimination continue.

The texts of hate: the gang rape of angels; man on man same sex taboos; the vice lists including the soft and the man-lying-with-man – exploitation and dominance in a slave-based culture without mutuality and reciprocity.  The Romans 1 text written to a church in a capital city where domination sexuality is normal for its emperors (Caligula and Nero), and a male and female binary,  and a heteronormative binary are accepted as the paradigm.  The stubborn fact of the existence of gay people is a road bump in the narrative.

So we try ex-gay therapy, celibacy and moral exclusion.

What if covenant trumps creation design in a broken world.  We proclaim a gospel that god’s love is available to everyone; include the marginalised; be a faithful people to Christ that confounds Romans 1.

Every advance leads to greater reaction.  Fear responds to progress.  It is not enough to legislate, legislation can be reversed, inclusion must become a given fact, intrinsic to society.  Schism may be inevitable and straight flight from inclusive churches may accompany white flight from coloured communities.  Covenantal ethics may prove to be ultimately transitional.  I suspect this to be true, but there is no need to fear what comes.  What comes will test the capacity of Christians to think theologically in an exclusive hermeneutic.  We enter into the shame of the marginalised, which should have been where we were in the first place, not at the seats of power, with the emperors.  Our goal is to be partners in liberation and seek an end to suffering.

Reporting from the Front Line in Palestine, with Amiria Hass

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@hass_haaretzI was not familiar with Amira Hass before this lecture.  She is an Israeli Jewish reporter following events in occupied Palestine.  She spoke in Dunedin at the end of April 2015.

She opened with the statement that Palestinian resistance is neither violent, nor non-violent.  It is based on their status as victims.  It is not free to be exclusively either violent or non-violent.  That is not an option.

Israeli violence, physical and bureaucratic, is not reported.

Gazans have no freedom of movement of movement from Gaza to the West Bank for better education, or to study abroad.  There is simply no freedom of movement between the Palestinian enclaves within Israel.  The enclaves are like low lying islands in an Israeli sea, and rising sea levels will drown them.

Violence does not provide answers.  There is no hope of an ending to repression, only retaliation.  There is no hope in a third uprising.  Protest is dangerous.  The leadership is divided between Hamas and Fatah, and it is convenient for Israel to keep them entrenched in their power bases.

Those enclaves become islands of normal living, hermetically sealing the unjust world outside its doors.  And people cheat to survive and live in those tiny islands of normalcy, finding an education, renovating and planting gardens, keeping the outside world at bay.  They live in their own bantustans.

What will happen?  Change will not come from Israel.  Israel will not reverse its military achievements.  After the holocaust there is no other place for them to go.  Change could come from the Palestinians, if they can start change, if the opportunity is there.  Israel has two people and one nation, a description that most New Zealanders can understand.  The development of the two peoples remains unequal, and Israel shows no vision to accomodate and contain its internal neighbours.  Israel still benefits from the occupation.

Not a concise lecture, nor a conclusive one.  Interesting, and perhaps there is still hope before change of civilisations wipes away all alternatives.

A moving landscape of wildlife genetics – Stephen O’Brien

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A lecture from a couple of weeks ago from visiting professor Stephen O’Brien, who was visiting New Zealand as a guest of the Allan Wilson Centre. This was part of the Allan Wilson Centre’s final series of visiting speakers.

There could be more genetic diversity among zoo animals than exists in the wild, making it important for zoos to exchange animals to keep genetic diversity.  Cheetahs have no genetic diversity.  Their descent is so closely related that skin grafts are not rejected when transplanted on unrelated animals.  Sometime about 12 000 years ago an event led to the near loss of the cheetah species.  They survived by breeding among siblings, a situation that lasted for 20 generations, fixing their genetics as permanent.

The Florida Panther of the Big Cypress Swamp came close to being inbred to the point of high probability of extinction.  Eight female pumas from a closely related species were introduced to the breeding population, allowing the panther numbers to bounce back threefold.  The inbreeding was bred out, with stronger specimens.  The survival was so successful the big cats have been sighted in Floridan parking lots.

Cats have been a successful species of mammals.  They migrated across all the world’s major landmasses.  Only Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and the Arctic do not have native species.  There are 37 cat species.  Over 10 million years new breeds of cats emerged: house cats; Asian big cats, South American big cats, lynxes and puma, North American big cats, Asian golden cats, and the great cats.  They radiated out into new species following the rise and fall of sea levels between the continents over 10 million years.  From Asia to Africa, and to North America, down into South America, and back to Asia.  The Lions went to North America, the Pumas to South America and back again.  Did leopards follow humans out of Africa, extending as far as Russia and Java.

Tiger conservation has stalled, running over the same territory of policy again and again.  Tigers were once wider in their range and could be re-introduced to the Caspian Tiger range.  Tiger reserves still survive in the Russian Far East as the Altaic Tiger.

Once mammals were represented by little insectivores that kept out of the way of dinosaur preditors.  The KT event that drove the dinosaurs extinct left the mammals to radiate into a wide number of vacant eco-niches which they did successfully as new families of species emerged: carnivores, rodents, elephants, and others.  It takes one and a half million years to establish a new species.  It ain’t over till it’s over.

The World of Joseph Mellor

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Pr Lyall Hanton

Pr Lyall Hanton

The Centre for the Book starts the year with a sudden rush of lectures.  This is a lecture from last week presented by the current Mellor Professor, Lyall Hanlan, on the namesake of his eponymous professorship, Joseph Mellor.  The lecture was well attended, with five Mellor Professors in attendance in the audience.  Professorial seats bear some resemblance to time-lords in that respect.

The Mellor family migrated to New Zealand, first to Kaiapoi, then to Dunedin.  Joseph Mellor started at Kaikorai School.  He left school at 13 to work at the Dunedin boot business McKinlays, then as a boot strapper for Sargoods.  The boot-strapping metaphor is not inappropriate for Mellor’s later successful career in chemistry.  He starts from humble beginnings.

The family moved from Marshall Street in Dunedin to Willis Street.  His walk to work took him an hour, one way.  He had a lot of time to think.  At home he took to his shed and copied books.  To keep warm while he studied his mother heated a brick and wrapped it in flannel.  On top of everything else, he started night classes at the King Edward Technical College.  When he turned 20 he attended Professor Black’s lectures on natural science and chemistry at the university, allowed time during working hours.  For a moment Mellor was seen as Black’s successor when his position became vacant.  The University chose Inglis instead.

During his university years at the turn of the twentieth century exam papers were sent to be graded in Britain, a voyage of six months before pass marks could be notified.  His final year exams had the misfortune of being sank off the coast of Cape Horn, requiring him to resit the exam.

He added chess to his pass-times.  He considered himself an average player, enough to frighten other chess-players when he took his skills overseas.  He later described the chess club that encouraged him as a red-hot chess club.

He was a member of the Wesleyan Church where he was a lay preacher and when he was 30 years old he married Emma Bates the church organist.  He referred to her as “The Boss”, and she was very protective of “Her Joe”.  In later life she would become a spiritualist, a world-view that was a source of amusement to Mellor.

His teaching started at Lincoln College in Canterbury.  After the turn of the century he would go to Owens College in Manchester now the University of Manchester.  It was the best academic college of its time in his field.  His Ph.D. from Owens College produced eight papers, two published by the Royal Society and another two with the Chemistry Society.  He wrote a book dedicated to mathematics applied to chemistry, Higher Mathematics for Students of Chemistry and Physics.  By page 6 the mathematics has already started on calculus.

He graduated as a Materials Chemist and took up a teaching position at Newcastle under Lyme (not Newcastle on Tyne) at the Pottery School now part of the University of Staffordshire.  He was not a ceramic artist himself.  He worked in refractory materials, and was a friend of Frank Wedgewood, one of the Wedgewood family.  His work provided an alternative to ceremics manufactured to support the steel industry during the Great War that was previously reliant on material from Germany and Austria.  He declined a peerage for contribution to the war effort, other men had given their lives.

He continued writing late into the night.  His secretary would set out his table at night: an ounce of tabacco for his pipe (no small amount); six pens; and a bottle of worcester sauce (Mellor was a compulsive auto-condimenter of his food).  His writing resulted in a sixteen volume treatise on organic chemistry.  He was only the second ceramicist, after Josiah Wedgewood, elected to the Royal Society.  He paid for a life membership of the Society.

When did he learn to draw cartoons?  His cartoons, produced for a small audience were fluid, confident and complex in composition.  From the beginning his diagrammatics for his manuscripts showed his confidence as an artist.  And where did the friendship with his fellow New Zealand migrant, Ernest Rutherford, come from? These remain questions.

He died aged 69.  At the time of his death when his widow disposed of his library he had collected eight tonnes of books.  He earned a posthumous CBE.  In 2014 historian Doctor Ali Clark pointed out that Mellor House, the oldest building on the University of Otago Dunedin Campus is named for Joseph Mellor.

Joseph W. Mellor, beware the book thief!

Joseph W. Mellor, beware the book thief!

The United States and Arab-Israeli Conflict

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An open lecture by visiting Professor Mark Miller of the University of Delaware hosted by Political Studies.  Held in Quad 1 I thought the attendance looked small.  As the lecture got underway it quickly filled out with people arriving at the last moment.

It is the propensity of states to engage in mistaken policies for long and disastrous periods of time

Most Americans don’t care or know about the rest of the world.  (If you are an American reader you may be inclined to disagree.)  The providential nature of America, to be a light on the hill to all the world, assures them of a sense of superiority.

They recognised themselves in the Zionist project.  In the 1890s this was a fanciful idea.  Its history was not manifest.  The Great War of 1914-1918 led to circumstances where Britain gave support to a Jewish homeland (not a state) in Palestine.  A pro-Zionist lobby group was nascent in America.  I would have liked to have heard more about this group and its history.  The Wilson Administration favoured self-determination.  World War II made the Zionist lobby more pronounced in American domestic politics.  Domestic politics has the interest of the nation.  The consequences of the tragic Holocaust led to radical Zionism, adopted by both political parties of American politics.  There was pressure on the British mandate in Palestine to allow more immigration and building of the Jewish state.

Until the beginning of the 1970s America remained evenhanded.  When Britain, France and Israel occupied the Sinai peninsula the Americans ordered them out.  After that time it became good domestic politics to embrace Israel.  Nixon and Kissenger supplied the Israelis with armaments from America.  The Israelis became a major military power in the region.

After that, rinse and repeat.  The hostility between both sides: Arab and Israeli, has become entrenched.  America maintains that it is evenhanded.  Jewish population arrived in America from Eastern Europe at the same time as the Zionist project.  They concentrated in the significant electoral states of America.  Where they are organised voters and campaign supporters.  The political elite are sensitive to this.  Other narrative is silenced. No reference was made to Christian support for Zionism to their own messianic beliefs.  I suspect that this is another important factor for American leaders.

Israel continues in a generation-long trend in its beseiged mentality to radical right-wing politics: xenophobic, anti-alien (including non-Arabs coming from Africa), authoritarian and populist.  The left-wing in Israeli life find it easier to emigrate.

Last year’s Interfaith Peace Lecture in Dunedin was addressed by a progressive rabbi from Wellington who left Israel so his children could grow up without serving in the army.  In the audience was a Palestinian mother who left Palestine for the same reason.  They could acknowledge each other across the room, away from their homeland.

Meanwhile demographics show a trend for a Jewish population governing a non-Jewish majority.

Eventually there will be a re-balancing in the state.  My fear is that the current situation will remain until scarcity at the end of the current age of civilisation causes American patronage to become isolated.  The change will be severe and violent.  It seems to be the only way for it to end.  We can only hope for an optimistic alternative.

The problems created by human beings can eventually be solved by human beings.

The fate of the Antarctic Ice Sheet

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Enough of the elections already.  The big lecture of the week was visiting professor Rob DeConto talking about climate change and its effect on the Antarctic ice cap.  Looking ahead 500 years proved to be more important than looking ahead to the next election cycle.

Sea level rise is beginning to accelerate.  More melt-water is coming off the ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica  In the Southern Ocean relatively warm water is hitting the Antarctic ice cap.  A loss of the glacial ice from Greenland will lead to a rise of sea levels to 7 metres, the West Antarctic Ice sheet 4 metres, East Antarctica 50 metres.

There’s not much action on the East Antarctican front yet.  There was a week in July 2012 when the entire Greenlandic Ice sheet was above freezing point.  It was effectively raining in a dry land.  Greenland is a robust ice sheet that survived the last inter-glacial period.  The mass of the Greenland Ice sheet is dense enough to pull water to it.  The loss of water from Greenland won’t affect the surrounding North Atlantic coast line, from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland and Scotland.  Instead, further away, in the South Atlantic will be most affected.

Likewise the Antarctic melt-off won’t be felt in the Southern Ocean.  It will be felt in the mid-Pacific gyre.  The West Antarctica melt affects North America, centring on Washington DC.  Scientists call this the Karma effect!

Most of West Antarctica is sitting on bedrock below sea level.  It is sensitve to ocean temperature.  Ice flows down, off the ice cap, to the ocean.  Where it flows of the West Antarctica into the Ross Sea and the Weddell Sea the ice shelf is buttressed by the limits of the land that encloses it, and obstacles that it encounters, like sea mountains.  Warm water thins the buttressing and the ice flows faster into the ocean.  At the ice shelf’s edge it calves off into ice bergs and floating sea ice.

If the Ice sheet is not buttressed it loses mass.  The edge begins to float and the grounded ice sheet moves back.  The ice cap rests in a bowl of bedrock that is above sea level.  The slope of the ice sheet mirrors the slope it is grounded on the bed of the continental shelf.

The last time carbon emissions in the atmosphere is as high as they are now was during the Plyocene period three million years ago.  During that period there was no West Antarctic ice sheet and sea levels were 20 metres higher then the current Holocene period.  See I’m back to reporting on climate change again!

It turns out that as well as the underwater basin in the West Antarctic ice sheet that there are deep basins in East Antarctica, and these are the thickest parts of the East Antarctic ice sheet.  The grounded ice sheet cannot contain its own weight.  Floating at 100 metres above the sea the Ice cliff will break up under its own weight.  Ice cliff failure will retreat the ice sheet until its supporting weight will re-stabilise. 

We are beginning to see melt water on the Ross ice shelf, standing water above freezing point.  Eventually vulnerable basins in East Antarctica will show the same warning signs.  It will take 500 years for Antarctica to reveal its new coast-line.  However our ‘business-as-usual’ policy towards carbon emissions shows that we are on schedule.  By the end of the century we will see sea rises of 1-2 metres, and an encroachment on our coasts that will be measured in centimetres per year, not millimetres as it currently is.  Coastal properties may not be a good investment.

Warning: sea levels can rise quickly making the return trip difficult and dangerous.

Antarctica showing ice sheets sitting below sea level marked in blue

Antarctica showing ice sheets sitting below sea level marked in blue


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The second lecture I attended this week: Generation Zero’s live-feed from their candidates meeting in Auckland.

While the attendance in Auckland looked thin on the ground, as it did in the lecture theatre in Dunedin, it filled up in the Auckland auditorium.

The event was presented and chaired by Samantha Hayes, a journalist and news presenter from TV3.  She volunteered her time, introducing the speakers and spreading the questions around.

Most of the parties were in attendance.  Act and the Conservatives were not in attendance, which kept the conversation away from chem trails. 

The debate was conducted on the assumption that the causes of climate change were resolved in the rational world.  (Where assumably rationality is not applied to climate change deniers.)

If we are not world leaders in climate change action then we are still batting above our weight class.  We have been foot-dragging to become pioneers under the government of the last six years.  This doesn’t mean that we are not concerned.

Tracey Martin showed that there is more to New Zealand First than yes men to Winston Peters.  In the conversation over transport she argued that the conversation needs to be extended from talking only about metropolitan Auckland to include connectivity to Auckland’s satelite towns.  She cited her constituency Warkworth, a community which is also home to the largest migrant Kiribati population in New Zealand.  There is more to New Zealand First’s immigration policy than just being opposed to New Zealand becoming a bolt-hole for Chinese millionaires.

If New Zealand First goes through a leadership change during the next term and people like Tracey Martin step out of the media shadow cast by Winston Peters then that party could prove to be interesting to watch.

Transport needs to be more than feeding roads.  It needs to be about improving networks.

Tim Groser: “Have you seen us abolish the ETS?” (Emissions Trading Scheme)  David Parker and Russell Norman: “Affectively Yes!”  I’m pretty sure that they both chorused that response.

The government is reliant on the high level of renewable energy (70%) to justify reducing incentive to take action to go further to higher levels of renewable energy.

Tracey Martin jumped in again to say that National and Labour think they know everything, both supporting the ETS while a group of smaller parties favour the Carbon Tax.  The two biggest parties need to be less arrogant.  She is really earning her pay-check this week.

There is a role for the Centre-Right parties to carry their people to act on climate change.  Tim Groser may look like an obstacle in this forum; addressing a room of 200 farmers he becomes an advocate for acting on climate change.  It was pointed out by the panel after the main event that he didn’t play the ‘environment-is-nice-to-have-but-we-can’t-afford-it’ card.  The National Party still needs to watch out, especially if the fiscal conservative faction becomes the dominant faction in that party.

Climate Voter

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