Hobbit in Advent

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It’s December, what’s happened?

I went house sitting again.  This time up in Opoho, for friends going overseas.  Unfortunately for them they were going to Paris, just before the attack on that city.  Chaos and confusion on their arrival.  They were able to leave and stay with family in Germany.

A change from Manono House was restful.  I looked after the chickens.  Evans Street is about 20 minutes walking from work, half the time from Manono House.  There are a couple of houses on the street that I would call crooked houses.

At the end of November I visited Invercargill for the Burt Munro Challenge, our annual family gathering.  I will be back there for Christmas.

I caught most of this season’s Doctor Who, not every episode.  I had hoped that when the Doctor got to Gallifrey there would be changes.  I confess to being disappointed.  The Time Lords fought what appears to have been a standing war against the Daleks and nearly lost.  They have the powers of gods and no imagination to exercise it.

I guess Lord President Rassilon regenerated after the Doctor sealed the Master in the imprisoned Gallifrey.  This new Lord President gave the Doctor his new regenerations. The Master regenerated into Missy and  spearheaded Gallifrey’s escape from the time-loop.  The Time Lords have retreated to the end of the universe, maybe not the wisest choice as the fruit-jube Daleks also fled into deep time.

I had speculated on the idea of Time Lord renegades escaping Gallifrey, a revolution overthrowing the High Council’s power.  The chances of this look unlikely from what we have seen of Gallifrey.  It is under the control of a powerful aristocratic elite.  The ideas of change lie outside the agenda of the programme.

The idea of Missy / the Master as an agent of chaos makes sense.  Her motive is to undo the Doctor’s plans, a mean intellectual agenda, the Doctor’s antithesis.

I have returned to Manono House from house-sitting to find changes.  One person who was proving to be difficult has moved on, which has improved the house.  Another person who was away from the house for part of the year has returned, which I find good to see.  It promises better things next year.

My workplace at the Presbyterian Archives also changes.  The newest appointments have up-sticks and left.  After two to three years of their leadership this is a disappointment.  It means changes in the new year.  It may work out for the better.

Being A Public Voice

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A transcript of my notes from an address to Wednesday Worship at Opoho Church this week on the 22th July 2015, being some thoughts on my research and description of the Public Questions Committee in the Presbyterian Archives.

I want to talk about the Public Questions Committee in the Presbyterian Church.  For a long time the Presbyterian Church had a voice that contributed to public issues.  Originally the Presbyterians talked about religious issues relevant to the national church — temperance and Bible in Schools.  Social and political questions came to General Assembly and a special committee was set up to report to the next assembly.  By 1912 it was suggested the process could be streamlined and debate in the assembly avoided by setting up a Committee on Church life and work.  General Assembly set up the Public Questions Committee in November 1917 in order that resolutions relating to public questions outside of purely Church business yet in the moral and religious aspect that the Church was intensely interested should be the fruit of calm consideration of some of the wisest among ministers and laymen.  In 1924 Public Questions became a standing committee of General Assembly.

The subjects that that Public Questions covered were wide ranging: ANZAC Day, Abortion, Alcohol, Biculturalism, Education and Religion, the Media. The three that stand out to me in describing this collection is the file on wrestling from 1936 — in the verge of a world war the Presbyterians were agitated by wrestling in Wellington as a family entertainment; the conscientious objectors files that start in the 1930s and report on the treatment of the Presbyterian individuals who resisted the militarisation of the age and stood up for pacifism when it was unfashionable (surprisingly, in a later age when peace and conflict studies is fashionable they are unknown); and the long commitment of the Public Questions Committee and International Relations to keep attention on South Africa in the apartheid era — a yearly commitment at the shareholders meeting of South British Insurance to divest from South Africa, and when this was impossible, to withdraw the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand.  I’m riding several favorite research topics here as hobby horses.

The commitment to apartheid and South Africa may have been Public Questions proudest moment. It may have also been the line in the sand for conservative Presbyterians who saw radical Presbyterian leaders taking positions in politics, in opposition to our sporting contacts with South Africa, including Maori in the All Blacks, and taking a stand which conservative Presbyterians considered contrary to the gospel.  By 1981 Public Questions became a joint committee with the Methodists. In 2000 The Society of Friends and the Associated Churches of Christ joined what was now known as the Churches’ Agency on Social Issues.  The conservative bloc in the General Assembly was critical of a committee that they felt did not communicate with the church and did not represent the church.  Had the committee always been radical and to be feared, or did it become so?  It is hard to say.  In 2007 the Council of Assembly ended Presbyterian funding to CASI and it dissolved.  Between 2007 and 2015 the church’s voice on social issues has been silent.  Having Vision New Zealand, and the Inter-Church Bio-Ethics Council, and the Centre for Theology and Public Issues, which is supported by the Synod of Otago and Southland,means we don’t need to have a voice.  Somebody will do it for us.  In contrast the Salvation Army, a church less than half the size of the Presbyterian Church on current members has become the go-to people for media on social issues. When the Salvation Army makes its annual state of the nation address people take notice.

In the moderator’s paper, his encyclical, It’s A Matter of Faith, Andrew Norton talks about the loss of Voice as a deafening silence.

Sadly, when people do eventually speak it is usually on one topic alone; we come across as a Church that is obsessed with sexual orientation.  Our voice is perceived as a voice against.  Wouldn’t it be great if we discovered the voice of God today that is a voice for. Who will speak if we do not.

He raises some suggestions to regain a prophetic voice.  In the Presbyterian Church I see that an open, generous orthodoxy conflicts with an orthodoxy by subscription.

Hobbit Spotting

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This is the week that was.

Dave went back to Invercargill.  He dropped me off at church which saved me some time.  When he got home he joined the Facebook group for Brithenig words that I have started, bringing that community to 13 people, of which half I can identify.

I added some reference points to the invisible city of Lamborough.  I wondered how one character would get from South Shore across Lamborough Harbour to the Weather Downs in the hill country of Big Sharkey.  I realised that I knew enough details to travel the distance in his car: across the Harbour Bridge, then over the Tava River, turn back south until he reached Hundred Road which would take him out of the city.

On Thursday I went to the Gig Night at the Library.  I had mixed it together in my head and expected gothic ukelele. A four piece band played original pieces about the Transit of Venus, coffee and the carousel cowboy.  An alternative group did Talley Ho! and a synthesizer had me leaning forward to hear some interesting harpsichord.

I was at work for the last day for our reseach archivist.  We went to the ministry common room so she could say farewell to all who met for afternoon tea, one last time.

The cold nights have given me a cough that is slow in going away.  A harbinger of the winter to come.

I have collected my mother from the bus station.  You can hear her in the background.  My hat went off for adventures.  Fortunately the taxi driver brought it back.  She has found my collection of Arthur Mee titles on my bookshelf.  I have Golden Year, One Thousand Beautiful Things, The Children’s Bible and Talks for Boys.  She has One Thousand and One Everlasting Things and the volumes of the Encyclopedia at home which I hope to add to my collection.  She will look out for other titles at the book sale in Invercargill.

Places History can’t reach

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The second of two open lectures by Professor Rod Edmond, a migrant New Zealander at the University of Kent.

On one side of his family his grandmother was born in 1849 at Ardmair, north of Ullapool.  I found Ardmair on GoogleMaps with some searching.  It’s an open grassy bay over the hills from Ullapool, a place to stop and camp.  Fourteen families lived there as crofters.  They emigrated at the end of December in 1853 to Tasmania.  Their last sermon was taken from the Book of Isaiah Chapter 11:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb…

And it shall come to pass on that day,

That the Lord shall set his hand again

the second time to recover the remnant of his people that shall be left…

from the islands of the sea.

And he shall set up an ensign for the nations,

and gather together the dispersed of Judah

from the four corners of the earth.

Ullapool was a new town set up for the herring industry.  It had not been successful as the harvest stocks shifted to new waters.

On the other side of his family Charles Murray came from family of tenant farmers in Aberdeenshire to be a missionary on Ambrim Island in Vanuatu.  His history there was covered in the first lecture.  The Murray family lived on a tenant farm which has been owned by the Cumine family for 200 years.  The anniversary is coming up.  They farmed the land in the Hunger Years after the end of the Golden Summer of Scottish agriculture.  The tenancy agreement lasted for 19 years, meaning that what investment they put in the land could be lost at the end of that tenancy and returned to the land-owners.  Two generations, two tenancy cycles.  The third generation scattered around the world to Ambrim in the New Hebrides, and India, and Kalamazoo in America.  After 1884 other people took over the tenancy.

The McLeods were dispossessed by the Clearances.  The stories passed into oral history and biblical language.  They took on an emotional memory, stronger than the evictions of Ireland, that are still debated, still re-told.  The people tell their own stories, recording as much detail as they need.  In the literature Patrick Sellar, the factor of the Duke of Sutherland, is the agent for change.  How much were the people already dispossessed from their land in a religion and society where the inner Patrick Sellar evicts emotion and burns out love?  (A friend told me I should write that quote down, so it is not verbatim.)  They were driven out by people who thought morally, ecologically and economically they were doing the right thing.

For both the tenant farmers, and the crofters dispossessed by the Clearances,  the story they told was in their literature.  The historians in the audience got energetic about that.

Wrongs and Rights: The Curious Afterlife of a Nineteenth Century Missionary in Vanuatu New Hebrides

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This was a lecture given by Professor Rod Edmond on a visit to New Zealand telling how his ancestors came from Scotland to New Zealand, in one case via a circuitous route through the New Hebrides.  Several members of the Presbyterian Archives attended this lecture.  The source of the record for Charles Murray’s time in Ambrim in the New Hebrides was a journal he kept for six months between New Year and his departure from the island after the Presbyterian Synod.  The original diary is part of the collection at the Presbyterian Archives, which was acknowledged with thanks.

Charles Murray was the son of a tenant farmer from Aberdeenshire (Did he ever cross paths with my own ancestors from the same region?)  He followed his brother, William Murray, to Ambrim where William died of tuberculosis, a Scottish disease, not a tropical disease.  Charles suffered from bouts of malaria while at Ambrim.  During the time he lost his wife Flora in childbirth which affected him badly.  It was an unhappy time for him.

At the same time he fell into conflict with a local chief, Malnain (spelling?).  The Ambrim people have a ceremony of status, mage, pronounced like ‘maaz’ apparently, where a pig is sacrificed over carved images.  The chief was organising a ceremony where the sacrifice of pigs would raise him to the supreme degree.  Charles Murray opposed the ceremony as explicitly pagan.

At the same time one of the chief’s wives had been involved in adultery with a man from another village and peaceful relations had to be negotiated.  The chief was under enough pressure that to restore normal relations between genders he forbade women from going to the mission school.  Murray came under taboo and was virtually isolated from the goodwill of the community that supported him.  The Presbyterian Missionary Synod removed him from the island.  He was shipwrecked on Malo, another island in the New Hebrides group.  The experience left him broken in mind.  He would recover and go on to parish ministry in New Zealand until his death.

Over the century the island changed and became Christianised.  The missionaries take on a status of being culture-heroes, bringers of the new custom of the islands, a status not diminished as the missionaries become figures leading to decolonisation.  When Professor Edmond visited Ambrim and the village of Ranon where the Murray brothers served members of the families of descendents were affected to learn what their ancestors had done.  They took the initiative and held a ‘Sorry’ ceremony to reconcile what they had done to the professor’s ancestors.  They absorbed the missionary story and made it part of their own whakapapa, or genealogy, of their world-view.

Perceptions of Empire in Inter-War Scotland


We have had a visiting scholar from Scotland in the Presbyterian Archives for the last week, Esther Breitenbach, making good use of our material.  She gave a lecture to the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies before she left on the above subject.  I attended the lecture and the Presbyterian Archives was acknowledged as a resourceful place.

I understand that the coat of arms for New Zealand is included in the above image at the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle.  I have not found a detailed guide online after a brief investigation.  Perhaps it deserves a comparison with New Zealand’s National War Memorial in Wellington, a memorial I have visited a couple of times.  I find its architecture evocatively Tolkienian.

Hospitality to visitors from Empire was the work of the Victoria League and the Overseas League.  They provided entertainment for visiting military personnel during the two world wars.  A women’s organisation with men as leaders they came from the best classes in Scotland.

Glasgow may have been the ‘Second City of Empire’ in its own perception, an economic powerhouse.  Edinburgh was the centre for political and ceremonial power in Scotland.  It is from Edinburgh that Empire is perceived.  It hosted the Empire Exhibition in 1938.  I wonder what artefacts of New Zealand peoples when to that exhibition?  Were they received like the meeting house Mataatua?

Prime Minister Frazer visited Scotland and compared favourably the martial prowess of Highlanders and Maori.

I must do some investigation into the Empire Wireless Chain, which was to join South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.  They thought they could use it to listen in the Imperial Parliament!

Moot Court

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The last event for the Centre for Theology and Public Issues in 2012 was a report back on a survey that the Centre held earlier this year to get feedback on its activities.

The Centre has interest from students at the University with 25-35 at the under-graduate level and 4-5 going on to study with the Centre in post-graduate studies.

As public broadcasting is under threat in New Zealand the Centre continues to provide a forum for discussing issues.  It has become a service of its own.  It attracts the interest of the public who are not interested in theology, but are interested in the public space the Centre creates.

In the question time I put in a push for more research to be done with the Presbyterian Archives.  As one of the topics someone with the Centre is researching is prayer and the public health system then I know of one collection of papers at which to point them.  Further work for the archives staff should only be encouraged!

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