Paul Holmes has grown on me over the years.
I much prefer him in his current role as a weekly correspondent in the NZ Herald over the role from which he gained his fame and fortune - fronting a nightly current events TV show for decades (it seemed).
His columns are powerful. Often laced with compassion and always laden with insight. He has always had an instinct for the views of the common Kiwi - reflecting those views even as he speaks into them, shaping and strengthening them. When it comes to kiwi cultural exegesis, tracking Holmes has always been a favourite past-time. Plus he writes so well, so it is not difficult.
This is why today's column troubles me.
He is writing about yesterday's open-air Memorial Service in Christchurch in the aftermath of the earthquake. I wasn't able to watch it all - but with what I did see, I was surprised by the amount of 'Christian' content in the service.
[Plus it was a thrill to see two former students involved - and then I did my usual moan about how the prominence of How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace - both of which were sung - in NZ public life never seems to extend to singing their respective final verses. I would have thought the hope of Christ's second coming might be rather relevant - but that is one step too far, I suspect].
What comes through in Holmes' piece is his disdain for the religious element, specifically this Christian element, in the service. Here are the extracts:
"The speeches, if one were being a bit picky, could all have been a bit briefer, particularly the religious ones."
"There was plenty of religion, it has to be said. And what the bloke was saying at the start about the tree of life was beyond most of us."
"The various religions each made a contribution, Muslims, Jews, Hindu, Buddhist and Baha'i. They too were brief. It was the Christians who banged on a bit."
Gee - he is taking a big risk writing like that after an event like that. But I think he knows what he is doing. He usually does. I suspect there are many New Zealanders muttering the same things under their breath. The headline might just as easily have read - "Never mind the heat and the Christians, this was truly a special day".
This is a tough cultural context for the church and for Christians - tougher than places like Australia, the US and the UK. As I travel I am convinced of this. This is why one of the deepest and most enduring motivations in my life has been to encourage our pastors. I admire them so much - particularly those shaping authentic biblical ministries.
The way forward is to allow the gospel to transform us so much that it causes us to live distinctive lives laden with good deeds at the heart of our local communities ... and then let this intrigue people, with the Spirit well able to take it where he wants from there. While there is a very real sadness that Paul Holmes does not see this happening in this nation, it should not surprise us either. The New Testament helps us see that a blindedness is to be expected.
In the meantime I'll keep doing what I've been doing for years - praying for his salvation.