Wednesday, July 31, 2013

huia heritage

Six generations of my family have loved 'Little Huia' - west of Auckland, on the road to Whatipu. It is nestled in an unspectacular valley which finds its way down to a nondescript beach - but we love it.

On the road
50 years ago, with my grandma and siblings, pointing the way on the walk up from the beach.

Two weeks ago, with my wife and children on the walk down to the beach
(NB: taken just meters from the first photo).

At the bach/cottage
45 years ago, grandma with grandson (and grand-daughters) out the front of Uncle Grahame's bach.

Two weeks ago, grandma with grandson out the back of Uncle Grahame's bach.

Up Jackie's Peak
45 years ago, with assorted family members looking out across the bay
(my mum at the back right and her dad - after whom I am named ('Royston') - in the middle)

One year ago, with my mum looking back the other way
(she climbed the peak at 81 years of age!)

nice chatting


Monday, July 29, 2013


When I was little we lived at 707 New North Rd (Auckland).

When I was 3 we moved to India (Chandigarh, Herbertpur...).

When I was 7 we moved to 707 New North Rd (Auckland).

When I was 8 we moved to India (Landour, Old Delhi ...).

When I was 12 we moved to 707 New North Rd (Auckland).

When I was 13 we moved to India (New Delhi, boarding school...).

When I was 17 we moved to 707 New North Rd (Mt Albert, Auckland).

When I was 21 we moved to Chicago, Ill (USA).

When I was 25 we moved to Invercargill (New Zealand).

When I was 30 we moved to Auckland, eventually into our first home at 20 Pinedale Place.

Then when I turned 36 it dawned on me.
It was like a mini, early mid-life crisis. Until that age I had never lived anywhere longer than five years. Not that unusual for many people, I guess. But for me every shift had been continental (apart from Invercargill to Auckland, which some would argue is roughly equivalent!). So in terms of time, the shifts were frequent. In terms of space, the shifts were vast. And it all happened before the advent of email and skype, I might add. At times I felt my life cursed by pilgrimage, rather than blessed by it (Psalm 84).

At 36, it was time to reflect. I saw the upsides. A flexibility. An ability to make friends easily. But also the downsides. An instability. An ability to drop friends just as easily - because always I had to do so. It was part of the rhythm of my life.

Then life changed - dramatically.

When I was 38 we shifted intersuburbanly, from Henderson (West Auckland) to Roskill (Central Auckland) and stayed there for eleven years. When I was 49 we shifted intrasuburbanly, from Roskill North to Roskill South and we've been here - once again in our own home at 16B Budgen St - for four years. So for fifteen years we have been living in the same suburb of Auckland. What a change.

But now - at 53 - we are back among the continental shifts, with a return to pilgrimage. Barby and I have been granted visas and expect to move to Bangalore (India) on 3 September, basing our lives and work at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS).

Reflecting on our own pilgrimage is always good for us. 
[NB: I tried to do some here when I turned 50 years of age]

In all this shifting, be it continental or suburban,
three things stick out for me. They've held me. They've kept me.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Ever since I saw him batting in the nets when he was 14 years of age, I have been an avid follower of Martin Crowe's cricket career. That is almost 40 years ago. There is one thing I have learned. Every encounter with MD Crowe will yield wisdom and emotion  - or, a little head and heart.

His latest book, Raw, is no exception. Don't be fooled by the title, or the press coverage. There is a lot of cricketing wisdom here (mainly in the second half). He combines creative and critical thinking about cricket. The best chapters in the book are the ones on (a) the 'Technology Wars' (171-184) - which he addresses both as cricketer and broadcaster, with a surprising sympathy towards India's stance on the Decision Review System; (b) the IPL/Twenty20 (185-193) - 'the quiet, old, long game had turned into a loud, new, short frenzy' (186) ... and 'something has to give' and it is hard not to agree with his desire to see Twenty20 be solely a domestic game played by clubs, not nations; and (c) 'A Century-Maker's Bible - How to Bat Six Hours in a Test (281-301), stuffed with good ideas/illustrations about leadership for those with eyes to see. Helped along by quotations from Don Bradman and Greg Chappell, he addresses issues like avoiding comfort zones, being over-coached, and practicing as you wish to play.

But it is on the first half of the book where everyone focuses and Crowe's emotions - most notably, his battle with cancer. But it is not the only battle he has faced. Such was his prodigious talent, he was always pressed into representative teams at a far younger age than his team mates. For example, at 15 years of age he was playing in the NZ Under-20 team. This issue is at the core of his struggle with life. It draws a lot of compassion from me. He was never given the opportunity to grow up and mature  'Many thought I would grow up quickly. I did physically, but emotionally it went the other way' (16). At a later stage he realised that his 'on-going problem' was 'a disconnected spirit and soul overwhelmed by the ego and the emotional instability created from my unfinished teenage development' (55). From that foundation all sorts of stuff happened. A broken marriage, a child from a second relationship - before marrying Lorraine. The early death of his much-loved Dad didn't help. Then there were the health issues with a debilitating knee injury curtailing what would have been a brilliant career, salmonella, depression, and cancer.

As I've watched (still as a fan, from a distance), my hunch is that while Crowe is smart and skilled (head and hand, if you like), the dis-ease at the level of emotion (heart) has complicated his life so much. This is a lesson for all of us to learn. The enduring irony is that, until recently, he has been far better at batting an innings than living an innings. On the pitch, pursuing hundreds with a flawless style that brought the textbook on batting to life, his temperament was remarkable - but off the pitch, doing life with people, he appeared to be a bit of a magnet for conflict because his temperament was not up to it. He exercises poor judgement and makes mistakes often. He is candid about this. I admire his courage. He has managed to find himself in the midst of match-fixing scandals, racism allegations, personality conflicts, relationship breakdowns, employment battles, and sexuality rumours. And then he is just a little self-absorbed and introspective which, when combined with the 'tall poppy' thing in NZ, makes him a person to which the average Kiwi does not feel drawn. It is kinda sad, I reckon. But he is learning the power of forgiveness (although I've always prayed that it would be the Jesus brand of forgiveness that would capture him) - and I cannot help feeling that appearing on TV interviews (with this book), unconcerned about being bald is also a step in the right direction too. He appears so much more healthy and whole. That is good.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

the curse of the casual

Taking a road trip through New Zealand, seeing the beauty in both sights and friends, reminds me of the many things I will miss when we leave this country (as we expect to do in a couple of months).

However one thing will not be missed. Being casual. It is not difficult to trace its roots to the shifts and turns associated with what is often called postmodernism - but I won't do that here. I quite like the casual in the culture. I can see the value of the casual in the church from time to time. But one thing I do not understand. Why is casual with God so popular? For example, consider two of the practices, often called sacraments, we do in the sight of God and for God's sake. Weddings. Baptisms.

casual weddings
I've kept taking weddings since I finished being a pastor 25 years ago. It is the same routine every time. I listen closely to the stories of the couple, both individually and togetherly. I pore over scriptures and prayers. I work with their song selections and their wishes. I stitch and I weave. I check flow and momentum. And that is all before I get to my message ... where preparing the wedding's ten takes longer than the Sunday's thirty. Every word counts. Every idea weighty. Its serious stuff which I take seriously. I am all about wanting to cast the vision of what marriage means for this couple in the sight of God. That does not mean the service is without humour, but it is definitely without casual.

But gradually, over the past 10 years in particular, it has dawned on me. I have been attending more weddings than I have taken. I've done far more watching and listening. I see it clearly now, even to the point of embarassment. I've been working too hard. I've been taking things too seriously. People want casual. People want spontaneous. People want informal. At times people seem even to want shallow. I can't do it.

casual baptisms
If you thought weddings were serious stuff in the sight of God - what about baptism? It is the outward sign of a dramatic change on the inward side of a person's life. The New Testament speaks in terms of moving from darkness to light. Faith is there - believing and trusting in Jesus come what may. Repentance is there - turning from sin and rebellion and turning towards God. With baptism I have insisted on people speaking a testimony (unless there are exceptional circumstances) and that the testimony be their personal story, in their own precious words, of faith and repentance. If that is not possible, then they are not yet ready for baptism. It doesn't have to be perfect - far from it. And then with the vows - as with weddings above - they are serious and deliberate, slow and meaningful.

But gradually, over the past 20 years as I have travelled around churches in New Zealand, something else is increasingly common. Many good and moving things are said at baptism. Healing and confidence and love are shared. But testimonies which speak in their own words of faith and repentance are rare. Explanations about what baptism means are often absent. Vows are rushed. So often baptism can sound like the next cool thing to do with God, a buzzy experience based on fuzzy theology designed to sustain us for the next season. And could we stop the talk about dunking?

I am far from convinced that God does casual - ever. Can someone describe the parameters of a biblical theology of casual for me? Is this not another example of Martin Luther's 'cultural captivity of the church' where we baptise cultural trends and marry ourselves to cultural values, thinking this to be the pathway to effective mission? It isn't. It never has been.

My concerns are theological and pastoral.

Theologically, is what we see here God's immanence eclipsing God's transcendence? We like our God to be near and close. Jesus can become kinda like a boyfriend, only much better. The Spirit indwells to help us and make us feel better. But 'methinks your thoughts about God are too human'. In popular conversation and spirituality, God's transcendent qualities, destined to help us take him ever so seriously, seem to be in a sort of recession. One area of the Bible we need to revisit is the Old Testament prophets. Their common message is that the people of God have become too casual with God.

Pastorally, being casual leads to such problems. The sacraments become less important. If the sacred and the solemn and the serious in marriage is minimised, what chance does God have to be at the center of the ongoing marriage? When the marriage is under threat, how does this impact on the mutual commitment to stay together and work things out? Won't there be a tendency to give-up sooner and easier? And if baptism happened without proper explanation and without accurate testimony what actually is happening when someone 'falls away' from the faith? Maybe they were never moved from darkness to light - and never actually converted in the first place? How does that change the counsel offered?

nice chatting - in a serious manner