Thursday, April 24, 2014

Reflections for ANZAC Eve 2014

For the first time the Cathedral is observing ANZAC Day with the RSA the evening before - a change that we were asked to experiment with.  I'm not yet sure that this is a good idea but we'll persist with this for a while.  This has been a strange fortnight with ANZAC Day following so quickly on the heels of Easter. Many people have taken leave, rolling the Easter and ANZAC breaks into one extended holiday period.

Below is the text of the reflection I offered.

‘We will remember them’?

Every year we make the same promise ‘We will remember them’ and every year we present ourselves with the same question – ‘just what is it that we are remembering?’  It has certainly changed over the years.
For generations of ANZACS this has been the day for remembering friends, fellow-soldiers, family members who were killed in war; it has been a time for remembering the decimation of whole communities, the loss of much of a generation, the loss of a future that might have been; it has been a time for remembering the sheer wanton waste and horror of war.
As the years have passed, as generations have passed, the reality, the substance, of that memory has blurred.  Yet, paradoxically, even as the ‘memory’ has blurred or become more ambiguous and uncertain, the attendance and interest in the day has nonetheless grown, and grown considerably.  The attendance of the new generation at the dawn parades has increased and I expect it will be so tomorrow morning – but I also have in mind the fact that for many young New Zealanders and Australians a pilgrimage to Gallipoli often features in their ‘OE’ travel itineraries.
So, before thinking further about what we are remembering, it is worth first asking why this paradox – that we have, on the one hand, a blurring and ambiguous memory and, on the other hand, a growing interest in that memory for a new generation?
·         The interest in the past is something that we all share to some degree (the interest in genealogy is an example of this): so, a Grandfather’s tarnished medals in a cabinet or drawer; the faded script of a soldier’s letter; the sweat-stained ,thumbed and creased old diary or a faded photograph seem to call to us.  These artefacts are enigmatic connections to a past where we may hope to find the stories that will help tell us who we are and what has shaped us.  Although none of them will answer all our questions nonetheless they are traces and signs that we feel the need to follow. They help to place us in time.  Against the great mystery of existence, these are vital and personal points of connection.
·         Another factor that I think may come into play – is our affirming what we have in common.   ANZAC Day seems to stand above the things that divide us as a society and it offers a moment of solidarity and social cohesion when together - in unison - we say ‘we will remember them’.  On this day we embrace the vision that we are indeed one people and we collaborate in a story that tells us how costly it has been to come to nationhood.  So, we say ‘we will remember them’ even though we speak in a time when globalization has utterly undermined the substance of nationhood; and even though we now inhabit a society where the ‘gap’ between the affluent and the poor has become a chasm. Despite all this, I suspect ANZAC Day has become an opportunity to affirm our aspiration for a common identity in defiance of all that might in practice work against it.
I have asked what it is that we remember on this day – and I can only try to answer it for myself.  I am moved by the memorials – but these are for people I never knew and whom I cannot ‘remember’.  Nonetheless I am moved by their loss – I know and feel that those commemorated today are a future lost to us all and they are a past of incalculable loss for those their death bereaved.  Yet, that still feels a little abstract and inadequate for any authentic ‘remembering’.

The only way in which I think they can be honestly remembered is to honour them by the society we create in New Zealand today.  We will remember them rightly not by some straining of memory, sentimentality or imagination but by making ANZAC Day a time when to remember means to recommit ourselves to create a just and compassionate society in which all can live without fear and all will have enough to live with dignity.  That kind of society is the only real foundation for peace and the only way by which we may truly honour our dead.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ODT Clippings from Palm Sunday

I have posted the clippings of the day from the ODT for those who are out of Dunedin, they give a bit of a feeling for the occasion.  The Taonga article (in the previous post) has an excellent photo of some of the St Hilda's girls on the steps at the end of the service.

Some photos from Internal Affairs (copyright is to Woolf /Crown)

The welcome at the gates

After the Service

Anglican Taonga : New Zealand's Anglican News Leader

Anglican Taonga : New Zealand's Anglican News Leader

Palm Sunday 2014, The 'Royal' Sermon

I have deliberately avoided blogging for some months but have discovered that some folk actually follow the blog and expect me to write something - that's an encouraging discovery and as a step toward acknowledging that I am blogging the 'Royal' sermon from Palm Sunday.

On Palm Sunday we start a journey of the imagination and seek to follow Christ.   Who knows where that may lead?
About 35 years ago a Dunedin man, Dunedin born and bred, set out from this city to follow Christ. He cleared his office, packed a few belongings into a pack and quietly set off, barefooted, on a journey that took him nearly the length of New Zealand and, finally, to Jerusalem – not the Jerusalem in Palestine but that other Jerusalem, the old mission station on the Whanganui river.  He did this because, despite misgivings and doubts, he had a hunch that God called him to follow Christ to that Jerusalem.  He backed his imagination – by which I mean that visionary faith-forming capacity latent within us all that makes deep connections beyond the range of reason.  It’s not an alternative to reason, but a deeper intuitive kind of thinking – the kind that might form a saint or make a scientific breakthrough, as Einstein observed “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” [1]
By now many of you will have identified the man: James K. Baxter, of course.  There are still strong memories of him in this city and his name is prominent on the Writer’s Walk just outside our Cathedral gates.  When Baxter followed Christ to Jerusalem the critical strands of his life coalesced in some remarkable, deceptively simple, poetry. His imagination became a gateway to God: or, remembering the Narnia books, you could say that in Jerusalem Baxter ‘stepped through the wardrobe’.
Which is what Palm Sunday invites us to do: it is about our choosing to follow Christ! We are not required to undergo great hardships or undertake a barefoot pilgrimage but simply, to use this liturgy as a step through the gateway of our imagination and follow the one who is beyond the clutch of concepts or logic.  Don’t wait till you’ve got it all sorted in your head, that never really happens!  Don’t hold back because of doubts and scepticism, hesitancy or half-heartedness: these will always accompany you. But pick up that palm cross and say in your heart ‘I follow Christ’.  That is our step through the gateway of the imagination; that is the start for our adventure of heart and mind as we dare to follow Christ – whatever that may mean.  Will you seriously, deliberately, pick up your palm cross and follow Christ?
Baxter’s Jerusalem poetry traces his experience of following Christ.  It was never easy for him.  Nor will it be for us.  He described the long business of learning to love and getting past the ego, as a ‘dark vocation’.
To go forward like a man in the dark
Is the meaning of this dark vocation;

So simple, tree, star, the bare cup of the hills,
The lifelong grave of waiting

As indeed it has to be.  To ask for Jacob’s ladder
Would be to mistake oneself and the dark Master,

Yet at times the road comes down to a place
Where water runs and horses gallop

Behind a hedge.  There it is possible to sit,
Light a cigarette, and rub

Your bruised heels on the cold grass.  Always because
A man’s body is a meeting house,

Ribs, arms, for the tribe to gather under,
And the heart must be their spring of water.[2]

There are also those moments in the journey where Baxter sets art aside and simply sings his faith. We look for that kind of faith; that deep simplicity.

Song to the Lord Jesus

Lord Jesus, you are like the sun in the sky,
The light shining in our darkness
So that we ourselves can become the light.

Lord Jesus, you died in pain on the cross,
You rose again from the dead.
Now you live within us,
You live our lives and die our deaths with us.[3]

So today we start the journey of Holy Week.  We ‘step through the wardrobe’ to focus on that lonely enigmatic  figure entering Jerusalem on a donkey; the triumphant entry so soon to morph into a broken man lurching under a cross; the shouts of praise ‘Hosanna’ to mutate into a crowd baying ‘crucify him’.
We follow him to the cross on Good Friday and … (eventually) … to the discovery that death is not the end and that the story is not over …  but that it has only just begun.
Take up your cross and follow him.

[1] Also “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
[2] CP,568
[3] CP, 571