Friday, December 9, 2016


First year at College

I'm coming to the end of my first year at St John's College.  I had always said that my theology grades reflected how busy I was with work rather than how well I understood a topic.  I'm pleased to have been proven right with my first year of full-time study generally resulting in good academic marks.  Even papers that I didn't feel a strong affinity with (the less academic ones) ended up with a decent grade that I would have been happy with when studying on top of a full time job.

Part of being a student here is a requirement to engage in formal reflection.  Reviewing my weekly journal and other reflection has shown a few themes and a few issues that passed quickly.  Given the scholarship on offer here, one big theme has been gratitude.  When we first arrived, we found out that my brother-in-law has been diagnosed with a brain tumour.  The financial support we received meant that my wife was able to focus entirely on responding to that situation.  Later she got a great job locally and was able to take a job she was excited by without worrying too much about the pay.  Of course, the greatest gift for me was been the space to focus on my academic work.

One of the key elements of my experience is that most of the people around me are preparing for full-time pastoral ministry whereas I'm here to do theology to do more theology so I'm already doing what I want to be doing.  For most of the other students, this is a step on the way to doing what they really want to be doing, a hurdle, being held back.  So I'm happy all the time, the few requirements that College makes of me are a minor cost to get the benefit I receive.  For some of the other students, the study, the requirements, the compliance are all things to be overcome before getting down to the real business.  I've been doing the real business since I arrived.

I'm really looking forward to my programme next year which will finish off my BTheol.  I'm doing a research paper instead of one the taught papers for my major which will be a great opportunity.  The following years of honours and then (probably) a one-year masters by thesis should be fantastic.  I feel like my research plans have a bit of trajectory and I am starting to detect the beginnings of a book in amongst it all.  The unexpected highlight of the year has been studying Te Reo Maori.  I think part of why it has been so fun is that it is stimulating a part of my brain that doesn't get much exercise normally.

When I'm not being a student, I'm a a house-husband.  I get to cook regularly and don't mind doing housework when I need a break from academic work.  Being closer to family means we are seeing them more often.  I've been looking forward to my long student summer holiday but I've mainly been preparing for next year's papers.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


What were blogs?

Time to shutter?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


A student

At the beginning of 2016, I left my role with the Anglican Diocese of Wellington and took up a scholarship to become a Student-in-Residence at the Theological College of Saint John the Evangelist in Auckland.  This has meant a lot of transition, not least of the the move of cities.  My wife has reflected on this in a new blog.

Giving up a full time job with significant and broad responsibility, some associated ministry and mission opportunities that I greatly valued and the salary was, in the end, a lot easier than I first expected.  At least part of this is being convinced, along with my bishop, that this was God's will and would be a preparation for the next phase of my journey of discipleship.  Bishop Justin discerned that I would serve the Church going forward as a theologian.  My hope is that this will be in some form of teaching role to help prepare the next generation of leaders.  My scholarship should allow me to complete my BTheol, do the honours year and then, possibly, a one-year's master by the end of 2019.  After that, things are less clear.

My life as a student isn't quite the experience that I missed out on by working while most of my peers went to university after high school.  My scholarship includes free accommodation and course fees and my wife has a job so our lifestyle is comfortable and I won't be coming out with a student loan.  Most of the study I will do will be from universities, especially Otago, which are outside Auckland so I'll still be a distance student.  St John's is a diverse community of people like me, sent by their dioceses to follow various programmes of study.  They include candidates for ordination, people already ordained and undertaking further study and people, like me, who expect to remain lay. I'd estimate that perhaps only half of the students are the sort that the College would have previously expected to educate, people being prepared for full time stipend-ed ordained parish ministry.  Life here includes the rhythm of chapel services that you might expect, participation in an Auckland parish and daily lunch in the original dining hall from the 1860s.

I'm extremely grateful for the life I've got to enjoy over the last few months.  I've enjoyed the study I've done so far, especially Te Reo Māori.  Next semester will include my first third-year paper which is a challenge I'm looking forward to.  I've taken some initial steps towards some of the research topics I'm interested in including some foundational reading.  Should be a fun journey.

Thursday, September 10, 2015



I have had a view pronoun-related thoughts recently.

The most obvious is the last post I published with a quote from Pope Francis.  It was very gender specific which I attributed to the message being delivered in a language without gender-specific pronouns and being translated rather mechanically into English.  At least one of my Facebook friends noted the need for more inclusive language in the quote to make it easier to appreciate.

The next was writing an essay on the Holy Spirit.  As both the Father and the Son are commonly referred to as "he" I chose the closest thing that my English has to a gender-neutral personal pronoun: "it".  The marker of the essay, not surprisingly, commented that this potentially makes the Holy Spirit sound like a thing.

I also saw in the (probably sensationalised) news that a university had banned gendered pronouns as harmful speech.  There have been attempts to fix the pronoun problem in English for at least 50 years but no academic-sponsored alternatives have taken hold with the general population and I don't expect any will anytime soon either.


A quote from Pope Francis about the identity of a theologian

“I would like to explain three features of the identity of the theologian:

1. The theologian is primarily a son of his people. He cannot and does not wish to ignore them. He knows his people, their language, their roots, their histories, their tradition. He is a man who learns to appreciate what he has received as a sign of God's presence because he knows that faith does not belong to him. This leads him to recognise that the Christian people among whom he was born have a theological sense that he cannot ignore.

2. The theologian is a believer. The theologian is someone who has experience of Jesus Christ and has discovered he cannot live without Him. ... The theologian knows that he cannot live without the object / subject of his love, and devotes his life to sharing this with his brothers.

3. The theologian is a prophet. One of the greatest challenges in today's world is not merely the ease with which it is possible to dispense with God; socially it has taken a step further. The current crisis pivots on the inability of people to believe in anything beyond themselves. ... This creates a rift in personal and social identities. This new situation gives rise to a process of alienation, owing to a lack of past and therefore of future. The theologian is thus a prophet, as he keeps alive an awareness of the past and the invitation that comes from the future. He is a able to denounce any alienating form as he intuits, reflecting on the river of Tradition he has received from the Church, the hope to which we are called”.

“Therefore, there is only one way of practising theology: on one's knees. It is not merely the pious act of prayer before then thinking of theology. It is a dynamic reality of thought and prayer. Practising theology on one's knees means encouraging thought when praying and prayer when thinking”.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Pub Theology

Having seen a few references to Theology on Tap which is a Catholic initiative to help young adults talk about their faith, I had the idea of beer mats to stimulate conversation.  Of course, some already had the idea in the form of A Bitter Theology which its creator calls "pub-centred apologetics".  I'm really drawn to both variations of the idea so taking the conversation to where people are.  Not just because of the idea of combining beer and theology, although that is pretty great.  If we had a number of different pack available including evangelism tools, young adult doing life stuff, philosophical theology and context (e.g. NZ) specific conversations, I think that'd be great.

Monday, January 12, 2015


Slow Cooked Beef Cheek

I'm reluctant to call this a recipe as there's nothing particularly unique or interesting in it but this is a report of a great result.

I was in the supermarket looking for something along the lines of "a lump of meet that I can cook until it falls apart" and not finding any inspiration.  I noticed that there were a couple of beef cheeks on the top shelf next to the offal.  I'd never seen them before but that might be because I don't normally look at the offal shelf.  I'd had one memorably good experience of beef cheek in a restaurant so I thought this might be the challenge I was after.  I bought the biggest thinking it'd be enough for two of us.  It was NZ$10.99 per kg so $5 for both of us.  I had a skim of a couple of recipes online an confirmed that slow was the way to go.  Here's what I did.

About morning tea time I heated oil in a frying pan and seared the cheek hard for a couple minutes on each side.  I bunged in it a small-medium sized casserole dish and gave it a good treatment of salt and pepper.  There was a fatty flap on one side which I scored with a craft knife, my theory being that it would help the fat "render" and I intended to have this flap aboutthe liquid line in the oven for the same reason.  I chucked my mirepoix into the pan.  The moisture from the veges softened the bits of meat and fat in the pan and once they had sweated down a bit I put them in with the cheek.  I degalxed the pan with a little bottle of Merlot and then a small carton of commercial beef stock.  This almost covered the cheek so I shoved a bit of the mirepix underneath to raise it a tad.  More salt and pepper and a teabag-style bouquet garni and into the oven at 110 degrees C.

At afternoon tea time I sliced some mushrooms and put these and a handful of cheery tomatoes into the dish, fished out the bouquet garni, tasted and added some more salt and flipped the cheek.

Half an hour before serving I removed the cheek, as much of the mushroom as could be convinced to let go of the their companion veges and (carefully) the tomatoes.  I strained the remaining contents of the dish and got the liquid reducing.  I starting pulling the meat apart into bite size chunks and gratifyingly, it was very compliant.  I scraped the fattiest bits and sinews away but there was surprisingly little of this to exclude.  I covered the meat, mushroom and tomatoes while my parsnip and carrots for mashing cooked and my sauce reduced.

Parsnips were uncooperative but some serious mashing and a go with the whiz stick got them and their carrot conspirators into shape.  The mash went on to the plate first with meat, mushrooms and tomatoes (still intact) went on top of about two-thirds to keep some of the orange colour showing with the sauce about the consistency of a light syrup over them.

The meat was as tender as I could have hoped for.  The tomatoes had cooled enough to be able to bite into them unafraid.  Overall the meal was a lot sweeter than I was expecting even allowing for the carrot and the cherry tomato flavour.  I can't really explain why this was and it wasn't a bad thing, just surprising.  One of the best dishes I've ever made and just the sort of thing I love as it allows me to fuss and enjoy the process.  I can't imagine the whole thing cost more than about $15.

Next time I'll try to increase the bitter flavours, possibly with an extra bay leaf or some other herb ingredient.  I'll also have more confidence in the result so I won't pull the meat apart until just before serving to allow it to rest.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Reflection on a visit to campus.

I didn't go to uni along with the bulk of my peers from high school.  High school had been a difficult time for me (but probly no worse than anyone else) and the last thing I wanted was a continuation of that.  Instead I carried on making websites (back when they were relatively uncommon for businesses) and eventually got in to retailing computer hardware which was the real start of my career such as it was.

Along the way, I become a Christian and got involved in the leadership of the Church and decided to study theology, enrolling in Otago University's distance programme.  That was in 2005 and I've been taking papers on and off ever since.  Otago's (possibly recent) approach to distance learning is a "blended" model with a mix of study materials, teleconferences, Blackboard, face-to-face teaching, online, etc, etc.  My first day of face-to-face teaching was in Auckland run at St John's theological college and this week I went to Dunedin for the second such day.

I didn't give it a lot of thought, it was the option that best suited my calendar and I thought it would be good to see the campus, meet the faculty and then my colleagues in Dunedin Diocese.  I found that, as the date approached, I was was starting to get quite excited about my trip.  An uncool level of excitement.  I was really looking forward to what was going to be my first, albeit brief, time on campus as a student.

I had booked my flights on the assumption that the timing of the workshop would be the same as my last one but it was later in the day so I spent a couple of hours in Dunedin's CBD doing some tourism.  I wandered up to the Uni and found the key buildings I needed to know about and got lunch at a Japanese place on Albany St.  I spent a couple of hours in the library looking at books for my first assignment and then had a wander around the campus.  Went to my class and in the dinner break got a toasted sandwich and chips from the fish and chip place on Albany St.  Walking to my hotel at 9pm was freezing and there was no electric blanket or minibar.  The next day I had a meeting with the theology distance learning coordinator about my degree structure and spent some more time in the library.  Had two church meetings in the afternoon before flying home.

In short, I loved the trip.  It felt great to briefly have the campus experience.  I felt slightly fraudulent but no one took any notice of me.  I loved the old and new architecture side by side.  I loved the library, even just the theology section was worth the visit.  It really reinforced my feelings lately that so much of life is better appreciate a little later.  Shakespeare is something else that I've enjoyed lately far more that I ever did as a teenage.  The single most prominent memory of the trip was realising that I was studying under a large Colin McCahon work.  Having had McCahon thrust on my in art history at school, I've always been a bit stand-offish with his work but it's now something else with which I'm starting to be willing to engage.

It can't be ignored that the subject I was studying was Christology which is clearly a foundational question in theology but also in personal faith ("Who do you say that I am?") so the trip had something of a contemplative retreat element to it.

I came away thinking that I could definitely do this full time and very blessed that I had the resources to pay for the trip and an employer that encourages study.  I've been telling my wife for a while now that it's her turn to work full time and support me while I study.  I'm not sure she's quite bought into that yet.


Insert Citation Button Greyed out in Word 2013

This appears to be a common problem.  The usual answer is uninstall and re-install Office.  Couldn't be bothered with this and it's just a technically lazy that doesn't actually address the problem. Another suggestion that I tried was using regedit and fiddling with a couple of key under "installer".  What seemed to work for me by accident was logging on as a user that hadn't used office on that computer.  The user-specific set up process for the new user seemed to fix the problem on my usual profile.  It's possible that the registry fix was part of the new user fix working but I doubt it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Actually growing

The peas have sprouted and are just starting to put out tendrils to climb.

The multi-coloured silverbeet is now distinguishable from the surrounding weeds.