12 June 2007

Big, Scary Dog Story

An article written for InUnison, Student Association magazine, Unitec

The other day, while on my jog, I got to meet one of my neighbours. Actually, to be more accurate, I met his dog first. In fact, I was chased by his dog -- his big drooling, growling dog. My neighbour ran out to save me from certain death, and we began a conversation. Of course, it was all according to proper etiquette. I asked him, “What do you do?” He answered. Then he asked me, “And what do you do?” After telling him what I do, including about my role as a chaplain at Unitec, he inquired, “Are you a Christian?”

To which I replied, “Well, …my name is Christopher, which means ‘one who carries Christ.’ I was baptised before I was a year old. Taken to church nearly every Sunday, and have always celebrated Christmas and Easter. And I had no say in any of that.” After a pause, I continued, “Now I’m simply trying to follow Jesus. So I guess you could say that I am a ‘Christian-background follower of Jesus.’”

As we walked, he began to tell me a little about his own spiritual journey. For a short while we were like spiritual travelling companions, sharing our stories and experiences back and forth. Sharing life.

Whether you identify with a particular religious affiliation or not, you are likely on a spiritual journey of some sort. In fact, I meet a growing number of students who consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” As a Unitec chaplain, I want to be available to serve as a temporary travelling companion for you on your spiritual journey. And, to me, it makes little difference where you are on your journey or what you know or how you feel about religion.
Drop by and see me. I would love to hear your story. I am in building 500 Mondays 12-2 pm and Tuesdays 10 am-2 pm.

Want to change the world?

Article written for InUnison, Unitec Student Association magazine

Want to change the world?

Well, maybe right now you’re just trying to get through the day. Nevertheless, somewhere deep down in your heart, you look at the world around you and you wish it could be different. Maybe you even get a little angry when you see injustice, poverty, or even simply, good people who never seem to get a break.

Maybe that’s part of what brought you to Unitec. You know, get some training. Get a qualification. You’re hoping that through your Unitec education, not only can you improve your own situation, but you can also gain the ability to help some other people out as well, from your family, to your community, and potentially to other communities somewhere in the world.
Have you thought about how your spirituality relates to your training and to your desire to make an impact on the world?
Did you now that there is a lot of evidence which shows that personal spirituality is behind why many individuals make lifelong commitments to social change? For example, prominent leaders of social movements such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Vaclav Havel, Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez drew strength and power from their spirituality in order to pursue social and political change. As well, recent sociological studies reveal that a deep sense of spirituality is a primary reason behind volunteering, philanthropic giving, caring for those in need and political involvement.

So, you want to change the world? Or, maybe, just your own world? Consider taking some time out for a bit of spiritual reflection. As a chaplain here at Unitec, I am available and equipped to help you get started. Drop by and see me. I can be found Mondays 12-2 pm and Tuesday 10 am-2 pm in building 500. I’m looking forward to hearing your story.

Image courtesy of www.northlandposter.com

11 June 2007

Greetings from the Land of Misfit Toys

PK periodically attends a Bible study I lead at Unitec-Waitakere, where I serve as a chaplain. He let me know today that he won’t be returning next term to complete his studies, even though he only has one term remaining to receive his diploma in English (the equivalent of an A.A. degree). He has a lot going right now. His family recently purchased an Iranian restaurant and they are going to need each and every one of them to run it. Along with his brother’s family, PK, his wife and two teenaged children will be pitching in.

After five years living here, PK and his family received their New Zealand passports today, which has more than pragmatic meaning to them. For, you see, they have been without legitimate passports for the past seven years. Seven years ago, back home in Iran, PK transferred all his legal possessions to his younger brother, bought fake passports for his entire family and fled to Thailand. Then to Malaysia, where they had to purchase another set of fake passports and flee to Japan. Upon entering Japan, with fake Greek passports, the immigration officer thought it would be a good time to practice his Greek. Ironic, huh? They probably got the lone Greek-speaking immigration officer in Japan. Next stop: three days in jail for the whole family!

According to PK, the Japanese officials were sympathetic and understanding, offered him the possibility to stay on in Japan, but PK had his heart set on getting to New Zealand. They were then deported back to Malaysia. Some time later, after acquiring another set of fake passports, they ended up in South Africa, where they made plans to get to New Zealand.

After their flight to New Zealand was in the air, they flushed their fake passports down the toilet on the plane (A bit of good advice they received from people who know about these things). After departing the plane, waiting in the line for passport control, they simply told the immigration official the truth,
“We are political refugees from Iran. We don’t have passports or visas. We want to stay in New Zealand. We've spent $65,000 USD getting this far! Don’t send us away, please.”
Luckily for PK, the immigration officials believed their story. So five years and lots of hard work and hardship later, they are grateful citizens of New Zealand. PK told me he often longs for home and believes that someday he will be able to return to Iran, but for now, he will remain a loyal, hardworking citizen of New Zealand -- an Iranian-born Kiwi. As we shook hands and traded phone numbers, I felt compelled to say, “Salaam, PK, to you and to your family. May God give you peace of heart and mind.”

At Unitec-Waitakere, where I serve as a chaplain, there are many stories like PK’s. Our little study is primarily made up of religious and political refugees from Mayanmar and Iran and immigrants from Korea and China.

10 June 2007

Blessed is he... who gets the joke

We proclaim an executed Messiah, a stumbling block to those looking for displays of power and a joke to those enthused by bright ideas. (My personal twisted version of 1-Cor. 1:23)

Frederick Buechner wrote:
There are even times when Jesus seems to see the comedy of his own life. His fellow Nazarenes, the ones he grew up with, worked with, played with, come at him with fire in their eyes to throw him off the cliff as a blasphemer at worst and a lunatic at best, and he says to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician heal yourself'" (Luke 4:23). He sees how they see the preposterousness of Jesus, the carpenter's son, putting himself forth as Christ, God's son. He sees how they are affronted by him as one who proclaims himself anointed to preach the good news to the poor when it is no news to anybody that he is himself the poorest of all. He says, "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up ... / and blessed is he who takes no offense at me" (Matt. 11:5-6) which is to say blessed is he who sees that, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, he is who he says he is and does what he says he does if they will only, at admittedly great cost to their pride, their common sense, their sad vision of what is and is not possible in the stormy world, let him do it. Blessed is he, in other words, who gets the joke.
-- From Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale, pg. 59.

Orden de la Hacha: The Order of the Hachet

For homework last week, Maia, my 9-year old, had to come up with "10 Facts about Knights." In fact, did you know that Bill Gates received honorary knighthood from the Queen of England in 2005 for his business skills and for his work on poverty reduction?
It's Sir William of Seattle to you buddy!
Another interesting fact is the existence of female knights. In 1149, women of Barcelona who fought to save the Spanish town of Tortosa, repelling a Moorish attack, were made members of the Orden de la Hacha. The benefits? They were exempted from taxes and given precedence over men in public gathering. It is believed the order died out with the original members.

What do you think, how about a revival of the Orden de la Hacha?

07 June 2007

NZ Weather

[Today's weather reminded me of this speech Asia made last year. We had a short summer, followed by a lovely fall, but winter in on its way. -- The Editor]

by Asia Baltzley

New Zealand weather really drives me crazy at times. Don’t you sometimes feel like you want to scream when it starts raining for the sixth time that day? I know in America people picture New Zealand as paradise on earth, with it’s beautiful beaches and rolling green hills, as they see in the countless movies filmed here. But I knew they were wrong when I first arrived in Aoteoroa. You see, they only saw 25% of New Zealand. That’s right: summer. I hate to say it, but the other 75% is: rain, wind and sometimes snow.

When I first came to New Zealand, I came in winter, so I saw the worst of it. I remember when I first heard the wild Kiwi wind. I nearly jumped out of my seat when I heard it howl like a crazy cat. Yeeeoooow! “What in the world is that?!” I half expected them to say, “No worries, that’s our pet tiger.” I also remember leaving the umbrella at home on what looked like a perfectly sunny day and paying for it later. But this winter is even worse than the last! I mean rain, wind and even, a power cut. You feel like screaming, “What did we do to deserve this?!”

Wouldn’t it be great if it stayed summer all year long? You could spend every weekend at the beach and never worry about getting caught in the rain again. But as we all know, every silver lining has a cloud (or something like that). And if it was summer all year long it would mean … yes, it would mean, THE ATTACK OF THE TOURISTS!!! Every beach and ice cream shop would be flooded with foreigners wearing cameras around their necks and socks with their sandals. Yes, we’d have tourists coming out our ears!

So maybe the winter isn’t so bad. I guess every cloud does have a silver lining. So welcome this winter with open arms, but be sure you are wearing a jumper and have a good umbrella.

Celebrity Look-alikes?

Scary isn't it? Give it a try and see who the stupid computer thinks you look like!

05 June 2007

Dragged Dust Down

Isaiah 6

Theirs is not a voice like other voices
Tangible like a cello's bellow
It shivers like the metro's mellow, inescapable, approaching quake
Do I or does this huge, stone temple shake?

Ablaze as flames in flight
Overwhelmed with meekness before effulgent light
Hiding ember-red faces and ashamed feet
Amassed, the chorus cries
Enduringly they repeat:

Unique! Pure! There is no other!
Unique! Pure! There is no other!
Unique! Pure! There is no other!

The room -- a candlewick awash with life-light

My soul
Exposed and naked
Suddenly aware of sin's night
Drags my body dust down

February 12, 2001

04 June 2007


Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was an Italian baroque painter who is probably the best example of the naturalistic painting style of the early 17th century. He used models from the lower classes of society, both in his early secular works and later in his religious paintings. Equally important is his introduction of dramatic light-and-dark effects - termed chiaroscuro - into his works.
While 'translating' the context of many of the Biblical stories into the look and feel of his own day, Caravaggio also captured the original raw emotion and dramatic reality of the scenes.
For as you know, history is full of overly spiritualised and sanitised Christian paintings, complete with haloed beautiful people and winged angels sitting on clouds. Caravaggio's compositions are The Message version of Christian-themed paintings, one might say.
The Calling of Saint Matthew (1600) is noted for its dramatic use of "cellar light," streaming in from a source above the action, to illuminate the hand gesture of Christ (based on Michelangelo's Adam on the Sistine ceiling) and the other figures, most of whom are in contemporary dress. There are a couple of things that intrigue me in this particular work. First, is the way in which Jesus is hidden in the darkness behind Peter, the light glancing off his thin face and illuminating his God-the Father-like hand. Second, is the manner in which the bearded Matthew, seated with his rowdy friends, points at himself as if to say, "Who me?" As if he was entirely caught off guard by Jesus' call to "follow me."
The incredulity of Saint Thomas (1602).

Caravaggio's personal life was turbulent. He was often arrested and imprisoned. He fled Rome for Naples in 1606 when charged with murder. Caravaggio died on the beach at Port'Ercole in Tuscany on July 18, 1610, of a fever contracted after a mistaken arrest.

Bio summary adapted from:

01 June 2007


As we dream and plan toward launching a new program to engage university students in community service and social action, I am reminded that I am a idealist. I joke that I would thoroughly love ministry if it wasn't for all the people involved; for I love ideas and imagining innovative systems. (Our pastor has a PhD in Theoretical Physics; maybe I should have gone the route of Theoretical Ministry.) Certain thoughts race through my mind as we dream: community impact, creating a decentralized movement, relevancy to Generation Y, can our generation change the world?, etc. However, as we look seriously at the feasibility of implementing our new program, we meet both very encouraging people and possibilities and potentially discouraging realities.

One reality, that should be obvious, but the implications of which often surprise me is -- New Zealand is a small country with an diminishing Christian presence. I was recently reminded of this when I attended a Christian staff meeting at the university where I serve as chaplain. I and one other person. You carve time out of schedule, maybe you even do a fair amount of preparation, then, one person shows up. As my friend said, "Whether 100 or one, you still do the same amount of preparation." This past weekend, I preached Sunday morning, had a Sunday afternoon Bible study, then three separate meetings on Monday, including the Christian staff meeting. None of them went as expected. Ministry here can be discouraging.

These events drove me back to one of my favourite Henri Nouwen books, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. In my mind, nobody, since Jesus, turns the world on its head like Nouwen. (How's that for hyperbole!) And for such an educated man, he was always trying to return to the foundational practices and simplify following Jesus rather than, like many authors, give in to the professional temptation to take ancient ideas and practices and go and on about them, sounding intelligent and innovative, essentially writing only for their colleagues, and, in the end, only complicating what is basically profoundly simple (despite requiring great trust and perseverance to actually put it into practice).

Well, enough of me. Here is what got underlined in the first third of the book, the section entitled From Relevance to Prayer. (The Buechner quote is a bonus)

For the preacher to be relevant to the staggering problems of history is to risk begin irrelevant to the staggering problems of the ones who sit there listening out of their own histories. -- F. Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale

The Temptation: To Be Relevant

The Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.

Jesus' first temptation was to be relevant -- to turn stones into bread...when he was asked to prove his power as the Son of God by the relevant behaviour of changing stones into bread, he clung to his mission to proclaim the word and said, "Human being live not by bread alone, but by every word that come from the mouth of God." Pg. 18

The secular world around us is saying in a loud voice, "We can take care of ourselves. We do not need God, the church, or a priest. We are in control. And if we are not, then we have to work harder to get in control. The problem is not lack of faith, but lack of competence. If you are sick you need a competent doctor; if you are poor, you need competent politicians; if there are technical problems, you need competent engineers; if there are wars, you need competent negotiators. God, the church, and the ministers have been used for centuries to fill the gaps of incompetence, but today the gaps are being filled in other ways, and we no longer need spiritual answers to practical questions. Pg. 20

It is here that the need for a new Christian leadership becomes clear. The leader of the future will be the one who dares to claim his irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows him or her to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success and to bring the light of Jesus there. Pg. 22

The Question: "Do you love me?"

The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show me some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus? Pg. 24

The Discipline: Contemplative Prayer

To live a life that is not dominated by the desire to be relevant but is instead safely anchored in the knowledge of God's first love, we have to be mystics. A mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God's first love. Pg. 28

Through contemplative prayer we can keep ourselves from being pulled from one urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own and God's heart.

Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject. But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy wit the Source of Life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. Pg. 31-32 -- Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership

Simone Weil said it well: “To be always relevant, you have to say things which are eternal.”