31 December 2008


What have I done??!!

I have given posting privileges to Unitman (http://unitman.blogspot.com/), that's what! Be afraid! Be very afraid!

OK, that's my brother Peter, but don't tell anybody. I have encouraged him to add posts about the family, since Eddie and Johnny (so far - how about the rest of you lot?) seem to be so interested in boring details about my (and Peter's) misspent youth(s).

Welcome aboard, Unitman! There is a story behind that name. Perhaps he will tell us about it one day.

26 December 2008


My middle name is 'Thayer,' and so is my older daughter Helen's. 'Thayer' is my mother's maiden name and her father was Joseph Thayer.

I grew up knowing about 'Grandpa Joe' but I have no memory of him. Thanks once more to the researches of "Annie from Minnesota" I now know why. Grandpa Joe was born "in Ontario," the records say, though not where in Ontario - and "in 1864," but not when in that year. But he died 25 March, 1946 - about six months before my 4th birthday. It seems unsurprising that I have no recollection of him.

There is a nice photograph - I believe my brother Peter has it at present - taken during the second world war - perhaps 1943? 1944? - that has my mother, her sister, her four brothers, and "Little Byron," the son of one of her brothers, dressed in his uniform. And in the picture are my grandfather and grandmother. Grandpa Joe looks very old in the photo. If it was taken in 1944 he would have been 79 or 80.

I think I recall my mother saying that her father had worked as a locomotive mechanic for the Southern Pacific - the same company that Porter had been a despatcher for. Judging from my mother's quotations of sayings from him, Grandpa Joe appears to have been rather a salty character. The only one I can remember which is suitable for appearance in a family magazine was "One more clean shirt and we're all in the poorhouse!" - though precisely what this was meant to convey is not crystal clear.

There is a lot more in the material that Annie has sent me and if any of you is sufficiently interested, you may e-mail me privately and I will send you sufficient genealogical information to keep you busy for quite a while.

"Grandma Dell" - of course her name 'Adele' was my mother's and is my younger daughter's - I remember very well - and blush as I do so.

I had imagined, somehow, that she was of French Canadian descent. She may have been, but the records show her as born in Illinois on the 11th of July, 1874. Well, Grandpa Joe was born in Canada but ended up in the United States. Perhaps Grandma Dell's parents had done something similar. Her birth name is listed as Adele M. LaBerge. My mother's middle name is 'Mildred' so perhaps that was Grandma's middle name as well. Her first child, my Uncle Bob Thayer, was born 15 September, 1896, and her last, my mother, on 5 January 1915 (my mother will be 94 years old 10 days from the time I am writing this!).

We left Bakersfield in 1954. I was born in 1942 and can scarcely have much conscious memory from earlier than about four years of age - September, 1946. Sometime between 1946, then, and 1954 my mother's mother came to live with us for a while. And sometime during those years my mother's mother had a stroke. What I do not know is whether the stroke is the reason she came to live with us, nor whether she lived with us after the stroke.

I believe she lived with us before she had the stroke because I have vague memories of an ambulance coming for her; and I have much less vague memories of her begging me, and perhaps Peter, to do little things for her: tie her shoes, go to the store, etc. If I was to go to the store, I think it must have been when I was at least 8, so perhaps 1950 0r '51.

She asked these things - in fact she begged. She offered to pay us small amounts to do them. I did do them - but I resented it and complained about it. May God forgive me for my coldness and selfishness.

It may be said that, after all, a young boy has little interest in the cares of the old. She would have been in her late 70's by then. Certainly there was a great gap between us. And I do remember Porter's mother - "Grandma Turner." She was born in 1863, and would have been in her late 80's when I knew her. To be sure, she did not ask for favours. She had not had a stroke and perhaps did not need them. I did not so much resent spending time with her as I found it boring. But I resented Grandma Dell. I do not think this inevitable. I think it possible, through grace, for a young child to have at least some inkling of the needs of the old, and to have something to put against his natural selfishness.

I think it possible, but I detect nothing in my own past to match it.

Grandma Dell did one other thing for me. She was the first person to try to talk to me about God. She gave me a Bible, too, and told me to read it. She marked - in blue chalk, the 1950's version of highlighter! - the Lord's prayer and the 23rd Psalm, and told me I should memorise them, which I did. I recall deciding to read that Bible. It is, perhaps, unfortunate that I began with Genesis. I remember asking my mother if people really lived for seven or eight hundred years long ago. My poor mother! Instead of telling me - what? - that she didn't think so? that I would have to ask someone who knew better? - I don't know. But what she said was that in the translation of the Bible perhaps there was some confusion between months and years, and that those ages were really months.

It's a pity people don't realise the child's ability to reason. One of the patriarchs - I don't know which one and can't be bothered to look it up - but one of them quite reasonably is said to have fathered a child at the age of thirty-something.

Even I saw that it was as remarkable a thing to say that a man fathered a child at the age of about three years as to say that he lived for seven hundred. I lost interest in the Bible and never read any more.

I still have that Bible somewhere, I think, over fifty years later. I don't know. Perhaps Grandma Dell prayed for me.

She died in 1957, just two days past her 83rd birthday. But there is another thing that I must say about Grandma Dell and I have gone away past any reasonable length in this post. In another post I have to talk a little about religion. Grandma Dell clearly had religious beliefs - hence that Bible. In addition, there was some connexion with the Catholic Church.

21 December 2008


A woman from Minnesota has read my blog. And here I thought it was only my kids! The lady signs herself "Annie from Minnesota" and I trust she will not mind my mentioning her name here.

She has provided information which I could not have got otherwise. In particular, she was interested in my middle name, which is on the blog. Her daughter has married a man with that middle name - 'Thayer' - and she has been researching some Thayer genealogy. Thayer is my mother's maiden name - but then I haven't got to my mother's family yet!

Beause of Annie's information I now have a large amount of information about the history of some members both of Susan's and of my families.

In particular, there is a little information about my father's mother's second husband.

According to a U.S. Census report that Annie sent me, Lena was single in 1910, and lived - apparently with her father, mother, and two sisters, in Fresno, California. My father was born in 1914. So I presume Lena married Hans in the interim.

Now there is information about Porter, as well. At least she has sent information about a convincing Porter Eugene Turner - but in 1920 he is married to a woman named Clara, according to the census.

Well, if it is the same Porter, then there must have been a divorce, or a death, I suppose. I don't know how old my father was when his father left, nor how old when his mother re-married. But Porter is the only grandfather I remember.

Porter was, I believe, a remarkable man, though as a child I only remember him as a boring old person. He had served in the first World War - and then was an officer in the second (a Lieutenant Colonel, I believe). When I knew him, I suppose he was retired, but my father referred to him as a despatcher for a railway company - the Southern Pacific, I believe. A despatcher is a pretty high-up job, I believe. This is the person who monitors and manages the trips that the train makes - ensuring, amongst other things, that they do not collide with each other!

My memories are vague here. Perhaps Peter can correct the details for me. But I recall that Porter was sent - after the second world war? During? - both to India and to Jordan - oh, and to Ecuador, I am sure I recall - to help with their rail systems.

But my personal recollections centre around his automobile. For some reason I seem to remember that it had something called 'Fluid Drive'. Childhood memories are untrustworthy, but I have some confidence about this. The amazing thing about it was that it had no clutch. To shift gears you just moved a lever from one gear to another. I remember thinking that was just incredibly cool.

I also recall that he drove very slowly. He drove us, once or twice, to orange orchards that - apparently - he owned, somewhere around Bakersfield. I was used to my father's and mother's driving. I do not think they were speed demons - but when Porter drove, I thought we would never get anywhere!

"Grandpa Porter" was the only grandfather I ever knew. But certainly I had another. My mother's father was Joseph Herriot Thayer - but appears to have died when I was only three and a half years old.

20 December 2008

Chester Lane

We lived at 221 South Chester Avenue in Bakersfield. I remember feeling there was some mystical connexion between our address and my Grandma Lena's, whose address was 2110 Chester Lane. To a child, perhaps, every fact about the world is new - and every fact has some mystical meaning. The coincidence of the street names and the repeated "twenty-one" and the fact that she was our grandmother made everything come together.

Looking on Google Maps I find that the distance is an impressive 1.3 miles - half an hour's walk. Peter thinks we walked up Chester Avenue - which was state highway 99 and the main route from Los Angeles up the Great Central Valley of California (the motorway in the map below was not there then), turned left in Brundage, went down to 'H' Street, and then north . Brundage was a pretty busy street and I expect we would have avoided walking farther than necessary on it.

View Larger Map

But we certainly went past Beale Park. The memory of Beale Park has a kind of Edenic flavour to me. Certainly it was not much of a park. But we could walk there or ride or bicycles, whereas anything the other side of Chester Avenue was (officially :-)) forbidden. There was a swimming pool. When we could talk my mother into taking us to Union Avenue Plunge (which was, I suppose, Olympic size - at least to my child's eyes it was enormous) that was our preference - but we could go to Beale Park ourselves.

The area on this map was our home. The elementary school I went to for my first four years (until the Big Earthquake) is still there in Verde Street, but Roosevelt School has new buildings now. I think they must have torn down the old brick ones because of the earthquake. Haybert Court, just around the corner, was practically our backyard.

At Grandma Lena's house we were always on our best behaviour. I find this interesting as I don't recall anyone's ever telling us we needed to be. It was just clear to me that we didn't run around, or make a lot of noise, when we were there. Perhaps it was just always very clean!

The same, I think, at Anna's. Anna had a much smaller house, but I always felt more at ease there, for some reason.

And I see I have not even mentioned my father's stepfather Porter.

OK, I have - separate post. Actually I started this one earlier, got fascinated by the google map and got a bit hung up. But this was our home territory. Here it was that we fought (in our imaginations) the other gangs (who did not exist) who were going to attack us (this is all before I was 12!). Here we built our forts to defend against them. Here we lived and moved and had our being.

13 December 2008

I am not a Jew

Well, not quite.

Sometime after I became a Christian, at the end of 1969, I began talking (probably haranguing, but I don't recall definitely) my great-aunt Anna about Christ. It was then that I first learned, to my amazement, that my father's mother's family had all been Jewish.

That I first learned it then indicates that their Judaism had not been a matter of practice. Hans - my father's father - had presumably been in at least a nominal sense a Lutheran. Porter Turner - my grandmother Lena's husband when I knew her - was some sort of Christian - Congregationalist or Methodist, I think. So marrying a goy was clearly not out of the question. Anna was not married.

But my father's mother's family were all Jewish by descent. One Jewish friend tells me that she believes that your 'Jewishness' is inherited in some sense through the maternal line. She thinks that this means my father would be considered Jewish -at least I think it means that if he had wanted to immigrate to Israel, he would have had the right to demand citizenship - but that I am 'half Jewish' - whatever that is supposed to mean.

I once had a photograph in my possession - now my brother Peter has it, I think - of John Weiser, his wife Sophie, his mother Miriam Kurtz, and including one or two of his daughters. John Weiser appears to have emigrated from the fairly famous Jewish shtetl of Brody in, perhaps, the 1880s - at the time a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire - to the United States. I think the photo was taken in San Francisco around about 1890. I don't recall and don't have it with me now. I believe I remember being told that my grandmother Lena was born in Texas, but it is certain that they soon moved to California.

John Weiser was, therefore, my father's maternal grandfather. It is his surname - in other words, Lena's maiden name - that is preserved in my father's middle name (his full name is John Weiser Jensen), and in Eddie's (Edwin Weiser Jensen). He certainly had four children: Lena, Anna, Claire (sp?), and Maurice; may, for what I know, have had more.

In 2002, when I visited my parents, I talked with my Dad about his mother's family's Jewishness. He himself was not very clear about things, but said that he thought his grandfather had come to the United States, and had said - more or less - that in the Old Country we were Jews, some people were Catholics, others were Orthodox - nothing but trouble. Here we are in the New Country, we are Americans!

It was speculation on his part, but so far as I know none of my Jewish relatives considered themselves particularly Jewish. It was only when I began to talk with them about Christianity that they suddenly became ... Jewish :-) I always wish I knew more about this, and have had a deep emotional attachment to things Jewish since then.

There has been at least one (probable) consequence of my Jewish ancestry, in any case. When our younger daughter Adele became pregnant with her daughter Thea - and Luke, Adele's husband, is Jewish - Adele was tested for Tay-Sachs disease. Tay-Sachs is a genetic disease. If a person is heterozygous for the gene - that is, the person is a 'carrier' - the person has no symptoms. If a person is homozygous, the condition is fatal. The incidence of the gene in the general population is 1 in 300. In two groups of European descent, the incidence is about ten times as much. Those two groups are Ashkenazi Jews and French Canadians. My paternal grandmother is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent; my mother's mother was French Canadian.

Adele was tested and is a carrier.

Fortunately Luke's parents had been tested years ago and are not carriers. A heterozygous child whose symptoms appear in infancy (almost always the case) rarely lives past the age of five.

Of course it is not certain that Adele has inherited this gene from me. It is much more likely, certainly, but it could have come through Susan. I could be tested to find out but have not done been.

Suppose that I am the carrier. In that case each of my children - including my daughter, Kathleen, child of me and my first wife Edna - has a 50% chance of being a carrier. And for each of those children who is a carrier, each of their children has a 50% chance of being a carrier. (All this is assuming, of course, that neither Susan nor the spouses of my children is a carrier). Naturally, a carrier must marry another carrier in order for the two to give birth to a child with the disease. Each of their children would have 1 chance in 4 of having the disease.

Perhaps that is what my friend meant by my being 'half Jewish.'

10 December 2008

08 December 2008


Concert just over - and the last one for the year! We played:

  • Overture to "Die Meistersinger" (Wagner)
  • 5 Mahler songs (not my cup of tea, but Helen Medlyn sings like an angel)
  • A fanfare written for us by our composer-in-residence Leonie Holmes - exciting stuff!
  • And after the interval, Beethoven's 3rd sympony the "Eroica."

Three of my friends came - I mean besides Susan, who is definitely the one of my friends who counts most :-) But three others came, two from work, one who is a good friend of Susan's. It is always very satisfying to me to play when I know there are people I love in the audience.

A crisis has come. I have never owned my own horn - too expensive. For the last fifteen years I have hired a horn from the Howick School of Music.

Starting in 2009 they have a new director - a man who is a brass band man - and it is his ambition to push brass for the school. And the time of rental of that horn looks like coming to an end.

I might have continued with that horn as it is not yet certain they will require it for first term 2009 - but the handwriting is on the wall. Other rental possibilities may exist, of course, but certainly commercial one are very expensive (the music school rent has been really only a token amount).

So I have bought a horn.

I rang up KBB Music, just wondering what they might have and how much it might cost. Well ... They are having a sale! It lasts until Christmas. And they have one horn, a Hans Hoyer 801L, precisely the one I would have preferred. At about 25% off. Interest-free for one year. Bought on the old, more favourable exchange rates (the New Zealand dollar has taken a beating the last month or so).

I can no longer say I have never owned a horn. And as Susan commented when we decided that I would buy it: it is now obvious that I will be playing the horn for as long as I am physically able.

Oh, well, there are worse addictions. I guess.

It is a lovely instrument.

I was born

Well, you probably had inferred that. But all autobiographies start out that way, don't they?

Anyway, I was and hereby inform those who might have been in doubt - was he hatched? manufactured? - that I was, in fact born.

Actually, perhaps I had better start a bit farther back. I really don't know what Eddie (and Johnny) might have meant by 'memoirs,' but I take it they want to know a little about my life. And my life came from others.

My father's father was named Hans Jensen - Hans Peder Jensen, I think, though I am uncertain about the spelling of the middle name. I recall my mother telling me, once, that she named my brother Peter Michael after two tomcats. Perhaps she did, but I think there might be a whiff of my mother's humour there. My first name is John - as is my father's - and Hans is just an abbreviated form of Johannes - which is John. So it appears to me possible that I am named after my father, or my paternal grandfather - and that it is no coincidence that my brother's first name is the same as my grandfather's middle name.

I never met my father's father.

I have only little bits of memories of my father (and once his mother) speaking of Hans. The bits of memory themselves are very questionable, but for what they are worth, here they are:

  • He was born in Denmark (that is certain)
  • Maybe in the late 1870's or early 1880's (a guess)
  • He had been apprenticed to a farmer, but ran away from the apprenticeship - my father thinks - because the farmer had failed to keep his side of the bargain regarding Hans's education
  • He came first to Mexico (very uncertain about this but I think I recall my dad saying s0), and began selling spectacles ("try them until you find the ones that work for you") off a horse-drawn wagon
  • He moved to California (certain)
  • He married Lena Weiser - my father's mother (certain)
  • When my father was quite young - 8? 10? - Hans 'ran away' with 'the maid, whose name was Edna' (I remember this from my grandmother because when I told her I was marrying - my first wife - a woman named 'Edna' my grandmother said something along the lines of "Hmm... Hans ran away with the maid whose name was Edna")

And that is about it. But it seems very likely to me that this experience in my father's youth helps to explain some facts about him. I may talk a bit more about it later, but I think it possible to suppose that my father - an only child - grew up with a very great need to defend and care for his mother. His own life is consistent with that.

It is a humbling thought to me. I am afraid I have never very strongly heeded the injunction to honour father and mother. To a considerable extent this is, I expect, a consequence of the details of my life. I married young - just short of my 20th birthday - and from that time on lived at great distances from my parents. My brother and sister have born the burden from the start of caring for my parents in their old age. My sister is now almost the sole care of my mother. When my father was alive, she, and to a considerable extent my brother, took care of him, and of my mother. I did nothing and whilst I was not in a position to do so, I do not think I would have taken very seriously the idea that I should have, for instance, moved closer to them so that I could.

But I do think that much of my father's life's decisions were related to his determination to care for his mother.

His mother - my paternal grandmother, Lena - I knew quite well. Something about her next time.

29 November 2008

Should I or shouldn't I?

You just had to do it, didn't you?

Eddie has asked me and Susan to write something called 'Memoirs.' I say "something called 'memoirs'" rather than 'memoirs' because it is not at all clear to me what he (and Johnny, who seconded the motion) might have in mind.

Famous people (and sometimes infamous people) write books containing descriptions of, and commentary on, experiences they have had, often with other famous (or infamous) people. These are what I think of when I hear the word 'memoir.'

Perhaps he really means an autobiography. I am not famous - and I hope I am not infamous - nor have I ever known anyone famous nor the other thing.

I recall when I was in my early 20s wishing I had asked my grandparents more about their own lives. In part I was just interested in the times they lived in. My father's stepfather's mother - whom we called "Grandma Turner" - would have been born, by my calculation, in the 1850s. She would probably have been in her 30s or 40s before encountering a telephone, a motorcar, an electric light. My father's own mother - Grandma Lena - was born in 1886. In 1882 Robert Ford shot Jesse James in the back of the head. Stories of Jesse James sound extremely ancient to me, yet I knew Grandma Lena very well, indeed. Ancient history and family history are not so far apart.

Eddie craves what I craved - to know, to be part of the Whole of which his own parents are parts.

Yet it is a dangerous thing Eddie asks! He has asked John Jensen - the Person Who Has Never Learned How To Give A Short Answer To Any Question - to write on his favourite subject - himself.


I shall do so. I don't know, in advance, just what sort of structure these will take (even chaos is a sort of structure, I suppose). In order to spare hoi polloi, I will tag them with a label "Memoirs - Dad." My understanding is that this means you can instantly tell from the blog what category they are in. If you have any interest in the stuff I write, but none in hearing how, when I was eight years old, I and my brother built a 'fort' to defend ourselves against the 'other kids' from the other block - then you can skip those.

You have been warned!

Now Eddie appears as keen to hear from Susan, and I confess, I am, also. She - not being so totally wrapped up in herself as I am - is going to be a bit harder to get moving. She may feel that no one could be interested in ... whatever she would write about her life. But I will see if I can get her going on the thing.

In the meantime...

This will have to do for starters. I am about to eat lunch, then off to rehearsal.

What?! Another concert??!!

Yes. Next week-end - 6-7 December - we are playing Beethoven's 3rd Symphony ("The Eroica") - also some Mahler songs, a Wagner overture ("Die Meistersinger"), a short piece written for us.

But as soon as I can - almost certainly not for another week - I will start.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

22 November 2008


I do not tolerate silence readily.

I wonder why that is. Certainly it is not that I want sound around me. There are many who seem to go through life with their ears constantly filled with sound - music, mostly, but all sorts of sound, I suppose. I can't imagine doing such a thing, really. Indeed, I quite resent going into some public place and being bombarded by music.

I don't walk around with the mp3 player in my ear. When I am at home I do not turn the radio on, just to have something going on around me. But those who know me well know that I have my own form of avoiding the silence.

I am never without something to read.

I carry a book with me, or a magazine. Given a moment of inactivity and out it comes. I don't read rubbish. But ... I really think I dread the silence.

Perhaps it is stillness that I dislike - or fear. Attentive stillness is what I really mean, I suppose. My mind is never still. I go to prayer. I pray actively, that's ok. I pray for this or for that. Or I pray formal prayers.

But when I stop - when I wait, when I listen - I become very uncomfortable. Or I go almost into a state close to sleep - a kind of revery, that is not attentive silence.

Well, I don't know why, but I am sure that stilling that inner voice - without simply 'switching off' - is something I need to do.

Advent begins next Sunday, the time of waiting leading up to the Birth of God. It is a time of waiting - of being still - of listening to the silence:


09 November 2008

Busy busy busy - again!

Well, I was going to write something today, honest I was! Seiko from the office decided that she wanted a horn lesson.

Look, dear, I can play the horn; I know nothing about teaching!

But she came over anyway and she, Susan, and I had a lovely time, messing about with her horn and mine, and eating lunch together. I did then sit down to try to write something - the title was going to be "The Fear of the Lord," so perhaps it is as well that I failed :-)

But the next four weeks are going to be a bit on the crazy side.

This week Friday (the 14th of November) is Eddie and Eveline's 10th wedding anniversary. Sue and I will be going up there on the Friday to spend a couple of nights taking care of Robyn, Jonathan, and Julian, whilst Eddie and Ev go away for at least a couple of days' peace.

The following three week-ends are solid orchestra - concert on the 6th and 7th of December. We will be playing (amongst other things) Beethoven's 3rd symphony, the 'Eroica.'

But I may be a little incommunicado for a few weeks.

02 November 2008


A few years ago we met Robert Steele. Robert was, at the time, chairman of the parish council at Te Atatu Peninsula parish, north of Auckland, where Sue and I would attend Mass about once a month, on our way up to Parakai to see Eddie and Eveline.

We became quite fond of Robert and one day he said he would like to get to know us a bit. The end result was that he came down, one day, to Pukekohe (a long trip!) to visit our Wednesday evening Rosary group.

In the course of coming to know Robert, he told us that he had been a seminary student some twenty-plus years before, and, after working in the hotel industry or that time, had decided to seek to go on to finish and become a priest - would we pray for him.

Yesterday we went to his ordination.

This is the second priestly ordination Sue and I have attended. In it, the bishop, in speaking to the ordinand, asks, "Do you promise to obey me, and all my successors?"

There is much else in the ordination ritual that is jarring to modern sensibilities:

  • the ordinand prostrates himself - face flat on the floor, arms extended before himself. He has made himself what Aristotle describes the slave as being: a 'living tool.'
  • The ordinand's wrists are symbolically bound together with a cloth: "When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not." (John 21:18)
  • The ordinand places his hands between the bishop's hands - very mediaeval - this is 'homage.' "I am your 'man' - homme - my hands are now your hands." Indeed, this is the origin of the western custom of raising joined hands in prayer.

Our society is dying for lack of authority.

Authority is not power. Power is useless without authority, for it does not know where to apply itself. Only authority - the legitimacy of command and of instruction - can direct power. And with authority, power is not often needed.

Once it was not very necessary to take care to lock one's front door. The voice of authority was received by men that said that stealing was wrong. In the case where this voice was flaunted, power had no uncertainty in its application. Now we install expensive alarm systems in our houses - and know even then that, if we have a break-in, the power, if it apprehends anyone, will be itself tied in knots for no one knows whether I have a right to my property, nor whether it is right to restrain and punish the one who attacks it.

Once it was not controversial to forbid abortion. The voice of authority was received by men that said that it was wrong to kill the innocent. When it did happen, power knew where to direct its force.

Once it was not necessary to argue about what constituted marriage, nor about its importance for society. Those who sought to ignore it by living together without marriage were deprived of social approval and of legal support - for all accepted the authority that said that adultery was wrong. In case of divorce, the partner who wished to defend the marriage had the support of power, because power knew where and how to apply its sanction.

Father Robert has accepted authority. He has accepted the authority of Jesus Christ, as exercised through Bishop Pat Dunn of Auckland. He has submitted himself to that authority and will know how and why to act - as a priest, as a pastor, as a judge. He is not confused. He has bound himself by unbreakable chains of his own forging to the foot of the Cross. By that binding, he is a free man.

25 October 2008

We are all mind-body dualists now

At last, someone with some clarity of mind!

When does human life begin?

Cecil Adams can see the obvious: the life of a human being begins at conception. I have always been puzzled that anyone could suppose anything else. When else could my life have begun? Human life itself in the abstract is not what we are talking about. We are talking about John Jensen. And John Jensen came into existence sometime between the 7th of December, 1941, when Admiral Yamamoto's forces were launched in a surprise attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, on the island of O'ahu, and, I suppose, about Christmas of 1941.

The precision in dating my conception is based on a family story. My mother and father were married in August, 1934. In 1941 they still had no children - and so far as I know, this was by choice. As my mother tells the story, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and she said to my father, "You're going to go off to that war, and you might not return; I want a kid." On the 22nd of September, 1942, I was born (followed by my brother Peter, on the 20th of January, 1944, and my sister Robin, on 1st May, 1946 - so I suppose you may infer when my father was home on leave; and when he was discharged :-)).

But the individual who is me did not come into existence on 22 September, 1942. That individual came into existence in December, 1941.

And that is obvious to Cecil Adams - but it is evidently not obvious to him that I had a right to be protected until some later time - "roughly 25 weeks after conception," or sometime in June, 1942 - about three months before I was born.

And this seems perfectly natural, does it not?

Certainly a miscarriage can be very upsetting. But perhaps that is due to the confounding of the parents' hopes and expectations. There is something that you hoped for for yourself, and now it is not going to happen.

Whereas a child in the womb who can actually emote - or at least has 'brain activity,' as Cecil says - that becomes much more real to us.

Ah. 'Brain activity.' So that's the secret, is it?

When you get to the other end of life, again, I think it feels natural to concentrate on 'brain activity.' Certainly the medical profession - which, after all, wants to 'harvest' (personally I find that word revolting in this context, but it is what they say) human 'organs' for transplantation - the medical profession, as I say, has accepted - perhaps even created - the situation in which someone who can breathe, whose heart is beating, but who lacks 'brain activity' - that that someone is in fact dead, or at least, is a proper source for cutting into bits to provide for extension of life of one or more other persons.

Always provided, of course, that there is no longer any 'brain activity.'

I think we can blame - if that is the proper word - Descartes for all of this - though I suppose he is just the logical heir of the nominalists. Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" encapsulates the idea, but of course mind-body dualism is much broader than that. The idea that the mind is the real person, that the body is just stuff lived in by the mind - the "Ghost in the Machine" - is so much second nature to us that it is hard to shake it off. How much of modern objection to abortion is based on whether or not the child can feel what is happening? How much objection to euthanasia of persons in a 'vegetative' state is based on the question whether such persons may actually know what is going on, just be unable to do or say anything about it?

It is certainly a horror to us to imagine a person being cut into 'organs' who is aware of the process. That is true, and it should be so. It is a horror to imagine an almost-born baby being torn in pieces from its mother's womb. It should be so.

Nevertheless, that is not what should make us oppose not only the killing of living humans at any stage of life - from conception to natural death - but also be genuinely reverent even towards human remains, and not to think of human beings as something that is there for use (or - shudder! - 'harvesting').

Cecil sees very clearly when human individuation begins. He also knows that the Catholic Church has always opposed abortion, at every stage, even at a time when the best science thought a human soul began only at some time later than conception. Cecil says:

"...abortion was always prohibited [by the Catholic Church] for the same reason birth control was prohibited — it interfered with a natural process. But prior to ensoulment abortion wasn’t homicide."

I don't know if abortion was considered homicide prior to 'ensoulment,' but the reason that the Church - and all Christians until very, very recently - prohibited abortion was not, if I understand correctly, because of its interference with a natural process.

The reason is that human beings are created in the image of God. Human beings have inherent dignity because of what they are, now because of what they do. And although the image of God in man is certainly not simply the body itself - the Mormons to the contrary notwithstanding - it certainly does include the body.

That is why this individual, created by God at conception, taken by God (but not destroyed) at death, raised from death at the universal resurrection, is not something available for us to destroy at will, nor to use at our pleasure.

It is worth while thinking of this at this time when election issues can meld together for us different important matters of great importance - but not on the same level as this. Not only abortion and euthanasia, but embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, in vitro fertilisation (which involves the creation and destruction of human zygotes - tiny real human individuals) - all these issues are what this video from the group "Catholic Answers" calls, correctly, non-negotiable issues:

Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics

May God give us the governments we need, not the governments we deserve!

19 October 2008


It is spring at last!

Apologies to you who live in the northern hemisphere. Your turn will come, when old Earth drags itself 'round to your side of the sun, around next April, you may think of us beginning to think about fires in the evening - and lights, too, when Daylight Savings ends.

But it is spring in New Zealand. To me, who am colour-blind - I suffer from deuteranomaly, the colour of new leaves on English oaks is one of the most dazzlingly beautiful shades of green (because in fact it has a lot of yellow in it - and green is where my trouble lies) in nature.

I started yesterday evening to write a bit about the probably electoral victory of Senator Barack Obama in the U.S. presidential election next month. It got a bit bogged down. I left it for today. But today we went up to Helensville, to see Eddie, Eveline, Robyn, Jonnie, and Julian - and I have not the heart for it.

There is, indeed, something dismal about the likelihood of an Obama victory. I find it deplorable that a majority of American voters appear likely to ignore, or even to approve, the Senator's outrageous views on abortion - although this sort of thing might make you wonder how many are connected with policies at all. Senator Obama himself strikes me as a deeply misguided, very ignorant, young (for a politician) man who has mistaken sincere empathetic emotion for thought. Perhaps in this he reflects a great part of his electoral base.

Never mind. It is spring. I have my doubts as to just exactly how important the American President is in fact - though if the next President finds himself in a position to appoint any judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, the consequences may be significant.

Still, it is spring. I will rejoice in the spring experience of resurrection, of new life, of growth, even though it is certain that as, after spring comes summer, after summer autumn, so winter comes again, when all causes appear lost. It is not forever. A Resurrection has already come that is not a part of a natural cycle. A Spring will come, one day, that will be followed by no winter. A rising to new life may even now be in the ground, underneath the 'bitter snows' - waiting for the "Sun's love." No worldly event will be able to prevent it.

12 October 2008


The third piece we played today was "Taheke for Solo Flute and Harp." Uwe, our conductor, played the flute and Yi Jin our harpist played the harp - an absolutely lovely little piece of music deceptive in its simplicity. Simple, minimal - and beautiful.

It would be saying too much to say that I had an 'intellectual vision' during the playing of it, but I did see, as it were, that the essence of what man is is temporal. Man is time.

I feel handicapped - I cannot express what I saw here - but it was very moving.

I thought of the minimum requirement for music to be music. I think that minimum is rhythm. I can imagine 'music' that is just a lot of harmonies on top of each other - but even then, there would be change - and thus the time dimension. Man does not merely live in time - he is defined by it.

Well, I knew when I started this that I could not make any sense out of it and I have not.

My cat exists from moment to moment. Is she able in any way to rise above those moments, to see them as part of a history, of a sequence that has a beginning and an end?

I am. I am not merely a cork floating on the surface of the stream. To some extent I am able also to stand outside myself, to see my self going down the stream - and to influence my direction in the stream - not to float, merely, but to steer.

And for me, there is a goal. My cat has an end. I have an end. And it matters how I seek that end - and what end I seek.

As is obvious, I have had only a few moments to write the above. It has been a busy week, culminating in today's concert.

A piece of music satisfies us when it does what musicians call 'resolving.' It comes to an end that does not seem accidental, that fits in with the timing of the piece, its rhythm, its harmonies. We can all feel this, even when we cannot really explain how it is happening. There is no shortage of modernist music which deliberately fails to resolve, comes to an abrupt end, perhaps does not finish with a chord based on the key, perhaps does not even have a key. There is, I am certain, an intended philosophical statement about the essential meaninglessness of life in this sort of music.

The music of our life should not end that way. Our history should - God grant it will! - come to a suitable end - one that fits the rhythm of our lives, its harmony, its melody even. This ending will not, perhaps, be what we expected all through, but if we keep our eye on the Conductor - I think it is possible. I pray it may be so for each of us.

05 October 2008


The University concert is over, and I am alone.

Susan attends a course each year with Opus Dei. The subject is said to be theology, although this year the course is on church history. She went up to Auckland yesterday morning, Saturday the 4th of October, and won't be home until Thursday evening. In the meantime, there is her complicated and demanding paper delivery to be done on Tuesday and Thursday morning and I am going to do it. I will be on leave all this week as the Manukau Symphony has a concert to play next week-end and I need to practise as well as do Susan's work.

I think it was Cicero who said numquam minus solus quam com solus - 'never less alone than when alone.' It is not so for me. It should be a time of deepened prayer, it seems to me. If Cicero could say that - referring, I have always supposed, to some form of prayer or meditation - and he was a heathen! - should it not be so for me?

Prayer is never easy for me. I have to struggle at it. It does not come naturally - I suppose the proper quip there is that it needs to come super-naturally :-) I think one reason I find being alone so difficult is that I feel then more strongly the sense that I should be directly involved in prayer.

But of course it is in greatest part simply that I miss Susan. If I am away from her, that is all right - I will be going back. Now I simply have a total of six days and five nights (but two days and one night have already finished! Yay!!) to wait and can do nothing about it. She and I have been together since we met in September or October, 1969 - and married since the 20th of May, 1972.

I have a lot of horn practice to keep me busy, and a those newspapers to deliver - 737 of them on each of Tuesday and Thursday (she does it in about four and a half hours each time; I expect it will take me all day. It's a complicated job). I will do a certain amount of University work via the computer at home. And I will spend some time in turning my mind and heart to God - prayer, in other words.

But I look forward with such an aching longing to Thursday evening when Susan will be home again.

28 September 2008

Busy busy busy!

I had started a post for this week-end. The subject matter was something like "my life as a failure." Perhaps it there is some self-referential appropriateness in the fact that I have had to abandon the post. I am just too busy this week-end - I have failed to post! :-) Nevertheless, I was reflecting on the many things I have attempted in life. I was going to be an astronomer. I learned a lot about astronomy, did some University studies towards that, but never finished. I was going to be a linguist. I did finish my Master's degree, did some work towards my PhD, wrote a couple of books and a few articles - but never really got much further with it when I abandoned that to work in computers. In computers ... well, I rather manage to keep the University of Auckland's Business School systems from collapsing in a heap, but not a lot more. I had occasion to look at the web page of my high school best friend yesterday (http://www.physics.unr.edu/FacBennum.html) and thought of how he had indeed succeeded at exactly what I had attempted. I wondered - had I regrets? I spent a little time in prayer. God let me reflect on my life - the time spent in various marvellous places (Honolulu; Yap; Auckland; Pukekohe); the four children and six grandchildren Susan and I have fostered; Susan herself; and, wonder of wonders, our becoming Catholics. I seemed to feel the Lord was asking me, "Are you satisfied?" I am satisfied. My measure so exceeds anything I might have imagined I can scarcely take it in. I am satisfied. The next couple of weeks are going to be very busy indeed. I am off shortly to a rehearsal in Auckland. I did not want to let the week-end past without having written something - even something explaining why I haven't time to write anything :-)

20 September 2008


"John, do you think you could help out with the University Orchestra spring concert this year, as you did last year?"? And the music includes Dvořak's 9th (yes, it used to be called the 5th) symphony: "From the New World." Even if we were not going to be playing this at our December concert, I do not think I could have resisted. So here I am again doing seven evening and two week-end rehearsals - well, and here is Susan having to drive up those seven evenings to pick me up :-) It is a little odd, sitting amongst all these persons whose average age must be about 19 or 20 - odd, perhaps, most of all because it does not feel odd. Why are they here? Almost all of these people are majoring in music. Some will, I suppose, hope to work in music one day - but it's not much of a life. In terms of career-savvy, if you wanted to work in music, I wouldn't recommend a music major. Rather, do the 'grades' that my daughters Helen and Adele did; get your licentiate (from Trinity, perhaps, or Royal) - and get a degree in Education. Now you can teach in the schools at full salary. Certainly a select few will make it full-time as performers, but it's a hard go, chancy, poorly paid - and very unfriendly to anyone who wants to marry and have a family. I know quite a few serious musicians in the Manukau Orchestra who, nevertheless, major in Law, or Engineering, or something else that will feed them, and intend to reserve their music as an avocation. Then the break is over and we play again, and I know why they are here. Once you are caught, once you have that - whatever it is! - but that in your soul, you will play. You will play when you can. You will spend money and time that will bring you no worldly profit to play. If you are 66 years old, and not in the best of financial shape by any manner of means, nevertheless, you will spend the money and time necessarily to go to rehearsals; you will sweet-talk your wife into supporting you, though she herself does not play music; you will do quite a lot ... to play. As we thunder through to the tremendous end of the last movement, I am no longer even thinking of the people, even of the music itself. I am just taken up into it. At the best of times the sixty or so of us become the music. That is why we are here.

19 September 2008

End of the week humor before a drink at the pub

Some may get this some may not. It's very funny if you do get it and an excellent way to end the week. All the best everyone. Fawlty Towers Rocks!!!!! JJJ

Dad's favourite website (BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID!!!))

This is a very scary site. Be forewarned you may feel very violated for days. SCARY!!!!

13 September 2008


Tuesday, the 4th of November, 2008 is, for the United States, a day of decision - the election of many governmental officials, including 435 members of the lower house, the House of Representatives, and ... well, it ought to be of 33 and 1/3 senators! I do remember from high school days that senators in the United States are elected for a six year term, but one third of them are elected each two years - I confess I don't know how they manage to elect one third of a senator, but perhaps they sort that out some way ☺. We in New Zealand will know the results of that election probably some time on our Wednesday the 5th - Guy Fawkes Day! - as the US West Coast closes its polls. And of course the 'biggie' is the President. And in this case the Vice President. On the face of it, this is odd. It is clear that the entrance of Sarah Palin into the race has highlighted something. That something is often called the 'culture war.' I wonder if this is not a misnomer. The word 'culture' implies a particular approach to life which might clash with another. There could be - indeed, at times has been - a culture war between Christianity and Islam. There is a culture war going on at present between Christianity and Hinduism, in Orissa. The war that is being waged at present - the war symbolised by the startling reaction to the nomination of Sarah Palin as Republican vice-presidential candidate - as a war against man as man. It is a war of aggression on the part of the anti-humanity forces, of defence on the part of those who call themselves 'pro-life.' It is, you could say, a war against culture - against a way of life and for a way of death. The aggression is not that of one 'side' against another 'side,' but rather analogous to the self-hatred of the suicide. Consider:
  • contraception
  • abortion
  • euthanasia
  • homosexuality

All of these are aimed at one thing: eliminating man. Of course those on the side of aggression do not think of themselves as trying eliminate people; that is, nevertheless, the 'finality' (in the philosophic sense) of them:

  • contraception - no new babies
  • abortion - kill existing babies
  • euthanasia - kill inconvenient persons
  • homosexuality - sexual pleasure without ... new babies!

There are deeper elements to this, as well, than merely the actual killing of human beings, and the avoidance of cooperating in the production of new human beings. Is it not the case that people are unhapy with the very idea that there is such a thing as 'human nature?'

The idea of 'gender' as a cultural construct presupposes this. The idea of Transhumanism explicitly claims it. Man is to remake man ... though into what image is not clear. Deep ecology, on the other hand, desires to see man merged into his environment - and espouses What Naess called 'biospheric egalitarianism.' Man - and his nature - are up for grabs.

The American election is a straw in the wind. I think that, in the short term, it will be better for the world if the McCain/Palin ticket wins the American election. I do not think it will make much difference in the long term. Men have turned against God, and in the process the have turned against man. I do not think there will be a return to the status quo ante. We cannot return to 1954. We can go forward only if we regain hope. But without God ... what hope is there?

07 September 2008


In about 1971, I think it may have been, Susan and I were friends with a young couple in the church we attended then - I think his name was Dennis; I can't remember hers. One day sitting in his lounge, he showed me a little card and said there was a picture hidden in it; to me it just looked like a lot of black splotches on a white background. Susan (naturally!) saw what it was immediately, and was about to blurt it out, but Dennis said "wait!" For the next several times I was in his lounge, I would stare at the picture - still just black blotches. Finally he took pity on me and said that it was a picture of Jesus - supposed to be a photograph of melting snow on a footpath that miraculously showed a picture of the Lord (I do not vouch for the truth of the story :-)). I still couldn't see it. Well, he and Susan became frustrated. He pointed to this and that feature on it. Well, now I could see how they could decide that was what it was - like someone seeing a cloud and saying that it looked like a horse or whatever. But - really - it still looked like black patches on a white background. One day we were talking about something else. I glanced at it. Flash! I could see it, and - of course - I could never thereafter not see it. No doubt you have seen it before:

This week-end Susan and I were at a retreat given by Father Dominique Faure (I may have his last name spelt incorrectly - I have only heard it pronounced, not seen it spelt) of the Community of St John (http://www.stjean.com/EN/Jeu_accueil.php). He spoke on the book of the Apocalypse ('Revelation') - but what he spoke of was what he called the purification of the intelligence.

When we use the word 'intelligence' in English, we tend to mean what the philosopher sometimes call 'discursive reason' - the ability to 'connect the dots,' as it were, in a notion, to 'think things through to a conclusion.'

What Father Dominique is referring to is the ability to see - to take in an external reality directly. We know this and that about a person, for instance. We can tell you the colour of his eyes and hair, what he likes to eat for dinner, the sort of books he reads.

But knowing the person is something else. The sort of 'seeing' that I finally managed with that little picture is that sort of seeing. It is sometimes called, in philosophy, 'contemplation.' It means knowing a thing directly, as it is in itself, not just as it has impressed us.

This is very difficult. It is quite easy to miss this in our own experience. We often fail to know the persons we love because we are often in love with an image in our own mind, one we have created out of bits and pieces from our experience with that person, but often with material we have made up out of our own self-interest.

And we often know God in just this way. We often are directing our attention to God to just such a created idol. In fact, it is, I suspect, inevitable in this life that we should do so. We are always struggling more or less to free ourselves from such idolatry, to remind ourselves that God is not the same as our idea of Him.

It will not always be so. One day we shall know even as we are known. We shall see Him as He is - for we shall be - God grant it! - like Him. Then we shall not fail to know every other thing as it really is, for we shall know every other thing - and ever other person - as they are, in Him.

30 August 2008


I began, recently, to despair of overcoming one of my (many) bad habits (you may be pleased to know that I am not going to tell you what it is). I decided to try sacrifice. I don't seem to be have had any very clear idea about this whole business of sacrifice. Perhaps it is my Protestant background. I have, perhaps, an unexpressed idea of something like this: 1) Man sinned; 2) God 'decided' to punish man for his sin; 3) Jesus offered to 'pay' the punishment for man's sin, so that... 4) ...man gets 'forgiven' (let off his punishment) and can 'go' to Heaven. I think there are serious problems with such a view. I have, of course, often enough had Catholics talk to me about 'offering up' suffering, pain, even minor inconveniences. I confess I doesn't communicate very well with me. I think there is a lot of cultural stuff I have had to get used to. But with this particular bad habit, I decided really to pray at those times that I was trying to resist it, and to offer it as a sacrifice for a particular intention ('intention' - more of that strange Catholic language :-)) - that is, asking God for a particular favour - and resisting this bad habit as a kind of prayer for that favour. I wish I could tell you the favour had been granted, but it was a fairly long-term one and I won't know for a long time - perhaps not in this life. But I may say that the 'offering' made a tremendous difference in my experience. I was able better (not perfectly :-)) to resist the temptations. And I felt a very real sense of union with our Lord in the matter. I suppose I might modify my little 'salvation history.' As described above, it all sounds pretty impersonal - rather as though God and man inhabited a common context; as though God might have, if He had wished, 'let man off' with a warning, I suppose. I am very leery, though, of drawing up another little table. Too pat. But it seems to me that one could at least say this: that man is God's creature. Man's whole being has no independent existence. What is sin but the turning from God, thinking that one can, to some degree, "do it on one's own," so to speak. And what could a being whose life depends on Another do, if separated from that Other, but die? For we have wills. I do not wish to get into controversies about the freedom of the will. We have wills. That is certain. I can choose to obey God - or not. If that is not true, then ... well, then there is no point in talking about anything, I suppose. I think that turning back from sin must, in the nature of things, involve some pain, some negativity. For in sinning, I have made turned my habit precisely in the direction away from God, away from life, away from truth. But I cannot turn back from sin. The branch cannot reattach itself to the Vine. It needs help. It must be the Vine that brings it back. Yet the very nature of 'coming back' is willing against what I willed when I turned away. God in His grace offers me the 'turning back' - and for it to be a real turning back, a real choosing of Him - I need to say 'yes.' And that is sacrifice. I think that what I have written is so muddled! Yet I want to say that I feel I have found something precious. I have found that the meaning of Love is indeed choosing the Other. And I am a sinner. I have those 'bad habits.' Choosing the Other is the only gift I can give to Him - and somehow it reunites me to Him. That is love. And it is love, as the song says, that makes the world go 'round!

21 August 2008


I'm 65 years old - really almost 66, since my birthday is next month. I am very fortunate in my job. I like the people I work with. Although most of the work is pretty boring and frustrating at the same time, nevertheless I like getting the job - whatever it is - done. And I am aware that what I do is also a necessary service to help others in their work. And, by New Zealand standards, I am pretty well paid. Nonetheless, I think if this were not so - if my job were, say, working like mad at a petrol station - or having to be a night watchman with the combination of boredom and fear that that implied - I think even then I would choose working over retirement. Why is that? Work is a gift. I think it may be the greatest thing anyone can give us. A friend of mine wanted me to write - wanted me to start writing articles on various subjects. I said that I was unable to do so. The reason was that I could indeed write - had the ability to write, that is - when someone else wanted me to write something in particular. I don't think he really understood what I was getting at, and perhaps neither did I. He offered one or two topics that I could write about, but I now think that what I meant was that I wanted to believe that someone else was wanting me to write on a particular topic. I think this underlies the satisfaction of all work: someone else wants it done. Of course whether it satisfies depends on our attitude. And because the 'someone else' is always a fallible human being, sometimes we are conflicted in the business. Sometimes we are very conflicted and don't want to do the work at all. All work is the gift of God. Work is our part in His creative activity. And this helps. Sometimes it is all-important. For some work - the work I am doing in writing this, for example - the fact that one believes God wants one to do it is the only motivation for doing it. One day, nevertheless, I will no longer be able to work, at least at the University. Thank God we have no compulsory retirement age in New Zealand! Still, though I hope still to be working in five years, I cannot say about ten - or fifteen - or twenty. Age almost-86 does seem a little unlikely :-) Is this a punishment? A disaster? What is the reward for work? What is the payout? Is it just so many years' salary, and a thank-you at the end? Is the work done itself its own payout. The reward for work is rest. One must be cautious in making analogies between the life of God and the life of men. This is, of course, true without limit in the fact that God is infinite, whilst man is finite. The edge is given to this from man's sinfulness. Nonetheless, this is the pattern. "In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth..." And so we are told of God's 6 days of labour. And on the seventh day God rested, from all His labour and work that He had done. There are rests now - 'breathers,' 're-creations' that we take in order to be able to work better. But "there remains yet a Sabbath rest for the people of God." That is the reward of our labour. As our work now, under the mark of sin, is painful, is hard for us to do, has to fight against thorns and thistles and obstacles, is true. Our rest from all our earthly labours is also marked by sin - and by the Cross. We must grow old. We become weak, ill, finally die. Nonetheless, the work we have been given to do - not only our paid employment, but our families, our friends, the labour we go through in order to raise our souls to God in prayer - all of it is God's gift. We will not earn our reward as a matter of right. The reward is the reward given to the 'good and faithful servant' to whom - God grant it! - is given the encomium 'well done.' But it is a reward, all the same. So we work and strive, especially, to overcome, not only thorns and thistles, but the sin that so easily slows us down - that we may arrive at the end, the rest, the Sabbath of God. Our work is not in vain in the Lord.

15 August 2008


What is marriage? Is it a partnership? Well, I suppose so. A partnership is a couple of people with an agreement between each other about sharing. Maybe they share labour, maybe they share money, maybe they share responsibility. So I suppose a marriage is a kind of partnership. But two people in a partnership don't share everything. So a marriage is more than a partnership. Is a marriage a sharing? Well, it is certainly that. What is mine is now my wife's; what is hers is now mine. And that is pretty total. Sometimes I think people don't really see that part of it, but it is true. Certainly I myself often don't see - or accept :-) - that side of things. A complete sharing comes much closer, but marriage is more than that. Marriage is a kind of surgical operation - a sort of transplant: (Genesis 2:21-25): 21And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; 22And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. 23And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. 24Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. 25And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. This is hard to understand. After 39 years of knowing Susan and 36 years of marriage I am only beginning to get glimpses of what it means. It means not less than partnership, sharing, total sharing, and all the rest of it. But it means much more. It means that in a way I can no longer treat of Susan's interests and my interests - at least not simply. We are one. Alas, we often do not act as one. Yet this is the reality: "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." (Matthew 19:6). When there is an apparent conflict between experience and reality, I must choose to believe in the reality. It is, to be sure, a reality known by faith - but that is the real; what I experience is my attempt to live according to the real. Adele and Luke have chosen that reality: video of Luke's and Adele's wedding Picasa album of Luke's and Adele's wedding

05 August 2008

Dad - The Red Kneck

I've told my father a thousand times to stop touring but he seems to never listen. Can we all say "She's got legs and she knows how to use them"

My contribution for the week.

04 August 2008


A friend of Susan's was talking with her about the Church recently. The friend had been brought up a Catholic, but ceased to practise over the issue of artificial contraception. Now this person is considering coming back to the Church. The person in question is a woman, and is, I think, well beyond the age of child-bearing, so at least there is no practical issue. Her decision to leave the Church over the issue showed, it seems to me, more integrity than many. She did not simply decide that she and the Church would have to "agree to disagree." Perhaps she understood what it means to be a Catholic. The Protestant principle of authority is usually stated as sola scriptura - "by Scripture alone." I could say "been there, done that" but it wouldn't be as simple as that. Living by Scripture alone involves a variety of both logical and practical difficulties. How does one know which books are Scripture? What is the relation between the Old and New Testaments? Between apparent contradictions in Scripture? These are all difficulties, to be sure, but not, perhaps, to the person determined to try to follow God, genuine obstacles. One can readily enough determine - the principle of 'private interpretation' - that the New Testament, simply as historical documents, tell us of One Whom to follow must be life itself. For those not looking for obstacles, following Jesus by trying to take His Words, and those of His immediate followers, seriously, is not that puzzling. Not puzzling, but - in my own twenty-five years' experience as a Protestant - overwhelmingly difficult. This is, after all, not a comment on Protestantism nor on sola scriptura but on me and my own sinfulness. Nonetheless, my own experience since becoming a Catholic has been that I have received a source of help in beginning - only beginning, but nevertheless a real beginning - to overcome, if not my sinfulness, at least some of my sinful actions. This source of help is something which is available through - and only through - the Catholic Church. It is called 'grace.' "Hey!" I hear you protest, "are you saying that only Catholics experience the grace of God??!!" No, of course not. What I am saying is that all grace comes through the Catholic Church. The Church is the Body of Christ. The Church is the principle Sacrament - the physical means of spiritual grace - which God has given to the world. And the Church is the only means of grace. Grace, as Luther taught, is a change in God's relation to us. For the sake of Christ's merits, God now looks on us as if we possessed the righteousness of His Son - that righteousness which is reckoned to us for His sake. Well, fair enough, but I cannot go along with Luther at the next stage. Even the regenerate, he appears to have taught (I am open to correction if I am wrong) are still, even in their righteous acts, unacceptable to God - 'filthy rags' as Scripture puts it. God gives us more. Catholic 'infused grace' has been (inaccurately) caricaturised as like going to the petrol station to get a fill-up. If we have some of this magical 'infused grace' in us when we die - I have heard it caricaturised like this almost as an impersonal 'stuff' - then we 'go to Heaven.' Otherwise, we 'go to Hell.' I recall once, when a Reformed minister asked me, when I told him I had to become a Catholic, how I expected to be saved. I thought for a moment and gave an answer which I do not think I would change today. I will be saved - acceptable to God and in union with Him - the same way His Son is, humanly speaking: by being perfectly righteous. Whew! But I think that is right. I will not go on about this here. This has got too long already. God does pour His grace into us. This is His power to enable us to keep the law. He does indeed give this grace to those who, through no fault of their own, are not able to be members of the Catholic Church. He does this and yet ... well, my own experience is that it is very difficult to avail oneself of God's grace without ... ... the Sacraments. All Christians have the Sacrament of Baptism. By it they are born again of water and the Spirit. This is very garbled and I have not time to clean it up more, but I will say this, to tie it to the beginning. Grace is not magic. You cannot avail yourself of the fullness of the grace of the Sacraments by 'becoming a Catholic' without faith. Faith is the gift to understand and to believe that the Catholic Church is just what she claims: Christ's Body in the world, His appointed Teacher of men - and the main channel of His grace. You have to believe or you are just trying magic. Susan's friend mentioned above did well by deciding that she could not believe the Church because she could not believe one of the Church's teachings (she is now thinking of coming back to the Church, by the way). And I cannot be a Catholic simply by lining up a number of teachings, deciding on private interpretation that I believe them, and then 'joining.' A Catholic believes what the Church teaches because the Church teaches it. And then can receive the power available through the Sacraments. Somehow I believe that I have been given power to improve through: 1) Confirmation - the strengthening of the Holy Spirit 2) Matrimony - my bond with Susan is of a different nature now 3) Holy Eucharist - I receive the Body and Blood of the Risen Saviour into my body and my heart every day 4) Confession - the real forgiveness of God is poured out on me weekly I want to emphasise the latter here. Confession is sometimes seen just as a sort of counselling session. I was so totally overwhelmed the first time I went to Confession. Father may be personally a dull, witless person. Any advice he gives me may be way off the beam. He may not even believe in what he is doing, but if he gives me absolution, intending what the Church intends by the Sacrament then I receive not only forgiveness but real power to overcome sin. The contrast between that and mere counselling is the contrast between Heaven and earth.

02 August 2008

Is the Mass a meal?

Theology alert! What follows has to do with the nature of the Catholic Mass. If you are not interested ... you have been warned! At our Wednesday evening Rosary group a couple of weeks ago, one of our members referred to the Mass as a meal. Well, of course, it is, isn't it? I mean, we all - or most of us, anyway- eat something and drink something. One person pointed out that if it was a meal, he, for one, would go away awfully hungry - one Communion Host wasn't really as much as his appetite normally desired! Ah, well, of course it is a symbolic meal. The reference is to the Last Supper. This is certainly the point of the Mass on Holy Thursday, which is called the "Mass of the Lord's Supper." At least one normal part of Holy Thursday Mass is explicitly a reference to the Last Supper - the washing of feet. And I have an idea that for most Protestant churches, their "Lord's Supper" is viewed strictly as a memorial of the Last Supper. Nevertheless, I confess I find myself somewhat uneasy at this description of the Mass as a meal - a very common one, by the way. I have done some thinking about the matter, and have had some discussions with better-informed persons than I am, and thought I would write down what I thought. It seems to me that to call the Mass a meal has at least the potential for being very misleading. The Mass is unquestionably a sacrifice. The language of every part of the "Liturgy of the Eucharist" speaks of its sacrificial character. It is for this reason that the priest says to us, the congrgation, "Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father," and we respond, "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all his Church." But we normally partake, by eating, of the results of that Sacrifice. So the Catechism calls the Mass a "sacrificial meal." And it is indeed a sacrificial meal. I think that some in our discussion supposed me to be denying that it was a meal in that sense but I was not. What I think is important to realise is that the end, in the philosophical sense of the goal, of a meal is fundamentally different from the end of the Mass. The point of a meal - in the normal sense of the word 'meal' - is the eating. You can sit down at a table set with beautiful china and be served four courses, or you can eat a sausage at a barbecue. Both are a meal. But if you don't eat, I don't think you can be said to have had a meal. You could be present at a meal at which you eat nothing. Indeed, I suppose someone could lay out a meal which no one ate - but still, the point of the meal is the eating. The point - the 'end' - of the Mass is the Sacrifice of Our Lord on Calvary. This is not the place to go into the Catholic belief that at Mass, the original Sacrifice is made present; that the sacrifice of the Mass is not a new killing of Jesus but the representation of His death, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. But this is what Catholics believe, and this is what the Mass is. OK, but what about the eating? Even if a priest offers Mass alone, he himself partakes of the holy food. And when the people are present - as is normally and ideally the case - they partake also. So eating is necessary. At a meal, the end of the meal is the eating. A necessary and normal consequence of the eating is digestion. Short of illness, this is what always happens at a meal. At Mass, the end of the rite is the Sacrifice. The eating is a necessary and normal consequence of the Sacrifice. If I attend a meal but do not eat, I have not had a meal. But if I attend Mass, even if I do not receive Communion, I have indeed participated in the Mass. It seems to me this distinction is especially important today. Susan has coelic disease and is not in fact able to receive the Host at Mass. She can only take the Cup. Though we believe the elements of the Sacrifice have become the Body and Blood of the Lord, their 'accidents' - their physical, chemical, nutritional, etc attributes - are unchanged. If Susan receives the Host, she becomes ill. Once recently we were to attend a large Mass at which the Cup could not be offered (because of the number of people). Sue commented to a friend that she would not be able to receive Communion. The friend responded, "But that's the whole point of going to Mass!" Here I think we see a change in outlook that genuinely misses the 'point' of Mass. I remember when I was first a Catholic realising, with a bit of a shock, that the high point of Mass was not Communion. That had been the climax of the Lord's Supper for me when I was a Protestant. But at Mass the high point is reached, in rather a literal sense, when the priest holds the Body and Blood of Christ on high, offering the slain Victim to God for his sins and for mine, and for yours, whoever you are. The Body of the Lamb is given to me to consume - and I am thereby identified with Him. I am given the privilege, and the awful honour, of then going into the world to offer my own body a 'living sacrifice' (Romans 12). That is an eating, to be sure, but an eating that leads to death - and through death to Resurrection and eternal life.

31 July 2008

The Gaslight Anthem in Sydney

I’ve finally fulfilled my dream to be an official musical groupie. Well, not quite but at least I got to the Gaslight Anthem at the Annandale. For those of you who don’t know Sydney, Annandale is about ten minutes drive from the city. So enjoy one and all.

27 July 2008


I do wonder, sometimes, whether I shouldn't just stop this business of playing in the orchestra. I am not very good at it. It takes a lot of time - and a significant amount of money. There is not only the travel cost - with petrol now costing NZ$2.07/litre (for you lucky Americans that's about US$6.00/US gallon :-)), that's a non-trivial expense. And there are other expenses. Well, why do I do it? I don't know but every year I think of quitting - and I don't. So now this year's concerts are half over. We started our rehearsal yesterday for the 9-10 August concerts. We are playing two pieces by De Falla (interlude and dance from "La Vida Breve" and "Nights in the Gardens of Spain"), a short suite by Debussy (just called "Petite Suite") and (the nasty one - from the horn player's point of view) Ravel's piano concerto in G. The soloist is Christopher Hinterhuber. Though we are not the NZSO, I wish you could all come - I love seeing my friends at our concerts.

19 July 2008


A friend at work asked me why they call it "World Youth Day" when it lasts a week. I think it the official part of it lasts only four days, but perhaps the 'Day' is just the final Sunday - tomorrow, the 20th of July! It has been a whirlwind of a time. Father Bernard at the Cathedral, at yesterday's (Friday, the 18th of July) lunchtime Mass, commented that Auckland had 'survived' a hectic week :-) It is, indeed, nice to get back to something like normal, but it was a wonderful time. New Zealand accommodated, I think I have heard, something like 4,000 foreign pilgrims who came here for a week or two beforehand. I don't know how many we actually sent to Sydney of our own people. I think our parish in Pukekohe sent 18, and we hosted 46 Quebecois as well - two of them in our (my and Susan's) house. Our two were Patrick Renaud and Alexandre Bergamin (who looked the spit and image of Rémy in Ratatouille). I was impressed by the behaviour of all these young persons. There was nothing artificial about them . They were young, they played guitars, they acted exactly as you would expect young persons aged 16-25 or so to act - except that it never got over the top. We had a shared dinner at the church hall on the Thursday evening (they arrived Wednesday the 16th). I suppose, with parishioners, there were maybe 80 people there. It was fun, it was loud - but not too loud! - and not wild. It was just very good. And they sing like angels. Patrick is 20 and Alexandre is 16. Patrick is officially Alex's minder. Anyone under the age of 18 has to be supervised by an older pilgrim. There was never the slightest evidence of friction between them. I was so pleased that we had billeted them. Now they are gone, and tomorrow is the great Mass at the end of the time. Australia will surely not recover in a hurry - at least it is to be hoped not! The impact must surely be good, if the Sydney Morning Herald - a very secular newspaper - is any indication: http://www.smh.com.au/news/world-youth-day/one-good-friday-sydney-gave-its-heart-to-jesus-christ/2008/07/18/1216163156775.html I am very glad we were able to participate a little! John

18 July 2008

A new sista in the hood

I think the photo says it all. Very funny and very cute. Jersey is having a bad affect on the new addition to the Jensen family.


15 July 2008

30 June 2008

Family Get Together - Kinda

Adele's boyfriends brother Benny Horowitz plays drums in a band called The Gaslight Anthem. They are doing some gigs on the East Cost of AUS and one on the West Coast. Dates listed below and a link to their myspace page here. 25 Jul 2008 8:00 P Hyde Park Hotel - w/A Death In The Family Perth, WA 26 Jul 2008 8:00 P Rosie’s Tavern - w/A Death In The Family Brisbane,QLD 29 Jul 2008 8:00 P Lucky Country - w/A Death In The Family Newcastle, NSW 30 Jul 2008 8:00 P Annandale Hotel - w/A Death In The Family Annandale, Sydney 31 Jul 2008 8:00 P Greenroom - w/A Death In The Family Phillip, ACT 1 Aug 2008 8:00 P The Arthouse - w/A Death In The Family Melbourne, VIC 2 Aug 2008 8:00 P Enigma Bar - w/A Death In The Family Adelaide, SA 3 Aug 2008 8:00 P Republic Bar - w/A Death In The Family North Hobart, TAS So come one, come all. Please pass this around as it’s always good to support new music. I will going to the Annandale show so see you there.

25 April 2008

Bits and pieces

My great fault is perfectionism. I resolve never to post anything on here until I have time to do it right - which means I never do it at all. Just really want to mention a few things that have happened - and some of them not small things, either! - in the past few months.
  1. Biggie! Johnny got married. Sue and I went to Sydney the last week-end in March. Johnny and Diane were married Saturday the 29th at St John the Beloved (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAIxsCiVL1s) Maronite (http://charbela.blogspot.com/) Catholic Church in Mt Druitt, Sydney. So much, so very much, that I would like to say about this experience - but see above about doing it right - so I won't at this time :-) - here are some photos, by the way - http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/johnthayerjensen/JohnnySWeddingEddieSPhotos
  2. And another biggie! Ka'ai has (almost certainly) got a job - that is, a geological job! She has a clerical job right now, but wants to work in geology. She has finally had to go to Australia to get something, but has received an informal offer from a coal mining place in Central Queensland (Moura - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moura%2C_Queensland).
  3. And Susan went to Wellington last week to help with the wedding of Helen's sister-in-law Frances. And this week-end is up visiting our friends the Van Boxels in Opononi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opononi).

And that really is it for now! I just had time for a couple of lines and thought it better than nothing.


13 April 2008

Where to, Mortal?

From a post by Father Mike Fones on the Intentional Disciples blog (http://blog.siena.org/2008/04/where-to-mortal.html) - reflexion on the death of a loved one:

I am standing on the seashore. A ship spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the ocean. I stand watching her until she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says, She is gone."Gone where? The loss of sight is in me, not in her. Just at the moment when someone says, "She is gone," there are others who are watching her coming. Other voices take up the glad shout,"Here she comes!"

06 April 2008

The Church Militant

Friday morning Mass at our rural New Zealand parish usually sees a couple of classes from St Joseph's primary school attending. I am on leave this week and want to go to Mass, though the thought of a school Mass is a little off-putting. Today, Friday the 4th of April, is perhaps more depressing than usual. We have, of course, as always, the pretty little "Jesus loves me" music played on the cheap portable CD player, but this time something new: liturgical dance. Six children about seven or eight years old walk slowly up the centre aisle vaguely waving their arms in the air. I am embarrassed for them. They, however, show no sign of embarrassment, and when the bad music is played, the children, sixty or eighty of them, sing with obvious pleasure and enthusiasm. That little girl over there with the full mouth and the fetching hair - what will she be in fifteen years? Will she still go to church? Will she have had four or five lovers by then? Worldly-wise, she will no doubt have taken precautions to ensure that no child will be born from these encounters. The young boy in the pew in front of me who already has his hair artfully shaped - doubtless by his mother - in edgy fashion to show his independence of mere neatness - in fifteen years will he be striving for pre-eminence in the constant war to push more product on a world cloyed with novelty? These gloomy thoughts - gloomy and in some cases surely unreasonable - some of these children will - please God! - grow to love Him and His Church, to bring forth many of their own kind - perhaps priests to serve His Church - these gloomy thoughts remind me of Simpson and Henderson and their ANZAC donkeys (http://donkeyrehomecentre.orconhosting.net.nz/ANZAC.html). We are, most of us, like the fallen soldier in Moore-Jones's watercolour, in need of some Simpson or Henderson to pick us up, put us on his donkey, and carry us to a place of refreshment, from which, it may be, we may come back to the fray. I pray for all these young persons - and for me, and for you, for all of us. This is the Church Militant. These are the Christian soldiers. This is the band Christ will lead to victory. jj

22 March 2008

Holy Saturday

Good Friday 2008 By Richard John NeuhausFriday, March 21, 2008, 5:11 AM “Through Mary he received his humanity, and in receiving his humanity received humanity itself. Which is to say, through Mary he received us. In response to the angel’s strange announcement, Mary said yes. But only God knew that it would end up here at Golgotha, that it had to end up here. For here, in darkness and in death, were to be found the prodigal children who had said no, the prodigal children whom Jesus came to take home to the Father. The liturgy of Good Friday is coming to an end now. A final prayer replaces the usual benediction:

Lord, send down your abundant blessing upon your people who have devoutly recalled the death of your Son in the sure hope of the resurrection. Grant them pardon, bring them comfort. May their faith grow stronger and their eternal salvation be assured. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Let all the people say Amen. The church is dark now. The altar is stripped and bare. Some are getting up and leaving in silence. Others remain kneeling, looking into the darkness. Holy Saturday is ahead, the most quiet day of the year. The silence of that silent night, holy night, the night when God was born was broken by the sounds of a baby, a mother’s words of comfort and angels in concert. Holy Saturday, by contrast, is the sound of prefect silence. Yesterday’s mockery, the good thief’s prayer, the cry of dereliction—all that is past now. Mary has dried her tears, and the whole creation is still, waiting for what will happen next. Some say that on Holy Saturday Jesus went to hell in triumph, to free the souls long imprisoned there. Others say he descended into a death deeper than death, to embrace in his love even the damned. We do not know. Scripture, tradition and pious writings provide hints and speculations, but about this most silent day it is perhaps best to observe the silence. One day I expect he will tell us all about it. When we are able to understand what we cannot now even understand why we cannot understand. Meanwhile, if we keep very still, there steals upon the silence a song of Easter that was always there. On the long mourners’ bench of the eternal pity, we raise our heads, blink away our tears and exchange looks that dare to question, ‘Could it be?’ But of course. That is what it was about. That is what it is all about. O felix culpa!

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

To prodigal children lost in a distant land, to disciples who forsook him and fled, to a thief who believed or maybe took pity and pretended to believe, to those who did not know that what they did they did to God, to the whole bedraggled company of humankind he had abandoned heaven to join, he says: ‘Come. Everything is ready now. In your fears and your laughter, in your friendships and farewells, in your loves and losses, in what you have been able to do and in what you know you will never get done, come, follow me. We are going home to the waiting Father.’ ” —from Death on a Friday Afternoon

16 February 2008


There are few greater joys in life than the arrival of a new soul in the world. Adele writes: Hey Y'all! Congrats to the Aunties, Uncles and Grandparents of the new little noodle addition to the Jensen clan! Some of these photos are fabulously disgusting of moiself, but as Luke pointed out: its not about me:) And you've all seen me in worse shape....eeeewwwww....... So onto the stuff that actually matters- Thea Jensen Horowitz was born on February 7th 2008, and is stoked she shares her birthday with the beautiful and dynamic Robyn Jensen! She was 5 pounds 9.9 oz, and a rip roaring 19 1/4 inches long! She's got lovely long legs, lucky girl. She was delivered by *emergency* c-section after Mum and Dad spent 2 weeks in the hospital wasting away- I mean waiting for her arrival:) She breathed far too quickly at first as she was so excited to finally get here, and because of this had to be fed by IV because keeping down food, breathing and sucking took a little getting used to. Luckily, our big girl didn't need a ventilator or antibiotics, she just sorted herself out, made it work and we all got to break out of the big house 5 days later; 19 days after we arrived. Today she is 1 week and 1 day old, she passed her first Dr's appointment with flying colours, she's gained 2oz, eatin, sleepin, poopin and peeing like a champ! Keeping us on or toes to say the least, providing the biggest natural high you could imagine. She's so much fun, and never ceases to amaze. Enjoy the photos, there will be plenty more, PLEASE keep my "dignity" in mind when passing them on to people....many more updates to come! Love you guys, Big Mama Adelvis...........xo Adele speaks of her dignity, and I imagine she means photos of her big stomach. There is nothing more worthy of dignity than the sight of motherhood. I asked her permission to include the link to the photos above. She adds: P.S. I'm in a much better state to talk now, so feel free to call or let me know when to call you. For those of you who would like to contact Adele and Luke, their time zone is US Eastern Standard Time, and their telephone numbers are:

Home: +1 732 339-8421

Adele cell: +1 908 967-0852

Luke cell: +1 908 239-0434