30 May 2010


Real life at last!  I am going to University.  I was put on a long-distance Greyhound coach from Oroville to Los Angeles - some 730 Km according to Google maps - with one suitcase, another smaller bag, and my trumpet.  It was a night trip and I had no idea where to go when I arrived in Los Angeles.  The downtown transport station early on a September morning in 1960 was daunting, but I asked around and finally found a 'bus that said it would take me to the Westwood campus of UCLA.

I was frightened of getting off at the wrong stop and as a result walked what I think was two or three miles carrying my luggage, with my arms feeling like they were going to drop off, until I got to Dykstra Hall - which, to my astonishment, is still there, but now advertises:
  • Each room wired for Internet and Cable TV
  • Male and female community bathrooms on each floor

When I was a resident it was daring enough that there were three women's floors - the top three - and seven men's.  Our rooms were wired for electricity, which we thought enough.
Two men shared a room.  My roommate was Phil Grote.  Poor Phil!  He was a fairly well-behaved native of Los Angeles; I was an ill-behaved, and ignorant, young know-it-all from Oroville.  He was, nevertheless, very tolerant of me for the year we knew each other.
A lot happened that year, and I may talk a bit about it later.  A unique experience was my time in Air Force ROTC.
UCLA had been a Land Grant College - a University established on land granted from the US Federal government.  My year at UCLA was the last one - at least, the last at UCLA - in which all male students were required to enrol in ROTC (an enrolled course for which you received credit).  If you continued in the programme after your first two years, you were then funded by the programme and obliged to serve time - six years, I think - as an officer.
I was only in it for the one year.  I loved it.  I got a second stripe - "corporal's stripes" - because I was in the marching band.  We were shown exciting films about B-52 bombers and the Strategic Air Command - and taught to salute, and how to polish our shoes and the bills of our caps.  When I want to UC Berkeley the next year the requirement for the programme had been abolished.  I was a bit sad - but was not going to become an officer!
Phil's and my friend Mike was a brilliant student, a brilliant mathematician - and a pacifist of sorts.  He refused to enrol.  I recall that when it came time for him to graduate, they didn't want to give him his degree, because he had not done ROTC.  I think in the event he was accepted for a Master's programme without his degree.  Maybe he never got his Bachelor's.

22 May 2010

Oh, well...

...I had hoped to write another bit about my first year at University, but ...
  1. On Wednesday (19 May) we re-installed our main backup server.  This was expected to be completed by sometime Thursday morning.
  2. This afternoon Darren (my co-worker) and I finally managed to get it working well enough that I hope we will survive the week-end.
  3. I did at least some horn practice.  Next Saturday (the 29th) is our first rehearsal.  To be sure, I am only playing 'bumper' ('second chair') for the leader, because of my lip, but, still, it would be nice if I could play something.
  4. I finally did Susan's income tax - which I would not have to do if the fiends at [name of her employer suppressed to avoid lawsuits] had not insisted on changing her status from part-time employee to contractor.
And so the afternoon managed to come to an end.  Tomorrow, Sue and I will go up to Eddie and Eveline's for the day - maybe I'll write something tomorrow evening.

OK, no, I know I am dreaming.

Thursday, two days ago, the 20th, was a triple anniversary:
  • 38 years of marriage
  • 26 years since Sue, Johnny, and I returned to New Zealand
  • 26 years since Helen, Eddie, and Adele moved to New Zealand (since they weren't born here)
Sue and I went out to dinner to Little Thai Restaurant - so little they don't have a web page, but they don't need one.  They make lovely food and cater to Susan's coeliac needs.  I don't know what the rest of my family did to celebrate their return to/arrival in New Zealand, but that's what Sue and I did - oh, yeah, and we remembered our wedding anniversary, as well.

15 May 2010

Fear of death

I was praying this morning for a friend who, recently, asked me whether there were any sufficient reason to suppose Christianity true.  My friend's immediate motive for asking is the fear of death.  When this person wrote to me asking me this, I responded, as Christians do, with reasons for believing in God - and for believing in eternal life.

I don't know what effect, if any, my answer may have made, but in prayer this morning, I thought that it might be this person was thinking of faith as a means to be free of the fear of death.  And my own reaction to that thought was, immediately, that I, who consider myself a person of faith, certainly fear death.  Indeed, I thought, "Well, of course I fear death; who wouldn't?"

Some, I think, do not fear death.  Some, perhaps, even long for it.  There are, I suppose, two sorts of person who do not fear death: those who have been perfected in faith, whose faith has almost the nature of sight; and those at the other end of the scale, who have embraced complete despair.  The latter I dare not make an observation regarding, and the former I can only long one day to be like.  Most of us are, I think, somewhere in the middle.

I should be clear that I am distinguishing between fearing death and fearing dying.  To fear dying - at least to view the pains of dying with very negative feelings - is not difficult to understand.  Every beast appears to be so made as to seek to avoid pain, and man is, if more than a beast, still, not less.  This is, surely, what lies behind the commonly expressed wish to die suddenly, to be taken unawares, even to die in one's sleep, with no warning.  To a person with cares for others this may not be a very defensible wish; it is at least a very understandable one.  No agonies, no disgusting failures of the body, no overcoming of the body's horror of its own damaging.  Just a quiet, unnoticed slipping away into...

...into what?  Here, I think, is the root of the worst sort of fear of death.  It is not, as is commonly thought by a certain kind of Christian, a fear of appearing before a judging God, even, perhaps, a fear of the torments of Hell.  That kind of fear can be bad, I grant, although in a day not known for Jonathan Edwards-esque sermons - indeed, not known for sermons much at all, I think the fear of judgement may be less frequent than might be healthy.

The fear of death that, I think, is the worst is the fear of annihilation.

On the surface of it, this seems odd - and I have had unbelievers tell me, on occasion, that it is precisely their certainty of annihilation that keeps them from fearing death.  Well, it may be so, and it may be that not all share my feeling - or it may be that such persons have made a bargain with despair.

I do not know, but I am certain that for me, at least, the fear of death that I knew before I was a Christian was precisely that fear of non-being.  Anything - even Hell - seemed - perhaps is - better than that.  I know I am not alone in this.  C. S. Lewis expresses the same view somewhere - perhaps in Surprised by Joy.  And my friend - the one I was praying for this morning - expressed something of the same fear.

One cannot become a Christian in order to receive the benefits of Christianity.  Christ cannot be a means.  He is an end - indeed, the end - or He is nothing.  Yet it is well known that faith, if it does not remove the fear of death, it removes the fear of annihilation.  Death still looms.  Death threatens.  It no longer enslaves, for it has been conquered (Hebrews 2:14-15):
14Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;

15And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
For we know that death is not the end.  And if we are faithful unto death, then judgement, though terrible, is not the last word (I Corinthians 15:54-57):
54So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

55O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

56The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
57But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

08 May 2010


It has been a long time since I posted anything about my past - and the demands from my children for another post have been ... well, actually, there haven't been any.  But it is true that once upon a time they asked for these memoirs.  And it is true that to date they haven't risen up and cried, "Stop!  Enough!"

In addition to the odd circumstance intervening - like car accidents that could - God forbid! - still cost me something in the way of legal issues - I had, in fact, grown rather bored with the whole saga.  At least, I had grown bored with talking about high school.  So I have decided it is time to move on to University.

I said this in my essay on Newman and my becoming a Catholic:
I did have a faith, however. My faith was a faith in science. I don’t think that I am speaking metaphorically. I genuinely believed in the transcendental character of the scientific endeavour, almost viewed the society of scientists as a kind of church. I was a keen amateur astronomer. The emotions I felt when I heard that the Russians had launched an artificial satellite, Sputnik, in October, 1957 were very similar to those I had felt at that childhood Mass. When I went to the University of California (Los Angeles, then Berkeley), in 1960, it was to study astronomy.
This faith in science was the most formative thing in my mind, at least from my late primary school years.  I was certain that what I wanted to do in life was to 'be an astronomer.'  I had no very clear idea what that meant, but it was what I wanted - passionately.  And when I finished high school, the idea of a sort of gnostic secret society of scientists was still very real to me.

This idea of a Hermetic Society - the name comes not from the Greek word for desert (ἔρημος), from which we get the word 'hermit', but rather from the god Hermes, the god of, amongst other things, knowledge - the idea is very attractive and I was far from the only distant adorer of secret knowledge.  One of my favourite science fiction authors, Robert Heinlein, was perhaps the source of my faith.  In Between Planets, published in 1951, when I was 9 years old, such a society saves ... well, perhaps not mankind, but saves, at least, those who are fortunate enough to be members of it.  I don't know when I first read that novel.  I would be surprised if the full-formed idea of a scientific church came to me from my own imagination.

September, 1959 - May, 1960 was my last year in high school.  That was the year I took physics - and became, all unknown to me, a kind of protegé of James Anthony Rossas.  I also took what was known as 'advanced algebra' and trigonometry.  I was preparing for a career in astronomy.

I also played a solo in the concert band (orchestral group, but with woodwinds playing string parts) - the Siegfried horn call, and almost fainted from the effort of the final high C :-).  I was by this time quite serious about my music, playing first horn in the concert band, and trumpet/cornet in marching band.  This turned out to be fortunate for my plans.

I didn't know about deadlines for applying to Universities.

I can't remember the details now, but at some point Mr Rossas discovered that (1) I was determined to start my freshman year at the University of California at Berkeley in September, 1960, and (2) that I had not applied.  The deadline was past.

Poor Mr Rossas!  He must really have cared for me.  I don't what, exactly, he did, but he managed, on the strength of my cornet playing - the UCLA marching band could use me - to get the University of California at Los Angeles to accept a late application - and even to give me a $400 scholarship.

I worked during the summer of 1960 at the Stokley-Van Camp (now a part of PepsiCo - how the mighty have fallen!) fruit cocktail cannery in Oroville.  In September, I boarded the Greyhound coach for the 450-mile/725-Km trip to the Westwood campus of UCLA.  I felt as though I were going to Heaven.

02 May 2010

Faith and sight

Our parish semi-annual newsletter asked for a short article.  The article below may be of interest to you:
1970 – Honolulu – 27 years old and a brand-new “Jesus Movement” Christian, I was living on a tiny income as a taxi-driver; paying large back debts, and paying other obligations resulting from a very dodgy way of life. I was very excited about being a Christian, however, and had persuaded my ex-druggie mate Niles to accompany me to an evening ‘youth service.’ Having coffee after the service, a young lady was telling me of the joy she had experienced in responding to the challenge to tithe. “You can’t out-give God!” she said, and when I explained my situation, she urged tithing on me.

“Wow, that’s cool, but there’s no way I can manage that. I don’t even know how I’m going to pay the rent this month. It’s all I can do to keep afloat as it is!”

Why did I have to bring Niles? “Hey, jj, if that’s part of this Jesus trip, man, you ought to do it!” Gee, thanks, Niles!

I think we often judge by sight. Shall I talk to my son about his living with his girl-friend? But I don’t want to be judgemental, and I’d probably just alienate him. Anyway, if he really loves her, aren’t they married in God’s sight?

Should our Catholic School insist on telling the teachers, parents, and children the whole truth of God’s Word, even if it might cost the loyalty of some? Or should we judge by what we think likely results?

It is very easy to let the world determine how we should live, what we should do; we easily follow its standards. When such matters as artificial contraception, extra-marital cohabitation, ‘politically correct’ schooling are universal around us – we Christians must be able to see the Lord’s vision – and follow Him, believing and trusting that He will not let us down, if we truly follow Him. I am told that those who did the Passion Play did just that – and were deeply gratified at the result.

I took the challenge. During the forty years since then, I have several times actually tried to stop tithing. Money has been – still is, really – often very tight.

I have been unable to stop. I have never been able to convince myself it was God’s will that I should stop.

Be not afraid. God has not changed. God’s Word is true, no matter what appears to be the case. Either the Church must change the world – or the world will devour the Church.

Mary - the model for full conscious active participation in the liturgy

Well - the second Vatican Council placed a great emphasis in the need for the faithful to enter into the liturgy with full, conscious and active participation.  At the cross Jesus offered Himself, as the perfect and infinite sacrifice - being both priest and victim, or priest and lamb.

There were many and varied responses to this offering at the time:

First, there is the pharasaical one, which motivated by hidden jealousies, seeks to destroy such a gratuitous lover in order to protect a salvation that can be managed and organised, measured and assessed by us. As with all who do not penetrate beyond the surface of things, the cross is inpenetrable to them. They measure their own justice by externals and they measure Christ's condemnation by God by externals: "He trusted in God that He would deliver him, let Him deliver him if He delights in him".

Then there is the response of a Pontius Pilate. "I find nothing against this man" - but being political, being sufficiently 'pastoral' to know that he must do something to appease the crowd, being sufficiently sensitive to the pressures from the priests at one end and the emperor at the other, he sees fit first to scourge and then to crucify. He is a man of compromise - who puts his own survival and public face before what goodness and love require.

There are the soldiers, just following orders - though they see this man as a certain curiosity - and his extragant claims to be worthy of mockery.

There are the people who are swayed by the latest wave of propaganda - and they make their changing views known by democratic vote: "Give us Barabbas."

There are the apostles who would love to have followed if it wasn't going to cost them so much personally.

There is Mary Magdalen who clings to Him and weeps for Him - because she has been forgiven so much.

There is John , the disciple that He most loved, and he stands faithful to the end - in a contemplative gaze - yet his eyes are directed by the Master from the cross to "Behold his mother".

And this mother - here we see the person most united to the offering - the person whose soul is being peirced even as his heart is being pierced - the person whose 'yes' in joy at the Annunciation now has to become a 'yes' in annihilation at the cross, for she must trust despite all appearances that God is having his victory of love. She stands in silence. She doesn't seem to move. But she is the most active participant in this self-offering of Christ. She is totally united to it interiorly. She is living it and drawing life from it. She is united to Him and so in His peace during this agony. She is fully conscious - fully given, fully contemplative, fully in the annihilation of total trust in God. She lives it in the darkness of faith and in the sure hope that goes beyond all appearances. She lives it in the fullness of charity - and she most of all benefits from the grace that will flow from this offering. She most of all will let the Holy Spirit have His way in her - the Spirit that is breathed out upon her as Christ breathes His last.

When we can live the offering of Mass with this intensity, we will have reached full, active and conscious participation and the fruits of the objective grace present will be able to flourish in us to the maximum. The music that helps us enter this helps us to participate - even if we don't actually sing, even if we listen to the beauty of a polyphonic choir or of a Gregorian chant. The incense that rises to God symbolising our prayers helps us to participate, even if we are not the thurifer. The architecture of a church towering upwards, with majestic stainglass windows or contemplative icons helps us to participate, even if we were not the architect or artist. The beauty of the liturgical text, allowed to breath and free from banal improvisations helps us to participate, even if we are not the priest vocalising much of it. What doesn't help us participate so much is fighting our way to get to the sanctuary, or over who will help Father with the chalice, or over who runs the liturgy committee or over who sets up the banners or corny displays or over who hands out the pamphets - etc etc. A thriving parish is one where the people of God are drawn up into the great self-offering of Christ in the majestic contemplative dynamic of Mary at the cross. What helps this helps the liturgy. What hinders it hinders the liturgy.



I have been trying to think of an excuse for not having posted anything last week-end, but I have failed.  It is true that on Sunday, the 25th (ANZAC Day), we went to Eddie and Eveline's.  But on the Saturday, though I did go up to see Father Peter Fitzsimons (the Opus Dei) priest, still I had the whole afternoon in which to write - but didn't.  As I had to ask Susan, just now, what I had been doing on Saturday the 24th - thus evidencing a certain vagueness in my memory - perhaps I just forgot about blogging.

OK, not perhaps; I did just forget.

But a progress report on this accident business.

Well, really, there shouldn't be any progress to report, except, it is to be hoped, on the condition of my lip (concerning which I have nothing to report so far).  And, indeed, if 'progress' is restricted to 'changes for the better,' then what I have to report is regressive.  But if 'progress' means simply 'things moving forward into the future' then I have.


When the nice policeman - Constable Kinsey - interviewed me at the hospital on 30th March, he said that he didn't think it likely that I would be charged with anything, but that he could not tell for sure.

I have been charged with 'operating a motor vehicle carelessly.'

This says that, if convicted, I could be fined up to $3,000, and may have my licence taken away for some period.

This, on the other hand, says that, for careless driving causing injury, I could also be imprisoned.  I was told by Constable Kinsey that the other guy was not injured - but I was, albeit only slightly.

I don't know what the upshot of this will be.  Three persons - two policemen, one insurance agent - express surprise that I was charged at all.  But the first article above says "If you have been involved in any kind of car accident and no one else is at fault, it is generally very difficult to avoid being charged with careless driving."  It also says "Because this is not an imprisonable offence, a defendant is permitted to plea guilty by letter to the court. If they choose to do this, even though they have received a summons they do not have to attend court."  Leaving aside the politically correct singular 'they' (which I am tempted to rave on about), it is clear at least that whether I have to appear depends on whether they take the first or second tack above.

I am at least probably going to have to consult a lawyer for advice, which will not be free, and probably not cheap.  I think it depends especially on whether I am likely to face losing my licence.  If I am, there is a greater motivation to fight it.  On the other hand, the lawyer may tell me I haven't a hope.

The logic of all this will presumably be along the lines of:
You knew you were ill, Mr Jensen, because you vomited twice before deciding to go home.  Driving when you were ill was clearly dangerous, and the proof of this is that you did, in fact, have an accident.
All unknown territory to me, and I will be glad of your prayers for the outcome.

We did, as I said above, go to Eddie and Eveline's last Sunday and had a wonderful time, being with them all.  And yesterday - 1 May, and my sister Robin's birthday! - we attended the ordination to the priesthood of Deacon Brian Lang, who has been a friend for ten years or so.  I wish you could all have attended.  I was deeply moved by the fragility of us all - earthen vessels - whom God has so condescended to astonishingly low as to call to belong to Him - and that He actually makes some to be His special channels of Grace to the whole world is beyond words.  As Brian - a man perhaps 60 years old, a late vocation - he had been a boat-builder all his adult life - lay prostrate before the altar as the Litany of the Saints was sung I felt ... well, I don't know exactly what I felt, but I am so moved to be a part of the Church, and to know this 'cloud of witnesses' is praying for me and for all of us.

God bless Father Brian!