26 May 2012


John Henry Newman famously said, in his Apologia, that 'growth is the only evidence of life.'

Whether the religious changes in my life from my first conversion at the end of 1969 through to my entry into the Catholic Church at the end of 1995 constitute growth or corruption will be decided variously by adherents to various Christian persuasions.

My own understanding of things religious was definitely not acquired in the usual way.  Susan had been brought up an Anglican.  She understood the basics of the Christian faith, and something of the pattern of denominations.  She knew the Bible tolerably well.  I had had none of these things.

So when I became a Christian, I started from scratch.  It is the firm teaching of Protestantism that, given the Bible, two unbiased persons will come to agree on all the essential matters.  With all due respect to my Protestant brethren, I fear that I do not think this is so.  Indeed, the question of just what matters are essential is, itself, one of the things that agreement may fail to be reached regarding.  The multitude of Protestant sects seems to me to testify to the failure of this project - to the lack of what is called the perspicuity of Scripture.

I did, indeed, begin strictly with the Bible - with the Bible and with a certain amount of cultural Christian knowledge - people who are Christians believe in Jesus, go to church, have an idea of sin - little more.

I began reading.  I read voraciously.  By the time we had lived in Auckland for a year, I had been reading for four years.  As I explained in an earlier post, we had been helped by Campus Crusade for Christ - and Campus Crusade was de facto Baptist or evangelical Presbyterian in orientation, although it has no official denominational outlook.  It was for this reason - the support of persons who loved us and cared for us - that we were now members of Hillsborough Baptist Church.

But by now I had read a lot of Baptist writers, from the Calvinist 'right' to the evangelical 'left' (if such terms are at all applicable). I had begun reading Church history - including Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church.  I had been especially devoted to C. S. Lewis's writings.  I was increasingly of the opinion that Baptist Christianity, excellent start though it had given me, was not enough.

Precisely how we became aware of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, I don't know, but we did.  Sometime during 1974, whilst continuing to be members of Hillsborough Baptist, Susan and I began exploring - and began to attend services at the Reformed Church of Bucklands Beach.  Initially I think this was just to find out what the church was like.  It was not long before we were no longer attending Baptist services.  We had not yet become members of any other church, but we were clearly on our way to becoming Reformed.

Sometime during that winter we acquired a boarder.  Liz Moltzen had moved up to Auckland from her home in Tauranga and was working at World Vision.  She was living with an old woman who was a friend of her family's - and finding it ... perhaps 'oppressive' is too strong a word; nevertheless, she wanted to live with younger persons.  Liz came and lived in our second bedroom in Mt Eden.

Neither Sue nor I can remember exactly when in 1974 Liz came there, but sometime in the middle of October a change came, although it was some weeks before we knew about it.  Susan was pregnant.

20 May 2012

Endings and beginnings

It was only in September, 1983 that I knew for certain that Susan and I were committed to New Zealand for life.

It was in September of that year that I had confirmed from Ross Jackson in New Zealand that the company he worked for, called Interactive Applications Ltd (IAL), was prepared definitely to offer me a job - with practically an open-ended start date.  I talked with Sue at the time, and asked her what she thought we should do.  I said - what seemed obvious to me - that she understood, I trusted, that this would be a one-way move.  I was forty-one years old at the time.  We had four children.  I was making a major career change (from linguist to computer programmer).

Sue burst into tears.  I was upset by that - but surprised.  I had not thought there could be any doubt about it.

By the end of 1973 it was beginning already to be clear in fact that this would be the case, although I do not think I did any conscious thinking at the time about the matter.

We were now members of Hillsborough Baptist Church.  I don't suppose it had even occurred to us that in any sense we would retain our membership at International Baptist in Honolulu.

Had we friends in Hawai'i?  Well, I suppose we may have done, but I don't recall our having continued much of a relationship with them.  It is true that Shelly Harrison remained a friend with whom we communicated by mail, but at some point - I don't recall when - he had moved to Perth.  Our friendship was with him, not with "friends in Hawai'i."

Edna had remarried.  When did this happen?  I don't know for certain - it may even have been before we left Honolulu, but I rather think not.  She did, indeed, marry - and her husband Tony said that he wanted to adopt our daughter Kathleen.

I said 'yes' to the request and signed the requisite forms.

It would be unfair to suppose that I had no fatherly feelings towards Kathleen, nor to say that this action cost me nothing emotionally.  What I think was the case was that I was already beginning mentally to think of myself as a New Zealander.  Kathleen was far away.  I was not able to be involved with her life.  She was, I thought, better off treating her mother's husband as her father.  Kathleen reads this blog; perhaps she can tell me what of truth and what of error there was in this attitude.

15 April, 1973 had come and gone and I had filed a US income tax return.  The US tax law seemed to say that I was obliged to file a return each year, though I had no US income, and would have no tax to pay.  I did continue to do this, and when we lived in Yap, our income was taxable.  Within a year or two of our return to New Zealand, in 1984 (28 years ago as I write today, 20 May, 2012) I stopped doing even that.  The US Internal Revenue Service has never come after me for those years.

Auckland was now completely our home.  All our real friends were here.  Our working life was here.  Our religious life was here.  In 1975, we voted in the national election.  Our food and drink were what other New Zealanders ate and drank.  We have known Americans who have lived for a few years in Auckland, and who, it seemed clear to me, would eventually move back to the United States.  They were clearly foreigners living abroad.

By the end of 1973, it was clear that we were no longer that.

There were changes in the offing, however.  Sometime during 1974 we ceased to be Baptists.

12 May 2012

We interrupt this programme...

... to bring you this bulletin - I am frantic :-)  Concert on the 19th, rehearsals today and tomorrow, next week Thursday, Friday, and the Saturday before the concert.  I hope to put something up next week Sunday.  In the meantime ... do not adjust your sets.

06 May 2012

Normal life

We were fortunate that our landlord was a doctor.

Susan began going to work at World Vision (riding our 90cc Honda up and down Symonds Street amidst the Trolley 'buses).  She came home each evening and made dinner for us, got up each morning and went to work.

And was increasingly exhausted.  One morning she felt she simply could not go to work.  She must, she thought, be sick.  Well, Dr Grigor had his surgery upstairs in the building our flat was in.  She made an appointment.

She received exceptional treatment from Dr Grigor.  Doctors in New Zealand are partly funded by the State - in 1973 the funding was considerably more than it is now - and are under pressure to move patients through quickly.  15 minutes per patient was the standard.  Dr Grigor spent something like half an hour with Susan - and charged her only the standard $2 for the visit

Sue had (somehow - there was no fashion for this sort of thing at the time) been on what would now be called a low-carbohydrate diet.  She had eaten this way since before I knew her.  Dr Grigor asked her what she ate - and was horrified.  No fruit.  Little grains.  Protein and fat, basically.  He lectured her sternly and prescribed a balanced diet for her.  It was not long before she was in much better shape.

Looking back on 1973, I realise how much has changed in New Zealand in nearly 40 years.  Milk was not homogenised - and was delivered in pint bottles - at 4 cents/pint - it is now homogenised and $2.50/$3.00 for a 2-litre (roughly three and a half pints) plastic bottle - at the supermarket.  A telephone call at a 'phone booth was 2 cents.  Now there are still 'phone booths, though I am not sure how much they get used.  Who doesn't have a cellphone?  The 'Family Benefit' was still around, though only $6/week - but we got that when Johnny was born in 1975, and it was not insignificant.  Shops were open five days a week, with the exception of fruiterers and greengrocers (Saturday morning), and 'dairies' ('convenience stores') - all day Saturday.  Things are rather different in 2012!

By the end of 1973:
  • our home church was Hillsborough Baptist Church
  • we had made many wonderful friends - Geoff and Julie Renner (Geoff was Sue's boss at World Vision), George and Coral Curle and their children, especially David, Maria Subritzky (who married David!)
  • we had acknowledged the inadequacy of the '90 and replaced it with a fantastic motorbike - two cylinders, 175cc, electric start! (another Honda :-))
I was working intensely that year on finishing the Yapese Reference Grammar and the Yapese-English Dictionary that I had contracted with the University of Hawai'i Press to write.  Pugram had been flown (at whose cost??) to Auckland and spent a couple of weeks in May - beginning to be very cold - helping me with them.  I think that my part of the production of those two books continued into 1976, when we were already living in Yap.

And I was deepening my knowledge of Calvinism.  When Sue and I were first married and living in Honolulu I had already begun a practice which I continue to this day, that of inflicting on her (and on our children when they were home) reading from whatever books seem to me suitable and interesting and likely to be helpful.  During our children's years at home these were sometimes rather more digestible things, such as Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  When Susan and I first lived in Mt Eden, I read aloud such page-turners as Cornelius Van Til's Syllabus: Introduction to Systematic Theology.  We were not to be Baptists much longer.

Our first Christmas in New Zealand we spent with the Browns in Howick.  It was high summer - and it rained.  "I thought it was supposed to be summer!" Sue said to our hostess.  "It always rains on Christmas!"  Not quite true, but not far off.