Monday, May 19, 2014

I am a bad churchman

And you will see why shortly.

Although my visits there are infrequent, I have always enjoyed going to a service at Ann St. Presbyterian church.  Just the smell of old varnished wood as I walk in pleases me.  And I like the feeling of continuity with both my own and my ancestral past that it gives me.

So I was interested to see what the new minister there was like.  The elders and congregation  took 3 years to call a replacement of their old minister (Archie McNicol) who passed away.  I liked Archie McNicol and thought he left big shoes to fill  -- and the congregation generally obviously thought similarly.

So Anne and I went along there this morning.  We knew that the new minister was a Welshman named David Jones (how Welsh a name can you get?) so we were keen to see him.

And I can see why he was called (Via their Elders, Presbyterian congregations "call" their own ministers.  They don't have one imposed on them, which is the deplorable Anglican practice).  He has all the passion of the traditional Welsh chapel and preaches very skillfully and confidently.

I had a few initial niggles.  He preached in a grey suit.  Scots Presbyterian ministers in my experience always wear an academic gown over their other clothes.  But I guess that is not the practice in Wales. And I know I am a bit silly here but church announcements at Ann St have always been "intimations".  Today they were just "announcements".  There were a few other departures from Ann St. practice but nothing grave enough to mention.

What really bothered me however was the length of the sermon.  It was a perfectly good sermon but could have been preached without loss in many fewer words.  But when somebody bothers me, I don't just whine about it to my friends.  I go to the bothersome person himself.  So, being as polite as I could,  I emailed the minister the following after lunch:
Dear Mr Jones,

Although I joined Ann St church back in 1964, I have been only a sporadic attender over the years.  But I have always regarded Ann St as my "Home" church. I was married there in November, 1985. Today was my first visit during your ministry.

I was pleased to see how large the congregation was.  You must be outstanding at outreach. And you are clearly a sincere and skilled preacher.  Your sermon made some good points but was wearisomely long-winded.  I expected the service to end roughly on the hour but due to your sermon, it went on to 20 minutes past the hour.

Were you especially enthusiastic today and are normally more succinct?  I hope so.

Because of car-parking problems, I have popped into St John's Presbyterian at Annerley a couple of times in the past year and I am beginning to wonder if they might not be a better "Home" church for me.


(Dr) John Ray
Mr Jones was on the ball.  I got the following reply from him in a matter of minutes:
Dear Dr Ray,
Thanks for your constructive criticism. I need reminding to be more succinct. Sorry I was not able to speak with you as we had our congregational meeting immediately after the service. Please make yourself known to me when you are next in the congregation.
If Annerley is more convenient for you I am sure that would be an excellent choice.
David Jones
So what makes me a bad churchman?  This blog post. I think it is rather bad form for me to publicize this correspondence.  So why have I done it?  I have done it because I really do want to put pressure on the excellent Mr Jones.  I like to be comfortable when I go to Ann St. and a service that greatly over-runs makes me uncomfortable.  I can hear people saying "Boo, Hiss" to that and I am sure I deserve it.

UPDATE: I guess that the above sounds rather negative so I thought I should note some positives too.

The big positive was the large congregation. Under previous ministers such as Percy Pearson and Archie McNicol there were always plenty of empty pews but the church was already pretty full when Anne and I arrived and there were a lot who streamed in after us. It may have been standing room only eventually.

And there were about 20 kids present, who were called forward shortly after the beginning of the service to receive their own talk. After that they trooped off to their own Sunday school elsewhere in the church. I remember being such a Sunday school kid myself.

So was the big congregation Mr Jones's work? Probably. He seems much more dynamic than his elderly predecessors. But I cannot help wondering if some of those present were following the money. After selling off their centrally-located church hall to help build a big office block, the church is now a very rich one and some people might like the idea of helping to manage such money.

And another thing I liked was that the congregation used the original King James version of the Lord's prayer, complete with "trespasses" etc. It's the version I grew up with.

I also liked the provision of tea and biscuits outside after the service. There used to be such an evening provision but not a morning provision. It enables congregants to mix.

I also liked the fact that Allan Morton was given hand-shaking duties after the service. The minister would normally do that but had to attend the congregation meeting after the service. Allan is a stalwart of the church but has some health problems so has to put in a big effort to get to the services these days. That he was chosen to stand in for the minister is a fitting acknowledgment of his steadfastness.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

3 stories

I was just lying in bed when 3 little episodes from my past came into mind so I thought I might write them down. I think they have some entertainment value and two of them I doubt that I have written down before.

In the first I was in an office with some others when one of the guys there, Andrew, started to tell me off about something.  As soon as I got a word in, I said "mea culpa, mea maxima culpa".  That immediately turned his mood around --  from cross to gay, which amazed all the others around.  What was this gibberish spell that I had cast on Andrew?  "What did he say?  What did he say? -- the others said to one another.

When you know it was Latin that still doesn't help much, does it?   You have to know that Andrew was about my age and a Catholic.  And what I said was from the Latin Mass, with which he was perfectly familiar.  It means "I am to blame, I am maximally to blame".

The second story is when I gave one of my tenants a student discount.  A common thing and something to be pleased about one would think.  At first the young student was pleased but after I explained why I did it by saying that he was one of the university tribe and I am also of that tribe, it apparently preyed on his mind.  He eventually moved out over it.

He was a young idealist who thought that the United Nations was a great thing, for instance.  That the United Nations could teach the Sicilian Mafia a thing or two about corruption he apparently did not know.  Just the constant U.N. resolutions against Israel should have told him something but he may not have known of that either.

And that brings me to my third story.  The Israeli ambassador to the U.N. for a couple of years was American-born Dore Gold (Dore pronounced as "dory" and Gold being one of the most emphatically Ashkenazi names I have come across  -- up there with "Finkelstein").  And Dore was a master diplomat.  I saw him being given a hostile interview on (where else?) ABC TV.  Despite the hostility, Gold was as cool as a cucumber.  But the callow interviewer (Dempster?) did all he could to trip Gold up.

But Gold was a master of facts and figures and appeared to know every U.N. resolution about Israel both by heart and by number.  So every time the interviewer displayed his ignorance, Gold would reply along the lines:  "As U.N. resolution no. 248 said  ....".  Gold just cruised while the interviewer fumbled.  He had clearly heard it all a thousand times before and had a comprehensive answer ready for every point. It was a stellar performance and I have always wanted to shake Gold's hand over it.  The interview seemed to be as easy for Gold as if he had been reciting nursery rhymes  -- which in a way I suppose he was.  He is still an eminent man in Israel.

UPDATE:  Readers will no doubt get the accurate impression that I am a great admirer of Dore Gold.  Here is another anecdote which summarizes what I see in him:  Impeccable preparation.

"Brandeis University invited Gold to debate Justice Richard Goldstone on November 5, 2009. The subject was the U.N. Gaza Report. Jeff Jacoby wrote in an opinion piece in the Boston Globe on November 7: "Dore Gold, Israel's former ambassador to the U.N. brought facts and figures, maps and photographs, audio and video in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. Last night's encounter marked the first time Goldstone publicly debated the report's merits with a leading Israeli figure. It would not surprise me that he is in no hurry for a second."

It is rare for a diplomat to generate admiration but Gold deserves it.

Dore Gold

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mothers' day

Mothers' day seems to be celebrated in all sorts of different days around the world but today was the day in Australia.

Susan and Paul put on a small lunch at their place to honour Jenny and Nanna -- to which I was also invited.  So I was among three mothers!

Susan cooked up some excellent roast pork with roast vegies and a potato bake.  And followed it up with a rolled pavlova that included banana.  I thought the banana went particularly well.  I probably disgraced myself a bit by having a big second helping.  As he sometimes does on these occasions Paul over-ate and was groaning from a too-full tummy at one point.  But with such good food, you could hardly blame him.

We had some very animated conversations -- mostly about England.

A large part of our conversation was an attempt by me to explain England to Paul  -- a rather optimistic enterprise considering the oddities of the English.  The pesky thing about England is that there are important things that everybody knows but nobody mentions.  You almost have to be born there to be "in the know".  I was trying to fill Paul in on such things.

I was particularly keen to get Paul familiarized with the shibboleths of the Home Counties.  Paul has been to Britain in the past but mostly visiting relatives in regional England.  And, as even the English admit, North and South of Watford are rather different places.

"Rather different places" is a Home Counties way of putting it.  If I were an American I would most likely have written "worlds apart"!  They even pronounce "butter" in the German way North of Watford.  Such pronunciation would always be greeted with silence South of Watford but it will be silent contempt!  I was, inter alia,  trying to help Paul hear such silences.

And as for the Northern pronunciation of "bubble gum" (booble goom where "oo" is as in "look") subsequent washing out of ears is almost required. And "Home Counties" has become a somewhat unmentionable expression these days too!  Complications!

Paul was naive enough to expect that hard work would be respected in the upper echelons of English society.  I had to disillusion him and tell him that it is in fact effortless ease which is the desideratum there.

And use of Latin expressions always earns cautious respect there!  Latin is redolent of public schools and Classics at Oxbridge.  No Englishman will ever ask you for a translation of a Latin expression, however.  He would feel crushed to admit he needed one!  See here.

And the English are right not to challenge Latinists. For instance, I sometimes use in my writings the phrase Sui generis so it is possible that I might use it in speech one day. If I did, I would pronounce "generis" with a hard "g", which is not the most common pronunciation. If some poor soul challenged me on that, with the claim that the G should be pronounced as a "j", I would say: "Ah! You are using the church pronunciation. I prefer the Augustan, myself". It seems a small point but in England the humiliation of my interlocutor would be massive.

Even if the person knew nothing about issues in Latin pronunciation, the steady gaze of my bright blue eyes upon him accompanied by a small smile would tell him all he needed to know. The English are very sensitive to manner and a quietly confident manner is a hallmark of the upper class. And arguing with the upper class will generally earn nothing but scorn

Thursday, May 8, 2014

An old friend and a cure for asthma

I was waiting for my brunch in my usual haunt yesterday when in walked someone I had not seem since last century  -- Jason the Amiga guru.

I saw quite a lot of him in the 80s and 90s when Amiga computers were big.  He was my fixit man for faulty hardware.  And whenever we got together at his little shop over some faulty component we would always enjoy a chat.

Later he introduced me to options trading on the stockmarket.  I got out of that just about square but Jason blew a lot of money before he gave it away.

Anyway, back in the 90s he got whooping cough, despite having been immunized as a child. And he told me a bit about it yesterday.  It took him months to beat it and really knocked him around.  Listening to his account of what he went through I am glad we got Joe a booster shot for it in his late teens.

But there was a bonus.  One of the reasons whooping cough hit Jason so hard was that he was also an asthmatic.  So he sometimes felt he could breathe neither in nor out!  Nasty.  But when the whooping cough went so did the asthma!  It's not a cure anybody would recommend, however.

A lot of my old friends have died by now so I am glad that Jason is a fair bit younger than I am.  I think we will see a bit more of one-another from now on.  We have a shared history!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A dinner and a train

Both Anne and I have had a lot of illness and disability in recent months.  Sometimes both of us were crocked at the same time.  But just lately we seem both to be more or less back to normal so in my pessimistic way I decided to a have a small celebration of our "temporary" return to good health.  Getting from 60 to 70 is so problematical that many people don't survive it so 70+ can not be expected to be a bed of roses.

So I got Anne to come over and cook us one of our favourite foods:  Lamb cutlets.  Lamb cutlets are fiendishly expensive in Brisbane these days but I bought us 16 good ones for the occasion.  We combined that with a good red wine plus fresh bread rolls and real butter -- and I even bought flowers for the table.  Beat that!  Anne contributed a salad with chick-peas in it  -- somewhat to my puzzlement.

It was a great success.  Anne cooked the cutlets just a bit short of well-done and with plenty of salt on them to bring out the flavour it was a great meal.

And for some reason a small episode from long ago popped into my mind.  Children can sometimes upset parents unwittingly and this concerns a small instance of that:

When Joey was about 3, Jenny and I spent some time in Sydney  -- living in a beautiful old Federation house in the Inner West that would now be worth about $2 million, I think.

Once a week we used to  visit Miroma  -- a huge second-hand shop run by the Salvation Army.  And we would always buy Joe a new toy while we were there.  One day we bought him a toy train which he really seemed to like.  Afterwards we went off somewhere else to visit a market.  The market was very crowded and Jenny was wheeling Joey around in his stroller while he was carrying his train.  After a while however Joey started to cry.  Jenny stopped and asked him what was wrong.  "My beautiful train", he replied.  He had dropped his train.  Jenny of course immediately went into reverse to find the train but had no success.  Some other kid had picked it up.

Jenny was however very upset that she had not noticed Joey losing his "beautiful train".  She may have been upset for only a day but it did get to her.  We went and bought him some other train but it was not the same.