Questions from Isabelle - how does God make water?

Dear Revd Glynn,

How does God make water?

From Isabelle

This letter from Isabelle contained a postscript from her mum:

P.S. We have tried to explain the scientific theory, with atoms, molecules, electrons and things sticking together (like magnets!), but we wish Isabelle to explore other ideas as well. She has a very inquisitive mind and is always asking rather searching questions. We would appreciate it immensely if you are able to reply to this email, and no doubt future ones.

Dear Isabelle,

There are some things in this world that are made – like biscuits and television – and some things that just are there – like rain and ponies. Science can tell us what rain is made up of – all those molecules and things – and how ponies are born from their mothers, but science can’t really tell us how they are made. It’s not like someone sat down and designed and drew rain and ponies, and then made them. Some people when they don’t have an explanation from science say God made them. Well, God is the power of love that flows through the universe. God is not a Santa who sits in a workshop and designs and builds things. So the short answer to your question is that God didn’t make water – just like how love doesn’t make water.

Kind regards,


Go to Hell, straight to Hell

I was at breakfast with some friends when I was asked about hell. Not the pizza company that bears the name, but the celestial Dante version.

I told them the story of an Australian friend who in the rarified air of Sydney Anglican thelogical debates had to bite his tongue and quell his urge to either laugh or cry when listening to hellish debates. On one side were the snuff brigade - instant incineration. The snuffers were the 'liberals'. On the other side were the spit roasters - continual torment. They were the 'conservatives'.

My breakfast companions, being well-travelled, also had horror stories to share on religious nonsense. Such stories would be hilarious if only some people didn't believe them and subject others to them.

The conversation concluded with a question to me: "What do you think Glynn about heaven and hell?"

"Well," I replied, "if there is a heaven we are all going to be there. For some it will be paradise and for others it will be hell."

p.s. for those who haven't visited Mr Deity yet - check out their version of hell.


Questions from Isabelle - how was God made?

Dear Revd Glynn,

How was God made?

From Isabelle.

Dear Isabelle,

Some things have no beginning and no end. Not many things, but some things. Like infinity. Like space. Like love. These things just are. Love is not born when a mother has a child. Love is there already, like a bulb in the ground, and bursts into flower when the child is born. God is like infinity, space, and love. God was never made, or can be unmade.

Kind regards,


Questions from a 5 year old - Seeing God

One of the joys in life is engaging with an inquiring mind. As a priest it is a privilege to receive letters from children. What follows is a series of letters from Isabelle, a 5 year old, and my attempts as a 47 year old to answer her questions.

Dear Revd Glynn,

Why can't we see God?

From Isabelle.

Dear Isabelle,

Some people understand God to be a powerful man stuck up in the sky. I don’t. I think God is best thought of as love.

Love is, for example, something like the feeling between you and your mum. You can’t see that feeling but you can feel it. That’s what God’s like. You can’t see God but you can feel God, and God feels like love.

Another way to think of God is to imagine God is like the wind. Again you can’t see God but you can feel God’s effect. Being blown by an invisible force is both exciting and scary. Just like God.

Kind regards,


Winter Time

As the leaves continue to fall, denuding the trees, may the pressing demands of our lives likewise drop to the ground and be blown away. These demands can absorb so much of our life and light, fooling us into thinking they are so important.

Winter time is a season for the soul. It is time to draw on the inner life, on the reserves within, rather than on our bright personalities, skills, or relationships. Foliage without does not compensate for strength within.

It is time to sit down, mull over wine, and breathe slowly. There is a season to speak, and there is a season to be in the silent company of one. There is a season to write for others, and a season to write for your self. There is a time to feed the world, and a time to feed your soul.

It is strange how nature has us stand naked in winter shivering from the lack of protective foliage. All those bright accessories have fallen away. Our life has diminished. Our space has withered. Our growth has slowed. We feel vulnerable.

We wish the winter would move on. When will the new possibilities, fresh vision, and dynamic relationships spring forth? Can’t nature hurry up? After all there is a world to save and timetables to meet.

Prayer goes at its own pace. We think we are in control, but the prayer I’m talking about has a mind of its own. It takes its time and disregards mine. It giggles when I’m trying to be serious, and is sombre when I’m trying to be sociable. It is as elusive as the morning mist, and often as silent.

The leaves have all fallen now. The cold has come among the trees. The mist descends most mornings. There is aloneness, nakedness, and longing. Yet hidden away, beneath the bark, respiration continues.

I stand still in the park, leaving the dog to her antics. I try to breathe with the trees, feeling their wisdom, and trying to glean a little. Winter is soul time.


Lucky goes Video

Lucky is trying his hand at a new media (for him). He has just made his first YouTube video. In it we see and hear Lucky's view on baptism.

Bare Earth, Bare Feet, Bare Soul

“There is a considerable difference between walking on the beach with shoes on”, he said, “and walking with shoes off. The latter enhances the spiritual feeling.” I was listening to a radio interview with a gentleman who runs a charter boat in Fiordland. He didn’t want to get too explicit about what he meant by spiritual, and acknowledged that many people would pooh-pooh the idea. He concluded, “When you walk barefoot, with an open heart, on a beach or in the bush, something happens to your spirit.”

I’m reminded of Moses’ experience in Exodus chapter three. Confronted with the power of the extraordinary and mysterious he felt compelled to remove his shoes. The baring of his feet mirrored the baring of his soul. It symbolized removing a layer of protection, thereby increasing his vulnerability. Receptivity to the spiritual often involves a degree of vulnerability.

Vulnerability however did not inhibit Moses from disagreeing with the Divine. Vulnerability is not submission but the willingness to meet the metaphysical stranger. Sometimes we wrestle with and are wounded by this stranger, this God-of-the-mist. Sometimes we greet the stranger as the breaking dawn. Otherness can be both threatening and redemptive.

As I listened to the radio I mused about those experiences where the spiritual power embedded in the earth penetrates through protective layers into our very souls. I thought about the smell of dripping Urewera bush, the tingling sands of Bethell’s beach, the crescendo of crashing West Coast waves, and the song of a joyous Tui dipping its head into flax nectar. The power of smell, sight and sound mingles with mystery, vastness, and beauty. Indefinable heaven touches our earthly feelings, if we let it.

These spiritual feelings, these exchanges between heaven and earth, are not just about nature giving and we receiving. We are invited to participate, to enter into the wonder and magic of this power, and even into its longing and pain. This spiritual interaction can be thought of as a song. But the universe doesn’t sing and we passively listen, nor is it an invitation to blend into a celestial chorale. Rather we are invited, like with a jazz ensemble, to improvise in our own creative way.

There is, like with Moses, a call to us. The spirit song is not passive, detached from the potency and sufferings of planet earth. It calls firstly to the pain within us. The gentleman in the radio interview spoke of clients breaking down in tears. The spiritual power reaches out to us and we can feel both our alienation from it and our yearning for it. Sorrow and hope combine like a love song.

Secondly, the song calls to our power. It calls to that determination within us not to be overwhelmed by the demands of the dollar, the pressure of performance, and the commitments of family and community. It calls to that fighting spirit lodged in each of us – a spirit that longs to see harmony restored in and between people, and between the planet and its population.

Lastly, the song calls us to transcend our own needs for the needs of the whole. There is a piece of countercultural Jesus Zen that goes: ‘To find yourself you must lose yourself.’ We are reticent to lose ourselves, especially when so much of our Western world is geared to improving and fulfilling ourselves. We are reluctant to let go of what we want in order to consider the wants of all. Yet the paradox is that by transcending our personal desires we actually find the fulfilment we wanted all along. Unless more of us begin to care about the whole the world will go to pieces.

We begin by travelling to a place apart, taking off our shoes, feeling the vulnerability of both ourselves and the earth, listening for the call of the spirit song, and then wrestling with its meaning. Bare earth, bare feet, bare soul.


Parliamentary Prayer

In 1840 New Zealand, due to the wisdom of both government and church leaders, chose not to have an established religion. They did not want one branch of Christianity to be unfairly privileged. The parliamentary prayer has remained as an anachronism as New Zealand has changed into a society of many cultures and many faiths.

The current parliamentary prayer, while commendable for trying to curb self-interest and promote altruism, is a 19th century Christian product. The inclusion of antiquated words, like ‘Thy’, is insulting. By continuing to use such language it is inferred that Christianity is merely a religion of the past, of tradition and history, and is to be valued as an artefact rather than as a vibrant and life-changing contemporary faith. Indeed many of those in favour of the current parliamentary prayer argue that they want to retain an historic custom. It seems they want to preserve Christianity like a fossil from a bygone age.

There is a concern expressed in the current religious diversity debate that tolerance towards the perspectives of other faiths or none will lead to a diminution of the Christian faith. On the contrary I think tolerance can be understood not as a wimpy, ‘anything goes’ attitude, but as a vigorous engagement founded upon intrinsic respect for other human beings.

Every faith in New Zealand needs to be robustly proclaimed by its adherents. More education and public debate on religious matters should be promoted, not for the purpose of finding what we have in common, but for the purpose of learning to live together in this multi-faith society. I’m not going to dumb down my faith, or shut up when it’s too controversial, and I don’t expect proponents of other faiths to either.

While not compromising our heritage of human rights, particularly freedom of speech, destructive militant fundamentalism of whatever variety needs to be watched. However I suspect that extremism might be avoided more by allowing each faith the freedom to practice and proclaim its teachings, and by providing opportunities for public discourse, rather than by giving preferential treatment to Christianity.


We Don't Need Preferential Treatment

Parliament is not a house of prayer, and nor should it be. Politicians of course, like the citizens they represent, are welcome to pray individually how they wish. In Parliament however a corporate prayer indirectly endorses a religious view of the world and can be understood as divinely inspiring, and thus sanctioning, decisions. The parliamentary prayer subliminally co-opts Christianity as a handmaiden of the State. It is better for the health of each to keep separate.

Christianity doesn’t need preferential treatment. It doesn’t need privileges that aren’t available to other faiths. The understandings and insights of Christianity don’t need to be validated by any government; they are well able to stand on their own merits. We Christians don’t need parliament to use a Christian prayer. Our faith is not so weak as to be diminished by other faiths and other prayers. Likewise our faith doesn’t need to be shored up by the erroneous declaration that this is a Christian country.

In the history of Christianity the relationship with governments and ruling powers has been a mixed blessing. When a government adopts a religion as it’s favoured or only brand inevitably that religion is forced to make compromises. The ability of the Christian faith, for example, to critique regal injustice has often been compromised by the royal privileges it’s been consuming. For a religion to have power and wealth does not necessarily mean that faith will flourish, often the reverse.

Separation of church and state is not an atheistic idea dreamt up by those who wanted religion marginalized. It was an idea actively promoted by Christians who heeded Jesus’ warnings about the corrosive nature of power and wealth, and who were familiar with their history. Getting into bed with governments is not good for Christianity. Having Christianity with favoured status would also provide a precedent for the future when another religion might oust Christianity from its place of privilege. States with embedded religion usually oppress religious minorities.