To Paint the World with Love

We painted Jesus a lot when I was in Sunday School. In that little back room of the hall our teacher with the long flowing skirt gave her pupils brushes. We splashed and sloshed, dabbed and dotted, browns and blues and lovely reds.

Jesus always had long hair, like my older brother. He was invariably a blue-eyed blond, like most us. No one even thought he might look Semitic. He had long robes like the vicar, a kindly face, and was patting sheep.

Our pictures though were far from stereotypical. With broad brushstrokes Palestine was transformed into a green and pleasant land with lots of red boulders and purple trees. The sky, God’s domain, was indigo and silver, with pink cherubs dotted about.

We drew one another into the scene. We drew our teacher there too. We drew God and Jesus, who were sort of one and the same but different. We drew the pictures and the pictures captured us. The median was the message, and the median was fun.

As I’ve grown older I’ve continued to draw Jesus, though usually these days with words. Every church I’ve been a part of and every Christian I’ve met have also drawn Jesus. We continue trying to paint pictures that are true to our knowledge and experience as well as our hopes and dreams.

Sometimes in church he’s up there in the stained glass with a crown on his head and a far away look in his eyes. Sometimes he’s down here in the wine we share and in the children’s corner. Sometimes he’s in concepts profound but hard to apply. Sometimes he’s in talkative visitors who are hard to get away from. We find Jesus both where we look and where we least expect.

The church of my childhood painted a kind and benign Jesus. Apart from the gender he was like the Queen of England going round smiling, doing apolitical good deeds, and living in heavenly splendour but still mixing with commoners. We could come to church without shoes and leave with paint on our clothes. Jesus didn’t mind. Why anyone would kill him was mystifying. His death was just a random act of violence.

The church of my teenage years painted the cross in the centre. Rather than his death being a random act of violence it was a deliberate God-inspired scheme to save us from being bad. Like in Harry Potter the blood of the innocent willing victim [Jesus] would magically rescue us from the consequences of cosmic evil. We came to church with bibles under our arms and left with enough hope to survive a week in the jungle of adolescence. Jesus was our best friend, and sometimes our only friend.

The church of my twenties painted Jesus in revolutionary colours. Jesus had done a course in structural analysis and knew all about racism, sexism, and indigenous land rights. He was the protester par excellence, carrying in his body and soul the pain of the oppressed, living and dying for the cause. We marched with a cross, saw the inside of courtrooms, and heard policemen lie. Faced with injustice and punitive power we learnt to pray simply and silently. Some things are too deep for words.

These days I am part of a church that paints Jesus with a broad progressive brush. Jesus identified the human tendency to fix our God ideas and morality in the concrete of certainty. Jesus cracked and broke through that concrete in order that both new insights and innovations might be included and marginalized and oppressed people treated justly. This iconoclastic church is a blaze of vibrant and often contrasting colours, a wild and beautiful place… yet hardly restful.

The life of Jesus seems to me to be bigger than any single interpretation of that life. It is a painting bigger than any one canvas. His Spirit cannot fit in any one church or every church combined. The plurality of Christian experience points to the mystery that Jesus is among us while also beating in other hearts and in other places we haven’t heard of. Tolerance and intellectual modesty are therefore important when trying to know Jesus.

All these churches I’ve mentioned have this in common: they promote the ethics of empathy, compassion, and courage. These are the things that Christians really have in common, just as colours, brush, and canvas are the things that painters really have in common. The barriers of history, culture, theology, political, or national differences should not obscure for Christians our unity of purpose. Simply put that purpose is to splash and slosh, dab and dot, until the world is painted in love.


A prayer in gratitude to Richard Holloway

We hold in our common heart and mind: our whenua, our communities, our whanau…

The giggles of children…
The sighs of animals…
The smells of kitchens…
The flicker of a smile…
The incense of our gratitude perfumes the air like frangipani at dawn

The cries of the little ones…
The fear of the beaten ones…
The grief of the wounded ones…
The brutality of the powerful…
The tears of our empathy water the pohutukawas of our resistance

The beauty of holy space…
The prayers of the pious…
The transcendence of music…
The passion of the committed…
The embers of our courage are blown by the spirit of outrage to ignite hope

Gratitude, empathy, and courage… may we uphold and be upheld by these… and hold out our open, wounded, and weary hands to others.



Speech to UNITEC Graduates

The following speech was given last night in the Auckland Town Hall to the graduates of one of Auckland's universities [UNITEC]. The faculties represented were Design, Performing and Screen Arts, Social Practice, and Sport.

Tena koutou te whanau o Unitec. Tena koutou e Hare, e Ted, e Rick. Tena koutou nga manuhiri. Nau mai, haere mai. Kia ora ra. Ki nga iwi e tau e.

Today is a day to feel good, to celebrate, to congratulate yourself, to thank your long-suffering support team, and to thank and for most of you to say goodbye to the academic staff. Today is a day when your tenacious support team feels proud of you, proud of what you’ve achieved, and quietly relieved it is finished.

What’s it all been for? “Well Glynn,” you might say, “It gives us a ticket – access – to a place and type of work that will hopefully stimulate, challenge, and pay us. The ticket indicates to society that we have the skills necessary for this stage in our chosen profession.’

I’ve spent time in four tertiary educational institutions. There’s very little in the way of facts or formulas that I can still remember from those days. What I can remember is now intellectually, and probably morally, redundant. I did get four tickets that have been useful. Yet much more importantly tertiary education gave me five little pebbles.

The first pebble is a love of learning. Learning is for life. It is to be enjoyed. One of the greatest gifts you can give to children, students, or trainees is your infectious love of learning. So, never take a job (if you can possibly help it) where you don’t think you are going to learn anything.

The second pebble is a rigour in your learning. Devise for yourself and your colleagues critical peer interaction. When you meet once a month for a coffee and catch up with the gossip, think also about another type of meeting when you’ve all read the same journal article and corporately critique it. Education is like tuning a violin. In time a violin goes out of tune, and sounds awful. You need to work out ways to keep your violins (your education) tuned, and don’t think your employers are always going to do it for you.

The third pebble I call a bullshit detector. There is a lot of suspicious smelly stuff out there that gets passed off as true, good, and wholesome. Use your nose, the one with the sense of smell your tutors and you have been developing, and then have the courage to name it for what it is.

I heard a story the other day that exemplifies what I mean. There was a school board in Tennessee in the heart of the Bible belt, which was wrestling with whether or not to introduce a foreign-language curriculum. After heated discussion, the debate was brought to an end by one board member who declared: “No way! If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for my boy.”

Religion has a long history of being used as a vehicle for prejudice. But hopefully as you heard this story your bullshit detector was ringing loudly. Although you might not know the three languages Jesus could speak, you might have hunched that English wasn’t a language in 1st century Palestine!

The fourth pebble that tertiary education gave me is the value of taking time to think. A business that has employees rushing around all day, performance measures that relate to the number of tasks completed, and a fixation on monetary outcomes is on its way to a crash. That business is not taking time to listen. To listen to its employees, let alone its customers. It is trading in what it knows, rather than listening for what it doesn’t know. It is focused on certainties, rather than making time to grapple with, and marvel at, the large uncertainties.

The fifth and last pebble is to know what is at the heart of your vocation. Vocation is a big picture word, and I’m now going to make, as an outsider, an educated guess about the heart of your vocations.

Design and Performing and Screen Arts seem to me to be about the power of beauty and the imagination. They are not about designing something or entertaining people – those are by-products. They are about creating beauty – of structure, space, movement and screen – and evoking the imagination. These feed our souls. They touch something deep within us. Your skills and sensibilities can create a grace-filled space in which hurt can be held - sometimes even healed – and dreams can be born.

So when you are labelled by your status in your industry – apprentice designer, chorus line dancer, coffee collector… somewhere way down the totem pole – just remember that what you really are is a creator of beauty and a catalyst for the imagination, both of which nourish the world’s soul. And base your confidence and authority in that self-perception, not in your pay or position in the industry.

The heart of the vocation of Social Practice is people and their communities and what makes them flourish. It is about connectedness, and how to restore it when it’s lost. It’s about walking with people, sharing kai, sharing pain, laughing, weeping… and using your self-belief to create the conditions for others’ self-belief to emerge and be emboldened.

So when you are some junior social worker or trainee manager, remember that it isn’t about money (though money can help), nor is it about forms and papers (though they too can be helpful), nor is it about pleasing your superiors (though we all somewhat do it), but at heart its about a way of connecting with people that encourages and builds communities of self-belief, respect, and hope.

The realm of sport, coaching, and the management they require, also has a vocational heart. My guess is that it’s to do with integrating mind and body, and minds and bodies with their environment. In spirituality we would call such integrating ‘building a unitive consciousness’.

Let me give an example. I once saw eight 14-year-old boys in their season of rowing defeat that school’s Senior 8. The Senior 8 were all 3 or 4 years older with significantly superior skills, strength, and stamina. What the group of 14 year-olds had was their minds tuned to their bodies, and their minds and bodies tuned to each other. It was phenomenal to watch. They only beat that Senior 8 once though, but oh the glory of it. The unity of mind transcended the limits of the body to achieve the remarkable.

Sport is not only about bodies, and skills, and winning. That’s just the surface stuff. The heart of it is fostering a oneness of mind, body, team, and environment. That oneness brings with it a vitality and deep satisfaction, which can then be woven into the whole course of people’s lives.

So 5 pebbles: love of learning, and a rigorous pursuit of it; a nose for detecting dubious information and alerting others; the art of taking time to think; and knowing the heart of your vocation.

I call them pebbles because there’s an archetypal mythical story (which is code for saying it didn’t actually happen but its important anyway) about a young boy David who challenged a giant Goliath to a duel. And David chose five pebbles as his weapons.

There are values, thinking, systems, and structures – sometimes of Goliath proportions – that are opposed to the values within your professions. There are those who will seek to reduce beauty to utility, to reduce art to entertainment, to reduce social practice to sweeping up the messy bits discarded by fiscal and economic policies, and to reduce sport to medals, cups, and television. There will be pressure exerted upon you to conform to narrow definitions, to curtail your ideas to fit within blinkered plans, to prioritise obedience to the budget over the freedom of the imagination and the good of the community… These Goliath manifestations have the capacity to squash and demean and destroy anyone who gets in their way.

The mythic story has David acting on behalf of and for the good of the many. I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that those who are blessed with the resources of mind, and sometimes capital, have a responsibility to use those resources on behalf of and for the good of the many.

The mythic story also does not extol so much the power of the pebbles, but the courage of the one who carried them. They won’t do you much good unless you are the intestinal fortitude to use them. So be strong, be tenacious, and be brave. And be prepared to bear the cost for your courage.

In the end David only needed one pebble. A little can change a whole lot.

Kia kaha.


Letter from Isabelle. No. 16

Dear Revd Glynn,

How did God make the world?

Love, Isabelle.

Dear Isabelle,

As I think you know by now I don’t believe in a god who is a super being, who makes things and breaks things, and who determines how and what things happen. In times past many people did believe in such a god. They prayed to such a god for fine days and wet days, and they believed that this god considered their prayers and answered either yes or no or cloudy.

Today there are some people who still believe in such a god. ‘Evolution is a theory that is wrong’ they say. ‘God made the world in 7 days’ or something like that.

Then there are people who don’t believe that god has anything to do with making the world. Solely by evolution and chance the world has come to be.

Then there are other people, probably most Christians actually, who believe in both evolution and god making things – working together you might say.

What I believe is a little different from all those. Part of what I call god is a creative energy, a spiritual energy, which is within and around living creatures on our planet. That creative energy is a part of the ‘making’ of the world.

You could think of it like baking scones. You put in the flour, butter, cheese, salt, baking powder and milk, and then stir. The milk and the baking powder react together, creating a new ‘energy’ when in the oven, that makes the scones rise. Try making scones some time without the baking powder and spot the difference!

That spiritual creative energy, best called ‘Love’, is what makes life worthwhile and satisfying and rewarding.

Your friend,
Revd Glynn


Isabelle Theology

Dear Revd Glynn,

Where is God's house?

Love Isabelle.

Dear Isabelle,

We understand a house in two ways. Firstly it is something physical. It is a building with roof and walls, that is situated usually on a piece of land [some people's houses are boats!]. Secondly it is something in which people live. The house becomes a extension of their personalities. My daughter, for example, has a bright pink room - and she is a bright pink girl!

Now, as we've discussed before God isn't a human-shaped being. God doesn't eat, sleep, and go to the toilet like we do. God is a power we can't see. The best way we have of describing God is as 'the power of love'. So God doesn't have an address - like 1 Grace Street, Faraway, Heaven. God doesn't have a physical house to come home to, stretch out the legs, have a warm milo, and read a nice book.

However 'the power of love' does have places it calls home, places that are an extension of love's personality. Sometimes churches are experienced as a home for the power of love. Sometimes a very saintly person is thought to be a 'home' for the power of love.

The Bible talks alot about the human heart. Not the physical one that pumps blood around the body, but the imaginary one where love, kindness, and tolerance is thought to reside. If God, 'the power of love', has any house then it is the human heart that makes room for love, forgiveness, justice, and peace.

Revd Glynn


Soul Discovery

Learning how to operate a soul takes time. ~Timothy Leary

We are cared for and loved
We follow and are rewarded
Yet we do not know our soul
Until we stand alone, believe and act alone,
And know both the joy and cost of it.
Then Holy Wisdom, as of old, takes our hand
And we dance.