For Saint Benedict


For the feast of Saint Benedict (July 11), I post again my sonnet on Bonaventure and Pope Benedict!

The Call of Christ 

Sage Benedict, Pope, Bonaventure blessed,
Joined theology with prayerful devotion:
from Creation to dazzling Consummation
drew a laser line of Christ’s manifest.  

Christ as Wisdom played a creative game
Beside Artisan God in shaping the world.
Christ to Bethlem was human love unfurled;
Jesus was the core of the eager flame. 

He the pivot for the Doctor and the Pope,
History’s peak, the beginning of the end:
Christ’s death permits all of death to be friend,
Turns dénouement into theatre of blessed hope.  

God gave seraphic minds to faith-filled teachers
So we may learn our arc as recovered creatures.  

  • Jeremiah 4:1-10, 5:14,  
  • John 10:36.  
  • Pope Benedict XVI, General Audiences on the theology of Saint Bonaventure, March 2010 
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How to Use Power to Make a Better World


1743540132-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_Jeremy Heimans & Henry Timms, New Power: How power works in our hyper-connected world – and how to make it work for you, Sydney: Macmillan 2018.

ISBN 9781743540138; Available online from $25

 

Reviewed by Ted Witham

You would have to say that the Coalition Government is terrified of the progressive membership organisation GetUp! Not only are there more members of GetUp! than there are of the two main parties combined, but GetUp! has proven expert in using ‘New Power’ to advance specific agendas. Despite two attempts to pass legislation to clip GetUp’s power, the Government has not succeeded in destroying the organisation.

New Power reveals some of the thinking behind GetUp! and its international counterpart Avaaz. Heimans and Timms describe ways to mobilise a community using social media, how to spread ideas, raise funds, and gather participants for action. They use case-studies like Uber, Donald J. Trump, #MeToo and Reddit to show how people seeking change blend old power with new power to influence others.

 

Participation Scale
page 71

 

Some like candidate Trump used new power to consolidate old power values. The TED organisation spreads ideas by mixing old and new power to retain quality control of TED talks and invite wider participation through TEDx talks. Through this blend of power, Pope Francis and Candidate Obama are ‘Crowd Leaders’ using new power techniques to further new power values. After his election, however, President Obama became more a ‘Cheerleader’ using the old power structures of the presidency to further new power values.

ISIS is a clever manipulator of new power techniques in the service of old power.

The authors of New Power, Australian Jeremy Heimans and Briton Henry Timms write from experience. Heimans, co-founder of GetUp, began that organisation in 2005, before smart-phones and the spread of social media, with the intention of harnessing the internet to spread progressive ideas and change Australia for the better.  Timms is CEO and President of 92 Street Y, a ‘cultural and community center that creates programs and movements that foster learning and civil engagement’.

I read the 324-page book in a 48-hour period. The writing is engaging; the stories are fascinating. The implications for action, whether in leadership or in engagement with one’s community are clearly described.

Anyone interested in changing the world – bringing home the refugees from Nauru, stopping the environmental depredations of Adani, or just reminding your politician that you vote – will find good food for thought in New Power.

 

 

 

Bourgeois Bacchanalia?


 

Glyn Max1783197412-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_well, Drinks with Dead Poets: The autumn term, Oberon Books, 2012. Hardcover, 200 pages.

$20 online

Reviewed by Ted Witham

 

Drinks with Dead Poets was a delightful surprise. A professor of poetry called ‘Glyn Maxwell’ turns up in a mysterious village to teach a term of poetry. He meets his eclectic class and directs them to readings of a series of 19th Century poets. Professor Maxwell is not sure if it is by his doing, or the organisation of Kerri, the efficient registrar, but each poet has been invited to the village on the Thursdays of the autumn term.

Each poet arrives in the village according to their personality. Nature poet John Clare walks in across the fields. Emily Dickinson, visiting from the States, arrives by train. The Brownings, Robert and Elizabeth, their relationship as ambiguous as ever, are fetched in their coach. W.B. Yeats appears on the island in the middle of the lagoon.

Each poet behaves in character. It takes some time to warm the serious Father Gerard Manley Hopkins, but once relaxed, he speaks with great joy about the craft of poetry. The conversations teacher and students have with these poets are the actual words of each poet.

Although Professor Maxwell has been allotted a little room off the village hall for his teaching, a lot of the action takes place in one or other of the drinking establishments in the village. The professor is occasionally successful in imparting deep insights about the poets.

The professor himself has limited success in asking questions or directing the questions of the audience. One of the students asks each poet, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’, and this hackneyed request is met with incomprehension, sarcasm, or gentle correction according to the temperament of the poet in residence.

By using this public reading format, the book avoids long quotations from these poets, providing representative snippets instead.

After a hip-hop celebrity recites a mangled version of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Coleridge’s presence, the students tune into the idea of poetry as performance, and look forward to hearing subsequent poets read their work, with questions following.

 

In November, the professor’s birthday is celebrated in wild style in a nearby country house. In December, Lord Bryon and the students repeat Bryon’s exploit in the Hellespont by swimming across the icy village lagoon.

The professor is never quite sure whether his class is part of the college, or an unofficial elective: poetry is taken not quite seriously by this academy. On the other hand, this professor drinks with students and even sleeps with one of the female students. He would be the subject of disciplinary hearings if he were officially on the staff! These drinks are taken with a suburban bacchanalian spirit which grows out of the playful premise that dead poets can drink with 21st Century students.

I missed out on studying the Romantic poets because of the cycle of the English curriculum at Uni. This wonderful book has partly made up for that. If you love poetry, and you are intrigued by the fantasy setting Glyn Maxwell has created, you will thoroughly enjoy taking Drinks with Dead Poets.

 

 

Sci-Fi Twist on Reconciliation


Terra coverClaire G. Coleman, Terra Nullius, Hachette Australia 2017
(304 pages)

$20 paper, $5 e-book

Reviewed by Ted Witham

Set in occupied Australia, Terra Nullius tells three inter-weaved stories: the first is a residential school for Natives run by Settler Nuns headed by a fearsome Mother Superior, Sister Bagra. In this school, Native children have been forcibly taken from their families and are given a basic education so that they will graduate to domestic service in Settler households.

The second story is the escape of Jacky from a similar place. Jacky is determined to find his birth family. He is told that they may be at the former town of Jerramungup, so proudly takes the name ‘Jacky Jerramungup’.

The third group of Natives live fearful lives in a series of squalid camps, always on the run and moving to a new location as the Settlers drive them into the desert. The only advantage of this is that the Settlers cannot live in the desert.

First-time novelist Claire Coleman, a West Australian Noongar, drops little hints that this is not the occupied Australia we know when the British Settlers occupied the land and treated the indigenous people with cruelty. About half-way through the book, she reveals that these Settlers come from a space-faring Empire, and these Natives are black and white survivors of their arrival.

The Settlers are nicknamed Toads by the Natives because they need moisture to survive. Because of the ever-present threat of Settler violence, the name ‘Toads’ is never used in their hearing.

The three main characters, Sister Bagra, Jacky and Esperance, the de facto leader of the ever-moving camp, are vividly drawn, as well as a big cast around them: Sergeant Rohan the indefatigable hunter of runaway Natives; Johnny Starr, the outlaw Settler whose little gang gathers up Jacky Jerramungup on their way to an eventual show-down with Settler power, and Father Grark the reluctant Inspector sent to Sister Bagra’s mission.

I liked Terra Nullius very much. An atmosphere of dread induced both by the Settlers and the difficulty of surviving in the desert pervades the book. The West Australian settings are familiar but changed. The characters are never reduced to caricatures: most Settlers genuinely believe that the Natives were not human; the Native characters are clear individuals.

The pacing is well-handled. Towards the end, I couldn’t put the book down I was so afraid for Jacky and Esperance, and with reason!

It is a didactic novel. I suspect that Australians sceptical of Aboriginal claims will not be convinced by its premise, and may even be annoyed by its ideas. However, it will appeal to people looking for reconciliation and deeper insights into our shared history, settler and native.

Re-blogging for today: Thomas the Twin


This post originally appeared in my Advent 2015 blog.

******              *******         ******

He’s the Twin. In Aramaic the name Ta’oma means ‘Twin’, and so in the Gospels Thomas gets the Greek nickname Didymos “Twin”. But whose twin is Thomas?

the-apostle-thomas-1311blogSome say he had a twin sister Lydia. But to be remembered only as ‘The Twin’, is it possible that Jesus was Thomas’ twin? There is certainly a tradition that claims Jesus and Thomas were twins. Maybe even identical twins, as didymos also means ‘double’.

Thomas could have been Jesus’ double. It’s an intriguing possibility. It may explain why of all the disciples, Thomas was prepared to say, ‘Let us also go [to Jerusalem], that we may die with him.’ (John 11:16). Thomas certainly wanted to stick close by Jesus, even when he didn’t understand where that would lead. ‘Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” ‘(John 14:6)

And the need for physical closeness to his twin was also apparent when he reached to verify his physical reality after the resurrection. The gospel-writer never refers to him as ‘Doubting’, but always calls Thomas ‘the Twin’ (John 20:24) when Thomas cries out ‘My Lord and My God!’ (John 20:28).

Twins have a special bond, closer than that of most siblings. We can learn from Thomas to also be twins of Jesus, at our best prepared to share his road, but also feeling safe enough to share our bafflement, ‘Where are we going?’ ‘Lord, can it be really you?’ Above all, to wonder that the One to whom we are so intimately bound can also be ‘My Lord and my God!’

What a twinning!

 

  1. Imagine that you are the twin of Jesus. What characteristics do you have in common? How can you keep close to your twin?

 

  1. What baffles you about Jesus? What are some aspects of following Jesus that make no sense to you?

 

  1. Many of us have been Christians for a long time. Does our familiarity with Jesus make it hard to see him as ‘Lord and God’ and therefore to be filled with awe before him?

 

Use Thomas’ words ‘My Lord and my God’ as your prayer.

Easter Hymn


My new Easter hymn had its premiere at St Mary’s Busselton at the 8 a.m. Eucharist this morning. Apparently it went well.

New Eternal Breath

Christ is risen! He’s been sprung
from the once locked prison of death.
Christ is risen to be sung
With our new eternal breath.

Christ is ris’n! Women and men;
animals on farm and wild,
Christ is ris’n! Magpie and wren,
voice of life, sing to God’s Child.

Christ is ris’n! With cosmic power,
the old order overturned,
Christ is ris’n! Aleph and Taw,
For us endless life has earned.

Christ is ris’n! Noongar* and white
in Christ’s death are reconciled.
Christ is risen! All made right,
God’s life-giving power has smiled.

  • * or Koori, or black folk
    Ted Witham  2018
    7777 (Savannah TiS 219(i), Easter Hymn (with alleluias))

This, and others of my hymns, can also be found at http://www.franciscanhymns.wordpress.com

 

 

 

Poems A Head


Head coverIvan Head, The Magpie Sermons: Poems 2005-2017, Sydney: St Paul’s College 2017.  

Hardcover. Available for $35 from 48header@gmail.com 

Reviewed by Ted Witham  

This collection of nearly 50 poems is the second for Ivan Head. Dr Head is a West Australian priest, former director of AIT and Canon of St George’s Cathedral, who has spent the last 27 years as Warden first of Christ’s College in Hobart and then of St Paul’s College within the University of Sydney. He and his wife Christine are now moving into retirement in Sydney. 

Many of the poems have been published in Quadrant (where Les Murray is the poetry editor), the West Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald. Their presence in those publications suggests their high quality. 

Ivan is a poet who celebrates birds and flowers, trips by train and trips to London and the US. In some the words tumble just to celebrate language: 

Montezuma met a Puma going to the fair
Said Montezuma to the Puma let me taste your ware. 
Said the Puma
to Montezuma  
No I prefer my fare rare and so he ate him then and there.  

Many of the poems are complex with multiple levels of meanings. I enjoy recognising the double- or triple-meaning, but also knowing there may be more levels that I don’t get. In Swan River, Ivan reflects on boyhood memories of throwing a kylie, or thrusting a home-made gidgie towards a Cobbler.  And then: 

A boy knows that prawns rest beneath the sand by day. 
It is like knowledge of the Pleiades. 
Under the Narrows Bridge I stood for hours and left a line out all night just in case 
Something big went past.  

After the series of Noongar words and the reference to arcane knowing, the pleasure of ‘Something big’ might mean a fish to catch, or, it might mean deep knowledge of culture, Aboriginal and Western. And it might mean something even bigger.  

An undercurrent of Christian faith and theology, which on occasion rises to the surface level of the poems, holds them in a strong web of meaning.  

Ivan has a strong ear for the music of words, their sound and rhythm. All his poems are free-form and show the influence of modernist and Beat poetry.  

I found real pleasure in their Australianness. The poems are about the plants and animals of Cookernup (near Bunbury), Perth and Sydney. They are about our childhoods in the 1950s. Even when the subject is not directly Australian, Ivan’s attitude is. He punctures pomposity. Here he reduces the English Reformation to Henry VIII’s armour. 

…. And now he’s gone, 
the ghost isn’t in the machine. 
Just the carapace remains 

And what the commentator 
gawks at for the screen 
is the gigantic iron cod-piece 

With nothing in it.  

The Magpie Sermons is printed on quality high-gloss paper and bound simply in a hardcover embossed with gold leaf.  

Poetry lovers will enjoy reading, and re-reading, these poems of celebration, irony, contemplation and joy.  

 

 

9661-004-427119f4
Narrows Bridge 1963