All Blacks vs Italy

I loved watching the All Blacks vs Italy game over an early breakfast yesterday before church.  I loved the Italian passion and playing in Rome must be a wonderful experience given that city’s place in the history of the world.  I felt that the Italians competed cleverly all through the first half leaving a close and fair half-time score with the All Blacks just ahead.  Clearly the Italians had identified that a rushing defense would stop the All Blacks attacking game.  But such passion has to be sustained to beat the All Blacks and that never really looked likely and the second half proved it.  The 42/10 result fairly reflected the difference between the two teams – the game is 80 minutes long and the last 20 minutes are usually the most telling when the All Blacks play.
What has been startling has been the response of some New Zealand media to the game.  TVNZ were hugely disappointing in their reporting of the game in the 6pm news slot.  Their interpretation was that the All Blacks performed under par!  Really?  It seems that there is an expectation that every attack and set piece should yield a significant result.  I find this attitude and expectation staggering.  In a weekend when the Samoans defeated Wales (the six nations champions) and when other leading teams like Australia, France and South Africa had comparatively modest wins, it baffles me that NZ media are claiming that the All Blacks were sub-par.
Here are a few points I want to offer in response:
1. the All Blacks won – and won well.  It is an 80 minute game and the All Blacks played a great 80 minute game wearing down the spirited and respectable opposition.
2. the All Blacks adapted their game as a response to the excellent Italian preparation and execution of their game plan in the first half.  The Italians were not able to adapt their game and paid the price.
3. the All Blacks never looked like being beaten.  Indeed they were masterful winners.
4. only one person from the starting lineup against Scotland last week was in the starting line-up against the Italians.  How many teams could boast that kind of depth.  If it took some time for this new configuration to find their feet, so what, the result was indicative of the real capacity of the team.
5. the game was hugely entertaining.  The penalty count was low, the rugby was free-flowing, the tries were scintillating, and some players were simply outstanding – Conrad Smith, Cory Jane and Kieran Read were a class apart.  A sustained very good team effort allowed them to shine.
6. Not every thing worked, but there was inventiveness, skillful running rugby, excellent and consistent defence, and flair and imagination.  What more can we ask of a touring team that is intent on strengthening its capacity?  Just one more thing – a handsome win.  And that was what we got!
TVNZ and other media, we have much to celebrate and very little to bemoan!

what my nose is into at the moment

I’m reading two thoughtful books at the moment – both with theological wisdom. The first is the Mary Doria Russell novel Children of God.  If it is anything like it’s predecessor The Sparrow, it will be a classic – promising so far!
Take This Bread is an interesting account of Sara Miles making her way into the life of faith in Jesus Christ.  She seems to be bringing her quirky self along for the ride, which is only reasonable as she is bound to meet mostly quirky people in the church anyway.

20 years since U2’s Achtung Baby

I love so much of U2’s music but rate 1991’s Achtung Baby as the most influential music album by any musicians by quite some distance.

The combination of raw music, the band stepping out of their comfort zone into a whole new frontier musically, the artistic concepts in the themes, and the ability to identify the media as a wayward principality and power has made this album the single most significant influence on my work as a preacher.

I remember the night after the ZooTV televised event was broadcast in New Zealand on a Saturday night two years later that I went back to my computer and totally changed the next day’s sermon.

In 1993 I recall trying to explain the influence of AB on my preaching to my spiritual director, Mary Concanon, a wonderful Roman Catholic nun – she was totally mystified yet also keen to try to understand.  Looking back I am not sure that I understand, I guess it is something like what any artist would describe as inspiration – the boldness, brazenness, wrestling with God, along with the worldliness, all spoke to me.  Nothing since by U2 or anyone has had as much an impact on me.

So to celebrate the 20 years I have purchased the box set commemoration thingee and heard today that it is in the post!  It includes a movie on the making of the album and several other lovely U2 things which I am sure to wax on about in the weeks ahead.

Favourite songs… here is the track list with my number rating to the right (only one song I find to be average see the * and there is only one that I have always disliked see the !)

Zoo Station (6)
Even better than the real thing (3)
One (1)
Until the end of the world (2)
Who’s gonna ride your wild horses (11)!
So cruel (8)
The fly (4) the absolute highlight live on ZooTV
Mysterious ways (5)
Tryin’ to throw your arms around the world (10)*
Ultra violet (light my way) (10) nice to see this pop up again last year
Acrobat (7)
Love is blindness (9)

Wayne Smith, TV preachers & weakness giving God some room(excerpts from a sermon based on 2 Cor 12:9)

Wayne Smith makes it into one of my sermons for the first time

For me, one of the real quality rugby identities in New Zealand is Wayne Smith – the former player turned coach who has been a leading coach in Canterbury and with the All Blacks.  I listened to him sharing some thoughts last year with young Christian leaders and his whole demeanour was humble and modest, yet also very passionate.  He believed in what he was doing and what could be achieved – he was resolute in what his goals were and how to achieve them, but his style of leadership was low-key humility. Do you remember how it got him into trouble some years back?  He had been head coach of the All Blacks for two years and his term was up for renewal.  His achievements with the team had been mixed.  When it came to his term being renewed he submitted his name into the ring in a way that was heavily criticised.  In the eyes of many he seemed half-hearted about whether he wanted the job anymore.  In the wings was another person, a person with a completely different style – a more ‘in your face’ approach with lots of talk but much less experience.  The merits or otherwise of the decision to not renew Smith’s position and instead appoint the other guy was not all that clear to everyone at the time, but it became so after another two years and a less than satisfactory world cup result. I was a Wayne Smith fan back then as I am now – I am biased in my viewpoint – but I like it that with the World Cup win last weekend he will finally be recognised for his unique qualities as a leader of people and that he has got there by maintaining his modest and humble demeanour.  What was once denounced as a weakness has proved to be a strength. The players describe Wayne Smith as the most approachable of the coaches – a person able to get alongside them – a man without ego, the wise ‘professor.’  That he is also a Presbyterian and a member of a church here in Christchurch gives some hint of what might have informed his style of leadership.

Beware of TV preachers
In the same passage of time that Wayne Smith has been involved with the All Blacks, New Zealand has produced a crop of Auckland-based television preachers.  I don’t know if you get to watch any of them, (and I don’t want to encourage you in any way whatsoever!) but every now and then Anne or I might be flicking through the TV channels and we might find one of them doing their stuff.  Their style and much of what they have to say is not our cup of tea at all.  They seem to be playing for the audience with a whole lot of hype and palaver that usually leads us to groan and flick on to something more entertaining – infomercials and the like.  Every now and again I have tried to stay with it and attempted to see what they have to say beyond the stuff, but invariably I end up angered and nauseated.  These celebrity preachers remind me of something Jesus said:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,” says Jesus, “but… they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others… they do all their deeds to be seen by others… they love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi… [But] the greatest among you will be your servant.” [Matthew 23:1-12]

What God does with a bit of room
Maybe our weaknesses are not the last word in  the story of God at work; that the greatest among us must be the servant; that  God’s grace is given in enough supply to us that we do not need to have  everything in perfect order; that God can do what God needs to achieve without us  running the show; that our brokenness is of more use to God than our perfection; that our humility is a better vehicle for God’s ministry of love to the world than our egos; that when we are able to face our incapacity to do  everything there is much more room for God’s capacity; and that our less means  God’s more.  “My grace is enough,” God said,  “my power works best through your weakness.”


I wonder if the TV people could be a bit more imaginative when they pass over to the weather reporter…today’s TV One pass over was something like:  “Well, there’s plenty of weather about, over to you Jim!”

I might be being the problem here, but I have lived a while now and every day there has been plenty of weather about.  Sometimes it has been fine weather, other times wet weather – either way, it is weather!

TVNZ turned up at our Easter Sunday Service

We (Knox, St Giles & St Stephen’s) had a surprise reporter and cameraman turn up at church today.  We featured in the 6pm bulletin on TV1:

TV3 missed out because their reporter on Good Friday picked Jesus rising on Easter Monday!
We will try to put them right and invite them to join in next year!