I once had a rabbi friend who summarised life for me: “We spend the first half of our life accumulating stuff and the second half getting rid of it.” Well, one of the benefits of immigrating to a new country in my mid-fifties was getting rid of a lot of stuff well ahead of schedule. However, there were a few things I couldn’t let go of yet. One was a blown glass frog that is a work of art and the other is a large Wedgewood serving plate. While they are both beautiful and valuable, that is not why they now reside in New Zealand. They belonged to sisters. The plate was treasured by my maternal grandmother Flora Mae (AKA Granny) and the frog by my great aunt Velma Amanda (AKA Auntie).
I’ve made no secret of my
fascination with dragons. I’ve read a number of stories featuring
dragons to the children at “Time for all ages.” A film depicting
these flying fireballs armoured with scales is certain to entice me
to watch. If you were to browse my extensive audiobook library at
least one out of three are about the protagonists engaging with
dragons. As you will see, these turn out to be theology textbooks.
So, it was only a matter of time before I gave a sermon on them. That
time is today. What captured my imagination, the required first step
in writing any sermon, was encountering the phrase “Here be
dragons.” It is associated with ancient maps, but before exploring
realised I needed to learn more about them than the little I had
gleaned from one of my favourite dragon movies, How
to train your dragon.
tales are known in many cultures, from the Americas to Europe, and
from India to China.
In a sermon preached to the
Oxford Unitarian congregation, the Anglican bishop of Oxford, John
Pritchard, opens by quoting the writer Julian Barnes, “I don’t
believe in God but I miss him.” Barnes goes on to say: “God is
dead and without him human beings can get up off their knees and
assume their full height; and yet this height turns out to be quite
dwarfish. Religion used to offer consolation for the travails of
life, and reward at the end of it for the faithful. But above and
beyond these treats, it gave human life a sense of context, and
therefore seriousness… But was it true? No. Then why miss it?
Because it was a supreme fiction, and it is normal to feel bereft on
closing a great novel.”
I’m not sure why but I’m finding that with age I am spending more time in my long-term memory vault. The trade-off is I can’t remember why I went to the kitchen or where I left my keys. I think this is due in part because the memory vault is full to busting and almost anything my five senses encounter brings back a host of memories. For instance, I find colour to be a highly effective trigger for memories.
Institutional light green is one that brings back less than positive memories. It was the colour of choice in schools and hospitals, at least in America. Because we moved a lot when I was a kid, I associate it with the first day of attending a new school, which I always found intimidating.
I’m sorry to change my sermon topic at the last minute, but I just got a major shock last Tuesday to discover that the proportion of Christians in our country has crashed to 37%!! It was 48% at our last census, so that is a huge drop of 11 percentage points.
Many of my atheist friends are over the moon, but I think they’ve not read the figures right, because the proportion of atheists is only 0.15%, which also came as a shock to me. I am shocked, because it shows I didn’t really know my fellow-New Zealanders as well as I thought.