Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mixing politics and sport

I could worry about the latest prognostications of ++Justin Welby, as others are doing.

I am working on a post about our rubrics and their upgrade to life in the 21st century.

GAFCON 2 is coming up and some good friends are going to it: what do we think about GAFCON and its place in the cosmology of global Anglicanism? I would like to post on that question soon.

But today let's stray into the arcane worlds of politics and of sport, with just the slightest of connections to, respectively, church and theology.


The NZ Labour Party has had a bloodless coup and disposed of its recent leader David Shearer by getting him to see that he should resign rather than subject himself to a motion of no confidence by his caucus. (Maryan Street, a Nelson-based MP, has confirmed that she would have moved a no confidence motion. A case of finding the nicest assassin to make the blood-letting easier?!)

Thus three contenders have put themselves forward for consideration: Grant Robertson, David Cunliffe and Shane Jones.

The latter two have Anglican 'form'. Shane Jones was once a member of our General Synod (in 1996, I recall meeting him in Rotorua - he was famous even then). David Cunliffe is often referred biographically as the 'son of a vicar.'

Let's get the shadow side of these candidacies out of the way. Grant Robertson is gay and thus we might have our first gay Prime Minister (or will we? He says archly!). This, it is acknowledged, may trouble some voters. I suggest it should not trouble Christian voters. After a succession of atheist-no-I-am-agnostic Prime Ministers, we can scarcely worry about a PM's sexuality. Shane Jones once fessed up to using his parliamentary expense card to pay for pornography. Let's allow that he has repented. Our worry should be whether such foolishness (i.e. not using his own credit card) has been left behind for wisdom. Certainly he has come up with the wittiest line of the campaign so far, saying 'I am not running for Pope.' David Cunliffe has come across as arrogant and has famously been disliked intensely by colleagues. He says he has moved on. (A list of known MP supporters in this morning's Press suggests he lacks support from what I deem to be the 'front rank' of Labour's best and brightest).

Last night I watched a recorded Native Affairs (broadcast Monday night) interview of all three candidates. Essentially they have the same policies. It comes down to personality and competency. What struck me about Grant Robertson is that he is both smart and unflappable, qualities people like in our present PM. So my money is on him winning as he looks like the bloke who could be 'the next PM' more than the other two.

And one of these three will be the next PM if our current smart, unflappable PM continues to speak poorly as he has done about a troubling situation for some fellow Christchurch citizens, here.

It is a sign of the embeddedness of religion in our secular society that Shane Jones' gag about not running for Pope is instantly understandable and eminently crafty as a way of acknowledging past sin and declaring that repentance has taken place!


The All Blacks are on a winning roll which means their detractors are hell bent on finding anything to grizzle about. Apparently referees give up any sense of fair adjudication in the All Blacks' presence, etc. The Greatest, Meanest Detractor of them all is Mark Reason, a Brit enjoying the hospitality of our fair country and repaying it by carping and harping at every opportunity about our greatest rugby stars.

He is in typical form in this article. But you have not come to ADU for literary criticism of journalistic attempts at crafting essays. So, my theological interest in his article is in the way he works with the theme of 'myth' and generally permeates his piece with theology.

Thus the article begins with these two paragraphs, which offer the first hint of theology, and demonstrate the nasty critical streak that is Reason's unreasonable speciality:

"The All Blacks' Bledisloe Cup victory over Australia on Saturday was not the summer solstice, a holy day or the dawn of the age of enlightenment. 

It was a poor performance over fatally flawed opposition, aided and abetted by a South African referee who has clearly not yet come to terms with the principle of equality."

Tom Taylor is a young man on the rugby rise who played his first test for the All Blacks on Saturday night. Naturally Reason needs to knock this rising star back to the edge of the universe:

"Reading about Taylor before and after the game, I was nearly fooled into thinking I had just seen the reincarnation of Barry John [the greatest first five-eighth to visit our shores, 1971 Lions tour]. The reality was nearer to Monty Python's Life of Brian and the line, ''He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy''."

The bit about the messiah is neatly followed up several paragraphs later with:

"But because of a couple of lovely passes near to the gain line and a half-break at the start of the match (from which he was turned over by Michael Hooper), the lad was anointed."

Then it is time to introduce the theme of 'myth':

"Taylor may well turn out to be a fine player, but as yet he is nowhere near an international first-five. But the All Blacks are the Muhammad Ali of international rugby; a team where excellence and myth merge to the point where the stigmata become invisible."

I will return to that paragraph in a moment. There are three further references to 'myth' in the article. There is also a reference to 'confession':

"The All Blacks don't admit the big mistakes in public unless the unthinkable happens and they lose. Then confession is called for."

Back to the paragraph where Reason writes, "a team where excellence and myth merge to the point where the stigmata become invisible."

What on earth (or in heaven) does he mean here? 'Stigmata' is a very precise theological reference to signs of our Lord's suffering becoming visible in the body of a saint. To speak of stigmata becoming invisible is very strange because the word 'stigmata' has no meaning. (Nearly every saint, including you and me, have invisible stigmata!!) I think he is trying to say that the All Blacks have become a team where their reputation for excellence and high achievement has become a myth which bends and shapes the truth (including what referees see and do not see) so much that blemishes due to sins (i.e. mistakes, poor play) are unseen by the watching public.

Put simply, 'stigmata' is wrongly used by Reason.

We might also wonder how many readers would understand the reference?

Our society is not so secular that it cannot understand Jones' gag about the Pope but it is secular enough not to understand the reference to stigmata.


Father Ron Smith said...

"What struck me about Grant Robertson is that he is both smart and unflappable, qualities people like in our present PM. So my money is on him winning as he looks like the bloke who could be 'the next PM' more than the other two." - Dr. Peter Carrell -

Good to know, Peter, that the fact Grant Robertson is Gay has not blinded you to his suitability as the next Leader of the NZLP.

Apart from St. Paul's allusion to 'running the race', I cannot share your obvious enthusiasm for sport on your web-site. However, I do agree that politics and religion should and do mix well - in terms of justice needing support from the Church.

MIchael Godfrey said...

Nice! On the other hand you should read the Australian media, who generally make it quite clear that any loss suffered by the Wallabies, especially to New Zealand, is the result of poor referees and cheating opposition. Though in the last year or two they have from time to time begrudgingly conceded that the ABs are quite good.

But rugby is such a minority sport in OZ no-one notices anyway. *sigh*

Peter Carrell said...

Welcome back to Rugby Heaven, Michael!

Eric said...

We often like the idea of believers in leadership positions, but we'd often be better off without them.

In Australia our current PM is a Christian who treated his colleagues so badly they dumped him in 2010 and recently brought him back as leader to try and win next week's election. Now he is rank populist, not much principle left in him.

Our PM after the election (barring an upset) will be Tony Abbott, also a believer, but such a negative campaigner that he is unpopular too.

The best, most honest PM of this short decade was the atheist Julia Gillard.

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,
Here were the reasons the Wallabies lost on Saturday.
1) Superior speed, execution and skill by the All Blacks.
2) Turnovers and mistakes in critical moments of attack.
3) Poor scrums
4) Poor lineouts
5) Failure by the referee to punish professional fouls.

The refereeing didn't make the difference, it just added to a number of other factors. However, I am noticing a pattern with South African refs being rather All Black friendly at home games :)


Janice said...


The best, most honest PM of this short decade was the atheist Julia Gillard.

I hope you're kidding.

Caleb said...

Right-wing blogger David Farrar has done the numbers and Cunliffe might have more support in caucus than you think: