This That and the Other


I begin this article in Canberra, writing on my son’s laptop in a dark hotel room. Some of the keyboard’s keys are in unfamiliar places, and so I have to tip forward the screen periodically to use its limited light to find them. Because of this the paragraph you are reading is more than usually laboured and not written at breakneck speed. Margaret is asleep behind me. In a couple of hours time I shall be on the road back to Shepparton, leaving her behind to stay with daughter Rachel for a week. She will be spending much of her time with daughter Elizabeth to impart, as necessary, her maternal and grand maternal wisdom and common sense in settling baby Margaret (Meg) Isabel into a routine.


I have always maintained that until three months old, babies are little more than all-demanding polyps of palpitating protoplasm. Like so many easy prejudices this one has been blown away by re-acquaintance with a new born infant. Little Meg’s unfocussed and yet strangely quizzical stares and her brow-furrowed gazing around, as well as her burps, writhings, grimaces and experiments with smiling, reveal that there is something disarmingly distinctive and individual already present. There is much more to her than just potential and the promise of personality to come.


What a business rearing little ones is though! All those sleepless nights of yore came rushing back to mind as I observed how tired Lil and Nathan were after their first night at home with the baby.

Reflecting on marriage

I am becoming more and more traditional in my thinking about marriage. Too much focus of modern liberal thinking on the subject has been upon adults and their needs. So if homosexual couples “need” or “desire” children, then they have the right to adopt or conceive them with the help of surrogates. If parents want to be casually divorced, then their right to be so is to be conceded, irrespective of the more important rights of the child. If a conceived child is inconvenient to mum and dad, then they have a right to “terminate” it’s life, a euphemism for “to kill” it. As Kay Hymowitz contends in a recent article: “marriage’s separation from reproduction and its redefinition as a ‘state-stamped intimate relationship between two adults’—the work of the feminist movement and the sexual revolution—has made children ‘incidental,’ no longer the focus of a union devoted to their rearing.” Yet marriage, anthropologically speaking, traditionally speaking, theologically speaking, sociologically, ethically and biologically speaking is primarily about the welfare of children and their rearing, not about the welfare and well being of adults.


The article I refer to, which was less an article than a book review, was not just a nostalgic, pessimistic rant. There are small signs of a turning back to a more traditional and healthy view of marriage. “...... Citing evidence of disgust with the sexual revolution and the determination of children victimized by divorce to do better than their parents, Hymowitz concludes that Americans are now ‘earnestly knitting up their unravelled culture’.....”

More Family Matters

Our daughter Rachel achieved a First for her Honours degree in Literature and Philosophy at ANU, I am proud to say. She hopes to go on to do further study, preferably overseas and with the help of a scholarship, but in the meantime she is looking out for a job in Canberra, though with no sign at all of urgency or desperation. She is enjoying reading a lot, and dabbling in the writing of verse. This being the Easter edition of “Outreach” the following fragment she sent me some months ago, which is after the manner of R S Thomas, is not inappropriate:

                                                      The Meaning

                                 At the crucifixion

                                                                  We pinned the meaning of God down

                                                                  And it died.


                                                                  At the resurrection

                                                                  We found an empty space


                                                                  And the meaning.


I came recently upon the word mondegreen for the first time, though what it refers too is not at all uncommon to anyone who has had anything to do with children and the Church. The word “mondegreen” is itself a mondegreen. An American writer called Sylvia Wright coined it in 1954 in an essay entitled The Death of Lady Mondegreen,. “When I was a child” she writes, “my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy’s Reliques and one of my favourite poems began, as I remember:


                                                                  Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,

                                                                  Oh, where hae ye been?

                                                                  They hae slain the Earl O’Murray,

                                                                  And Lady Mondegreen.


The actual fourth line is “And laid him on the green,” and is from an anonymous 17th century ballad “The Bonnie Earl O’ Murray.” Wright goes on to say: “The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original.” Another example she gives is: “Surely Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life” (“Surely goodness and mercy…” from Psalm 23). I myself can remember Confirmation Candidates, when asked to write out a prayer they knew by heart writing down one containing the phrase “pity mice and plicity” (“Pity my simplicity....”) A more famous one is “Gladly, my cross-eyed bear....” “Gladly my cross I’d bear....”) Our politically correct new Prayer Book, in order to avoid the purportedly exclusive word “forefathers”, invariably replaces it with “forebears” which becomes the inevitable mondegreen “four bears” as soon as you say it without reference to the text.

The Bishop resigns

The Bishop has just announced that he is leaving our Diocese at the beginning of August to take up an appointment in a parish in England. He has been Bishop of Wangaratta for ten years, and so he is the first bishop I have experienced from arrival to departure. In a future “Outreach” or Pew sheet I anticipate writing an appraisal of his ten years. In the meantime, however, I wish him well. Being a diocesan bishop these days is a truly horrible job and I think that at heart Bishop David has always been a parish priest. To be able to end his professional ministry as such will grant him great fulfilment I am sure.


In a sermon some time ago I quoted Conor Cruise O’ Brien quoting in turn an Irish parish priest as follows: “You’re not an agnostic, Paddy. You are just a fat slob who is too lazy to go to Mass.” It is a quotation that comes to my mind whenever I read of the private lives of some of our famous atheists, such as the two randy, promiscuous and to my mind thoroughly nasty philosophers A J Ayer and Bertrand Russel. Their atheism, though of course not all atheism, might well be characterised as merely an over-the-top and elaborate self-justification for their rejection of Christian morality. Mind you, questioning the motives for an argument in no way refutes the argument itself.

Archbishop of Canterbury in trouble

Having read very carefully the Archbishop’s learned and closely argued lecture to do with Sharia Law, I found nothing in it to quarrel with at all, though he was probably less than worldly wise in an interview related to it. However, the reaction of even the “quality” press in England was astonishingly frenzied and virulent. It seems to me that the Archbishop provides a safe and easy scapegoat for an almost universal and paranoid fear and hatred of Islam. If anyone would like a copy of the Archbishop’s lecture I can provide it and I have also a very good defence of the Archbishop from the Revd Dr Andrew McGowan, Warden of Trinity College, Melbourne.

More family matters

Over Easter the Rectory’s venerable walls will be unable to contain all its visitors and so have to spill them out into local apartments. During Holy Week my sister Sue and her husband from Cape Town arrive, with my brother from Brisbane. On Maundy Thursday Nathan, Elizabeth and Meg arrive with Rachel, from Canberra. Some time in that week Peter too arrives from Albury. A couple of days after Easter David and Rachel fly in from Cambridge. May our laughter and merriment shake the Rectory’s foundations and even reverberate enough to contribute to the rolling away of Good Friday’s tombstone gloom in the church next door. May the Rectory’s crush be duplicated by congregational crush at all our lovely Holy Week and Easter services. We look forward to seeing you all there at all of them. At the Holy Saturday Ceremonies at 7.00pm we plan to baptize our first grandchild, and will be cracking a bottle or two afterwards to celebrate both the Resurrection and her entry into the risen Lord’s community of faith. Andrew Neaum