Onion Skins April’17


Marion and I have just got back from Christchurch catching up with family and friends. Christchurch is quite a confusing city to visit these days……so it was time for Pete to check out his new smart phone and its direction instructions. Having a somewhat retro car we did not have one of those fancy screens on the dash, and we had also left the Christchurch map at home……talk about being organised!


The interesting thing about this technology was its “rigidity”. It certainly got us there but I felt really uncomfortable as I couldn’t get the “bigger picture”. After two days I gave up and simply used Google maps without the strident voice coming out of my phone telling me to “sort myself out”….and then giving up on me if I did not follow instructions. Marion was better than me at not following instructions [what’s new?!] but she knew where she was going much more than I did! What a wonderful thing to see Google not coping. For me it was a release to the real world and the infernal machine was consigned to the glove box to talk to itself.


What has this to do with anything? A lot really. It has a lot to do with our autonomy, and our sense of direction not only in relation to the map but in our lives as well. This sort of “logical thinking” with a device, seemed to take away our personal adventuring, our searching, and our ability to live with the tension of “not knowing”.


I have been reading a controversial book entitled “Mind Change” by a Susan Greenfield, a Professor of Pharmacology and neuroscientist talking about the challenges facing us with the advent of the internet, smart phones  and all the multiplicity of devices that go with them. She surmises that we are entering a new age where there are fewer questions than there used to be but lots of answers, whereas in the past there were lots of questions but few answers. Her thesis is that we are collectively losing our ability to think and quotes a guy called Mencken who has said, “ For every complex answer today there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong”!


“So what” you say, and where is there an “onion skin” in all this.....? I think there is and many of us are caught up in this “head long traffic” of life and are very familiar with that feeling of “lostness” and wondering where to next. There are many who may think they have it sussed and will tell us what we need to do, and this might include a hand held GPS……but I suspect it is the exact opposite. We need to peel the onion a lot more.


The reality is that we need to stop, and listen for the still small voice which is beyond all this complexity. We will find that He is standing beside us in the silence, despite all the traffic of life around us. He is the one who is our companion on the most important journey of all, our own lives. Our Lord is our “Anam Cara”, our soul friend for this the most important of adventures.


Perhaps Psalm 5 verses 1 & 2 say it all…..”listen to my words, Lord, and hear my sighs. Listen to my cry for help. I pray to you O Lord, you hear my voice in the morning, at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer”.


God Bless you all.

Pete Strang       



Onion Skins February 2017


I am not sure about you guys but I have had mixed feelings about coming into 2017. Christmas and New Year is a time of memories and some of these can be difficult

as there will be members of our families who do not come home for Christmas, or won’t be in touch and only we know the reasons, and not all the reasons will be geographical. There will be an ache in our hearts and sometimes a loneliness which

pervades the season. The hype going on around us, the news of yet more conflict in the Middle East, and the suffering of many people, pawns in the “game of thrones”, and religious wars played out by irresponsible leaders, does not help our peace of mind….. We also may have health issues which have become more challenging, and situations at work still to be dealt with….and what is more, in actually finding work these days, especially our younger people.


At our New Year Service at Caversham and Green Island, we were privileged to have the Rev Nancy Parker take the services. She dressed up as one of the Wise Men and had us on the edge of our seats hearing about their finding Jesus after following the star….but then “departing another way” as Herod the king had plans to kill the babe…and indeed, realising he had been duped he attempted to kill all the boys of a certain age while Mary and Joseph escaped with Jesus into Egypt, as fugitives, indeed as refugees. Nothing has changed!


I found this story quietly encouraging as it demonstrated that our Lord has experienced all of this. He is present with us now in the face of suffering, and in the middle of these seemingly insoluble problems. He is with us in our “rememberings” into 2017 and He is present in others that we meet in a surprising way.


Marion and I were on the bus the other day. One doesn’t mean to eavesdrop but sometimes if someone is speaking loudly in front of you and you have your hearing aids in you can’t help it! There was a somewhat tousled man talking about his kids in the UK, a marriage that had gone wrong on the other side of the world, and the challenges of the in-laws. The bus driver was listening intently and giving encouraging grunts from time to time….an unpaid counsellor!


While we were waiting for the bus to head back home later on that day there were a number of us all sitting on the same seat just below the Octagon. There was an elderly woman[ the same age as us I suspect!] “reorganising” the bus services at the top of her voice. Another gentleman came and sat with us commenting on the weather being so hot that the chemist had run out of sun tan lotion. It had been raining earlier that morning and the sun was nowhere in sight. We had to chuckle. Mentioning suntan “lotion” really dated him. A group of  Chinese tourists wandered past, spied us and smiled. I found these encounters strangely reassuring as it showed that life does go on, people are still talking to each other, encouraging each other, still debating, and there was certainly some humour abroad.


This humour and enjoyment was very apparent in the faces of those on our first January Jaunt to Pukehiki Church up at Highcliff, a beacon to the possibilities of  faith into the future for all of us.


God Bless, Pete S






                             Onion Skins May’17


I am reading an “old” book at present called “The Godwits Fly” by Robin Hyde describing life in Wellington back at the time of the First World War….times beyond the ken of most of us. It reads like some of Janet Frame’s writing, quite stark, but very real with a closeness to the earth and to life with its pathos and tragedy but there are “creeping through” moments of letting go and exquisite times of unbridled freedom and joy.

Take this description of the hills and gullies in Wellington; “the land was living like the sea, a land always alive, when it can grow hair and this place sent up scrub, trees, gorse and bracken, long grasses that wear, slipping in summer when feet run over…..” and again in complete contrast the hard reality as expressed by her father, John, to her mother, Augusta; “you’re putting more coal on that wretched stove. How do you expect me to pay the bills, and Sandra with the soles nearly dropping of her shoes…..?” I love the almost quaint grammar, which expresses such profound truths.


I was writing this at the Alto Café in Mornington looking out the window at the feast of humanity going about their business, a sight that always fascinates me. Last week I was doing the same thing “watching” but it was the many surfers at St Clair playing with the waves and Corron and Margi were my companions.


I went back to my musing and there was a knock on the window. I looked out again and there was an old friend of mine, for many years, giving me a thumbs up sign and smiling through the window. I knew this man well, and his troubles over many years. I knew of his sadness but the smile was completely transforming……..and then he was gone. I was left with this wonderful gift.


The sad reality about “The Godwits Fly” is that Robin Hyde subsequently became very depressed and committed suicide…..she was very “alone”.


By the time you read this Easter will have been and gone. There will have been the sadness but then the joy to follow and it’s significance for all of us. We might not be Robin Hydes in our writing but we still have imaginations and as we have read in Robin Hyde’s account the realities of life back at the beginning of the 19th Century, so we too can be real about what is happening for us, and for each one of us.


It is not easy being real about things, but the reality is there in our own lives and families, in Coastal Unity, and in our country and on the international scene….how do we deal with walls between people, and the suffering of refugees not of their making, and the exclusivity of our responses? How do we embrace others, whatever their belief? 

A smile through the window of a café is the beginning of the answer. It is an indication of friendship, and commitment to each other like our Lord has always had for us. I absolutely believe our Lord is present in these encounters.


It is an “in spite of “ love which takes us as we are, with all the sadnesses and difficulties but also the joys. We should go looking for the wind in the grass, sweeping over the hillsides and the snapping of the seeds in the broom and the gorse and rejoice in His radical grace which can transform this world and our lives.


God Bless, Pete S                      




Onion Skins March 2017


Life is full of conundrums, compromises, good things and bad things and a whole ton of experiences in between. I am sure that you could echo those sentiments and like me you would find it difficult to believe those who tell us that they are quite clear about “everything” in a sort of self righteous and religious way because we appear to be asking questions all the time or trying to find a way forward when things are not that clear.


This lack of clarity at times is I think an inevitable accompaniment of the enquiring life and mind. I remember my first day doing a locum in the Highlands of PNG at the Baiyer River Baptist hospital when there was no water. I was told it was the “dri” season. The reality was that the local “rascals” had slashed the pipes, as part of an intertribal difference and “payback”. The conundrum was doing surgery on those injured in these conflicts, removing pieces of arrow and spear, and much more serious injuries. I just insisted that the relatives leave their weapons outside theatre as they were allowed to watch the surgery to make sure I was not working any magic [ “puri puri” ] on their kin. This was a compromise for me in my ideas of how to manage an operating theatre but I didn’t have much option.


Talking about running out of water, the same thing happened in the Solomon Islands. We did have a very definite dry season, and it became a drought. The hospital did run out of water and the situation became very serious. The principal nurses, James and Joshua suggested that I talk to the Japanese fishing company on the northern coast. I really struggled with that as this fleet was depleting the coast of fish that the local people really needed as well as paying local villages cash for reef fish to use as bait, cash that was spent at local trade stores on soft drinks and “rubbish food”. I had to compromise however as there was no option. The Japanese brought over a tanker of water at no cost every day of the drought. It was a wonderful gesture and I guess in my idealistic mind I thought I might be able to talk to them about some of the other issues but I didn’t.


This brings us to the present day and our “predicament” as we move into a future that lacks clarity and we wonder whether the old traditions that we held dear are relevant any more. We have to accept that we are of this world , we are in this world, and our Lord is thoroughly present in the conundrums and compromises that are challenging us everyday. I was talking with Elaine Symonds of Green Island on the phone yesterday, about the Chaplaincy Collection coming up, and she said very clearly that the world was a very different from the one many of us older folk grew up in. She is absolutely right. Our society is “explosive” in its change and the same sentiments that drove Sir Albert Maori Kiki, premier of PNG, to write his book, “Ten thousand years in a life time”, are an increasingly part of our experience today. There is no “arrival” and is it says in Matthew 15 v3 the past is not holier than now. The challenges are immense, and in fact unprecedented. However we do not need to be concerned that God will desert us this world of complexities that many of us could not have imagined, not the least in the distortions of what Faith might be and the terrible judgements of our fellow man who may believe differently from us and who are displaced by war and circumstance which is not of their making.


Marion and I have just spent a week with our great grandson, Ash……a week of the digital world and smart phones! Grandad has been building up on the tutorials from Brett Taggart on how to use this new medium but not to be taken over by it. How do those young people of our future, mothers and fathers both working and having to work by circumstance, choose a church to attend and to become part of.  Many will make the choice using their smart phones and the internet and we will indeed have become another consumer item.


Are we, as some have suggested heading towards a churchless  society? I don’t believe so but as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, 12, “ What we see now is like dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face . What I now know is only partial; then it will be complete- as complete as God’s knowledge of me”. What a promise to hold onto in these days of so much rapid change and the ever present conundrums and compromises that confront us each day. Go well, and His presence be with you.











                        ONION SKINS June’17


I am still coming in for a landing after my scooter trip to Wellington. My head is full of experiences and in my sleep I am still negotiating the machine around tight corners on the inland route to Murchison over the Lewis Pass…..a diversion necessary at present because of the Kaikoura Earthquake damage to Highway One on the coast. In some ways it was a lonely trip as I was completely on my own and in survival mode, which was the experience I was looking for. In other ways it was a catching up time, catching up with myself, catching up with friends and having some wonderful unexpected encounters with complete strangers. As for a reason for the adventure I think the adventure part and tasting the forbidden elixir of being out on the edge again was the main theme but meeting old friends in Wellington as part of a the 1965 Med Class Reunion was very special, and likewise family in Wellington. Bruce and Jan send their love and greetings to all down here.


As for the moments which I will never forget, they really were the unexpected encounters and these moments were almost exquisite in their deeper meaning of what it means to care for each other. There is so much desperation around at present as to the “way things are going” but these experiences ran completely counter to that. They made my heart sing.


When I arrived in Murchison I was pretty done but I was welcomed to the hotel….it was like the wild west that place….and they offered me the woodshed to store the scooter for the night….there was a power cut as well [ a truck had driven into a pole!] and we were drinking tea off the wood burner…..it was surreal! The warmth of their welcome was palpable.


Taking your motorbike over in the ferry is a bit of a mission and was a new experience for me. You have to play dodgems with the big articulated trucks and when I came to tying down the machine I just lacked the grunt to do it. A “younger” member of the Harley clan saw me struggling and helped me to do it…..very special. I had it sussed on the return journey, thanks to him.


I had my scooter clamped in the Te Papa carpark….admittedly it had been there for 3 days but the car park attendant was just amazing. I was suitably penitent and he let me off for much less than scheduled and when I explained that I would prefer not to leave until the following morning he smiled benignly and with a quizzical, knowing look said I should just leave as I had arrived, “no worries”.


I must have appeared a little anxious to my son Tim about making it to the Ferry terminal by 8am on the Monday morning that I was leaving Wellington. The traffic is pretty crazy and changing lanes on a motorbike on the one way system was not really that appealing. He took me in hand and said just “follow me”, Dad. I said I can’t follow you, Tim, as you are on your pushbike. He told me to do as I was told as he was heading out that way anyway to work and it was on the route he followed every day.


I meekly followed and what a ride! I lost him at one stage but he came in from the left at another intersection and it was not long before we were part of the highway along the waterfront, four lanes plus and heading north. He was out in front and to my side at times doing at least 40 to 45 kmph which was about the rate at which the traffic was moving. There were lights to negotiate. He indicated to me to stick to the left hand lane, and then more signing that I needed to follow him left…..and I did, under the Northern Motorway and into the queue of traffic waiting for the ferry. As soon as we came to a stop an official said he should not be there with a pushbike. He smiled his disarming smile, gave me the thumbs up and disappeared. I must admit to feeling a bit tearful, as old men do sometimes……..if this was not an encounter of love nothing is.


Theologically I am not clear what this all means as I often lack the certainty of some of my clerical colleagues. This I do know however, and I quote Richard Rohr, “ The answer will come out of the struggle [ he uses the word “tempest”], an answer that cannot always be verbalized to even your children, and husband or wife. But it will be an answer that you know. It is a conviction that is deep and all pervasive. No one can give it to you, no one can take it away: It is a gift from God. You cannot prove it to anybody, but you no longer need to. Believe me when I say it: the deepest levels of faith will still feel like confusion…. but you are no longer confused by your confusion.


Thanks for a great journey.


God Bless, Pete Strang