David’s 2013 Christmas Letter

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

She gave birth to her first-born son
And wrapped him in swaddling clothes,
And laid him in a manger.  Luke 2:7

For us who have only known approximate fathers
And mothers manqué, this child is a surprise:
A sudden coming true of all we hoped
Might happen.  Hoarded hopes fed by prophecies,

Old sermons and song fragments now cry
Coo and gurgle in the cradle, a babbling
Proto-language which as soon as it gets
A tongue (and we, of course, grow open ears)

Will say the big nouns: joy, glory, peace;
And live the best verbs: love, forgive, save.
Along with the swaddling clothes the words are washed

Of every soiling sentiment, scrubbed clean
Of all failed promises, then hung in the world’s
Backyard dazzling white, billowing gospel.

Eugene Peterson, Cradle

Hilarem nativitatis Christi et felix annus novus!

Selamat Hari Natal dan Tahun Baru!


familia / keluarga

Mum solves jigsaw puzzles and admires toy diggers with her two- and four-year-old great nephews on Monday, practises tai chi on Wednesday, is committed to global mission and visits ailing members at Greyfriars Presbyterian Church.  Two SeniorNet computer courses showed how much she already knew!  We attend classical concerts, opera (Madame Butterfly, The Flying Dutchman) and theatre (King Lear, Spreading Out, The Darling Buds of May) with Dad’s sisters.

My sister Joy still lives in Berlin, relishing the arts scene and translating German into English – from academic texts to trade fair press releases.  Since 2010, she’s had four three-month stays on the Black Sea in Odessa, Ukraine, to improve her Russian and kung fu, and is back in NZ for three months over Christmas.


ambulare in natura / mendaki di hutan

After Christmas in Auckland I explored Otago with the Auckland Baptist Tramping Club.  Flooding rivers and 110 km/hr ridge-top gusts prevented some trips, but we made it up to French Ridge Hut where keas soared and melting ice cascaded down cliffs beneath Mt Aspiring, then camped in the grassy Matukituki Valley below.

With hills and harbours, cool, clear air and clean streets, Auckland is my favourite city for jogging (2-3 times/week).  I spent Labour Weekend in Pureora Forest Park, sleeping on a hut balcony beside hunters with pig dogs, then hiking to Bog Inn through tunnels of mossy green scarred by peeling red fuchsias.  In January, I’ll venture into Nelson Lakes and the Red Hills.


labor in academia / kerja di universitas

After computing alone in my Kuala Lumpur room last year, I enjoy the chemistry department camaraderie.  In June my boss and I were exiled to an admin tower, as steel jaws tear down the concrete block I failed to blow up in my experimental days.  Strange to see one’s past in rubble – shades of quake-ruined Christchurch, which Mum and I inspected again in January.

The to-do list never shrinks for our e-learning website www.bestchoice.net.nz.  Main players in 2013 were NZ (22,000 new school and uni users) & UK (5,000), trailed by USA (430) & Singapore (240), then Malaysia, UAE, Australia, Brunei, Costa Rica (90).  My “user1” account was on 23 Oct 2002; on 5 July, user number 200,000 signed up from Kuala Lumpur!


ecclesia et sermones / gereja dan khotbah

At the Auckland Baptist Tabernacle I preached to Asian students on Jesus taming storms, curing chronic wounds, and turning our ideas of success upside down.  In my first translated talk I had to freeze for a Japanese judder bar after each sentence.  The melancholic Jeremiah inspired a sermon trilogy at Remuera Baptist: The Conflicted Prophet, The Desolate City, The Suffering God.

After the Tab’s English service I scurry to Indonesian worship at St Andrew’s Presbyterian.  I catch enough phrases for an impressionist fuzz of the sermon, and a Friday night group mostly grasps my stammerings.  At Easter camp, I met older members who learnt Dutch at school, surviving the Japanese occupation, Independence, and the 1960s slaughter of half a million Chinese, when one gent took an Arabic name.  On Easter Sunday, the Apostles’ Creed set to Pachelbel’s Canon with slides of Christian artworks moved me.  Each Latin clause was echoed in Indonesian, linking my European heritage to my Asian haunts.  Since losing Dad and seeing more of the world’s broken beauty, I wait on the line carnis resurrectionem.

Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your new bride through a veil.  H. N. Bialik

A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.  Robert Frost


studium linguae / belajar bahasa

I’ve now read two Indonesian Narnia chronicles and my Malay imports like First 650 Essential Words and Animal Stories from the Koran.  In one book, twin boys Hazwan and Hazman learn about Islam from their parents, with bright pictures of prayer postures and Mecca pilgrims.  On YouTube, I found cartoon twins Upin & Ipin bouncing around their Malaysian village.  Language study is such fun, bringing a second childhood – to cite Tolkien, “Happy the sin of Babel!”

To complement such frolics, uni classes in Sociolinguistics, Language Change, and History of English – from Beowulf to black slang.  I’m fascinated how theology, language and history intertwine.  Malaysia is debating who owns “God” and who’ll be prosecuted for using the word “Allah”.  I’ve learnt that Europe is the least diverse language area, “primitive” tribes have the most complex grammars, and killer languages like Indonesian, Spanish or English will silence half the world’s 7000-ish tongues within a century.  Bible translators are linguistic conservationists, printing dictionaries and endangered oral lore – as a faith without a holy language, some say that Christianity is translation.

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.  Ludwig Wittgenstein

Far more than princes, states, or economies, language communities are the real players in world history.  Nicholas Ostler

Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.  Gustave Flaubert

The words slide into the slots ordained by syntax, and glitter as with atmospheric dust with those impurities which we call meaning.  Anthony Burgess


via ad orientem / perjalanan ke timur

Continuing my journey to the East at uni, I also audited papers in Global History, World Folktales, Asian Studies, Ethnomusicology, and Comparative Politics of South and SE Asia.  I joined both Malaysian student clubs, and followed Malaysia’s divisive 13th election online.  During Ramadan, I went to dynamic Friday “lunch”-time sermons.  On some days I fasted, watched rows of men prostrate in a mosque at dusk, and shared the feast, when my fingers spilled the most rice.

We are lutes, no more, no less.  If the sound box is stuffed full of any-thing, no music.  Rumi

I love NZ’s ethnic colours.  I’ve savoured Middle-Eastern food at Eid (end of Ramadan), Albert Park glowing with lanterns at Chinese New Year, gamelan music and shadow puppets at Auckland’s Indonesian Festival.  Indian restaurants and celebrations – like Holi when my beard became green and purple – have kept the smell of chappatis, rhythms of Bollywood, and cadences of Hindi in my heart.  In future, I hope to spend time in Malaysia-Indonesia sharpening my Malay, then in northern India to tackle Hindi – in the 2013 census, NZ’s fourth language after English, Maori and Samoan.

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.  Pico Iyer

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware.  Martin Buber


Live not in fear of mistakes but in the knowledge that no mistake can hold a candle to the love that draws us home.  R. F. Capon

Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world.  It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its cassations to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening, until the prodigals come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears.  R. F. Capon

See my 2013 posts with my reflections and quotes from Robert Farrar Capon – Episcopalian priest, cooking writer, wizard with words and lover of life – here and here.


Top Books of 2013

See highlights of my reading year at www.titheridgetalk.wordpress.com/books/top-2013/

When an angel
snapped the old thin threads of speech
with an untimely birth announcement…
Sterile, skeptics, yet we may be broken
to his slow, silent birth, his beginning
new in us.  His big-ness may still burst
our self-containment to tell us,
without angels’ mouths, Fear not.

Luci Shaw

Gloria in excelsis deo!

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