Monthly Archives: January 2015

Derek Campbell 15 December 1930-15 June 2014


A tribute to my Dad, which my sisters and I wrote for his funeral.

We may be a little biased, but I think we can truly say that Derek Gilliland Campbell was a very special man. A doctor, sportsman in his youth, an elder in the Presbyterian church, someone who loved to create with his hands, a person of deep faith, and, most especially, a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather.

Our Dad loved to reminisce about his sporting days – he played first team rugby for Hilton College and captained their gymnastics team. But the sporting achievement of which he was most proud was as an oarsman, when he rowed for Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Games. That was when he was at Queens University, Belfast, where he studied medicine like his brothers and father and mother before him. He came from a long line of doctors, and he was proud of being DR Campbell. He loved Ireland and all things Irish, especially our Mom.

He worked very long hours as we were growing up, but he always made time to be at our special events, and would listen when we recounted the stories of our day – even if he nodded off to sleep occasionally before we were finished. Our Dad enjoyed his sleep almost as much as he enjoyed his food. He liked his nap after mealtimes, and we’d watch in great amusement as he’d nod off even before he’d left the table.

Our Dad loved his woodwork, and we’ll always associate him with the smell of fresh wood shavings. He’d relax in his workshop, creating things. He was also an organiser and creator of systems. Everything had its place; even his workshop was neat and tidy. He actually enjoyed creating rosters for the anaesthetics department at Wentworth Hospital. Dad was very particular, and had an aversion to anything sticky or out of place. Pictures had to hang perfectly straight on walls. For all that, Mom loved to recount how his own mother told her that, when she saw his scribbles on the walls as a child, she despaired of his spelling. He was always interested in how things worked, and would quiz us at table about all manner of things, trying to awaken our curiosity and hone our analytical skills.

Our Dad loved quoting the poetry that had been drummed into his head as a schoolboy, listening to music, and watching TV – Sewende Laan was his favourite. He loved the history of the Anglo-Boer war – he’d drag us off to battlefield sites in KwaZulu Natal and tell us the stories. He also loved biltong, Turkish delight and coconut-covered marshmallows. He loved fishing, especially with Oscar Willis, his best friend. It was such a delight to see the two of them together. They would giggle like kids.

He was shy and reserved when he was younger, so it was with a combination of delight and embarrassment that we watched him become so much more outgoing in his later years. He’d love to tease people, and had a wicked sense of humour. He had a nickname (often less than complimentary!) for almost everyone. He was the master of deliberate spoonerisms – his favourite was to ask the waitress for a ‘tot of pee’.

Church was always a very important part of his life. He was the Session Clerk for many years at Stella Presbyterian Church , and also served as an elder here at Stellenbosch United Church. He faithfully attended a men’s prayer meeting at Stella at some unearthly hour every Saturday morning. He and our Mom would read Scripture together every single day and he prayed for his family. He would pray for each of us, and our husbands and his grandchildren every single day, mentioning each one by name.

Dad liked being the rose among the thorns – he was so proud of his wife, three daughters and seven granddaughters. He accepted our husbands as sons, and thought the world of them. He was patient in the extreme, grateful , content, and generous to a fault. There is a verse our Mom often quotes, which really does describe him: “Better a patient man than a warrior; the one who controls his temper than he who takes a city”. He always, always wanted the very best for us. He was immensely proud of his children and grandchildren – sometimes embarrassingly so – but more than anything else, he loved us. And we will always be so grateful that he didn’t just assume we knew – he told us constantly. Thanks Dad. We love you too.

Latterly, he spoke often about how he was looking forward to seeing his departed loved ones again. We know that he is with them, and with the Lord. And, knowing Dad, he stopped on the way to quiz St Peter about the swing mechanism of the Pearly Gates, and he’s found a good place near the food at the heavenly banquet.


Alone and on Foot


This is a review of a book I’ve read for a course in Spiritual Direction …

Alone and on Foot

Brian Grogan SJ, Alone and on Foot. Ignatius of Loyola (Dublin: Veritas 2008) ISBN 9781847301345 (Paperback), 223 pages (Available here)

This biography of Ignatius of Loyola is an abridged translation of the Spanish Sola y a Pie by Jose Ignacio Tellechea. That original is noted for being by a compatriot of Ignatius, a Basque, who is also a medievalist and, unusual among biographers of Ignatius, not a Jesuit. This version, however, is by an Irish Jesuit. I am not sure what difference that makes, other than that it certainly strikes me as being very ‘Ignatian’ in this retelling. Biographers of Ignatius are fortunate in having both the Autobiography and witness statements for the canonisation process from people who remembered Ignatius, so the interesting small details and insights with which this book abounds are probably more than the imaginative recreations of an able storyteller. Perhaps as a result of the choices Grogan made in shortening the original, what we have here is a sharply drawn and utterly fascinating verbal portrait of Ignatius, with just enough historical and cultural context given to make sense of the story without losing focus on Ignatius and his companions. The narrative is the verbal equivalent of the delightful black and white illustrations throughout the book – simple, uncluttered, and quietly evocative of an intriguing personality.

Alone and on Foot tells the story of Ignatius as a graced personal history, and it is designed to be read slowly. The book is not overly long – 223 pages – but those pages are divided into 70 chapters, around 3 pages long. Each chapter should be savoured and mulled over; one can’t read the book in a few sittings. The final page of every chapter has a shaded sidebar with a sentence from the chapter quoted in the upper part and a question for the reader to ponder in light of the chapter at the bottom. It is perhaps this above all else which makes the experience of reading the book one of listening to a personal faith journey more than an historical exercise, and also a journey of understanding one’s own life story as graced history.

These questions enriched my reading experience, but occasionally they jarred by cutting across the direction of my own thoughts in response to the narrative, knocking them right out of my head, much like an ill-timed comment or question from a spiritual director might shatter a sacred moment for the directee. After a while I began reading with a piece of paper obscuring the sidebar until I was ready to reflect on the chapter, meaning I could benefit both from my own musings and the insightful direction of Grogan. Often these questions were predictable enough, but there were times they were utterly unexpected and illuminating precisely because they caught me off guard. One of my favourite was: “How do you think God finds the task of teaching you?” (p66)

I would recommend the book to anyone interested in Ignatius and the Jesuits. It is not a scholarly account in that only sometimes is the source of the material made explicit, so it would not be the go-to-book for historians, but for those who are interested in the spiritual life. For those engaged in Spiritual Direction, this book can accomplish several things at once. It is an excellent way to get to know the story of Ignatius, precisely because it is told as a graced personal history. The questions invite one to reflect on one’s own journey. It is also an indirect education in good questions to ask of someone in order to encourage deep reflection on their life with God. It is a concise book, but paradoxically not a book that can be read quickly. One needs to work through it from beginning to end, not dip in and out of it, and the best would be to read only one chapter in a sitting. I’d even recommend it as a prayer companion.

Zealous for truth


The words “it was reckoned to him as righteousness” are used of two people in the Old Testament: Phineas and Abraham (Psalm 106:30 and Gen 15:6). Paul and James both quote these words of Abraham as a model of the way of faith (Romans 4:3, 22, Galatians 3:6, James 2:23) , but Phineas doesn’t get a mention in the New Testament. Nonetheless, he casts a dark shadow over the life of Paul prior to his Damascus Road experience.

Who was Phineas? He was a devout priest in Moses’ day, Aaron’s grandson. In his zeal for God, he resorted to violence to rid Israel of someone who brought an outsider into the camp. The whole horrifying story can be read in Numbers 25. His reward for zealously defending God’s honour and the people’s purity was a ‘covenant of peace’ and a perpetual priesthood. This is celebrated in Psalm 106 with these words:

“Then [the Israelites] attached themselves to the Baal of Peor and ate sacrifices offered to the dead; they provoked the Lord to anger with their deeds and a plague broke out among them. Then Phinehas stood up and interceded, and the plague was stopped. And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation forever.” (vv 29-30)

I will sidestep for now the issue of God being implicated in the violence in Numbers (an issue I’m still wrestling with, and to which I will return in later posts) to focus on the model of righteousness that this encapsulates. Phineas is emblematic of the belief that God is worth killing for, that truth is so important that it must be defended at all costs, even with violence. This describes St Paul before he was encountered by the Risen Christ. In his own words, the old Paul was: as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Phil 3:6) Interesting that he uses the word zeal, a key word in the Numbers 25 account.

The old Paul was not a religious person who, unfortunately and unrelatedly, also had anger management issues; his violence was a direct expression of his devotion to God and commitment to truth. Paul didn’t persecute the church because he hated religions different from his own. He grew up as a Diaspora Jew, after all, surrounded by pagan religions which he may have looked down on, but wouldn’t have tried to stamp out. He persecuted Christians because the followers of Jesus were a movement within first century Judaism which also included Gentiles, outsiders. The early Christians were, in his eyes, transgressing the boundaries which separated God’s people from the unclean outsiders. Like the Israelite who brought the Midianite women into the camp in Numbers 25, they were violating the purity of the People of God.

Paul’s Damascus road experience forced him to re-interpret the scandal of the cross, to recognise in the disgraced, crucified Jesus the crazy foolishness that is the wisdom of God: the power that absorbs instead of inflicts violence, the justice that reaches out to and reconciles the enemy and the outsider instead of annihilating them. No longer would Phineas’s radical zeal be the model of faithfulness to God for Paul.

This violent zeal is still playing out in many places in the world where people harm and kill in the name of God. It also exists in more subtle forms, wherever people hate in the name of devotion to God. When St Paul was encountered by Jesus Christ he discovered that truth is worth dying for, but not killing for. Big difference.

[The idea for this post is taken from Michael J Gorman, whose books Apostle of the Crucified Lord, and the shorter Reading Paul have revolutionised my understanding of St Paul.]