Department of Spiritual Engineering

By Reverend Dr John Fox

Howdy, I’m the Reverend Dr John Fox, the new Chaplain here at UC. My bro Spanky Moore has departed for Nelson to soak in the sun and do something worthy with youth, leaving me a depleted bottle of gin, half a box of Favourites (that belonged to someone else, but I ate them before he said), his crazy big gothic chaplaincy house, and this column.  

That said, the Department of Spiritual Engineering still does “scones (they’re cheese now) listening, crying, arguing, spiritual crisis, advocating, talking smack, and growing basil”, and if you have existential angst, who better to help you with it than a disabled graduate in Renaissance poetry? 

It’s all God, sex and death. Have pen, will travel. So, by all means, email me (john.fox@canterbury.ac.nz), and let’s talk. 

Since I was a student here 15 years ago (BA/BSc, English and Biology), I’ve done a bunch of things. I did kids and youth work and family restoration in Aranui and Clendon. I was a hospital chaplain and a City Mission guy; I looked after students in Hall for the University of Auckland; I was an extremely low grade academic. I worked in public policy til it gave me a headache. My faith and politics evolved. I nearly joined a cult, decided not to, tried to change the world, burned out, got sick, went overseas, came back, got a PhD, fell in love, argued with a bunch of politicians, ended up a disability advocate, and then went to Jedi School to be a priest. And in all that time, I have never met two people that are the same. 

Each person is an active, unrepeatable miracle. My faith tells me each person is made in God’s image, sharing in His creativity, rationality, in His heart and goodness. When I think of the people I met and learned to love: the street whanau in central Auckland, the vulnerable elderly at the rest home where I’m proud to eat stewed apple as chaplain; the disabled people I’m a trustee for, and every person who walks through my office door, here’s what I know. 

First, people are more important than stuff. My old English lecturer used to wear a t-shirt reading HUMAN BEINGS ARE NOT RESOURCES. Each person has pains and gifts, brokenness and joy, a journey and a story. (Sometimes they even tell me what it is). Stuff will rot. Things break. Ideologies die. But to see into the heart of any human being is a profound and sacred privilege; to hear what makes them tick, where they hurt and what they love. To God, you are not an ID number.  

Second, I have given and received real love from all kinds of people, at all kinds of socio-economic places. I’ve poured 7 AM coffee for the homeless (“three coffees, six sugars, light on the milk”). I’ve eaten custard with the elderly and pizza with students. As a disabled person, I have leaned on the generosity of people with very little, and it’s never let me down. Chaplaincy to me represents human and spiritual values: generosity, hospitality, kindness, curiosity, courage, adventure, mystery, faith, hope, and love. Bigger than a bank balance. Bigger than our whole world, because those are the things that move it. When my mobility went away, when my strength and work and meaning went away, and all I could do was stare at the ceiling from a hospital bed, those things saved my life. And they’re bigger than cash.More important than stuff, more important than your economic value, more important than your job, is your heart, your character, the gift you are to others. And if your courage is failing you today, or someone else is being a gift you’d quite like to return, drop up and see me sometime. Higher values are only an email away. 

Department of Spiritual Engineering 

  • Mobile: 0272868349 
  • Office: Jane Soons (Geography) 404. 
  • Email: john.fox@canterbury.ac.nz