Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Back in harness

Dunedin - the community I feel compelled to minister among.
First day back at work
Today is my first day back at work after my summer holidays. I have so far completed nine hours for the day with some more preparation work I want to get under my belt before I head to bed. This week we crank up the church activities for the year. Our Space2B lunch time open times begins tomorrow. Our Friday night drop-in centre begins on Friday. I am back taking church services on Sunday and of course today I began to visit chaplaincy sites. Last night I went up "my mountain" (Mount Cargill) and thought about the year ahead. How do we lead the Church community to be a useful presence in the community, meeting needs and encouraging whole living? How do I balance all the various responsibilities I have? From the top of the mountain I looked over the city and I thought of the various work places I visit, the suburbs and the people living in them I knew, the various ministries in the Church and I prayed about the year ahead. I hope this time next year I will be able to look back on 2012 and be pleased with what we have done. 
Good news on my health
During my holiday I had a prostate biopsy. It was not much fun and was made worse because the doctor doing the procedure exclaimed about the size of my prostate and decided he should take extra samples. It all sounded ominous. Today I went around to the hospital for the follow up appointment. While there is a little health concern, they said that as far as they could tell there was no cancer. I breathed a sigh of relief. They are going to see me again in 6 months. I was relieved to get that behind me.
"His truth is marching on.."
I have what is called a "progressive theology" that has an "incarnational-action" element to it. (A man once said to me, "Your theology is 'just do it!'")  My understanding of scripture takes into account modern scholarship. My emphasis is centred on Jesus being a model for living and for Church life. The Church should be a servant in the community as Jesus modeled servant living.  I spend a great deal of my time mixing in the community, and that to me is where the church should be. Our worship style is not "happy clappy".  Now my difficulty is that I feel out of step with so many fellow christians and my own denomination these days. There is a fundamentalism that is thriving, a literalistic theology combined with "happy clappy" worship, and while I have read and listened, I cannot be there. I have deep concerns about the direction of these emphases. I sometimes see deep damage being done. Often such people look at the likes of me and would see me as a heretic and even perhaps say, "No wonder his church is not growing much!" I certainly feel out of step often. But I cannot be anywhere else. This is what I believe and how I see the truth of Jesus. I do get despondent and feel alone and often up against it. I don't fit the old "establishment church" model. I do not fit the popular "happy clappy" model, but neither do I fit the "liberal" model. I am ... well "different" .. "peculiar" maybe. 
During the holidays I read a great book called "God is not a Christian", a collection of teachings of various sorts by Desmond Tutu of South Africa. In the days of apartheid he kept saying to his people and to any who would listen, that "this is God's world! A moral and just world! People who appose the ways of God should know that they will lose. Ultimately God's ways triumph!" He has a cheeky way of saying stuff. He says something like, "Actually we are being nice to our opponents. We are inviting them to join the winning side. They cannot win." He kept raising this placard of hope in the midst of the darkest days of apartheid. "God's ways cannot be defeated. History has shown that!" I read that and have been encouraged. I believe deeply that the basic directions of my thinking are "of Jesus". (Though I never live up to the ideals I see and have a whole lot more to learn.) In my gut I believe they are in line with the ways of God. In the face of few obvious returns and in spite of others who say I am on the wrong track, I have been encouraged to say to myself, "Ultimately, whether I live to see it or not, whether others agree or not, these ways will be seen to be true.  What I am living for and trying to express are the true ways and priorities of God, and they cannot be defeated." In the words it is said Martin Luther used, "Here I stand, I can do no other." Also in the words of the old song, I believe deeply "His truth is marching on!"  I begin my work for 2012, another year of ministry and chaplaincy with a certain amount of trepidation. The work will require real thought, energy and commitment. But I am encouraged by Tutu's example and reminder.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sunset on my holiday

I loved the colours of this pic from our last evening up the Rangitata Gorge

Back in Dunedin. Looking toward the heads of Otago Harbour. I had a head wind into town and back home again when I went for a bike ride today. Wonder what the bike seat does to my troublesome prostate?

The infamous teeth statues where I sat to catch my breath.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Holiday reflections

Standing in the current of the main channel of the Rangitata braided river.

The river bed is very wide with many channels we waded through. In floods this area would be covered. I wondered what stories that old drift wood could share? Where did it originally grow? How many floods brought it here?

Just “being”
We have been on holiday away from home for nearly two weeks. A lot of the time has been doing nothing or whatever takes our fancy in our isolated rented holiday house. We  did things like; sitting and watching a DVD or two - wandered down the river picking up interesting looking pebbles - had a morning cup of tea in bed and stayed in bed reading or snoozing - drove up the road looking at farms and scenery, stopped and had a picnic cup of tea -  just blobbed out reading. On our second to last day we decided to get active. We needed to go out to civilisation to buy bread so we thought we’d go to Peel Forest, where there is a little shop/café/bar and include a walk in the bush. While driving there (33k) we got talking about a second hand shop our sister-in-law had mentioned in Mayfield, (20k further on) so we decided to go there first. We had a leisurely lunch in a café there and then spent nearly an hour wandering this old cluttered second hand/antiques store… it was like a museum. (We made a total of $8 worth of purchases … big spenders we are!) That prompted a memory that we had seen a sign to a vintage car/tractor machinery museum in Geraldine, so off we went there.  We enjoyed another couple of hours lazily exploring another antique shop/museum and the car museum.  They had “vintage” plumber’s tools displayed… I still have the same ones in my workshop! We had owned the same make and model of a couple of the cars displayed. An old Fordson tractor on display was the same model that was the very first vehicle I ever drove. We stopped by a café for a lazy cup of tea, joking with the waitress then dawdled our way home. It was not the exercise we had planned for the day, but that’s the nature of our holiday. We did whatever took our fancy. At the holiday house the lawns and garden were not our responsibility.  I did decide to pull a faulty door handle to bits and fix it. It was annoying me, but no other “work” was done.
It is a strange feeling going from a lifestyle where there does not seem enough hours in the day to doing “whatever whenever”. In some ways at first it is frustrating.  There is no outlet for creativity. Who am I if I do nothing? But I got used to it. I read, reflected and refreshed those deep motivations that drive my life and make me who I am. It has been an experience of renewing and refreshing my “centre”. It is good doing nothing, so often we fill even holidays with things to do, destinations, people-to-see and deadlines.
Health changes.
It is interesting, there are changes to the way my body operates when on holiday. I have slept like a log. (During the year I have long periods of wakefulness in the middle of the night) Often too I have dropped to sleep while reading after lunch. It is like I was making up for a year of insufficient sleep. In recent months I have had trouble with sensitive teeth. Hot drinks annoy and ice cream makes me scream. I recognise that this happens for me when I am stressed. On holiday it does not happen. There are other symptoms that I will not divulge which have disappeared while on holiday. I am glad that there are plans to lessen my workload this year. I think it will be better for me.

The other adaptation I had to make on holiday is that I was not “connected”. There was no cell phone coverage away up Rangitata Gorge where we were. A toll bar on the phone allowed family to phone us if there was an emergency, but we could not phone out. Of course there was no Internet connection, even though I had my laptop. I found this so difficult to start with. At home I so often give up on the mindless TV programs and go watch a TED talk, check out the latest news and views on the net, do a blog post and check out other’s blogs and of course there’s Facebook. I read commentaries and theological stuff on line. I have some friends I chat with on Facebook. I have some overseas contacts I Skype with. But on holiday I could do none of this. I could not even text. It was so hard to get used to at first. Then I remembered that it is not long ago we did not have such connectivity! I survived without it! I recognised a sort of addiction to the World Wide Web. It has been an interesting experience going cold turkey.
An old bridge on the way up the Rangitata River Gorge. Old people can still be exploring "new territories." 

Old implements at Mesopotamia Station. 
Written off as too old?
In the car museum there was an old 1940’s Morris Eight. Somebody had written up the story of the vehicle as if the car was telling the story. It was well done. The car “told” how once she could keep up with the traffic, but then discovered modern cars found she was nuisance on the road and sped past her. She “told” how for a time she had been retired to a farm shed but was now happy to sit in this museum where she could see people coming and going. It was a cute story. We drove up to the big sheep/cattle station at the end of the road called Mesopotamia. There and at other farms along they way you could see “retired” farm implements and vehicles left in the paddock or parked up in farm sheds. I got to thinking, “Is that me?” Am I an old man irrelevant, unsuited to this modern world? Am I an old “Morris Eight” unsuited to today’s roads? Sometimes the way younger people treat me I get to feel like I am a rusting old implement past my “use-by” date. I am often guilty of such thoughts when I talk to older retired ministers or people. They express views and thoughts and I’ll listen, but think, “That’s not the way the world is now! Those issues are old issues.” Maybe I am treating them like rusting old implements just as younger people treat me? The funny thing is that I feel I am still growing and really beginning to get a truer handle on life, faith and humanity. I think, read and reflect and get excited about the directions my mind is heading, discoveries I make and the connections happening in my world view. I am still dreaming of new possibilities for a different shape of “church”, community and world. Outside I am greying and shrinking in my physical abilities, but inside I am still blossoming. Sometimes too I look at younger people, young adults and people in their forties, and rather than envy their youth, I feel sad for them. The priorities they have, the things they get excited about, the ways they think often seem irrelevant and a waste of life when looked at from this later stage in life.  I am reminded of this when people my age and older are forced to “down size”.  We work and slave to gather “things” about us. We feel we are achieving, but very quickly these precious “things” become a nuisance and we can’t even give them away. From this perspective we wonder why we bothered in the first place? I sometimes look at lifestyles and think, "You are sure you are on the right track, and you appear to be enjoying the moment. You would not want advice from an old man, but I have seen the consequences, in health, in relationships and in inner well being down the track." I feel sad because of the paths and priorities often chosen. I often look at younger people and think, “You think you are so vital and you look down on me and count me out, but from my perspective, you’re investing your precious life in things and causes that ultimately don’t matter”.  Anyway, I digress, all that to say I don’t feel ready to be an implement parked up! Wisdom, proportion and perspective can happen as we age, and the younger generations miss out on so much by writing us older people off as if we know nothing. We older folks can be still dreaming, growing and adventuring.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A worthwhile interlude

On the shore of Lake Tekapo- Not a bad place to open the thermos flasks of coffee.

The hills around Tekapo.

Blobbing out at Lake Dunstan

We are on holiday away up the Rangitata River Gorge, in a house about 10k from Mesopotamia Station, the very end of the road in the foot hills of the Southern Alps.  The holiday has been planned since before Christmas and we were to spend about nine days here. We interrupted our holiday to drive about 800 kilometres to visit family. Not long before we left to come on holiday we received an invitation to my sister-in-law’s surprise sixtieth birthday party, to be held at Cromwell on the Saturday about the middle of our stay at this house. Our initial reaction was to say we would not go, we were away in the back country, it is a long distance to drive, we would have to stay away a night which would be more accommodation costs, it would be tiring, and after all we are on holiday from a busy “people-filled” lifestyle.  In spite of all these thoughts I did not click on “reply” because I felt uneasy about saying “no”.  This sister-in-law has had a rough ride to sixty, with several battles with cancer and other health issues. She has raised a big family in the process, and also extended love to a number of other needy children and young people.  She now continues to be a big part of her grandchildren’s life. They are sixty significant years of living to celebrate. So a day or so before the event while we were within cell phone range, we rang to say we would be there. Accommodation was arranged with another brother in Clyde and we decided we would take the opportunity on the way home to spend time with my wife’s brother and sister-in-law in Geraldine on the way back. It would be two days out of our blob-out “stay-clear-of-people” holiday. I was pleased we went for two reasons.
Family are to be valued
We arrived in Cromwell early in the afternoon and touched base with my brother at his work. (He is a real estate agent) After some refreshments we cruised around the area then lazed around in the sun on the shore of Lake Dunstan, arriving out at the hall early. (It was a barbecue meal) We assisted the daughters and families to decorate the hall and then as guests arrived spent the night eating, meeting and talking. I had conducted the weddings of the two daughters who were busy organising things. It was great to see them now as mature women, caring for their children and carrying on the same loving tradition as their parents. I caught up on nephews also, spending quite a bit of time chatting with one who is single, with challenges in his life, but just so upfront, straight forward and friendly. After assisting a little with the clean up, we drove through to Clyde and spent the night and much of the next morning with my brother and his wife there. It was good to have time to chat; we enjoy their company and perspectives on life. Loaded with gifts from their vegetable garden, we headed back to our isolation, stopping to catch up on my wife’s brother in a rest home in Geraldine. He has been an active man, but in the last couple of years his health has taken a turn for the worst. He talked of the process of recognising that so many of the things he loved doing and had dreamed of doing he could no longer do. Other residents, who in spite of difficulties were still making something of their lives, had been an encouragement to him. We spent a brief time around with his wife, who is working on “down sizing”. 
All these people are family. If I got into a theological discussion with some of them we would differ. They live different lifestyles than I do, most are much more affluent than I am. There are, however, lots of shared values, and these people accept me as I am. At the sixtieth one man spoke saying that his association with the Brown family went back to primary school days. That’s what I got to thinking. These people we were visiting are family. We have journeyed the journey of life together. We have had the same sort of childhood experiences, we have celebrated together, cried together, seen our children grow, been there and heard about each other’s tough times and good times. While we lived in different parts of the country, and led different lives there is something special about that long-term history. It was good and worthwhile to make the effort to be with them. I enjoyed their company. Family is important and I am fortunate to have an extended family made up of some lovely and loving people.
Amazing scenery!
The car’s speedometer told us we travelled just under 800 kilometres. We drove from our isolated but very scenic river gorge through to the small mid-Canterbury town of Geraldine. There is some lovely farmland all around. From there we went inland again and over Burkes Pass to the beautiful blue lake of Tekapo. Rugged countryside with a backdrop of mountains surrounds this lake. We sat on the shore and had a picnic of coffee and biscuit bars.  Travelling further inland you drive along with a panorama of the Southern Alps before you. The beautiful blue of Lake Pukaki emerges, with Aoraki/ Mount Cook glistening at the head of the lake. (This mountain is the highest in NZ) The steep rugged hills of the Lindus Pass, with sign posts to various sheep stations give an almost frontier feel to the area. Coming out of the Lindis, you breakout into flatter Central Otago countryside. There are increasing numbers of vineyards all around you, Lake Dunstan in the foreground and rugged mountains in the background. Cromwell is situated on the banks of Lake Dunstan, which used to be two converging rivers until the big hydro-electric dam at Clyde turned it into one big, scenic lake with two arms to it. It is a playground for water skiers, fishermen and boaties. The whole area has a gold-mining history and then featured lots of fruit orchards. Now it is becoming a centre for viticulture and wine making. The final part of the journey was to travel down the lake to Clyde. The return trip travelled the same roads, but the kilometres travelled were no hardship. The scenery was simply magnificent and we once again appreciated the uncluttered and beautiful country we are fortunate enough to live in.    

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The work of an engineer/builder.

By the door on top of the meter box of the holiday house we are in a bird builder has constructed her nest.

It is amazing the plaster work and engineering (see the attachments and bracing to the wall)
I think I read somewhere they gather the mud in the beak and transport it to the site! Amazing creatures.

This is one of the old Totara trees in Peel Forest. They can live for 2000 years.

This Totara is thought to be 1000 years old. I love the big root formations.

Not alone...

 I am currently on holiday in Canterbury NZ. We are in the foothills of the Southern Alps, quite a long way from anywhere. I cannot get the internet, there is no cell phone coverage and the nearest shop is nearly an hour’s drive away, along a dusty, windy gravel road. I love internet access and being able to send texts if I want to and “people watching” so I have been feeling the distance and isolation, though enjoying the freedom to do simply nothing. The scenery, the vastness and quietness is astounding. I think two vehicles have passed by today. There is a braided river, (The Rangitata) mountains in the background and massive shingle covered hills all around.
Today we woke up (eventually) to a strong North West wind, so apart from a little excursion in the car we have stayed indoors, and both of us have had lazy holiday afternoon “nana naps”. I have read a book today, which is quite good because I am a relatively slow reader. I have felt isolated often because of how I think about Church, Jesus and faith. I sometimes think, “Do I belong in Christian Ministry?” “Am I still even a Christian?” “Why do I have so many questions and see so many distortions, yet others seem blissfully unaware?” I bought this book the other day, it is by Philip Gulley and is entitled “If the Church were Christian” with the subtitle of “Rediscovering the Values of Jesus”.  It is funny that while I am physically so isolated, and I often feel alone in the Church and in Christian ministry, today I felt “linked”. Philip Gulley asks the same sort of questions as I do! I am NOT alone! Here are the chapter headings…

If the Church were Christian...
1.     Jesus would be a model for living rather than an object of worship
2.     Affirming our potential would be more important than condemning our brokenness.
3.     Reconciliation would be valued over judgement.
4.     Gracious behaviour would be more important than right belief.
5.     Inviting questions would be more important than providing answers.
6.     Encouraging personal exploration would be more important than communal uniformity.
7.     Meeting needs would be more important than maintaining institutions.
8.     Peace would be more important than power.
9.     It would care more about love and less about sex.
10. This life would be more important than the afterlife.

In his book he essentially picks up the spirit of Jesus and then puts his ways alongside the priorities and practices of the Church and finds distortion. He rightly doubts that Jesus ever wanted to found another religion. I found in his writing a sense that at least one other Christian pastor is asking the sorts of questions I am troubled with. He simply rang bells for me. Of course I have not done so yet, but apparently you can check him out on www.PhilipGulley.org

I am also reading a book on NZ history, but my next holiday book to read is “God is not a Christian” by Desmond Tutu. Sounds interesting.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I have a problem with women.

I have a problem with women. No it is NOT my usual problem of wandering eyes and “lust of the flesh” etc! My problem is with relating to women. I am sure it stems from my relationship with my mother. She was, and had to be, a very organised and assertive woman. She never had life easy and was left a widow with five children. My issue is that I find it hard to cope with bossy women who love to tell men how to think and what to do.
Women in my life
I am not bereft of women friendships. I have a loving wife. One of my best friends is a woman. In chaplaincy I have women bosses. I have a woman counsellor/supervisor. ( the poor lady) I have people who come to Space2B who are women who I enjoy a friendship with. I enjoy conversations with Maureen, a stroppy good-humoured Irish woman who runs sustainability courses. I have women I would class as friends in Hungary and Australia, so you need to know it is not really a major debilitating problem. But it is an issue.
Handling Conflict
The problem is really that I have a problem with conflict. I am not good at constructive conflict anyway. I shy away from conflict. I often keep quiet when there are issues I disagree with.  Part of this is that I don’t like the rejection and disharmony disagreement brings.  Sometimes I think, “These people are not on my wavelength I will not waste my breath trying to convince them otherwise.” (Jesus said something about “pearls before swine” – though that sounds arrogant.) I often do not do conflict well, waiting till the issue has got big before I express my mind. This problem with conflict is exasperated when the person I disagree with is a woman. I am never sure how to argue with a woman, especially when it is a subject that engenders strong emotions. I also have an inner reaction to an overbearing woman.
“I’m smiling but inside I’m ….”
Sometimes when discussing stuff with a woman I find that they talk to you in a patronising way. You disagree with them so they say in effect, “Poor you, you must be stressed.” or “Poor you, you have not got the experience in life, to see it the correct way.” or “Poor you, your male perspective has distorted your view.”  I want to say, “No! I have a valid point of view. Listen to it and at least respect it as a valid point of view.”  Another patronising thing I react to is they will often put on the same parental tone of voice and start giving advice, or more bluntly, telling you what to do. “You need to….” “You’ve got to…”.  Now I don’t know how to say “Shut up!” to a woman nicely! I just smile, nod my head and say something lame like, “Maybe” but inside I am like a rebellious child giving them “the finger” or screaming, “Don’t tell me what to do!”
Don’t be a mother all the time.
To women I would say, “Don’t be a mother all the time!” Sometimes we men just want an adult-to-adult relationship, not a parent-to-child relationship. Patronising comments or actions, like a parent would do for a child just gets our backs up. If you treat us like you are the parent and we are the child, do not be surprised if we respond in childish ways.  Or, the thing men most often do, struggling to cope constructively with our reactions, we just withdraw and stop trying to communicate.  (After all, you are taught not to talk back to your mother.)  We then get told off in a mother-like fashion for not talking! Men want an equal to talk with, not a mother. I realise that women spend a great deal of time being mothers, but sometimes please make an effort to switch that off! I don’t want another mother; I had one and she raised me well, stop trying to raise me again! (this does not just apply to husband/wife relationships, I see the same dynamic happening in all sorts of other male/female relationships.) Let me give you a relatively harmless example from my husband/ wife experience. I started driving the car on a sunny day the other day. My wife was putting sunscreen on herself. Then she continued to put sunscreen on my exposed arms and skin while I was driving. It was, from her point of view an act of love and kindness. But I reacted. If I was her friend, or sister or her parent she would ask first, “Would you like some sunscreen?” and respect my response. If I was her child, she could assume the right to put sunscreen on without asking, after all “Mother knows best.” So when I as an adult am treated as if I was a child, a loving act feels like a belittling act. It feels like she is saying, “You are a child, you don’t know what’s good for you, mother knows best.” That’s what these actions, advice and patronising comments often feel like to us men.  (It is not just me, I listen to lots of men talk about relationships with women) Now I can hear women readers saying, “Well that’s just ridiculous!” To which I would reply, “I rest my case.” You often do not respect us guy’s feelings as having any validity. In some ways that refusal is your loss.
“You’re male therefore inferior”
When I was doing a social work class one facilitator was doing a word association exercise with us. We had to respond with our first thoughts to words she mentioned. She said the words “little boy” and one woman responded immediately, “Potential rapist.” This woman was an ardent feminist though in other ways desperate for male sexual contact. It feels like many women are like that. Any thoughts, feelings or ways of reacting a male has is to them somehow wrong, immature and inferior to the ways women react. It is assumed the truly “mature way” to act is the way women see things. Men may legitimately see things differently. I went to a workshop on “bullying in the workplace” run by a woman psychologist. As I sat and listened I got to thinking every time a male opens his mouth he could be branded a bully! The way guys get jobs done and communicate in male workplaces would be seen as “bullying” by these women. It is not (most often), it is just the way men communicate, it is just different. Don’t assume men’s way of coping is inferior or wrong- it is just different. I get annoyed with women who seem to think men do not handle life as maturely as they do. For example they think we do not feel, because we do not express our feelings in the same way as they do. It is just different, hear and respect the difference.
Let me give you two examples. At a workplace there was a group of us guys having lunch together. We were all in our late fifties or early sixties. Billy Connelly the Scottish comedian expressed men’s experience well. He said that when men reach the age of 50, the Doctor stops looking down your throat and starts to take an “inordinate interest in the other end of a man’s anatomy”.  We were a group of guys sitting talking prostate examinations, prostate biopsies, prostate peeing problems and other rear end medical examinations. There was a lot of laughter as we shared experiences and talked over the issues facing us as we age.  Perhaps too we did not use the right medical terminology, but it was earnest, honest and open discussion. We were alone in the lunchroom, but in an adjacent area, tucked around an open door, was a woman who obviously could hear our conversation. We were unaware of her presence. She was called away by the intercom. She stood up stepped into our room, levelled her parental eyes on me (as the chaplain in the group) “Well” she said, “At least I won’t have to put up with listening to your dirty conversation.” Then with a sort of superior “humph!” she walked out of the room. One of us spluttered, “We were just talking men’s problems!” but she wasn’t listening. I wanted to “give her the finger” and say, “Hey, we have men here open and honest enough to talk seriously through men’s health issues. That is good constructive stuff. Do not put it down because the way we are doing it is different than you would do! It is good, constructive sharing and caring!”   Second illustration. -  I was at a professional development day. The facilitator of this group was talking about the subject of leaving chaplaincies. She was laying down “professional boundaries” which may be fair enough, but sometimes Christian care crosses cultural and professional boundaries. She was also assuming that we all react to the loss of chaplaincy in the same way and need to deal with it in the same way.  The way of course is the way women deal with it. I felt uneasy about it all and by sharing a “what if” story raised a question and my hesitations about what was being said. The facilitator looked at me over the top of her glasses and said, “That’s not the way it is!”  I wanted to scream, “Well it is for me!” In a very firm, mother-knows-best slow determined way she laid down the law. I “smiled and nodded but inside I was giving her the finger!”  I was being nice and trying not to undermine her authority but I caught the eye of another very experienced guy across the room from me and he openly rolled his eyes in disgust. At the end of the session both he and I were headed out to the toilet. He is a very religious, loving man, but I heard him sigh as he followed me down the passage. “That is just utter bullshit isn’t it Dave?” he said. “I can’t go along with it. It is women’s crap!”  Another man joined us expressing a similar frustration and we commiserated with each other.  As I say, I have a problem with women. I have stopped attending some monthly meetings because for me they feel like a waste of time. Women’s perspectives dominate them and I can’t get into them. We have to reflect on how we felt about programmes etc. We have filled out evaluation forms now we regurgitate our feelings on things. What’s done is done, lets get on and do something else useful!  I raised this with my supervisor and she said that I should raise it and talk about it. I don’t think I’ll waste my breath, I will get another “mother-knows-best” lecture and my thinking will be belittled again.

As I say, I have a problem with women. The older I get the more impatient I get. Anyway that’s my rant.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Funeral for a city? Christchurch today.

Today in Christchurch was a lovely sunny day. After a lazy morning we went to the South City Mall to have some lunch. We then wandered up Colombo Street to see how close to the inner city we could get. The three days after the big earthquake in February last year I wandered around the inner-city Central Business District and saw the absolute devastation that happened. This walk brought back many memories of that time. Now as we wandered up Colombo Street there were many gaps and empty sections where buildings had been pulled down. There were empty buildings, damaged buildings and constantly you could hear the noise of cranes and machinery that is slowly but safely pulling old buildings down. There was a building that looked fine, but a crane was being used to empty it of furniture floor by floor. In the background a big high building with a definite lean on it, has been stripped of a façade and is slowly being pulled apart floor by floor. As we stood by wire fences the historic façade of an old iconic building was being chewed away by a massive machine that a little boy standing watching said, “Looks like a dinosaur!”  There were people like us coming down the road to watch the machines or perhaps see the damage. Quite a crowd was at each vantage point, many taking photos.
A quiet reverence
 The thing that hit me was that there was a quiet reverence as people watched. It was a cheerful summer’s day, with people in bright summer attire, (Gee the young women are wearing low tops and short dresses or shorts this season! - not that I was looking.) but there was a certain sadness that hung in the air as we watched the buildings being destroyed, and as we stood amongst empty buildings yet to be destroyed. People when they spoke did so in whispers and walked away in silence. Had we been standing where a year and a half ago there would have been bustling, busy traffic, with shoppers and office workers going madly about their business. Buskers would have been playing in the streets, music playing from shops and the constant clatter of walking feet and conversation. Now it was deserted, except for these people who looked like mourners at a funeral. It was an interesting experience. 
I hope the city will be able to rebuild something positive again. While I would not want to live in Christchurch, it is a lively city with a particular culture and ethos. It would be a shame if NZ lost that. There are so many old churches destroyed. My wife and I got talking. If we were ministering in one of those churches, what would you do with the insurance or earthquake commission payout? Would you do a building focused on a worship centre? Would it be a more community orientated building? It would be a challenging dilemma. Perhaps it is an opportunity for the Churches to become more "real"? 

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Old Farmhouse

I made this old sign that hung over the door. We still have it amongst our junk.

The Old Farmhouse – how we got it.
I graduated from Glen Iris Theological College (Melbourne) in 1975 and began a six-year ministry in Palmerston North Church.  I think it was in our first year there a combined picnic was organized between the Palmerston North Church and the Wanganui Church. Somebody sorted out a friendly farmer about halfway between and we gathered in a paddock on his property, right by a stand of native trees and bush and next to a big old farmhouse. The farmer, somebody’s relative, wandered amongst us chatting.  He lived in a modern house down by the road. This old farmhouse was the original where he had grown up. It had been divided into two possible flats when he and his bride shared it with his mother and father, but was now opened up into one very BIG old house. The old style kitchen (coal range) could fit a table tennis table so that you could play and still have the range burning. We got talking to the farmer about the house. It was rented out to some shady characters who were due to come before court for growing drugs. He had given them notice. “What are you going to do with it then? Rent it out again?” we were cheeky enough to ask. “No” he replied, “It’s not too flash inside and we have only had trouble from tenants. I’ll use it to store implements and tools. I might cut a hole in the side and use it as a hay shed.”  We went home and could not get this farmhouse out of our mind. We decided to be extra cheeky. We worked out we had three weeks holiday each year. To camp in camping grounds for those three weeks we would have to pay more than $500. We could holiday at this farmhouse. It could be a getaway place for us. We wrote to the farmer and asked if we could pay him $10 a week all year and use it when we were able. We knew we were being cheeky, but it would be better than it being wrecked as a hay shed. To our surprise he said “yes” invited us across for a meal and the deal was done. We had two small children, but knew more would be coming. We furnished it with old second hand bunks, chairs and stuff. A cracked old Table tennis table from the Church went down there. 
So many memories
The house was well used. We used it for holidays. We would go there (it was 26 miles out of town) and just blob out for lovely lazy summer holidays. Often the weather was hot and it was a great place to stay, read books, play with the kids and rest. Family from further afield would come and stay, there was always plenty of room. (It had heaps of bedrooms) There was a swimming hole in the river nearby, the stand of bush for the kids to play in and just a lovely lazy atmosphere. The farmer grew peas and invited us to gather peas from what was left after the harvesting machines had been through. We gathered enough peas for ourselves and other families to freeze for a year’s supply. I have a lovely memory of my little boy kicking his way through the long grass in the paddock singing at the top of his voice. We had youth camps there, with forty of us crammed into its rooms. I recall the kids spending hours with an old air rifle of mine shooting macracapa tree nuts off fence posts and gates.  Another time we made a circuit among the trees and one of the young guys had us taking turns riding his motorbike around. The atmosphere was so great, like a big family home. The parents would come on the Sunday afternoon, have afternoon tea, a barbeque evening meal and take their kids home. In the Church there were a number of young married couples with small children, just like us. Every now and then we would get together and go down to the old farmhouse after work on a Friday. We would just blob out there enjoying each other’s company.  We had a stereo and music, we wandered in the bush, couples would take time out together, knowing their kids were looked after.. it was just a great place to be. The farmer would park his tractor in the old orchard next to the house and say, “If the kids want to play on it let them.” We would often invite him and his kids for the evening meal.  I would go in and take the service on the Sunday and come back out for lunch. Sometimes other church members would come out for the Sunday afternoon.  We would all drift back to town sometime on Sunday evening. Burned out ministers would ring up and say, “We have a weekend off, can we use your farmhouse?” We used it once for a marriage enrichment weekend. There was a guru from Australia (Kevin Harvey) who was to run a weekend in fancy accommodation in Wellington. It turned out that there were not enough registrations so it was cancelled. We registered, my brother and his wife registered and my wife’s brother and his wife. Instead of cancelling out right, we all went to the old farmhouse with Kevin and his wife and had a great time. We got our $10 a week worth out of the Old Farmhouse.
Sensuous Farmhouse memories
We as a family would spend long summer days there. We were in our twenties and early thirties, had been married for a number of years, but were still very virile. Our favourite song was Billie Joe Speirs, “Blanket on the ground”. For three weeks we would wear the minimum of clothing, swim down by the river, sometimes with less on. We, as a couple, were so relaxed we could hardly keep our hands off each other during the day. At night after the children were in bed, no TV, warm nights (we could light a big fire if it was cool) in an isolated farmhouse, what else was there for a young couple to do? We lit candles and incense sticks and enjoyed night after night of imaginative, long, relaxed and playful lovemaking. We’d sometimes take turns at having a daytime nap to make up for the late nights. (I had decided early in my marriage that if I was going to get the quality and quantity of sex I desired, I would have to make sure we were both enjoying it to the full.) They were extra special holidays that we look back on with fond memories.
Coitus interrupted – two Farmhouse stories
We had my wife’s sister and family staying with us one holiday. It was a warm moonlit night so we asked if they could babysit while we went for a walk. We wandered hand in hand across the paddock to the patch of trees and bush. We sat on the grass in a clearing and talked. Intimate conversation led to physical intimacy. But wait… “What was that noise?” Probably just a twig dropping through the branches… carry on… more clothing lost.. “What’s that?” more noises. … carry on… then the unmistakable sound of heavy breathing that was louder than our own! We looked through the gloom. Definitely heavy breathing! May be two lots of heavy breathing? There were dark shadowy figures in the bush? This certainly dampened our lovemaking and gathering up our clothing we rushed across the paddock back to the farmhouse, stopping briefly inside the gate to dress before walking calmly into the lounge as if nothing had happened. We discovered the next day that the neighbour’s cattle had broken the fence and come through the bush into the paddock.  Second story… We had holidayed briefly in Auckland with friends, but had our car stolen while we were there. The police told us it was probably stolen for parts and that we would never see it again. We hired a car and drove back to Palmerston North where we had another little car. We went out to the Old Farmhouse to finish our holiday. It was on the Friday evening after dinner, we tucked the kids into bed and retired to the lounge, candles and incense sticks etc. We were enjoying ourselves when we thought we heard the noise of a car. We peeked out the window and sure enough a car was travelling up the long drive from the gate and was already almost coming through the orchard! What to do? -Blow out candles, throw out incense sticks, return lounge to look like a lounge, gather discarded lingerie and clothing, get dressed in respectable clothing, and (calmly) welcome the visitors. (phew!) It was two elders and their wives. They had received a message that the police had found our car in Auckland and wanted to let us know. (There were no cell phones in the 70’s) Their wives had made some nice supper to bring with them and they had driven down from town for a friendly sociable visit to the Old Farmhouse.  I don’t know if they ever guessed what they interrupted?
One of the crowds of people enjoying the backyard of the old farmhouse.
 Post script
Two things follow this story. After we finished there the friendly farmer sold the farm, and later got into a spot of bother and took his own life. We were very sad about that. We have visited the spot since and were pleased that the person who presently owned the property had restored the old farmhouse to its original glory and it looked like the stately mansion it was up on the hill overlooking the farm. We would loved to have been able to see inside it.

We are going on holiday to an isolated farmhouse. (I doubt the same things will happen with the same intensity at our age) It brings back memories of our old Farmhouse.

Inspiring and encouraging
I enjoyed this TED talk. Hope you do.

Isolation or engagement

Beautiful isolation
Before Christmas we began to think about where we should holiday. We felt we wanted to be nearer to Christchurch because of my brother-in-law's then condition. (He has since died) My wife declared she would like to visit Peel Forest so I google accommodation near there. One of the options was a farm house type place half an hour from Peel Forrest up the Rangitata River Gorge. Without checking exactly where it was we booked it for nine nights. It was only on Thursday that we actually narrowed down exactly where it is. It is away up in the foot hills of the Southern Alps, a long way from civilization, down a long gravel road, half an hour from cell phone coverage... it is isolated sheep station country. There is a short walk to a swimming hole in the river. There are walking tracks and mountain views all around, but it is a long drive on a gravel road to go anywhere. I guess we did not really want somewhere that was that isolated, but we will enjoy it. We will take books to read, we will just blob out, once we get there it will be good. We will recharge our batteries for the year ahead. We used to holiday at an old Farmhouse during our first ministry in NZ. We also lived for a time in a place called Apiti which was an isolated village in the North Island so we will survive.

"Re-charging batteries"
People assume that you have to withdraw to recharge batteries. There is a place for withdrawal, that is what my walks up the mountain are. Our house is a place of withdrawal, out of town a bit so we are not inundated with visitors. But I also find there is energy in engagement. As I encounter people's lives I am energised to make a difference. I sit and talk at chaplaincies and see people living superficial, selfish lifestyles, getting into relationship and inner messes because of that.  Because of these needs I see I have a growing desire to encourage and model the more fulfilling living that I see in Jesus. Reflection on the needs, while I am engaged motivates me to keep going.  So there needs to be a balance between engagement and isolation. Engagement  prompts useful reflection during periods of isolation I suspect.

Let me suggest another aspect of this dilemma. I recall reading of churchmen in the middle ages discussing such useful stuff as "How many angels can fit on a pin head?" I often get annoyed at fellow clergy being wrapped up in an ecclesiastical and academic world that seems to have little to do with the realities of life. Too much isolation, with an unwillingness to be engaged can mean we get distracted into trivialities. Sometimes these can be trivialities of Church life, of doctrine or of emphasis. When I sit in meetings with ministers and they are talking about the things they talk about, I often wish I could dump them in the mess at the fire station, or have them sit amongst people in the drop-in centre for a while, or ride with ambulance staff, then see if their priorities don't change.

Anyway in a while I'll experience nine days of isolation. I spent $180 on books (A book voucher given me) just in case it rains. It will be like our "Old Farmhouse" days. I'll tell you about those next post.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Vitality and frailty

Yesterday morning at about 9:30 a.m. I started to dig over a patch of garden that had been just sitting for a year or so. It is at least 20 square metres. (3.7 metres x 5.8) I dug and kept digging on what was quite a hot day, breaking the soil up and clearing weeds as I went. I stopped for lunch about 1 p.m. and by that time I was feeling dehydrated and my muscles were aching. After a break I went out and finished it. I was pleased with myself. I've still got it! Even though my exercise program has been hit and miss last year, I was still pleased I could do a big physical job and stick at it. (Last night I discovered sunburn and a couple of blisters on my hands though) I felt good about that effort. The day before I had set to and fixed a mechanical problem in my old Nissan. It had stopped working when we returned from Christchurch. I was quite pleased to be able to diagnose the issue, dismantle the part, test it, buy a replacement and put everything back together again. I have weeded my big patch of vegetables, cut long grass and done other manual labouring jobs. I am enjoying just plain physical work. It invigorates me and is a good part of my holidaying.

Today I go to hospital for a biopsy. The blurb from the day surgery unit at the hospital calls it a "procedure". - Translated that means they are going to do horrible things to me. It says there will be "mild discomfort". - Translated that means its going to hurt like hell. They tell me I will not be able to drive home and I have to be with "a responsible adult" for 24 hours. I had one of these a few years ago and it was not a nice experience. I was talking to an older man the other day and it seems like I'll be having one every few years from now till when I die. That is, of course, if they do not discover prostate cancer in the process. (I have been waiting for this one for over 6 months. If I have cancer I suspect it would have exhibited itself by now??)

Yesterday I felt like a young man able to tackle physical work in the same way I always used to. Today I feel like a frail old man on the slippery slope toward the end of life. Life is weird.

When I was in Christchurch on the morning of my brother-in-law's funeral my wife and I called to see my sister. My brother and wife from Australia had arrived and were staying in the house opposite. We saw them through the window and called on them briefly before venturing into my sister's home. When we did they admitted their thoughts when they saw us pull up and get out of our car. Apparently, when looking out the window, my sister-in-law said to my brother,  "It's an elderly couple calling to see Katherine."  They are older than me! (they dye their hair) I chuckled at the comment but felt like saying, "We'll go for a jog around the block and see who is elderly!" Even with arthritis problems my wife can leave younger women behind with long hours of physical work.  (e.g. looking after a big vegetable garden, lawns and animals as well as doing hours of voluntary work at the ED department at the hospital and the likes of our big Christmas dinner.)

When do you "gracefully let go the things of youth" and accept your old age status? I guess for the next couple of days I'll feel a bit frail. Wish me luck.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Sunday Church and lazy thinking.

My last service before holidays
On Sunday 1st of January I felt pretty low about the Sunday service. This last Sunday I felt better. Before Christmas I had to pre-record a radio Church service for this Sunday. I had looked at the main reading (the baptism of Jesus) and bounced off that to give some thoughts about why we do such things as baptism, communion and going to Church worship. I reflected on why Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry might want to go through John's baptism. In brief I said that baptism, communion and worship were "navigation points" for us in the journey of life, where we remind ourselves what's important and where we are going. Reflecting on Jesus' experience I said that in such things (a) we talk to ourselves remind ourselves of who we are. (b) we talk to each other and others highlighting that there are deeper, important aspect to life that need our attention... and (c) through these things God or "the sacred" speaks to us.  After last week I found myself questioning whether it was worth putting effort into running church services. About Tuesday I picked up the notes from my "radio church"  service, reread the outline and thought, "I need this message as much as anyone else!" I redid it, added various other elements and that was the heart of our Sunday service. With it being my final service before my annual holidays I rather selfishly chose hymns I liked and inserted two relevant country and western songs. (Waylon Jennings "I do believe" and a CD of "The Baptism of Jesse Taylor" by Johnny Russell.) I think from rapport while I was leading and the feedback after the service people found it meaningful, helpful and enjoyable. As I have been writing this I have received an email thanking me for the service and saying that it was "outstanding". Confidence restored.
Welcome Collegiality
A couple visiting the service were very encouraging. The wife did an "internship" with me several years ago when quite late in life she was doing ministerial and theological studies in preparation for becoming a minister. We worked together over a six month period and we "clicked". We had many animated discussions about ministry, theology and "church" and found we were on a similar wave length. We enjoyed working together.  Her husband's mother is a member of my church so I get to see them at least once a year when they visit the South Island.. Straight after the service she came up to me and we caught up on what each was doing. We so easily slipped into comfortable, excited, warm conversation for about 10 minutes. While I have not had the same working relationship with him, her husband also is on a similar wavelength so I later had a conversation with him. Our sharing was encouraging, affirming and renewed the sense of being on the same journey together. There are few ministers I "click" with, but when I do I appreciate it very much. It was a welcome "drink of fresh water". As she left she said simply "See you next year... go well!"
Emphatic Generalizations... Grrr!
I get annoyed so often with people who make generalizations. I often find this at the drop-in centre. People will say things like, "All Asians are bad drivers" or "Its all the Government's fault!" or "Bloody Gays, kiddy fiddlers!" or "We know what Catholic priests are like!" or such things. There are often so many statements like this, perhaps not so blatant, said in conversations I have in drop-in centre, our Space2B, amongst Church people or in Chaplaincies. These generalizations would not stand any real critical examination. The difficult thing is that they are often said in such an emphatic way that to question them you would start World War Three! I will often say in a sort of limp fashion, "Oh I don't think it is as simple as that!" or some other questioning statement. To really analyse the subject being raised would take some detailed thought and discussion, so often it is easier to just let it slide. But it annoys me!
What does annoy me too is that often, because they are said so emphatically, people take heed. Politicians and religious leaders can get away with blue murder by making emphatic, simplistic generalizations and lazy thinkers are drawn to them because they seem to be "leadership material", people who know what they think and believe. True leaders and thinkers, think more carefully, critically and analytically about things but many people do not have the interest, the energy or will power to follow their more detailed, but accurate thought. We need to recognise that life is NOT simple. Understanding people and society is not an easy thing. We ARE all different. A part of being real and honest in life is to say, "Look I don't know!" or "This is complicated and needs more thought!' or "There are wider implications!" or "There are different approaches needed for different people."  But such statements, while real, honest and probably more constructive, do not engender "confidence" and so people prefer to give and to listen to inaccurate generalizations.
Education and wisdom should lead us not to make generalizations. Glen Turner, one of the best NZ cricket batsmen from the past has talked about cricketers practicing in the nets. He emphasised that as well as practicing to hit balls, they need to practice to leave balls, or let balls go. He maintained that for test cricket in particular, batsmen need to know when not to hit, and build that into their psyche. Education, as well as giving us knowledge, and teaching us how to problem solve and analyse, should also enable us to know what and when we don't know. We need to be ready to recognise and admit complexity and the unknown. Too many times we try to bluff our way through with emphatic statements which sound good, but only muddy the waters more. It is more constructive to be willing to say "It's complicated." or "I don't know" or at least put our generalizations in the form of questions. "Perhaps Asian drivers find it hard adapting to our roads?"  A fun verse which I have had scribbled on a bit of paper may be relevant...
A wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw the less he spoke.
The less he spoke the more he heard,
Why can't we be like that wise old bird?

That's my beef for tonight.

Friday, January 6, 2012

An inspiring brave politician? Can this be true?

I loved this speech by Russell Norman, the leader of the New Zealand Green Party in Parliament. I wish I had the same sort of depth and clarity of thought. He really is too good to be a parliamentarian. I voted for Labour in both the local candidate and party options. But the Green Party is probably where I belong. Watch his speech, it is worth the 15 minutes. It has inspired and encouraged me on a day when I have been struggling with depression. In my experience he has a better grasp of the way of Jesus than most Church-going-Christians and their leaders have. Here is a transcript of the most "universal" part, before he gets into NZ politics.

The context: the Christmas story
We're about to break for Christmas, a time for family, sleeping in, barbeques, trips to the beach, and spending time with our mates and family.
We will work hard and smart to repay the faith you’ve put in us to deliver a richer New Zealand with a smart green economy that works for everyone.
Our Christmas holiday has its roots firmly in the Jewish and Christian traditions. It's based on a pretty amazing story about the birth of Jesus Christ — "God in the flesh" as many Christians believe.
The story of the incarnation of God in a baby born in a stable is remarkable even to me, an atheist, because it's a story about the distant God of the heavens coming down to live amongst us on earth.
It's a story about that god decreeing that tyranny on earth and utopia in the afterlife is not acceptable and that freedom and equality must characterise life here on earth as well as the afterlife in heaven. It's a story of the birth of new hope.
The Christmas story tells us that a saviour of humanity came not as some great warrior or prince but wrapped instead in swaddling cloth — a baby born amongst farm animals, and in absolute poverty.
You know the rest. The shepherds in the field saw a bright star and followed it. Three wise men turned up with expensive-sounding gifts.
The baby grew up a carpenter in ancient Palestine, stirred up a lot of trouble later as a young man, and was executed by crucifixion, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, as legend has it, sometime around 30AD.
But the story doesn't end there. After his death, the new hope that sprang from the stable in Bethlehem started to gather steam. Religious and political elites were threatened by the wild growth of a new religious sect committed to living out here on Earth the values of their God, once worshiped from afar.
The early Christians shared their resources and lived with greater equality amongst themselves than had earlier been known.
They believed that the world on earth could be a better place for ordinary people. Countless Christians were martyred for their faith, such was the threat that they posed to the ruling political and religious elites.
By 112AD, even the farmers cursed Christ's influence; Christian beliefs on idolatry were causing a slump in agricultural markets as people challenged the need to buy animals for ritual sacrifice to Roman emperors or gods.
Two thousand years later the story of the brief life of Jesus Christ still resonates.
This is why Christmas is still such an enduring part of our culture. Christmas was the start of some unlikely trouble and the start of new hope.
How the story touches me
I'm not a Christian, and there is not historical certainty about the records in the Christian Bible. But what I admire about the Christmas story is that it speaks to values I share, including some that make me feel a little uneasy speaking from this place of privilege and power. I think you'll agree we're pretty far away from a Palestinian stable.
But like all parents, perhaps particularly those newly acquainted with the role, the story of change arriving in the form of a baby has resonance in my life.
And whether we're parents, grandparents, aunties, or friends, in our children we find our own awe at the beauty of our planet; they show us what it is to be truly open minded, and in their ferocious capacity to learn and grow and change we see that things could truly change and be better.
This Christmas we wish for all our babies to have their unquestioning need for love generously met; we wish that all our children are treated with patience and understanding, trust and commitment. And we wish that all our parents have the time, support and resources necessary to give our children the best start in life.
And for us here in Parliament, I wish that we have the intelligence and compassion to choose to make things better for those who depend on us to make the right calls.
Christmas as a way to understand what really matters in life
Mahatma Gandhi said this about Jesus Christ: "I believe that Jesus belongs not only to Christianity but to the entire world, to all races and to all people."
Ghandi was right. The hopes and values Jesus Christ articulated during the course of his short life are too important to belong only to Christians. They belong to us all: believers and non-believers alike. They live within us. They are embedded in our culture. They are reflected in most of the world's major religions.
These are the values that help to lay down the essential nature of what it means to be human and guide us to live a 'good' life — good to ourselves, good to one another, and good to the world in which we make our livelihoods.
I identify with the Christianity that teaches love and compassion towards each other, especially the most vulnerable — the widows, the orphans, the sick, and those in prison. Those values inspired some of the world's first hospitals, orphanages, universities, and reforms to the way we treat those who've broken the law.
I also identify with the Christianity that demands we live with truth and justice between one another. Those values challenged the status quo on slavery in Great Britain and moved Martin Luther King to march for equal rights for African Americans.
And here, in our home, it was through applying those same values that Michael Joseph Savage turned the state on its head in an attempt to offer cradle to grave security from poverty and despair. In fact, the very first act of the new Savage Government was to grant a special Christmas bonus payment to the unemployed. Now there was a true moment of Christmas in this Parliament that gave birth to a new hope that our political economy could be bent to protect the vulnerable. That was applied Christianity.
Finally, I identify with the Christianity that teaches an awe and respect for the natural world. The Christianity that says tread sacredly through nature because God incarnated himself in the world through the person of Jesus Christ. St Francis of Assisi wrote sermons for the birds and taught us to live simply and value nature for its own sake. Listen to the dying words of Father Zosima, a character in the last work of Fyodor Dostoevsky, the great Christian novelist:
Love all God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, … you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.
[The Brothers Karamazov]
The undermining of those values in the pursuit of economic growth
Those values of love, generosity, and a reverence for nature should not sound so out of place in this Parliament.
But the talk in here is dominated by a different kind of worship — one of economic growth, at all costs. We heard this mantra yet again today in the speech from the throne.
Today the Government said a strong economy provides the resources to then protect the vulnerable and the environment. But compassion shouldn't be conditional.
The protection of the vulnerable and the environment are necessary preconditions for a successful, fair and sustainable economy.
The economic and political agenda announced today undermines the values that we celebrate.
What's worse, we still have a virtually universal agreement in this House that mindless economic growth is the overriding purpose of government, if not society itself.
There is little discussion about the quality of that growth, the costs of that growth, or how we might share the benefits and costs more fairly. There is precious little discussion of how we could possibly have never ending growth in resource use and pollution on a planet which is ultimately finite.
Other parties in this House continue to represent the elite economic and social consensus of the 1980s and 1990s Labour and National governments in which we aim to maximise GDP growth and hope that trickle down will mean those at the bottom get a few crumbs. Thirty years later and many of our families are still waiting for the trickle down.
Even our private banking system can bring the world to its knees and escape largely unchanged from the melt down. The Westpac CEO earned a $5.4 million salary this year, which included a $260,000 tax cut — an early Christmas present from the government. Why is this Parliament giving taxpayer-funded Christmas bonuses to the obscenely wealthy and not the poor?
Christ didn't accept that gross inequality is inevitable and neither should we; isn't it time we turned the money tables over in the temple once again?
Our current political and business worldview has become so focused on endless growth that it has to conveniently ignore the increasing social and environmental collateral damage that comes from mindless growth without values.
This Parliament has for the last thirty years conveniently ignored things like runaway climate change, increasing inequality, declining water quality, and growing debt.
The unqualified pursuit of growth of any kind is no longer delivering the kinds of advantages it once did, at least not to most people.
We need to grow renewable energy not inequality and greenhouse emissions.
And international organisations like the OECD, the IMF, and the UN are starting to reflect this change of heart as they increasingly document and question the environmental sustainability of economic growth at any cost and the growing inequality within developed societies as wealth is further concentrated even as our economies grow.
We know better outcomes in health, education, happiness, and social trust are no longer correlated with growing levels of GDP in developed countries.
If the Government's measure of progress was expanded from simple changes in GDP to include social and environmental indicators, it would be pretty clear that in nearly every other measure of "progress", we, as a society, have gone backwards.
Our problem is not so much about earning more; it's about sharing what we do earn more fairly. We could earn more as a country but still be poorer if that wealth isn't shared around. The evidence is striking: less unequal means living longer, healthier, safer lives. And that's true for all of us, not just those at the bottom of the heap. More sharing is good for everyone. It's the big differences in wealth within our society that drive many of the major problems that now bedevil us. And it's not just about equality of opportunity. It's about equality of outcome.
It is not surprising that societies that allow their economic systems to produce great inequality are socially dysfunctional. How could a society be any other than dysfunctional when our society is deeply at odds with our fundamental values of caring and compassion for one another?
When those on the very top earn closer to those on the very bottom, suddenly everyone is better off: We live longer, we suffer less from mental illness, we're less violent, we trust more, we lock up fewer people, we have better health, we have higher levels of social mobility, we live with less fear.
I believe in a society like that, where we trust one another and look after one another — where we are our 'brother's keeper', not their bitter rival.
Good stuff Russell Norman... You are a brave statesman.. I hope "they" don't cut you down like we have a tendency to do with such people.