Archive for category Politics

ANZAC Day

This is from my weekly church newsletter, sent yesterday…
Tomorrow is ANZAC day, and we remember those who have served our nation in the armed services. Regardless of what we think about war and peace, and whether it is ever ok for Christians to take up arms, I believe it is right to respect those who, in good conscience, put their lives on the line for the sake of their nation. Having said that, I also know that most young people who enter the armed services have far less altruistic motives in doing so, and the reality of life in the services is usually a long way from saintly. So let’s remember that there have been occasions in which our nations young people have found themselves called upon to make supreme sacrifices – and many of them have responded with what can only be described as heroism. And let’s also reflect upon what we actually mean by heroism…

I wrote here about how our normal human fascination with power for its own sake leads us to cast our heroes in the shape of Superman, who, for all his moral qualities, is ultimately described as ‘super’ simply because of his physical power. In other words, because he’s the biggest boy in the playground. If there is no God, or if the gods are those of the pagans, then that is not only normal, but right. Nietzsche’s logic on this point is fairly compelling – though it drove him to despair. BUT believing in the God of the scriptures is to encounter a God who moderated the law of the jungle – from “If you injure me, I will kill you!” (Lamech – Genesis 4:24) to “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth – and no more than that!” (Exodus 21:24) and then the radical teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-40, directly contradicting this older law with his command to “turn the other cheek.” And then there was Jesus’ own demonstration of this different way of living; living without retaliation. Though, as he said, he could have called down “twelve legions of angels” in his defence, he was more concerned that his followers should do no violence, telling Peter to “put up your sword – those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” (Matt 26:52-53) Jesus submitted to extraordinary indignities for the sake of God’s mission – our salvation. And his life was consistent with his own teaching; he breathed forgiveness for his enemies in his dying moments.

This is not the heroic superman of our culture. He does not overcome violence with more violence, but with self-sacrifice. He trusts God to hold him, even in death, and to bring goodness out of the cruelty and senselessness of the cross. How often are we willing to trust God for justice? How often are we prepared for him to offer mercy to those who harm us – or even to offer that mercy ourselves, in his name? How often are we willing to let go of revenge – even just the satisfaction of being proved right. Paul teaches us that “we proclaim Christ – and him crucified; a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23). So it is today, too. Jesus, and his apparent ‘failure’ as messiah doesn’t look attractive to a world that worships technology and wealth and health and power. But those who enjoy these things know also that none of these things satisfies. Many are actually willing, in their quiet moments, to consider the claims of the crucified to offer a better way. We can make him available to them, not by trying to be as powerful, and wealthy, and slick as the world around us, but by living fully in the Spirit of the Jesus we follow. We can make Jesus known to our friends and neighbours by following him more nearly, loving him more dearly, and seeing him more clearly, day by day. We can make Jesus known by knowing him better ourselves. That won’t happen if we attach ourselves to the blinding, soul-sapping idols of the world.

Tomorrow we remember those who have fallen for our sake. Many of them would say to us that the hero they most tried to be like was the one who laid down his life for his friends. Not necessarily the fastest marksman or the hardest fighter. Let us remember them with honour, and let us remember – and love – our Risen Lord with great glory.

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The Human Cost of Consumerism

This video impacted on me – like a rotten egg on my Sunday morning face. I’ve lived in these cities, and met and enjoyed time with people like those featured here. I’ve seen the industrial waste dumped into the local farmer’s fish-ponds, and I’ve seen farmers turned off the land their families have been working for generations to make way for giant industrial complexes; leaving them with no option but to take new jobs for abominable wages in dangerous conditions. And, yes, I have a cell phone in my pocket.
What’s the answer? Well what about we start asking questions of the current round of ‘free’ trade talks. Because it seems to me that the ‘free’ market means the freedom of richer people to become even wealthier at the expense of poorer people.
How about we start insisting on fair trade, instead? How about we begin the long journey of changing our trade agreements, one commercial sector at a time, so that we only trade with those who offer their employees the same protections we insist upon for our own workforce?
How about we re-establish industries in NZ that have been outsourced (at great cost) to ‘cheaper’ (read ‘more easily exploited’) labour forces, and work to supply our own needs for things like electronics, and shoes, and fruit? What would it be like, if we all went back to eating food seasonally, instead of expecting to have everything available, all the time?
How about we offer favourable tariffs to enterprises that provide worker protections and benefits over and above the minimum standards (often non-existent) of their own legal setting?
Pipe dreams? Perhaps, but what are the alternatives? More of the same? More industrial deaths? More exploitation? Unceasing market ‘growth’ requiring increasing consumption of diminishing resources? More, More MORE?!
Perhaps we need to make a start on a new path. The one we’re on leads inevitably to a terrible cliff, and too many are falling by the wayside as we rush head-long to that drop. Perhaps we need to forget the ‘free’ market. We might end up with fewer consumer choices – but more real freedom. Until all are free, none are.

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On Being Sensory and why I don’t ‘hug’ online.

So I was walking home for lunch, and had to slow my stride to a dawdle in order to take in the luminous magenta paintwork on a car, standing out from all the whites and greys and dark greens around it like a red rose in a blue sky.  And as I drifted closer to this intense colour experience, the Roast Station in the food-court called out to me with all the richness of it’s many-flavoured meaty menus.  I paused to drink it in.  Then on I went around the corner where a fresh, sharp wind slapped my office-heating-flushed face alive and made me blink away tears.  It was a concatenation of arresting experiences, one after the other.

I love being alive to these unsophisticated, everyday pleasures.  I love the thrill such simple things give me.  They aren’t particularly meaningful, but they are immediate, unexpected, delights.

But when I was trying to write the title to this post, I struggled for words.  ‘Sensuous’?  ‘Sensual’?  Both words mean what I want to say, but they have become entangled – mostly, I think, due to advertising – with the erotic.  And there’s nothing wrong with eros.  The sensory pleasure of an erotic moment is right up there with the whiff of Richie’s Roasts.  But there’s so much more to being sensuous than sex.  Sex must, inevitably, have some societal sanctions attached to it.  Those sanctions, in our changing society, have become a battleground for competing world-views, and so much truth about sex is forgotten as we wage our ‘culture wars’ that other concepts, like sensuousness, are dragged down with it.  Now it seems like sex is the only sort of sensuous pleasure we still talk about.  And maybe chocolate.

What a pity.

Sensory pleasures, like the ones I described above, are so rich, so free, so easy to access and share, that they should be celebrated much more often.  But we lack the language.  Not just the words, but the very concept.  We need to relearn how to immerse ourselves into the goodness of creation around us.  We need to come alive again to the value of what we hear away from the jangle and clatter of industrial life, and what we feel beyond our protective fabrics, and what we smell and see and taste.  We are bodily beings and that’s something to celebrate!

And that’s why I refuse to ‘hug’ over the internet.  Internet interactions are great for the cerebral, but pathetic for what is fully human.   This morning on social media one of my acquaintance reposted a banner that said she needed a hug, and I could ‘hug’ her by reposting the banner.  I get that she’s lonely.  I get that being single she’s not getting anywhere near the physical affirmation I enjoy myself, immersed as I am in an affectionate family.  But I also get that reposting that banner will do practically nothing about that.  The initial author of the banner might be gratified by multitudinous repostings, and my acquaintance might (did) get some positive written responses, but did she get hugged?  No.  A hug is wonderful.  When my son or daughter wraps their arms around me and squeezes and holds me, I know I’m being loved.  It’s a bodily thing.

I don’t want us to stop expressing our regard for one another in non-physical forums, but nor do I want us to delude ourselves into thinking we can be human if we cut ourselves off from our bodily experiences.  In an increasingly touch-phobic/techno-centred society (see http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/20/young-people-japan-stopped-having-sex) we need more touching, not less.  We need to be more sensory, not less.  And we need to listen to and understand what our own senses tell us about what is good, what is enough, what is too much, and what is not enough.

'Far Away' XKCD comic by Randal Munroe

This isn’t saying that we should be dominated or controlled by our senses.  We can – and sometimes must – consciously endure sensory unpleasantness for greater goals; I need to defer my sexual desires out of respect for others.  I need to pass by the sweet-smelling fruit on the grocers stall and not just help myself.  I need to suffer the physical pain of a needle prick in order to give blood.  These are not pleasant sensations – but they are easily bearable given the vast range of pleasant sensory experiences I enjoy elsewhere.  Yes, we are far more than sensory, but we are certainly no less than, and enjoying sensory experiences in no way means that we lose control of our actions.  Let’s not expect ourselves, or those around us, to live in a state of sensory deprivation.  Let’s touch one another, and shower sensory blessings upon each other; give gifts of fragrant flowers, soft cloths, rich foods, and luminous colour.

Maybe then, when we acknowledge and enjoy the full range of positive sensory experience that is available to us every day, we will be less overwhelmed by the porn/violence/gluttony industries.

Go on, be a world-changer.  Really hug someone you love today.

 

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Tolerance

A British politician has offended a number of people with racist remarks, and a Guardian opinion writer has written about how annoying it is, in the 21st century, to still have to argue with people about why racism is not witty – it’s just wrong.  I sympathise with her, but I can’t agree with the headline: “Bigots must not be tolerated”.  Tolerated is exactly what they must be.

When we tolerate someone, it means we accord them the same respect as everyone else, but we disagree.  The alternative is to agree with everyone (impossible for anyone with a functioning brain) or to eliminate everyone who differs from us.  That last solution has always been the most appealing – and the most appalling.  Totalitarian societies everywhere – from the smallest schoolyard clique or over-controlled household to the largest of militaristic nations – have only ever produced facsimiles of freedom and happiness, and are always directly responsible for the rebellions they create amongst their own members.  Civil society – a loving society – in an imperfect world must grant others the right to be wrong.  We need to have some basic parameters for what level of wrong we won’t allow to overflow into action, and we have to recognise the impact of media upon people’s beliefs and therefore their behaviour; so we need some level of censorship, and we need to police behaviours that are clearly harmful.  But beyond those basic limits, we also need to allow other people to be wrong.  Because who knows, they may actually be more right than I am, and I need them to point this out to me.

So I think political bigotry is wrong – dangerously wrong – but it would be even more wrong for me to try to shut the bigot up.  In the age of the sound-bite and the tweet – wisdom in 140 characters or less – we are becoming dangerously unskilled in the art of argumentation.  We want everything to be resolved in a couple of snide remarks and a slick put-down, followed by a witty one-liner that is only barely relevant.  We want to be able to tell who the good guys and the bad guys are by the way they’re presented by media massagers.  We want to be led by the nose – provided our leaders smell of roses.  We don’t want to have to tolerate people who disagree with us, because that means engaging with people who are different to us.

Toleration is easy if we don’t have contact with people we disagree with.  It’s like William Booth’s first attempts to serve the poor of his parish; when he encouraged them to attend worship the regular parishioners complained about the smell.  He ended up instituting services especially for the poor, because the well-to-do wouldn’t tolerate the stink of poverty.  Isolating ourselves from those with whom we disagree or from realities that we find disagreeable is not tolerance; it’s the opposite.  Tolerance means staying close enough to be made uncomfortable, staying there while we try to deal with the difference.  In the end, we may still disagree, but we may also have made friends and learned to respect each other.
We might even have made a difference for someone else.   And that’s worth a whole lot more in God’s kingdom than a whole pile of self-righteous preaching.

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