eavesdroppers

I used to work in sales at a lumber yard, where we sold all kinds of (mostly residential) building materials from lumber, to paint, to plumbing, electrical supplies, hardware, doors/windows, roofing, power tools, etc.  I grew up working with quite a few of these things, as my Dad was a residential framer.  Nonetheless, there were various things I knew very little about, having never used them.

Given a few years, however, listening to the advice given by co-workers, and listening to problems encountered (and solved) by customers, I ‘learned’ how to answer common questions.  I had never put in a p-drain myself, but I learned how to answer most questions a customer would ask!  Even more humorous, I had a co-worker who had almost no hand-on experience with anything we sold – yet nonetheless, she too learned to answer the common questions (often word-for-word what her co-workers had said the day before!).

I think this kind of learning is fine for what it is, but in various discussions I have, I often feel that others are (and I’m guilty of) operating with ‘knowledge’ they’ve gained from eavesdropping in this or that conversation or forum.  “Ohh, Aristotle was such and such…”, and “yeah, science has shown that…” or “Democracy was designed so that…”

This is the Wikipedia/Google-based knowledge that informs so many pool-of-ignorance building conversations.  People that know just a weeee little bit about a whole lot of things, pretending to be experts at it all.  “I remember seeing somewhere that…”

We… (cough) I… need to learn to just say, “I have no idea about that, to be honest.  Let’s both read up on it and get back to one another in [not 2 minutes, but…] a few weeks.”  Now that would just require far too much patience.

helped helpers

I’ve long held that disabled persons have a gift.

Albeit is is a gift that few if anyone want.  But some of the most mature, caring people I’ve known (in my youth work and elsewhere) have been people who have had the privilege (one nobody asks for) of having a sibling or child who is disabled. Disabled people teach us to care.

But in this post, I wanted to record a different thought I had related to disability – and it might have the potential to be a bit controversial.

I’ve noticed that there is much effort to help disabled persons to be as ‘independent’ as possible.  To live in their own place, to get their own groceries, to drive their own car – that sort of thing.

I guess my question is when does the good, humane task of helping someone ‘stand on their own two feet’ (so to speak) become something that ‘helps’ them into a lifestyle that is isolating, individualistic and thus inhumane?

I have a conviction that humans are made to be burdens to one another, and yet it is resisted both by those who fear being the burden, and by those who fear bearing the burden.  This resistance, I’m convinced (and admit to in my own experience and choices), is part of the pressure of living in an individualistic society where ‘freedom’ is defined by how many (often consumer) options one has.

More choices, though, can be an enslaving thing.  I know a disabled person who has (again) been placed in a living situation that isolates them, makes them feel intensely lonely, and contributes to them seeking out friends that encourage behaviour that has got them into legal trouble multiple times.

But this person, like all of us at times, resists the help that they need so much.  I once threw out my back trying to – at the last minute – shift all my possessions between dwelling places.  Help is not easy to ask for – disabled or not.  And help is not easy to give.

So I’m just wondering.  Should we ‘help’ disabled people to become like us?  People who too often don’t know how to ask for help?  Thoughts welcome.

“organised religion”

When people rant about “organised religion” they may or may not know what they are dissing.

Westporo Baptist Church (the infamous “god hates fags” church) has no official (or unofficial?) ties to ANY denomination or other church(s).  There are untold thousands of less-controversial churches and preachers, which nonetheless stray off into variously worrying forms of fundamentalism.

For these kinds of churches & pastors, ‘freedom of conscience’ and ‘the priesthood of the believer’ (both of which I hold to firmly), are held to at the expense of such things as accountability or governing structure (congregational or denominational).  Church “hierarchy”, like any kind of structure, can be wise or foolishly designed and implemented.

While I could never say that a pastor must have a degree to be qualified, the slogan “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called” betrays not a little naivety.  It’s not about insisting that a pastor must have a masters degree or anything, but at the very least, they should be accountable to someone other than themselves.

The Baptist Union of NZ does not require any particular degree, but in order to maintain your denominational registration, you must fulfill the (very flexible and practical) requirements within a “Ministry Development Agreement”.  I personally think (and I should, as a registered Baptist pastor, huh!?) this is a wise middle ground between a very dangerous brand of ‘independence’ (or should we call it anti-dependence?) on the one hand, and very constrictive forms of church ‘accountability’ (control!).

rights and responsibilities

Three recent events, a complaint about a sermon, a movie about Margaret Thatcher and a FB conversation about gun laws, have me reflecting on the tendencies of ‘left-wingers’ and ‘right-wingers’.  Both left and right folk will express concern for both ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’, but at different times.

On the topic of social welfare:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of the poor/unemployed
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of the poor/unemployed

On the topic of gun laws:
the right emphasise the ‘rights’ of gun owners
the left emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of gun ownership/use

On the topic of war:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of all humans to have peace
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of defending peace

On the topic of abortion:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of the woman
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of the man and woman

On the topic of ‘the environment’:
the right emphasise the ‘rights’ of individuals and businesses
the left emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of individuals and businesses

In all of these scenarios, I am interested in embracing the tension between BOTH rights AND responsibilities.  I’m interested in BOTH short-term practicalities, AND long-term wisdom.

I’m interested in social policy that is both generous and sustainable – that avoids the extremes of too much or too little assistance, which (ironically) both end up cementing the poor in their poverty.

I’m interested in gun laws that are both practical and wise – that avoid the foolish extremes of taking guns away or assuming that no regulation is needed at all – both of which will end up causing harm.

I’m interested in a military policy that is both prepared to use force, and seeks to be accountable to human rights – avoiding the extremes of an idealistic and passive pacifism on one hand, and a short-sighted/arrogant agression on the other.

I’m interested in an abortion policy that is committed to the quality and quantity of life for both the pre-born human and the mother (and father, family…) – avoiding the extremes of an idealistic, legislate-heaven-to-earth, fantasy on one hand, and a careless, inhumane, abortion-as-contraception nightmare on the other.

I’m interested in environmental policy that uses both legislation and education to motivate people and businesses to care for creation – avoiding the extremes of avoidance and assumptions that all is OK on one hand, and aggressive, undemocratic pushing through of eco-laws on the other.

night

I’m probably the only worship song leaders who, during a Christmas day worship service, introduced the song “O Holy Night” by way of a reference to the book “Night” by Elie Wiesel, which recounts his experiences in the death camps Auschwitz (which I’ve visited and will never forget) and Buchenwald.

The juxtaposition is too profound to ignore.  On the one hand, one of the best (if not the best) Christmas carols, singing about that great night when the Light of the World entered our world through the womb of a young woman.  On the other, one of the most hideously horrific glimpses into one of the worst (if not the worst) seasons in human history, when darkness in its blackest hue was manifest through human indifference, racism and genocidal hatred.  Two very different nights indeed.

For me, this serves as a necessary and unnerving reminder of yet another aspect of the doctrine (and more so the Event!) of the Incarnation.  Divinity did not only ‘come near’ to our world, it entered and united to it.  God did not unite to the best and most beautiful bits of creation, but to all of it, warts and all.  The Light of the World descended into the darkest pitch.  For the Early Church Fathers who debated vigorously how to understand the dual nature of Christ, he must be fully divine in order to save us, and fully human in order to effect the salvation.  The slogan they developed was, “What is not assumed cannot be saved.”  Thus, Christ fully descended into humanity.

It occurs to me that there is no place on earth, no hospice, no church, no home, no garden, that is so pure and righteous that evil does not touch it with its corrupting finger at least in part.  And conversely, there is no place on earth, no brothel, no wall street, no hard drive, and yes, no death camp, that is so stained and putrid that good does not scatter at least some small dots of light within it.

Reading “Night” was hard going, to be sure.  One cannot have a beating heart and not grimace at times.  But I was struck by the faint glimmers of light within such darkness.  The SS soldier who was kinder than the rest.  The fellow prisoners who sacrificed their own food, safety and lives for the sake of others.  The boy who played his violin for all he was worth in a room full of frozen, dying bodies.

There are few more faith-challenging realities than suffering on this scale.  For Elie Wiesel, this Night murdered his God and his faith forever.  One must not glibly respond with easy theological justifications, however sound they may be.  But suffice to say, for me, among other things, these little dots of light are whispers of hope, audible for those who listen for them among the cacophony of white (and yet black) noise which can be so loud at times.  In Christ, God is with us, crying with us, praying with us, shivering with us, sweating, bleeding, and yes, dying with us.

finished

Well, it’s been a good little while since I’ve posted, because I’ve been finishing my undergrad degree :)  I’ve turned in my last essay just this Sunday, which was one of two larger (6,000 word) research projects.  I attach links to the PDFs below.

Upon graduation in March, I will officially have three qualifications, one related to building houses, and two related to ‘building up’ people :)

AAS (Associate of Applied Science: Building Materials Merchandising)
DipPL (Diploma of Pastoral Leadership)
BappTheol (Bachelor of Applied Theology)

I’m not sure what my posting regularity or content will be like.  Time will tell.  But anyway, here are those PDFs.

  • orientation –disorientation –reorientation(PDF) a thematic integrative research project on homosexuality –Myk Habets, supervisor
  • alternative currency: An Economic Contrast of the Harlot & Bride in John’s Apocalypse & Implications for Alternative Ecclesiology in Consumptive Culture(PDF) theological research paper –Andrew Picard, supervisor

prophecy & politics

…funny how most (not all!) American Christians are happy to ‘get political’ when it comes to abortion and gay marriage (‘Oh yes, let’s fight for godly legislation!’), but scream ‘socialism’ when it comes to issues like benefits for poor, out of work, or infirm people – or (shock, horror) free health care…

Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims—
Laws that make misery for the poor,
that rob my destitute people of dignity,
exploiting defenseless widows,
taking advantage of homeless children.

What will you have to say on Judgment Day,
when Doomsday arrives out of the blue?
Who will you get to help you?
What good will your money do you?

Isaiah 10:1-3 (The Message)

eros-anthropos?

Admittedly a bit dated, but a 1998 paper by the Joint Methodist-Presbyterian Public Questions Committee suggested that for those “whose emotional or physical make-up means that it is unlikely they would ever be able to enter a mutually acceptable and honest physical relationship with another person’, prostitutes should be provided, and that “to deny such people any opportunity to express their sexuality physically seems almost inhuman.”

I’m particularly interested in the last bit.  It’s not hard to see that the statement locates physical sexual expression at or near the core of what it means to be human.  In the sexualised West, it’s perhaps not surprising to see such an assumption.  Transpose this specific statement (“It’s [almost] inhuman to deny people the opportunity to express their sexuality physically.”), into general key: “It’s [almost] inhuman to deny people the opportunity to express any/all forms and expressions of all desires & identities.”

mother nature as killer

The notion is reflected commonly in popular discourse.  Humans wreck the planet and the earth, the universe, or nature ‘fights back’.  Noah’s flood, local or global is nothing compared to what our angry step-mother-nature will do if we don’t change our ways and look after the planet better… Makes an entertaining novel, movie, etc.

Because in our culture, we are quite OK with the idea of nature (which has no personality, intentions or consciousness!) being the judge of humanity; but as for God (who is personal, intentional and omniscient), that is simply not acceptable…