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Showing posts from 2011

Hallelujah Chorus -Quinhagak, Alaska

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I just loved this :-)

Render unto Caesar

A few weeks ago Martin and I read a well-known story from the book of Luke in the Bible.  To set the scene, it occurred in the week before Jesus was executed, when Jews from all over Israel had gathered in Jerusalem for a religious festival.  Tensions were running high around Jesus - this new religious teacher loved by the crowds but who the religious establisment saw as heretical and deeply dangerous.

This is our story:
The religious leaders sent spies to keep a close watch on Jesus. The spies pretended to be honest. They hoped they could trap Jesus with something he would say. Then they could hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned Jesus. "Teacher," they said, "we know that you speak and teach what is right. We know you don't favor one person over another. You teach the way of God truthfully.  Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" Jesus saw they were trying to trick him. So he said to them, "S…

So, who should I vote for?

Following my survey of the Biblical prophets, I scanned the websites of 12 of the 16 political parties currently registered in New Zealand.  For various reasons I decided to not even seriously consider Aotearoa Legalise Canabis, New Citizen Party, New Zealand First and The Kiwi Party.  I was looking to see what kind of policies the parties listed first on their websites.  All parties that seemed to be pitching themselves as a party that was trying to do things to improve the lot of vulnerable people went on my party shortlist for further consideration.  These are:
ManaLabourAllianceGreensUnited Future
The next question is: how to whittle that list down to a single party, using the leadership priorities I have found in the Biblical prophets?

My answer has been to try to list out actions I think a New Zealand government could take that would best improve the lot of poor and vulnerable people both here and overseas.  I will then compare those with both the parties on my shortlist (and als…

Results of survey of the Biblical prophets: How should leaders lead?

As I said earlier, in the light of the upcoming election I've been trying to work out how God might want our leaders to lead.  I've been somewhat surprised by what I've found.

As I see it, Christians in the anglophone West tend to adopt one of two political positions: 'family values' or 'social justice'.  I have always been part of the 'social justice' camp.  In doing this Biblical survey, my aim was to allow scripture to challenge that.  To my considerable surprise, I didn't find a single statement in the prophets that categorically seemed to support the 'family values' viewpoint.  Instead, what I found was material on the importance of leading the population in following God and material on the importance on caring for the weak.

I decided to ignore the stuff about leading people towards God: I don't live in a theocracy and it feels deeply inappropriate to me for our politicians to require Kiwis to follow a particular religion.  Tha…

How to vote

We are having a general election in New Zealand in two weeks time.  As I've been wondering how to vote I've started to wonder about how God would want (does want?) me to vote.  This has led me to wonder about what the Bible has to say about governance.

There is a lot in the 'history' sections of the Old Testament about the various kings of Israel, but they are kings in what is essentially a theocracy.  In that context it is natural that the main criterion for judging them to be good or bad kings is whether or not they themselves followed God and whether they did things that helped their people follow God.  However, I do not live in a theocracy and, while whether or not a politician follows God is not unimportant, I don't think it should be the number one factor.

In the New Testament there is, again, a lot on leadership.  However, again it doesn't seem all that relevant to my question, as it's all about religious leadership: either that of the pharisees over…

Carrying your cross and counting the cost

The more I read the Bible, the more I find in it!

At the moment, Martin and I are making our way through the book of Luke: the second of the four books that tell us about Jesus' life on Earth.  Today's reading was from the end of chapter 14:

 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish

Luke 14:25-30, NIV

This passage contains two ideas that are very familiar to me: "take up your cross" and "count the cost be…

Apple in China, take 2

A fortnight ago one of the digital technology correspondents on Radio New Zealand National's Afternoonsprogramme suggested that Apple's track record in China was no worse than anyone else's.  I rapidly emailed them an abbreviated version of this by way of refutation.  I was amazed and delighted to hear my points discussed, sympathetically and in detail, in that same correspondent's slot on today's programme!  Woohoo!

Praying the psalms

This morning, when I was praying about the political crackdown in Syria, I found myself thanking God for crushing the oppressors there.  I was a bit surprised at myself: even asking God to crush oppressors is a relatively new development, and I'm pretty sure that thanking Him for something He hasn't done yet is a first.

I know where both bits of this way of praying have come from, though.  As I've mentioned earlier, I now pray through a list of people and situations most days, and I've also read a psalm a day since near the beginning of this year.  Often I've seen the psalmist pleading that God will bring down or crush those who are oppressing the poor, the weak or the righteous.  More surprisingly to me, the psalmist also frequently thanks God for doing whatever he is currently asking God for - i.e. he is thanking God for doing something God hasn't done yet*.  It seems that these ways of praying have gotten into me and are coming out in my own prayers now too!…

A request from our brothers and sisters in China

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I originially wrote this for my friends but am putting it up here too in the hope of spreading the message more widely.
I would like to pass on to you a request from Chinese NGO the Institute of Public and Environmental affairs (IPE) and the women of Tongxin village.  Please don't buy electronic/IT gadgets from Apple, and please write to both Apple and the supplier of the gadget you buy instead, explaining that you are boycotting Apple because its factories are poisoning people in China.  Kiwis can contact Apple here, and the international contact is here (you'll need to click on the actual item you would have bought before you can give feedback).  The IPE hopes that this will pressure Apple into having a transparent supply chain (so that complaints regarding the actions of its suppliers can be made to Apple), and that the suppliers will thus be able to be required to protect worker safety and the local environment.

Awesomeness :-)

Things that make us smile?  This audio clip made us laugh out loud!

It's from This Way Up: a consumer issues magazine-style show on Radio New Zealand National that we both enjoy.  In between the articles they generally play random bits of historical audio.  The clip that found its way to the beginning of this article was just fantastic!  You can listen on for the actual article about LED lighting if you want, but it was the historical audio that made us laugh :-)

Daffodils and stained glass biscuits

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We're staying with Martin's sister and her family at the moment, and there's lots to make us smile :-)
Daffodills from their garden.  I look at these all the time when I'm resting.  In the background is 'Tom', made by Sandra (Martin's sister) and her daughter Kayla.
Stained glass biscuits, more or less from this recipe.  Sandra, Kayla and I made them on the weekend, with intermittant help from two keen but over-excited 10-year-old boys.


I love stained glass biscuits: easy to make, beautiful to look at and yummy to eat!

Good news to the poor

Near the middle of the Bible is a collection of 150 'psalms' or poems.  I've never really known what to make of them, but I while back I decided to try and read one each day and see where that took me.

I've recently completed my first cycle through them and finally, just in the last week or two, Ive noticed thing that a great many of them seem to have in common.  Psalm after psalm celebrates or holds onto the notion that the oppressors won't get away with their oppressing forever.  God cares for the poor and downtrodden and one day he will crush their oppressors and set them free.

Good news for the poor, indeed.  But what about for me, a follower of Jesus but also a member of the priveleged elite responsible for most of the oppression these days?

Sobering stuff.

What price security? What price life itself?

Vinoth Ramachandra, who works in Sri Lanka for the parent organisation of the Christian group I was part of at university, has written a reflection on the US response to the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Centre 10 years ago.  Most of it agreed with my own view of that response (the internet's good at helping you find material that demonstrates what a right-thinking person you are...), but the ideas in this paragraph were new to me:
It is incumbent on governments to provide security for their citizens. But when “national security” overrides all moral considerations, one is forced to ask whether such a society is actually worth defending. If my “security” is obtained at the cost of harming, degrading or endangering the lives of innocent others, then I should be willing to forego that security. Security obsessions are inexhaustible and insatiable; and once we go down that path, whether as individuals wanting to live in “secure environments” (e.g. gated condominiums) o…

Political violence in the Ivory Coast

This was intended as a comment on this blog post, but it became too long so I've posted it here and linked it from there, instead.
I've been praying for the political situation in Ivory Coast a lot since their elections earlier this year.  I've come to understand that a major contributor to the violence we were seeing back then was the strong belief all Ivorians seemed to share that there just aren't enough resources to go around.  People were fighting for political power for their tribal group so that they themselves could be confident that they would have access to the simple necessities of life.

I have been praying that the people there - and especially those who know Jesus - would dare to believe that there were enough resources for all.  I have also been praying that the global Church would be willing to do whatever we can to make that true.  And that has led me back to Fair Trade cocoa and cocoa products.

I'm pretty sure that cocoa is the major export earner…

How 'real' are real (vs nominal) prices/wages?

Whichever economist decided to call inflation-adjusted price and wage figures 'real' values had a real bad idea. It's a bit like calling an era 'modern' - what do you call your next degree of refinement?
I recently listened to a debate on the American economy where much was made of whether the average 'real' wage had increased since the seventies, and also watched a video by one of the participants (Horwitz) where he discusses cost of living; allowing for inflation (or change in average industrial wage); and the difficulty that the underlying products being priced change radically over time. Horwitz focuses on how the car you buy today is wildly different than a car from 80 years ago, so for only a few more hours of labour you can buy a much more useful car.
The next day I read this book review which quotes Christopher B. Leinberger's calculation that the need to buy a car adds about $135,000 to the effective cost of the average suburban house (in 2005 …

Cool patterns!

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During the recent cold snap I noticed something strange about my shampoo:

The white patches are where the shampoo's frozen! They're not quite solid, but they're definitely significantly firmer than usual. I think the pattern they make looks really cool :-) However, a few days later when the whole bottle had turned white, I realised I needed to keep my shampoo somewhere warmer for the duration. Solid shampoo is a lot harder to get out of a squeezy bottle than the liquid kind!

Microwave hotspots

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Inspired by this postmy brother spotted, the other day I found out where the hotspots are in our microwave.
I started with four poppadoms:
After about 15 seconds there was ring of cooked poppadom a bit shy of the outer edge of the rotating plate:


At 30 seconds the poppadoms were mostly cooked, but there were three curious dolphin-shaped uncooked patches, one of which included the centre of the rotating plate:
How did that happen??  It must be something to do with the intersection of the rotating speed of the plate and the peaks of the microwave waves as they bounce around the inside of the oven, but who knows what.

After a full minute all four poppadoms were beautifully cripsy, with only a few tiny spots retaining their uncooked plastickyness:

On the whole, it looks like our microwave cooks a whole lot more evenly than any of the four in the original post, but I'm interested to know that the strongest heat is to be found just shy of the edge of the rotating plate.  I'll bear tha…

Allowing God the centre

In recent months, something has begun to change in how I see God's role in my life.  Doing what God wants has always been very important to me and has already influenced a number of aspects of how I live day to day.  However, I've recently come to think that what God really wants is to be the centre of my life.  Absolutely everything I do ought to be shaped by and flow from that centre.
What does that mean?

I'm not all that sure yet.  For some people it means living a quite unusual life, such as the life of a hermit or of a wandering preacher.  But without a specific call to do so, it seems to me wrong to let go of the income, house etc. that you rely on to stay alive, or even to let go of the things that make you happy.  On the pragmatic side, I've recently had it brought home to me that I find it extremely hard to put aside my grumpiness and serve other people when I haven't done anything fun recently.  On the theological side, the Western Church has long believe…

Making requests to God

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As mentioned earlier, for years I've felt that it makes no sense to ask God for things.  He already knows everything, and can work out much better than me what needs to be done.

But just recently I've realised I've had it all wrong.  God wants to relate to me.  That's at least one of the reasons why Jesus died: so that God could talk to me1.  So of course I should tell him about what's important to me and how I'd like the world to be.  He went to some pretty extreme lengths so he could be in communication with me!



1 If that sounds to you like it's bordering on the blasphemous, it does to me, too!  But I think it's true, too.  Before sin entered the world, God hung out with Adam and Eve.  Then sin cut them off from him, and hence he from them.  Jesus came and died in order to remove that barrier that kept people cut off from God and God from them.

Cheers for the BBC

Last week I had chance to catch two BBC programmes about brutal prisons: an interview with Marina Nemat, an Iranian woman jailed shortly after the revolution 20 years ago which kept me sitting an extra 20 minutes in the car, and another with Kim Hye Sook who spent 27 years in a North Korean gulag because her grandfather defected.
Terrible stories, and in some ways I don't want to hear them. Heather definitely has to turn them off, as CFS makes her emotionally labile and these stories are literally bad for her health. On the other hand, it is important to know what is out there. Outlook in particular makes consistently good programmes, revealing so vividly the details of life for a wide range of people. Many thanks to the UK government.

Hyacinths!

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The first of the year, just starting to open!  When the spikes* are fully grown and the flowers are all open I'll bring them inside where they'll scent my bedroom and make me smile :-)  They're descendants of bulbs given to me nearly 6 years ago by Martin's Aunty Elspeth and every year it's a real treat when they come out.

*you can sort-of see another flower spike beginning to grow on the right of the photo.

Suffering

This is my response to a comment I got by email after my recent post on prayer.  My friend said:
You say you pray for daily bread for people. I have struggled to understand how God - who loves us more than the sparrows and who promised to provide for all our needs, can let so many many people die of starvation every single day. Here was my response (unpolished and mostly off-the-cuff with my trademark never-ending sentences) in case anyone else has been wondering similar things.

Those are big questions, and ones that I have thought about a lot since getting sick. Not just in relation to myself, but also as I have realised that someone in my condition in at least 1/3 of the world would die of it because resources are so tight where they live.

My first answer is that God didn't want it to be this way. He made us a perfect world that was 'just right', and his plan was for us to always live in that world that was perfect. However, we/Adam and Eve stuffed it up and now there is …

Singleness

Two of my closest friends are single Christian women in their mid-30s.  Both would dearly love to marry, but their prospects aren't great: there are simply more women than men in the Church.  And even if my own friends are able to marry there will still be a problem: a great many other Christian women will still be living alone.

How do we as a church deal with this reality?

In the wider world, singleness is less of a problem (at least in part because singleness in the secular world is not equated with celibacy).  But in the church there is a clear understanding that you will progress from being a youth to a young adult to a young married to a young parent to being a parent of Christian youth.  (Curiously, the path seems to stop there!)

Update: an older friend pointed out to me in an email that, once your children hit their teenage years, your success or failure moves from being judged on your own performance in this process to being judged on that of your children.

If you deviate f…

Heavy Heart to a Sense of Hope

I really enjoyed this post last week from Alison Sampson in Australia.  She's reflecting on Jesus saying that God's burden is easy and his yoke is light (Matthew 11:25-30), and also on being part of a church.  She concludes with the realisation that the work to which God has called her, whilst distinctly unglamourous, is transforming her into God's image.  It's beautiful, and the whole blog is well worth a look, too.  She posts about once a week.

Grey warbler

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Image credit: Tiritiri Matangi open sanctuary
Many times every day at the moment I hear the song of the grey warbler.  Click on the link to hear a recording by National Radio or download the mp3.  This non-descript bird has the most amazing song, and I smile every time I hear it.

Prayer

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At our church we have a slot in the service most weeks called 'Journeying with God'.  Anyone who wants can come forward and share something with the congregation at this time.  As I can't actually go to church, occasionally I record a little video to be played at this time.  Here is my latest one:

(I couldn't actually make the video work this time, but I also couldn't figure out how to put up audio on this blog, so this is an audio recording accompanied by a static picture of me sitting where I was when I made the recording.)
In it I share that I've never really prayed much for other people but recently I've realised that I need to, even though doing so doesn't really make sense to me.  As I've prayed I haven't seen it making a difference for the people I pray for but I have seen it make a real difference in me!  It's made me more involved in my community and more open to God prompting me to do things for the people I pray for, and it's r…

Decision-making

This is my response to this post on decision-making from one of my favourite 'green' blogs, the Green Phone Booth.I'm publishing it here as well as it has stuff in it that I've been wanting to put here about how we decide what's important to us - plus I spent so much time on it that it's just about killed me and I didn't want to waste it!
I hear you!

Around 8 years ago, I developed a neurological condition that means I have very little energy.  I'm literally only out of bed for 3 hours per day max.  The rest of the time I'm lying on my back, doing more or less nothing.  Almost everything* I do in a day - from reading blogs and writing emails to eating and showering - has to fit into those three hours.
*I can push it a bit on reading blogs and emails, and sometimes even on writing emails and blog posts, but not much and not often. I pushed it a fair bit to write this ;-)

Like you, I'm a details person: I enjoy researching things before I make my …

Feeling alive!

Recently I've been struggling: it's been hard to be patient and I've been having to really watch that I don't snap at people.  I've also been very jealous of anything that took Martin away from me (i.e. most things) and have felt irrationally neglected.

I've mostly responded by being cross with myself and trying to be less selfish.  However, the feelings of jealousy eventually led me to ask Martin if we could keep Queen's Birthday weekend (two weeks ago, and a holiday weekend here in New Zealand) as a weekend just for us.

After a lovely weekend of absolutely no walking (for me) and lots of baths, back rubs, talking, exploring, eating good food and general decadence I feel like I've had a respite weekend for a change.  I feel alive like I haven't in ages and the world is a much more copeable place :-)

Turned out I didn't need discipline to make me 'nice': I tried that, but it was decadence and a break from my normal routines that did th…

Being included

The other day a friend dropped by to say hello to me before the others arrived for a meeting at our house.  He told me about stuff going on at his work.  I asked a few questions to keep him going.  As he started to run out of stuff to say, I told a funny story - one that was tenuously related and that I'd told many times before.  He smiled and then the room fell silent.  I came up with another tenuously-related anecdote.  Painfully aware I wasn't 'keeping my end up' in the conversation, I tried to tell him about some stuff I'd been thinking about that I knew would interest him.  I didn't make a lot of sense, and made less sense as I went on.  I started to panic.  Finally, the last person showed up at the door and my friend was called through to his meeting.

I felt like crying.  I wanted to interact with my friend - to be included - but my fuddled head had made that impossible.

As I pondered it over the next few days, though, I realised something.  My fuddled he…

Making yoghurt

This post is a bit different from what you'll generally find on this blog.  It's my response to a discussion on Beth Terry's Show us your plastic trash! challenge.
I make yoghurt roughly once a week.  I like it and it's an easy way to get the extra calcium I need (I have to eat a lot of calcium to prevent my bones from 'demineralising' unduly from underuse).  It also provides one of my twice-daily protein snacks: unusually for a Westerner, I have to work moderately hard to get sufficient protein in my diet as I eat so few calories.  I particularly enjoy a bowl of thick creamy yoghurt topped with a swirl of manuka honey and a sprinkling of milk masala :-)

Over the years I've realised that a lot of people have trouble keeping their yoghurt culture alive batch after batch.  I've been able to use the same culture for around five years now and I believe that the key to doing so is being really careful to keep other bugs1 out of your yoghurt.  In other words…

God speaks through the Bible

While I have questions as to just what the Bible is, one thing I am sure of is that God speaks to people through it.  I am grateful to live in an age and a country where Bibles are readily available to me and to practically everyone I know.  I believe that anyone who reads the Bible carefully and in its entirety will meet God in its pages and will be challenged to respond to Him.

I also believe that God uses the Bible to critique (and judge) the way we live.  In a society where Bibles are freely available and are being read, people can only keep on claiming wrong is right for a limited time: eventually the truth will out!

I was reminded of this yesterday, listening to an episode of Outlook (the BBC World Service's daily 'human interest' show) that I had downloaded earlier.  One of the stories* was of Joan Mulholland, one of the many 'freedom riders' who were part of the US civil rights struggle.  She told how, as a kid, she had ventured into the black part of town.…

Older people

Everyone knows that our youth are our future.  It's seen as madness for any social group (from the local stamp club to the largest nation on Earth) to ignore or exclude them.  But what about old people?  While we generally care about them we don't squander many resources on them: everyone (including the elderly themselves) knows that they would be better spent on the youth.

But is that how God sees it?  This paper made me think maybe not.  It's one of the papers from the International Conference for Ageing and Spirituality 2009 hosted on the website of the Selwyn Centre for Ageing and Spirituality (I can't remember how I came across them but their whole site is well worth a look).

I find myself currently asking one question rather a lot: "do I think/do that because of a Biblical value/perspective or a cultural one?".  So do I think the youth are of special importance due to Biblical or cultural values?

This paper suggests that the elderly are a group requirin…

Mission statements

In recent years I've been trying to put into words what I'm trying to achieve through reducing my use of various resources, supporting Fair Trade, having the neighbours over for a cuppa etc..  I've often lamented that I can't put what drives me into 'a simple, snappy statement'.  And I've recently joyfully celebrated that I'm starting to be able to express it as a statement (although it's more of a paragraph than a slogan...).

Martin pointed out that I'm reaching for a mission statement.

I've always been sceptical of mission statements.  They seem so often to be nice banalities that mean little and have minimal connection with reality (aka the day to day activities of the organisation whose mission they puport to encapsulate).  It never occurred to me that I should want such a thing for myself.

Instead, I've simply been reaching for a way to express some things that have become important to me.  I want a yardstick by which to judge initi…

the Queen's birthday

Today in New Zealand we celebrate the Queen's Birthday (always celebrated on the first Monday of June, regardless of the actual date of birth of the current sovereign).

Presumably this day was instituted as a day to celebrate the British Monarchy.  However, no one I know of celebrates the Monarchy on this day.  Queen's birthday is just a long weekend: and precious as such because it's the last before Labour Day.  It's your last opportunity to snatch a long weekend away while the weather's still sort of nice.  The long grind of winter is approaching and after this it's all downhill till Labour Day.

It certainly doesn't have anything to do with the Queen!

On Waitangi Day we (increasingly) celebrate our  nationhood; on Auckland Anniversary Day we have a massive regatta to celebrate our Harbour - our pride and joy as Auckanders; on Labour Day National Radio, at least, puts on documentaries that draw attention to the fight for the 40 hour week and better labour …

Easter eggs

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About five years ago we decided to stop eating non-Fair Trade cocoa products.  A report from the BBC had recently come out documenting the ways in which children are abused to make our chocolate.  I can't find the original report, but this story contains much of the same information.  My recollection of it is that nearly 1/2 of the world's cocoa is grown in the Ivory Coast and 1/3 of that is cultivated on plantations using child slave labour: children who are taken under false pretences or simply stolen from their parents.  They were then worked hideously hard, "encouraged" by beatings with bicycle chains.

We decided we wanted no part in that.  If we had to buy our chocolate directly from a child who was clearly being so mistreated, we wouldn't just buy it and walk away: we'd try to help that child.  Just because we can't see the child being abused doesn't mean it's not real - it just means that we need people to tell us about it.

Over the course …