Friday 26 December 2014

Some photos from Christmas Day 2014

Our neighbours' pohutakawa right on our fenceline.
Christmas lunch with my parents, their friend Andrew and our friend Temi.

Our two candlelit nativity scenes (one on the TV and one on the stereo behind Martin's head).

This star of stars (given to me by my brother Keith many years ago) lights our bedroom ceiling.

Singing carols with Martin in our bedroom after dinner.
Advent lamps in our bedroom - the fifth one is finally lit!

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Reflecting on the 'Sydney Siege'

As the hostage situation in Sydney went on the other day, our Facebook feed filled with people saying 'too close to home', followed by expressions of horrified sympathy for the people in the cafe, their families etc.

They made me angry.  The conflict between Western nations and Muslim people (which this was at least piggy-backing on) has been hurting and killing innocent bystanders for years.  Why were people only identifying with the pain this caused when it happened physically close(ish) to us and to people in various ways 'like us'?

But as I prayed, God changed my perspective.  People in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen have for years had to deal with having loved ones killed just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time - and often at the hands of our allies.  Now that this was happening to people 'like us', Kiwis and Ozzies were starting to imagine what that felt like.  I prayed that that imagining would expand their hearts.  That we would extend our imagining to imagining the suffering of those others who are just a little less 'like us', too.

I don't know where that would lead, but surely somewhere good.

The terror of the people in that cafe must have been so like the terror of Afghan families, burst in upon in the middle of the night by Kiwi SAS soldiers.  May we remember them also.

Saturday 6 December 2014

The Feast of St. Nicholas

Today, December 6th, is the Feast of St. Nicholas.  In the region around the Swiss city of Basel where I once lived, this festival is celebrated with special bread people called Grättimänner.  Every year since I returned to New Zealand I've wanted to make them, but kneading the bread was a bit much.  This year, with our cool new Kenwood Chef beater, it felt a lot more do-able :-)

(Yup, that's me with the inevitable 'to-do' list on my lap...)

They look a bit munted, and they came out a bit dry (maybe I baked them too long?), but I'm still really pleased with them :-)

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Things that go bang

Yesterday we were quietly resting when we heard a funny noise - a loud bang, like something falling over.

We couldn't find the source, but later Martin noticed some water on the floor near the hot water cupboard.  When he opened the hot water cupboard he found this:

Over the winter, I've been putting my kefir bottles in the hot water cupboard overnight to get good and fizzy.  This bottle had only been there maybe 4-5 hours and had got fizzy enough to break open at the bottom, shoot up in the hot water cupboard and knock down one of the slats that form the shelves!

I guess the weather's warm enough for them to get fizzy on the bench again now :-)

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Fair Trade scorched almonds!

I'm rather partial to scorched almonds, so I was delighted to discover yesterday that TradeAid are selling Fair Trade ones!  (Or almost - from the picture it doesn't look like they're as chocolate-heavy as actual scorched almonds, plus they're cocoa-dusted rather than shiny).  I can't wait to try them :-)  They've also added chocolate-coated raisins to their range.

Buy online or find your local shop here.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Responding to Islamic State

Yesterday Martin wrote an email to our Prime Minister with the subject line "Thoughts on Resisting ISIL." I'd like to share it with you here:

Dear Mr Key,
I am aware that you face some difficult questions regarding New Zealand's foreign policy and our reponse to ISIL, and would like to contribute to the flow of citizen's comments which I hope you are receiving.
My high school choir teacher was (later) killed by separatists in the Philippines who bombed an airport he was travelling through.  His son pursues 'revenge' against them by helping others in the area build a strong civil society with no room or need for radicalism.
In that vein, let me urge you to strenuously pursue non-military contributions in addition to the current military support you have proposed.  I was struck by this recent article in the WSJ, arguing how rule of law and legitimation of small businesses can push back radicalism, and imagine you would relish that agenda.  I am also keen that somebody asks (and publicises?) who is buying oil from and selling weapons to parties such as ISIL.
Should it seem that we must engage militarily, please double check that there is some hope of meaningful success.  I would hate to be just making things worse because we were afraid to look disinterested.
If you feel that there is, however, a need to fight then I urge you to do so without regard for the risks of attacks against NZ.  If something is right to do, then we should bear the cost.  We should be generous, and not calculate solely for our own narrow interest.  I think that many kiwis will consider arguments along that line, particularly after Ebola has reminded us that it is foolhardy to leave other countries to rot as if we were not all neighbours.
We should also be confident that or society can sustain a few bruises, and resist battening the hatches so tightly that we come ourselves.
Finally, may I encourage you to offer a path home for those who got to fight for ISIL and realise the horror of what they have joined.  Be strong against those who remain radical, but help those turning back to find a better path and then to spread the lessons they have learned.
Thank you for your time, and I will be praying for you as you face these (and all your other) difficult responsibilities as Prime Minister.

Sunday 9 November 2014

The world is a big place

I try to expose myself to ideas from different places by listening to the BBC World Service, reading blogs and literature from other places and talking to foreigners I meet about how they see the world.  Yet I still frequently slip into tacitly assuming that everyone sees the world more or less the same way I do.

I was reminded of this today, while listening to a BBC documentary about gay refugees from Iran.  In New Zealand, people who think that gay relationships are wrong tend to advocate two options for gay people: heterosexual marriage (generally after some kind of curative treatment) or celibacy.

Apparently, in Iran, there are two options, too - but they're different.  Celibacy wasn't mentioned as an option (although maybe it is one) but the two main choices are heterosexual marriage (at least sometimes after some kind of curative treatment) or gender reassignment surgery.  I was so surprised!  I would never have thought that there were societies where people were against gay relationships yet in favour of gender reassignment surgery.

Just another reminder that the world really is a big place...

Sunday 2 November 2014

Home Improvement

Martin (with various helpers) has been a busy beaver in recent weeks!

The structure at the corner of the wheelchair ramp on which we keep various plants had to get moved when our house was being painted at the beginning of the year.  It was in pretty bad condition so we decided to make a new one rather than reinstalling it.  And now, 8 months later, it's all done :-)

It's not nailed to the ramp: the green wooden struts sit a bit above the ramp and keep the slats in place and the slats rest on the edge of the ramp.

I think it looks very nice and tidy :-)

But that's not all.  Martin can't carry me at the moment because of his recent back surgery, so the commode wheelchair is currently in frequent use.  Getting it from the bedroom to the toilet has always been challenging as the space it needs to get through is pretty tight.

To free the area up a bit we decided to replace our linen-and-tools cupboard/shelving unit with a much smaller unit.  We found a lovely unit on TradeMe, but that wasn't the end.  It's smaller so, although it fits all the linen, new homes were needed for the tools.

So we ended up buying a set of little basket trays to hold small things like nails and building a set of shelves with nails beneath to hang things to take care of the actual tools as well as bottles of solvent etc.

Here's a better view of the shelves: complete with baseboard and painted a lovely blue :-)

With many thanks to cousin Geoff for supplies and useful advice, Aunty Elspeth for sourcing materials, Anna for sanding and painting, Allan for the loan of his circular saw and Jan for loan of his drill and helping put the shelves up :-)

Thursday 16 October 2014

Hope in the future

Last week I was reading Psalm 52:
Why do you boast, O mighty one,
    of mischief done against the godly?
    All day long you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
    you worker of treachery.
You love evil more than good,
    and lying more than speaking the truth.
You love all words that devour,
    O deceitful tongue.

But God will break you down forever;
    he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living.
The righteous will see, and fear,
    and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
“See the one who would not take
    refuge in God,
but trusted in abundant riches,
    and sought refuge in wealth!”
But I am like a green olive tree
    in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
    forever and ever.
I will thank you forever,
    because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
    I will proclaim your name, for it is good.
As I listened to it, I realised how unlike the psalmist I am.  When I see people doing bad stuff I don't look at them, mystified, and think "how can you possibly think God will let you get away with that forever?".  Instead, I'm more likely to feel depressed or outraged.  Either way, I'm tacitly assuming they'll get away with it forever, just like they are.

Yet part of the Christian message is that that's not true! As the psalm says, "God will break [them] down forever; he will snatch and tear [them] from [their] tent; he will uproot [them] from the land of the living."

Because that's mostly likely only going to happen in the distant future, I tend to forget that it's so and live as if it's never going to happen.

Martin's reading a book about some of this at the moment: Jürgen Moltmann's Theology of Hope.  In it Moltmann is talking about how Christians often forget the big hope of the gospel: that a time is coming when God is going to make everything good and perfect.

One thing Martin mentioned from it that struck me was about activism.  Christians absolutely should be involved in striving to make the world a better place: that's part of being the 'first-fruits of the new creation' and of loving our neighbours as ourselves.  However, Moltmann argues that we shouldn't be overly invested in these things: partly because we know that they'll never really solve the problems of the world (just alleviate them somewhat) and partly because we know that the real solution is coming.

I found that really helpful in thinking about my own disappointment with the results of the recent election in New Zealand.  Yes, I do think things would have been better for the most vulnerable Kiwis if the Greens had gotten into government.  But things wouldn't have been utopian, because we'd still all be fallen sinful people, stuffing things up all over the place.  However, a time is coming when there won't be any poverty or disability any more.  I can hold onto the fact that the real solution is coming, and that tempers my disappointment that the partial and temporary solution I was hoping for isn't in place.

I've always been a bit nervous of focussing too much on a future where God makes everything perfect.  People insult Christians by describing us as people overly focussed on 'pie in the sky when you die'.  I realise now that I've over-reacted to that insult and have, instead, given far too little thought to celebrating the future God has promised us.

So over the last week or so I've been practising a new spiritual discipline.  Whenever I've been disappointed by something, I've taken the time to think: is that something that would occur after Jesus comes back?  If not (and it generally isn't), then I remind myself that things won't always be like this.
  • When I've looked at our dingy white hand towels (dingy because I've refused to use bleach for cosmetic purposes since I learned that doing so forms dioxins), I've taken time to celebrate that a time is coming when I can have beautiful things without destroying the health of my fellow-creatures;
  • When I'm tired and sore and nauseous, I've tried to remind myself that God has promised me a new body one day;
  • When I read of the suffering of one person in Sierra Leone who lost four people close to him to ebola in just one week, I mourn with him, but also remind myself that God has promised us a future without such dreadful grief.
May God remind you, also, of the good future he has promised to all his children, and may that give you fresh courage to face the challenges in front of you as you work as his ambassador wherever he has place you!

Saturday 4 October 2014

'Ethical' Kiwisaver schemes

See update re. Koinonia at end of post

The Kiwisaver scheme to which Martin currently belongs is being closed down, so we're on the hunt for a replacement.  Ideally we'd like to invest in a scheme that invests in something socially positive, but if we can't have that then at least we want to exclude investments in things that are really harmful.  To see what our options are I've been trawling all the Kiwisaver schemes that pitch themselves as 'ethical'.  I thought I'd share what I'd found here in the hope of saving someone else some work.

All the 'ethical' schemes exclude investments in alcohol, tobacco, gambling and armaments except Craig's Investment Partners' 'Balanced SRI' Fund (which only aims to "have a diversified portfolio of investments that are deemed to be environmentally and socially sustainable") and OneAnswer's 'Sustainable Growth' Fund (which excludes investments in tobacco, gambling and armaments but allows investments in alcohol).  I've listed any other 'ethical' criteria the various schemes employ under their names below, along with what kind of investment they are, what their past returns have been like and what fees they charge.  Note that for 'past returns' I'm listing the returns to end March 2014, after tax (at the maximum rate) and fees.

Fidelity Life's Ethical Kiwi Fund
NB: This fund appears to no longer be accepting new members.
  • No additional ethical criteria.
  • A medium risk balanced' fund investing 60% in shares and 40% in fixed interest.
  • Past returns: 5.8% per annum over the last five years (9.2% over the last three).
  • Fees: $3.03 per month plus 1.16% and up to 0.065% per year.

SuperLife's Ethica
  • In addition to alcohol, tobacco, gambling and armaments it excludes investments in pornography and fossil fuel extraction.  It also excludes investments where it sees the activity behind the investment having negative social/community outcomes, damaging the environment or violating UN standards on human rights, health and safety or child labour.  Investments in activities that would be illegal in NZ are also excluded.
  • A medium-risk 'balanced' fund that's 60% shares and property and 40% cash and bonds.
  • Past returns: 6.3% per annum over the last five years (5.0% over the last three).
  • Fees: $2.75 per month plus 0.23% and approx 0.50% per year.

Grosvenor's Socially Responsible Investment Balanced Fund
  • No additional ethical criteria.
  • A medium-risk 'balanced' fund that's 50-70% shares with the balance in fixed interest and cash.
  • Past returns: I can't find these - the disclosure statement only lists the 'growth' fund, as does 'Sorted', so I think this may be a new fund.
  • Fees: $3 per month plus 1.17% per year.

Craig's Investment Partners' Balanced SRI Fund
  • Aims to "have a diversified portfolio of investments that are deemed to be environmentally and socially sustainable".
  • A medium-risk 'balanced' fund that's 60% shares and 40% cash and fixed interest.
  • Past returns: 5.4% per annum over the last five years (4.7% over the last three).
  • Fees: 1.25% entry fee plus up to $30 and 1.25% per year.

Grosvenor's Socially Responsible Investment Growth Fund
  • No additional ethical criteria.
  • A high-risk 'growth' fund that mostly invests in New Zealand and Australian shares.
  • Past returns: 5.2% per annum over the last three years.
  • Fees: $3 per month plus 1.17% per year.

OneAnswer's Sustainable Growth Fund
  • In addition to tobacco, gambling and armaments it excludes investments in nuclear power, pornography and fur.  It does not exclude investments in alcohol.  It only invests in companies which it sees as being in the top 50% of their class in terms of environmental, social and governance policies and transparency.
  • A high-risk 'growth' fund with at least two thirds of the funds invested in shares and/or transferable securities.
  • Past returns: 5.8% per annum over the last five years (2.5% over the last three).
  • Fees: $2 per month plus 1.62% per year.

  • In addition to alcohol, tobacco, gambling and armaments it excludes investments in money-lending, pornography and pork.  It also takes into account "environmental, social, and governance considerations" in its investments and is Shari'ah compliant.
  • An 'aggressive' fund investing in equities, debt-free real estate and cash.  It will only invest in companies with a low level of debt (no 'high-gearing'.)
  • Past returns: the fund has only been in existence since late March 2014.  Between then and end June 2014 it lost 4.9%.
  • Fees: $2.70 per month plus 1.78% and 15% on any returns above 8% per year. 

Update from September 2016

I wasn't looking at restricted schemes when I did this post two years ago.  However, since then Koinonia, whilst still restricted, has become much more open: anyone who self-identifies as Christian can join.  Here's what I've found about it.  For consistency, I've given returns to end of March 2014 (the same as for the rest of the post), although that means I can only give three-year returns and not five-year returns as the older data is no longer easily accessible.

Koinonia Income Fund
  • In addition to tobacco, gambling and armaments it excludes direct investments in pornography and beer (but not wine or spirits - it's an Anglican fund and these are used by Anglicans in worship).  They also avoid:
    • companies whose primary purpose is extraction and production of fossil fuels;
    • those with a poor environmental or industrial relations record;
    • those where the management "appears excessively concerned with their own remuneration";
    • those where "the activities of key individuals raise serious ethical concerns". 
  • A low-risk 'defensive' fund that's 100% cash and fixed interest.  35% of funds are invested overseas, where they will not necessarily be invested in accordance with their investment guidelines.  As they say: "Our policy does not preclude investment in certain overseas funds which may not necessarily have the same approach as the Board to ethical investment. For example, tracker funds, alternative strategy funds and certain fixed interest funds.".
  • Past returns: 2.1% per annum over the three years ending 31 March 2014 (note that, for the first year of the period, this was actually a different fund that was wound up and replaced).
  • Fees: 1.5% (no monthly fee).  Note that this fee doesn't seem to be published anywhere: my number is what's given in a number of recent quarterly reports.
Koinonia Balanced Fund
  • In addition to tobacco, gambling and armaments it excludes direct investments in pornography and beer (but not wine or spirits - it's an Anglican fund and these are used by Anglicans in worship).  They also avoid:
    • companies whose primary purpose is extraction and production of fossil fuels;
    • those with a poor environmental or industrial relations record;
    • those where the management "appears excessively concerned with their own remuneration";
    • those where "the activities of key individuals raise serious ethical concerns". 
  • A medium-risk 'balanced' fund that's 50% cash and fixed interest, 25% international shares, 20% Australasian shares and 5% 'alternative assets' (forestry etc.).  45%-50% of funds are invested overseas, where they will not necessarily be invested in accordance with their investment guidelines.  As they say: "Our policy does not preclude investment in certain overseas funds which may not necessarily have the same approach as the Board to ethical investment. For example, tracker funds, alternative strategy funds and certain fixed interest funds.".
  • Past returns: 4.0% per annum over the three years ending 31 March 2014.
  • Fees: 1.7% (no monthly fee).  Note that this fee doesn't seem to be published anywhere: my number is what's given in a number of recent quarterly reports.
Koinonia Growth Fund
  • In addition to tobacco, gambling and armaments it excludes direct investments in pornography and beer (but not wine or spirits - it's an Anglican fund and these are used by Anglicans in worship).  They also avoid:
    • companies whose primary purpose is extraction and production of fossil fuels;
    • those with a poor environmental or industrial relations record;
    • those where the management "appears excessively concerned with their own remuneration";
    • those where "the activities of key individuals raise serious ethical concerns". 
  • A high-risk 'growth' fund that's 40% international shares, 25% cash and fixed interest, 25% Australasian shares and 10% 'alternative assets' (forestry etc.).  50-60% of funds are invested overseas, where they will not necessarily be invested in accordance with their investment guidelines.  As they say: "Our policy does not preclude investment in certain overseas funds which may not necessarily have the same approach as the Board to ethical investment. For example, tracker funds, alternative strategy funds and certain fixed interest funds."
  • Past returns: 4.3% per annum over the three years ending 31 March 2014.
  • Fees: 1.8% (no monthly fee).  Note that this fee doesn't seem to be published anywhere: my number is what's given in a number of recent quarterly reports.

Summary of past returns (after tax and fees) and fees (updated to include Koinonia):

fund type return over 5 years return over three years fixed fee (annual) percentage fee

Koinonia Income defensive ? 2.10% $0 1.5%

Koinonia Balanced balanced ? 4.90% $0 1.7%

Fidelity Life's Ethical Kiwi balanced 5.80% 9.20% $36.36 1.22%

SuperLife's Ethica balanced 6.30% 5.00% $33 0.73%

Grosvenor's SRI Balanced balanced ? ? $36 1.17%

Craig's Investment Partners' Balanced SRI balanced 5.40% 4.70% $30 1.25% + 1.25% entry fee

Koinonia Growth growth ? 4.30% $0 1.8%

Grosvenor's SRI Growth growth N/A 5.20% $36 1.17%

OneAnswer's Sustainable Growth growth 5.80% 2.50% $24 1.62%

Amanah growth N/A N/A $32.40 1.78% + 15% on any returns above 8%

Friday 3 October 2014

I made bread!

We're wondering about buying a fancy electric beater (one of the ones that can handle bread dough) so we've borrowed one off Martin's boss for a couple of weeks to try it out.  We were worried it might be too heavy or noisy for me to cope with so wanted to have a go with one before we bought one.  It's worked out beautifully so far and today I used it to make bread for the first time :-)

I used to make bread a lot back in the day but these days I can only manage no-knead bread.  However, today I made normal bread!  It was so much fun - seeing it rise like magic, smelling all the rich yeasty smells - all things that I've been shut off from for years!  Yay!

It's been awesome, and hopefully we'll be buying one of our own soon, using a mixture of our own money and some money we got when my Grandma died.  She was a great baker so it feels like a fitting tribute :-)

Sunday 21 September 2014

Despising the day of small things

On Sundays I'm in the habit of trying to read or listen to something that will give me some kind of Christian teaching.  A few weeks back I was listening to the talks from the plenary sessions of the Tertiary Students' Christian Fellowship's annual leadership training camp.  The talks focussed on Israel's return from exile in Babylon, and the final one included one point that I've been mulling over ever since.

The prophet Zechariah was one of the exiles who returned from Babylon to the largely destroyed city of Jerusalem.  The city no longer included a temple: it didn't even have walls.  Some of the exiles were trying to rebuild the walls of city but others were saying that that was pointless: the walls were so pathetic that even a fox could get through them, so why bother?  In this context, God says through Zechariah:
“The hands of Zerubbabel [the governor] have laid the foundation of this house [i.e. the new temple]; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet [i.e. plumb line - an essential tool for building the new temple] in the hand of Zerubbabel.

So some people were saying that progress was so small it was pointless, but God comes in and says 'no, they're part of achieving a big thing'.

I've been really convicted by that.  In the weeks since I've heard it, I've realised I'm very much in the habit of despising small things.  I look at people achieving small (but hugely positive) things and feel depressed, rather than celebratory.  That happened the other day when I listened to this radio programme about the work of Assistance Dogs New Zealand Trust.  They train dogs to help people with a range of disabilities, with the radio story mostly focussing on the experience of a young girl with autism.  The dog had clearly made a huge difference in her life, but all I could focus on was the fact that they only had something like 7 dogs in training, that a client had to contribute $20,000 towards the cost of their dog etc. etc.: all the things that meant that very few people were going to get the help that this girl had received, rather than what an awesome thing at least some people were getting...

Similarly, when I look at what I contribute to the world, I'm much more likely to see the way that my illness prevents me from doing big things than to value the small things God gives me to do.

I despise the day of small things.  I'm praying that God will change my attitude in this area!

If you're interested, you can listen to audio of all four talks here, or watch video of the first three here (they're the ones marked 'Summit').

Thursday 18 September 2014

Eye pillows

I've been doing a lot of sewing recently, but most of it has been making presents for people who read this blog so I can't put up pictures.  However, yesterday I finished these:

An eye pillow for my namesake Heather's 19th birthday and another for Christmas for my cousin's wife.

I haven't done much beading before and I'm very pleased with how they turned out :-)

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Glowing flowers

I've been loving the way these flowers on my windowsill have seemed to glow in the afternoon sun on recent days :-)

Monday 1 September 2014

Submission to Baptist Union Working Party

Yesterday I (Martin) scrambled to put together a submission for the Baptist Union, and thought I would put it up here for a few church friends to see.

The Union appointed a working party to discuss their position on same-sex marriage and the constitutional questions arising from their initial attempts to set a position.  Their website was little help in finding more info about submissions, but Google directed me to GayNZ who had a helpful article.

Heather reminded me on Saturday that Sunday was the deadline, for which she paid the price of being kept up late as I tapped it out.  Even as I went to sleep I was thinking of things I might have said better, but such is life.

Here is my submission:

Thursday 28 August 2014

Commercial Fair Trade Chocolates!!

I've long regretted the inavailability of Fair Trade chocolates in New Zealand.  Bars of chocolates are available, but boxes of chocolates are not.

No more!

Tom Brinkel of Brinkel's Cake Art in Wellington makes delicious Fair Trade chocolates and truffles.  Go to 'chocolate gallery' to see the selection and make your purchase.  They're also currently available on TradeMe for $5.99 for a box of 9 with flat postage to Auckland of $5.50 no matter how many boxes you buy :-)

Unfortunately he hasn't yet found a source of Fair Trade white chocolate so not all his flavours are Fair Trade (despite what it says on the website).  These ones are, though:
  • dark chocolate truffles
  • kirsch and raisin
  • bourbon vanilla
  • banana liqueur
  • lavender
  • roasted almond and honey fudge
I haven't tried them all yet (I only got them today and I'm trying to make them last!) but the roasted almond and honey fudge is particularly good :-)

Monday 25 August 2014

Election 2014 - who should I vote for?

According to Radio New Zealand National this morning, the three big issues in the election this year are health, education and the economy.  I haven't listened to the programme yet, but, if they mean what I think they mean, those certainly aren't the issues I'll be voting on.  As far as I'm concerned, New Zealand is already doing fantastically well in all three areas and it'd take some monumental stuff-ups by a new government to do anything much to change that.

Our health-care system is great!  I heard on the BBC yesterday that most public hospitals in Nigeria don't even have running water.  In that context, we don't have a lot to complain about.  We do have issues with diseases related to poverty (like rheumatic fever in Northland), but dealing with poverty is what will fix that, not tinkering with the health system.

In the latest PISA survey, New Zealand ranked above the OECD average in performance in maths, science and reading.  Rich countries tend to have better education systems than poor countries.  There are 198 countries in the world (I think) and the richest 34 of them are in the OECD.  Ranking above the OECD average in PISA means we're already doing above the average of the richest 17% of countries in the world.  Of course we could do better, but that's basically good enough for me.  I'm not going to be basing my vote on trying to improve this.

The economy
If 'improving the economy' means 'increasing GDP' then I'm not interested.  As mentioned above, we're part of the OECD: the club of the richest 17% of countries in the world.  As of last year, our per capita GDP was in the middle of this group.  In other words, we're already richer than people in more than 90% of the countries in the world.  That's plenty good enough for me and I'm not going to be choosing who to vote for based on who'll make New Zealand even richer.

So, what am I going to base my vote on?

Last election I spent quite some time trying to figure out what issues I thought the Bible described as being important in the governing of a country.  Three things came up: character of the leaders, leading people to follow God and care for vulnerable groups of people (including those who weren't actually citizens of the country).  As I said then, I'm not going to consider whether the various parties want to lead people to follow God: unlike ancient Israel, modern-day New Zealand isn't a theocracy so I'm not sure how to translate this criterion into our context.  However, I will be considering the following things:
  1. Character of the leader
  2. Foreign policy
  3. Climate change
  4. Reducing inequality
Except for the first, these criteria encompass how I think 'caring for vulnerable groups of people' translates into our context.

Character of the leader
The two qualities that came up most often in my Bible survey were being truthful and being there to serve.  To see whether I thought the leaders of the parties had these qualities I decided to look at what seems to motivate them.  I believe that most politicians are in politics to make the world a better place.  However, some seem to be there simply to win.  I think that a leader who seems to be there to win isn't there to serve and can't be trusted to be truthful: they fail my 'character' test.  No matter what their policies, I'm not willing to vote for a party whose chosen such a person to lead them.

So, where do I think the party leaders stand?
  • There to make the world a better place: Colin Craig (Conservatives), Jamie Whyte (ACT), Metiria Turei/Russel Norman (Greens), Laila Harre/Hone Harawira (Internet/Mana), Tariana Turia (Maori Party)
  • There to win: John Key (National), Winston Peters (NZ First)
  • I haven't paid enough attention to them to make a call on why they're there: David Cunliffe (Labour), Te Ururoa Flavell (Maori Party), Peter Dunne (United Future)
From this, I'm not going to consider voting for National* or NZ First.  I'm also not willing to vote for Internet/Mana.  Its leaders, Laila Harre and Hone Harawira, are definitely in politics to make the world a better place but they're financially backed by someone who's there to try and make the world work for him personally (Kim Dotcom) and I'm nervous of his influence.

* If National had chosen their deputy leader, Bill English, as their leader things would be different: he's definitely a man of integrity who's there to serve New Zealand.

Foreign policy
Here I'm interested in:
  • easing the way for asylum seekers to come and seek asylum here;
  • increasing our intake of quota refugees (we're rank 88th in the world per capita for taking in refugees - even Australia does way better than we do);
  • increasing our foreign aid from the paltry 0.2-0.3% of GDP its been at ever since we commited to raise it to 0.7% maybe 20 years ago and spending it based on need rather than based on our own trade interests.
NB If I lived in almost any other country in the rich world my list would also include levelling the playing field on international trade so that it's not skewed against the interests of Majority World countries.  However, so far as I know, New Zealand doesn't have any such trade barriers in place so it's not on the list.

Looking at the parties still on my list (Conservatives, ACT, Greens, Maori Party, Labour and United Future):
  • Conservatives don't mention any of these issues;
  • ACT is pro-immigration, but only immigration that's good for New Zealand (they don't appear to be interested in immigration based on the needs of the immigrant, which is what I'm interested in in terms of asylum and refugee policies).  They also feel we live in a dangerous world, rather than in a needy world that we're in a position to significantly help;
  • The Greens want to increase our foreign aid to 0.7% of GDP but apparently haven't actually included that in their costings.  They also want to increase our intake of quota refugees.  However, given that neither of these policies were mentioned amongst the large number of policies they're electioneering on, I figure that they're not very high priorities for them;
  • The Maori Party won't commit to increasing foreign aid to 0.7% of GDP.  They don't seem to say anything about refugees or asylum seekers on their website;
  • Labour doesn't mention up-front whether or not they support increasing the foreign aid budget, but they do say that they want to refocus it to be used for eliminating poverty (rather than the current focus which is a mix of that and things that benefit NZ businesses).  They don't seem to say anything about refugees or asylum seekers on their website;
  • United Future doesn't mention any of these issues on the policy page of their website;
  • In general I'm not considering National because their leader failed my 'character' criterion.  However, I thought I might mention that in the last year or two wrote to the current minister of immigration to complain that they were taking fewer quota refugees and also making it harder for asylum seekers to get here.  My recollection of his response is that he told me we were taking fewer quota refugees because of the Christchurch earthquakes.  He was also keen to assure me that they were, indeed, making it harder for asylum seekers to get here.  It seemed beyond him that there were people in the electorate who might think that this was a bad thing!

Climate change
I believe that climate change is the biggest threat to vulnerable people the world over at the moment, and that New Zealand is definitely not doing it's bit to reduce it.

The four things that contribute the most to New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions are:
  • methane from dairy cows;
  • road transport;
  • agricultural soils;
  • consumption of hydroflurocarbons (this one surprised me - I'm not certain what it means but I think it's to do with refrigeration).
In order to address these, I'm interested in parties that have a 'carrot and stick' approach to climate change.  For the 'carrot' I want them to give people alternatives to engaging in these activities that cause so many emissions: e.g. fund research into how to reduce dairy emissions and support for starting other industries that emit less, give more support to freight trains and public transport and less for roading etc.  For the 'stick' I want them to put in either a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme (I don't care which) that has teeth and that includes all four of the activities that contribute the most greenhouse emissions.

Looking at the parties on my list:
  • Conservatives don't mention climate change directly, nor do they seem to have anything to say about road transport or agriculture;
  • ACT wants to get rid of the emissions trading scheme and let climate change happen.  They also want to commit more resources to roading;
  • Unsurprisingly, the Greens have a strong policy on climate change.  They also want to support industries in New Zealand other than those that currently contribute so heavily to our greenhouse gas emissions through their digital manufacturing strategy and their smart green innovation policy and they're big fans of public transport and freight rail;
  • The Maori Party don't directly mention either climate change or any of the issues I've identified as being related on their website;
  • Labour want to strengthen the ETS (although I'm a bit sceptical of that, given that the scheme they put in was pretty weak even before National gutted it).  They also want to 'rebalance' transport spending so it includes spending on public transport, ports and rail freight, not just roads.  They don't explicitly mention anything about reducing emissions from agriculture;
  • United Future supports the current ETS and opposes a carbon tax.  They want to establish forests as carbon sinks but don't mention dairy farming.  They're keen to build yet more roads although they say they're keen on public transport, too.  Interestingly, they want to "investigate a humanitarian resettlement plan for the thousands who will be physically displaced by rising sea levels in the Pacific region, such as the Tokelaus, Tuvalu and Kiribati.";
  • I haven't checked National's website as I'm not really considering them, but they've definitely significantly weakened the emissions trading scheme in the time they've been in office (and it started out pretty weak anyway), I've seen no evidence of them promoting less-greenhouse-gas-emitting industries and they strongly favour roading.
Reducing inequality
New Zealand is, apparently, a very unequal society: more so than most people realise.  This has a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of poorer people.  While I have no interest in increasing New Zealand's wealth overall, I have a strong interest in restructuring society so that this is no longer the case.

No one seems to have a magic bullet for how to reduce inequality, so here I'm looking for parties that are willing to try new things (ideally ones with some kind of decent research or rationale behind them) and see if they help.  I'm not interested in parties that simply want to increase wealth overall in the expectation that wealth will then trickle down and make everyone better off: that's what we've already been trying and it hasn't been working.  I'll also be giving only a few 'brownie points' to parties that want to make it easier for people to buy a house: it seems to me that that's a measure that will only help people who are already relatively well off, not those who are really poor.

In terms of reducing inequality I'm also looking for parties that offer a decent welfare system.  I don't think that welfare is actually going to fix the situation were're in but it provides an important backstop for those who haven't yet found a way to make it on their own.

Looking at the parties on my list:
  • Conservatives have "A belief that it is the responsibility of individuals to provide for themselves, their families and their dependents, while recognizing that government must respond to those who require assistance and compassion";
  • ACT is keen to grow the economy although they also want to make housing more affordable, primarily by getting rid of the Resource Management Act.  They also want to further weaken the welfare system.
  • The Greens want to reduce child poverty by direct redistrubtion of money and they want to support people with disabilities by increasing funding for various support services including ones that aim to get people into jobs.  They also feel that their smart green economy policy will raise wages for a lot of people;
  • The Maori Party have a bunch of ideas to reduce inequality.  There's their signature 'whanau ora' policy (the link to which on their website is currently broken!), they have many policies to increase employment (plus they support raising the minimum wage to $18.80), they're advocating better care for vulnerable elderly people (and their caregivers) and their Christchurch policy includes support for people with disabilities;
  • Labour's 'Economic Upgrade' policy aims to support innovation and hence increase wages for everyone.  I don't see much concrete information on their website about how they're going to do this, although they do talk about some specifics like restructuring the meat industry and supporting research and encouraging investment in processing in forestry.  They want to increase the availability of housing stock and slow the increase of prices via. a capital gains tax.  They also have a bunch of 'family' policies that mostly consist of wealth redistribution;
  • United Future supports regional employment initiatives to figure out why there's high unemployment in various particular regions.  They want to introduce programmes to upskill older adults who find themselves out of work.  They also want to introduce 'flexisuper' (a kind of regressive super where the earlier you take it up the less you get, significantly disadvantaging manual labourers over office workers).  They have policies to increase home ownership but also social housing.  They want to improve access to various services (like police and GPs) in rural areas;
  • I haven't checked out National's website but my impression is that their main strategies for helping the less-well-off appear to be growing the overall economy and making being on welfare as unpleasant as possible.
So, there we are!
I was disappointed that no one seemed to support the things that are important to me in Foreign Policy: the Greens came closest to it, but still fell far short of what I'd like.  The Greens also take Climate Change the most seriously and tie with the Maori Party on trying a range of strategies to reduce inequality.  Looks like it'll be party vote Green for 2014, then :-)

Sunday 17 August 2014

Big Fair Bake

The Big Fair Bake has come around again. It's an annual competition to bake something using at least two fair trade ingredients. You take a photo of yourself with your baking and the fair trade ingredients and submit it along with a statement about what you baked and why you chose to bake fair.  Here's my entry.

I baked Fair-nando bananas in their skins and served them with hokey pokey icecream, crushed roasted almonds and a chocolate sauce made with TradeAid cocoa.  They were yummy and we could really enjoy them, knowing that no one had been abused growing the cocoa or bananas.  I've heard that workers on regular banana and cocoa plantations are often treated really badly.  Men get punished for trying to get protective equipment to use when spraying bananas with chemicals that make them infertile, and children are even kept as slaves on cocoa plantations and beaten with bicycle chains if they don't work hard enough!  I don't want people to go through that just so I can have a delicious treat.

(last year's entry is here)

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Abortion - part two

This is a follow-up to my previous post on abortion.  Since I wrote that I've had many conversations on the topic of abortion and these, plus further reading of the Bible, are helping me figure out what I ought to think about abortion.  I think I've finished my reading of the Bible on this topic for the moment: my next step will be do read about what the early church thought about abortion, and my conclusions are all provisional until I've done that.

I'd like to start with my findings thus far, then move on to my 'working' as to how I got there.
  • Killing of people is wrong, but killing of non-persons is fine.  Pro-choice people argue that the embryo is a non-person until a particular point of gestation (or until birth or even, in some cultures, for a period after birth - I'm thinking here of places where it's considered OK to 'expose' newborns), pro-life people argue that it is a person (generally right from conception).  Thus whether/when the foetus is a person seems to me to be the key question here;
  • God's work of creating a person starts before they are conceived, at least in some cases and possibly in all;
  • God is at work in the shaping of an foetus in the womb, as He is in all creation;
  • Pro-life Christians put great weight on God's work of creation in the womb as indicating that an foetus is a person (yet few seem to put similar weight on God's work of creation prior to conception indicating that the potential zygote is a person);
  • In at least some cases, people that God is in the process of creating aren't people until God puts life into them (I'm thinking here of Adam and the people in the Valley of Dry Bones);
  • Biblically, there is very little to indicate at what counts as 'alive'.  The only two things I know of is a couple of cases of people becoming 'alive' when they were given breath, and the idea that 'life is in the blood'.  I'm uncertain how to apply either of these to this question;
  • An embryo has value under Jewish law but not the same value/rights as someone who is born (although the text on which I base that is read by some people as saying that their value is not intrinsic but is in the opportunity which they represent to the parents);
  • We have people living amongst us who were born at little more than 20 weeks gestation and who seem indistinguishable from anyone else, so it seems that you are a person at least by 20 weeks gestation.  Twenty weeks also seems to be the stage at which New Zealand law currently considers a foetus a person: on the one hand you can (in certain circumstances) abort up to that stage, and on the other hand a foetus who dies beyond that stage is given a death certificate;
  • Around18,000 foetuses are aborted in New Zealand each year.  If you tighten up on abortion law you will save the lives of at least some of them (assuming they are alive).  However, 18,000 women in New Zealand each year have a pregnancy that they feel will cause them significant hardship.  If we tighten up abortion law, we need to have a good reason, as that means we'll be imposing what they see as significant harship on those women;
  • Quite a few people have suggested to me that, in various circumstances, abortion is the lesser of two evils.  One person cited Matthew 18:6, saying that it would be a lesser sin for a person to send a foetus back to God than to bring them into an environment where they would be inevitably be turned away from God.  I'm uncertain about the truth of this;
  • Strong people have a responsibility to care for the vulnerable.  Living out your life within someone else's body puts you in a very vulnerable position;
  • Our society strongly values having control over our own lives, and this value is held especially tightly amongst the more 'advantaged' sectors of our society.  I suspect most abortions are carried out (and most contraception is used) in an effort to take control of one's own life.  This is not a Christian value and is not a good reason for a Christian to engage in either practise.
From all of this, I think there isn't good evidence to argue that abortion is definitely always wrong and akin to murder (at least before the point at which life can be sustained outside the womb - which seems to currently be considered 20 weeks).  I think it would definitely be wrong to abort a foetus byond that point.  Before that point, however, I'm unsure of the rights and wrongs so I'm unwilling to change the law to prevent it, especially given the perceived hardship it'd impose on a lot of women.  However, I think Christians should approach both contraception and abortion with great caution: there may well be reasons where practising either would be a godly thing to do*, but to simply do them in order to take control of your life is inappropriate.

* I'm using contraception so as to not bring into the world a child for whom we could not care (due to my medical situation).  Thus far, I still think that that's OK, although I want to think and pray about it some more since I've started this project.


So, that's where I've got to thus far.  Here's how I got there!

The main thing I'm trying to establish is whether the Bible, Christian tradition etc. see the foetus as a live human being.  This seems to me to be the key question to answer as it is the fundamental thing on which the classic pro-life and pro-choice advocates disagree.  If the foetus is a live human right from conception then obviously abortion is wrong: killing people is wrong, and to kill one in such a position of vulnerability is particularly egregious.  If, on the other hand, it is a tissue in which a biological process is occuring that will eventually result in a child then its right to protection seems much less clear.

I've yet to personally look into the question of whether the early church was emphatically anti-abortion but a theologian of my acquaintance, Mark Keown, assures me that they were.  He recommends Michael Gorman's book Abortion and the Early Church to find out more about this and I'm hoping to get a friend to get it out of the Laidlaw library soon and find out what it says.

But what else have I found found from the Bible in relation to my main question?

The texts mentioned in my previous post covered:
  • David speaking of himself as being a sinner from conception;
  • God knowing and/or chosing people before birth;
  • God making people in the womb;
  • God telling people they were going to conceive;
  • children engaging in prophetic acts in the womb.
I then searched in the NRSV in Bible Gateway for all occurences of the words conceived, womb, chose/chosen, elect and destined/destiny/predestined.  I was looking for examples of how writers in the Bible seemed to see the foetus and when they saw a person as being created.  I dismissed any examples that seemed to illustrate the points made in the texts covered in my previous post: I was looking for new perspectives/information.
  • Both Job and Jeremiah wished that they had never been born ( Job 3:10-11, Job 10:18, Jeremiah 20:17-18).  That could mean that they wished they had never existed and they saw birth as when existence began but it could also mean that they wished that they had never experienced the suffering that comes with living in the world and that birth is the point at which they entered the world.
  • Isaiah speaks of himself as being sustained by God in the womb (Isaiah 46:3).  This is similar to the many references to people being formed in the womb but is perhaps a little stronger.
  • Isaiah speaks of himself as being called by God before birth (Isaiah 49:1)
  • Paul speaks of Christians (at least himself and those living in Ephesus at that time) as having been chosen by God to be holy and blameless before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)
  • The whole people of Israel is referred to repeatedly throughout the Old and New Testaments as a people chosen by God.  There may be some significance to my question in that this includes zillions of people who weren't even conceived at the time God chose Abraham and his descendants for this role.
  • Bible Gateways threw up 18 New Testament references to Christians being the 'elect', i.e. those who were chosen.  There is nothing in any of the texts to explicitly indicate when they were chosen but my understanding of the theology of electionis that it is generally taken as happening before creation.
  • Similarly, looking at references to things to do with 'destiny' throws up things like Acts 13:48 ("as many as had been destined for salvation became believers") as well as other bits of Ephesians 1:3-14 (which used the 'before the foundation of the world' phrase in verse 4 and so suggests that all of Paul's references to being destined probably also refer to this having been sorted out before creation) and the rather special case of Jesus.
One further example I found from something I was reading for our homegroup Bible study:
  • The writer to the Hebrews says that, in a sense, Levi (Abraham's great-grandson) was present at an event that Abraham was present at because he was within Abraham's loins at the time (Hebrews 7:9-10).
And, lastly:
  • a smattering of people in the Bible (Zechariah, Abram, Mary) were told that they would have children before they were conceived.
And of course there's Exodus 21:22-25, which seems to me to say pretty clearly that destroying a foetus is a lesser evil than killing someone already born.  Kind of relatedly, several people responded to my previous post by saying that they thought that various children would have been better off if they'd been aborted before birth, but wouldn't even consider that it might be appropriate to murder those kids now they're born.  It seems that many people instinctively feel that a baby isn't quite human/alive until it's born and treat the two a bit differently.

All of that has been looking at the problem from one end: trying to figure out how early on a foetus becomes a live human being and hence the beneficiary of the protections that entails.  What about looking at it from the other end?  There are plenty of cultures that seem to see a baby after birth as still not having full 'human' status.  I gather that, in the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus, 'abortion and exposing infants' were often discussed in one breath: i.e. killing a foetus and killing a newborn had the same moral status.  What about the Bible: is there any indication that a newborn was ever considered not fully human?

I have thought of one thing that may indicate this, although I'm no expert and it's far from definitive!  In the Jewish law, a baby boy was to be circumcised on the 8th day after birth.  Circumcision was the sign of being part of God's people.  I don't know, but maybe he wasn't part of God's people until then?  Was he a person at all?  It seems a bit of a stretch, but I still wonder if it may have some significance in this direction as circumcision is a pretty minor and simple procedure so I wonder why else they waited so long.  However I know of absolutely no evidence suggesting that any Jew considered it OK to expose a baby less than 8 days old so this delay before circumcision probably relates to something else.

The last angle from which I've looked at the problem is: what does the Bible say it takes to make someone 'alive'.

Firstly, there are two stories of people being formed by God (just like God forms a foetus in the womb) but them not becoming alive until God gave them breath.  The first is the story of the creation of Adam and the second is the story of the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel.  So could it be that a foetus becomes alive when it is able to breathe?  You could take this as being when it is born, or you could take it back to the point where its lungs are sufficiently formed that breathing would be possible, or you could take both stories as being metaphorical and having no bearing on the question!

Secondly, the Bible is big on life being 'in the blood'.  That's why the Jewish food laws forbade them from eating blood, and this was seen as such an important principle that it's one of the very few Jewish laws that the Council of Jerusalem in the book of Acts said that non-Jewish converts to Christianity still had to follow.  So could it be that the foetus becomes alive when it starts making it's own blood?  I gather that this isn't a clear developmental point (plus it seems a bit wierd to argue that the Bible teaches that a foetus becomes alive at a point that there's no way the Bible's writers could have known about) so I don't know if there's anything one can do with this thought but I've included it as it feels like something that may have some relevance...


Next step: get hold of that book on abortion in the early church and commission Martin to read it for me :-).  As ever, thank you for reading through this.  I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts on it all.

Tuesday 29 July 2014


I rather like sauerkraut and enjoy making it from time to time.  The other day, someone wanted to know how to do it.  Here's what I told them :-)

Chop cabbage quite finely (I use the grater function on my food processor, but otherwise cut it as fine as you can by hand).  Measure it by packing it down tightly into some kind of measuring cup/bowl, then put it into a bowl that fits it with lots of room to spare.  Add one dessert spoon salt per 2 cups (packed) of cabbage and toss to mix it well.

Pack it tightly into wide-mouthed jars.  I use 1L glass jars (like mason jars) and one big cabbage fills 3-4 of them.  Put something into the mouth of each jar that's fairly rigid and goes right across the surface of the cabbage.  I use lids from honey pots - the kind of lid that's a bit flexible and kind of peels off the container that it comes on.  Here in NZ you get that kind of lid on containers of honey, yoghurt and icecream.  You want something a bit flexible so you can poke it through the mouth of the jar (which is a bit smaller than the inside width of the jar) but then goes right across the width of the jar inside.  If you don't have anything the right size you could hopefully find something that's too big and cut it down.

Put a weight of some kind on top of the plastic lid.  I just use an old food container of some kind that is narrow enough to fit inside the mouth of the jar (e.g. a small jam jar) and fill it with water to make it heavy.  The point of the plastic lid and the weight is to keep the cabbage pressed down so that it's under the liquid (you'll find that the cabbage starts to give off liquid within minutes of putting the salt on it).  If it's exposed to air then it'll go mouldy - the liquid stops that happening.

Leave it somewhere warm.  In NZ, most houses have a 'hot water cupboard' - a cupboard with a big boiler that heats the hot water for the house in the bottom of the cupboard and then shelving above it which is usually used for drying linen etc..  I use this cupboard for most of my fermentation as it's a bit warmer than regular room temperature and the heat is very stable there.

After a day, you'll find that the cabbage has lost about one third of its volume.  At this point I usually move it some of the cabbage from one jar into another so the jars are full again and I don't need to take up so much space in the cupboard with my jars.  Make sure you put the plastic lid and weight back on again.

Leave it in the cupboard for a few days until it's how you like it.  I generally find 5 days is about right for me.  Then take off the lids/weights and put proper lids on the jars.  Keep the sauerkraut in the fridge from this point on - if you leave it at room temperature it'll just keep on getting softer and more sour.  It keeps practically forever in the fridge.

If you find it's a bit too salty for you, before you eat it put it in a seive and run it under the cold tap to rinse off the excess fluid.

Have fun!

Friday 18 July 2014

Abortion - part one

This is a super-long post: in no way a 'little note'!  However, if you do have time to read it through and comment on it I'd be very appreciative: this is stuff I'm trying to think through and I value the contributions of my community in helping me do that :-)

[Updated 19/7/2014 to say most Christians are pro-life, not pro-choice.  It's good to know that at least one reader got far enough through to be surprised at that statement.]

The Green Party recently released its policy on abortion, which basically consists of wanting abortion to be available to any woman who wants it.  You can read the full text towards the bottom of this page.

My initial response was twofold:
  1. 'Good on them'.  Our current abortion system is a huge mess.  Nominally you can only get an abortion if the pregnancy causes serious danger to the woman's life, mental health or physical health; if there is a foetal abnormality; if the pregnancy was as the result of incest by a parent or guardian or if the woman is mentally subnormal (source).  Most abortions are carried out under the 'serious danger to mental health' condition.  However, on the one hand, pretty much anyone who wants an abortion appears to be able to claim that the pregnancy causes 'serious danger to mental health': so in many ways what the Greens are asking for is what we already have.  Yet, on the other hand, abortions are completely unavailable in many parts of New Zealand: even in some reasonably substantial centres like Invercargill.  This policy would change the current situation into one of 'one law for all', rather than one where you have abortion on demand in Auckland but abortion only for the very resourceful (and reasonably well off) in Greymouth and Invercargill.  So I like the way the Greens are putting on the table how messy the current situation is, and I like the justice aspect of the way it would even up access.
  2. Despair.  The Greens are the party whose policies most coincide with my own values: values which I see as coming out of my faith.  I would like many other Christians to vote Green, but I feel that this now just won't happen: this policy will make them so negatively disposed towards the Greens that they won't see the good that is there.
However, as I thought about it more, a third response developed: what do I personally think about abortion?

My 'official' position is the mainstream Christian one: the foetus is a full human being and deserves to be treated as such, and deliberately killing it is murder.  But is that what I actually believe at an instinctual level?  Here are some 'case studies' of my own response to various situations that might shed some light on what I really think.
  1. In recent years three close friends of mine have experienced miscarriages.  I was sad for each of them and did various things to try and support them in that situation.  However, all three also have 'born' children.  When I think about how I would feel if any of them lost one of those children, I think I would feel it was a far greater tragedy than the loss of their unborn child.
  2. When I think about the process of abortion I kind of want it to be really inaccessible, so that as few women as possible will choose it.  However, I feel that there are women who are going to have abortions no matter how inaccessible they are (after all, people went to back-street abortionists, despite the huge physical danger to themselves of doing so and the pain and awfulness of the process), and for those women I want the process itself to be as non-traumatising as possible.  This is quite different from how I feel about the killing of people who have already been born: there may well be people who want to murder other people no matter what, but I don't strive for that process to be non-traumatising for them, I strive for them to be stopped!
  3. Two friends of mind gave birth to stillborn children: children who were very close to term at the time they died.  These children were both named, in a way that no one I know has named a miscarried child (i.e. one that died much earlier in gestation).  Similarly, we know some people who had many miscarriages and then had a live-born child who died in the first few weeks of her life.  None of those miscarried children where named but the one who was live-born was named and is buried in a proper grave.
  4. Some friends of ours who are unable to have children who are biologically their own have instead 'adopted' someone else's excess IVF embryos, had them implanted and given birth to them.  I think it's neat that those embryos have had a chance to develop into babies through this process.  However, it doesn't feel wrong to me that many other excess IVF embryos are simply destroyed.
Looking at these examples, it seems that, whilst I don't see the foetus as 'just a clump of cells', I don't see it as quite as valuable as someone who's been born either.  Also, I seem to see a foetus as having increasing importance/value/personhood as gestation advances (e.g. I don't mind IVF embryos being destroyed but it seems appropriate to me to name a child who dies near-term).  I seem to see it as a proto-person whose humanity increases as birth approaches.

Based on that, I guess my ideal policy would probably be to have abortion available BUT restricted to cases where the pregnancy would cause serious harm to the mother: i.e. not unlike the letter of our current law but quite unlike current practise!

So that's where I seem to be now.  That leads to the question: what should I believe?  These are attitudes I have inherited from the society around me (both the church and the largely non-Christian surrounding culture) and are the attitudes I have now, but what does the Bible say?

So far as I can tell, the Bible says nothing directly about killing unborn children.  However, there are a pair of texts that seem to shed some light on the situation:
When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites, and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, so that a slayer who kills a person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, so that the slayer may not die until there is a trial before the congregation.
The cities that you designate shall be six cities of refuge for you: you shall designate three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. These six cities shall serve as refuge for the Israelites, for the resident or transient alien among them, so that anyone who kills a person without intent may flee there.

My reading of these is that, if you accidentally kill an unborn child, you have to pay a fine; but if you accidentally kill someone already born then you are yourself to be killed unless you up sticks and move to a designated place where you will be given asylum.  That makes me think that killing an unborn child is identified a bad thing, but not as bad a thing as killing someone already born: it's not of no importance, but it is of lesser importance.

It seems plausible to me that this reading could be applied across to deliberate killing.  Doing so, it seems to me that the deliberate killing of an unborn child is likely also a lesser offence than the deliberate killing of someone already born.  That would mean that abortion was bad but that it wasn't the same as murder.  That seems to be consistent with the position I currently hold, as stated above.

However, not everyone reads the Exodus text the same way, and their readings lead them to quite different conclusions from mine.

Firstly, some Christians take it to mean that it is an offence to cause the death of someone else's unborn child not because of the inherent value of that unborn child but because, in doing so, you are taking away from them the possiblity of having that child.  To put it in terms economists use, you are imposing an opportunity cost on them.  As that isn't the case when you make the decision to kill your own unborn child they see nothing wrong with choosing to abort your own foetus.

On the other hand, some Christians say that the Exodus text lays out two penalties: the fine for causing a premature birth then the 'eye for an eye' etc. for any injury that causes the infant - right through to death for the perpetrator if the baby dies.  I had read the 'eye for an eye' etc. bit as relating to injury to the woman and the fine being for causing the premature birth.

This reading feels much less plausible to me than either my own or the 'pro-choice' one outlined above.  In situations where things like strict hand hygiene and kangaroo care aren't practised today (things that were unknown when this text was written), babies born even a few weeks premature simply don't survive.  It thus seems extraordinarily unlikely to me that a baby in this situation would survive, so it doesn't make sense to me that the law would include a provision for what to do depending on what condition the baby was in.  I think that that it is much more logical to apply that section to the woman than the infant, although I do acknowledge that it's not 100% clear.

However, most Christians are strongly pro-life, and they base that position on a variety of texts: not just the pair I've already mentioned.  To look at these, I'll focus on the points made on this website Martin recently came across:
  • They note that unborn children are referred to in the Bible as 'children' or 'babies' and so conclude that they shouldn't be treated any differently from children or babies already born.  This feels weak to me.  That just feels to me like they were just using 'normal' rather than 'scientific' language - and in a context where 'scientific' language may not even have been available for use anyway.
  • They note that intentional killing is murder and is strongly prohibited in Scripture.  That seems significant, but only once we can figure out what a person is.  After all, it's not like all intentional killing is a problem: killing of animals is actually encouraged, it's just the killing of people that is murder.
  • They note that the Bible prohibits inflicting punishment on children for the sins of their parents and so state that it isn't appropriate to abort a baby because it was conceived through rape, incest etc.  This point feels important to me as we consider on what grounds abortion should be allowed.
In the sidebar they go through a series of individual texts:
  • Psalm 51:5 refers to David as being a sinner from conception so they conclude he must have been a person from conception.
  • One that speaks of God knowing someone before they were conceived (Jeremiah 1:5) and a couple more that speaks of them being chosen before birth (Romans 1:9, Galatians 1:15)
  • A great many texts which I can't see the relevance of that speak of God making people (sometimes referring to them being made in the womb) and, in the case of Jesus, referring to him being conceived by God: Psalm 119:73, Psalm 139:13-16, Job 10:8-12, Job 31:13-15
  • Several that refer to people being told they were going to conceive.  Again, I can't see the relevance of these to whether or not it is wrong to kill an unborn baby, but the texts are Matthew 1:18-20, Judges 13:3-5
  • Three that refer to children engaging in prophetic acts in the womb (Genesis 25:22, Hosea 12:2-3, Luke 1:39-44)

So, what do I make of these texts?

The one where David refers to himself as having been a sinner from conception is one of the more convincing ones: something that's not yet a person can't be a sinner.  But it's poetry, not argument, so it's hard to know whether he's using a poetic device to state hat he's been a sinner from his earliest days or whether he actually means that he thinks he was a person from conception.  The ones that speak of people being known and/or chosen before birth are similar.  They could just mean 'from my earliest days' but they could also literally mean 'from before birth', and in this case they're generally not poetry so I find it easier to take them literally.

The ones that speak of God making people don't seem to me to shed any light on whether or not a foetus is a person.  I mean, a farmer who wants to make milk sows grass in a paddock and then brings cows over to graze it, but it's not milk until the cow's actually turned it into milk.  Similarly, God is definitely making a person when an embryo is conceived and grows, but that doesn't mean it's a person yet.

However, both those texts and the ones that speak of God telling people they were about to conceive do give me some pause: not because they state that the foetus is a person, but because they state that it's God's work, and interfering in God's work is always a bad idea.

Lastly, the three that refer to children engaging in prophetic acts in the womb: two that refer to Jacob and Esau struggling with each other before birth and one that speaks of John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth's womb when Mary came to visit.

At first these seemed to me the strongest of all because they referred to children acting, and acting in accordance with God's will, before birth.  Yet what is the significance of that?  After all, God caused Balaam's donkey to act in a certain way to confirm what He was doing: is that really any different from what each of these children were doing?  The donkey didn't confirm itself to be a person by what it did: it was just something God used as his agent.  Are these babies any different?

So these texts give me pause in that they make me think that God could well have a purpose for a person that he's in the process of building (and interfering with God's purposes is definitely wrong), but they don't really seem to offer any challenge to what I concluded from the earlier Exodus text, i.e. that a foetus isn't quite a person yet and so doesn't have quite the same rights.

Yet, I gather that throughout church history, Christians have tended to be very strongly anti-abortion.  Why?  I don't know, but I guess that finding out should be my next step.  I can think of two potential reasons from my reading/thinking so far:
  1. As mentioned earlier, it's interfering with God's purposes (similar to the Catholic argument against contraception);
  2. The Bible makes it clear throughout that everyone is hugely precious to God and made in His image so should be protected.  That seems to run counter to my reading of Exodus 21:22-25, but maybe that means I've got that reading wrong?
That's basically where I'm at now.  Thank you so much for reading this: I'd be very grateful for any comments you have that might help me think this through.  Before I quite finish, though, I'd like to make one last point.  My thinking so far has led me to think that abortion should, on the whole, become less available than it currently is in New Zealand.  Many other Christians think it shouldn't be available at all.  In order to move to a world where that is possible, I feel that one big thing needs to change: hospitality.  Have a read of this post by a friend-of-a-friend, where the author reflects on possiblities of a society that welcomes in those children who result from unplanned pregnancy.  I'd love to see New Zealand move more in those directions.