Friday 30 January 2015

I believe in universal sin

In recent months I've been pondering sin and evil.  Belief in sin and evil seems to be something that's largely lacking in the dominant worldview of my society. Here's the example that set me thinking.

Some months ago a scandal emerged in the New Zealand media: teenage boys had been getting underage girls drunk, having sex with them and posting photos and bragging messages about it online.  All the voices I heard responding to this in the media were unanimous in seeing this behaviour as a bad thing.  They were also unanimous in their solution: education.  If the boys had been taught differently (about consent and about the effect of their actions on the girls concerned) then they wouldn't have done it.  Their actions weren't really seen so much wrong (i.e. sinful) as mistaken.  They could be fixed by knowledge rather than requiring a deep and fundamental change.

But is that really the case?

Maybe.  Maybe it hadn't occurred to the boys concerned that the girls didn't like what was going on: maybe they assumed it was as fun for the girls as it was for them.  In that case, education would definitely solve the problem.

But maybe not.  Maybe they were taking their pleasure and didn't care how it affected other people.  Maybe they knew that it hurt the girls but it was too important to them to have good 'street cred' for them to allow that to change their actions.  Or maybe they actually enjoyed hurting and humiliating the girls.

In those cases, education could still be helpful (by teaching the boys that what they were doing was socially unacceptable and would incur social sanction), but it wouldn't get at root causes.  They might stop raping their peers, but they'd still take pleasure in other ways where they were indifferent to (or even enjoyed) the harm caused.

Why do I say that?  Because I see it in my own heart.  I definitely do things that I enjoy without thinking about the consequences they have on others; I do things to make myself look good at others' expense; I even sometimes do things deliberately to hurt others.  Like these boys, I'm deeply tainted by sin.

The worldview held by almost everyone who comments in our media is deeply secular.  It has no category for sin.  The response for every ill - from people raising dogs that bite people, to people breaking the speed limit, to rape - is education.

This is harmful.  It means that our society can't address the root causes of behaviour such as that I've described: the best it can do is maybe redirect or temper sinful urges within its members through education.

And yet, the dominant worldview in our society does believe in evil: it just doesn't see it as universal.  Those who sexually abuse children, for example, are frequently labelled as evil.  And here we see another harmful consequence of our society not believing in universal sin.  Because we don't see evil as something that is within us all, when someone crosses that line they are ostracised.  They are sinful and evil but we are not: we have nothing in common with them so do not see them as worthy of empathy or even (sometimes) of human dignity.

This worldview affects education itself, too.  I notice this especially in the advice I see given to parents.  Take this, for example, that I saw a while back on Facebook:

I'm OK with the first and last statements on the 'connecting words' side but not with "I know you wanted to be responsible.  Sometimes things get in our way."  That's OK if you actually know that your kid wanted to be responsible but something got in their way, but I don't think it's a very good general assumption.  On a daily basis I do things because I'm selfish or lazy or proud: I expect all kids do the same.

What would I prefer?  An acknowledgement that we are all sinful: that evil is in all of us and that all of us do things that harm others not only out of ignorance but also because we want to.  That would hopefully lead to better responses to situations like the one I started with, and also help with both more realistic day to day parenting and less 'othering' of those who commit crimes we find particularly abhorrent.

That's probably the best I can hope for in a secular context, but of course that's not a real solution.  The real solution is relationship with Jesus.  Because, while I do still act out of my sinful nature, gradually over time I see ways that I'm doing that less.  As I allow the Holy Spirit into more of my life, He illuminates more of the evil in me; and as I repent and ask Him to change me, He does.  There's ever-so-far to go, but gradually that evil is being rooted out, rather than simply managed.  And one day, it will all be gone and I will be who I was created to be :-)

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Retirement savings vs. feeding the hungry

This week I have been challenged by the story of Huon, a Christian woman living in Cambodia.  In the context of the food crisis in 2009, an Australian woman for whom she was working wrote:
For Huon, the cook for the InnerCHANGE team office, a single woman in her forties, who works seven hours a day five days a week, making twice what a factory worker would make for six full days of work, the inflation means that she is riding her motorbike less, eating less and choosing cheaper food. She is not saving at the moment despite the need for surgery in the near future and the fact that she has no one to take care of her when she is old. She says: 'I know that I should save some money in case things get worse, but then I see my neighbors who are hungry and I have to share, or how could I be a Christian? I just have to trust God for the future.'

Martin and I expect to pay off our mortgage in February next year.  After that, it is our intention to redirect that portion of our income to retirement savings.  We intend to save enough money to fully support ourselves in retirement (without a pension from the government) as that seems like the responsible thing for rich people like us to do.

And yet, like Huon, we have neighbours who are hungry (they just don't live next door); and we have plenty to share.  If we hold onto our surplus, can we, in her words, "be Christians"?

If we redirected that mortgage money to giving instead of saving, we could more than triple our monthly giving (not that all, or even most, of our charitable giving goes to feeding the hungry).  Is it right for us, as Christians, to keep all that for ourselves?  After all, we serve the God who "owns the cattle on a thousand hills" - shouldn't we trust Him for our future needs?

As things stand, we wouldn't even have to trust Him that much!  After all, the New Zealand government, unlike the Cambodian government, provides its citizens life-long free medical care and an adequate pension in old age.  We also have Kiwisaver savings that are likely to grow to the equivalent of $350k by the time Martin retires.  The leap we'd be taking is ever so much smaller than that taken by Huon.

So what should we do?  We still have a year to decide, but we're definitely talking and praying about whether to change our plans.

Friday 23 January 2015

Upcycled Christmas presents

This year I was delighted to be able to make a lot of my Christmas presents from things that had been discarded, or buy discarded things for re-gifting.  I love doing that because it's frugal and because it forces me to be creative, but most of all I love doing it because it's a gift to some of the poorest people on the planet, not just the recipient.*

* to see what I mean, read this earlier blog post.

One resource that's really helped with that is the website 'get textbooks'.  Despite the name, they're a website that helps you find books of all kinds second hand.  They search zillions of other websites for your book, then present the results sorted by how much it costs to ship the book to NZ.  It's awesome!  I spend a lot of my time listening to audio books and keep a note of those I particularly like.  After choosing titles from my list that I thought would suit various people I entered them into 'get textbooks' and was able to find every one I wanted, in good condition, for only $10-$15 each (including shipping).

Many other presents were hand-made from discarded materials: something I chipped away at as I was able between June and November.

When we got our lounge curtains we got 'remaindered' ones, many of which were too long for our windows.  We duly shortened them and I kept the offcuts, some of which I have now used to make a toiletries bag.  The curtains are thermal-backed so the bag will be waterproof.

I've used 5 of Martin's old T-shirts (along with one of mine and one of Sarah's) to make 3 Christmas presents: two scarves (instructions for tying the square knot they use are here) and a bathmat.

The bathmat is backed with hessian from an old coffee sack: if you don't back these mats, when you wash them they just turn into one big knot :-(


From off-cut bits of felt from other projects, I made a set of tropical fish fridge magnets.  The actual magnets were culled from surplus 'self denial' boxes from Tranzsend's 2013 appeal.

From felt offcuts and the same magnets I also made some magnetic pincushions; other felt offcuts turned into a baby ball.

Lastly, I made an 'eco travel lid' for my cousin: a food cover you can use in place of glad wrap.  It looks like a large shower cap and can fit quite a range of bowls and plates.  The outer is fair trade cotton and the waterproof lining is gore-tex(!) from a cycling jacket of Sarah's that got damaged beyond repair.

Finally, just to show off, this set of tea towels are the Christmas present I was most pleased with.  They're not upcycled (the actual tea towels are brand new and the cotton isn't even fair trade), but I just love them!  The borders are fabric paint and the flowers are crayon (ironed into the fabric so it'll survive washing) edged with stem stitch.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Wellington New Year's holiday

After Christmas, Martin and I flew to Wellington for 10 days.  This was the first flight we've made since we decided to only make one domestic flight every three years (due to the astonishingly high carbon emissions* from flying) and we were keen to make the most of the opportunity.

*We calculate the carbon emissions from the trip to 400kg CO2e each: that's a third of the 1.2T CO2e that the planet can absorb in a year.
If we'd gone by car, the emissions would have been about 200kg each,
by bus about 115kg each
and by train about 100kg each.

For the first week, we stayed in a nice motel in Petone with my Aunty Elspeth and cousin Karlene from Whanganui.  The room wasn't 'accessible' (they only had 2-person rooms that were) but was manageable enough except that the door to the bathroom was too narrow for either the walker or wheelchair to get through!

While we were there we had two outings: to Eastbourne Beach (where my Gran used to live) and the Zealandia Eco Sanctuary.

The Eastbourne trip turned out to be much more exciting than planned.  Karlene and Aunty Elspeth drove us to the beach, then back as far as Day's Bay.  There I had a rest (on a self-inflating mattress that travelled everywhere with us) while waiting for the ferry to Petone to arrive.  After we got on the ferry, however, we realised it seemed to be going in the wrong direction.  It turned out that, since I'd checked the ferry timetable, the Petone wharf had been closed for repairs and all Petone ferries were cancelled!  We'd caught a ferry bound for Queen's Wharf in the Wellington CBD.

At Eastbourne Beach, Aunty Elspeth in the background.
I didn't panic too much and was able to enjoy the ride: especially the brief stop at Somes Island.  However by the time we got to town it was very much lunchtime and I was fading fast.  Finding food was much more challenging than expected, but eventually a kind lady pointed us to a cafe right down the back of an arcade.  After lunch we headed to the train station for a good long rest on the grass outside before catching the train back to Petone around 2.30pm!!!

Fortunately, the trip to Zealandia went much more to plan :-)  We spent most of the day there, sustained by three rests accompanied by (in order) a takahe, a tuatara and a wedding rehearsal.

Heather and Karlene admiring a tuatara that's set up camp under this concrete slab.

Martin at our picnic spot.
The remainder of the holiday was spent visiting Louise, a friend from university.  It was lovely to see her with her kids (she seems to be such a good mum!), to enjoy lots of conversation with her and to get to know her husband and kids a bit, too :-)

In Louise's garden, enjoying fresh lettuce with our lunch.

More photos from our trip are up on flickr.