Monday, August 31, 2009

Worth a Thousand Words?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words but I am again finding that a picture is about a thousand times as much trouble to put into a book as the words.

The text of my”life story” is in its first complete draft and is being looked over by a good friend and editor. Meanwhile I am trying to make up some picture pages to support the rather large mass of words. Matching of words and images has been a large part of my life, so I really want to have pictures in there. But it’s a huge task to select them, clean up colour slides with half a century’s dust and fungus on them, and scan and process them to fit the page.

However, if the whole book project does nothing for anyone else, it has certainly done a lot for me. From the more dispassionate distance of decades, I have been able to see myself more as others would have seen me at various times. It has not always been a pretty picture. In a recent church service I was shown again how easy it is, in a moment of evangelical passion, to give the wrong emphasis in a sermon or conversation. I often failed there.

But I have also been reminded of quite a few good and worthwhile times and projects. I have continued to discover how much I have to be thankful for in family and friends and a calling that always went far beyond just an occupation.

In a week I have another blood test to see if the latest extra medication is slowing the growth of my prostate cancer. It might or it might not. But, either way, I have no sense of unfinished business in this life. I am looking forward to the future with anticipation especially as we celebrate our Golden Wedding in the next couple of months. And perhaps I will even have to write another chapter for the book and – oh, really? – struggle with some more photos.

And, yes, the title I hinted at in July will do: “In and Out of Sync”. What do you make of that, I wonder?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lilian has left us

Nearly 98, she would be called a pillar of her community and a woman of faith. She was the ultimate example of the regular church attender, always in her special chair on Sunday mornings.
But she didn’t believe in the “bodily resurrection”. An avid reader of Spong and Geering, in many stimulating conversations, she articulated a faith that was not dependent on believing certain “fundamentals”. “When I’m dead, I’m dead,” she told me more than once. But she lived as if all traditional Christian beliefs were true…

I think that’s what real faith is about – not “believing” a bunch of stuff, but living as if the Gospel story were fundamentally true.

GK Chesterton said: “Faith is believing three impossible things before breakfast”. Actually, Lilian was closer to the truth. Faith isn’t really about believing - it is acting as if the three impossible things were actually possible. That’s how Lillian lived. That’s what we will be celebrating at church in a couple of hours.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The hiding has had its day - To smack or not to smack

I found John Roughan’s article in the NZ Herald last weekend really helpful. He emphasised that parental “correction” is already legally acceptable in the context of an immediate response to a serious situation. It may involve a degree of apparent violence to restraint a child from being hurt or from hurting someone else or it may be a simple but firm physical re-direction of the individual.
But parental “correction” in the style of “You wait until your father gets home” and the violence that usually follows this threat is dissociated from the unacceptable action that provoked it. It has no corrective virtue at all. Indeed, it may teach entirely the wrong things.
The present law allows appropriate parental correction in the context of an immediate and relevant situation. A change in the law might result in a style of parental “correction” which would contribute to the cycle of meaningless violence which we must repudiate.
The law does not need to be changed. And it should certainly not be relaxed on the central issue of violence to children.
“Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”
Vote YES - you won't criminalise careful parents and you will preserve the principle that violence against children is wrong.

Local Shared Ministry - the Vision and the Chores

I was putting up a row of slots for holding patch cords and was confident they were straight and level as I banged screws into the study walls.
When I stood back, I could see immediately that they were not quite straight at all. I’d been too close to the job to make a good judgment about them.
In a lot of life in the local church, we can’t always stand back and survey the whole scene in its context. And that means that sometimes the pressure of the little chores makes it impossible for us to see the wider vision. But just standing off and scrutinising the distant vision doesn’t change anything.
We’re coming to another Calling for our ministry team and there’s the usual anxiety:
“We’ve been doing this for nineteen years – isn’t it time to try something else?”
“Who will turn up for the Calling Workshop?”
“Where will we find someone to replace so-and-so?” And so on….
Of course we’ll take time to rekindle the vision for a lay led congregation. But we’ll also have to grapple with the specifics. In both, we have to remember that we are not alone; as we review the vision and take some tentative steps towards it, we put ourselves into the hands of God.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Right to Smack?

The upcoming referendum is a thoughtless waste of taxpayer resources. The question is worded in such a way that even if the referendum is carried, it won’t necessarily change anything.

The current Act certainly appears less precise than may be desirable but it says that any kind of violence against children is wrong. If everyone votes “YES, it should be a crime to smack my child in any circumstances” the law also does not need to be changed. It clearly rejects violence against children.

Even if the entire electorate votes “NO, it should not be a crime to smack my child in certain circumstances”, the law does not need to be changed or done away with. It provides specifically that the Police have discretion about bringing prosecutions. Only a handful have been brought. The law is working and it is not turning parents into criminals all over Aotearoa-NZ.

It may be an imperfectly drafted law, but it is better than what we had, and if the 30,000 who signed the referendum had asked a more explicit and direct question we could have voted more usefully next month.

I would rather vote on “Every parental act against relationships with children should be a crime”. As the referendum is I think it is clearly better to vote VES than to vote NO. To abstain or spoil the ballot paper (as some have suggested) is probably as good as voting NO. Whatever the imperfections of the present law and whatever I feel about the referendum question, I have to say that I have come to see that the present law is better than a change which might deliver parents the clear right to beat their children.

Vote YES!

Running true?

We were away in the caravan this last weekend and I noticed that the front tyre of our “thirdwheeler” was badly worn on one edge. When I stripped off the cover of the towing assembly there were pieces of flat greasy stuff sticking out of the rotating unit. A thing called a “damper” has been broken up and spat out. Worse, the central pin on which the assembly turns, has become slightly bent.

I guess that pin has been through over twenty years of taking the bumps on some fairly rough roads and I shouldn’t be surprised that it isn’t as straight and true as it once was. But even this very small lean away from “true” has virtually ruined a new tyre. There’s more noise than there should be when we’re towing and the van’s been hard to manoevre by hand.

So tomorrow a local engineer will pull the assembly apart again and straighten the pin. It will have to be heat-treated in a gas torch to enable it to be brutally forced back into square. While the unit is apart we’ll check out other components and make sure everything is working as it should. It’s just something that has to be done after a couple of decades of hard work, especially if some regular greasings have been overlooked.

I suppose churches are much the same. It doesn’t take many things “out of true” to upset the balance of things that should normally run smoothly. Ignoring problems can often make matters worse but dealing with them can occasionally involve some uncomfortable heat and pressure. At the end of the day, every member needs to be “straight and true” for the local congregation to be faithful to its calling.