Monday, February 22, 2010

The Chris and Gareth Show

Bev and I have just re-run the My God TV episode where Chris Nichol interviewed Gareth Morgan. What a breath of fresh air! Chris does a great job with Praise Be and I love the music, but My God is literally, Something Else.

The intimate interview with Gareth was a most special moment in a special series. One whose ethics aspire to principles rather than rules; who wants to treat people, even in the rough and tumble of business and economics , as he would like them to treat him; who as a matter of principle distrusts the rulers and high priests of society; who, on receiving a huge windfall from the sale of Trademe, looked for ways of sharing what he didn’t need; who says we had better enjoy life’s journey to the full because we don’t know what’s at the end; such a person can only say he has no time for religion with a very specific definition of religion in mind.

Gareth, this Methodist salutes you. Chris, you and the team at Pacific Screen, are a gift to us all for your imaginative selection and sensitive handling of your guests. Thanks.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

MMP and all that

My two bits’ worth in the Mixed Member Proportional debate would be that MMP certainly isn’t perfect and needs some adjusting in obvious areas. But I would hate to think that there will be overwhelming support for the suggestion of returning to First Past the Post.
Up until MMP came in, I never cast a meaningful vote in my life. I was always in electorates where there was no way that my vote was going to change anything. In rural electorates my vote would never have got my candidate past the post and in urban electorates my vote would have contributed only to the overweening sense of importance that some high-majority partliamentarians displayed.
It was once such a nominal event that I took Paul, aged ten, into the voting booth with me, and let him vote. He’d studied the issues at school and knew what to do and did it thoughtfully. But his vote didn’t change anything more than mine would have.
In those days it only mattered to vote if you were in a marginal electorate. Those were the voters who swept governments in and out. Sometimes a swing of a handful of percentage points in key electorates across the country made a huge change in the balance of parliament. Often the parliament lost skilled and experienced politicians in the carnage.
In the 1970s I proposed on radio a reform which turned out to be almost exactly what we got in MMP a dozen years later. Mine didn't have the controversial threshold at all so it could have had practical problems. But then, as now, almost anything would have been better than FPP.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

“Homework and Ministry Formation”

My 1972 Diploma of Education, and its thesis about testing of candidates for the Methodist Ministry, hardly qualifies me to wade into the current school homework debate.
But I am impressed to hear of the objective of getting Primary age children to target and achieve their homework around topics that are real for them. They are to choose objectives, and their parents are to sign that the work has been done. Then they may report to class: I built this boat; I got dinner last night; I’ve kept my room tidy for a month.
In the 1970s I devised the “Teenage Budgeting Programme” which invited parents and teenagers to contract together for a realistic monthly allowance – not nominal “pocket” money. The amount was based to be on the actual cost of clothing, entertainment, school needs and so on. The teenagers had to do all their own decision-making and spending. And they had to account for it, on paper, once a month.
But when we offered the concept to secondary schools they preferred to teach budgeting of adult things like rent, housekeeping, insurance, electricity, property maintenance, mortgages, investments and so on. These, they felt, were preparing their students for the “real world”.
I still say Nonsense. The best learning takes place in the context of the learner’s own world. The new approach to homework sounds like a huge step in the right direction to me.
It’s the same with ministry formation in Local Shared Ministry. People who dedicate a few hours a week to voluntary ministry don’t need three years of a broad classical theological education. They need to be helped to prepare a first sermon, to draft a rounded liturgy, to demonstrate caring in a pastoral context, to think theologically.
And to find needed information on the www!

Getting away from it all

After one of my rare Sunday service efforts – Paihia at 9am and Russell via car ferry at 11am, followed by lunch with the visiting congregation at the latter – we have escaped for a couple of nights. To get away for a bit.
And have we got away! There’s no one we should visit. There’s no cellphone coverage. We can’t even sight up the satellite for our little Freeview TV setup. And somehow, the thumbdrive with the two projects I’d planned to work on, got left at home. Come to think of it, I can’t even upload this post to my blog.
But the weather which promised to be very hot has turned out very pleasant so far. There’s a grand beach just down the road. And we have books. Everything else can wait until we go home in a couple of days.
The moral is: at our stage of life, you take it all as it comes. Today hasn’t turned out as we thought. But it's here. And we will wring every bit of enjoyment out of it that we can.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Murder?" he said

I’m working on another murder mystery. The theme is pretty close to home in our little community: the director of an ambitious waterfront development plan is blown up in his luxury motor launch at the town jetty. The dinner audience will have to work out who did it. I think it’s going to be fun.
Watching three murder cases being reported from the Courts tonight has reminded me that these tragedies and their solutions actually come with tremendous pain and angst for everyone. And justice in its purest form is often elusive.
I hope the fun I am planning doesn’t diminish the seriousness of the real thing. And perhaps this time, I should devise a murder that turns out to be only an accident…

The Big Cs

There are two big Cs in my life. One is Prostate Cancer and the two life-changing medications which are keeping it more or less subdued. I have little control over what happens in the cells that are running riot inside me. I know that I have to simply get on with life and let it take its course as it will. I am grateful for every new day that Bev and I both wake in the morning.
The other Big C for me is the church. Not the denomination whose lifeblood still flows, but more faintly these days, in my veins. Not the national organisation that is now flailing around trying to find to solution to the countless problems that it faces. My other Big C is the little congregation in Kings Rd.
Here I am counted among a couple of dozen who find that they cannot do without what we offer each other on Sunday mornings. Here we live out a corporate life of worship and service in a context that has never been sympathetic and supportive. Here we struggle with our different beliefs and ways of doing things. But here, week by week, we are stimulated and inspired by gifts of imagination, art, music and word.
In this little Big C there is also no guarantee for our future. We know it isn't forever. We live a Sunday at a time. And as we meet together, we are grateful for each other and a God-shaped dream that bears us up.

Mission and Ecumenism in 2010

The great missionary conference of 1910 was the culmination of the Victorian evangelical passion to “bring the world to Christ in our generation.” It was later judged to be the birth of the modern ecumenical movement. Mission and Ecumenism were seen to go hand in hand. Working together, the Churches could accomplish anything in a world which was increasingly celebrating the achievements of the human race. Nothing was impossible for the race or the Gospel.

The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and the Great War in 1914 brought the end of a lot of that triumphalist view of human nature. But mission was more than ever on the agenda. There was work for the Church and it was in the new ecumenical context. Worldwide, denominations merged and united in new alliances and structures, often in the name of “mission”.
A hundred years later, Mission is still running its course – after a fashion. But not much in mainstream denominations which are in lockdown to somehow turn the outgoing tide. And Ecumenism is also eluding us in a retreat into flogging the dying horses of denominational brands.
Here in the Far North, a pioneering and spirited adventure of four decades of actually doing ecumenism at district level is being dealt a hefty blow by our parent denominations. As they spread their failing resources more thinly they are demanding that our ecumenical district organisation be sucked into their structural death-throes.

I think Northland deserves something better from them.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Didn't I do well?

The TV1 Breakfast Weather with Tamati Coffey came from Paihia yesterday.
I’d been asked if our Residents’ and Ratepayers could be told about it the night before, so I dutifully sent off about a hundred emails.
I don’t stand around too well these days so I watched the show on TV at home and admired a great little set of vignettes about what’s going here. It was excellent promotion for our little town as we come up to what may be the biggest public turnout ever for Waitangi Day.
Afterwards a couple of people sent me congratulations on the show. I guess they thought I’d organised it all but all I did was flick off a few emails. Some other very enthusiastic people were behind the smooth presentations and we should all be grateful to them.
It’s always easy to confuse the medium with the message. Yet, of course, there’s a sense in which the small town is its own message. It speaks for itself. It doesn’t need a promoter or a PR person. It walks the talk. Rather like the small church.