Monday, December 19, 2011

The Innocent Man - and the Small Church

I’ve been somewhat absorbed in John Grisham’s The Innocent Man in my spare moments during the last few days.
A true story, it records the astonishing series of seriously unjust events in the investigation, arrest and trials of Ron Williamson of the small town of Ada, Oklahoma, between 1987 and 1999. The catalogue of errors of omission and comission by Police and the justice system has to be studied to be believed. Williamson was reprieved only five days before his execution was to be carried out. I find myself boiling with indignation that so many one-sided processes were applied to this man.

But I’m not sure we’ve always done a lot better in the church. When things go awry in the small congregation and outside help is sought, there can also be problems of blinkered vision. Even the wider church can make mistakes of judgment and lose its grip on natural justice. I can think of at least three conflicts in small churches with which I’ve been connected, when those who were asked to investigate allegations of improper behaviour listened with compassion and sensitivity only to the complainants. In both cases, the other side was not invited to make any response. Rather, those whose stories were never told were advised that the matter was now “all in the past” and they should “move on”.
Forty years ago our denomination conducted excellent “Lay-Clergy Dialogues” a few months after the arrival of a new minister. Sometimes, a crucial function of those events was “exorcising the ghosts” of the previous ministry. It was a conscientious attempt to air and lay to rest any resentments or grievances arising from the former ministry or the discomforts resulting from its winding up. There was at least an attempt to recognise the effect of lingering issues of the past upon the present and the future.
I guess the church doesn’t offer this excellent programme these days. Certainly, the way in which the national jurisdiction sometimes relates to local problems doesn’t seem to suggest that kind of understanding.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Happy Beneficiary Christmas!

I'm one of those dinosaurs who was in Christian Social Services at the time of the Woodhouse Report and the Social Welfare reforms that followed it in the early 1970s.
Hearing of the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots this morning reminded me of the innovative principle behind those reforms. It was that people on benefits and their children should be able to enjoy a "reasonable quality of life" not just a meagre existence.
One of the "reforms" was the institution of an extra two weeks' benefit, paid in mid-December, to provide a contribution towards the cost of Christmas celebrations and holidays. It wasn't a fortune but it was an imaginative and compassionate way of emphasising that the little extras that most of us take for granted should be available to people who have to be supported by the State.
Alas, all that compassion went out in later "reforms" and now the word is taking on a quite different meaning that suggests further savaging of the standard of living of people and their children at the bottom of the heap.
It's really gratifying to hear that the OECD has drawn attention to the widening gap in Godzone. But will those newly installed in power hear the message, never mind understand the issues and do something about them...?

Last Past the Post

My two bits’ worth in the Mixed Member Proportional debate would have been that it MMP isn’t perfect and needs some adjusting in obvious areas. But I am gratified that there is no strong 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 on such a nominal event that I took Paul, aged ten, into the booth with me, and let him vote; he’d studied the issues at school and 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 we 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 good few years later. I still think mine was better, but then - and now - anything would be better than going back to FFP.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Over the Tasman

I’m all out of blog at the moment. We had a great three weeks in Australia and our three Murder Mystery Evenings were a great hit and raised nearly $5000 for various charities, thanks to a huge amount of effort by the locals in Canberra and Sydney As well, we had an interesting and relaxing time doing some very different things from home. It was good to spend time with the Aussie rellies and to see some new parts of the countryside in NSW.

Coming home was bound to return us to the problems with our old No 1 computer. Its replacement was almost ready for duty. But Windows 7 was not happy with the most important programs I use and getting printers to run with them has been a nightmare. Lots of my most commonly used applications and systems have died. Not surprisingly, it will be some time before everything is running reasonably well. So things are a bit stressful around here at present. However, as the fellow said after accidentally swallowing a peach stone, This, too, will pass. It’s just an uncomfortable process.
And by the way, if anyone still hankers after getting NZ wages up to Aussie levels, they had better price a few local commodities and look at basic wages in that country before making a commitment. We expected things to be dearer but, in some supermarket areas, costs were well above what we might have expected. And the price of prosperity in tearing resources out of the ground has yet to be calculated. The grass, or what is left of it after droughts and floods and fires, is not all that greener on the other side of the Tasman fence.