Friday, June 26, 2009

NZ's Most Trusted

I watched with interest the TV One news story the other day on Breakfast where they announced who the most trusted New Zealanders were. I heard that Willie Apiata had won and that the majority of the top ten were sportspeople. This set me off. I thought, what? What does this say about our values? We value sport more than anything. A guy who does a great feat in a war is someone that people trust. I thought, trust in what sense? In a war, yes, Willie is the man. Or is he? I don't know him. He might have just been the man of a moment and really the rest of the time who knows? But, should I trust him with my money? With my kids? With a secret I don't want anyone else to know? Mmmmm.

The Evers-Swindell twins came in 2nd/3rd. Now they are great athletes, they appear to be lovely girls. But, are they to be trusted? I have no idea. How is it that John Kirwan makes it on. He was despised in his day as an arrogant Auckland tosser. I played against him, and that description was no completely without warrant. Yet, he bore his soul on TV and he is in. So my first thought was that NZ's values were screwed. Sport is everything and this proves it.

Then I dug a little deeper and searched it out. It turns out that 500 NZers were given a list of 85 NZers and asked to rank them. Then I realised the whole thing was loaded from the start. The 85 were chosen by Readers Digest. My wife Emma missed the list, cause she should have won. You can trust her with anything. So to say, Ed Hillary has been NZ's most trusted NZer for the last three years and now Willie A is is nonsense. Rather, they are the most trusted among a list of NZers prominent in the media! Again, the media rule the nation.

So, the whole thing is wrongly promoted. To find the most trusted New Zealander you would interview people with a blank canvas and ask them, outside of your close family, who is the New Zealander you trust the most. 'Trust' would have to be defined.

In actual fact, the New Zealanders I trust the most are my fellow drivers, pilots, emergency and medical staff. I dare to trust them everytime I take to the road, get in a plane, and have a medical issue. Of course, these are unnamed. For me personally, my wife and kids I trust absolutely. My brother and sister in law too.

The list does however reveal some interesting things. First, it does reveal that we judge our sportspeople very highly. After Apiata, the Swindells were 2nd equal, Barbara Kendell was
3rd, Peter Snell 4th, Susan Devoy 5th, Meads 6th, Kirwan 7th, Irene van Dyk 8th, Vili 10th, Hadlee 11th, Hamish Carter 12th, McCaw 16th, Vettori 20th, Lohore 21st, Greg Murphy 25th. So, of the top 9, 8 were sportspeople! Yet, we do not know these people except that they play good sport and come over nice and humble on TV.

Aside from self and money, which undoubtedly reign in the NZ pantheon, without question sport has pride of place in the gods of this age. While I love sport and respect most if not all of those named, what the heck is going on? Mind you, not all sports people did well, Mark Ellis was 68th and Matthew Ridge and impressive 78th. That is because they behave like gits on TV and their messy private lives have been scrutinised in public.

I see all politicians did poorly. Helen Clark topped them in 52nd, Key just behind in 53rd, Jeanette Fitzimmons in 67th, Bill English (just behind David Bain!) in 71st; Phil Goff a brilliant 74th; Sharples, 75th; Russell Norman 76th; Rodney Hide the self-appointed watch dog of NZ politics 79th; Turia 80th; Sue Bradford 81st; Roger Douglas 82nd; and Winston Peters 83rd! I don't think you will see NZ first back in 2011. The result says Kiwis do not trust politicians! On the other hand, it does show how naive NZers are about politics. Let's face it, being a politician is a no-win situation. It is the art of compromise and every decision is scrutinised and disappoints some, while pleasing others. The realities of running a country are far trickier than any NZer understands. I suspect some of these people are as trustworthy as anyone, its just that they are so scrutinised both privately and publically, that they are in a no-win situation.

So for me it is a load of nonsense. These are not NZ's most trusted people. The most trusted people are those who every day we entrust our lives to. Like surgeons who cut our cancers out. Doctors in whose hands our very lives are. Husbands and wives we share it all with. Emergency service people who respond to our crises. And yes, politicians in many cases. And of course for those of us with faith, at all times, and when all things fail, Jesus Christ who is with us always! (Phil 4:9).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

When is a killing murder?

What the heck! How is it that you can go around to your former girl friend with a knife, stab her mercilessly 216x.

Clayton Robert Weatherston is on trial for allegedly doing this to Sophie Elliot in Dunedin in 2008. Supposedly he stabbed her 216 times with the knife. She had stab wounds to both eyes, her genitals, breasts, left cheek, left temple, left ear, the left side of the neck and 45 stab wounds to the front of her throat. He cut off the tip of her nose! That is utterly disgusting and my heart goes out to her and her family for what they have gone through.

He admits he killed her but claims 'partial defence of provocation' and claims it is manslaughter. Apparently he admited the killing immediately in a calm tone. Allegedly he told the office he killed her and mutilated her for 'the emotional pain that she has caused me over the past year.' It is alleged that he believed she had cost him a chance at a permanent lecturer's position at Otago University.

Supposedly he was, to quote the defence, ill-equipped to deal with' the relationship 'because of his unique personality make-up.' The claim is that she attacked him with the scissors so he dealt to her with the knife.

Holy moley! When is a killing a murder. If she had one fatal stab wound and he had not come into the house with a knife, maybe. But come on! This is ludicrous. Here's a guy 'slighty' over-reacting! What on earth is he doing claiming manslaughter. When is such an action justified? When a man responds to a woman in such a way, what is this? I say, thank God for Otago University that they did not employ him! As a lecturer myself, I can't imagine anything worse. He's not the sort of guy you would want meet up with in the staff room. Imagine the conversation!

'Hey Clayt,' you're looking tired.

'What, you messing with me,' he replies, threateningly.

'No... just ... you don't look yourself...,' you reply sheepishly.

Next thing you know you are pinned to the noticeboard with a knife to the throat!

Anyway, that is all rather insensitive and I apologise.

What I don't get is how such behaviour from a man can ever be justified as anything other than murder unless this man is claiming insanity. First, he brought the knife. Second, he didn't just kill her, he utterly mutilated her.

To me it raises 2 questions. First, is there something wrong with our justice system? By the way, I was speaking to a police investigator off the record the other day (not being investigated!), and he said to me as an investigator that there was nothing in the Bain trial at an investigative level that supported the idea that Robyn Bain had killed his family. Interesting. Not saying I acccept this, I don't know enough and he has done the time whatever the real truth; but, to me, there are real problems in the NZ justice system around violent crime. This manslaughter plea is another. What the!

Secondly, shouldn't he just do the right thing?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Open Entry for Maori to Uni?

I see Pita Sharples is advocating that Maori should get open entry into university (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10579221). Now, I am fully committed to seeing all NZers become well educated and am deeply concerned at the educational progress of Maori who consistently underachieve as compared with other ethnic groups. However, this can only be described as daft! Universities stand on their international reputation. We simply can't drop standards to let people in, no matter what their ethnicity. I am not sure that this would help anyway except in a few cases. Most who come in through the back door will not have the necessary academic ability to get through. It will lead to a deeper sense of failure and be counterproductive. I am sure there will be the odd student who would make it through this process. However, they have other ways they can do this. They can go back to school as a mature student or enrol in night classes etc. There are other paths.

What I don't really get when I read something like this is what Pita Sharples is trying to achieve. It seems to me that the Maori party wants credibility and to broaden its appeal. To do so requires taking real care to ensure that Maori as represented well. By functioning in a reasonable manner, other non-Maori may be drawn into supporting them particularly in the party vote. There are many European NZers like me who are very sympathetic to the cause of Maori. We do acknowledge that a great wrong was done historically in the colonial period. We do acknowledge that to facilitate the correction of this historical wrong, there must be efforts made, concessions and some degree of 'affirmative action.' But lowering the standards to entry into university is simply ridiculous!

A deeper problem is at what point does NZ become a nation where people of all ethnicities are on the same playing field. In my view, in the long term, I am not sure any nation can run with different systems for different ethnic groups (or any group for that matter). My forebears came to NZ in the 1840's on both sides. This means that I am a 6th - 7th generation NZer. I am a Kiwi. This is my home. There is nowhere to go. While I undoubtedly live withi the benefits of colonialism and must acknowledge this, at what point do my forebears no longer have to bear the cost of my forebearers' mistakes? I did not do what they did, I do not approve, but there is no going back in history as I see it. The world has moved on.

I believe we are some years and perhaps generations away from this. We must continue the Waitangi process and work to raise the good of Maori. But ultimately, there must be a time when special help is not given to people on the basis of race but on the basis of need; where all NZers are acknowledged as Kiwi with one law and on one footing; where it is acknowledged that the current generation is no longer guilty of the past; where we are one people with one law and one way.

I believe the recent statement by Pita Sharples is terribly counterproductive and only serves to animate anti-Maori sentiment in NZ, and we don't need this! I am pleased to hear Maori themselves coming out and critiquing this idea; good on them. My prayer is this: that NZ can continue to live in harmony, to find ways to honour the Treaty, and ultimately to come to a point of unity and oneness with one law and way for all (and in a way which enshrines the principles of the Treaty as best we can without favouring one people over another). Having said this, I am not sure how it can be done. There must be grace and reconciliation from all parties.

I pray that when we are there it will be a situation where Maori feel honoured and accepted and where to the best of our ability, the Treaty is honoured. I pray we can get there without the gun. One way we can do it is to rediscover the call of the Gospel to lay down our lives for each other (whoever we are), to come together in faith at the cross, and live its pattern.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Money, money, money!

Have you read this: http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=476585&publicationSubCategoryId=200. It is about a daughter who thought she would be nice to her mum. She thought she would buy her a new matress and get rid of her old one. She did so. The only problem was is that Mum had $160m stuffed in the mattress. This is a great illustration of how a good deed can go wrong. Last I heard they were searching for the mattress and money at the dump! Haven't heard whether she got her money back.

Then there is the latest news that Ronaldo has been sold by Man United for $205m NZ: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/sport/news/article.cfm?c_id=4&objectid=10577962. Ridiculous! We are in a global recession and this sort of nonsense is going on. What is the place of sport in our culture? It has got out of kilter. Sport is great to develop character, let off steam, enjoy our createdness, learn values and provide relief from the struggles of life. Yet, here it is totallyout of balance. No one is worth that much money! It is the god of mammon who is ruling over our world, leading us astray, latching onto our greed and bringing us into his dominion.

Jesus said, you cannot serve both God and money. He said it will cause many to fall astray. Paul warned it is a trap that will bring down humanity. Surely, we have seen in the recent meltdown the effects of greed. The whole thing is a disgrace and makes me want to vomit.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Technology and Community

I am intrigued by what is happening in the world as a result of technology. Last night I was sitting in my home in Auckland NZ and simultaneously was talking to the coach of my daughters Johnny B at Kaukapakapa about 60k's NE in the country on the land line; was chatting through Skype to Esther in Bristol, England; was talking to my daughter Gracie on MSN in Remuera across the city; and chatting on Facebook to my young nephews Sean and Tom at Brown's Bay about 10k away! My wife was in the next room talking to Gracie simultaneously!

Interestingly, I am as much up with my daughter Esther's life in Bristol on this trip as I was when she was home. There is no tactile contact, no hugs, no visuals (although we can use video link ups) and much is internet chatting by text.

Yet, there is a real sense of community with all this. What does it mean to be 'we' in this world? So much now is experienced visually through the box and the net, and by text on cell phones and chat options. Then there is the good old phone.

At the same time, facebook sees a continual interaction with people. I am now linking up with students I used to teach back in the mid 80's over 20 years ago. One old student found me and she is linking me up with old students. It is bizzare. I am not connected with 400 people many of whom I have not spoken to for years and have missed. E - community is not the same as real community, but it is better than nothing and in many ways I am now more connected with people than I have been for years.

What are the implications of this? Can we have church like this? Some church's are trying this, with chat rooms, on line services etc. We are in a new age and we have to rethink and critique all this. We need to get on with it because it is here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Singing to the Lord 2; Another Response

I put this in as a comment, but it was too long. Here is another response George.

I agree with you. I don't think it is meant to work though either, if we are open to unbelievers, we will serve them including providing them with words and understanding of whatever we do. I think we all spend too much time worrying about what other people are doing in worship though. The only person on planet earth I can control and ensure isn't singing glibly or whatever, is me. Having said that, you are most certainly right. But, the solution to me is ensuring I am not one of these.
Hype is a problem for sure too. Again, I prefer to look past this and humour them. I will be hyped as I feel I should be authentically and in the Lord.
I understand on emotion. In many cases it is a bloke thing too, we tend to resist emotion. That is what makes us blokes I suppose. But Jesus was not amiss to shedding a few tears and accepting the most outrageously emotional worship (esp. Lk 7). I note there too that the offering of the woman was probably proceeds from sin and a dreadful 'waste of money.' Yet Jesus cherishes it and delights in it and rebukes the unemotional Pharisee. It is also a Kiwi thing, a left over of our British 'stiff upper lip' heritage. Again, I think we should just delight in others who do this and meet God in our own way and not worry too much about what others are doing unless it is distracting especially to unbelievers who are beginning to think that they are mad.
Amen, it is about balance. Yet, again, we will never find balance because 'balance is a moving target.' I also note that the greatest contributors to the world are often imbalanced. There is a tension and struggle here.
I agree entirely that we are imbalanced away from introspection. The contemplative and emerging church movement is in part seeking to address this imbalance among other things. I celebrate that, bring it on. Bring back the retreats, the silence, meditation, quietness etc.
Then again, as we get older such things draw us, and we need to take care not to impose it on the young with all their enthusiasm and desire for razzle dazzle. We need to be with them, putting up with it, celebrating that at least they are worshiping God with an unguarded spirit. But we need to be there to meet them when they say, I have had enough. We can show them that there is another way!
Amen on the size of God. The problem churches have today is that they are struggling so much just to survive in many cases, that they are heading for the centre of the 'market' and seeking to find a 'one size fits all' way of doing church. Of course, there isn't one. We need churches that abandon size concerns and simply be as they are. But in a money world, such churches are simply unable to sustain themselves and die. They need to perhaps go back to homes and start again.
Forgive me if I am getting argumentative brother. I hear you. Let's keep talking!
On silence... amen! I am an activist and haven't aged or matured to the point where I enjoy it. But I need to and know it. I agree silence is one of those times we shut up and listen. It is then that we hear the voice telling us to go down to the south road, we do, and we meet an Ethiopian reading Is 53, and then we hear that same voice telling us to engage him, and we do and he becomes a Christian. We have lost the 'inner voice of God' for sure.
It is damn hard to hear that voice as the drums are playing! Hehehehe. As for silence as a skill to be taught. In this age perhaps above all ages that is true, at least in the city. The city is noise! The city is movement! The city is productivity. Sitting still, in quiet, in the presence of God, is a lost art! Learn it and teach us George.
No apology required at my end, we are seekers and we need to dialogue (great Greek word dialogizomai/dialogeo!).
Have you come across the teaching on worship of Donna Dinsmore. She teaches a course at college and is very much from an emerging contemplative stream. You can do it online. She comes here every year. I think you would delight in her approach. You would find a way forward there I am sure. Check out her website at http://www.donnadinsmore.com/. She is running a worship retreat in NZ in July: Worship Matters Retreat, Taupo, New Zealand, October 2009. You can email her at donnadins@gmail.com. Not sure how you can sign up.

Singing to the Lord

I have just been to the gym and as I sat on the erg pulling away I was listening to Hillsong. Yes, Hillsong. In my circle of the faith, some people hear that name and smile appreciatively because of their love for Hillsong and their music. Others reach for a bucket, their grimaces betrayed their deep abhorrence of their music and all things Hillsong.

I do have some problems with Hillsong. Their theology is over-realised to a large degree. They sing of the already of the Kingdom too much and do not take much cognicance of the 'not yet.' Thematically, they miss out a lot of themes which are important such as repentance, prayer, seeking forgiveness, unity, dimensions of mission etc. Their songs tend to be generic, pop worship has to be, to gain the largest market. Yet, aside from this imbalance, their music to me is astonishing.

My concern in this blog is not Hillsong, but the reaction against singing among many Christians today. I understand it. The way we sing is a problem, with a band at the front, performance driven in many cases, and the congregation appearing more as audience than participants. The songs are often lacking in depth, with repeated refrains and a shallow dealing with theology. This is forced by the genre of contemporary worship which has swung away from the hymic form of yesteryear.

We also sing a lot, and we repeat songs a lot. Our worship to me is imbalanced with an over-reliance on sung worship at the expense of prayer, sharing, etc. NT worship is hard to completely assess as we do not have a huge amount to go on, but certainly in 1 Cor 14 we have church in homes, based around meals with the Lord's Supper, and a charismatic sharing of gifts (esp. v.26). Actually, singing worship is not mentioned in the Gospels except in regards to the infancy narrative in Luke with the songs of Zechariah, Mary, Simeon and the shepherds, those singing as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey and the hymn sung as they went out from the Last Supper. It can be assumed that the disciples and Jesus sang as he went to the synagogue as was his custom. I am sure as they sat around at night around the camp fires and in the homes of people as they travelled through Palestine, they sang. Yes, it is fair to critique the over-reliance and nature of sung worship. It is fair to challenge the weak theology. It is fair to ask questions and look to restructure worship.

Yet, we go too far when we want to throw out singing. The Psalms are replete with commands to sing. We have determinations from the Psalmists that they 'will sing' no matter what the suffering and circumstance. The NT affirms singing. We find Paul and Silas singing in a Philippian jail, witnessing as they worshiped God on the Sabbath at midnight. Luke appears to link their miraculous release to this event, he often linking prayer to the miraculous. Paul speaks of singing in 1 Cor 14; determines to sing with his spirit and mind; that Gentiles will sing in Rom 15; inserts hymns into his letters like Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; Eph 5:14; 1 Tim 3:16; encourages believers to sing in OT psalms, new Christian hymns and spontaneous and other Spirit-led songs. Revelation is fulll of glorious songs of praise.

So we go too far when we repudiate singing. We miss the glory of the modern song movement. I find it hard to believe that God is in heaven hating people singing to him. There are examples of God being offended by worship in the OT (e.g. Amos, Is 1). Yet these relate not to the worship itself, but the failure of the worshipers to live the covenant and especially show deep concern for the needy. Their worship had become vertical and not horizontal. I believe what upsets God more is not whether we sing too much or get the songs just right or the balance perfect; but what we do when we leave. Do we care for the needy? Are we radically generous? Are our hearts right? Are we committed to living out our faith in obedience and humility? Are we hypocrites or true worshipers. There should be no disjunction between our Sunday worship and the other 166 hours of the week.

Personally, I think God loves it when people come into his presence intentionally and pour out their lives to him. We should not baulk at emotion in worship as people raise their hands and pour out their hearts to God. We are called to love God with all of our beings? We should not be concerned when believers play skillfully to the Lord, seek to please him with the brilliance of their worship, sing well, play well. But we should be concerned when we idolise these things and performance obscures worship.

Over all I think we should sing less, we should restructure our worship spaces so that God is the audience and not the band. Mind you I do not get into sitting looking at other people, I find that really distracting. I want to face an empty front of a church maybe with a worship leader and the band to one side. I think we should have more prayer, more sharing, more open space, more silence, more songs of depth, more interaction, more dynamics in the service than we do.

But I don't want to come to church to analyse every week, to tear apart the songs, critique the sermon, rebuke the worship leader, and generally be a critic of worship. I want to participate and give God some real glory. So I choose to. Often the worship is not that great. Sometimes it is. Sometimes I am leading it, but I do so now in fear and trembling because I know it is faultering and weak. Yet, I think God does not analyse my prayers, he hears them holistically. He response to humans reaching for him, even if the expression is not perfect. So, as for me, I will sing to the Lord.

This was stimulated by a verse I had never noticed before. It is Deuteronomy 28:47: 'Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and with gladness of heart for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything...' There is a link here between a failure to come to God in joy and gladness with exile and oppression. I want to continue to come to God openly. I will do so through the songs of Hillsong, Vineyard, Matt Redman, and more. Have I got this right?