Saturday, December 20, 2014

And His Name Shall Be Called…

As I listened to a most excellent pre-Christmas sermon last Sunday on Isa 9:6, I opened my logos software and looked at the Greek OT version of Isa 9:6 to see how the Greek translators had dealt with the Hebrew text. The versions we have in our English bibles are based on the Hebrew, and read something like this: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (ESV). This text seems to claim that the Davidic Messiah will have these four names. The two on the middle stand out as very much in tension with Jewish monotheism and anticipate a Messiah who is much more than just a man, but will be called by others Mighty God and Everlasting Father, names reserved only for God. I wondered how the LXX dealt with this.

I was very interested to find that the Jewish LXX translators a couple of centuries or so before Christ seem to have had a real problem with this passage. The LXX reads something like this: “For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder: and his name is called the Messenger of great counsel: for I will bring peace upon the princes, and health to him.” The first clause is rewritten to shift “Wonderful Counselor” to “Messenger of the Great Council.” The final three clauses are completely removed. The Greek translators clearly had quite an issue with this, finding it distasteful that the Messiah would be so entitled. So, they cut it out.

This shows how unready people were for a Messiah who would be more than a man and a redeemer of Israel. So when Jesus came, most rejected him. As I travelled Israel earlier this year, I saw this first hand. For most, Jesus is a myth and/or a false prophet and Messiah. Faithful Jews worship at the western wall, grieving for the temple, crying out for God to send his Messiah who will, it is believed, rebuild the Temple. They fail to see he has come and is the Temple, and he invites them into to worship God freely through his blood shed for them. Like the LXX translators, they simply did not have a theology big enough (or small enough!).

So, here we are, some 2800 years after Isaiah wrote this, and some two and a half millennia from the translation of the LXX, and one labelled the Davidic Messiah by his followers is now worshiped by over 2 billion people and is worshiped as Wonderful Counseler, Almighty God the Son, and Prince of Peace. Although it is not often you hear people called him “everlasting Father,” we would usually reserve that for God. Still, he has come, and Isaiah’s prophecy has come to pass.
Clearly, the prophet saw something more than a Davidic Messiah in Israel’s future. And he has come. That is what Christmas is about. God has sent his Son of whom it is then said in Isa 9:7, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” That is our hope this Christmas. This Jesus, who is all that Isaiah saw and more, has come, and now rules.  

So, whatever we face, let’s all marvel at the amazing story we are swept up in – the story of a God who so loved the world that he came to us in the form of his son and was born as a baby in ignominy and is now our Lord. Let us not be as the translators of the LXX and delete the bits that bite but rather worship him, calling him Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Shalom to you all this Christmas.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Really Bob Jones – How Out of Date You Are

Yesterday, Bob Jones published an opinion piece in the NZ Herald entitled, “Clear winner in science v religion” (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11359994). In the article, overflowing with his usual humility and wit, Bob expresses his certainty that science had trumped religion, inspired by Pope Francis putting “the cat among the pigeons” with his recent endorsement of the big bang and evolution. Jones wrote off the invented deities of human societies and even pondered declaring himself the Messiah. He then singled out Jesus, priests, monasteries, and nunneries for a real crack. He did display some vague signs of appreciation for Christianity, or as he calls it voodooism, with such things as “glorious cathedrals, Easter eggs, hot cross buns, some splendid music (offset by the dirgy stuff) and Christmas presents—only to then write them off as things Christianity merely took over. He concludes, “[d]espite those attractions I'll stick with science rather than fairy tales. All the primitive praying never saved us from the Creation's syphilis and rabies as antibiotics have, this just one of the thousands of examples of our debt to science.”

As usual, thanks Bob for not holding back, we sure know where you stand. The problem for Bob is that again shows that he is thorough going modernist, a dinosaur dualist, who doesn’t realise that the old dichotomy of science and faith is old hat. Science and faith don’t need to be set against each other Bob. Science is full of great answers to humankind’s many questions and most thinking Christians praise God for it and not a few get into science, inspired by their desire to explore their God’s creation. But science hasn’t got all the answers and especially the ultimate “why” question. Take the Pope for example, he doesn’t see a need to give up on God and faith because he gives a high place to science in his worldview. He recognises that science can take us back to an instant after the big bang, and then it’s anyone’s guess. God? Perhaps? Why not? And perhaps science can be understood as the exploration of God’s wonderful creation. After all, thanks to Isaac Newton we actually have modern science – and dare we admit it, he was a Christian, as were most of the first generations of scientists and more than a few today.

It seems to me that in his zeal to repudiate voodooism Bob creates a new religion (an old one actually) – scientism with its myths (like the big bang and evolution, true or not) and its priests (the scientists in which Bob puts all his faith). Science has its evangelists, like Bob himself. Some are old school fundamentalists who preach the absolutizing of a gospel of science in radical opposition to faith, ignoring, as many fundamentalist evangelists do, that there may be a third way – science and God?

Bob Jones really needs to read some contemporary theology from the likes of Alistair McGrath, Science and Religion: A New Introduction or John Polkinghorne, Faith, Science and Understanding which explore the exciting relationship of faith and science. Whether he changes his mind or not, I suggest he stop basing his understanding of Christian faith on old dichotomies that may be perpetuated in some popularist Christianity, but which for most, has been well put to bed in the present. For me, science is glorious, one dimension of theology, in which humanity explores the creation and finds the patterns, links, disturbances, incongruities, meaning and so on. We discover that the Creator put into creation wonderful things to be discovered, like things that heal, ways to harness the created order for human good (like power), amazing worlds to explore and so much more. One does not need to give up on faith in God to be thrilled by science. So, thanks for your article Bob – in reality, it is an epic fail based on an old dualism that is, to put it plainly, boring.

I wouldn’t put yourself forward for Messiah Bob, and if so, you need to come up with some new material. Maybe like Jesus who came up with “The Good Samaritan”, “love your enemies,” and dying by crucifixion and rising from the dead to save a world. Then, he, like Jesus, may be considered wonderful enough to be the world’s largest religion full of people who don't think science has trumped religion but can live happily with both, and who has shaped whole civilisations; kind of like the one Bob enjoys at the moment. Perhaps he should give this Jesus a bit more credit.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Thanks Dotcom -- Not! Election 2014

Dotcom, dirty politics and the mainstream media wrecked the election campaign and can be thanked for the comprehensive National victory in last night’s election. With the help of the Media that focussed intently on the claims, Dotcom and Hagar’s supposed revelations meant that the real issues and policies NZ should have been considering were simply not given a decent chance.

Then, when it came to vote, fear of the alternative drove many NZers including many of those in the centre-left (like me) who might have considered voting left to vote for National again – ‘better the devil you know.’ A cynic might postulate that the government granted Dotcom permission to come to NZ to help them win the election.

When you come at the government arguing that they are misusing the Internet with an argument based on emails stolen or hacked and using people considered criminals and spies by many around the world – unless you really prove that the PM and government are liars – you lose. They didn’t, and they lost. Seriously, do these guys think the average NZer is so dumb as not to see through their duplicity! It is one of the greatest ironies in recent NZ history that Dotcom in his zeal to bring down National and Key, inadvertently helped them win. He drove many into the arms of his enemy!

When you find that the government has been economical with the truth about security matters, which are by definition secretive, the standard of proof required is high. They didn’t pull it off – the moment of truth was the moment of defeat.

Dotcom and his mates lost the election for the left. He also took with him Hone and Mana. Yet they reaped what they sowed (a biblical principal of course). They paid  the price for doing what NZers find very distasteful, allowing themselves to be bought. They fell into his mammon-baited trap. It was especially distasteful to seeing figures NZers thought had integrity bought out – Laila Harre, John Minto, and of course, Hone. It backfired, epically. They reaped what they sowed. Mana need to cut themselves loose from Dotcom asap, and get together with the Maori Party and work out a way ahead. One strong united Maori party would be a real force. I predicted their decline in a Challenge Article sometime ago – they need to get it together and stay as far away from Dotcom as possible.

Labour is in a deep hole. Their leader may be popular within the party, but he is not at all popular in the wider nation. This incongruity shows that the party is out of kilter with the nation. They need a leader who can connect, who can relate. Someone with personal warmth and a bit of kiwi humour -- full of self-deprecation and with eyes that smile. Then there was the Capital Gains Tax. This key note item was poorly conceived and simply not the right thing at the moment for NZ – not without very clear development so that its flaws are sorted out. Cunliffe on this was crudely exposed. Even if they had got their policy and leadership right, however, I am not sure that with Dotcom’s games that it would have helped that much. The mess that is the left and Dotcom consigned them to defeat.

The Greens need to get out of things that are not core business, like abortion and pot smoking – that put a lot of left leaning Christians and off them. To be promoting handing out flax baskets for newborns to stop cot death while advocating policies that will lead to more abortions is the sort of contradiction that turns many of us off big time! Come on Greens, you can do better that this! Think! You are clever people. The Greens should focus on ecological issues – that is their thing. They also need to stop mucking about with who they will work with – their sudden jump to saying they will support National last week was a disaster. Further, they made the fatal mistake of talking about being (joint, pardon the pun) deputy prime ministers in the press. Seriously! That simply makes them look like they are power-hungry and that stuff puts off those who are all about justice. Humility should be their governing attribute. I mean, at least get into power first!

The problem with the left is that they are fragmented and are trying to form a government with a whole range of extreme policies which they have to cobble together. Now that Greens have illusions of becoming the main opposition, it means that there appears to be no stability for the voter on the left. The voter looks in and sees a whole range of taxation and other policies and simply has no idea what it will look like in the end. Who would vote for that? I am surprised that they did as well as they did! On the right you see this solid set of policies that their coalition partners will not really affect. You have a choice of a stable ‘what you see is what you get’ right, or a left whose policies will have to be hammered out for a month or three after the election. Even if ‘what you get’ is not quite what you want, at least you know what it is you will get. It is not a choice really. It is a joke that the average NZers would vote for a thrown together team of Cunliffe, Turia, Norman, Winston Peters, Hone Hariwera, John Minto, and Laila Harre. They have all demonstrated that they have massive egos – how on earth will they work together? What a mess!

The left is in a shambles and they have to come together and work out how together they can present a united front, albeit with differing nuances. They need to decide who is the party with the whole manifesto of policies who will be the leading mainstream opposition/or government party. That is clearly Labour. The Greens need to back off trying to be the leading left party, and do their ecological thing. Labour need the full range of policies leaving room for Green to be the left’s spokes-party on these ecological and a few other issues.

The Conservatives will never get there without a deal. I can’t see how a candidate will beat out National and Labour unless National gives them space to win an electorate. To make that happen they need a leader who stops saying stupid things in public, like whether people really landed on the moon etc. Next time Colin, stick to the big issues. There is space for Conservative, but they need to be given a hand. National can make this happen and likely they will next time around in Napier perhaps.

From a Christian point of view, through the machinations of our democracy, God has given National another chance. They need to tidy up the integrity issues that blighted the campaign. They need to address the security concerns people have, and at least be open about what is going on to give confidence to the ordinary person in our e-world that they are taking care to protect the privacy of the normal good citizen, while going after the ‘bad guys.’ They must work harder to address income disparity. They need to show greater concern for the environment. They need to avoid the arrogance that comes from being in power for a long time – they are showing some of that already. They need to refresh the party and prepare Key’s successor. That time is coming.

Again, from a Christian point of view, we desperately need leaders who are governed by humility and integrity. What is clear is that the ethics of those in power is very questionable. We don’t need a government change as much as an attitudinal change in those who aspire to lead in our nation. May that come to be. Somehow, I am not optimistic. Still, it is great we are in a nation where we can vote and have a say. We get to do it in three more years, I can wait.

In the meantime, let's sing, 'E Ihowa Atua... God of Nations at Thy feet...'

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Further Thoughts on the Election Dilemma: Some Responses to Conversations

Since I put it up, I have had some real interesting conversations about my previous blog concerning who to vote for. On the whole, most responses echo my own dilemma. That said, there have been some responses which I wish to respond to.  

First, I am now less inclined toward the Conservatives after I have been reminded of their views on ending the Treaty processes and removing the Maori seats (similarly NZ First and Act). While I can understand these ideas and believe that one day we may move to this place, I consider that these policies show a lack of awareness of our colonial history and the deep impact of the oppression of Maori in our past. I cannot imagine what it is like to be invaded and “my” nation effectively seized by an oppressor. We see the impact of such things in the world today in places like Palestine and the Ukraine. It is horrific. The carnage caused by the European settling of this nation has been immense and many NZers are simply not aware of it. Take the Parihaka story for example, which every NZer should be familiar with (http://parihaka.com/). Such things are not solved quickly. One thing I love about NZ in comparison to the mess many other nations are in is that we are committed to working to resolve these injustices. Such reconciliation takes time. We have a treaty with Maori. The State must honour it. Perhaps the day will come when Maori and the State come to an agreement that the Treaty settlement should end and that the seats are no longer needed. That will be the time. Not when some small fringe political party decides it. 

The other issue that has been discussed is my concern over the Greens and abortion. One person suggested to me that abortion is a private morality rather than a social justice issue. I find such reasoning remarkable considering that any person who holds this view was once a foetus and I am sure is more than pleased that those in their world at the time of their initial development were socially just and “allowed” them to live. Abortion is not a private morality issue. It is a social justice issue – justice for the most vulnerable of all people; those in the womb. The Green policy in question is wrapped up in their women’s policy and gives almost complete precedence to the rights of a woman over an unborn child. From a Christian perspective, this is flawed as the stronger and powerful should always be concerned for the weaker and powerless (e.g. Jesus and the marginalised). Without doubt, the Greens policy will make abortions more easily accessible and increase their number. When something is made easier, people do it more often. Case in point, lowering the drinking age – we have a way bigger problem since the age was lowered. Similarly, the Greens policy on abortion will increase abortions. Their policy wants “to enable abortions to be performed earlier in pregnancy, which is safer.” Safer for whom? Certainly not the baby! The Greens wish to remove abortion from the crimes act. So, when a woman gets an abortion that violates the law, is it not then a crime? What then is the point of abortion law? Surely, if it is not a crime any abortion will be ok even if it violates the parameters of their policy. I repeat – this policy will increase abortions. I also believe the policy is discriminatory against women, who it is meant to protect. This is because all women start life as a zygote and so it discriminates against the unborn girls of the world. Any decent women’s policy would strongly protect their right to live rather than give older women almost complete freedom to have them killed. This policy will increase violence against children, little girls and boys. I do accept that the abortion laws need a make-over, but not in this direction. At least one contradiction in the Green’s policies is amazing. On the one hand they are determined to rid NZ of child poverty – the policy that leader Russell Norman stressed on a recent TV debate. That is a great policy from a Christian point of view – if there is a way, bring it on. Yet at the same time the Greens are making abortion easier and so are promoting the killing of children. A real cynic might see the policy as a step toward eugenics and one way to remove child poverty – less mouths to feed? I find it amazing that some Christians will support a party that thinks this way. The incarnation is the centre of our faith (John 1:14) and it began with an unborn child in the womb of Mary by the Spirit (Luke 1-2; Matt 1) – how can those who worship the God made flesh countenance accepting the killing of the unborn child. I don’t know why the Greens get themselves involved in such policy. Why don’t they stick to their core business – the environment? I might vote for them if they did. I don’t get it.

The final thing worth noting is the decriminalisation of marijuana which I consider a very important debate. We have immense problems already with cigarettes, alcohol and legal highs without adding to the cocktail of drugs our nation is high on. If we decriminalise it, people will smoke it more. What is wrong with us as a nation that we need to get stoned, high, or pissed all the time? I would not consider voting for any party that seeks to decriminalise marijuana (except as a legal medicine, fully medically tested, and prescribed by doctors). Back in my dark days I smoked the stuff and it is not good for you especially bad when blended with alcohol (I am still recovering). So, for me that further rules out Mana Dotcom (who are at present scrapping about this), the Greens, and need I say, the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party! According to Norml, the Labour Party also want to decriminalise it and perhaps allow it to be sold to adults – another question mark against Labour. The only parties that will not are Conservatives, National, NZ First and United Future (see https://norml.org.nz/2014/toke-the-vote/).


So, who to vote for – the thinking goes on … God help us… 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Open Letter to the Churches of Aotearoa on Election 2014

Note from Mark: After my previous blog concerning the dilemma of who to vote for a Christian who does not want to be named sent me this and asked me to consider promoting it. While the views in it are not my own, I feel it is worth sharing as an option for consideration as we go to the polls with so much uncertainty about who to vote for. It is one genuine possibility among a few others. Unlike other more prominent bloggers, I received no money for posting this.  

Have you made up your mind yet on how you will vote? This is an important privilege we share and a right we should exercise. Unfortunately voter turnout by those who identify themselves as religious or having a strong faith in the past decade has generally been lower than the National average.

Perhaps that is because it can be so hard to know what candidates and Parties you can really trust. Since no one is perfect and certainly there is probably no political party that you agree with 100%, sometimes we are only left with the option of voting for the Party or candidate that offends us the least!

It is not the intention of this open letter to tell you who to vote for, but rather to suggest an option that you may not have considered thus far in your deliberations.

Have you considered voting for the Maori Party? Did you know that you can give them you Party Vote even though you are not on the Maori roll?

Here are a few reasons why the writer believes this is worth considering.

Much is being discussed about who will be ‘Kingmaker’ and who will hold the ‘balance of power?’

Some parties want to remove Maori seats, and dispense with anything based on the Treaty of Waitangi.

All this at a time when many churches across the country are becoming involved in some way this year and next in observing and celebrating the bi-centennial of the first preaching of the gospel by Samuel Marsden on Christmas Day 1814.

We have been discovering, or re-discovering in a deeper way the amazing history of the gospel in New Zealand and in particular, the way in which Maori embraced Christianity in large numbers between the late 1830’s and early 1860’s.  The gospel transformed individual lives and Maori societies as outstanding Maori evangelists, teachers and preachers passed on what they had learnt from the early missionaries all across Aotearoa.

Recently published books by Keith Newman have been very helpful in this regard.
‘The Bible and the Treaty,’ ‘Beyond Betrayal’ and Get over it or get on with it, unfinished business in our own backyard,’ and ‘Ratana the Prophet.’

The role of the early Missionaries in encouraging Maori to sign the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 was described in a sermon on Waitangi Day this year at a church service at Waitangi as that of the midwife of the Nation as they acted between the Crown and Maori to bring about the Birth of our nation.

It has been further suggested that perhaps we have suffered at various times in the past 174 years as a Nation when Christians’ individually and the Church collectively have not continued a role in the ongoing birthing of our Nation.

For the past six years the Maori Party has provided support for stable government of our country while pursuing policies, programs and legislation that has improved the lives of Maori and our Nation as a whole.

With the retirement of the Founding co-leaders this year, there are some new faces in the Maori Party under the leadership of Te Ururoa Flavell as he begins his 3rd Parliamentary term.

A recent poll put the Party at 2% and other polls have all-but confirmed the Waiariki Maori seat will be won by the Maori Party Leader to give the party 3 MPs.
In some election result scenarios  it could only take a further rise of 1.5 – 1.7% to add two more MPs and give the Maori Party a stronger place in determining not only the next Government but also many individual decisions over the next three years.

 At number 4 & 5 on the Maori party list are two Christians that could be very influential in our next parliamentary term, at a time when it looks like some controversial legislative changes may be promoted that could further undermine the Christian foundations of New Zealand.

At number Four. Te Hira Paenga is currently the Assistant Principal at Hato Petera College, Assistant Curate at the Auckland Anglican Māori Mission and holds senior leadership and governance roles at Hoani Waititi Marae. Te Hira is a father if five and has earned tertiary and post-graduate degrees from Auckland University, Waikato University, Auckland College of Education, Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo and The College of Saint John the Evangelist.

At number Five. Ngaire Button is now mother of six children and has been married for 23 years. She’s been a successful small business owner for 18 years and contributed to her local community on school boards, the Neighbourhood Trust and church ministry. Ngaire, who was a former Christchurch City Councilor for 9 years and deputy Mayor for three years has much to offer at a national level.

Perhaps this information gives you one new possibility of how you may responsibly cast your vote this year.



God Bless

A concerned Christian Voter.
  



Thursday, September 4, 2014

Election 2014 The Dilemma: Some Personal Musings

Not voting is not an option for me. Democracy is flawed, but it is the best system around. People died to get this freedom to vote, and I will exercise it. I must.

But deciding who to vote for this time around has to be one of the hardest decisions ever. For those on the extreme right (of which I am not one) it is not difficult. Act seems to have got its act together (pardon the pun) and returned to its core business. They are almost guaranteed a seat in parliament because of the stitch-up in Epsom, so a vote for them in Epsom is certainly not wasted. Yet, polls suggest that to cast a party vote for them outside of Epsom is likely a waste, as they are unlikely to get enough to bring in another candidate. I am outside Epsom, so even if was inclined, on the basis of the polls, I wouldn’t think about them.

Others on the centre-right create more than a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, it seems easy. National have governed for six years. NZ is doing well by many markers. They have bought the country through some difficult times in GFC. Compared to the left which is a fragmented disparate group, they are a ‘stable’ option (although Dirty Politics does call this into question). Their prospective partners are relatively benign compared to those on the left. Yet, in their time the gap between the wealthy and poor has grown. The middle class is increasingly squeezed. I wonder if they are concerned enough about the environment. I would like workers to get a better deal. The questions around NZs involvement in ‘big brothering’ is worrying. Then there is the dirty politics saga and especially the Judith Collins affair which calls into question the integrity of the National caucus and shakes one’s confidence in National – there is a lot of smoke, is there a fire and how big is it? The name Cameron Slater makes me want to run as far from the right as possible. Despite John Key’s protestations of ignorance, can we really believe he did not know what was going on in his office? He should have known – it is his office! If he didn’t, doesn’t that show poor leadership? And what else is there that has yet to be revealed? Yet, National remain a possible option simply because the other options are equally if not more shaky.

Other centrist/right options here are first United Future. Yet, although Dunne is likely going to be re-elected thanks to his mate John, a vote for UF is kind of the same as one for Act; it goes nowhere on current polling which doesn’t look like shifting.

Then there are the Conservatives. They appear to have integrity and stand in many cases for common sense. They also stand for family values that I can really relate to. Yet, some find Colin Craig a little unusual when it comes to things like moon landings – although I think people are unfair here. He seems a decent guy to me. Then there is the idea of binding referenda, which sounds like a great idea but could become a real annoyance and great cost to the country over time. And then there is the big question – will they crack the 5% threshold? And they need to unless a deal is done in East Coast Bays. Let’s say they get 4.9%; that is a lot of kiwi votes that effectively go down the tubes and don’t affect outcome. So, with them polling around 3-4 at the moment, it is a gamble. Still, they are an option if you are comfortable with a national government and want Conservatives with them at the table.

Maori is another centre-right option. I feel that they have acquitted themselves well under Sharples and Turia and having a voice for the Tangata Whenua in the caucus is a good thing. So, although Flavell is untested (he did well in the TV3 dinner party though), they are an option for those in the middle/right concerned about National’s baggage but wanting a centre-right government.

And of course there is NZ First. A vote for NZ First would certainly count, as they are polling well above the 5% threshold. They also have a lot of common sense ideas. Yet, their rhetoric on race has always made me uncomfortable. And while he has NZ politics best smile, do we really want Winston in the driver’s seat after the next election? That is a thought that makes me really nervous. I find it hard to back a guy who could go either way. I want him to make his mind up. Then I might consider his party.

So what about the left? Whoever one votes for on the left, there are issues. First, a government has to be formed that in some way includes the leaders and egos of Labour, Greens, NZ First, and at least the support of Mana-Dotcom. How will it work when their leaders with their disparate policies, bottom lines and strong personalities get together to hammer out policy? How would a collective of David Cunliffe, Hone Harawera, John Minto, Winston Peters, and with Dotcom himself looming larger than life in the background work together? I would love to be a fly on the wall at those meetings!

The Mana Dotcom party seems a very uneasy alliance which threatens to come apart almost daily,whether it be Hone over the their employment policy or Georgina Beyer more recently. And even if Mana Dotcom provides only confidence and supply, such a government would have Dotcom having a hand in NZ governance. Having seen snippets of those videos of him inciting revolutionary fervour sends chills down the spine. Is his involvement a good thing?

And then there is what to make of Dotcom? While I have friends who extol his virtues, I am unconvinced. He remains a wanted man who is considered a serious criminal by the US government who are seeking his extradition. He is a self-confessed hacker. These are no small things. By coincidence dirty politics revolves around hacking – raises all sorts of questions to me. Is he really a hero? A kind of Robin Hood? Or is he like that guy who wasn’t actively committing any ‘crime’ himself but had a big warehouse where criminals placed their stolen stuff (‘upload’) for others to come and buy (‘download’)? Isn’t that a crime? Or am I missing something? Certainly, at the least, the jury is out on him and I would prefer to wait to see how things play out before seeing him anywhere near the NZ parliament.

To be honest, I can’t take Mana Dotcom seriously. The sight of the radical social justice advocate John Minto getting into parliament on the back of Dotcom’s money is deeply disturbing (not to mention his old man dancing! – not that I can talk – but I know not to do it on TV!). Hone is controversial enough on his own without being in cahoots with Dotcom. I think they will blow apart quickly after the election – too many egos to last.

What about the Greens? They have a range of very interesting and positive politics. I especially like their emphasis on cycling – bring it on. However, being one who is passionately pro-life, I find their abortion policy abhorrent. Despite their protestations about it being ‘honest’, it will surely lead to more abortions as what barriers there are taken down. So, while advocating for the care of the environment and social justice in this nation is needed, and their leaders present an intelligent and united front, I cannot give them my vote in good conscience.

So what about Labour? Three things make me hesitate about Labour. First, I worry about the Capital Gains tax. If we were forming a tax policy from scratch, I think a CGT has some real merit. Where people invest in property etc, tax on their profit would seem appropriate. Yet, in the current housing market I think it is, to be frank, a dumb idea. Why? Because, in a housing market which already has a significant shortage of rental accommodation in Auckland and Christchurch, it will bump up rents as some landlords pass on the cost of the not insignificant tax to their tenants. Rents are already crazy in these cities, and with people not able to buy their own homes in many cases, will make renting even harder. Alternatively, other prospective and present landlords will choose not to invest in property and so there will be less NZers investing in housing and there will be an even greater shortage of rental properties. This will surely also push up rents unless there is a sudden great supply of accommodation available (below). So, it will lead to many kiwis, in Auckland and Christchurch in particular, not only unable to buy their own homes, but will also push rents up. As such, because of the context we are in, I think introducing a CGT at the moment is a crazy idea. Not to mention the kind of intricate debates going on about what happens after a person dies and the house is sold? Etc? It does not seem a well-conceived policy and I think it will have very dire effects on the cost of accommodation which will hurt the poor most. And Labour is all for the poor, right?

Secondly, there is their 100,000 affordable homes policy. This seems far-fetched to me where Auckland and Christchurch are concerned. Where will the builders come from, and will the companies buy in when they can make more down the road in more ‘unaffordable’ housing? It will require government incentives for them to buy in I would think, and so where does that money come from? (CGT?). If builders do get behind it, maybe, just maybe, 100,000 homes can be built – but affordable ones, in Auckland? Where? What sort of boxes will they be? The future slums? In Christchurch? Really? It also relies on Labour having more than one term as it doesn’t kick in until after this three years – so who says they will even be there to continue it? Of course if they can pull the building off, the problems around rentals will be eased (above). But will they? And how long will that take? And who will feel the pain in the meantime? The poor! I am not sure they have thought this through.

Thirdly, David Cunliffe. He is not a popular man at the moment. I thought in the last few weeks he was coming back. He did well in the first debate. Yet, now he is being brutally exposed over the CGT shooting himself in the foot with gaff after gaff. Further, does he have the full support of his own caucus? Does he have the leadership skills to hold together the leaders of the left? I find myself struggling on both counts. I am not sure anyone would have those leadership skills; and anyone who tried, would need a fully united team behind them.

So who to vote for? I have problems with every party and none satisfies me. Who shall I choose? No idea. I like the thought of a more socially just society, that draws me to the left. Yet the thought of increased government and taxation worries me – what with income tax, GST, rates, and potentially a CGT, how much tax will it take? On the other hand, I am a traditionalist where family values are concerned and like the idea of stability, that draws me to the right. Yet, there are serious questions raised about the integrity of the Nats and whether my vote will go anywhere if I go for the other small right parties. And while I am disturbed by the thought of Dotcom, I am equally concerned at the antics of Cameron Slater.

The truth is I have no idea who to vote for at this point. I will continue to watch, listen, read, pray, and think. Then, no doubt, I will make the usual last minute call, take a punt, close my eyes, and vote. I will probably quickly regret the vote – wouldn’t be the first time! God help me! More importantly, God help us all. May it be that somehow in the mess we call NZ politics, you our God of Nations will bring about the formation of a strong stable government which will see NZ secure, prosperous, and socially just. Amen.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Jerusalem!



Earlier on our trip we went to Venice, which I then thought was the most incredible place I had visited. While I love Venice, for me, Jerusalem now takes that place after we entered through the Jaffa Gate (the Left).








It is impossible to sum up a visit to Jerusalem in a few words. It is amazing. Here, religion and politics have collided for centuries and this continues in the present.The Temple Mount is extraordinary. 






You see Jews rocking before a wall which once formed the western side of the base of the temple, praying in grief for the loss of a building. They are pleading for the coming of Messiah and its restoration. Yet, Messiah has come. He has formed a temple of people, not a physical building. God’s people no longer need such a building. In the ancient temple was the Holy of Holies where the High Priest could enter once a year to atone for the sins of the people. Now, in Jesus, anyone can enter by faith, forgiven, and stand before God freely in intimate relationship. We don’t need a building. We don’t need a priest. We don’t need a priest. We have a high priest, one after the order of the Prince of Peace (Salem), Jesus, he has opened up a way to God that does not require a temple.

You see the separation of men and women before God, which I found annoying. The men's section is way bigger, with a lovely internal chapel. Above the women's prayer area is the makeshift bridge to the Temple Mount itself. We got in, but only after a very angry German tour guide went off at our tour leader for claiming the front spot in the queue. He embarrassed himself completely, but then it is a place of passion.







You can enter yourself and pray, it is open for prayer (except for most Palestinians who are imprisoned behind a wall). As you enter you see as sign which highlights Isa 56:7 (right). I kept thinking of Jesus, as he cleared the temple, citing this text with Jer 7 critiquing Israel's failure. 





There are books for the faithful to use in prayer and worship -- none are the NT or Quran of course.






Then you can enter the Temple Wall Tunnels which are now tunnels, but in Jesus' day were the path going along the western wall. You can pray at this now subterranean wall putting prayer requests in the clefts of the rock. 





All that said, the Mount is dripping with significance. It is where Melchizedek prince of Salem (peace) ministered and Abraham was prepared to offer Isaac. For Jews the rock of Mt Moriah is the first rock of creation. For Muslims it is from where Muhammad left on his heavenly experience. It is deeply contentious. Some Jews and Christians want to rebuild a temple here. Thankfully most repudiate the idea. Any move in that direction means the war to end all wars.  

On top of the Mount, where the Temple once stood, are mosques. I kept wondering what it felt like to be a passionate Jew and see this – Israel is still being trampled by the Gentiles. Muslims claim this space due to its relationship to Muhammad’s vision and its importance in the story of the prophets of Allah. Jews cannot visit this area, because of concern they may accidentally violate the holy of holies, the site of which is uncertain. 



The Temple Mount symbolises the fervour and futility of religion and concern for holy space whereby one place is more important than another. Indeed, we saw that fervour while we were there as a group of Palestinian Muslims swept through its lower courts protesting.





The Christian Gospel rightly understood opposes racism, sexism, and placism. All places are sacred. All are equal before God. All are one in the new Temple, Christ, and his people formed on the cornerstone. No need for all this concern over a mount. Wars have come and more await us because of false ideas of this space. So sad, so sad.

Then there is the Mount of Olives. What a space. Again, religions collide. Jews await their Messiah coming to this place. Hence, the tens of thousands of graves all over its slopes which give the mount a grey desolate look from afar. Muslims believe Muhammad left earth to heaven from the Mount, and to here he will return. 





Christians claim Jesus left from here (the footprint, right), and to here he will return. Wow!









Then there is the Church of the Beatitudes, where Jesus supposedly taught his disciples the Lord's prayer. This is historically dodgy, but the church is great and you can read the Lord's Prayer in a multitude of languages including Maori.





On the slopes of this mountain was heard one of the greatest prophecies of history; as Jesus looked upon the Temple Mount and predicted its complete destruction (Mark 13 – the Olivet Discourse). This was fulfilled dramatically in the Roman wars (66-70 AD). Jesus’ people missed his call to move beyond ethnocentric election privilege, violence, and a spacism based on Temple, and were destroyed by the Romans. Jesus himself is the Temple, and we are to yield to him and enter his people by faith, and we are his people – wherever we are. 


As you move down you come across a little gem, a tomb of the prophets (Zechariah, Haggai, and Malachi). It is a fascinating little tour of the place where the prophets of the Second Temple are laid.




I was deeply moved by the Church of the Dominus Flevit where Jesus as he looked out over the Temple Mount wept over Jerusalem's failure to heed him. No doubt Jesus could see the destruction coming and his heart went out to his people who he came to save. 




You get to visit the Garden of Gethsemane, which is beautiful. The ancient olive trees are fabulous, some of which may be grown from trees that witnessed Jesus' torment. Here God the Son cried out to his Father to grant him release from the torment of crucifixion he would soon face, and yet yielded to God’s will. Of all the biblical places I visited this moved me the most as I considered Jesus on his face pleading with God for release from the horror of the cross to come. Yet he rose and yielded and now the world has hope. Wow!

Then there is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. What a church! Amazing art, especially the mosaic that meets you as you enter telling the story of Jesus' final moments.






On this trip I have seen the two of the most astonishing churches I know (the other is St Peters, Rome). The La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is an amazing architectural statement of worship to God. Yet the Holy Sepulchre transcends it, not for its architecture which is very interesting shaped around the places of Jesus’ walk to the cross, his death, and resurrection, but for the power of its story. You walk in and after the mosaic greets you, you see a rock where it is said Jesus was laid for anointing.

You climb up and worship at the spot of his crucifixion.










You descend again and enter the tomb, or what is left of it. Deep!


Nestled behind the Jesus' tomb is the astonishing jewel of the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, who gave up his first tomb for Jesus. At each spot there are lines of pilgrims who kneel, touch and kiss the spots. That is comforting at one level; faith is still alive on planet earth. Yet it is also disturbing, for Jesus transcends all this and can be touched anywhere. 


You walk to the Church by wandering the Via Dolorosa from what was once the Fortress Antonia beside the Temple, past the spots where Jesus fell or Simon took up his crossbar or Veronica wiped his face (not sure on this one). Finally, you enter into the church through other churches to the point where Jesus’ walk of pain ended in death, burial, and an empty tomb. Wow! So deep. So challenging.

Then, if you prefer you can visit the Garden Tomb. Here, you see a hill shaped like a skull, and a tomb. Whether it is authentic, which is highly questionable, it is a place of quiet, gardens, ideal for reflection.




The Upper Room we visited above the tomb of David was fascinating. It is unclear whether this is an authentic site; but if it is it is astonishing that it is sited above David’s tomb. Reading the Gospel accounts Jesus was intentional about using this site. Was it because of its link to David – the new David had come? Who knows? In this room Jesus and his Twelve at the final Supper. Here, the Spirit descended on God’s people and the Church exploded into life and mission replete with Pentecost power.


We also visited Zedekiah’s Cave, where Solomon quarried rock for the first Temple and where it is said Zedekiah’s tears fall for Babylon’s destruction.





A visit to David’s city was fantastic. We got to walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, an astonishing feat of engineering and a brilliant experience. More than that, there are excavations of Jerusalem at the time of David replete with archaeological remains that vindicate Jeremiah’s account of the fall of Jerusalem. You see the 3000 year old wall of the city of David. 





Then there is the rich story of Jerusalem since the days of Christ. The 33 conquests. Its time under Rome, various Islamic dynasties, Crusaders, Britain, Jordan, and present.


Make sure you pop into the Austrian Hospice for something to eat and drink, and get up on the roof for the amazing views.







There are the four quarters, which are fascinating. You learn how it is that alongside the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim quarters bustling with markets and life, is the Armenian Quarter. 



Something to do with the women that the Crusaders picked up on the journey to deliver the city. The city is a labyrinth you could explore all your life.


I love Jerusalem. It perplexes me. I can’t help thinking that the world will culminate around this place. There is so much at stake for Israeli, Arab, Muslim, and Christian. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A visit to Bethlehem, Where Jesus was Born

After our time at the Sea of Galilee, we drove to Jerusalem and dropped off the car. While we were able to drive the rental into Bethlehem, we would not be covered by insurance and the company could not help us if we got in trouble. So we took a taxi to the Bethlehem Bible College (right). This is a Palestinian Christian college very close to the wall, about half an hour walk from the centre of town. 



The people of the college are courageous people, strong believers in peace, people who stand for Christ in a most difficult environment. One senses the forces of Zionism and Islam crushing them. They are imprisoned inside the wall which towers over the town (left). They cannot leave without documentation.








Bethlehem is very different to the Jewish cities, and more like Nazareth. It is peopled by lovely friendly people who love to say “welcome” and engage you in conversation. They are delighted if you are staying in the town, and without doubt the friendliest place we visited in Israel. On our first walk we hung out with some disabled people in a spontaneous moment of dancing and fun (right). 







We also met a couple of young guys who were sad for their country and are heading overseas to get away (left). They spoke of their desire for peace, their love for the Israelis, but the problem being the leaders. There was also Muhammad who has a garage by the wall. There used to be a road to Jerusalem there but now it is closed. His business is on the rocks but he soldiers on.




We walked to the centre of town to visit the Church of the Nativity (right). That meant a walk through the market, which was awesome. It is chaotic, cars fitting in tiny streets, people selling their wares, vendors calling out, arguments over deals, and noise! It was cool! The people welcomed us warmly, not just to make a sale, but simply because we were there.







The Church of the Nativity is getting rebuilt internally which was sad. 








We used a local guide, a Cantor of the Church. That was inspired because he got us through the queues, and sang for us. He then invited us to a Greek child-baptism at which he sang (right, the cantor is tucked in beside the guy with the blue shirt). 







We got to see some hidden areas like the tomb of the children, where a whole lot of children’s skeletons are found. It is believed by some that these were the children Herod killed. Not sure about that but very sobering






The nativity area itself is interesting. We saw the supposed spot where Jesus was born (right). 






We also where he was laid in a manger, and where the magi bought gifts (left). 










We got to see these spots thanks to our Cantor, whose name by coincidence is Jesus!

We also visited the Milk Church (right) where it is said that Mary dropped a bit of milk and the stone is white and where there is a picture of Mary breastfeeding (left). I found this all a bit weird--not Mary breastfeeding, but the whole church site and dropped milk.







Other key sites we visited were Solomon’s Pools, an amazing set of three pools built under Solomon, meaning near 1000 years before Christ! They are fantastic (right and left). A number of Palestinian kids have drowned in them, so they are barred.









We also visited the Herodium, one of Herod’s palaces on top of a hill. Here we see again the influence of Herod the Great. Amos’ hometown Tekoa lies beside it (right), which fascinated me. It is a long way from the north where he was sent to prophesy




The views are extraordinary. 








There is a theatre, which faces toward Jerusalem (right). 







There are lots of ritual baths (like the one on the left), we find in all of Herod’s places. 

There is Herod’s grave (right). 








This is a great site.

One more thing. This is very near Bethlehem. It makes sense that the edict to kill the children of Bethlehem was enacted from here. Joseph didn't have long to get his family out and head to Egypt.