6.11.12

in the middle of a thought // the internalisation of being white

There are some things about who I am that I hold dear to my heart. They are sources of joy as well as sources of pain, and in the last few months I have been learning to come to terms with what it means to live in this skin. I thought that once my teen years were through, I would have developed at least some foundation of who I am, but it turns out that identity knows no deadline.

We live within structures. Simon Blackburn put forth the idea that "phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract culture." Thus from the moment we are born our paths are determined to be influenced by the structures and conflict that exist within humanity.

I am a woman.

I am white.

These are two characteristics of my person that anyone will know as soon as they look at me. Interestingly, these are also two characteristics that influence my path in life the most. Because I am white, living in a colonised country where white skin is 'normal' and Euro-centric culture determines our democracy, I am automatically handed power. The educational, legal, political and cultural system that I partake in are systems that have been inherited from my British origins and thus are designed to benefit someone of my culture. I am set up for success, whereas someone from a different culture is expected to 'play the game.' Furthermore, because I am a woman living in a society that continues to suffer the hangover of patriarchy, I struggle to be seen as equal to a man, or worth more than my sex appeal. A little bit of power is taken away (if you disagree with me, then please tell me why the hell GQ magazines men of the year were featured in a tux whereas the woman of the year was photographed naked). But I still earn on average more than a woman with brown skin, so the conflicting societal structures overlap. Tricky...
[An interesting point to note is that there is little sexual dimorphism in humans. That is, there are few observable, outward differences between males and females other than reproductive organs. The ways through which we tell men and women apart are largely due to culture, e.g. long or short hair, makeup, clothing, adornment, gender roles, gendered expectations, etc. Another blog topic for another day huh!]

My point it, we all desire to know who we are and what our purpose is. A lot of the time, that desire is followed by a desire to make a difference in the world somehow. A desire to address social injustices, to raise awareness about particular issues, to lobby for reform in some way. For a significant number of people, these issues are often based upon gender and race inequalities. Yet so often we fail to internalise our own gender and racial prejudice because we are terrified of admitting our own brokenness and we are reluctant to hand over the power that we are so used to. It is easy to intellectualise issues of gender inequality, or to remove ourselves from having to face the racial divides that run deep in this little country at the bottom of the Pacific. But in order to make a real change, we need to be aware of the structures in which we function, and we need to ask ourselves; are we functioning within a system of oppression, or are we resisting a system of oppression?

This internalisation of racism first hit me a few months ago, when I read a statistic that Maori men have a life expectancy of 70.3 years, whereas non-Maori men have a life expectancy of 79 years. Similarly  Maori women have a life expectancy of 75.1 years, and non-Maori women have a life expectancy of 83 years. These differences are due to the fact that Maori are over-represented in poverty statistics throughout New Zealand and thus more likely to lead a lifestyle that is not conducive to longer life expectancy. Now it is all well and good to quote statistics. But it wasn't the statistics that hurt me. It was the fact that when I read them I wanted to cry, because these statistics tell me that the man I love  is expected to die 13 years before me. Somebody just try and justify that to me. Please, I'd love to hear you try.

This led me down a road of awareness. I encourage anyone who is interested in the power dynamics between white and non-white people and racial awareness to watch these two videos (part one and part two). I am in no way at the end of my journey...I will always be white, and I need to learn to accept that. I also need to learn to let go of the defence mechanisms that cause my to deny my white privilege. I am passionate about Maori and anyone who knows me can tell you that. But I am unable to give anything of myself to this community if I refuse to hand over my power. Jane Elliot said that she would not stop educating people about racism until racism was no longer an issue. And then, as her lip trembled and her eyes shone, she said "I have a job set up for me until I die."

Let's not be half-hearted.

27.10.12

"Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. 
Do justice, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. 
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it."

26.10.12

{praise at all times}

The last few weeks in this big yellow house on the edge of the city have been humbling.

At the end of September a bouncy castle is erected in front of our house on the sidewalk. Kids laugh and fly from side to side. Bunting blows in the Wellington wind against the brightly painted walls of the Castle and people sit on couches in the sun, laughing and celebrating the 21 years we have been together. We eat, and we talk. People jam in to the community room downstairs and listen to stories of redemption and love, and I am aware of how blessed we are to be together in our brokenness.


At the beginning of October, we are gathered again. But this time, in mourning and celebration. Colourful leis decorate our home and colourful words decorate the casket. In the sunshine we walk, bearing her load, across the road to say goodbye. The road workers stop and watch, silently respectful. We sing E Te Aroha and we weep. We pray, and once again people jam in to the community room downstairs and listen to stories of redemption and love, and I am aware of how blessed we are to be together in our brokenness.


This week, I have been challenged to think about how I serve others. There is a member of our community who is staying with us. They are facing their fears, as we all do. And God has been challenging me to love more. To be better, for this person. I cannot fix these problems, and I cannot allay the fears. I wish I could! But I can listen and I can support, if I trust in God. My first exam for the end of the year is tomorrow. I would be lying if I said I wasn't feeling a little stressed. But what I am mostly feeling is gratitude. I am so grateful that God has blessed me with the opportunity to be sitting these exams when I know people who have spent their life not being able to read. I am so grateful that God has blessed me with this whānau who slip chocolate under my door when they know I've have a rough day. I am so grateful that God is passionate enough about injustice and the poor that He uses little old me in small ways. I am so grateful that in these times God strengthens our relationships and reminds us that we are strongest when we are together. And I am so grateful that He is in me, strengthening me when I feel worn out, lifting me up when my heart breaks, reminding me that for all the pain in the world, He is constantly loving and redeeming us.


That is what I have learnt in this crazy month. Praise God in all seasons. Praise God, for He is glorified every day, and He is our Hope. 



My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; 
I will sing and make music. 
Awake, my soulAwake, harp and lyre
I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; 
I will sing of you among the peoples. 
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. (Psalm 57)











29.9.12

{Community}

I'm supposed to be doing a little bit of a talk at a local church this weekend. As a part of a wider theme of community, they asked me to talk about "a week in the life of Stillwaters." I have a lot of thoughts about community, and being asked to talk for just 5 minutes on what it's like living in my particular community seemed to me to be very hard. Not because community is a complex or confusing thing; but because it is so simple. How does one explain what life is like living with other people, when its just...normal?

Stillwaters is a community in Wellington city who have committed to doing life together and creating a safe space for people to come to where they feel welcomed and hopefully, where they see Jesus. We try to live simply and outside of the individualistic consumer culture that is so pervasive in this generation. There are a few key things that we commit to; our main event is Friday night dinner at the Castle 
(the central and largest Stillwaters household). We talk, we cook and we eat together. On Sunday evenings we then have a church service. During this time we sing and share stories, we read the Bible and say a prayer, and we share communion. And on Thursdays we have a bible study and a music group. And we are committed to our neighbours.

It makes me laugh when people think that community is such a huge deal, so post-modern/revolutionary/activist. I thought that too; it took a few months living here until I hit the wall of my own idealism and realised that in fact, community isn't a shiny, beautiful utopia where I, in all my angelic perfection, selflessly serve others with my precious time and resources. It is in fact extraordinarily ordinary and quite messy - full of ordinary and broken people in an ordinary and broken world, coming to terms with their brokenness and being shocked at their own ordinariness when viewed in the light of the grace of God. And through that, other ordinary and broken people come and we have conversations with them and we eat with them. And somewhere in the midst of all that ordinariness and brokenness  Jesus turns up.

When I was preparing notes for this talk on Sunday, there were 10 people sitting in my lounge drinking tea. Some of us were watching Gilmore Girl reruns, some were at the sewing machine preparing bunting for Stillwaters' 21st celebrations. Some were writing essays and others were having extended conversations over crosswords about the meaning of ‘obfuscated.’ This is one kind of typical evening in the Castle. There are also the quiet evenings that are just as common where we read, or are out of the house, or escape to our bedrooms, or are at work, or just have dinner and a chat, and go to bed.

Given that each of us in the Castle have our own lives, I can really only talk about myself. And I don’t think there is anything particularly revolutionary about my life at Stillwaters. From Monday to Friday I wake up and am blessed enough to go to university. I study Development Studies and Māori Resource Management and every day we face issues of justice and injustice, less-than ideal race relations in Aotearoa and inequality in all aspects of society. I guess the difference between my classmates and I is that when I go home at the end of the day, I don’t get to leave these issues behind in an academic setting; instead, they are a reality that by choosing to live in community, I have chosen to live alongside.

Living in the Castle has unique moments; never knowing just how many people to set the table for on a Sunday night after dinner; having friends off the street knocking on the door for a cuppa at all sorts of times; extending your culinary tastes to include our Friday night speciality “sausage surprise."

But in this talk, I really want to emphasise one point; living in community isn’t radical. It’s not an amazing feat and it’s not a novel concept. Living in community isn’t really any different to living with a family; we may not be blood-related but we are whanau. That is the wonderful thing; our God is a god of reconciliation and of community. We are created to be with others in the deep, relational sense, to experience reconciliation to one another and to God. People have been living in community for thousands of years; it’s only in the last 300 that we have started to pursue this concept of the individual, and build walls around our possessions. Our lives in Stillwaters are exceedingly boring 90% of the time. We are merely a group of people responding to the call of Jesus to love others, trying to open up that path of reconciliation.

So in light of these thoughts, how do I describe a week in the life of Stillwaters? 


We have commitments that we are committed to. We cook meals, we go to university and work, we look after kids and we have cups of tea. We pray for the brokeness and violence in this city and we that everything will be well. We do it because in our own individual journeys we have each seen a glimpse of Jesus. When I see the side of God that proclaimed "blessed are the poor...blessed are the hungry...blessed are the meek", then I realise that I cannot change the world. But maybe God can change us, if we would just open ourselves to the concept of love and sharing with others.

23.9.12

Sunday moments


This morning, I got up early to have a chat on the phone Mum before the day began. And lo' and behold, it is a stunning day! I made myself a cup of tea, went in to the backyard and finished my law readings in the sunshine. 




Inspired by the vitamin D coursing through my veins, I ended up weeding 3 entire beds in our garden and unearthing our baby lime tree from underneath a blanket of weeds. Productivity plus! 



Nothing beats a city like Wellington on a beautiful sunny day. I think it may be my favourite city in the whole of New Zealand. Having said that...I'd still take 50 acres of rolling meadows and native bush to run around in over any city. Happy weekend!

22.9.12

thankfulness and joy


I am learning to be grateful.


Research shows that people who show gratitude are healthier, sleep better than their peers, have better relationships, and generally have more productive lives. One such research test was done at the University of Manchester, England, where 401 people filled out questionnaires that rated their gratitude. The response showed those who scored highest in gratefulness slept longer and better than less-appreciative participants. Ta-daa! Facts to back up an argument.






"Thankfulness is an outpouring of the very root of the soul". It reveals peace, contentment, goodwill. Too often I am unthankful or discontent, only to be plagued with these thoughts at bedtime, waking up with a heavy heart and a long day ahead. The consequences are endless. But thankfulness...thankfulness is joyful and peaceful and wholesome. And it is contagious! How often is it that a friend's smile and cheerful attitude brightens your day? Something that is an act of will, a chosen attitude, something that is so simple, and something that is the key to honoring, obeying and loving God and others.

Thankfulness is an act of will. It is a conscious decision that God and this day is worthy and deserving of praise and adoration, no matter the circumstances. It is choosing to walk past the negative thoughts and fears and and in to a place of contentment with what is and hope for what will be. It creates fertile soils in which mercy, gentleness, love and kindness grow. It leads us to a place where we recognise our blessings and are led to want to bless others with what we have in return.

On the flip side, I think that discontent creates unhappiness. We tell ourselves all the things that aren't so, or that we wish were different. We entertain dreams of greener grass and we wish that the person just wouldn't do this or that. And we house this negative energy. We tell ourselves that nothing is quite good enough, and we tell others that too. It creates a breeding ground for insecurity, a lack of trust and worst of all, joyless relationships. 

But the scariest thing is when discontent and unthankfulness take root in our souls, and we become bitter. Bitterness causes us to perceive hurt. We become defensive, snappy, and hollow. A young child grows up in a home and sees his parents acting bitterly towards one another because of past hurts. He then grows up seeing the world through their discontent and bitter eyes and it taints everything; his career, his love life, his spirituality. Because bitterness is toxic. He marries and his wife walks on edge, wondering what will set him off. He craves love but he is unsatisfied, he is hurt. And so the cycle goes on, one toxic relationship after another, one broken person hurting another, all because we are yearning for something more.

Don't let unthankfulness and bitterness eat away at your soul. Instead, choose to fill it with joy and laughter and gratitude. Ask yourself, what is it with your life that makes you unthankful or that you feel discontent with? And then declare war on unthankfulness. Change what you can; pursue the healing of relationships, and yourself. Choose to laugh when you feel like crying. Choose to love when you find yourself wanting to run away in hurt. When you feel sad, depressed, frustrated or discontent, stop and think "why do I feel like this? How do I choose to feel in light of this?" and thank God that you are alive, blessed, and empowered to break the chain of unthankfulness.

Our lives are meant to be full of rejoicing, gladness, thankfulness and joy. As one of my lecturers says, you have to laugh because otherwise you'd cry! I have been learning this, and am still in the process of learning. I have found that instead of being obsessed with what is broken, I want to be a woman who's smile is ready, who is quick to laugh, and who is constantly loving. I want to be able to empathise with brokenness and then I want to be able to hope for new and beautiful things. I am of no use to anyone when I am sad and discontent with the state of the world. Instead, I can walk with fire in my step, passion in my heart, a smile on my lips and my arms wide open. And I am able to do this only by the grace of God. 

So take a moment to think...what is it in your world that fills you with joy and thankfulness?

18.9.12

[forgiveness] contrite.

It's hard not to be selfish.

It's this inherently human thing that takes over our souls. In a world that tells us that we deserve the best, we should have the best and what we want is what is best, it's hard not to fall for the lie. Think about it; how many marketing schemes whisper "it's all about you" in our ears? iPhone, iPod, iPad. "Because you're worth it" (L'Oreal), "A Choice for Every Goddess" (Gillette), "You Deserve a Holiday" (P&O cruises)? To top it off, amongst these screaming advertisements there is also this stubborn voice inside of me that says that it's not ok to give up. It's not ok to admit my faults, and it's not ok to surrender my pride.


But then Jesus tells me to turn the other cheek. To get my hands dirty and pick up the broken on the side of the road. To go and sin no more. 


It is a simple choice between life and death. Between love and hate. It is not the bullet that kills, but the hatred that leads to a fatal movement of a finger on the trigger.


And so I am left with this choice...to feel resentment. Hurt. Anxiety. Pride. Stubbornness. Self-righteousness.To revel in t he satisfaction of not giving up.  However, to feel this way, to stand tall and indignant, is at the cost of the person I stand over. 

Alternatively, I have the option to love. To open my arms and kneel on the floor. To ask for forgiveness. To step down humbly, and faithfully lift up those I hurt. 

If I have a choice, to turn away from my pride and to turn to Jesus, and all who He loves. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.


I talk too often about how broken I am, about falling at the feet of Jesus. But in all honesty, the majority of the time I choose to cling to all my failures rather than admit defeat and fall at His feet. I am selfish and I am proud and I have hurt those I love because of this. But I say, with all honesty and bleeding heart - Jesus is greater than I, and it is in these weaknesses that I can see the power of his beauty, his love, his sacrifice. When I am shocked to find how unwilling I am to reach out to another, I see Jesus reaching out his had to the sick. When I am selfish in my desire to be affirmed and recognised, I see Jesus being whipped, beaten, and crucified. 


This is the meaning of true selflessness and humility - that the Son of God would live a life healing the faithful, and eternity healing the lost and broken.

16.9.12

Still

What does "to wait on the Lord" really mean?

I find this so hard. Does waiting on God mean to actually sit there in transcendent meditation until you hear his voice booming like thunder from the heavens? Or does it mean just waiting until you feel like you know something that you didn't know before? I think the issue is that we don't tend to wait around for things that don't have an estimated time of arrival. Buses always have a schedule, even if they are notoriously unreliable. People plan to meet up at 10am and most likely will be punctual. The ETA of life beginning is apparently in your 20's (I am yet to see if that is true - was I not living before? Was I in some delirious imaginary world?), and you can always be certain that if you ask your friend a question, you will get some sort of answer eventually.


But with God, quite often waiting means...nothing. When I was 6, I used to make fairy houses in the garden and then hide behind a tree and wait for the fairies to appear. And I once waited for a boy for quite a long time. But I find it hard to wait on God, possibly because I feel like I don't have any control. As humans, we have this constant desire to manipulate situations to suit our own priorities, and if a particular thing doesn't accommodate that plan then we often ditch it. I certainly do...I gave up playing soccer in primary school because I couldn't stop the ball smacking me in the face at random intervals. However, I think this is a time where I need to literally make space for God. Clear my diary. Clear my head. "Be still and know that I am God."

I am waiting on the Lord.

15.9.12

{gratitude} lately

Too often, I focus only on the negative. But in actual fact I am abundantly blessed. Lately I have been grateful for;


This wonderful girl who is both a sister, a best friend, and a partner-in-crime. So proud of her achievements and so in love with her heart.

This little city thatI have grown to love it for the sunshine and the joy it brings, along with the gale-force winds and the life lessons. I am also so grateful for the beautiful community it contains. 


My wonderful parents who taught me who to be and how to love.  

The joy of nature and torturing oneself only to reach the top of a mountain. "O Lord, how majestic is Your name on all earth!"

A small reminder of the big issues.

The whispering promise of summer and the loyalty of those who love me. 


 The surging love I feel for this little man and the hopes and dreams he is yet to fulfill.



What are you grateful for?




10.9.12

guess who

I forgot myself.

I forgot who I am, what I stand for, what I am. 


I've lost the grasp I had on my soul. And now I look inside myself, and I struggle to find it.


I remember saying that I was broken, and the pieces within me made up a beautiful mosaic, perfect in God's eyes. The problem is, my mosaic is fading in colour and I can't recognise the outlines of those beautiful pictures.


I know what I want. I want Jesus. I want to be grateful. I want to be salt and light. I want to be filled with fire. I want to be passionate. I want to live simply, and I want to live in love. I want to feel valued and I want to value all that is of God. I want to love Him with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength and all my mind, and I want to love others as I love myself. 


How do I find this, again? How do I live this desire out?


Lord, open me up. Show me Your light, and shine that light in to the darkest, dustiest parts of my heart. Papa, please heal me. Please be here. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.



5.9.12



Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.


For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.


Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.


Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.


Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.


May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar

27.8.12

Chur, Justice Tipping.

The Right Hon. Justice Tipping has recently retired from the Supreme Court in New Zealand. Having served on the bench for 26 years, Tipping J recently made his final address to the Supreme Court, and in it he touched on the point of legal aid in Aotearoa (link here for the full speech).

The legal aid system is an attempt to ensure government-funded legal representation for those who cannot afford to pay for their own lawyer for criminal, family, civil, and Waitangi Tribunal hearings. It has been repeatedly changed as governments struggle to keep a lid on costs that have ballooned from $111 million in 2006-2007 to $169 million in 2010-2011. The Ministry of Justice took over administering legal aid from the Legal Services Agency in July last year. As part of the reforms, fixed fees were introduced for specific tasks in criminal cases, with hourly rates applying for only a limited number of hearings. This year, fixed-fee schedules were introduced for family court and ACC cases.

Legal aid provides a basis for a fair and just legal system. In order for everybody to be represented adequately and given equal rights within the system, it is crucial that we remember those who cannot afford the exorbitant prices that most lawyers charge and provide for them in the most practical way; legal representation. Tipping J acknowledges this and reminds us of the basic human rights we threaten when legal aid becomes inaccessible to those who need it most;


There is no doubt that there were some features of the legal aid system in New Zealand that needed the recent attention given to this subject. My concern is that the solution those genuine problems received resembled the use of a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The scope of legal aid and the rates of remuneration are now, according to the information I have received, at a level that seriously risks compromising the delivery of justice, at least in some fields. Is the Bill of Rights to be viewed simply as formulaic window-dressing? For example, s 24(d) gives everyone charged with an offence the right to adequate facilities to prepare a defence. By necessary extension that must encompass adequate facilities to prepare a plea in mitigation.


I question whether our current legal aid system is consistent with the observance of these fundamental rights. In similar vein s 25(h) gives convicted persons the right to appeal against conviction, sentence or both. At least at the level of indictable crime, where the appeal lies to the Court of Appeal, it is difficult to see how that right can effectively be exercised without legal representation. The amount of money spent deciding whether legal aid should be granted would be better spent on legal representation. The irony is that the money saved by not granting legal aid is very often overtaken by corresponding, if not greater costs being incurred elsewhere. I refer to the extra work needed by the registry staff and the Judges themselves when an appellant is unrepresented. It is a false economy that we seem to be pursuing.


If legal aid is granted, counsel’s ethical duties to the Court should in most cases lead to the isolation of such points as can responsibly be argued. This results in a great deal of saving of time and cost in the processing, hearing and determination of appeals. If counsel do not perform their role responsibly, it should not be beyond the scope of the legal aid authorities to take appropriate action. In respect of legal aid and access to justice generally I notice that the Chief Justice of Canada has very recently expressed similar concerns at a meeting of the Canadian Bar Association. It seems to be an issue that is causing difficulties in most modern democracies. I suggest we should lead the way by reexamining how legal aid should be delivered. What we need is a proper recognition of the fundamental rights and values that are at stake. We can do this without sacrificing the need for efficiency and economy.


In an attempt to cut costs and trim debt, the Executive seems to have forgotten that in fact, the Judiciary is the third arm of government and that access to the courts and the administration of justice and an independent judiciary is paramount to a fully functioning government and country. Instead of trying to plaster over the leaky hole with a band aid, why don't we create a legal aid system that is accessible and effective, while addressing the deeper social issues that fuel the recent increase of costs - the highest ever level of inequality between rich and poor in NZ; the 3% drop of average household income in the last year; the economic and social disparity that correlates to increases in crime, lower education and health standards and higher levels of welfare spending?

It's time to stop blaming the recipients of these benefits for sponging off the system, time to stop trying to make short term repairs, and time to start taking responsibility for the paradigms we unconsciously function within in order to balance the scales and ensure a society in which everybody's rights are recognised.

13.7.12

Again...redeemed.

This week I have learned what it means to be humbled, yet again.
It is so easy to fall in to apathy. Jesus is only in our lives if all we do is for love. He will always be there; He will always work for the good of mankind. But if I live according to Scripture without Him, I am living an empty life, and I fail to honour He who honours me every day.
There is a passage in 1 Corinthians 13 that is so well known that it is recited at a ridiculous number of weddings. Everybody knows "Love is patient, love it kind." But the other day I read the whole chapter, and the words hit me like a ton of bricks. 

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Without love...I am but a resounding gong. A clanging cymbal. Without love, I am nothing and I gain nothing. And what is love? It does not dishonour others. It is not self-seeking. It always protects, always trusts. I have not honoured God with my actions. Nor have I honoured those I say I love. If my lips speak of love yet my actions speak no truth, then what am I left with? Empty hands and regret. Yet we all love, and we all want love. Crosby, Still and Nash wrote some great lyrics that speak to this.


"Old man, take a look at my life

I'm a lot like you
I need someone to love me
The whole day through
Ah, one look in your eyes
And you can tell that's true."
The beautiful thing is that I have a second chance. Again, and again, and again. And as time goes on, I continue to need forgiveness just as much, but I slowly learn what it means to desire more. Not to want to move mountains, or to give all I possess to the poor, but to live in love. To see face to face with Christ; to know fully and to be fully known.

That is love. And I want nothing more than to reciprocate that love; to God, and to those alongside me.

17.6.12

A slightly different vibe.

Tomorrow...I cease to be a teenager. I am desperately trying to listen to as much Take That and Jesse McCartney as possible whilst dreaming of the Baby Sitters Club, remembering when it was still cool to crimp your hair and wishing that the dentist was still free. Rugrats, Recess, Fresh prince of Bel Air, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dunkaroos, Jelly shoes, Chatter Rings, Tamagotchi, flare jeans and platform shoes, choker chains and midriff tank tops. Oh the golden days...once upon a time, I was walking down the road in bare feet to get a Bubble O'Bill at the dairy and singing 'The Tide is High' at the top of my lungs. Now I am growing up, never again to experience the wonder that is fairy bread and fish and chips on the beach, climbing to the top of the the Tor and getting the hems of my acid wash denim jeans bejewelled so that they will flash and gleam in the assembly performance of the Ketchup Song. But, despite having to look in to the bright and promising future without fear or hesitation...this song will always play in my heart.




Au revior, les enfants.

11.6.12

Women, hear me.

Lately, I've been thinking about what it means to be a woman. It is a big issue that, to be honest, kind of scares me. I have never been a girly girl. I refused to wear pink when I was in primary school (and still do). I hated netball, so instead I joined the touch rugby and indoor soccer teams. When I am told that I can't do something because I am a girl, I will do it to prove that I can. The patriarchal assumptions made that associate femininity with inferiority really and truly grate me. I have this fire burning inside of me that resists anything that says "because you a woman, you must fit [this box]." And I also have a fire burning inside of me that says, "Olivia. You are a woman. Own it. Love it. Grow it."

In The Second Sex, published in 1949, Simone de Beauvoir said "A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is man. The terms masculine; and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form, as on legal papers. In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general...She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute - she is the Other."

It is mere ignorance to assume that modern Western society is not influenced and permeated by patriarchy and the repression of women. America, England and France, three of the leaders of the Western World, all sitting permanently on the UN Security Council, have only between 20-39% of their government made up of women.  New Zealand has a greater discrepancy between the number of females being educated and the number of males being educated than America, Canada, Australia, and most of the Western European States including Britain. In America, women earn 77.5 cents to every dollar that a man earns. However, even more shocking is that minority women get a worse deal, with African-American women earning just 66cents to every dollar that a male earns. Research shows that in America, if working women earned the same as men (those who work the same number of hours; have the same education, age, and union status; and live in the same region of the country), their annual family incomes would rise by $4,000 and poverty rates would be cut in half (http://www.buyinginfluence.com/wage_gap.html). The New York Times published an interesting graph illustrating pay disparities between men and women. Check it out at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/03/01/business/20090301_WageGap.html?8dpc


And then there is the church. The inherent traditions that have been built up over centuries of religion in a male-dominated society. Women not being able to be priests, women being told they are "the weaker vessel". The other day I watched a video on YouTube where a reverend spoke for half an hour about the causes of the Global Financial Crisis, and the various issues society is facing. His reason? "We've given women too much power, and they can't handle it. They get emotional, and needy, and they aren't logical, and the power belongs with the men but woman have it and so everything gets messed up." I didn't quite know whether to laugh, or cry, but it pushed me to ask myself; in  world in which women are increasingly powerful and the discrepancies between our capabilities and the recognition we receive are increasingly noticed, where do we stand as woman of God? 

There are a fair share of women in the Bible who display enormous courage and efficacy as leaders and inspiration to the church. Miriam, Tamar, Esther, and Ruth all defied the status quo and stepped out to save their people and those they loved. They all honored God in scandalous and brave ways. Deborah, in Judges, was not only a prophetess, but also military leader of the Israelite people, called by God to lead His people forward. She is the only leader in judges that encompasses all three of those roles, and did so successfully and with integrity. In the New Testament, we see Mary sacrificing her body to carry Jesus and we see the Mary and Martha working alongside Jesus. We see Priscilla, Phoebe and Junia as leaders of the early Church, teaching the gospel and assisting Paul in his ministry. The early church transcended the cultural boundaries of the Ancient Roman Empire and was one of the few religious movements to actively include and acknowledge not only slaves and foreigners, but women also. Jesus spoke of freedom and empowerment. We are no longer slave to the law - we are not to conform to the patterns of this world, but instead be transformed by the renewing of our mind. So then, we are to seek liberated from the paradigms that enslave us to archaic patriarchy, and to value each person for their heart, regardless of gender, race or class. We are called to value the fruits of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Qualities that have no limit in men or women. Qualities against which there can be no law. Qualities with empower and engage women to live lives of integrity, strength and love. To me, proverbs 31 describes such a woman perfectly. 

"A woman of noble character who can find? 
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value. 
12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands. 
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy. 
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue. 
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate."


This is a woman with a household to run, but who nevertheless is industrious and capable. She is not dependent or weak but instead knows she is worthy and lives according to that. Her husband is respected and powerful, but she is not content being a trophy wife - instead, she trades, makes investments and ends up planting a vineyard with her own earnings. She is profitable, but that does not satisfy her - instead, she opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. And my favourite verse; "She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue." She works hard, laughs easily, loves fiercely.

I am sick of seeing kids being taught socially constructed gender roles from when they first begin to play with Lego or Barbies. I am sick of being told that as a woman, I will have less of a chance to earn the same amount of money as my male counterpart. I am sick of being told that "Adam came first" and I am sick of the bad theology that tells me that women are the weaker and therefore lesser sex. It is high time that we recognise that women are God's children too, and we are also shepherds, pastors, mothers, wives, teachers, sisters, CEO's and political leaders. We may choose to stay at home with the kids, or we may decide that our dream is to become the next president of the USA. We may decide to be missionaries in Africa, or to live a life among community in Wellington. And men have the same choices to make. But archaic male-dominated world-views that dictate who we are and what we can become based on gender are not acceptable.








Séjour avec moi, je veux être seul. 
Stay with me, I want to be alone.












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