Author Archives: Pieter Stok

About Pieter Stok

I am passionate about faith, marriage and family. My interests include reading, video editing, travel and Lego. Also I find the older I get the more reflective I become. Whereas once I had answers for everything and everyone, now I have more questions.

A Pandemic Rant

My wife told me to write the following to get it out of my system.

 

I have become increasingly perturbed by the “sooking”, all the complaining and whinging coming out of society since the lock downs that been imposed. “Why can’t we do this now.(Clubbing, shopping, visiting)”  “I am depressed because I’ve got my kids at home.” I can’t do this and that and the list of complaints goes on  …

I am not denying that the coronavirus is a huge upheaval and people have lost their jobs, and life has been hugely disrupted – and people are dying. It is huge and it going to continue being an issue for quite some time. However, in the whole sweep of history it is not the Black Death with a third of the population wiped out, it is not a reign of terror by invading hoards, it is not the nightly fear of bombs dropping on our heads and living in the Underground every evening, it is not a nuclear holocaust. It is a pandemic, the likes of which we haven’t seen in many generations. Yet in most western countries, with a few stark exceptions, and certainly in Australia the impacts have been managed.

The virus has, however, revealed a deep lack of individual and community resilience. I believe we need to place ourselves in the context of history rather than in our self-centred C21st  bubble. My father was born at the end of WW1. The Spanish flu was running riot. When he was 10 the Great Depression started and by the time he was 20 he was picked up by invading Germans and forced to work near Berlin through the best part of his early 20s. At thirty-three he picked up his young family and migrated to Australia, worked hard, never made much money but also never complained. The thing is, he wasn’t unique. It was a characteristic of his generation. There was a resilience and tenacity. When I complained about the jobs I was supposed to do as a young boy there was, understandably, very little sympathy. He didn’t know the phrase “suck it up” but that was the intent.

The question I want to pose is, why do so many today, young and old, show a lack of resilience? With all the comforts, technology and government safety nets of our society, where is the sense of fortitude, courage and desire to overcome?

Is it that in the last few generations we have protected ourselves and children from tough choices, hard decisions and even the more mundane daily tasks that simply mean putting aside our discomfort and stepping up? If our children are told to hang the washing, weed the garden, clean the bathroom or wash the car is the expectation that they do it whether they like it or not. “Suck it up.”

What have we learned about ourselves over the past months? Are there attitudes we need to change? Are there areas of our life where we need to grow a backbone? This pandemic will be wasted if is all about returning to life as normal because it may just be that “normal” was not such a healthy state after all, for us, our families and society.

And finally, it is not simply about finding the “positives”. For many, particularly those who have lost loved ones, jobs and security, the message of “finding the positives” can be quite despairing because there aren’t any. The message, in fact, is far simpler. Life throws up many tough challenges and we need to have the courage to struggle against them whether they are individual, family or communal. It is a trait that should be learned from childhood. It is a resilience that enables communities to fight wars against evil oppressors, individuals to persevere over personal struggles and societies to fight pandemics. Is it that lesson we are all being reminded of? Looking around and observing social behavior I find the answer to that question quite disheartening.

Categories: community, Family, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

O God Our Help in Ages Past

A reflection by Hetty

O God, our Help in ages past

Our Help for years to come.

Our Shelter from the stormy blast, and our Eternal Home.

I am a small girl, sitting on a hard wooden 1950s school desk.

High above the blackboard is a wedge shaped speaker, and out of the speaker comes a crackly, church organ led version of this hymn.

It’s Anzac Day.

A familiar tune that I only heard once a year in the same place at the same time. At first it was the melody that gave me comfort and peace. Every year I forgot, and then I heard it again and my soul remembered. I sat in that new classroom, one year older, and let the notes cascade over me, swirling around me, enveloping me.

Then I began to listen to the phrases. And in my young mind I joined the words to my life. Our help, my help. Ages past, my past.

There was only one event in my past. My father died. Whatever else had happened meant nothing to me. It loomed large whenever I glanced back and it touched everything that was now.

I let these thoughts skitter across my consciousness and then they disappeared until next Anzac Day.

Next Anzac Day. I was in high school now. No speakers on the wall, we were all in the quadrangle with the principal on a platform leading the service. We had sheets with the words of the hymns, and there it was – my hymn.

I stared at the words:

Our help, ages past. Our Hope, our Shelter.

Stormy blasts.

There was something I’d never noticed before. Our shelter from the stormy blasts. I’d certainly known some of those in my ages past. Oh, I knew it was meant to conjure images of soldiers hunkered down in trenches while bullets and explosions rained down on them. But I also knew the hunkering down I’d done while the circumstances of my life exploded around me.

Our Shelter, my Shelter.

My family began to attend a different church. Now we had a service every week and a hymn book in the pew. The services were long but the hymn book was a source of entertainment for a young girl with a good imagination. I silently read through the wedding vows at the back, choosing two random people in the congregation to marry. I read through the alphabetical index and the topical index and anything else I could find in that book.

And then I found it! My Anzac Day hymn.

There were more verses that I’d never known!

“Under the shadow of thy throne,

Thy saints have dwelt secure;

Sufficient is thine arm alone,

And our defense is sure.”

I hummed the tune under my breath as I read the words.

Here was the perfect marriage of my comforting tune and these life affirming words on the page before me.

I knew this. I’d lived this.

“Before the hills in order stood,

Or earth received her frame,

From everlasting thou art God,

To endless years the same.”

Did it matter that I’d lived through stormy blasts? Did it matter that more stormy blasts would be coming my way in the future? Not when I had the assurance of a eternal, everlasting Shelter.

“Time, like an ever-rolling stream,

Bears all its sons away;

They fly, forgotten, as a dream

Dies at the opening day.”

This morning I woke up singing my Anzac Day hymn. Much time has rolled on since I sat staring at the speaker above the blackboard. They fly, forgotten, as a dream.

But Thou……our Guide, and our Eternal Home. My Eternal Home.

Categories: Christianity, Faith, Hetty's Devotions, hymns, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Second Sunday of Advent Poem

The Battles of Advent

Preceding ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’

The battle raged:

The snake in the garden,

The first murder,

The lies, deceit

And betrayal.

The Old Covenant sad stories

Reveal

The real struggle.

When David stood before Goliath

The real fight

Was in the heavenlies.

When David lusted after Bathsheba

The battle raged in places

Far beyond earth.

When the second Adam

Was nailed to a tree,

The Romans and Sanhedrin

Were not masters

But slaves.

When Christ arose,

The false Prince lost.

Categories: Advent, christian, Poem, poetry, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Another Advent Poem – Glory

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

Haloes,

The sun’s brightest rays,

The seductive gleam of gold

Or the rich sparkle of diamonds

Are muted and dim

In the radiance of Your glory!

Categories: Advent, Christianity, Poem, poetry | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Splendour

The First Sunday of Advent 2019sunrise

A prayer poem

The whole earth is full of His splendour

Isaiah 6:3

 

Your splendour shines in the DNA of our being,

In the majesty of a sunrise,

Through the first cry of a new born baby.

 

Your splendour radiates through the myriad colour promises

Of a rainbow,

The majesty of mountains

And the delicate beauty of an alpine flower.

 

Your splendour glows through

The warmth of unbroken friendship,

The care of a helping hand

And the shoulder of a good Samaritan.

 

But, sadly, too often …

 

Our eyes are numbed to splendour,

To Your splendour.

Our hearts are diverted by

Foolish trinkets.

Our minds wander

To the distracting, the temporary,

The screen flickering vacuous.

 

Forgive us Lord.

 

When our eyes are really open

We see your splendour.

The splendour of love,

The splendour of Your love

In the promise

In the promises

In the coming of the “only begotten”…

Who is

The fullness of Your splendour.

 

Amen

 

Categories: Advent, christian, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Another Survey and an OK Boomer

I received an email today from the Victorian Institute of Teaching inviting me to participate in the Australian Teacher Workforce Data survey. One of the first questions was very disconcerting. “In what year were you first employed as teacher/educator?” The list of years went down to 1975 and then implying that nobody could be that old still teaching, added casually: “before 1975”.

teacherIn fact, I was employed as a part time teacher in 1972 as I needed to “revisit” a couple of units in my university course at the time. But in a week in which treasurer Josh Frydenberg is encouraging oldies to stay at work (as a number of his predecessors have done) my original thought was dejavu – I have heard this all before.  Therefore it was ironic that survey assumed that there would be too few in the category before 1975 to be concerned about.

It is incredible that this influx of baby-boomers into retirement years continues to come up as a surprise. Governments have lived through the wonderful tax years when the (OK)Boomers paid into the treasury coffers but few, I say “few” because some have made an attempt to develop our superannuation system (- thank you Mr Keating), have had the political will to do something.  Most have either played with it as a cash cow or disregarded the problem altogether only echoing the previous treasurer when the next intergenerational report comes out.

I agree that our young people deserve better but so do those who have contributed their whole life time to advancing Australia’s economy. The fault doesn’t sit with the old or young but with a succession of our political betters who have, while knowing the inevitable statistics, done little to deal with the problem. Now we see a growing burden developing on our young but there are also many older people who are not on grand superannuation schemes who need to be assisted too. So there are lots of questions and very few answers.

Where are the leaders with vision who have the courage to look way beyond the next election? Don’t get me going. This is just one of many areas where vision is lacking. So, for the time being at least, I will heed my master’s voice and continue to teach. I wonder what the drop down box will reveal in next year’s survey?

Categories: community, Politics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Jesus Loves You (and wants You to be Happy). Yes?

Over the last 8 weeks I have come across diverse theologies which had one common theme: ‘Jesus loves you’ with the added rider ‘and wants you to be happy’. Initially I didn’t have a problem with it but the more I reflected on it, issues arose.

One group stressed the love of God. It was the mantra and truth that they continually espoused but this was never really unpacked. Then later, I heard the same message in a totally different setting. Jesus loves you and wants you to be happy. One of the implications was that ‘sin’ in the traditional sense, was irrelevant because whether it was one’s sexual inclination or activity, divorce, or , in fact, anything else that hindered one’s happiness, lots of things we considered wrong in the past, were now passe because after all, God wants us to be happy.

‘Jesus loves you’ resonates with our age. We live in and era in which people are desperate to be loved. This God has to hit our ‘like’ button. We want happiness and freedom and so the two, Jesus love and happiness, make an excellent ‘twin set’.

But what does “Jesus love you” really mean? Essentially it means that he loves us that much that he doesn’t want us to live with our brokenness and sin. He doesn’t want us to live with that which kills us and separates us from God. In step one he died on the cross to remove God’s judicial judgement against us. God’s eyes are too pure to behold evil (Hab, 1:13). Jesus removed God’s judgement against us. We are declared innocent.

But in step 2 he sent the Holy Spirit who on a daily on going basis makes us more like the way that God already sees us. In other words his desire is to make us more like Jesus because after all he is the perfect son.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” In other words we want to see our old selves lessen so that a new Christlikeness ascends. That is more than just about happiness. It is about wholeness, newness and a break from our past brokenness. When we say ‘Jesus loves you’ we need to say it against the backdrop of a holy God who abhors sin and brokenness because that sin is allied with decay and death. It is a stench that God will not permit in his nostrils.

Does Jesus love us? Certainly! But he loves us that much he doesn’t permit us to pursue our form of happiness, but his.

Categories: Bible, christian, Christianity | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Some Glimpses of Madrid

In the future I would like to write more about this city but here are some glimpses to whet the appetite.

One of our favourite painters is Joachim Sorolla whose understanding of light and family infuses his paintings. On this occasion we didn’t enter the gallery but Hetty went to the bookshop and I wandered around the garden of what was originally his home.

Madrid is surrounded by huge parks, in part, because of it monarchist past. One is Retiro park with a lake and its own Crystal Palace.

The Museum of Archeology has an excellent collection that is beautifully presented. Spain is saturated in Roman sites and this part of their history shone.

And, of course, there are the churches.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Lisbon I love you but I had to leave you

I said a while back I would write a few things about Lisbon.

Lisbon is an amazing city! It has a population of about 3 million people but it is the old city that grabs the most attention. It’s history, buildings, culture and people meld into an intoxicating mixture.

We went to the Lisbon Story Centre on the main Comércio square. It is an excellent narration of the history of the city: it’s origins, colonial period, the earthquake of 1755 and its emergence from dictatorship in 1974 – with its secret code in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Armed with this background we explored! The famous 28E tram takes you through the old town and gives the tourist an excellent overview of this part of Lisbon. The problem with the 28E tram is that it is popular. It is Tokyo style peak hour all day. Tourists are jammed into these tiny trams, hanging out of windows and squashed cheek and jowl all the way. We did it once but only once. I had no interest in getting to know the other tourists this well. The locals know that you catch the bus or metro – not as exotic but more effective and pleasant.

We did all the touristy things – castles, churches and etc. but one place needs a special mention – The National Tile Museum – Museu Nacional do Azulejo. Its display and presentation of the ceramic tiles so clearly visible throughout Spain and Portugal was amazing. The history, development and variety were displayed professionally in an old convent whose space was used very effectively.

But Lisbon highlights a problem. Tourists overrun the city. I felt guilty being there. It seems that the lives of the local inhabitants needs to make way for the influx of tourists where 3 cruise ship can disgorge over 10000 people into the middle of the old town in one hit. I haven’t felt the same in other places. Even Barcelona, in the past, was not that crazy, however, on this occasion although loving Lisbon I breathed a little easier once I had left.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Here are some of my wife’s reflections on Spain

Being in Spain for a few months has shown me many aspects of this beautiful country.
In the north we travelled a bit around the area of Estella and Pamplona, and then to the west around Logrono and Burgos. The people seem friendly enough and there is a strong sense of community, but they’re reluctant to let you into their lives. A returning wave and a smile is the most you can expect.

But they are hardworking, and this is especially evident when you look at the countryside. Every available field is being cultivated. Much of it was with vineyards.
As we continued our trip, to the southwest and into Portugal, the landscape opened up to wide expanses of farmlands. But this was different. It was a harsh land, full of rocks and boulders. Every fence, every building, every road, was made from the rocks of the fields. It was dry country, yet it was productive. Cattle grazed between the boulders. And every so often we saw an ‘orchard’ of solar panels set out in neat rows. There were lots of sunflower crops ready for harvest too. This was a harsh environment but it was far from barren.

In the region of Extramadura we saw the best examples of how this country uses every resource to its maximum capacity. I have been told this region is extremely challenging. A rugged terrain, a hot, dry climate, and a people to match. Our first foray into Extramadura was the Valley of Cherries in the north. It was high in the hills, deep ravines, steep hillsides. But every inch was under the cultivation of cherries. The terraced land had rows and rows of cherry trees as far as you could see.
Further south we encountered the hundreds of olive groves, the vineyards, the cork trees, and the sheep and cattle. Near Zafra we saw fields of oak trees, and on a day’s excursion to the south of the town we saw so many of these trees we asked someone why. The famous Iberian jamon comes from pigs that feast on the acorns that fall from the trees every October.

As if there weren’t enough resources on the surface to avail themselves of, the Spanish also use the wind and the sun for electricity production. Centuries old windmills sit alongside new wind turbines on the ridges. And then today as we drove through the hills towards Córdoba we saw coal mines and cement production facilities.
It seems as if Spaniards have had thousands of years to learn how to get the most from their country, and it is equally true to say they are willing to embrace new technologies to continue doing this into the future.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.