I have been watching the American election process with a fascinated horror. It is like observing a slow motion train wreck and being helpless to do anything about it. For me, it is scary to think that the “winner” will wield amazing power within and outside the US.
Yet the most appalling part of this debacle is watching the behaviour of many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Their writhing and slithering around the candidates with obfuscation and weasel words is sickening to witness.
Let’s get a few things straight. Every political candidate is going to be flawed. We won’t get the perfect candidate until we are in heaven – and then we won’t need them anyway. Less flippantly however, it is the hope that fellow Christians put into the political process, as though this process is going to be a means of “salvation”, which is alarming.
Christ was neither for the Jewish leaders nor the Romans. His allegiance was to the Father. I think we can learn a lot from that. Our allegiance should not be primarily for one party or the other but to the Father and His purposes. Our task is to put forward an image of an entirely different Kingdom – not a kingdom where we need to create a hierarchy of crucial issues and choose abortion over gun control, or tax over social justice as issues, but rather where we give the world in which we live a picture of what life can be like under King Jesus. We can begin by showing that in our families, in the way we treat the weak and the vulnerable … and the list is endless. The problem has been that we have seduced by our culture. That seduction is in large part the the reason why there is teeth gnashing amongst many Christians today. We have come to realise, rather late, how far the temptation has led us astray
For too long we have made the mistake of assuming that democracy is somehow “Christian”. Like Churchill I believe it is the worst of all forms of government except for all the rest. Now that Western societies have largely foregone their Christian values of the past (which, by the way, enabled democracy to work) we can no longer assume that the majority will get things right. For Christians there is a growing clash of values. We need to rethink our place and purpose in modern post-Christian democracies. I am not saying, don’t be involved – we need to be. But it isn’t the source of our hope.
I believe we are seeing the discomfort and angst of that transition in the current US election. But that uncomfortableness is true for any political arena in Western democracies today. In the US today that change is so glaringly in the spotlight.
Our task is to think about what allegiance to the Father means and how we can be counter cultural in a genuine way in this changing world.
We left footprints in the sand.
His dancing with excitement
In circles and jumps.
Mine in a straight line, alert
A sand castle here,
A shell there.
Seaweed, seagulls and sticks.
to explore and investigate.
His steps will become larger.
Mine will fade.
But there was a time
when we walked on the beach
Writing about my beach cleaning days encouraged me to cast my mind back even further to my first paid job. When I was in Grade 5 a notice appeared in the window of “Skinners” the corner store in our town asking for a “paperboy”. The weekly wage was 15 shillings – $1.50 in decimal currency.
At the time this seemed like a huge amount of money for a 10 year old but looking back it hardly kept my bike going. Yet every morning I got up at 5.45 am went to the store to sort out the papers for the different clients and then cycled (and pushed my bike) around the hilly part of town, which was my allocated patch, delivering newspapers – The Sun, The Geelong Advertiser, The Age (which was an horrendous monster on Wednesdays and Saturdays), The Sporting Globe and for the racier clients, The Truth (a misnomer), which was an education in itself for a young paperboy!
I wasn’t given a list but had to remember all the addresses and which paper was wanted when and where. I made a few mistakes in the first week or so which irritated both shop keeper and reader. In the end I got the hang of it.
Then I encountered the seasons! Most of the year was OK but winter was dark and cold. Fingers froze on the frosty mornings but gloves made it difficult to handle the newspapers. So my dad taught me a trick he had used in Holland. He showed me how to make cones made out of newspaper and place them over the handles on the handlebar so I could slide my hands in while cycling. Even my dad, who wasn’t tolerant of “softies”, made an exception on a few really bad cold wet mornings and actually drove me around to deliver the papers.
This time was also an education in names and how to pronounce them. When “Marny” wanted an extra paper how was I to know it was written “Mahoney”. And then there were the migrants from all over Europe whose names were not just unpronounceable but also unspellable. How do the Poles get away with putting so many consonants in a row without losing their false teeth?
The worst thing about being a paperboy was that I wanted to read everything. The papers
Not The Sun, but a headline I remember.
were a constant temptation to stop and read. However the ire of the customers and consequent lateness at school cured me any dalliance. However I clearly remember some of the headlines that occurred on my beat as a paperboy: the Berlin Wall, Cuba, space flights, civil wars in Africa and Marilyn Monroe’s death are still etched in my memory.
I delivered papers for a few years but then two other jobs came up: working on a farm and in a bakery. But they are tales for another day.
The other day my wife and I took our grandson (15 months) for a walk along the beach near the town where I grew up. Now I need to add that my family gets weary of me telling them about all the events that happened to me in or near this town. Then the roads weren’t paved, the street lights went out at midnight and we could leave our doors unlocked etc. However, now I have a new generation to pester!
Grandson and Granddad
The beach we walked on was the one I cleaned every summer during my High School years. From 5 am in the morning to 10 am my mate and I wandered along the beach with our buckets collecting the detritus of the previous day. If the wind was right we also found the loose change that had fallen out of pockets. The coins would sit on little mounds as the sand would have been blown from around them over night. On a good day this would increase our income by 10%. Later I got a promotion to toilet cleaner. This meant I had to clean 13 toilet blocks along this stretch of coast line but I got to drive the old Land Rover from block to block!. My final step up was garbage collector. Then I had reached the pinnacle of my career! Today the rubbish tip has become a golf course and I think to myself, I helped build that!
My favourite story from my time working on the foreshore was when I was preparing the tracks along the campsites before the influx of summer holidaymakers by removing excess sand using a tractor with a scoop. Hooning around a corner with the bucket in the air I
Old fashioned telephone lines- Google images
collected telephone lines snapping quite a few and interrupted a few conversations. My boss was initially livid but later thanked me because he had been asking the PMG (telecom of its day) for years to have the lines placed underground – which happened because of my youthful foolishness.
The road between my town and the next meandered for 3 kilometres through sand dunes and tea tree. Our town having been a Methodist resort was “dry”. No alcohol was sold within its boundaries. The town next door was under no restrictions. So this route was rather popular at the end of the day among certain gents. However the problem was that Victoria had a “6 o’clock” closing law. All hotels had to stop serving alcohol by 6 pm (this was repealed in 1966). So drinkers had to scull (Aussie vernacular for drinking) their beer as quickly as they could. For the drinkers in my town this made the homeward journey rather interesting if not hair raising.
One of our neighbours, we’ll call him Claude, terrified the locals and the streets in our town were very quiet, children pulled inside and dogs tied up, when we knew he was coming home.
Now I have a grandson it is incumbent upon me to instill his family history at every opportunity.
Nothing thrills an English teacher more than seeing students become excited about words.
Recently a poet visited the school and held a workshop with a group of students. I sat at the back of the room and observed the class. Cameron, the poet, slowly removed the restraints on the students’ imagination through a variety of sensing and imagining exercises and then they wrote, explored, refined and developed their ideas.
The results were astounding. Some of the students, usually retiring and shy, read their marvelous poems and received praise from their fellow students.
What impressed me was the depth and complexity of thought that some of these poems revealed: reflections on life, living and creation that went beyond the mundane. It reminded me again of the teacher’s task to “unlock” and “enable” – to unlock the talents that that are there and to pass on the skills that enable the those gifts and talents to be developed.
It is humbling to watch a good teacher applying their skills and it is exhilarating to see the results.
Over the last two weeks while studying Anh Do’s book “The Happiest Refugee” we have also been looking at two TED clips on the refugee crisis in Europe. One talk reflected on the sinking of a refugee boat with 500 people from which only a handful of people survived. The second talk outlined the story of two young men who tried to swim the English channel starting at Dunkirk. Sadly, one body was found on the coast of Norway and the other on the coast of Holland.
The students have been discussing the book and these two talks as a preparation to write a series of blogs. I have had the privilege of sitting back and listening to the class because a student teacher has been leading the discussions. While listening in I have been impressed and encouraged by a number of things:
- Overwhelmingly the students are incensed at the injustice and inhumanity of this crisis. I am impressed because they have not been inured to the relentless bad news that the world springs on them everyday. They realise that the numbers have names and those names have families and other loved ones who are connected with them.
- The students are also eager to look for solutions. They don’t just throw their hands up helplessly. Within the complex issues there is always a desire to seek answers.
- I have been impressed with the passion. Young people are often accused of being narcissistic and self obsessed. I have seen nothing of this. In fact I see more of this in our politicians and political commentators than in the young people in front of me.
- Even though the young people are proud to be Australian they are not blind to its weaknesses.
- The aspect of the discussions that have pleased me most has been the underlying question: “What does Jesus want us to do?” For a number of students this is the fundamental guiding principle.
So, despite the confusion found in our era and the perceived watering down of values the young people in front of me give me immense hope.
Another blog post from my wife.
Did you know there are black holes in the Bible? There are mud puddles, canyons, and prickle bushes as well.
I know about these because I tell Bible stories to kids.
Have you ever noticed how many empty spaces there are in Bible stories? For instance, what did Jesus and Zacchaeus discuss over lunch? And what was happening on Easter Saturday?
Try telling these stories to children. They’re not afraid of black holes. They will launch straight into them.
Slimy mud puddles that most Sunday school teachers avoid, such as how Mary got pregnant? Kids will take a running leap into that one.
Tricky prickle bushes that college theologians won’t venture near? No problem for the minds of 5 year olds. A group of preschoolers once explained the Resurrection to me.
Grownups can read the signs at the top of a cliff that say “Don’t go too close to the edge” or “Danger. Unstable cliff edge”, but kids only see an opportunity to explore.
Burning bushes, talking donkeys, floating zoos, miracles…
And the best part is that they will joyfully take the grownups by the hand, if we are willing to let them lead us.
Next time you’re reading your Bible and you find a black hole, find a child to tell the story to. Sit alongside them and wonder together. No space suits, flack jackets, parachutes, or safety harnesses required.
Another blog post from my wife.
A while ago I found a book in a secondhand shop near our home. It had a title that caught my eye – “Portrait of Jesus” by Alan T Dale. I bought it and put it on my bookshelf, alongside all my precious children’s Bible books.
Recently I took it down and discovered what a true gem it is. But more than that, I found one of those award certificates pasted onto the facing page.
Amazingly, I know both the Sunday school student who was given the book 28 years ago, and her teacher.
I held the book open at this page and stared at the names. I could see those women before me. A older woman who encouraged me when I was ministering to the children in our church, and a young lady who gave such dedication and devotion to the children in her care that she was an example to me. And now I was using the book to prepare for another teaching moment.
The older woman happens to be a neighbour, so yesterday I went for a walk, with the book tucked under my arm. She answered my knock on her door, invited me in, and listened as I explained what I’d found. Yes, she remembered her student from 28 years ago.
We sat together marvelling at God’s goodness. He gave all three of us faith. He gave us opportunities to share that faith. He placed us, briefly, in the same time and space so we could encourage each other. And then He sent us onto our next mission.
Here in my hands I hold the testimony to this truth.
I have just put the finishing touches on a 3000 word essay. I will give it 24 hours to settle and let all the sediment sink to the bottom and then I will submit it. My wife thinks that I am crackers wanting to jot down a few more words in a blog. But this is a different kind of writing – it is cathartic. After all the criteria, references, notes and details it is enjoyable just sit and unstress the brain with a few freely chosen words.
One thought I had was the difference between university in the late 60s and early 70s to now. I have not even set foot in the university this time. It has all been online: the readings, the discussions, the essay submissions, the library loans have all been done from behind the keyboard. If this had been the case in 1972 I would have missed all the Vietnam war and anti apartheid protests. If my memory serves me right Uni seemed like a pit of a million youthful passions back then. It is probably safer behind a keyboard. I only have to hide from any odd jobs the wife may have in store.
This has been my most active semester. As I have written in a previous blog, my attendance to observe and teach a migrant English classes has been quite exhilarating. My comfort zone has been well and truly stretched. An extra 10 hours of classroom observations and lessons together with extra lesson planning has been quite demanding. I had promised myself, not that long ago, that I wouldn’t put myself under that sort of pressure. Better try next time.
Oh well. One more review of the essay and then press “submit”. Then in a few weeks time I will get the assessor’s judgement. Now I know how my students feel.
Normally teachers teach. That is the idea of teaching. This term, however, I have been taught a lot. Over the last 11 weeks I have not only been completing my normal teaching load but I have also been learning how to teach English to migrants. From teaching the big ideas in literature I have had to move to teaching sentences in the simple present tense. After using the complicated meta language of English I have had to use simple descriptions and definitions. It has been hard.
I speak too fast. My writing is unintelligible. My words are too big … for me it has been a head spinning time of redefining my teaching.
But I have learnt much more. I have learned about courage, hope, resilience, persistence … human qualities that we, in our comfortable lifestyles, have forgotten about. The stories that the refugees and migrants have told me of their past lives have reminded me of the best we can discover in human character. Last month I mentioned “Ahmed” who had to wait five years to be reunited with his wife and children. I didn’t mention another man whose eyes welled with tears when he told me about his wife and eight year old son. His son was one year old when he last saw him. That waiting requires courage and patience.
I have learned about other cultures and attitudes. To be honest, I have learned more than I have taught.
One final thought. According to polls Australians seem to love the “turn the boats back” policy held to by our major parties. Maybe it has saved lives by stopping drownings at sea. My challenge to our politicians and the general public is to rub shoulders with our migrants and refugees. My wager would be that our nation would have a far more compassionate policy. A policy that actually reflected the best of our history of taking in the alien and stranger into our midst.