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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Responding to injustice and uncertainty

I very much appreciate the weekly Blog Brain Pickings.

"Maria Popova is a Bulgarian writer, blogger, and critic living in Brooklyn, New York. She is known for her blog BrainPickings.org, which features her writing on culture, books, and eclectic subjects off and on the Internet." Wikipedia

I sometimes find it hard to keep up with all the wonderful topics she writes about and the links she provides. It's no wonder she has been awarded a prize for Blogging!

In this week's Blog I highlighted two quotes, both of which seem very appropriate to the world we currently live in.

The first is from Albert Einstein speaking about how to respond to the enormous injustices that sometimes feel overwhelming:

"Einstein suggests that the power to speak out against injustice need not be reserved for those professionally devoted to human rights work, nor manifested in grand deeds of activism. He reflects on his own simple, steadfast commitment:
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
'In a long life I have devoted all my faculties to reach a somewhat deeper insight into the structure of physical reality. Never have I made any systematic effort to ameliorate the lot of men, to fight injustice and suppression, and to improve the traditional forms of human relations. The only thing I did was this: in long intervals I have expressed an opinion on public issues whenever they appeared to me so bad and unfortunate that silence would have made me feel guilty of complicity.' " (Underlining mine.)

The second quote from Brain Pickings relates to living with uncertainty:

Albert Camus (1913-1960)
"Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present,” Albert Camus wrote in his 1951 meditation on what it really means to be a rebel. At the heart of this sentiment are the two complementary forces of love and will, for a loving regard for the future requires a willful commitment to rising to the problems of the present and transcending its tumults — a dependency as true in our personal lives as it is in our political lives, and one which demands a capacity for withstanding uncertainty.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"Heaven is under our feet...

...as well as over our heads." Henry David Thoreau Walden

I never tire of relishing the beauty of the simple, natural things I see every day:
 Little Violas bursting with seeds that might be missed if not for careful noticing -

Reflections on the lake - five minutes from home.

"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. ... There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter."
—Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sydney "Vivid" Part 2

As well as the light displays at night we enjoyed several other local Sydney places.
The Botanic gardens, especially an area called The Calyx which showcased a garden wall:

On the only rather grey-sky day we walked across the Pyrmont Bridge to Madame Tussaud's and had great fun with some famous figures:

We also enjoyed the Chinese Garden of Friendship which was walking distance from our hotel.

It is a very tranquil place in the midst of high-rise buildings and all the commercialism of Darling Harbour with its many Hotels. We spent our final morning here before setting off back to NZ!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sydney "Vivid" 2017 - Part 1

Sydney puts on a festive display of lights for a few weeks in winter. We enjoyed five days to explore in the daytime and the nighttime. A few highlights...

Staying at the Ibis Hotel in Darling Harbour was a very convenient location:

 On the Pyrmont Bridge joining the harbour to the city. Hotel in background.
View from our room in the early morning sunshine...
...and at night when fireworks and other light displays were on show.
We made many trips on the ferry to Circular Quay ...
....and on another ferry to Manly for a walk and...

Innocently named a summer salad, we ordered one each. We ate one between us and took the other home for our dinner :-)

Sydney Harbour Bridge by day and night.

The constantly changing patterns on the Opera House were the most spectacular highlight:

The patterns on the Opera House were not static but constantly moving and merging.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Personal Portrait of Brother David Steindl-Rast

Brother David is one of my sages, mentors... I think I've said before that I had the delight of meeting him personally a few years ago at a Spiritual Directors International conference. If you want an inspiring 45 minutes, make a cuppa and enjoy this documentary.

"This (2016) documentary, produced by Robert Neumüller for Austrian ORF television, takes Brother David Steindl-Rast back many generations to his ancestor’s castle and to the pilgrimage town of Maria Rast (Ruše, Slovenia), to which the family owes its name. Full of humor and openness, Br. David also goes back through many stories of his own life, and helps us to see why gratitude has been accompanying him for a lifetime."

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Positive news

We often sit watching the news on TV and wondering aloud if the news media are somehow, consciously or unconsciously, brain washing us into believing that human beings are mostly corrupt and out do harm. Given that we know the power of copy-cat behaviour I find it astounding that such graphic detail is given, not only in the news but presumably in many of the TV programmes too. Just seeing the titles of the evening "entertainment" makes me sad and angry.
However, the title of this post is "Positive news" so let me get to the point.

The truth is: The news is not all bad. People are not all cruel, uncaring and about to kidnap, kill and destroy. But we need to hear about this goodness, see it celebrated, have it as a daily diet to balance the bad news (which of course we can't deny). I'm glad to see that TV1 has continued it's weekly "Good Sorts" slot and Seven Sharp has an ASB "Good as Gold" award. That's a start. But what about regular reporting of the many wonderful things happening world wide?

So here are some links to good news/positive news:

The Gratefulness site every month has a list of wonderful positive news: click here for five inspiring stories. I was especially moved by the second story. What one woman can do to transform a whole community...

Or how about knowing of courageous grassroots responses to terrorism:

And would you believe - there are many websites that feature positive world news - good old Google gives several options. Here's one I like and have only just discovered: Positive News  Did you know that in spite of Trump, US businesses are speeding towards a low carbon world?

And how about celebrating with Amnesty NZ's good news page?

Seeing and hearing positive stories encourages me to keep believing in possibility, people power and the significance of human goodness expressed in ways as simple as holding hands with a Muslim neighbour or writing a letter or having a great idea and believing it is worth sharing.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hopeful imagination

Recently two people mentioned Walter Brueggemann's book Hopeful Imagination. I knew I owned it so I've started re-reading it. Written in 1986 it is surprisingly, and somewhat shockingly, pertinent to what we see in the world and in the church today. I'm still in the first of the three sections of the book focussed on Jeremiah and his prophetic awareness of the coming exile and the destruction of Jerusalem. Both political and religious security were at stake.
"Jeremiah lived in a time of turmoil. He believed it was a time of dying. He envisioned the death of a culture, a society, a tradition. He watched his world dying and he felt pain. What pained him even more was the failure of his contemporaries to notice, to care, to acknowledge or to admit. He could not determine whether they were too stupid to understand, or whether they were so dishonest that they understood but engaged in an enormous cover up. He could not determine whether it was a grand public deception or a pitiful self-deception. But he watched. The dying seemed so clear, so inexorable. Yet they denied. In different moments, he indicts his people of both stupidity (4:22) and stubbornness (18:12)"

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Good Doctor

Every New Zealander should read this book!

I've recently finished it and it both inspired and challenged me.

"The Good Doctor is the inspirational life story of Dr Lance O'Sullivan, the man who stood up to help those most in need when no one else would. Lance O'Sullivan is a man on a mission. Raised in Auckland by a solo mother, he had a modest upbringing typical of the time, if one chequered with difficulties. After being expelled from two schools, Lance could have gone off the rails. Instead, he found his way at Hato Petera College, connecting with his Maori ancestry, and going on to study medicine. After a brief but outstanding career working as a GP in the public health system, Lance and his wife Tracy quit their day jobs to set up a ground-breaking practice in the Far North that offers free healthcare to the many who can't afford it. For his work, Lance has been acknowledged as a Sir Peter Blake Emerging Leader, Public Health Champion, Maori of the Year and, most recently, Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year. Passionate, brave and free-thinking, Lance stood up when no one else would. The Good Doctor charts his inspirational, one-of-a-kind life story, while relaying an overarching hope for a better New Zealand."

Monday, May 1, 2017

On Being a "book-eater"

I'm drawn more and more to reading memoirs. Somehow the story of a real person is even more inspiring than a good novel. Though I hasten to add that I'm still into good novels!

I'm currently reading The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander.  As the blurb on the inside cover says: "The Light of the World is at once an endlessly compelling memoir and a deeply felt meditation on the blessings of love, family, art, and community. It is also a lyrical celebration of a life well-lived and a paean to the enduring gift of human companionship. For those who have loved and lost, or for anyone who cares what matters most, The Light of the World is required reading."

This memoir is written after the death of her Eritrean husband, Ficre. He died suddenly at age 50 leaving her with their two sons aged 12 and 14.

In one description of her husband and his love of books she writes: "Rabbi Ponet writes about Jews as a book-loving people, and the erotics of the book. He imagines us dancing with the books we find sacred. I can see Ficre dancing with the books he loved. When he was a child one of his nicknames at Italian school was "mangia-libro", book eater, he loved them that much."

I identify with being a "book eater"! Since early childhood books have been my delight and my refuge. When I spent many days home from school with bronchitis, books were my companions. I could enter the world of the Famous Five, or Heidi, or missionaries in darkest Africa, while tucked up in bed. Clearly my interests were well balanced!!

Books have been companions all through my life. Wide-ranging interests continue too. Currently I might be reading the latest science (lay person's version!), novels, memoirs, theology, ecology, mysticism...  More and more I like the idea of being a book eater because food that is eaten becomes part of the bodily substance and energy of the one who eats. I can easily forget the details of books I've read but I console myself that what is important will have been absorbed by a sort of "osmosis" - or, with this new image, "digested" - and somehow part of me.

Back to Rabbi Ponet and his comment about Jews... I call to mind one of the visions Ezekiel received where he was told to "eat this scroll":
"And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.
Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” 
So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth." Ezekiel 3:1-3

The fact that I remember this rather obscure Scripture suggests that my theory is correct! I've "eaten" scripture steadily over the years too - and here it is, not totally forgotten, just filed away somewhere until I need it! (PS I did have to look up the chapter and verse!)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Cloud

I've been thinking about clouds recently. There are some nice white fluffy ones outside my window as I write. A few days ago there were dark stormy ones depositing so much rain that some New Zealand communities were seriously flooded. But if I talk about the cloud. I wonder what first springs to mind? I wouldn't mind betting that for many people it is the cloud that stores your digital data; that mysterious 'space' that holds whatever we send there and even more mysteriously gives back our documents, photos and backups with a few clicks. I don't begin to understand this amazing capacity to hold, store and return (to the right person) what must amount to trillions of 'bits' of data. (You can see I don't even know how to write about it accurately!)

However, right now I'm thinking of another mysterious cloud which I don't 'understand' either. It is the cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 12:1 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

I've known this concept since childhood and I used to think of it as a nice idea to keep in mind - all those brave people in the Bible stories (Hebrews 11 etc) could encourage me to be brave too. Nothing wrong with that, of course. It's a good start. But now that I'm a little more aware of what is revealed by quantam physics, a holographic universe, and unitive consciousness, I see the "cloud of witnesses" in a new way. All those faithful people (some known to me personally) who have lived and trusted God even in the darkest of times, really are present now in some parallel universe cheering me on.

Being brought up Baptist we were never much into saints (the kind with "St..." before their names) much less praying to them or expecting them to have any influence. So I'm a late starter in paying much serious attention to the great cloud of witnesses. I probably put them all in the "saints" basket. Of course, if you read Hebrews 11 it is soon apparent that many of them don't fit the traditional definition of a saint! As I think about it now, the word 'witness' is one I can relate to. So I'm expanding my childhood understanding to a deeper level. I can imagine many faithful people - parents, friends, heroes of my own faith journey - now 'there in the cloud'. They are experiencing ultimate reality. They are witnesses to that as well as to the reality of life lived in this limited earthly domain. They are a comforting and challenging community!