Thursday, July 31, 2008

Rainy Days

A triplet of good things to engage with while sheltering from the rain (that is, if you're not busy evacuating, sandbagging or cleaning up):
1. A book, Mountains beyond Mountains (Tracey Kidder, 2001), the captivating biography of Dr. Paul Farmer and how a personal commitment to care for individuals equally can change entire communities and even challenge global solution-deadlocks.
2. A site,, a fascinating online flash that 'measures' globally and nationally the births, deaths and carbon emissions of our existence on planet earth.
3. A film, bella, a magical movie that explores honestly how interruptable, malleable, open and redeemable is our future.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Being involved is to be fully human!

Bishop Desmond Tutu describes the nature of true religion. Not indifference but intelligent engagement, costly involvement and incarnational participation.

“Religion is not a form of escapism. Our God does not permit us to dwell in a kind of spiritual ghetto, cut off from the real life out there. When God encounters injustice, oppression, exploitation, he takes sides. Then God and the Bible are subversive of such a situation.
Our God is not a God who sanctifies the status quo. He is a God of surprises, uprooting the powerful and the unjust to establish his kingdom”.

indifference is not human

Discrimination, distance, and indifference... they’re inhuman companions, blind, deaf and dumb mates, interconnected. The three can be felt and seen together wherever there is a devaluing of life, the exclusion of others, or injustice (see the conversation of The Shar on Wednesday 23rd July, 2008). The everyday entrenchment of statistics on global poverty reveals something of the power of this inhumane triplet:
- 2.7 billion people struggle to survive on less than two dollars (US) per day. Poverty in the developing world means more than income poverty. It means having to walk more than one mile everyday simply to collect water and firewood; it means suffering diseases that were eradicated from rich countries decades ago. Every year eleven million children die-most under the age of five and more than six million from completely preventable causes like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia.
more than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening.
- 26,500-30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death” (UNICEF).
- the Food Security Assessment, 2007 projected that the food security situation in 70 developing countries will deteriorate over the next decade. The estimates also indicate that the number of food-insecure people for these countries rose between 2006 and 2007, from 849 million to 982 million. Food and fuel price hikes, coupled with a slowdown in global economic growth, hinder long-term food security progress.
- more than 800 million people go to bed hungry every day...300 million are children. Of these 300 million children, only eight percent are victims of famine or other emergency situations. More than 90 percent are suffering long-term malnourishment and micronutrient deficiency. Every 3.6 seconds another person dies of starvation and the large majority are children under the age of 5 (Millennium Project).
- 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. If current trends continue, the Millennium Development Goals target of halving the proportion of underweight children will be missed by 30 million children, largely because of slow progress in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
- nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen. In 2004, global military expenses exceeded $1 Trillion (US), but serious international terrorist attacks rose from 175 to 655 (Brian McClaren).
- infectious diseases continue to blight the lives of the poor across the world. An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide.
- water problems affect half of humanity.
- some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.
- 1.8 billion people who have access to a water source within 1 kilometre, but not in their house or yard, consume around 20 litres per day. In the United Kingdom the average person uses more than 50 litres of water a day flushing toilets (where average daily water usage is about 150 liters a day. The highest average water use in the world is in the US, at 600 litres day).
- 1.4 million children die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.
- 2.2 million children die each year because they are not immunized.
- 15 million children orphaned due to HIV/AIDS (similar to the total children population in Germany or United Kingdom).
- a woman living in sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy. This compares with a 1 in 3,700 risk for a woman from North America.
- every minute, a woman somewhere dies in pregnancy or childbirth. This adds up to 1,400 women dying each day - an estimated 529,000 each year from pregnancy-related causes (Millennium Project).
- 12.3 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide; 2.4 million people are as a result of human trafficking.
- for every $1 in aid a developing country receives, over $25 is spent on debt repayment.
- three decades ago, the people in well-to-do countries were 30 times better off than those in countries where the poorest 20 percent of the world's people live. By 1998, this gap had widened to 82 times (up from 61 times since 1996).
- 13 million hectares of the world’s forests are cut down each year, including 6 million hectares of primary forests. Primary forests - forests with no visible signs of past or present human activities - are considered the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. The world's rainforests are found in the poorest areas on the planet. The people who live in and around rainforests rely on these ecosystems for their survival. Thirty million species of plants and animals - more than half of all life forms on our planet live in rainforests.
- for economic growth and almost all of the other indicators, the last 20 years [of the current form of globalization, from 1980-2000] have shown a very clear decline in progress as compared with the previous two decades [1960-1980].
(Unless otherwise stated, these stats were cut and pasted from Anup Shah at, March 04, 2008)

And the list could go on and on, couldn’t it? You made it to the end of the list, right?

These “global facts” of discrimination, distance, and indifference will only mean something when we make them personal. It’s easy to discriminate against the faceless, nameless people caught in these statements and statistics; its easy to stay detached, distant from or indifferent to them; its easy to cite them and then file them, or if we’re brutally honest, forget them. What if you knew someone personally on this list, could you forget them then? What if you had family or your friends on this list? What if you got close enough to feel a thin hand of someone on this list clutching yours? What if you learnt the names of some of these people? What if you could sit down and exchange stories with these people, could you ignore the pleas for help then? What if you were even more daring and relocated to live where some of these listed people try to make a living? What difference would that make to how you hear, see and speak of these inhumane statistics?

See what I’m getting at?

The last thought goes to Nicholas Kristoff, a journalist with the New York Times who has covered the famine in Ethiopia:
“I often hear comments from readers like, ‘It’s tragic over there, but we’ve got our own problems that we have to solve first.’ Nobody who has held the hand of a starving African child could be that dismissive.”
(Nicholas Kristoff, cited in Jim Wallis, 2008, Seven Ways to Change the World, emphasis mine).

Could we? Could you? Could I?

Reaching-out and staying in-touch (touchable) is the essence of what it means to be human and the practice of a fairer world.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

picnic with gypsies & discrimation

Discrimination takes on all kinds of forms and is revealed in all kinds of places. I was shocked to read the following article on

It recounts how two young children Violetta (12) and Cristina (13) had drowned while swimming with friends at a beach. Their bodies were removed from the water and towels laid over their bodies while waiting for removal from the beach. You can see in the photo the sunbathers in the background happily enjoying their day despite the tragic loss of life right in front of them....

The photographer told CNN the mood among sunbathers was one of indifference towards the girls, who were Roma gypsies - a disliked minority in Italy.
Archbishop of Naples Cardinal Crecenzio Seppe wrote in his parish blog: "Indifference is not an emotion for human beings. To turn the other way or to mind your own business can sometimes be more devastating than the events that occur," CNN reported. The Guardian reports that "Italy is gripped by anti-Gypsy feeling."

“Since coming to office in May, Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing Government has appointed three special commissioners to deal with the Roma in each of Italy's three biggest cities - Naples, Milan and Rome. It has also ordered the fingerprinting of the country's Gypsy population, including minors, who make up more than half of the estimated 150,000 Roma in Italy,” it said. The newspaper quoted a survey showing 68 per cent of Italians want the Roma expelled, regardless of whether they hold Italian passports. Many Italians are openly hostile towards the Roma, accusing them of choosing crime over legitimate employment, and living in illegal camps instead of joining mainstream Italian society.

The British broadsheet quotes Italian newspaper La Repubblica, which also expressed astonishment at the behaviour of those on the beach: "While the lifeless bodies of the girls were still on the sand, there were those who carried on sunbathing or having lunch just a few metres away.” Earlier this month, the European Parliament demanded Italy end its plans to fingerprint thousands of Roma children calling the move a direct act of discrimination.

I find myself asking all kinds of questions when I read this.... how is it that life can seem less precious because someone is 'different'? How can Governments blatantly discriminate against a group of their own citizens? How can the death of a child ever not impact someone? What would it take for me to turn the other way to injustice and tragedy...and how can I make sure that never, ever happens.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What starfish are you making a difference for?

Watch this video here

Its easier than you think to make a differnce, the question is are you going to?

One by one, step by step, starfish by starfish.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Godly imagination!


This comment by Major Clive Nicolson featured in the Southern Division Newsletter and is full of insight. A timely reminder that we can become organisationally constipated with a morass of compliance and conformity requirements. It is of course sociologically inevitable that all organisations become increasingly linear whereas 'imagination' involves lateral thinking and movement. The sequence of 'Man, Movement, Monument' comes to mind. Laterally-minded people think big, broadly, provocatively and creatively. This was true of the OT prophets and their 'prophetic imagination', some church history and some of the early social & political actions of the Army. We also think of Wesley, Newton, Wilberforce, Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Johns Paul 11, Walesa, Romero, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Day, to have the powerful force of ‘God enlightened imagination’ illustrated. (IanK)

“It all began with God. I’m continually amazed at God’s awesome creative abilities.
Those words, “Let there be” and “Let us”, brought into being the imagined thoughts of
the creator and the world and all that is in it took shape and began its journey through
the ages.
It all began with God, His imagination, His thoughts, and His desire to have relationship
with mankind.
Einstein once said; “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination
encircles the world.”

I have been thinking about Einstein’s statement and have come to the conclusion that
perhaps we need to hear his words and apply them to the church today.
Could it be that we have more knowledge about running churches than we have ever
had with a host of seminars and training opportunities available to us? I’m not
discounting the usefulness of these but could it be that what is missing in our churches
today is imagination.
Einstein also said, “If you can imagine it, you can do it.”

As the Army has come of age perhaps we have focused too much on knowledge and
not enough on inspired imagination. May be we have forgotten what it is to dream the
dream, take a risk and have a go. Our need to understand every part of the plan has
cramped our style and we have become more and more conservative and safe in our
approach to mission.

I was personally challenged at our recent Officers fellowship to think outside the box
more when it comes to the church and how it should function today. Perhaps we need
to find time to sit and allow God’s Sprit to really inspire us with His creativity. What
might be possible I wonder? What changes might God inspire us as individuals and as
an Army to make? What could our ministry and mission look like in the future?

I wonder if we each out of a holy discontent admitted that some of the things we
currently are doing are not working and began to as we discovered in the book club at
fellowship the process of clarifying the win, thinking steps not programmes, in narrowing
the focus, teaching less for more, listening to outsiders, replacing ourselves and as we
continued to work on it, what might be possible.
Let us as leaders encourage a culture of creativity, risk taking, and a positive faith in
God for as Matthew 19:26 says “With God all things are possible. “

Major Clive Nicolson is Divisional Secretary for Programme – Southern Division

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Grace and Peace that interrupts.

The Letters of Paul start with this magical phrase: "Grace and Peace to you...".

A Grace and Peace that interrupts.

A Grace and Peace that heals.

A Grace and Peace that makes more noise than karma.

A Grace and Peace that re-distributes.

A Grace and Peace that re-names.
A Grace and Peace that restores.
A Grace and Peace that ressurrects.

A Grace and Peace that stops the cycles of blame and shame.

Imagine if we incarnated and spoke this same Grace and Peace into Afghanistan, Darfur, Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Fiji, Costa Rica, Tibet, Myanmar, Manurewa? What would that look like? What would that mean for you and me today... tomorrow?

Grace and Peace to you.

Not much justice for some in Sri Lanka

A Mount Albert Corps team is currently in Sri Lanka. Gay sent me a text today expressing her shock at what she found in a visit to the victims of the tsunami. I share Daryl Crowden's report on the visit
Angulan is a community located between the sea, approximately 100 meters away and a tidal lagoon. 40 families, most with small children, have been living in this temporary camp, situated on the local government school grounds for three and a half years.The families in this area have been, and are, in two-room wooden shacks that were built around January 10, 2005. The front room is used as the kitchen and food storage area the back room as the bedroom and living area.When we visited the camp it had been raining heavily: the grounds were muddy and the rubbish had been washed all over the camp. Residents reported being in 8 inches of water over night – and the sanitation overflowing into the living areas.Whilst all have received a grant from the government (two instalments equalling NZ$ 6,250.00) to build a new house; the land that they can afford is over 25km in land – and they are fishermen, dependant on the sea and their boats for the small income they can attract. Going 25km in land, to new areas where there is no power or water supply is not the most appropriate solution for these people, but with an impending forced eviction from the camp, they have few other options.The grant has not been enough to purchase the land and complete the building of houses so some are still living in the shacks, whilst their new house remains incomplete. Others have had enough to complete the house but not to pay for the electrical wiring or connection of mains power.The Salvation Army has been working with this community for two years and during this time has provided funds to aid in the wiring of houses and connection of power. However, the available ‘tsunami’ funds are exhausted and the Angulan camp is not a priority.Despite this lack of funds The Salvation Army is finding funds to help these victims. Each house wiring and connection costs approximately Rs. 28,000.00 (NZ $345.00) and so far they have been able to help a number of families.From funds made available by a donor in New Zealand (members of The Salvation Army Faith Factory in Waitakere) we have been able to accept the application of five more families, and over the next few weeks they will be able to move from this stagnant, smelly ‘temporary’ home into their new houses.Thanks to those that made this possible – it was our privilege to represent you today.
Daryl and the team

Friday, July 11, 2008

A perspective beyond our vision and history

Mention of Archbishop Oscar Romero caused me to search my file for a prayer attributed to him and which gives a perspective beyond our vision and history.
In case we take ourselves too seriously we need reminding that in the greater scheme of things we are not responsible for everything, just our bit however humble.

I sympathize with Shar and the feelings of being overwhelmed by the sheer enormity and complexity of the issues but thankfully the Kingdom of God values every contribution and every offering of love. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ may have more to do with ‘Social Justice for Dummies’ that our clearly reasoned and intellectual utterings. This certainly gives comfort to me.

"A World Without Walls

It helps now and then to step backand take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts;
It is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete,which is another way of saying
that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith,
no confession brings perfection,
no pastoral visit bring wholeness,
no programme accomplishes the church's mission,
no set of goals and objectives includes everything.
That is what we are about.

We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way
and an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are the workers, not the master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

social justice for dummies

Sorry I'm a bit late with my post...just pretend its still Wednesday :)

We're probably all familiar with the series of books "------ for dummies". You can get a book for dummies for just about any subject. I've been talking with a colleague over the last couple of months about social justice/fair trade issues and blogs including this one. In our discussions I was somewhat relieved to discover that I'm not the only one who sometimes feels swamped or lost in the wordy debate/dialogue. Its not that I lack intelligence or have trouble reading...its perhaps more that the 'deep debate/dialogue' doesn't connect or empower me to make change as it does some. I fully appreciate that some learn by wrestling and dissecting....neither is wrong or better. Perhaps its not a case of either/or but both/and. I would suggest that we must be careful that we don't become so attached to the idea of the conversation that it leads to no actual action or change. Equally, we must take care not to be so full of action that we have no understanding or appreciation for the needs/concerns/issues.

I have a feeling that my posts on this blog may seem a bit simple......but I hope that those who would prefer to read "social justice for dummies" may find something that they can sink their teeth into and chew over.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Three Hard Words that Speak to the World

Three “hard” thoughts today from Oscar Romero, the Catholic Priest killed in El Salvador in 1980 for challenging injustices with the concrete counter-claims of the Kingdom of God, three "hard" thoughts that I think capture something of what it means for The Salvation Army to be a global movement that adds real value to our tired world:

“It is very easy to be servants of the word without disturbing the world: a very spiritualized word, a word without any commitment to history, a word that can sound in any part of the world because it belongs to no part of the world. A word like that creates no problems, starts no conflicts.
What starts conflicts and persecutions, what marks the genuine church, is the word that, burning like the word of the prophets, proclaims and accuses: proclaims to the people God’s wonders to be believed and venerated, and accuses of sin those who oppose God’s reign, so that they may tear that sin out of their hearts, out of their societies, out of their laws - out of the st
ructures that oppress, that imprison, that violate the rights of God and of humanity. This is the hard service of the word.”

"The prophetic mission is a duty of God's people. So when I am told in a somewhat mocking tone that I think I am a prophet, I reply: 'God be praised! You ought to be one too.' For every Christian, all God's people, every family, must develop a prophetic awareness, convey an awareness of God's mission in the world, bring it a divine presence that makes demands and rejections."

"Those who have listened to me in church on Sundays
with sincerity
without prejudices
without hatred
without ill will
without intending to defend indefensible interests,
those who have listened to me cannot say
I am giving political or subversive sermons.
All that is simply slander.
You are listening to me at this moment,
and I am saying what I have always said.
What I want to say (from) the cathedral pulpit
is what the church is,
and in the name of the church
I want to support what is good,
applaud it,
encourage it,
console the victims of atrocities, of injustices
and with courage
disclose the atrocities,
the tortures,
the disappearance of prisoners,
the social injustice.
This is not engaging in politics;
this is building up the church
and carrying out the church's duty
as imposed by the church's identity.
My conscience is undisturbed,
and I call on all of you:
Let us build up the true church!"
Homilies cited in Oscar Romero, 2003, The Violence of Love.

The Word incarnate: post what these "hard words" would feel/look like in your neighbourhood? post what you think these "hard words" would look like internationally? post how you think these "hard words" could help frame the glopal (see earlier post on "The Reach of Salvation") face of The Salvation Army and the part it has to play in meeting the Eight Milennium Development Goals.
Share some stories.

Monday, July 7, 2008


I have been attending this conference of people seeking social justice representing eighty countries. Attached to this has been a conference of Salvationists looking at the connection of Social Justice and Social Service. Some impressions

Some delegates and speakers from developing countries were not able to attend the conference because they were not given Visas. A case of a western country discriminating against those who are poor or of another colour. It will remain difficult to get any level of social justice if people cannot meet together to discuss and learn from each others

The new and exciting group of Salvationists who are starting to realise that a full proclamation of the gospel can only occur if we passionately and strenuously seek and live social justice.

The injustice within our own movement. Each financially able territory in the international Salvation Army has three partners in mission that they have a responsibility to care for. New Zealand Fiji and Tonga had 4 delegates but there were no delegates from the territories we support. They could not afford to send delegates.

The thirst that is growing for a well articulated biblical theology of social justice to be taught, preached and mainstreamed in our movement. Salvationist are wanting to have a discipleship that includes justice mercy and faith. "This is what I require of you Salvation Army, that you act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

In this international forum of 600 delegates representing over 70 countries you realise the respect and regard for the voice of The Salvation Army. This is a respect however we must not use for ourselves but on behalf of the world's marginalised and poor.

I understood for the first time that The Salvation Army as a founding NGO of the United Nations is required to annually report on the Millennium development goalsThe eight Millennium Development Goals are:
Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Achieve universal primary education
Promote gender equality and empower women
Reduce child mortality
Improve maternal healthCombat HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Ensure environmental sustainability
Develop a global partnership for development
How do we in New Zealand Salvation Army contribute to this International responsibility.

Friday, July 4, 2008

What! a servant Lord and a King on a donkey?

The ‘Lordship’ of Christ which Malcolm refers to needs qualification, not that Christ doesn’t deserve this elevated title but because I don’t believe he would ever have used it of himself.

Lord and King are words we’ve chosen to use largely because we cannot easily accept that God in Jesus came to us in servant form. We being so much into power and control can’t cope with this. We seem able to set aside Christ’s own repudiation of such titles and even his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, being a powerful demonstration of his rejection of kingly symbols of power and triumph. With this prophetic and provocative gesture Jesus turns on its head the prevailing understanding of kingship. He declares it irrelevant and redundant. A radically new way of governance is being introduced.

Jesus was deeply shaped by the Jewish scriptures but notwithstanding that spoke of a whole new understanding of ‘kingship and kingdom’. He spoke many, many times about the coming of the Kingdom of God (over 100 times I believe) in parables and narratives and it was about a new definition based on the coming ‘reign of God’.
He knew all about the role ‘King’ or ‘Emperor’ in the political culture of his day along with all the power and glory that went with the roles. But all this deeply offended Jesus who strongly challenged the exclusive, oppressive and class based rules that are practiced in the earthly rule of kingly power.

Jesus turns his back on power and privilege and intentionally subverts our human constructions of God around such status. It concerns me that so many of our worship choruses carry images of Jesus as King and on a throne high and lifted up, remote from us in power and glory and at God’s right hand. We elevate Christ out of the very world in which He chooses to live. There is something very subtle in all this. Unable to live his radical gospel in the world we project him into another world remote from our human experience and couched in language and images that belong to a past world.

Christ’s understanding and demonstration of God’s coming Kingdom, that is here now - yet always coming, was based on a whole new world order, marked by right relationships of justice, peace, love and liberation. All very different from the elitism, privilege, power and control that is such a part of our systems.