Tuesday, July 22, 2008

women's refuge appeal

Is anyone else provoked by this full page picture in New Zealand newspapers this week?

The caption, presumably spoken by this African woman, reads: "In New Zealand many women are denied some human rights that I enjoy".

I know they are trying to push the boundaries in order to expose the despicable that is kept hidden so often. I know they are trying to reframe domestic violence as a human rights issue in the public consciousness. I know they are trying to be careful by inserting the words "many" and "some".

BUT until someone can convince me otherwise this approach invites the perception that they are, at worst, maximising a problem in NZ by minimising it in a country in Africa OR, at best, creating the impression that the problems are of similar magnitude in both countries. Neither approach seems wise or accurate. Why can't the problem in NZ stand on its own as an appalling one?

I feel a tension within and that is what Women's Refuge want me to feel, I suspect. On the one hand I am and want to be revolted into action by what happens here in NZ - but not at the expense of losing sight of what is happening elsewhere which is of a quite different type and magnitude and hiddenness.

Just as one example, I recently went with my daughter to the Human Rights Film Festival to watch A Walk to Beautiful, the story of five young women (among thousands every year) in Ethiopia who develop fistulas.
[NB A fistula is a hole that develops between the birth canal and the bladder (and rectum sometimes) when a young woman, whose body is not ready for labour, pushes and pushes for days. Obstructed labour, I think it is called. The unborn baby tends to die in the womb and then the woman endures urine (and feces) leaking through the hole created by the pushing and it trickles down her legs for the rest of her life. They are rejected by husbands and made to live in a hut out the back. A simple surgical procedure can correct the problem. The last fistula reported in USA/UK was something like 80+ years ago. Surely that says something!].
This is a most horrendous human rights issue unheard of in New Zealand in 2008 (that is not too strong a comment, is it?). There will be other human rights issues like this. And yes, it is different in type and magnitude and hiddenness from the issues we confront in NZ. And yes, just at the moment, I am disturbed by the approach taken by this advertising campaign because I find it minimises - maybe even trivialises - these differences.

I know, I know - a highly inflammable topic and people may want to add me to the fires - but these are honest issues for me. How do we stay alive to local and global human rights issues and see both in proper perspective and with full commitment?

nice chatting - I think?!


Monday, July 21, 2008

familiarity breeds content

Over the past few months Barby and I have had the privilege of spending time in countries that were new to us: Thailand, Denmark, and Morocco. Each time - months in advance of the trip - we would get hold of the Lonely Planet book and pore over its pages as we planned what we would do and see together.

As I look back now the same thing happened each time.

Before we entered the specific country those Lonely Planet books were tough going. The names of cities and streets and sites were hard work because the Thai and Danish and Arabic languages were so foreign to us - and some of those maps were hard to read!

But once in the country and experiencing it first-hand and, even more, once we had left the country and collecting our memories, then flicking through those Lonely Planet guides and noting all that we had seen and done was so much fun. The books came alive because the information they contained was so much more familiar to us.

I wonder whether we value the familiar enough in our churches today.
For example, preachers can place themselves under this burden to come up with something profound and new every week - when reminding people of the familiar truth that sweeps across the scriptures may well be what is needed most. Sometimes people need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed. They can benefit so much from hearing again what they already know...
Or, alternatively, consider those who 'lead' worship services and the excitement they can convey when it comes time to teach the congregation a new song. This excitement is not always shared by the congregation who seem to give themselves the most to the songs they know the best. It is worth remembering. Yesterday I just loved singing the familiar "Faithful One" and even "I love you Lord and I lift my voice" (in a youth service!).

In times of uncertainty - which is a bit like entering a new country - let's breed a deeper contentment among the people of God by drawing on the familiar more often. Lets allow our engagement with word and worship to be like reading a Lonely Planet book that is alive with excited 'been there, done that' memories and 'been there, seen that' images - and not mired so often in language that is so foreign.

nice chatting


Saturday, July 12, 2008

madness in morocco

I guess it was a kind of madness. Hiring a car in Morocco seemed brave enough - but selecting one without air-conditioning in 46-48 degree weather and then covering 1345kms over two days? Oh - and just to refresh us for the trip we spent the night before listening to scaffolding poles being dropped one at a time onto the road outside our hotel! However such is the beauty of Morocco, it was a brand of madness that would be repeatable...

We headed off from Marrakech and wound our way up through the High Atlas mountains and over the highest pass for vehicles(7000+ feet) in North Africa - maybe even Africa, I'm not sure. Being children of the Himalayas as we are, mountains like these are magnets for us.

Our descent took us to Ouarzazate, the place name I have found harder to pronounce than any other. I settled for Mollywood because it is home to Morocco's film industry with King Mohammed VI (an easy-to-remember name because every town and city has an 'Avenue Mohammad VI') actively courting Hollywood directors to come and make use of the scenery - with the nearby polished fort/kasbah of Ait-Benhaddou featuring in a dozen or two movies in the past decade or two (starting with Gladiator and going downhill from there). I wonder whether they are making up for the fact that that most famous movie of all - Casablanca - did not have a solitary scene filmed in Morocco!

Then it was about following the Draa Valley all the way to the Sahara. A green ribbon of date palm winding its way down to the desert. The presence of flowing water makes such a difference! Over the years I have urged students to recognise how much of the Old Testament comes alive when we realise how they longed for rain like we long for sunshine. When the Psalmist thirsts, believe you me he is really thirsting!

The Moroccan scenery is Central Otago times ten and minus the lakes.

Finally we reached Zagora, famous for its sign informing travellers that it is '52 days to Timbucktoo', identifying the crucial camel route through to Mali. It also has the sweetest dates on earth and the most intriguing array of skin colours as darker skinned sub-Saharan Africans mix with lighter skinned North Africans. Our goal was to go as far as the sand dunes of the Sahara but we found the Sahara came to us with some force in the form of a sandstorm. Our approach to our Desert Storm was somewhat different than George W. Bush to his. We completed a U-turn. And after a scary ten minutes of driving without a visible road we found our way to safety.

Our nerves were reassembled with the help of traditional mint tea before retracing our steps up the valley to a night under the stars in a kasbah/fort in little Agdz, a town whose consonants I am still not sure I have in the right order. I was pretty chuffed as I reckon that was one more night in a fort than Robin Hood ever had.

Up early for breakfast and off for what I'd had my eye on for months - the two Gorges at Todhra and Dades. Todhra was spectacular. One of life's scenic highlights for me. Imagine a winding kilometer of two (almost) Sky Tower-high rockfaces fencing-in a little river. I could have walked in the water and gazed upwards all day.

Then while Todhra has you walking/driving along the base, the Dades Gorge has you walking/driving along the top. You get nowhere near the water. The road winds up to the top of the cliff and you peer over the edge - as far as 'peering' is the right word for standing several feet from the edge and doing a half-hearted lean in the direction of the edge. It is possible to do a circular daytrip - with 4WD - that incorporates both Gorges. That will be the highlight of our return visit!

Once the Gorges were experienced it was foot-to-the-floor, back over the the High Atlas mountains with the sun now positioned differently enabling different perspectives. We had an 8:30pm deadline at the Marrakech airport. What followed was as close to the Amazing Race as I am ever likely to be. As the deadline approached so did the setting sun - right in my face in the drive westward. Complicating this was that the setting sun is the signal for the locals to spill out onto the streets in the 'cool' of the evening. So there am I, driving on the right/wrong side of the road, the sun in my eyes, the streets gorging themselves on people and bikes and cars, without a map and following my nose to the airport. Needless to say I had to humble myself and ask directions - but by then we had missed the deadline by 7 minutes. Thankfully a compassionate Avis man did not add the promised full additional day to the cost.

... and then there were the other seven days in Morocco - but for another time and place.

nice chatting