Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Of Noels and Nobels

As Published in The Fiji Times, Wednesday 17th December, 2008

It's minus 5 degrees celsius outside as I sit in front of my laptop to type my weekly epistle. Even the locals in my corner of Oxfordshire are talking about the cold and wearing gloves. The coconut oil has turned into coco-butter and is in the process of becoming coco-lard. It is, as one of my in-laws once put it, rather "chillery."

It is interesting to experience Advent and the beginning of the festive season in the United Kingdom, or anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere where it snows. For the first time all the advertisements about snowy Christmases, mistletoe, holly and ivy and Santa Claus and reindeer are in the right context. I made a remark to one of my journalist friends the other day that it would be interesting to see the number of "santas" dressed up around Suva or any town. Sweating in their "santa-suits," their fake beards changing from white to brown with all the dust and vehicle exhaust on the streets where they stand.

Of course, in a globalised and increasingly consumer-oriented world, Christmas has become highly commercialised. I read that the first day of the Christmas "Holiday" shopping season in America, the day after their "Thanksgiving" holiday is called Black Friday because of the traffic jams caused in the rush to take advantage of the holiday reductions. This year at least one person was crushed to death, trampled by excited customers in a department store pouring in to get their deals for gifts.

A fortnight ago, the second Sunday in Advent, I preached my first sermon in the United Kingdom, following an invitation from the vicar and local priest in my village. The theme of my sermon and of the minister's sermon last Sunday focused on the meaning of advent in terms of the personal preparation and anticipation of the return of our Lord Jesus as we prepare to celebrate His birth.

After Sunday's service, I overheard some of the church members discussing the extra seats that would be needed for Christmas Day for those who only go to church at Easter and Christmas.

"Well, twice a year is better then none, I suppose," said one of the parishoners.

This got me thinking: In the midst of shopping, wrapping presents, attending Christmas parties, making the lovo and having a great time, how many of us take time to realise that the one whose birth we commemorate, who remains a symbol of peace, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation and life in God's favour for so many people, was born in the poorest conditions.

It was wonderful to read all the news of Human Rights Day last week. There were some great articles and commentaries in The Fiji Times by Bishop Apimeleki Qiliho, Father Kevin Barr and Edwina Kotoisuva which were quite profound and cause for reflection as we approached this important day.

However, last Wednesday, while most of the attention of the world was focused on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, many of us missed the news that it was also the 107th anniversary of the Nobel Prize.

It was on the 10th of December in 1901 that the first Nobel prizes were awarded in the fields of science, literature and peace.

The first six Nobel laureates were Rene Francois Armand "Sully" Prudhomme, a French poet who was awarded the Nobel Literature Prize; Emil Adolf von Behring of Germany, whose work on serum therapy was instrumental in the fight against diphtheria, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine; Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff, the Dutch scientist behind Physical Chemistry received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry; while Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen (one of my father's heroes) was honoured for his discovery of the X-Ray.

The first recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize (jointly) were Jean Henry Dunant, the Swiss founder of the International Society of the Red Cross and the originator of the Geneva Convention, and FrÚdÚric Passy of France who founded the SociÚtÚ franþaise pour l'arbitrage entre nations, the forunner of Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague and the League of Nations.

This year the Nobel peace prize was awarded to former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts. Mr Ahtisaari is the founder and current board chairman of the Crisis Management Initiative which, according to its website, combines analysis, action and advocacy to "strengthen the capacity of the international community in comprehensive crisis management and conflict resolution".

The 2008 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded in thirds, or to be precise in a half and two halves of a half (or two quarters). Recipients were Yoichiro Nambu of Enrico Fermi Institute, University of Chicago (one half ) "for the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics" and the other half jointly to Makoto Kobayashi, High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK), and Toshihide Maskawa, Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics (YITP), Kyoto University, and Kyoto Sangyo University, "for the discovery of the origin of the broken symmetry which predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature".

The Nobel Prize for Chemistry was also shared by three men, this time equally.

Osamu Shimomura, Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), and Boston University Medical School, USA, Martin Chalfie, Columbia University, and Roger Y. Tsien, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of California, were recognised for their ground-breaking work in "the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP".

The medical discoveries of causes for cervical cancer and HIV were recognised this year as the Nobel Prize for Medicine was shared by Harald zur Hausen for his discovery of "human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer" and the other half jointly by Franþoise BarrÚ-Sinoussi (this year's sole female recipient) and Luc Montagnier for their discovery of "human immunodeficiency virus".

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2008 was awarded to the French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le ClÚzio "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization".

Paul Krugman of Princeton University,was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics "for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity".

The men and women who have been nominated and awarded Nobel Prizes for the last 107 years have worked tirelessly for something they believe in, something that they are passionate about. Their contributions have shaped the world as we know it. Yet for every person awarded a Nobel Prize, there are thousands nominated and millions whose work goes, for the most, unrecognised.

They are every man and every woman who makes their own little contribution to peace, justice, science and the community. They are the ones who live out the legacy that the greats leave behind.

Mind you there are ways of being outstanding in your own sphere of life and work; of being outstanding in your field.

A man was driving down a country road, when he spotted a farmer standing in the middle of a huge field of grass. He pulled the car over to the side of the road and notices that the farmer was just standing there, doing nothing, looking at nothing.

The man got out of the car, walked all the way out to the farmer and asked him, "Ah excuse me mister, but what are you doing?"

The farmer replied, "I'm trying to win a Nobel Prize."

"How?" asked the man, puzzled.

"Well I heard they give the Nobel Prize to people who are out standing in their field."

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light and peace!

* Reverend Bhagwan is currently on leave from the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College where he is a member of the Faculty. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organisation that Mr Bhagwan is affiliated with.

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