Sunday, October 6, 2013

Wesley's "View" on Kava?

Last week, I reflected in this column on the recent call by the leadership of the Methodist Church in Fiji for clergy and members to abstain from drinking kava and smoking on church premises and on Sundays. My perspective was from the issue of health and vitality – both physical and spiritual.

In the week that has followed, I have received some very interesting and varying responses and comments. Some were supportive and encouraging of the move to reduce excessive kava drinking in the church, smoking and even overeating by ministers, lay pastors, lay leaders and even members.

A traditional iTaukei yaqona ceremony.
The author says discussion within the Methodist Church
on yaqona drinking needs also to be open
to the Wesleyan tradition.
There were, however a number of critics of this move. Some feel that this move is dictatorial , that it infringes on the freedom of the individual as from a human rights perspective and that it does not take into consideration the traditional i-Taukei culture.  Some, as I mentioned last week have responded by quoting biblical passages to  support their view.

As I reflected on the criticisms on the call for the reduction in kava consumption, for the church to be smoke-free and for a healthy church, I began to wonder what the founder of Methodism, John Wesley might contribute to the debate. Of course, Wesley lived in 18th century England which would only hear about “Feejee” or the “Cannibal Isles” towards the latter part of the 1700s.

18th century England was a “century of contrasts.” This period saw the development British economic and political expansion, the “Enlightenment” and relative stability within and without the United Kingdom.  However he also notes that this “imposing superstructure was built on a foundation of poverty and wretchedness,” that was for the most ignored by ruling class and intelligentsia who were satisfied with the status quo. “Prosperity of the nation presupposed a permanent pool of poverty to sustain it and that there was a providential arrangement which had decreed that the many poor should serve the interests of the few rich.”

The cost of food was in low supply but high in price which led to regular riots. 50 percent of Britain’s wheat was used in distilling liquor. Oats were consumed by horses used for transport rather than for cattle and sheep which could provide meat.

Wesley was no stranger to the issue of excessive drinking, particularly in the area of alcoholic spirits.  While food was expensive, distilled liquor, in particular gin was produced cheaply and readily available. Gin shops, an estimated 17,000 in London alone, required no license to operate and the public were able to “get drunk on for a penny or dead-drunk for two-pence,” with free straw to lie on.  The consumption of distilled spirits more than doubled between 1750. When the Gin Act was introduced by the government in 1736 to raise funds to service the national debt through high duty, riots broke out across England and the Act was repealed in 1742.

Writing on the moral situation in the 1700s Wesley notes: 

Our nation stands on the brink of destruction. And why are we thus, but because the cry of wickedness is gone up to heaven? Because we have so exceedingly, abundantly, beyond measure, corrupted our ways before the Lord.”

Rev. Dr Lesley G Anderson writes that Wesley’s, ‘Letter to an Alcoholic’, revealed the unpleasant truth that the use of alcohol is, detrimental to persons and society. Utilizing the disciplines of anthropology, psychology, sociology and theology, undergirded by Scripture, Wesleylaunched a formidable attack against it and classified it as a social evil.
Concerned about the value and wellbeing of the whole person, each of whom was made in the image of God, Wesley made a personal plea for total abstinence. He was concerned that the habitual use of alcoholwas a ‘diabolical practice’, which leveled a ‘human’ to the inferior state of an ‘animal’ and therefore, degraded the human personality. This is what he wrote:

“You are a human being! God made you human, but you have converted yourself into an animal. What is the difference between a human and an animal? Is it not, perhaps, reasoning and understanding? But you have wasted your ability to reason and divested yourself of understanding”
Wesley makes the distinction between the human and animal to highlight the negation of selfhood and the debasement of Christian character, self-respect, dignity and worth. He was therefore unambiguous in his plea for total abstinence. He was concerned about the harm alcohol caused to the body and the soul.

I agree with Anderson in that while Wesley’s letter was very strong in tone, it was also basically pastoral, because his primary purpose was to ‘save souls’ for Christ. As a result he highlighted the fact, that standards of behaviour for the Christian must be different from that of society. The Christian must make a difference. The Christian should live out his/her faith and put his/her beliefs into practice.

For Methodists in Fiji, this Wesleyan tradition calls leaders to pledge not to drink alcohol (with exception made occasionally for Holy Communion) and encouraged their congregations to do the same.

In the situation of excessive kava consumption, I would suggest that if we apply the Wesleyan “method” of reflecting on issues based on Scripture, reason, tradition and experience, we would find ourselves drawing similar conclusions to that of Wesley on alcoholic spirits.

It is important to add here that I understand that kava is an important part of I-Taukei  culture. However at the same time I would suggest that we also need to remember the difference between the historical and traditional use of kava and the contemporary and common cultural use of culture.

In his Master of Social Sciences in Anthropology Thesis for the University of Waikato, by Sekove Degei writes of kava as “a stumbling block” (reflected from Romans 14:13; 1Corinthinias 1:23 )for the church.

According to Degei, the presentation of yaqona has symbolic significance to the village people, especially Methodist church members in Fiji. Sitting together in the customary ranked order in a yaqona drinking circle after church, listening and observing the rituals that go together with it, is seen as helping consolidate the traditional communal living of the community and reaffirming social ties and relations. As Tomlinson (2002:52) writes” “Not drinking kava [yaqona] cuts oneself off from the social life of the community.”

Degei adds that all the Methodists he interviewed in his research “agreed that the reason why the church leaders are trying to encourage limiting the consumption of kava is that too many members have abused the practice. It was stated that some talatala and the vakatawa are really heavy drinkers of kava and this can be seen in their skin and complexions, which tend to be grey, even scaly.”

I understand that the issue of the tradition of I-Taukei culture in relation to kava/yaqona is being deliberated by the Methodist Church’s Standing Committee. This is an important conversation if a clear understanding of how and when, kava may be consumed by Methodists. However, any discussion needs also to be open to the Wesleyan tradition, of which the people called Methodists in Fiji need always to be mindful, if they wish to be part of that legacy.

For example, the “Ticket” issued to Methodist Class members was a visible sign of discipline in life and society, regardless of social situation. Even for poor members it was a source of self respect and respect by fellow members as it signified that their moral life was taken much more seriously and maintained at a higher level in the society than in the national church.

This “membership ticket”, which remains an essential (if often ignored) element of the Methodist Church Constitution, could serve as a reminder that the Methodist community is not just an institution or a leg of the “Three Legged Stool” but an alternative Christian community, that is not afraid or satisfied to follow the norm, simply because it is common practice in society.

Physical and Spiritual Health and Vitality

This week is “Hospital Week” in the Methodist Church in Fiji.

According to Rev. Maraya Ryland Nasenaivalu, chaplain at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital, who prepared the week-long reflections on the theme “Jesus is Life,” the aim of the week-long devotions is not only to encourage members to reflect on Jesus as the source of healing and fullness of life, but to also be careful with their own life style every single day.

Figures shared by Rev. Nasenaivalu from the CWM Hospital show that between 2008 and 2012, at total of 128,755 patients were admitted of which 124,355 were successfully treated while 4,206 died.  Approximately 692,728 outpatients were seen during the same period.

While the Methodist community is reflecting on the issue of life and health, we as a nation should  also be reflecting with gratitude on those who continue to serve, as a vocation, as doctors, nurses, orderlies, paramedics, nurse-practitioners, lab and x-ray technicians, dentists, physio-therapists and the many others who we come to for healthcare.

On Monday a Fiji Times article stated that “thirty per cent of Fiji's population or 102,000 people above the age of 25 suffer from diabetes,” calling non-communicable diseases (NCDs) “Fiji's biggest killer.”

The Ministry of Health’s 2010-2014 NCD Prevention and Control Strategic Plan, has the following shocking statistics which are already more than 10years old:

Tobacco use has an overall prevalence of 36.6%, 42% of which smoke daily. The mean age for initiation of smoking is approximately 18 years. There is generally low consumption of fruit and vegetables in Fiji, 65% consuming less than one fruit serving a day. Only 1.2% of males and 0.6% of females consume 5 or more servings of fruit a day. In terms of vegetables consumption 2.9% of males and 2.2% of females consume 5 or more servings per day. In fact 26.4% were found to eat less than one serving of vegetables in a day. 77.3% of alcohol drinkers were binge drinkers (i.e 77.3% of 45% prevalence). The prevalence of kava drinkers was 65% with 79.6% continuing to do so.

Women, people aged 35 years and over, urban dwellers and Indo Fijians were found to be the least active cohorts in terms of physical activity. Physical activity at leisure is wanting in the Fiji population. 29.9% of people were overweight and 18% were found to be obese. Females were by far more obese than males in terms of BMI and abdominal obesity. There was evidence of rapid increase of obesity with age up to 30-34 year age group implying maximal weight gain is occurring in the younger generation in Fiji

The prevalence of diabetes in the 25-64 year age group is 16% of which 53.2% were previously unknown. Of the known cases, 2.1% were not on medication, 32.2% were on medication but had uncontrolled fasting blood glucose, and only 12.5% were on medication with good glucose control. Diabetes is the most common cause of non-traumatic amputation and second most common cause of adult blindness in Fiji.

The prevalence of hypertension is 19.1% of which 63.3% were previously unrecognised. Of the known cases, 10% were not on medication, 15.4% were on medication but had abnormal blood pressure, and only 10.9% were on medication as well as controlled blood pressure.

82% of all deaths are attributed to NCDs, with coronary heart disease and stroke responsible
for all deaths in the 40-59 age group. Another Fiji Times article on Monday quoted Ministry of Health NCD advisor  Dr Isimeli Tukana sharing that diabetes led to about 400 amputations per year and that  the latest survey conducted in 2011 with the WHO revealed that the contributing factor towards NCDs was the change in lifestyle.

"If we don't change our lifestyle, particularly our children, and the way they eat and the way they live, we won't be able to solve the problem. We have to protect our children, "he was quoted as saying.

Within the community of faith in which I serve, the recent call by the chief shepherd of the flock, Rev. Dr. Tuikilakila Waqairatu for the church to become “smoke-free” and for ministers, pastors, leaders and members to break the habit of excessive kava consumption has been a challenge for many.

The writer says the recent call by the chief shepherd of the flock,
Rev. Dr. Tuikilakila Waqairatu for the church to become "smoke-free"
and for ministers, pastors, leaders and members to break the habit
of excessive kava consumption has been a challenge
Those who give excuses and go to the extent to quote scripture to justify their habits may need to look at the bigger picture or the reason behind what a number of news media organisations refer to as “the kava ban” within the Methodist Church.

Rev. Dr. Waqairatu has explained his concern for the spiritual and physical vitality, or lack thereof, of members of the Methodist community whose excessive consumption of kava is really substance abuse. His challenge is for those who have “given their lives to Christ, “to use these lives responsibly, in the service of God and creation and to keep the “temple of the Lord” (the body) holy and clean.

Beyond the theological aspect, the issue of physical vitality – health and wellbeing should also be considered. Those of us who have had the unfortunate experience of feeling like the “living dead” after a late night (or early morning)  “grog session” can understand the level of productivity we struggle to have the day after. Translate that to Saturday night and you can understand the condition of church goers or even the preacher on Sunday morning .

The vitality of the family is also at stake in this equation. Second-hand cigarette smoke inhaled by chidlren, money that could be used for essentials or saved for when the need arises (instead of going to moneylenders who ensure that they get their “pound of flesh”) spent on cigarettes, kava, water bills and electricity (can’t mix without water, not many drink in the dark) and the lack of quality family time take their toll on the family’s health and wellbeing – physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The sentiments expressed from a physical perspective by Dr. Tukana and a spiritual one by Rev. Dr. Waqairatu are, if we reflect on them honestly, true. The challenge lies in our willingness to break habits we know to be bad, in order to embrace a lifestyle we believe, and, in some cases actually preach, to be good.

Yesterday (Tuesday) morning  as the sun rose, my son joined me for our first early morning swim together. As I finished a lap and  turned back to see my Tuisawau working hard on the kickboard, I had no regrets in hanging up my “black belt in under-kava” in order to embrace this challenge lifestyle change for my own physical and spiritual health, and that of my family.  I am grateful for my friends around the tanoa who respect my decision and my limits and are happy with my company anyway.

To those who may scoff at this article and protest the challenge, two quick questions:
What is the reason that you drink – because its cultural, because of the taste, the effect or just to drink the time?

If we can’t do something or consume something in moderation – is it worth doing it at all?

The desire to live a life to the full is not only an issue of intensity but also full in terms of duration. It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly.

The Time Is Now

A strong wind is blowing in the household of God. Amidst the winds of rapid social change which are raising wave after wave onto our shores in this new century, another kind of wind has started to blow. A single yet solitary wind which is encircling the Christian community and pulling them, slowly, together.

Last Wednesday evening, I joined a social gathering of church leaders, organised by the Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education and Advocacy (ECREA), as part of its sustained dialogue process. Those in attended represented the diversity of the Christian faith that exists in Fiji. There were leaders of churches that are members of the Fiji Council of Churches as well as those which belong to the Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji. There were some who belonged to both group as well as those that belong to neither.

The general agreement in the room that evening was that it was time that the churches in Fiji begin to seriously think about how they could work together for the common purpose of the Kingdom of God and just as important, how they could speak together on issues which affect the society in which they serve. While this wind has been gently blowing for some time, with various church leaders and civil society organisations quietly fanning the glowing embers, all those gathered together felt that the time had now come to fan those embers into a flame.

The Christian term for such a feeling is the awareness of  “Kairos”, an ancient Greek word meaning the "right or opportune moment." It is used to define a specific time that exists in between regular time ("Chronos"); a moment of undetermined period of time in which something unique and special happens. The Christian understanding of Kairos is that “this is God’s appointed time”.

The following day, I began to facilitate a two-day symposium on Communication Rights for Peace, organised by the World Association of Christian Communication (WACC) Pacific and supported by the Ecumenical Centre for Research Education and Advocacy (ECREA), the Citizens Constitutional Forum (CCF), Fiji Media Watch and FemLINK Pacific. Many of the same church leaders were there. Building on the momentum from the previous evening, the statement for the International Day for Peace they collaborated on, is perhaps the first combined statement of this magnitude by Christian leaders in Fiji for over a decade.

The statement is a reflection on Archbishop Peter Chong’s address at the opening of the symposium which challenged church leaders to dismantle unequal power structures in society and to speak not only to their members but to the context of 21st century Fijian society. The statement also serves as an affirmation of the context in which the leaders of diverse Christian communities can speak with one voice. It is also a proclamation to society as well as a message of empowerment and encouragement to the members of these faith groups on living their faith both personally and publically in society.

Below is the full text of the statement:

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

We, servants of God call to lead in Christian Churches in Fiji[i], having reflected on the imbalance of power structures and a coup-culture in Fiji; and the role of the Church in communicating a just, compassionate and peaceful society; recognise that:

·         It is no longer possible for us to pray, preach and do theology with our backs to the suffering of the people;
·         This is an opportune time (Kairos moment) among the Christian Churches in Fiji to move towards working together in our common mission of the proclamation of the gospel and to speak with a common voice on issues that affect the society in which we live and serve;
·         Peace as Shalom is living in active anticipation of the fullness of life; understood by us as the gift of God through Christ.
·         Peace begins with each person practising equality, simplicity and humility. Peacebuilding continues especially in the midst of intolerance and injustice existing as patron-client politics.

With one voice, we affirm that:
·         Our God is a liberating God who hears the cries of the people (Isaiah 61:1 / Luke 4: 18,19).
·         The Kingdom of God
o   exists when there is peace, love, justice freedom and respect for human dignity;
o   extends wherever God’s will is done on earth;
·         we are called to participate with God in bringing about God’s Kingdom.

With one voice we proclaim to society:
·         The path to democracy must be inclusive and participatory and walked in humility and love.
·         True democracy in Fiji includes the transformation of power structures from patron-client to one in which people participate freely and responsibly in the political affairs of our country.
·         True democracy in Fiji exists when the culture of silence has been transformed into a culture of dialogue in which all people are empowered to speak up, voice their concerns and express themselves.
·         Faith, both in its personal and public expression, can help us move towards democracy.
·         In the tradition of the Prophet Micah we call:
o    For the transformation to a society of peace where, “swords are to be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks” (Micah 4:3)
o   For the transformation to a society of respect, compassion and justice where, “Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid” (Micah 4:4).
o   For the transformation to a society of tolerance and inclusiveness and recognition of our diversity where, “all the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.” (Micah 4:5)

With one voice, we say to our communities of faith, the Body of Christ in Fiji:
·         We are called to model God’s love in our day to day life.
·         We are called to speak truth in love – that separates evil from righteousness.
·         We are called to act with trust and faith in God’s liberation.
·         We are called to listen to the hurt of God’s people and inspire them to hope.
·         We are called to live in holiness, simplicity and humility.
·         We are called to strengthen our relationships with each other and build relationships, through dialogue with our neighbours.
·         We must commit to working and speaking together in our common mission of contributing to the actualisation of God’s Kingdom and God’s shalom.

We express our appreciation to WACC Pacific, the Ecumenical Centre for Research Education and Advocacy (ECREA), the Citizens Constitutional Forum (CCF), Fiji Media Watch and FemLINK Pacific for their support and collaboration with us in this symposium and we affirm our commitment to work with civil society organisations as we walk towards a truly democratic, peaceful and prosperous Fiji.

While the International Day for Peace is on the 21st of September, tomorrow (Thursday 19/9) there will be a “Peace Vigil” at the Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral. The Peace Vigil, between 1.30pm to 2pm is a space in which people can either quietly reflect on peace and the need for true peace in our context, or they can sing or share peace messages. This will be a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the call of these faith leaders for peace.

Regardless of our faith traditions, we can draw inspiration from this bold and passionate message from these faith leaders, who have been inspired to speak with one voice and commit to walking with all Fijians in the journey to true democracy.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

Watching the Minds and Hearts of Our Youth

Last Saturday my children and I watched the latest wave of locally made short films. All the entries in  school category of the annual Kula Film Awards were broadcast on television and as a film-maker of sorts and a parent to budding filmmakers, I gathered the children to view and reflect on the 19  productions by our secondary schools.

As someone who once won an international award with a 90-second short film shot with a basic camcorder, I am an ardent supporter of locally produced films, especially those with strong messages. While the secondary school category films were amateur productions (with the exception of the post-production provided by the local production houses), I could see much promise in the work of the young men and women who made the short films. With phones now equipped with video recording facilities and simple video editing software available, it is becoming easier for our youth to use the medium of video to express themselves. It is something my nearly 8-year old son is doing.

A number of the films entered in the schools’ category have a thriller or horror theme. While the general plot may be not original, I found the fact that the student were willing to experiment with stories that require creative filming and editing to be quite encouraging.

However, I often wonder what will happen post-Kula Film Awards. Perhaps local television stations, Film Fiji and the Fiji Media Industry Development Authority would be interested in providing internships, sponsorship or even simply airtime for budding video/tv/film-makers to showcase their craft. Fiji National University film/tv production students as well as film-makers from the University of the South Pacific also entered the Kula Film Awards, in the open category.

Later during a much-deferred visit to the barbershop, we continued viewing the Kula Film entries on the small television provided by the barber for waiting customers. Our little family discussion and comments on the films drew the attention of the other customers, who also began to watch. Their reactions to what they saw, was evidence of the impact the stories of our youth had.

Rape in both urban and rural communities, gang-rape, defilement, abduction, pornography, teen prostitution, child abuse, child neglect, child labour, teen suicide, bullying, lack of self-worth, peer pressure and domestic violence feature prominently in the 19 high-school produced films. The themes and issues raised by the young filmmakers are taken right out of our local news headlines. The difference is, that in these short films, the statistics and headlines have a face, a voice and a story.

Films about a girl abducted and gang raped after being stalked by social media; a brother coerced through peer-pressure to join in a gang rape of a girl he later discovers to be his sister; young women forced by circumstance or the lure of easy money to engage in prostitution; and the deception, manipulation and abuse of children and youth at the hands of in positions of trust, responsibility and guardianship are not only thought provoking, they are a commentary on the moral bankruptcy of Fijian society today.

The dramatisation of these stories and those of teen suicide; the hardship faced single-parents; mothers who have to raise children, manage families, and earn a living; the struggle of a young woman for self and social acceptance in world where beauty has become skin-deep; and the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots seem not just to be an attempt to score points with judges, but, with the prevalence and commonality of such themes throughout the range of entries, seem more to be the cry of our young people against the world they seem to be on the verge of inheriting.

Yet in the midst of these stories of hurt and are stories of hope. In the darkness is a ray of light, a word of peace amid the violence. These are stories of the empowerment of non-hearing people; of second chances for those who escape the street; of lessons learned and untold stories finally being told.

The youth of today are sending a strong message to those charged with the guardianship of the family, the community and society. It is a call to open our eyes and ears. To realise that suffering of others, could very easily be the suffering of their own. 

The young filmmakers are also sending a message to their peers. It is a message that it is no longer about the change that is going to come or needs to come. It is a challenge for them to be the change they wish to see. It is a message to take heart, have courage and to transform that which is negative into something positive.

Perhaps these films need to be broadcast on prime time so the whole family, the larger portion of the community can watch, learn, reflect and respond.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity.”

Sailing the Church Drua on the Winds of Change

Last week, a son, grandson and great-grandson of Methodist missionaries posted a very interesting reflection on the Induction Service of the President of the Methodist Church in Fiji on his facebook page.
The leadership of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma in
front of the Centenary Church last Sunday, September 1.
The author says the Methodist Church in Fiji is called to
be "kingdom of God-oriented"
He wrote: “The Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma came full circle yesterday (Sunday) when Reverend JosatekiKoroi laid hands on Tuikilakila Waqairatu and ordained him to head Fiji's largest Christian denomination.

Koroi - ousted as waves of ethno-nationalism surged through the country and the church in the wake of SitiveniRabuka's 1987 coup - returned after close to 25 years in exile.

With fellow moderate Reverend Dr IlaitiaSevati Tuwere he oversaw the transfer of the mantle of church leadership to the men they hope will chart a new course for close to 250,000 Methodists.

It was a hugely symbolic gesture. At the Methodist Conference in 1989 in Suva's Centenary Church, Koroi was shouted down by ministers and laity alike and driven into exile. Threatened with violence, his wife Nola humiliated by threats of sexual abuse, Koroi has lived most of his life since then on a farm at Pacific Harbour.

Yesterday the white-haired pastor returned to the building from which he was exiled to hand over leadership at an event which marked the beginning of the 2013 conference.

Despite the prolonged stand-off between the Methodist Church and the interim government, Waqairatu and General Secretary Tevita Banivanua are moderates in a largely conservative institution.

It is to these moderates that patriarchs Koroi and Tuwere placed the steering oar of the Methodist drua.

The gesture was a washing away of 25 years of bitterness, suffering and sorrow. It was symbolic of a fresh start, a rejection of past misdeeds and the close of a chapter best forgotten.

In the coming months, Waqairatu will wash the feet of his ministers as the church seeks forgiveness and healing. The ministers will wash the feet of the people and the action, it is hoped, will spread throughout the land.”

In the past week, the new media has covered perhaps more of a Methodist Annual Conference than they have in the past, and with good reason. The winds of change are blowing through the Methodsit Church in Fiji. But these are Spirit-filled winds. The Church’s President, Rev. Dr. Waqairatu has made it very clear throughout the conference of the changes the new leadership team hopes to effect.

In his opening address to the “Bose ko Viti”, Rev. Dr. Waqairatu highlighted the 12 Pillars that are to be the way forward for the drua (double-hulled canoe) of the Methodist Church in Fiji. These are:
1.      Salvation of people
2.      Family
3.      Education
4.      Youth ministry
5.      Constant nurturing of the peoples faith
6.      Renewal of worship and stewardship
7.      City missions and social services
8.      Training and  in-service training of our church workers
9.      Evangelism for the non-Christian segment of our society
10.  Inter-church and inter-faith relationship
11.  Finance and development of our church properties (land and building)
12.  Christian stewardship on other creations (Becoming  a Green Church)

Simply put, the Methodist Church in Fiji is called to be “Kingdom of God-oriented”.

The changes are not just in terms of a new Connexional Plan, review of the Church Constitution or the introduction of Remnant Giving, registration and utilisation of land given to the church and new more transparent accounting measures. Also highlighted last week, as part of the renewal of the church, was the emphasis on a return to the mission of personal and social holiness that is one of the hallmarks of Methodism.

The tradition of the Methodist movement begun by John Wesley, envisions social change as “social sanctification” In terms of social change, Wesley felt that it must come through the individual as a result of a spiritual change. Methodism as a “Social Religion” was a person living out the implications of their new faith as they circulated in the social order where they found themselves. He understood reform to consist in the spread of scriptural holiness.

As highlighted last week by local and regional news media, obstacles to this include excessive kava drinking, smoking and other practices that contribute towards unhealthy spiritual life and is manifested in lifestyle diseases and moral compromise.

Facebook reflection by the son and grandson of Methodist missionaries continues by saying:

“These will not be easy changes to bring about but Waqairatu and Bainivanua are intelligent, deeply prayerful men who have the fortitude and courage to make this work.

They inherit a church rich with tradition, financially challenged because of State-imposed restrictions, broken by the mistakes of the past.

For these men - both from Moala - the task will be to heal, rebuild and direct.

Perhaps it is fitting that they have been placed in charge of the new journey. When the Methodist Church in Fiji became independent of the Australasian Conference in 1964, its first president was Reverend SetarekiTuilovoni from the neighbouring island of Matuku.

Both islands are part of the YasayasaMoala Group, known for their strong sense of independence, a quality Waqairatu and Bainivanua will need on their journey.

It will be no easy task to convince the church - clergy and laity alike - to make the changes necessary in a rapidly developing world.

Waqairatu wants to see less church buildings constructed in a society in which places of worship symbolise wealth and devotion.

He has proposed tithing instead of annual gatherings to circumvent the difficulty of arranging national fundraising events and wants to evangelise to all people by feeding the poor through a network of soup kitchens. 

We can expect to see during his tenure an increased effort to involve the Indo-Fijian community and make them feel they are equal members of the church despite their dwindling numbers.

Traditionally the Methodists have been part of the three-legged stool concept central to the iTaukei psyche. Lotu (religion or the church), vanua (tradition and the land) and the matanitu (State) are the legs of the stool on which the iTaukei have sat quite comfortably.

Most Methodists saw the church as an extension of the State and the vanua. Indeed, the lines tended to become so blurred that they sometimes merged as one.

It was this which led dissidents in the church led by Rev ManasaLasaro to side with Rabuka in 1987 and push for a Christian state and a ban on Sunday activities.

When Rabuka stepped back from a total Sunday ban, Lasaro put the Methodists on the streets in an attempt to force the government to reconsider. Lasaro spent 30 days in prison, was pardoned by Rabuka and then sought revenge on Koroi.

Today the church - not of its own accord - appears to have severed links with the State.

Gradually it will move further away from political influence to the position it held in Fiji from 1835 – a voice of prophecy pointing out to the people the error of their ways, urging leaders to act justly and compassionately.

Waqairatu will need a firm hand to steer the Methodist drua through uncharted waters of change as the seas of State-imposed restrictions, doubt over past actions, impending elections and the rapid growth of new churches toss this massive vessel about.

The support of Banivanua will be valuable but Waqairatu will need the faith of his ministers – the crew – and the laity or passengers that he has the ability to lead through the tumult to safe harbour.”

The journey has been and will continue to be rough. But the leadership of the Methodist Church have recognised the challenges that this journey involves. The renewed logo symbolises the understanding of the new journey, “Na LakoYaniVou” and the conditions under which this journey will be taken.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”.

The Art of Listening

There is a saying, “only a few people really listen; the rest a just waiting for their turn to speak.” On reflection, I must admit there are times when I fall into the latter category, having been a “professional talker”. However, my vocation challenges me to be as good a listener as I am a speaker. Or perhaps even a better listener.

The term “dialogue” has become much used in our country of late, in terms of both voices in a conversation being heard and understood. Often the challenge has been that both sides of the conversation are used to speaking but not listening. Sometimes it is because people associate different meanings to words and phrases. This can lead to further conflict which is the opposite of what dialogue aims to bring about. This challenge brings to mind a Cuban proverb I once read, “Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world.”

A possible way to break through the challenge of different meanings in conversaton, is called reflective listening. Reflective listening is a step further than active listening. Active listening is when the listener gives feed back what they hear to the speaker, by way of re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, to confirm what they have heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties.

Reflective speaking involves two key steps: seeking to understand a speaker's idea, then offering the idea back to the speaker, to confirm the idea has been understood correctly. It attempts to "reconstruct what the speaker is thinking and feeling and to relay this understanding back to the speaker".

Reflective listening is a more specific strategy than the more general methods of active listening. It arose from Carl Rogers' school of client-centered therapy in counselling theory. Dalmar Fisher, an Associate Professor at Boston College, developed a model for Reflective Listening that includes the following elements:

- Actively engaging in the conversation, by reducing or eliminating distractions of any kind to allow for paying full attention to the conversation at hand.

- Genuinely empathizing with the speaker’s point of view. This doesn’t mean agreeing with the speaker, just viewing things from his/her perspective. The listener encourages the person to speak freely, by being non judgmental and empathetic.

- Mirroring the mood of the speaker, reflecting the emotional state with words and nonverbal communication. This calls for the listener to quiet his mind and fully focus on the mood of the speaker. The mood will be apparent not just in the words used but in the tone of voice, in the posture and other nonverbal cues given by the speaker.The listener will look for congruence between words and mood.

- Summarizing what the speaker said, using the listener’s own words. This is different than paraphrasing, where words and phrases are moved around and replaced to mirror what the speaker said. The reflective listener recaps the message using his own words.

Reflective listening is the pathway for engaging others in relationship, building trust, and fostering motivation to change. Reflective listening appears deceptively easy, but it takes hard work and skill to do well. Sometimes the “skills” we use in working when trying to have dialogue or “deep sharing”do not exemplify reflective listening but instead serve as roadblocks to effective communication. Examples include misinterpreting what is said or assuming what a person needs.

It is vital to learn to think reflectively. This is a way of thinking that accompanies good reflective listening that includes interest in what the person has to say and respect for the person’s inner wisdom. Its key element is a hypothesis testing approach to listening. What you think the person means may not be what they really mean.

Listening breakdowns occur in any of three places:
• Speaker does not say what is meant
• Listener does not hear correctly
• Listener gives a different interpretation to what the words mean

Stephen Covey, author of the popular book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” took listening to a deeper level by discussing what he calls “Empathic Listening”.

"When I say empathic listening, I am not referring to the techniques of "active" listening or "reflective" listening, which basically involve mimicking what another person says. That kind of listening is skill-based, truncated from character and relationships, and often insults those "listened" to in such a way. It is also essentially autobiographical. If you practice those techniques, you may not project your autobiography in the actual interaction, but your motive in listening is autobiographical. You listen with reflective skills, but you listen with intent to reply, to control, to manipulate.”

According to Covey, empathic listening, means listening with intent to understand. It is seeking first to understand, to really understand. It's an entirely different paradigm. Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person's frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.
“In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behaviour. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel."

Simply put, reflective listening  is the single most important verbal skill that you will ever learn in your whole entire life. Teachers and Parents use more than any other skill.

As a parent, I have come to realise that Reflective Listening important because it not only shows that feelings matter, or that it is possible to talk about uncomfortable or complicated feelings but also that we care about our children’s feelings.

Using reflective listening helps our children to understand that all feelings are acceptable, even though certain behaviour is not. It can defuse an uncomfortable situation, reduce a child’s urge to act out because the child feels heard, teach the child a vocabulary for articulating how they feel, and reduce whining, anger and frustration.

However, the challenge lies in being honest to the speaker and as a listener. This is not an exercise which merely needs one to go through the motions. Deep and sincere listening leads to honest sharing and profound changes taking place in relationships.

As the Word says, “Let those who have ears to hear listen.”

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity.”

Porn on the Internet

I opened my email last week to find the following message:

I'm someone who's addicted to pornography and I just can't get it out of my head. I strive for the goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ but sometimes I'm tempted to watch bad videos. I fast, I pray and even read Bible, but still this things haunts until it takes me down. And sometimes Sir, when I see girls (teens), especially the way they dressed up and the they are build up, my mind starts to drifting away into bad thinking.”

The sender of this email is not alone in his struggle. There are many people from all walks of life who struggle with addictions to pornography and cybersex, and similar sexual practices. We have seen many lives and families devastated by addictive sexual sins. These problems are not unique to any race, financial, social or marital status—Christian or non-Christian.

Pornography addiction used to be generally dismissed as something that the “creepy lifelong bachelor” or the “lonely guy with mommy issues” would suffer from. With the availability of cheap pirated DVDS and increasing internet access, coupled with the advent of the portable computers such as laptops, netbooks smartphones, and tablets, the condition is seeping into parts of the population previously unaffected. Seemingly normal men from all walks of life, including an Australian preacher who faked having cancer to cover up a 16-year porn addiction, are claiming that pornography has taken over their lives.

A 2010 report from the Washington Times stated that “ease of access also has leveled the playing field between the sexes — men are known as the sexual risk-takers, after all — and psychologists and researchers have seen an increasing number of women becoming addicted to pornography on the Internet” since 2000. According to the report, 17 percent of women said they struggled with pornography addiction and that one in three visitors to pornography sites were women. About 30 percent of Internet pornography consumers are women, according to the 2008 Internet Pornography Statistics.

The report quotes, Mary Anne Layden, professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston who said, “The more pornography women use, the more likely they are to be victims of non-consensual sex,”. “The earlier the male starts using pornography, the more likely they are to be the perpetrators of non-consensual sex.”

“Pornography is the drug of the
millennium and more addictive than crack cocaine,” said Donna Rice Hughes, president of Enough Is Enough, a US-based non-profit organisations that works to make the Internet safer for children and families. “Ninety percent of pornography addiction begins at home,Ms. Hughes said, adding with children becoming more technologically savvy, “It is no longer a question of if they will come across porn, but when.”

Science has shown that the brain reacts and takes in images in a certain way and can be detrimental in the developing mind of a child. When a man or woman becomes sexually aroused, the levels of endorphins and enkephalin in the prefrontal cortex are at their highest.

Whatever a person visualizes at that point — real or imaginary — his or her body glues to, hungers for and craves, and the adrenal glands imprint that image on the mind.

“If a man or woman sexually gratifies themselves with pornography on a regular basis they will actually attach to sex as object relationships as opposed to intimate relationships,” said Douglas Weiss, a licensed psychologist and executive director of Heart to Heart Counseling Center  “So they will actually hunger for object relationships, creating over time what we call intimacy anorexia.”

Sex, in its ideal sense, is relational, and object sex does not fulfill the relational aspect of that, said Mr. Weiss. A person doesn’t get that full satiation, but gets a different kind of buzz with object sex because it’s a different kind of sex.

With someone having to visualize that object in order to achieve sexual gratification, barriers are created, even at a young age, said Ms. Hughes.

“If they’re an addict, they stop developing spiritually, relationally and morally, at the age of the onset of the addiction,” said Mr. Weiss.

The young man whose cry for help sparked off this discussion, has acknowledged his addiction and recognised the negative impact it is having on his life. He has taken the first step towards beating his addiction:

1.Make sure that you know you are an addict. An addiction to anything is defined by when it interferes with other aspects of your life.

2. Throw away any porn you have. That includes anything vaguely resembling porn. If there are any magazines with thinly clad women, get rid of them. If you have any novels involving intimate acts, get rid of those. Also get rid of anything that causes you to think about sex.

3. Get rid of your personal internet connection. That way, you can only access the internet in public places, where the temptation of porn is less likely. If you must go online at home, install filtering software that would block porn sites.

4. Find something else to do to occupy your time and mind, so you won't think about porn. Be outgoing, and spend time with friends.

5. Do not feed your lusts. Seek support from a local priest or member of clergy. Looking at life as a pornographic film is also a no-no.

6. Find a support group. Note, however, that many support groups are religious in nature and take the stance that porn is simply bad in any degree. If you do not agree with this stance, then the support may not help you. Christians, for example can get spiritual strength and direction from the following verses of Scripture: Matthew 5:27-30, 1 Peter 2:11, Romans 8:13, Romans 6:12, 1 Corinthians 6:13, Galatians 5:17, Philippians 4:8, 2 Timothy 2:22, Psalm 51, Psalm 101:2,3, Proverbs 6:25-29, Proverbs 5:18-20,  Proverbs 8:13,  Job 31:1-4,  Matthew 5:8, Romans 8:6, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 6:18-19,  2 Corinthians 10:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5,  James 1:15; 4:3, and 1 John 2:16

7. Go to a qualified therapist, who can provide guidance.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”