Thursday, June 26, 2014

Living in A Right Relationship

Off the Wall Wednesday 26/6/14

Sometimes one’s voice is loudest and most clearly heard after we have gone. As we reflect on the life of a loved one, friend, mentor, or colleague who has left us, we reflect on the testimony of their life, on the legacy they leave behind. Our reflection on their life will, ultimately lead us to reflect the legacy or testimony we will leave for others.
How do we value our relationships – our interactions with people we are connected with on a personal, professional, social, emotional, cultural, intellectual, ideological, spiritual and meta-physical level? Is it the interaction that takes place, is it what we gain from them, or what we give? Is it a one-sided relationship or a balanced and mutually empowering one?
I recently attended the farewell and celebration of the life of man who was a beloved brother, father and friend. The Gospel reading from John, was the command by Jesus to, “love one another.” The eulogies, reflections and sermon all spoke of relationship. Each sharing was a strand, which when woven together told the story of a man and his humble walk with God and the love, respect, and joy that made him larger than life. His testimony, his legacy can be summed up in one of my favourite mantras is a verse taken from the book of the prophet Micah, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”(Micah 6:8).
This insight offers more than mere concept. It contains the counsel of God and how the we are expected to conduct our affairs, both interior and exterior, as individuals who are also members of the human family. As such, we find ourselves in relationships with many others. God's justice is not just for one or for some; it is for all. If most of us believe that each of us is created in the image of God, then is not each of us entitled to God's justice? Having a right relationship means radically changing both our individual behaviour and social structures so that our way of life honours all of God's creation.
Last Friday, I had the opportunity to give an early morning “team talk” to a group of young swimmers, preparing for a three-day competition. Having previously spoken to them about finding “their joy” in swimming, since it was something they did almost every day, I spoke to them, in a roundabout fashion about the interior “speech of the soul” that we often take for granted or miss-hear because of the noise around us. For those with a spiritual background, I called it prayer. To others I suggested the term quiet-time. Using the breath to breathe in peace and breath out anxiety, worry, frustration, anger, fear.
We can find the answers to questions about how we may act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with our God, through prayer, quiet reflection. As I shared with those young swimmers, the voice of God is not necessarily found in thunder, earthquake, or fire. It is often found in the quietest of places, and that is where we search for true justice.
Living in right relation with God calls us to living in just relationships with our neighbours. When that first century lawyer asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, "you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength... and … love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these." Jesus made the connection between the love of God, with a love of neighbour. The two are inextricably related. One cannot love God without being concerned for one's neighbour. God's justice must therefore intersect our human justice. This justice intersects our relationships.
The question, at the end of the day, is how seriously we take all our relationships. How serious are we about having right relationships with each person, each creature we have a relationship with, or even those whom we encounter occasionally? This all comes from how seriously we take our relationship with God, from which springs our relationship with the universe, our relationship with ourselves and all creation.
Think about the people and creatures with whom you have a relationship. Think about those you have encountered in the last seven days. Beyond the nature of your relationships, what is the state of your relationship with them? What is it that you can do to improve that relationship? What is you are willing to do? What is it that you must do to restore balance to that relationship?
We will only succeed, we will only prosper; we will only have peace when each of us has a right relationship with each other. Love one another. That is the truly “golden” rule.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

Children of the Media

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to some primary and secondary school students who are attending a Fiji Media Watch workshop on “Children Media and Consumption”.
I began by announcing that I was a child. Well, a child of the media. My earliest memories were of watching a James Bond film (it was the Roger Moore “Bond”), and The Omen and listening to the “Broadcast to Schools” programme on Radio Fiji. I inherited a wonderful library of books from my older sisters and grew up reading the Bible, Greek mythology, Dickens, Daniel Dafoe, and James Fennimore Cooper, as well as the Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, Famous Five and Biggles series and, whenever I was fortunate to visit a home which had a collection, The Phantom, Commando, Archie and Christian comics distributed by the Scripture Union. I had a collection of the Clitheroe Kid radio comedy on cassette which I recorded every Saturday at 11am from Radio Fiji Three (sorry for the early audio piracy) and fell off to sleep listening to.
My first foray into the field of broadcasting was, unfortunately for my dear departed Dad, at the age of one or two, when I attempted to emulate his technical expertise and ended up cutting the wires of the family record player. It was to be almost sixteen years later when my mother’s favourite swing jazz and brass bands, along with Itsy Witsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka dot Bikini were to be heard.
I embraced the opportunity to look through the looking glass, or windows to the world that video offered , first on Betamax then VHS. For my 10th birthday, I invited friends from school and church over and we rushed through the mandatory “pass the parcel” and other party games so that we could get to watching Return of the Jedi and Superman 3 (with Richard Pryor!) and there were ont one but two James Bond films that year. Radio was still king for me though, and I even sewed a special holster to help me smuggle my pocket transistor radio and crystal earpiece to school.
Yet while I was child of the media, I was fortunate to have parents who were media savvy. My father and I would discuss the movies and television series we watched and the moral or life lesson to be learned. My introduction to the world of prostitution came from a discussion about the child prostitute played by Jodie Foster in the classic Scorsese/-De Niro film, Taxi Driver. We watched documentaries and discussed what was in the news. The media was a window on the world.
My children are children of the media also, but as the children of a child of the media they are more like grandchildren of the media or perhaps children of the new media.
It is an important recognition because children are leading the world's transition to digital media. This is in part because children aren't afraid of technology. In my home they are always teaching their grandmother about how to use the laptop or tablet she has received, which includes demonstrations and results in them spending a lot longer on the said machine. It is also suggested that it is because children haven't spent years getting use to anything else. To get a sense of the direction of the world's media habits, just watch what children are doing.
A 2010 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation about the media habits of 8-18 year olds found that children are not just consuming a large amount of media, they are increasingly consuming multiple forms of media at the same time. While their consumption of print media is decreasing rapidly, their digital media consumption is skyrocketing.. While this survey was undertaken in the United States of America, this maybe the not too distant future for Fiji.
The Kaiser report points out that there's a huge jump in media in the 11- to 14-year-old age group who receive between 8 to 12 hours of media exposure. Children this age are beginning to become emotionally independent from their parents, and they look to their peers for what's socially acceptable. Media acts as a super peer -- thus, tweens (as my nearly 10-year old son now refers to himself) and early teens aren't simply enjoying mindless entertainment, they're absorbing messages about life that may not be the ones you, as parents, want them to hear.
One of the study's most sobering findings was that children who spent more time with media reported lower grades and lower levels of personal contentment. Children who reported the heaviest media use also reported that they were more likely to get into trouble frequently and that they were often sadder or more bored than those who were less immersed in media. How does this match your children?
As parents we must realize that all this media profoundly impacts children's emotional, social, and physical development and that parenting must extend to the media and technology worlds. It is critical that we teach our children to understand the messages they get from popular entertainment and to use the technology at their fingertips in responsible and productive ways. According to the study, children whose parents make an effort to curb media use -- either through setting up time limits or by limiting access itself have children who are less media saturated.
As parents we need to remember that the mobile phone, tablet, laptop, PC, TV, and DVD are not toys or pacifiers with which to distract, reward or occupy our children’s time while we do other things. The digital media is a double-edged sword. We need to teach our children how to wield it for the greater good. The alternative is that they will hurt someone or themselves.

"Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity"


Radical Love

Off the Wall 11/6/2014

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Nadi to meet a group of mothers and grandmothers from around the Pacific. These women were the Pacific Committee for the World Day of Prayer. The World Day of Prayer is held on the first Friday of March every year in Christian communities around the world. Originally known as the “Women’s Day of Prayer” the movement is more inclusive to men and children as a way of getting whole communities to gather in reflection, meditation and prayer on a particular theme which, while base on the Bible, has a social aspect to it as well.

This year’s theme was “Streams in the Desert” and prepared by the women of Egypt who are going through a difficult and often violent political crisis, which was originally part of the “Arab Spring”. The focus of last week’s meeting, however, was on next year’s programme. The2015 World Day of Prayer material has been prepared by the women of the Bahamas in the Caribbean. The theme of 2015’s World Day of Prayer is, “Do You Know What I have done to you?” This is based on Jesus question to his disciples after washing their feet. For those not familiar with the Bible story, the gospel according to John 13:1-17 narrates the event of Jesus’ washing of his disciples feet, including Judas who would later betray him and Peter who would deny him. This ritual is a common sight in churches on Maundy Thursday, the evening before Good Friday at Easter.

My task was to facilitate two bible studies on this theme, “Do You Know What I have done to you?” I chose to express the theme in the following manner, “Lessons in the Transforming Power of Radical Love”. 

Reflecting on the act of the washing of feet, who’s feet would you wash? Someone you love – maybe? Someone respect – possibly? How about someone who you have never met before? Someone who makes you uncomfortable – possibly because their feet are dirty, stinky, or deformed? How about someone whom you distrusted or feared?

Foot-washing was not merely a ceremonial custom. It was practically important because people walked through dusty and manure-filled streets with sandals. Your feet got dirty and stinky. It was the custom to have a slave at the door when they invited people over and as the people arrived they would, since they were wearing generally sandals, they would stop and take off their sandals, they would have the slave wash their feet. As one of the most demeaning tasks, it was reserved for household slaves

As the disciples walked in, Jesus took upon himself the form of a servant, and began to wash their feet. Showing them the value of love, showing them the importance of giving to others, and showing them the necessity to put others above ourselves. They were being told to cast aside societal and cultural mind-sets of hierarchy and serve others.

Can you imagine what this world would be like if we all did that?  Instead of anger there was forgiveness, instead of grumbling there was gentleness, instead of a thirst for power and control there was trust. What would our community, our country, this world look like if we simply “washed each other’s feet”?

Sometimes we forget that Jesus challenged the ritual purity and thus the status quo of Jewish society Jewish society – holiness that was based on a purity system that was not just religious and social but also both political and economic in nature. Jesus’ call for a shift in social paradigms or to change the social vision was not only a call to compassion but a radical challenge of the dominant social, political and economic systems of his time. The actions of healing, physical contact with impure, unclean and therefore sinful people, places and even animals and, table fellowship – the open and inclusive table that through mutual acceptance embodied Jesus’ radical social vision and challenged the purity system and all that it represented, with an atmosphere of celebration.

Recently, as part of the Methodist Church in Fiji’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, many Methodists in their local communities and at divisional level have used the ritual of the washing of the feet as a form of reconciliation and renewal. Being fortunate to both experience this and observe it practice, one can often witness the catharsis that takes place during a feet-washing ritual. Catharsis means “the act of expressing, or more accurately, experiencing the deep emotions often associated with events in the individual's past which had originally been repressed or ignored, and had never been adequately addressed or experienced.”

This story challenges us to practice mutual love, which involves a discipline of openness and honesty, empathetic listening, personal vulnerability, and willingness to change - a love which is freely giving and forgiving, a love that opens one’s table to all, a love that requires us to walk in righteousness, along the paths of justice.

Something happened to those who were cared for by Jesus with such unconditional love. In his presence, the unworthy were deemed worthy, the unvalued were valued, the discarded and forgotten were reclaimed and celebrated. Their lives were transformed.

In a time and world where love can be reduced to a transaction, unconditional radical humble love can break barriers, heal souls and empower those who have lost or surrendered their own power.

Each one of us is challenged to do much more than understand and recognise this kind of love. We are challenged to practice it.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”


Raising the Pillars of Democracy

Off the Wall 4 June, 2014

During my recent visit to Indonesia, I had the opportunity to meet and hear from Dr. Nur Hassan Wirajuda, former foreign minister of Indonesia from 2001 to 2009. In 1989–1993, Dr. Wirajuda initiated the establishment of the Indonesian Commission of Human Rights. Currently he is member of the Council of Presidential Advisors of the Republic of Indonesia and the editor-in chief of Strategic Review. The Indonesian Journal of Leadership, Policy and World Affairs.  He is also patron to the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD)–the implementing agency of the Bali Democracy Forum, and member of the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security chaired by Kofi Annan.

Reflecting on the “Reformasi”or political reformation that has been taking place in Indonesia since 1999, Dr. Wirajuda pointed out that one of the key differences between a reformation and a revolution was that a reformation was the correction of past mistakes by making use of what worked in the past, while including what was neglected, such as human rights and democracy.

While the transition towards full democracy is a long, difficult and complicated road for Indonesia, there are positive signposts along the way. According to Dr. Wirajuda, with 545,000 polling stations across Indonesia, there was a voter turnout of 121million or 71% in 2009 and approximately 75% or 165million this year – an increase of 4%. These 165 million voters have a strong say in the country’s leadership, as shown earlier this year when approximately 60% of the incumbent members of parliament were voted out for underperforming for their constituents. In other words, voters watch their MPs and those with proven leadership and good governance remain and move up.

“Democracy needs to be accepted as a national value,” said Dr. Wirajuda, describing “a  balance of the state, a vibrant civil society (CSO and NGO), the business community and free media” as “new pillars” of democracy. Included in the mix was a strong anti-corruption legislation and agency. The government, according to Dr. Wirajuda must release quarterly statistics to inform the public on its activities. “There must be a balance between economic development and democratic development. Development planning and programmes must be balanced with human rights and good governance.” He cited situations in the past where the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, (Indonesian parliament) halted government loans as a way of reducing foreign debt.

This process also has a strong emphasis on religious tolerance in a country where there is one predominant religious community. As the country with the largest Islamic population in the world (202.9 million - 88.2% of Indonesia's total population of 237 million), it is interesting to note that Indonesia is neither an Islamic state, nor a fully-secular state, but follows a “middle way”. Although it has an overwhelming Muslim majority, the country is not an Islamic state. Over the past 50 years, many Islamic groups sporadically have sought to establish an Islamic state, but the country's mainstream Muslim community, including influential social organizations such as Muhammadiyah and NU, reject the idea.

The Indonesian Constitution provides "all persons the right to worship according to their own religion or belief" and states that "the nation is based upon belief in one supreme God." The Government generally respects these provisions; however, some restrictions exist on certain types of religious activity and on unrecognized religions. The Ministry of Religious Affairs extends official status to six faiths: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Religious organizations other than the six recognized faiths can register with the Government, but only with the Ministry for Culture and Tourism and only as social organizations. This restricts certain religious activities. Unregistered religious groups cannot rent venues to hold services and must find alternative means to practice their faiths.

The autonomous province of Aceh is the only province that has Shari'a courts. Because Muslims make up the overwhelming majority of Aceh's population, the public largely accepted Shari'a, which in most cases merely regularized common social practices. However, some human rights and women's rights activists complained that implementation of Shari'a focused on superficial issues, such as proper Islamic dress, while ignoring deep-seated moral and social problems, such as corruption.

For Dr. Wirajuda, it is the responsibility of both the state and civil society to create structures that a strong in religious tolerance.  “Intolerance comes from ignorance. The state has accepted its responsibility in this area and so religion is a compulsory subject at all levels in school. This is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education.”

The media in Indonesia is free from licensing or official government interference, with only a Press Council to hold media organisations to their code of conduct. “The cost of democracy is a free media which sets the agenda.” Part of that process of dialogue has been to build trust between the military and civilian government and civil society. “This calls for a long education process.”

“For any democracy to develop, it important for truth-telling and deep honesty to exist. This is because democracy is a continuous process of dialogue in which public participation is essential.”


Self-determination- a long and hard road

Last Wednesday, a day before the United Nations Committee of 24 met in Nadi, to discuss - among other issues - the reinscription of Maohi Nui (French Polynesia) on the list of territories for decolonisation, the Pacific Conference of Churches again called on regional governments to support the decolonisation of West Papua, Guam and Rapa Nui. The theme of this regional seminar of the Committee of 24 is regional seminar is to accelerate action on the implementation of the 3rd International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. The Pacific is represented on the C24 by Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
"We recognise that this might be a difficult position for some governments to take but the Pacific people must be treated with justice," said PCC Desk Officer Peter Emberson.

The PCC statement read:

For the freedom of our brothers and sisters in Guam, Kanaky/New Caledonia, Maohi Nui/French Polynesia, Tokelau, West Papua to chart their own political future, we call on our Pacific peoples in all walks of life to stand up, speak out and be actively be engaged in their struggle.
The right of peoples in non-self-governing-territories, whose countries are ruled by colonial administrations, to determine their own political future is enshrined in international law. Similarly, the duty of the colonisers or Administering Powers to prepare the indigenous peoples in these territories to exercise their right to self-determination is also mandated by international law…
Underpinning the legal instruments and administrative protocols established to ensure and safeguard freedom is a grave moral responsibility. Lest we forget, many of us who now live and have our being in independent Pacific countries were once, not too long ago, also governed under colonial rule. Our freedom was purchased by the commitment, very often the sacrifice, of entire generations of our forebears and at great cost.

The support of the struggle for the self-determination of Maohi-Nui, Kanaky, Guam, Tokelau and Tanah Papua is on the PCC member churches’ radar, following the 2013 PCC General Assembly in Honiara, Solomon Islands. In Fiji the Executive Committee of the Fiji Council of Churches last year resolved to support the churches and people of West Papua in their struggle for self-determination.

"We continue to receive reports of torture, violence and atrocities against the people of West Papua and these actions by Indonesia must stop," said Emberson at a media conference where the statement from PCC was issued.

I have shared the story of West or Tanah Papua before – its colonisation by the Dutch, a brief moment of independence in 1961, the invasion by Indonesia and the United Nations two grave sins – allowing the transfer of control of West Papua to Indonesia in 1962, albeit with an agreement of future self-determination; and endorsing the manipulated plebiscite “Act of Free Choice” in 1969, where, “instead of overseeing a free and fair election, the UN stood by while Indonesia rigged the vote.

Declaring that the Papuans were too "primitive" to cope with democracy, the Indonesian military hand-picked just 1,026 'representative' Papuans, out of a population of one million, who were then bribed them, and threatened to kill them and their families if they voted the wrong way. So strong was the intimidation that despite widespread opposition to Indonesian rule, all 1,026 voted to remain a part of Indonesia.”

With the advent of the International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP) and the International Lawyers for West Papua (ILWP) politicians and lawyers are beginning to engage with the issue. Through the PCC, churches in the Pacific and by extension their members will also begin to learn and engage with the case of West/Tanah Papua and other self-determination struggles.

The issue of Tanah or West Papua weighed heavily on my soul in my recent visit to Indonesia. I was profoundly affected by the stories, which I had heard from West Papuans, and videos and pictures of human rights abuses by Indonesian forces based in Tanah Papua, which I had seen online. The response I received from a member of one particular Indonesian NGO when asked about Papua was that it was very large and rural, so working there was difficult. I was concerned by inferences that the challenge was because the people of Tanah Papua and indeed much of eastern Indonesia, including Sulawesi, West Kalimantan and Maluku are “primitive”.

Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”, those are the Old Javanese words written on the foot of the Garuda Pancasila, Republic of Indonesia’s national symbol, which mean “Unity in Diversity.” However, this is not necessarily the case. I was to learn that there is a level of prejudice towards eastern Indonesia as it is also the least developed part of the country, thus people native to that area are viewed as primitive. Ironically it is eastern Indonesia which provides much of the natural resources for Indonesia’s economic growth, while the western part receives the profits and development. A 2001 report by Minority Rights Group International, states that the extreme development gap between the island of Java and most of the outer regions, the effect of the government’s policy of
transmigrasi or forced migration, and its political manipulation of religion have been strategies by the powerful to their commercial interests in these areas, even if has meant prolonging conflicts.

Self-determination for West/Tanah Papua in this wider context is therefore not just political empowerment but also socio-economic empowerment. As I spoke with other Indonesian NGOs, community workers and activists who were more aware of this context and great divide between west and east, I became more aware of the preconditions for self-determination in West/Tanah Papua. The lack of access to quality education – most children only attend school until they are 10 years old, according to one source, health-care and infrastructure adds to the already documented human rights abuses by the Indonesian military. It is a stark illustration of the MRGI report, quoted above. By keeping the people of West/Tanah Papua poor and disempowered, unable to become a cohesive movement for self-determination due to poor communications technology and vast distances, the status quo remains and the people of West/Tanah Papua will always be at a disadvantage should any negotiations eventuate.

So how can the playing field be levelled? Donor agencies need to channel funds to education, healthcare and infrastructure development. Churches need to not only resound the call for self-determination but get involved through education, health-care and communications mission work. These were an important part of our growth towards our own self-determination.

We must also challenge our leaders, as constituents on a national level, or within our faith communities and social groups to step up to the challenge of advocating for self-determination in its fullest sense to be embraced. After-all, if we were in the same situation, would we want any less?

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity.”