Friday, February 25, 2011

My Suffering is Greater than Yours

Two tragic situations weigh heavily on my mind like crushing weights upon my back: the earthquake in Christchurch and the revolution in Libya. The only thing these have in common though, is death.

With 113 confirmed deaths and 228 still missing, presumed deceased, the violent indiscriminate wrath of nature manifested itself yet again in New Zealand recently. Aftershocks continue. There is fear, shock and great sadness. I feel it from afar but I'm not there. It's not my suffering. I cannot experience it, nor can I imagine it.

Inspired by their Arab brothers and sisters in Tunisia and Egypt, the people of Libya began a revolution. Their leader, the despot Gadaffi responded to calls for his departure and a transition to democracy with angry defiance and bloodshed. He went on state television and called his own people cockroaches. He told them he would send soldiers to hunt them down and kill them. Libyan protesters, who were doing something which we take for granted in our free nation, were shot mercilessly in the streets by hired guns. Firing from the ground, and from the air in helicopter gunships, mercenaries murdered innocent people. Libya is closed. Nobody really knows what's going on there and we have seen very few pictures of the carnage. I feel great rage towards the madman Gadaffi, and tremendous sorrow for those who have suffered death and injury. It will continue but I'm not there. I cannot experience it or imagine it.

When we are suffering we tell ourselves that there is always someone worse off than us. It's a way of reassuring ourselves. Our loved ones, or even acquaintances, may offer similar platitudes in an effort to rescue us from despair or from the mire of self pity. But no one knows a person's suffering better than that person themselves. Making comparisons with other people's tragedies may provide a quantum of solace but it doesn't necessarily ease the pain or remove the source of suffering.

I long for the day when suffering and sorrow will cease and every tear will be wiped away, but until then the only encouragement I can offer is that it won't last forever. Even if it lasts a lifetime. Even if it seems to be endless, suffering will end one day. While we wait for that glorious release from this prison, let's be wise and sensitive, and above all gracious, kind and loving. It's not hard. In one way or another, we are all suffering together.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Survival of the Meekest

A wise and Godly man once encouraged his readers to think positively, to dwell on excellent and pure things, to ponder righteous deeds, to praise generosity and celebrate goodness and kindness.

This man, Paul, was a follower of arguably the most influential figure in history, Jesus Christ. In perhaps his most famous sermon, the one on the Mount, Jesus told his audience that the meek would inherit the earth. Jesus disappointed many people with his talk of meeknessweakness because they wanted strength. They wanted displays of divine power, they wanted direct intervention to relive their suffering.

The so called Enlightened One, a.k.a. Buddha, correctly identified suffering as a universal characteristic of human existence. He was also right, at least partially, in saying that suffering comes from desire. Jesus clarified the issue by pointing out that war has its origins in illicit desire, and that much suffering in this world results from individuals desiring things they shouldn't and suing whatever means they deem necessary to satisfy their lust. Greed is, nine times out of ten, bad.

People who believe in a personal God, expect that deity to help them, to bless them, to rescue them from danger, to alleviate their suffering. These people know, however, that their God does not usually step in to fight their battles. This adds to their pain and in some instances causes them to attempt all manner of "home remedies" and some of these cures are worse than the disease. Desperate times may require desperate measures but do we have the strength to fight and be victorious in all these battles.Are we strong enough in our selves to overcome all our suffering?

From Darwinism comes the adage "survival of the fittest". If you are strong you will make it through, if you are weak you will die. The strong prey upon the weak in this dog eat dog world. Dog eat dog doesn't exactly conjure up pleasant images in my mind. I see nothing admirable or excellent in people devouring one another for personal gain. The kind of self reliant strength which often gets labelled as the allegedly indomitable human spirit is not worthy of exultation, nor is it true strength.

True strength is in weakness, in the confession of dependence, in the forgiveness of failure in yourself, and the acceptance of it in others. In humility, or meekness as Jesus said. It was Paul again, who noted that God's power was made perfect in Paul's weakness. Embrace weakness and brokenness, humble yourself and be truly strong.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Give Me a Dictator

All right, I don't really want a dictator. Just because Hosni Mubarak unified and protected Egypt, made her strong, and got her out of debt and back into the Arab Alliance, does not mean that I, if I was an Egyptian citizen, would be prepared to put up with that degree of corruption, despotism and fascism. The prospect of being locked up simply for criticizing the government is not one which holds any appeal.

Australia would need to start a penal colony in the desert or on some far flung Pacific island if our government starting arresting people for bagging it. Thank God that's not the case, and I am free to write of my extreme disappointment with our political leaders.

Our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and her predecessor, Kevin Rudd spent a great deal of time talking about making tough decisions. All the government minsters do the same thing, as they dribble out the nausea inducing phrase, 'what's best for the national interest'. They don't follow through though. Lots of talk, and very little action.It happens at the state level as well. They make some big announcement, they encounter opposition, they say they will resist that opposition and make it happen, but the criticism increases, the political heat rises, and they back down.

Kevin Rudd gave the states an ultimatum on health. Sort yourselves out, he said, or I will. When he first talked about nationalising the health care system, I could have hugged him. There is insufficient time here to go in to the details as to why this was and still is, not only a great idea, but absolutely necessary. The point is when the deadline arrived the Prime Minster caved in and went for a namby pamby compromise which he tried to sell to the public as some sort of revolution. It was nothing of the sort, but it was at least a start. Julie Gillard announced this week that the government has decided to ditch that allegedly revolutionary deal. Why? Too much opposition from the states. Who wears the pants in this country, Julia?

Politicians speak as though their every word, tone of voice and facial expression will become the subject of intense scrutiny. That's because it will. They waste endless words justifying and explaining themselves. They can't talk straight and they can't back up their rhetoric with action. Why? No courage. They are afraid of the polls, afraid of the media, afraid of being unpopular. Tell me how many great leaders throughout human history cared about their popularity. Great leaders, I said. Whether they were good or bad men or women is beside the point. I'm talking about leadership.

Where are the true leaders; the courageous, the visionary, the passionate and the single minded? I'm so sick of poll driven, media boot licking, indecisive political leaders who talk the talk but don't walk the walk.

Monday, February 7, 2011

No talking please, I'm driving.

Last year nearly 50 000 people were fined for mobile phone offences whilst driving their cars. Everyone knows it's against the law to talk or text and everyone knows it's dangerous but 50 000 is a fair whack of naughty people. Surely that is only the tip of the iceberg. Think of all those who didn't get caught. How many did you see today?

A new study, hands up if you have had a gutful of studies, has shown that talking on your mobile phone even using a hands free system, dramatically increases your crash casualty risk. Presumably it's not the use of the hands that is the problem, but the use of the mouth, ears and brain that causes people to become distracted from the task of driving, sometimes with terrible consequences.

The response to this study has been so predictable that it makes you wonder why we needed the research done in the first place. What can we do about this newly revealed hazard? Ban all mobile phone use, including hands free.

Let's ignore the fact that any new laws will join the swollen throng of stupid, paternalistic and impractical ones already on the books. (Did you know you can be booked for leaving your car unlocked in a public place?) Let's also ignore the fact that eating, drinking and smoking are allowed in private cars as well as all sorts of other interesting pastimes like reading, and playing drums on the steering wheel,for example. Let's say it's a great idea. Anything we can do to reduce accidents, injury and loss of life is good. Right?

Wrong! Even with such a ban people will still talk and I want to know what the difference is between a conversation with a present person and a conversation with an absent person? No, any new law must ban conversation in cars all together. Actually why not ban all conversation during your favourite television show? Ban all chit chat which interferes with, either the execution of your work duty, or the enjoyment of your passive hobby, whatever it may be. What about banning all conversation that doesn't interest you? What else? Help me out here because everyone knows what the world really needs is not love and peace, or even common sense. What the world needs is more stupid laws telling us how to, or how not to live.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Aussie Spirit

I love how parochial we Australians get in times of disaster when we pull together and help each other. The never ending media coverage on the recent floods and the even more recent storm of the century, has strongly focussed on the efforts of people in assisting other people in times of need. Strangers helping strangers and neighbours helping neighbours. Everyone pitching in to alleviate the suffering and clean up the mess. And all those people who weren't able to physically help out have donated huge amounts of money. Unity in suffering.

(By the way, if you didn't give anything you are a bad Australian, an uncaring, and mean spirited person. But don't worry the flood levy might still extract your contribution.)

The Aussie spirit of helping your mate has been frequently mentioned and continually held up and celebrated as though it is unique. As though it is a thing which lives in all of us and bursts forth when required. We must feel great sorrow for people in other countries when they face disasters because the only people who rush to their rescue are Australians. And if we don't charge in to save the day then they are all damned. The only people who give money are Australians because we are the most generous people on the planet. Praise the Aussie spirit. Go Australia.

Too much? Sure but, obviously Australians aren't the only ones who help their neighbours. It does add to the feelgood vibe post catastrophe though, and that's okay. Of course, people help each other in times of need. People even risk their own lives for others. People are certainly capable of generosity, goodness and sacrificial love. This is excellent and praiseworthy but it's not some mystical Aussie Spirit, or even the so called human spirit. These characteristics that are manifested in troubled times are Godly characteristics. They originate with God. We can be generous and good and we can risk our lives for each other because that is what we were designed to do. Made in the image of our Creator who is the ultimate source of all that is good.

Let's celebrate goodness by all means but is it too much to ask that we give God some credit? Rabbitting on about alleged triumphs of the human spirit stinks of conceit when we exclude God and claim divine attributes for our pitiful selves. When was the last time you gave God a bit of glory and praise?