Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Nature, Food and God

Once upon a time, in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve wanted something to eat, they picked it off the nearest tree. Nowadays, we pick it off a supermarket shelf. There’s something wrong with this picture.

I think that God designed us to interact with nature. When we do so, there is a spiritual dimension to that interaction. These sound like religious sounding words, but I don’t want to suggest that only people of faith have this spiritual dimension to nature. It can also apply to people without faith – sometimes more so.

One of the ways we can choose to live more natural lifestyles is through the food we eat. Many people in the western world don’t eat nearly enough food that could be considered at all natural. It has been processed, modified and added to. Even fresh fruit and vegetables that we buy from our supermarkets may not be as natural as we think it is.

But it’s not just a matter of what we eat. It’s also how the food that we eat comes to us. When we buy food from the grocery store, we are pretty much removed from the whole food process. However, when we grow food ourselves, we are part of that process. There is something a lot more natural, rewarding and spiritual about getting our food in this way. Stuff that just can’t be bought in a jar.

One of the other aspects of food that we often forget is the cost. No, I don’t mean the total price when you go through the checkout. But the complete costs to the world and to the environment is buying processed, packaged food from supermarkets. There are the costs of transport, processing and packaging (in terms of environmental costs, using up of resources such as oil, carbon emissions). When you pick up a product off the shelves, it is worth asking yourself how much is this costing the world?

Christians are taught to be good stewards. I don’t believe this just applies to how we use our money and whether we use it wisely. Although this is important. It also applies to how we take care of the world around us. We must make the best choices with what we have. We should also be good stewards of our body. When we eat natural foods, we are taking care of our body in the best possible way. As well as this, I think Christians should be people who try to give more and take less. We should think about this in everything we do – and this includes the food we eat.

Growing a vegetable garden or fruit trees is one way that we can interact with nature, eat more natural food and decrease the cost to the world in terms of our consumption. Food grown by yourself doesn’t have far to go before it is eaten. There is far less cost in terms of transport and processing. You also know that the food you are eating has not been modified or added to in any way.

Not everyone can grow their own vegetable garden. However, there are other options. Many communities have community gardens, where people can come and work in the gardens. It’s worth seeing if there’s one near you. Or if not, why not get one started? Farmers markets are also a better place to buy fruit and vegetables than the supermarket. When you buy from a farmers markets, the people selling their products are local. That means the food has not traveled as far. Also, because they were themselves involved in the growing of the food, you can ask them about how it was grown. Try doing that to the checkout operator at the supermarket.

We’re not in the Garden of Eden anymore. And let’s face it, no matter how hard we try, very few of us are going to succeed in leading completely natural lifestyles. But the closer we get to this, the better we will feel – both physically and spiritually. I think it’s worth creating our own little Garden of Edens whenever we can. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Moments of Beauty

A young boy trips over and skins his knee. He takes a big breath, fuelling himself for a very long cry, gives his mother a quick glance to make sure she’s watching – and then spots a butterfly. He stares at in wonder, as his pain is forgotten and the opportunity to get attention is missed. He is having a moment of beauty. The mother has her own moment of beauty. On her way to comfort her child, she stops and simply enjoys the look upon her son’s face.

Moments of beauty are like that. You are so caught up in something beautiful that you forget your own worries, your own fears and your own desires. All the thoughts that were fighting with each other inside your head simply disappear. You forget about ‘me’ for a while. You forget about everything. You simply enjoy the beauty.

The best example of a moment of beauty is the mother who looks into her newborn baby’s eyes. Regardless of how many moments of beauty I have in my life, nothing will ever compare to that experience. In fact, I doubt very much whether anyone is ever captivated quite so much as a woman who first looks into her child’s eyes. The pain of labour is completely forgotten. The worries and fears about how she will actually raise her child no longer seem that important. To say you lose yourself is a cliché, but sometimes a cliché best expresses the truth. The new mother really does lose herself. When a mother looks at her newborn, she doesn’t think of who she is or what she wants. There are no thoughts at all, well not in words. Just an overwhelming feeling of love and wonder.

Moments of beauty don’t have to be centred around some amazing experience, like giving birth to a child. They happen all the time. They can be big or small. Sitting on the beach watching the sunset. A flock of birds flying overhead. Looking at a waterfall. Attending a school assembly and hearing children sing. Listening to the solo of a classically trained singer. A moment of silence at the end of a hectic day. Walking into an old church and feeling the impact of awe, magnificence and wonder.

The other day, I was standing outside the shopping centre, when a young couple walked past. I can’t remember what I was thinking about at that moment, but I’m sure I considered it terribly important at the time. But as soon as I saw them, I stopped thinking. Now they were attractive, but I wouldn’t say they were stunning. But there was something about their faces and their body languages that really moved me. There seemed to be an ease there that you very rarely find. They looked at each other as if they really understood the value of the other person. Not stunning, no. But definitely beautiful, even if it’s not the kind of beauty that can be captured in photographs.

I have been calling them moments of beauty, but I most often think of them as moments that touch the soul. Because that’s what I think they are. When something captivates you with its beauty, I believe it’s felt more with the soul, than with the body. They are the times when our spirit finally gets our flesh to shut up for a moment. And it’s when our flesh is quiet, that I think God is mostly likely to tap us on the shoulder and remind us that he’s still there.

There is a passage in the bible that always makes me think of moments of beauty. It is found in 1 King 19:11-12.

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

I’m not quite sure why it makes me think of beauty, because there is certainly nothing in there that is beautiful. I think it’s that still small voice at the end. When we do have a moment of beauty, or a moment that touches the soul, we can sometimes hear that still small voice. It’s like God’s gently whispering in our ear. But we have to pay attention or we miss it. And most of the time, we’re not paying attention.

Whether we’re paying attention or not, I think moments of beauty are God’s way of reminding us that this life and this flesh are not all that matters. When we ignore our flesh, we can begin to pay attention to our spirit. When we lose ourselves, we may just end up finding God.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The importance of the Sabbath

            Most people would agree that at least some of the Ten Commandments have value. Do not murder. Do not steal. They make sense - whether you belong to the Judeo-Christian tradition or not. But then there are others that apparently seem worthless. And at the top of that list might be keeping the Sabbath. Even Christians often don't do a good job of following that one. And many people would barely give it a thought.
            But there are good reasons why we should start taking this commandment seriously again. I'm not talking here from a religious perspective. Like do not murder and do not steal, it makes sense - whether you're a Jew, Christian, Sikh, Agnostic or Atheist. Keeping the Sabbath contributes to the wellbeing of ourselves, our communities and the earth.
            But in order to understand why we should take this commandment seriously, we need to really understand what the Sabbath was for. Yes, it was for worshipping God. And from a Judeo-Christian perspective, that's important. But as I'm suggesting it's beneficial for everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, there has to be more to it than that. In fact, I think one of the reasons why this is the most neglected commandment is that we have narrowed it down to just worshipping God, which is even narrowed down further to 'going to church'. Christians believe they're obeying the commandment if they go to church on Sundays. People who don't accept the Judeo-Christian God figure they don't go to church and therefore it doesn't apply. But the Sabbath is meant for so much more than that.
            The next thing we can say about the Sabbath is it is a day when we do not work. For some, this meant a whole heap of rules about what could and couldn't be done on the Sabbath. For others, it simply meant not doing paid work. In my opinion, both miss the point. And neither approach actually considers what the Sabbath is for.
            So what is the purpose of the Sabbath? Besides worshipping God, we might also say its purpose is to rest. And this rest is not just something we should do ourselves, but something we must let others do. Exodus 23:12 says that on the Sabbath it is not just we ourselves who must rest, but also oxen, donkeys, servants and migrant workers. And just before that it says that after every seven years, the land itself must rest. The Sabbath is not just about us. It's about letting everyone rest. It's about letting the earth itself rest.
            But what might this mean in a 21st century context, where most of us don't have oxen or donkeys or servants or migrant workers? Well the point is not really about the oxen or the donkeys or the servants or the migrant workers. It's that everyone and everything (including animals and the earth) needs a chance to rest. And if we do want to think about it in a 21st century context, we need to ask what drain we are making on other people and the land? Could we perhaps replace servants and migrant workers for the people we expect to be working in stores on Sundays? Could we replace oxen and donkey for the electricity we are constantly using? Does everything always have to be in production mode for us or are we willing to give things a break?
            Thinking about the Sabbath in this way, rather than just as something we ourselves personally must do, makes us realise that rest is not just the cessation of work. Keeping the Sabbath should benefit everything and everyone. The commandment to keep the Sabbath then is not just a prohibition to work, but a commandment to participate in the benefits that Sabbath-keeping brings.
            To rest on the Sabbath may mean 'not doing certain things', but it also means to do others. We take a break from the type of things that produce goods, make money and drain the earth's resources and instead we participate in other types of activities - the kind of activities that refresh and renew us and that do not put unnecessary burdens on others.
            The inclusion of everything in the Sabbath rest also shows us that everything must have a chance to simply be. In fact, if we go back to the original day that God rested in the creation story, we can see that for seven days God created things and then he rested. This does not just mean that God stopped working. It also means that Creation, which was changing, becoming, progressing, doing, also got a chance to simply be. It no longer had to become something or do something.
            To say what constitutes rest and work is difficult because what is hard work for someone may mean rest and recreation for someone else. But if we are to truly keep the purpose of the Sabbath, we do need a break from anything that stresses us and frustrates us, and we need to choose instead those things that renew and refresh us. We also need to realise that we don't need to be constantly doing something. We just can stop, breathe and appreciate.
            The Sabbath then becomes a time when we stopping putting unnecessary demands on the earth. It becomes a time when we stop expecting so much from other people and simply enjoy their presence. It also becomes a time when we give ourselves permission to take a break from our to-do lists, to relax and laugh and appreciate the world around us.
            Perhaps the reason why the commandment to keep the Sabbath is so neglected is that we don't like simply being. We like to be achieving things, doing things, going somewhere or making progress. And we judge things (and people) on how useful or productive they are. The Sabbath not only gives us a break from this type of mentality, but it shows that people, animals and the earth have value in and of themselves. They don't need to be doing something to be important. And nor do we. Just to be is enough.
            The importance of the Sabbath commandment may not be as evident as do not murder or do not steal, but it is important nonetheless. When we stop making demands on the land, on others and on ourselves, when we value everything and everyone for what they are not what they do, we and the whole earth community flourishes.
            Keeping the Sabbath wasn't just a commandment designed to get people worshipping God. Like many of the other commandments, it would benefit the community and the individuals within it. While we may have different opinions on the importance of the Sabbath, many of us can agree that the wellbeing of ourselves, our communities and our planet is important. Keeping the Sabbath helps us do this - whether we believe in God or not.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Accepting Limitations

We all have limitations or things in our life that we don't like. The general tendency is to try and change these things. Sometimes that's a good approach for some things need to be changed. But often this change is aided by consumer products and services. And consumerism itself fuels our dissatisfaction with our lives. And it is that dissatisfaction that also prevents us from accepting the limitations of the earth.

While listening to a prison chaplain talk about his experiences the other day, the phrase 'life sentence' jumped out at me. The thought of someone who can never get what he wants (freedom), and needs to accept his situation will last for his entire life, seemed quite terrible to me. How would he find joy, peace and hope? The only way he could find any degree of contentment would be if he learned to accept his situation. Fighting against it and wanting to be free would only make him miserable.

Christians often use prison cells as a metaphor for breaking free of certain things in our life. And it can be quite a good metaphor. There are some things we need to break free from. However, if we see everything as a prison cell that we do need to break free from, then maybe we lose our ability to find peace, joy and hope where we are. Maybe we are too busy fighting our cells that we miss the opportunity to appreciate what we do have and work within our limitations.

Nowhere is the dissatisfaction with our lives more apparent than in the area of appearance. Got brown hair and want blonde? Dye it. Got brown eyes and want blue? There's coloured contacts for that. Don't like your boobs or your nose or your face? Get plastic surgery. I could go on but you get the picture.

Consumerism fuels this dissatisfaction with the way we look. The more dissatisfied people are with their appearance, the more consumer products and services they buy. But it also makes us unwilling to accept any aspect of our appearance we don't like - even the ones we can't change. I admit, I've sometimes felt hard done by because God didn't make me tall, blonde, slim and beautiful. When I do that, I not only end up frustrated and discontent, but I ignore all the very good qualities God has given me. I'm too busy looking at what I don't have and what I want to see changed.

Let's look at something completely different - comfort. If we're unwilling to accept anything we don't like, then we must be comfortable all of the time. When we exercise, we prefer to be in air-conditioned, enclosed gyms rather than out in the outdoors. We like outings where all the unpleasantness has been taken away. Our houses must be perfectly comfortable. We don't like to be too hot or too cold. We're no longer willing to accept the limitations of the weather or the seasons. So we crank up our air-conditioner to achieve the desired temperature. All of this uses energy.

And speaking of energy, we are also not willing to accept the limitations of the planet. Our desire to change our life and situation - through the consumer products we buy and the energy we use - often has a detrimental effect on the earth. But rather than limiting our impact, we demand that the earth continue to give us what we want to make our lives as "perfect" or as "easy" as possible. And we pretend that it will always do so.

It won't. The earth is a prison cell. Oh yes, it's a beautiful prison cells. It has wonders and delights and can give us everything we need if we take care of it. And it's not the kind of prison cell I want to break free from. But it's a prison cell in the sense that there's nowhere else to go. Humanity doesn't get to escape from earth. We are stuck here.

And we can pretend that the limitations of this earth don't exist. We can refuse to accept them or fight against them. But none of this will do any good. Those limitations will still be there.

Or we can learn to live within those limitations. We can appreciate what we do have, but realise there are limits to it. And when we do learn to live within those limitations, we are more likely to find joy, peace and contentment. We are also more likely to appreciate what we do have and want to take care of it.

Acceptance is not a popular trait in our society. But for the sake of the earth and our own wellbeing, we must cultivate it. Yes, there will be things in our life that we don't like. Yes, there will be limitations imposed upon us that we want to break free from. But life should be about accepting those limitations, rather than believing we must get everything we want.

I have linked our refusal to accept limitations to consumerism. But while I certainly think consumerism has made this human inclination worse, it is not limited to consumerism. The bible tells us that Adam and Eve were given access to every tree and plant in the Garden of Eden except one. Rather than accepting that limitation, they ate the forbidden fruit.

How many of us have thought, if I was in the Garden of Eden, I'd be happy with what I had? Really? We don't seem so happy with what we have at the moment. We're always wanting more, always wanting to change things, always refusing to accept the limitations placed on us.

And to say we don't live in the Garden of Eden is not an excuse. Yes, the Garden of Eden was filled with good things. But so are our lives now. The world is amazing place. Our lives are filled with so many gifts from God. We have nature and relationships and bodies that are just incredible. We have joy and delight and wonder. There is so much to be thankful for.

Let's not ruin what we do have. Let's appreciate it and take care of it. Let us work within the limitations of the earth. And let us cultivate those traits of acceptance and gratitude. There may be things in our lives and our world that we don't like. But if we learn to accept what we do have, we will also learn that there is much in our lives and our world that we love. There is much in our lives and our world that we should appreciate and preserve.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A prayer at a lake | ECEN

A prayer at a lake | ECEN (From the European Christian Environmental Network website)

I watch you, black-throated diver,
hearing your voice at the darkening lake
the message from millions of years ago.
You were here long before me,
you diver black-throated,
a bird of silent waters.
I hear a child playing
just before it's time to sleep
You will be living here
when I and my friends are no more.
I watch the lake, now calm in the evening
Water, without you there is no life
You have baptized me,
you, clean, clear water.
I watch you, the birch tree
You grow and reach over the water
You give to me and all the other beings who breathe air
new power of life.
I watch you, the high rock behind the cottage,
Rock, you are protecting me, the diver, child and birch,
from the wind blowing behind you,
this part of the isle is serene.
Mother Earth, brother wind, father rock, my sister diver,
you are the body of God,
Body of God, who was born your brother
and mine.
Black-throated diver, may you still live for millions of years
rock, my father, protect this lake,
earth, my mother, carry the growing life,
my brother wind, blow and make the air clear,
Water, darkening in the evening, support life, stay clean,
let the gift of Holy Spirit revive
sisters and brothers and the whole creation. Amen.
Ilkka Sipil?inen

Sunday, September 30, 2012

"If the Earth were small" by Olaf Skarsholt

If the earth
were only a few feet in
diameter, floating a few feet above a
field somewhere, people would come from
every where to marvel at it. People would walk
around it marveling at its big pools of water, its little
pools and the water flowing between the pools. People
would marvel at the bumps on it, and the holes in it, and they
would marvel at the very thin layer of gas surrounding it and the
water suspended in the gas. The people would marvel at all the
creatures walking around the surface of the ball, and in the water.
The people would declare it precious because it was the only one,
And they would protect it, so that it would not be hurt. The ball
would be the greatest wonder known, and people would come
to behold it, to be healed, to gain knowledge, and to know
beauty and to wonder how it could be. People would love
it, and defend it with their lives, because they would
somehow know that their lives, their own
roundness, could be nothing without it.
If the earth were only a few
feet in diameter.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Discovering God (in nature)

When people talk about becoming a Christian, the term sometimes used is 'finding Jesus' as though Jesus were hiding somewhere and one only has to look in the right place to find him. In fact, a number of cartoons have illustrated this possibility, with Jesus hiding somewhere behind a curtain or a couch.

Putting the emphasis on Jesus indicates that the only way to 'find' God is by 'finding' Jesus. You may feel spiritual, you may seek to know God, but until you 'find Jesus' it is actually you who is lost.

The other thing this term does is make 'finding Jesus' a one-off event. When you find something, you've found it. No further looking is required. Of course, you may lose it again and then have to find it for a second time. But there are times when you have 'found' something and times when you haven't, with no middle ground. You can't half find something and once you've found it you don't keep looking. It's either found or not.

Despite the claims of many born-again Christians, I don't believe that 'finding God' can be so neatly differentiated into a before and after stage. Rather than a game of hide'n'seek, it is an ongoing journey. We are continually seeking and continually finding. The word 'discovering' therefore seems more appropriate to me than 'find'.

Furthermore, God is not just discovered by Christians, but people who aren't Christians are continually discovering him too. This includes not just people of other religions - but also agnostics and even atheists - although they may not recognise what they have discovered is God.

In The Mind of God, Paul Davies[1] says: 'even hard-nosed atheists frequently have what has been called a sense of reverence for nature, a fascination and respect for its depth and beauty and subtlety, that is akin to religious awe.’ That to me sounds very much like the process of discovering God.

And while I believe God can be discovered in many different places - in religion, in relationship, in receiving kindness from others, in feeling solidarity with others, in feeling compassion for all living creatures, in seeking to correct injustice - it is in nature that I believe many people do find God.

Nature is incredibly beautiful and incredibly complex. That in itself often causes people to think about the reason behind it all. While not everybody will come to the conclusion that that 'reason' is God, many will - even if they reject religion. And even those who do not believe that God had anything to do with it, the very act of thinking about that 'reason' is part of discovering God.

If I stand in front of the Mona Lisa, and I think about the one who painted it, I am at least partly discovering Leonardo Da Vinci - even if I come to the conclusion that the painting occurred by someone accidentally throwing paint onto a canvas which just happened to land in such a way that the Mona Lisa face appeared.

Secondly, the beauty of nature often is so breathtaking that all we can do is stand in awe. To stand in awe of what God has made is to discover God. To feel wonder and delight and joy while looking at God's Creation is to feel part of the same wonder and joy and delight that God feels. Although, as finite beings, we will only feel that wonder and joy and delight on a limited scale, when we are truly captivated by nature I believe we sense for just a moment a tiny portion of what God feels. It seems we are raised just a little bit above our finitude and humanness.

Something else we often sense in nature in peace. Partly, this is because nature is soothing. There is a reason why when people want to relax, they listen to CDs of bird calls rather than CDs of bulldozers. Discovering that peace is part of discovering God.

So too is the recognition that we are not just individuals but part of the community of Creation. Nature often brings peace because it helps us forget about ourselves. We are lost in the moment and our own concerns are either forgotten or become less significant.

It is hard to discover God when we are solely focused on ourselves. Being in nature often turns our focus outward. The 'I' as an individual is enveloped in the 'we' of Creation. We are then able to see not just that we are part of a larger picture, but how we might act in ways to help that larger picture. Discovering God is not just about saying, 'Yes, I've found Jesus' and now I can put him on the mantelpiece along with my rock collection to stare at. It is about discovering his will, not just in our lives, but in the whole of Creation, and helping to see God's will be done.

I don't think God can ever be 'found'. Human beings will never be able to completely understand him or completely know him. We can't put him in a box, label him and store him somewhere safe so we can't lose him again. But we can catch glimpses. We can come close. We can have moments when we seem to rise briefly above our human nature. And we can keep looking and discovering, knowing the journey will never end, that there will always be new things to find and new things to search for - and that's what makes the faith journey so exciting.

Davies, Paul. The Mind of God; Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning. Maryborough, Victoria: Penguin Books, 2008.

[1] Paul Davies, The Mind of God; Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning (Maryborough, Victoria: Penguin Books, 2008).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Social Justice and Consumerism

One of the problems with consumerism is we often don't see the stories behind the products that we buy. And with more and more of our products made and sold by multi-national corporations, with much of their manufacturing taking place offshore, those behind-the-scenes stories are becoming less and less visible.

Yet those stories are important. And this year's Social Justice Sunday, taking place on 30 September with the theme Peace in the Marketplace, reminds us that consumerism often contributes to injustices, inequities and suffering.

We need to be reminded of the harsh and unfair conditions that people in Third World countries work under in order to produce our goods. We need to consider the impact that our purchases are having on the environment. And we need to reflect on what consumerism is doing to ourselves, not just in terms of employment practices that maximise profit and leave employees worse off, but also in terms of seeing life through a framework that values individuals over relationships and community, that leaves people feel worthless because they do not earn enough money or own the right things and that leaves almost all of us in a constant state of dissatisfaction because the advertisers keep persuading us there is something else we need to be happy.

Social Justice Sunday also reminds us that, while many people in our society see economic growth and consumerism as desirable, that is not the only possible view. Considering the negative impacts economic growth has on the environment, on people and on communities, maybe it is time we looked for a new over-arching framework, a new way of living in and seeing the world.

The Church must be a prophetic voice in this consumeristic, growth-driven culture. It must be prepared to show how our economic structures are damaging the earth and hurting people. It must be prepared to say there are more important things than profit, growth, money and purchases. It must be prepared to challenge the power of corporations and the way they conduct business. And it must show the world a different way, a way that values relationships, communities, peace and wellbeing, a way that puts people before profits, the earth before purchases.

The bible shows us that God cares about unfair economic structures. Therefore, Christians should care about them too. It is not an excuse to say we didn't know. We must make it our business to know. And if we really do care about seeing God's will done on earth, then once we know, we must do something about it.

The National Council of Churches in Australia has a pamphlet and worship resources on its website (http://www.ncca.org.au/departments/social-justice) for Peace in the Marketplace, Social Justice Sunday, 30 September. This wonderful prayer, based on the Beatitudes, comes from those resources.

‘Blessed are you who are poor,
      for yours is the kingdom of God.’

God of the poor,
We hear your voice calling us to the reality of life in our land, in the country and in our cities.
The goodness of your creation has been twisted out of shape by the greed of people.
The land lifts up its voice in mourning, and the poor of the land cry out for justice.
Help us live out your just kingdom here in this part of the earth.

‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
     for you will be filled.’

God of the hungry,
Our indigenous brothers and sisters still struggle with worse health
and lower life expectancy than the rest of our population;
asylum seekers still wait months and years for settlement in safety;
the elderly, ill and unemployed struggle to live on pensions.
Help us know how to share our resources wisely and generously
so that all may be filled.

‘Blessed are you who weep now,
      for you will laugh.’

God of the desolate,
Young girls are exploited to sell fashion clothes,
while women slave in sweat shops for minimum wages.
Men work long hours at dangerous jobs
and young people turn to drugs and alcohol to cover their hopelessness.
We in the developed world enjoy our luxuries
at the expense of those who struggle to make a living growing them.
Help us protect the humanity of those who produce the goods we use.

‘Blessed are you when people hate you,
     and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you.’

God of the marginal,
Governments appear to favour those with economic power,
instead of investing in education;
megastores drive small businesses to the wall;
people deafened by the strident call to consume
fail to hear the whispers of the homeless and hungry.
Help us to speak fearlessly for those with no voices,
and to remember that your grace is abundant enough for all to share.

‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy,
     for surely your reward is great in heaven.’

God of joy,
We pray that we who follow the way of Christ might live by your grace,
modelling care and integrity in our business transactions,
courage and hope in our politics,
and love and reconciliation in our relationships.

May our lives be evidenced by generosity,
daring to live in hope,
that our life together might point beyond ourselves
to the One in whose image we are made.
In the name of Jesus Christ, who showed us how to live. 

Acknowledgement: These worship resources have been compiled by Rev Dr Meryl Blair for use with the Social Justice Sunday 2012 resource Peace in the Marketplace.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Matthew 25:31-46 - What we do for people matters (including those affected by climate change)

We can't just ignore the plight of people who will be impacted by climate change and environmental degradation. Matthew 25:31-46 doesn't give us that option. 

Matthew 25:31-46, I suspect, is a passage that we don't like to think about too much. It gets used when charities are trying to convince Christians to donate money or volunteer their time. But the focus seems to be very much on Matthew 25:45. We're more interested in giving ourselves a pat on the back for helping the hungry, the thirsty, the sick and imprisoned than we are about looking at what the whole passage actually means.

This passage shows us very clearly that what we do for other people matters. And it's not a case of just patting ourselves on the back when we do the right thing either. What we don't do matters too. Jesus says that what we do (or fail to do) for other people we do (or fail to do) for him. That in itself should make us take notice. But it's not like we just get a mild reprimand for failing to do the right thing either. Jesus says, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels' (Matthew 25:41). They're pretty strong words. They're not the kind of words that you can pretend just aren't that important.

So does that mean if we fail to sign up for hospital and prison visiting programs and donate money to every single organisation out there that feeds the hungry we're going to hell? Well, no. But at the same time, we also don't get to pretend that we can ignore the plight of other people. When we fail to help people who need help, we fail to help Jesus. And what we do to other people counts.

One thing I don't think Jesus was trying to do was give us a list of people who must be helped - with anyone who falls outside that list able to be ignored. He wasn't saying 'what you do for these people, you do for me'. Rather, he was saying, 'what you do for everyone, you do for me.' So it's not just our treatment of the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick and imprisoned that matters. Our treatment of the depressed, the grieving and the anxious matters. Our treatment of the unemployed, the disabled, the working poor and the socially isolated matters.

And our treatment of people who will be impacted by climate change and environmental degradation matters.

This doesn't just include people in countries like Tuvalu. It includes people in third world countries who are already struggling with the effects of climate change. It includes farmers in our own country who are finding things more difficult with changing climate conditions. It includes people who are being (or who will be) impacted by extreme weather conditions, which are predicted to increase as the climate changes. It includes future generations who have to live in the world we leave them. And ultimately it includes all of us - for we all will be impacted by climate change at some time.

We can't just ignore their plight. Matthew 25:31-46 doesn't give us that option. What we do (or fail to do) for these people, we fail (or fail to do) for Jesus. How we treat these people, whether we help them or not, matters in God's eyes.

Do we want to be the person to whom Jesus says, 'I was suffering from climate change and environmental degradation and you helped me,' or do we want to be the one to whom Jesus says, 'I was suffering from climate change and environmental degradation and not only didn't you help me, but you actually made my situation worse.'

Because that's what we're doing. Not only do we fail to help, we increase the problem. I can't read Matthew 25:31-46 and think that Jesus doesn't care.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Are people who don't care about the environment selfish?

Are people who don't care about the environment selfish? Some would say they are, as they are putting their own needs above that of the earth. But I don't think we can make a blanket statement that all people who don't care about the environment are selfish - even though they may have some selfish reasons for not thinking about the health of this planet.

A lot of people who don't care about climate change, or have much interest in ecology more generally, are not selfish. They are generous, selfless people. They do things that I'm afraid I'm too selfish to do. Choosing a person's self-interest over environmental concerns does not make someone selfish, because there may be many other areas where they are far more selfless than other people.

There are so many different things in 
the world that people can and do care about. And I don't do everything I could do to address them all. I don't give food to the hungry. I don't visit people in jail. The only sick person I've visited in hospital in the last year was my own grandmother. I don't help kids learn to read at school. I don't open my house to people who might need a place to stay or a meal to eat. I could go on. Does this make me selfish? Maybe. But then I certainly have no right to call people who don't care about the environment selfish - because I know that, in many cases, they do a lot of selfless things that I'm not prepared to do.

And even if we just limit it to ecological concerns, I'm selfish. I drink diet coke that comes in plastic bottles. I have my computer on pretty much constantly. I don't have a compost bin and I often throw out food. I sometimes buy food with too much packaging. I even sometimes get plastic bags. Again, I could go on. So do I have the right to call someone selfish who likes plastic bags and drives a car, just because I try to avoid them and I don't have a car.

Unfortunately, if we start calling people selfish for the environmental choices they make, it's often very easy for them to turn around and say well you're selfish too because of the choices you make. Even being on Facebook is bad for the environment. So are we all selfish then? Yes, I think we probably are. I think everyone is selfish to some degree. And I think we all often put our own desires and convenience above environmental concerns - probably much more so than we recognise.

Another thing we need to think about is the culture we live in. We all live in a consumeristic culture - and selfishness is pretty much ingrained into that culture. We are living in a world where a high value is placed on convenience and individual desires. This is a world that's not sustainable, but it's hard to look past that world because we're so immersed in it. And even if we can see past the problems with our way of life, it's sometimes hard to choose a different way of living when we are surrounded by this consumeristic culture.

I know my kids have gotten annoyed with me because I don't like buying food with too much packaging. And one of their main complaints is everyone has school has this type of food. And so sometimes I do buy food with lots of packaging - because while I see problems with the way our society does things, my kids still live in this society and have to make their way in it.

And sometimes my concern with environmental issues makes me feel too different to my friends. I feel like forgetting all about the damage my lifestyle may be causing to this earth and just 'being like everybody else'. It's hard to be different - whatever that different is.

We might think that people in the past who owned slaves were selfish. And undoubtedly, yes, they were. But still they lived in a culture where slaves were acceptable. It would have been very hard for them to see past that. And it's the same today - if most of the people that surround you don't see environmental concerns as that important, it's pretty hard to see them as important yourself.

We all would love to think that if we went back to a different time, that we wouldn't do any of the things that we consider so terrible now. We wouldn't own slaves or mistreat people of a different colour or watch bear-baiting. And if we travelled back in time, we probably wouldn't. But if we grew up in that time, maybe we would. There's always the people that stand out from the crowd and say, this is wrong. But it must be an extremely hard thing to do.

I know that when I was younger, I used to light up a cigarette in a food court without even thinking about it. Now, even if I'm in a place where I can smoke, I will move away if people are eating. Am I less selfish than I used to be? Maybe. But then I'm not sure whether I was actually being selfish in my days of smoking in the food court. It just wasn't something I thought about. Everyone smoked in areas where people were eating, including my friends. And even if someone had pointed out that it wasn't very pleasant for other people, I probably would have just thought, but everyone else is doing it, so what's the problem?

I think of the analogy about the goldfish in the bowl who doesn't see the water they're swimming in. Now try as we might, it's pretty hard to get that fish to actually see the water. And if the water was dirty, we spend a lot of time telling the fish that the water is dirty, without them taking the message on board. They're swimming in the water. They can't see a problem with it. What we need to do is change the water - and it's only then they may be able to look back and think, gee, my water was dirty back then. (That is if a goldfish could actually reflect on their surroundings!)

But if their actions are actually causing the water to be dirty, what do we do then? And what if the goldfish was actually making the water dirty for other fishes who weren't doing anything wrong? What do you do if every step to clean the water was matched by a step by the goldfish to make the water even more dirty? But the goldfish still can't see that there's anything wrong with the water. I don't have an answer for that. But I'm not sure we can actually say the goldfish is being selfish, if we take selfishness to mean a conscious decision to put our own interests above of other people. And I know that the problem isn't going to be solved by simply telling the goldfish to think differently.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Global table fellowship

The word 'table' is mentioned 22 times in the Gospels. There is the overturning of the tables at the Temple, the times that Jesus was reclining at a table or came to eat at someone's table and the woman who said the dogs eat the crumbs from their master's table. It's probably hard for us to really see the word 'table' in the same way that the original audience did. We don't have the same ideas about hospitality and eating together. And half the time we eat our meals in front of the TV rather than around a table. We simply cannot understand table fellowship in the same way first century Jews did.

This is not a post about eating around a table, though. It is about justice and sharing and distribution. When Jesus talked about how we were to fellowship with other people and how we were to share our food, he was not just concerned about eating. For the way we shared food and fellowshipped together said something about our heart. Therefore it should not be limited to the dining room table and forgotten the minute we do the washing up. His words about meals and fellowship are to guide the way we live our lives.

But we also need a broader definition of table. When Jesus says neighbour, he does not just mean the people who live on either side of us. And when Jesus says table he doesn't just mean the people we may be likely to share a meal with. God's love is global. It is not limited to one country, one race or even one species. Therefore how we think about table fellowship must be global too.

One of the most memorable passages about the 'table' comes in Luke 14:7-14:

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

This is one of my favourite passages in the bible. It says so much about humility and generosity. If everyone lived by this passage, I think the world would be a much better place.

But it has some very important things to say to us if we consider the table as the world. Do people in first world countries give themselves the place of honour? That's undoubtedly a yes. If we consider the world's resources as a meal, who gets invited? The poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind? Or the rich neighbours living in first world countries? And what about other non-human species? They very rarely get invited to the meal at all. Instead of inviting the people that Jesus tells us to invite, we first world countries sit inside while the rest of the world is lucky to get our crumbs.

The rest of the world is a bit like Lazarus, wanting to eat what fell from the rich man's table:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. (Luke 16:19-21)

Most will know the story ends with Lazarus in Heaven and the rich man in Hell, begging Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue, because he is in agony.

How many are by our gates, begging for what falls from our table? Whenever I think of the inequality between first world and third world countries, Lazarus comes to mind. The rich man probably didn't even know that Lazarus was by his gate. He was too far beneath the rich man's notice. Not knowing the inequality in the way the world's resources are distributed is no excuse.

We can also imagine Lazarus as future generations, sitting by our gates, begging us to leave some of the world's resources for them, instead of using it all up ourselves before they are even born.

And of course, one of the most memorable events to ever happen at a table was when Jesus held the Last Supper. In Jesus and the Earth (2003), James Jones discusses this event in relation to the inequality in the world's consumption:

He gave us an activity by which to remember him and invoke his presence. It was and is an act of consumption - eating and drinking, bread and wine. Imagine around that table of 13 people if only four were allowed to partake and nine were excluded. Such an act of greedy consumption on the part of the four simply would not have been tolerated by the son of man who in Matthew 25 chides those who ignore the needs and rights of others to consume.

Jesus broke all the rules when it came to table fellowship. He ate with sinners, tax-collectors and prostitutes. But if we take his words about table fellowship and think we're following them because we've invited a few poor people to a meal, we're missing the point. Table fellowship is about so much more than just a meal. It is about how we share and distribute what we have. It's about what's in our heart.

The world is a table. Some get invited to the meal. Some get excluded. Some have all the fancy food. Some get nothing but crumbs. For Jesus' last meal, he didn't even exclude the one who would betray him. Exclusion from a meal just wasn't part of who he was. As Christ-followers, we should do all we can to include everyone at our table too. We must also ensure that everyone gets a place at the global table of the world's resources. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New Facebook Page for God and Gum Nuts

I have started a new Facebook page for God and Gum Nuts. This will be a place to not only share what's happening on the blog, but lots of links, articles, quotes and other material related to Creation Care, particularly from an Australian perspective. Like us on Facebook

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The definition of pro-life

According to the Macquarie Dictionary, here are some definitions of the word 'life':

1. the condition which distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic objects and dead organisms. The distinguishing manifestations of life are: growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally.
2. the animate existence, or the term of animate existence, of an individual:to risk one's life.
3. a corresponding state, existence, or principle of existence conceived as belonging to the soul: eternal life.
4. a state or condition of existence as a human being: life is not a bed of roses.
5. a period of existence from birth to death: in later life she became more placid.

The Macquarie Dictionary also defines as pro as:

1. in favour of a proposition, opinion, etc. (opposed to con): to argue pro and con.
noun (plural pros) 
2. a proponent of an issue; someone who upholds the affirmative in a debate.
3. an argument, consideration, vote, etc., for something.
4. in favour of: to argue pro the war.
5. the pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages. [Latin (preposition): in favour of, for]

So you would think that the term 'pro-life' could mean anything that is in favour for or supports living organisms (including animals and plants) to any aspect of a person's existence.

Not so, according to the Cornwall Alliance. When the President and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network called the reduction of mercury pollution a pro-life issue, the Cornwall Alliance replied, saying that the term pro-life 'denotes opposition to a procedure that intentionally results in dead babies'. They also claimed that portrayal mercury poisoning as a pro-life issue was 'disingenuous and dangerous to our efforts to protect the lives of unborn children'. You can find the whole statement here: http://www.cornwallalliance.org/articles/read/protecting-the-unborn-and-the-pro-life-movement/

The statement also claims that there are two fundamental principles which 'distinguish truly pro-life issues … from environmental issues'. First, pro-life issues 'are issues of actual life and death', rather than environmental issues which they say 'tend to be matters of health'. Second, 'truly pro-life issues address actual intent to kill innocent people'.

Mercury poisoning may well be a matter of health, especially when the concern is that it hurts unborn children. However, to say that all environmental issues tend to be matters of health is showing a complete ignorance of the ecological crises that we face.

Environmentalism is not only concerned with the health of human beings. For a start, it is not just people's health that is at risk. Environmental degradation and global warming will (and is) taking people's lives. For example, if the land is not healthy, then people do not have enough food. If people have no food, they starve. Is ensuring people have enough to eat an 'actual life and death' issue? Or is that just a health matter?

According to the World Health Organisation, here are some of the possible effects of climate change:
  • Extremes of both heat and cold can cause potentially fatal illnesses, e.g. heat stress or hypothermia, as well as increasing death rates from heart and respiratory diseases.
  • In cities, stagnant weather conditions can trap both warm air and air pollutants -- leading to smog episodes with significant health impacts.
  • These effects can be significant. Abnormally high temperatures in Europe in the summer of 2003 were associated with at least 27,000 more deaths than the equivalent period in previous years.
(Taken from Climate Change and Human Health, World Health Organisation, http://www.who.int/globalchange/news/fsclimandhealth/en/index.html)

 Admittedly, they call them 'acute adverse health effects'. But I would say that when people die from illnesses like hypothermia and heart and respiratory diseases because of extreme heat and cold, and when 27,000 people die from abnormally high temperatures, that is not just a health matter. It's an issue relating to life and death, and anyone who is truly pro-life would want to do something about it.

Furthermore, as will be clear from the Macquarie Dictionary definition given above, life does not just refer to human life. We are not the only living species on the planet. And we never will be, for if all other living things died, humans would too. So a truly pro-life position really has to be one that values and seeks protect all life forms, not just homo sapiens.

Their second proposition almost make me laugh. '[T]ruly pro-life issues address actual intent to kill innocent people.' Right, as opposed to environmental issues which are just seeking to prevent the unintentional killing of innocent people. If we continue to degrade the land, ruin the planet and change the climate, we are killing people. That may sound harsh but it's true. And it is the poorest people, the people who are completely dependent on the land, who suffer the most.

Also, as mentioned before, life does not just mean human life. While the Cornwall Alliance may like 'pro-life' simply to refer to the killing of innocent people, the fact that it says 'life' should means it refers to all living things. As a society, we intentionally take innocent lives all the time. We chop down trees, we destroy vegetation, we slaughter animals, we contribute to the extinction of plant and animal species. A truly 'pro-life' position may not be able (or even wish to) prevent all this taking of innocent lives, but it should at least value and seek to protect all life where it can.

Pro-life is a very broad term. The same can be said of pro-choice. And I have nothing against using the term 'pro-life' to refer to the prevention of abortions. But I don't believe it's right to choose a very broad term and yet try to limit it to a narrow set of issues. While pro-life may immediately bring to mind issues related to abortion or euthanasia, I think it's about time we widened it to include everything that 'life' really is. And if the pro-life movement don't want to the term 'pro-life' to be associated with every aspect of life, then maybe they should choose a narrower term that can't be used for environmental issues.

Genesis 1:30, 6:17 and 7:15 all make mention of everything that has the breath of life in them - and the reference is to animals, not just humans. In Genesis 9:9-17, God establishes his covenant with every living creature (vv. 10, 12, 15, 16) and with the earth (v. 13). He says that 'Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life'.

I think it's quite appropriate to call that a pro-life statement. And if we want to take the bible literally, it was perhaps the first pro-life statement ever spoken. And yet abortions aren't mentioned at all.

I believe that God is pro-life - and so am I - in the real definition of that term. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

A place for anger and bitterness

            Anger is not looked at too positively in our society. Bitterness is considered even worse. Activists, particularly indigenous rights activists or feminists, are sometimes called angry or bitter - and when they are, it's not a compliment.
            I agree that some activists are angry or bitter. But I don't see this necessarily as a bad thing. In fact, often it's that anger and bitterness that fuels their activism. It's that anger and bitterness that gives them the motivation to change things for the better.
            Anger and bitterness don't usually spring up from nowhere. They are cultivated when conditions are unjust or unfair - or at least perceived that way. I think there's a cry behind every angry or bitter person that says, 'this isn't the way the world was meant to be.'
            Now admittedly some people hold onto anger and bitterness when there really is no need for it. Their ideas of what's fair are heavily slanted to what they want. Often people see any bad treatment towards themselves as unfair, but fail to see how what they want would be unfair for someone else.
            But often it is warranted. Sometimes life really is unfair. It was unfair that people were captured and made slaves. It was unfair that people were treated as second-class citizens simply because of the colour of their skin. It was unfair that Europeans thought they could take the Australian Aboriginal peoples' land just because they wanted it and it wasn't being cultivated according to European ideas. It was unfair that women could not own their own property, go to university or vote.
            I could go on. Our history is filled with situations where people were treated unfairly.
            And where there are real situations of injustice, I believe anger is not only an acceptable response, but a desirable one.
            What's the alternative? We shrug our shoulders, say 'well life isn't fair' and continue on as we always have.
            Many of the situations listed above have been changed (even if they still might have some way to go before real justice is happening). And they weren't changed by apathetic people. They were changed by angry, maybe even bitter, people. And I say thank God for their anger and bitterness.
            While the situations above may have been changed, there are still many unjust conditions in the world. It is not fair that some of us get to live in luxury while people in other countries starve. It is not fair that people in western countries are conditioned to desire many "things", which neither they nor the earth can afford. It is not fair that we treat economic growth as more important than a healthy planet for future generations. It is not fair that our natural resources, the diversity of our plant and animal life and places of natural beauty are disappearing, so that those who come after us will not have the same opportunity to enjoy them as we do. It is not fair that our whole society seems to be centred on what we spend or buy, leaving those with little money feeling worthless. And it is not fair that, at the same time, the take-home pay of many people is getting less and less as companies seek to increase profit.
            Maybe I'm just bitter because I don't earn a lot. Maybe I'm just angry because this society fails to place the same value on nature as I do. Maybe I'm too busy dreaming of a better world that doesn't exist and I should just realise that this is the way life is and I better put up with it.
            I am angry. Truth be told, I'm even a little bitter. But I believe that anger and bitterness is telling me something. It's telling me that this may be the way the world is, but it's not the way it was meant to be.
            I am a woman. I vote, go to university and own my own house (even if it is mortgaged). We take all those things for granted now. But once upon a time, they were only a dream. Some people saw the way the world was and said that's not the way the world is meant to be. Maybe they were angry. Maybe they were bitter. But if it wasn't for their anger and bitterness, would they have even imagined a different world than the one they lived in? Or even if they did, would they have tried so hard to change things?
            Of course, just because someone is angry doesn't give them the excuse to act out their anger in a negative way. When we think angry, we often think violence (whether physical or verbal). And it is very easy, when we are angry or bitter, to act inappropriately. But anger can also be expressed in peaceful and loving ways. No matter how angry we are with people, we should still show them love and compassion.
            Some people have trouble accepting an angry God. They prefer the loving God to the angry one. But to me, a loving God has to be angry. How could a loving God see what we are doing and just not care? When faced with injustice, what other response is there but anger? A loving God cannot be apathetic or indifferent. And what exactly would a caring response look like if it didn't involve anger of some sort?
            Bitter, no. That's a human failing. But maybe we can use our bitterness to identify situations of injustice in our own world. And maybe we should learn to listen to other people's bitterness, instead of seeing it as something they just need to get rid of. And when we're angry, or other people are angry, maybe we should at least ask ourselves whether God might be angry too. Maybe the different world we imagine is not quite so impossible after all. Maybe the reason we think this isn't the way it should be is because it's not the way God wants it to be. He is just waiting for someone to get angry enough to do something about it. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Schools - too focused on the academic? A response to a Mama Mia article

Schools - too focused on the academic?

Recently, Mama Mia published an article saying that parents expect teachers to be substitute parents. The article said that teachers should be responsible for things like grammar and mathematics, while parents should 'mould the manner of the child.' You can find the original article here: http://www.mamamia.com.au/parenting/teachers-to-parents-raise-your-own-damned-kids/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=%24%7Bemail%7D&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+typepad%2FKsWc+%28%24%7BMamamia+-+rss%7D%29.

To a certain extent, I agree. Parents do need to take responsibility for their own children. It is inappropriate and unfair to expect teachers to raise their kids. And any parent who leaves the raising of their child to a school cannot complain if their children don't turn out the way they want them to.

However, I do think the focus schools place on the academic is not doing our children any favours. No matter how well you know your reading, writing and arithmetic, if you don't know how to get along with others, behave in certain situations and deal with your emotions, you're not going to go far. In fact, it is these life skills that actually the more important than academic results. They help people to succeed in a career and contribute to society. It also affects how people treat our planet, the people in it - and themselves. Ultimately, a person's test results will not bring themselves or others much joy. How they live in the world will.

So why not just leave that part of life to the parents and let the schools focus on the academic part?

First, children spend six hours in school, more when you add in travelling time and homework. Very few parents would have the time to spend six hours teaching their children values and life skills, once this time for school is taken out. Admittedly, these kinds of life skills are often woven throughout other activities. But even then, children will always receive more academic training than they do values or life skills training.

Also, the compulsory nature of school and the focus on tests like NAPLAN tells kids that academic performance is important. They are unlikely to feel the same about what their parents are trying to teach them. The weight given to academic results actually changes children's values, because they have been taught from a very early age that it's how well you read and write that really matters in life. Children need to be taught that their behaviours, values and attitudes matter too. No matter how much a parent tries to instil this in their children, if they're hearing opposite messages from elsewhere, then children will have difficulty fully accepting this.

Perhaps most importantly, teachers have far more opportunity to see how a child behaves with other people than the parents do. They are better placed to notice a problem and guide them through a situation. One of my sons is very shy and has trouble making friends. While I am constantly working with him on this, I am limited by the fact that, when he's around people of his own age, I'm not usually around. As there are children with learning difficulties, there are also children with social difficulties. It would be good to see them get the same assistance and guidance as those who don't do well on tests.

I don't want to suggest that schools are only focused on the academic. Schools do care about values. They do deal with behaviour problems. At least the schools my kids go to do. I'm sure other schools are the same. But in a world where schools are judged on their NAPLAN results, obviously they're going to pay more attention to academic learning than life learning. And in my opinion, life learning is more important. 

Ultimately, it is the parent's responsibility to raise their children. And I for one don't want to leave all that important training to a school. However, the saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child. Shouldn't then both parents and schools be involved in ensuring that we raise children who have all the necessary skills to help them succeed in life? A school must be judged by more than how well their students do in tests.