Hope Through Endurance

Posted: May 2, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Photo: Amul Thapa, KathmanduToday.com via AP

Photo: Amul Thapa, KathmanduToday.com via AP.

This week a photograph of 5-month-old Sonies Awal being held aloft has become a symbol of hope.

Sonies was found alive in the rubble of his family home in Muldhoka, Bhaktapur, east of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, 22 hours after the devastating earthquake that killed more than 6000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

Amidst awful scenes of hopelessness the discovery of a baby alive lifted the spirits of many and as the pictures spread around the globe the stories of survival helped to provide hope to a world that seems to have seen more than its fair share of natural disasters.

Hope is more than just a fanciful wish that things will get better. When a nation has been devastated by an earthquake hope enables the rescuers to keep searching; to keep listening for the muffled sounds of life below the rubble. Hope enables those people in positions of responsibility to plan for life after the clean-up has been completed. Hope motivates architects, town planners and builders to design for a future that is likely to include more natural disasters, but will also see babies born, relationships blossom, dreams realised, ideas developed and creativity nurtured. Hope motivates people hundreds of thousands of kilometres away to donate funds towards relief efforts.

On the back of the door in my office I have pinned these words that relate to the way in which hope can help in the process of change for those affected by mental illness and addictions:

Hope is the limitless belief that things do not have to remain the same and that change can and does happen. It is about concentrating on strengths rather than weaknesses, focussing on the future rather than the past and celebrating small successes rather than insisting on rapid change…

The apostle Paul put it this way:

Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has brought us by faith into this experience of God’s grace, in which we now live. And so we boast of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory! We also boast of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance,  endurance brings God’s approval, and his approval creates hope.  This hope does not disappoint us, for God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us. (Romans 5:1-5 Good News Translation)

The picture of baby Sonies in Nepal is not only a picture of hope for a nation, but a picture of God’s love for all people; a picture of hope and grace that rises out of endurance.

smithyThis week I had the opportunity to meet John Smith, the first president of the God’s Squad Motorcycle Club. We first met John about 25 years’ ago when he stayed with us at our home in Derby, so it was great to catch up with him.  At that stage John had been leading God’s Squad for about 15 years, providing a Christian presence among outlaw biker groups.

Smithy is described in his profile as an author, a social anthropologist, a business speaker, a teacher and lecturer, a biker, a defender of the poor and marginalised, a lover of blues music, a gifted evangelist, an elder of the radical discipleship movement, and a prominent social commentator. He has shared the stage with former President Jimmy Carter and has addressed the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Despite battling cancer for about 15 years, John hasn’t stopped travelling, speaking and writing. In fact he has recently published a new book, Beyond the Myth of Self Esteem. In this book he uncovers common myths about self-esteem and explores their effects on individuals and society. He talks about the way in which the search for good self esteem and happiness has led to a cult of perfectionism.

I used to say, ‘I don’t want to talk to anyone who has not suffered because they usually have nothing to say.’ That may be overstating the case, but my experience has been that those who have encountered disappointment and tasted failure are the wiser for the experience if they rise above despair and confront their situation appropriately.

He went on to say:

If we invest our lives in creating a bubble of perfection to avoid pain, then we are heading for disillusionment. Sometimes feeling ‘bad’ or uncomfortable is the appropriate response to our circumstances; our challenge is to learn to deal with these feelings in healthy and authentic ways.

Smith argues that the western approach to self esteem has led to us thinking that the purpose of life is to find ourselves, but that there is actually something more: the search for meaning and purpose beyond ourselves. In fact, he says, the increasing focus on self has led to the diminution of the person. Smith’s many years of working with outlaw biker gangs and the poor and marginalised in many parts of the world, has led him to being convinced that self-surrender to God, not the search for self-esteem, is the ultimate means by which we find ourselves.

He concludes by saying that if anyone is motivated to explore the spiritual dimension they should include an examination of the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.

As one who long ago surrendered himself to God as revealed in Jesus, I can say that this has been the wisest, most fruitful and most fulfilling decision of my life. I have found where I truly belong. I agree with Augustine of Hippo, who some 1600 years ago summed up relationship with God in this way: “You made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 10.05.44 amWhat influences our purchase of fashion garments? Other than how it looks, the price and the size is there anything else that will help us in making a decision. There are probably few of us who think about where our clothes have been made, the amount the manufacturer’s have been paid, or a whole range of ethical issues with the production of our clothes.
For me, the whole process of buying clothes is hard enough without having to think about the ethics of what I’m buying, but if I’m serious about following Jesus’ instructions to love my neighbour I need to think about those people who are facing incredible hardship in order to give me the privilege of going into a fancy shop to buy nice clothes … and I now have some information to help me influence the big companies that provide my clothes.
It’s been two years since the fatal factory collapse in Bangladesh, that saw the death of 1,100 factory workers. After that event Baptist World Aid produced the 2013 Australian Fashion Report to help consumers, retailers, investors and governments to know more about the people producing our clothes and how they are treated.
This week the follow-up to that report, the 2015 Australian Fashion Report was released by Baptist World Aid. You can take a look at the full report HERE. It includes an additional 18 companies representing over 91 brands and there have been some significant improvements.
Of the companies researched in our last publication, a remarkable two thirds have improved their labour rights management systems, 100% now have codes of conduct (up from 85%) and the number of companies that actively engaged with the research process has increased from 54% to 94%. Some companies that have made significant improvements include Kmart, which has released a complete list of its direct suppliers, a huge step towards transparency; The Cotton On Group, which has taken big steps forward to identify suppliers deeper in their supply chain; and H&M, Zara, Country Road and the Sussan Group which have demonstrated that they have made efforts towards paying better wages for workers overseas.
The Fairtrade companies once again are a stand out, with all their brands receiving A grades. Etiko still retains top honours, having traced its entire supply chain and taken action to ensure workers at the inputs and final stage of manufacturing levels of the supply chain are being paid a living wage. Etiko’s performance is only matched by the newcomer, Audrey Blue, who shares Etiko’s supply chain. The Cotton On Group takes honours for being the highest rated, non-Fairtrade Australian retailer, while H&M and Inditex, the two biggest fashion retailers in the world, are amongst the best rated international brands, receiving A-
grades while also taking action to ensure workers at the final stage of production are being paid above the minimum wage. Only Hanesbrands received a higher grade, an A, but has yet to demonstrate any action on improving worker wages.
But the news isn’t all good. The report tell us:

While there are promising signs for the fashion industry, the problems remain significant. Overall the industry is still categorised by poverty level wages. A mere 12% of companies could demonstrate any action towards paying wages above the legal minimum, and even then, only for part of their supply chain. Furthermore, 91% of companies still don’t know where all their cotton comes from, and 75% don’t know the source of all their fabrics and inputs. If companies don’t know how and where their products are made, then there’s no way for them to ensure that their workers are protected.

Sadly, many of the worst overall performers were iconic Australian fashion brands such as the Just Group (owner of Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Dotti, Peter Alexander and Portmans), fast retail brands like Ally, Valley Girl, Temt and Industrie, and low cost suppliers like Lowes and Best & Less. These companies have all received D or F grades. We could find little evidence that any of these fashion retailers were doing much, if anything, to protect workers overseas. Many of them had little or no publicly available information and/or didn’t respond to any of our requests to engage with the research process.
Take a look at the report and consider the consequences. Congratulations to Gershon Nimbalker and the team at Baptist World Australia who have put this report together to help us make decisions that will help the less fortunate.
Yuri Gagarin - Wikipedia.

Yuri Gagarin – Wikipedia.

Today, April 12, is known as Russian Cosmonaut’s Day because on April 12, 1961, Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space aboard Vostok 1. It took another 8 years until 20 July 1969 when the first human being landed on the moon.

One of my favourite songs when I was learning to play the ukulele as a child included the lyrics, if I can recall them correctly, “if man should ever reach the moon he’ll ruin everything up there as he has done down here”.

That dates me doesn’t it?

Fortunately, all those years later we haven’t messed up the moon yet, but we’re still doing a pretty good job at messing up the earth.

This morning at church I showed the picture that was released by the Hubble telescope earlier this year of the Andromeda Galaxy. It’s an amazing picture that helps to give an idea of the vastness of the universe.

As we looked at the picture of the Andromeda Galaxy I read the words of Psalm 8:

Psalm 8

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

It’s Easter Sunday

Posted: April 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

Thought this video was worth a link for Easter Sunday.

Vale Richard Hill

Posted: March 31, 2015 in Uncategorized
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richardToday I attended the funeral of a true gentleman, Richard Hill, who died at the age of 54.

Richard was a humble man with a great sense of humour and the ability to make anyone who met him consider themselves a friend. He was a champion in every sense of the word and was a leader among leaders.

Diagnosed at a very early age with Muscular Spinal Atrophy, Richard spent much of his life in a wheelchair, but did not allow that to stop him from living life to the full. In fact he used his abilities to influence change at the highest levels. Western Australia has lost one of its most effective disability advocates.

Richard taught me some very important lessons about disability when I met him nearly 10 years ago. He came to Baptistcare seeking support, but in a short time I realised that providing support was not something that we do “to” people, but something we do “with” people. Richard employed his own support workers and managed all his own services. He didn’t require a service provider, but a partner who would work with him in helping achieve a good life.

Richard’s approach to disability and the way he championed “self-management” at a time when governments weren’t sure it if was possible, had a significant impact on the way I worked from that time on. He taught me in his gentle way that true support doesn’t start with the support organisation’s wisdom, expertise and authority, but starts with the person; hearing their story, listening to their dreams and honouring their life.

Richard Hill, thankyou for your influence on so many people, and a life in which your many abilities shone brightly.

There’s some great advice here. I thought it was worth re-printing the following article from aha! parenting.com. Have a look at the site, there’s lots more good advice for parents.

Have a strong-willed child? You’re lucky! Strong willed children can be a challenge to parent when they’re young, but if sensitively parented, they become terrific teens and young adults. Self-motivated and inner-directed, they go after what they want and are almost impervious to peer pressure. As long as parents resist the impulse to “break their will,” strong-willed kids often become leaders.

What exactly is a strong-willed, or spirited, child? Some parents call them “difficult” or “stubborn,” but we could also see strong-willed kids as people of integrity who aren’t easily swayed from their own viewpoints. Strong-willed kids want to learn things for themselves rather than accepting what others accept, so they test the limits over and over. They want desperately to be “in charge” of themselves, and will sometimes put their desire to “be right” above everything else. When their heart is set on something, their brains seem to have a hard time switching gears. Strong-willed kids have big, passionate feelings and live at full throttle.

Often, strong-willed kids are prone to power-struggles with their parents. However, it takes two to have a power struggle. You don’t have to attend every argument to which you’re invited! If you can take a deep breath when your buttons get pushed, and remind yourself that you can let your child save face and still get what you want, you can learn to sidestep those power struggles. (Don’t let your four year old make you act like a four year old yourself!)

Parents who pay attention can avoid power struggles, even with strong-willed kids, by empathizing as they set limits, giving choices, and understanding that respect goes both ways. Looking for win/win solutions rather than just laying down the law keeps strong-willed children from becoming explosive and teaches them essential skills of negotiation and compromise.

Strong-willed kids aren’t just being difficult. They feel their integrity is compromised if they’re forced to submit to another person’s will. If they’re allowed to choose, they love to cooperate. If this bothers you because you think obedience is an important quality, I’d ask you to reconsider. Of course you want to raise a responsible, considerate, cooperative child who does the right thing, even when it’s hard. But that doesn’t imply obedience. That implies doing the right thing because you want to. Morality is doing what’s right, no matter what you’re told. Obedience is doing what you’re told, no matter what’s right.

So of course you want your child to do what you say. But not because he’s obedient, meaning that he always does what someone bigger tells him to do. No, you want him to do what you say because he trusts YOU, because he’s learned that even though you can’t always say yes to what he wants, you have his best interests at heart. You want to raise a child who has self-discipline, takes responsibility, and is considerate — and most important, has the discernment to figure out who to trust and when to be influenced by someone else.

Breaking a child’s will leaves him open to the influence of others who often will not serve him. What’s more, it’s a betrayal of the spiritual contract we make as parents.

That said, strong-willed kids can be a handful — high energy, challenging, persistent. How do we protect those fabulous qualities and encourage their cooperation?

Ten Tips for Positive Parenting Your Strong-Willed, Spirited Child

1. Avoid power struggles by using routines and rules.

That way, you aren’t bossing them around, it’s just that the parent stops being the bad guy.

“The rule is we use the potty after every meal and snack,” or “The schedule is that lights-out is at 8pm. If you hurry, we’ll have time for two books,” or “In our house, we finish homework before screen time.”

2. Remember that strong-willed kids are experiential learners.

That means they have to see for themselves if the stove is hot. So unless you’re worried about serious injury, it’s more effective to let them learn through experience, instead of trying to control them. And you can expect your strong-willed child to test your limits repeatedly–that’s how he learns. Once you know that, it’s easier to stay calm, which avoids wear and tear on your relationship–and your nerves.

3. Your strong-willed child wants mastery more than anything.

Let her take charge of as many of her own activities as possible. Don’t nag at her to brush her teeth; ask “What else do you need to do before we leave?” If she looks blank, tick off the short list: “Every morning we eat, brush teeth, use the toilet, and pack the backpack. I saw you pack your backpack, that’s terrific! Now, what do you still need to do before we leave?” Kids who feel more independent and in charge of themselves will have less need to be oppositional. Not to mention, they take responsibility early.

4. Give your strong-willed child choices.

If you give orders, he will almost certainly bristle. If you offer a choice, he feels like the master of his own destiny. Of course, only offer choices you can live with and don’t let yourself get resentful by handing away your power. If going to the store is non-negotiable and he wants to keep playing, an appropriate choice is:

“Do you want to leave now or in ten minutes? Okay, ten minutes with no fuss? Let’s shake on it….And since it could be hard to stop playing in ten minutes, how can I help you then?”

5. Give her authority over her own body.

“I hear that you don’t want to wear your jacket today. I think it’s cold and I am definitely wearing a jacket. Of course, you are in charge of your own body, as long as you stay safe and healthy, so you get to decide whether to wear a jacket. But I’m afraid that you will be cold once we are outside, and I won’t want to come back to the house. How about I put your jacket in the backpack, and then we’ll have it if you change your mind?”

She’s not going to get pneumonia, unless you push her into it by acting like you’ve won if she asks for the jacket. And once she won’t lose face by wearing her jacket, she’ll be begging for it once she gets cold. It’s just hard for her to imagine feeling cold when she’s so warm right now in the house, and a jacket seems like such a hassle. She’s sure she’s right — her own body is telling her so — so naturally she resists you. You don’t want to undermine that self-confidence, just teach her that there’s no shame in letting new information change her mind.

6. Don’t push him into opposing you.

Force always creates “push-back” — with humans of all ages. If you take a hard and fast position, you can easily push your child into defying you, just to prove a point. You’ll know when it’s a power struggle and you’re invested in winning. Just stop, take a breath, and remind yourself that winning a battle with your child always sets you up to lose what’s most important: the relationship. When in doubt say “Ok, you can decide this for yourself.” If he can’t, then say what part of it he can decide, or find another way for him to meet his need for autonomy without compromising his health or safety.

7. Side-step power struggles by letting your child save face.

You don’t have to prove you’re right. You can, and should, set reasonable expectations and enforce them. But under no circumstances should you try to break your child’s will or force him to acquiesce to your views. He has to do what you want, but he’s allowed to have his own opinions and feelings about it.

8. Listen to her.

You, as the adult, might reasonably presume you know best. But your strong-willed child has a strong will partly as a result of her integrity. She has a viewpoint that is making her hold fast to her position, and she is trying to protect something that seems important to her. Only by listening calmly to her and reflecting her words will you come to understand what’s making her oppose you. A non-judgmental “I hear that you don’t want to take a bath. Can you tell me more about why?” might just elicit the information that she’s afraid she’ll go down the drain, like Alice in the song. It may not seem like a good reason to you, but she has a reason. And you won’t find it out if you get into a clash and order her into the tub.

9. See it from his point of view.

For instance, he may be angry because you promised to wash his superman cape and then forgot. To you, he is being stubborn. To him, he is justifiably upset, and you are being hypocritical, because he is not allowed to break his promises to you, but you broke yours to him. How do you clear this up and move on? You apologize profusely for breaking your promise, you reassure him that you try very hard to keep your promises, and you go, together, to wash the cape. You might even teach him how to wash his own clothes! Just consider how would you want to be treated, and treat him accordingly.

10. Discipline through the relationship, never through punishment.

Kids don’t learn when they’re in the middle of a fight. Like all of us, that’s when adrenaline is pumping and learning shuts off. Kids behave because they want to please us. The more you fight with and punish your child, the more you undermine her desire to please you. If she’s upset, help her express her hurt, fear or disappointment, so they evaporate. Then she’ll be ready to listen to you when you remind her that in your house, everyone speaks kindly to each other. (Of course, you have to model that. Your child won’t always do what you say, but she will always, eventually, do what you do.)

11. Offer him respect and empathy.

Most strong-willed children are fighting for respect. If you offer it to them, they don’t need to fight to protect their position. And, like the rest of us, it helps a lot if they feel understood. If you see his point of view and think he’s wrong — for instance, he wants to wear the superman cape to church and you think that’s inappropriate — you can still offer him empathy and meet him part way while you set the limit.

“You love this cape and wish you could wear it, don’t you? But when we go to services we dress up, so we can’t wear the cape. I know you’ll miss wearing it. How about we take it with us so you can wear it on our way home?”

Does this sound like Permissive Parenting? It isn’t. You set limits. There’s just never any reason to be mean about it!
Here’s why Permissive Parenting sabotages your child.

Need more ideas about How to put Positive Parenting to work with your Strong-Willed Child?

Horse in a Church

Posted: March 29, 2015 in Europe
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The Tuscan city of Siena

Siena in Tuscany is the home of a rather unusual event, the Palio di Siena.

It’s a horse race that is held twice a year and it captures the imagination of the locals right throughout the year. Here in Australia horse racing and religion seem to be poles apart, but in Siena it’s a different story altogether.


Outside the Church of the Rhino. Each contrade is represented by an animal, and the church is the focal point for each contrade.

The Palio held on July 2 is named Palio di Provenzano, in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano, a Marian devotion that is unique to Siena. The Palio held on August 16 is named Palio dell’Assunta, in honour of the Assumption of Mary. There is a great deal of ritual involved in the preparation for the race and the chosen horses are even taken into church the night before the race to be blessed.

The city is divided into 17 contrade (city wards) and each contrade puts up a horse to participate in the race.  Only 10 horses get to participate each year. Following a spectacular pageant, the race consists of three circuits of the central piazza, The Piazza del Campo, ridden by bareback riders. There is massive rivalry between the 17 contrade for an event that has been held in the city since medieval times.

As our guide told us the stories of the Palio, highlighting the deep religious traditions associated with the race, I was impressed with the level of fervour with which the locals embraced this tradition. The church is the focal point for each contrade and worship is intertwined with every aspect of the Palio. Unfortunately fervour for Jesus Christ seemed to be missing even though religion was held in high esteem.

This morning in church I read from Paul’s letter to the Romans where he said:

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

We may be devoted to many things, but devotion to Jesus should the highest goal. It’s a pity we couldn’t have the fervour for Jesus that the Sienans have for a horse race.

The Piazza del Campo, the central piazza of Siena where the famous horse race is held twice each year.

The Piazza del Campo, the central piazza of Siena where the famous horse race is held twice each year.

Executive Director of Western Mining Corporation, Sir Laurence Brodie-Hall with Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser in Kalgoorlie. Photo by Rob Douglas, Kalgoorlie Miner

Executive Director of Western Mining Corporation, Sir Laurence Brodie-Hall with Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser in Kalgoorlie. Photo by Rob Douglas, Kalgoorlie Miner

The death of former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has prompted memories of one my most embarrassing career moments. I was a journalist with the Kalgoorlie Miner in the late 70’s when the Prime Minister made a visit and I, along with a local ABC journalist were given the opportunty to attend a press conference in his hotel room.

My ABC colleague and I were awestruck by the event, and the large contingent of journalists who were travelling with him who were lined up around the room. The journalists were told they were to give the two local journalists the opportunity to participate in the interview.

My first impression of the Prime Minister was of a tall and very imposing figure, but what followed was the realisation that I couldn’t keep up with a man who spoke quickly and with great detail. Using some shorthand and my own abbreviated version of longhand I desperately tried to make notes of the interview, but knew I was struggling to keep up.

When I got back to the office, the editor asked how I had gone and I responded confidently, but when it came to reading back my notes I realised I would be struggling to write a story that adequately reflected the interview I had just attended. I quickly went to visit my colleague at the ABC – who was similarly overwhelmed by the event – to compare notes before placing my completed story on the editor’s desk.

What could have been one of the highlights of my career had turned into one of my most embarrassing moments. That night the Kalgoorlie Miner went to bed with a local story about the Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser, but the local journalist who wrote the story wasn’t confident he had come up with his best piece of work.

DSC02298Why would you want to open a butcher shop on a bridge? For that matter why would you want to build any sort of shop on a bridge. In around the 13th Century butchers, fishmongers and tanners, in particular, began building shops on the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), that crosses the Arno River in Florence.

DSC02207The shops are still there today though they are mainly jewellers and other merchants that cater to tourists. In fact, it was in 1593, when Ferdinand I decreed that only goldsmiths and jewellers were allowed to have their shops on the bridge in order to improve the well-being of people as they walked over the bridge.

While the idea of having a shop on a bridge doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, it certainly got my attention, and when we were in Florence last year I loved taking photographs of the Ponte Vecchio from a range of different angles.


The view on the Ponte Vecchio

It seems to me that building a shop on a bridge is something you do when you can’t make up your mind which side of the river you want to establish your business.  There are certain advantages in being one side, but there may be greater advantages on being on the other side.  Then again, what if it were on this side ….? Oh dear. I can’t decide. I’ll just build it on the bridge.

Jesus told the story about a man who built his house on a foundation of stone and when the storms came the house remained firm. He compared that with the man who built his house on the sand and it collapsed during the next storm. He said: Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 

When we’re indecisive about the words of Jesus, we may as well be building our lives on a foundation of sand – or building on a bridge. Will I follow Jesus, or is that too hard? A bit of religion is OK … maybe I’ll keep my options open. I don’t need to worry too much about that till I’m older.

Building on a bridge may seem cool, but not if it’s because you’re unwilling to make the decision which side of the bridge you really belong. I made the decision that I belong on God’s side and I’m glad I’m no longer sitting on the bridge wondering if I’ve made the right decision or not.