An ethical boutique

Have you ever wanted to change the world? I know an ‘apprentice world-changer‘ who is taking positive steps to do just that.
After creating an award winning film about shopping responsibly, Susan Wardell recruited her friends to put the philosophy into practice. They opened an ethical boutique, The Cuckoo’s Nest, to sell Fair-trade and up-cycled clothes, jewellery and shoes.

Voting with dollars

In creating The Cuckoo’s Nest, Susan and her friend Annika sought to provide a shopping outlet in which everything is sourced from ethically sound providers.

The shop is guided by the principal that every dollar spent is effectively a vote not only for the item purchased but also for the business practises that drive the production of that item. Much of what is for sale in our shops is made of materials requiring environmentally damaging processes to prepare, assembled in factories where people are treated as the human equivalent of battery hens, for companies with the sole objective of maximizing short-term profits.  In general, retail outlets are similarly driven by the profit motive.

Your democratic dollar

In a democracy we accept that a single vote may change little but once thousands or millions of votes are counted the destiny of a nation can be changed.

Economics works the same way (despite the fancy theories) – my one dollar, or even $100 dollars, will make very little difference in the world. But count up the billions of dollars spent on consumer products and you have powerful influence over unethical practises.

At The Cuckoo’s Nest, Annika and Susan are multiplying the effect of individuals making wise, ethical shopping decisions. They actively support fair trade co-operatives in Ghana (Global Mamas), Nepal, Thailand, and Pakistan, along with local artists who add value by up-cycling materials in their creations. They also stock Etiko Fair Trade shoes, the only outlet the South Island.

Covering costs is enough

The shop covers it’s costs but is not operated to generate profits. In fact, knowing the amount of work invested in its creation, no profit-driven person would have bothered! To me this adds to the appeal of what they sell; when buying from this shop you know your money is paying for the real cost of getting the product to you, not lining some fat cat’s pocket.

Talents invested wisely

I am inspired by these apprentice world-changers who take Micah 6:8 very seriously. They have taken their own talents, recruited those of their friends and made a mechanism to amplify the talents and hard work of the most needy in order to bring justice into trade. This is the sort of thing that happens when the fire of Christ burns passionately in the hearts of His disciples.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8 ESV)

Throw a bucket of cold water at me

Joining today in 5 minute Friday led by Lisa-Jo,  who posts a single word prompt. We write for 5 minutes without stopping to edit or fix up punctuation, then link with others who have written based on the same word.

Awake, he should not be.

I am looking at a wee boy who should not be – awake, that is. We drove 40 minutes to see some penguins and he fell asleep within ten minutes, fantastic! No bedtime struggle this eveining. No such luck, he woke up on the way home again.

I should be…

For years I have appeared to be awake from the outside, but in fact I’ve been fooling you all. Paul wrote Ephesians 5:14 to Christians, especially me. I have known the call of Christ to me, have ‘wanted’ to follow Him but always there has been what has appeared to be good reasons not to wholeheartedly commit myself into His hands. I have been like a zombie, walking around with my soul asleep.

I want to wake up. To breathe in the life of the Holy Spirit and to run and catch up with Jesus who called me to “come”. The time for sleeping is not now, I need to take care how I spend my time for the days are evil and the mission is urgent. Jesus has called me to do His will. His will is to feed His sheep, to find the lost and to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and lift up the broken hearted. Throw a bucket of cold water at me please! Stop

Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
(Ephesians 5:14-17 ESV)

Becoming a father

Ten years ago my life changed dramatically.
I became a father. I had always thought of myself as just a boy, not as someone’s father! A 2695 gram (5.9 pound) baby girl captivated me, gazing knowingly into my eyes as I held her after an epic delivery in which her heart nearly stopped and her Mum was left utterly exhausted.

There is a violent intensity in the arrival of a baby, Ann Voskamp expresses it well (and better coming from a woman than a man:

“Birthing babies are like earthquake fault lines ripping up the very earth under your house….babies tear the hard crust of existence open, allowing you to peer down into the secrets of being, of what it means to be human.” Night Watches

I had been impatient to finally see her face-to-face and it seems she also was eager to get to know us; a quiet, alert little person intently soaking in every detail of our faces for over an hour after she was born.

I don’t actually remember driving back home, though I did write:

As I left the hospital I wanted to shout, run, jump, dance – in actual fact I just walked to the car and drove home feeling utterly stunned by what I’d just seen and experienced. It is the most miraculous thing I’ve ever witnessed.

I do recall getting home and playing Carl Orff’s ‘O Fortuna‘ loudly while watching the sun rise over the city. I felt exhilarated, stunned, shocked, overjoyed and fearful all together. Nobody had told me about this bit – the sense of awe and dread at now being a father and responsible of a fragile little life. So little that when her head was cradled in my hands her tiny feet tickled the inside of my elbows.

One of my big fears was simply that my daughter may not like me. Perhaps that seems silly, but some fathers are feared by their children rather than being liked by them. I did not, and do not, want to be such a father. Then there were fears over job security, stretching my pay to cover all the bills, the world in fear of terrorists, and a whole lot of pressure and expectations from our own parents.

Other fears were of being too rough with such a tiny little person, or letting her get too cold or too hot. But soon nappy changing, bathing, dressing and feeding a baby became normal. It is normal – this is how life is, not having children is a rather unusual situation for the bulk of humanity. Yet in our society there is a massive disconnect between generations, leaving a parenting vacuum in this nation.

This first decade of her life has had some tough times. I had good intentions of maintaining balance between work and family and faith. At times I became quite unbalanced in these. There were external pressures upon us, looking back I’m not sure that I’d be up to the challenge anymore but we somehow got through. Every child has difficult phases, but God certainly blessed us with our first in her placid temperament and gentle nature. We needed that grace!

By the time she was two years old my wee girl had a propensity for dressing herself in the oddest array of brightly coloured clothes she could find so I started to call her ‘Ragamuffin’ and the nickname kind of stuck. My Ragamuffin has had plenty of tough times herself; changing day care more often than we would have liked, dry skin and ezcema from birth, experiencing the dark side of human nature from kids at school, bullying, eczema of Job-like severity (Job 2:8) and a restricted diet.

Through all this she has remained happy, loving, friendly and a great violinist!

The next decade will have different challenges, and I think the song below sums up well how I feel as a Dad:

Suppress the Santa cynic

On Sunday we took the kids to the Santa parade – the very name of it has put me off for years (yes, I deprive my kids!), but it was not as bad as I expected.
While it was very secular (only one or two floats mentioned Jesus), it was not as tacky or commercialized as I had expected it to be. Maybe living in a very small city at the bottom of the world has kept us more colloquial than I thought.

My reason for going along was for the kids – the idea of standing in the hot sun for several hours with cranky kids and several thousand other people was not really my idea of a good time. But I recalled similar parades that I went to as a child and how much I enjoyed them. This offset my self-righteous disapproval of the whole concept of a Santa parade masquerading as a celebration of Jesus’ birthday.

And it was fun, people were friendly, the floats were interesting, kids were happy and we didn’t get too sunburned. When considered simply as a representation of the Kiwi cultural norm in which Christmas is a family time with some fantasy fun for the kids to liven it up, the Santa parade is an enjoyable community event and cynical Christians like me need to extend the grace to others of accepting their beliefs (or lack thereof).

I am the odd one out in our society in that I have a very strong and deep conviction that God exists and Jesus Christ is the Son of God, born of a virgin, crucified for my sins and bodily raised from the dead on the third day – this is sheer nuttiness to most New Zealanders. I am a religious nutter and have to be comfortable with that.

Once I accept how odd I appear to most people it becomes a lot easier to enjoy the good aspects of my own culture.

God was not in the beating

And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks 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 the sound of a low whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12 ESV)

Sometimes things happen that are not necessarily God’s direct acting but He uses them to communicate to us. Last week I wrote about my daughter being beaten up at school and that it seemed my prayers for her protection had gone unanswered.

Since then my wife and I have been to discuss the incident with a teacher at school, done a lot of discussion between us, written to the board of trustees, met with the Principal of another school and tomorrow my daughter will start at that school. Maybe this seems like a rather strong, knee-jerk reaction. Actually the decision to change schools has been two years in coming and was possibly overdue. There have been a number of issues which individually have caused us to consider such a change but the upheaval didn’t seem justified for any single issue.

This most recent incident required action on our part and turned out to be a floodlight on the issue behind many of these problems. Like a seed crystal the immediate incident brought together a whole lot of other issues to clearly indicate that for our children’s sake it was better to inconvenience ourselves by changing schools. Not an easy decision, which is why we resisted such a change for so long.

While I don’t think this is the entirety of why God ‘allowed’ the incident to occur, in even such a short time it is apparent that there is a bigger story going on than just a violent over-reaction by a schoolboy. He is not a bad kid, his Mum is surprised and concerned by how he reacted and when both Mum’s talked together they gained increased understanding of each other and the strains on both children.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
(Matthew 10:29-31 ESV)

At least now I have some sort of explanation to offer my daughter if she asks, “Why did God let that happen?” Not a complete answer, for that she will have to wait until she stands before God Himself, but in His grace He is at least allowing us to see some good emerging in the responses to what happened.

Gifts I have noticed recently (#710 – #722):

710) Being forced to face a hard decision.
711) Grace at work in relationships.
712) God’s ‘still, small voice’.
713) Sermon prepared and delivered despite tiredness.
714) Poison prevention talk delivered.
715) Coffee and cake in a beautiful café.
716) The aroma of real pine Christmas trees.
717) Sunlight.
718) God putting the sun in the heavens (Genesis 1:16).
719) A peaceful election.
720) Not being allergic to pine pollen.
721) A quiet walk in the cool of evening
722) Realizing that too much alone time can be very bad for me, even as an introvert.

A Rugby Great

As a wimp and a geek myself, rugby has never been my favourite sport. However, I have been surprised that even I have been interested in the Rugby World Cup currently being contested in NZ.
There have been some impressive games and watching rugby being played at this level is quite awesome – these are big, powerful men moving with great skill and agility in a brutal game. Any one of those tackles would put me in hospital for a week!

The commitment, training and practise needed to be an All Black is beyond anything most of us would be prepared to do. They really do need to be obsessed with rugby to make the grade. It takes absolute passion for the game to even be considered for selection.

Then there are some players who are exceptional, standing out amongst these top athletes even. Every Kiwi knows who Jonah Lomu is, a mighty man amongst mighty men (see him in action here).

Other players stand out not only for their athletic ability but also for the stand they take for Christ in an environment dominated by very macho attitudes. Men such as Michael Jones who refused to play on Sundays, leading to criticism and not being selected for some international tours. Yet the good he has done as a role model for Samoan youth is beyond measure.

I was impressed to discover that a member of the Scottish rugby team, Euan Murray is taking a similar stance regarding playing on Sundays. I love what he is quoted as saying:

 “It’s basically all or nothing, following Jesus. I don’t believe in pick ‘n’ mix Christianity. I believe the Bible is the word of God, so who am I to ignore something from it?”
“I might as well tear out that page then keep tearing out pages as and when it suits me. If I started out like that there would soon be nothing left.”
(BBC Sport)

Even for ‘non-sporting types’ like me there is inspiration, an example and a rebuke to be gained from top athletes, more so when they are intentionally giving glory to God for their abilities. We can all appreciate the discipline, training and all out dedication to the sport exhibited by sports people. Paul encourages us to put their example to work in our devotion to Christ.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
(1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV)

We have today

Ten years ago if I could see myself here today I’d have been gobsmacked by my complacency.
At that time I was newly married, my wife was 6 months pregnant with our first child, we were renting a cute (but chilly) cottage with a fantastic view over the city. My wife was a student at Teacher’s College and I worked as a biochemistry technician, anxious about whether funding for the position would be renewed (it wasn’t).

A lot of people are recalling what they were doing on that terrible day. A day which started as any other for all except 19 al-Qaeda terrorists. Little did we know the horror we were to see unfold on our TV and computer screens that morning. Most of us can remember exactly what we were doing when we first heard or saw the news.

I also remember that evening walking on a beach with my pregnant wife, discussing what had happened, feeling the uncertainty of what might lie ahead. Even in little Dunedin we spent the next few weeks cringing whenever an aeroplane flew low over the city. People were nervous, anxious for the future. it felt as though the world had changed.

In the months after the attack there was a surge in publication of books on ‘the end times’, I heard several sermons on the topic myself and saw plenty of interest in theories regarding whether those events signaled the beginning of the end. Obviously we are still here and still worrying about paying the bills so life has settled back into what we would generally consider normal.

Yet, while I am not convinced ‘the end is nigh’, it has been a troublesome decade. We have seen increased incidence of terrorist attacks, environmental disasters of human making, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanoes, floods, droughts, and influenza epidemics. Then there are the purely human events such as economic collapse. None of this tells us what God is doing in the world of itself but does all serve to remind us that life is precious and fragile.

As the horror of September 11, 2001 was a stark reminder of how suddenly life can be interrupted and changed forever, so too the events of the decade since then should also serve as a similar reminder. In the natural, life is not as secure as we might think. However, in Christ we are safely in His care – though that does not mean we may not suddenly be taken from this life. So let’s be thankful for today, for the moments we have here now.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
(John 10:27-29 ESV)

Image of a new day: Eric Parker

Are you lost on the road to wisdom?

Listen to advice and accept instruction,that you may gain wisdom in the future.
(Proverbs 19:20 ESV)

To seek wisdom is necessarily to look to the future. Any young (or relatively young) person claiming to be wise is more likely to simply be arrogant.

A clear sign of such arrogance is not heeding advice from others. This needn’t be restricted to important, profound or religious things. Accepting instruction is as simple as actually doing what the person in the hardware shop told me was the best way to do a job. Listening to advice extends even to a man asking for directions when clueless regarding where he has transported his family to.

Notice also that this proverb exhorts face-to-face verbal learning. Technology may have changed a little over the 3000 years since  Proverbs 20:19 was written, but they certainly knew how to read and write. Yet it says “listen to advice and accept instruction”. An important element in learning wisdom is the humility to admit to others that I am ignorant, to actually ask for instructions (or directions).

I’m often too proud to admit I don’t know what I’m doing so have become proficient at finding information on the internet or in books to help me feign wisdom. But all I actually gain is knowledge (which puffs up, 1 Corinthians 8:1), and feed my pride.

The seeker after wisdom asks another person for advice, not a book or website. They accept their limited knowledge, accept instructions and sow the seeds to gain wisdom in the future. Wisdom encompasses all areas of life. What will I do today to lay the foundations of wisdom?

Think of wisdom like good coffee – instant just won’t do!

Music lessons

I’m on the Saturday morning music run again. Always a chaotic rush out the door and bundling into the car. Then a careful manoeuvring through cars and children to park on the school netball court. We enter a world of little voices singing, the toot of recorders, and flutes tiptoeing down hallways to a melodic background of violins with the occasional saxophonic expletive
After four years of this lark the reason for it all is becoming evident – squeaky notes from a miniature violin in the hands of a five-year-old have progressed to sight reading in the training orchestra for one daughter. The other is starting out on the recorder, when she can wrestle if off her little brother.

While skilled playing of music is the obvious goal in this exercise, there are other valuable lessons being learned along the way; perseverance, discipline, concentration amid distractions and humility are a few. We parents view the process of learning music as being valuable in itself, regardless of whether a master musician is the final outcome.

Musical training is training for other areas of life too. However, my daughters do not realize this – to them there is only the narrow goal of practising just enough to not look stupid at next week’s lesson.

I have often had a similarly narrow perspective on my daily grind: studying in order to pass an exam, passing exams to get a biochemistry degree, getting the degree so I can get a job in a lab. How did that lead to writing user-guides for a software company, finding a wife, being a father, growing in Christ?

My goals are not the same as God’s plans for me. Yet the goals I have attained must have at least been influenced by God. I am not sure whether any of my choices have ever been the best choice I could have made, but I am convinced that some of the dreams God has allowed me to pursue have been part of His plan not for the purpose of me attaining my dream, but to place me into life situations at the times and places of His choice so that God’s plans can be fulfilled. For example, had I not been living in a particular flat with a particular group of people 12 years ago, it would not have been my doorstep that my future wife turned up on asking if she could move in.

I wonder what God is planning for me that will use my current situation as the training ground? Am I learning anything of future usefulness for the Kingdom of God in my pursuit of my current goals?

The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.

(Proverbs 16:9 ESV)

How about you – what are the plans of your heart?

External links related to this topic:

Simplicity

Eventually the only thing remaining that is good for my soul is what God has done.

Fortunately my wife realizes this before I and arranges for us all to get away for a weekend.

Forty-five minutes up the road to a simple little cottage, the legacy of a lady who lived a hundred years. Now we sit in the sun room of her little cottage by the sea, soaking up sunlight and beauty.

Why do we need to escape to a little cottage by the sea when that is where we already live?

We go to a cottage that is even littler than our own, even closer to the sea. It has less stuff in it, no computer, and does not come with our schedule or agendas attached. We need a break from the life we have made for ourselves.

So in our earthly tents we stay in a borrowed house. Just a little family together with the little we need for a few days and the book God wrote, enjoying the world He made.

Then we come back ‘home’, to our house (borrowed from the bank!), to live in the world and trying to remember we are not of the world. To this we are called, and then when He is ready He will call us each home.

Better is a little with the fear of the LORD
than great treasure and trouble with it.
(Proverbs 15:16 ESV)