Archive for July, 2010

Is your Little Blue Light shining?

I remember being inspired to write this song after driving home one night to our little place in country Australia, and suddenly being struck – as if for the first time- by the plethora of  eerily shimmering blue lights emanating from nearly every home we drove past.

It was dark. And so the little blue light was very visible, shining even through drawn curtains,  boldly exposing the recreational activity of countless families in our little town alone.

As the lyrics to this song found their way out of this naive realisation and into penned thoughts,  I saw a potter.

This potter shapes many things, with a dedication, persistence and skill that is perhaps unlike anything else we have seen influence our lives and our world.

This potter moulds minds and hearts – our ideas, perceptions and even feelings are pliable clay. We are told to need certain things, we are persuaded to want even more things, we are coerced to shift Self firmly into the centre of our universe – because we have a right to, because it’s cool.

This potter shapes our time – we fit our lives around the programs we are compelled to watch, the next episode of the series that cannot be missed.

This potter even plays around with our relationships – we ‘get to know’ people by watching television together, we have our conversations in the commercial breaks.

This potter is also skilfully adept at replacing and re – prioritising. Good books remain on the shelves, letters and cards to real people stay unwritten, visits to those crying out for companionship and encouragement rarely, if ever, happen.

And the catch cry of these days we live in is – there’s no time! No time to invest in real people and real activities – but seemingly plenty of time to keep up with the latest Reality show or Idol favourite.

The little blue light has become the other member of our family – perhaps more listened to than our spouse, more comfortable to spend time with than our teenagers.

This potter demands so little of us – just to be switched on in fact. And that is enough.

There’s a little blue light

Shining out from the window of this nation

This little blue light is a potter

Working the clay of this generation

Heart and minds gently mesmerised

It’s the time, it’s the sign

In every home tonight this little blue light will shine

This little blue light will shine.

Children want to share the day’s joy

Dad mumbles ‘later’

For now find a toy

Channel to channel the hours melt away

The little blue light has become the truth and the way

The truth and the way

There’s a little blue light……..

Long ago a piper played a steal away tune

Now it’s the little blue light in the corner of your room

It’s not just the kids who are dancing with glee

The little blue light is beckoning you and me

You and me, saying

“Hey, let me think your thoughts for you

I’ll feed your fantasies when you get blue

Hey, I’ll plan your life for you

I’m the little blue light you can’t put out

I’m the little blue light you can’t live without”

Some of you are wondering just what’s gone wrong

Why are we filled, yet hollow inside

Why is the little blue light doing our living for us

As we soak up the details of anonymous lives

There’s a little blue light…….

What is ‘Lawful’?

Right now I am contemplating the word ‘adventure’. A couple of dictionary meanings I am drawn to are:

“an exciting or very unusual experience.”   “a wild and exciting undertaking (not necessarily lawful)”

The second definition is leading me into a particular train of thought…. how do we evaluate what is ‘lawful’, what is

‘conformable to or allowed by law ‘?

Post Modernism tells us everything is relative and thus a matter of personal opinion, when one boils the philosophy down to its essence. As I am not a post modernist and believe in a code of behaviour which is bed-rocked on a definite and unchanging set of precepts,  it is important for me to work out in my own life what is ‘lawful’.

Most people would agree that to abide by the laws of one’s land is good and right – and lawful.

Most people would agree that human trafficking and pedophilia are not good, not right- and not lawful.

And so the question fermenting in my mind is – what is my personal response to a situation, where the laws of a particular country at best turn a ‘blind eye on’, and at worst, allow and even condone, such horrors as human trafficking and pedophilia to thrive?

Is there a ‘higher law’ that my conscience and my actions will be accountable to?

Is it right or wrong for people to rescue young children out of prostitution when these children have been ‘legitimately’ sold and bought. Are these people, by doing so, defrauding, even stealing from the individuals who ‘bought’ the children and exploit them in a country where it is ‘the done thing’?

And what about countries whose governments are in power without the consent of the ruling majority?

Governments who terrorise, torture, imprison and take away the basic liberties of freedom such as access to food and water, health care and education?

Is it lawful or unlawful for someone like me to desire to help, speak out for, the citizens who suffer unimaginably under such merciless rulers?

Is it unlawful for me to speak on behalf of and attempt to help refugees who have crossed international borders and are surviving ‘illegally’ in a country that doesn’t want them, and in fact, hunts  them like criminals.

And even more confronting is the question – is it lawful for ME to cross international borders to help the oppressed and the suffering, perhaps even  illegally, in order to live out a higher law which demands my allegiance?

On my second trip to Malaysia, alone, I found myself sitting next to a businessman who, for the greater part of the flight from Hong Kong, watched various bits of entertainment on the little screen in front of him, whilst I sat and contemplated what the next week was going to bring.

However  in the last hour of our journey, he suddenly removed his earphones, turned to me, and said something like, “So is this your first trip to Malaysia?’

This rather cliched opening led into a discussion that I will never forget and which I want to share the gist of now.

When this man proceeded to ask me why I was visiting Malaysia, I automatically thought, ‘ I can tell him I’m visiting friends – which is true, but certainly not the whole story. ‘ And then I realised that  I WANTED to tell him, I wanted him to know.

“I’m visiting refugees from Burma and taking them some stuff that they need”.

If  you ever want a conversation stopper, then that’s a great line to throw at someone.

He literally stared at me. “But that’s illegal. You can’t do that. They’re illegal immigrants and the Malaysian govt. has just now stepped up its campaign to get rid of all these people who are coming in. The police and civilian vigilante groups are ruthless – and don’t think you’ll be protected if you’re found with these refugees because you are a white woman. You’ll be arrested. Don’t do it!”

I must confess I actually enjoy interactions like this – not because I am necessarily argumentative, but because it gives me the wonderful opportunity to tell people about not only refugees generally, but those in Malaysia in particular.

As we talked, his little TV screen now folded away and his full attention directed to this crazy female whom he had the misfortune to be sat next to, I explained who these refugees were and why they found themselves in Burma. I described the 100 or so men and young boys whom I had met on my first trip, who were living in the jungle in makeshift huts, hunting for food, isolated, living in fear of being found by the authorities.

The businessman listened.

I told him about the young widows and elderly grandmothers whose husbands had died in Burma, and who were surviving in rundown tenement apartments, unable to work, with no access to school for their children and no means of medical care when needed.

And then I described how these gentle, humble people were hunted by vigilante groups who were paid a ‘bounty’ for each refugee they caught. I told him about women who were sexually harassed because they had no ‘legal’ status; about men who were beaten in the jails; about men and women and children who were caught and sent into detention camps, or worse, deported to the Thai border.

I mentioned that these refugees could  not return to Burma, although that was their hearts’ desire. I told this man that a slow genocide had been happening in Burma for nearly 60 years.

When this businessman asked me what I was taking these refugees I said,  ‘clothes, medicine donated by a Hong Kong doctor, and money given by friends’.

As the plane made its descent in to Kuala Lumpur we fell silent. There was a quiet  satisfaction in me that I had ‘spoken out’ to a total stranger about an issue I’m passionate about.  It didn’t matter to me what he thought of me, and at least he had listened – intently.

As the plane secured itself to the offloading terminal and people began jumping out of their seats and opening overhead lockers, this businessman turned to me and held out his hand. Looking me directly in the eyes he said quietly, “Thank you for sharing all this with me, I had no idea…”

And then – “You’re doing the right thing and I wish you every success.”

Funnily, it had not been my intention at all to ‘convince’ him that what I was doing was ok. My aim had been to inform, to enlighten a man who made frequent trips to this country – and knew it well. EXCEPT for what was going on with the ‘illegal immigrants’.

What is ‘Lawful?’ I recall a certain group of very religious people asked a certain Jewish carpenter that question more than once.

Is it lawful to do good? To help another human being who because of circumstances is help – less!

We all answer that question in one way or another – and if we agree that,yes, it IS lawful to do good then perhaps we need to examine our own response.

You see, passively agreeing and doing nothing is as good as saying ‘No’.

What I won’t need when I die?

“I’m happy to leave America and go and die with my friends in Africa,”

These words were a small part of another huge conversation I had recently with friends from the States. They have visited Hong Kong several times since our family came here over 3 years ago – and always their visit is fused into a larger landscape of service and volunteering in a number of countries in this part of the world – orphanages in Thailand, outreach in slum communities in the Philippines – and of course long, hard days here at Crossroads helping in whatever way is needed on any given day.

Last year Daryl and Mary took a team of young people to Africa for several months to serve the poor. They have been doing this sort of thing for many years now. And they truly, genuinely, absolutely love it!

Both are in the prime of their lives, both work, both meet all the basic financial obligations of living in a place like the USA. So how do they mange to spend around 4 to 5 months every year ‘taking time out’ to serve others on no pay?

“It’s simple’, Daryl said, as he relaxed in our lounge one night, after a day’s physical labour on site. ” Mary and I work a certain number of months every year to facilitate our taking the remaining months to do our service trips. We work to pay our bills, and save enough to cover the time when we will be away on no income.”

Jim and I listened…..

Daryl continued, ” Mary and I decided many years ago to set a basic level of income need, and anything above that goes into what we really live for – serving wherever we are called. We have simplified our lives to base essentials – and we are free to serve.’

“How many strings do you have?”, Daryl asked us. As we mulled on this rather profound question,  he continued. “We all have strings attaching us to stuff – the more strings we can cut, the freer we’ll be to hear the call and respond.”

It seems everywhere Jim and I turn we are hearing, reading, witnessing in living real colour, this deepest of truths – stuff, in all its various ramifications, ties us up, chains us to responsibilities and commitments that we realise somewhere deep inside us, will never bring us peace and fulfillment – BUT we can’t seem to cut the strings.

And by stuff, Daryl didnt just mean houses and cars and the latest upgrades in phones and plasma televisions. Our society and our media’s sole goal, it seems, is to keep convincing us 24/7 that we need more of everything – more toys, more insurance, more of more.  And so the ‘stuff’ in our head becomes fixations like – ‘I need to get as much money for me as I can – not just for all my present wants – but for all the future ones as well – I need to plan right up to the day I die, and make sure that when I do, I’ll not only  be very comfortable, but have stored in savings accounts and retirement funds the accumulation of my life’s labours. ‘

And so the time to serve, to take the proverbial leap from the boat, never comes. It NEVER comes! Because the paradigm we construct our decisions on becomes the all consuming and all enslaving – ‘this and this and this box needs to be ticked BEFORE I start thinking about someone else.’

We all have those boxes, but after spending time with Mary and Daryl, I have had confirmed to me again that the boxes are actually strings…..or chains. And you know what, society as it presently is, will make sure you will never get to tick them all – there will  always be something more you need to get, to do, to earn, to ‘sort out’.

“In the States,” Daryl reflected,” people are saving money all their lives so they can afford to move into a ‘good’ retirement home. That’s become ‘The Goal’ for many people we know personally.”

Jim and I kept listening….

I thought about some people we know back in Australia – who even in retirement, with more than adequate funds and a ‘lifestyle’ which 90% of the world can only fantasize about, are still ticking boxes. Still existing inside a worldview that literally cannot conceive a life outside of maximum personal comfort and financial ‘padding’.

“I don’t need to die in America, in a retirement home which has literally cost me my life to qualify to get into.” Daryl looked at Mary, and she was smiling her characteristic beautiful smile which, if one could capture ‘peace’ into a momentary visual icon-   this smile was it!

“When the time comes, we don’t need all that to die. We have friends all over the world, who are our family, to whom we can go – places where we have invested our energies and our love.  Mary and I are happy to die in an African village or a Philippine slum – in the end it doesn’t matter where we die, but how we’ve lived, and how we’ve been obedient to what we are called to do.”

Truth is always beautiful – but it’s hard as well. Simplifying our lives, even when we decided to come to Hong Kong, was the MOST complicated and time consuming process I had ever experienced!

But it has been worth every ounce of stress and difficulty. AND – the simplifying hasn’t finished, AND I am getting the feeling more and more that for us it has only really started.

In my head I now have a little list of all the things I won’t need when I depart this mortal coil.

I won’t need all my stuff. I won’t need to be worried about what our house is currently worth or whether interest rates will go up again. I won’t be too bothered about what sort of car Jim is driving at the time or  whether I really should have lashed out and bought  the ‘ fresh on the market’ new I Touch. And I probably won’t be tossing and turning wondering whether Great Aunt Roberta  is going to leave me her cache of jewels.

And you know what I won’t need the most?  The opinions of  people, well meaning or no, who thought we should have done this, or not done that. Man’s approval will take a very distant second to what the Carpenter will say.