Thursday, 30 September 2010

It's a Question of Faith

So the morning of the last Saturday of the month’s rolls around, the Mauritian is off at gym working the past week out of his system and the butterfly is charging about the house naked when there is the expected knock at the door. It is time for the monthly visit from the local Jehovah’s Witness who goes by the name of Jeff. Jeff is a “landscaper” by trade, an intelligent man with an open and honest face and a friendly and respectful manner. He is also a lapsed Catholic who has dedicated himself to the “Jehovah's Witness” sect and it determined to convert me. I admire his determination, his debating skills and his knowledge of the bible and look forward to a debate I can sink my teeth into for half an hour once a month. I started out just listening to what he had to say as I had absolutely no knowledge of what a “JW” believes or does not, I even started reading the little pamphlets they give out. Then I started to compare the bible quotes in these pamphlets to that of my own bible and noted some rather large discrepancies, so I started to ask questions and the debating began.

I respect that Jeff has found a purpose and fulfilment within the Witness family and will never question his choice but I will not stand by and be judged for willingly being a Catholic. I admire Jeff’s knowledge of the bible and accept the interpretation, but I will not abide being told that what I believe is wrong! Jeff’s understanding of the bible and the convincing way he explains the “JW” interpretation of the lessons therein is impressive, but try as he might he won’t convert me. This does not deter him at all, one Saturday a month he is at my front door armed with a bible passage, an interpretation and a determination to win me over. I have too much admiration and respect for him to simply turn him away without hearing what he has to say and I enjoy a good debate too much to let an opportunity such as this pass me by.

I don’t know anyone who does not complain about the “JW’s” that seem to go around knocking on doors subjecting everyone to their religion. Yet I have heard these people being sworn at and seen them back at the same door the next week trying again. These people endure horrid weather conditions and hostile people every week because they believe they are doing the right thing. They believe it is their duty to take God’s message to all people. They believe that as Jehovah’s Witnesses they must bear witness to Jehovah and they go out day after day against all odds and adversity to carry out and fulfil their belief and duty. Could you do that? I am unashamedly Catholic and believe as the “JW’s” do, that we are called by Christ to witness to Him and bring those people that have “lost their way” back to Him, but I could never do as they do. Now don’t get me wrong I admire them for their courage but never really gave them a chance until one cold wet winter Saturday morning last year when Jeff knocked on our door. I never gave them a chance because my first encounter with a “JW” was a very negative one and as I was a naive and arrogant teenager I decided that avoiding these pushy non Catholics was better than being subjected to their warped belief structure. Let me tell you about this first encounter and testify to my arrogance. She was a teacher at my Catholic school and I disliked her instantly. She was brash and loud with jet black hair, the perfect physique and finger nails resembling talons. She never missed an opportunity to talk about her beliefs and for some reason she seemed to single me out every time and tried to get me talking about it. I never understood why, but in hindsight perhaps it was because I would immediately drop my head and avoid eye contact when she began her “witnessing.” I have a very expressive face and I am sure my facial expressions and body language screamed out the hostility and dislike I felt louder then if I had actually said it. Then one day she again singled me out and after weeks of thought and talking to myself I responded saying that I was comfortable and fulfilled in my religion as she made it known she was in hers. I said that I would never question her belief but neither would I show an interest. She was very quick to come back at me with a quote from the bible, making a point to state which Gospel it came from and the chapter and verse as well. I have never been able to recall the quote or where it is in the bible but I do remember it being about our responsibility as Christ’s followers to “bare witness” and “spread the Gospel.” I was, at this point, “saved by the bell” but could not resist a passing shot as I walked out the classroom. I turned back to her desk and said “I can’t tell you exactly where it is in the bible, neither can I quote it word for word but I know it’s there because it was one of the readings at mass on Sunday. Christ also said “Do not be like the hypocrites and stand on the street corners shouting your prayers, I tell you solemnly they have had their reward. But rather when you pray go to your room lock your doors and shut your windows and the Lord who see’s that which is done in secret shall reward you!” and off I strutted. Take that you pushy non catholic! Arrogant teenager 1, irritating teacher Zero! I never went to another one of her classes again and she never came looking for me. But, neither did I give another “Witness” a chance until I was not only wet, cold and yearning for the African sunshine but also older, wiser and lacking in youthful arrogance. I still find the interpretations misleading and confusing, but at least I now understand what they believe, I think.

I believe that we all worship the same God; He just goes by many different names. I believe that all the holy books of each religion teaches one how to live a good life with strong values and morals, it is merely our interpretations of these lessons that differ. I believe that to unite as one people under one God we must learn to tolerate and accept the differences and diversities of those that surround us. I don’t care what you believe or why I only care that your belief keeps you true to yourself and gives you inner peace.

It matters not how you worship, it matters only that you worship!

Hope and Preparation

Just over a month ago, here at the end of the world, the earth moved! Stop smirking I mean that literally, the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates shifted and the earth literally moved. The Rictor Scale measured a 7.1 earthquake with the epicentre just south of Christchurch along a fault line that nobody knew existed. According to one report the last time this particular fault line is thought to have moved was about sixteen thousand years ago and it made up for this lack of movement by condensing it all into about two minutes and shifted up to five kilometres in places instead of a slow four millimetres a year. A month later and the aftershocks just keep coming with reports of up to one hundred aftershocks in one day. But the most miraculous fact about this is that to date there has not been a single fatality.

There is a poem by William Congreve which ends “...Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn'd.” The earths temperature is rising the polar ice caps are melting faster. The humanoids have scorned “Mother Nature” she has unleashed her fury and the earth is reeling while she screams. Tsunamis have engulfed Samoa and Fiji, earthquakes have flattened parts of China and Haiti may never recover. Aeroplanes are grounded trapping travellers in foreign countries while Iceland’s unpronounceable volcano erupts, spraying ash and rock kilometres into the air. Pakistan is caught between the wraths of two weather systems and drowns, while mudslides swallow shanty towns and squatter camps in Mexico, Brazil and China. Hurricanes batter the American coast line; tornados tear through the middle while across the ocean the end of the world shudders in fear.

What amazes me is why people are always so surprised by the destructive force of these natural disasters, there is so much information and technology out there that proves and explains all of this yet we chose to ignore the obvious. The only continent that does not have any fault lines or volcanos is Africa, but we can’t all live there can we? There just isn’t enough room! So we chose to live elsewhere knowing that tectonic plates move causing earthquakes and tsunamis. We chose to remain knowing that hurricanes, tornados, typhoons or cyclones can rip us or our homes up effortlessly. We chose to holiday at the base of a volcano knowing it could erupt at any moment. We make these educated choices yet we still say to ourselves that such things will never happen to us. We lock our doors at night, carry pepper spray in our handbags; we never leave our children alone with strangers and never wonder down alley ways alone. We take all the precautions we can to prevent injury to ourselves or loss of property by unnatural means but chose to ignore the inevitable. At some point in your life you will be or will know someone who is affected by the wrath of Mother Nature and the revenge of Mother earth.

A couple of weeks ago the Mauritian came home and told me that scientists are heading up Mt. Taranaki “just in case.” I shrugged it off as an uninteresting interesting fact and continued with preparing supper. But later that night I thought about it and I realised I was choosing to ignore a very real possibility. Mt. Taranaki is the mountain that dominates the view from my back yard. It is a view that is ever changing with the light and the weather and it is one that I never tire of admiring. It is also a dormant volcano surrounded by fault lines that are constantly moving. The scientists are heading up Mt. Taranaki to investigate any possibility of an eruption and if they can predict the when, where and how and prevent any fatalities. The last time this “sleeping Giant” erupted was over two hundred and fifty years ago and now the plates have shifted dramatically. The changes on the surface are the obvious ones, the changes underneath are the unknown. I of course cannot do anything without adding a little bit of drama and my thoughts that night were no different and I realised that we were completely unprepared for any disaster, let alone a natural one on the scale of an erupting volcano no more then fifty kilometres from my home. So the next day I took action and started putting a family survival kit together. I am proud to say that my family will neither go thirsty or hungry should a disaster occur. Neither will any minor injuries go untreated, but we may collapse with exhaustion trying to carry it. I now need to strip it down to just the bare essentials.

Among all this destruction is a lesson we haven’t learnt yet, perhaps we never will. So in the meantime I continue to live out my life hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

Friday, 3 September 2010

A Soap Box Moment

I had a bitter exchange with a woman at the supermarket a few weeks ago. The Butterfly was having one of her very rare disobedient moments and completely ignoring my requests or instructions. So after three warnings I smacked her butt, where upon this woman berated me for being so cruel and abusive and embarrassing my child like that in public! I was rather taken aback and retaliated with a rather bitchy “Would you rather I put her in a time out and gave her a lolly for misbehaving?” In hindsight I should have just acted dumb, smiled sweetly and nodded as I walked away. But as I generally leap before I look I plunged feet first into a very heated debate with a very hot headed stubborn and not so intelligent individual.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I do not advocate smacking as the only form of discipline and I do agree that in some cases it can be abusive. I also do not discount using the “timeout” method. For both me and the Butterfly using a combination of smacks and timeouts works very well. I am not a patient person and loose my temper very quickly, so when the Butterfly sends me flying into a “rage” I send her to sit on her chair in the passage. This gives me time to walk away from her and calm down; I can then approach the situation rationally and apply the appropriate “punishment to fit the crime.” Putting the Butterfly in a timeout helps me avoid over reacting and then regretting my behaviour afterwards. Normally I will warn the Butterfly first before following through with a smack, and I pride myself on the fact that I always carry through with the threat and now, more often than not, she stops what she is doing before her final warning. I make a point never to smack her more than once, I only smack on the bum and only ever with my hand. I’m not out to hurt my child, I’m merely trying to teach her that her actions and decisions have consequences and she has to accept and deal with these consequences. Like I had to accept and deal with the consequence of opening my big mouth and retaliating instead of just smiling sweetly and walking away, so must my child learn that misbehaviour gives one a stinging bum and embarrassment.

Even though I am not one to keep my opinions to myself, I don’t interfere in how parents disciple their children. That does not apply however if said children are in my home because then, my rules apply! Within reason of course, I don’t mind kids running around making a noise or if they spill juice on my carpet or chairs, “Scotch bright” and “Vanish” take care of that. I’m not fussed if every one of the Butterfly’s toys land up outside and I end up putting them away or a few toilet rolls find their way into the toilet. Heck I don’t even mind having to replace all my pegs because the others had all been methodically pulled apart, but no child is allowed near my clowns and my bedroom, office and kitchen is off limits. On the flip side of that I expect my child to behave in a certain way in someone else’s home and I do try not to mind when she is reprimanded by that someone else. Funny how its fine when I’m telling some kid off for something in my house but get all hot under the collar when my kid gets told off for the same thing somewhere else. I am however, very proud to report, I have yet to open my big mouth and protest before thinking, until a few weeks ago in the supermarket that is.

When we first arrived here we were warned to never smack our child in public because it’s against the law. That has since changed, which is just as well because I never got used to it and by now probably would have been arrested. But I digress, as a result of this “no smacking” law discipline, here at the end of the world, is seriously lacking! It is, for me, very evident in the behaviour of children during mass. Both the Mauritian and I have clear memories of being severely reprimanded for bad behaviour during mass, but no such thing happens here. Children of school going age muck about and talk at top volume and pay no attention to the mass or their parents. Now I have no issue with babies crying or toddlers running off down the aisles or even talking loudly, but by the age of five or six that is no longer acceptable.
In our parish there is a section at the back of the church were parents with young children sit. There is a space where the kids can sit on the floor and a huge box filled with books and stuffed toys for them to occupy themselves. Our little Butterfly has a great time unpacking and repacking the box or distributing the toys and books to those she deems deserving. Sometimes she will take a pile of books and sit to read, unfortunately she likes to read out loud for the entire congregation but a tap on her shoulder usually gets a whispered “Oops! Sorry!” and a big cheesy grin.
At first going to mass with the Butterfly was torture, at eighteen months there was no stopping her or keeping her quiet and I spend so much of the mass trying to retain her. Then one Sunday Fr. Craig told me it was okay to just let her run about, when I protested that I didn’t want her to distract other people he quoted “...forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”Mark10:14. So the next Sunday I bravely, I thought, decided to ignore her and instructed the Mauritian to do the same, and boy did she go wild. I have never wanted to be someplace else more than I did that Sunday. On our way home the Butterfly asked if she could have a sweet, I jumped at the chance to say “No because you were very naughty at church!” and thus began a Sunday of tantrums and tears because no matter what the Butterfly wanted her mother said “No because you were very naughty at church!” My poor child went to bed with swollen red eyes and absolutely no treats, not even an hour of T.V. but the next Sunday and every mass since then she has behaved superbly, so much so that many people have noticed and commented on her behaviour.

Disciplining and teaching your child is not easy and the lack of an instruction manual makes things that much harder. My little Butterfly surprises me sometimes with her level of behaviour and politeness. I seldom have to remind her to say please and thank you and though she giggles with glee when “passing wind” she never fails to say “Excuse a piggy wiggy Sarah!” or “Oops! Pardon my bum!” She has, after all, only had three years life experience and I think she’s doing very well. She still has a lot to learn about life and there is a lot that I cannot teach her. But the one thing I can teach her, through discipline and the use of smacks and “timeouts” is that “for every action there is a reaction” and “for every choice there is a consequence.” The rest will be up to her, I will be the best parent I can be and heaven help those random people who dare to criticize the way in which I chose to teach my child!