Scottish Independence

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The Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies hosted a Panel Discussion for Scottish Independence.   Four Scottish migrants and a New Zealander who will studying in Scotland long enough to be eligible to cast a vote in the Referendum.  The Referendum reads:

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Fourteen months out and the polls on the referendum are so close a swing in the margin of error could change the decision.  5.3 Million people are going to decide the political structure that affects 60 million people.

What could happen?  Well, don’t forget that yesterday, the 25th of November was New Zealand Independence Day.  It marks the date when following Britain’s decision to enter the European Union the New Zealand government quietly removed British Subjects from our passports.  A market for New Zealand produce closed.  New Zealand looked elsewhere for new markets.  We stopped being British Subjects and identified ourselves as New Zealand Citizens.  I think that was 1974.  The world did not end.  Next day we got on with the job.

Nationalism isn’t independence.  Scotland can have a national identity without being an independence nation.

So what matters?  The oil boom in the North Sea probably won’t last.  Scotland is better positioned than other parts of Britain to take advantage of wave and wind power.  The London Government might move the frigate industry from the Clyde.  Of course, Garloch on the Clyde is the home to the British Nuclear Fleet, not London.  There is a possibility that London might claim Garloch as a United Kingdom Military Base.  I hope they pay rent!

Do Scottish soldiers have to continue dying in Afghanistan?  Can Scotland have a voice in the United Nations independence of the United Kingdom’s seat on the Security Council and speak with its own voice?  It has already started an initiative at home to work for Climate Justice for the world’s poor.  New Zealand prides itself as a nation that punches above its own weight in foreign policy.  We could have competition from the Scots!  Still, we are both part of the Axis of Nations Who Like to Put Lipstick on Sheep so we understand them.  (The third nation in the Axis is Spain.  Never understood that!)

The richest 100 people in Scotland have an income bigger than the Scottish government.  There is an equality issue to be addressed here.

Can Scotland opt out of the British Surveilance State? Can they take control of their own policies on issues like migration and state assets?  Join the Nordic nations?  A looser Federation in Britain?  There is another referendum approaching in 2017 in which the United Kingdom can vote whether to stay in the European Union.  If Britain opts out, then Scotland may yet leave the United Kingdom to stay in Europe.

What kind of Scotland do the Scots want to live in?  Fair? Green? Prosperous?  Whichever way Scotland decides there is a national question to answer together.  Will they change?  At this point there was an interjection from the audience: “I hope you’re right!”

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The Common Good: A Question of Style by Will Storrar

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Will Storrar is an occasional visitor to the Centre for Theology and Public Studies.  This is the first of his lectures that I can attend.  (Only two out of three as I will be away from Dunedin for the second half of the week on the back of a motorbike.)  He is not the normal person to which one would listen about style, a roly-poly Scottish academic in a rumpled suit.

And yet enter John the Common Weal leading the poor into the parliament of the three estates.  The king of humanity asks him,

Why is the Common Weal crooked?

Because the Common Weal is overlooked,

Around the world.

The Common Good is on a bender, not in virtue, but to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, welcome the alien, and advocate for the prisoner.  The Common Good is thinking about the banking industry that is more interested in profits than the interests of their customers, and he ain’t thinkin’ nicely about them.

Don’t think about what [New Zealand] can do for you, think about what you can do for [New Zealand].

The Common Good is no longer a single ideal, it is a pluralist and conflicting ensemble of contributors in the public domain.  The mainstream sects, once its custodians, are now in decline and too polite to be heard, or are they the saints and citizens of an ecumenical future, where ecumenical is broad enough to include interfaith and humanist traditions.

John Knox was a bad man

He split the Scottish mind

One half he made cruel

The other half he made unkind

Protestant Style:  It’s not getting there that matters, it’s not the journey that matters; what matter are the arguments we have to get to the point where we are going next.  All goals can be contested by debate for the public good in a pluralist society.  There is a road map.   We can be anti-relativists, prophetic scrutineers.  Everyone is included, let’s turn around declining civic participation.  Be more liberal.

  • We live in ordinary time with the finite, the mundane and the quotidian.  (In New Zealand Pentecost season covers the wintry time of the year.)  Where will god be tomorrow? or we?
  • We live in open space, with mutual consent and equality of power.
  • We live with language, rhetoric, and public opinion — because style matters.

A Visit of Atossa Soltani

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Amazon_Watch_logoThe Runanga o Ngai Tahu and the Hilary Institute hosted a visit of Atossa Soltani to Dunedin.  I received an email for the event from one of the University Chaplains.  The Hilary Institute was established by Sir Edmund Hilary in his last years on the planet to support leadership in mid-career leading to change.  The event was held at the Centre for Innovation Indigeneity.  While the group was small and fitted comfortably in the room there was a good representation of the local iwi.  I recognised that I was sitting among people with whom I don’t interact regularly.

Atossa Soltani is an Iranian migrant living in America, the founder and executive director of Amazon Watch.  Iran is a country with only 2% of its original rainforest left.  Modern Iran is a dry country.  20% of the world’s rainforests are in the Amazon basin.  The Amazon  rainforest isn’t just the lungs of the earth’s biosphere.  It also releases fresh water into the atmosphere to circulate around the planet as rain.  20% of the rainforest in the south Amazon has been deforested.  It’s turning into savannah.  This deforestation is pushing  more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than US car emissions as plant life from the deforestation decomposes.

The parts of the Amazon that are surviving are under indigenous title.  That’s a quarter of the Amazon basin.  It holds 80% of the diversity found there.  There are oil reserves we can’t afford to burn.  50% of known oil reserves and 80% of coal need to stay in the ground to keep our climate safely below 2°c of global warming.  We have 10 years, the years around the date 2017, to move beyond a carbon fueled culture that will decide our climate for the next milennium.  Seven Quechua tribes under women leadership kept the oil companies out of their tribal lands for 10 years.  The projects always come back.  We can elect our governments, we can’t un-elect our plutocrats, we are stuck with them.  The oil companies will fight to exploit until hell freezes over, and then they will continue the fight on its icy landscape.

There are people who are sitting alongside the indigenous people.  They are waiting on them to make their decisions and support them into protecting their tribal lands.  They sound like interesting people to watch.

As soon as you awaken to the power you have, you begin to flex the muscles of your courage.  Then you can dream bravely; letting go of your limiting beliefs and pushing past your fears.

Atossa Soltani

The Birthday

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Mr Shostakovich appeared at Sonya’s side.  ‘May I see the Storioni now?’

The cello lay on its side in the bedroom.  Sonya’s heart gave a leap when she saw it: it was so beautiful!  Carefully she picked it up and offered it to Mr Shostakovich, who ran his hands admiringly over its red-brown front and curved back.

‘A very fine instrument,’ he said.  ‘I saw your mother play it, many times, before you were born.’

‘Did you? Where did she play?’

‘In the Philharmonia Hall.’  Mr Shostakovich cradled the cello as if it weighed no more than a baby.  ‘Beautiful.  Quite beautiful.’  It wasn’t clear whether he was talking about the cello, or Sonya’s mother, or the concert hall with its soaring white pillars.

‘I haven’t played it much yet.  Just a little this morning, before I started preparing for the party.’

‘Does it like you?’

‘Does it what?’

‘Has it taken to you? It doesn’t matter if it knows you — it will come to know you.  But it is very important that it likes you, and vice versa.  A long time ago I used to accompany films at the Bright Reel Theatre, and you know what?  The piano hated me!  Every day, we battled.  Every evening we fought.  It was a disgusting job.’  He gave a sigh.  ‘Fighting the piano was like working with a person you detest day after day.’

‘When I took it out of its case this morning, the first thing I did was pluck the A string.’

‘And?  How did it sound?’

‘Like —’ Sonya shut her eyes for a second. ‘Like a voice.  It seemed to say something, only I’m not sure.’

Mr Shostakovich nodded.  ‘In my opinion, the A string is the least informative of the four strings.  If approached wrongly it can hold its secrets forever.’

‘So do you think it likes me?’

‘Definitely.  No doubt about it.  Would you consider playing a tune for your guests, if I accompany you?’

‘How about an adaption of Fauré’s Elégie?’

‘A perfect choice for a birthday.  The passing of time is a serious matter.’

As soon as he played an A on the piano for Sonya to tune to, everyone fell silent.  ‘A captive audience,’ said Mr Shostakovich.  ‘That is what we like!’

‘Fauré’s Elégie, an adaption,’ Sonya announced in a slightly squeezed voice.  ‘For my father.’

‘Ready when you are,’ said Mr Shostakovich from the piano.

Sonya straightened her back and pressed her feet against the floor.  The cello leaned into her.  I’m ready too, it said in a woody whisper.

Before this she’d seen the Elégie as a silvery kind of piece, clear-cut, almost icy.  Today, in the hushed moments before beginning, she saw it differently.  Fauré’s familiar notes were transformed: they hung in the air, round, opaque, like ripe golden fruit.  Already the cello had changed her way of seeing.    She took a deep breath, nodded to Mr Shostakovich, and the first note dropped into the silence, perfectly pitched and as sweet as honey.

And soon it seemed to Sonya that the cello was singing by itself.  All she had to do was place her fingers on the strings, and the song sprang open, phrase after phrase floating out as if she had unlocked a secret world with a magic key.  Then, with a sigh — was it from her or the cello? — the bow drew a last husky stroke across the string and there was silence.  She gave the cello a quick stroke on its smooth back.  Thank you, she said. You were wonderful.

The Conductor, by Sarah Quigley, 2011

Indigenization, Immigration, and the Cultural Reshaping of Japanese Christianity.

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A lecture for the end of the week.  I saw it on a notice board and added it to my diary.  I didn’t catch the name of the lecturer, who is now based at Auckland University after several decades observing religion in Japan at close range.  He is the son of American missionaries to Japan.

What’s to say about Japanese Christianity?  The big religions of Japan are Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism and Folk Religion.  It sounds like nobody belongs to these religions.  People drop in when they need and then go again.  Ten percent of the population take part in organised religions, small minority religions out of about 300 new religions, which include Christian sects.  Christians make up 1% of the population, 1 million people.  My reaction to that is, a national Christian community of a million people, gosh! That’s a bigger number than New Zealand.  The number in Japan might expand to 2% to include people who still hold onto a Christian sensibility from church schools and similar influences.  The average length that a Japanese Christian will be involved in church life is 2.8 years.  There’s a revolving back-do0r to church life.

Japanese Christianity experimented with creating Christian movements based on ways of being Japanese, ranging from high Confucian churches to chant-based worship.  They criticised the missionary churches as ‘smelling of butter’ or ‘hardened, frozen Christianity’ with doctrines that came from foreign churches.  After a generation of charismatic founders these movements are going into rapid decline and disappearing.

Foreign-orientated independent churches, like the Full Gospel Church from South Korea, and the Universal Church of God from Brazil, are growing in Japan.  Korea has an energetic Christian market which is pushing outwards into Japan and around the globe.  They are church-planting in Japan, a situation where the Co-Prosperity Sphere is striking back.  These churches are more attractive to Korean migrants in Japan than to the Japanese population to whom they are trying to evangelise.

At the same time the church is also growing in China as the population moves into cities in huge numbers.  There are more Christians in China than in Europe on a Sunday.  Whether they can continue to grow to become statistically significant waits to be seen.  The trend could make China like South Korea and the Philippines which has big Christian populations, or like Japan and Taiwan where Christianity remains a religion from outside.

At the same time the Catholic Church in Japan is affected that it is coping with a migrant community coming from traditionally Catholic countries, such as Brazil, Peru and the Philippines.  Nominally Catholic in their home countries they are looking for communities in Japan with which to make contact.  These churches are moving from declining numbers and closing churches to including multi-cultural congregations with their own practices, including recognising Lord of Miracles Brotherhoods and El Shaddai Brotherhoods.  These congregations are challenged.  They wait to see if this will be a continuing challenge.

Experimental Music For Guy Fawkes’ Night

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Toward the end of the year there is ritual war in my mythology.  On All Saints’ Eve the gates to the Other World are opened.  The tricksters are allowed to walk the earth.  Their time is limited.  The Octoberists are matched by the Novemberists.  The Novemberists are limited nowadays, still they remain an anarchic force of fire, light and booming noise.  The bonfires die and the gates close for another year.  Summer is allowed to take its place.

In the middle of this a time for experimental music should be an oasis for peace in my imaginary war.  I was given notice of the date a week before.  The musician, Alan Starrat, is on the cleaning staff at the Castle.  It was the same night as Forum for Youth Justice which I’ve already reported.  I stopped at my flat with barely enough time to make tea and go down from Manono House to St Paul’s Cathedral.  I arrived a few minutes before the concert.  I made sure to take notes:

‘Glass Harmonica’  Alistair Galbraith

The first appearance in the evening of The Note, in this case a bell-like sound in an alien soundscape.  The instrument was worth an inspection after the concert: a row of glass bowls lined along a central crank-shaft.  Most of them looked cut from giant light-bulbs, the smallest from a wine-glass.

‘The Ladder Is Part Of The Pit’

The programme didn’t list the performers.  Violin and cello sounding like electronic, accompanied with voices that seemed to me inspired by Björk and early John Taverner.  The sound swirled above our heads.  I wonder what an experimental choir that captured that sound would be like?

‘Jumping and Floating’ by Alan Starrat, performed by Andrew and Alan Starrat

Two violins, starting with plucked notes.  It started with a festive sound then became meditative.

‘Untitled’ for Kempul, Bonang and Cathedral by Kerian Varaine and Matt Gillies

Now that is a sound to fill a cathedral, the big sounds of gamelan instruments.  Imagine that sound in a Sunday morning service!  In the cathredal’s evening gloom the musicians were obscured by their instruments as if the gongs were playing themselves.

‘Meditation över en Britisk psalmton’ by George Chittenden

We listened to the cathedral’s pipe organ warming up to the moment of clarity.

‘Improvisation’ by Tutti

All the musicians gathered in the sanctuary for a bit of improv.  I think the low rumble was the pipe organ.  It could have been the gamelan.  From the back of the nave, a child’s laughter made its own contribution to the musical interpretation.  I heard bird song, strings, and the pealing bells.  What instrument provided which sounds, between the organ, the glass harmonica, the cello and three violins.  Yet again there was the Note.

It was is if the note were a living substance, and subject to the law of chemical changes — that is to say, as that law works in dreams

Hope Mirrlees.

That was fun.  I await announcements of future occasions.

Exploring Youth Justice: Progress and Possibilities

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This was an open lecture from the Centre for Theology and Public Issues.  The forum was chaired by Murray Rae.  In attendance were Andrew Becroft (Senior Judge of the Youth Court), Mark Henaghan (Dean of the Faculty of Law at Otago University), Chris Marshall from Victoria University, and Shane Walker from the Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work.  The dialogue crackled!

The Youth Court deals with youth aged between 12-16 years.  What isn’t being reported is that we have record lows of rathers for youth offences, down by a half.  This includes the police’s mandate to warn offenders in preference to apprehending them.  However there are three areas of concern.

  • The drop is lower among Maori.  At each step in the decision-making process in the justice system Maori numbers increase statistically.
  • The drop is lower in cases of serious violent offences
  • Female offending

We can be a society that wants to see people doing well.  What takes the sparkle out of these kids’ eyes?  The risk factors, which are not the same as cause and effect, for serious young offenders in the court system include their home life, school, friends, and community involvement.    Maybe we need to reduce our class sizes so to keep every young person involved in meaningful and engaging education.  We should be offended as a society at our literacy levels.  Falling behind leads to truancy.  There can be less drugs and alcohol in the system.

Any young offender deserves the right to a person interested in him or her, positive, non-judgemental role models to be along-side people (the Emmanuel?) and positive experiences.  We are relational beings: treat me as you want me to treat you.  What would break the life course offending?  Another five to ten years of growing.  95% of all young people have broken the law at some point (the other 5% lie!)

Dunedin is fortunate in that interested parties have developed strong networks for community-based intervention.  However since they involve organisations like Presbyterian Support which is reliant on funding from higher level policy makers at the national level I would worry how protected from such policy makers.

Punishment is used to regulate an ordered society.  That’s the all point of Shakespeare, the wicked are punished, the ordered society is restored.  The justice system has deeply held beliefs from our history.  We want to be Nemesis, the taking goddess who turns the wheel of fortune.  We have a good restorative justice system in New Zealand, we can still do better.  Justice is the removal of resentment.  Justice and the Law have to be the same thing.  The dangerous offender is the one with the authority to make us feel as crap as them.

Just remember: the lifer is coming to a house near you.

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