Saturday, 19 August 2017

Rosie and Me

I have a job!  Three weeks ago I applied for a job as a metal fabricator at a local signmaker.  I was completely straight with them about my skills: I learned to do my welding on-farm and most of my practical talents are what I learned in the same place and with the State Emergency Service.  A few days later they offered me the job: there had been better candidates, but they “liked my attitude”.  I started the next day.

The work is hard: a great deal of it involves lifting and moving items made out of aluminium and acrylic.  My first few days were spent either installing signs at Benalla and Shepparton and Melbourne and polishing letters which will form part of a sign halfway up a building.  The start time varies from 0500hrs to 0730hrs.


There was a “you are here” moment when going out to a sign-repair in Melbourne.  The sign belonged to a medical practice from which I used to request medical records and repeats.  This proved something, but I’m not sure what.

For the last few days I’ve been working blisteringly hard cutting lengths of aluminium for welding into frames for signs.  The client is a very valuable one and each cut must be accurate to within half a millimetre.  The target is enough material for 134 signs; as at 1730hrs on Friday I had completed 116.  The most satisfying thing in the world is working hard at something worthwhile.  I found myself wondering if this work truly is worthwhile.  It was hard not to wish I was putting this much energy into serving the Red Cross or the SES, or that the army hadn't knocked me back.  This led me to thinking about the “Rosie the Riveter” women who went from being housewives and secretaries and shop assistants to being welders and bomb assemblers during the last World War (it was the closest analogue I could think of for my own change in circumstances).

Image from here

At first I thought: that was worthwhile work.  But then I remembered that the reality as lived by the people was probably closer to the munitions factory setting in Foyle's War: the work was worthwhile, but done in a setting which was venal, bullying and unrewarding.

This was a salutary reminder not to expect the world to be what it isn’t.  The same thought has been on my mind since I received paperwork last week advising that one of my favourite charities – the Royal District Nursing Service – has changed its name to Bolton Clarke.  Allegedly this is to reflect its expanded range of services.  The cynic in me suspects that this is an initial step to becoming a for-profit enterprise (less likely) or sold as a going concern (more likely – the public would be outraged to hear that Royal District Nursing Service assets are being sold, but will barely notice when the assets belonging to what sounds like a firm of accountants are sold).  It saddens me to think that a charity I love may be acting like a low-grade bait-and-switch.

I’m not sure I know what to do with any of this.  I don’t know if I’m over-naïve or over-jaded.  Simple economics dictates that I have to keep working.  But I wish I was doing something that made the world a better place.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Review: Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (2005)

Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (Paulines Publishing House: Manila, 2005)

Like most papal documents, Paul VI's exhortation on evangelization is deceptively easy to read.  It is supremely quotable and textually dense.

Pope Paul VI
Image from here

The text spans the need for evangelization in the world of 1975, when it was first released.  It remains a necessary text today for many of the blocks of opinion which the church encounters in- and outside itself.  Chapter 3 demonstrates the point well.  This chapter seems to be a rebuff to Liberation Theology as an error, or at any rate as a sufficient form of church practice.  The Church's role in ending suffering and systemic injustice is accepted (¶30) -
It is well known in what terms numerous bishops from all the continents spoke of this [liberation] at the last Synod, especially the bishops from the Third World, with a pastoral accent resonant with the voice of the millions of sons and daughters of the Church who make up those peoples. Peoples, as we know, engaged with all their energy in the effort and struggle to overcome everything which condemns them to remain on the margin of life: famine, chronic disease, illiteracy, poverty, injustices in international relations and especially in commercial exchanges, situations of economic and cultural neo-colonialism sometimes as cruel as the old political colonialism. The Church ... has the duty to proclaim the liberation of millions of human beings, many of whom are her own children- the duty of assisting the birth of this liberation, of giving witness to it, of ensuring that it is complete. This is not foreign to evangelization.

However, readers are cautioned, this is not the end of the work: "in order that God's kingdom should come it is not enough to establish liberation and to create well-being and development" (¶35).

Two parts of this discussion are equally resonant today.  Commentators who view the church as tolerable only to the extent that it perform's socially useful services are cautioned that this limit is not acceptable (¶32):
[M]any, even generous Christians who are sensitive to the dramatic questions involved in the problem of liberation, in their wish to commit the Church to the liberation effort are frequently tempted to reduce her mission to the dimensions of a simply temporal project. They would reduce her aims to a man-centered goal; the salvation of which she is the messenger would be reduced to material well-being. Her activity, forgetful of all spiritual and religious preoccupation, would become initiatives of the political or social order. But if this were so, the Church would lose her fundamental meaning. Her message of liberation would no longer have any originality and would easily be open to monopolization and manipulation by ideological systems and political parties. She would have no more authority to proclaim freedom as in the name of God.

There is an equally stern rebuke to the modern writers who talk gleefully about 'Elijah house-clearing with a shotgun': "The Church cannot accept violence, especially the force of arms - which is uncontrollable once it is let loose - and indiscriminate death as the path to liberation, because she knows that violence always provokes violence and irresistibly engenders new forms of oppression and enslavement which are often harder to bear than those from which they claimed to bring freedom" (¶37).

The discussion of responses to non-Christian religions bears re-reading when Evangelical belief has shrunk to a crude rejection of encounters with other faiths as 'fellowship with Baal'.

Without conceding to a vague 'kumbaya', the significance of other faiths is firmly announced (¶53):
The Church respects and esteems ... non Christian religions because they are the living expression of the soul of vast groups of people. They carry within them the echo of thousands of years of searching for God, a quest which is incomplete but often made with great sincerity and righteousness of heart. They possess an impressive patrimony of deeply religious texts. They have taught generations of people how to pray. [However,] ... neither respect and esteem for these religions nor the complexity of the questions raised is an invitation to the Church to withhold from these non-Christians the proclamation of Jesus Christ. On the contrary the Church holds that these multitudes have the right to know the riches of the mystery of Christ - riches in which we believe that the whole of humanity can find, in unsuspected fullness, everything that it is gropingly searching for concerning God, man and his destiny, life and death, and truth. Even in the face of natural religious expressions most worthy of esteem, the Church finds support in the fact that the religion of Jesus, which she proclaims through evangelization, objectively places man in relation with the plan of God, with His living presence and with His action; she thus causes an encounter with the mystery of divine paternity that bends over towards humanity. In other words, our religion effectively establishes with God an authentic and living relationship which the other religions do not succeed in doing, even though they have, as it were, their arms stretched out towards heaven.
Chapter 6 covers the role to be played by members of the church in advancing evangelization, from the episcopate to the laity.  The merit in the monastic life is firmly restated: Monks and nuns "embody the Church in her desire to give herself completely to the radical demands of the beatitudes. By their lives they are a sign of total availability to God, the Church and the brethren" (¶69).  This bears repeating in the light of a hostility that seems to have begun in the Reformation and never quite ended:

Chapter 7 follows up with a reminder to the various Christian denominations that internal squabbles are deeply unhealthy for evangelization.  Polemicists from Catholic, Protestant, Mormon and Orthodox traditions will probably all feel a little stung by the criticism in ¶77:
The power of evangelization will find itself considerably diminished if those who proclaim the Gospel are divided among themselves in all sorts of ways. Is this not perhaps one of the great sicknesses of evangelization today? Indeed, if the Gospel that we proclaim is seen to be rent by doctrinal disputes, ideological polarizations or mutual condemnations among Christians, at the mercy of the latter's differing views on Christ and the Church and even because of their different concepts of society and human institutions, how can those to whom we address our preaching fail to be disturbed, disoriented, even scandalized?

Most of the points His Holiness made in 1975 were strong than.  Many have become even stronger in the intervening 40 years.  Evangelii Nuntiandi should be read by anyone of a religious persuasion who wants to share their faith with the world.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Review: Sarah Palin, Going Rogue (2009)

Sarah Palin, Going Rogue: An American Life (HarperCollins: New York, 2009)

I wasn't sure whether I was going to like Sarah Palin's autobiography or not.  Having finished it, I'm still not sure.

Image from here
Palin came to (inter)national prominence with her nomination as John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election.  Since then she's bobbed about on the political scene as a speaker and talking head, but not as a candidate.  Her 2008-and-after career, however, is a little misleading. It distracts from her time as a competent and effective governor of Alaska.  This is fundamentally the puzzle with this book.  Slightly over half covers her early life, the start of her political career, and governorship of Alaska. This part is genuinely interesting.  The discussion of the process of reforming the oil industry is a gift for a policy wonk, taking in issues of revenue, royalties, land use and resource planning.

It's less easy to like the discussion of her time as a Vice Presidential nominee.  This section of the book feels remarkably disjointed, as if each episode were remembered and written down separately and then copied and pasted into more-or-less chronological order.  It may be that Ms Palin did write this section that way: the book came out in 2009 - the year after the election - and the memories may still have been a bit raw.  It's also possible that it reflects the McCain campaign itself.  The presidential and vice presidential wings of the campaign seem to have barely communicated with each other, resulting in the latter learning about (say) the decision to abandon Michigan from the morning news.  More seriously, the professional campaign staff seem to have decided to retain a tightly controlled message which meant they could not effectively utilise Palin's skills as a grassroots campaigner.  One must, of course remember that this is Palin's side of the story and (like every political writer since Thucydides) there will always be a temptation to set the record crooked on key points.  That said, the impression from the book matches my recollection from the time. That is, the McCain-Palin campain was poorly organised and wasted the opportunities it had to finesse a win from an already difficult hand.

Image from here
The style is folksy throughout and I'm not sure how much was ghostwritten.  This becomes a little tiresome after a time (the phrase "commonsense conservative" is used ad nauseam).  It also rather does Palin a disservice: one has the impression of a competent backwoods politician out of her depth at a national level - a kind of Alaskan Joh Bjelke-Petersen, with none of Bjelke-Petersen's ruthlessness or strength of personality.

This book is useful as a record of a time.   Not everything in it is sound, but it will repay reading by students of the art of campaigning.