We once knew how to look after a refugee at Christmas

Panoramic view of  Pohutukawa red flowers blossom on DecemberThe notion of a Christmas for peace and tolerance is lacking in world affairs. What were once expressions of wise leadership are expressions about controlling others and rule by dogma, supported by special interest  groups (to put it neutrally) including white supremacists, Evangelical Christians, billionaires etc. If you were religiously minded the phrase “unholy alliance” must come to mind.

I wonder why people are voting for autocratic leaders. Leadership isn’t for everyone and for some people, even self leadership is a challenge. Which is why leaders have such a privileged position of responsibility for creating meaningful dialogue, compassion and to treat others fairly. But what happens when enough of the population votes for something else? Voting, it seems, to treat minorities whether because of poverty, religion, sexual orientation or race as exceptions to the norm who can be ignored at best, and at worst, ridiculed. Something has broken down.

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I took this in Malmo, Sweden last year

It’s complex – there’s globalisation, economic malaise for many, refugees, terrorism – but surely this is the time to call on the best that we all have and what some people say Christmas is about – tolerance, which for the Christmas story is about protecting a homeless child and caring for a new, possibly single, mother – not turning a blind eye or worse attacking those who seem “different“.

Special interest groups including religion have long held a seat at the table of power. I hope those special interest leaders use their new found power to promote tolerance, liberty and compassion. I’m not holding my breath.

It does make me realise how fortunate we are in New Zealand. It’s easy to forget. Summer too. I hope you’re having a good Christmas with those important to you.

Stephen

 

 

Temporary

Its seems like just the other day  I was returning from Europe, although it was over two months ago. I’d been saying that as soon as Boxing Day (or St Stephen’s day as it also is!) arrives, I’d be happy. Christmas day arrived, I was well prepared with a  nicely decorated tree thanks to my son Thomas and his wife Dannii, and I had gifts for everyone I needed to. It felt quite relaxed. Work too, is under control (I think).

So some time off which stretches out, but isn’t long at all, although it’s always after Christmas. Which creates a buffer of sorts at the beginning of the holiday to hold the holiday proper out just a little bit before it begins.

Christmas

Christmas as a boy was a very large tree with dozens of presents, the family car well polished, a trip to Dad’s boss’ house for a drink, a chicken roast and a lazy afternoon with new things. Those Christmas’ always had a familiar ring about them but they were temporary, or passing. There have been recent Christmas’ with visits to grandparents and great grandparents who were laid to rest at Waikumete Cemetery.  That was a norm for a few years for me. It stopped this year with a different Christmas morning.

Christmas day is a special day for me. Each time is different, but always special in its own temporary way.

The memories we create from any shared event are those that give the joy beyond the day. It might be that someone or some people weren’t at your Christmas this year and that left a gap. But the day is the day. Reflecting on my day, which started differently for logistical reasons, it was a great day and brings me happiness to think about it.

I won’t try and do the same next year – it might happen – but I won’t be bothered how the day pans out. As long as there’s family and friends, an unseasonably hot roast and a couch to snooze on at in the afternoon, it’ll be perfect.

Knowing that, for once, I’m almost looking forward to it!

 

Stephen

Everything in its place

You would think that the description ‘Anglican L, Row 17, Lot 66’ would be a relatively straightforward place to find to visit long gone, but not forgotten, relatives at Waikumete Cemetery. Before we knew it we were doing a lap of servicemen (and possibly women I’m not sure) who had fought in World War 1, World War 2 and ‘Korea’.  I wonder what they’d think if they knew the Korea war may have entered a new phase. There’s a sandbag setup at the entrance to this area and Dad noted that the hessian on one of the bags had deteriorated, making me wonder what use it might have been against machine gun fire. None I suspect. I pointed out VC recipient Reginald Judson which my oldest (longest) friend Nigel Hughes had researched for me and we’d visited on leadership development programmes. There had been some powerful insights and reflections on those sessions.

Then it was the Jewish quarter, very ordered looking and almost a loop of the Pasifika section going the wrong way around the one way road until at the last minute realising that the people mover was, well moving, and towards us. The colour is extraordinary and although they’re well segregated from ‘Anglican L’ or, later as we were to discover ‘Roman Catholic’ and ‘Wesleyan’, everyone seemed pretty relaxed we were in the wrong place, but it was Christmas day so it was the right time.

Back to the Jewish Quarter and I introduced Dad to the grave of my late friend Dr Lloyd Gavin Lang who died in 2011 and had had a few visitors, judging by the stones placed on his headstone, in Jewish tradition. Lloyd did the 10k at Rotorua one year. Telling the kids after dinner at Rotorua that “you know what happens when you don’t clean your teeth don’t you?”, then smiling to reveal fake rotten teeth that for some obscure reason he’d carried with him for that moment. Even though it was completely unplanned. It still makes me laugh thinking about it.

It was back to the starting blocks, or for new arrivals, the chapel and a map before heading off again. You see, Waikumete is no simple place. It’s got its own roading network and on Christmas day is quite busy, so you do need to be prepared. Soon we had found ‘Anglican L’, next to ‘Anglican K’ and I glanced up a bit to see ‘Roman Catholic’ which seemed more of a warning than a notice, so we stayed put.Christmas with relatives long gone

Before long Mum had disappeared, in amongst the tall weeds and headstones. She was certain the gravesite was white in colour. It took about 45 minutes before we worked out the system and located her grandparents, my great grandparents. Mum and Dad are great-grandparents, six times over, thanks to muesli and fertile offspring. But I never knew mine. Both died in their 60s in 1950 I learned.

The great-grandparents have a northerly outlook and we cleaned up the grave with spray, removing the Lichen and posed for photographs. They’ll be good for the family tree I’m sure. There’s a five-studded cross which looks like an insert and we assumed that is where the ashes of Aunty Kitty and Aunty Frances (who shares my middle name) must be. If you don’t have your own family, then being put next to your parents in death is probably not a bad thing. Seems kind of resting in their hearts together. My memory of Aunty Kitty was a happy lady, who worked at an IGA or New World on a corner in Dominion or Mt Eden Road. I assumed she was elderly when she died. Fifty-seven she was.

We laid our second posy of lavender from my garden, borrowing a long disused flower holder from the grave next door to set them for photographs. The first posy had been left at Mum’s parents, a much easier find from more regular visits. It was lovely to see someone else had also been and left flowers.

Conscious of the two large birds in the oven we thought it time to go and sometimes you don’t need to hear your mother, you just know what she wants. Which means that’s what you want. So a search on the iPhone and we found the site of her paternal grandparents. ‘Anglican H’. An easier find, now that we more or less knew the numbering system. If there’s ever a call for mail deliveries, I might be able to help.

It was Dad’s turn for a quick march, he remembered clearly the general outlook from a visit many moons ago. South facing, looking over a stand of trees, swaying in the summer breeze, the long grass starting to dry. “I’m sure it’s got roses on the grave” he said. I suspect they may have dried out and gone, I thought. But they were there, a ring of roses, more Presbyterian than Anglican, save your pennies, we’ve bought the flowers that last forever.

Mum wasn’t convinced at first. The inscription battered by the southerly rains was barely readable. Some letters of the stonemason remained reasonably clear – perhaps we should seek a re-do of the job I wondered.

He died on the same day of the year as my birthday, this great-grandfather, a spring passing. She died first though, in 1918, aged 38 years. More cleaning and we discovered two of their children also buried there – including Aunty Rewa – after whom Mum was named. Mum had never known her burial-place so it was special to find and see. And to take photographs of what will not be readable in the near future.Ready for today's relatives

We could smell the birds cooking from outside when we arrived home. It was a lot to do to prepare for one meal but we found a place for everyone, whether Anglican, Atheist or just simply an Aunty. Together.

It was the first Christmas day in Auckland in 62 years for Mum and Dad and we lived every minute of it with family here now and some long gone. Blessed.

Stephen

Tolerating Christmas

It’s a special time of the year especially if you’re a child or a grown-up with lovely memories of Christmas. Might be a really big stack of presents around the tree if you had a big family. Might be stories from older siblings about “hearing” noises in the night. New things. Special meal. Visiting Dad’s boss as a ritual. Everyone in a good mood it seemed!

For some, the Christmas lunch with disconnected relatives is a chore to survive. The only time the trust bank gets a chance to be exercised. That’s not everyone’s experience. Some families are filled with trust, companionship and mutual respect built on doing things – making an effort. And tolerating.

Shortly I’m off to sing carols at St Matthew-in-the-City. St Matthew’s who asked us to reflect on Mary’s discovery that she was pregnant. I only go there once a year. I love the carols and I like the tolerance. Seems to me if there is one thing that I can take from a church it’s tolerance. I’ve previously blogged about having no tolerance for intolerance.

When we sit down for Christmas Lunch that might be something worth reflecting on. Practicing tolerance to those less equipped for the rigours of an annual catch-up. While you’re at it try a little presence and make this one of the good old days!

Share your Christmas’ of the past and have a very happy Christmas day!

Stephen