Onion Skins March 2017


Life is full of conundrums, compromises, good things and bad things and a whole ton of experiences in between. I am sure that you could echo those sentiments and like me you would find it difficult to believe those who tell us that they are quite clear about “everything” in a sort of self righteous and religious way because we appear to be asking questions all the time or trying to find a way forward when things are not that clear.


This lack of clarity at times is I think an inevitable accompaniment of the enquiring life and mind. I remember my first day doing a locum in the Highlands of PNG at the Baiyer River Baptist hospital when there was no water. I was told it was the “dri” season. The reality was that the local “rascals” had slashed the pipes, as part of an intertribal difference and “payback”. The conundrum was doing surgery on those injured in these conflicts, removing pieces of arrow and spear, and much more serious injuries. I just insisted that the relatives leave their weapons outside theatre as they were allowed to watch the surgery to make sure I was not working any magic [ “puri puri” ] on their kin. This was a compromise for me in my ideas of how to manage an operating theatre but I didn’t have much option.


Talking about running out of water, the same thing happened in the Solomon Islands. We did have a very definite dry season, and it became a drought. The hospital did run out of water and the situation became very serious. The principal nurses, James and Joshua suggested that I talk to the Japanese fishing company on the northern coast. I really struggled with that as this fleet was depleting the coast of fish that the local people really needed as well as paying local villages cash for reef fish to use as bait, cash that was spent at local trade stores on soft drinks and “rubbish food”. I had to compromise however as there was no option. The Japanese brought over a tanker of water at no cost every day of the drought. It was a wonderful gesture and I guess in my idealistic mind I thought I might be able to talk to them about some of the other issues but I didn’t.


This brings us to the present day and our “predicament” as we move into a future that lacks clarity and we wonder whether the old traditions that we held dear are relevant any more. We have to accept that we are of this world , we are in this world, and our Lord is thoroughly present in the conundrums and compromises that are challenging us everyday. I was talking with Elaine Symonds of Green Island on the phone yesterday, about the Chaplaincy Collection coming up, and she said very clearly that the world was a very different from the one many of us older folk grew up in. She is absolutely right. Our society is “explosive” in its change and the same sentiments that drove Sir Albert Maori Kiki, premier of PNG, to write his book, “Ten thousand years in a life time”, are an increasingly part of our experience today. There is no “arrival” and is it says in Matthew 15 v3 the past is not holier than now. The challenges are immense, and in fact unprecedented. However we do not need to be concerned that God will desert us this world of complexities that many of us could not have imagined, not the least in the distortions of what Faith might be and the terrible judgements of our fellow man who may believe differently from us and who are displaced by war and circumstance which is not of their making.


Marion and I have just spent a week with our great grandson, Ash……a week of the digital world and smart phones! Grandad has been building up on the tutorials from Brett Taggart on how to use this new medium but not to be taken over by it. How do those young people of our future, mothers and fathers both working and having to work by circumstance, choose a church to attend and to become part of.  Many will make the choice using their smart phones and the internet and we will indeed have become another consumer item.


Are we, as some have suggested heading towards a churchless  society? I don’t believe so but as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, 12, “ What we see now is like dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face . What I now know is only partial; then it will be complete- as complete as God’s knowledge of me”. What a promise to hold onto in these days of so much rapid change and the ever present conundrums and compromises that confront us each day. Go well, and His presence be with you.