27 September 2009

Ours vs Theirs

I do not often post from other blogs, but, recalling District-9, I found this, from Catholic Exchange, quite affecting:

Stranger Is a Dangerous Word

September 26th, 2009 by Monsignor Dennis Clark, Ph.D.

Num 11:25-29 / James 5:1-6 / Mk 9:38-43,45,47-48

About a fifteen years ago, Time magazine reported on a curious experiment conducted by the sociology department at Stanford. It seems the department took a late model automobile into a nearby residential neighborhood and abandoned it for a week. They hadn’t really abandoned it, of course, because they were watching from a hidden vantage point to see what might happen. What happened was absolutely nothing. Adults and kids walked or drove by, looked at the car, and obviously wondered whose it was and why it was there. But nobody laid a finger on it.

After a week of this the hidden observers ended their vigil and drove the car away. But not very far, just a few blocks, to a spot on the side of a well-traveled road that wasn’t part of any particular neighborhood. Once again the car was "abandoned" and the observers took up their binoculars to watch from a distance. But this time they hadn’t long to wait. Well-dressed adults and teenagers in decent cars - the same kind of folks who lived in the first neighborhood - descended like locusts on that car and took what they wanted, tires, stereo, seats, doors, engine, the works! Within five hours only the frame remained.

The same car, the same community, two locations just blocks apart. What made the difference? The scholars thought a lot about that and finally concluded that the difference lay in a simple distinction: ours vs. theirs. Even if we don’t quite know the details, a car parked in our neighborhood is presumed to be one of ours. Whereas a car parked out in no-man’s land is labeled "theirs," the property of one of the faceless "them," who have no connection with us, who are outside our circle, and thus merit no consideration from us.

That ugly little distinction, we vs. they, ours vs. theirs, is constantly in play, always sneaking up on us and trying to take over. It labels a person as a "stranger" — not one of us — and then gives permission for just about anything.

How could a person kill someone entirely unknown to him in a drive-by shooting? Easy. The victim was a "stranger," not of the group, so his life just didn’t count.

How can an airman drop bombs on innocent non-combatants below? Because they are strangers and not ours.

How can we sometimes be so callous about the sufferings of the homeless and destitute? Easy! Because they are strangers, people without faces, not one of us.

And how can some of us be so rude and aggressive to other, perfectly decent drivers on the freeway? Because they are strangers, not one of us. Can you imagine acting that way if you knew the other driver was a friend or a client or your mother?!

The pattern shows up in even the tiniest of things. I’ve learned that even cigarette butts can tell us the same tale. At the end of a typical Sunday morning, when more than a thousand of our own parishioners have passed through these doors, hardly a cigarette butt is to be found anywhere on the grounds. But have a handful of visitors here for a 30-minute wedding, and you’ll find butts everywhere, even ground into the floor inside the church. To some of those visitors, we are strangers, not one of theirs, so anything goes.

In this gospel, Jesus had the disappointment of hearing his best friend John make this same ugly distinction, we vs. they, ours vs. theirs. "Jesus," he said, all puffed up with pride, "we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him, because he was not one of ours!" What a disappointment for Jesus! John had already heard the Good Samaritan story at least as many times as we have. For nearly three years he’d seen Jesus befriending everyone who came along, showing no preferences, making no distinctions, welcoming everyone into his life, and leaving no one outside the circle of his love.

John had seen and heard all that, but just like us, he still hadn’t taken it all the way into his heart. His old instincts were still in charge. But Jesus didn’t give up on him. He just told him again: for us there can be no such thing as a stranger, only brothers and sisters. For us there can be no "them," only an all-inclusive "us." The circle of our love has to grow so wide that no one is left outside. This is our life’s task and we’ll achieve it only with God’s help.

So let us turn to God in prayer.

Lord, we have set limits on our love and have been willing to call many of your people "strangers." Help our hearts to grow ever larger. Teach us to recognize all people as brothers and sisters, and show us the way to bring all people into the circle of our love. Amen.

26 September 2009

Happy Birthday!

Today - 26 September - is Susan's birthday!

It is also that of approximately 18.579436949424012813404792706216 million other persons - give or take a few. Assumptions behind this calculation:

  • The world's population today is 6.786 billion
  • Babies are as likely to be born on any one day as on any other

The world's population figure must be correct, because it is taken from that impeccable source: Wikipedia.

The assumption about the probabilities of birthdays is questionable, but are you going to be able to prove me wrong? I don't think so!

I point out the (approximate) number of other persons (I don't vouch for all the decimal places; that just comes out of Windows Vista's calculator, when dividing 6.786 billion by the number of days in a legal year = 365.2425 (think about it - remembering that years divisible by 100 but not by 400 are not leap years; I'm sure you'll work it out) - I point out, I say (a long parenthesis back), the number because today is also the birthdays of:

  • Susan and my close friend Jenni Surrey
  • Our daughter Helen's husband Robert's

And Susan thinks this amazing. I have offered the to calculate the probability, given a number of friends, that some two - or three, or whatever - have the same birthday, but she has declined. This is lucky for me as I am by no means certain I could make that calculation (correctly, that is).

The world has become a more boring place. I just wondered whether Wikipedia (again) could tell me that probability. It can. Sad when the mystery goes out of life. But looking at that page, the maths seems sufficiently opaque as to ensure I would get tired of trying to understand it before having finished.

Tuesday last, the 22nd of September, was my birthday - and also those of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins - so there! I did not blog last week-end, and I could tell you that the reason was because on the Sunday - the 20th - we went up to Eddie and Eveline's for what was the official John and Susan Birthday Lunch. It is true that we went - and had a lovely time with them all - but it would not be true. I could have blogged on the Saturday but did not - because I forgot.

Actually I just read the Birthday Problem page and it turns out to be pretty simple after all - ah, well!

Sue and I will leave shortly (this Saturday afternoon) to stand as Godparents for Gerard and Delia Farrell's new daughter (whose name, I am informed, is Magdalena); then off to Little Thai Restaurant for dinner. Little Thai is the only proper restaurant (as opposed to Burger Fuel, where we go for takeaways) that we go to. The reason: both cater to Susan's no-gluten needs.

And let me take this opportunity to wish a hearty 'Happy Birthday' to all 18.579436949424012813404792706216 million (minus one) of the rest of you whose birthday is today.

12 September 2009


It is, after all, 12/9 in New Zealand today - but it is 9/11 in the US, and many are remembering. I might be expected to have something to say on the subject - I don't know that I do.

Borrowing on the Internet is, I suppose, fair game - at least until their lawyers send you a polite letter - and as "J. Christian" says, commenting in a blog I read:

Reflecting on 9/11, I recall an essay by Lee Harris on the motivation for the terror attacks. His thesis is that they were not an act of war as we traditionally understand it, but that they were the enactment of a fantasy. As a way of introducing his idea, he describes an encounter with a college friend protesting the Vietnam War:

Thus, when he lay down in front of hapless commuters on the bridges over the Potomac, he had no interest in changing the minds of these commuters, no concern over whether they became angry at the protesters or not. They were there merely as props, as so many supernumeraries in his private psychodrama. The protest for him was not politics, but theater; and the significance of his role lay not in the political ends his actions might achieve, but rather in their symbolic value as ritual. In short, he was acting out a fantasy.

The victims of 9/11 were "supernumeraries in a private psychodrama." Props.

I have no special insight into evil or knowledge of whether an act is Satanic or not. Hate is a strong, strong word, but dehumanizing others to the point that they are props in one's fantasy -- that has to be a special kind of hatred.

I found this revealing of some of my own activities in life. I have - thank God! - not given in to hatred. But I there have been times in my own life - sometimes with my own family - when I have found that I have treated others as mere supernumeraries in my own private psychodrama.

Sue and I are off to see friends tomorrow, Sunday the 13th of September (Robbie Loretz, for those of you who know him). Busy week-end!

09 September 2009

Happy Father's Day

From Eddie:
I think you may have to click on the image to read the text.

05 September 2009


In a comment to a previous post, Peter said:

...the rock pond and swimming pool ... were built at the time the house was built, not by Higgenbotham but by a guy named Tyler, who according to Higgenbotham had the house constructed, with all the fancy pond, pool, landscape vegetation, etc., as a wedding gift for his daughter. All in 1911.

Supposing Mr Tyler's daughter to have been 21 in 1911, and Mr Tyler to have been, say, 25 when she was born, he might have grown up in the years following the American Civil War. Upstairs there were six bedrooms, but in fact there were three large bedrooms, each with a smaller attached room. My father told me that the smaller ones were dressing rooms.

Whether or no, they were for us six bedrooms.

We were six in our family (including, remember, Jeremiah, who was an effective part of our family. All right, but did my parents not share a bedroom? They did. So that means we only needed five bedrooms - is that not correct?

It is. How it came about that I had more than the lion's share of rooms I do not know. A greedy self-interest on my part certainly had something to do with it, and only now, in advanced years, does it occur to me to wonder whether either my brother or sister may have resented the fact that I had two rooms of my own, and the only two rooms that gave me pretty complete privacy. I had two rooms, and effectively pretty much first rights to a third.

Up the stairs and to the left was my parents' room. It was large enough that my father's desk was in the corner. Next to it, with a door into their room and another door to the hallway was the large bathroom - the only one with a bathtub.

From their room - sharing a door with it into the hallway - was the bedroom that belonged to Robin, my sister.

Turn right at the top of the stairs, then left, and you are in Peter's room - the larger of the two whose smaller room was Jeremiah's.

Across from Peter's room was ... my suite. The smaller bedroom, at the back of the house, was where my bed was. Between my room and Jeremiah's was the small bathroom (shower and toilet but not tub).

But the bigger bedroom that led into my own was effectively my office. What did I have in there? I don't recall in detail - and I think at one point there must have been a bed, for that bed, and the so-called 'french doors' (double doors with panes of glass) between the two, were responsible for the only moderately serious injury of my life - but more of that another time.

Anyway, that was my two rooms - and off that larger room was a screened-in upstairs open-air porch (at least we called it that) - that also had a bed in it - two, perhaps - in which I liked to sleep in summer. I think Peter also slept there, sometimes, so there must have been two beds. No doubt he can refresh my memory.

Regarding that injury ... well, next time!