Monday 22 December 2008

The two of us

Here's a happy snap of Carole Anne and I, taken during our potluck Christmas lunch with some of the other members of our pastoral care department at The Canberra Hospital, during a very pleasant "perfect weather" day, last Friday -- just outside the chapel area under a canopy, where staff or patients often eat lunch under the open sky amidst several large magpies seeking the scraps.

Quite the different experience having Christmas in the middle of the summertime!

Yesterday (Sunday evening) - the longest day of the year here - we sang special music and carols in Telopea Park near the church, lead by a choir which I joined. About 250 people were sitting around in portable chairs or laying on blankets eating their supper, singing along. As the crowd joined in singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" several huge white squawking angels (cockatoos) flitting around overhead amidst the gum trees, joining in with "Arrrck, Arrrrrrrck, Harrrrrck" !!


Jingle Bells, Aussie-Style!

I got exposed to THIS piece of Aussie "culture" at a Christmas outdoor BBQ party last Friday evening, hosted by one of the families from Canberra Baptist. Here they are referring to a Holden Ute (an old Aussie version of a pick-up truck) and an "esky" (cooler.) You will want to go here for more "translations" - just a sampling of why it's really a cross-cultural experience to live here. The Aussies are very proud of their own unique brand of the English language, but for Carole Anne and me it has necessitated a significant "overhaul" of our vocabulary!


Friday 19 December 2008

"Awaiting the Christ Child" (by Christine Sine)

This wonderful Advent meditation by Christine Sine encourages us to await the coming of Christ with expectation and joyful anticipation. The music is "Christ Child Lullaby" played by Jeff Johnson.

If it seems to take a bit longer than usual to "load" after clicking on the "play" arrow above, while you are waiting it will also be worth your time to check out the stuff mentioned below inside another window or tab, until you hear music starting up on the piece above.

"Awaiting the Christ Child" is included in an excellent list called Web Wanderings - the Peace on Earth Edition published in December's Peace Signs online newsletter (by the Mennonite Church.) So...I also encourage you to check out this great little collection of multimedia inspiration, some thought-provoking cartoons, and other neat stuff.


Sunday 14 December 2008

Christmas Greetings & Inspiration - For My Family & Friends

One of my favorite motivational pieces of poetry, "The Work of Christmas" by Howard Thurman is as timeless and just as prophetic in nature today as it was during his prime back in the turbulent times of the 1960's. Thurman was a spiritual mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr, introducing him to the ideas of Ghandhi and the way of non-violence.

I shared that poem with a colleague here in Canberra, Charles Foley, who returned the following comment and quote (in the next paragraph) in response: It bears repeating, when we meditate on our chaplaincy opportunity to serve humanity, that we are profoundly blessed by the effects the patients can have on us as fellow travelers on the shared journey of Life:

"It was not until the summer after his first year in the seminary that he (Howard Thurman) finally made the decision to be ordained. The moment of truth came while he was serving as assistant to the minister of a Baptist church in Virginia, taking over pastoral duties while the minister was on vacation. On his first night in the parsonage, he received a call from the local hospital, where a patient who was dying had asked for a minister. Thurman explained to the nurse that the regular minister was away, and she asked him if he was a minister. "In one kaleidoscopic moment I was back again at an old crossroad," Thurman remarked in his autobiography. " A decision of vocation was to be made here, and again I felt the ambivalence of my life and my calling. Finally I answered. 'Yes, I am a minister.'" "

Somewhere along the way I edited and adapted Thurman's piece (updated a couple of words with synonyms, added in the last three lines, and made the language inclusive throughout) so I want to share this once again, with a slightly different title:

"The Real Work of Christmas"

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make a little music in the heart
to radiate the Light of Christ
every day
in all that we do and in all that we say…

Then the real work of Christmas begins!

(Adapted by Clair Hochstetler from "The Work of Christmas" by Howard Thurman)

Now, click here to enjoy the 2008 version of my annual animated Christmas card! (It includes music & artwork by the renowned English artist, Jacquie Lawson.)

Grace and peace,


Christmas is...

Friday 12 December 2008

"The Rifle" - A Story Conveying The True Meaning of Christmas

I want to warn my Australian friends now that you might want to go bundle up because the goose bumps could freeze you after reading the story below! It's a true one from North America way back in the 1880's, but really worth sharing now with family and friends at Christmas time.

My source: 137 inspirational stories collected by James Collins into his book "Tears In My Heart." (The story below is entitled "The Rifle", pp 159-163.) I found the whole book available at Google Books, and you can read all of it online right here!

I hope you aren't getting too busy to pass along an inspiring story like this to your own friends and loved ones. So count your blessings and find some good ways to share them this year during the Christmas season, a time when other people throughout the world - and possibly in your own neighbourhood - might once again be facing some dire circumstances!

-Clair (in Canberra, Australia, and getting a bit nostalgic for snow, because it's summer here at Christmas time!)


Pa never had much compassion for the lazy or those who squandered their means and then never had enough for the necessities. But for those who were genuinely in need, his heart was as big as all outdoors. It was from him that I learned the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not from receiving.

It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there just hadn't been enough money to buy me the rifle that I'd wanted for Christmas. We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just figured Pa wanted a little extra time so we could read in the Bible.

After supper was over I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for Pa to get down the old Bible. I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest, I wasn't in much of a mood to read Scriptures. But Pa didn't get the Bible, instead he bundled up again and went outside. I couldn't figure it out because we had already done all the chores. I didn't worry about it long though, I was too busy wallowing in self-pity.

Soon Pa came back in. It was a cold clear night out and there was ice in his beard. "Come on, Matt," he said. "Bundle up good, it's cold out tonight." I was really upset then. Not only wasn't I getting the rifle for Christmas, now Pa was dragging me out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see.

We'd already done all the chores, and I couldn't think of anything else that needed doing, especially not on a night like this. But I knew Pa was not very patient at one dragging one's feet when he'd told them to do something, so I got up and put my boots back on and got my cap, coat, and mittens. Ma gave me a mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something was up, but I didn't know what..

Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled Whatever it was we were going to do wasn't going to be a short, quick, little job. I could tell. We never hitched up this sled unless we were going to haul a big load. Pa was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly climbed up beside him. The cold was already biting at me. I wasn't happy.

When I was on, Pa pulled the sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off and I followed. "I think we'll put on the high sideboards," he said. "Here, help me." The high sideboards! It had been a bigger job than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards on, but whatever it was we were going to do would be a lot bigger with the high side boards on.
After we had exchanged the sideboards, Pa went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood - the wood I'd spent all summer hauling down from the mountain, and then all Fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he doing? Finally I said something. "Pa," I asked, "what are you doing?" You been by the Widow Jensen's lately?" he asked. The Widow Jensen lived about two miles down the road. Her husband had died a year or so before and left her with three children, the oldest being eight. Sure, I'd been by, but so what?

Yeah," I said, "Why?"

"I rode by just today," Pa said. "Little Jakey was out digging around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They're out of wood, Matt." That was all he said and then he turned and went back into the woodshed for another armload of wood. I followed him. We loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull it. Finally, Pa called a halt to our loading, then we went to the smoke house and Pa took down a big ham and a side of bacon. He handed them to me and told me to put them in the sled and wait. When he returned he was carrying a sack of flour over his right shoulder and a smaller sack of something in his left hand.

"What's in the little sack?" I asked. "Shoes, they're out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the woodpile this morning. I got the children a little candy too. It just wouldn't be Christmas without a little candy."

We rode the two miles to Widow Jensen's pretty much in silence. I tried to think through what Pa was doing. We didn't have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did have a big woodpile, though most of what was left now was still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and split before we could use it. We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn't have any money, so why was Pa buying them shoes and candy? Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had closer neighbors than us; it shouldn't have been our concern.

We came in from the blind side of the Jensen house and unloaded the wood as quietly as possible, then we took the meat and flour and shoes to the door. We knocked. The door opened a crack and a timid voice said, "Who is it?" "Lucas Miles, Ma'am, and my son, Matt, could we come in for a bit?"

Widow Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children were wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all. Widow Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp.

"We brought you a few things, Ma'am," Pa said and set down the sack of flour. I put the meat on the table. Then Pa handed her the sack that had the shoes in it. She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the children - sturdy shoes, the best, shoes that would last. I watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling and then tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks. She looked up at Pa like she wanted to say something, but it wouldn't come out.

"We brought a load of wood too, Ma'am," Pa said. He turned to me and said, "Matt, go bring in enough to last awhile. Let's get that fire up to size and heat this place up." I wasn't the same person when I went back out to bring in the wood. I had a big lump in my throat and as mu ch as I hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes too. In my mind I kept seeing those three kids huddled around the fireplace and their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks with so much gratitude in her heart that she couldn't speak.

My heart swelled within me and a joy that I'd never known before, filled my soul. I had given at Christmas many times before, but never when it had made so much difference. I could see we were literally saving the lives of these people.

I soon had the fire blazing and everyone's spirits soared. The kids started giggling when Pa handed them each a piece of candy and Widow Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn't crossed her face for a long time. She finally turned to us. "God bless you," she said. "I know the Lord has sent you. The children and I have been praying that he would send one of his angels to spare us."

In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and the tears welled up in my eyes again. I'd never thought of Pa in those exact terms before, but after Widow Jensen mentioned it I could see that it was probably true. I was sure that a better man than Pa had never walked the earth. I started remembering all the times he had gone out of his way for Ma and me, and many others. The list seemed endless as I thought on it.

Pa insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was amazed when they all fit and I wondered how he had known what sizes to get. Then I guessed that if he was on an errand for the Lord that the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes. Tears were running down Widow Jensen's face again when we stood up to leave. Pa took each of the kids in his big arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and didn't want us to go. I could see that they missed their Pa, and I was glad that I still had mine.

At the door Pa turned to Widow Jensen and said, "The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children over for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than the three of us can eat, and a man can get cantankerous if he has to eat turkey for too many meals. We'll be by to get you about eleven. It'll be nice to have some little ones around again. Matt, here, hasn't been little for quite a spell." I was the youngest. My two brothers and two sisters had all married and had moved away.

Widow Jensen nodded and said, "Thank you, Brother Miles. I don't have to say, May the Lord bless you, I know for certain that He will."

Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep within and I didn't even notice the cold. When we had gone a ways, Pa turned to me and said, "Matt, I want you to know something. Your ma and me have been tucking a little money away here and there all year so we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn't have quite enough. Then yesterday a man who owed me a little money from years back came by to make things square. Your ma and me were real excited, thinking that now we could get you that rifle, and I started into town this morning to do just that,but on the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile with his feet wrapped in those gunny sacks and I knew what I had to do. Son, I spent the money for shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you understand."

I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again. I understood very well, and I was so glad Pa had done it Now the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. Pa had given me a lot more. He had given me the look on Widow Jensen's face and the radiant smiles of her three children. For the rest of my life, whenever I saw any of the Jensens, or split a block of wood, I remembered, and remembering brought back that same joy I felt riding home beside Pa that night. Pa had given me much more than a rifle that night, he had given me the best Christmas of my life!

Monday 8 December 2008

Lights Out in Gaza

In conversations and contacts regarding justice in Palestine - and specifically the current travesty in Gaza - here's a very good resource.

These perspectives are being shared by a Jewish organization greatly concerned about awareness of what is really going on, and how to wage peace and justice in the midst of a place where strife is a constant.

Educate yourself, and consider helping to circulate this link rather widely and writing some letters! (Or at least one.)


Thursday 27 November 2008

Searching for some (economic) perspective ... on American Thanksgiving Day

Whenever there is discussion of the current financial situation in the US and the rest of the world, it's obvious to me that people are having a hard time comprehending the actual numbers involved -- especially regarding the "bailout" of the current credit crisis. I had a lot of trouble, too, so I took it upon myself to get better educated, and would like to share what I've learned so that others might gain some new ways to put it all into perspective, as well. Hang on - it may terrify!

What I've done is compiled and edited various perspectives and analogies sprinkled throughout the comments section at this source, added my own thoughts along with some serious questions I've posed near the end -- and wound up on a note of Thanksgiving appropriate for this day.


First of all, if we add in the new Citi bailout announced this week, the total cost now exceeds $4.6165 trillion dollars. (Note this Bloomberg article here.)

Since people have a hard time conceptualizing very large numbers, let’s give this some context: The current "Credit Crisis Bailout" is now the largest outlay in all of American history. Jim Bianco, of Bianco Research, crunched the "inflation adjusted" numbers. This bailout is now going to cost more than all of the following big budget US government expenditures in history – COMBINED:

Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

TOTAL: $3.92 trillion


Well, folks, the ugly truth is that combined total is $686 billion LESS than the "official" cost of this current credit crisis, unfolding over just the past few months!

The only single American event in history that even comes close to matching the cost of the credit crisis is World War II -- Original Cost: $288 billion; Inflation-adjusted Cost: $3.6 trillion.

The $4.6165 trillion bailout dollars committed so far are about a trillion dollars ($979 billion dollars) greater than the entire cost of World War II borne by the United States: $3.6 trillion, adjusted for inflation (original cost was $288 billion). Go figure: WWII was a relative "bargain" in comparison. (Worse, the cost of this current credit crisis will only get bigger. It is estimated that by the time we get through 2010, the final bill may scale up to as much as TEN trillion USD.)

Now, how much is just ONE trillion dollars?

1 million stacked dollar bills is .067 miles, less than a tenth of a mile. 1 trillion dollar bills would be the equivilent of eight and a half planet earths stacked on top of each other. (1 US dollar bill is .0043 inches thick.)

One thousand times one million = one billion
One thousand times one billion = one trillion
In other words. One million times one million = one trillion

The trillion dollar stack would be one million times higher than the million dollar stack -or- picture it this way. It would take one million stacks of one million dollar bills to equal one trillion dollars.

If the million dollar stack is indeed .067 miles high, then the trillion dollar stack would be 67,000 miles high. (Fairly near to one third the distance from the Earth to the moon!)

Well-regarded Jim Bianco did the initial number crunching for the list you first read above, but there are other ways to depict this, such as percentage of GDP, or on a per capita basis...

Now here's a shocker: Bloomberg calculates another data breakdown for the total amount US taxpayers are on the hook for ($7.76 trillion) -- that is $24,000 for every man woman and child in the country. Bloomberg's data breakdown for that stunning figure can be found here. What does it equate to?

… that’s 4452.7 Big Mac meals @ $5.39 each for every man woman and child in the country.

… that’s a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu 4-door HYBRID Sedan for every man woman and child in the country.

… that’s 33.4 “average U. S. median monthly housing costs” for every man woman and child in the country.

… that’s 12,766 gallons of regular gasoline for every man woman and child in the country.

… that’s 323,944 more CEO’s at an average 2007 annual salary of $14.2 million each.

… that’s 373,983,739 pounds of gold @ $820/0z.

Regardless, no matter you calculate it, we are talking about an "ungodly" amount of money - and even though its officially a "loan" from the government, it's probably anybody's guess how much of it will ever get paid back!

Maybe, if Bloomberg wins their freedom of information suit we’ll find out the details of the commitments Paulson from Treasury and Bernake at the helm of the Fed have been making - or rather gambling - with our money. (Actually the treasure of our grandchildren and great grandchildren.)

Didn't Bernake's reply during hearings, that it would be 'counterproductive for the public to know what they are doing', strike anyone else as a display of sheer arrogance? Why on earth didn't he get grilled any further by those who represent "the people?" I "dreamt" that President Obama will consider calling for his resignation on Day 1 - and call for it publicly if he refuses. But I'm sure it was only a dream - for who would Obama be willing to put in his place at this point?

I realized today from catching up at Sojourners' daily digest (part of their "God's Politics" blog) that bailing out Citi is actually "old" news. We now have a new 800 Billion plan being floated to bail out 'the uncertain world of credit cards, student borrowing, auto loans, and cash-strapped small businesses.' Now Barack Obama is emphasizing how there's a 'rare consensus' among conservative and liberal economists, that a massive federal stimulus is necessary to revive the economy, even if it swells the federal budget deficit temporarily.

So, what do I really know? (Because I am certainly no economist!)

Well, I know that after trying to absorb all this, I do have serious nagging questions that I'm sure many other ordinary folks have as well:

--What happened to accountability by the bailed out banks that took in huge chunks of this money only to buy other banks (and give out bonuses to their executives) while remaining stingy on giving credit? (Will the same entities receiving all these government loans say someday, "Sorry, if we have to pay it back we'll go under?")

--And, what if this earlier "planned" bailout fails for lack of funds -- if this 4.6 trillion+ doesn’t manage to actually make it into the real world but remains ink on a page?

--Can we really trust what all these economists are saying? i.e. WILL "THE CENTER" HOLD?

Living outside America now in another country whose own government policies and latest news reports constantly feed off what is going on in the States -- as well as the rest of the world -- has only heightened my greatest concern, namely: Where is economic justice in all of this, and what about the incredible negative effects of America's recent actions on the rest of the world?

We are all networked together in a truly global economy, and there is no place to hide. So, how can America offer better leadership, among the other leading developed nations, beyond self-interest? Spend sufficient time and energy NOW collaborating with smaller developing nations to help protect their vulnerable economies from being dragged into depression as a direct result of key but virtually untested decisions by a few power brokers within the most powerful of nations?

I shall certainly pray for the new administration and our new President, so full of hope and energy now, but unfortunately looked to by many as more than just a wise man but also their "Messiah" -- which would be a big "set-up" for failure. Yes, I do admire him for bringing diverse people together, pledging to be more transparent with the public, and saying his administration will at least admit mistakes! (We shall see...)

I was "slouching towards Bethlehem" as I tried to absorb this overload of "reality." I went to the bank to find out where and how to invest in gold in this country. Here we are, missing the Thanksgiving holiday in America - feeling somewhat wistful without the traditional interaction among our dear friends and family members back in the States. (I sent out this electronic card to acknowledge what Carole Anne and I are missing right now, since we "risked all" and took the big leap in '08, to sojourn here to the far side of the world.)

But then as I began to reflect on the intangible rewards of having taken on lots of increased risk this year - to respond to a call - and let go of that which was formerly providing us with much "security" back in Indiana. No, it did not come "easy" but it all did come as a result of exercising a practical faith with the support of a caring community of faith that helps sustain us on this journey toward an uncertain future.

Here we are cultivating some wonderful supportive new friendships among people that really care. We have a mission to fulfill. It's not about our own comfort, but it's about helping to secure the comfort of others. That is where true happiness comes from - not from accumulation, but in giving of ourselves. We feel confident about the big picture because this sort of faith and assurance is rooted in an economy of gratitude -- in a God of love and grace, not fear. A God we believe was revealed fully through Jesus Christ - the best Source of security as we head into a very uncertain future -- in the earthly realm, that is!

Best of all, though I stumbled onto some gold today - right here - and some excellent guidance on "thinking THANKFULLY about money!" Don't miss finding it for yourself.

-Clair Hochstetler, Canberra, AUS

Monday 24 November 2008

"Healing our Relationship with the Environment" - an Interfaith Worship Service on the 14th of December

I thought some of my friends might be interested in knowing about the plans for what I think will prove to be a very interesting and inspirational Interfaith worship service coming up soon, Sunday afternoon, 14th of December, here in Canberra on the theme "Healing our Relationship with the Environment."

This event was organized jointly by the Interfaith Forum of the Australian Capital Territory (IFFACT) in association with the United Ngunawal Elders Council, the ACT Indigenous Community and the ACT Palliative Care Society.

Here is the location that was selected. One can scroll down to see "Site C", quite close to Clare Holland House - Canberra's inpatient hospice facility - so that, potentially, hospice residents and their family members (who are themselves connected to a variety of cultures and spiritual traditions) can also easily access this service!

Below is the provisional outline of the program planned thus far:


1. Acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the Land

2. Welcome to Country - …………
(United Ngunawal Elders Council)

3. Didjeridu interlude ………………….

4. Introduction of Theme: Kinship with the Land
(Speaker: Ngunawal Elder)………………..

5. Readings or stories from Spiritual Traditions:
a. Aboriginal/Indigenous ………………
b. Baha’i ………………
c. Brahma Kumaris ……………....
d. Buddhist ………………
e. Christian ………………
f. Hindu ………………
g. Jewish ………………
h. Muslim ………………
i. Sathya Sai ………………
j. Sikh ………………
k. Sukyo Mahikari ………………

6. Address: Healing our relationship with the Environment
Speaker: TBA

7. Musical or other cultural interlude

8. Prayers for the World and the Environment – Ahmed Youssef

9. Words of Thanks ………………

10. Light Refreshments (while visiting)

Sunday 23 November 2008

Why President Bush Should Simply Resign - Right Now!

"It's time for President George W. Bush to go!" (How to do this...)

Why it should be done : (Read "We Found The W.M.D." which explains how the bottom just might fall out of the entire economy, even before Obama starts!)

There isn't a snowball's chance....or is there? If so, it would really give America something for which to be truly thankful -- on Thanksgiving Day, this week!

Hoping for better,
Clair Hochstetler
in Canberra, Australia

What Happy People DON'T Do!

Here is an interesting article in the news that I think will be quite good for folks to "take it to heart." It's based on research from the reported in the New York Times this past week.

But I wonder: Might the results be influenced by the fact that what sells on TV is mostly "bad news", sex, and violence? Or is it the common sensical reality that most people watching lots of TV are not "out there" interacting with real human beings at the time?

And I want to ask my Australian friends if you think this article would apply to Aussies, as well?



19 November, 2008
What Happy People Don't Do
By Roni Caryn Rabin - The New York Times

Happy people spend a lot of time socializing, going to church and reading newspapers - but they don't spend a lot of time watching television, a new study finds.

That's what unhappy people do.

Although people who describe themselves as happy enjoy watching television, it turns out to be the single activity they engage in less often than unhappy people, said John Robinson, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and the author of the study, which appeared in the journal Social Indicators Research.

While most large studies on happiness have focused on the demographic characteristics of happy people - factors like age and marital status -Dr. Robinson and his colleagues tried to identify what activities happy people engage in. The study relied primarily on the responses of 45,000 Americans collected over 35 years by the University of Chicago's General Social Survey, and on published "time diary" studies recording the daily activities of participants.

"We looked at 8 to 10 activities that happy people engage in, and for each one, the people who did the activities more - visiting others, going to church, all those things - were more happy," Dr. Robinson said."TV was the one activity that showed a negative relationship. Unhappy people did it more, and happy people did it less."

But the researchers could not tell whether unhappy people watch more television or whether being glued to the set is what makes people unhappy. "I don't know that turning off the TV will make you more happy," Dr. Robinson said.

Still, he said, the data show that people who spend the most time watching television are least happy in the long run.

Since the major predictor of how much time is spent watching television is whether someone works or not, Dr. Robinson added, it's possible that rising unemployment will lead to more TV time.

Monday 17 November 2008

Reflections On "Dual Citizenship" and "Homeland Security" - from the perspective of Philippians 3:20

"For our country is in heaven; from where the Saviour for whom we are waiting will come, even the Lord Jesus Christ:" Philippians 3:20 (Today's English Version)

This brings to mind the song "this world is not my home, I'm just a passing through" and Jesus words, "My kingdom is not of/in/like this world's."

Many jubilant folks carry great expectations - especially throughout the international community - that the new Obama administration will be able to rebuild trust, provide good leadership, reshape priorities and rebuild the "infrastructure" of goodwill that had been squandered by the current administration, and find effective ways to deal with some of the most pressing economic and other systemic problems the United States has ever faced. In other words - 'rebuild the kingdom' and bring about the "change" Obama promised: "Yes, we can." Watching the rerun of this Sunday night's CBS "60 Minutes" interview of Michele and Barack Obama sure does give hope to those of us who actually supported him during this run for Presidency!

But, realistically, won't it be nigh to impossible for any mortal leader to live up to ALL of these elevated expectations? We are facing many of the same issues here, lead by the new administration of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd -- appointed less than a year ago to lead the charge in Australia.

Back to that Philippians passage: it does gives rise to a very relevant question: As a citizen, what now is my responsibility to this 'world' -- or, specifically, to 'my country' soon to be lead (thank God) by a new Commander-in-Chief?

"How are you traveling?" is a common greeting here in Australia...(No one greets you with the question "How are you DOING?" Aussies ask "How are you GOING?!") I like that little twist on the grammer of the journey of life. How am I 'traveling,' as a serious follower of Jesus our Lord and king, if I give PRIMARY allegiance to another commander-in-chief?

Or, to ask the question in a slightly different way, if US citizens rely on a particular branch of government for 'Homeland Security', are they placing their security and confidence in just 'another god?' Hmmmmm? This all reminds me of the sign in front of a security business which says: "Trust in God." Right under that: "Hawk Security Systems" !! It's worth some discussion.

Some important questions about "citizenship" ethics are worth exploring, which I hope get raised even if 'the elections' are finally over: For example, taking this passage in Philippians seriously involves asking "What is one to do when the moral and ethical demands of earthly and heavenly citizenship demands collide?" (Christians from all points on the political spectrum are often moved to ask this question - or at least should be!)

During the recent election my United States citizenship expectation was that I vote. And I did, with an absentee ballot. But, I found myself expressing a variety of moral/ethical qualms - and I confess I did not often have very good resolutions. My Republican friends often badgered me with questions about how I could vote for Obama with his stance on protecting Roe vs. Wade, among other "liberal" issues. While I do have a problem with liberal abortion policies, I, on the other hand have many qualms about many other "conservative" policies that foment violence and killing and compromise a seamless "ethic of life." Conservative Christian leaders have found ways to justify all this in the name of preserving "freedom" but these policies need to be wrestled with, in my view, in light of other clear biblical principles Jesus taught to protect and preserve life.

And what about this distressing issue: Could I vote with integrity for either of the two main party leader(s) who in a time of great financial distress in the USA - indeed, the whole world - spent nearly HALF A BILLION dollars in self-promotion during this unbelievably LONG campaign? Though I think most raising the issue recognized the importance of the outcome this time around, over the past several months I heard many here in Australia lament (or at least question) the incomprehensible sums of money spent. Wasn't at least half of it wasted? What, you might say in America -- there is no way around it. Oh, really?

Indeed, the rest of the world got very tired hearing the incessant news on the US Presidential campaign's "progress" - in very high gear for over two years. The US could learn a lot from most of the other western countries/democracies who would NEVER allow any campaign to extend that long. Will there, could there, ever be hope for CHANGE in such a "system" that so readily and wantonly squanders such huge resources? I'm just thinking about what even half of that money could do, applied to some of the other pressing needs of the world -- needs Jesus himself would consider to be priorities placed high on the scale of things we need to be about.

As citizens of God's kingdom - first and foremost - don't we share the responsiblity to address the wisest use of money and resources that can address these priorities in our world - and the countries in which we find ourselves participating as citizens? Setting and shaping priorities that truly work to improve the "security" and well-being of people will, I imagine, be the basis of much ongoing debate among the American people and in Congress, led by the new Obama administration chosen by the plurality of those same citizens.

Back, once more, to Philippians, so relevant to our current "situation." I invite you to absorb an astute British university professor's essay/sermon on responsible "dual" citizenship, based on the Phil. 3:20 passage I quoted above. (He notes the important factor of Philippian Roman citizenship to the thinking of Paul, the author of that letter of encouragement.) Thus, I do hope you will take the time to "scan" it now, to at least get the gist, and share your own comments and perspective.

Clair Hochstetler
Canberra, Australia

Thursday 6 November 2008

Cars are about to run on air in other parts of the world, so why not in the United States?

Odds are you've never heard of this car. Why not?

Why is a company in Luxembourg developing it with zero help from the high rolling US-UK dominated global financial system?

The answer is quite simple: The banking system and the oil industry are closely intertwined and they want to protect their investment in the gasoline/petrol infrastructure at all costs!

Fortunately, Luxembourg doesn't have the same commitment to petrol as fuel that the US and UK does. France and Luxembourg don't have oil companies, but they don't have the equivalent of Exxon or Royal Dutch Shell. India doesn't either. But the French/Luxembourgish people and the Indians (Tata Motors) do have superb engineers.

Assuming the collapse of the global financial system doesn't derail the launch of this car over the next year, India and parts of Europe will have vehicles completely independent of the oil companies soon. No toxic fuel, no toxic emissions, super low cost, utter reliability, and here's the really cool part: the "fuel" could be available anywhere there is room for an air compressor including your own home. (Of course, the air compressors also need electricity for power, but this method of powering vehicles involves a whole lot less energy than the conventional way. And if alternative renewable energy sources - including "clean" nuclear energy (on which Europeans are also working successfully to develop) can be harnessed to power the compressors, just image the difference this could make in our future!

Cars like the one you saw above will be priced in a range ($5,100 to $7,800 US) within reach of consumers in a developing economy. The production of another CAT car for local markets might begin early 2009 in Spain and Australia.

What's not to like about this? Why is the news of this technology all but banned in the US? The banking system and the oil industry (and news media industry) are closely intertwined. It's really that simple, folks.

So do something - like this enterprising Italian- Australian trying to give his invention a "go." Yes, the time is right.

I'm going to try very hard to get one of these vehicles while living here in Australia. And I'll be happy to let you know how its "goes!"


Friday 31 October 2008

How can you be "Pro-life" and still support Senator Obama for President?

Martin Sheen is a lifelong Roman Catholic, political and social activist, and actor. As an activist, his faith has led him to participate in numerous campaigns to make the world a more just and compassionate place and to stand up for "the least of these" in our society. As an actor, he is perhaps best known for his portrayal of President Jed Bartlet on The West Wing. He has been married to his wife, Janet, since 1961, and has four children and five grandchildren.

Douglas W. Kmiec holds the endowed chair in Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University. Prior to that, he was dean and St. Thomas More Professor of Law at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. He also served as Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Mr. Kmiec is author of the new book, Can A Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question About Barack Obama. He has worked with the Matthew 25 Network to launch an information website for Pro-Life supporters of Senator Obama. Visit to learn more.

I imagine most of us who are thoughtful about our faith and politics get hit with the abortion issue at some time or another in our discussions with others and it is indeed a difficult issue to approach.

President Jimmy Carter himself did not/does not agree with abortion. However, during his presidency he did not feel that he should impose his personal and religious beliefs on a law that had already been decided. Therefore, WIC was formed - and the statistics clearly show that the rate of abortions decreased. Sen. Obama's position in support of women's issues would have the same effect - decreasing the rate of abortion. Here is What Obama Will Do


Friday 24 October 2008

Get your free "check-up" done here!

It's online: "CheckUp!"

Obama/McCain: having a funny "debate!"

The 2008 Al Smith Memorial Dinner in NYC the evening of Oct 16 turned into a"roast" contest between Obama and McCain. If you think of it as the last "debate" it was probably the best one.

I laughed hard at both when I watched their speeches, broadcast everywhere, especially on YouTube, and I'm sharing it here in case you missed it before, like I did, being here in Australia and all...)

McCain stayed in "funny mode" all the way through, but Obama got serious over the last two minutes and made some excellent remarks at the end, not wasting the opportunity, referring to the scriptural obligation to "do justice" on behalf of those less fortunate than ourselves.

(If you want to skip the speeches before John McCain starts out, followed by Obama, skip ahead to about the 6:30 minute mark.)


Sunday 12 October 2008

Now that two Catholic nuns have been officially branded as terrorists...

For many, it's an exceedingly difficult task: how does one go about integrating their faith with values like peacemaking, justice, global concern, non-violence, respect for diversity, and building HOPE in a climate of intense insecurity -- when fear-mongering and nationalism "take over", steadily advancing the creep toward fascism?

This agenda justifies having more than one column on such a challenging topic, but I've decided to really get minds and hearts engaged by first posting some fairly provocative material about what is happening around us currently, in real time:

So, read here about the response of two Catholic nuns who recently found out they were put on the "terrorist" list!

This news from just yesterday is another among an increasing number of examples illustrating how this checklist for "How To Create a Fascist State" is now almost fully implemented by the Bush Administration. (This is the "blueprint" -- first invented by Mussolini with inspiration from Lenin, then elaborated on by Hitler, then adopted by Stalin who studied Hitler.)

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
2. Create a gulag
3. Develop a thug caste
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
5. Harass citizens' groups
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
7. Target key individuals
8. Control the press
9. Dissent equals treason
10. Suspend the rule of law

Step #10 is just around the corner, once they implement martial law in America, which will be "easy peasy" to pull off since:

1) On October 1, 2008 President Bush redeployed a 3,000+ member brigade of soldiers from an infantry division, relocating them from Iraq to the streets of America, totally unaccountable to Congress or to any State governor but under his own total control as his personal army, ready to quell any "unrest" or "outbreaks" that could erupt. (That was the specific rationale given.) This is the FIRST time since 1807, when a bright line was drawn between military and civilian policing of domestic affairs.

2) Last week Congress was hoodwinked into giving President Bush a $100 BILLION in a "discretionary fund" to be spent any way he likes with NO Congressional oversight. (It was slipped into the "fine print" of the huge $700 billion bail out bill.) You can find this discussed here, 9:30 minutes into
this very intense interview of Naomi Wolf.

So, who are the real terrorists in America? Not these nuns, that's for sure!
Here's a very short but well-written clip exposing just how the American people are being manipulated and "prepared" to wholly accept step # 10.

Naomi Wolf's recommendation? Impeachment of Bush and Cheney is not enough. Prosecuting (and jailing) them for crimes committed is the only rational solution, and time is rapidly running out for any courageous district attorney to do so -- since they are the only ones with the authority left to do such an "outrageous" thing!

Since these are unprecedented times, with events unfolding rapidly in "biblical" proportions, what do you think the prophet Amos or Jeremiah would recommend, and how would they communicate it, if they were observing these developments today?


Lest you be "put off" by Naomi Wolf's comment that the constitution establishes "no God" she is referring to the American people's Bill of Rights establishing complete freedom of religion.

Also, in James Pense's video, I think his sarcastic comment about those who just want to exhale and say "Thank you, Jesus" can be taken into the same context as Jesus' own words, found in Matthew 7:22-23: "Many will say to Me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.' "

Watch this rather humorous clarification of where Pence is at, from a religous/spiritual point of view, and the challenge we have in communicating with others seeking to be faithful to their religious convictions as they choose who to vote for (and if they are going to vote) in this 2008 US election. He entitled this sketch: "Deacon Billy Bob's Gospel Truth Emails!"

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is within you.” 1 Peter 3:15

To be continued...

Thursday 9 October 2008

The Micah Challenge

The Micah Challenge

This is a moment in history of unique potential,
when the stated intentions of world leaders
echo something of the mind of the Biblical prophets
and the teachings of Jesus concerning the poor, and
when we have the means to dramatically reduce poverty.

We commit ourselves, as followers of Jesus,
to work together for the holistic transformation of our communities,
to pursue justice, be passionate about kindness
and to walk humbly with God.

We call on international and national decision-makers
of both rich and poor nations, to fulfil their public promise
to achieve the Millennium Development Goals
and so halve absolute global poverty by 2015.

We call on Christians everywhere to be agents of hope
for and with the poor, and to work with others
to hold our national and global leaders accountable
in securing a more just and merciful world.


It would be nice if all my friends reading this back in the States already knew about "Micah Challenge", a global movement of Christians that I am learning a lot about. It aims to strengthen engagement with the poor by integrating social justice as an essential aspect of faith; I don't know about you, but I must confess I didn't know diddly about Micah Challenge until I moved here to Australia. I don't know how I missed it before...

Micah Challenge seeks to encourage the leaders of all nations to fulfil their commitments to the Millennium development goals set in the year 2000 - in particular, to cut absolute poverty in half by 2015. If every person chooses to act withjustice and kindness, walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8), just imagine the impact it would have! Here is a succinct portrayal of the core values as well as the global problems Micah Challenge seeks to address by living them out.

Senior leaders from Christian groups from four continents (mostly in the Southern Regions) recently called upon US Christians to "use theircitizenship responsibly" and speak out in protest against the failure of UNand US leaders to make progress on the Millennium Development Goals, and tostem the global food crisis. You can read a copy of that letter here. It was sent to the Presidentialcandidates, as well. (Jim Wallis from Sojourners wrote recently at his blog, God's Politics, concerning these efforts.)

Are you all aware how this weekend there are coordinated events all across the GLOBE in this campaign against poverty? Our congregation is co-hosting (with the Wesley Uniting Church) the Australian national conference of Micah Challenge, with the theme: "Voices for Justice." Interesting activities abound.

Rev. Joel Edwards, a Jamaican and currently the International Director of Micah Challenge will be here with us, speaking Sunday morning at our congregation and at Wesley Uniting on Sunday evening. He's a very effective. And I imagine there will be some good music, too, by groups such as these, connected to the Micah Challenge.

Then, next Monday morning, hundreds of conference attendees from around this country will gather on the steps of Parliament to personally deliver thousands of hand-written letters that have been gathered urging members of Parliament and the Prime Minister to do better approaching the MilleniumDevelopment goals and take more significant actions to reduce extreme poverty.

This should be interesting, because Micah Challenge is only one of dozens and dozens of organizations uniting to form the largest anti-poverty movement in history. It's all part of a much larger 'Global Call to Action Against Poverty' involving more than 80 countries. (In Australia, the movement is called "MAKE POVERTY HISTORY.") It is a coalition of more than 60 aid agencies, community groups and religious organisations working to hold all these nations accountable to their original commitment to achieve the MDGs.

So, what is happening in your community in this regard? Anything?

Hoffnung. espoir. esperanza. Hope!

Tuesday 7 October 2008

BrassCheck TV Didn't Share the Whole Story Today!

(I tried to send BrassCheck TV the following messge today, but it will likely never be read, per their "policy", as explained by their autoresponder. So, I'm posting this copy, hoping others among their readership might gain a fuller picture and have some false assumptions allayed, if directed here.)

Dear friends at BrassCheck TV:

Re: "Who runs your country?" - the episode you sent out today (07 Oct 2008)

I'm an American with progressive political leanings, but now living in the capital city of Australia. I am generally sympathetic to your cause, and you did ask some great questions today!

BUT, you do a great disservice to Australians - and Americans who may now have the wrong impression - by not explaining that the citizens of Australia actually KICKED OUT Prime Minister John Howard last year - precisely for being George W's "puppet!" Stuff like this confirms why the Aussies finally got real tired of Howard's antics.

Please, help remind your readers there has been a major "Regime Change" here, as well -- that this is OLD news and not current reality -- at least not in Australia! We will never see or hear the likes of this coming from the mouth of Australia's current Prime Minister, Labor Party's Kevin Rudd -- a man of much greater character and integrity and definitely NOT a puppet of the Bush Administration. He went to America and told Bush where to get off, and took the Australian troops right out of Iraq ASAP when he came into office, as he promised during his campaign.

I also lived in Canada for three years, long enough to foster some awareness of Canadian politics. As YouTube's description said, that was Steven Harper giving the Canadian speech, and he is indeed their current Prime Minister -- BUT NOT when he offered up that speech when the Liberal Party was still in power!

It was in 2002, when Harper succeeded Stockwell Day as leader of the Canadian Alliance and returned to Parliament as Leader of the Opposition. Then, in 2003, he reached an agreement with Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay for the merger of their two parties to form the Conservative Party of Canada. Steven Harper did not become Canada's Prime Minister until 2004 -- the year AFTER his speech was delivered as part of "the Opposition."

Further, the Liberal Party "splash screen" on YouTube's movie makes it appear to unknowing Americans like an indictment of the Liberal Party in Canada, instead of a piece being sponsored by them! (It's also worth explaining that the Liberal Party in Australia means the opposite from what it means in Canada. Here it's the party of political conservatives: the party of John Howard, the first speechmaker!)

This tells the story of a recent ad sponsored by the Canadian Liberal Party, which reveals this link between Bush, Howard, and Harper. You could have simply said that, and cited your source.

Don't get me wrong - I'm quite happy you picked up on this story about plagiarism and "parroting" Bush. However, even though I think your basic point was worth making from a historical point of view, please - do your homework by adding in a phrase or two of "context" in order to avoid spreading false impressions to your base readership about current reality. Can you send out a postscript?

Americans don't know nearly enough about Australia (nor Canada, their own neighbor to the north) as it is, and good progressive Canadians and Australians who see this piece will certainly be sensitive to these issues -- so why risk alienating them, as well?

Take care,
Clair Hochstetler
(A US citizen from the state of Indiana, recently moved to Canberra)

Monday 6 October 2008

History Comes Alive Again: What Would FDR Do If He Were President?

There was one time in our history when the US government closed the doors to every bank in the nation for a very short time -- it was called a "bank holiday." It happened when Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) first took office in 1933 - and this was his very first act as President.

By 1933, over $140 billion in depositors' money had gone up in smoke because of banking failures (over 9,000 altogether during the 30's) and there was a run on banks throughout the country that threatened to bring the whole system down.

This was in an era when you could buy a luxury car for less than $1,000 and a mansion for $20,000.

One of our problems is that the only people who actually lived through the reality of this time and were adults when it happened are 90 years and older - which is probably why we are repeating it again.

FDR, as President, explained it all to the American people during his first "Fireside Chat" seventy-five years ago, and it was a chat only 13 minutes long!

There are three striking features about this talk:

1. It's coherent and detailed.

2. The government at the time seemed to have the capacity to rapidly evaluate the soundness of banks throughout the nation.

3. The currency sent to replenish bank supply was, according to FDR, backed by sound assets.

Today there are idiots in the White House who can't string sentences together that make sense; the government not only can't seem to examine banks, it doesn't seem to feel any responsibility to do so; and in our contemporary "Version 2008" - our administration has a penchant for creating new money based on assets we already know are garbage!

So, by this standard, it stands to reason that we are actually in WORSE shape than back in the 1930s -- we are at the mercy of rattled and confused "financiers" who are likely to continue to pull numbers (like 700 Billion) out of hats. Not only that it will be over three more months until the next administration takes charge! They really could/should take notes from FDR's first masterful Fireside Chat:

Here is the link to Part 2 (only 6.5 minutes long)

-Clair (Adapted from what I found at BrassCheck TV)

Friday 3 October 2008

Are "The Foundations" Shaking?

Australians are always closely following what is happening in the US and the rest of the world, but even moreso during this global economic crisis, and they are wondering how hard the dog is going to wag the tail here!

However, in the midst of all these tangible stressors and challenges -- I found some very Good News to share with you all today!


Are “The Foundations Shaking”?
By Bishop Michael J. Coyner

Given the vote by Congress to turn down the economic bailout (or rescue plan or whatever it is called), and given the sudden drop of the stock market on Monday, many writers are predicting doom and gloom. Some reporters and economic experts are saying that “the foundations are shaking” – and of course that kind of talk only adds to our sense of demise. The “blame game” provides yet another whole layer of depressing news, and we ordinary citizens are left to wonder if it is all falling apart when politicians are all blaming one another for this failure.

I realize that we are in tough times, and I certainly don’t want to downplay the painful economics that many are feeling. It may well be that we in the U.S. deserve what we are experiencing right now, because we have enjoyed several decades of prosperity which have led many of us into unhealthy patterns of greed and a sense of entitlement.

However, I have real doubts that the “foundations of the world” are shaking. Let me lift up some foundations that seem to be still in place:

1. I noticed that the sun rose again this morning, and the patterns of nature and creation still seem to be in place.

2. I can see that photosynthesis is still operating as plants continue to grow and produce a harvest.

3. When I slipped off my chair at a meeting, I noticed that the law of gravity is still working quite well, and it is good to know that we can depend upon this force to keep us from flying off into space.

4. I am still able to love and to be loved by my spouse, my family, my close friends, and by God. I am grateful that this foundational power is not damaged by the ups and downs of the Dow.

5. Every Sunday when I preach in a different church around Indiana, I discover a congregation of people whose faith is intact and often vibrant. Certainly many of our churches share in the same economic issues that face our nation, but in church after church I still find people whose faith is strong and unshaken.

I could name other “foundations” and I am sure you can, too, but my point is quite simple: Don’t panic, don’t assume that the whole world is falling apart, hold fast to your faith and your good sense about life, and don’t let the bad news out of Washington shake your foundations. The foundations of the world belong to God, not to Wall Street, not to the politicians, and not to the economists. As Scripture says (Psalm 104:1-5)...

Praise the LORD, O my soul.
O LORD my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty.

He wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.

He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.

He makes winds his messengers,
flames of fire his servants.

He set the earth on its foundations;
it can never be moved.

Bishop Michael J. Coyner heads the Indiana Area of The United Methodist Church.

The source on the net is here.


Prophetic Warning?

"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies...

If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks]... will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."

—Thomas Jefferson

Saturday 27 September 2008

My official "Induction" - Australian style - as Chaplain Manager of The Canberra Hospital

Friends (and family):

Last evening, Thursday, 25 September 2008, was a very empowering experience for me, especially when, near the end, the entire gathering of 50 some participants in the hospital's Chapel gathered round and laid their hands on me or extended their prayers through others to me in a fantastic web of support and affirmation. Carole Anne and I then closed the service together, just prior to my benediction, by sharing/teaching one of our favorite hymns: "My Life Flows On", in keeping with the River of Life theme (Psalm 46) that was utilized in the service and is depicted visually in the Chapel itself.

I will post on my blog the audio file of that entire 45 minute service which Carole Anne had the foresight to record on our digital recorder (plus include there, later, some other nice pics taken on our digital camera by Jane Barr) if I can figure out how to transform a 10 MB wma file into a more manageable mp3 file.

Here's the copy sent to TCH Public Relations for publishing:

Chaplain Clair Hochstetler is The Canberra Hospital's new Manager of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care Department, who comes to us after ten years in a similar position with a health system in northern Indiana, USA. Clair was officially commissioned into his new responsibilities during a packed-out induction service Thursday evening 25 September '08, in the Chapel which depicts the theme of the River of Life. Pictured here is Rev. Jim Barr (on the left) of Canberra Baptist Church, a member of the search committee and representing the Ecumenical Churches Council, offering Clair one of four symbols, a digital voice recorder set to "high sensitivity" representing good listening skills. Other symbols were the towel and basin (authentic service to others), the Book (a Bible in both English and another Asian language), and a lantern (holding forth the light, inspiration, and hope in the midst of darkness.)

Also standing are the four other chaplain team leaders at TCH, supported by their respective faith groups and teams of chaplain volunteers - and coordinated by Clair who also leads the General team. They received the symbols from Clair and shared in a litany: Sr. Kathleen Keenan (Catholic), Rev. Arnold Bartholomew (Presbyterian), Rev. Richard Pedersen (Uniting Church), and Rev. Harley Lockley (Anglican.) Seated are Carole Anne, Clair's spouse, and Geoffrey Hunter, chair of the ACT Pastoral Care Board, to which Clair now reports. Also involved were representatives of Baptist Community Services of NSW and ACT (through whom Clair is contracted with ACT Health), other members of the ACT Health and Welfare Chaplains Association, the Ecumenical Churches Council, various members of the the TCH staff and patients/families already touched by Clair's ministry, and members of the Canberra Baptist Church with whom Clair and Carole Anne affiliate.


Now, folks, for another major point of celebration: I got the official word just last week that the leading officer of ACT Health in charge of authorizing the funds to make it happen has actually finally inked the agreement to hire me full time here at this hospital system as of February 1. I'm contracted for 25 hours a week now -- and am continuing part-time in pastoral care consultation & program development with the Canberra Baptist Church until then.

That moves the TCH chaplaincy management position from 15 hrs a week (my predecessor) to 0.6 FTE (now) to 1.0 FT over this space of 7 months, and will then allow me to ramp up at least 50% of my time for direct care of patients/families, which is what I really want.

Walking a bit on the clouds today,

Thursday 4 September 2008

Reflections on a News Report: "Afghan Bombing: 90 Killed" (Among Them, 60 Children?)

I'm sharing, verbatim, this reflection I received today from a friend, Gene Stoltzfus, which is "just intended to keep everyone alert as the sun sets on summer" in the US of A. -Clair

Afghan Bombing: 90 Killed

On August 21 a major bombing tragedy occurred near the western Afghan province of Herat. According to the Afghan government and UN sources, 60 children and 30 civilian adults were killed. The Pentagon has disputed this charge and said that only five civilians and 25 Talilban insurgents were killed in the midnight air attack on the village of Azizabad. Ninety percent of all aircraft in the Afghan war belong to the US. Air attacks have increased dramatically as the Taliban have gotten stronger over the last year. In one month, July of this year, the total tonnage of dropped bombs equalled the total tonnage for all of 2006. The air war in Afghanistan is growing as the balance in the ground war shifts to engage intensified Taliban strength.

Afghan officials in Herat said that the bomb fell on villagers who had gathered for a memorial ceremony for a person killed last year. This story was a minor blip in the late August headlines as US politicians maneuvered for position at the polls and struggled to outdo one another to support the war effort in Afghanistan. Unless an independent inquiry is launched the entire incident, perhaps one of many in Afghanistan, will hover on the edge our consciousness for several months as official military inquiries grind on until its memory disappears.

But, an independent inquiry requires people on the ground with skills in interviewing, cross checking and a commitment to establishing the truth. Included among the questions would be how many people were killed? Was there reliable or inaccurate intelligence? Had villagers actually gathered for a ceremony of remembrance? Was the ceremony a cover for other organizational endeavours? Were there civilians present? Were there actually 30 children killed? Why would children be present if the event was called for strategic reasons? As a real inquiry developed, these questions would lead to deeper questions related to air strikes in general and the accountability of expatriate bombings to the Afghan government.

In conditions of war where suspicions run high and truth is regularly compromised it is difficult but not impossible to carry out such an inquiry. For credibility a team of fact finders would need to be made up of a combination of Afghan and international participants who can carry on conversations and ask questions in an atmosphere of trust. My own experience is that the passions unleashed by an event such as this pushes the families of victims to outbursts of anger mixed with statements of truth telling. By meeting enough people a general picture of what occurred can be reconstructed and described in detail. It may be more difficult to gain reliable information from military sources but even this is not impossible. My experience is that despite the appearance of rigid discipline and single mindedness there are soldiers who will talk usually off the record and after a respectful relationship has been established.

In violent conditions like the town of Azizabad on August 21, 2008, persons from the outside may be viewed as deceptive representatives of those who carried out the bombing unless introductions are facilitated in a trusted manner. Other forms of trust building may be required. But most important is the interview process itself. Where trauma, hatred, fear, distrust and grief are present, relating with a personal touch can be crucial. The quality of the interview, if limited only to the objective facts, may remain surface and even be devoid of factual reliability. The interviewer may need to address the pain and grief or the memory of the one(s) who died by questions such as, What can you tell me about the person who was killed? How was he or she known in the family or village? Did the person have any premonition that a terrible tragedy may be in store? Finally the team of inquiry will have to address the question that is uppermost in minds of families of the victims, What good will this inquiry achieve? Will anyone listen? Will we see compensation or justice for the tragedy?

This kind of work takes time. Many would prefer that an inquiry be bent to make recommendations to policy makers, i.e those who plan the bombing and target them My own judgment is that it is much better to simply tell the story of what happened as truthfully as possible. When the fact finding team is confident of the truth, its findings will speak for themselves. Perhaps the independent inquiry will find that US spokesperson Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green was right when she described the charges of killing so many civilians as, "outrageous". But, if official responses prove to be unfounded and it turns out that a massacre has occurred, the findings will cry out to the world with a quality of moral indignation that no one, not even a heavily medaled general can disregard for long.

To contact the author, Gene Stoltzfus:
RR #1 RMB 293, Fort Frances. ON P9A3M2
Box 1482, International Falls, MN 56649
tel. 807-274-0138
skype: Gene Stoltzfus

Tuesday 2 September 2008

A Nice Meditation for America's Labor Day...

SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL - By Dr. Michael A. Halleen

"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?" (Psalm 42:11)

I've heard some grumbling about today — Labor Day in the U.S. It's the traditional start of the fall (and school!) season and, worse, it marks the end of summer in the minds of many in my part of the country. It's been a beautiful summer, and some of the grumbling, I confess, has been my own.

When I start to hear myself complain, I choose to recall my visit to a house church in Vladimir, Russia. On a stormy Sunday morning in May, just a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, twenty or so American travelers and I made our way down a steep hillside through a gloomy, old residential area. From the outside, the house appeared empty — no cars on the street, no light in the windows. Were we in the right place?

Indeed we were. Inside, a crowd three times our size had gathered and was waiting — shoulder to shoulder — for the still novel experience of sharing worship with Westerners. Folding chairs were being shared by two persons, and many people were seated, knees up, on the floor to make room for their honored guests. There was energy in that place, despite wrinkled faces and mournful songs.

The three-hour service concluded with a ceremonial foot-washing. Men went to one room, women to another. I was invited to be the first to have my feet washed. A pail of water and a towel were produced, and a man named Pavel eagerly knelt at my feet to do the honors. After carefully drying my feet, Pavel motioned for me to stand, whereupon he grabbed my shoulders and — in the Russian way — kissed me on the mouth. I was then to wash the feet of a Russian named Sasha. When I finished, I thought I could get by — in the American way — with a handshake. No chance. In that house, things were done by their rules.

As our hosts shared tea and bread with us in the early hours of the afternoon, Pavel took me aside. Gesturing toward the dreary street, he said, "Our souls are always sad if we think only of what we see in this world. But why be sad? With God nothing is impossible! He gives us something beautiful to think about every day! Thank you for visiting us!" And he (thankfully) shook my hand.

As the summer passes, Pavel — the Russian psalmist's — words ring in memory. How can I be downcast about the passing of a season? Love is strong, God is good, and there is something beautiful to think about — and something good to do — today.

Just a taste of what can be experienced when literal foot-washing is still included in communion time - just like it still is in the Church of the Brethren - and among many in the Mennonite tradition...

Blessings to all,
Clair Hochstetler
Canberra, Australia

Sunday 31 August 2008

Conversation with a friend who probably wonders if I'm still a Christian because of my political leanings...

Earlier today I sent out some political commentary about McCain's choice for Vice President to a list of family and friends, which has already generated at least one very concerned response. I responded in turn. I then shared a copy of the exchange with the original list of family and friends, for further enlightenment and reflection, lest others begin to also wonder if I'm still a Christian!


-Clair Hochstetler

"x" I am surprised by your response as I am primarily concerned here about the quality of political leadership, direction and strategy, not which candidate is more "Christian." You send me political stuff "to get me thinking" and I thought I would send you something to "to get you thinking." I don't think our political philosophies will ever mesh, but why does that make you question the integrity of my Christian commitment?

Even though I didn't write the piece I sent you I endorse it and that is why I passed it on. I don't know if it was written by a Christian or not but I certainly think it could have. "x", haven't you met any people before, in your circles - besides me - who have "religious" leanings (Christian in my case) who happen to be political moderates, or who are progressive -- or even "left-wing" politically -- as well as those in your own circle of friends who are right-wing politically?

Maybe you should dip into something like the "God's Politics" blog sometimes - to get better acquainted with other political views that are assessed to be as thoroughly based on Christian principles as yours are: This article, on the "God's Politics" blog airs the option for a third political party in American politics - which I personally think isn't a bad idea!)

Perhaps you take exception to the statement that Palin "believes creationism should be taught in PUBLIC schools?" How is being opposed to that making you question Christian commitment? What if the writer believed it's OK to teach that in parochial/Christian schools if that is what the school board decides to do, but NOT in public schools - which I do. There is no one "Christian" way to think politically on this subject, "x". If you believe in separation of church and state you have to be careful about not only this but a whole range of issues that affect public policy.

In any case, I am concerned, bottom line, in this Presidential/Vice Presidential election about experience for office and principles of governance such as experience and strategy in foreign policy, issues like the best stewardship of the earth's resources, a comprehensive worldview that will make for effectiveness in international diplomacy, etc. Australians are HIGHLY concerned about these sorts of issues here, and are watching this election quite closely.

My daily interactions involve purely secular people as well as lots of dedicated Christian people, including LOTS of Baptists here in Canberra, many of whom take initiative with me to talk about American politics - I don't bring it up on my own - when they find out I'm American. And I must tell you, "x", that (even though I'm sure there must be someone out there who feels otherwise) I have YET to met a single Australian here who thinks that McCain would be the better president in today's world.

Need I say again that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican?

Don't worry, this interchange won't damage our friendship, I actually hope it strengthens it. I will always be the husband of one of your best friends, so we have no choice!


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, Aug 31, 2008 at 10:48 AM
Subject: Chat with "x"
To: Clair Hochstetler

I gotta tell you Clair, despite your personal political preferences, or anyone else's for that matter, I would never think your email to have come from a Christian. I am quite dumbfounded; irregardless of your opinion of any of the candidates, I cannot line up the stand you take on so many important issues with the Word of God. I will compose an email in response, although I am doubtful that it will be fruitful. One can always hope!!


(As a reference point for both of us, in case we continue this "thread" of conversation, "x", I'm attaching a copy of what I'd sent, to which you were responding above:)

Yesterday was John McCain's 72nd birthday. If elected, he'd be the oldest president ever inaugurated. And after months of slamming Barack Obama for "inexperience," here's who John McCain has chosen to be one heartbeat away from the presidency: a right-wing religious conservative with no foreign policy experience, who until recently was mayor of a town of 9,000 people.


Who is Sarah Palin? Here's some basic background:

  • She was elected Alaska's governor a little over a year and a half ago. Her previous office was mayor of Wasilla, a small town outside Anchorage. She has no foreign policy experience.1
  • Palin opposes abortion even in the case of rape or incest.2
  • She supported right-wing extremist Pat Buchanan for president in 2000. 3
  • Palin thinks creationism should be taught in public schools.4
  • She's doesn't think humans are the cause of climate change.5
  • She's solidly in line with John McCain's "Big Oil first" energy policy. She's pushed hard for more oil drilling and says renewables won't be ready for years. She also sued the Bush administration for listing polar bears as an endangered species—she was worried it would interfere with more oil drilling in Alaska.6
  • How closely did John McCain vet this choice? He met Sarah Palin once at a meeting. They spoke a second time, last Sunday, when he called her about being vice-president. Then he offered her the position.7

We asked Alaskans what the rest of us should know about their governor. The response was striking. Here's a sample:

She is really just a mayor from a small town outside Anchorage who has been a governor for only 1.5 years, and has ZERO national and international experience. I shudder to think that she could be the person taking that 3AM call on the White House hotline, and the one who could potentially be charged with leading the US in the volatile international scene that exists today. —Rose M., Fairbanks, AK

She is VERY, VERY conservative, and far from perfect. She's a hunter and fisherwoman, but votes against the environment again and again. She ran on ethics reform, but is currently under investigation for several charges involving hiring and firing of state officials. She has NO experience beyond Alaska. —Christine B., Denali Park, AK

As an Alaskan and a feminist, I am beyond words at this announcement. Palin is not a feminist, and she is not the reformer she claims to be. —Karen L., Anchorage, AK

Alaskans, collectively, are just as stunned as the rest of the nation. She is doing well running our State, but is totally inexperienced on the national level, and very much unequipped to run the nation, if it came to that. She is as far right as one can get, which has already been communicated on the news. In our office of thirty employees (dems, republicans, and nonpartisans), not one person feels she is ready for the V.P. position.—Sherry C., Anchorage, AK

She's doesn't care about protecting our natural resources, even though she has worked as a fisherman. McCain chose her to pick up the Hillary voters, but Palin is no Hillary. —Marina L., Juneau, AK

I think she's far too inexperienced to be in this position. I'm all for a woman in the White House, but not one who hasn't done anything to deserve it. There are far many other women who have worked their way up and have much more experience that would have been better choices. This is a patronizing decision on John McCain's part- and insulting to females everywhere that he would assume he'll get our vote by putting "A Woman" in that position.—Jennifer M., Anchorage, AK

So Governor Palin is a staunch anti-choice religious conservative. But, she's a global warming denier who shares John McCain's commitment to Big Oil. And she's dramatically inexperienced.

In picking Sarah Palin, John McCain has made the religious right very happy. BUT he's made a very dangerous decision for our country.

In the next few days, many Americans will be wondering what McCain's vice-presidential choice means. Please pass this information along to your friends and family.


1. "Sarah Palin," Wikipedia, Accessed August 29, 2008

2. "McCain Selects Anti-Choice Sarah Palin as Running Mate," NARAL Pro-Choice America, August 29, 2008

3. "Sarah Palin, Buchananite," The Nation, August 29, 2008

4. "'Creation science' enters the race," Anchorage Daily News, October 27, 2006

5. "Palin buys climate denial PR spin—ignores science," Huffington Post, August 29, 2008

6. "McCain VP Pick Completes Shift to Bush Energy Policy," Sierra Club, August 29, 2008

"Choice of Palin Promises Failed Energy Policies of the Past," League of Conservation Voters, August 29, 2008

"Protecting polar bears gets in way of drilling for oil, says governor," The Times of London, May 23, 2008

7 "McCain met Palin once before yesterday," MSNBC, August 29, 2008

Oh. My. Goodness!

Check out the comment below, to continue on this topic...