Thursday 31 December 2009

On the Cusp of a New Year: Striking At the Roots of Fear and Engendering Hope for a "Change!"

It's New Years Eve in Australia as I compose this, and it's finally, the start of a new decade. Thank God the last one is over!

Let's all celebrate that fact - because it was during those "noughties" (a play on the meanings of two words, one connoting the sum total effect of zero, and the other being "naughty") that the whole world developed a very bad case of "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!" That doesn't go away quickly and requires some effective long-term treatment.

So I've come up with one main resolution for the next decade: to either create something new - or join something I discover is already quite effective but which captures my passion - to help ratchet down the fear factor and bring on real hope in people's lives and in my world!

It's also your world. Thus, such a project necessarily has both personal and collective dimensions, and will require careful assessment of the time, energy and commitment available.

Meanwhile, I'm calling upon my friends and family members reading this to share and celebrate some of the energizing, positive stories and models that you know are already working to make a difference in people's lives and to counteract the problem of paralyzing fear - a huge issue in our times. It's a challenge the rest of this column lays out...

[Speaking of case you prefer not to take the time, just yet, to read this whole reflection with some examples I included to stimulate more conversation and engagment with this challenge, then for goodness sake at least scroll to the bottom to find the link and enjoy a CELEBRATION CARD I put together this past weekend for my family and friends!]

Fear of "the enemy" is such a pervasive and persistent problem, especially in America now. We all understand the tremendous power of "the news" and how it gets packaged to shape reality. For the masses who rely solely on what the "mainstream" news and television have to offer (and much of America's gets rebroadcast here in Australia or is readily available via online sources) then for them this past decade ended pretty much the way it started: focused on fear, more travel restrictions, ramping up a surge in Afghanistan under the pretext of trying to protect America from whatever the terrorists are up to next, etc.

IMHO, a long-term strategy for turning America's enemies into friends is sorely needed - now more than ever - which I think was part of why America elected Obama, to begin doing that. But how can the foundations for such an endeavor get built given the current political climate of pervasive fear?

As 2009 wound down, America's "fear factor" blew wide open again with calls for a "knee-jerk" response to an Al Qaeda supporter's failed attempt to set off an explosive sewed into his underwear on an international flight with 300 people on board preparing to land in Detroit on Christmas Day. While not minimizing the threat Al Qaeda represents, careful reflection about what has motivated its rise and attracted its adherents, and how to best respond from here on forward in ways that defuse rather than exacerbate that movement's influence is certainly much in order.

Steve Benen from the Washington Monthly attempted to reflect and articulate the Obama administration's calculated response, thus far, in dealing with "terror attacks" from a political and strategic perspective. Benen and others are hoping Americans will be able to see through the current condemnations of the White House by "the opposition", and will recognized them for what they are: petty and politically motivated, or worse!

But, I ask, how can such threats to the world's collective security and well-being be reduced with the type of political-military strategy and "diplomacy" that Americans at least have come to depend on but which are, unfortunately, strongly rooted in the fallacious "myth of redemptive violence." It's like trying to fit the square peg of Just War Theory into the round hole of current "reality." (sigh) Not something that even President Obama applied very well during his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, somewhat tarnishing expectations around the world.

Personally, I've largely given up hope for depending much on military or even on political solutions nowadays. I think we're all seeing now how this has to come from "Somewhere Else." Isn't it obvious that many of the big problems in our world are exacerbated by leaders' resorting to failed strategies and inept responses to people's strong feelings of fear and vulnerability - and sometimes downright selfishness (which, in my view, includes the twin issues of national self-interest and self-protection.)

I am convinced that people of faith (and not only the Christian faith) have powerful and amazing resources for dealing with these problems and finding creative alternative responses that can really change things at the personal, and ultimately, at the global level. I think there are good models all around us. We simply need to share them. Young people especially need to hear about these stories and see them in action to engender hope and motivation for their own lives and future.

I proposed on New Years Eve to this
e-group forum I'm part of - which happens to be connected to my own "branch" of faith - that one of the best ways to use our time is to start telling stories again, the ordinary and the extra-ordinary. To start lifting up some of those models and stories of people and their passions; movements in our own local communities and in the world we think are making a difference. We can be very good at that - and utilizing the internet creates a world-wide forum.

That's what usually "gets me going" - what inspires me to also get off my duff and "do something" - or to make a fresh committment to a cause or project that hooks into my passion. It motivates because it can literally create a positive change in my perspective.

From my observation, taking the time to care about what is stretching or challenging a person I know, even in some far-flung corner of the world, and rallying support because of that personal connection - or - taking the risk to share a significant personal story...all that sort of thing has served well to enliven communications and deepen relationships I have within almost every group I've been part of on a sustained basis - including e-groups! I'm simply calling on us to expand the principle across the board.

For example, the extra-ordinary story of what Greg Mortenson has been doing continues to inspire me. You can find it in various places, but
here is one good place to start if you haven't heard of him.

My friend (ORU and AMBS - Mennonite Seminary graduate) Titus Oyeyemi's longsuffering efforts to stem the roots of pervasive violence in Nigeria by instilling peace-making skills into the training of children and youth - and indeed, throughout all levels of the education system in various states throughout that country - were recently highlighted here in an article written by another good friend, Dan Shenk. Titus and his staff are successful not because of widespread financial support (which is severely lacking) but because of his Christian commitment, and because he involves community leaders from both Islamic and Christian traditions, working together at the grass roots level.

A more "ordinary" yet effective story - like this one Paul Shrock lifted up recently - inspires me to ask (since most of "my people", the Mennonites, are NOT farmers anymore) where are we now "making contributions better than if they were using a gun" - to quote Abraham Lincoln!

So, I challenge us all to join me in a bit of reflection at the genesis of this new year:

--Who are the story-makers, the extra-ordinary as well as "the ordinary" people, who have impacted your "world" or who have built a stronger sense of trust and community, or been effective in defusing "the fear factor" in your life?

--Where do you see people taking on or creating opportunities to make a real difference, doing things that have inspired you and could potentially challenge the rest of us as a fresh new year - indeed, a new decade - now presents itself?

(If you came here via a link you saw in an e-group that we happen to both be part of, then in response I encourage you to go back there and tell your story, or at least someone else's story that you have observed! Or make a comment below.)

To end this on a high note of celebration and challenge... click on this to see a New Year's "card" I made for my friends and family. (And if you came here without reading the whole column, I do hope you'll first "bookmark" this column and come back to it later, because it relates to the significant message you'll see at the very end of the card - a powerful quote from Howard Thurman which I adapted.)

Holding out good thoughts, and wishing my friends and family all the very best for 2010...

-Clair in Canberra

Monday 28 December 2009

UniCon XV in Wellington, New Zealand is Getting Underway!

The 15th International Unicycle World Championships and Convention (UNICON XV) is now getting underway in Wellington, New Zealand. Wellington is the vibrant capital city of that country, located around a stunning harbour and surrounded by rolling hills. Most of the events are based in the heart of the city on the waterfront, although it will include an extensive Cross Country race and Marathon, as well! UNICON is held every two years, and this is the first-ever gathering in the Southern Hemisphere!

UNICON XV is a mix of competitive events as well as a convention-style gathering of unicyclists from around the world. Over 650 Unicyclists from 23 different countries are registered to take part in this 10-day event.

Each UNICON is open to anyone who can ride a unicycle, and showcases multiple types of unicycling, including Artistic Freestyle, MUni (mountain-unicycling), Street, Track and Field, Unicycle Hockey and Basketball, Road Racing and more! See this site for an enlightening
visual explanation of each category!

I have some
friends involved in the ACT Unicycle Riders Society (ACTURS) attending this event, and I look forward to seeing if any of them can get their name in the record books.

For now, here is a nice little
video "book" highlighting some of the ACTURS' club members doing an exhibition during Canberra's Floriade this past spring.

But right now, I wish I had made plans to go...(sigh) And
stay tuned for more about what happened at UNICON XV!


Friday 25 December 2009

Climate Change Is Comin'...To Earth!

SANTA CLAUS LAID OFF - Delivery Fleet to be Sold through Cash-for-Reindeers Program

The North Pole Board of Directors today filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for its overnight delivery service, and announced the immediate suspension of division president Santa Claus from his regular gift giving and elf management duties. The company released a short statement commending Mr. Claus on his centuries of service. In his place, the board has promoted Executive Vice President Norman Keebler to the position of acting Father Christmas. Mr. Claus did not respond to repeated attempts to contact him by wish list.

“Businesses worldwide have been hard hit by the global economic downturn, and the North Pole is no exception,” said Rudolph Joyovich, chairman of the board. “With our mounting corporate debt and the approaching holiday season, prudence demanded that we act sooner rather than later. As difficult as this change may be for many, we anticipate that most parents will come up with some such story to placate their children in time for Christmas. ‘Santa got the swine flu,’ perhaps?”

North Pole Delivery Services, while under protection from creditor demands, will undergo a bank-managed reorganization. “Sadly, Kris Kringle will not be a part of that process,” said Jennifer Meiser, Vice President of Edge of Reality Accounts for the World Bank. The Securities and Exchange Commission has announced a related investigation into Mr. Kringle’s salary and bonus package, and his lucrative toy licensing rights. As for the millions of outstanding speeding tickets and rooftop-parking violations issued in his name, “those are a matter for local jurisdictions,” said an SEC spokesbureaucrat.

A falling dollar and rising coal prices also contributed to the decision, said the chairman at a blustery Arctic news conference. “With so many children leaving the ‘nice’ list, our coal purchases have more than doubled in just the last five years. We have also had increased logistical costs in light of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent airspace restrictions. So many naughty people,” said Mr. Joyovich between sips of hot cocoa.

Sugarplum Engineering, the world’s northern-most toy making business and the only part of the corporation in fiscal solvency, will continue its existing operations. However, prices for the world-famous playthings will likely rise to compensate for deficits elsewhere in the company. A sales manager, who spoke on condition of elfanymity, indicated that the typical toy would increase in cost from $nice.child to $58.43, plus shipping and handling.

News of the red-suited layoff reached all corners of the globe within hours of the announcement. Max, a six-year-old living in Texas tweeted a typical reaction: “It’s so jank. I want my mommy!” Yet feelings at the North Pole manufacturing center were still upbeat. “I heard that St. Nick already found a job at FedEx. But I expect to see that ol’ Bowl Full of Jelly back soon. The board did the same thing back in the 1930s, and things turned out all right,” said one perky elf.

When things might actually turn out all right is anyone’s guess. For now, families are sizing up their options.

“I guess we could go to church and celebrate the birth of God’s son,” said a shopper at a Harrods store in London. “But it just won’t feel like Christmas.”

Credit: "Santa Claus Laid Off" is written and copyright (c) 2009 by Tim Patrick. Reprinted here by permission. Visit Tim's web site (the source for this article) for more excellent humorous "news" and commentary!

Wednesday 23 December 2009


If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator. If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another cook. If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing. If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir's cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child. Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband. Love is kind, though harried and tired. Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens. Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way. Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can't.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust, but giving the gift of love will endure.

Merry Christmas and lots of love to you and yours!

(Author Unknown)

I liked this powerfully-worded anonymously-authored Christmas Version of 1 Cor 13 so much I decided to whittle it down (about 35% from the original size) in order to meet the criteria of 1000 characters max, and attached it to a wonderful new animated Christmas cards designed by Jacquie Lawson - she's British, and my favourite card artist. (I've subscribed to her service for over 5 years.)

I'm sending it out as this year's Christmas card - including the spiritual inspiration - from The Canberra Hospital Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care Department to a big list of people and offices around TCH as well as many friends and family living in other parts of the world.

I deliberately left off a personal signature at the very end. In other words, you have my permission to pass along the link to this Christmas card, freely blessing someone else of your choosing without it looking like it came from a third party - so feel quite free to "pay it forward!"
(This rather complex animated card is stored online, thus does not require downloading.)

Simply click on:

Hint: if you want people to see the original full-version of "1 Corinthians 13 - The Christmas Version" (above) as well as the "card" simply send them a copy of the url of this particular page on my blog:

Christmas cheer to all!
Chaplain Clair Hochstetler
Manager of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care,
The Canberra Hospital

Monday 21 December 2009

Oh deer! An adorable albino fawn...

Here's the original story to go along with these photos, snapped in the summer of 2005:

"A very eventful day around here ... a once in many lifetimes experience! I saw this lil' feller run out in front of a car, thought it was a lost baby goat. Stopped to get it, and WOW. A real Albino Whitetail Deer. Just hours old, but doing fine. No mother deer around. And other car nearly hit it in front of me.

Well, he is THE neatest thing any of us ever saw. And such a 'freak of nature', that only 1 in more than a million are even born. He took his bottle of food, followed us around the house, doing great. So, we called the DEP , who is going to send him to a Rehab farm. Maybe he will make it out of captivity somewhere and be appreciated. So rare ... Sure wanted to keep him tho but, not the thing to do. And not LEGAL either; but, here are a couple of pix to show ya. He is snow white, pink eyes, ears, nose and hooves. Kids called him POWDER. He is SO small. That is my shoe lying beside him ... cool is that??"

Most folks have never - and won't likely ever -see even another picture in the future of an Albino deer fawn like this. has "the rest of the story" as Paul Harvey would say. (It's true except for the location where this occurred never being definitively nailed down - but most likely in Texas.) -Clair

Thursday 17 December 2009

Interacting with Anthony Manouso - with "The Compassionate Listening Project"

On Monday evening, earlier this week, Carole Anne and I, along with a whole room full of people gathered at Irene's Place in Canberra, listened to and interacted with Anthony Manouso. He is a Quaker man from the United States who had just finished attending the Parliament of the World's Religions - an international gathering held every 5 years, this time in Melbourne Australia.

Anthony shared about a few of his impressions and experiences at the PWR, then showed a video and lead us in some practical exercises, since he is an advanced trainer in The Compassionate Listening Project.

It was an excellent experience and offered me some insight into the history of TCLP and the practical application of those principles in transforming communication and relationships in conflictual situations - particularly inplaces like Palestine/Israel where it really got started - but also in other "hotspots" around the world.

The concept of Compassionate Listening was originated by Gene Knudsen Hoffman, and international peacemaker, founder of the US/USSR Reconciliation program for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and student of Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. The concepts were further developed by Leah Green, Carol Hwoschinsky, and a group of dedicated individuals who are now facilitators of the work.

Gene: "Some time ago I recognized that terrorists were people who had grievances, who thought their grievances would never be heard, and certainly never addressed. Later I saw that all parties to every conflict were wounded, and at the heart of every act of violence is an unhealed wound." In her role as a counselor, Gene recognized that non-judgmental listening was a great healing process in itself.

As the website says:
The Compassionate Listening Project teaches powerful skills for peacemaking in our families, communities, on the job, and in social change work locally and globally. Our curriculum for Compassionate Listening grew out of our many years of reconciliation work on the ground in Israel and Palestine. We adapted our trainings and began to teach in theU.S. in 1999. We now offer trainings and workshops worldwide for everyday peace-building, as well as an Advanced Training and Facilitator Certification program."

Here is a good demonstration of Compassionate Listening principles incorporated into school curriculum

Compassionate listening is also one of the strategies deployed in the
Alternatives to Violence Project. I have taken in one AVP Basic Training weekend in 2009 in Sydney, and hope to take their advance weekend training unit in 2010.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Christmas Trees Around the World

Don't miss (at the end) the real meaning behind the song "The 12 Days of Christmas!"

The Capitol Christmas tree in Washington , D.C. , is decorated with 3,000
ornaments that are the handiwork of U.S. schoolchildren. Encircling
evergreens in the 'Pathway of Peace' represent the 50 U.S. states.

The world's largest Christmas tree display rises up the slopes
of Monte Ingino outside of Gubbio, in Italy 's Umbria region.
Composed of about 500 lights connected by 40,000 feet of wire,
the 'tree' is a modern marvel for an ancient city.

A Christmas tree befitting Tokyo 's nighttime neon display is
projected onto the exterior of the Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka.

Illuminating the Gothic facades of Prague 's Old Town Square ,
and casting its glow over the manger display of the famous
Christmas market, is a grand tree cut in the Sumava mountains
in the southern Czech Republic .

Venice 's Murano Island renowned throughout the world
for its quality glasswork is home to the tallest glass tree
in the world. Sculpted by master glass blower Simone
Cenedese, the artistic Christmas tree is a modern
reflection of the holiday season.

Moscow celebrates Christmas according to the Russian Orthodox
calendar on Jan. 7. For weeks beforehand, the city is alive with
festivities in anticipation of Father Frost's arrival on his magical
troika with the Snow Maiden. He and his helper deliver gifts under
the New Year tree, or yolka, which is traditionally a fir.

The largest Christmas tree in Europe (more than 230 feet tall)
can be found in the Praça do Comércio in Lisbon , Portugal .
Thousands of lights adorn the tree, adding to the special
enchantment of the city during the holiday season.

'Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree': Even in its humblest attire,
aglow beside a tiny chapel in Germany 's Karwendel mountains,
a Christmas tree is a wondrous sight.

Ooh la la Galeries Lafayette! In Paris , even the Christmas trees are chic.
With its monumental, baroque dome, plus 10 stories of lights and
high fashion, it's no surprise this show-stopping department store draws
more visitors than the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower

In addition to the Vatican 's heavenly evergreen, St. Peter's Square
in Rome hosts a larger-than-life nativity scene in front of the obelisk.

The Christmas tree that greets revelers at the Puerta del Sol
is dressed for a party. Madrid 's two-week celebration makes
millionaires along with merrymakers. On Dec. 22, a lucky citizen
will win El Gordo (the fat one), the world's biggest lottery.

A token of gratitude for Britain 's aid during World War II,
the Christmas tree in London 's Trafalgar Square has been
the annual gift of the people of Norway since 1947.

Drink a glass of gluhwein from the holiday market at the Romer
Frankfurt's city hall since 1405 and enjoy a taste of Christmas past.

Against a backdrop of tall, shadowy firs, a rainbow trio of Christmas trees lights up the night (location unknown).

There is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled me.

What in the world do leaping lords, French hens,
swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won't come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?

This week, I found out.
From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics.

It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

-The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.
-Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
-Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.
-The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.
-The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
-The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
-Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit--Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
-The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.
-Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit--Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

-The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.
-The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
-The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.
So there is your history for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that strange song became a Christmas pass it on if you wish.'
Merry (Twelve Days of) Christmas Everyone!

Sometimes it takes a flood...

The comic above was posted by Nick Mueller from New South Wales, one of 23 Australian Youth Delegates to the Copenhagen Climate Negotiations. He serves as an astute reminder that even as we stare down these serious challenges, we can face these issues with humor and a lighter heart “to support young people to make the change needed for our planet in a personally sustainable way.” (Check out his blog at nickgoestocopenhagen)

On a more serious note, here's a very significant 4-minute history of climate change and how scientists have arrived at their conclusions - one of the best explanations I have ever heard - by Bill McKibbon, author of The End of Nature, which was the first book (back in the 80's) to introduce the notion and science of climate change to a non-scientific audience, passionately and beautifully written. And while Bill McKibben's updated introduction in recent printings (2006) adds relevant new knowledge, it also highlights just how prescient and powerful the original book remains.

All of this is highlighted on the Dec 10th edition of "Speaking of Faith."