Reflections on Faith & Superstition

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” Bertrand Russell

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Myth, legend and superstition: the stuff of my childhood. Those familiar with Norse and Germanic mythology will know some of the popular Icelandic sagas like The Saga of Volsungs, with dragons and treasure and a hero called Sigurd. Then you add the East Prussian myths and superstitions and you have a cauldron of fear and excitement. Both sets of my grandparents were superstitious. I recall my mother telling a story of how her parents treated the wart on her finger by rubbing a potatoe on it under a full moon, and the next day it was gone. These were the stories that filled my imagination as a child.
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Many years later, I would read the surprising ancient text of the Gospel according to Luke. I approached this biblical narrative with the same mindset as I would a Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale or Norse mythology. Yet, I was very quickly engrossed in the story of a remarkable revolutionary. In the words and life of Christ, I found a compelling blueprint for societal and cultural transformation. The words of Jesus, to me, held no comparison to any fairytale, nor, could they be regarded as wisdom literature from a benevolent Jewish rabbi. They were dangerous words – subversive and highly political in their context. They led to his death. This Jesus story was very different to those of my childhood. And this man, carrying a cross, beckoned me to do the same. It was an invitation to follow in his radical footsteps and learn that love is greater than fear.

There was a fearlessness about Jesus that was breathtaking. The centrality of his message was transformation through the realisation that a different kingdom had been ushered in – different to the kingdoms that were built on power, politics, fear, greed, or even religion. It was a message of hope to the oppressed. His kingdom message turns societal norms on its head: where the first will be last, where the poor are blessed, where the humble are honoured, where the servant is the greatest, where the outcast and marginalised are welcomed and accepted, where love overcomes fear …

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Where love overcomes fear! Perhaps this holds a key to the genetic difference between faith and superstition? They both look so alike at times, like wheat and tares. Some of my friends would argue that there really is no difference. The same factors that motivate a mother to rub a potatoe on the finger of her child, believing for healing under the full moon, some say, would be the same factors that cause another mother to pray for her child and believe for the same result. Faith and superstition: is there really a difference? They seem identical.

When you begin to critically examine some of the contemporary Christian messaging, you may find it extremely difficult to tell the difference between faith and superstition:

– A God who is portrayed as love, yet will banish those who refuse to reciprocate his love to eternal torture.9_funny_jesus_thumbs_up

– A God who ensures that you get a car park in some shopping centre when you pray ‘just right’, but seems to be deaf to the cries of 22,000 children that die every day due to poverty.

– A God who will give you ‘your best life now’ when you adhere to certain success paradigms, or tithe, or send money to that evangelist.

– An everlasting, almighty God who loves everybody, but in a twist that resembles an Orwell novel, especially if they are white, male, privileged and conservative …

… it all sounds a bit superstitious, doesn’t it?

Some modern expressions of Christianity seem to have drifted a little ways from a Rabbi who preached about a kingdom of good news that seemed to benefit ‘the least of them’ the most. In fact, it seems that the basis of some of the current Christian ideology is based on karma and superstition: “Do this and God will do that.”

It is in the time of crisis that these apparent identical twins of faith and superstition begin to bear fruit. And it is in their motivation that the difference is most noted: Love vs. Fear. Crisis is one of the few times that you can stand back and very clearly distinguish the two. Superstition, which I observed in my childhood and later in some Christian paradigms (including my own, when I was in the throes of fundamentalism), is driven by fear.

Fear that becomes palpable in times of crisis or contradiction.
Fear that reverts to karma.
Fear that paints pictures of a God that needs to be appeased.
Fear that sees ‘the other’ as evil, far from God, or responsible for the bad things that happen.
Fear that forgets that loving your neighbour the way you would want to be loved and accepted, kind of goes with this radical Jesus that Christianity is meant to be built upon.
(O and let me just spell out this neighbour bit: this could be your Muslim Neighbour, your LGBTIQ Neighbour, your Refugee Neighbour, your Poor Neighbour, your Other Religion Neighbour, your Obnoxious Neighbour, your Ill Neighbour, your Old Neighbour, your Asian Neighbour, your Black Neighbour, your White Neighbour, your Global Neighbour … get the picture?)
Fear and conspiracy theories that can reduce followers of Christ to angry and paranoid people, with a massive persecution complex.
Fear that always needs a scapegoat so we can feel better about the angst of our own vulnerability.

Faith, on the other hand, approaches times of crisis quite differently:
Faith recognises in the biblical narrative a greater story of Divine Providence.
Faith sees Christ as the expression of this Divine Providence.
Faith believes that the good news of Christ’s kingdom brings hope and light in times of darkness.
Faith produces actions that speak of hope, light and love.
Faith sees the image of God in every human being and therefore treats every person with dignity and respect.
Faith believes in Grace, not Karma.
Faith believes that love is the greatest – no excuses, no uncomfortable pauses … The greatest of all is love.

The genetic make-up of faith causes it to shine with love in times of crisis. Where fear becomes a quagmire of paranoia, protocol and law, faith chooses the path of risk and courage, because for faith, perfect love drives out fear.

So for faith, love always wins.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear … 1 John 4

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Idyllic Iceland – Part 4 (Finale)

“Adventure is worthwhile” – Aesop

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I was wrong! You know, this bit from Part 3: “But if you are after a fast, busy, techno holiday with smoke and bubbles – Iceland is not for you.” I wrote that after circumnavigating most of Iceland, but I hadn’t arrived in Reykjavik. And two thirds of Icelanders live in Reykjavik! And in summer they never sleep!

After leaving heavenly Skalanes, we headed south. The roads become wider and there were noticeably more people and tourist buses on the move. At our accommodation near Skogafoss, another beautiful waterfall, a local informed me that Iceland tourism has been growing 20% per year over the last five years, and it is putting tremendous pressure on the infrastructure. In 2017, Iceland is expecting over two million tourists . Not only is that a new record but that is a heck of a lot of people for a tiny country of around 330,000 people.

Skogafoss
Skogafoss

The south is beautiful. Walking on the Vatna Glacier, Iceland’s largest ice cap, with its eerie stillness and black, white and blue colourings, felt like I had been transported into the fantasy realm of Narnia. I could have spent hours staring at Iceland’s most visited tourist destination: the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.

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We took time to visit Geysir (meaning gusher), with its spectacular geothermal pools and diva of a geyser, after which all other geysers are named.

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All history and geology buffs should visit Thingvellir. So much of Icelandic history and identity was shaped here. It is also the meeting place of the North American and Euroasian tectonic plates. I walked through the middle of the rift and marvelled at the wonder of our world.

Our last few days have been spent in the island’s capital, Reykjavik. We arrived in time for the Annual Jazz festival and settled ourselves in a little apartment in the middle of the city. Our stay co-incided with a weekend, and it feels like the whole city centre has become a giant street party that really only gets going after midnight. Icelanders don’t settle down in one pub for the night, they crawl from one to the next, getting progressively louder as they do. I am very in love with my industrial ear plugs right now!

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Hallgrimskirkja

The time has come to pack and take the long journey home. Iceland has been a blast and I am so very grateful to have shared the time with my most favourite human and partner-in-crime of 30 years.

I highly recommend this part of the planet to all who have a sense of adventure and wanderlust.

I will leave you with a few more travel tips:

1. Book your accommodation ahead of time. In summer this tiny island takes a tourist beating. Don’t expect to book last minute. Even with my partner’s careful planning, there were some areas that were nearly booked out … and that was months ago.

2. Alcohol is very expensive here. If you enjoy a glass of red, I suggest you buy a bottle at the government run ‘Vinbudin’. The restaurant prices are ridinkulous!

3. You can save money on meals by ensuring that your accommodation includes breakfast. Also, many of the small supermarkets around the country have delicious fresh sandwiches for sale. These made up most of our lunches. Find out where the locals go out to dinner and eat there. Many of the highlighted restaurants are simply run for the large tourist buses that roll in.

4. There are so many amazing geothermal pools right around the island. Some are free. Others are part of a local swimming pool and the entrance fee is minimal. Speaking about swimming pools, these play a major role on any Icelanders recreation list. You will find locals speak with a sense of pride about their pools. We avoided the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik. At €65 ($94 AUD) per person with towel and locker hire, that was beyond premium! We chose a local pool with hot springs and paid $11 for both of us 🙂

Here ends my Icelandic iPhone travel rambles. Wherever your travels take you, pilgrim, may you feel humbled at the grandeur of the planet we call home.

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All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. – Martin Buber

Breaking News: Kathy Baldock to Visit Australia

The Brave Network Melbourne, an advocacy and support group for LGBTIQ people of faith, is bringing one of the US’s foremost LGBTIQ faith advocates, Kathy Baldock, to Melbourne in August 2016 for the first time ever – I am so excited!

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Kathy Baldock, a published author and expert speaker, heads her own organisation Canyonwalker Connections and is a board member of The Reformation Project, one of the world’s largest networks for LGBTIQ Christians.

Kathy’s book, Walking the Bridgeless Canyon, is one of the most comprehensive books I have ever read in regarding LGBTIQ history and Christianity. It provides hope and clarity in beginning to untangle the horrific treatment and exclusion of LGBTIQ people that has often disfigured the Gospel of Christ.

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An experienced and entertaining communicator, accomplished entrepreneur and businesswoman, ex-pastor, author and trained engineer, Kathy is a regular speaker at LGBTIQ and evangelical conferences around the world and is renowned for her expertise in training diverse audiences about the psychological, historical, and theological aspects of the church’s engagement with LGBTIQ people over the past centuries. Her insights into the clash between evangelicalism and LGBTIQ inclusion provide vital context for any person wishing to successfully engage faith and sexuality in public conversation.

For those interested please see Kathy’s schedule here:

http://www.kathybaldock.in

If you would like to donate to her trip please do so here:
https://chuffed.org/project/kathy-baldock-visit#

Look forward to seeing you!

“Over the past thirty-five years, untold numbers of gay Christians have turned from God in their “failure” and “inability to please God,” who, they were told, could not accept them as a gay person. Some felt so rejected and depressed that they turned to self-destructive behaviors, including suicide; some went deep in the closet to try to fit in at church; some became vehemently opposed to all things religious; some decided to seek God in other religions, or no religion; and very few individuals were able to find a church community in which they could worship and serve God without being rejected.” – Kathy Baldock

Idyllic Iceland – Part 3

… Continuation of Icelandic rambling Part 3 – coming to you via my iPhone  … And thanks to Iceland’s rich supply of free & fast WiFi even in the remotest mountain region …

After a couple of days up north in Husavik, we headed east to the Skandales Mountain Lodge. Taking a detour, we stopped at the Vatnajökull National Park, Europe’s largest protected reserve. You could spend weeks here. We just had time to walk down to the gorge at Ásbyrgi and marvel at the vertical canyon walls. It seems that in Iceland, Mother Nature got totally carried away and threw some of her world’s most gobstopping spectacles on one tiny island.

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Dettifoss Falls was the next stop. At 100 metres wide and with a 44 metre fall it is Europe’s most powerful waterfall. It is spectacular with a permanent giant rainbow as its crown. Thundering at such voluminous speed it sends up a permanent spray that can be seen for over a kilometre away. Do take care on the walkways, they can be very slippery.

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We then headed to Seyðisfjörður. A 27 kilometre road over the Fjarðarheiði mountain connects Seyðisfjörður to the rest of Iceland. If you see one place in East Iceland – let it be this place. Situated at the very end of a fjord, surrounded by mountains, it is decorated with colourful wooden buildings – the whispers of a past when this place was inhabited by Norwegian fishermen. We drove another 17 kilometres out of town, along a perilous dirt road with three river crossings to arrive at our accommodation – Skandales Mountain Lodge. This is about as remote as you can get – and is probably a visual display centre for what some would call heaven. If you ever come here, hike up the mountain – the hike took us about five hours return, we built a stone pillar on the very top … It may still stand there to applaud your effort when you arrive.

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A couple of travel tips and reflections:

One, the roads in Iceland vary. The main Ring road (1) that circles around the island is mainly asphalt, but on our trip south today there were also sections of gravel and some serious cliffs and turns without any barriers. Although roads are well built, they are narrow and elevated in order to handle snow and flood. You cannot become complacent on these roads. If you feel uncertain about driving here, or driving on the right side of the road, please consider a bus tour. It will be far more relaxing. And you probably won’t come to a screeching halt like we did when we spotted three reindeer casually strolling along the black coastal shores!

Two, Icelanders are hospitable, warm and informal. You feel very safe and welcome in this beautiful country of theirs. I hope that the increasing tourism treats them well so that the delightful innocence, that is part of this place like the fresh air, continues.

View from our room at Skalanes Mountainlodge
View from our room at Skalanes Mountainlodge

Three, Iceland is made for those who love nature and outdoors. It is a nirvana for any artist. It’s rich history and sagas will keep you enraptured as you travel to the different places. But if you are after a fast, busy, techno holiday with smoke and bubbles – Iceland is not for you.

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A Toast to Iceland

Our land of lakes forever fair
below blue mountain summits,
of swans, of salmon leaping where
the silver water plummets,
of glaciers swelling broad and bare
above earth’s fiery sinews —
the Lord pour out his largess there
as long as earth continues!

– Jonas Hallgrimsson

Idyllic Iceland – Part Two

My rambling Icelandic travel reflections continue …

We spent a couple of days in Nyp, exploring the stunning Snaefellsness Peninsular and the Strandir Coast in the Westfjords. Then it was time to head north to our next destination – the quaint little seaside town of Husavik, famous for its whale watching expeditions.

We took a scenic detour on the way Husavik. This included some interesting F roads. Yes, F roads! And they really are F roads. F stands for ‘fjall’, which means ‘mountain’. And these F roads are only for 4WDs. Please, believe me, you need a decent 4WD to go off the beaten track. We crossed many rivers, which was a huge amount of fun, but they would be real F roads with any other vehicle!

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And let’s just talk about those tunnels. Seriously, Iceland, how to scare the BarJebus out of your tourists. Some tunnels are one lane, very dark, and it feels like you are playing chicken with the oncoming set of headlights. One side of the tunnel has tiny turnout areas that the car travelling in that direction has to pull into in order to let the other one pass. It’s enough to get the adrenalin pumping … Personally, I think they should be called F Tunnels. Look out for them!

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Husavik is beautiful. We are staying in Husavik Cottages in the middle of natural birdlands and the view over the lakes to the coast and snow capped mountains is totally stunning. The place is quiet and you don’t notice any other humans … which makes it a paradise not just for birds but for introverts 🙂

View from the cottages in Husavik
View from the cottages in Husavik

Ok, whale watching – you have to go whale watching. We chose one of the original, old fishing boats, now converted into a magnificent sailing ship, to take the 4 hour journey, and it was so worth it. We saw humpback whales breaching across the glassy surface, smaller minke whales darting in front of the ship, and Puffins … Thousands of those comical looking birds with their bright orange beaks and feet.

Whale watching boats
Whale watching boats

For people like myself, who prefer these magnificent whales in the water, instead of on a menu at some restaurant to feed the face of an overfed tourist, check out the web (http://icewhale.is/whale-friendly-restaurants/) or download an app to support whale friendly restaurants. With all the food available to feed our robust bodies, please avoid eating whale. Avoid eating puffins too. In fact, it’s a great idea to become mindful of what we stuff into our mouths at anytime and the price paid for our indulgences.

Two more travelling tips:

One, is to invest in the Lonely Planet’s book on Iceland. This was a gift from one of our sons, and we have used it every day. It is jam packed with very helpful information on nearly every area in Iceland.

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Two, Iceland is expensive. We have planned this trip, which marks the momentous occasion of 30 years of marriage and my 50 years on planet earth, for quite some time. This is not one of those holidays that you take spontaneously and hope for the best. It is cold here – so you need to sleep somewhere warm. You will also need to eat (remember, no whale!) – accommodation and food is expensive. So plan and save for your Iceland holiday.

More Icelandic rambling coming your way shortly …

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Idyllic Iceland – Part One

Our trip through Iceland began a couple of days ago.  Touching down at Keflavik Airport, approximately 48 kilometres outside the capital of Reykjavik, we picked up our rental car and started on our 3 1/2 hour journey to Nyp – our first destination point.

Guesthouse Nyp
Guesthouse Nyp

It took a few moments to adjust the brain to driving on the right side, or the wrong side, of the road. This was followed by a minor panic attack as the GPS froze over. Then there was the major decision about how hot we wanted the car and then … well, then it hit me. I am in the land that inspired Tolkien. It didn’t take long to see why.

The sun was shining as we wound our way through a landscape like nothing I have ever seen before. It is like the moon, the Scottish Highlands, Norway, New Zealand and Mad Max all decided to make this their common room! There are waterfalls cascading over grey rocks and disappearing into green meadows. Glaciers tower over copper coloured mountain peaks playing solitaire on black lava fields. What is this place?! And why has it taken me fifty years to get here?

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I stop to buy a bottle of water. “May I suggest you don’t buy bottled water? It is a trick. Just use tap water,” says the lady behind the counter. I stare at her, stammer a “thank you”, and walk back out of the shop without a water bottle. Icelanders, as I had just found out, are fiercely protective of their beautiful environment!

Snaefellsness Peninsula
Snaefellsness Peninsula

Our kind hosts at Guesthouse Nyp make us feel very welcome. Thora, our hostess, serves a breakfast feast that should earn her a Michelin Star. She takes a moment to explain where everything we are eating was sourced from, most of it from her own garden. Then there is the dinner – freshly caught cod, homegrown salad and vegetables. I rave about her meal and indicate I will let people know on TripAdvisor. “Please don’t say a thing,” she says, “otherwise I will be cooking all the time.” I smile to myself. The people here are as honest and as much salt of the earth as the salt they harvest from their seashore.

It is summer here, but when those winds blow it is a no brainer about why this place is aptly named ‘Iceland’. So if you are planning a trip, pack warm, layered clothing. Make sure you have water resistant hiking shoes … and purchase some rain pants. O, and read ‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent (more about that book in another post).

I will be back with another Iceland instalment in a few days.

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Reflections from Shabbat: A Call to Rest

“Our relentless emphasis on success and productivity has become a form of violence. We have lost the necessary rhythm of life, the balance between effort and rest, doing and not doing.” Wayne Muller

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If you happen to find yourself in Israel on a Saturday you may encounter this peculiar phenomenon when using the elevators: they automatically stop on every level. And if you want to learn from this post, and not make an idiot of yourself like I did, do not go up to the receptionist and tell them that their elevator is out of order. Have compassion on this poor human. After all, how many ‘tourist ignoramisus’ can one person bear?! On Shabbat, many of the elevators work in a special mode to allow Jews to observe Shabbat and abstain from operating electrical switches. It is a day of rest. And in a speed-crazy world we have so much to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters.

The Jewish tradition of keeping Shabbat stems from the Creation narrative and the Torah (Law). It was a day of rest and worship for the ancient Israelites. Violating Shabbat had serious consequences as the day was considered holy, dedicated to G-d. It established and bolstered Jewish identity amongst other nations and cultures as it was an expression of Jewish faith, a national identity marker. Today Shabbat is considered the most important day in the Jewish calendar and often referred to as “Shabbat HaMalka”, the Sabbath Queen.

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Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Polish-born American Rabbi and leading Jewish theologian and philosopher of the 20th century, writes this about Shabbat:

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world … When history began, there was only one holiness in the world, holiness in time.” (The Sabbath)

Whether we are people of a particular faith or not, we can all learn from Shabbat. It calls us to mindfulness. It reminds us that rest is to be celebrated. It is not something to be ashamed of or forced. The centrality of keeping Shabbat is to remind Jews of the release of slavery from Egypt. The Egyptian exile is a metaphor for any enslavement, says Rabbi Becher, be it physical or spiritual. By ceasing work and resting we demonstrate that we are not enslaved to the physical world. When a person is incapable of refraining from work, then they have indeed become a slave!

Walter Brueggemann writes, “In our own contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety, the celebration of Sabbath is an act of both resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods.”
(Sabbath as Resistance)

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Shabbat confronts us with our own restlessness and constant addiction to activity and engagement. For people of faith, Shabbat is a space that is holy and blessed, and beckons us to connect again with creation and the Creator.

In our modern, success-driven, technology-addicted world we stand in danger of loosing our souls in a zombie-like trance of mindlessness. We stand to loose connection to the rhythm of life. Rhythm is the heartbeat that G-d has put as a sacred marker throughout creation to remind us of the sacredness of time and the importance of being mindful of our days. Whether Jewish or not, or whether we are a person of faith or not, considering and learning from Shabbat makes us mindful of this rhythm. It teaches us to listen, to hear, to see … to breathe!

Dear friend, I trust this blog may be helpful in jolting you out of entrenched mindlessness. We are the people of ‘ruach’ and life. All around us is rhythm. May your ears hear its gentle sound and not the hypnotic lies of a fear-mongering, power-hungry, consumer-addicted ideology that blares at us through the various media channels. Rather, may you free yourself from those chains … may you rediscover rest and rhythm … and may you dance …

“Everything has rhythm, everything dances.” Maya Angelou

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(If you are interested in listening to an address I gave at a church on ‘The Sabbath’, please click here.)

Travelling Light!

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin

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Minimalism is about attitude. Perhaps it’s also about being honest. We don’t need all the stuff we think we do. And when it comes to travel, there’s nothing else that dampens the spirit of adventure like dragging a cargo load of overpacked suitcases around.

Over my various traveling expeditions, I have attempted to down-scale my suitcase size and the stuff I pack. Never once have I experienced a frightening, under-packed ‘situation’. In fact, quite the opposite. I return home with clothes not worn and gadgets that I never once took out the suitcase.

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So as we plan to embark on another journey, I am already preparing myself to travel light. This trip is tricky. Firstly, a conference where I need to look somewhat put together. Then a holiday, in which I will predominantly live in hiking gear. My plan is black. Black is brilliant.

I will take 2 pairs of black pants that can be used for the conference with a couple of nice tops. These pants will then be converted to hiking pants with long flannel shirts (hey, don’t judgtumblr_nm22l1On2W1ro4hejo1_500e the flannel). A light, black cardigan and black boots can be useful in both settings. I will wear my hiking boots on the plane. Black down vest when it gets chilly. The necessary gear for wet, cold weather – jacket, beanie, gloves, scarf. Not forgetting underwear, socks, bathers, a tiny emergency kit and toiletries. Done!

Now a few things that I have found useful:

Don’t Leave Your Packing to Last Minute.
 
You will stress and overpack. Or you will stress, overpack and forget stuff. Why not open your suitcase a week early and begin to throw in all the useful things you want to take: cords for your phone, giant hair curlers, coffee machine, nose-hair clippers, whatever takes your fancy.

Have a ‘To Do’ list in Place for Travel

If you travel a lot, why not write a list that you can follow in order to make the preparation time stress-free? Mine includes things like making sure that the humans that remain at home are cared for and informed, that the fur children are sorted, and that visas and passports are in order.

Talking about passports: Remember that some foreign governments require visitors to carry passports with at least six months validity beyond their planned stay. You may be refused entry if you fail to comply. So don’t be stuck on the doorstep of some exotic place, with your nifty, tiny suitcase, only to find you need to turn around and go back home! As the Penguins from Madagascar would say: “Well, that sucks!”

Think Looooooong Plane Trip

My partner thinks flying is a most wondrous invention (check out his blog on travel hints here). I hate it. I hate airports. I hate the long lines at passport control. I hate cooped up planes. I hate all the human noises on the cooped up planes. And there are not enough hours in the day to hate the plane toilets. Other than that, I am actually quite a positive person. So amidst all this hating, I have to prepare myself mentally before a flight!

My hand luggage includes something to knock myself out on for long, overnight flight (I mean legal stuff, right?!), a water bottle, face cream, deodorant, eye cover, EAR PLUGS (!), iPad and camera. I don’t wear makeup on flights. I am 50 years old and have earned the right to look as pale as Morticia if I want to. Also, if by chance you ever sit next to me on a plane – don’t talk and don’t make eye contact and we’ll be great friends.

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Money, Honey

Have you got enough cash for all the coffee table books you will buy and never look at again? You will pay a lot on extra charges using your credit card. You can also use a travel card. Just keep it all safe. There are many others who would love to share your earnings!

Trying out Suitcase Organisers

A friend recommended these clever little suitcase organisers. It appeals to my sense of German and order. And I bought them on sale which appeals to my sense of ‘tight arseness’. Will keep you posted on their success rate.

Essential Packing: A Sense of Wonder!

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When all is said and done, let us consider what a great privilege it is to be able to travel and explore new places (take note, grumpy-travelling-self!). Our ancestors would not even have imagined such possibilities. So let’s journey with a sense of wonder. And, friends, let’s not allow ourselves to be robbed of our moments and experiences by trying to catch everything on camera or feeding the relentless social media machine. Wonder can’t really be captured that way. Rather, it is a gift that only the heart can hold.

May your journey be blessed!
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“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

 

Iceland, Here I Come!

“The problem with driving around Iceland is that you’re basically confronted by a new soul-enriching, breath-taking, life-affirming natural sight every five goddamn minutes. It’s totally exhausting.” – Stephen Markley

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Iceland! It’s been on the Bucket List for a very long time. In a few weeks, the beloved and I will be travelling to this isolated, under-populated island on top of the world … and I can’t wait!

If you are going to travel, my partner-in-crime is your ‘go to’ guy. He has meticulously planned our days from the time we arrive in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital city, to the car hire, accommodation, and cash conversion. I do not share his eye for detail or enthusiasm for travel planning. But over the years, and on our many travelling adventures, I can only say how grateful I am to this travel mastermind.

As a devout nature lover, Iceland has always fascinated me. It has a unique landscape, shaped by the forces of nature: geysers, mudpots, ice-covered volcanoes and glaziers. Locals and tourists alike fall in love with its green valleys, fjords and roaring rivers. As I write this, I glance at my hiking boots with great anticipation!

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Icelanders are obviously very proud of their beautiful piece of the planet. They have gone to great length to preserving their natural wealth through conservation and responsible fisheries management. According to the Environmental Performance Index, Iceland is the world’s greenest country. Renewable energy is a major focus and nearly every home in the country is heated from renewable energy sources. I do wish the powers-that-be in my own beautiful habitat would pay attention to reasoning and the actions of these Northerners!

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Then there are the books! Research shows that more books are written, published and sold per person per year in Iceland than anywhere else in the world. As a young child I was fed a steady diet of bedtime stories from Brothers Grimm, Norse Mythology and Icelandic Sagas. These sagas remain an integral part of Icelander identity. They also contain valuable information and record monumental events, like the discovery of a large island called ‘Vinland’ by Leif Erikson – an island later divided into two and renamed Canada and America! The sagas influence how we tell and read stories to this day … Tolkien would agree.

Ég tala ekki íslensku! But not to worry, there are some great apps to help with that problem. And, yes, my travel-wizard partner has already downloaded them. Icelandic is an insular language and has not been greatly influenced by other languages. It holds similarities to Norwegian and Faroese, but has changed very little from when the country was settled in the ninth and ticeland-quotes-1enth century. Icelandic is astoundingly difficult to speak and even harder to pronounce. Fortunately, most Icelanders speak English, so I won’t even attempt to demonstrate my zero Icelandic competence … and I won’t tell my enthusiastic travelling companion that we probably won’t use his freshly downloaded apps.

Let’s not forget the hot springs. Ingrained in Icelandic culture is the wonderful habit of bathing outdoors in volcanically heated pools – a tradition started by the Vikings. Theseblue-lagoon-569346_1920 geo-thermally heated pools, dotted across the country, have valuable health benefits. The most famous of these is the Blue Lagoon – in a lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula. My bathers are packed! If you hear some rumours about an insane Australian who missed her flight home because she found marinating in these pools more appealing than a gruelling plane flight home … that could be true!

Sjáumst!

I have a deep and ongoing love of Iceland, particular the landscape, and when writing ‘Burial Rites,’ I was constantly trying to see whether I could distill its extraordinary and ineffable qualities into a kind of poetry. 
– Hannah Kent – 
 

A Tribute to Elie Wiesel

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On Sunday, I woke up to several unpleasant realities: Australian politics was in chaos, Pauline Hanson had been returned to power, just like Voldemort, and the world has lost one of its most profound voices of conscience – Elie Wiesel.

Eliezer Wiesel was born to Shlomo and Sara Wiesel, on the 30th September, 1928, in Sighet, Transylvania, now part of Romania. Elie’s life evolved around family, community and religious study. He had three sisters. His mother encouraged him to study the Torah and Kabbalah. Elie was deeply influenced by his father’s liberal expressions of Judaism. He spoke Yiddish at home, but also learnt Hungarian, Romanian and German.

When Hungary annexed Sighet in 1940, the Wiesels, like many other Jews, were herded to the ghettoes. Then in May, 1944, they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, by the Nazi Regime. Elie was 15. He ended up in a sub-camp, Auschwitz III-Monowitz, with this father. They worked at a nearby Buna rubber factory. The conditions were hellish – starvation, beatings and despair, were all part of the daily routine.

image003  – Elie at 15 years of age. –

In 1945, the Russian Army drew near and Elie and his father were hurriedly evacuated to Buchenwald. Three months before the camp was liberated, his father was beaten to death by German soldiers. His mother and younger sister, Tzipora, also lost their lives there. Buchenwald was liberated in 1945. Elie and his two sisters, Beatrice and Hilda, were the only survivors from his whole family.

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 – Victims of the Buchenwald concentration camp, liberated by the American troops of the 80th Division. Amongst them is Elie Wiesel (7th from the left on the middle bunk next to the vertical post (Photo by H Miller/Getty Images) –

How do you begin to put the pieces of a life, gutted by violence and horror, together again? Very, very slowly. It took Elie ten years to begin to articulate some of his experiences in the death camps. Before that, he had studied in Paris and was a journalist for the French newspaper, L’arche. It was through the encouragement of Francois Mauriac, that Elie began to write about life in the death camps. His memoir and first book, Night (La Nuit), has become one of the most critically acclaimed of all Holocaust literature.

Night is the first in a trilogy – Night, Dawn, Day. The trilogy clearly illustrates Elie’s journey from darkness to light, according to the Jewish tradition of beginning a new day at nightfall. “In Night,” he said, “I wanted to show the end, the finality of the event. Everything came to an end – man, history, literature, religion, God. There was nothing left. And yet we begin again with night.” It is one of the most devastating accounts of the Holocaust. A young boy’s struggle for survival brings the senseless murder of millions shockingly close. Reflecting on his feelings upon arrival in Auschwitz he writes:

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget the smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky … Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as God Himself. Never.”

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Elie became an American Citizen after an accident left him unable to renew his French documents – documents which previously had allowed him to travel as a ‘stateless’ person. He settled in New York and became an increasingly prolific writer, authoring over thirty books. In 1978, he was appointed chair of the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust. He dedicated his life to the plight of persecuted people groups and ensuring that no one would forget what happened to the Jews. He was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. He was also honoured across the world with a number of awards which included the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and the French Legion of Honor’s Grand Croix.

Elie and his wife, Marion, founded the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity to “combat indifference, intolerance and injustice” throughout the world. They had one son, Elisha.

A timeline of Elie’s remarkable life can be viewed here. He died on July 2, 2016, in his home in Manhattan, at the age of 87.

Elie Wiesel had a profound influence on my life. His book, Night, shook me to the core and I would recommend it as a must read for all who are serious students of human rights and the Holocaust.

I will finish this tribute with an excerpt from another of Elie’s masterpieces: the speech he delivered for Bill Clinton’s Millennium Lecture Series at the White House on April 12, 1999, entitled “The Perils of Indifference”:

“Of course, indifference can be tempting — more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person’s pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction …
 
In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony. One does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it …
 
Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own. 
 
Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment.”

May we take a moment to consider this dire warning from a man who has seen some of the greatest horrors that this world can hold.

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RIP Elie Wiesel – You have run a great race.