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A System called Patriarchy

Sometimes we need to stop and question the social structures and norms that we are part of and contribute to. Why? Because society and how it operates becomes so much part of our every day life that we do not even ask ourselves why it exists the way it does or consider alternate possibilities. We simply accept what is.enhanced-30445-1400968529-2
When you look around today you will notice that the domination of women is somewhat of a global reality to varying degrees. Patriarchy is a social structure in which men have a monopoly of power and women are expected to submit. It is a system of inequality organised around gender categories. “The crucial thing to understand about patriarchy or any other kind of social system is that it’s something people participate in. It’s an arrangement of shared understandings and relationships that connect people to one another and something larger than themselves.” There are some who claim that there have been early civilisations that were matriarchal. However, no anthropologist or archaeologist, feminists included, have found evidence of such societies. “The search for a genuinely egalitarian, let alone matriarchal, culture has proved fruitless,” concludes Sherry Ortner.

This male-defined culture has not always been so fixed. The hunter-gatherer or foraging society is believed to have had fairly equal relationships between men and women. It was the division of labour that began to introduce domestication, civilisation and global domination. Suddenly the care of offspring was no longer a shared responsibility, as seen in the early hunter-gatherer societies, but became a specialised role in isolated family settings. Women fulfilled that specialised role, while men focused on provision – which meant hunting, raiding and waging war. Historian Gerda Lerner argues that patriarchy is therefore neither natural or biological, rather, it is a historical development that began in the second millennium B.C. in the Ancient Near East. She concludes with the idea that as it is a structure created through historical process it can also be ended that way (summary).

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Carol P. Christ would agree with Lerner, “The system I am defining as patriarchy is a system of domination enforced through violence and the threat of violence. It is a system developed and controlled by powerful men, in which women, children, other men, and nature itself are dominated. Let me say at the outset that I do not believe that it is in the ‘nature’ of ‘men’ to dominate through violence. Patriarchy is a system that originated in history, which means that it is neither eternal nor inevitable. Some women and some men have resisted patriarchy throughout history.” Early human history shows a shift from women experiencing autonomy and relative equality in small, nomadic groups, to being controlled and considered property, in large, male-dominated settlements.

Today, the effect of patriarchy is evident when you spell it out like this. Patriarchy is:
  • The rule of the father or patriarch, in a sense, rule of men.
  • Existing at ideological and material levels.
  • An ideology of women’s subordination.
  • The underlying basis that men are superior to women and women are part of men’s property.
  • Interacting with other systems (economy, class, race, ethnicity, caste and gender) in the construction of social institutions like culture, the state and law.
  • Establishing male dominance and control in personal relationships, the family and society at large.
  • Based on a material basis that benefits men.
  • Perpetuated through institutional beliefs and structures, which are kept in control through violence.
  • Not static, keeps changing over time, varies historically, in different socio‑econ‑political contexts, and with different classes, race and ethnic groups, etc.
Patriarchy has been the source of inequality and abuse in many parts of the world. Especially when you couple these ideals with religion. Conveniently, the three major religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – all have had a tendency to support this patriarchal power structure. Many women have been told exactly what the Bible says about women, how submission to a male authority figure is a ‘godly’ virtue, and how this pleases God. There is ample evidence to show how a theology that upholds patriarchy has been a source of domestic violence, abuse, and domination. Patriarchy ties this violence to God.

It was many years ago that I first read the Bible. It was the book of Luke. I quickly became 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, were not some wise sayings of a benevolent Jewish rabbi. They were dangerous words – subversive and highly political in his context. This Gospel of Jesus’ kingdom was the great equaliser. This revolutionary attacked the very heart of political and religious powers that dominated others. Over the years many interpretations and hierarchial structures have made the Bible impossible for many. “The Bible tells me so” has become the catch cry for all sorts of ugliness, including the justification of patriarchal ideals. However, there is a growing chorus of theological voices that protest these ideals and interpretation.

I am hopeful for a different tomorrow. A future where people will begin to recognise these imagined structures and the power they wield. I believe in equality and in freedom. I believe in mutual respect. I believe in responsible care for our planet. As a follower of Christ I also agree with a man called Paul from a different era, who wrote a letter to believers in Galatia: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.” The essence of a revolution lie in those words.
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The Sound of Silence

“Speech is silver, but silence is golden.”

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The older I become the more I yearn for silence and the more I am aware how noise suffocates our lives and our world. For many of us, from the time we wake up to the buzzing, cantankerous noise of an alarm, to the time we fall exhausted into bed, with the neighbourhood dog serenading us to sleep, we are accosted by noise. Pleasant noises, loud noises, terrifying noises, annoying noises at home, work, school and restaurants. Noise surrounds us. Most of the time we are not even aware how noise has defined who we are.

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Most of us contribute thousands of words to the atmosphere every day. We also have thousands of words come at us. Words that tell us who we are, how we are, why we are. Words that shape us. The noises that we have listened to from a young age have greatly contributed to the people we are today. The noise of our environment – our family, friends, the space we live and work, entertainment and media (and let’s not forget the very loud, non-decibel noise of social media), all shape our thoughts and actions.

Psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell is concerned about the noise and lack of silence in the lives of a younger generation. She writes, “The reason we should ask the question, and encourage teens to explore silent spaces, is because we know that self-reflection is important to human development and learning. John Dewey, a renowned psychologist and education reformer, claimed that experiences alone were not enough. What is critical is an ability to perceive and then weave meaning from the threads of our experiences. The function of self-reflection is to make meaning. The creation of meaning is at the heart of what it means to be human.” The discipline of silence assists in learning and in discovering meaning. Sadly, this is often missing from many of our lives. For a younger generation growing up in the hustle and bustle of modern life, noise is as natural as breathing.

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I suggest that our modern world is actually addicted to noise. Silence, the idea of being left with our own thoughts, often terrifies us. The sense of loneliness or melancholy that we may feel, yet dull with noise, becomes deafening and acute with silence. However, if we learn to negotiate and immerse ourselves in the discipline and pleasure of regular silence it has great benefits, including preventing burnout. Silence and solitude provides a much needed break from productivity. It heightens our sensitivity and addresses our anxiety, which often stems from worrying about the future. Silence bring our awareness back to the present. Silence improves memory and cultivates a form of mindful intention that later motivates us to action.

In silence and solitude we became self-aware and begin to take ownership and responsibility of our lives and actions. Some of the brightest ideas are formed in silence. The discipline of learning to face something as uncomfortable as silence has great benefits for the rest of our lives. It takes courage as it does expose our muted pain and helps us reflect on our past. Silence also fosters compassion because it equips us to be patient and mindful of the other.

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Many religions have embraced the discipline of silence in one way or another, although it is rarely a common practice in much of modern-day Christianity. In my own faith tradition, silence is rarely practiced in a communal sense and when it is, it is most often accompanied by instrumental music. Silence makes us feel awkward. If we manage to push past this awkwardness and begin the slow journey of regularly allowing for silence during our day, it will change us. Silence brings peace. Silence allows for God to speak. Silence transforms us. However, it should not be entered into carelessly because silence is confronting. Henri Nouwen writes, “Solitude is not a private therapeutic place. Rather, it is the place of conversion, the place where the old self dies and the new self is born …  In solitude, I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me – naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken – nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something.”

It has now been several years since I first started the discipline of silence. First, I made room in my day, then I ventured to silent retreats. At first I found them terrifying – I was fidgety and anxious about all the things I needed to do! Now, years later, I yearn for silence. It has changed my life, my perspective and my journey with God. In a few weeks I will again go to a place of silence for several days. It no longer holds any fear. I drive into its gates and it welcomes me like a loving friend. I rest in its embrace – the sound of Silence is a healer.

Psalm 46:10
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
Be still
Be

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Those Fascinating Melbourne Lanes

The beautiful city of Melbourne is home to over four million people. It’s the ‘youngest’ of all the world cities. It is hard to imagine that this sprawling capital of Victoria, Australia’s second largest city, did not exist 180 years ago.
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In 1835, John Batman, an Australian grazier and entrepreneur from Van Diemen’s land (modern day Tasmania), signed a transaction with eight chiefs of the local Wurundjeri tribe, along a quiet stream, possibly Merri Creek in Northcote. He bought 500,000 acres in exchange for a few household goods. This transaction, although later rejected by the government, was the foundation of Melbourne. It became the only major Australian city established without government sanction. By 1836, the settlement had reached 177 settlers.

In March 1837, Governor Sir Richard Bourke proclaimed Melbourne a town and chose the name in honour of the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Lord Melbourne. During his visit he was joined by Robert Hoddle, a senior surveyor for New South Wales. Hoddle had less than a month to peg out allotments to allow for government land sales. He designed wide main streets with narrow laneways.

The grid that Hoddle planned proved problematic as the lanes became crowded, dirty and a breeding ground for criminals, while the wider streets were prone to flooding. Despite these troublesome beginnings, Melbourne’s grid has become an iconic feature of the city and is a reminder of the ambitious goals of the settlers.
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Melbourne’s lanes originated at Governor Bourke’s insistence to provide access to buildings from the rear, service lanes for horses and carts. Many of these lanes did not exist in the original layout of the grid, but began to emerge out of necessity as Melbourne faced a huge influx of immigrants during the Gold Rush era of the 1850s. There are many fascinating stories of how Chinese and European immigrants helped shape the cultural landscape of the city and the philanthropic organisations, which were active in offering assistance to the poor.
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The laneways, which were once notorious for crime, homelessness and prostitution, have today become places of enormous cultural, historical and social significance. Today they bustle with restaurants, one-off shops, galleries and bars. Every lane brings its own style of gothic-like ambience, quirkiness and charm, never failing to delight locals and visitors alike. Of course it is also an undisputed fact, that the best cup of coffee in the world will be brewed in one of these narrow alleys.Hosier_Lane_Installations_Melbourne-1
Melbourne is recognised as one of the world’s street art capitals. Hosier Lane is one of my very favourite. The inspired and beautiful art pieces bring life and soul to the city. Forget any ideas about graffiti tagging or vandalism, this is sophisticated urban art.
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There are over two hundred laneways (alleys, arcades, places, lanes, walks & ways) in the Central Business District alone, many of them are under threat as they do not fall into the strict heritage precinct. So take some time out and wander. Wander the lanes before they move into their next phase or are totally lost. Get off the main street and take a marvellous detour – you won’t regret it. These lanes tell stories of yesterday and they are always full of pleasant surprises.

Some Recommendations:
Serious about coffee? Try Manchester Press on Rankins Lane.
Serious about art galleries? Try these on Flinders Lane: Flinders Lane Gallery, Arc One Gallery or Karen Woodbury Gallery.
Serious about spices? Try Sichuan House in Corrs Lane or Gewürzhaus in the Block Arcade.
Serious about tea? Try Lupecia Fresh Tea in Artemis Lane.
Want a huge choice of food in one tiny lane? Try Degraves Street.
All this exploring will make you very thirsty – in which case you will need a decent  German beer in Market Lane.
Prost to Melbourne and it’s fascinating lanes.

Those Wonderful Irish: Reflections on Irish Poetry


Hearts are not to be had as a gift, hearts are to be earned.

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Three years ago we visited Ireland. I fell in love. In love with a countryside so spectacular it takes your breath away. In love with the people whose melodic, lilting accents had me so fascinated that I stared at them in a rather creepy manner. In love with a people who knew how to laugh and celebrate.

Ireland has gifted our globe with a fascinating history. It has also produced some of the finest poets. Irish poetry has developed distinctively from the 6th century, to Jonathan Swift in the early eighteenth century, to contemporary poets such as Seamus Heaney.

It is a poetry that has been shaped by the struggle to define Irish identiy. Irish poetry has a history of two languages: Irish and English, richly interwoven. The Irish language has the oldest vernacular literature and poetry. In the middle ages, the Gaelic order that supported some of the old professional bards, broke down. This resulted in the Irish language becoming marginalised and entering the realms of folk art. However, in the 19th century, Irish poets set out to reinvent the Gaelic tradition in the new language. The best example of this is the early work of W.B. Yeats.

Several years ago the Irish Times surveyed its audience and asked for their favourite poets. The top two were W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney. So here are some samples of these famous poets … I have also included one of Oscar Wilde as I found this poem so beautiful. If you have never tried to read poetry, this is probably the best place to start. Feed your soul, read it slowly.

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When You Are Old
By William Butler Yeats

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine and fifty swans.

The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold,
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

(William Butler Yeats was the most famous Irish poet of all time. “The Wild Swans at Coole,” is surely one of the most beautiful poems ever written, in any language.)

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When All the Others Were Away at Mass
By Seamus Heaney

In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives –
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

(Seamus Heaney (13 April 1939 – 30 August 2013) was a poet, writer and lecturer from Northern Ireland. This poem is taken from Clearences, a sonnet sequence which he published in 1987 on his mother’s death.)

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Requiescat
by Oscar Wilde

Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair
Tarnished with rust,
She that was young and fair
Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,
She hardly knew
She was a woman, so
Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,
Lie on her breast,
I vex my heart alone,
She is at rest.

Peace, Peace, she cannot hear
Lyre or sonnet,
All my life’s buried here,
Heap earth upon it.

(Born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Irish writer Oscar Wilde is best known for the novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray and the play, The Importance of Being Earnest. Sadly, he was arrested and imprisoned. His crime? Being gay. He died shortly after his release).

You don’t love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.
Oscar Wilde

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Remembering Sophie: Reflections on Courage

“Stand up for what you believe in even if you are standing alone!”

Sophie Scholl

If you take a stroll through beautiful Munich, Germany, it is hard to imagine that this place was the official and ideological stronghold of the NAZI Party (NSDAP) leading up to World War II. For visitors who are aware of the historical shadows that the city holds, the reminders are never far away. On the pavement, outside the main building of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, one of Germany’s oldest universities, is a strange memorial of what looks like the hasty scattering of papers inset into the pavement. When you walk inside the atrium you will find  a statue of a girl: Sophie Scholl.
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Sophie, born on 9 May 1921, was the daughter of the mayor of Forchtenberg, Robert Scholl. She enjoyed a fairly carefree childhood, raised in a household that held to a Christian faith which recognised the dignity and equality of all people. Her father’s words would play an instrumental role in shaping who Sophie was becoming: “What I want for you is to live in uprightness and freedom of spirit, no matter how difficult that proves to be.” Her father and brothers were critical of Hitler and the regime. Nevertheless, Sophie joined a Nazi organisation, the League of German Girls, where she became a squad leader at the age of twelve. Her initial enthusiasm began to wane as she became more immersed in understanding the ideology and motivation of the Nazi party and as she began to observe the treatment of Jews.
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Sophie graduated from Secondary School in 1940 and worked as a kindergarten teacher at the Frobel Institute. In 1942, she enrolled in the University of Munich as a student of biology and philosophy. Undergirded by her studies and her faith, she joined her brother and his friends who held similar political views and who increasingly opposed the Nazi regime. Humanist and writer, Theodor Haecker, was a major influence on her resistance ideology.Unknown-2
In 1942, she became part of the White Rose student resistance that was founded by her brother, Hans, along with Willi Graf and Christoph Probst. The group sought to awaken an apathetic Germany to the Nazi tyranny and its genocidal policies. The group wrote six anti-Nazi resistance leaflets and distributed them across Munich. Sophie played a key role in the distribution because as a woman she was less likely to be stopped by the SS. Using a hand-operated duplicating machine they produced between six to nine thousand copies of each pamphlet, which also appeared in Stuttgart, Cologne, Vienna, Freiburg, Chemnitz, Hamburg and Berlin.
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Here are some excerpts from these pamphlets:

The first of the six leaflets produced by The White Rose movement opens, “Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be ‘governed’ by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct.” The White Rose became a relentless voice that endeavoured to awaken the apathy that had come over Germany in the face of such heinous governmental evil.

The second leaflet asked, “Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes … so unworthy of the human race?” And this: “Since the conquest of Poland, 300,000 Jews have been murdered, a crime against human dignity … Germans encourage fascist criminals if no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds. An end in terror is preferable to terror without end.” The White Rose was desperately trying to incite people to action, to awaken a nation to to the fact that the combined collective of the Germany people was greater than the evil they faced.

The third leaflet boldly welcomed all to the movement, declaring that  “Everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of this system.” Please note, they never called for a violent rebellion, rather, for a passive resistance, a peaceful sabotage. “Why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanised state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right – or rather, your moral duty – to eliminate this system?”

The fourth leaflet appealed to the religious instincts of the German people with a defiant call to action: “I ask you as a Christian … Has God not given you the strength, the will to fight? We must attack evil where it is strongest, and it is strongest in the power of Hitler.” The fourth pamphlet’s concluding paragraph also became the motto of the resistance: “We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!

On the 18th February 1943, the Scholls distributed leaflets in the Munich University, leaving them in empty corridors and lecture rooms. Sophie stood on the top level of  atrium and threw handfuls into the hall below. They were immediately arrested and after a three day trial with no jury, found guilty of treason. On the 22nd February, Sophie, her brother Hans and their friend, Christoph Probst, were condemned to death and beheaded in Munich’s Stadelheim Prison.
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Sophie’s last words were to declare that God was her eternal refuge and, “Die Sonne scheint noch” – “The sun still shines”. Hans Scholl was remembered as saying, “Es lebe die Freiheit” – “Long live Freedom”.

The final White Rose leaflet was smuggled out of Germany and intercepted by Allied forces, with the result that, in the autumn of 1943, millions of copies were dropped over Germany by Allied aircraft. I wonder what a defeated Germany thought as these papers rained from the sky, the voice of prophets and martyrs, begging them to take courage? I can only imagine the regret as they realised that they would be remembered as a generation that remained quiet in one of the darkest moments of history.

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The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves — or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature.”
– Sophie Scholl

The Wisdom of Elders

Elderberry Soup with Semolina Dumplings! Just the thought makes my mouth water and evokes childhood memories and nostalgia. This was a staple dessert during Elderberry season, whilst we lived in Germany. Elderberry picking was a compulsory past-time and my grandmothers would process this precious purple berry for both culinary and medicinal purposes. No one complained about taking Elderberry syrup as a medicine against cold and flu. Sadly, I find this highly nutritious fruit remains somewhat neglected and overlooked on our sunny continent. So allow me to share some Elder wisdom.

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This tree was once considered sacred and linked to the ancient vegetation goddess, Hylde Moer. It was believed that the Elders were inhabited by tree dryads, who were benevolent if properly cared for. So Elders were planted around homes as people sought protection from witches and evil spirits. To cut down an Elder tree, in order to process it for the many medicinal uses, permission had to be sought from the tree dryad: “Lady Ellhorn, give me some of thy wood, and I will give thee some of mine when it grows in the forest.” With the rise of Christianity, tree worship was forbidden, and the Elder tree was depicted as a tree of sorrow. The narrative changed to imply that it was an Elder tree from which Judas hung himself and it was Elder wood that was used to make the cross on which Jesus died.

Many herbalists would consider the Elder as one of the most useful plants. Modern medicine is rediscovering this potent plant. Elders were listed in the Handbook of Medicinal Herbs (CRC Press) in 1985 and in the 2000 Mosby’s Nursing Drug reference for colds, flu, yeast infections, nasal and chest congestions, and allergies. The Hasassah Oncology Lab in Israel is using the plant to treat cancer and AIDS patients as it stimulates the body’s immune system. Further studies at the Bundesforschungsanstalt in Karlsruhe, Germany, show it is so effective against disease because it boosts the body’s production of cytokines; a unique protein that helps regulate immune response. Elderberry extract also reduces oxidation of low-density (LDL) cholesterol, and therefore has been effectively used to combat high cholesterol. Hippocrates reportedly referred to the Elderberry bush as his “medicine chest”.elder-59745_1920

The Elder is officially known as Sambucus, a species that comes as tall shrubs and small trees, and is part of the Honeysuckle family. Most species of Sambucus are edible when ripe and cooked. However, most uncooked berries and other parts of the plant are poisonous. Sambucus nigra, the one I have planted and is flourishing in my garden, is the variety considered to be non-toxic, even when not cooked, and is most often used for health benefits. Several species are native to North America and Europe. The Black Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis) is the one used by many Native American tribes: “Used traditionally in Native American herbalism, Elderberry has been used by many tribes as a tonic medicine and food to promote health and vitality, as well as to fight pain and swelling. Used to clear lungs and ease breathing and to fight rheumatism. The flowers and berries of the Elder plant are now being researched as herbal remedies for bacterial sinusitis, bronchitis, high cholesterol, and management of the flu.

Every part of the Elder tree can be used. I pick the flowers and infuse it into a tea. People also use the infusion in bathwater and as an eyewash. The leaves can be turned into an ointment, treating wounds and bruises (even haemorrhoids). The berries are delicious and there are many recipes that are dancing with goodness. The bark and branches have served in dyes, tool-making and insect repellents. If, for whatever reason you cannot plant Elders in your garden, or you don’t have a garden, don’t despair. I order dried, organic Elderberries online and make the soup out of that. The trees in my garden are still growing and developing.

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Like any plant that is used for medicine or culinary purposes, caution needs to be applied. Please inform yourself about allergies and side effects. Elderberries are not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

So, why not listen to the wisdom of Elders and try something new that comes with excellent health benefits? I respectfully disagree with zee French Soldier in the Monty Python’s Holy Grail. King Arthur was quite right in asking whether there was someone else he can talk to up there. To have your father smell of Elderberries, is after all, not really an insult!

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Addicted to a Different Type of Speed

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If someone asked me how I spent the last 25 years, I would have to say, “In a hurry.” That is not a statement I am really proud of. In fact, it is one of the things I deeply regret about the last two decades. My husband and I were married in 1986 and very involved in a larger faith community in Melbourne. Three children later and life continued to get more and more hectic. My husband was (and is) the Senior Minister of this church, and I was on staff fulfilling various roles. Everything moved fast. I never questioned this breakneck speed because in my mind this was all part of ‘God’s will’. This pace was also something I was used to from my childhood, where both parents worked and hurry was the norm.

It takes a very long time to become conscious of the fact that the way we charge through life at great haste, is not ideal. It takes even longer to begin to start to recover from this modern malaise. We eat fast, talk fast, walk fast, hit the elevator button twice and get irritated while waiting in traffic. We have become the experts in ‘multi-tasking’ and our conversations often center around how busy we are. Look around you, especially if you live in the city, notice how everyone seems to be doing life with a great sense of hurried urgency? Even in this ‘jolly’ Christmas season, tempers flare as shoppers are on a hurried hunt to find the ‘perfect’ presents for their loved ones.

Here is the bad news: this hurry thing is killing us. Hurry sickness has been defined as ‘a behaviour pattern characterised by continual rushing and anxiousness: an overwhelming and continual sense of urgency.’

time-92897_1920Do we tolerate this rather second-rate way of life because it takes us such a long time to be truly honest with ourselves? We believe the slogans that slick marketing machines throw at us. So we work harder and longer to buy more stuff that we don’t need. Stuff, that causes us untold anxiety as we work relentlessly in order to repay the debt that we owe on the stuff we don’t need. For a split second we get a feeling of ‘pleasure’ from our possessions and this, in turn, feeds hollow ideals of ‘happiness’. So we have successfully created a contemporary world of hurry-harrowed people with bling and zing … and empty lives. Our consumer habits have won the day, or as William Wordsworth put it: “Habit rules the unreflective soul.” Slowly, like Truman Burbank, we begin to wake up to our false hyper-reality and realise the trouble we are in. No wonder there’s such an enthusiastic move towards minimalism.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent years of her life working in palliative care. She outlines some of her reflections in a book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. The five regrets she listed were:
1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself to be happier.

The book is sobering. It serves as a reminder that these regrets share some common denominators. One of them is the speed at which we choose to live. There is little time for reflection, for mindfulness, or authenticity, when we don’t even have time to walk in the park. Just as speed is dangerous on the road, relentless speed through life kills the human heart. It turns us into a zombie life form and sometimes it is only a life crisis that wakes us up from this state.
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The great benefit of slowing down is reclaiming the time and tranquility to make meaningful connections — with people, with culture, with work, with nature, with our own bodies and minds,” writes Carl Honore. There is something about the discipline of slow that allows us to be truly human again. The popular Psalm 23 describes a Shepherd who leads his sheep by quiet waters and allows them to rest in green pastures. Unfortunately, this Psalm is often read at funerals, whereas it would serve much better as a reflection for the living.

It took me a long time to acknowledge that I was addicted to a different type of speed. Change was painful. But my life is different today. I have made choices that reflect my desire to live a more contemplative and attentive life. As a recovering hurry addict, I still at times hear the voices of my addiction. They try to tempt me back to that place. Sometimes they can be quite persuasive. But I have tasted a different life. It is in the ‘slow’ that I have learnt to see and it is in the unhurried that I have found joy. I don’t want to go back. So I have set some things in place that I practice. They include learning to listen more deeply, savouring the various moments throughout the day, expressing gratitude, saying ‘no’ without feeling guilty, freeing myself from religious cliches that promised life but brought ashes, throwing away unrealistic ‘to do’ lists and watching the sunset most evenings.

Friend, I am not here to tell you how to live your life. This blog is simply a tiny voice to point out that you have one magnificent life to live. Does your life truly reflect what you say you value? Maybe, like me, you have to make some changes – after all there’s a whole world of roses out there. Imagine if you didn’t make the time to smell even one?

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“A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor — such is my idea of happiness.” 

Leo Tolstoy

In the Name of God: Reflections on Bullying and Religion

Bullying: the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or dominate others. If you are anything like me, you have experienced your fair share of bullying, especially through those ‘delightful’ school years. In the middle of my cyber-bullying-122156_1280first grade in Germany, they discovered I had severe astigmatism, and I became the proud owner of a rather huge pair of round glasses. My latest acquisition made me the perfect target for those seeking to “intimidate or dominate others”. The following year we relocated to South Africa and I was the immigrant kid who spoke no English or Afrikaans. I became well acquainted with the inside of the school library, as it offered the perfect refuge from bullies.

Today everyone is talking about bullying, sadly because we now need to know how to survive, and teach our children to survive, in a culture of bullying. Social media, reality TV shows, talk shows, politics, schools, workplace, the list goes on – every space has its bullies, with devastating results. People bully because there’s a rush that comes with power, they are often encouraged by others which provides positive reinforcement, they have an inability to feel empathy and may even derive pleasure from someone else’s pain, and/or they come from a background that shows no affection and may even model aggression. Bullying is a rampant social problem and I am pleased to see it addressed in many forums. However, what if that bullying is related to God?

There are a few books released on this subject of bullying and spiritual abuse. Bullying is disastrous in all situations. Yet bullying in the name of God is often tolerated for a very long time. Why? Because it is so hard to recognise. When God is attached to the rhetoric of the bully, the victim is being emotionally attacked and manipulated. However, the victim also has a desire to ‘please God’ or be ‘obedient to God’ and may feel that the bully is speaking for, or acting on, God’s behalf. This makes the whole scenario very confusing. More often than not, the person does not even realise they are being bullied. Someone can use the Bible in such a manner that it sounds correct, but rather than bringing life and comfort, the listener is being intimidated or manipulated. In this case, faith has become toxic.
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I have a dear friend who spent many years of her life in a cult. A cult that determined how she lived her life and that was involved in all major decisions she had to make. A cult that treated her with absolute abusive contempt. Yet she remained faithful and submissive to this group for many years. Brainwashing is a cult tactic. My friend believed that being submissive was ‘God’s will’ and that disobeying the ‘Fatherhood’ (elders and spiritual oversight), was the same as disobeying God. Never underestimate the power of a bully coupled with faith and religion. Some of you may be interested in reading her story.

Religion and bullying take many forms. The bullies are often motivated by sincere religious ideals. As parents we can coerce our children to believe or behave in ways that line up with our faith ideologies. However, these tactics can be soul destroying. I have been listening to the sad stories of many LGBTI young people who have been bullied by their families and/or faith communities, all in the name of God. The ex-gay moment, in their attempt to ‘straighten out’ LGBTI folk, has often resorted to all forms of bullying with devastating results (please know that if you have been a victim of this movement that there is help and information available). Religious schools can resort to a form of bullying in their disciplinary measures. I recall one of my children’s faith and character being questioned because she talked in class, insinuating her childish behaviour does not ‘please God’. This sort of manipulation on impressionable young minds can have long-term effects on a person’s confidence and self-image.
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Perhaps one of the most common forms of bullying is in faith communities themselves. Those deemed spiritual leaders can suggest various things from a place of ‘spiritual authority’ that really is a form of bullying. A friend of mine recently blogged on this topic. He wrote about the harm done to people suffering from mental illness who listen, via sermons or books, to others seeking to ‘educate’ on the subject of mental illness, who have no form of education or qualification: “What is readily apparent throughout The Power of Right Believing is that Prince has no understanding of mental illness and addiction, no awareness of its myriad causes, and no knowledge of the complex medicinal and psychological strategies that will help a person (and their family) to manage (not cure) the lifelong challenge of living with the illness.” This is gross negligence at best, and a form of bullying at its worst.

Although bullying in faith communities is often discussed in regards to abuse from spiritual leaders, I have also observed bullying by congregation members against religious leaders. Most often, both sides believe they have God on their side and therefore the despicable behaviour and/or words are justified. Religious bullies often think themselves as ‘prophetic’, bearers of the truth, and apart from feeling persecuted, they are generally angry with this ‘wicked’ world.

Some signs of religious bullying can include:
– criticism and belittling
– intimidating others
– spreading rumours, gossip and lies
– excluding and isolating others
– never admit any wrong
– refusal to show remorse or seek forgiveness for any wrongdoing
– zero empathy or understanding of what the other feels like
– aggression (this can be in words or even print)bible-879085_1280
– domineering
– martyr complex

 

There are many helpful ideas on how to cope with religious bullies. One of the top rules: Give them no oxygen. Trust me, that sounds a lot easier than it actually is. I faced some serious bullying from religious lobby groups earlier this year and everything in me just wanted to take them out … but then I would become just like them: a bully. When we are the target of religious poison everything in us wants to dexify. Don’t. Let it go. That is horrible punishment for bullies who, often suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, crave our reaction.

In conclusion, maybe a most uncomfortable truth. Most of us, at some stage, have acted like bullies. We have intimidated others. We have coerced and manipulated others to do our bidding. No genuine conversation about bullying can happen without this recognition. I look back on my life and recognise many moments when I was the bully, when I was the oppressor, when I inflicted pain on others. To truly see social change in this area we need to recognise the human malady of insatiable hunger for power and dominance. This distorted survival mode does not exempt anyone, including, and maybe especially, religious folk who also have a God to bring into bullying tactics. We all need to be aware of the bully within, to move our lives from an ego-centric focus to one of love and grace.pogo-enemy(Please note: Links are underlined)

 

Teisha’s Story: A Life Interrupted

I met Teisha in 2012. It does not take long to recognise that behind this kind, funny and intelligent woman also lies incredible strength. There is no doubt that part of this strength was fashioned because she had to face some major curve balls that life threw at her.

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Teisha was just twenty-two and on a fast track to corporate success when her life was interrupted by a huge and unexpected hurdle. For the next four years she grieved for her lost dreams, caught in an avalanche of endless hospital ordeals and gruelling rehabilitation. Her devastating physical condition came to dominate her identity… until she decided to turn her hurdle into hope.

She committed herself to finding joy where it seemed impossible. Turning an existence of debilitating lows into a life of exhilarating highs, she left her homeland to travel the world. She left creature comforts to help orphans overseas. She left corporate life to become a social worker among the homeless and lonely. She found new gifts, new perspectives, new homes, new friends and in an amazing set of circumstances she found love.

She says this: “My life is unrecognisable to years ago. Today I’m no longer filled with negative energy nor overwhelmed by a life filled with uncertainty. Instead I’ve been able to find joy in my everyday life and have a genuine excitement about my future.

Early in my journey I experienced many aggressive relapses. But faced with poor health, I was hesitant to make changes in my life. I was living the life I had always planned. I’d finished university, commenced a corporate career and engrossed in Melbourne inner city living. 1423726695699

In my mind making changes to my life, altering any plans I had for the future, signified defeat. Even if I had wanted to make any life changes, I didn’t know what to change or how. As a consequence my health suffered and I felt stagnant; unsure how to move forward.

For me the key to moving beyond the darkness and frustration of living with MS has been momentum. I’ve been able to move beyond the negative energy by actively seeking new perspectives that challenge the way I think about, interact with and approach my illness and life.

Travelling overseas, studying social work, volunteering in Romania, living in a country town, exploring different approaches to wellbeing opened my world. I began to think about my life differently.

1423726745749Teisha’s story, in someway,  resonates with so many of our lives. We all face different hurdles. Teisha used hers as a way to discover that life itself is greater than whatever may interrupt our dreams. I wanted to highlight her story and the discoveries she shares in finding hope and a future, amidst difficulties.

Teisha, to me, is one of those everyday heroes that has not allowed extremely difficult circumstances to rob her of living life to the full and being fully present. She is a huge source of inspiration to so many around her. There are so many lessons we can learn from her story, perhaps most importantly, that our often interrupted lives and the hurdles we face can lead us to hope and a new beginning.

Check out Teisha’s blog at Lives Interrupted.

The Wonder of Mint

“As for the garden of mint, the very smell of it alone recovers and refreshes our spirits.” Pliny

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I have been overseas and arrived home just in the ideal time to pick and dry the mint I have growing everywhere in my garden. In Spring, the leaves are bursting with vitality and goodness. Mint is an aromatic herb that has its origin in Asian and Mediterranean countries. It is used both for cooking and healing. It is  packed with vitamins and minerals, especially carotene, Vitamin C, magnesium, copper and iron.
Never thought about mint? Most of us depend on it everyday. From toothpaste to lotions, medicine and health or hygiene products, everyone benefits from this fantastic herb. It’s a brilliant healer for painful joints, headaches, sciatica and IMG_2063inflammation and research has shown that
menthol is hugely beneficial in aiding digestion, which is why it’s so popular in teas. Mint plants contain an antioxidant known as rosmarinic acid, which has been studied for its effectiveness in relieving seasonal allergy symptoms. When applied topically in oil, ointment or lotion, mint has the effect of calming and cooling skin affected by insect bites, rash or other reactions.
A few words of caution. Remember that peppermint oil in large portions can be toxic. Pure menthol should not be taken internally. Some medication can react with mint or mint oil. If you’re unsure check with your doctor. Do not use mint oil on the face of an infant as it can interfere with breathing. Also, be aware that digestive issues relating to gastric reflux may be exacerbated through large consumption of mint.
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Some fun facts about mint:
  • It derived its name from the nymph, Menthe, who, according to myth, was turned into a plant by the goddess Perserpina when she found out that Pluto was in love with her (ultimate revenge … turn your rival into a herb).
  • Greeks used mint in their baths.
  • Romans used it in sauces to aid digestion and also brought the herb to Britain.
  • It was used in medieval times for its culinary and medicinal properties.
I have a large garden and grow mint everywhere. It is one of those ferocious growers and will take over a garden bed if not restrained. One way to contain mint is to use an old bottomless bucket pushed into the ground. The mint won’t be able to put its roots out sideways, so will take longer to spread. If grown in a pot, mint needs to be watered regularly to keep it healthy. It prefers damp, partly shaded areas and once established will grow for many years. Mint dies down in Winter and sends up new shoots in Spring. It really is the perfect plant to begin with, as you build your herb garden. It’s easy to grow and is really fun to add to many recipes – whether breakfast, dinner or dessert.
There are many different types of mint: Peppermint, Spearmint, Pineapple mint, Apple mint, Ginger mint, Horsemint, Catmint, Chocolate mint, Lavender mint (a personal favourite), etc. Obviously, not all mint varieties are used for culinary purposes. Some are better utilized for their aromatic properties or aesthetic appearances while others, like field mint, are normally treated as medicinal plants. Different mint types should be planted as far apart as possible – like opposite ends of the garden, to avoid cross pollination which affects taste and unique characteristics.
I dry the mint in bunches, in a cool, dark storage cupboard. When dry (brittle), I just shred it into a container and, presto, it’s ready for tea. On a hot, sunny day there’s nothing better than ice tea – with only homegrown ingredients: mint, lemon and/or lemon balm.

 

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Why not give mint a go?
Here are some recipes to get you started:
Fresh Mint Tea
A large handful of fresh mint leaves (I also add fresh ginger and/or lemon balm to vary the taste)
A kettleful of filtered water (about 2 to 4 cups depending on how strong you want your tea)
Honey to taste
  1. Roughly tear the leaves with your hands and place them in a small strainer placed over a teapot or glass bowl.
  2. Bring the water to a boil and pour over the leaves.
  3. Gently bruise the mint leaves with the back of a wooden spoon or a muddler to release the oils.
  4. Cover the teapot or bowl and let the leaves steep for at least 5 to 10 minutes, then remove the strainer pressing on the leaves to extract as much liquid as possible.
  5. Pour into tea cups or mug and sweeten with honey or sugar to taste, if desired.
For iced mint tea: Follow the directions above adding sweetener if using while the tea is still warm. Cool the infusion to room temperature, then store in the fridge. Serve over ice with an additional sprig of fresh mint.
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Pearl Couscous with Mint and Pecans

Serves 2 as main, 4 as a side

1 medium-sized red onion, cut into slivers
1/2 cup pearl couscous
1/2 cup (plus 2 tablespoons) water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped (reserve a few whole leaves for garnish)
1/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped and toasted
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan on medium heat, sauté the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for approximately 20 minutes. The onion should be soft and slightly caramelized, but not completely reduced. Sprinkle the onions with a dash of salt.

In the meantime, chop the pecans and toast in a smaller pan on a low flame for about 5 minutes. Nuts should be aromatic, just lightly toasted. Stir frequently to prevent burning (they can go from toasty to burnt in just a second, so keep an eye on them the entire time). Chop the mint, reserving a few leaves for garnish.

Place couscous in a medium-large bowl. Boil water, measure it to 1/2 cup mark and add one more little splash. Pour water into bowl with couscous. Cover with foil for about 12 minutes. Remove foil, then add cooked onion, toasted pecans, fresh mint and a tablespoon of olive oil and vinegar. Stir until evenly mixed, and sprinkle with a little fresh mint on top.

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Mint! Explore the wonder!