Colin Gibson - 25 May 2008
In this "Connections" article from our Parish Bulletin Colin Gibson makes some interesting connections of his own. He begins with Greta Garbo . . but where to from there? Read it and find out . . .
We’re odd creatures. Half of our nature yearns for the peace and quiet we can only achieve on our own. ‘I want to be alone’, moaned Greta Garbo, that famous Swedish film star of the silent movies period—and went into total seclusion to prove it. But the other half of us yearns for companionship and connection with the rest of the human race.
I was reminded of this deep instinct for connectedness at a recent service of worship at Glenaven. The preacher launched into a sermon that began with the Trinity (that famous intellectual exercise in defining the connectedness of God and his relatives) and then focused on responses to the terrible natural disasters that have struck Burma and China in recent weeks. One of the students in the congregation, an young African woman, got up and left quietly during the sermon, but not before she had scribbled a note on the service order which she passed to her neighbour, Joan McDonald. In the discussion which followed the sermon, Joan read out the message. It explained that the student had had to leave early to attend a special lecture, but she wanted to say how impressed she was that here in New Zealand, so far away from the countries struck by cyclone and earthquake, we were so sad and concerned for their devastated populations.
Until that moment it had never (I suspect) struck us that such concern and empathy for others was at all unusual. But here was an overseas student to whom such an attitude was new and different.
It so happened that in the evening of the same day I was conducting some travelers from Japan around the sights of the city. Yes, they were visibly impressed and delighted by the floodlit Otago Boys High School buildings, our wonderfully florid Victorian Railway Station and the soon-to-be opened Chinese Garden. But for them, the huge library of the University of Otago was the top sight, sailing along Albany Street like a vast liner with all its windows ablaze. We went inside and admired the stunning architecture, the wealth of knowledge stored on hundreds of stack shelves and tiptoed round the many students concentrating on reading or working at their computers at 9.30pm on Sunday night.
Then we noticed the barometer. A familiar kind of fund-raising barometer, its big red bulb already three-quarters full and rising. Next to it was a large sign addressed to the students of university: would they contribute to this fund which is being raised for the relief of young people in Myanmar (Burma). Like the African student at Glenaven, these three middle-aged Japanese were greatly impressed by the concern and practical charity of young people who themselves in many cases were living and studying on skin-tight budgets.
Connections. Yes, deep down in thousands of ordinary New Zealanders there is a ready sympathy and empathy for other communities and races; a strong sense of the inter-connectedness of the human race, and a willingness to address others’ griefs and disasters. Long may it survive and flourish. I believe that such a social conscience is a product of the religious faith which informed our settler-cultures from the beginning and which has generated a strong and lasting sense of the love and duty towards others which Christ taught. The faiths of our latest settler-populations, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu encourage similar attitudes towards suffering and helpless humanity.
We live—we can only live fully—in connection. As John Donne, the Elizabethan preacher put it, ‘No man (or woman) is an island, entire of itself. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor (house) of thy friends or if thine own were. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’ Let us never forget it.