We went to Paeroa by accident and stayed on purpose. We had been working with churches in the Kandallah region of Wellington when we learned that a position in Sydney we were expecting simply would not materalise. Suddenly we were faced with three months with no employment. I asked the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ if there was a church that needed a short ministry of three months. That is how we ended up in the small town of Paeroa (pop 3500) supposedly for three months. In fact, we stayed for 12 wonderful years.
As ours was only a short appointment the accommodation we were given was an old farm house scheduled to be demolished at the end of our stay. The house was unfurnished so the parish furnished it with three of everything – enough for Pauline, Walker our five year old son, and me. I remember three cups – there might have been more, but not many more. In fact, we hosted many people in our house. Pauline provided paper plates etc. and often visitors would bring their own crockery.
During my first night meeting, Pauline rang the home where we were meeting and in a nervous whisper told me, “Something awful is happening. The house is surrounded by something making strange, loud noises” She explained that she had turned off the lights and that she and Walker were lying on the floor. Walker was terrified believing the sounds were from aliens. “Hold on”, I said, “We will get help to you”. When I told the committee members of the crisis they burst into raucous laughter.
What was happening was this. Our house was located on a dairy farm. Normally the house would have been fenced off from the paddocks, but our house was not. The farmer had recently removed the perimeter fence around the back of the house to give his herd more grazing area. The cows were rotated around the farm each day. On this day, after the evening milking, he had moved the herd into the paddock which surrounded our house.
It is not obvious from a distance, but resting cows make a great deal of noise Here I am not talking of mooing. In the dark of night, the herd of 200 or so settled down around our house – right against the walls of our house. What Walker and Pauline were hearing was the sounds of these animals belching, cud chewing and grunting. It would have made a great sound-track for a horror movie.
Another adventure centered on a lamb. Walker was loaned a lamb so he could participate in ‘Calf Day’ at his school. On Calf Day, the children brought a pet animal to school (goat, calf or lamb) and competed based on appearance and obedience etc. Inevitably, when you hand-rear a lamb, the animal becomes very attached to the source of food. Walker named his lamb Patchy and in a week or so Patchy obviously believed he was part of our family. One of the cutest things I have ever seen was in the afternoons, after school, the lamb Patchy and Walker sitting on the couch together watching children’s television.
However, Patchy grew at amazing speed and became very demanding. I suggested to Pauline that we should return him to the farmer and to the flock. She would have none of it. Patchy was altogether too precious for us to part with it.
One day our family was preparing to travel to Auckland for a social occasion. We three were gathered around a table where Pauline was ironing. She dressed Walker and me, and was ironing her personal ‘piece de resistance’, a red silk blouse. Just then our lamb (sheep) butted down the back door (we could never lock it) and galloped down the passage. With one leap, he sprang onto the table where Pauline was ironing. Standing astride the red silk blouse and he promptly piddled on it. Now Pauline is patient with those she loves but that lamb had crossed the Rubicon. There could be no redemption for an animal that committed such a heinous assault on a red silk blouse. That afternoon our lamb was back with the flock and Pauline never mentioned Patchy again.
At the end of three months in our almost empty house, with three of everything, we realised how much we enjoyed our stay. We had not really missed our extra possessions. It had been a time of relaxed and comfortable living. We wondered why we would ever need more things. Having so few things simply meant there was more time for living and human interaction.
Some months later, after our North American tour, we returned to Paeroa and this time we moved into our own house in the Karangahake Gorge. I soon realized that the idea of living a simple life with three of everything was a distant hope. We had too much stuff.
And now what can I say. Our cups and mugs are stacked two high in the deep kitchen draws. Every shelf and pelmet in the house has ornaments and decorations lined up on them. And as for miniature churches, (that’s another story I might tell sometime) we have over 140 of them. On a positive side of things, I do note that children like visiting our house. They say it is “Interesting”. What I know for sure is we have far too many possessions and their number keeps on growing.
Every year we see old friends packing up their homes to move or be moved to smaller space – sometimes one room. Part of the trauma of such moves, is how do they dispose of their accumulated possessions. More likely than not their children won’t want them; – crockery (“old fashioned”), nick-nacks (“kitsch”), art works (depressing”), furniture (un-cool”) etc. So, it is off to the OP-Shop for much of it. And then reluctantly, often sadly, they must get used to living with three cups.
One of our oldest friends loves giving gifts and this means we must reciprocate in kind. Years ago, I suggested that should simply exchange cards as it was clear that both of us had too much stuff. It never worked. The presents just keep on coming and going. Her delight in buying and wrapping and unwrapping is simply too great. I am sure that as long as we live it shall never end.
I have been thinking that to limit this frightening accumulation we need new kind of gifts.
What about, biodegradable socks (undies, gloves, scarfs,) that are only good for three wears? After this they by design begin to deteriorate. Once this is happening you can wrap them around pot plants or shrubs where they will break down into fertilizers.
Or, how about knickknacks – ornaments, vases, miniature creatures and collectables, that are really food? When you are tired of them, they can simply be put in the microwave where after 3 mins on medium heat they melt into, tasty, gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, nut-free, porridge that can be mixed with fresh fruit to create a nutritious meal.
What I believe for sure is that this never-ending accumulation must stop – for our sake and for the sake of a sustainable planet. But, apart from our first three months in Paeroa, I have never been able to do it.
I have been thinking of the first line of the old Shaker song,
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
Now that’s the gift I would like. I think I could return to ‘three cups’ living – as long as I could have high-speed internet of course!
The Jacques Ellul reference based on his book ‘ Propaganda’ which suggests less educated people are not so likely to be influenced by propaganda seems to fly in the face of the recent election of Donald Trump. Clearly the jingoistic Trump stirred some portion of the masses with his one liners – “Drain the swamp” etc. However, it is worth noting that the educated and informed were equally out of touch. None expected a Trump win.
I think Ellul was not referring to the crowds caught up in mass movements – sporting events – Nazism etc., but to individuals who think for themselves.
Several pf my friends who have incomplete formal education are extremely insightful. They don’t think they are, but I believe this is the truth. They understand what is going on with a clarity that is seldom attained by persons who rely on experts to lead the way.
The second point on which there has been push-back is my mention of ‘Jesus in all and through all’. “How can this be’, they ask? But these same people tell me there is an essence, a presence that permeates everything. They tell me there is a mysterious cohesion that exists throughout the universe. That is what I am talking about. We are on the same wave length. But when I apply the term ‘Jesus’ to this wonderful ‘other’ they think of a Sunday school figure in a dressing gown with a towel around his head. I don’t