27 June, 2008

A pretty bow for the loose ends...

A short one this week to placate those who felt last week’s blog was a little long and intellectual. I will try to fill this one with a little more opinion and a little less fact…the way a ‘good’ blog should be :- )

After last week’s piece on harm reduction, there were some who felt unsatisfied, and wanted to know for sure what my actual stance was on the issue. Others questioned my thinking behind remaining neutral, while others challenged my neutrality suggesting that a great deal more weight was placed on the side of harm reduction. Oh, and of course there were the complaints of the length!

The problem is…I really am undecided.

I work with many people struggling with addiction. One in particular does her best to provide love and support for her family and, given the circumstances, does a pretty good job. Does she want to be free from addiction? Of course! Let’s get out of our head that the majority of addicts see their use as something rebellious and exciting and that they somehow require direction in the area of good morals. When I work with addicts, I see sadness, broken dreams, broken promises, crime, anger, frustration, disappointment. There is little fun or joy, and often the continued drug use is a desperate attempt to feel ‘normal’ and free, even just for a little while.

I want my people to be free from addiction and to start living life in the way they dream. For them, I want whatever method of help that will be effective and sustainable and that will bring them the fullness and security they seek.

From a welfare standpoint, that could mean either harm reduction or abstinence.

From a Christian standpoint, that means being released from the oppression of sin.

I was talking to someone today about ‘sin’ and ‘grace’. It occurred to me that I spend a lot more time on the effects of sin rather than on ushering the sinner toward forgiveness. Now this can be as large as raising money for the poor of the third world rather than convicting the greedy, or as small as babysitting a child whose parent is MIA rather than pushing the parent to repent so that God would enable them to be a better parent. Essentially, I was thinking the mission should be ‘fix the sinner and remove all ramifications of sin’ rather than constantly mopping up the mess.

How does this relate to drug policy? Well I guess it could be argued that The Salvation Army is in the business of bringing full life through repentance and sanctification. If we believe freedom and fullness is possible in Christ then we should be offering it and trusting it as a solution. The moment we suggest that the bondage of addiction is an option, do we in fact discount the privilege of full sanctification? It is like giving a medication your 100% guarantee whilst offering a coupon for a different product in case the first is unsuccessful.

So…my opinion? I think there is a need for harm reduction policy and methods. I think for many it provides the protection and support many addicts require. Having said that, I am not certain it is in the business of The Salvation Army to offer the service, and instead should promote the possibility of freedom from addiction.

Wow, look at that, it was still quite long!

Enjoy the school holidays people…I most certainly will :- )


19 June, 2008

To harm or not to harm...

There is a great need in Australia and around the world to respond to the devastation caused by drug addiction, and yet, there is some ambivalence as to the parameters of the method of help. The harm reduction response appears to have a great deal of merit for both reducing the additional health burdens associated with addiction, as well as a positive way to connect with and support users who are not yet ready to move toward abstinence. However the methods of the harm reduction movement at times appear to, at the very least condone and as a general rule support and facilitate illicit drug consumption. This can be seen as problematic, and a hard sell to the general public. Benefits would have to be substantial to receive continued government support.

Harm reduction can be defined as ‘any policy or program designed to reduce drug-related harm without requiring the cessation of drug use’. Harm reduction is about reducing harm so that the illicit drug user (IDU) can continue to use drugs, whilst also staying safe. Many believe a compromise of harm reduction and abstinence would be more palatable, and in fact this is often the approach of government. However there is a notable difference between offering services that encourage harm reduction as well as services that encourage abstinence, and creating one service that does both. The difference is that at its core, harm reduction does not aim for abstinence. Why? Because it is deemed a fundamental right as a citizen to be able to involve oneself in a pleasure seeking activity, and remain a supported member of society without compromising further rights. A similar though limited example could be nicotine addiction, or even obesity. The individual brings poor health upon themselves for the sake of their own pleasure and the state intervenes to provide health care. The fact that the drug is illicit of course means there are an array of penalties attached to drug use, however health care must remain the right of the citizen, without an expectation that the individual will cease their drug taking. There must be no strings attached. This can be hard to get your head around. After all, why should the government support something that is illegal? Answer; because not supporting, whilst maintaining a semblance of morality, will prove to be more irresponsible than noble.

Let’s take a safe injecting facility (SIF) as an example of harm reduction. A SIF is a “legally sanctioned supervised injecting centre with trained staff, including nurses, who supervise all injecting at the facility and revive clients who have overdosed. Clients are required to bring their own drugs to the centres and are provided with clean injecting equipment and information on safer injecting practices.” The benefits of such a scheme are as any could deduce; the IDU stays alive and uninfected. The primary aim of SIFs is to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with drug overdoses by ensure that adequate emergency health care support is on site. Injecting centres also aim to reduce the transmission of blood borne viruses such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C through safe needle use and a clean environment. There are obvious objections to these centres. Notably the two most common objections are that of condoning illicit drug use as well as an absence of incentive to cease drug use. It is hard to deny that a rubber stamp of approval could be inferred by the IDU. However, before dismissing the facility and its aims, it is important to assess its current outcomes. The following results include statistics from needle exchange programs (centers or mobile units that provide clean needles to IDUs).

In 2002, the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research estimated that 450 new HIV infections occur in Australia each year with 3.4% of newly acquired infections being attributed to a history of injecting drug use (ADCA, 2003:3). This statistic is incredibly low. In America (where harm reduction methods have not been strongly embraced) HIV prevalence among injecting drug users has been documented at well over 40% (ADCA, 2003:3). Or a little cost benefit analysis; a 2002 study of the return on investment in Australian NSPs over the past 10 years showed that an outlay of almost $150 million on NSP initiatives had resulted in savings in the range of $2.4 and $7.7 billion and that 25 000 cases of HIV have been avoided among injecting drug users between 1988 (when NSPs were introduced) and 2000.

Why should the harm reduction model be pursued? Well perhaps the best reason is because it works, and has repeatedly been proven to improve the lives of addicts. There are many who eat themselves into massive health issues, or smoke till their lungs become useful in the construction of freeways, and yet we treat their health. We pump them with legal drugs and cut them up while they continue to attack their bodies in the name of pleasure. They get the healthcare they need, not the health care they deserve. And yet IDUs don’t because the government declared their pleasure seeking behaviour illegal? Punish their illegal behaviour that affects others, for sure! But to punish the behaviour that causes damage to them? Go down that road and we will be locking up a lot of people. Assuming harm reduction is the most effective way to support the IDU in relation to health outcomes, it is important that the method is supported to ensure its sustainability as policy.

Why should the harm reduction model be demolished? Well perhaps the best reason is because it fails to protect the individual longer than a single visit. It does nothing to change the dangerous culture of obtaining illegal drugs prior to ‘safely’ injecting, nor does it assist with the social and financial burdens post injecting. It presents illicit drug use as a legitimate pleasure seeking activity, and condones further illicit activity. It’s like shaking your head at a baby playing with a huge knife, taking the knife away, placing giant gloves on their hands and then giving the knife back. Government funded assistance of illegal activity? Are we for real? End it now before we start handing out little old ladies hand bags to thieves or baseball bats to abusive husbands!

Well I hope you are superbly confused! I will not tell you where I stand on the issue and have only sought to give you some information to think about. Social policy is complex and there is not always a moral and immoral way to help people. Have fun thinking up your own solutions!

And as always, have a great week!

13 June, 2008

Timbaland - Apologize (feat. One Republic)

So, in light of the apology of Kevin Rudd and the latest apology to the First Nations people of Canada by Stephen Harper... I was thinking about the power of confession and forgiveness... giving some thought to reconciliation instead of simply punishment... it's an amazing thing... I'm excited about the possibilities...
this song is a good challenge to take all the possibilities of these apologies to reconciliation... Harper has backed up his apology in canada with cash settlements for each of the abused and the establishing of a truth and reconciliation commission... taking a page out of Nelson Mandela's book in South Africa.

If you think it's impossible to change things... think again. It's never too late to apologize... confession and repentance are the fancy theological terms... do it today!
Why not start today...
posted by Danielle

The drowning man

I have this friend who had a very difficult upbringing. He struggled with many of the issues attached to growing up in a marginalised community. He got involved in a gang early and was homeless and out of school by thirteen. But after a few scares and support from good and Christlike people, he pulled himself into a better life. He finished school, went onto succeed in university and gave his free time to helping other teens at massive risk of destroying their life. He is a legend in my book, and while he still stumbles from time to time, he is living proof that it is possible to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness.

I was talking to him one day about a man who was in jail who I was trying to support. I visited him regularly and was encouraged by his decisive plans and willingness to accept responsibility for his mistakes and his life in general. I held out great hope and felt, that with the right support, the man would rise above his current strongholds and receive the freedom he so desired. My friend was not so hopeful. His intention was good, he was trying to protect my hope from being crushed. I guess he could discern the next chapter in the story. He said something like this (I am paraphrasing, but the sentiment is accurate);
Imagine someone drowning. When they are drowning, all they can see is you and their salvation is in you. They reach out to you. They genuinely need and want you and all the help you have to offer. All they want is to be where you are. But when they get to safety, the desperation is gone. They forget the fear and the desire and are left only with what they see before them. And what they see is all the distractions that got them into the water in the first place. They don't hear you, they don't look for you, they don't want you. They are gone.

This analogy makes me very sad as I have seen it so many times before. He was right about the man in jail, and he is right about so many that I work with. In an immature moment of frustration and annoyance I said to my friend, 'so what do we do? How do we change anything at all?' He said something like, 'Well, they need more than you, but you just can't move away from the side of the pool. It all starts with you'.

I had forgotten all about this conversation which actually took place about 10 months ago. I found it written up in my journal when I was reflecting over the year. It was a treasure to find. There are a number of things that stand out to me that make it so special.
Firstly, the tradesman knows his stuff. We all like to laugh at the simple mindedness of the disciples. Why did Jesus choose a bunch of fisherman? Because they know the principals of fishing. And without breaking into a Sunday School song, I think we know why that was essential. Now I am a fairly qualified person for the type of ministry I do, but I was blown away by the accuracy of my friends predictions and simplicity of his solutions. Let's remember to include everyone in the Kingdom building process as God is waiting to use us all.
Secondly, his description of the drowning man reminded me so much of Booth's vision for The Salvation Army. We need to be closest to those drowning. They need to see us if they are going to desire the things God desires for them. We can't run off gallivanting while so many sink, drown and are lost for all eternity. We must stay by the pool.
Thirdly, it is not enough to pull them from immediate danger. If they see only the help we give them, the majority will end up right back in the water and the same predicament as last time (and possibly the time before that). They need to meet God and not me by the waters edge and in turn be completely transformed. They need to desire more than the gits that cause them to stumble. They need to receive the fullness of salvation, and not just the comforts of feeling safe.

So thank you to my friend. And as we fish for desperate drowning souls today, may God use us as a beacon to the lost, and may we remember to throw them an eternal helping hand.

Have a great week everyone,

10 June, 2008

The Story of Stuff - Idealist vs Capitalist Debate continues...

My response to some great comments going on previous Idealist and/or capitalst blog entry...
Check it out: http://justsalvosaus.blogspot.com/2008/05/idealist-andor-capitalist.html

Posted by Heath

05 June, 2008

Go Lakers!

I was at Candidate’s weekend (AusST) at Geelong and was amazed by a few things. First of all, the food at the Geelong Conference Centre is always a highlight and worth being amazed by. But onto more serious matters pertaining to justice, I was amazed by the amount of people who genuinely want to serve God and give over their life to him. In particular I was amazed by the amount of people who want to make this world more ‘just’ and are prepared to sacrifice a little in order to make that happen. Now some of those people will step up to the plate in the form of Officership now, and others later or not at all. But the attitude must be applauded. Why? Because at least they are brave enough to come and check out a way God might want them to serve. The problem is, I think we spend way too much time thinking and weighing up options.
Now hold that thought because I am going to come back to it.

My husband Adam is a huge Lakers fan and he was checking out prices of tickets for the NBA Finals series starting today. There is currently a bid on for a courtside seat in Los Angeles that is at $27000. That’s for one game! Now I’m sure Kobe’s sweat is sweeter than mine and the chance to be accosted by Jack Nicholson may be surreal, but $27000! That can never be justified. It made me think…who could afford that kind of extravagance? Actually, in that part of town, I’m sure there are plenty who can. It seems that extreme wealth breeds some kind of extreme stupidity and selfishness, or is it perhaps just oblivion?
Now back to the weighing up of options…

When we decide what kind of life we want to live, I find it is rarely about the sort of person we want to be or toward a difference we what to make. For the majority of us, it is largely about security, success and possibly a pathway toward wealth. What stops someone who feels called to serve God? Usually one of those three things. We want to strive to see if we can make it, and then we want to ensure that our comfortable lifestyles are maintained, and then often we fall into the trap of acquiring wealth. Our lives quickly become a combination of satisfying our own needs and wants. That is normal, of course. What is not normal is how quickly our ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ move away from the will of God, to the point where it seems fine to want to spend $27000 on a night’s entertainment. That is an extreme example of course, but if we were to place our biggest needs and wants before us and assess how necessary they really were to God, then we would get the same response?

Is it necessary for you to build your career, or is it just a need of your ego? Is it necessary to acquire property and investments, or is this just a need of your security? Is it necessary to shield your child from any kind of disruption like moving house, or is this just a need of your personal values?

The point is, when we weigh up options of how to spend our life, we are often giving equal weight to things that have no business being on the same page! Weighing up career with serving God? Weighing up wealth with serving others? It makes about as much sense as a Lakers fan dishing out their life savings for a piece of 'Larry Bird' memorabilia (for those who can't catch the sarcasm or don't know the reference, Larry played for the Boston Celtics. The Lakers despise the Celtics and are playing against them in the current playoffs) In other words...ridiculous!

So I guess the application is this; our life is not supposed to be some mathematical equation where everything is measured up evenly. We are to have a bent, an inclination toward sacrifice so that justice and not equilibrium is achieved. When we make the big decisions for our life, we are not to side with sense or practicality we are to side with God’s will. And given we serve a crucified and risen Christ, I am tipping that your life, if given over to God, will likewise have some ‘ups’ and 'down’s'.

$27000 is excessive and outrageous, but a career outside of God’s will, is likely to produce much more wealth and as much waste. I have said it before, revolution involves more than campaigns and buying fair-trade and serving the poor and going on mission trips. It involves placing God’s will ahead of our own in all facets of our life, no matter the personal cost.

Till next week (sorry I missed last week)


Aid not Abortion

what's all the fuss about? | the issues in brief
There are renewed efforts behind the political scenes to divert some of Australia’s limited overseas aid money to fund abortions. Yet, Australia has never funded abortion through its aid program, and, at a recent Senate Estimates hearing, officials admitted that there have been no requests from overseas countries for Australia to fund abortion services.

Australia has a longstanding Federal Government policy which prevents our aid money from being used on abortion advice, services and drugs. However, the current policy provides for safe and effective family planning methods, including contraception. This policy is outlined in the Family Planning Guidelines for the AusAID program.

The push for this unrequested and radical alteration to Australia's aid program comes from the cross-party Parliamentary Group on Population & Development (PGPD). This group of politicians seeks to impose their own pro-abortion ideological stance on Australia's aid program - and the Government seems to be giving serious consideration to their request!

Supporters of the change say that, because over 500,000 women in poor countries die in childbirth each year, Australia needs to help fund abortion services in those countries. Surely the solution is to fund maternal health programs to help women experience a healthy pregnancy and a safe delivery? Rather than provide abortions, we need to improve developing nations’ health systems so mothers and babies can be offered appropriate medical treatment.

Such an important change should not be made behind the scenes but should be brought before the Parliament.

Australia's aid program should continue its current focus on helping to improve the lives of people in poor countries by improving access to clean water, nutritious food, healthcare, housing and a clean environment. The limited funds available for aid should not be used to destroy unborn children but to provide better care for them and their mothers.

:: so what now? | how to get involved

posted by Danielle

01 June, 2008

Capital gone wrong.

A couple of months ago now, I started working for the Brotherhood of St Laurence for their Financial Inclusion team. As part of the broader social inclusion agenda there, my role is focused on financial literacy education.

As ‘research’ for one of my workshops on credit and debt, I decided to hit the big four banks to collect their brochures on accounts and loans, and then realized I was hitting the wrong places and headed towards cash converters and cash stop. Already understanding the shocking theory of these places still didn’t prepare me for how fired up I would become over the lending practices by the time I came out.

Whilst standing in line for information, I was listening to the conversation the lady in front of me was having as she applied for one of their payday loans…she was sharing with the assistant how her mother had become unwell, she had to pay bills for her children, there was a very evident desperation about her situation…and cash converters was there to save the day.

As I listened to this poor lady tell her story, I also picked up an info sheet about their loans…

For a 2 week loan, annual interest rate 0% (that’s pretty good hey?) and brace yourself…938% comparison rate. A comparison rate is like the interest rate but includes fees of the loan...If you ever needed a definition of preying on the poor…that is it!

I just wanted to grab this woman and tell her not to get the loan…but then I was stumped…really, what was her alternative?

Pawnshops are as equally bad, my colleague spent a significant amount of time on Friday on the phone for a client, trying to renegotiate the interest from a loan…from a $400 loan, they already owed over $500 of interest on top of that…

If you’ve never taken much notice, I challenge you to drop into your local pawnbroker or cash converters…perhaps look in your local papers through the eyes of someone desperate for a financial break…the sheer amount of payday lending adverts out there might surprise you…it did to me!

So...I’m interested, have you or your clients, community had any experiences with these places?? I would love to hear them…

Blessings, Heath