OPINION: Christchurch is a city divided. Although united by a common frustration, Christchurch residents are divided by what frustrates us.
For some citizens the frustration is from the slow rebuild of the city and our city life. They want a city that works for those seeking to enjoy themselves and each other.
For other people the frustration is living with munted homes and compromised living conditions on TC3 land. These folk feel all the energy and effort is focused on the rebuild of the central city and away from them. They feel isolated and ignored and one can see why.
Those in compromised housing wonder if there could be 100 days when repairing and rebuilding homes is the top priority. It would be a beginning. Life is particularly difficult for the elderly and the very young.
I have heard those of a more advanced age ask if they will live to see their home rebuilt. Parents of young children worry about the health risks in damp and cold surroundings when the cost of heating is exorbitant and the heat literally goes out the windows and doors. Many of these people are angry. If we can build a stadium, can we not fix their dwelling place and home?
But let us not forget the importance of anticipation and excitement either. There was an air of celebration when the 100 day city centre development plan was launched. We do want reassurance that there will again be places to play in the centre of Christchurch. We love the green spaces along the river and a promise that beauty will replace the present devastation.
It is not easy to determine the worth of beauty and inspiration in the midst of difficult times and significant challenges.
In my own experience I have found sublime beauty has a grace and power of its own. I remember after months in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, many years ago, when gunfire and mortar shell explosions were routine, finally managing to get out of the city and gasping at the beauty of the countryside.
It was as though I had been parched and finally given a glass of water.
The area outside Port-au- Prince was also poverty-stricken and the people still in dire straits, but the ocean and the palm trees were such welcome relief from the broken concrete and corrugated iron of the inner city, I felt restored.
Beauty calls us to grow into the people we are created to be. Prisoners sometimes describe the lack of beauty as a greater hardship than any other of the prison deprivations.
We are diminished when our lives are devoid of inspiration. Beauty also invites us to help one another and to build community. The ecologist John Muir writes: "Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike".
We are at our best when a community communes with the beautiful, the good and the true.
After answering the pressing needs of shelter, water and food, people seek an opportunity to lift their hearts in thanksgiving. If everything is experienced as loss, we begin to decline and wither. Whether it is the blue sky, the cold drink of water or the smile of a child, we also have an intrinsic need to express gratitude.
Secondly, we do not live well if everything that consumes us is self-serving. We are social creatures who need to care about others or face dying alone. The grace of being able to give freely to another person or community helps us understand what a gift generosity is. When we are the giver, we receive the greater gift. Does that sound odd? Perhaps, but it is also true.
After a few weeks of quiet, the question of what the cathedral in the Square will look like has again become urgent. We remember a time when the features of the cathedral exterior reassured us as we walked the city. There is anxiety about whether the new cathedral will do the same.
Again we are reminded of the ministry of beauty in the midst of grim circumstances. We want to be inspired and invited to glimpse something beyond the human vista. The Anglican Church is committed to a renewed ancient vision for the cathedral in the Square.
We want something that will lift hearts to heaven both as people look on the exterior and when they enter the interior. But we do not believe it is faithful stewardship to do this at a cost of $100 million when people are living in cars and using chemical toilets.
Glory is not given to God by turning our back on human need. The new cathedral will embody mission as well as beauty.
What then does all this say to Christchurch? I suggest that we need to acknowledge that we are all poorer for tolerating the state of the compromised homes and greatly reduced quality of life in our midst. The plight of our neighbours must come first, and even then, the very young, the elderly and the infirm must go to the top of the list.
Could there be a mediation service offered in every hub to assess what is the state of the housing problems in that neighbourhood, and the implementation of a triage system that addresses this crisis with the same extraordinary efficiency with which Usar responded to the earthquakes? I have to believe many would step up to help.
What we fail to do for one another now will chip away at community spirit for years to come. We have much to live for and so much to give.
- © Fairfax NZ News