No one likes to be left out – unless they choose to opt out of something themselves. And some people have been doing that in NZ as we have just had our five year census, when everyone in the country is required to complete an individual form (or have someone do it for them).
Some people have complained because they were being left out – they hadn’t received anything to help them complete the census. Others have said, that no, they wouldn’t be doing it (even though it is compulsory.)
I’ve been working as a Field Officer, helping get the appropriate information to people to enable them to complete the census. That’s meant I’ve been to some rather out of the way places, and met some interesting people. I’ve received a bag of windfall peaches, been the listening ear to anti-Government tirades, and heard life stories at the letterbox. All of these people I met are individuals – unique each one.
More than just a number
The census too is more than just a population count. Completing the form provides a unique snapshot of each person. Responses to the questions asked, when put together with responses from other forms, help the government, councils and other organisations get a more accurate picture of NZ’s demographics and therefore where funding should go for vital services.
Some people don’t realise that by opting out, and not being counted, they may not be included when funding is allocated on a per capita basis. One FB post said bluntly – “Do the census – or miss out on $3,500 for your local health board.” (One poorer area of NZ had such a poor participation in the last census that millions of dollars of funding didn’t go where it was badly needed.)
Who we are, and what we are like is important – but we are part of the whole. We all belong together.
Jesus and a census
Jesus was born when a census was being taken. The way the system worked then, was that everyone had to travel to the place they came from. (I’ve always found it encouraging that the circumstances of his birth were so ordinary – and yet, because of the census and its requirements, prophecies were fulfilled, and scholars can be fairly certain about the actual year of his birth.)
Being a community
Completing a census is a civic requirement. But it is much more than that. It is an expression of the human propensity for organising data in order to benefit society. We are unique individuals, but we are also community-minded.
We like to belong, and we need each other. And we like that belonging to have some degree of organisation. Even those who rebel against society and who want to be free-spirited, need to have an organised society to rebel against! (And most rebels are quick to seek out the aid of a health-care system when it’s needed.)
Organising and numbering our lives reflects our Creator
I’m fascinated by the way in which pre-school children soon learn to organise things for themselves and to count. It may be the way in which my grandson lines up all his cars when he parks them, or the toy dolphins in a row when he is playing in the bath. Or when my grand-daughter picks out numbers on the letter-boxes as we walk home. Numbers and counting soon become a strong feature in their lives.
It’s not surprising though when we think of the fact that as we are created in God’s image, then we are likely to develop in ways that reflect his creativity. The universe is an ordered creation; therefore scientists can repeat experiments and trust that they will get the same results.
We like to order things too. We like to count and classify and categorise. We have a God who counts numbers – in infinitesimal numbers of ways that we could never emulate, as when we are told that ‘every hair on our head is numbered.’ A hyperbolic expression for sure, but nonetheless it gives the impression of a God who cares about details.
Then there’s the story Jesus told of the shepherd who went after the lost sheep, even though 99 of his flock were safe in the fold. One sheep mattered. And the shepherd obviously knew that one sheep was missing. He’d done his count of the flock.
Completing the civic census can be a reminder that each one of us counts. In a small way this census reminds me of how we matter to God, far more than we do to a government of course. Our God knows us in every detail. He counts us in, he goes after us to find us – unless we choose to opt out.
Liz Hay has been delivering census envelopes to addresses in her small mountain village, and to another one nearby, as well as visiting high country stations. Each property she has visited is unique, and reflects something of the character of the owners. She and Ron have three adult children, and seven very different personable grandchildren.
Liz Hay is appalled by the amount of vitriol that is now being slung at any Christian who dares to comment on an issue raised in the media. Christianity is not only seen as an aberration, but is being increasingly regarded by some as a scourge to be removed from society. With the growing malevolence being expressed towards the church, it is no wonder that even going on to church property can be a daunting experience.
The balm of the natural world, and friendship with genuine and real people, that Liz experiences in her small village in the mountains is a wonderful antidote to anti-Christian comments.