Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Thursday, October 30, 2008

We unreliable people...

In every area of my life I encounter unreliable people. We are building this extension on my daughter's house and the suppliers of materials have been unreliable. The windows came and the sills are not deep enough. The flashings came and there were some missing and other's too late. Of course when challenged on these things no one really admits fault. In other areas jobs have been left undone and I have had to fill gaps. People have come up with bright ideas, and left them for others to carry out. People are slow to do stuff, which in turn puts pressure on others. I get so frustrated!!! I get in bad moods, pout and stamp my foot. But this morning I started working at home at 6 a.m., then came into my office early to catch up on work, emails and phone calls I had to make. As I have been catching up I realise that there are probably people out there who are saying "That b***** Dave Brown, why doesn't he answer emails? Phone calls? deal with this or that?" If you are one of them, I apologise. I have good excuses. I am busy etc etc.... but then probably so do the people I growl about.

I'll try to do better! And if not, I'll try to be more tolerant and patient.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How to vote..."Morality Issues"

I have been stewing, as a lot of people have, on how to vote on election day. It is interesting the different reasons for voting for whoever. I get concerned with some very narrow perspectives that I hear among Christians. Good Christian people say (both in conversation and on the Internet) that of course God fearing Christians should be mindful of "morality" issues as they cast their vote. Then the issues are listed. The sanctity of marriage. Homosexuality and same sex marriages. Protection for the "Christian" understanding of "family". Law and order questions such as decent punishments for crimes committed. The wrongly called "anti-smacking" legislation here in NZ. Issues around abortion. I get uneasy with such a list being seen as the "morality issues". My uneasiness is not just because of my views that may differ from some of my more conservative Christian brothers and sisters, but because I see a whole lot of other issues as just as much, maybe even more so, "Morality issues". Waiting lists in our hospital that mean people live half-lives, and maybe only shorten the waiting list because they die in the meantime, is a "morality issue". The people who are paying a big percentage of their income just to keep a roof over their heads is a morality issue. The lack of funding to help below average kids come out of school with useful skills is a morality issue. (One of my sons had to share text books with other boys, while the pupils in higher grade classes got issued one per pupil... when my son graduated with a degree years later I felt like rubbing it in his teacher's faces!) The mess that I see on our streets and in my drop-in centre with mental health patients struggling to cope with life is a morality issue. The way we spit people on to the scrap heap of life without enough real employment is a morality issue. The motivation of the politicians is a morality issue. The way they campaign and debate, the example they set of human dignity and the genuineness of their concern for people is a morality issue. The politicians view of our world wide scene, their perspectives on different cultures, their breadth of concern in a global sense is a morality issue. The low pay for the carers of elderly and disabled people is a morality issue for both the carers and their clients. The gap between rich and poor is a morality issue. All of these issues deal with how we value human life and the ethos of the community we want in our country. There are really no issues that are not "spiritual" and "morality" issues! The Old Testament prophets saw these "fairness" and "care for the vulnerable" and the "rich getting richer" as issues relating to the "righteousness" of the nation.

This reminds me of a false distinction often made in congregational and church government. We often set aside "Elders" to care for the "Spiritual matters". They look after such issues as the content of worship services, making sure the preacher is not a heretic, the correct spiritual/moral behaviour of people and the teaching in the church, etc. etc. Then we set aside all our "practical" people as deacons to run the finances, the church building, Trust Boards etc. etc. I have for years questioned this practice. The nature of the church building, its stewardship and use is a spiritual issue. The sort of atmosphere the building communicates is a spiritual issue. The use of finances and the priorities we see in the spending is a spiritual issue.

Anyway I urge you to vote with consideration for morality issues... but make sure you see the morality issues in virtually every issue that the politicians will talk about.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I spat the dummy....

Yesterday morning a man came into my virtually underground office, looked around and said, "I will never growl about my office again. You have no windows!". That made me feel good...not! After spending my lunchtime with ambulance people, I went to facilitate an awkward meeting. They all went out the door happy, but I was frustrated because I felt that two of the participants did not buy into the process and that they would undermine the decisions made. I had put heaps of work into trying to help these people over the last couple of months, and I left thinking "What an absolute waste of time! They do not want to change their immature ways." I had to rush home to change then I was going to visit fire stations. At about 3:30 I had not had much lunch so stopped at a store, bought a roll and went to drive away. The car (Wicked Wanda... the love of my life!) seemed to stall then would not start again. I lifted the bonnet, checked obvious things... texted my wife, ate my roll, looked again at possible wiring problems, sat and fumed. Here I was feeling very tired and physically run down from all my long days building. I had a mouthful of ulcers that won't go away that were hurting. I had a headache. It was a hot windy day with heaps of traffic noise on the road I was stuck on. I still had fire stations to visit and a kids thing to attend at night. My tools were in the van or at the building site so I could not really explore the motor properly, but my hands were dirty from what I had done. I was stuck in this hot broken down car waiting for a mechanic to come and tow me to his garage. I was not a happy chappy!

At the meeting I had heard of a guy going home sick because he had a tooth ache. As I sat there I thought, "I have the equivalent of a toothache! That's it! I am going home sick! Other people do it!" So after the car was towed, I got Jean to drop me home, I climbed under the blankets and slept for an hour and a half and stayed home at night. (I did do reading for next week's sermon to ease my guilt) I hear of lots of people taking sick days. My firemen do regularly. If they happen to get sick while on their holidays, they get extra days off when they return to work! I bumped into a fellow chaplain one day and she said she was taking a "mental health day", it was all too much for her so a sick day was in order and she was off to do some "retail therapy". I have hardly ever taken sick days! When is it OK to call in sick? How sick do you have to be? Anyway today I am feeling better, well at least better than "Wanda" who is still not going, at the garage probably costing me money.

Monday, October 27, 2008

People work....

I spent most of last week building. Yesterday I started early and we got all of the cladding on, then worked on the roof flashings. I was in my element as an ex-plumber. My mind was buzzing about how best to fold the metal to make the roof water tight. Of course working with metal we got cut hands, it was exceptionally hot with the sun shining off the roof and by 6:15 p.m. when we stopped, I was physically quite exhausted. But when we finished we could look at it and say, "We did good!" It was all in place, tight and not bad considering the materials and tools we had to work with. I then rushed off to the church where some fire fighters were waiting with their high rise ladder. The convenor of the property committee and I went up in the ladder to inspect church's slate roof. Some slates have come loose. I said to the property convenor that maybe I could fix them. "No" came the reply. "You are employed as the minister."
Well today I am back, under that roof, working as a minister. I have an awkward meeting to look forward to and lots of contact with people. As hard as building is, there is something nice about finishing a job, looking at it and being able to say "Look, it is done!" Working with people is so much more uncertain, complicated and demanding. I keep choosing to be a minister/chaplain but I guess there will always be a part of me hankering to be on a building site. I still sometimes wonder "What will I be when I grow up?"

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday night blues again...

I have been sitting watching inane "current affairs" programs then started watching a stupid film on TV. (Elections are great fodder for superficial journalism aren't they?) At the same time I have been feeling down about this ministry job. I had most of the week off to build with my daughter and decided on Thursday night that today's worship subject should be "Hope". Now maybe I did not do the preparation required but I got that "duh" type feedback from the congregation. I have been developing the blues about it again as I have blobbed out this afternoon and evening. I have decided that worship is not the place where you really learn about "hope". Mission is the place where you learn. I have come to the conclusion that this is where you learn and until Church goers get off their backsides and get involved in caring mission many of the essential truths of the Christian faith remain incomprehensible, religious jargon to them. As I look back on my journey it has been when I have been involved in seeking to live out the purposes of God, and up against it, that things like faith, hope and partnership with the "Spirit" etc become real. "Hope" emerges in one's inner being because you have stretched your abilities, your courage and perseverance.

Jesus chose disciples and did not tell them to come and listen to him preaching. He did not invite them to theology classes. He essentially invited them to join him as he shared the love of God in his community. In the process of that apprenticeship they grew. As I look back on ministry the people I have seen grow the most have been the ones who have not just sat in the pew on Sunday, but tried to reach out in some way in love... then they have grown into giants as people of faith. Mostly on Sundays these days I feel like I am "casting pearls before swine". That sounds harsh on the lovely people in my congregation. It is, however, the feeling I get when I keep trying to share in creative ways truths that I have learned through risky, often challenging journeying with God, with people who have never stepped out and therefore don't have a ghost of an idea what I am talking about. To use another metaphor, people who are not willing to get up and dance don't experience the power of the music. Trying to describe it to them has little impact. No matter how creative or clever I am, it will only entertain them for an hour on Sunday. Oh well... that's off my chest. (Photo: Curly Griffiths... a man I have seen grow incredibly because he has got himself involved in loving mission with people.)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cold rain slowed progress

Today we set about putting the cladding on our building..... but... our run of favourable weather ended! We got wet and cold ducking in and out of showers as we screwed cladding to the wall. Around mid afternoon we had had enough and signed off for the day. The women were burying the water supply pipe and placing insulation in the walls. A good day even though it was frustrating.

Friday, October 24, 2008

We did well!

I have to tell the world. I have been working on extensions to my daughter's house. I have sort of been the "boss", the one with more building experience. I am meant to know how to do things. Our work has to be inspected by city council representatives at various stages along the way and today we had one of the more important inspections. I was worried! Would the framing up pass inspection? Would they find fault with the way we had installed the windows? Were the flashings cut the way they were meant to be cut? In the middle of the night I kept thinking of all the possible things they could fail us on. But.... they visited the site, looked over our work and were happy! I am so relieved. From now on it will be a breeze. We can move on to the next stages with confidence. I hope you are happy for me! (Photos: Where there was a rotting window we have framed up for a door. 2nd- the back door into the kitchen. 3rd- Daughter Angela digging a trench for the water supply.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Chaos empowered!"

Big news in the paper here today was the pay rise heads of tertiary institutions were getting. I think the head of the university is on a salary ten times bigger than mine. Now I don't know if that is fair or not but that news led to a breakfast table discussion about mixed up values, the gap between the rich and poor and the impact such news has on poor people. Because we are building we are going to a hardware store and I know that the sales people in the trades area are on the absolute minimum wage. (We have been growling about the service we have been receiving... or not receiving actually.) I was talking to a woman on Sunday who does caring duties for elderly people in their homes. She helps them shower, wash and dress and does house work. She too is on a very low hourly rate. We have a severely handicapped daughter and we know that her carers are on a very low rate of pay. They do everything for her really, including changing night time nappies on this now adult woman. The turn over of carers is astounding, which is not at all good for our Pania. Another example is that nurses and carers in elderly peoples' homes do not earn high salaries. Yet we pay our sports people hundreds of thousands of dollars and even millions??? What are we saying to the poorly paid people about the value of their work? What are we saying about their value as people?

What I believe happens when the gap between rich and poor is very high is that in some way shape or form the poor say "F*** you!" to the rest of us. Some work out their anger in crime. Sometimes I am sure this feeling is behind the mindless vandalism we experience in our cities. Some say it by getting away with as little work as possible in their jobs, like the service people in the hardware store. It is my belief that when the gap between rich and poor is very high, society pays for it in some way. The community is hurt and the "forces of chaos" that work against a harmonious world, are fueled and empowered. "Law and order" becomes an issue for our communities; our nations and indeed our world. But if you have read your Bibles you would have seen such warnings in the Old Testament prophets' rantings. That's why I try to do my bit by getting alongside the poor and being their friend in practical ways. I don't know if I make much impact but that's why I do it. The old "Peter, Paul and Mary" song asked the question; "When will we ever learn"?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nice to see...

I have been working on my daughter's house extensions. It has been physically very tiring because I have been putting in some long days. The last couple of days we have been sharing the site with a plumber. You will remember that I was a plumber. I have chatted with him from time to time and I am so impressed. He is proud to be a plumber and very conscientious about his work. He is very service orientated, wanting to do the best job for the customer. He obviously loves his craft. Working on site again and having to work out the job, and think out how to prepare for an unfamiliar cladding material has made me appreciate again the trades and the work involved. Ever since I was a boy and worked in a timber yard I have appreciated that every job, no matter how simple looking, requires some skill and expertise. There I met an old bloke name Ferge. He was just the caretaker, who looked after the stacks of timber for a furniture factory. But I soon came to appreciate that this old guy, who shuffled and wheezed about the yard with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, was really quite an expert. There was not much he did not know about timber. He could hold a stick of wood and tell you how dry it was and what type of timber it was and what part of the tree it came from. In today's world that sort of pride in a craft seems to be rare. I appreciated all the more the obvious pride in this plumber. I have learned never to take for granted the skills people have. Just as a famous pianist, painter or singer is a master at his or her art, so too the simplest looking job can be transformed into an art form by the attitude of the people doing it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Building progress

We have worked all day Saturday, Sunday afternoon and Monday on my daughter and son in law's extensions. My son Phillip came down from Wellington to lend a hand. We are making steady progress and I am enjoying organising the job and facilitating the team Angela, David, Jean (my wife) and Phil. This photo was taken on Monday morning. After three days of physical work my body has a "pleasurable stiffness". I am so fortunate to be able to do the stuff I do.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


What is success in my game? I minister at a mainly down town church which has an elderly congregation with few younger people amongst them. When people ask about my Church they generally go on to ask such questions as; "How many services do you have?" "How many people come to worship?" "How many young people are there?" "Is it growing?" ... When these are asked or implied I cringe. On these measures I am a failure and should perhaps have given up. I do wish for a growing, bursting at the seams church! I keep asking "Is there stuff I am doing wrong?". I plug on, trying to be true to Jesus as I understand and experience Him. I wish ... I wish... I could confidently show "success" in these terms.

I have had experiences this week that have encouraged me. I have walked down the street and bumped into what we might term "Street People". These are people often struggling with mental health issues. Each time I am greeted warmly and they tell me their joys and sorrows and we part with warm smiles and encouragement both ways. Two individuals contacted me because they wanted to give to the Night Shelter in different ways. One visited the office, the other rang, but both knew that this church was somehow involved and a natural contact point. I had a woman contact me and she is involved in a professional woman's club in town which wanted to do something for others at Christmas time. "Your name came up, because of the famous Christmas Dinner your church puts on." she said. I went to my dentist and he talked on and on about the community service I was involved in and asked about it, telling his assistant all about what he knew. (He still charged me an arm and a leg for his time!) I visited my chaplaincies and these emergency workers asked about some of the "street people" they have often encountered because they knew that I too was involved in their lives.

As I thought about all these encounters it seemed that "the presence" was telling me something. In the midst of this dog eat dog world the little "failure" of a church that I minister in sits in the middle of the city and waves the flag for caring for others! In the midst of this world where people often find it hard to reach out to others about them, my "unsuccessful" church reminds people that it is possible and offers an example and opportunities for people to try. It is like in the midst of this city, my wee church with its lopsided age groupings, is waving a flag or raising a banner which says, "We care!" ... "God cares!" "Jesus is about caring!" ... and "You too can get on the caring band wagon!" I believe we inspire countless others to reach out beyond themselves, to live less selfishly and to have a wider perspective on life. The fire fighters and brewery workers once presented me with a gift of a van. It blew me away. As one guy talked to me about it as they made the presentation, he said, "This is from your flock outside of the church." That's what "the presence" is reminding me about. This is the unseen reality that is happening. We are a relatively small bunch of people, but outside our circle is a larger group of people who are kinder, more responsible, more understanding, more alive and just a little bit more like Jesus, because we are there doing our thing. I believe we are truly and effectively being "salt and light" and we are not a failure. We are flavouring lives in our community and holding a light up for people to see an alternative way. I still would like more people to be in church tomorrow though.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The building has started...

I thought that I would place on my blog site some photos of the work we are doing on my daughter and her husbands house and keep you updated on progress. On Monday night we worked until dark and put as much of the roof on as we had iron for. The only hitches were that the supplier had not supplied enough and a neighbour came out and yelled... "Shut the F*** up!" Now that was a nice neighbourly gesture! It was not that late and we were not making a lot of noise.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Something I have been thinking about a bit is the subject of "fear". I am a fearful person. I could, perhaps, blame it on childhood and the parenting I received. But, then again, at 60 years of age, should you really be blaming your mum? Perhaps I need to take responsibility for it. Fear stifles my living. It hinders my creativity. Sometimes it makes me avoid relating to people. It makes me stressed out when I have to lead stuff I know I am quite capable of doing. It causes me to procrastinate. It basically can limit how I spend my life. Here are four examples.

I do not have a great list of close buddies. Why? Well I am fearful that close relationships can bite you in the backside. People can hurt you, especially those you love or who are meant to love you. So why set yourself up? I learned this in childhood but around twenty two years ago I had a long standing close friendship, but it bust up. When the break happened, I felt a failure. It hit my personal confidence in a big way. When we see each other now (which is not often and only by accident) we are like distant acquaintances, polite and cautious as we catch up. My readiness to let someone else "in" took a big knock, and even since then I feel sad and hurt about a later friendship. So I have a big list of acquaintances but few close friends, because I am fearful.

My daughter has asked me to assist them in an extension project on their house. I trained as a plumber and have worked on building sites. I have done handy man things all my life. I have put in hundreds of hours on each of twelve Habitat for Humanity houses. But I have been stressing out about taking this project on. What if I don't know enough? What if the building inspectors rubbish me? What if I really make a rough job? What if... what if...?!

We have this dream of starting a venue here at the church. It will be a bookshop, cafe, think tank, support centre, experimental "Jesus centre". I have put it out to the leadership, to the church and to others. There is a lot of work, exploration and planning to get it off the ground. I am convinced it is a worthwhile venture, exploring new shapes for a down town church. In some ways, all of my journeying has led to this point in time. But I am tending to procrastinate! It could cost the church heaps of money? What happens if it's a dud? Have I got the skill to see it through? Do I want to commit myself to this place? I guess if I won "Lotto" and could do what I want with my resources, it would be easier. But I am fearful? I am responsible to others and what if I fail? And it's stopping me taking the next steps!

I have been preaching regularly since 1972! Yet still every Saturday night I get little sleep because I am stressed about Sunday morning's service. I go over it again and again in my mind. After it I am so emotionally drained I head home and bomb out as if I had run a half-marathon. Yet again and again I get feed back that at least I am an above average worship leader. Why am I so fearful?

I need to remember three things.
  1. The "presence" within, beyond and behind the universe is a loving, affirming, accepting Spirit... ultimately I need not fear.
  2. "Fearfulness" is not all bad.... I often do a good, thoughtful, sensitive and diligent job because of that fearfulness. Our weaknesses are often also our strengths.
  3. And thirdly, something my father used to say from his war experience, the brave are not the people without fear. People totally without fear are foolish. The brave, said my father, are the ones who are fearful, yet still go to do what they are called to do.
I guess I pray for courage amidst my fearfulness, to do what I am called to do, in spite of my fears. (Photo: A fearful me on a scary flying fox device about 1978)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Pathetic prophet embarrassed by Wanda.

I am so weak really. I rant about the consumer society and against the materialism that we get carried away with. I love to knock the values that say we need to have a flash car, fancy clothing and all these status symbols. I agree with John V Taylor in the old book "Enough is Enough" when he says we should say to all the adverts that push these things, "You have got to be kidding!" I love thumbing my nose at such things. I love it when someone comments on a new jumper I have and I proudly say, "I bought it at the second hand clothing store!" I feel so righteous and superior and see myself as a modern day prophet like Amos, Isaiah, Micah etc.

In line with this thinking earlier in the year I bought a 1990 Nissan Bluebird. It goes well, it did not cost me much and I name it "Wicked Wanda". (Don't ask!) I chuckle at people who face annual depreciation on their high priced vehicle each year that is more than I paid for Wanda. I love thumbing my nose at snobby, status symbol hunting values. But..... On Wednesday afternoon after my midday funeral I had to go to a meeting with the CEO of a company I am assisting through Workplace Support. I am trying to help them develop working systems and structures. I was driving there in Wanda. (I had been to meetings there before with my boss in her fancy racy looking BMW) As I drove toward the company I thought about the people I was going to see. I knew that they would measure success by looking at what sort of car I drove. I pictured myself pulling up in Wanda and them questioning my credibility and saying or thinking such things as; "Look at the old car he's driving? How can he be telling us how to succeed?" I was suddenly embarrassed about Wanda! I have been known to call her "the love of my life" I so enjoy driving her... but now she embarrassed me! I parked across the road, down the street a bit and walked up to the building where I was to meet them! I wanted to avoid them seeing what I drove! Poor Wanda! I am all talk about simple lifestyle and alternative values etc, but so weak when push comes to shove. What a pathetic prophet!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Jesus kept doing dumb things!

Jesus kept doing dumb things. No wonder he got crucified! In last Sunday's reading he is talking to a bunch of powerful religious and civic leaders and he tells them a story with a simple point to it. Its the story of the tenants in the vineyard in Matthew 21. The story as it has come to us may not be exactly as Jesus told it, but the point was pretty plain. He was basically telling these religious and civic leaders of the Jewish people that they were failing in their responsibility and not being true to God's ways. Now it was told in a nice story but they did not have to be rocket scientist to feel it hitting home with the full force of an accusation. I preached on that story and I was nice... I said God cared for us (Like the landlord cared for the vineyard) God lets us join his team wanting us to be fruitful. And I said that we are responsible for how we use all that we've been given. Now that was nice and sweet and positive... If JC was that savvy he would not have got crucified! That's how I have stayed in church ministry... you have to be niiice and pander to the people! Now I know that as I meditated on this passage in the context of the goings on in our world and the needs of people I mix with, it seemed like the mysterious "presence" was challenging the church in different ways. He seemed to me to be saying that the church has failed in the past 50-60 years to be the prophetic church it should have been. It has got into bed with the self-centred consumer, instant gratification society and failed to really question the values we build our societies on. Now when economic things are biting us in the back side and our environment is screaming in pain, we have people who cannot get out of that self serving mindset. They do not know how to find meaning in deeper things. They live in an empty existential vacuum, rich and poor with a hole in their heart. That the church has just looked after its religious self and presented a consumer driven "bless me Jesus" gospel that fails to truly meet the deep spiritual vacuum in the west. That's what the "sacred" seemed to be saying, but I have a church full of nice older people who would look at me blankly at best, or plan my departure at worst if I said that. So I compromised... that was the wise thing to do... don't you think?

The message of the story of the tenants challenges my compromise... I am one of the wayward tenants who refuse to listen to the voice of God. But, at least I won't get crucified! :-)

Monday, October 6, 2008

"Now he's dead..."

I am taking a break from preparing a funeral for a man who collapsed and died over the weekend and I need to talk... it does not matter if anyone listens. My first meeting with this man happened about 19 years ago when he walked into my office. We will call him "Jim"... Jim came into my church office and asked for a food parcel to tie him over till benefit day. His story was that he had to pay a hefty fine for being caught drunk driving and had run out of cash. I gave him the food parcel, a cup of tea and we sat and talked. That was the first of many visits to my office. He never asked for food again but he sure enjoyed the listening ear and the cup of tea. He got involved in the Church walking group and a wider group of people reached out to him in friendship. I towed his car and helped fix his car. I visited him and transported him. I helped him move house three times. He got mad with me and my church on a couple of occasions and wrote me nasty personal insulting letters, and I worked through that with him. He was quite deaf but would not recognise it, so I made an appointment for myself to get a hearing test and invited him to keep me company and got him one too. We were like two mates on a hearing test adventure together. At times he would ring me up at 2 or 3 in the morning and he would suppossedly be having "flashbacks" to Vietnam days, and be out of his tree. Over the years I have listened to the same stories again and again as he would love to share his memories. I married him eight years ago to an older lady and they have cared for each other since that time. "Jim" ended up in much better circumstances and encountered a whole lot of love and friendship from a wider group of people because of my involvement in his life. It has been an interesting journey and now he is dead. Tomorrow people will see me as the minister leading an adequate funeral for "Jim". They will not see that inside I am sobbing and one of the chief mourners.

Why this pain? I was not really close to "Jim" as a buddy? There was still much about his life and attitudes that I ached about and disliked? Why am I grieving? Here is my theory. Jim was a guy whose life was deeply hurt and wounded by life. His childhood, broken relationships, military service, the company he kept, the booze and more all led to a very broken life when he walked into my office nineteen years ago. To help facilitate some healing and mending I, like a car's shock absorber, have had to absorb and carry a lot of that brokenness and hurt in different ways. I have invested in his life heaps of spiritual and emotional energy. And now that he is dead that spiritual tiredness, that hurt and pain float to the surface of my life somehow, and I feel it all over again in one big lump. This aching for other peoples' lives is a part of ministry. "Jim's" death in a way exposes my loneliness. No one can fully understand or take away this aching inside that is part of this crazy journey I am on. Like the old country song says, "You gotta walk that lonely valley, you gotta walk it by yourself." It's a lonely calling and you would have thought I would have got used to that by now. Now he's dead I have to talk... that's why today I blogged.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

"A dead dog!... why me?"

Another ministerial memory.... I have had quite a long association with an alcoholic guy in town here. I have helped him move his stuff several times (heaps of it! He gathers rubbish.) and generally tried to be a supportive friend in his life. He was helping a woman tidy up her section and rang me to ask if I could use my van to move the weeds and rubbish to the rubbish tip. Wanting to support this positive activity in his life I agreed and turned up at the house at the appointed time. He met me and asked that before we loaded the rubbish "would I do a favour for the lady of the house?" He would not tell me what the favour was but led me up the path to the house where I met the woman and a couple of her friends. They too did not tell me what was wanted, but led me down the hall to a bedroom, there curled up on the bed was a dog, dead for the last four days! The favour they asked was would I "say a prayer over the dog?" They had a special "coffin" made and they were going to put him in it and bury him, but before they did it, could I say a prayer? They did not teach me about "Prayers for dead dogs" at theological college? My mind was racing, what can I say? What should I say in such a prayer? Did I believe in "dog heaven"? ... and then the wicked side of me thought (because the lady was obviously very fundamentalist) .. was the dog "saved" any way? Well of course I said I would. We reverently gathered around the bed and we thanked God for pets, for friendship, for memories and I prayed for the people as they adjusted to their loss. They were happy, and now ready to bury their dog in this expensive looking polished box. I went back to loading rubbish in the van thinking, "Well that was a new experience!" One thing about ministry is it keeps throwing at you new, interesting and mind stretching experiences.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The "presence"...

Dawn at Jubilee Hut, Silver Peaks, Otago, NZ.