Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What do you expect "servant of God"?

Today I have felt sad. This morning I had a lot of people tell me about their workplace stress. There are some changes going on. I came away feeling drained. Why me? Part of this afternoon I spent with an elderly man struggling with memory problems and living alone having been widowed around 5 years ago. Still feeling the loneliness. Again I came away wishing I could do more. I went at great speed because I was late, to a planning meeting of a community organisation that I am on. It was well facilitated but there is a man in the group who just rubs me the wrong way. He says things in such a way that you have to be strong to buck him. He seems to seldom listen and if you differ with him he seems to take it as a personal insult. In a way he is a bully. I avoid conflict, I have to bite my lip but it is so frustrating. As someone has said, "he is a threat to my Christianity". Why is it all so hard following Christ?
Then I am reminded that in the servant song in Isaiah 53 there are words like these....
"Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;"
"But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;"
and in Colossians the Apostle Paul wrote...
"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister..."

It seems that carrying the sufferings of others is part and parcel of being a servant of God. These passages seem to be saying to me, "It is difficult being His servant, but what do you expect? All his true servants carry loads, you are following the crucified one!". But the passages also gives me a deep sense of satisfaction. They remind me that by carrying a small portion of the world's pain, I am doing something significant and important. I go to bed with a feeling of having had a full-on day, but having been, in part anyway, truly in the footsteps of Jesus... a deep sense of satisfaction.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Good bye Bob...

As I write this Bob is being laid to rest in Palmerston North, a long way from where I am in Dunedin. Bob was a church elder and secretary of the Church where I had my first full time ministry in the late 1970s. He had stepped into the secretary's position twenty years earlier when there was deep division in the Church and had been part of the reconciling, rebuilding process. He was probably thirty years older than me and died on Sunday night. He served overseas during the war, he had run a Boys Brigade Company, he served on a primary school PTA, he was chairman of the high school board, served for many years in the Church and raised a family. He was incredibly honest, upfront and a true gentleman. He was a joiner by trade but had moved on to work with aluminium window joinery. A skilled craftsman, if he made something it was made well. As I remember Bob, two things stand out for me.

He said "Sorry". In a church service once, because of a difference of opinion amongst leadership over some procedure, Bob had said something that had put me in an awkward position in front of people. I had thought it unfair at the time, but had swollowed my pride and gone with the flow. A minister often finds himself in the middle. Two evenings later he rang me and asked if he could come around. I met him at the door and he said he was there to apologise. He still had the same opinion about the issue but felt he had been unfair to me, and asked my forgiveness sticking out his big hand in a handshake. We had a cup of tea and decided that the leaders needed to clarify their thinking. At the next board meeting he apologised both to me and the board members and set the scene for a constructive discussion and resolution of the difference. My admiration for Bob increased immeasurably. We are often quick to shoot our mouth off and share opinions, but few of us are big enough to apologise. Bob was, in my view, a big man. He was one of the few willing to say sorry.

Secondly I will remember Bob for his Sunday evening phone calls. Bob was more conservative than I and often found my Sunday evening services challenging and differed with what I had said. He would go home, do some reading, stew, then at around 9:30p.m. on numerous ocassions would ring and ask me some questions about what I believed. I did not mind the questions or discussion. Bob was one of the few people who could differ with you, challenge and question you, but still somehow you knew that he respected and accepted you and was willing to listen to your perspective. It was his timing that I will remember. Sunday night was the end of a busy week for us. Monday was my day off. On Sunday evenings my wife and I would often put the kids to bed then head off to bed early for some "relaxation," as in marital intimacy. My testosterone levels were higher back then! When Bob rang it was often just when things were getting interesting and theological issues were the furthest thing on my mind. I would have to leap out of bed and calmly deal with whatever the issue was that he had. I was glad he could not see me as we talked! Being polite Bob always asked if it was convenient to talk. I never did work out how I could say, "Well Bob, my wife and I are in the middle of........" So today I remember these friendly, but untimely discussions with Bob.

A couple of years ago I found Bob's address and wrote him a letter. In it I told him how much I appreciated his support during our six years at Palmerston North. I told him how I admired him and why. I remember writing that the letter sounded like a funeral eulogy, but that I had determined that I would rather tell him these things while he was still alive, than wish I had after he was gone. Today he has gone and I am glad I wrote that letter. Goodbye Bob. Thank you and "well done good and faithful servant." I hope one day I can be a big man.

Monday, July 28, 2008

"You're into a social gospel... it's wrong!"

I am OK again now after my last post. In God's amazing grace, I have "fire in my gut" again. An arrogant (well that's my opinion) young man once accused me of just preaching a "social gospel", not the true gospel. It is true I am involved in the community. Through my church activities and chaplaincy work and my interests in Habitat for Humanity and Night Shelter, most of my contacts are with people who will never darken the doors of a church. To my detractors I ask the question, "Where was Jesus found?" "What was he accused of doing?" I love this quote from George MacLeod.

I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the centre of the market place as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on a town garbage heap; on a cross roads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in hebrew, latin and greek; at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, because that is where he died and that is what he died about. And that is where Church (people) should be and what Church (people) should be about.

I am off now to have lunch with a bunch of emergency workers, black humour and all. Strangely enough I often meet "the sacred" there too! :-)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday Blues

I led a church service this morning. I thought I had a good and exciting theme about the Kingdom of God, mustard seeds, yeast, treasure and a pearl. I had a chemistry display showing expansion, special stories read out, the Lord's prayer done in a creative way, attractive power points and special hymns chosen. Things didn't go as planned. The music was not as good as it could have been, technology let me down and there were a couple of distractions during the service. Then there were the people.

When I was a 8 - 10 years old I fancied myself as an artist. I drew careful crayon drawings expressing things that were important to me. My brother, annoyed that I was not playing with him, would find these and rip them up. When I would complain to my mum she would just say, "Well you can just do some more." They completely undervalued what I put into my masterpieces. I felt gutted, empty and hurt. This morning was similar. I had stewed on this theme and done some heart searching of my own. I had tried as imaginatively as I could to share the mystery, hope and excitement of Kingdom living. It was my creation! I was putting myself, my faith, my feelings and experience "out there"! And the people... they seemed completely unmoved. I guess they were entertained by the creativity and sniggered at the gliches but basically seemed unmoved. I felt like that little boy, empty, gutted and hurt. They seemed to undervalue my creation and the things I was talking about. I felt the service had failed and worse, I had let God down and misrepresented the Kingdom. All I wanted to do was walk out the door and get away from there. Of course I was expected to mingle and listen to people's conversation. The scary thing is that I have to sort myself out, renew my confidence, and do it all again next week. Why? How? Maybe tomorrow I will feel better, but just now I have Sunday night blues.
I hope other ministers have days like this too?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

"At your age..."

Yesterday I went back to the gym for the first time in a couple of weeks. As I peddled on the bike I had to ask... "What's an old man like me doing at the gym?" I run and people feel constrained to tell me I should not run "At your age". I go to the gym and people snigger and say, "Are you trying to look young again?". I had a health hiccup recently and endless people say, "See you are doing too much... at your age you should slow down!" What is a man to do? Dylan Thomas wrote...
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light!"
But the desiderata advises me to "gracefully surrender the things of youth".
What attitude should I take?
I hope as I grow old that I will still stay young with a sense of wonderment, a readiness to still learn and grow, a sense of humour and adventure. As for the gym and exercise... I know that because I have kept exercising moderately in my life I am a more useful human being, able to do more and endure longer. So whatever people think, I will still be doing it!
God keep my heart attuned to laughter,
When youth is done
when all the days are gray days, coming after
the warmth, the sun.
God keep me then from bitterness,
from grieving,
When life seems cold;
God keep me always loving and believing
as I grow old.... (Author unknown)

What is a man to do at my age? Does anyone know?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Brothers & sisters on the journey

Blogging makes you think about who you are and how you would describe your ideals to others. It is my belief that we are all kindred on the journey of life. A verse in a song we sing goes,
"We are pilgrims on a journey,
We are travellers on the road.
We are here to help each other,
walk the mile, and bear the load." (Richard Gillard -The servant Song)

I try to express that in the way I live and the way I view people. When crossing a river while tramping I have joined myself to others by each of us holding on to a common log. This means that if the current tends to sweep one of us off our feet or we trip or slip on a rock, the strength and stability of the others holds us in place. I see this as a picture of our journey in life. We each have different "currents, paths and rocks" to negotiate. We are here to be there for others if they need that extra strength at different times. We too will at various times in life, need the extra strength of others to assist us to journey through the path life takes us. I find that through my community involvements I can experience and express this essential reality, that we are brothers and sisters on the road. Thats a little bit more of who I aspire to be, though I fall far short of the ideals set for me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The blog's title.

I am a Workplace Chaplain to the NZ fireservice, St John Ambulance and to Speights Brewery in Dunedin, New Zealand. At the fireservice every time one man sees me he yells, "Here comes JC's helper!". I guess I am happy to be called just that... "Jesus' helper". I am a follower of Jesus. These days, though I am an active Church minister, I tend to be reluctant to call my self a "Christian". That word has such a lot of negative baggage. I finish my very first post with a quote from Dave Andrews in his book, "Not Religion but Love".
"Being a devotee of Jesus is not a matter of subscribing to a certain set of dogmas, obeying rules and regulations, and getting others to subordinate themselves to them.

The essence of being a devotee of Jesus is to live in sympathy with God as Jesus did; feeling the throb of God's heartbeat, and teaching our hearts to learn to beat in sync with the love that sustains the universe.

It means developing our capacity to sense intuitively what causes love pleasure, and what causes love pain, and doing everything we can to enhance the pleasure, and deminish the pain."