Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, January 19, 2009

Learn from my mistake.

Last night I went to bed late doing stuff. I was also kicked out of bed early! Today I drove quite a distance. I was driving along chatting feeling just a little bit weary. I thought I would be OK till afternoon tea. But in an instant my eyes closed briefly and I found myself driving on the other side of the road. I was so lucky there were no cars coming the other way. I stopped immediately and my wife took over the driving.I have only come close to that once before in my life and I pride myself on enjoying driving and being able to keep driving forever. Perhaps I am getting old?:-) Any way I offer you this story as a warning. It can happen sooo fast!

I have been enjoying spending an evening talking with two of my sons and their partners. There are some good things about getting old. Wanda my car goes sooo well, she is the best car I have had.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday night Burble

Late this evening when I left my office I bought some chips. I know that it was bad for my cholesterol and my waistline but I had to celebrate some how. Today was my last day of work. I am on holiday for “23 consecutive days” says the “ministers’ appointment guide book..” Well I’ll believe it tomorrow, I have been busy finishing off last minute stuff, tidying the church office and getting final reports done.

I need a holiday. I could “feel” 2009 starting to crank up and I was dreading it. For example we had a Habitat for Humanity Directors meeting the other night and I visualized all the work ahead….There is to be another house starting some time in March. I have had some of our Drop-in centre people wondering when it is going to start up again. It all feels too much, too hard and too busy. I am hoping that three weeks off will rejuvenate me and put fire in my belly again..

Future …I have decisions to make for my future. How do you know when you are “passed your used by date” at a church? Should you fear and feel responsible for the impact on the congregation and community of that church if you decide to move on? I have the possibilities of spending ten hours a week doing something different. Should I be tackling new and different jobs at my stage of life?

Exercise Report. Five weeks ago I set myself a target of exercising every day over the next 5 weeks. Well I failed. I think I exercised an average of 5 days a week. It is better than nothing and I think I feel better. Some of you might know. Does it take longer to regain fitness as you get older? It seems to me that it does. I am hoping to maintain that program for the next 3 weeks. A friend and I talked tonight about aiming for a half-marathon again.

Ed Hillary I have been reading an Ed Hillary biography. What an incredible life. He was not a perfect man, not always making the right decisions and had his share of normal human weaknesses. But here was a guy who used his fame for the good of others, and kept doing it even when it was tough. I am falling in love with him all over again. He was a hero of my childhood and his life story is moving me, inspiring and challenging me in my “older age”.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Thumbs up from God... That "Partnership" feeling.

I took a wedding last Saturday afternoon. As friends and family greeted the bride and groom at the close of the ceremony, a lady I know in the congregation came up and said, "That was lovely, just right for this couple." I so appreciated that comment, it was like a thumbs up for all the effort I had put in to making the wedding fit. When Jesus was baptised it is described that "a voice from heaven" said, "You are my own dear Son. I am well pleased with you." I am not sure what historically happened, but for Jesus I believe it was the sacred "presence" saying, "you are on the right track". His baptism was, in a sense, his "coming out". From now on he was "on a mission" in a public way. It was a mission fraught with conflict, challenge and ultimately costing him his life. His baptism was a brave step and this I believe was an inner confirmation that he was on the right track... a thumbs up from God. I want to tell you about some of my experiences like that.

I had been visiting a recovering alcoholic/mental health patient man who had terminal lung cancer. This day I had brought him soup which was about all he could eat at that stage, and had fixed a window he had broken. He had two of his old drinking buddies visiting and they invited me to stay for coffee. To cut a long story short, I found myself sitting on a box, drinking awful coffee from a dirty mug, in a smoke filled room listening to old stories about three wasted lives. I began to think... "What the heck am I doing here?" Almost immediately I "heard" an inner voice saying "Because this is where I want you to be, with these people." and I sensed an inexplicable sense of partnership with the spirit of Jesus.

I came into church ministry because when I was a plumber I sensed that the church just did not make sense or was not relating to the people I worked alongside of. There seemed a big gap between the church and the community and I have a burden to try to bridge that gap. At one of our Christmas day dinners, another alcoholic friend came up to me and asked me to pray with him. People were coming up to me saying goodbye and thank you. I had firemen and community volunteers asking for directions in the cleaning up process. I had church people wanting to know information about who to transport. It was really a busy and noisy scene. So I said to him, "You want prayer? Where? Here? Now!?" "Yes" he said. I looked around and thought "Why not?".... I put my hand on his shoulder and offered a prayer for the issues he had talked about. As I said "Amen" an inner light went on like a bolt out of the blue... Here I was in a church, with an alcoholic friend, alongside heaps of people from the community, my firemen and my church people and the "sacred presence" was "smiling" at the whole scene. The gap had been bridged in a beautiful way and I was part of that! Another "thumbs up" from God.

A worker at my brewery chaplaincy asked if I would marry him and "the wife" on the 25th anniversary of them moving in together. They wanted the wedding in the brewery yard and, for a variety of reasons, just after midnight. So I found myself in the midst of columns of beer kegs, taking a wedding with brewery workers and rugby league players as the main people in the congregation. After the signing of the register things got out of hand, and people started making speeches to the couple etc. jokes and all. (When you take a wedding in a brewery you don't have the same control as when in your church... it is their territory! You are the one out of your comfort zone.)I stood there thinking, "Hang on... I still have a prayer of blessing I want to give!" "Will I do it now? Will it seem stupid?" An inner voice said, "Do it!" So in a gap in the proceedings I said, "Lets have a prayer of support for this couple, aye?" Voices said, "Yes lets." And there was a sudden silence as everyone bowed their heads. I led in a prayer and when I said "Amen" I suspect every voice there said an emphatic "Amen!" Suddenly I was deeply aware of the "sacred presence" and the incredible privilege I had been a part of. I had stood in the middle of a brewery and through me God had made his presence felt... in a brewery, amongst brewery workers and rugby league players!? Wow!

A fireman had committed suicide and naturally his family, his workmates and I were all deeply saddened, shocked and full of all sorts of emotions. I had known him for twelve years and I was very busy going around listening, talking and arranging the funeral. On the appointed day around 700 people gathered on the lawns of Glenfalloch Gardens to share in the service. All eyes were on me as I started the service. Here I was already emotionally drained, grieving and confused myself and they were looking at me expectantly. I began to speak and stammered out the first sentence. I nervously stuttered out the next... sounding like a fumbling ministry student at his first funeral. I paused... I took a deep breathe... In that brief moment I felt a deep sense of the "sacred presence" and an "inner voice" say, "I have a special task for you today to be here for these grieving people and only you can do it." With renewed confidence I launched into the third sentence and the rest of the ceremony with a deep sense of partnership, significance and connectedness. It was interesting that afterward there were a couple of people who asked... "What happened at the start there? You suddenly changed?".

These are just a sample of such experience. I can't explain these experiences but they are deeply significant for my journey. (Photo: Brewery wedding)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Being average is OK too...

The storm water drain in the church car park had not been coping with the rainfall and had got worse. So last Saturday morning I threw a couple of shovels, my gumboots and some buckets in the car and came in to clean out the drain. It was flooded again so I had to puddle in water to lift the grate and dig out the muck. It was smelly, dirty and wet work. Then it started raining again so I got grumpy. "I bet you the dean at the cathedral down the road does not clean out the drains!" I growled to myself. He would inform his secretary to make the necessary arrangements with a plumbing firm, who would charge heaps. "I don't even have a secretary, paid or voluntary!" I complained to myself! You see, we at the Church of Christ cannot throw money around if we can help it.

I had been reading the newspapers that morning. Peter Entwistle was the same year as me at secondary school (A higher academic stream though) and he is now well known and writes an art column in the paper. Michael Guest writes a legal column, is a city counsellor and was at Otago Boys at the same time I was a pupil there. Another article mentioned cricketing great Glen Turner. We once shared a science class in the fifth form. I know of other school contemporaries who have "made it", they run businesses and/or have "fame". One time national TV personality Ian Fraser was the same year as me. Bill Wright is a partner in a law firm locally, probably gave me a detention at school when he was deputy head prefect and Regimental Sargent Major for School Cadets. Last Saturday morning as I stood in the rain, smelling like a sewer, feeling sorry for myself I thought, "How come these guys have 'made it', and I am cleaning a drain as a minister of a struggling church in a virtually unknown denomination?"

The Desiderata warns against comparing yourself with others. It says; If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

I need to remember that and be thankful for who I am. Some of these guys have "made it" because they are more intelligent than I. I recall being part of the NZ Inter-Church Council on Public Affairs. It is now defunct but we met in Wellington and discussed all sorts of public issues. (Like many church committees, we did a lot of discussing, but very little action.) It was made up of representatives from a great variety of denominations and there were some bright cookies on it, very articulate, knowledgeable and discerning. I remember sitting there in awe of them. Someone would make a well thought out comment. I would be following it and assimilating it into my world view, and another would reply with a clearly spoken, logical, well reasoned reply. I would sit there thinking... "How do their brains work so fast? I am still mulling over what has been said, yet this person has heard it, mulled it over, analysed it and formulated an articulate response!!!?" I know that there are heaps of people more intelligent than I. Some have made it because they have certain talents I have not got. I could practice till I am blue in the face, and I could never be co-ordinated enough to hit a ball like Glen Turner. I would LOVE to be as musical as Ian Fraser was. But simply, they were not the cards I was dealt. Some have "made it" because they have different values than I. I could never have been a top sportsman. It is "just a game" to me and I can't get that committed to a game. I have never been wrapped up in making money, or acquiring the latest and greatest car etc. Even if I won Lotto, I suspect I would drive my old 1990 Nissan Bluebird and rusting Toyota van. I have different values.

But I am me! I do have a few abilities and even though they are "average" I am not called to be rich and famous, I am called to use what I do have for the good of people. Ultimately when I am old and near death I want to be able to say, "Well I took the cards I was dealt with and did the best I could with them". It may not have been a great hand, but it was OK too. In a Muppet show Kermit the frog sings a song called, "It's not easy being green." In the first part of the song he is like me on Saturday morning... he bemoans all the disadvantages of being green. Then he begins to realise that "green" is OK too. The final words are, "I'm glad I'm me!" I took the drain "muck" and rubbish to the tip on Saturday. After lunch I prepared a church service and a wedding service. Then I showered and washed the sewer smell away and went to Wobbly's restaurant and conducted a wedding ceremony that was "just right" for the couple I was marrying. It was good and I felt pleased to do it because I knew I could do it well and help them and others have a special day. I am also glad that I can physically handle cleaning a drain and confidently tackle such a job. It may not move mountains but its me, average me, and that's OK! Being average is OK too!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"If a man looks at a woman lustfully ..."

I have trouble, you might be able to help. Jesus said, "..anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery..." Summer, then, is a difficult time for men who try to be good! Women wear less clothing and some look ... well gorgeous! And a man with any blood running through his veins cant help but glance? If God wants it differently, why is it so difficult not to? I saw a tee shirt the other day that read, "Will your boobs please stop staring at my eyes!" Well its a bit like that for us guys. I was conversing with an attractive lady the other day who wore a VERY low cut summer dress. I WAS a good boy, but it was hard to concentrate on the conversation because a little voice had to keep saying in my head, "Look at her eyes.... Look at her eyes...Look at her eyes.... Don't glance down, she will notice!" I got caught out once. I was in my car at an intersection waiting for the lights. Walking across in front of me were two delightful looking young women and I was idly "staring". All of a sudden one of these beautiful ladies waved at me and smiled... it was my neice! I felt sooo small! The romantics say... "I only have eyes for you!" Yeah right! I heard a preacher say that its not the odd glance that Jesus is talking about but the dwelling on it... the leering. I think it has something to do with not being able to look past the physical and recognise all the dimensions of being a person. It is our perspective on people that Jesus is talking about, and how we view them. But if I was God I would have made it easier for us men(married men especially) to be better behaved. There should be a switch that we can adjust to suit the climate and circumstance. I was talking to a man the other day who was telling me how his older teenage daughter brings her friends over and they lie about in their bikinis... he said "Its easier just to leave the house!" Its not only us men too... I heard of a mother and daughter going down the road in holiday mode looking at passing men and scoring them, "9" or "8" or "Hey mum, he's a 10!". My conversation with God today goes... "Well Lord, I really thank you for sexuality and all that it brings into life. I enjoy this part of life so much and it brings added dimensions in terms of relationships, play, bonding and even stress relief etc.... thank you for this precious gift. I guess you will understand my difficulties and appreciate my attempts to be disciplined... and understand the times when I fail. But over all... in spite of its difficulties... A big thank you Lord for this part of life." Even at my age I have more questions than answers about this dimension of life. I might explore this further one day.... don't think too badly about me, I'm just a man. (Sorry no photo added today... the blog could get flagged!)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I love "my" mountain....

I went up the Mount Cargill track, the long way from Bethunes Gully. I took my camera and share just a four photos that depict why I love this track.

I love the creek in the gully, its banks and boulders. * I love the trees at the beginning, they are simply stunning in autumn. * I love the curly barked old macrocarpa trees as you begin to climb. * The tall pine trees just keep going straight up. * There's a variety of greens all the way up the track, both big and small plants and mosses. * I love the fallen trees that have kept growing and turned and grown upwards still. (A lesson to us all!) * I love the variety of ferns, some old majestic ones with massive fronds shimmering in the light. * Growing on the bark of trees a great range of vegetation making the tree trucks seem like mini forests in themselves. * The little waterfalls add mystery, movement and noise. * There are old forest trees reaching above the bush line overlooking the rest of the bush, like they are lookouts standing guard. * There are glimpses of the top of the mountain, surrounding farm land and even the city in different places on the journey. * The panoramic views from the top give you a tremendous picture of the whole country surrounding Dunedin. * The fog and sometimes the snow when they are there change the scenery, the sense and feel of the journey. * And always the birdsong from mysterious birds you cant quite catch up with enhances the experience.

I enjoy the challenge of keeping going though the track keeps rising. * Your heart beat and puffing breath make you aware of your body and appreciative of your health. * The growing sense of strain, burning and tiredness on your legs and backside tells you that you are working those muscles. * The sense of achievement when you stop at the top is a healthy high. * The opportunity to think life through means that not only is it a physical work out, but a therapeutic "time out" as well..... You get the picture... I LOVE my mountain.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

That other cyclist....

Since I quoted a line from a Banjo Paterson Poem I thought I should share the poem, for your cultural edification. I fell in love with Banjo Paterson's poetry as a boy. We used to holiday with an "Uncle" (Married to a friend of my mum) who had a sheep run inland from the East Otago Coast, toward the Silver Peaks area. When we were mustering, travelling to the run, checking fences, checking lambing or whatever sent us into the tussock country, Uncle George would quote Banjo Paterson poetry. He would stop abruptly, and point his finger at one of us and we were expected to come in with the next line. Some of my fondest childhood memories are wandering the sheep tracks of the tussock covered hills with Uncle George. I knew "The man from Iron Bark", "The Man from Snowy River", "Bush Christening", "Mulga Bill's Bicycle" "The Maori's Wool" and others off by heart. Here for your reading pleasure... Mulga Bill's Bicycle. (Photo: "Uncle" George Symonds.)

MULGA BILL'S BICYCLE by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson
'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;
He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine;
And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride,
The grinning shop assistant said, "Excuse me, can you ride?"

"See here, young man," said Mulga Bill, "from Walgett to the sea,
From Conroy's Gap to Castlereagh, there's none can ride like me.
I'm good all round at everything as everybody knows,
Although I'm not the one to talk - I hate a man that blows.
But riding is my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight;
Just ask a wild duck can it swim, a wildcat can it fight.
There's nothing clothed in hair or hide, or built of flesh or steel,
There's nothing walks or jumps, or runs, on axle, hoof, or wheel,
But what I'll sit, while hide will hold and girths and straps are tight:
I'll ride this here two-wheeled concern right straight away at sight."

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that sought his own abode,
That perched above Dead Man's Creek, beside the mountain road.
He turned the cycle down the hill and mounted for the fray,
But 'ere he'd gone a dozen yards it bolted clean away.
It left the track, and through the trees, just like a silver steak,
It whistled down the awful slope towards the Dead Man's Creek.

It shaved a stump by half an inch, it dodged a big white-box:
The very wallaroos in fright went scrambling up the rocks,
The wombats hiding in their caves dug deeper underground,
As Mulga Bill, as white as chalk, sat tight to every bound.
It struck a stone and gave a spring that cleared a fallen tree,
It raced beside a precipice as close as close could be;
And then as Mulga Bill let out one last despairing shriek
It made a leap of twenty feet into the Dean Man's Creek.

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that slowly swam ashore:
He said, "I've had some narrer shaves and lively rides before;
I've rode a wild bull round a yard to win a five-pound bet,
But this was the most awful ride that I've encountered yet.
I'll give that two-wheeled outlaw best; it's shaken all my nerve
To feel it whistle through the air and plunge and buck and swerve.
It's safe at rest in Dead Man's Creek, we'll leave it lying still;
A horse's back is good enough henceforth for Mulga Bill

Monday, January 5, 2009

Biking mishap... for a laugh.

I am still trying to exercise every day. I jogged 9.5k on Sunday. Yesterday I went for about 40ks on my bike. I share this story for its entertainment value. For my last two rides I have changed from my mountain bike to riding my rusty old 12speed road bike. In some ways it is not as comfortable but more exciting, given the right conditions you can really crank it up on tar seal roads. I ride around the side of the harbour on the road that goes to Port Chalmers, then change onto a new walking/cycling track that runs alongside the waters edge. At the end of that I generally take a shortcut across a railway bridge and continue on in toward town. It is easy with the mountain bike, I just put it in low gear and ride over the rocks and bump up onto the bridge and continue riding. On the road bike with narrower tyres, I dismounted, walked it onto the bridge then thought, "Oh I can ride the bridge." I "mounted for the fray but 'ere he'd gone a dozen yards" ( from Banjo Paterson's Mulga "Bills Bicycle") my front wheel stuck itself firmly in the gap between the boards. The back end of the bike reared up tipping me forward, but I could not fall forward because my feet were firmly on the bridge and the handle bars of the bike held my legs straight. Like something out of a Charlie Chaplain movie, here was this old man, doubled over, bike sticking up at right angles in the air, stuck in position, unable to correct himself. I managed to lower the bike without breaking my legs or buckling the wheel. I untangled myself from the handle bars, pulled the wheel out of the gap, and walked the bike to the other side of the bridge. I did not look back at the young couple strolling on the bank, who were probably in fits of laughter by now... I put my chain back on its sprocket (greasy oily fingers... yuck!) and carried on with my bike ride. On my return trip, I assure you, I walked the bike across the bridge! (I am a quick learner, I am!) The stupid thing is that when it happened, my very first thought was, "shit! I knew that would happen!" I had seen the gaps and recognised the risk!? How stupid can you be?

It reminded me of childhood bike rides. There were still tram tracks embedded in the road in the Queens Gardens area of Dunedin. I recall more than once as a child getting the front wheel of my bike stuck in those and crashing onto the road in the middle of traffic.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Experiencing "connectedness"

Given my previous thoughts, I thought I would tell you about a few experiences of unity, of connectedness and love that, to me at least, are a genuine “high”.

One clear sunny Saturday on a Habitat for Humanity site a couple of years ago we had one of those days. We arrived and the frame work of the house was up and needed strapping, tied down and the roof trusses and frame work erected. We had a diverse group of men and women and indeed, some children and we set to working. We worked our way through the tasks, each person fitting into a job that they felt “comfortable” with. When at afternoon tea we assessed the situation we set our goal to get the roof framework completed. There was a great sense of teamwork as people cut, passed and nailed. About 5:15 p.m. we nailed the last nail home. Arms were sore from nailing. People were worn out by all the lifting, shifting and sawing. The foreman called us together and perched on the roof framing we had a brief time of thanksgiving prayer. Here we were, men and women, young and old, a wide variety of denominations, some no spiritual home, all sitting tired on the roof, feeling one with each other and God. I don’t know what the neighbours thought,…. a prayer meeting on top of a roof, late on a Saturday…. but it just seemed appropriate and gave expression to the unity we had already experienced.

Another Habitat House in July 2008. We had set the time for the dedication service at 3 p.m. I arrived at around 8 a.m. and stuck a sheet of paper with around 30 jobs to be completed by the opening. Volunteers turned up, again a great variety of men and women. During the day one by one, each job was ticked off. Ten minutes before the dedication ceremony I changed out of muddy clothing, a friend passed me a cup of tea, I collected my thoughts, and we began the ceremony. Again we were tired, but we had a deep sense of being together in preparing the house for the family to move in the next day.

We run a drop-in at the church. The main leaders are two couples. It is on Friday evenings from 6:30 – 9:30. There are all types at the drop in and we would average 40 through each Friday. Many have drink, drugs or mental health issues. Sometimes they clash with one another and we have evolved ways of keeping the peace. I will grab someone I know who can cause a problem and keep them busy playing table tennis… or Curly will move in and play pool with someone or engage them in conversation. We tag team with people, and doing dishes and playing pool. During the night as various situations emerge, Curly and I will look at each other and without language know what is needed, and support one another in the tasks. Again it is just a sense of being on the same wave length, sensing the same purpose and knowing we are together in caring for others.

A retired fireman was dying in the hospice. His friends at the fire station kept visiting along with me and between us we talked to his wife and family about the inevitable and the funeral. He eventually died and I began funeral preparations. We were to hold it with the family at the central fire station. There was to be a vintage fire truck as a hearse, we would borrow chairs, organ and lectern from the church. We would set up a sound system. We needed sprigs to be cut for the ceremony, a reader for the reading, a fireman representative to speak etc. etc. For two days of preparation I felt the sense of support of the firemen. One fireman took the day off and told me he was available to organize what ever needed to be done. The family and friends gathered, all sitting in the seats we had laid out. Behind there was a wall of fire men in their “undress” uniforms. As I stood at the front of the assembled congregation to begin the service, I could sense all these fire guys looking at me… but not only looking at me, but WITH me as together we remembered their mate.

I got word of a lady in our church who I loved like my own mother, had died suddenly after bypass surgery. My wife and I rushed to the intensive care unit to be with her husband and family. In time we were allowed to gather around her bed. I had known the family most of my life and they asked if I would lead in prayer. We held hands and I choked out a few words of love, thanksgiving and grief. At the end of the prayer we just stood there holding hands sobbing quietly, but unified in our grief.

A friend and I had set our goal of doing a half-marathon. For me it was losing the fat and getting back into doing one, for her a new experience. For months in all sorts of weather we had encouraged one another, compared training schedules, trained and kept each other going. Then we ran the distance and together crossed the line. We lay on the grass exhausted, but feeling so good. Runners will tell you that you often feel connected with "life", other runners and your own body in such a race. All the months of training had been worth it, we had overcome and together we had achieved. Our families were there to celebrate with us but somehow they were almost an interruption. It was OUR triumph, we had done it together.

I could tell you of heaps more similar stories. Such times of unity and connectedness are sacred, deep and among the most precious experiences of life. They cut through all the crap of life and say, “this is the essence of life”. I am fortunate to keep experiencing them. (Photo: setting up the roof trusses that Saturday)

Friday, January 2, 2009

Kushner's "christianity"?

I have been thinking.... sometimes I do that. When I posted some quotations from Rabbi Kushner, Mike made the comment that Kushner sounds more and more Christian. I had thought that too and was wondering what brought that about. I see three possible situations and throw these in to prompt your thinking.

1. Kushner is a thinking Jewish leader living in a culture whose dominant religion is Christianity. He obviously reads Christian literature. So the first scenario is that this Jewish writer's thinking and understanding has been coloured by the thoughts and perspectives of the Christian faith around him. This is perhaps a very arrogant, patronising "Christian-centred" view that would be insulting to Kushner's spiritual journey. (Though I know my perspectives on Jesus are influenced by a wide variety of experiences and perspectives.... I guess that's why I am reading Kushner in the first place.)

2. The second possibility is that Kushner is a good, thinking, "open-to-the-divine" Jew. That Jesus in his time was a good, thinking, "open-to-the-divine" Jew. That here we have two Jewish spiritual high flyers who have come to the same conclusions about God. So Kushner's perspectives as a Jew end up being similar to Jesus perspectives as a Jew. Should that be surprising?

3. The third scenario is one I am becoming convinced of also and I believe gives the world some hope for the future. Henry Fowler has listed off I think 5 stages of Spiritual growth. (M.Scott-Peck suggests that most churches are run by people at stage two!) The higher stages tend toward mystical, communal and universal thinking. They are more aware that the whole world is a community. Now I suspect that whatever "religion" we are, as we grow spiritually, we come closer together in what we see as important. So the "spiritual-high-flyers" of whatever religion are sometimes closer to each other than say the stage one or two people of their own religion. It is a bit like my experience of the Christian religion. There are fundamentalists that I find extremely hard to mix with and talk with. I recall once we had some people visiting who were pontificating about the bible etc etc. and I found myself having to get out of the lounge and go water the garden. I was feeling so assaulted, offended and in a sense "violated". But... when I have been involved in caring outreach into the community (e.g. Habitat for Humanity, the Night Shelter Trust etc. Industrial chaplaincy) I rub shoulders with raving charismatics, seventh-day Adventists, conservative baptists, keen catholics etc. and discover and experience an unmistakable unity in Christ. Because... the people involved are listening to the same sort of nudges, and calling from Christ as I am. We may differ dramatically in heaps of theological areas, but are together in following Jesus. I suspect that higher stages of people from different religions ring bells with each other in the same way. I suspect that there are spiritual realities, experiences and connections that the spiritual athletes from a variety of religions have in common, and those realities end up looking like Jesus' experience and perspectives.

I recall reading some meditations by Anwar Sadat (A Muslim) years ago and thinking, "That is so much like Jesus!" If you read about Ghandi in his actions and thinking there is the same experience... the way of Jesus is expressed. Barack Obama shared this perspective. He says, "I am rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people, that there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and that there's an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived." Marcus Borg edited a book called "God at 2000". In it people from various religious perspectives give their understanding of "God". He sums up the points of agreement.
1. God, or the "sacred," is ineffable, beyond all words and concepts;
2. God is not "a being," but a non-material layer or level or dimension of reality that permeates everything, and at the same time, is more than everything;
3. God can be experienced.

So my understanding is that Kushner is a Jewish scholar who also is in the higher levels of "spiritual maturity" and as such his teachings and perspectives are similar to Jesus' perspectives. This may sound heretical to conservative Christians, but it is evident that my measuring stick is still Jesus. (Not necessarily "Christianity".)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

What a mixed up minister!

I went for a New Years day picnic lunch with my wife's family. Its a tradition that we have. After that I came home and checked the answer phone. There was a message on it from a guy who was at the Christmas dinner. I had talked to him on the phone, but never got to meet him. Could I ring him back. I wanted to go for a bike ride, so mumbling that I should be allowed to have New Years Day free of phone calls, I jumped on my bike for a ride, intending to ring him when I got back. I no sooner came in the door after my ride than the phone was ringing again.... it was him. He asked if he could have a food parcel... all he had left in the house for two guys was some bread and vegemite. It is 12 k into town from our place, it was 5:30 at night and I selfishly thought, "no, he can wait, I won't go in until the morning". I told him I would contact him in the morning and work out what we could do for him. I grumbled as I hung up the phone. "He must have known he was running out of food before New Years Day? Before the food banks close? What right has he got to disturb my life? We don't actually run a food bank! We collect for one of the big ones ...mumble, mumble, mumble..."

Today I went into town... I should have had the day off really, it's a stat holiday! But I had to see to him and there were some other things to do at the office. As soon as I hit the office the phone rang and it was him again. He was hungry when was I going to deliver? He needed enough to last till Tuesday. We got some from the cupboard that had been donated, bought some more at the supermarket and delivered it around to him. On his door step I smiled pleasantly and handed it over. I said goodbye and good luck and jumped back in the car. As I drove away I got the guilts.... "Maybe I should have stayed and talked?"..... "Maybe he was someone who needed more friendship than food?".... "Jesus said to 'deny yourself'... I have been so selfish!" ... "Gee I am callous!"

Who am I? The grumpy minister who relunctantly provides a food parcel? Or the caring man who feels guilty about not doing more? What is the right path? What attitude should I have taken? What does Jesus expect? Grrr... well he's not going to go hungry anyway and I did manage some time off today. I biked again and I got wet! :-( I should have biked this morning when the weather was calm, but I was arranging a food parcel....mumble mumble mumble. Oh well... I will sort life out one day.