Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Years day epiphany....

My last post said what I wish for you when I say "Happy New Year". In summary I wrote that I wish for you...
  • few times when you will have sadnesses and anxiety in your life.
  • a good measure of health and quality of life.
  • Friendships and warmth in relationships.
  • Depth in your life to anchor it.
  • Significance, meaning and fulfillment in your living.
  • Intimacy .. a close supportive friendship.
This is my wish for my close friends and family but also for others who I may not know.

Overnight it hit me as I reflected on my living that this encompasses my unconscious "mission statement" as I live and relate. This is what I seek to help facilitate in Church ministry, in my Drop-in centre, in chaplaincies and in my relationships. If I stopped to think about it I may add some other dimensions about our relationships to "life" and the world of nature, but essentially this sums up the goals of my life and ministry. I want to be doing things and relating in such a way that I help bring about these things in people's lives, whether they be close friends and family or more distant links. My goal in 2011 then is to keep trying to facilitate these in lives I can influence.

A penny dropped as I fell asleep somewhere near 1 a.m. this morning. Have a good New Years Day.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy New year!

Happy New Year?... my wish for your 2011 path.
I have been visiting chaplaincy sites today and chatting with ambulance and fire service staff who were quite surprised to see me coming around "the traps". People have been wishing me a "Happy New Year" and I have been reciprocating with "have a good New Year!" or something similar. But what do we mean by that?
- Sometimes we mean that we hope the person has a good New Year's evening. That they will have a good party or a special time of friendship or some thing like that. That is good... some of the most meaningful times I have had with my wife and family have been on New Years eve. Something like 42 years ago before we were engaged we were at a youth camp by a beach in Christchurch and she and I went down to the beach just after midnight and sat in the sand. I cannot remember the heart of the conversation but when it was over we knew that somehow we would be linked for life. So "Happy New Year" can mean have a good or significant time as you see in the New Year.

- But often our wish is that the person will have a good year in the year ahead. When we say "Happy New Year" we are wishing them all the best for their life for the next 12 months. We may well ask "What do you mean by that?" Well I wish you, dear reader, "A Happy New Year", and I will spell out what I mean by that.
Shit Happens - I am realistic enough to know that in 2011 there will be events in your life that will be challenging, that may bring you sadness, that may bring you anxiety. It is dreaming to think that you will have 12 months of bliss. Every life has sad moments and crap in it. I wish for you that the sad, difficult moments will be few.

Health... Again, I know that this does not always happen, but I wish that you will have sufficient health and mobility to feel that you can live with a reasonable quality of life. I know that there are no guarantees, but I wish for you a good measure of health.

Friendships and warmth of relationship... My wish is that as you live and work in your families, your communities or your workplaces that you have warmth, humour and support in your circle of friends and acquaintances. It is sad and soul destroying when people feel alone in this world or when the groups they have to be a part of are groups with dissension, tension and lack of mutual support in them.

Depth in your life... As a ship in a storm is safest when it has power and direction or when it has a good anchorage, I wish that whatever you encounter in 2011, you will have a sense of inner strength. That you will feel connected to "depth" so that you have an inner power to cope with and work through the crap that may come your way.

Significance... Linked to this is that I wish that you feel a sense of significance, purpose and direction in your life. Victor Frankl and others discovered in the horrors of concentration camps, people who kept alive a sense of meaning and significance could face all sorts of horrors and even death with dignity. My wish for you is that you feel that you are doing something significant with your life or that your life is meaningful and fulfilling.

Intimacy... My wish for you is that you will have "intimacy" in your life. Now I do not mean that you will be making love. (though that is OK too!) What I wish for you is that you will have at least one relationship in which you can relax, be yourself and be as completely open as you are able, knowing that person will accept you, support you, forgive you and affirm you as a person.

If you have these things 2011 will be deeply meaningful and significant for you.

In this Bible reading Paul has a great prayer for you for 2011.

And also a song that helps perspective.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Great break...

My visiting Aussie friends shouted us a night on the "Wanderer" on Milford Sound. On Monday morning we travelled to TeAnau and stayed a night there. The next day we went on to Milford, boarded our boat and spent the evening and night on Milford Sound, taking in the scenery. We had an excursion in the boat's tender, to get up close and personal with some waterfalls and local vegetation. On Wednesday morning we visited a display that took us 10 metres under the sea in Milford Sound to see Black Coral (Which is actually white till it dies) and various fish. We then travelled as far as Cromwell to relax for a night, and back to Dunedin and work today.
Friends to relax with..
It has been good in that after all the stress of ministry, the Christmas dinner and a busy weekend I could switch off and relax. It is good to have friends you can relax with and not have to watch your "P's and Q's". I have felt at ease as we have chatted, able to chat if I want to, or just stay quiet if I preferred that.
The scenery is out of this world!
We were very lucky. People have often said that they have travelled to Milford Sound and been engulfed in mist. Others have said that to enjoy Milford Sound you have to have sufficient rainfall to make the waterfalls come alive and then clear days to enjoy the scenery. We had just that. Driving there on Monday and Tuesday morning it rained. We encountered rivers with fantastic roaring waters! We ate our lunch at Milford and then stepped out into sunny clear skies. The waterfalls were spectacular! At the same time we could see clearly the mountain peaks. It was ideal conditions to experience Milford. The boat (and the ship's tender when we were on that) took us right under and into the sprays of the waterfalls. I looked for a photo that would capture our experience, but there could never be! You just have to be there! To hear the sounds, see the movement, experience the high cliffs and the spray was a real "spiritual" experience. We are so fortunate to live in this country.
Two observations...
First... when I was in Milford ten years ago and spent a night on a boat I was intrigued by the dolphins swimming alongside the boat. It seemed that wherever we went they escorted us. I actually got to swim with the dolphins. This time however, there were none! Where have all the dolphins gone? It was the same time of year? I hope there is nothing sinister in their absence, but I never saw one dolphin.
Second... we stopped off and viewed the Mirror Lakes, another amazing spot. As I wandered up the board walk through the bush I got to thinking about the last week. I thought of all the people I knew who lived in NZ who rushed overseas to see various sights and sounds without ever thinking of the tremendous experiences available to them on their back door step. But I also could not help thinking about all the people at our Christmas Day dinner, just a few days earlier. I realised that so few of them would ever get to enjoy the sights and sounds I had enjoyed. Even just the Fiordland bush, without the expensive boat ride, would be an impossible dream for them.
I am extremely fortunate. I loved the experiences of the last few days.

  • Early morning coming back into the Fiord having had an excursion out to sea.
  • Our ship anchored in the spot where we spent the evening... not a bad view to go to bed with and to wake up to?
  • I love these tree ferns. West Coast/Fiordland ones are exquisite.
  • Beautiful NZ bush.
  • A roaring river we discovered on the way to Milford.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas dinner number 22 all over.

At our Church we facilitate a community Christmas Day dinner for poor or lonely people. We have done it for 22 consecutive years. The first year we had 37 guests and a few "helpers". This year I reckon there may have been in excess of 260, may be 270 people there all told. It was very exhausting some how this year, VERY full on and busy, and my weekend was made worse by having a Sunday service to prepare and present on Boxing day. But I have made it and all the feedback suggests that people, helpers and guests, were very happy with their experience. Here are some Christmas dinner stories...
False Alarm..
For quite a few years Marlow St. Pies have been cooking the 25 legs of mutton in their big ovens. Traditionally too the fire fighters have gone out to pick it up and deliver it to the dinner. We went out there on Friday with the legs all bagged and in trays and while there got talking to a worker. He told us this story of a previous Christmas. He said he was at home carving the meat for Christmas dinner expecting friends to arrive. They arrived and informed him that there was a fire at his workplace and that there were three fire trucks in attendance, so it must be a big fire! He had drunk a few beers so he hopped on his push bike and peddled furiously down the road, thinking all the time that his workplace could be gutted and he would lose his job. He got there to find not a fire, but a group of firemen bringing roasts of mutton out to a utility vehicle to deliver to our Christmas dinner.
"A few mates around for lunch"
Early Christmas morning I called in at the fire station to arrange for when and how they could help us. The guys jokingly said, "How are you going to spend Christmas Dave?" "Nothing special." I replied, "I have just got a few mates coming around for lunch. Should be good." I was joking in a sense, but that I hope is the atmosphere we exude as we host our guests for lunch.
"The best Christmas gift ever."
We began our Christmas dinner and Kerry a man I have known for a while, called me over and said, "You have given me the best Christmas present ever!" "How come?" I asked. "My brother is here today. It is many, many years since we had Christmas together, and many years since we spent time together... it's the best Christmas gift ever!"
"They cant understand me!"
We divide people up into tables and have hosts at each table looking after the people and getting the meals for them. We had a group of four Chinese people come and the lady to act as a host came to me and said, "This is useless! They cant understand me!" I paused desperately searching my brain for a solution. Then the penny dropped. We have recently had delightfulChinese university student join our congregation and she had come along to help at Christmas dinner. Her name is Ding. I raced over, called her name and beckoned her to me. I took her over to the table and she greeted them warmly in Chinese. They beamed all over and the group sunk into delightful chatter and all through the dinner I could hear laughter from their table. When I handed around the Christmas gifts I came to the table and said "Merry Christmas." Ding interpreted and then with her bright eyes and delightful smile suggested I should learn the Chinese way to say "Merry Christmas". She said it a couple of times, I repeated it a few times till Ding gave me the thumbs up, and the folk laughed, nodded and smiled.
Firefighter helpers...
Two crews of fire fighters came on the day to help us serve the meal. They were great just fitting in and sharing the workload, taking initiative with a lot of smiles and laughter. I also appreciated other retired fire fighters joining in the team of helpers.
Budding performer...
We had a lady, Linda Munro, come who played the piano and sang throughout the time. At the meal was a Maori family and one little girl went over to the piano and spent most of her time sharing with Linda, watching her play the piano and singing.
The helpers we had were delightful. They worked very hard. But still they came to me afterward, often hugging me and thanking me for the opportunity they had of being there. One lady said, "Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of it, can I do it again next year?" If you poor reader, were one of our helpers I want to say, "Thank you so much for the work you put in. We worked you hard, I hope you enjoyed it." I am also deeply indebted to my wife, daughter and son-in-law, who worked tirelessly to make the meal a success. At one stage I looked at them and others, red faced, sweating and working their tails off, and felt very humble that so many people supported my directions for community engagement.
"Thank you for what you did for us."
This story does not relate to the Christmas dinner but happened at the Christmas dinner. A week or so ago I led a funeral for the sister of "Coon". He is an Ambulance officer and I am his chaplain. Apart from straight after the funeral I had not managed to touch base with him. As the busy part of the Christmas Dinner got under way I suddenly saw Coon easing his way through the crowded room heading in my direction. He was on duty that day. He came up to me and simply engulfed me in a hug, "Thank you so much for what you did for us. Have a great Christmas! - I have got to go now, we just got a call... but thanks so much." That was all he said, but it was so genuine and warm that it took my breathe away.

My job can be very exhausting, but at times I would not trade it for anything else!

# View of the dinner with our singer/pianist and the beautiful little Maori girl.
# Part of the eating crowd in the Church building. (My camera setting got bumped and they ended up black and white photos.)
# My friend Jeff. On Sunday afternoons I normally run with an Australian friend who lives in Dunedin. She is visiting family in Australia. Jeff, an Australian visiting me for Christmas, trained at theological college with me in the 1970s and we have remained good friends since. I exercised with him by taking him up my mountain.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Gordon Stirling (GR) moved on.

I first met Gordon Stirling when I was about 12 or 13 years old. He came through NZ preaching at various Churches of Christ and encouraging particularly Christian men. My dad (a plumber) was in active leadership in our churches and so Gordon visited our house and I was taken to hear him speak. Even as a boy I was impressed with this guy. He spoke in down to earth language and seemed a genuine sort of guy, not just a show man. My parents knew him in their youth when he was a Youth Director in NZ Churches of Christ. I never knew then that he would feature a lot more in my life.

Gordon came originally from Western Australia I think, and for a time worked as a drover on Horse back. He trained for church ministry and in the process did a BA majoring in Psychology. He had a ministry as Youth Director in NZ, another ministry in Palmerston North in NZ, and then returned to Australia. He had a very significant ministry in the Church of Christ in Canberra. While there he was asked to go and see visiting USA president Lyndon Johnson who was in town and wanting to talk with a minister of his denomination. He had a signed photograph of the president for his trouble. He became Vice-Principle of "The Federal College of the Bible of Churches of Christ in Australia" where I did the bulk of my ministry training. This required him to do a lot of the administrative work. His initials were G R Stirling so we just called him "GR", and sometimes because of his busyness, "General Rabbit". He met my wife and I when we hit Melbourne and had secured a bed, a cot for the baby and took us shopping, helping us to settle into college life. In my last year we lived out near Boronia on the outskirts of Melbourne (well it sort of was then) and he lived about half a mile away. I was student minister at the Boronia Church which he attended when he was not preaching else where. (My brother is minister of that Church now) He and I would often share transport into College (16 miles away) and had some great conversations in the process.

He took us for "Homiletics" (how to preach, lead services etc) and "Practical Church Work" (Which covered subjects like counselling, pastoral care, administration, planning, etc. etc.) He was an excellent minister himself and passed on his knowledge well. He encouraged down to earth preaching that "informed the mind, stirred the emotions and empowered the will" or something like that. He encouraged the use of illustrations, enabling people to identify with each point in different ways and passion in preaching. Theologically he was ahead of his times in some ways, though he never went out to offend people. He would word things in such a way that a wide variety of people could identify with what he was saying. In conversation he was in fact quite liberal for his time. A few years ago they were instigating the G R Stirling Lecture associated with the South Australian Conference of our Churches. Because of his wife's health he was unable to deliver the first lecture so for unknown reasons I was asked. (My friend was president of the conference at the time) I visited Gordon in Melbourne on my way to the conference. Just a couple of years ago I attended the centenary of the Palmerston North Church of Christ and presided at the Church service. I had been minister there in the 70's for 6 years. Gordon had been minister many years before that and in his nineties he was guest preacher. He could still preach well.

Two incidents stand out. We were to read a couple of chapters in a book to be ready to discuss it in one of Gordon's classes. Gordon was always a very gentle lecturer, benign and caring toward his students. We tended when under pressure to take it easy in his classes because we knew other lecturers would be tougher on us. This day we fronted up and he opened up the topic for discussion. It became obvious that few had read the chapters in question. He guessed that and asked point blank who had done the reading. About one of us put up our hand. GR was silent for a long pause. Then he packed up his books and his notes and said, "I am leaving. When you are ready to learn, I'll be ready to teach you. Good day!" With out fuss he just left the classroom with us looking and feeling sheepish. The second incident has often come to mind. We had student ministries in churches on weekends. It was a very busy lifestyle. One time there was a group of us talking with GR about our ministry experiences. We were sounding off about elders and staid old folks who refused to change. (I still do that) We griped away to GR and with care and concern he listened. Then he quietly said, "I know it is frustrating, but... " and he paused while we waited eagerly for his words of wisdom, "but... remember... Jesus died for them too. God loves them and your job is to love them too." He brought, and still brings wise perspective when ministry gets tough.

He died in Melbourne, I think on Wednesday. Somewhere I have notes of a statement he gave on his 90th birthday. I may share it with you it is a very good statement. "GR" with love and gratitude I salute you. "Well done good and faithful servant." You have impacted my life far more than you ever knew.


* Nearly finished setting up for Christmas Day Community Dinner.
* Gordon is the older guy seated on the right. The 3 in the funny outfits were good mates at college. Ian (on the left ) has died, while Jeff (on the right) is visiting me for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas generosity.

I am busy preparing for our Christmas Day community Christmas dinner. We are the lucky recipients of people's generosity. Here are just a few things...
  • A man rang up yesterday. He had a ham to give away, where and when could he bring it around?
  • We have had donations of chocolates and sweets for the tables.
  • The next door gym came through and gave a donation and some sweets.
  • A lady walked into Space2B yesterday and dropped a bag of sweets on the table and a bag of coins. "Its my husband's collection of coins." she explained. "Does he know about it?" I asked. She giggled and said, "Yes, he said it was OK."
  • Last but not least... a retired fire fighter now linked to this congregation said he had some days of leave up his sleeve from his bus driving job, so he would come in and spend two days working for the Christmas dinner. Yesterday afternoon he and I tackled the worst most tedious job of the dinner, sorting which volunteers driver would pick up which of the about 80 people needing transport. I have done this job other years and it is hard going. He and I completed the sorting out yesterday afternoon and had some fun doing it. His presence and friendship was such an encouragement to me! He is coming today to make himself available. We'll have fun this afternoon again.
  • Two donations of coin collections for Christmas dinner. Both added up to $155.
  • 25 legs of mutton thawing. They will be cooked by Marlow St Pie factory on Christmas morning.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Community Christmas Day dinner Dunedin

Having a blue Christmas?
I am in my office answering phone calls from people wanting to come to our Christmas day Community dinner. This is how we describe it in our blurb to volunteers who enquire.

This will be our 22nd year that we have provided this meal. We offer a free meal and company on Christmas day. It is a hot Christmas meal and we seat people in tables of about eight to ten people with a host, so that there is the opportunity of conversation and care. People receive a small gift as part of the celebration and we sing a few carols just prior to dinner.

It is for any who would like company or need a free treat on Christmas day. We have sometimes had families who are in need, often had pensioners and others who find Christmas alone tough going. Transport is offered if that is needed on the day.

On another blurb we say;
This dinner started 22 years ago by a few friends having dinner at the church and inviting any lonely people to join. We want to maintain that feel. Enjoy meeting new people, laugh, talk, listen and enjoy yourself and you will be giving a precious Christmas gift to each other and others.

It struck me this morning that there may be people in Dunedin who are alone on Christmas day who, for some unknown reason, may read my blog. Feel free to come. You can phone to register (it is helpful to know how many we are catering for) on (03) 4774848. We even offer transport if that is needed.

You are welcome to join us!

Its a small world! Get used to it people!

I was sitting with a bunch of blokes having morning tea and watching the news in one of my chaplaincies the other day. There was a report about the boat people whose boat got smashed to pieces on Christmas Island. There were quite a number of deaths. Some Australian politician got away with saying something like, "Well that's a bunch of Asians who won't trouble us anyway!" There was a general murmur of approval, with one guy saying, "Australians get away with saying what the rest of us think... Bloody Asians should stay in their own country!" I muttered something like, "they are still people and its sad!", but being a coward kept my head down.

I got to stewing on this as I ran on Sunday. Someone had scrawled, "Open boarders!" on the walls of a wharf storage shed and I run so slow I am able to read it. We have contact through our Space2B with a whole lot of immigrants who are here essentially because they want a better life for their kids. (Which one of us doesn't want that? Isn't it a sign of a caring and loving parent who goes to great lengths to bring that about? ) I also read in the paper the other day about big numbers of children of professional couples, where the parents have two different nationalities, and they are living in a country of neither one's birth. It seems that these children often cannot have legal citizenship of any country. They simply do not qualify.

Now I know that the economy is tight. I know that there are difficulties with new people in a country. But this world is getting VERY small. People are moving from country to country often. People are intermarrying. Cultures are mixing. Every country is getting more and more cosmopolitan. The attitudes that build walls, that exclude, that put down another race no longer belong in the world we live in today! They increase the tension, expand the problems and lead toward more destructive outcomes. There are issues involved in freeing up borders but they need to be tackled from the starting point of recognising that ultimately we are citizens of the one planet! The attitude displayed by the Australian politician and my friends watching the news with me are out of date, irrelevant and ought to be discarded!

A couple of Utube adverts remind us of this small world;

... we are under one sun.
where do the children play

I read something the other day that reported one of the early astronauts commenting that from space looking at the earth, there were no obvious borders!

Did you know that my very best friends here and overseas are Australians!... even!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sunday simmering..

Busy week
People know that I have overall responsibility for our Christmas Day dinner. Because of this I have had heaps of people saying "Busy week?" I just say "Yes- kind of." but under my breath I am saying, "Every week feels busy this year!" May be I am just getting old and can't hack the pace?
Generous people
I have felt grateful and humbled this week. I have been given over $1000 in personal donations toward our Christmas day dinner. These are from people who are not or are vaguely connected to the church. Some know me personally, others just know what we do. One man came into Space2B with an Edmonds Baking powder jar full of money. When we counted it, it came to $105. I think he is the same man who came into my office once, saying "This Church does good stuff" and dug into his tobacco pouch and dumped $100 worth of notes on my desk.

Is God interested in religion?
As I explored the subject of "Immanuel" (God with us) for today's service, quite suddenly the statement came to mind. "This means God is not so much interested in 'religion', but rather he is interested in real life." In my mind I recalled the prophet Isaiah who said something like, "Your sacrifices mean nothing to me. I am sick of your offerings... Who asked you to bring all this when you come to worship me? Stay out of my temple! ... no matter how much you pray I won't listen... See that justice is done. Defend the widows and orphans and help those in need." (Amos and Micah and others said similar things) What are the implications of God's prior commitment to people and life.
Institutions: We Christians get all wrapped up in church, and see it as the most important thing. I saw a booklet on "Christian Stewardship" the other day. It was all about giving to "the Church". I would think if God wrote the book he would be more interested in giving to the needy; or in the right use of the world's resources; or in the whole issue of sustainability.
Justice: Some Christian people in Poland have outlaid thousands of dollars to build a record breaking statue of Christ. It sounds all very holy and saintly. But put the stacks of money beside the news that a growing number of people are dying from the cold in Poland. What would God be interested in?
Ministry: When I first started chaplaincy at the fire stations a practicing Christian warned me that "You wont have any religious conversations around here. In all my years here I have never got anyone to talk religion!" He was wrong.. but I admit they are few and far between.. but I have talked about family issues, relationship issues, values, materialism, friendship, work ethics, skills, loyalty etc etc. I have loved and been loved in return. All these things are "of God".
I could go on...

I think God is interested in love, life and people. Religion has its place if it contributes to the movement of God in building love, life and people. Where it becomes wrapped up in itself it is just "Spiritual Masturbation!"

The inner city ministers have regular meetings. We usually meet in each others' churches. I thought that since one of my ministry places was the fire station I could host a meeting there. I made arrangements for a room and down we went. The Firefighters teased us a little and some of the ministers did not know how to take it. There were a lot fewer of the ministers in attendance, I suspect a fire station was out of their comfort zone. A couple said, "Why are we meeting here and not in a church?" In my devotions for the meeting I commented that for me and for God, the fire station was sacred ground just as much as the church building. There were people here who loved, received love and needed love. "God is here, this is sacred, just as a church is."

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Years ago we had a new chief at the fire station. After a while I heard rumours that he was going to sack the chaplain. After avoiding the issue for some time, I kept hearing the rumours, so I decided I had to find out for sure. I went up to him and simply said, "I hear rumours that you are going to sack me. What's the story?" He replied that yes he had thought of it, but had faced such a strong reaction that he quickly had backed off the idea. Then he told me that in the town he had come from when the chaplain went visiting the fire fighters would all vacate the lounge and head to bedrooms. One station would ring the next and warn them that the chaplain was on his way and they would hop in the truck and decide to go somewhere else. They avoided the chaplain. I walked past a guy who was once in one of my chaplaincies, I had helped him through a couple of issues, but as he past me it was obvious that he didn't want to greet me, averting his eyes elsewhere and avoiding eye contact. Yesterday as I wandered around a chaplaincy a guy just about had conniptions trying to avoid eye contact or any connection with me, hiding behind his computer screen, because I am a chaplain. I wonder what has gone on or is going on in his life? I didn't think I was intimidating? Sometimes when I log on to Skype within a few seconds I see one or two of my friends log off... I get the hint they are avoiding me. I avoid people too. I have to admit that I will leave the most awkward or inhospitable parts of a chaplaincy to the last minute so that when I run out of time I can say, "Well I could not come there because I ran out of time." There is an angry disturbed religious man around town, the only person I have kicked out of my drop-in centre. When I see him coming down the street I cross the road. But we avoid other things also. I took a funeral for a woman who died of cancer the other day. Talking to family members they thought she avoided going to the doctor for too long. I have been known to do that, and others I know are doing that. I avoid conflict in the church by not challenging issues I see. By so doing I am not being the leader I ought to be. My supervisor gets frustrated with me because I avoid dealing with weaknesses I have, yet they keep emerging. We often avoid problems in relationships until they are too late. So often I find myself confronted with couples and I think, "They should have been looking into this years ago! It is too late now!" We often avoid thinking about the deep things of life. I got in the middle of an argument the other day. One man ended up almost yelling, "Religious people are brainwashed. There is no heaven or hell. No God. It's all shit and it causes wars" I wasn't really the one he was arguing with, I was sitting between them. I think he was taking the opportunity to let me know where he stood. (I already knew that anyway) I just said, "I agree that distorted religion is implicated in wars but for me following Jesus is not about getting to heaven when I die. It is more about not wasting your life now." Almost in a higher pitched voice he just repeated his former argument. I think I touched a nerve and he wanted to avoid thinking about it, so I changed the subject with humour. As a minister I am called in from time to time by families who have no religious thoughts but who have a member dying, and they think a minister can make things better, more comfortable by saying something "spiritual" a prayer or something. They have avoided the deeper things of life all their life, and struggle when life forces the issue.

The other thing I avoid is Christmas shopping. I have been known to go down the road at 8:45p.m. on Christmas Eve and buy my wife's present. We humans are so skilled at avoiding. I guess in biblical mythology it started in the Garden of Eden.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What constitutes "Church"?

We have Space2B at our church. It is hard to describe it, but essentially it is the back of our church set up for easy conversation with hot drinks and open to people. We have some "sustainability" things happening there and in conjunction with the Multi-ethnic council and DCC we do a lot of stuff with new settlers. Because the people who usually look after it are away, I spent more time there today than usual. I can say I really enjoyed it. Lots of loving conversation and human connection. Now most of these people do not come to church worship on Sunday, so the church people and even some of those in church leadership have no idea what goes on in this place. But I see these people as a kind of congregation in their own right. One lady told me today about how important the friends she had at "Church" were to her.

The other thing that has struck me is that we have all these meaningful connections with these people, and they in turn are owning the "Church" in various ways. We are planning our usual Christmas Day dinner and lots of these "new" friends are coming to help, or in some cases making donations. I am really looking forward to Christmas day because so many of the people working with us will be 'members' of the Space2B community, and we get on so well. There is an openness, freedom and relaxedness not often found in a bunch of long standing church-going "Christians". (Though I need to say I have a lot of love for my usual congregation.)

I am beginning to love being a part of this emerging congregation and I believe that it could be an emerging different style and shape of Church. When I was thinking of a new and different job we began to ask would we continue to attend this Church on Sunday? We were tending to say, well no, maybe not. We would identify with this mid week congregation more and maybe adding some worship element in there would suffice. Well that didn't happen but it raised the question, "When does 'Church' happen?"

Anyway, looking forward to celebrating Christmas with these loving friends.

Christmas article..

Tonight I had to write a 100-150 word article about Christmas to go in an advertising feature in the local Otago Daily Times. I thought I may as well add it to my blog. Here it is...

On Christmas day I will be celebrating dinner with about 250 people. We will be remembering the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus in his life demonstrated the love at the heart of the universe and pointed to a “way” of life that has this God-like quality. His teachings, his parables and his relationships all demonstrated this generous, accepting, forgiving and healing love. His perspectives show that we are essentially brothers and sisters in the journey of life together. Christmas to me is a time when we can express and celebrate that solidarity together. May your Christmas be a time of love and togetherness.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sunday samples...

Why me?
I talked with a lady on the second last day of her life early in the week. Dying of cancer in her 50's she asked me this question "Why me?" As she asked it I selfishly thought "Yes exactly, why me? Why am I in this awkward predicament, talking to a woman I don't know in this circumstance." I told her there was no answer to that question. Of course I have heard fundamentalist Christians pontificating about God calling people home etc. etc. I have heard all sorts of philosophical and theological dissertations on the presence of evil and pain in a good God's world. But there are no real satisfactory answers, there wasn't when my dad died in his 40's and there was none for this lady.
Still doing it.
I am answering the phone and making plans for our community Christmas day dinner. In Church this morning we had a young man who said that on Tuesday he would be 22years old. It dawned on me that when we were planning our first Christmas Day dinner he was born! I would have been the young age of 40. I would never have believed then that I would still be doing it 22 years later! And it is still fun! I would be reluctant to go back to having "normal" Christmas days.
What is pleasure? I was driving a man home from our Friday night drop-in centre. It was our last night for the year, we will resume mid February. (We have been doing the drop-in for 15 years) He was grumbling. "What am I going to do on Friday nights?" he growled. "Give me the key and I'll go up and play pool by myself! The Drop-in is the only pleasure I get. TV is useless!" Of course I felt guilty, but what is "pleasure".
  • I had a great 10k run tonight, not fast but my friend and I stuck at it and I am still buzzing. She has an Iphone and a fancy GPS system that tells us how far and how fast. It was tough because of the wind, but it was "pleasurable".
  • I talked to a man recently who runs/tramps in the NZ hills. I was so jealous. He told me he makes time to do it and other things have to fit around that in his life. He described walking the hills as true "re-creation". He described it as "spiritual"- that he was being recreated inside while he traveled. I have similar experiences. My modest walks up "my" mount Cargill is like that... "pleasurable". When I get to tramp, just like that.
  • I talked to another man who is battling a bit of a physical set back, he is a year off retirement, and he said of his life, "There's not much to look forward to for the rest of my life!" I did not know what to say to him, he could see little "pleasure" ahead.
  • Then there is the physical/intimate/play pleasure of making love, still pleasurable even at my age.
  • I had a man get two rulers out of his desk. He lined them up end on end and asked me how old I was. He adjusted the length to count off eighty years, then pointed to where I was now on the scale. "See you have not got long to go! You better make sure you pack all the pleasure you can into the remaining time! Life is for living!"
  • I have people telling me to lighten my work load and lead a more balanced life. "You need to have 'pleasure' as well as work in your life!" they say. I must admit I was at a cafe in the country for lunch today and two trampers came in, obviously they had been tramping in the Silver Peaks hills. I glared at them green with envy.
  • But... I sweat over a funeral service for a family this week and presented it yesterday, a Saturday when I would normally have some more relaxed time. As I stepped past the bereaved brother he gave me the most grateful "Thank you". Later he said, "I was proud of you." (I am his workplace chaplain) Other relatives shared their appreciation. His team leader shook my hand and said, "Good job" and a friend of the deceased came up squeezed my hand strongly and said, "Thank you so much! You did that so well." The whole art of crafting and presenting a funeral to suit a particular family is stressful, time consuming, but also incredibly "pleasurable" and fulfilling. It is work, but also it "feeds me and fills me up" in a very deep way.
  • To reach out to others in chaplaincy is challenging, but also "pleasurable". To listen to people and see and feel the world through their eyes is "work", but "pleasurable." Even to be there as people share their conundrums and pain with me, gives me a deep sense of pleasure and privilege to be allowed to identify so closely with another, though I may ache for their predicament.
  • I facilitate groups from time to time. Years ago when I was a Fieldworker I did a lot of this. I sometimes lead chaplains' professional development sessions. I do the odd Critical Incident debriefing group session. It is incredibly full-on work. You are switched on; keeping an eye on everyone in the room; listening intently with ears and mind; your mind going flat tack in dialogue, thinking on your feet the best way to word things; heaps of crafting and preparation sometimes; - all very hard work but... such a deep buzz. So pleasurable to do it well and to see people drawn out and becoming alive before you.
  • To take a biblical passage, open up to the deeper truths within the writing, then craft a service experience that communicates those truths is "pleasurable". Stressful, frustrating and challenging, but deeply creative and pleasurable, like a painter completing a painting.
  • To dig the garden, see vegetables grow and look at your plate filled with food you have produced is deeply pleasurable.
  • To build something useful, to fix a car or repair a plumbing problem is "pleasurable".
I could go on... What on earth constitutes "pleasure"? One point is (though I am not sure I have a clear point only musings) that people who charge me with being a workaholic and imply I have no pleasure in my life miss the point of who I am. I looked at a TV program of people on holiday lying in the sun doing nothing... I tried that once .. for 15 minutes... not pleasurable for me! People say I must learn to just "be". I am just being when I am crafting a sermon, listening to a person, reaching out to someone. It is in moments like that that I feel most highly alive and most fully "being". This is who I am and what I am and it brings me pleasure... I am being.

Anyway, all that to ask the question and muse on it, "What is pleasure?"

Photos: Pleasurable moments;
- Legs sore, body aching completing a half-marathon.
- Me on or near "Pulpit Rock" in the Silver Peaks.
- An illustration of debriefing process used in a training session.
- Working hard building a Habitat house.
- Conducting a wedding.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Statistic and crap!

I know I have already posted today but I need to get this off my chest. I have been a Workplace Support chaplain since February 1994. I have now got four workplaces that I visit regularly. I think it was in my second year of chaplaincy that they decided we should tick boxes and send in statistics. Now we do them on-line and to fit in with national practices. I am struggling to get used to the new system.

I have spent a large part of this morning doing statistics. They do not measure what I do in chaplaincy! They do not measure the ongoing friendship and relationship I have with so many people. The sense of companionship and unspoken support my visits give to people is not measured by boxes and statistics! It is bull shit... crap... or to use the apostle Paul's term, "mere refuse". (Though I understand my aforementioned words would be a more correct translation of the greek) I blame bean counters and computers! They think that life can be measured by these sorts of things. One manager said to me once, "There's so many HR people that know programs and systems, but don't know people!" Another manager said, "I don't need your bloody statistics! I can see how the people under me relate to you. Any manager worth his salt can see that!"

My frustration is that just now with an impending funeral, actual chaplaincy hours to complete, a church coffee area with people gathering who I should be relating too, a radio service to record tomorrow, preparation to do for the weekend, a community Christmas day dinner looming, heaps of incoming phone calls and heaps of parishioners I should be visiting... In God's economy I have more important things to spend my time on!

I HATE statistics!
I bet you when I finally resign as chaplain it will be statistics that drive me to do it. I once got a formal warning from the then CEO about my lack of correct reporting. I nearly resigned then. I remember I walked up my mountain fuming. I decided I liked the job too much, but I did resign from his Critical Incident Response group. My added angst then was that I had been in the office chatting with him and he didn't raise the issue. He must have already posted the letter, why not have the guts to talk face to face? Anyway, I hate statistics, they don't do justice to what I do and waste my valuable time!

Mid-week sound off.

Does truth matter?
I have a friend I talk with regularly. He is very active and in leadership in a suburban church locally. Like lots of churches (Even the Crystal Cathedral apparently) they struggle financially. They have a minister who runs the services there and would like to work full time if they could afford him. Apparently some longstanding members of the church decided they did not like his theology so they were going to leave. The leadership of the church had a meeting with advisory people from their denomination to talk about the situation.

I do not know the theological issues involved so I cannot judge on the specifics. I am just commenting on my friend's perspectives. He said that when this minister started preaching there he was not sure about his theology either. But, and this is what he argued at this meeting of leaders, "the young ones enjoy his preaching so who are we to argue? He is popular with them!" Now that sounds OK at a certain level, and it is pragmatic for a struggling church which could easily close its doors. I would like to point out that there are, however, a lot of "popular" things that we could not condone. The most popular thing on the Internet, I am told, is the porn! A pub in town on special days sells cheap liquor to students, so you have lines of teenage students from early morning waiting to get in and getting drunk by midday. That is popular, but should it happen? What I am saying is that while I am not a stickler for dotting theological "i"s and "t"s, some very questionable theology that we should not allow in our churches can be popular with people. Bringing people in the door should not be the measure of OK'ness. There is for instance, a "prosperity gospel" doing the rounds that really is a Christianised religious formulation of the greed and selfishness that already harms our world. I looked up the Internet about "Christian sustainability" and there were some scary theologies I found. "You don't have to care about this world, ecology, other species etc, God's got it all in hand, live it up 'abundantly' and after all we're just passing through!" That is evil and dangerous theology, but I guess popular in that it affirms selfish lifestyles. I also encounter people whose lives have been limited and damaged by the warped and life-limiting views presented by popular "quick-fix-authoritarian-feel-safe" type Christianity. These may be popular, but they are not in line with Jesus' way, and after all that is what "the Church" is meant to be.

I guess I am saying that ultimately "truth" matters. What I would say is that the "spirit" of what is being presented ultimately matters. Again I would line up the life and ways of Jesus as the measuring stick of that "spirit". (The Old Testament and some of Paul's letters can be made to say anything we want!) That's something my weird mind has been dwelling on since my conversation with my friend.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Why do I get so stressed?

Today is my day off. We got up early to be at a farm by 9 a.m. to pick up six hens as replacements in our henhouse. We prepared boxes for transport and carefully worked out other needs like appropriate feed, sawdust for the floor etc., wrote out our "to do" list and set out on our expedition. Went to the farm first and picked up the hens stuffing them in two boxes in the car. With them on board we went to the refuse tip where they sell bags of sawdust. The shop didn't open till 9:30 so we drove to a cafe for coffee. There I received a phone call and texts from someone in a chaplaincy wanting to see me. I arranged to see them in an hour. We picked up the sawdust, then bought mash and parked at the church while I saw the person wanting attention. Thankfully the hens seemed settled in their boxes. After due discussion we proceeded home. We cleaned up the henhouse a little more, spread the sawdust and loaded the feeder. We then introduced the new hens to their home. They seemed suitably impressed as we retired for some well earned lunch. It was quite a busy morning for a day off.

The thing I want to reflect on is that coffee shop missed call, the texting session and final meeting. Right from the first missed call I could feel stress rising. What does someone need? Can I deliver? What if I muck up? I then met the person and it turns out there is a relative dying in the hospice, would I take a funeral service and would I go meet the patient? It later transpired there is some urgency in meeting the hospice patient so I have agreed to do so tomorrow. Just now I have this black cloud hanging over my head. There is all sorts of uncertainty. Can I do a good job? The person has recommended me because he likes my approach, but can I deliver? Will I put my foot in it? I will be stressed about it till it is all over. Why? My supervisor asks that question. "Have you ever mucked up before? Why the fear of failure?" The person who rang me is confident I am the man for the job. I wish I shared his confidence. Tomorrow I have to fit in this scary visit. Think of me.... The funny thing is that once there and I begin to connect with the patient I will probably forget myself and be OK. There is a deeper life then flowing. But just now a black cloud.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sunday speculations...

Health status...
Since I grumped about my health in the last post I need to tell you I am healthy again, and it is soooo good. On Friday night I did not mix too much with the drop-in folks because I was coping with a niggly back, a sore knee and an uncomfortable lower abdomen. On Saturday morning I awoke and apart from a bit of a sore knee and back, my tummy which had bugged me all week was OK. After doing some manual type work in the morning I decided to go for a slow walk up my mountain. It turned out faster than I had intended and my knee hurt a bit coming down, but I felt so much more alive after the exercise and bush. Tonight I went for a 7k run with my friend and realised I could still run OK. The old man is back!

Where are the Kiwis?
As I say I went up my mountain. It never ceases to surprise me how few people are walking up there. The scenery from the top is great, even if it is fog. The bush is serene. People pay big sums in gym fees to walk on a treadmill when in the city you can have this magical walk. I came across 4 groups of people, two couples, a family group and a man and his dog. The couples and the man with his dog were Americans. The family group sounded as if they were Spanish or something like that, certainly not New Zealanders. Where are the kiwis? We love to have this image of fit outdoorsy type people. But is it true?

A sad waste!
I know a lady who was to celebrate her eightieth birthday this weekend. People were coming to her town from far and near to be with her. But the party never happened. Her 18 year old grandson killed himself experimenting with sniffing petrol! She is devastated! How truly sad this is. A likable, friendly, happy young man wiped out while trying to get some extra kicks out of life. Then we have the spectacle of teenagers up north trying some sort of choking game that has and can also kill them. Why? There is a man, perhaps in his late 40's - 50's, in hospital now waiting to die. His vital organs have been so severely damaged by abuse of alcohol, drugs and smoking. I have known him for at least 20 years. He used to come into my office, have a cup of tea and chat with me. I allowed him to go up to the church piano because he would never have one of his own. He would sit playing it (jazz style) and sing. He had quite a nice crooning type voice. "I believe" was one of his favourites, and he would play the keys with the flare and flourish of an entertainer. He told me that he used to be in a musical group touring around playing at a variety of venues. He also loved to play guitar. But he has wasted his life with too much alcohol and drugs and now sadly he is dying. He was a regular at our Christmas day dinner, often at our drop-in centre and I am going to be sad he won't be around. He and I have had quite a few "adventures" over the years. Why do we do these life destroying things to make life more exciting or bearable? What are we lacking in our values, culture and lifestyle that makes us want to do such things?

I was lazily browsing the Internet the other day and noticed an article on how to get through Christmas and end of year parties without causing yourself damage through over use of alcohol. I have been drinking a tad more alcohol than I used to so I thought I better check it out. (I would still break the heart of any shareholder in a brewery or vineyard and can still say I have never been drunk) It gave the differences between men and women and a whole heap of information about what alcohol does to the body and brain. I was surprised at the information and the impact that even quite low amounts of alcohol can have. (e.g. I did not know that for women the risk of breast cancer increases. .. men to have increased risk factors) I like a beer or two, a sherry or wine. I did enjoy Polish vodka. But I do know we have a major problem with our use of alcohol in our country. Again why do we do it to such a destructive extent?

I leave you with a quotation from the great Albert Schweitzer. He was lecturing students at a graduation ceremony. He said;

"I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve."

It has struck me how true this is as I have observed my life and the lives of those about me recently. I am happiest serving others. ........ I am off to crack a bottle of beer now..... NZ lost the sevens rugby, the cricket team is doing no good... but life is still ok.

- Our lone hen. She is quite a few years old, was originally one of six good layers but her mates have all died one by one of old age. She is still laying. Tomorrow six new ones arrive.
- Boring! Same old! ... shots from my mountain walk. I do enjoy the mountain it is "healing".

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Crook again...

For the last few weeks I have had a wheezy chest after a bad cold/flu thingy. I think I am over that by Monday. Starting on Saturday I have had all sorts of niggling hassles. My back, my knee, my tummy and my head. I am getting around like a stiff old man and dragging myself around with no energy. I cannot really say I am sick enough to take time off, the work needs doing, but it is so annoying. I can't seem to shake it, the pains seem to move around my body. I am not sure what a doctor would say, there seem to be so many unrelated things making life difficult. There is something "mechanical" with my knee, I can touch the sore spot. The rest I am not sure of. I am scared to go to a doctor because I would not know how to begin to describe what is going on. A few weeks ago I was on top of the world, losing weight, running well and getting fitter. Now I have gone backwards, it is so annoying!

Then I watched on TV last night an attractive woman who a year ago completed a triathlon, but now confined to a wheel chair, she cannot even speak because of a motor neuron disease which will eventually take her life. No that would be really annoying.

I have just now received a phone call informing me that a close relative has been given a maximum of 2 years to live. That too would be annoying.

So I am not 100%, but better than a lot of people. I should count my blessings.

To younger ones among my readers. Value your health and ability to exercise while you can. Everything gets a little harder as you get older.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thinking out loud...

Sun, birdsong and beauty thumbnails.
Here are some pictures from my life in NZ over the last few days;
* Coming home to Sawyers Bay, 10-15 minutes out of the city centre and hardly hearing a sound. In the midst of bush and farmland we have a great place to withdraw to after busy days.
* Riding my bike beside the Otago Harbour. The green hills, the sea, the bays are simply beautiful.
* I came home from a run and climbed out of the car and was struck by the birdsong coming out of the trees and bush all around. I never heard such birdsong overseas.
* Lying on the grass verge by my car in the sun, soaking up its warmth. A week ago at the same time I was running into a cold rain almost blowing horizontally. It is never the same, but some how that is good to.
In spite of an earthquake in Christchurch and the tragic Pike River Mine Disaster, New Zealand is a beautiful place to live.

29 lives lost in the Pike River mine and other tragic lives lost.
I have been very sad about the 29 men who lost their lives in the Pike River mine disaster. It has struck a deep chord with us in NZ. There are condolence books to sign. We are raising money for the families. We are lighting candles and holding church services. It has hit us in NZ very hard and there is a public outpouring of grief. There are people wanting an enquiry and wanting to know what happened and why it happened. All sorts of sentimental messages are being sent around about the 29 dead which are loving and an expression of support. As nice as these are, they do not change the harsh reality that 29 dads, sons, partners, husbands, uncles and friends are dead. It is very sad.

It has hit us because in a moment 29 lives were wiped out. I do not want to detract from the tragedy in anyway, what I want to say is let's use this tragedy to truly value human life. Let me put beside it other sad statistics though. Because of our gung-ho attitude toward driving we kill over 29 people on our roads every month! Do we grieve these lives? We should be just as shocked and distraught at this tragic waste of life. We will demand that mines be safer because of the tragedy at Pike River. But do I let the monthly death toll on our roads change my aggressive driving habits? Another statistic is that if we add another 10 to 29, we get roughly the number of people (including children) killed in family violence in a year in NZ. (There must be heaps more injuries and other hurts)
The mine and these statistics are VERY sad. People are valuable! Let's do all we can to keep them alive, enhance their living and make them know they are valuable.

Deep fulfillment.
I am often frustrated with my life. I often ask myself or God "Why can't I be pastor to some wildly growing church?" I find myself wondering if I am "successful"? But lately I have been reminded of some positives.
* At lunch time we dropped a man off at his boarding house and as we drove away I said to my wife, "He's a different man than what he used to be isn't he?" It is true, and I have been a big part of that. How good is that?
* I have had several people, now adults with families, who were in youth groups I have run come up to me and say that my ministry has given them a good basis for their life. How good is that?
* On Friday I asked a fire fighter how he was. "I am much better now after talking to you the other day." I thought he was just joking but he was serious. As far as he was concerned, simply by listening, I had helped him greatly. He said, "That's how it works! That's why we have you." How good is that?
* My wife and I counted up relatively new faces within the orbit of our church life and the contribution these people are making. There was a surprising number on the list.
* I met a woman who was a lecturer at a social work course I did in 1994. As we caught up and talked, I began to tell her the various things I had been involved in since then. I realised that there have been a lot of good things I had been fortunate enough to achieve.

That's enough. At the moment I feel deeply fulfilled. That is a very rewarding. I might get grumpy next week but just now, life is sweet.

* A shrub in our backyard
* The Silver Peaks hills near here.
* A view from our back paddock. NZ - a nice place to live.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Experts galore..about Pike River Mine.

I am just home from my drop-in centre. Often at my drop-in I am tempted to be unkind. Sometimes some people, who have not got a job, who have limited education and experience of life can tend to be very opinionated. They will tell me how to run my church, the drop-in centre and what is wrong with everyone else. Often I feel like saying, "How come if you are so knowledgeable you haven't got a job and you have to come to the drop-in for a free feed?" I think this opinionated approach to issues is part of the kiwi male way of expressing themselves. I don't know how many men I have come across who express definite opinions about what the rescuers should have done at the mine! "The pack of wooses! They should have bitten the bullet and gone in!" "There's a window of opportunity. They mucked around too much!" and so it goes on. I would guarantee that none of the guys I have heard pontificating have ever been down a mine! ... but still suddenly they are mine experts. ... OSH health experts! They know how to lead a police operation! etc. etc. We currently have so many mine experts in NZ that we should take over the world's mines! Every body is an expert.

I don't get nasty at these pontifications. What they are really saying is "I am sad that these guys are dead. I cannot comprehend how that can happen. It is unfair!" The world in "God's own" has come up with this unjust, very sad tragedy and they are trying to come to terms with it. They do not exactly know how to make contact with and name their feelings so they lash out in any way to try to somehow make sense of it all.

It is true that we men do not know how to name and express feelings. In my experience "know-alls" are often trying to give expression to some deep feeling - often related to some sort of insecurity. What we should be saying is really; "I am deeply sad and disturbed by this tragedy. It is hard to comprehend and I feel for the families and anyone associated with it. I know bugger all about mines, but I wish the outcome was different!"

But then again I am sounding like a know-all myself! Please put up with us kiwi male know-alls, listen to the insecure, frightened little boys behind the bluster, and be please be patient with us.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I am fortunate indeed...

I grump about my job often. There is no doubt that ministry in the NZ Churches of Christ for someone of my theological ilk is going to be tough. It is also true that trying to be a christian workplace chaplain, making conversation and "being all things to all people" in our secular culture is a difficult job. But when I think about it, it is also very interesting. I have talked with some good and interesting people today and I will share with you a list of some of them.

This morning I talked with Don the unofficial historian for the brewery. He is always interesting to chat with because he has a mind for detail and a sense of humour to go with it. While at the brewery I talked with the manager there about all sorts of things. I talked with an engineer about his plans for a bit of machinery.

I had my chaplaincy "appraisal" today with the CEO of Workplace Support southern region. She is always very positive and encouraging and we have the same questions and dreams for expressing the way of Jesus. It was an encouraging hour. We met at Starbucks and while there I had conversations with the girl who served us (the daughter of a member of our congregation.. she wraps the presents for our Christmas day dinner) a man I know who came in on his disability scooter, and another fire service employee. (It seems like there are few places I can go in town where someone does not recognise me. My wife and daughter complain about this when I am in the street with them.)

At lunch time I shared for a time in a conversation group related to sustainability, brainstormed on songs with my organist and spent half an hour meeting with my elders.There were phone conversations with people who were volunteering for Christmas day.

On my walk to the chaplaincy site this afternoon I bumped into a lawyer guy who has assisted with Christmas Day dinners and who I knew was looking for me to make a donation from his firm this year. He greeted me warmly, calling me "Dave, my boy." This afternoon I talked to reporters and photographers at the newspaper. It is very interesting learning about their jobs and the things they report on. While there I spent time with one of the editors. On my way back to the office I talked to the guy who sweeps the streets.

These are just some of the conversations I have had in my work today. As I walked down the footpath after my conversation with the street sweeper I thought, "How lucky am I!" From a manager of a brewery, to an editor in a newspaper, journalists, greenies, horse racing writers, the street sweeper and many more - such a wide range of people! - And all in their way so interesting! Who else in their work in one day would get to talk to such a wide range of people? I should not growl.

"Some people would not wave..."
The street sweeper's name is Daryl. I bump into him about once a week and often stop to chat, since he called into my office years ago to ask about something. He is christian guy who while sweeping the streets is watching people and thinking, and often has amazing insights into life. While I was in Starbucks talking with my CEO he walked past down the footpath outside and saw me sitting at the table. He quickly averted his eyes, but I waved to him and thought nothing of it. When I saw him on my way back from the newspaper after 5 p.m. I went up to him and asked him how many hours a day he worked. We chatted and when I went to go away he said something which is quite sad in some ways. He said, "Cheers for stopping and chatting, I really appreciate it." Then he said, "Cheers for waving at me in Starbucks. A lot of people I know when they see me when they are with someone else, would not wave, they think its not ...." he hesitated... "the proper thing to do. But you waved and that was nice." ..... We can be such stupid snobs, can't we? But in the long run we miss out. He may be "just the street sweeper" but he adds to my life. I can multiply my total experience of life by seeing life through his eyes.

I am lucky... remind me of that from time to time.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When do you jump ship & what's the option?

I was doing some reading in books and on line for Advent Sunday preparation last night. Somehow I got onto a video of a sermon by Bishop John Spong looking into the reason for anti-gay/lesbian feelings and action in the Christian Church. He spoke of Roman Catholic history and circumstance. He spoke of Evangelical Fundamentalist Christian perspectives but then raised a good point about Christianity in general. I sat there saying "AMEN" and "You tell them" to what he was saying. It is often for me a deep matter of feeling like I am in the wrong place, and even a matter of honesty and integrity.

What he pointed out was that often the view of God and humanity presented in hymns, liturgy and christian teaching is extremely negative. We are victimized when we go to church. He told of attending a Church service within his own Dioceses and counting 54 requests for "mercy" from God! He quoted well known and popular Christian songs as calling humans "worms" and "wretch" and such like. (e.g. "Amazing Grace" ... that saved a wretch like me") He pointed out how we have this old substitution theory of Jesus "paying the price" with his blood to a vengeful God. He quoted hymns focused on "the blood" - "washed in the blood", "fountain of blood" etc. etc. He said that we have this picture of God "taking us out to the woodshed and he is going to beat us his naughty children. But at the last moment Jesus steps in and takes the beating for us... because we can't take it." He pointed out that again and again in Christian songs and services we are put down as evil, sinful and nasty pieces of work, and that God the angry judge is after us. He is saying that this comes through in mainline christian worship... not just nasty fundamentalist worship. He goes on to say that we are victimised in church. We come out feeling guilty and beaten up and so, he says, beaten up people often look for others to beat up. This is the reason we Christians often pick on anybody different, such as gay/lesbian folk and others who do not conform.

He then finished with the plea that the "way" we see in Jesus sees God as the source of love and we are to love freely and wastefully. God is the source of life and we are to live it fully and freely. We are not meant to be grovelling, snivelling and fearful human beings but called to live positively, reaching up and out to be all that we can be - reaching our potential as Christ reached his.

I agree. But I will look through our song books for Sunday and there are few songs, ancient and modern, that do not pass on this negative aspect of Christianity. I will allow lay people to pray at the communion table and often (less often than it used to happen thank God) their prayers will focus on "the blood" and this negative aspect of humanity. I received Christmas resources from the Bible Society and they tend to depict this distorted image of Christianity. I was at a chaplaincy yesterday and one guy came out with a heap of expletives. "Hey" said another guy jokingly, "We have a man of the cloth here, he does not want to hear all that filthy language. You'll get hit by lightening!" He was joking but on a serious note the "default" view of God, the Church and "the clergy" that many have is one of negativity, judgement and that they will see them as "sinful wretches".

My question is... I am hooked on Jesus and seek to follow him, and express his positive way. (Along with me, Spong loves John 10:10 Jesus saying, "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly") I think truly significant, useful and fulfilling life is found in Jesus. But.... Christianity has all this negative baggage! How can you work in Church or within Christianity when there is so much distortion of the way of Jesus? There is one channel I struggle to get on our TV. I adjust the rabbits ears, but again and again the picture becomes too snowy, ghosty or distorted. I will get up and fiddle with the aerial repeatedly. Often eventually I will tune out of that channel and switch to another. Is the Church's picture of Christ "too snowy, ghosted or distorted" to be bothered keeping on trying to adjust the channel? When does the distorted baggage that the church carry become too much of a burden as a follower of Jesus, and you must ditch the church?

Many of my colleagues have done that. I am constantly tempted to do that. Often on Sunday as I read the words of a hymn I feel my gut twisting inside! (But often too that hymn is the best of a pretty bad bunch - I hate trying to choose hymns) But the question I ask is "where else is the way of Jesus promoted?" If I dump the institution where else is there where Jesus' very relevant way can be promoted? Of course I can opt out and remain a follower of Jesus, but somehow as a follower of Jesus there needs to be some place where the Jesus story and way are recited - a point of reminder for the community at large. At the moment all we have is "the church". ... It needs changed. To me it would seem like I was being gutless if I followed the crowd out of the church. Enough people, lay and clergy, need to bite the bullet and stay to keep asking the questions, nudging and prodding the old girl in more sane, wholesome, Jesus-like directions. Too many have left, and we are left with the people preaching the "people controlling" distortion! I am glad that "emerging Christianity" or "progressive Christianity" seems to be taking hold. Probably it is all too late for me to enjoy. I will have to struggle on in the often misunderstood task of trying my best to represent and get the church to represent Jesus. But I sense there are less distorted options approaching for generations ahead. .....Thank God.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pike river Coal mine...

The horrible wait...
I first heard about the Pike River Coal mine explosion when I was visiting a fire station on Friday. One of the guys was following the call-out information and incident reports on the Fire Service internet links. Being chaplain to fire fighters and ambulance officers I know that they will be frustrated that they cannot complete their job. As I write the rescuers are not able to get into the mine and rescuers, ambulance staff, fire fighters, family, the West Coast community and indeed the whole country wait for the fourth night of uncertainty. Some how because I have been involved with emergency staff and various incidents from time to time I have been quite distracted and upset by this Pike River situation. There is a part of me who would love to be there to support the emergency staff, but they will have their support systems, it is out of my patch. But, like everybody in the country, I feel for their situation.

The media...
I am thankful for the media when they give information at a time like this. But I have been growing increasingly concerned by the sorts of things that the media people are doing. When there was the terrible mass shooting down the road from here at Aromoana I recall the actions of some media people. I was in Port Chalmers and two obviously grieving people came out of the Port Chalmers Police Station. One was weeping and quite distraught, the other supporting and comforting her friend. As they walked down the street two men with a TV camera and microphone were keeping pace with them filming them and trying to ask questions. The comforter was beckoning them away, her friend obviously did not want this media attention, but still they persisted. It was so intrusive and insensitive. I get the same feeling about media in Greymouth at this event. They are there to get a story, but nothing much is happening, so they are trying to fill their time slots by asking stupid, intrusive and annoying questions of locals who are struggling to come to terms with what is happening.

To the media people I would say, please find facts out for us. We all want to know, we feel for the people involved. But please, please don't make make what is already a terrible event a more difficult event by being intrusive, insensitive and dragging up stories out of nothing. Please don't inflame an already tense and complicated situation. Please don't keep asking the same stupid questions, you already know that the people in control do not know some of the answers for. If they knew the answers they would be acting on that knowledge.

Business house fun run...
I ran in a business house fun run tonight. I ran for the brewery team. I had hoped to have my running friend as a guest runner with us but the man responsible for putting our names in failed to put her's in. I used to run for Speights Brewery frequently, but have not done it for a number of years. When I heard it was coming up and I was running fairly freely, I agreed to be part of the team. It was a good thing I did, because you need a team of three, and on the day that is all there was of us. I growled all day about going. I got stressed because I was part of a team and I might let the team down. I am still getting over a cold/flu type thing and get wheezy easily at the moment and wondered how I would go in a race. I knew I am not running as well as I was three weeks ago, so was scared that I would make a fool of myself. My friend Don at Speights can be impatient with people who let the side down, so I felt stressed by the whole idea of going in this race.
I turned up. We were entered in the 5k race. As I looked around on the start line I estimated that I was probably the oldest in the race. My team mate looked around and agreed with me. I ran and quickly became aware that I was not as full of energy or as strong as I have been even a week ago, and I was breathing heavily. People were passing me, (though some of them stopped and walked later) and I thought I was going to disgrace myself. I kept going and even managed to put a bit of extra speed on as I came up to the line. I crossed the finish line and walked to the end of the shoot. They had a clock there that read 27 minutes, 5 seconds as I passed. I reckon that's not bad for an overweight, ailing sixty two year old. I was far from last to finish. I was expecting to be met with scathing disappointment from my friend Don and my team mates, but the opposite was the case. Don said, "You did well." He used to be an ardent runner but now faces a disabling illness. "It is years ago since I could run under thirty minutes for 5k!" he said admiringly.
I was so pleased I went, even though I was grumpy about doing it. There is something exhilarating about being among runners in a race. While I knew I could have done better on a different day, I was pleased to do as well as I did. It made me feel more alive and younger. I must admit though that when I finished there was only one place I wanted to go. Jimmy, one of my team mates, called out from the other side of the track, "Well done Dave! We are over here!" I responded with, "Tell me - where are the dunnies?" I needed a loo! That's what happens when you are an old man.