Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Friday, April 30, 2010

Pictures of my "office".

These are pictures of my "office" where I spent two hours preparing my sermon and getting exercise this afternoon. (Men can do two things at once!) My "boss" provides a pretty well decorated space.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

ANZAC day question?

To take a break from ranting about consumerism.... now about ANZAC day. I need to say that in theory and in principle I am a pacifist. (Though it has never been tested and I admit that I could quite easily slide into using force to combat evil.) I think any war is a civil or family war, brother and sister fighting brother and sister. But that does not stop me honouring our fallen, and past and present service people. As a child I devoured the history of war. (Not just war comics ... though those too.) Winston Churchill was a hero of mine, I read his biography and admired stories of his war time leadership. My Dad served in the artillery in the eighth Army and ended up a Regimental Sargent Major. I still have his medals and the New Testament he carried with him throughout the war. I honour people who, in their time, loved their country, their freedoms and their way of life so much that they saw it as their duty as a citizen to join the army to defend it.... even though I may have questions about the tactic. Such commitment to the common good is laudable.

Secondly I love New Zealand. We have much to be proud of in our history. We sang four verses of the national anthem in Church on Sunday and I always get a catch in my throat when I sing it.

So ANZAC day is OK with me. My beef is with a statement you often hear around ANZAC day. The date of the day is chosen because NZ troops landed in Gallipoli for a long and bloody battle in the Dardanelles. In that action which lasted, I think - eight months, there were 8450 NZ soldiers landed on the beaches there. 2721 of them were killed. 4752 were wounded. (a casualty rate of something like 88%) The whole episode was a badly planned disaster that cost untold lives of allied forces as well as heavy Turk casualties. Not just bullets and shells did the killing, but the cold and disease ... it was a horrible experience for those involved. It was a defeat. Militarily speaking there was no gain in the whole campaign. The best part of the whole operation was the retreat and departure. It went very well with virtually no casualties. My guess is that if it happened in a wartime operation today, there would be an inquiry and "heads would roll" ... My hero Winston was one of the heads.

The statement that irks me is often made by prime ministers, was made by the leader of the opposition on the radio the other night, and by endless journalists and radio announcers. The statement goes something like this: "What happened at ANZAC cove 'made us' (or 'shaped us') as a nation". It seems to be suggested that somehow this military action was a "rite of passage" that caused us somehow to be the nation we are today. How?

How did it "make us" as a nation? How were we "shaped as the nation we are today" by that? Nobody explains that!
The cynical side of me says that if we were "made" or "shaped" by a military blood bath, a military disaster and a place where the precious life of men was counted as cheap, and men were treated as cannon fodder, then pity help us!!!

I honour our service people on ANZAC day, the commitment and sacrifice they made. But can any one explain to me why this strange statement is repeated time after time? And just how did such an event "make" us?

Consumerism II...

I am going to continue ranting about consumer driven society and our over emphasis on economic growth. I see and experience the reality of human misery on lots of fronts because of this and I ache for people I know and others in real poverty overseas exacerbated because it is true that "our greed causes others' need"..

During a winter Thursday night in our church building a year or so ago, we had a workshop happening in the chapel, a ladies group in the hall, another group in a smaller room and an Alcoholics Anonymous group in the upstairs hall. Umpteen heaters and lights were burning and throughout the night I was up and down to the fuse board at least three times. It was simply overloaded. What I (and others) would argue is that at several levels our western society goals, values and lifestyle is overloading the systems in our world. In this post I want to say that the focus on excess spending, status, and "keeping up with the Jones mentality" overloads, and blows family fuses. I quote a from a man who was a counsellor in the Campbell centre in Christchurch;

"In marriage counselling it has become clear to me that western society is a bad place in which to be married. Work takes the creative, energising hours of each day (and lifetime) and couples are expected to build meaningful, durable, romantic relationships at the fag-end of the day when both are exhausted. The question I put to couples early in counselling is "How much meaningful time do you have together?" The operative word is 'meaningful'. Not just both at home or both in the same room, but meaningful. I meet very few couples who come for counselling who can claim even half an hour per week!"

Unfortunately I would have to agree with that. I had a man come to me to ask for help with his marriage. His wife had left him for another guy she had met in her work. I began to ask questions. They had retired from the military on a reasonable income, but were still relatively young. They had a nice house but wanted more. He had two jobs going, one a night time cleaning money making venture. She had a busy day time job. I asked when they got to see one another... and the answer was really just at breakfast before they rushed out the door. Why? Because they wanted more! They were already better off than most! When I worked out the time they had to relate I simply said, "No wonder she went elsewhere!" Fortunately we were able to help them get back together, but I could report from my experience of couple after couple where a driveness for more money has slowly but surely driven a wedge into their relationship. I led a group once in a rural area about family life and a middle aged couple in the group told us their story. He had developed skills that were wanted by farmers around him. He formed a company that grew and kept growing. He was extremely successful, and she had a wee retail business. But a child's difficulties suddenly made them realise that they had essentially stopped relating. With tears in their eyes they told how they collapsed into bed each night for a few hours sleep, but they had essentially become strangers. They could no longer talk. They dropped everything and went away for a week, to re-evaluate their lifestyle, and came through with different goals. But they earnestly warned the other couples in the group about how easily you can unintentionally ruin family life by misplaced priorities. Busyness in the hunger for more, often means couples' relationship stagnates. Sometimes at some stage they have blown apart, at other times they have continued to exist in a sham of a marriage, both lonely and hurting deeply, but outwardly holding together and looking "successful".

I could report of many wider families who have been blown apart over greed for money. Some perceived unfairness in family dealings or some greed over family possessions. I once went to visit a family where elderly dad had just died and was still "warm" in the bedroom. I went into the lounge and was comforting or listening to his widow tell their story. It was a difficult job, however, because adult children were already arguing loudly about their inheritance in the kitchen!

We overload important relationships, destroying them often because our society's values encourage us to put relationships in second place or as less important than wealth. Our measure of "success" in life is often related to "how much" we own, rather than the wholeness of our being or the health of our relationships.

We even overload our own health and well being. The extensive use of tranquilizers, anxiety related health problems, self-medication on drugs or alcohol and the common feeling that you are trapped in a rat race that you cannot opt out of are indicators that all is not right in the way we live and the goals we follow.

I have seen too much happiness, too much health and too many relationships sacrificed to the god of the dollar. There has to be a more balanced way of living.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Delving into my notes and quotes about "Living light" (or living simply) I came across this quotation from Erich Fromm in a book called "The art of Loving". Fromm was an American psychoanalyst. I think he is so right in this description of how we often are in today's western society. He writes....

"Having fun lies in the satisfaction of consuming and 'taking in' commodities, sights, food, drinks, cigarettes, people, lectures, books, movies- are all consumed, swallowed. The world is one great object for our appetite, a big apple, a big bottle, a big breast; we are the sucklers, the eternally expectant ones, the hopeful ones - and the eternally disappointed ones. Our character is geared to exchange and to receive, to barter and consume; everything, spiritual as well as material objects, become an object of exchange and of consumption."

As a minister who gets trapped into trying to please various people's tastes in worship I have often been frustrated at how this consumerism in our attitudes impacts even our church going. It impacts on how we relate in families, in our work and in our friendships. They too become places where "barter, consumption and exchange" attitudes cause us to treat each other as "objects".

The other difficulty for someone like me who is trying to communicate the way of Jesus in this sort of society is that His "way" is virtually directly the opposite of these common cultural values and attitudes. I am (stupidly) trying to call people to follow one who said such things as;

"If you love only the people who love you, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good to those who do good to you, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners do that! And if you lend only to those from whom you hope to get it back, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount! No! Love your enemies and do good to them; lend and expect nothing back. You will then be children of the most high God. For he is good to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful."

We could quote many other texts that say similar things. Jesus is the one who told one rich man to sell what he had and give to the poor. Jesus himself lived a giving lifestyle, with generous attitudes, (too generous for his enemies liking) which led to conflict and death. He gave his all and called us to a self-giving lifestyle. These ideals and the life of Jesus challenge the very values at the heart of our society. It is so hard to swim against the tide. Historically the church has found this difficult. We have changed the religion to make it focus on the reward of heaven. We have altered its emphasis from lifestyle to belief, doctrines and such. Or we have turned our churches into a commodity that we market. By doing these things we have been shaped by the world around us rather than the Spirit of Jesus. It seems the pragmatic thing to do and we slide into the ways our culture. It is hard too for we who try to communicate this emphasis, because we too have been shaped by our culture and find it too easy to go with the flow, rather than challenge these deeply entrenched values. Jesus in his teaching makes it plain that the God he calls us to follow, the ultimate spirit or movement at the heart of the universe is ridiculously, lovingly generous! If we are in tune with that life force we'll catch the same "gene".

The positive point that Jesus himself struggled to communicate is that ultimately these consumerism values bring wasted living, emptiness and destruction to our life and relationships and do not bring fulfillment and wholeness. They are unhealthy. In Fromm's terms we will be "eternally disappointed". He was no kill joy, he just wanted us to experience a fullness and depth in our living. He invited us to a way of life that is free from the downward pull of such attitudes.

My final comment is that I have sat at the death bed of a number of people. The ones I find who are able to die peacefully are those who have invested themselves in love and in people. Those who have prized material goods and consumerism, have a deep emptiness because "they can't take it with them".

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Good vibes

Returning home.
In 1981 in just about my last service in my Palmerston North ministry, we had a whole pile of visiting Australian young people who were in NZ for a Youth Convention. I led the service on the theme of "Traveling Light". I had become convinced that we in the western world travel with too much baggage and make too much of an impact on the world we live in. For the next few years we explored this whole area of living. As a field worker I ran groups on "Living Light". We in our lifestyle lived for a while a self-sufficient "Good-life" lifestyle. I believed this was important. Years ago I read a book by John V Taylor called "Enough is Enough" and became a convert long before these things were more fashionable. When I explored it in groups at the beginning of this ministry I recall it being rubbished by various people. I have generally shut up about it, though we have continued to try to live something of a simple lifestyle, seeking to live generously and aware of our impact on the planet.

We have been getting to know a woman who is running "Sustainable Living" courses in our Church building. Her name is Maureen and we enjoy her passion, have learned from her and been reminded of things we used to be more vocal about years ago. Last week she led our "Conversation Group" on the subject of "Voluntary Simplicity". Afterward I dug into my file cabinet and found the outline of courses I used to run on the subject and a folder full of notes, articles and quotes. I will share something of these in future posts. It is interesting that this is once again emerging in my life.

On Saturday Maureen was hosting a workshop in our Church's Space2B area on "Bikes and Sustainability." People brought their different bikes in. I felt I should be there to act as local host setting up and making sure people felt at home. I cycled in and my rusty old bike joined the others. I learned about various electric assist bikes, cargo bikes and bikes and trailers made from other people's thrown out stuff. But much more than that I enjoyed the people.

There were all sorts of people there. University professors and graduates. Young people and older people. People from overseas and good old Kiwis. But they had passion! They lived their life mindful of the impact they were having on the environment! They were passionate about justice! They were anti-consumerism and yet very much fun and full of life and appreciation of life! I don't know, but my guess is that while most of them may have started in Christian homes, they had now outgrown their religion. But they were concerned that their lifestyle was ethical in its impact. They had wide circles of concern. They were global citizens. For me it felt like I was coming home. I was, for once, among people I could feel at home among. I was not the oddball on a different wave length like I feel in most circles. I was so so pleased that these people were making themselves at home in my church building and that we were encouraging them in their journey. I did wonder why the average "Christian" would find themselves not on their wave length? To me their attitudes were a natural implication of the way of Jesus and faith in the God Jesus portrayed. I was rapt when one young man who works with young people in this whole area, asked if he could use our church building as a base. We will make it happen. It is feeling like my life has come in a circle and I can be freer to express myself in these areas again.

"Community Development"?
On Friday I had reason to meet a woman I knew years ago. She had taught a series of sessions in a Social and Community work course I took in 1994. Now she is linked with University Social work courses. As we talked, prior to my reminding her where we had met before, she said, "You have been doing 'community development' in different ways in Dunedin for years haven't you?" I responded that, yes.. I had been around for a while. She said, "It seems like I am constantly coming across your name and your activities." I guess I had never categorised my work as "community development". I was trying to communicate to her what Space2B was all about and it helped focus it in my mind. I said that I was wanting Space2B to be a hub or centre for "life enhancing activities" to take place. I wanted life enhancing groups to feel they can attach themselves to us and we can help resource them. I was pleased with her positive feedback.

At the end of this week I am more positive that Space2B is going to be a success and a very relevant community orientated expression of the church. Funny when last week I wanted to chuck it all in. I am weird!

Photos: Bikes in Church.
and a heavy cloud formation from the top of "my" mountain during a lovely walk this afternoon.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

One of those days...

I had one of those days today. No I am not going to grump again. It was a very busy day, not enough hours or energy in it, but with a good measure of success in it.
  • Because our log burner had not been performing lately I got up, had breakfast and before I went into the office I swept the chimney. The roof was a bit slippery with the dew, but the log burner is functioning well tonight.
  • After a quick shower, I ventured into the office, checked emails etc. had a cup of coffee (beautifully brewed I must say) then went to my latest chaplaincy, the one I have been struggling to feel at home in. I had a good couple of hours. Had meaningful conversations with a number of people I had not shared with before and ventured into the television station area. I explained to the manager there that someone had told me not to call there in my afternoon visits, but he reassured me, telling me to call any time, "You are one of the family, feel welcome to come in." I got to stand in a studio as they prepared for a programme. It was a heart warming visit.
  • Over lunch in Space 2B something good happened. It is my dream for Space2B to be a centre where all sorts of things happen. We have a Settlement Resource program running and making great strides, centred on Wednesday lunch times. New settlers are being assisted. My dream is for different groups, positive life enhancing movements and community projects to attach themselves to Space2B and operate from our church community base. Or that Space2B will facilitate the formation of groups doing life enhancing stuff in the community. A woman we have got to know and appreciate runs sustainability programs for the city council, using our church building. We have used her for a Space2B workshop and I had floated the idea of a Sustainability centre based at Space2B. Her and I had emailed back and forth about this around Christmas/New Year, but neither of us had moved on about it. I felt I did not want to push her into something she may not want to do. Well while I was eating my lunch she came in and in her lilting Irish voice said, "Now David, we have to talk about an environment centre." I said "Yes, let's!" and we began to plan for a beginning in September, focusing on Thursday lunch times, building in other workshops and resources. My dream is evolving as I had hoped! Watch this space! "Sustainable Living Hub @ Space2B" is emerging!
  • We lost a pianist last year with the young Korean lady who used to play for us moving overseas. Today I think I have finalised things with a replacement.
  • I finished the day with a 5.5k run. It was a nice night for running. I have to admit that it was harder than I thought and every other runner was faster than me, (I am sure they were half my age though) but it is good to get a mid week run in.
I came home feeling that life wasn't too bad after all. :-)

Photo: The log burner operating as it should... the first success of the day.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A minister/chaplain, forgetting the basics.

I have been convicted today. Not by a some law official or court judge, but by an inner "voice".

At lunch time I was sitting in our Space2B area at the back of the church having my lunch. There was a group of people around me in easy chairs with several conversations going on about me. I was talking to a woman beside me, genuinely interested in her.... but during one of her answers I was distracted by something that was said in another conversation across the coffee table. I pulled myself up, and thought, "How rude... I didn't catch the last part of her sentence! I was not listening respectfully!" ... I struggled there because I tried, as a minister to keep an eye on the movement and flow of the conversations. I was worried that these people, some of whom were strangers to each other, were feeling included, or were not being put off by others etc etc. But that "professional" concern meant that I was not as attentive in the one-on-one conversation as I should have been.... and those one-on-one conversations matter. By my inattentiveness I could be communicating, "You don't matter! You are insignificant!" I certainly would not want to do that.

I went from there around to one of my chaplaincy sites, the latest one I have taken on. On the way I bumped into a man from another chaplaincy. We got talking and we had a short, but meaningful conversation. We have a warm relationship toward each other, are relaxed together and conversation flows freely along with humour. When he learned where I was headed, he asked about how it was going. So we talked briefly about that.

When I got to my chaplaincy site I started talking to the workers there. It is my new chaplaincy, so I am all worried about how I am doing. Will I make a success of it? Will they accept me? How can I break through to these people? As I was talking and relating, in my mind I was comparing my conversation with the one I had just had in the street. It was then that I was convicted. Both conversations were with chaplaincy "clients", but I was different. In the one in the street, I was relaxed about me and concentrating on the other. I suddenly realised that, in the new chaplaincy site I was too much worried about me! As I conversed, I was all of the time wondering about my performance. I was trying to calculate whether I was being a "good chaplain", what sort of impression I was making and if I was being accepted. I should have been just purely and simply interested in the other person, attending genuinely to them and "there" for and with them. It is one of those things where you are a good chaplain if you forget about being a good chaplain, stop worrying about yourself, and focus on and attend to the people before you. Jesus said, "If you lose yourself you find yourself." ... well something like that. The inner conviction I had was, "stop worrying about yourself, and love the people you are there for." (This is true of so many things in relationships... for example in the marriage relationship it changes "having sex" into "making love" and deepens the whole experience.)

I know it is right.... just got to practice it. "Lord give me the freedom from a self absorption, so that I can truly be a channel of your love."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Count the cost???

I find it very difficult to communicate the way of Jesus honestly. There is no doubt that to live the lifestyle Jesus calls us to live involves a cost. We end up going out of our comfort zones to help someone, like in the story of the good Samaritan. Because we care as Jesus does, a lot of our otherwise free time is taken up doing things for others. We want to live generously as Jesus called us to live, and we find we don't have as much disposable income as we could have. And I could go on... the Jesus lifestyle costs because you care.

There were two readings set for last Sunday. The story of Jesus' call to Peter. The second was Paul's Damascus Road experience and how he changed from persecuting the Christians to preaching about Christ. They were two celebratory "resurrection" stories. But... in John's Gospel there was the warning about how Peter was going to die for his faith. In the book of Acts story the Spirit of Jesus was going to show Paul "how much he was going to suffer". Who wants to buy into that kind of lifestyle?

I told you in my last post that I had been trying to ring Bunnings Warehouse to apply for an easier job. It would be so nice to have just one boss.... To be able to knock off at 5, or whatever, and know you didn't have to work at night.... To have two days off in a row each week.... To not have service preparation and standing in front of people speaking hanging over your head all the time. ...To not have sleepless Saturday nights.... To be able to stay at family and friends' Saturday night celebrations till late..... To not feel the inner fear of mucking up someone's funeral or wedding. ...To not struggle trying to please a whole raft of tastes in music, worship styles and expectations..... To not have to choose songs for an organ to play. Well... today I got offered the possibility of such a job! An interview with an H R person from a company who would be interested in having me on board. A simpler job. A job with time limitations. It does not have five different workplaces. If I worked 60 hours a week I'd be paid for them. In the words from "My Fair Lady" song, "Oh wouldn't it be lovely!" From a selfish point of view, it's a no-brainer... I should go for it. Most people when offered the choice of the stressful "ministry/chaplaincy job", verses the other on offer, at my age and stage, would not consider being a minister/chaplain. ... Then why do I find myself hesitating?

Jesus is reported to have said, "Take up your cross and follow me." I have had someone say to me, "How is that attractive for my kids?" It costs! Why do it?

Three reasons have emerged when I have stewed on it as I have gone about today. (Damn them!)
  • Anything that is really worth doing, costs. I hope to do a half-marathon later in the year. Because of that my legs are aching now. Because of that yesterday I went out in a stupidly high and cold wind and ran 9k at 61 years of age. I will do that a few times a week for the next four months. But when I lie on the grass after the half-marathon, dry, aching and probably verging on cramp, I will be in bliss. Anything worth doing costs. Any truly fulfilling goal costs. That is true about the Christian way of life. To know that fulfillment, you need to invest the energy, life and soul. But it is so good to have something worth investing in. Something worth living for, giving yourself to and ideals that are high that call out the best you have to give.
  • You are making a difference. Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said something like; "Let it be said when I am gone, that all my life I have tried to pluck a thistle and plant a flower wherever I thought a flower would grow in thought and mind". When I know that it is getting close to my last breath I would like to be able to have the fulfillment of looking back on my life and be able to say, "I came and I went, and I know this old world is a slightly better place because I was."
  • It is the authentic lifestyle. Some people will do a bungy jump and say, "For those few seconds I felt really alive!" Others will find that "aliveness" in climbing a mountain. Music entertainers tell of that sense of "aliveness" when they are in the midst of a concert performance. I have found that when I am reaching out to help bring acceptance, wholeness, affirmation and fulfillment to people I feel a deep sense of "this is really living, it's what life is all about". Paul wrote we can be all and do all, "but if we have not got love we are nothing..."
... but just maybe I could do all that and still work at this new possible job? Please let it be so? :-) From another musical (Fiddler on the Roof) "Would it spoil some vast eternal plan... " if I weren't a minister? ... maybe?.... but...

I finish with another two Abe Lincoln Quotes that have some bearing on my dilemma:

"I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me." I guess that means I have to be true to who I am?

"The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just." May be this means that even though trying to build a community of faith that truly represents the way of Christ is nigh on impossible, if I believe the task is important I ought to keep trying anyway?

I wish Abe Lincoln, others and that voice inside that I battle with would just "Shuddup!" .... May be a move to a different church would be easier???? Three years honeymoon period... easy peasy. .... but the possibilities here are...???? Watch this space.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"It's a vocation!"

Proposed and possible changes at Workplace Support, some events around the Church, sleepless nights, frustrations and a consultation with my doctor have me revisiting the idea of getting an easier job to see me out till my "retirement". Many of my aquaintances of the same age are choosing that. "Why put up with the hassle?" I ask myself. I even got to dialing the new Bunnings warehouse that is to open in July, but I suspect they had taken the phone off the hook because so many applicants were ringing.

I was talking about my feelings with a woman during the week. "You can't" she exclaimed. "Why not?" I asked, and followed it with the challenge,"You have changed your career a couple of times in your life, why can't I?" "Oh yeah...." she replied, "But that's just a 'job'.... your's is a vocation! a calling! You don't opt out of a vocation!" It was interesting because she was not a particularly religious person. I would have liked to point out that stopping paid ministry does not necessarily mean I stop exercising my vocation. The Apostle Paul had a 'job' (tent maker) and still fulfilled his vocation. We got interrupted at that point by a further question put to me by someone else on a different matter that led to a very significant group conversation. But as she left to go back to work, she was still claiming that I could not opt out of the ministry/chaplaincy role, her understanding was that I was locked into it for life.

A little bit later in the day I got talking to a man about his job. He was passionate and skilled at his work. He had a high level of education in the field and talked to me about the various tasks and how he approached them. But he told me that he had a lot of frustration about the place where he worked. He was critical of policies, management decisions and directions. As he talked though he spelled out his way of coping. "I divide the two in my mind" he said. "I say to myself that I love my 'work'.... its just my 'job' that annoys me." He claimed, "If I keep the two apart in my mind I can enjoy my 'work' and not let my 'job' ruin it for me." It rang bells with me because in a way I thought that was what I had been trying to do even though I had not spelled it out so clearly. I guess what I have been trying to do is to overlook the frustrations of the 'job' because I valued the freedom I have to follow my 'vocation'. I guess lately with extra responsibilities and pressures I have been finding it hard to do the "overlooking". This man's tactic gave me a different way of thinking about things. Even though I didn't talk with him about my ministry/chaplaincy issues, he helped me through sharing in this conversation.

We had a positive Church Annual General Meeting today, and some people said some nice things about me, so I really should not be grumpy.

I had a small run tonight but felt quite free, energetic and, dare I say it, "young". I may yet get back to really free, "this is great!", "what a blast!" type of running again. Watch this space.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Saying "Hello" is a religious act!

Yesterday I was reading up some Bible commentaries about the reading for this Sunday. It is the resurrection story in John where Jesus meets the disciples on the beach. According to the story they are in the boat about one hundred yards out. After a big catch of fish Peter recognises that the man on the beach who told them where to fish was Jesus. He puts on his cloak and jumps overboard to go and meet Jesus.

William Barclay comments on this act. "Peter was not actually naked. He was girt with a loin cloth as the fisher always was when he plied his trade. Now it was Jewish law that to offer a greeting was a religious act, and to carry out a religious act a man must be clothed..." Don't you love the old language?

I finished reading the commentaries and wandered around to visit the Allied Press Buildng to do my chaplaincy there. I walked into a work area and said "Hi" to a guy, offering my hand in a handshake. Those William Barcley words hit me...."A religious act".... "I just did something sacred!" I thought to myself. What a great thought. To greet another human being is a religious, sacred act. Wow! It is essentially true. I can't remember the words but Indians have a greeting. They press their palms together, bow their head and utter this word. The phrase means "I worship the God in you". Wouldn't it be great if we remembered that? Anyway thought I'd share that little epiphany with you.

My William Barclay collection. ... I did my theological training at the College of the Bible in Glen Iris, Melbourne, Australia. (The college has changed its name and moved to Mulgrave now.) During our training we had responsibilities in Student Churches. For my first three years I was student minister at Tootgarook Church of Christ on the Mornington Peninsula. In the congregation was a beautiful retired minister named Reg Bolduan. In his time Reg had been a missionary in India and also quite a successful minister. (The best sermon I ever heard was Reg. He spent the time telling us his quandary about filling out his tax form. How did he describe his work? What was the "business of his workplace"? It was cleverly done and I still remember the punch line.) My last service at the church was an evening baptismal service. Reg had always been so supportive of me, a young "God's gift to the Church" brazen student minister. He joined in the pre- service prayer time. Then very quietly he came to me and led me out into the dark car park. He said, "I want to give you something." He opened the boot of his car and bundled up was a full set of William Barclay commentaries. "You lift them out please they are special to me". He was virtually crying by this time. "They have been a constant help for me, I want you to have them. - I feel like I am parting with friends. You take them and use them well. I know you will"
Every time I use them I think of Reg. He was a liberal thinker, ahead of his time. He used to take me for a quiet walk just before every evening service to help my nerves. "Well Reg - you are well gone now, at one with the one you served I guess,- I am still using them, these friends of ours. I hope you approve of the way I've travelled."

Photo... The well used William Barclay commentaries. I still think he gives very clear background information and lets you know the culture and language. Later commentaries may give up to date perspectives, but I still find his descriptions of words and setting so helpful. He gave them to me in December of 1974.... just over 35 years ago.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I made a mistake...

I conducted a wedding on Saturday, as well as doing a few other things. As I look back on my "performance" as a celebrant I feel like I made a mistake. In the service I gave a brief "homily" - some advice on marriage. There were three simple points: Love is a commitment to respect the other; Love is not two people looking at each other but two people looking in the same direction together; thirdly - love is a long series of forgiving and being forgiven.-overlooking the bits that annoy and looking for and celebrating that which we love.

My mistake lay when I was talking about the second point. I pointed out that having a common purpose that was bigger than us, drew a couple together. That just looking at each other will often end in finding faults, but that when together we serve a common purpose, we discover a togetherness that enriches our relationship. Then I made my mistake. I said, "For me that greater purpose is found in the Christian faith". As soon as I said it I felt like taking it back. "The Christian Faith" is a dead, often propositional, institutional thing that I am in fact growing to dislike, avoid and even loathe. I should have said something like, "I find that greater purpose in following Jesus" or "seeking to live out the Jesus way." More and more I see my self as not "Christian", but a follower of Jesus. "Christian faith" has a whole lot of baggage I no longer own. It tends to have an imperialism, a set of "must believe" doctrines and institutionalism that I see as distorting the way of Jesus.

Anyway if I use that "homily" again I will use different words.

Photos: I think I should have become a high country musterer... I love the tussock country. Tonight it looked sweet. Lately I would gladly swap jobs with a musterer. A colleague suffered a heart attack today. She looked fine on Friday.... scary stuff.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Looking back from Sunday

A Busy week
This last week has been exceptionally busy. I could list off all the responsibilities I have fulfilled, but that would bore you. From hanging a gate on a Habitat for Humanity House on Tuesday through to leading the service this morning there has really been no spare time or let up. There have been times when I have been angry, frustrated (My computer crashed mid-week) anguished and hassled, but I am so grateful that I managed the week quite successfully. I share some times when I believe God smiled. (Metaphorically speaking of course)
Guys helping each other..
Last year we started "Space2B" at our Church. As part of that we began Settlement Resource@Space2B. My friend Noel takes responsibility or this. We open the church on Wednesdays particularly for new settlers to NZ. I called up to the Space2B area at the church and Noel, originally from the Philippines, was helping an Indian guy practice his telephone interview skills. He had a job interview the next day. Next on the program Noel had a Chinese visiting academic (in the business studies area) practicing a presentation he has to make in June in the English language. Muthiah from India, Noel and I sat and listened. I looked at the scene and I'm sure "God was smiling". Four guys from different ethnic backgrounds helping each other. There were smiles, laughter and genuine care.
Conversation Group
In the evening on Wednesdays in Space2B we have started a "conversation group", people who want to explore issues. I led this week and took up Marcus Borg's presentation on God at 2000. I am sure as we small minded people tried to discuss "God", "God was smiling". Minds and hearts expanding just a little bit.
Noel organised a picnic for Saturday at the seaside village of Karitane. My daughter and her husband went up and prepared a lovely setting at the Dominican Sisters' cottage there. It was for friends we had encountered at our settlement resource program. We went for a walk around the headland and read about a Maori pa that used to be there from noticeboards along the way. It was a delightful sunny day. As I watched people from Malaysia, the UK, China, NZ, Thailand, India, Philippines walking along in the sun talking, I am sure I felt "God smile".
I had to do a speed change into my best suit to race from the picnic, through Dunedin to Mosgiel where I was to lead a wedding for two people from my St John Ambulance chaplaincy. There in a Presbyterian Church, in front of a number of ambulance people and other guests I did a good job of conducting a friendly, enjoyable wedding ceremony that included the sacred. The last act of the ceremony I invited the father of the bride up, (a very religious man) another man who was part of the local ministry team and the three of us prayed for the couple. As I stood around out side chatting to my ambulance friends, and later shared in the meal at the reception, I'm sure I felt "God smile" again.

So in a busy week I can look back and sense that some of my dreams for a relevant ministry are happening... and they were just part of my week.

"Given" a sermon...??
One of my tasks on Friday was to record a radio church service. I had it all planned to work efficiently. I would work out the Radio Service, record it on Friday morning. I would use a part of it for devotions with a bit of a twist, as I met with chaplains on Friday after lunch, and use it again as the basis of Sunday's service. I did it on the lectionary passage. Radio recording went OK, I was a bit rushed. I took some props up to the the chaplains' meeting and did a shortened version of the same thing.... seemed to fit the occasion. I was driving out to the wedding rehearsal on Friday evening and from "somewhere" my mind began to have another "take" on the Bible reading. I came back to the Drop-in centre and still my mind questioned whether I should do the same thing. On Friday night I took pen and paper to bed and jotted down some thoughts. On Saturday morning as I drove the half hour to the picnic, the sermon began to evolve in my head. As I sped from picnic to wedding in a mad rush, even then the sermon evolved. Again I went to bed with pen and paper and the sermon gelled. People have often used the cliche about "the word the Lord has given to us to speak", well I believe he does lead and certainly today it felt like that. It wasn't the sermon I had planned. I carefully and quietly outlined the message in church this morning. Don't ask my how or why, but it was what I was meant to say.

Who is my "boss"?
In my last post I told you about the issues raised at the board meeting and how I was reminded that these old regulars are the ones who give the money. The implication is that "if they pay the fiddler, they pick the tunes". For twenty odd years at this church and at other times when I have pushed for change, I have been reminded of this. I got to stewing on that and its crap! I am responsible to God and the purposes of God, first and foremost, he (or She) calls the shots! And if the Elders' board is true to its calling, it too is responsible to God. The calling of the church is to reach out to the world with the love of God. It is NOT to entertain the troops. I have to honestly and diligently work out the what the will and way of God is for our group, and that isn't a popularity contest. Of course I listen to others, and try to communicate carefully and in love to others, but ultimately I am accountable to how I understand God and his will.

Photo: "And God smiled" A bunch of people from different places enjoy each other's company.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Easter Sunday sermon... Grr

I have a problem with Easter Sunday sermons. My view on the resurrection tends to be a little different than most of my congregation.

First I read the Easter stories differently than most of them. We have a monthly evening called "Movies with meaning". We watch various movies and hold an all too brief discussion about the message of the movie. Last week's one was a science fiction movie called "The fifth element". It was quite a lot of weird and wacky fun, but with some sort of questioning of our lifestyle and values and a message. The fifth element turned out to be love. Only it had the ultimate power to overcome the horrible force of evil that was threatening the earth. (It was interesting, I don't think the older more staid people in the audience experienced the movie in the same way as younger minded folk. The old "modernity/post-modernity" division was apparent.)

I seldom watch science fiction, but when I have I have enjoyed the messages often given within the story. As I reflected on this one I could not help but think that much of the Bible is a bit like the Science fiction genre of story telling. Marcus Borg suggests a "Historical-Metaphorical" way of reading scripture. Historical -"What did the text mean in its ancient historical setting in which it is written?"  Metaphorical - "What does this story mean as a story, independent of its historical factuality." I think the resurrection stories happened like this. The disciples experienced the sadness and trauma of the death of Jesus. It was a real blow to them. They had left their normal lives to follow him, but now he was dead. Apart from the sadness, they would be struggling with the questions, "Was it worth it?" "What does it mean for the truths he taught?" "What on earth do we do now?" etc. Somehow in their struggles they had an experience that changed their lives. The penny dropped in their heart of hearts in a profound way that the movement of love, the Spirit behind the earthly life of Jesus, the truths he taught and lived out did not die on the cross, but were still present with them and in them. "He" was still among them, no matter what his enemies had done to him. This was a profound experience. "He" was still real to them. There was still the connection they experienced when he was with them, it was unbroken and even somehow deepened. They were indwelt with his reality. The problem they had was how do you communicate this experience and this reality. That's where I believe the resurrection stories evolved. If we try to read them literally there is some confusion. How do they fit together historically? What sort of "body" did Jesus have... he ate, he touched, yet seemed to pass through walls? So I choose to read them metaphorically, almost as science fiction pointing to the deeper truth of the undying movement of God still present, alive and powerful.

Secondly, I focus on a different message from the resurrection.  A hymn we use goes like this..... 

        "Once he died our souls to save; where's your victory, O grave? ..."

          "Made like him, like him we rise: ours the cross, the grave the skies."

Most of my congregation I think would say something like....

"Jesus died as a sacrifice for my sin. God brought him back to life so that I can be sure that when I die I will, like him, go to some place called heaven."  The Easter hymns and songs all send that message. It is all about us... and the rewards WE will get because Jesus died and lived again. 

My understanding is more like this;

Jesus died as the final act of a self-giving lifestyle which points to the way of God and the self giving love of God. The resurrection stories point to the truth that the disciples recognised, experienced and discovered after the crushing and horrible death of their leader. This truth was that death could not stop the movement of love. That self-giving, servanthood and love are still there, still bringing new life, still accompanying us and still working through us, even though evil killed Jesus. The spirit and life of Jesus, the truths he lived out were not killed on Calvary. So the resurrection for me affirms in a powerful way that I am living for "real" values. That the life in me as I live the way of Jesus (the way of "the Eternal") will continue to make a difference, in spite of the setbacks, the apparent evil and the apathy around me. 

Conventional "Christianity" in a way, perpetuates selfishness. "Halleluia! I will get to heaven!" is the message it celebrates on Easter Sunday.  For me, the resurrection stories affirm unselfish, self-giving love as the unconquerable, unbeatable and all powerful way of life. This gives us the power to be changed, to be liberated from a self-absorbing lifestyle and lets love loose in the world, to make a difference.

 So I survived an Easter Sunday sermon. I worded things in such a way that I was true to myself, but not offensive to people who need to read the stories literally. I tried to communicate the positive things I believed and not the things I didn't believe. I struggled during the sermon. There were interruptions... a little girl ran from the church and vomited on the carpet in the next door hall. Her mum and others went out to deal to it. The technology, sound system and music was not all it could be. But I had some good feedback from a number of people. One lady in broken English said, "I could take it in. My mind could accept it easily." A fifty four year old visiting policeman said, "Hey that was a different take on the resurrection and I could relate to that!" Another guy, a race horse trainer said, "Good stuff again! I enjoyed that, you keep banging them out don't you?" and others just grasped my hand in warm appreciation.

I finish with three illustrations I used.

On Friday as I transported and packed firewood in preparation for winter, a little fantail accompanied me. I stopped and whistled to it, and talked as it perched in the bush beside the path watching me. It bounced from branch to branch following me. When I came inside I went into my study. Next thing I heard a yell from the kitchen. "There's a bird in the kitchen!" Jean yelled. I suddenly realised, "He is still with me! That fantail has followed me!" That was the discovery the disciples had. You see I don't believe there was a resuscitated body wandering around Jerusalem, but they still had the profound, inner discovery, "He is still with me!"  That was the truth the early church was communicating through the resurrection stories.

I showed a photo of a tree on the Mt Cargill track. The tree had been blown over in its younger days, but had sent out roots and changed direction and kept growing. The life in the tree just would not die. So the life, love and movement of God in the life of Jesus, just would not and could not die when he was killed. It just changed direction and continued growing. (see the photos above)

Thirdly I talked of the life of Jesus making a difference today. I talked of the man in the photo above who attends our drop-in centre and how in the last year he had changed dramatically. Last week in one of the Dunedin Churches he was baptised. The life, love and presence of Jesus made the difference. The resurrection for me is not so much about a body walking around alive 2000 years ago, but bodies today walking around alive and loving because Jesus lives in and through them.