Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Life is a journey...

I began my day looking for a file folder. As I looked I became convinced I needed to do some sorting out of the drawers in my desk in my home study. (It wasn't till quite late in the day that I discovered the file I had lost) It has been a real adventure, often nostalgic, sometimes sad, sometimes joyful as I pulled all sorts of papers out of the drawers.

I discovered a sort of contract I had with the probation service for supporting a man who had issues with alcohol, drugs and violence. We had come to know him through one of our Christmas Dinners and he began to attend our church. He had earlier in life been convicted of murder. I remembered there were a couple of times when I made him angry by challenging his behaviour and I felt a little vulnerable in my office. He was a big guy! My mind went to all the ups and downs of my journey with him. I discovered too a pile of letters I had forgotten I had written, when I budgeted for a couple in town here. Once again all the demands of that task came flooding back. I discovered too my dog eared and dirty looking certificates, diplomas etc from the various stages of my life. Plumbing qualifications - University- Theological and Ministry training - Social work - and various other courses I have been involved in. I found letters and cards relating to the medal I received a few years back. I found letters in which as a disgruntled minister or chaplain I had expressed my opinions and complaints to higher authorities, and even letters of resignation that were not accepted. Old articles I have written or articles I have thought worthy of keeping have emerged, some of them I thought were quite good. It has been an interesting day recalling my Dunedin Journey. (After a conversation in a phone call I made to another centre today I began to wonder if I shouldn't move cities in the next year or so.)

I have been reminded that - LIFE IS A JOURNEY! I guess there is nothing new in that, but as I have reviewed my "treasures" I have discovered that some things I once thought were important, I now don't see as a priority. There are opinions I once had, things I thought worth battling over, I now no longer hold. Articles I have kept because at the time I thought them great, I now feel like my thinking has left them behind. Once at a ministers' refresher I heard a man waffling on eloquently and enthusiastically about "keeping alive your first love" in marriage. (Misquoting a biblical passage) I remember thinking at the time how it is so wrong. That is static living. In marriage my relationship and love for my wife changes, deepens and has different dimensions. It now, after 41 years, makes my love when we married look like "puppy love". The same is true of our spiritual journey. We have to keep growing, broadening, expanding, focusing or we lose touch with life and it becomes an irrelevant part of life for us. A Sunday School faith is no good for adults! While we still may go to church, it no longer is a major formative factor in our living.

Hold on lightly to your opinions.... If life is a journey then we need to be mobile in our attitudes, opinions and knowledge. If we live a mobile lifestyle we need a bus, or tent so that we can easily up sticks and move. I think this is true of our personal/spiritual growth also. We need all of the time to be ready to re-draw our maps of reality! Sometimes we can hold positions that need to be changed, but we have become too dependent on them for who we are, so we cling to them and don't want to change. Keith Miller was a Christian writer of many years ago, but I still remember one of his pictures of "faith". He pictured a trapeze artist swinging on a trapeze. To reach the next one he has to let go of the old one, and the audience holds its breath till he grasps comfortably the new one. But he must take the risk of letting go, so that he can swing further, and make progress. We too need to express our opinions in the conversation of life, but also be listeners and reflectors, holding onto them in such a way that we can let them go when truth and life demands change. We sometimes erroneously think the faithful person is the one who holds definite opinions and doctrines. They, we think, are "the strong ones". But I believe true people of faith journey with God and are all of the time letting go, and leaping forward. ... journeying with God they are willing to change.

I was talking to an ex-member of our church recently. One of the reasons he left us was because he did not agree with some of my stances back then. We met by chance and he immediately launched into conversation in which he was questioning what I suspect he knew were my opinions. Indirectly he seemed to be expressing questions about my journey. But as I listened I suddenly thought to myself that it was not me he was trying to convince, it was himself! As I listened to his demeanor and tone of voice, I began to suspect his reading and reflections had led him to question his dogma, but he was scared of the questions. In front of me he was busy repeating arguments to convince himself that he could stay secure in his present faith. The thought hit me, "You are scared to move!" and just my presence had raised the questions his "soul" was beginning to ask. This was why he had so quickly raised the topic. I listened as a friend, I did not try to change him, but I hope for his sake he will change when he is ready.

In my spiritual journey I now believe little institutional dogma. Much that once seemed important no longer registers with me. What I do "believe" (It seems the wrong term for my relationship to the sacred) runs much more deeply in my life and provides me with "life", focus and meaning in a powerful way.

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